Monday, August 21, 2017

A Book That Would Have Been: On Scott-Patrick Mitchell's Unpublished Manuscript Vade Mecum

Introduction to SPM’s Vade Mecum

            by John Kinsella

We have: eros, psyche, ‘the mountain, the valley, the river, the tree’. We have self, we have process and other selves, we have nature. We have language, loss, and intense desire to heal. ‘Desire’ is a word in the dictionary we’ve missed really coming to grips with. It’s so much more expansive than definition allows — SPM expands our understanding, the possibilities. So much of this is shadowed in this text we perform in our own ways, spaces.

Moisture, stars, The Lord’s Prayer rewired and defused, a guide to ways of expressing love and the right to speak it. Healing, the medicinal, reassurance, affirmation in the face of a tense world and its ironies, bodily alchemy, the human as the cat’s familiar, the beauty of abjection, fluidity, and the friendly face of (nonetheless) sharp satire. SPM delights in recontextualising language, taking a nineteenth-century cliché as an erotic and semantic ploy — ‘dew’ is the pun par excellence, sincere and disarming.

‘a salem love poem’ interplays convention and filmic representations of ‘American’ self-originating stories that base themselves on the anxiety of displacing the native American belongings with new world ghostings, of witches escaped from the old world to destabilise the colonial presence. In such slippages are SPM’s voicings — his bricolage of presence, made up of all he watches and experiences, those semiotic feedings of a wired-in life that is cybernetic, and feeling the angst and pain of love’s pleasures and failings. Burnt offerings, swords to ploughshares, witches as victimised, the colonial imposition — at stake, the self-given in a risky world of no clear meanings, where text is the pattern we make for ourselves to state innocence and culpability woven together. How can a love poem declare itself in the contradictions?

SPM is not going to play ball with a dick pic. He might not send it to the mother of the offender (fair move after warnings have been issued and little choice is left!), but he’s going to tackle any imposition with what it deserves. He is conscious of boundaries, and he is going to differentiate between the rights of text to go where it will, and the rights of the self to declare what is appropriate or not. What goes, and what doesn’t, is in flux, but ‘no’ means no, as it always should. There’s a highly attuned sensibility when personal and political rights are contesting for space in a consuming, capitalised world. The right of presence, to share without constraint, doesn’t mean the right to objectify and to take away from intactness. Desire and imposition are not yoked in sexual discourse:

words like stretch & choke
spill freely from this bloke
as he objectifies me into the
object i will never be

Love and desire, lust and consummation, are not about imposition. Again and again, these are poems of rights, poems of language’s possibility to extend outside the status quo, to particularise and universalise at once, over and over, but to know respect and intactness of self and community. Complex conversations that need to be had through puns, play, and concise expression. This is a poetry that knows — that is unrestrained in the references it feeds on and feeds out, will revalue ‘tired terms’, and invigorate the unexpected as well — a vibrant even playing-field of wit. We are we, and us is I, and yet unappreciated as a self the pursuer wants us to perform, to role-play for them, but forgetting we too have roles and subjectivity. Now, there’s a generous willingness to play along, as desire says so, and love definitely insists, but not at the loss of self-respect or rights to be loved as well. It’s not simple, ever, but it can be rendered in the beautiful, in the gesture of the love poem. A dawn moment, an aubade that is love of the world as well. Again, mutual and proliferating respect.

Such a desire for living, to be alive, and to share that. In the containment of the poem is the proliferating largesse, the welcoming on the journey — intimate companionship. Polysemous love and desire out of a invigorating view of body and spirit, in which the trans is the normative and a worldview grows and expands as inclusive is what is and what has been hidden by the repressive control mechanisms of states, and their tooled-up iron maidens of gender, sexuality identity control. This is a book of liberty and freedom with awareness running in-sync with a desire of just outcomes.

Elegy — the loss of a sister anchors us to the narrative of life as performance, as crisis, as vulnerability. What is left after loss? It’s powerful because it isn’t easy, none of it.

Celebrity is local, not mass, poetry is the breath, as Yoko says to SPM in the twittersphere, but even more than the unspeakable, it’s the unbreathable which in pain but a desire for what’s best and loving and durable is the poem’s compactness and levers of pleasure and intense sadness working herein. We are loved by SPM in this, and we need to love him back. We can, you know. And in such respectful and varied and varying ways. So many degrees of encounter and so many words we still need to conjure, just to make do. The wet of death, the wet of love, the saline solution that conducts the currents across states of being. We share in our differences; we make the larger thought patterns in speaking, in breathing others’ breath.

Our chant communication, our ‘post-verbal’ poetry is also a delving into the choate, the inchoate, the pre-speech. Not post-structuralist only, but a conversation across the linguistic tree, its branchings. And so what do we give and receive outside prosody, outside the organisation of a poem? The mouth moves, and the eyes see inwards — there are no physical or psychic ‘impairments’. All differences are gains. The lexical is just one path. Other paths, so many others, are vibrant within these containment fields of language that let go, let go, let us in. Share. Osmotic. Where Kurt Schwitters saw his vowels go outwards and echo, a resonance that might have to come, that has happened, is doing. Beyond. Deep pragmatics of needing a poetics of inclusive beyond. These are our poems, too. In the teaching and receiving, receiving and teaching, the mentoring and being mentored, in the open collaboration. In the cipher, the shaman, the medium. We are here, too.

And in the fake-news world, the Lincoln residues. But this is non-violence, only the violence refracted through the performative act of power. The tyranny that wills its violence. The theatre is not real, though Lincoln fell. The metaphor for violence is horrifying enough. Peace. Pacifist language must step in, calm the choir, the hecklers, the hawkers of hate speech. But the terrible possibility of violence is there — violence making violence. And that’s terrifying.

But the poem enacting is costly and difficult, and people don’t always get it, even close people. Yet people need poems for them, and poems must be written for them — it’s compulsion, need, and much more... ineffable:

being a poet is like being an addict
because your sister will send you
text messages that read you fucking
junkie poet cunt, why don’t you go
& get a real job & she doesn’t know
that you do indeed have one: your
job being to open the souls of every
person you meet to the mightiness
of the unknown, a thing you can
achieve if you have that singular
right perfect poem

Being an unromantic romantic can be devastating, and shares qualities of and with addiction/s.

Orthography is survival in a violent world, not only a mirror. Loan poem, learning to read, rehabilitation of definitions, the list and its echoes.

This book is to the memory, to the body, to the being of sister. Sister lost cannot be rebuilt but the breath is present and moving and still there. Elegy is conceptual sprung rhythm. We have, in ‘the white lilly’, the matter-of-factness of it, the loss... the need to write the poem, to write the poem for them, those who have lost life, for life itself. The poem resonating for her — recuperative in some ways, in ways:

when you lose a sister
to cancer, you sometimes
wish you could remove a rib
rebuild her into being, but ya
bloodwork don’t match, even
though, when you use that
face app, to find out what
you would look like as a
woman, her face pouts back

There is disturbance out of loss — desire becomes distressing and its path to redemption is troubled, self-punishing. The sense of self collapsing is thwarted by redefining the self in the world outside the body, the flesh, the psyche. An anxiety over death is a search for reason, a need for ‘elegance’, as if form has some way of holding back loss, emptiness. A process of rebuilding, of manoeuvring out of the way of the ‘fuck off we’re full’ horror of right-wing bigots.

There is nature, and it is outside the self, though to merge with it is redemption, too. Yes, yes... Lake Monger, the moorhens, the swans, what the line actually takes us to. Cough of an ibis, secular resurrection of suburban — the ‘bird poem’ as encounter with so many threads of enculturation, and of bird itself. Yes, nature is rising in the breath as it was always there and always will be, and we need to stand against the exploiters and protect the spaces where the bulldozers go. Yes, you and I and we and he sang to the bulldozers — we were there, all of us. I know the mantra, so do you, and so does SPM. Concern is part of it, being active and out there and speaking our breath is essential. Self is nature, too. We owe it. We owe culture. We need to listen and touch and see and sense and make poems as we can, any way we can. And wet is water and it has a structure and ecology, and makes. This is city speaking. This is city more than buildings. This is city community people nature and buildings. This is Perth, this poem book. This making. This respect. Listen. Breathe.

*Note: Due to the closing down of the original publisher, the work in the manuscript discussed above will eventually appear in a different form/arrangement with another publisher. 

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