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The Gospel of Trickster by Nancy Charley (Hercules Editions)

The Gospel of Trickster by Nancy Charley (Hercules Editions)

From its quirky pocket size, that makes the book very portable, to its bible black colour, with gothic lettering the reader knows they are about to read something rather unusual. The title itself teases, the use of Gospel seems to subvert the Christian sense of the word, which involve the teachings of Jesus and his followers but has been it seems appropriated by a character called ‘Trickster’ whose origins are unfamiliar. Throughout, the book is dramatically illustrated with drawings by the artist Alison Gill that reinforce the gothic nature of the work.
The book much like a conventional gospel is divided into chapters. Broadly the piece follows the ambiguous Trickster as he encounters and tries to subvert the story of Jesus. It has the feel of a dramatic monologue and does indeed make an excellent piece of theatre as demonstrated by Charley’s run of one woman shows that bring Trickster and his machinations to life with great effect.
A word should be said about the inclusion of the Christian story throughout the narrative. The writer has an impressive knowledge of the bible. However, I really don’t think it is necessary to have these points of reference to enjoy the text. In a secular society the rise and fall and rise of an extraordinary man resonates with us all and recalls such leaders from Gandhi onwards. Whilst a knowledge of the Christian story adds an extra dimension for the reader, it is not preclusive. This is after all Trickster’s story and the focus really is upon the existence of such meddlesome and amoral beings in our world.
Charley makes it clear in the useful afterward that trickster is not the Christian Devil. He seems though to have a nodding acquaintance with Satan in the tale, and is quite willing to do his bidding, especially in the context of the Jesus’ narrative, where he has a word in Judas’ ear amongst other mischief making. What makes the character so appealing is as The Rolling Stone’s say in Sympathy for the Devil ‘Just what is the nature of your game?’ Certainly, he likes to meddle, to make trouble, to stir things up. He is like a malcontent but with a sense of humour. His aim seems to be to debunk or at least subvert the works of good men.
What makes him such a compelling character is his natural whit, but also the ways in which his efforts to disrupt good are always defeated. Trickster is the anti-hero to the Christ hero, and as with all such dynamics the more he seeks to debunk his enemy, the more good prevails. Yet this is not just a simple tension between good and evil. Trickster is more ambiguous. He at times seems to stand apart from both moralities and represent a very modern cynicism which challenges the nature of Christianity. Indeed, the character is not two dimensional but complex with moments of philosophical reflection and a genuine sadness that he cannot fully commit to being good. In this way he is reminiscent of Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost.
What this gospel does is humanise the Christ figure by use of small vignettes that dramatize the stories very familiar to some of us, for example that of Lazarus. The Trickster’s negative reaction in the face of such miracles and their agenda gives us a fresh perspective on the Jesus story. By challenging the character and motives of Christ, we are given a fresh view on the original gospels. This is not a modern atheistic standpoint, rather that of someone who challenges the modus operandi of Jesus. Moreover, the focus is not about God himself rather that of the role of his son.
We see by the very existence of Trickster and his rationale that in real life there are grey areas. In many ways he resembles those creatures in Hilary Mantel’s novels, who are distinctly uncanny and dark. Trickster seeks to meddle and trick us for his own delight and entertainment. Ironically though, seen through the prism of his jealous eyes, the reader comes to regard the story of Christ in a fresh and favourable light. This is particularly seen in the dramatization of the Jesus’ days in the wilderness where he is shown to be stoic and brave, traits a little lacking today.
The literary devices used by Charley are highly effective. There is much use of alliteration as befits a gospel or narrative poem and is in this way again pays homage to Milton’s Paradise Lost, where his devil has all the best lines too. Internal rhyme ensures the poem flows at a pace as events transpire. The use of humour and wit is excellent and highly enjoyable. There are some fine vignettes as the Trickster interacts with other characters. The dramatization of such figures as Mary’s father enraged at his daughter being knocked up by an angel are playful but also bring out the humanity of the biblical story. Trickster’s tone is by turns deliciously spiteful, self-pitying and jubilant. He uses a combination of demotic language as befits his character but this also this serves to make the original bible story more current and relevant today. This language is blended skilfully with higher case lexis such as ‘piquancy and punch’ that makes the tale fun to read and indeed to listen to and indicates that Trickster has great verbal dexterity and can trick us with his language.
Clearly Charley has an enviable knowledge of the original gospels. But this is Trickster’s gospel and it invites us to look from a different perspective at the nature of good and evil. Similarly, the character serves to reveal our own complex humanity. Trickster is that part of us that wants to be bad, to break rules, to be anti-establishment. But watching his shenanigans against the actions of a thoroughly good man allows us to decide which camp we follow. In fact, Trickster himself on observing Jesus’ sacrifice, comes close to redemption, but in the end, he finds being good too restrictive, no fun and elects to continue meddling on down the ages. Yet by the end of the book there is an indefinable and very subtle sadness about his inability to be virtuous.
In the afterwards by publisher and writer we are informed that Trickster’s role is to meddle. he remains ambivalent in origin which makes him even more intriguing. Whereas Christ through his example of self-sacrifice offers a redemption we must earn, Trickster is all about instant gratification. This is a book that challenges the reader with its suggestion of a chaotic universe where there are more things in Heaven and Hell…. And warns us that wickedness is very real.

Fiona Sinclair 21st October 2019

Clive Bush’s Lingerings of the Large Day (Five Seasons Press, 2014)

Clive Bush’s Lingerings of the Large Day (Five Seasons Press, 2014)

http://www.fiveseasonspress.com

This beautifully produced book typeset on 16pt Bembo and printed on recycled paper comes with drawings by Allen Fisher, as did Bush’s previous poetry collection Pictures after Poussin (Spanner Press, 2003). Clive Bush has written evocatively of some of the dissenting voices of the late twentieth century in Out Of Dissent (Talus, 1997), a study of the work of Thomas A Clark, Allen Fisher, Bill Griffiths, Barry MacSweeney and Eric Mottram.

Lingerings Of The Large Day consists of a series of long poems, which draws upon the work of seventeenth century poets, scientists and dissenter, when ‘the world turned upside down’, and meditates upon the world then and now. It has a restless probing, a cultural linking as well as a deep veneration of the book and its role in democracy, and comes with a list of resources at the back as well as a sprinkling of quotations at the beginning of several poems.

Ignoring the apparatchik learning
I found their notes above the white noise of history
And dodging the scholars of war
I reached again for the child that wondered
who led me again by the hand my body riddled with life
turning from the waiting for the arrest in the dark
making a line
Fludd, Dee, Herbert, Vaughan to 1647

The presentation and poetic approach recalls the marvellous long poem, South Wales Echo by Gerardus Cambrensis published by Enitharmon Press in 1973, which displayed a deep range of reading and came with copious footnotes. Here though the lingerings of seventeenth century turbulence and brilliance of thinkers, such as John Harrington, William Harvey, John Milton, provide not dissimilar dissenting echoes. There is a similar sense and use of polyphony and rhythm, established by the use of space rather than punctuation. My intention in citing the work of Gerald Casey is more concerned with the theme of both books, that is to say the echoes of books and thinkers long after historical time.

The poems employ a collage effect and move swiftly from one mood to another within the larger arc of the whole:

It is said Thomas James in Bodleian used the Index to order books. Later in 1660, well warmed with strong beer, high priests officially burned his books. In 1683 Oxford also books of dissent. In 1905, translated into Russian, Paradise Lost was popular with soldiers and peasants, although it was not allowed in school libraries.

without trace
to hide in night
begin again

to know nothing
a sure ground
know nothing
night hid

ruit hora
Adamus exulus

there is no art of the possible –
it is black act –

Lingerings Of The Large Day is a wonderful achievement and the Allen Fisher drawings are a joyous gift to the effect of the whole.

David Caddy 17th November 2014

The Happy Hypocrite

The Happy Hypocrite

The Happy Hypocrite 6, an experimental art writing journal, guest edited by Lynne Tillman (Book Works 2013), dedicated to Nelson Mandela, on the theme of Freedom, has contributions by artists, poets and writers of fiction, theory and essays, mostly, but not exclusively, American. The journal is beautifully designed and has a good amount of stimulating material.

 

One highlight is Lynne Tilman’s interview with Thomas Keenan on the construction of human rights language. They discuss the assertion by protestors during Libya’s Arab Spring that they were human beings and not sheep suggesting that that the rights and liberties of citizenship were not self-evident and needed to be claimed. I liked this recognition of human rights as something that is fragile and needs to be approached as a movement towards becoming that involves struggle. Paul Chan’s sequence of visual poems ‘Really New Testament’ stimulated with their philosophical asides on artistic expression framed within beguiling language art.  I also enjoyed Lynne Tilman’s Parnoids Anonymous Newsletter from 1976, Chloé Cooper Jones article on the connection between morality and art through Socrates’ ‘The Apology’, Robin Coste Lewis’ long poem, ‘Felicité’ and Sarah Resnick’s story, ‘Time Spent’. The latter piece dealing with issues of domestic work and independence.

 

The lack of a working definition of Freedom and the editor’s insistence that stories are ways of thinking is a hindrance to a more considered exploration of the theme in global or historical terms. Some contributions are rather woolly and divorced from the real world of differing definitions of the word. Competing concepts and notions of freedom are clearly economic as well as moral and religious. It is here that loss of rights and division has rent more global unrest and difficulty.

 

Following Milton, Blake and Hazlitt we might argue that freedom stems from the ability to dissent and hold contrary, heretical views and not be detained or imprisoned for doing so. Freedom is thus not about market choice but rather the right to think and act differently to the State and religious orthodoxies. Blake’s assertion that he belonged to the Devil’s Party deepened Milton’s assertion, in Areopagitica (1644), that freedom stemmed from the rights to know, utter, think, argue and choose, into full recognition of heresy as the main bulwark against State and religious orthodoxy. The United States Supreme Court in its defence of the First Amendment refers to Milton’s justification of the rights to freedom of expression and speech. Human trafficking and slavery, the enormous gap between urban affluence and rural deprivation remain chilling facts of life.  It is also possible to argue that we are still in the pre-feminist world where only a few of the Women’s Movement Manifesto demands from 1970 have been realised and several parts of the world deny basic rights of independence, education and morality to women.

 

Yasmin El Rashidi’s ‘An Imaginary Letter to a Bureaucrat: on permission to publish’ about the right to State funding for a not-for-profit literary quarterly to offer ‘a space for free expression’ in Egypt rather than the permission to publish was disappointing. I do not think that this is either a right or something that is useful. This bourgeois mentality could be offset by independent samizdat publication and the radical tradition of pamphleteering, which historically have won rights. Similarly Craig Owen’s Imaginary Interview ‘The Indignity of Speaking For Others’ from 1982 could more usefully have been used as the start of an essay on the politics of representation now.  Notwithstanding my comments there is much to savour and argue with. Congratulations to the editor and Book Works for producing such a provocative journal.

 

David Caddy

 

 

 

From The Spectator Series – Discovering Poetry: Milton’s Blindness

The Spectator analyses John Milton’s poetry about his rapidly failing sight.

Sonnet XIX

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask; But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

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