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Letters of Blood and other works in English

Göran Printz-Påhlson

Letters of Blood: Poems


Texte intégral


1for Kenneth Koch

2Before it had become fashionable to write poetry
about writing poetry, it was considered
so exceedingly difficult that it was next
to impossible, or perhaps it was considered impossible.
How can one possibly do this, one thought,
surely one must lose one’s concentration,
or the flow of rhythm, or metaphors, or
(or, perhaps one didn’t think of it at all).
But consider instead a little girl in, say, 1937
who has come down to the seaside with her parents
and nanny (she is that sort of girl) and has
after some token resistance been enrolled
with the private swimming instructor, and walks
every morning with her inflatable yellow-
patterned little wings (how the thirties loved yellow)
down to the beach, with the cold washboard clay
and small brown dried starfish, and pink shells. She
thinks: OK, I’ll go along so far, but I shall never
learn to swim, learn to float like a boat in the water.
And she goes on, irritated with her elder sister
who is carrying on a flirtation with the handsome
swimming instructor in his baggy blue trunks,
and being teased by her kid brother as
she struggles on top of her wings, her body,
arched backwards, her eyes closed and mouth
puckered as for a kiss. She dreams every
night that she is floating through cool, green
water, saying hello to the sea-horses and the fish,
and sometimes she paints in her dream an
oil-painting, something along the lines of Géricault,
where she and two friends are cowering
clutched in each other’s arms on the gaudy
stripers, of the inflatable mattress while
breakers of incredible size are washing the
jetty protecting the little harbour. But one day
when the summer is close to its end and the
morning as crisp as green September hazel-nuts,
she forgets everything and—hey presto—she is friends
with the water. ‘Soon I can swim without wings,’
she thinks by herself, ‘soon I can fly without air,
without rhythm, without metaphors… Wait a minute,’
she says to herself, indignant (she is that kind of girl),
‘I am being used as a metaphor now. Well I never…’
But there she is wrong. The poem, if it is any good at all
is never about writing poetry: but rather about
making jokes, or love; or deceit; once again she (in
spite of her perky independence of mind) and the reader
have together been led up that proverbial old
garden path. But, in that case, consider a boy
on the first day of spring when the rain has just stopped,
playing marbles up that old garden path,
water-logged still by the rains…

Songs of Dock Boggs

3There are gridiron reverberations
in the hills, sourmash
blandishments bleating
from the sheriff’s office.

4Ah, the gavroche innocence of a barnyard rape!

5He offers a smile, mild
as pick-axe handles a
mile wide which kindles
the hide of rutabaga;
their red necks swabbed
by cool, pale blue grass
in the abstracted stare of poverty
Bushwhacking the melodies of God
for the breakdown of bushfires
he nurtures illustrious health
with the grating pap
of pink indigence,
plucking the lure of life
from the audible
mouchoir moment
when distant authority suppurates
the blueridge landscapes of childhood.

6Raw death: a clodhopper shovel
smack in the kisser.

In the Style of Scott Skinner

7The kelp is not enough. Two hundred
thousand wet sea-birds every
minute serve the mind with constraints
in pizzicato dancehalls all over
the moody crags. A lonely kipper
is seen to flounder in the volatile traffic
leaving his ladder, embarking
for France, land of
cotillon and plenty,
prognathous and proud in the strathspey
prattle of little Jacobite girls in terror.
Far, far away,
o domine, from
glamour-grammar grit and the sweet
mountain smell of mossy socks in Allenvale!

Acrobats on the Radio: Letter to Newcomb

8For Newcomb Greetnleaf, Naropa Institute, Easter 1980


9The idea of privacy is perhaps not really germane to Eastern thought.
How can you perform your secret rites when the air is swarming with demons?
Or else you are crowded by all these planes of existence, all twenty-five of them
(twenty-four, if you count them non-Boolean)?
How can you perform anything on hoary mountain-tops under such circumstances?
And I assure you and Mme David-Neel, I was ready for it, tantricly, and then in
comes this
tulpa and disturbs my concentration.
I do confess I find it tiresome. It is all a question of excess of willpower
and I was never given enough of that stuff in the first place.

10I much prefer the letter you once wrote; from Rochester,
when you had taken the boys to a circus and seen some acrobats
who were absolutely tremendous. Your enthusiasm was so great
that you started to describe their acts in detail. It
reminded me of an old Stan Freberg routine (remember
Stan Freberg? The fifties? Jokes about television?)
about ‘Acrobats on the Radio.’ How great they are
& etc. Oooh!! Aaahhh! Look at THAT! Sorry it’s RADIO.
It occurs to me that description is perhaps more loving
than interpretation. It is not that I am knocking
Eastern modes of hermeneutics, it is just that sometimes I think
we might both have got it wrong. When Naropa
was looking for his guru-to-be, Tilopa, in the mountains of the eastern border
He met up with a number of strange characters who mainly seemed
concerned with having his help slaughtering their relatives.
That he refused to do so was promptly taken on his part
as a sign of lack of sincerity or dedication.
A saga for the businesslike and glib. For Americans, alas.


11The years go by. In that they much & oh so much
resemble the planets, turning in their orbits like an old
scratched record of Ewan McColl or A.L.Lloyd, bestowing
that past dignity of tiresome toil that we have lost, or never had,
on the commonwealth of aimless thinking (or drinking). Are we then
slumming like the demons, sucking satisfactions from
the lives of others, making what’s past a prologue?
I know you’re not a Platonist. Your constructions suffer
the scapegrace mind to build it’s harum-scarum
world willy-nilly, free from clanking, cumbrous
forms, like the vast
vers-libre epic which is
the American prairie. That is a place for acrobatics, in
some lonely pylon, performed unseen, unheard-of,
in the violence of thunderstorms. When I met you & Connie
I was ambitious, crisp, refractory, European. You & America
taught me to flatten my desire onto the untoward topology
of the ingenuous. This is the freedom of Ariel, the pensioner & pardoner.
We all want to save what there is, appearances, the phenomena.
Happiness doesn’t enter into it at all. We learned that Ditty’s
with child. Last spring we heard & saw here in this craven city
Ginsberg & Orlovsky sing about the lamb, debonair
& sacrificial in their clean, white shirts, repatriated.
We wish for you, your boys, your unborn child
(‘The man i’ th’ Moon’s too slow—till new-born chins
be rough & razorable’) the tardiness of the lamb’s-wool-white
sheet lightning of the plains, tough as yoghurt, the two-dimensional liberty of tenderness, of saving
without the customary Osimander preface to your Revolutions
τά φαιvόμεvα (yours & theirs)
The planets turn in their eccentric orbits. We are the demons of electric privacy, in our broadcast dereliction.

To John at the Summer Solstice, Before His Return

12Verba nitent phaleris: at nullas verba medullas

13Intus habent, sola exterius spectatur imago

14Marcellus Palingenius, Zodiacus Vitae

15Liber Sextus: Virgo

16Digenes Akrites, Liber Quartus, 1028–9


17There is one stanza, and one stanza only
Which is worth our ordering, John:
The names of days and months and years;
For this is measurement of the unique,
Of the abominable recantation,
The palinode that is our lives.


18‘Five years have passed, five summers,’ or
‘Sixty times the moon has wandered round the heavens’:
The ancient poets knew the score:
How day is laid by side
Of day, like stars: rescinding
The spiking of a fulsome calendar.


19We dined in splendor on the lawn,
Sunlight refracting greenish wormwood
Akvavit in glasses, on Baltic herrings.
The verdant sadness of the height
Of plangent summer: sylvan days beleaguered
In the
pankarpia of souls.


20Now (five years later) I have put
My books in order. There always is a vaster
Section, spurning clarity, the keen division;
As in Robert Fludd, the teeming theatre
Of demons, thrones and powers is perched
On the dark Aleph where divisions are cast out.


21Seated on this dark column, naming
Whatever creature raised at random,
We expunge ourselves, like the spry seed.
Obsequially bedded under ground,
It shocks our tardy minds with parables
Of reason, exiled, risen in the vastness.


22‘As each new stage succeeds,
The older festivals are not abolished,’
Whispers another voice from Cambridge.
There is a perdu day in Sweden of St. Matthew
When youths with bears did wrestle, apposite
To our long
lack-lustre, or quinquennial of want.


23You write of games and voyages and friends,
Turnings and crossings, to contain the void
That lies between the dreams and waking.
You write your cunning engram on the trail
Of time, to rout the beasts of history
With full sagacity and justice.


24John, it is indeed your feast today,
St. Jean—the fete of hapless magic,
When language can be fashioned out of silence.
You write about your daughter’s want and naming.
You name a house. I call it
Your large, fair dreams of sharing and of roots.


25Do then the planets roam and turn
In your exorbing geocentric circles?
(Perhaps when demons rode them.)
They are the wanderers, strangers
To every house there is,
In all twelve houses of the zodiac.


26You name a house. You name your honorable longings.
(Or, what Bob talked about—like Keats—
the staleness of the poet’s life.)
There is in every haunted house in Suffolk
A spot which is so bitter cold because
it once drank thwarted love or murder.


27This is the true mouth of the Aleph.
In Britain now the jealous autochthonous gods
Have risen, fragging their
Themis of the land,
Sacrificing for the sake of trite Boudiccas
The splendid loyalties of base mechanicals,
The distributive dreams and universal style.


28‘Words have inside them no marrow!’
The re-born Wanderer sang,
‘Although with ornaments resplendent!’
The Twice-born Borderer had answered:
‘And when they came together to the house,
They ate and drank and day by day rejoiced.’


29Words have no roots, nor proper names.
They are called up to fill the slots,
Insubstantial and gauche, as are the dead
With their orectic tongues, scratching at the table,
Galavanized and twitching like the frogs,
Wired to the work-bench of the sage.


30Resist the stillness. Command
The darkness of our motor fantasies,
The listless whispering of inner voices.
Save the phenomena with demon festivals.
I order now this stanza to return to
Graves; there are no others.

XV: Threnos

31There are so many stars and only twelve signs
There are so many days and only five feasts
Somebody remarked that the nights have no names, but nor have days, only cyclical ciphers.
There is so little order.
It is not the loss of reality which is grieved for, it is the sparseness of order.
The few named ones are just hostages of order.
Besides, they had no proper names, nor numbers, sitting round the table, jury-fashion
Unclaimed signs, or star-ciphers, open like days? and cyclical…

32Only, voyager, do not presume to think that short-cuts are in any way privileged.
Only, fellow-traveller, do not think that
we are.


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