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Jason Camlot: The Debaucher

This piece is about 6 printed pages long.
It is copyright © Jason Camlot and Jacket magazine 2007.

Who is the debaucher?
He is not a bad man.
He is, in fact, pure
with wild intention.
He is, as they say,
the “childish roué...
with a burning purity”
to lead you astray.
He means no harm
to those in whom he must
incite a change of course
for better or for worse.
He is the inkling in you,
little red devil
near your left ear,
suggesting casually
that it might not be such a bad thing
if you were to stay, maybe,
an hour or two more,
just to see what will occur.
It might be very interesting,
you can hear him whispering.
How can you not delay
your return home,
when things may be
in the process of evolving
into something
potentially life altering.
The debaucher understands
each moment is just once.
His understanding is chronic.
He feels what’s imminent
as ceaseless, painful breathing
(only it is pleasurable for him)
and he is compelled
to remind you because, well,
you are prone to forget
that time moves,
that time moves
and you are not really
alive at all
if you do not move, too,
in some direction
you had not expected.


Débaucher is traditionally a verb.
It might have meant to un-bench
(de-bauche) someone, that is, to disturb
him in his work, to wrench
him from the shop
and lead him to the alley
or the bar. It’s French.
Desbauch, debosh, debaush, deboach, debauch.
It used to rhyme with approach
but now it rhymes with botch.
While not related
to Déboucher or Déboucheur
meaning, metaphorically,
to unmouth and mouth opener,
but more literally, to uncork
and bottle opener,
there are similarities: both work
to make things flow
in new directions,
both words come from the French.
It makes me think of a sonnet
Rob wrote, Sonnet:
Rimbaud Made Me Do It.
Rimbaud and Baudelaire and Mallarmé
made him into the poet that he was.
They trespassed the order of his daily
surroundings, and painful translations
brought him pleasurable revelations.
He tried in his naiveté to be
as daring and intensely bodily,
and visionary, as they were,
as he could be, still living
in the suburbs.
We cannot do in English
what they do in French.
And when we try
it ends up sounding very dirty.
So, there’s a brief etymology.


The debaucher is not necessarily
a person. It can be a memory,
or the absence of compelling
memory, or deliberately selective
memory. It can be fear,
because fear keeps us from choosing
certain paths, and consequently chooses other paths.
It can be sudden love.
It can be a sense of right and good,
or a diverting taste of blood.
It can be an act of sound, like rhyme.
Rhyme makes poetry debauch.
It leads a line regrettably astray.
It jars us awkwardly into apposite thought.
With sound rhyme makes things touch that shouldn’t touch.
Caresses move from hand to knee to crotch
O so quickly when rhyme’s allowed its way.
And then everything changes instantly.
Adjacent thoughts that had been friendly and pragmatic,
now set aflame by rhyme become dramatic.
A rhyme can give a word radical new meaning.
When Byron rhymes bottle with Aristotle
it makes me want to drink metaphysics
ice cold, on a hot day, without a glass.
It makes me want to drink beer until I’m sick,
I mean really puking, so it’s coming out of me like liquefied petroleum gas,
like those undergrads up in Montreal for the weekend from U Mass
(those guys are friggin’ hilarious)
who drink until they pass out on the grass,
next day wake up with shards of beer bottle glass
stuck in their ass
and then lament, Alas,
I may have to miss Monday morning chemistry class,
And then my chemistry teacher will lambaste
me in front of my peers when I come back,
because that guy loves to sass
us about how we don’t care to unlock the secrets of matter and mass,
but just want to fumble with the clasps
of drunken girls’ bra straps.
O God, please let me pass
my final exam, the last
chemistry test I’ll ever have to pass,
because I’m switching into modern languages,
because I’m really strong at ‘Compare and Contrast’.
O God please let there be a question about the molecular breakdown of liquefied
petroleum gas.


More commonly we think of him
As the depraved wooer
Who takes a woman from her rightful home
To fondle her and screw her.

James Harris, in the famous ballad
Is an excellent specimen
Of a debaucher who woos a woman away
From her husband and children.

James Harris was the original love
Of the well born damsel, Jane Reynolds.
He returns to her after seven years,
Entices her with ships of gold.

There are eight versions of this song
In Child’s anthology of ballads;
It’s only clear in a few versions
That James Harris is intrinsically bad.

Of course, one such version (243E)
Is the most popular one today;
We love it when she spies his cloven foot
After he’s sailed her out to sea.

It’s easy for us when James Harris
Is so obviously the devil;
We love to know the debaucher’s bad
And that corruption is evil.

But, even in this straightforward version
Jane Reynolds is given something of her own.
The Daemon gives her a final gift
Before he brings her down.

Before he sinks the ship in a flash of fire
To the bottom of the sea,
The Daemon Lover takes Jane to the topmast high
To see what she could see.

I hope when I die I’ll be raised up high
So that I can look around,
And see all the people that I love
Still living on the ground.


Maybe he’s with me, but how can I know?
If, when you are attempting to finish
a poem about being led astray,
and you get a call from your friend
to go for lunch.
And you leave the poem
off halfway
through, to have a Wilensky’s
Light Lunch Special,
and then your other friend
shows up, so you have a Top
and second cherry soda,
while he eats his Special,
and then your two friends
ask what you’re doing
with the rest of the day,
and it’s the first truly
hot afternoon of spring,
so hot it feels like the dead
of summer, and somehow you find
yourself back at your first friend’s house,
downloading guitar tabs
to ABBA and Avril Lavigne songs
so you can sing them
over and over again,
piano, guitar and three voices,
well into the evening,
and you find yourself singing
St. James Infirmary,
one piano, one voice,
well into the night.
If, at dawn, you find yourself
alone, with hoarse voice
and sore fingertips,
too drunk and stoned
to care that you have
gum stuck in your hair,
that you have lost one sandal,
that you have lost your glasses,
your car keys,
your discretion.
If, as dawn is breaking
in the urban sky
you find yourself there
at the corner gas station
eating heavenly hash ice cream
from a tub, with your hands.
If, about halfway through
the tub of delicious ice cream
your cell phone rings,
and you answer
with ice cream hands
and it is your wife,
who has been up already
forty five minutes,
because it’s 7am now
and she’s preparing for work,
and she asks, straightforwardly,
because she’s sincerely curious,
she asks through the cell phone,
Where are you?
And you reply,
I’m just around the corner, baby,
at the gas station
around the corner.
I’m just eating some ice cream.
And then there is silence, of course,
because that’s what makes
a cell phone feel, at this hour,
like a sonnet,
an unrequited, unanswered
sonnet, excised from its series,
as you press your cheek
to its compact rows
of green-lit number buttons,
and implore to your love,
I’m just eating ice cream, baby.
I’ll be home real soon, baby.
Perfect love sonnet silence
amplified by carbon filaments,
micro-tele-cell-sonnet phone
technology, that makes us feel
exactly where we are.
I’ll be home real soon, baby.
If you find yourself
closing your ice cream-
covered cell phone,
slipping it in your front pocket
and digging in deep to finish off
the tub before you
walk the two blocks home,
then, in all likelihood,
the debaucher has come
to you, as a quiet voice,
or as a vision, or a feeling
of life,
of love for life.
In all likelihood
the debaucher has called
numerous times
within the last 24 hours.
Say a prayer of thanks.
The debaucher has come.

Jason Camlot

Jason Camlot

Jason Camlot is the author of two collections of poetry, Attention All Typewriters (2005), and The Animal Library (2001), which was an A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry finalist. A third poetry collection will be published in 2008 by Insomniac Press. His critical works include Language Acts: Anglo-Québec Poetry, 1976 to the 21st Century (2007; co-edited with Todd Swift) and Style and the Nineteenth-Century British Critic forthcoming in 2008 from Ashgate. His poems and critical essays have appeared in such journals as Postmodern Culture, New American Writing, and English Literary History. He received his Ph.D. from Stanford and is Associate Professor of English at Concordia University in Montréal.

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