Saturday, January 3, 2009

ur-blogger blurt

ever since deciding to commit a blog (curiosity trumping doubt with this argument: being the five millionth kid to ride a toy train doesn't mean it can't be fun), i've been haunted by a little poem. it's a poem i wrote nearly 30 years of more than 1500 poems i wrote between 1980 and 1983, this one close to the start of that train. it was published in Event and, later, in 1988, in my self-published collection Black And White Pictures After A Rainstorm. it visits me so often lately, often just before or after the word “blog,” that i have to wonder at the connection. the psychic landlord must ask any persistent ghost to state its business. specifically, i wonder: could this be an ur-blog, or ur-blogger, i'm dealing with?


just before he went to the hospital
he stayed in his room for an hour
and a half with the door closed.
then he went, peaceful and composed.
he died on the operating table.
when they opened up his room
to dispose of his effects
they found a terrific mess
left by this tidy man.
he had strewn hundreds of old letters
and envelopes around the room,
shredded papers, scrawled cryptic
enigmatic notes on the walls in crayon,
broken shells, statuettes, vases,
thrown clothes and linen all
around the room and smeared gobs
of artist's oils on the furniture.
he wanted to leave something behind
that would have to be cleaned up.
the idea itself wasn't bad.

speculative scatterings, the small change of spectral shakedown:

1. i wrote “Mess,” and its hundreds of poem-siblings, after being discharged from a psych ward after eighteen months and resuming—or rather, starting—life as an on-call dishwasher who wrote poems when he wasn't loading the Hobart or scrubbing pots. (or sometimes when he was: scribbling a few lines with a pencil stub in a flip-top spiral notebook, veiled by scarves of steam or else hidden in a washroom on a physically unneeded break.) “he died on the operating table.” i am starting a blog after writing a memoir of that hospital experience and the maze of allied passages i've wandered in since.

2. squalor. i've just spent two weeks of hard labour trying to restore my workroom—“his room”?—to a condition where work in it is at least imaginable. i'd let things slide. dust-draped drifts of papers, toppled piles of books and files and clothes and doodads, little rat trails to squeeze teeteringly through...i didn't like being in it long, much less working in it. a vandal had taken my original clean-lined sketch of a comfortable, orderly capsule and defaced it utterly, smearing confusion and neglect over it until its features were unrecognizable and repulsive. i must have been the vandal; i had no other suspects.

3. the Osiris impulse: to be strewn and reconfigured. perfidious brother Seth, lord of filth and chaos, may have lured you into a sarcophagus sealed with lead and loosed you to the Nile, but death is just the start of your story. Isis, good and loyal wife, will turn into a sparrowhawk, fanning enough life back into your corpse that you may beget a strong loyal son, Horus, an abler Hamlet who will continue to take your fight to Seth. and after your loved ones have properly mummified you, when the tireless mayhem of Seth has cut you into pieces and strewn you about Egypt, even then Isis will collect the remains and you will reassemble in your most exalted form, as Lord of the Duat, the underworld. Osiris the Comeback King, down-but-never-out presider over every smash-and-restart festival (i.e. every festival, New Year's being the archetype): Happy Osiris!

4. i produced “effects.” and from the humblest of means: Hilroy notebooks, scraps of paper, pencils, Bic pens, a Smith-Corona manual typewriter that was thiry years old then. the mounting numbers of poems were dispersed around the world. batches of 10, outflow always exceeding inflow. if 7 “browns” (taffy-coloured 9-by-12 envelopes, addressed to me in my own hand) arrived in the morning mail, 8 or more went out that night. remixes of the better—on second look—of the 70 returns, augmented with new ones from the days since. 70 poems back, 80, 90, 100 poems out. those kinds of numbers are what once casued me to estimate, to bemused eyes in a writing classroom, that—crossing 1500-plus poems with the fact that some favourites went out at least ten times before being retired—i might have accounted for 10,000 poems passing in front of the eyes of others. 10,000 poem-perusals, however brief. and they also help to explain how the 125-or-so poems i eventually published in magazines could strike me as a relatively minor—if happy—effect i was producing. (“a Rocky of Verse” i styled myself: a nickname with mauled grandeur in its belittlement.) more immediate and more regular was the scowl my mailman gave me when i caught him loading the browns onto the flimsy wire claws beneath my lobby mailbox or, in protest, letting some of them drop to the floor. Jimi, too, my softheaded super who played ball hockey with his cats, i caught handling the browns, turning them back and forth in befuddlement before casting a (for him) sharply suspicious glance at his attic tenant. these were effects. so were the mailings and returns themselves. matter translated in the world. type on paper in envelopes in a truck or plane: carbon on carbon in carbon by carbon. was it bertrand russell who defined work as moving matter on or near the surface of the earth, or directing such movement? well, i was moving, and directing to be moved, a lot of matter. working from A to Z in the International Directory of Periodicals, i imagined fingers of all kinds handling my pages and responding to them with sighs, chuckles, curses, groans, frowns, smiles and, yes, silent wonder. i expected abuse, hoped for adulation. i received solid examples of the first and mild promises of the second. solid: a letterhead from a little mag with the macho boast: “Honest craft we salute, asswipe we so identify.” my rejection was a blank page with “asswipe” circled raggedly. another tough-talking westerner—both of these Californian—scrawled “mostly this is SHIT.” mild promises: acceptance, without comment, of a poem, the other 9 returned (i developed an uncanny ability to tell a “light brown” by heft). or (almost better in a way, more intimate): rejection with handwritten encouragement, “these weren't bad...send more.” Poetry Australia accepted my poem synchronizing the life of Heinrich Himmler with the flowering of a hawthorn tree outside my window. a mag in England found “The Rabbit Screams” to be “hallucinatory, though needs shortening.” a mess was being made. people all over the world were dealing with it. i was happy, involved. effects.

5. but...and this is where the analogy breaks down, the interrogation terminating in a negative (“no less useful than a positive”: Grade 12 Chemistry)...blogging produces no physical mess. it is immaterial. walk into the workroom of a blogger with 1000 500-word posts—half a million words ricocheting in cyberspace—and you will see: a laptop. is a mess in a closet. a closet where the addled housekeeper can pile whatever he likes, its dimensions being for all practical purposes infinite, knowing that each time he closes the door, a Borgesian magician will wave a wand and make all—closet and contents, housekeeper (and house!), the magician himself...disappear.

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