Friday, November 20, 2009

Madness and Pretty Poetry

A few months ago, I posted a poem entitled "Pretty Poetry," which is my rejection of formal, academic poetry.

Several weeks after that posting, I was having a discussion with my poet friend, SarahA O'Leary, about writing under the spell of inspiration versus writing poetry in a concrete, academic way, in the way we studied poetry and read poetry. We both conceded that we were unimpressed with our pretty poetry, with our conscious poetry making; instead, we both like the poetry that comes from a certain madness, a fever of the brain that overwhelms us.

Recently, I was re-reading Plato's Phaedrus and I discovered this passage, which seems (aikos) to sum it up: "If anyone comes to the gates of poetry and expects to become an adequate poet by acquiring expert knowledge of the subject without the Muses' madness, he will fail, and his self-controlled verses will be eclipsed by the poetry of men who have been driven out of their minds." (245 a)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Quaternity in the Works of Dan Abnett

He is bounden to beleue in ye trinite. And ye felowe beleueth in a quaternitie: Sir Thomas More

Dan Abnett's "Blood Pact" is the twelfth novel in his Gaunt's Ghost series and, in my mind, his most intimate investigation into the psyche of Gaunt. For the nervous, superstitious, conspiratorial among you, let's add another "Double Eagle," to make the series contain thirteen.

So there are thirteen novels in the series to date. However, Mr. Abnett tends to write quaternities with a single over-arching arc, so that brings us to two completed quaternities, a trilogy, and two extras--"Blood Pact," and "Double Eagle." Of these two, one is hors série--"Double Eagle"--and the other, "Blood Pact" is the beginning of a new quarternity.

The last quaternity began with the novel,"Traitor General" and ended with "Only in Death." In "Traitor General" an Imperial General, who is condemned to death, is captured (rescued)by the Chaos equivalent of the Imperial Guard--the Blood Pact--and taken to the planet Gereon. Gaunt and a select team travel to Gereon to assassinate the general.

Gereon is one of Abnett's greatest creations. It is here that Abnett begins to show what happens to a planet that is conquered by Chaos. Of course, we have seen the images of conquered planets before through the battles but we have not seen the day-to-day existence of those who live under the rule of Chaos before nor have we seen the chain of command of Chaos or its administrative echelons to the degree that we now do.

In "Traitor General,' Abnett begins a descent into detail and world-building that he carries through to the last book in the quaternity--"Only in Death." The third quaternity now called the "The Lost," contains some of Abnett's best writing. Not only does he envision several remarkable worlds but he creates languages and cultures in way that would make Ursula K. LeGuin smile. He also begins to transform Gaunt.

To be true to the Aristotelian verities Gaunt must grow and change. In that Abnett has an almost limitless space in which to develop his story arc, the changes are slow. At book eleven, we reach the tale-tell sign of conversion--blindness. Book eleven is the pivot; the book of changes. The story must change and in "Blood Pact" it does.

"Blood Pact" is a different type of book than the others. Of course, it contains all the usual suspects; however, it is smaller in scope. This novel begins two years after the horrendous battles on Jago. The Ghosts are on Balhaut, an important location for Gaunt. This is where it all began, where things went bad for Gaunt. In fact, the people of Balhaut celebrate the bravery of the "dead" hero Gaunt. So, in effect, Gaunt is a ghost of sorts. Abnett is telling us that before "Blood Pact" Gaunt was a ghost, lost in the campaigns and blind to his greater role. Now, in this new quaternity, things are changing; Gaunt can see again; and, as is usually the case, in this most literary of tropes, Gaunt can see what other men cannot. He has a second sight. He sees the future and he sees into others.

The plot of "Blood Pact," revolves around a "pheguth," a traitor, just as "Traitor General" revolved around a "pheguth." This time, however, the "pheguth" is a member of the Blood Pact, and unlike Sturm, the traitor general, Mabbon is a good man or at least that is what we are told.

A Blood Pact unit, along with a warp witch, is sent to Balhaut, like Gaunt was sent to Gereon, to assassinate the pheguth. So the plot focuses on a battle between a small specialized force of Chaos assassins and Gaunt. Because the battle field is small and intimate, the novel feels different; and it is different in some fundamental ways. It does not have the sweeping battles of "The Lost Quaternity;" however, it does set the ground for the next arc and it continues to enflesh the series with new themes and revealed characteristics of the major characters. It also foreshadows the death of several characters and points to a Gaunt reborn with an enhanced reputation among his commanders.

The series has always been dialectical: good versus evil; light verses dark; twins--Rawne verses Gaunt; Blood Pact versus Ghosts--and Chaos versus Order. However, Abnett is the most material of the Black Library writer; he does not go easily into the horrible wastes of the warp. However, with Blood Pact he seems to be saying--all right--there is something supernatural out there and now I see it. With Maggs and his visions of the old Hagg and Gaunt's pre-conscious sight, Abnett is leaving his material universe and stepping over into the world of Chaos. Is he tainted or is he able to mediate between the forces of good and evil? And, of course, there is always that ultimate question: what is the good?

So, in conclusion, "Blood Pact," is an intimate transitional novel, focusing on Gaunt, his past, and his present. It also further develops the character and humanity of the forces of Chaos and through this enfleshment ennobles them to an extent not seen before in Abnett's work. This ennoblement then deepens the themes and enriches the texts that have preceded the novel. For instance, when we read "Double Eagle," and we read of the dog fights between the Blood Pact pilots and the Imperial pilots, we can now imagine them as corrupt but human, both brave and ruthless.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Idealismus in the Life of the Snail

the snail on the mirror
cannot say what the other
is nor can it explain
its presence in the glass

it can say though
what the other seems
to be and from that
it can spin a phantasy
around this other
snail's life

from the myth
we imagine
another world
where real snails
crawl beneath
fallen leaves
on the solid
ground of His garden
of ideal forms
and bodiless souls

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Manifest Destiny of the First Man

he squatted on muscled haunch
on a western beach
where eastern waves
thundered and shuttered
against graying stone
and glassy granite

his destiny now manifest
at this horizon
he turned toward her
and filled her and his land
with others of his kind
stolid trekkers moving west

"Cave Gossip" is, as they say, alive

The publishers have just called to say that "Cave Gossip" has gone live; that is, it is in book form. Watch for it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

For Discussion Purposes Only or an Analysis of Thymos (θυμός) through the Socratic Method

the primal cry of the snail on the mirror
can be reduced to the wish of I want to be seen

is the ur-text of its desire self-inflicted
or is this distress encoded in the shimmering
silver of the snail's slime
or the widening whorl of its shell

in comparison another whine concomitant
with the first is I have been seen

so what do they mean these two cries
one of shame another of desire
the first a prayer of un-concealment
the second a fear of revelation

what sires these contradictory impulses
these diverse wishes of desire

Monday, November 02, 2009

Ens Creatum

being created


becomes a subject
of the creator

but creation
is without proof

except the created
is a creature
of that legal postulate
the thing
speaks for itself

so being being
is the only proof
of its created-ness

it does not reveal
the creator
nor speak its name
nor describe its being

it only speaks
of an other

which is fantasy
in itself
being spoken

and the only clue
is that image
in the mirror