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I know very little about Kreiden, until yesterday I didn't realise that I'd mis-spelled her surname on bebrowed. I've been following her remarkable work on the Claudius app and have grown increasingly impressed by the development of a singular voice. This is disturbing and dark stuff, qualities which I'm particularly fond of but only if they're done well- the intention to disturb is not enough. This work is characterised by a confident use of language and phrasing that I don't often come across. There's also a surreal element that injects another layer of disconcertment.
I wrote something on bebrowed when her work first appeared oin Claudius 2 a couple of years ago but have since been wary of writing anything more. The usual reason for this dithering is that I don't think I can do justice to the work but in this instance I think it's because I have trouble understanding the effect that it has on me - which is reasonably unusual. Being disturbed, for me, is having my long held beliefs and prejudices and ideologies questioned and this work seems particularly proficient at that. I'm going to try and provide here an entirely provisional and tentative overview of the work which may serve as a helpful introduction to those who aren't yet familiar with this material:
This appeared in the second issue of Claudius and immediately impressed me because it takes thought and skill to produce material of this quality and make it appear easy. I won't pretend that it's easy to read, here's the first stanza:
the next day we slapped her harder don't paint me yellow ! she cried don't cry yellow she was thoroughly bleached her neck her face and then they came, small animals small small small small animals we do love bleach too if we ever find our way out of the wood, then we'll die
Jeremy Prynne and Geoffrey Hill have both extolled the virtues of breathtaking shock and I have to report that my first reading of these produced that kind of response. I read a lot of poetry but it's rare these days for me to be this taken aback. As this is an overview, (I intend to go into greater detail on another page) I'll simply point to the verbs, slapping, painting, bleaching, finding our way and dying and the way these build up to and around the getting lost in the wood image isredolent of so many of our fairy tales.
This is from one of the middle bits:
'i see the limits of your body' watching those kids on a merry go round, to choose one careful my child don't sneeze before you pass the river i frowned to the melon our redemption won't be golden at all; they were rehearsing christmas eve i choked with a candy before they undressed me eyelids glued with pure light BITE THE NURSE ! BITE THE NURSE ! i will not last forever. a rock glowing birds humping our lips repeatedly.
This stuff is absolutely wonderful, I know that I have a penchant for the odd and the slightly unkiltered but bneath this veneer of strangeness there's all kinds of technique going on. The multiple directions that merry go round may indicate, the eruption of 'pass' rather than cross, the dark exuberance of 'before they undressed me / eyelids glued with pure light' (as opposed to ordinary, common or garden, light). Then there is the shriek of nurse biting. I must admit that I'm a bit unsure about frowning to the melon which does seem to be present for effect rather than as part of the flow but otherwise I'm deeply impressed.
This was published in issue 5 of Claudius and is long, gloriously convoluted and a challenge. I'm still trying to work out the Trakl connection because he appears seemingly randomly in the poem but this is probably more effort than it's worth (life is short, don't have time to read stuff that I don't want to etc etc). This seems to be aiming at a another level of seriousness without losing sight of the distinctiveness of the earlier work. I feel involved with this poem than others on Claudius because it appears to be saying some Quite Big Things:
The men are laid down, one by one, some of them dead, some Just pretending to be asleep, or pretending To be dead, and faking death The men, their skin softening with the lingering seasons, Didn't think about antidotes, or didn't believe In the antidotes to save them. Death would save Death would end it all without the thought Sleep wouldn't save, unless death would inseminate Sleeps with a greatest hope regarding Death Hoping that Death wouldn't mean the disappearance Of only one self but the salvation of all worlds And mankind of their obviousnesses.
This is the kind of material that has me grinning a big grin whilst at the same time experiencing more than a pang of jealousy because I don't have the talent to write it. I'll draw readerly attention to a skin that softens with seasons that linger, sleeps that may be inseminated by Death and the various obviousnesses that are part and parcel of mankind. There's also the thought that what I'm taking to be a generic sleep refuses to save a thought. It's just struck me that the greatest hope sounds a bit like that strange German in his mountain hut but further on we come to Trakl and his sister being carried through the 'benevolent woods':
The sole of their foot resting gently On the other's foot curve so the body, their bodies, along with the body Of their carrier, starts to function together As one whole simple organism. If the wind echoes through Their perfectly still bodies it will reverberate the sound Of copper chimes The run of the Carrier is light (He also Is barefoot and wears an anonymous suit, somehow old And appropriate for his time) So light that each time the palm of the feet Hits the forest floor, the soil is impregnated with the moisture of the motion And makes a wet whale's mouth sound, or the sound of a tongue in a human mouth
I don't normally go for this sort of lyrical guff but even the tired old hack that is me has to acknowledge that this is, simply, exquisite.
As this arrived on the arduity hard drive this morning, I'm assuming that it's relatively new and part of a collection that may be entitled Scolopendrum (which is Latin for 'centipede', apparently). I'm tempted to suggest that it deals with sex and death but that would be missing the point. What might be going on may be a kind of revelous inquisition into desire, especially the desire to live (exist) and all things fuck-related.
I'm now allowing myself a moment of digression. For many (many) years I've been of the view that poets should leave matters philosophical well alone on the grounds that philosophers do philosophy and poets do something else that I don't define but certainly isn't philosophy. For the last year I've been in the process of letting go of this particular piece of rigid pomposity (there are many others sitll present and active) although I'm still against the work of Lucretius and Campanella even though both are fascinating. The workings, or otherwise, of desire is however an essential subject, perhaps the essential subject of thre Poem and always has been. The following two extracts illustrate how both subjects can be done properly. The first concerns desire:
A vertigo blue remains, the foreign preseminal language that sixtynines our minds like a drunkness when we fuck our shared sex with our mouths. Now I leave behind what I think I know, I leave it all there, what I like most like your face calm and wise frothing with drops of old musks and memories of oat-shape cleanness, in the room that is my self and the place I inhabit in the house that is all I am and have ever been. I stay in one place, look around the cosmic jizz that is my mind
The accumulation and crafted articulation of these small brilliancies is an example of why we need to stop fretting over the apparent malaise now said to be infecting the contemporary Poem. Kreiden and a few others are moving forwards in radically new and provocative directions. This is a more philosophical paragraph, again devised and executed with immense skill:
A silence, a fork is passed onto a hand, a knife follows, a plate replaced by silhouettes, and murdering in dreams, and murmurings too, the way whales would in sleep march in a solemn procession towards the East. And that vision would mean the virtue of having not died in a forgotten place where our mind isn't anymore ours, a mind that pertains to rot, a mind senile and forgetful of its own infinity. I think it is a primordial truth what we've discovered, that the greatest sin is to die a natural death in our sleep, part of a merely organic process, outside of the mystery of our existence; and that it is the greasiest virtue to choose to die out of curiosity for it, to be self-sufficient and selfish and microcosmic, and leave the physical realm in a curious state, still looking for a way to mingle to the horizon, terrified and our atoms glowing like a tombstone sometimes glows in dreams.
I don't think it matters whether the reader agrees with any part of this or not, what I think is important is to recognise and pay careful attention to this remarkable talent.