John Kinsella: nature morte: Oh Rhetoric!

for John Tranter

Calls for clarity
suggest the breakdown
or rediscovery of a market
like horrible workers
following Rimbaud
as he moves through and out
of the post-modern
work ethic, meaning just hanging there
like an island buoyed by dense air,
as the earth revolves unsecured
The masters leave studios
& paint only for personal
gratification -- horrible workers
keeping the studios going,
contracting art to a single flourish
of pen or brush. Like Cicciolina
being the model for everything
in the glossy magazine apartments
of meta-kitsch. Or Elle Macpherson
saying you should only read
what you've written yourself.
Or Christo hiding dead art
beneath swathes of wrapping.
On the Island of Doctor
Moreau the animal-humans
animate analogies & moralize
as we take our medicine.
Taking the cure means
making it suffer. Metaphor
is the only way of saying something
plain & simple & as we turn full circle
towards Babel Fowler becomes a kind of
trendy gibberish. In
Giacomo Balla's
Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash
we notice the energy
of a still in which Balla
delights in the simultaneity
of deprivation. Innovation
is the fraudulent usage
of an established
method of discussion
on the nature of intent
& inspiration
only because there's a market.
We might still be drawn to expression
without a means of exchange
but it's unlikely we'd be pushed
to validate it. But that's
in a perfect world where your indulgence
wouldn't bother anyone a damn.
That if you didn't work you'd starve
alone. A doctor tells the story
of a suicide who survived
just long enough to fully comprehend
the totality of pain.
He'd drunk toilet cleaner
& then changed his mind.
Like the late twentieth century.
There's no need to refer to particular
incidents to make this a political poem.
I can analogize by using the Island
of Doctor Moreau & prompting the reader
to consider the tyrannies of science,
which is a euphemism
for. The Law Giver is dead.
The Ipecacuanha like a UFO fixation.
In the House of Pain Moreau said: "You
forget all that a skilled vivisector
can do with living things."
Here, if you wish
for an absolute kind of illumination
you must of course
read the book. I have read the book.
A lot of my friends are writers.
Many are venerated by their peers
& would be considered to have good taste
in things literary. I write a poem & hand it around.
Some praise it as the best thing I've written,
other suggest I return to the draft-board,
others that I scrap & take a rest.
I consider that the best thing
you've written might not mean much
if deep down they think that the rest
of your stuff is pretty lousy.
Even their judgments
have different meanings
depending on how they tell me & how I listen.
Style doesn't change, but styles do.
I once led into a poem with a quote
from Brodsky: "Everything has its limit,
including sorrow." I read the poem. It's titled
"Trans-celluloid Vision". I consider why
the quote is used? The poem is in three
parts and the last stanza reads: "Everything has its limit --
the train slowing, the journey
almost complete. Relief
borders on sorrow.
I lose track of the plot,
embracing the platform." In the light
of the rest of the poem this is a little "tacked on".
It is a poem about a fragmenting relationship;
a kind of lament.
But this doesn't really come through
so it can't [really] be about that.
I haven't guided the reader.
through italicising "can't"
to make my intention clear(er).
My problems continue(d)
with a second reading
& I suggest(ed)
it's another of those I gave up on but wasn't able
to get rid of.
Years later & I'm at it again.
The first line of section 1 (View from a train)
reads "The curve of the track/betrays the engine."
I remember the train going from Sydney to Melbourne.
That the mystery of movement was lost when
the engine appeared out of the window. I think it was
raining & the atmosphere was "surreal". But this
is not my word, it comes from somewhere else.
The poem continues: "Moisture
trapped within the double-paned window
makes liars of manufacturers claiming
air-tight security. I stare past the frame
of lacquered wood & outside the day
is cinematographic. Flickering
from reel to reel until the credits
show the names of logging & catering companies,
trucking & management industries."
The second stanza turns against the first:
"A green desert. Sheep moving slowly
through viscous paddocks, water pooling
like blood. Dry country stranded
on the backbone of grey granite.
A washed sunset emphasizes
the sharp teeth of a retreating city."
I recall being dissatisfied with the "washed
sunset" -- maybe "brooding" or "harsh"
or some other more active adjective?
But it was the bitterness of sorrow
that intrigued & this disparate
image stuck. In the dissection
of the corpse of this poem
I recall Lyn Hejinian
telling me how she'd gone to watch
autopsies with Mike Patton,
the lead singer of Faith No More.
I wouldn't have mentioned Mike but his music
has always interested me & if he hadn't been
on world tour I'd have tried to solicit
material for the literary journal I edit.
Lyn said
that in this de-sensitized environment
(actually that's my word, I can't remember
what she said specifically but its effect
on me was to suggest this) the body
wasn't that frightening.
I think she held a liver.
I asked if it was like a collection of artefacts
being removed carefully from a tomb.
I think she laughed.
But it might not have
been a comfortable laugh. The second section
of my poem is entitled: "The Cat
& The Canary or The Absence Of Sorrow
Accompanying A Belated Reading
Of The Millionaire's Will: A Reconstruction
To Help Pass The Time" So, it's sorrow
by association. In true post-modern spirit
I digress into commentary on a 1927 b & w
horror film. Somewhere in there there's
the influence of Tranter. I'm tossing up
whether to "background" this piece.
No, I'll quote it in full & then elaborate,
simply noting that the long lines
do not best capture the short subtitles
that accompany silent movies but do suggest
the notion of linear narrative. Maybe
as you read the long-lined version
you can also visualize how it would
look were it segmented, chopped up:
"The late night silent classic for the real buffs.
Shot in '27. The director died two years later
Of blood poisoning. The screen throws a double image,
The UHF aerial failing, or the ghost of the director
Fermenting `in-camera' with age. He has the cast
Lip-synching their way through a reading
Of an eccentric millionaire's will in a house
That his ghost has occupied for twenty years.
There is Mammy Patient, Susan & the famous
West Diamonds, Annabelle, Paul, & The Lawyer.
GHOSTS! The portrait falls to the floor.
Mammy inks her brow. The will
Mentions a distant relative & demands
Sanity. The lawyer disappears. The murderer --
Claw-fingered & with nails like razors
Is seen only by Susan, who must PROVE
Her sanity! The doctor with peculiar hands
Arouses suspicion. There's a moth in the safe
Though it's not been opened for twenty years!
And who hired the imposter asylum warder
Who's hunting a madman who tears
His victims as a cat does a canary?"
Strangely this section stops here.
No [witty] line that might hint at resolution.
If the title is considered we might
reflect on the ruthlessness
of the participants.
An allegory of the twentieth century.
Or of the human condition generally?
It's been noted that the last stanza
of the final section
seems a little "tacked on".
But in the light of the second section maybe
it's a pretty obvious conclusion?
Part 3 ("Solarization -- a celebration") reads:
My mind blank. Spencer Gore's painting
The Ickneild Way 1912
appears stereoscopic
on my glasses, or so
I'm told. A geometric
almost tabular sky
registers through a film
of brilliant light
as the train celebrates
the approaching city's
The sky inflects
& organizes fancy:
the landscape bright,
explosive, threatens
to ignore the script."
"Organizes fancy" -- it reminds me
of a review by James Dickey
on John Ashbery's first
collection of poetry.
I can't remember what he said exactly
but he hated the book.
I tracked the book down
& thought it was great.
But then I like Ashbery{'s poetry}.
There's something about his use of weirs,
I think.
I'm reminded of Vasari
talking of Leonardo
saying that he could find no living model
for the features for his head of Christ,
so it was best left incomplete. It existed in my files
as a kind of still life,
as a piece of dead nature
waiting for clarity,
hinting at de-

This poem originally appeared in Tinfish, a Hawaii magazine.