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Psycho-Neurological Poem in 3 Parts & A Clean Heart and a Cheerful Spirit by Felicity Allen (Litmus Publishing 2019)

Psycho-Neurological Poem in 3 Parts &  A Clean Heart and a Cheerful Spirit by  Felicity Allen (Litmus Publishing 2019)

In the State run Panopticon of the ‘Institute of Psychology’ in Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest Big Nurse sits at a ‘centre of this web of wires like a watchful robot’. She tends ‘her network with mechanical insect skill’ and knows every second ‘which wire runs where and just what current to send up to get the result she wants’. This is the world of the early Sixties in the United States of America. She works for what one patient calls the ‘Combine’, a large organization that aims to adjust the Outside as well as the Inside and according to Chief Bromden who has been there for longer than he can remember she has been ‘dedicating herself to adjustment for God knows how long’.
Felicity Allen’s astonishing illustrated ‘Poem in 3 Parts’ was written ‘in response to and from recordings made when visiting the Art Studio of the charity Perspektivy, situated in The Psycho-Neurological Centre No, 3’ outside St. Petersburg in Russia. The scene: a confined residential home in which most residents have either grown up or come from other orphanages at the age of eighteen. Qualifications for entry to the home: some type of disability ‘either at birth’ or in ‘early years’. Life inside: ‘the only activities generally offered to residents are watching television or eating. Numbers of inmates: ??? [‘Numbers are missing’].
Sound haunts the fragmentary lines of this poem and we both read and listen to the ‘Caged heirs’. William Blake’s voice of outrage from 1803 gave us a ‘Robin Redbreast in a Cage’ which put ‘all Heaven in a Rage’; Maya Angelou’s autobiographical writings, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings came from 1969; Felicity Allen’s art as an ‘adventure into an unknown world’ is immediate, it is NOW. Her response to a reading of Angelou’s confrontation with a paternal world of sexual violence is to assert that ‘our function as artists’ is ‘to make you see the world our way not / his way’. Art and Music are assertions; look and listen to this remarkable book and foul up those Big Nurse wires as McMurphy does when he runs his hand through the glass window of her Nurse’s Station:

“I’m sure sorry, ma’am,” he said. “Gawd but I am. That window glass was so spick and span I com-pletely forgot it was there.”

Ian Brinton 18th May 2019

http://litmuspublishing.co.uk

Gordon Lish’s Cess: A Spokening (OR Books, 2015)

Gordon Lish’s Cess: A Spokening (OR Books, 2015)

In contrast to Alexandra Psaropoulou’s All The Stars, which I wrote about yesterday, Gordon Lish’s book, rich in language play, employs a loquacious first person narrative in two extended notes before and after a list of select vocabulary. It is implied that the narrator is loosely based on the author self, although this is more of a ploy to draw the reader more closely into the narrative world with its frequent call to check the factual details of the narrative online.

The first note delineates the biographical details of his mother and her sisters, Jewish immigrants from Austria, based in New York, and his own situation at Mills public high school, at Millbrae, California. Finding himself without a job and having to support a wife and three children he wrote to his winsome Aunt Adele asking for work not dissimilar to hers. Apparently, in 1963, Lish was refused tenure at the school due to his association with the Beat writers he published in Genesis West and Ken Kesey and Neal Cassady of the Merry Pranksters. The narrator’s aunt worked as a section leader in cryptology for the National Reconnaissance Office and replied with a long list of words with the instruction to solve this and perhaps we’ll talk. There follows 165 pages of rarefied vocabulary and the quest to find some links between them to solve the puzzle.

‘Into The Cesspool’ makes play on ‘cess’ meaning a tax or levy before herding readers into the full on verbal play of a ‘cesspool’. Here is a random sample of the list:

DERISORY
STEREOPHONY
VALETUDINARIAN
MONISM
PHATIC
NEGENTROPIC
SUMMATE
SPECULARITY
ACTANTIAL
DEFERRAL
REGIME
CLASSIFCATORY
SYNTAGM
DOXA
LOCUTIVE

On first glance some connections and associations emerge, a succession of words from severable to spall about breaking apart, and then there are words that are variations of more common words. Soon one is lost in the Collins or Oxford English Dictionary placing words into sets of words, the ponderables and possibles, both repeated, that make up the list. The selection is seemingly isolated from context until one picks up on the repeated use of interpellate, mischance, perchance, orison and onton, which is not in the dictionary, as a sign of humour and the list becomes a way into Adele’s character. Adele, the spy and cryptologist has a predilection for words from a range of discourses that can be at a stretch connected to a cesspool, cloaca being an archaic word for sewer and so on. She has a wicked sense of humour beginning her list with ‘FLUSH LEFT’ and ending with ‘ALL SMALL CAPS’, which turn out to be the key to the puzzle. ‘Flush’ here is employed for all its meanings and has a neat comic touch.

The joke may be on the reader as one skips to the final note, which is a tour de force of narrative ebullience. The narrator is considerably deepened and extended into a maniacal loudmouth. The sentences are rich in rhythms, asides and resonate with biographical detail creating a memorable persona. The reader tends to look back on the long list as a conceit, a way into the deeper layers of language, and wants more engagement with the nature and uses of language. This then becomes the point of the list an insistence on grappling with the use of words within lived experience and literature. The final note succinctly illustrates this with its combination of a probing, quizzical tone and continual search for the right word. The narrator drew lessons from his Aunt and her witty and joyous list. Who would not like to discover more about such words as fent, spall, fard, slub, doce, pelf, frit, sot, ort and orse?

Cess: A Spokening has a power and pointed veracity as a language game and fiction of distinction.

David Caddy 11th August 2015

Beat Scene 76, edited by Kevin Ring

Beat Scene 76, edited by Kevin Ring

This issue features an extensive profile and interview with James Koller by Peter Garland, Ken Kesey’s second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion (1964), Kurt Hemmer’s interview with Herbert Huncke, an essay on Kenneth Patchen as read by Kenneth Rexroth, Mark Howell’s recollections of meeting Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg, and Jim Burns on ‘Underground London – Bebop and Beyond.’ There are additional memories of Ken Kesey’s visit to Filthy McNastys pub in London, although it is unclear whether the article references a 1978 or the 1998 visit, the 1974 bootleg publication of Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight and Bob Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder tour visit to Kerouac’s birthplace at Lowell. The review section includes the selected letters of Wendell Berry, (a friend of Kesey) and Gary Snyder, and Nobody Home: writing, buddhism and living in places, Gary Snyder in conversation with Julia Martin.

The James Koller interview covers his biographical, personal and poetic influences, his novels, poetry and work on Coyote’s Journal and Coyote Books, which published Beats and ethnocentric poets. Born in northern Illinois in 1936, Koller became part of the Fifties North Beach, San Francisco scene, and was friends with Joanne Kyger, Gary Snyder, Lew Welch, Philip Whalen and Robert Creeley. He published Charles Olson’s famous 1965 Berkeley Lecture in Coyote’s Journal. He was inspired by Pound, cites Carl Sauer’s The Agency of Man On The Earth (1956) as a bigger influence than Olson’s work, anonymous folk songs, native American songs, which he translated for Jerome Rothenberg’s 1972 Shaking The Pumpkin anthology, the ethnocentric epics and Icelandic sagas. This comprehensive interview helped me to locate Koller as a poet somewhere between Ed Dorn and Jerome Rothenberg, as well as bring to light such figures as Jaime de Angulo, a poet friend of Pound, and author of Indian Tales. Pound called de Angulo the ‘American Ovid’ and was also highly regarded by William Carlos Williams. He tutored Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan, and was written about by Kerouac.

The Kesey article could have examined Sometimes a Great Notion and Paul Newman’s 1970 film of the book, more fully. It tends to follow a populist version rather than literary one of Kesey’s life and work. In fairness, there was a great crossover between the Merry Pranksters, Beats, Diggers and Deadheads. A truer understanding of the flowering of the Beats would require a grasp of many factors, historically from the eclipse of the old Left to the birth of the Internet. The Internet evolved as a direct means of communication within the Deadhead community, and a reading of that community with its numerous and continual allusions to and from the Merry Pranksters and wider San Francisco North Beach scene has yet to be written. A fuller picture would also relate the activism of Diggers to poets, such as Kenneth Rexroth, Ginsberg, and Pound, their connection to City Lights Bookshop, the Planet Drum Foundation, founded by Peter Berg in 1973, to ethnomusicologists, such as de Angulo, Frederic Lieberman, Mickey Hart, as well as poets, such as Koller, Kyger and Snyder, as well as the Whole Earth Catalog, which featured Kesey’s Further bus on its July 1969 cover, and other ecologically aware publications and groupings, and so on.

Jim Burns unearths an underground Soho scene from the late Forties and early Fifties, centred around Club Eleven, a bebop club opened in 1948 at 41 Windmill Street, not far from the Fitzroy Tavern, with its similar clientele of showbiz types, Soho characters, dealers, and military absconders. Here though the atmosphere was provided more by the smell of marijuana than beer. Burns notes that this particular ‘Underground’ predated there more popular Sixties notion, and provides useful literary references to support his findings.

There is, as ever, much to ponder in Beat Scene.
http://www.beatscene.net/

David Caddy 11th June 2015

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