Commentaries

Outside & Subterranean Poems, a Mini-Anthology in Progress (63): Joanna Southcott (1750-1814), “At the time the horror of the devil was upon me, I felt I could not bear my existence..."

Joanna Southcott: “A box of common wood” which holds “the ark of the new covenan
Joanna Southcott: “A box of common wood” which holds “the ark of the new covenant”

June 13th, 1804.                             

 

AT the time the horror of the devil was upon me, I felt I could not bear my existence: therefore I desired Mrs. Underwood to take away every knife out of the room; that, in my despairing moments, I might not lay violent hands on myself. As soon as she was gone, I fell on my knees in prayer, and could not avoid crying aloud; but could not express all with my tongue, what I felt in my heart: but, finding I had no answer to my prayers, I arose, and was silent for some minutes, listening if I could hear “the small still VOICE OF THE LORD.” But, feeling no comfort, and hearing no answer, I opened the door, and desired Mrs. Underwood to send the letters by their own directions, as none were given to me. Mrs. Underwood, in floods of tears, said, we cannot direct ourselves; and no more letters shall go out of the house, unless the Lord, in His unbounded Love, Mercy, and Goodness, will direct us through thee. She then went and told Miss Townley, no answer was given, no more directions from the Lord. The Lord had hid his face from us, and no more letters shall go out of this house: for she felt in her heart, if the Lord would not be pleased to direct us, we would not direct ourselves.  She then came back to me, and told me, that Miss Townley was upon her knees in prayer and tears, when Mrs. Underwood came back with this word. Here all were alarmed; and they would do nothing of themselves, without the directions of the Lord.  Then the Light of the Lord broke in upon me; and I walked the room in tears, speaking these words :

“I feel my JESUS is not gone;

I feel my SAVIOUR will return;

He’th hid his face, but now he's come; —

A tedious night shall a bright morning have:

Then my soul shall take its old abode,

And, cloth’d in flesh, I shall behold my God.”

 

My repeating these words, Underwood fell down upon her knees, to return thanks to the Lord: and, in an instant, a Spirit entered me, that took my senses; and I felt strength enough in me, as though I could crush the world to atoms. The

Spirit spoke with power and fury, “I’ll chain the rebel to his den.” I walked up and down the room, and shook the whole house; for I was not myself.  I could not stop my fury; words flew too fast to utter against the power of darkness: and I felt in myself power, that I thought, if he was present, that I could tear him to pieces; and should not have feared, had there been ten thousand men and devils before me. After this power ceased, I laid myself upon the bed, to compose myself for a little while. I soon was ordered to rise and write. The first words I penned, were, “Dear Lord! what Spirit hath been so powerful in me, this day.” I was answered,  “The shadow of the substance to come in all. The horror of hell that thou hast felt this day, some will come against thee in, by temptations — then as a God I shall appear in thee, and cast the devils out of men by my power, as I broke in thee: but as I knew these things were too high for thee, without a veil between, I caused Foley's illness, for thou to judge it a pleasing dream. Now I must explain that, before I go any further, Mr. Foley's illness, with the other confusions, gave Satan the advantage over me: and, as I had written the day before that the Lord had ordained the thing concerning the book, and then to feel that horror and misery after, threw me into a dreadful state of despair.  And now I shall go on, as it is spoke in verse.

 

“And now I tell thee how I shall appear

In much more power then they all shall see:

Than now, this day I entered into thee.

Because, in power, I did now appear,

And now’s the time I’ll shake the earth once more.

And they shall find ME in the woman’s form;

For hell shall tremble now it shall be known.

For now, I say, I'll chain the rebel down,

And men shall tremble at my every sound;

For every heart I shall much stronger shake,

Than ere thy walking in this room did make:

And much more fury every foe will see,

Than ere this day did now appear in thee. …

 

COMMENTARY

SOURCE: Letters, and Communications of Joanna Southcott, the Prophetess of Exeter, printed by J. Heming, Stourbridge, 1804.

And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered..... And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. (Rev 12:1,2,5)

 

A self-named prophetess & a prolific writer, she came late in life to an understanding of herself as the “woman clothed with the sun” in the Book of Revelation & of her child-to-be as the newly returning messiah (thereafter named Shiloh).  From a family of poor farmers, with little education & with much of her life spent in domestic service, she came to her visions at the age of forty-two, along with a drive to set them down in words, which she did in an extensive series of books, principal among them the eight she called The Strange Effects of Faith.  The writing there (and elsewhere, as is made apparent by the above) is a striking mix of prose & verse – a kind of visionary combination not uncommon in the writing of outsider or vernacular mystics. Her greatest work, however, now effectively lost or hidden by later generations of Southcottian followers, was the “ark of the new covenant” (so-called), “a box of common wood” in which many of her writings & other objects of power & prophecy were selectively placed & sealed away. It is, if we choose to see it as such, reminiscent of the paleolithic cave (Trois Frères) in which the image that opens this anthology is found, or, at a still greater stretch, Marcel Duchamp’s Green Box or his Boîte-en-valise, as yet another artifact on the border between art & life.

Allen Ginsberg: "don't smoke"

Allen Ginsberg, accompanying himself on the harmonium, chants his “Put Down Yr Cigarette Rag”: MP3.

Hemispheric History 101

Roberto Tejada's takedowns...

Detroit and an engine of modernism

Roberto Tejada, Exposition Park (Wesleyan University Press, 2010), 68 pp. $22.99.  In After Translation Ignacio Infante attempts to disable national, linguistic and cultural borders in order to reposition modernism as a hemispheric, if not global, phenomenon. In doing so, he follows the paths of any number of writers and critics (the late Lorenzo Thomas, for example).  However, Infante places translation, in Walter Benjamin’s sense, at the center of this project. Going a step farther, Roberto Tejada torques Benjamin’s arcade, underscoring its curatorial facet. Thus Exposition Park is itself a kind of updated Harlem Gallery, teasing out the linguistic, political and cultural implications of Tolson’s magnum opus. Divided into seven sections which correspond directly or indirectly to public and museum art projects, exhibits and performances, this book dissects Anglo-American myth concerning the Americas and sutures a “new” history that emphasizes “In no beginning/ was there just one language.” (42) The central metaphors throughout are the various world expositions during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Offered as self-congratulatory paeans to the imagined futures of the sciences and humanities, these expositions were predicated on suppressing the ugly histories on which, too often, the sciences and humanities were founded. More specifically, Tejada unearths the Spanish, Portuguese and English colonial adventures that gave birth to the modern Americas. The resulting cultural contradictions peculiar—though not unique—to Latin America are perhaps best summed up in the last section, “Debris in Pink And Black,” inspired by Bataille’s musings on desire: “Blackout at the looking glass, unite the guest and foreigner, most reflective of feeding time when I swallowed my own likeness.” (56) Or as he puts it in “Diorama (after Magali Lara),” A borderland state between demise and rebirth, place parallel to childhood where fingers recur those first prohibitions—of mixing and diluting, of wallowing in our own smear—so as to achieve, at last, a change of skin.” (28) Crisscrossing languages, geographical borders (the Mexican-United States border is only one of several), and cultural taboos, Exposition Park is, in the most literal sense, a transgressive text, one of those books that rewards reading after reading.

Two Occitan Poets, Bernat Manciet & Marcela Delpastre, from an Assemblage in Progress

Translated with commentaries by Pierre Joris & Nicole Peyrafitte

Bernat Manciet & Marcela Delpastre
Bernat Manciet & Marcela Delpastre

[What follows is part of a new gathering of written & oral Occitan literatures, conceived  as a sixth volume of Poems for the Millennium under the title A Millennium of Occitan Writing.  The time span goes from the earliest surviving examples of Occitan poetry — that of the 11th century trobadors, the inventors of European lyric poetry — to the work of the current generation of Occitan writers, concerned with rehabilitating their language in both daily & literary modes in an epoch which one could describe as somewhat “post-colonial.” The book will be finished by 2015 & should be published late that year or in early 2016 from Contra Mundum Press.  (P.J.)]

 

Bernat Manciet

from LITURGY: The Mystery of Glory

ASSUMPTA EST

Uzeste, August 1998

I

 

horse steps through stone

silences in the stone

clams & knives

& ferns & frost flowers

fires in the holy stone

deep glory within the rock

fire frozen in the lithostrata

fire safe fire that speaks

boulder heart Our Lady

 

you kept it all to yourself

they burn in your heart

you sleep & cannot sleep

temblored by springs

immaculatest architecture

impatience of live dew

of constrained power

cloistered fire enisles you

to sing exacts you

to nighten disperses you

to humble yourself exalts you

& you reach like a branch

 

II

 

Edifice appended

oaks of flaming cushats

you are but a moan

you are but a cushat

stripped maiden edifice

a naked word

dying from dawn to dawn

at sunrise at plum moon

moan & stone

of love

 

umbrage of moan to those who groan

shade them with fire & stone

for you yourself fire & fresh shade

refreshing thickets of fire

the flame clothes you in softness

soft bare stone

like fresh ewe’s cheese

harp pities you abandoned

like a betrothed

naked like fulgurant  

loving

 

III

 

moon chunk at river’s rim

moonlight you call

& the moon howls you to the heights

your springs spurt & spread

toward the springs night’s springs

your gardens rise like lettuces

chunk of fire grows stems & columns

like burdock

your gladiolas throw shadows on heaven’s peaks

whose gardens you unveil

bodies of stone they carry away

your cravings: Azael & Rafael & Renel

 

& Rehel with Gabriel & Michael the seven torches

& the seven tulips all Uriel

“& may the stone rise!” they flame together

& the stone blazed

clothed in song

& fire & light & song are but one & the same stone

that holds all stones at once

all night the willow on the eyes integral

the Vision

 

NOTE: Bernat Manciet (1923-2005) one of the, if not the, major Occitan poet of the second part of the 20C. Assumpta Est is a section from a strange, near-blasphemous “liturgy” speaking to the landscape that anchored both man & work, las Lanas de Gasconha, the Landes of Gascony. Translating Manciet poses the complex problem of translating from a minoritized language, a problem intensified by the poet’s decision to write in a specific regional variation of Occitan, namely the Gascon spoken in the Landes region, & in a version — he is proud to claim — “only forty people understand,” while specifying elsewhere: “My language is black Gascon, which is a dialect of great harshness and with a kind of internal contempt for the other languages.” The work thus presents an opaque, near impenetrable surface, whose rhythms & abrupt music do however help the reader through its semantic clottedness. Not that this is new to modern (or even older) poetry, to the contrary. Thus his quasi-contemporary, the German language poet Paul Celan spoke of “the darkness of the poem today, of a darkness of the poem qua poem, a constitutive, thus a congenital darkness. In other words: the poem is born dark; it comes, as the result of a radical individuation, into the world as a language fragment, thus, as far as language manages to be world, freighted with world.” Manciet’s poems come indeed freighted with the darkness of a threatened culture, landscape & language.

 

Marcela Delpastre

The Stone

   I don’t know if they bleed, the stones. Or if they scream, if they howl under the wheel & the mace, or if the knife’s blade wounds them, deep in their flesh, slicing through them.

 

   I know that the loam that sometimes runs from them, no matter how red, is not blood.

 

   And I’ll say nothing of their tenderness, from stone to stone, from water to air.

 

   But what I know is that our blood comes from the stone. And our flesh comes from nowhere else, come from stone we are stone, we are dust and wind’s smoke.

 

   That our blood is blood of the stone, and our heat is of the sun, and our wail the howl of the stone, through which our soul passes full-bodied, that we are the soul of the stone — but tell me, the stone, who is the stone — where does she come from?

 

The Scream of the Stones

When the stones start to howl, to howl like a sick dog,

like a child lost in the night,

like the dogs at the moon,

like a woman in her pains,

have you heard them, the stones?

 

When the stones howl under the hammer and under the mace, when the stones wail under the steel’s edge,

have you heard them lament?

 

— Have you heard them sing?

When you hear it blow, the wind that goes & whips the stone,

& that passes its hands through its hair, its fingers over the stone’s soft cheek,

listen to it sing...

 

Listen to it sleep, the stone.  For so much time inside the blackness of time and of the stone.

Listen to it breathe.

 

So bravely, such a long and deep breath that never ends, you’ll listen to its respiration...

 

One on top of the other, one behind the other, one against the other, sand above, sand below, the earth is deep and the stones sleep inside of it.

Don’t you hear them sleep?

 

NOTE: Marcela Delpastre (1925-1998) is an immense poet from the Limousin region who proudly gave her profession as “peasant.” Though she studied philosophy & literature in high school & then decorative arts in Limoges, she gave it all up in 1945 to return home & run the family farm.  Writing both in Occitan & in French, she is the author of a massive oeuvre still in the process of being published (by Jan dau Melhau at Editions du Chamin de Sant Jaume). As one commentator put it: “She is as much of a literary genius as Manciet or Rouquette and yet in France she is accorded much less recognition, being considered a less-valued ‘peasant-poet.’ A witness of the profound upheavals of the post-WW2 era, she cultivates an ongoing absolute relationship to the — her — land & to her language(s), through conscious & reactive writing & persistent anger, both nourished by ethnography & a deep knowledge of ecosystems & of the human soul.”

half and a second...

another pink tie...

Jared Schickling, The Pink (BlazeVox Books, 2012), 75 pp., unpriced

Unlike the Wittgenstein-inspired ruminations of Schlesinger’s book with the same title, Schickling’s exuberant derring-do refers explicitly to the German folktale (one of the ones collected by the Grimm brothers) called “The Pink, Or The Carnation.”  But Schickling’s book is more than just a masterful rewriting of the original gender-bending story. Its concerns with patrilineal and matrilineal tactics, pitting gods against humans, parents against siblings, servants against masters, and so forth becomes the launching pad for a bizarrely compelling mash-up of Joyce’s Portrait (“bee bay/yoo hoo”), L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz (“Power lines! lashed to boards bolted a species of limb snapping one night through gusting minor storms”) and Dante’s Inferno ( “B.” is our narrator’s spunky daughter, Beatrice). The mix-up/disappointment of the queen in the fairy tale (she is accused of murdering her son) occasions our narrator’s tale as a journey from childhood (“I was an accident”) to fatherhood. A dizzying display of different fonts, typefaces, prosaic and verse forms, The Pink ranges back and forth between the perspectives of children and parents, boys and girls, and mothers and fathers. In that sense it is truly a family tale as well as an intensely personalized autobiography. In other words, this is the kind of poetry only a parent or a child could "get," if not throughly appreciate,  though the rest of us can revel in its linguistic inventions and marvels.