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Is Bono Secretly Fraternising With Wall Street Elites?

I’d like you to imagine the walls
and ceiling bubbling
with mournful yak eyes,
a bestial froth;

the secret fraternity peering
into the room
from their occluded dimension.

I’d like you to imagine a thousand
larks shrieking “cui
bono cui bono” and falling
charred out of the sky

into your lap, spread with elite
gingham, the better to receive
eternal benediction.


(Being my own response to Uut Poetry’s “Clickbait” challenge)

Weekend gloss: Olaf

The idea here is that having posted a poem on the Monday, I post a short gloss on it at the weekend…

Olaf is a “dream poem”, written a short while after the birth of my son Oliver. I had had a strong sense that this tiny infant belonged to a kind of dream-time, that his birth and early infancy were a process of slow awakening to the world, and that in his newness he was also somehow very ancient. I don’t mean that I imagined him to be the reincarnation of some old, much-transmigrated soul, but that he had not yet fully entered time. Without believing in any sort of species-memory or anima mundi, I felt that this newborn existed in a common ancestral before-time with every other newborn who had ever lived. (A few years later my grandad Ted picked up a red-faced and squalling Ruby, Oliver’s recently-arrived younger sister, and said teasingly, “You think you’re the first, don’t you?”). So Olaf, who appears to be a Norse warrior of some kind, is my dream of Oliver dreaming himself as Olaf, who at the end of the poem appears to be re-entering the dream-time himself as he falls into REM sleep (he may also be dying).

Olaf in his woundedness and exhaustion seems to blur somewhat into his surroundings, his own breathing mirrored by the trees leaning in and out in the wind. Nature is busy around him, with midges and minnows moving in their own patterns. Much later, in Cold World, I made a speculative connection between such human-independent natural processes and the hidden life of the unconscious, recovering from the “ground-zeroing” of consciousness inflicted by dejection. Coleridge’s phrase “the secret ministries of frost” suggested to me that a frozen world could still be in process. You have to trust that something is happening without being manifest, without giving any sign of itself. Olaf’s world is warm – he is “connected to nature”, as one says – but it is also coming apart, weakened at the joints, so that inner and outer life flow into each other. The vision here is ecstatic rather than dysphoric, subjectively overflowing rather than withdrawn, like Hopkins in one of his better moods.

I’m sentimental about the poem, and can’t really tell (and don’t really care) whether it is a good one or not: for me it recalls new-parenthood, as a dazed, sleep-deprived, slightly psychotic state which affords access to a strangely familiar kind of bliss.

They Hand Down Detention

One remarkable thing about this (a school letter questioning Nigel Farage’s being made a prefect at Dulwich College, on the grounds that he was a self-proclaimed fascist) is the way that it acknowledges, in passing, the significant effects on self-confidence and future opportunity that such an appointment will confer. I never liked prefects; having been made a prefect did something to them, put the icing on the cake of privilege. They seemed to believe, as I could not, that they were fit to wield authority, that this authority came from something about their character that was good and worthy of emulation. Whatever it was, it wasn’t intelligence or imagination*. No doubt Farage still believes he is a person of outstanding character, a born leader, and that those who believe otherwise are lesser persons, driven by base resentment. What he actually is, is Arnold Rimmer with money – a total smeghead.

* I risk insulting some old school friends here. It should be hastily added that there were always exceptions.

Cosmos and Narrative

This line of argument is only convincing if you refuse to distinguish between narrative – testimony, world-making, writing oneself into the social script – and scientific theory-making; if you see the latter as a specialized case of the former, rather than an incommensurable language game with quite different rules.

Now it may be that the Science Guy is already blurring this distinction, by narrating scientific knowledge to an audience that is an audience for narrative rather than an audience for knowledge. Such narrations are always vulnerable to cultural critique; but what that critique is critiquing is not science, but the well-meaning traduction of science – the sort of thing that scientists smile at, tolerate, and know better than. “Well, kinda”, they will say, ” but not really. It’s, uh, a bit more complicated than that. How long have you got?”.

Cosmos – which I loved as a child – is the paradigmatic attempt to render theory-making as world-making, to make the scientific image seem plausibly inhabitable for narrative-loving creatures like ourselves. So far as I know, the science in it is good: it’s an honest traduction. But its story is ultimately the story of something that is not a story, that is not lovable in the way that a story can be loved, that does not include us in the way that a story can include us – as both subjects and potential narrators – but in another kind of way altogether. Science will always keep its secret from the masters of cultural critique, no matter how much they try to talk it down from its intolerable, allegedly undemocratic aloofness.

Monday Poem: Olaf

Olaf came to the edge of the water
he knelt he drank the trees leaned in
closer the minnows darted away
from Olaf’s hands and the ripples spreading

Olaf washed his wounds brittle with rust
midges joined him at the edge of the water
he stretched he sighed the trees leaned back
in the wind he tore strips of his clothes for bandages

Olaf reviewed his equipment
his map was torn
he had lost a buckle
his hunting blade was loose in its handle

night came on at the edge of the water
Olaf lay down at the foot of the trees
he shut his eyes minnows darted behind the lids
dreams came humming across the water