This train of thought, which will be truncated, I promise you, because I don’t have either time or energy to follow it through or give it structure, was set off by the reception of this poem, posted at PFFA for critical responses.
The crits were very fair, I thought, and touched on the exact bits of the poem that, while not exactly giving me trouble, are not yet entirely integrated into the piece. All I can say is that the piece (poem?) is opening the door on something that has been niggling at me for years. What it is I won’t say. But I will direct you to one of VLAW’s meditations on engaged poetry.
But it isn’t accidental that people see elements of Eliot in my work. It’s not just Eliot, however; it’s also early Kamau Brathwaite, before he went too far into Language for me to follow. And Kamau echoes Eliot.
If I were to name my poetic influences, they’d be Eliot and Brathwaite. One semi-fascist, high-church, American Anglophile, one radical, rasta-influenced, postcolonial Barbadian Anglophobe. Both men. Both writing from a place of fury and despair. Both living most of their lives in exile and seeking to make that make sense.
Let me share a little of the two influences here. You’ve seen Ash Wednesday, or most (2/3) of it, anyway. I’ll excerpt a bit from East Coker below. But first, Kamau:
My puffy pink-
hard, hold no
The precious life-
line readings there
Just hard hands,
man, spade hard
with their blisters.
O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody’s funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.
From “East Coker”
Talk about engaged.