Exploration in the Arts

James Simmons

(My arse poetica)

An interviewer made the thrilling case
for Modernists: 'They were exploratory!
They made it new! He brought a blush to my face
for my own work's all song and story.
'To enter the jungle you really have to invent
techniques. To discover you have to experiment.'

Entering the jungle of what is and is not said
needs guts and talent and experience
to go as deep as Eliot and Pound did;
but let us live this side of common sense.
Shakespeare and I and Byron and Brecht and Burns
offer ourselves as entertainment, turns.

Old Tom and Ezra battened on the old.
Making it new? My arse. Rapists! Damnation,
Where's the originality, the gold.
when every memorable line's quotation?
'Hast 'ou seen but a white lilly grow . . . ' The cheek, the gall!
Compare Pound's bits with the original.

ELIOT AND POUND, industrial complexes, tower
in academe. Entrepreneurs, they bossed
and forced fashions that gave them power.
Writers like Edward Thomas, Hardy, Frost
didn't leave industries behind them. No,
they left a land conserved where things still grow.

Imperial explorers (at the best
brave and ingenious) only opened doors
into the happy gardens of the west
for bloody Jesuits and Conquistadors.
They thought greed gave them rights to interfere,
exploit, contaminate a hemisphere.

Undressing (transitive, intransitive)
is the only method. Savour the cooking meat.
Listen and watch, precisely, as you live.
Look up old recipes. Sit down to eat.
Use ancient forms, the journey, the family curse.
Use farce and tragedy. In the trade immerse.

That frigid crazy pair confessed too late
that what they conquered Grub Street with was lies.
Their final years were barren and desolate,
though Eliot warmed to what he'd satirised,
someone to dance with. Well, they weren't pathetic.
God knows they were both bright and energetic.

Tonight I'm hearing Beethoven discovering
depths in himself, trying to outplay
Bach, in his Hammerklavier. The ring
of challenge sorts down to humility.
The best are awed by what they've taken on ...
imitator, pupil, companion.

Page 37, Poetry Ireland Review Issue 17