In his Irish Occasions evaluate of my fourth assortment, Blue Sandbar Moon: A micro-epic (2018), the poet John McAuliffe described it, fairly accurately, as “an uncommon e-book”.
Certainly, I might go additional and say: a extremely uncommon e-book. That is, I suppose, flagged up instantly by the contents itself: the 174 untitled first traces of micropoems, preceded by the attractive however still-used phrase Proem (suggesting each poetry and prose) for the opening part of six titled poems and one prose parable. A number of readers have remarked that studying by means of these first-lines itself has the sensation of some opaque however evocative poem …
Flagged up additionally, after all, by the bizarre subtitle, just about a neologism: A micro-epic. I don’t suppose this time period has ever beforehand been utilized in a literary context, actually not for a sequence of micropoems dealt with on this method; and so, for me, not solely the identify, however the type itself – a mosaic construction, permitting for celerity and/or dwelling when studying – constitutes one thing of a real formal démarche.
Money owed? The brief poems of Samuel Menashe (considerably unconsciously) and (fairly consciously) WG Sebald’s e-book of luminous micropoems, Unrecounted, which solely appeared in English in 2004. It was Sebald himself, in actual fact, who might have coined (or not less than popularised) the phrase micropoem; however I had really began writing them in 2002, in order that this e-book was extra a affirmation than a primary inspiration. One thing within the interval air, maybe …
After I was finalising Blue Sandbar Moon in 2016, I started to appreciate that it will probably divide opinion.
It’s so outwith sure established Irish-British kinds, on the one hand; and, on the opposite, so detached to “within the method of” poetry, Irish essentialist tendencies, the brand new plethora of identitarian political standpoints, and so forth; and though these currents are arduous to explain usually, they’re immediately recognisable on the extent of the poem. McAuliffe’s personal work, in actual fact, is a wonderful instance of a form of established religion in language’s impasto potential to be laid over any side of actuality or sensibility.
So one of many sudden post-publication issues has been the various letters – not less than 12 – from poets written in unsolicited response to this e-book. One I like particularly describes Blue Sandbar Moon in methods I merely couldn’t have managed or imagined. However this Irish poet will get someway, too, precisely what I’ve at all times felt, but wouldn’t have discovered phrases for: that it’s extra within the spirit of Celan or Beckett, than of a lyrical diary (not my intention in any respect!) or what he calls “life-style poems” …
A Scottish buddy and colleague, who learn Blue Sandbar Moon very fastidiously, described the entire thing – “Proem” and “A micro-epic” – as a single “emotional structure”. That is my favorite description and I quote it regularly at readings – or when particular person readers and writers ask me in regards to the assortment.
That characterisation additionally for me factors to the primary technical problem of each books: the expression of precise emotion. As I put it in my unpublished Creator’s Notes (written for household, pals, poets, writers), in regards to the Heartscapes part of Subsequent to Nothing (2009), very a lot cognate with the later “micro-epic”:
Swiftness of impact was, in actual fact, a part of the intention and constancy; the problem right here as all through the e-book was to file true and deep “heart-feeling” (versus the “feeling” of sensibility, apperception, historic second, et cetera) – that the majority delicate of poetic materials, owing to the swiftness of emotion itself …
For language (not less than for me) doesn’t have automated imperious entry to precise feeling. Such feeling is elusive, it doesn’t essentially give itself over to language, it could possibly resist the mental assumption (or seduction) of “willed linguistic impasto”.
That’s to say, language shouldn’t be in command of emotion, however simply the alternative, in my poetic pyscho-dynamics: feeling should be netted by phrases, typically very swiftly, and so very briefly; however solely when highly effective visual-emotional experiences or epiphanies start to materialise within the darkroom of phrases …
To which, to wit, the micropoem is completely suited. Feeling can breathe simply – shouldn’t be overburdened with the impasto religion within the energy of language. As I put it once more in Creator’s Notes, there may be, because of the familial cataclysm, a counter-movement in Heartscapes in the direction of the “textual as ‘subsequent to nothing’, in a number of distinct senses, like Matisse’s sparest line-drawings in a sea of clean area …” (However will we not see, say, his few traces for a thigh simply as clearly the place the picture really counts and happens, within the thoughts’s eye?)
Or as I’d say now, after recording the snail-tracks of this 10-year micro-epic: Beckettian brevity has its makes use of, à la Saint Lô, particularly when every tile is slowly assembled into a bigger mosaic, or “emotional structure”.
Within the extraordinary Unrecounted, every putting micropoem is like one of many flaps opened on an Creation calendar – however the cumulative parataxis is someway magnetised, as if his process was a revised model of Wittgenstein: Whereof one can not really feel or see, thereof one should be silent … and Wittgenstein, I collect, had quite a bit to say about feeling and seeing as dietary supplements to talking …
So nearly all of the micropoems in Blue Sandbar Moon started within the second of emotion and, sketch-like, have been additionally completed there shortly as effectively. If I got here again later (as recommended by among the caption-dates), it was not a lot a matter of emotion recollected in tranquillity, as a thread of emotional momentum resumed and run to its finish.
As I discussed in my introduction to Hubert Butler’s Balkan Essays (The Irish Pages Press, 2016), English is now one lingua franca of the previous Yugoslavia – and so, on this sense, I do consider Blue Sandbar Moon as a partly Balkan and even Central European e-book. Then, after all, there may be the Croatian locus of so most of the poems throughout each sections of the gathering – since, over the previous quarter century, I’ve spent quite a lot of time at our summer time home on a Dalmatian island.
Nor can I shake the slight feeling that I’ve been influenced ultimately by a number of Bosnian and Croatian writers; by the historic background (together with Butler’s writing); and, certainly, by sure lyrical and syntactical qualities of the language itself. However once more – like seeing one’s again – it will be arduous to explain these precisely with any confidence.
Anyway, what I do know is that one of many sudden writerly surprises because the micro-epic assembled itself was what I started to name (in self-speak) “the Brechtian streak”.
Though I’ve at all times been a extremely political particular person, as a poet I’ve fought shy of ever conflating the ethically engaged with the overtly engagé. Within the first two collections, there was a powerful ecological and historic consciousness (most particularly the first-hand poems on the 1999 Kosova killing-fields, in First Mild), that actually might be referred to as engaged; however nothing so immediately political as on this scattered Brechtian vein.
Right here, as soon as once more, the micropoem – Beckett assembly Brecht, you would possibly say – suits the formal invoice completely. As a result of, sarcastically, (it appears to me), the factor about profitable political poems is that you will need to actually really feel the politics. Emotion, deeply allied to an perspective or felt ethic, is a should. Opinion, sentiment, place, life-style or identitarian selection, could also be needed, however they’re certainly not adequate alone. However such allied feeling is adequate, if additionally knowledgeable by a really politico-ethical creativeness.
So, in an astute tackle the e-book’s “emotional structure”, my son Jacob described its personal-political “double gentle” as each “sundial & hourglass”.
Sundial within the sense that every year-section information the annual spherical of seasons and dates, together with (amongst a lot else of that “structure”) the time-signatures of anniversaries and remembered sorrows.
Hourglass within the sense that the e-book opens (within the Proem) with a extra “outwith” or collective sense (or soupçon) of bereavement as a world-historical drive (ie, the primary three poems: allusions to Srebrenica and the break-up of Yugoslavia, and the punning “ash-flicker in Central Europe”) – earlier than continuing to the extra “inwith”, just like the narrowing of an hourglass.
Then in the direction of the tip of the gathering, from about 2014, there’s a return to the extra “outwith”, socially and politically (notably the micropoems on one other go to to The Hague tribunals, Ukraine, the Holocaust in Croatia, the Syrian Exodus, Germany and Israel, and so on.), whereby bereavements and sorrows grow to be once more extra “world-historical”. So like the underside of an hourglass, spreading outwards …
But it surely was actually solely after Blue Sandbar Moon appeared that I realised I ought to attempt to pull collectively in my thoughts the distinct presence of the Holocaust in each collections.
In Subsequent to Nothing, there are two poems (Depths and the title-poem) with allusions to the Holocaust: “the identical sky/over Auschwitz,” and “To make good the camp ruination/Of the small Taj Mahal of Miriam’s life.”
After all, however The Boy within the Striped Pyjamas, the problem of “representations of the Holocaust” is totally problematic; so my photos listed below are in no sense an try at historic depiction. For me, the controversy has been settled as soon as and for all by Sebald: I don’t suppose you may give attention to the horror of the Holocaust. It’s like the top of Medusa. You carry it with you in a sack, however for those who checked out it, you’d be petrified.
Nonetheless, the truth that creativeness reached for these explicit metaphors within the context of bereavement at all times strikes me as extremely vital – most particularly when really studying the poems aloud.
Within the 2014-15 sections of Blue Sandbar Moon, there are two sequence of micropoems that come up in opposition to each the Ustaše (Quisling-Fascist) previous and the Holocaust in Croatia, together with visits to the key loss of life camps (Jadovno and Jasenovac) the place many Jews have been amongst the roughly 100,000 victims at each (the latter being the most important loss of life camp outdoors Germany, the Normal Authorities, and the Occupied USSR).
But it surely was once more not till after the looks of Blue Sandbar Moon that it occurred to me that the little suite of micropoems, Within the Marches, is a precise illustration of Sebald’s remark.
He’s proper – standing on the fringe of that sink-hole “as but undescended/by any speleologist”, you actually can not go any additional in your thoughts. Not solely is the underside of that pit nonetheless inconceivable at present, however (how rather more so) the filling of it 79 years in the past with the lifeless and the residing, is solely a Medusa’s head – multiplied exponentially by the innumerable threads of horror spun by the Holocaust over occupied Europe …
So: no bridge in future throughout that abyss, other than the written testimonies of precise survivors and witnesses?
What got here to me lastly as I believed afresh about that pit-mouth within the Lika was one thing sudden – that sure, there’s a slender rope-bridge, robust sufficient, strung between the shores of deepest loss, throughout that historic abyss. Not simply language purified, having handed by means of, as Celan wrote famously – however feeling pure and easy, carried on the again of language. As a result of, in any case, the styles of human feeling are common throughout historical past.
For amidst all of the mud and flies and totalitarian horrors, what is among the worst issues – if not often “the worst/of the worst” – that may occur in a camp? To lose a cherished one, after all.
What a bereaved mom or father or little one feels is that rope-bridge. We might not have the ability to give attention to the horror of the Holocaust, however its “currents of motion” (Eliot) could be felt and “seen” at its particular person apocalyptic worst, throughout that abyss, from the opposite shore, within the coronary heart …
So for me the overall momentum throughout Subsequent to Nothing and Blue Sandbar Moon – from “inwith” to “outwith” (and again) – is true there in microcosm at that pit-head second at Jadovno, within the updraughts of the Holocaust, when the non-public blends seamlessly into the collective:
We respect this higher
Within the agony of others, practically skilled,
Involving ourselves, than in our personal.
For our personal previous is roofed by the currents of motion,
However the torment of others stays an expertise
Unqualified, unworn by subsequent attrition.
TS Eliot, The Dry Salvages, 4 Quartets
However folded into this similar momentum there’s certainly an additional “Brechtian” implication: that the social and political aggregation of non-public sorrow makes of bereavement a really world-historical drive. As we see each night time on the information, from Israel-Palestine to Myanmar, from Yemen to Black Lives Matter.
To say nothing of the pandemic.
One other uncommon “bridge” inside this assortment, I really feel.
Chris Agee’s third assortment of poems, Subsequent to Nothing (Salt, 2008), was shortlisted in Britain for the 2009 Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, and its sequel, Blue Sandbar Moon (The Irish Pages Press), appeared in 2018. His new poetic work, Trump Rant (The Irish Pages Press, 2021), has simply been printed