Epiphanies

Ye goon to Cauntebury – God yow speede,
The blisful martir quite yow youre meede!
And wel I woot, as ye goon by the weye,
Ye sharpen yow to talen & to pleye;
Chaucer

Eighteen years ago this week, I found myself in a modern cell of a studentesque room, high over the rooftops of Portsmouth, England’s fairest port. In the distance I could make out the masts of HMS Victory, & about me in my room were scattered the first few tomes of my rudimentary poetry library. A few months previously, at the back-end of 1996, I had discovered that I was, in fact, & after all, a poet. Since those rather joyous, vernal days – I was only 20 at the time – both my capabilities in the poetic spheres & my library have grown somewhat. On a personal level, I am only a couple of years shy of completing what to Julius Ceasar would be a course of training in the Bardic Arts. In his Gallic Wars he states; ‘reports say that in the schools of the druids, they learn by heart a great number of verses, and therefore some persons remain twenty years under training.’ Little did I know when setting out on my own poetic path that my spirit was more that of a Celtic bard than a conventional poet. A great deal of this has been my work with Clio, the Grecian muse of history; to the traditional Celtic bard, & indeed the poets of other more distant lands such as the Izibongo of Africa, a poet’s work consists of both praising their chiefs & chronicling the history of the tribe. Among the last exponents of this practice were the 17th century bards of the Earls of Thomond, who produced praise-poems & genealogies for their noble sponsors.

Despite a recent resurgance in dressing up as Druids down Wales way, the true British Bardic Colleges are long gone. To redress this, I have had to become both my own pupil & teacher, which has led to the initiation of these lectures. With only two years left until my graduation, so to speak, I thought it would be prudent to re-assess all the poetical studies I have undertaken these past two decades, & at the same time set some kind of universal benchmark, a personal dissertation in the poetic field, as certain poets have found themselves compelled to do from time-to-time (Sydney, Shelley, Arnold, Elliot). The final result, I believe, & if I pass my own stringent course of examination, will be my accession to some kind of druidical status: not the mistletoe-chopping, virgin-sacrificing type, but a modern-day version who may influence social matters through the word-weavings of his pen. The title obtained will be that of a Pendragon, whom in Ceasar’s words; ‘of all these druids one is chief, who has the highest authority among them.’

To assist me in the endeavour, I am slowly gathering my library in from Scotland – the first installment will be arriving a couple of weeks back from East Lothian, being a couple of hundred books & my old computer. The whole occasion rather reminds me of a passage in the diary of Haiku poet Matsuo Basho, who wrote of his pilgrimage to the sacred mountain of Nikko:

Most of the things I had brought for my journey turned out to be impediments, and I had thrown them away. However, I still carried my paper robe, my straw raincoat, inkstone, brush, paper, lunch box, and other things on my back – quite a load for me. More and more my legs grew weaker and my body lost strength. Making wretched progress, with knees trembling, I carried on as best as I could, but I was utterly weary.

Among the tomes currently collated in the bedrooms of my house in Burnley (70 Laithe Street), is the very excellent Selected Essays of TS Elliot (1917-1932), which are something of a project similar to my own. Elliot was the last meaningful poet to write extensively on the art, & his essay-writing began, interestingly enough, exactly a century before my own studies shall end (1917/2017). Elliot, & his pal Ezra Pound, were the heralds of modern poetry, who muscled the iambic pentameter off the page & opened up the infinite array of possibilities latent within Free Verse. Since the highwater mark of the Beatnik movement in the 50s & 60s, Free Verse has rather waddled along like a duck out of water, & I believe it is time that the art of Poetry must in some way be reset, that we have come full circle. The twentieth century adventure is over, there is nothing more to be gained from persisting in the all-conquering modes utilized by the poets of my peerdom.

The same sentiments are etched into my copy of Elliot’s Essays – I do not know when I scribbled them down, but it must have been sometime after the twentieth of November 2003, when I was due to return the book to Brixton Library. My guess is 2006, for it was in the winter of that year, approaching the half-way point along the bardic path, that I completed my first batch of poetical essays, on the Sicilian island of Marettimo. The scholia form a perfectly apt prologue-cum-manifesto to what I hope to achieve as the Pendragon;

I have perfected poetry on a personal level & now wish to project that mastery onto a wider field by selecting the choicest fruits from the orchard… by founding a school to study all previous poetry as ‘classical’… to form a launch-pad for any future evolution of the Art.

Seven centuries ago, the heraldic war-shields of the English were slightly altered, with the leopards being changed into lions. In the same fashion, it is time for poets the world over to transform themselves into nobler, more powerful beasts, & once again become the respected equals of kings. For this reason, & one of self-determination, I have commenced this protracted journey through poetry & its accompanying literature. I do not know how many essays I shall write, but in due course I hope to establish a new agenda for poetical intercourse, which shall draw massively on the past, but also project well into the future. There are hundreds of thousands of poets out there as yet untrained & as yet unborn, & it is for these that I commit my own erudition into indelible worderie, beginning with the 20th century Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz;

On a steep street somewhere a schoolboy comes home from the library, carrying a book. The book has a title: Afloat in the Forest. Stained by the fingers of diligent Indians. A ray of sunlight on Amazon lianas, leaves spreading on the green water in mats so thick a man can walk across them. The dreamer wanders from one bank to the other, the monkeys, brown & hairy as a nut, make hanging bridges in trees above his head. He is the future reader of our poets

Burnley
April 18, 2015

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