Tag Archives: Lord Byron

“Be Clear, My Throat!” — The Story of Kamal, by Zireaux

I'm going to tell you the story of Kamal...

I’m going to tell you the story of Kamal…

My dearest followers, friends, subscribers, re-tweeters, and most of all, my good readers and listeners:

I’m going to tell you the story of Kamal — one of the great stories of modern American literature. I’m going to tell it through a combination of clear, explanatory text and rollicking, evocative verse, in a much abridged version of the original (the first book alone is told in 5,472 lines of structured rhyme).

It’s a story I know you’ll want to hear.

I begin with you, my small and most loyal following of readers. But of course, for Kamal to succeed — for the story to live on — it will require more readers as we go. Which means, if you’re enjoying the story, kindly request other good readers like yourself to join Immortalmuse.com as “followers” (or enter the email address in the left sidebar, or request to register here) so they can participate in the story as well. Users can unregister at any time if the story is not engaging (but it will be engaging, trust me).

I dedicate this telling of Kamal

to M.

…and to my father

Voltaire at 70. Engraving from 1843 edition of his Philosophical Dictionary.

Voltaire at 70. Engraving from 1843 edition of his Philosophical Dictionary.

In the opening stanzas, the narrator — whose name is Arcady — describes his determination to tell the story of Kamal no matter what. Even if he, Arcady, is unknown to the world, or lacks the poetic skills, or the artistic angst, or even if he sings off-key or gets his words wrong. Even if he’s past his poetic prime. Because nothing is more important in his life than the story he’s about to tell…

I – echem – be clear, unthrottled throat! –
I do not seek to hail the Muse of Epics.
I’ll sing this tale even if my notes
should make dogs howl and editors dyspeptic
and readers seize the DVD player’s remote
to watch more handsome heralds in action
(A-list artists like Lucas or Jackson,
whose instruments are loud and long
and far more profitable than any song
I could pipe!). Because my story’s ripe!
I cannot wait for that perfect type
of angel! I’ll settle for a spirit more modest
– a muse for a poet who’ll never find a goddess.

Depiction of Russian firing squad, 1849. ‘No firing squad (concoctor, it, / of Dostoyevsky’s doctorate).’ Dostoyevsky was condemned to death, lined up to be shot, and at the last minute, issued a reprieve — an event which perhaps gave birth to the intellectual.

Never? O surely I could search the Net
for inspiration – ‘scarlet AND lips,’ etcetera,
a yearning Humbert ‘Googling’ his lost nymphet
(nymphomaniacs, most cyber Jet Setters are!).
But what if heaven’s website tried to get
my own details? I’d frighten off the Sirens!
They want deformities, like Byron’s
foot, or synesthesia in childhood,
the taking of drugs and lovers like Wilde would
and friends at The New Yorker! I’ve never
been published. I’ve never been told I was clever
by courting agents. I’m married, happy and rich.
A life too tame for muses to bewitch.

A life devoid of those credentials
which writers require – the Yale-at-sea
which Melville had; or that essential
diploma of wit – the jail degree
which made Voltaire so consequential.
No war. No firing squad (concoctor, it,
of Dostoyevsky’s doctorate).
I’ve never even smoked! My name,
Arcady, itself evokes the tame
suburban streets and shade-smeared grass
which I, like Virgil’s hero, alas,
would one day flee – O what a claim! I sought
to find a richer Bucolic. Aeneas I’m not.

Robert Graves

The poet, Robert von Ranke Graves (1895 – 1985): ‘Is it true what Robert Graves once said, / that any poet over thirty’s dead?”

But hear me out – I near my autumn years!
The sun shines low upon the sea, which heaves
beneath its silver breastplate. A south wind clears
out summer’s comfort and chills the yellowed leaves
that hang like badges on trees – those brigadiers
who’ve never fought wars, but hearing
the rattle of distant canons, and fearing
their forces won’t respond to commands
untested by battle, would rather stand
tall and be slaughtered than be retired!
Perhaps my ‘sell by’ date’s expired?
Is it true what Robert Graves once said,
that any poet over thirty’s dead?

And was I ever fresh? I was! Like Spring
I was! I swear that no one’s felt more loyal
passion for her Highness Beauty! To sing
until she wept! To kiss her pink and royal
cheek! To hold her hand, two wedding rings
enfolded in our fingers! I knew,
however, these visions wouldn’t come true.
I was like the peasant who –
though well attired – must jump to view
the Princess from behind the throng.
My dress was right. My lineage wrong.
Her carriage crushed my roses. A Moses or Milton
I’m not – but nor will I sing for Paris Hilton!

Lord Byron Paris Hilton

Lord Byron (1788–1824): “. . . I’d frighten off the Sirens! / They want deformities, like Byron’s / foot . . .” Paris Hilton (born 1981): ‘A Moses or Milton / I’m not – but nor will I sing for Paris Hilton . . .’

Yet look – my story’s bucking in its chute!
My hero on its back regardless! Dare I
leave imagination bard-less and mute
just because immortal maidens care not
for a star-less suitor of scar-less repute
– and the kind of life, in truth, like an ad
for life insurance? Adventures I’ve had
in youth were mostly on computers,
or televisions (those deadpan tutors).
Professional parents; the sort who wish
their Jewish brood were less Jewish.
Their parents worked hard so we could have it all.
I thank them. Now let me introduce Kamal . . .

__________
See the complete index of episodes from Kamal, Book One

 

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Tuesday Poem: “Great Books We’ll Never Read” by Zireaux

Alexandria Library Reconstruction

An artist's impression of the ancient library of Alexandria: 'No doubt, in some unearthly realm, a vast / librarium of titles have amassed, / an anti-Alexandria to match / the one which Caesar had his men dispatch.'

Great Books We’ll Never Read
by
Zireaux

(From Kamal, Book One)

I’d rather strut in Byron’s pants*
than leave my poem’s fate to chance.

In every shelf of classics there exists
a haunting, sad lacuna – lost, dismissed,
abandoned, silenced works of greatness! Works
blacked-out by popes and peons, kings and clerks;
or accidents, a freakish fire, or duels
of honor, libraries bombarded
by civilized, invading fools;
a drawer unopened, box discarded,
or all those ‘literary schools’
which poison future Socrates
with drafts of mediocrity.
Unwarranted, political hysteria!
Abhorrent camps, the gulags of Siberia!

Kamal! My child, how frail you are!
And how protective I’ve become!
For darkness threatens every star.
Who knows which rival will succumb
when fame and obfuscation spar?
For every book that’s published, one
exists – at least as good – which none
have heard of. Books which editors have spurned.
A Xanadu porlocked! Lolita burned!

*Reference to the transparent pants famously worn to a dinner party by Lord Byron.
_____
Published as part of the Tuesday Poem group.

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What are Brains but Great Intestines? — Stanzas 177 to 183

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the Third

The narrator recalls how, ready to set sail to his island, he parked his car outside the home he grew up in – a recollection which evokes painful memories of his parents . . .

Mount Rangitoto

Mount Rangitoto, North Shore, Auckland

177.

Memory, in a Jaguar, gleaming,
burnished by the rain, propels
me down a North Shore lane which smells
of paint-soaked lawns and asphalt steaming,
soggy trees and burning wood,
the heady scents of childhood.
Robotically, and intersecting
kwoosh, then slurp – to make an ‘M’,
two sweeping arms are each collecting
Ua’s ante: dazzling gems.94
A day of rain and blazing sun,
and cars agleam with all they’ve won.
An autumn scene, all gold and garish;
the kind of day I used to cherish.

178.

Round the bay we drive. A distant
cloudburst slowly starts to spread
on Rangitoto’s cloven head
– as if it were the mount’s assistant –
a silver cloak of satin thread.
A plastic playground, washed-out red
with yellow slide; a toddler swinging
over grass so green and bright
that surely those are emeralds clinging
to each sheeny blade. The light
gives all the houses veins –
the casement joints, the rooftop drains,
the frames of windowpanes defining
lifeless blocks with blood that’s shining.

179.

One house, however – fence-bound, shaded,
armed for ancient savageries
with bristling, mace-like cabbage trees –
appears to cower, a fort degraded,
its power humbled, mana lost.
A gloomy place. Let’s steer across
the street, dear Memory, my faithful
driver.

             ‘Right here,’ I say . . .

             *             *             *

                                                         . . . I’d packed
the boat that morning – seven case-fulls
of Waikato Draught, and neatly stacked,
a crate of Speights, and five Monteith’s
with rows of Lion Red beneath;95
(I daren’t mention the Sauvignon Blanc or
Kiwi mates might call me ‘Plonker’).

'...culinary / canned delights (of Watties’ ilk)...'

'...culinary / canned delights (of Watties’ ilk)...'

180.

And water, of course – a lot of water.
Twelve two-hundred liter tanks,
to be my island’s hydro-bank
so I could live long years a squatter;
(These giant, dirt-green plastic drums
required help from swarthy chums
to load onto my wobbling ferry);
cases, too, of powdered milk,
Weet-Bix boxes, culinary
canned delights (of Watties’ ilk),96
dried fruits as well, and mixed diffuse
with berries of the Chinese Goose,97
and shriveled apples, sun-baked peaches,
(pits removed for cleaner beaches);

181.

And meat? No meat. I’d thought of hauling
goats along – and sheep whose shanks
can well assuage a stomach’s angst.
I don’t find carnivores appalling,
but rather – why should beasts be forced
to live with someone so divorced
from life? They’d die of thirst, starvation,
disease while I sat idly by,
absorbed in selfish contemplation,
blind to outside stimuli;
their sorry state, each wretched bleat
I’d meet with eyes and ears effete.
For living life devoid of feeling
was what, to me, made life appealing.

182.

And books. A ton of reading matter
gave greater ballast to the hull –
sweet fruits to fill a hungry skull.
Linguistic cakes of sundry batter,
some bound soft and others hard,
from Stephen King to Cherry-Garrard
to Baudelaire, Dumas and Horace,
Byron, Poe and Kerouac,
the O.E.D., Roget’s Thesaurus,
an Atlas and an Almanac
– and, too, just as my ‘hydro-bank’
and food obliged an extra tank
to store my body’s foul expiries,
I also packed some pens and diaries.

Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard, 1886–1959

Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard (1886–1959), author of The Worst Journey in the World

183.

For what are brains but great intestines?
And what are thoughts but bits of fat
absorbed or by a Blogger shat?
How lucky, reader, what’s expressed in
common writing lacks the smell
of other waste that we expel!
How loose the public’s peristalsis!
A steady stream of stench each day.
The TV’s high cholesterol is
crapped at every street café
. . . in magazines . . . at dull soirees . . .
but never mind . . .

             *             *             *

                                         . . . ‘Right here,’ I say
to Memory.

                          The car grows quiet.
For it has keys to pacify it.

If only hearts had such devices!


94 Ua is a Maori god of rain.
95 Waikato Draught, Speights, Monteith’s, Lion Red – all popular brands of beer in New Zealand (also see footnote 40).
96 Watties has been manufacturing canned and frozen food products which, since 1934 ‘have been enjoyed by generations of families across New Zealand’, according to the company.
97 Kiwifruit is a popular brand name for the Chinese gooseberry.

__________
Zireaux’s comments on these stanzas
A good choice, Cherry-Garrard. To which I’d add Edward O. Wilson. Shakespeare. John Livingston Lowes, the blossoms of Harold Bloom — for I’m thinking of a kind of nosegay here, a bouquet of books, with the pink heather petals of Proust, a burgundy-hued Boyle (T.C.), the baby’s breath of Burgess. Or maybe just a single boutonnière — Joyce in full Bloom?

And you? Which books would you take to your island, reader?

Perhaps you’ll find some inspiration in the latest selections from the Tuesday Poets?

 

Read from the beginning of Res Publica | Listen to the audio version (read by Stuart Devenie) | Buy a signed copy of the book

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Land! O Promised Land! — Stanzas 138 to 143

Astronaut Michael Collins on June 19, 1969 – his footwear  not included in the photograph. ‘O lonely Collins, if ever  we meet / I promise to sing an Ode to your feet.’

Astronaut Michael Collins on June 19, 1969 – his footwear not included in the photograph. ‘O lonely Collins, if ever we meet / I promise to sing an Ode to your feet.’

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the Second

138.

Then why? To palpate pebbles?79 What dust
was felt by Armstrong’s foot enwrapped
in pressured Teflon and metal-strapped?80
And yet we make a Federal fuss
for Buzz and Neil – while Mike,81 adrift
that day, on solitary shift,
revolving round the moon for eight
and twenty hours, would palpitate
a solitude which few could bear (he
might have there out-traveled Peary!82).
O lonely Collins, if ever we meet
I promise to sing an Ode to your feet!

139.

Then why? I ask you. Why this urge
to claim things first? What makes us seek this
vital bounty, this title, ‘Uniqueness’,
when it, from us, is bound to diverge?
I used to admire those brilliant bards
who once found paying creditors hard.
Lord Byron, who owned the ancient East;
and Coleridge, from whom all oceans are leased.
I used to think – had I some song
divined within me, how loud and long
I’d sing it! But then I learned: A purse is
what builds a lasting empire – not verses.

140.

But let me continue – lest I fail
to build at all! There was a sudden,
bone-shaking jolt, a final thud in
all that ocean-whipping gale.
Then all was still. The engine slain.
A hesitant applause of rain
rose up against our bug-eyed window.
A foggy mist had settled in though
– or no, the weather wasn’t clogged
as such; the inside glass was fogged;
so I didn’t know what was around it
until dear Nutmeg said, ‘We found it’.

'...and from a figure freshly laid / upon the water, like Hamlet’s maid.'  Painting by British artist Sir John Everett Millais, completed between 1851-52

'...a figure freshly laid / upon the water, like Hamlet’s maid.' Painting by British artist Sir John Everett Millais, completed between 1851-52.

141.

Slowly, salaciously, the clouds
slipped off my island. My vision
cleared, and with a growing precision
the traits with which she was endowed
(and which had been a haunting riddle
for days) appeared. Her naked middle,
where Meg in desperation landed,
was perfectly smooth, a sand-patch branded
only by the fanning ruts
created by our landing struts;
and rows of freckles running cross:
The footprints of that albatross.

142.

I saw the rocks, a peppered white,
where I had docked three nights before.
They spread along the south-west shore
as locks, or garlands, once bound tight
but loosened by the surf – as if
their mass were soft and gently adrift
and from a figure freshly laid
upon the water, like Hamlet’s maid.
Above, two clouds had come disjoined.
The sun slipped through, a slot en-coined
with yellow token. We’d hit the jackpot.
I seized my camera, took a snapshot.

143.

Land! O promised land! A Zion
of designs my own! A place
of dignified and leisured grace,
a land for me to live and die on!
A rock I found amidst a sea
of wandering dreams – or it found me –
a Hermitage to live withdrawn;
my private summer Yiheyuan.83
A solid place in pitching life.
A refuge from one’s bitching wife!
An ocean gem, a rich and free-land;
my country home, my
New New Zealand!


79 Palpating the pebbles most likely refers to Vladimir Nabokov’s famous quote about walking on the moon: ‘Treading the soil of the moon, palpating its pebbles, tasting the panic and splendor of the event, feeling in the pit of one’s stomach the separation from terra…these form the most romantic sensation an explorer has ever known.’
80 The lunar boot was actually an overshoe that the Apollo lunar explorer slipped on over the pressure boot of the spacesuit. The outer layer of the lunar boot was made from metal-woven fabric, except for the ribbed silicone rubber sole. The boot’s inner layers were made from Teflon-coated glass-fiber cloth followed by 25 alternating layers of Kapton film and glass-fiber cloth to form an efficient, lightweight thermal insulation.
81 Astronaut Michael Collins (born 1930) commanded the module pilot, Columbia, for Apollo 11, the 1969 American space mission which landed the first humans on the moon. He circled the moon for 28 hours as Buzz Aldrin (born 1930) and Neil Armstrong (born 1930) descended to the moon, walked on its surface, and then returned to the Columbia.
82 Robert Edwin Peary (1856–1920) was the first person to reach the geographic north pole, a claim now treated with some skepticism. Perhaps his greatest legacy is the designing of the ‘Peary System’, a method by which support teams deposited supply caches along the route in the arctic.
83 A palace in Beijing, China, known as the Summer Palace, and which literally means, ‘Garden of Health and Harmony’.


__________

 

Read from the beginning of Res Publica | Listen to the audio version (read by Stuart Devenie) | Buy a signed copy of the book

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“Mrs. Reynold’s Cat” by John Keats

Selected for Immortal Muse by Zireaux (read Zireaux’s comments on this poem)

Mrs Reynold’s Cat, by John Keats

Cat! who hast passed thy grand climacteric,
  How many mice and rats hast in thy days
  Destroyed? How many tit-bits stolen? Gaze
With those bright languid segments green, and prick
Those velvet ears – but prithee do not stick
  Thy latent talons in me, and up-raise
  Thy gentle mew, and tell me all thy frays
Of fish and mice, and rats and tender chick.
Nay, look not down, nor lick thy dainty wrists –
  For all thy wheezy asthma, and for all
Thy tail’s tip is nicked off, and though the fists
  Of many a maid have given thee many a maul,
Still is that fur as soft as when the lists
  In youth thou enteredst on glass-bottled wall.


Zireaux’s comments on this poem:
What other poets have found themselves beguiled or heartbroken by cats (see last Tuesday’s poem, “Elegy to Joy“)? No shortage here. From Sir Walter Scott’s cat, Hinse of Hinsefeldt, to Tennyson’s feline clan of “Sweet-Arts,” to Henry Walpole’s emerald-eyed Selima, who drowned in Thomas Gray’s goldfish bowl (to rise again in Gray’s “Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat”). W.B. Yeats’s black Minnaloushe, Byron’s brave Beppo, Poe‘s Cattarina, Amy Lowell’s Winky, Lear’s Foss, Eliot’s Jellylorum, Bly’s mysterious cat in the kitchen, Edward Hirsh’s Zooey, Marianne Moore’s Peter, Weldon Kees’s (appropriately named) Lonesome — poems from them all; plus Shelley, Dickinson, Swinburne, Swift, Wordsworth, Rosetti, Hughes, Updike and many others, with T.S. Eliot and Shakespeare disqualified: the former for writing what might be called “cattoons,” the latter for breaking the rules of eligibility (Forces of Nature not allowed).

Sir Walter Scott and his cat named Hinse (and the dog that may have killed Hinse

Sir Walter Scott with his cat named Hinse of Hinsefeldt (and the dog that may have killed Hinse), posthumous portrait by Sir John Watson Gordon, circa 1845

The best cat poem goes to Christopher Smart’s “My Cat Jeoffry,” but few readers today can tolerate his long mad litany of ailurophilia; so “Mrs. Reynold’s Cat” achieves selection here, because it’s written by John Keats, and even an average poem by Keats can out-strut just about any field of models, not to mention supermodels like Meowmi Campbell, Tiger Banks, Kit Moss (apologies, a private joke). “Cat!”

The “grand climacteric” refers to the 63rd year of a person’s life, in other words, a kind of meno-paws (too easy, the cat-pun). The final couplet brilliantly brings the fresh young cat over the protecting wall that — paved with glass shards — surrounds Mrs. Reynold’s property, and into the fighting arena (“lists”) of an unprotected world. A perfect example of what I call “poetic depth.” So much portrayed — about the cat, Mrs. Reynolds, the neighborhood — in just a few lines. Live on, dear thing, to prick thy velvet ears and lick thy dainty wrists forever!

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