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John Kinsella

Seven poems from “Graphology”

Graphology 811: Calamus, Latin for Reed / Graphology 813: resurrecting paratexts / Graphology 815 / Graphology 843: More Jargon Balladry / Graphology 844: (F:V) / Graphology 845: Villon Argotry and the Gangs of Government Blaming Elsewhere for Everything (F:II) (Jargon Poems) / Graphology 846: The Jaron They Spake at Scoring Hours (F:V taken again)

Graphology 811: Calamus, Latin for Reed

The sun that heightens a day heightens
Cambridge more than anywhere else I know –
intense in the cloisters, qualifying
architecture across the centuries.

Loss was when I was here,
and its marks are deeper
than psychology, an infrastructure
of place and belief,

of rituals made rituals
because they’re stuck on repeat,
refrains that seem to make something
more palatable or extreme.

Near but apart, great pines
point their limbs down to the ground
in deference, the bark
of their trunks a liturgy

of imitation of erosion patterns.
The sun that heightens a day heightens
Cambridge more than anywhere else I know –
the skerrick of fenland with its lashes

of reeds to keep the dirt
from filling the eye, those tools of writing,
transcribing the mind’s eye,
decorations in a transit lounge.

Graphology 813: resurrecting paratexts

So, an inscription is prescribed before,
like a vote out of five,
a star system
left blank: what lifts
the receiver, takes the dedicatee
by storm: I shuffled the skin of a beech tree
so it bunched then gnarled like an old operation scar,
before they keyholed. I am talking to everyone
here, from here, this mannered
exile. You, whom I love, one and all,
struggling with the shape of Beddoes,
the variants on Death’s Jest Book; what makes
it so unapproachable? Glory of a nuthatch
at shiny bark that won’t lift,
a sunset that exists in only one golden section
I am so hung up on. Maybe, mercifully for some,
I’ll write less and less after this: I’ll take my algorithms
and study the Spanish Civil War,
lock history away
in the feathers and bark, background noise
cancelled out, dwindle away
in the face of, in spite of,
destructive interference.

Graphology 815

Warily, if briskly, I walk alone,
the rat in the cold whiskering the road,
twice walked past he distends his antlers,
dead-loss catkins crisped and rolled.

Each time I leave I think the leaving’s done,
each time a new creature shows its hand,
there are no dryads or satyrs in this town,
just rooms they pass through in making their pounds.

Who will I read when I wake?
By what increments will I fill my soul-hole, this boll?
A rail, the kraka, the corncrake cry, the crake,
in through one eye and out too late?

Graphology 843: More Jargon Balladry

Tax a time of negatives, to gear
uproarious callings, pick outside
the awnings: high degree of business:
try not, remember, as each points
a compass, place of safe-houses,
“pince et du croq”, to extract
in shopping-centre carpark,
and now, a victim of surveillance.

Anaesthetists charge up front,
gone down, straight out to wake
lapse, body and mind separate,
each its agent: each an item
spread delicious with wetness,
each rain-gauge brilliant with mucus;
lapse, flow regime that brings moss,
mozzie sting, victim of surveillance.

Take a squiz, any room will do
to chuck a fit, horror and suspense
backfill your dacks. What’s that about
when drought spouts platitudes?
No laughing matter, like an icecream
headache advancing up your arm.
Sleep. Seed. Sleep. Seed. Sleep.
Google Map victims surveillance.

Pisstanks shank and rouseabout
overhead. Transition errors. Rowdy
bastards. Sleep with naught but skin.
Wonder about the radar, intensity
of showers. Quit your squawking
cells with thin walls, imprisoning,
a treasure chest inside the wardrobe.
Wake-up call us victims of surveillance.

Graphology 844: (F:V)

The bloody street along the harbour,
drib drab of fight, garrulous gents
and appendages, horn out of water, agents —
‘et puis merchans tout telz que au mestier fault’

Who jiggers a pun of drink, a tanglehead,
tackle on table, a ball that clicks;
barmaid plays ‘sink the pink’;
what bottle of lyric restrains
employment, maintains the joke?

Where we holiday, a joint
of travellers to deceive the babblers,
to ‘grain guain aubeflorye’, just an exchange
of letters, of sundered plimsoll lines, maintaining sails.

Like to listen to southern winds, a blue wren
on the granite head, those lousy lads
robbing cars at tourist haunts, ‘watch out’
the sign says, property is theft
and gabbling maintenance —

So, leap the gap. Maintain
your link, stink of angels and interlocutors,
stone effrontery to grab the ships, gamblers,
purloiners of whales. Grub and swim. A listing
figurehead, clipper with masts to blanche: drizzle
keeps the swimmers from the whitewashed beaches,
vocab tucked in bags, shut up
hot spots to argue snaps. Beach umbrella
ready to burst. Pass the time, shop at Lombars,
maintain the shoreline —.

Graphology 845: Villon Argotry and the Gangs of Government Blaming Elsewhere for Everything (F:II) (Jargon Poems)

Terres fiefz terres fiefz
applets and let apples, caged
a shootout, route — esquarrisez
to tread sandy forest tracks, bush-beatings,
meth factories where jarrah
diebacks — car en aguect, scramble bikes
busted by greedy and brutal security

Fraudsters and sack racers,
causelosters and decosters,
duel scernious of dayevery, shatterstones;
accrete food celspar, a gathering of cans
without openers, to starve in hackneyed
metal: cold beans and immunisations, walkerstreet;
adoubter et cremir, mentor affidavit
busted by greedy and brutal security

Ganged strong as cedars! beaure claimants to make
a chatter, a blametaker for riotry: veillancesur
before the peopleboats: geran geran
a Sydneytown or evening out of Perth, shiver me timbers,
happez en telz bouticles, boutique tashers:
shiver in ethnographies, posureex
greedy and brutal security

      Kimberley mondsia espip,
      chantsmer of Broome arlspe
      and Sunny turepic atresthe,
      vironicles of gas hub bullyings,
      brutal security —

Graphology 846: The Jargon They Spake at Scoring Hours (F:V taken again)

Beneath sullen day wharf drained away
shipskins grey, fitpacks bobbing, a gantry
of suck and play, a sleepy then jittery lay
for merchans tez que au mestier so say

allegrins et floars, a flattery
as battery, salty, rip-off —
parked in the street, waiting, waiting,
suits by big, tout pars judges who nod
hold up the costumery

Into Perth, a dancing hostelry,
‘done shop and sucklings — scanner
le vergne iolye, I tell you, chased across the roof!
Dropped by the little slug of a 22

Brag the signs on fourth estates, sur ars
to eat once in three days, quick car
crammed with loot
a boot of furniture, tubular imports
hold up —

No part but inject et desbouser musars!
in the dead cow belly, up and down the clacker,
uncut had them reeling over, I reeled
in slammed doorways, heartleap, leaper!
apres doubtans de ses anges lassault
don’t doubt the emotion in the CDU;
wall trips, bed screamers, a sweat
of clothing districts, all the gambits
know qui puis alla emprunter to lose a finger’s
hold up —

Note on the Jargon Poems

Villon’s ‘Les Ballades en jargon’ are a contested field of poetics and text. Many contemporary editions of Villon’s poetry do not carry these poems. I think they are great Villon, even though even favourable editors are most often sceptical of their quality. Well, most think they are rubbish, it seems. There are eleven poems drawn from the fifteenth-century Levet and Stockholm manuscripts, and I have used as my source that superb edition of Villon’s works, François Villon, Complete Works, edited by Barbara N. Sargent-Baur (University of Toronto Press, 1994). Sargent-Bauer’s renditions of the original texts are, as she says, ‘innocent of correction, punctuation, or diacritical marks’. She has also provided ‘a conjectural line-by-line paraphrase and a separate gloss… ’, further noting, ‘These poems are notoriously resistant to decipherment (and, some readers may think, scarcely worth the effort required).’ Written in criminal jargon, they were considered difficult in their time, never mind now. In an article in the London Daily News of April 15, 1895, ‘Villon’s “Jargon” Translated; The Famous Ballades Seem to be Considerably More Curious than Poetical’, we read, ‘The classics of thieves’ Latin are scanty enough, and chiefly consist of the six “ballades’’ known as the "Jargon,” or “Jobelin” of Francois Villon. To the ordinary reader of French, and even to the modern countrymen of the poet, these verses are as obscure as if the language was Coptic or Romany, Basque or Gaelic.’ The reviewer goes on to say, ’The matter of the ‘Jobelin’ is just such advice to thieves and blackguards as Villon was wont to give in good French… ’ He then notes some of the more extreme methods of punishment Villon dwelt on, his obsession with the gallows (unsurprisingly), and the nature of the language itself. He mentions the fact that only six jargon ‘ballades’ were known but that ‘five more have been found in a manuscript at Stockholm, of all places… ’ I quote from this article because it is fresh with the dubious joy of recent discovery, and highlights the nature of dealing with Villon’s poems in general, but these ‘ballades’ in particular. For any of us with a dubious past, the language of what we might politely and academically term ‘subcultures’ now remains with us. The patois develops out of a need for secrecy but also a need for familiarity and collectivity. Encodings in drug subcultures are often about speaking over phones or even in public and not being detected or providing evidence to those who would use it against you, as well as to be part of a ‘scene’ that creates permissions through language as much as behaviour. A form of sick humour about one’s fate (say, an overdose) becomes part of a superstitious warding-off of such a fate by confronting it constantly and allowing it to engender its own language within discussion between those in the same ‘boat’. What has attracted me to Villon’s jargon poems is both this and also the fact that the language is contestable now just as it was by those outside the ‘crew’ back in Villon’s time. Poems should do this, as well as shock us and be activist texts at once. These wry and hidden poems are calls and cries as well as in-jokes. I have taken aspects of the originals and really performed variations and ‘distractions’ on them, re-encoding and decoding to speak of a past I am (long, long) no longer part of, but also a media-drenched world that seems to speak so overtly yet relies on the subliminal message, the quick flash of the image, more than anything else.

John Kinsella

John Kinsella

John Kinsella’s most recent volume of poetry is Divine Comedy: Journeys Through A Regional Geography.

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