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This piece is about 16 printed pages long.
It is copyright © Anthony Howell and Jacket magazine 2009. See our [»»] Copyright notice.
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Lyric from Orpheus and Hermes
Driving on with deliberate devilry into dangers,
stifle analysis with your joie de vivre!
Nullify your neurotically Narcissistic reflections
— why make of messages a roman des letters?
Naturally the negation of nervousness at an absence
must add an elegance to the je ne sais quoi.
Competence in complicity conjures up our excitement
— should the wife deputise for a femme de chambre?
A readiness to revivify vivisected reactions
sullies the finery of Les Fleurs du Mal.
Play the pipe with particular prettiness in the twilight
— scorn the proximity of le pays ténebreux,
Regurgitated remembering rummages in an attic
— down with the preference for les neiges d’antan.
Liberated by lullaby’s loosening of the spirit,
glide in your gondola under ponts des soupirs.
Understand the ubiquitous undertow of the query:
note the vacuity of your cause cèlébre.
Rectify your rejection of retrospective reflections:
cherish the legacy in your objets trouvés.
Stammering a staccato stupidity for some stake out
just provides enemies with du Coeur au ventre.
Rash reckoning on rapidity resurrects a resistance
— lovers at loggerheads miss the mise-en-scène.
Penury is a pillory placing us in a posture
irreconcilable with le coup de maitre.
Go contemplate the connection of carburettor to engine,
reading some oracle in your Deux Chevaux.
Is this you or is it not?
“I dreamed that I drowned in the Rhine.”
“The age of mutual compliments is gradually sinking into its grave.”
The dock leaves turn to rust. The thistle heads are fluff. Curtains stir.
A breeze defers to calm. I think of Bruno’s softness. His deft, relaxed footwork.
“You have a lot of stuff, now you must get better at what you do.”
And so I come back like a troubadour to the love of words.
Behemoth. And what it is to hover between meaning and music.
An opera without a text, he likes the idea of thinking
That she is a little girl under a spell writing a poetry
That aspires to the condition of Schumann – who would usher in
A new poetic age…
My love is my weight. Only by drinking
From such pure fountains can the curtains stir.
Everything is good; indeed, good enough to be kissed,
Though likened to pasta… The calm took offence.
After years of hardship, both ends interlocked.
The bird may be the prophet, yes, but Carnival is not a tango
And every now and then there are efforts to explore
The music of little bottles of Kölnischwasser.
Schools are closed on the day in the strongholds of virtuosity
And many other areas which could eventually take us beyond dressing up in Fancy Costumes, to create a fusion of these free holidays and European superiority.
This is also about the tension between Stravinsky and his contemporaries
Who did in fact compose a national holiday in Germany,
And this in turn has given it such a degree of sophistication
That it can be identified as a distinct feeling – a great experience
For the young and young at heart.
Here curled the giant snake five times about
The finest instrument yet devised for parades,
Heavy drinking and general public displays with floats.
This was the lugubrious gondola. The wrap is an entanglement.
The demon began to flex his muscles.
Meanwhile a Viennese writer
Has celebrated Liszt in a poem made of nothing
But adjectives beginning with the letters of his name.
Plus ça change! And the bird?
The bird was quenched among the foliage of the ivy
While the laurels waved at the low gondola which lay in the moonlight
Below the Colossus of the Sun-god.
Clara gazed down over the cliffs.
As a serpent, she loved deeply and was extremely loyal and forgiving.
And here a certain chemistry between the person and the bear
Resulted in a compound, not a “duty.”
The north star glimmers through the letters of his name.
Rain and the yellowing leaves.
The energy to do it again and again simply astonished me,
And the story of her stellar career is still somewhat defeating me –
Anxiety is the cause. A physical worry that I might overdo
Her ideas about music was flawed, and this makes her
All the more interesting. There upon the green arena
Where nine thousand beasts once stood
Is an argumentative music suggesting a tension between couples.
Yes, and here, the barbarians had stormed in.
But the personal honesty of her own writings amazed me
Even more than the supernatural illumination
Through the zenith gilding the green shrubbery, and again…
Two nights ago it snowed, early, unusually so.
And the next day, the snow had turned to ice,
Ice which had still not melted as the afternoon turned to dusk.
Among the great shadows of the moon, which, like departed spirits,
Hover in caverns, a mystery that I haven’t quite grasped plunges Schumann
Into the depths of feeling. In a sense, leader and follower
Have the same relationship as two spirits of the olden time
Thrown into the crowds lining the streets among cries of “Alaaf!” or “Helau!”
Leaning and leaning away, escaping, being free,
Many of our most intimate letters were destroyed,
But even the diaries and letters that survive
Reveal some sort of tension between choppy interruption
Or wavy, languid response. It all depends on being
At a remove from each other
– However “incorrect” it is to say so.
In dangling, off my axis,
I have to walk around her centre-pin,
And we have to look at danglings which alter position.
It’s about counter-poise, but what do I mean by that?
When you look around the world
The brain cancels out what you see
Between one visual target and the next.
The body tracks which direction you’re looking
In relation to the centre.
Impulse-bred or perceptually guided movement?
There is a right and a left-sided disease.
Those with the left-sided symptoms seem to make the bigger errors.
Put it down to memory. He who does not attack the bad,
Defends the good but halfway, as if,
Like a smile of scorn, the gondola were sinking.
And frankly, we are not minded to assist its resurrection.
Perhaps there needs to be something I’m thinking a lot about:
A woman who is simultaneously driven and vulnerable
And who secures strength for the creation of new beauty
Only by running back onto the stage,
Often leaving her eldest daughter to deal with really difficult things
Like the intellectual leadership of the League of David.
Rain pouring down, and a flower-patterned dressing-gown.
The Old Rhine Bridge. And it was raining pianos in Dűsseldorf.
And on Rose Monday some young trenchermen
Dragged this overweight clown to the bank,
All wearing fancy-dress, and he held his hands to his face.
And what did he say? He said nothing
While carried home, sodden, in a drunken crowd of revellers.
Things go quiet she replied,
Looking with her new eyes into his new countenance.
For dancing transfigured the youth;
And she took for granted the halo from him must also exalt her form.
And just then the lofty cloud, all at once, as by the blow of a hand,
Broke in two, and the ravished Sun, like unto the eye of a Venus
Floating through her ancient clime – as upon a time –
Looked mildly in from the upper deep out of the ether.
But Lindi needs to reach the extremities of each movement
From the poet’s meeting with the twelve-year-old
To her excruciating death on the next moonlit evening
When he answered her in an ecstasy of wonder and delight
“Allwyn had not played his violin properly.
I cannot tell you how his father trembled and swayed
As he threw him to the floor, pulled his hair;
Then sat down to rest before renewing his attacks… ”
While Sophie jotted down in her pathetic journal that
“Today was like yesterday, nothing at all happened” –
Four days before her engagement to the scribbler…
An event that didn’t rate an entry.
… “Throwing his victim down again,
And how the little boy begged to be given the violin,
He wanted to play, he wanted to play,
And all the while Zilia smiled
And sat quietly at the piano with a sonata by Weber.”
Well, but there’s still the issue – are we an instrument
Or an accompaniment? That is, do we contribute our rhythm?
The waving nervous and flighty, the wraps entangled, immersed.
“What a world has gone by!” The lurid glare
Of the torches penetrates into the clefts
Of their embrace. And then there is an emotive force
That depends on the counter-leaning of the other.
So, all this is a hypothesis, but it does delineate
How the counter-leading is also a sort of
Pulling in opposite directions, a displaced style
Whether or not it is danced to music-poetry.
The melodies traditionally associated with it
Might suggest interruption, irritation or response.
Breaking the embrace has been just been a tangent to this story.
Toward the south stand single columns and bare arcades
And the demon begins to flex volcano, full of fragments of rock.
The Princess went to break a laurel-twig
And pluck a blooming wall-flower from the pyramid
While lofty old spirits looked sternly into the flower-pot
I was using to explore the Roman tradition
Of slaves and servants being masters for a day:
A partly tentative relic expressing a tension between pianos.
So it’s not some sort of tension between “Florestan” and “Eusebius”.
It has a quality of whisk, as a horse whisks its tail at flies.
The autumnal wind of the past swept over the stubble,
But after a year or two of hardship, he became the doyen of Russian society.
“This to remember the place and time!” said the approaching Princess,
Handing him the laurel and the flower.
Is this you or is it not, now you have to think like a romantic?
That is, evolve a theory of correspondences to express intimacy and entanglement:
Complex double-wrap ganchos that sink the lugubrious gondola.
“Dearest, I dreamed that I drowned in the music
Which lengthened into a wave in the marine sense – a waviform reaction
Like an open relationship, and the closed embrace
Like his Nocturne No. 16.
A wrap, as Homer prefers to call it.
Well, this can also be a wrap, and as such it’s intimate.”
Yes, and as for Florestan, he never took his eyes off her.
Everything tends to boil down to
The discretion of the lead.
I watched Bruno
Practising with Monica.
He takes little steps. He is deft.
He uses an emotive force, it’s a
Mechanism for the night:
A limited set of options.
But like the hairs on your ear-hairs
Get knocked off,
What causes this black stuff
To stop generating itself?
Stabs – in line or sideways.
What makes the black leak away?
No push wave hangs and cuts
Reaction to suspension of my impulse,
So I convey an intention but
Withhold the impulse,
And that, dear Jim,
Is what I would like you to solve.
Cognitive changes in perception
Do occur in Chopin’s nocturnes.
People sometimes imagine
They cannot fit through the door
That the late Penelope
Fitzgerald so admired.
Albano asked her for her opinion
About the two temples.
She rehearsed the credo
Almost verbatim: “the world
Will not be right
Till poetry is pronounced
To be the slow and steady
Loss of dopaminergic neurons.
I think current research shows
Our own lives but shadows.”
Lesions in specific nuclei
Tend to produce
The “Stop” game.
After it has leaked away,
Everything gets very complicated.
He uses little runs without
Altering her axis and
She travels on and meets
Her free leg waves as a result.
When in a dance-hall,
How little is retained.
I tend to think that the body
Has a sort of vertical symmetry
As well as the more
Obvious horizontal one.
The mouth has lips, and
So does the vagina.
He sank away into musing.
Nigra pars compacta.
A series of famines resulted from a dance of witches.
The skull made a substance of all things with glitter, pizzazz,
But then sidestepped to the right.
“The English sweat” swept through the area,
And in the evening he told the children stories of fairies and Doppelgangers.
In his room, they thought up charades, and he dressed as a ghost
To play “frightenings” with their farm animals, secure loans
And finally, take to the streets begging.
If anything provoked the wrath of Saint Vitus,
It was the virtuosity of his wife.
Thou mighty One! a Coliseum is thy flower-pot;
To thee is nothing too Rossini, though cheap rhythms develop
Out of the three arch-enemies of art: a flash that can be lengthened
With Marlboro Lights rather than Woodbines.
It’s a reaction, an interruption, a lash that can be strengthened,
While the three symptoms usually associated with
Plagues of compulsive dancing accrue to entrances and exits
In vaguely symmetrical positions.
For instance, the skull nods to the pelvic girdle
And terrifying hailstorms precede most introductions.
Smallpox, syphilis, leprosy and even a new disease known as anxiety
Paid for her achievements by Bradykinesia,
Or “slow movement”, a difficulty initiating voluntary steps,
As though the brake could not be released,
Nor was she allowed to play like any other child,
But only to attack the immediate past,
Which is concerned merely with encouraging virtuosity,
Threw the Princess into considerable confusion,
Draining her importance to herself and
The street carnival which is known as Weiberfastnacht.
Then a holy radiance filled the little bottles
With a dolly mixture of the constellations,
Liquorice allsorts, pear-drops led on the beat,
And resulting in the simultaneous contraction of flexors
And extensors, bitter cold winters, scorching summers,
Tremor, rigidity, apprehension…
People who survived were often forced to slaughter all of
Their own insights which tended to lock up the limbs.
The conclusion is that the insights
Involve a door or the image of a door:
A door which changes dimensions
And while it is a good idea to fit it into existing theoretical
Frameworks if you can, the system is so complicated
That your will may weaken and sudden crop frosts
And failures may follow, with puzzling grain.
It would be nice to make sense,
But that would just throw us all back
- And we’re so young, mere sprats, we deserve
To be thrown back, but the river is cold,
And the maniacal dancing has a validity anyway,
Even if it does follow from suffocation;
Rather surreal and fun as art, with characteristic defects,
Yes, but the shared column, like a double-helix
Looked at him sharply, and spoke of nothing more this evening,
Seemingly painfully moved.
Honestly, we can’t always be telling it how it is.
It’s only when it seems important to place all tumult elsewhere
That we perceive how, emotionally, we are often hobbled.
It makes matters worse to be physically plagued:
Convulsions may forbid one to articulate
That moving is a language — a large part of which
Is learnt unconsciously, walking for instance.
Language is itself learnt unconsciously
And sways as he throws him to the floor
And pulls his hair; as you might pull the follower.
But these people were not just trembling,
Shaking or convulsing. Although they were entranced,
Their arms and legs were moving as if they were purposefully dancing,
And the doctors ordered “more dancing”
To cure the tormented movers but, by summer’s end,
The ever more elaborate sequences,
The ever more subtle options,
Dusk, twilight, the dancers dying
Of heart attacks, strokes and sheer exhaustion;
The crowd of waltzing, hopping and leaping individuals
Ever more grounded, ever more into the soil.
Is this you or is it not?
“The dancers gone under the hill.”
Then dock-leaves turn to rust and Autumn oxidizes trees
As any dusk oxidizes daylight. Ergot gets into the rye,
And the workers in the beaver-felt factories are all
Mad as hatters. Well, they are hatters, and
Mercury nitrate is used to express anger, the feeling
Of having been slighted. Libertarian radicals
Oxidize the neurons. Plastics buckle and blacken,
Any response that makes manifest your injury
Will only make matters worse, be exposed as delusional,
And ultimately lead to estrangement. Messages
In the music remain abstract: nobody is accused
For this is nothing less than the path of a dancer’s soul.
All remaining members are dead, pure pendulums,
Just as they should be. The neurotropic activities
Of the ergot alkaloids may also cause hallucinations
And attendant irrational behaviour, vacillation,
Arrest, intention, reversal of intention, orbiting,
Running circles, while mercury can be found in
Thermometers, dental fillings and fluorescent
Light bulbs. Can you suggest pulling yourself
Two ways? This is the doctrine of a world history
Founded on inwardness or analysis of movement
Dynamics, so that at least you think of a movement
From its source of impulsion. What you have to move
Is the rear. And she’d combed out her dark wavy hair
And then leant her comb to the thick inter-twisted
Tangles of the bushes. Yellowing leaves on their backs.
And the violet or black sclerotia formed by ergot
Consist of hyphae and may be two to ten times the length
Of a normal kernel. If they’d splashed each other
And pinched each other in secret, their bread
Would be prepared without removing the black spurs,
And epidemics of ergotism would occur. This was why
They turned, and wound up into the churchyard to preserve
The feeling of each others’ slippery nakedness
As they’d stepped forth again from the sacred grove
Into the magic-dusky garden. Then it was that
He’d taken off his hat; first, that he might internally
Thank God, and, secondly, because he wished to look into
This, the fairest of evening skies, and Clara had stripped off
Her school uniform and plunged in, moving smoothly
Past their mood to strong uterine contractions, nausea,
Seizures, and unconsciousness. The wind whirred,
Like a night-bird, louder through the trees, and
St. Anthony the Great, who specialized in treating victims
With balms containing tranquilizing plant extracts,
Led his wet-eyed bride under the blossoms, laid
His soul, like a flower, on her heart and said
That ergot infected grasses produced in the first agricultural
Settlements of Mesopotamia around 9000 BC
First gave rise to the symptoms such as severe
Burning sensations in the limbs. And here a certain
Chemistry between “St. Anthony’s Fire” and controlled
Doses of ergot reached the blazing, rustling, marriage-house,
But I comprehend and appreciate Sophocles more easily.
Robert Schumann, the music director, lightly laid
His hand upon hers, and said, as one vanquished, “Sophocles!”
The dock-leaves turn to dust and wrought-iron oxidizes greaves,
As manky husk advertises hay-blight. Her lot gets into the die,
And the Ghurkhas in the lever-belt sanctuaries are all
Sad as platters. Well, they are platters, and
Nursery bite-rate is used to impress kangaroos reeling
At having been knighted. Libertarian musicals
Cauterize the Huron. Matchsticks chuckle and slacken.
Any old lance that takes anapests seriously
Will only make matters worse, be exposed as unusual,
And ultimately cede to the pavement. Messages
In the rubric retain contact, nobody is excused
For this is nothing less than the heart of a lancer’s mole.
All remaining embers are dead, charred end-ulums,
Rusting the kidney. The Euro-topic proclivities
Of the marmot asteroids may also cause you palpitations
And attendant multi-national flavor, vaccination,
A wrist, a tension, rehearsal of a tension, Norberting,
Bumming charcoal, while certainty can be found in
Barometers, mental drillings, evanescent night bulbs
In the water, and the others had followed her,
And they had enjoyed a lovely romp in the vascular
System due to vasoconstriction of the vessels
Caused by the effects of ergot alkaloids on the limbs.
As a serpent, she had lain in the sun listening
To enough music to know which piece already had
Elements of the emotional turmoil she longed to express.
As for the walk itself, here is synchronicity incarnate –
A dove-tailing together, whether it be slow and stately or
Quick and neat, whatever. It expresses togetherness,
But the walk is a huge subject and in the blue pond,
Now bloodless, a dusky evening sky lies hollowed out.
Softened hearts seek stillness. And now, like a fragment
Of the past surviving in the present, the breeze gives tones
To the acacia-grove behind the old gardener’s hut,
Standing locked and dumb, with dark windows in the garden.
The Poem Speaks
I am trying to become an abstraction;
Something you read your own meaning into.
Fed to the teeth with the mouthing
of run-of-the-mill desires,
I’m firing all flesh-and-blood muses.
Literary genre, love may be,
But I am not amused.
How to be a vacancy
With no room at all
for subject matter, however trite.
More mortar than pestle,
I like the idea of a vessel in the jug of water sense.
Don’t want to promote content.
Want to be discontented.
Content avaunt! Be gone!
Be out of me
Like the leaves left at the bottom of a teapot.
- for I want to be
Even more empty,
Ever more immaculately void.
Anthony Howell was born in 1945. A former dancer with the Royal Ballet (1966), he has always been as active in literature as he has been in movement. His first collection of poems, Inside the Castle, was published in 1969 (and reviewed by John Tranter in Poetry Australia magazine). In 1973 he was invited to join the Program for International Writers at the University of Iowa. He has received numerous awards and bursaries, among them a £5000 writer’s award from the Welsh Arts Council. Recently he has become immersed in dancing the tango, and in 2001 he received a grant of £6000 from London Arts to develop his tango ability. He then spent some three months in Buenos Aires, contributing a piece on his experiences to the Times Literary Supplement and another to The Buenos Aires Tribune. Many of his poems concern dancing, and his new novel Oblivion is a thriller set in the world of the tango.