Onset of pericentral darkness
First published in Charles Bernstein (ed.), 99 Poets/1999: An International Poetics Symposium (Durham, NC: Duke UP,
1999): 175-78. Special issue of boundary
2 (Spring 1999).
The less sight I have the more interested I am in making visible what is not
seen. It’s a matter of time. I find myself committed to finding every
version of every poem written by the New Zealand poet Robin Hyde (1906-1939)
in order to re-present her textual presence, to date limited to three
collections published in her lifetime and one posthumous compilation (1952)
which was deemed sufficient to finish off the story, It wasn’t; it isn’t.
you have linen women, raspberry women
and thick of the mouth, with dock-leaf women
light foxy spores – mind them, such women,)
you have green grape women, flour-bin women,
in church or drudging kit-bag women,
sad bedraggled wind-has-weazened-one women,
bean women, perhaps anemone women.
harp-like facing the starlight women,
Bronzey Plumage, what will you do with women?
fragment, unpublished, 1937. But she also wrote the great “lost” poem of
our 1930s, dream and philosophy
sixty years unpublished. The Book of
Nadath occurs in verses like the Scriptures only
better, 69 pages of typescript in 13 sections without conspicuous
authorial ordering I will read as I wish
words of Nadath, the false prophet, written in the year 1937, in a house that
stands on a bay of New Zealand: a
house of wood, iron and glass, and with the sea outside.
a sick man's reason leaves him, his dreams and visions go in and out, mingling
with the people who enter his room: and
who shall say which of them has substance?
with a world that is sick: it
cannot know the face of its truth.
was living in a one-room shack, sick, broke, barbiturate-dependent, visionary
: Writing unsteadily, without hope of a
word enduring, / I think how others, the great ones, were in like case. And:
a man who travels with his dream travels
with a dark torch. She is the pre-war story we have hardly started on.
what has dropped from sight are the experiments and jeux of that Sixties
generation (too hard to teach, too much self-conscious Modernism) which took
the New American Poetry to heart
with a sense of relief still evident in recollection and in productions of the
day. The trace of their work is there in the magazines and pamphlets, places
of first publication that compose a zeitgeist the anthologies aren’t
interested in. I’m not interested in the anthologies. Dennis List, one of
the Young New Zealand Poets, 1973:
“I have seen poetry as a medieval walled town, full of people looking for
the town hall . . . There is
great danger in reading poetry books. Whenever I have tried it I have felt
slightly sick.” We could have
instead a year by year account : works and days. And so the stack of xerox
grows and shrinks and grows again as we read and argue the content of a dream
run 1959-75. Whole poets arrive, untouched by anthologising hands. Mark Young,
My poem was to be
In Memoriam: Robert Desnos
tant révé de toi. . .
was the line I meant to start with.
Instead, I find my mind alive with other thoughts.
I did not intend to expose your mysterious woman.
Only in your poem do I know her. Only in your poem
in my mind do I come to realize the mystery of her.
Robert Desnos. Ours are different
This woman of yours—you knew her
though you had not met, though your arms
had not been linked in a walk down any street
& your mouths had not passed the closeness of
you knew her till your death, & perhaps
met then. For
your death was her death, & you were thus
of a woman who I had met, who I had done with
all those things you had not done. Yet one
who I cannot remember, &
who, once forgotten,
Whose body I should remember
for her words were confetti
that the wind caught &
& the smile of her eyes
less than a match struck
with my tongue
to be blown out a second
Who in walking with me seemed
& the shudder
no more than the passing of
of her elbows
people in the same street.
Only later, together in a
room, the pedestrian became
passerby but participant.
This the mysterious aspect.
Did I ever
make love to her? I tell you, Robert, I
know I did: but when I try
the course of our carnality,
it is non
(Here I would echo your poem,
but shamed by the beauty of your words, I insert
the beginnings of my own....
Inside the mouth
of my memory, your tongue is mayhem.
you once spoke have become as
in my attempt to set them right in time.
of your eyes are as sharp as
the blue of them is blurred, like sky
behind a seagull's beating wings....
left for Sydney at the end of that year and didn’t come back. A decade’s
work in magazines and readings seemed to vanish. Two weeks ago he sent a copy
of a broadsheet from 1974 called “A Season in Hell”:
Came down by abyssinian camel train
rimbaud riding shotgun & wearing a
sweatshirt emblazoned with the head
of de sade & the enscribed legend:
‘voici le temps des ASSASINS’
this is what I’m doing and wondering how to get it all done, and won’t
April 1998 ©Michele