Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Greatest Story Ever Told Better Kept Under Wraps

"Homer, you didn't tell me Mr. Burns went broke and lost the nuclear power plant!"
"Now I can't remember every little thing that happens in my day."
"You told me about that candy bar you found three times."
"You found a candy bar?"
"Oh yes. Gather around, my son, and I shall tell you a tale!"

A few lines will appear on a sheet and, in time, a complete and finished poem will be staring me in the face, daring me to laugh. And though my critical faculties certainly -- and deservedly -- wish to catalog the cornucopia of errors both technical and aesthetic, they are often silently shouted down by the emotions that feed that flowering of my all-too-often purple verse. Yet if I peel away the layers of sentiment and memory, I will sometimes uncover another, far more ominous, problem: the part-time delusions of grandeur of someone certainly not capable of even those lowered expectations.

Dude, Randal, what the fuck are you talking about, you say. Mellow out, 1.3 readers, I'm getting to that. Every now and then, after having written more than one poem within close chronological proximity, I cannot help but notice that some of the imagery will have been shared (like I'd willingly break up the sensual series of 's' sounds in the piece below). I would wager most poets have that so-called dilemma, you say. No, you don't understand, I'm always thieving myself (after first having stolen from others far better than I, naturally) and churning out one-track crap -- and pulling this off the shelf doesn't always clear the situation. But even the supreme Baudelaire suffered from the primordial desire to drink from the same wellspring on occasion, as another luminary, T.S. Eliot, pointed out once upon a time, you say. That's all well and good since they were masters whereas I am merely ranked among the most amateur of the amateurs. My point being -- yes, I do have one -- is that every now and then I summon forth a vision of a 'great' -- I use the term as loosely as a neocon uses ethics -- series of poems threaded with a narrative, if a not necessarily coherent and linear one, flowing through the same rivers of the spirit, the same tributaries of the heart.

A few completed pieces, miscellaneous stanzas, tossed-off fragments and a firm conviction to never try anything as foolish again is the typical end result of this first type of stubbornness, for such an attempt is inevitably fraught with melodramatic danger [cue appropriate music]: if I alter a word or a line, the narrative thrust might be improved, strengthened, but the poem itself permanently weakened.

Au fond, the least cringe-inducing example of the few that I've 'finished,' i.e. the ones I cannot take apart and rebuild any further either through deficiency of the requisite skills or subconscious self-deception. Given their collective lack of cohesion, I couldn't begin to say whether this one would appear near the beginning or the end, or would work best smack dab in the middle. Oh well, one more incomplete 'work.' It's a miracle worthy of Jesus-on-toast that I ever polished off that fucking novella.

And like a court jester, if merely to entertain only myself, I inevitably juggle such literary swords one more time. Hardee har har, look at what the dumbass is trying again. You're going to cut off your arm, you clown. Certainly worthy of mockery, but this court remains mine, nonetheless. For when one is, in addition to the fool, king of his own little imaginary kingdom of letters, one can do as he pleases. Of course, once the fruits of labor are displayed beyond the borders, well, don't be surprised if condemnation and an outright invasion by an army of insults ensues. Thus, a shift in strategy to the second type of such stubbornness, creating fresh pieces from the inspiration of a single poem -- extrapolating the sentiments contained within, exploring the shades and hues -- which is a safer route for the soul because one doesn't have to slice and dice. But fire up those pens and gather at the foot of a mountain of paper because you're going to be writing a whole hell of a lot. Maybe it's not safer, after all.

I reread the piece, and the surrounding air still resonated with the emotions that I failed to capture in the words, watching as images materialized into the real, as real as they could be à l'intérieur. The result? More pretentious, disordered poems about writing about longing about pining and faux-introspective, self-absorbed repose in evening hours from the realities of the world with some lovey-dovey gobbledygook thrown in for good measure. It's a truly awful and wonderful mess, full of half-baked symbolism, allusions to personal memories and junk that would only make sense to me -- no, it's certainly not as overloaded and linguistically and historically pointed -- or quite as long -- as Mr. Eliot's The Waste Land, thank Beelzebub, Belial and Mephistopheles. Fucking yikes. At least the source itself seen below isn't completely askew, but rather vague and pedestrian, so it makes for better reading I suppose. Anyway, I can give you fluidly erratic impressions until the cows come home, and they usually come home quite late, but a concrete, well-fabricated story underneath? Ha. I'll leave that up to the real writers. And what's with the proliferation of sonnets all of the sudden?

This ashen coil

Darkness draping shadow upon the floor,
broken volumes of the tenebrous sound.
The hour chimes, pages creep towards the door,
words slip asleep, whispers shimmer the ground.
Moonlight curls above, dreaming of a bloom,
a reliquary flush with memory
grasping hands. The face that lies in the tomb
searches far and wide for her alchemy.
To conjure heaven, the silent tower
brings forth from plucked pebbles the endless stair.
Neither scent nor sight of her rich flower
grows in this ancient gloom, no vision fair.
Cast eyes behind, naught but dust on the breeze;
past shattered glass, the blue of trackless seas.

Since I cannot separate emotions from words, the goddamn thing isn't vague and pedestrian at all. The outer surface may well be, but underneath? Churning as the storm-wracked ocean, which is perhaps better than what's hidden in that last line. A stout, yet graceful, wind, pushing away, gently, rhythmically, what I wish to remain.


Distributorcap said...

you know, that read like Shakespeare.

Hamlet Act II, Scene IV
Alas Poor Randal


FranIAm said...

Oh Randal- thank you.

The blue of trackless seas...

I must reread this, over and over again.

susan said...

L'Ennui Melodieux, indeed! Vous comprende le monde plus intellectual mais malfortunatement, in this short attention span monde of our own the only poetry generally remembered is something like:
n e s t l e s
nestles makes the very best
I well understand the late night despair of waiting for the muse to arrive and falling asleep just as a glimpse comes into view. I like your poem.

(please excuse badly remembered Francois)

Suzi Riot said...

That was a fun read! A little insight into the poetic process of L'Randal. Thanks for sharing.

Snave said...

However you reach your end product, you do it well and produce good writing! Thanks for this post! If you rank as the most amateur of amateurs, you can at least say you rank above yours truly (one of my more recent posts proves my point here! Heh!)

Anonymous said...

As always, another killer piece on the process of writing. Where were you when I was in college reading books like "The Courage to Create?"

TomCat said...

Randal, if you ever consider giving up writing, don't.

Randal Graves said...

dcap, ha ha, now I just need a frilly collar. ;-)

fran, merci.

susan, merci, mais je n'en parle pas bien aussi !

suzi, thanks, it beats doing politics all the time.

snave, hey man, you've been on a roll with the comical pictures!

dcup, thanks, but um, I was probably in 7th or 8th grade still. ;-)

Randal Graves said...

tomcat, oh hell, I wouldn't know what else to do with myself.

Dean Wormer said...

That was Poe-esque.

Dean Wormer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

RG - Brilliant. Wish I wrote it. Damn. This one took me back to my Catholic school days where I spent my formative years leaning in an old Victorian era school building. The inside was quite tenebrous and the building was one big reliquary of shit upon statues of saints. Thanks for sharing.

Randal Graves said...

dean, thank you sir.

spartacus, thanks man, but between you and okjimm, what's with all the backhanded Cleveland compliments? At least we're not Milwaukee!

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