The Music Laid Her Notes
Notes to The Music Laid Her Songs in Language
p.7 (Green Withen Aura)
I had been following, or so I felt, a futile so-called
calling, and a false trail, and I had failed
Green Withen Aura carries a note at the back of the book, on the geology, local history, and salix caprea involved.
This is one of my 'favourite' pages. Others like it too. What I remember now is the circumstance of its composition.
My test for a page is that it should come out pretty much the same, worked on in any mood. Dullness is a good mood for crossing out what doesn't come through with a glow.
One can stare at scribble pages for ages, and nothing makes much sense. So it was when I was invited to contribute to a book (April Eye) for Peter Riley's 60th birthday, and I wanted to respond. I thought, right, I'll take the page before my eyes and make something of it. Green Withen Aura came within the hour, and I like it.
I've tried since to re-create such circumstance by artifice and pretence. That rarely works.
with the shine blown away
with the fairies in the shale.
p 11. (Ovum of a bird)
The word Idea....is generally mental in its adjectival form
Once I came upon a remark, I'm sure it was by Gregory Bateson, and I'd thought it was a footnote in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, but I can't find it there. Perhaps it was in Mind and Nature, a Necessary Unity, which is not to hand. No matter. All it said was simply something close to this: "The word Ideal is the adjectival form of the noun Idea". The idea is obvious enough, but it had, upon me, the force of illumination.
I'd been impressed by Bateson in the early 1970s. He joined Freud and Marx as someone to be studied and understood. Later on in that decade I realised that, while Freud and Marx might be ingeniously synthesized, to admit Bateson must result in ousting the other two. And that I proceeded to do.
My choice had to do with qualities of prose. If there's one thing, poetry apart, that University English persuaded me of, it's that we find mentality in style. The style of, prime example, dialectical historical materialism could be exhilarating, as a motor machine, full of comic possibilities----the way adjectival qualities could be raised to abstract nouns, and predicate variously, in like a vision of a flush of brain-synapses, other ideal entities, in the structure of an ideal materialism, amused me. But for serious consideration of the wrongs wreaked by the greed of the rich, it seemed a defective instrument. I took instead certain principles of Bateson, as to what levels, what systems, what contexts, what the world, what those things are and is.
This choice had certain consequences in the course of crafting poetry.
p. 12 (The Figure One is watching)
academic lasses Sapphic
This is something like an Actaeon Page, open to the jibe of some misogyny, to which I plead Not Guilty. The notes pick up the story:
After having seen off Marx and Freud, I was somewhat nonplussed to meet in paragraphs the hordes of Structuralists, Poststructuralists, Critical Theorists etc., prosaic obfuscations and daft procedures. Either I were oldfashioned or this crew of writers hadn't yet cottoned on the the gist of what context actually is. So I mostly gave it a miss. But then, some years on, I found that the outlets that wanted to publish me were steeped in the stuff, and, in coincidence, my lover then was doing a three-year course in the Performing Arts, to the tunes of a band of French Philosophers. It was too amusing to be true.
And, of course, it wasn't. I rather disapproved of their use of known poetical hypnotic techniques in a rhetoric driven to the pointless point with sunny mirrors, though I did enjoy some theoretical erotic languors, in meadows and chambers of the imaginary noun.
But then one afternoon, wondering what Paris Brandy had done to the Theoretical Feminists, I found myself reading a piece about that handy mirror The Gaze; the usual sort of stuff, until, on the immediate page I found I was reading a practical recommendation that groups of sisters should gather with a speculum, to inspect each another's vagina. I turned green with embarrassment. It may be that this page says something about that.
p.13 (It is a Sunday in the given rhythm)
There's a note in the notes in the book about oaken shaw wood hall. I might have mentioned death-duties, and that was an omission. This page was part inspired by Turton Tower, part by Shibden Hall, and part by others, part by ears.
I see no need for notes for several pages, coasting over my own
work, a bit shocked by what fragments of wreck that gor left: what
desert spikes, and cock that laid an egg, for two. I can't remember if
I saw the cockatrice.
I see I've done a bit of cribbing, here and there. I see the reason why I chose to use lower-case place-names confused with feature-names of the topography. Today I'd be inclined to redeploy some Capitals, perchance misleadingly.
Spenser and Drayton are noted in the book notes. White cider has since carried off the Memorial Gardens drinking club to Park Wood Crematorium.
By p23. I can see we're in Astley Bridge in the 1950s, 1960s, maybe
70s too. If I know any more about this then I'm not letting on. Some
dumb-show images, weighted with vulgarity, and I'm not telling any
more, the side-shows with Punch, and Blackpool all away days, and here
we go through several mazes, but arrive somewhere by p25:
Up at the trickle well I didn't wish but felt
a pretty penny drop in my economy
Here we're in the modern Artfoil shed in Mytholmroyd. Or I am alone. The gang all gone down the NEC, near Birmingham, and me working out two weeks, rather than taking pay in lieu, because I'm here alone, but for, is it Bob, the draughtsman? Be that as it may. These period redundances had rhythms of their own. And a Caribbean Medecine Man makes a surprise appearance (O be a man).
The rest of the section merely contrasts two parts of the same basic grit and coal geology of the lime-less belt.
And I'm up to, Notes to Music, Notes on Notes on Music, when I sense, a slow sustained shock: I must have been inadvertent, and have told a lie.
Only last year (2007), in my latest book, Mid Life, I wrote (in 'Introduction':
"After The Bauble I worked upon a long poem of humourless agony. I've managed to forget its title. My ruling Comedian judged, rightly, that it must be suppressed, buried, lost."
Not entirely, Gobstopper. Scanning through The Music Laid Her Songs, I see the poem, whatever it was, isn't utterly lost, only shell-shocked. Its fragments litter The Music. Why did I try to murder it?
As much as I can now remember, it was called by a phrase to do with
onion-spinning, and it was severed by shears----the famous hag of Fate
sliced through a mucous string; and it opened on a landscape
pseudo-Jungian, neo-Gnostic, pagan and Arabian with Phoenix, Desert
Demons, Azazel and Basilisks, whatever, where it span, reflecting
female sexual choices as chance shards, and opened inwards onto the
jealous cock in rage.
The centrepiece of the poem might well have been the episode of 'The Frightful Cook' (p32). What is happening here, biographically, is that the poet, hero, lover and his lady have been coming apart, across the valley areas of metaphor. She has moved in with her new lover, but is soon to depart for a fresh job on The South Coast. But the poet has engaged her for one last sentimental meal, one last good-night. She is a good cook herself, so he must put in some culinary effort. He has laid in more than enough wine, and the appointed hour was eight. The poem is then timed between say half-past eight, and half-past nine, and the rest of the night, when he sees she isn't coming, hasn't come. He has already brooched the wine.
Then The Second Draught-Shaped Movement of Notes could be an aftermath to such a night as
Fallen over, and half-off a sofa
while the white detergent bubbles round the plates
steeped in the sink pop out of sight, excited
by a dripping tap.
But any setting wherein that may have obtained has been obliterated.
What I mean is: the sore is unshown, but healed or blistered over. But rather there is fresh light on my failure: How I failed. I had failed not to be overcome by contemptible fits of jealousy. It's a tale of two eggs.
The title of the lost poem had something to do with a spinning
onion, which, like it or not, was a symbol: the womb of her sexual
choice. The poem featured an egg, somehow related to the onion,
surviving in (p15):
There is a cock as laid an egg
This was the cockatrice: "It looks/ more like a cockatrice to me that thing" (p33), or basilisk.
There was this poem meant to capture an excruciation. There the figure is: One wreaked with jealousy, ashamed of his jealousy, having been through this at least twice before, and come out none the wiser, who is further aware that his agony is comic, laughable, and he's unable to laugh at the ridiculous scenes he makes.
Then the failure announced at the opening of Music is the failure to complete what I now might call The Spinning Onion: An Excruciation. I couldn't bear my own tone.
Music is infected by the stench of the onion, the remnants of images and lines. It paints over the old poem new themes, of place-names, fresh moments, and the long undramatic drama of growing older, and a long perspective shift, from Astley Bridge, in Lancashire, to Wadsworth in the West Riding.
I think that's enough explanation, for now, of this book, except to say:
There arrives to mind a fabulous bird, The Fabulous Bird, in fact. She laid the egg, of music, song, in Language. The cock that tried to lay an egg is forcibly forgotten.