Tag Archives: Peter Jackson

“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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To Loneliness! — Stanzas 103 to 108

Frank Sargeson's home in Takapuna, New Zealand (water-stained walls not clearly visible in this photo)

The writer Frank Sargeson's home in Takapuna, New Zealand (water-stained walls not clearly visible in this photo)

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the Second

In which our narrator muses about what it means to be a writer in New Zealand . . .

103.

A brief aside: I’m hungry and tired.
The following lines may have to wait
for me to fill a dinner plate.
For that, however, money’s required.
This place I write, this shameful shed
informs us where good writers are led.
To loneliness! And water-stained walls!
Woe is he whom Literature calls!
Why must our country’s minstrelsy
exist in crippling poverty?
Is it, as Kipling said, some debt
which traps us? Have we not paid it yet?59

104.

Of course we’ve written honorable cheques,
each signed by a distinguished name
– by Katherine, Witi, Hulme, Frame
and others. And some, to be direct,
by cranks and frauds. (One name’s enough
to stain our credit – rhymes with ‘bluff’);60
But though we’re often praised and thanked,
well, are these payments ever banked?
Are writers like Sargeson and Stead61
in Kipling’s homeland ever read?
And even our Peter-the-Great’s new throne
was built on fiction Tolkien loaned.

105.

I sometimes wonder, dear country – perhaps
we’re richer than we know; a kind
of native gold as yet un-mined
and not displayed on any maps
but which, in fact, might dwell below
our very noses. I surely owe
this thought to someone: Two years ago,
while coming back from Mexico
(a meeting with Vicente Fox)62
a series of light-fingered shocks
from potholes picked my taxi’s glove
compartment’s lock; and gave a shove;

Former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox

Former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox

106.

and out spilled notebooks on my lap.
I’m not a snoop. My eyes, however,
are less mannered; and go wherever
bidden. So in the notebook’s trap
they fell – my full attention snared
by what those scribbled pages bared;
in English and in Hindi, too;
a jumble of words – with some crossed-through
and others circled – but clear and careful
lines of verse composed. Not prayerful
hymns, but brilliant, witty, graphic
ballads penned in Auckland’s traffic!

107.

Some lines I stored in memory.
Heroic couplets, all, like Homer;
and like that bard’s great hero-roamer,
his poems dealt with Odyssey.
I mean – his struggle to return
to where his thoughts and dreams most yearn;
to earn a living, to work, to drive
all day, but never to arrive
at what he called his ‘Destined Nation’.
And now and then in his narration,
his ‘meter’ sang – I mean the one
that tells the fare when it is done.

108.

(A pun, of course. Yet how it quickens
a poet’s heart to think of meters
charging fares to all our readers!
Perhaps we’d be inclined, like Dickens,
to generate more words, and faster;63
to be less poet, more webmaster.
If how I dined depended on
how fast or far my lexicon
propelled you, reader, I’d press
the pedal to the floor, digress
more often, and worry less about
how faithfully I kept my route.)


59 See footnote 2.

60 This editor was able to identify only one New Zealand author whose name rhymes with ‘bluff’. Because of the disparaging context of the reference, however, this editor prefers to let readers reach their own conclusions.

61 C.K. Stead (born 1932), New Zealand writer of talent. When I wrote to him requesting a meeting to discuss the publication of Zireaux’s work, Stead replied that he’d be interested in meeting Zireaux himself: ‘I’m always interested in meeting fellow writers – especially Kiwi writers who’ve achieved some international recognition. I’m not interested in meeting a publisher, thank you.’

62 Vicente Fox Quesada (born 1942), a handsome, slimly mustached man, was elected President of Mexico in 2000.

63 The idea that Charles Dickens was paid by the word – and hence his prolixity – is something of a myth (what publisher would be so foolish?). In truth, Dickens wrote in monthly installments, which forced him to write quickly while generating enough suspense to ensure sales of the next installment.

__________

And now and then in his narration,  his ‘meter’ sang – I mean the one  that tells the fare when it is done.

'And now and then in his narration, / his 'meter' sang – I mean the one / that tells the fare when it is done.'

Zireaux’s comments on these stanzas
Although a digression from our story, “The Taxi Driver’s Poem” — which will appear next week — pierces the very island-navel of Res Publica, Book One.

Nobody likes a poem with a message; but then again, nobody likes a poem that nobody dislikes. I utterly abhor any form of writing school or club, political party or religious fanaticism; but at the same time, in real life, there are few membership opportunities I’m able to refuse. Standing in the doorway of our elegant Georgian-styled foyer, the poor Jehovah’s Witnesses seem almost disappointed at the ease of my conversion. Eternal heaven? I’m in. Really? Absolutely.

In New Zealand I joined the National party first, the Maori party second, then the Greens, the United Front, ACT, the Labour party, in precisely that order. I’m a “Labral” in Australia and a proud Tea-Party Republicrat in the USA — and if I’m asked nicely enough to join the “Intelligent Designers” or the “Climate Change Skeptics,” or swear allegiance to the Flat Earth Society, I will do so without hesitation.

And so it is, in Res Publica, that I so willingly shake the hand of Thematic Interpretation. Nice to meet you. Sure I’ll tell you what it all means. I’ve written a poem about the interplay, or interrelationship, between isolation and immigration. The lacunae between culture, so to speak. Yes, my books are about exile and loneliness, and you’re absolutely right, the foreign-born taxi driver symbolizes what it means to be an artist. The taxi, like Res Publica, is a kind of island, really — an island that belongs to you, that you can control, but that is never completely your own.

Of course I’ll say it, why wouldn’t I?

The taxi driver is me.

 

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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On J-Lo’s Ass and Julia’s Breasts — Stanzas 92 to 97

The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders on board the U.S.S.  Harry S. Truman on December 16, 2000. ‘You rate / your  game a “family show” – while leering / at ads for beer and damsels cheering.’

The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders on board the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman on December 16, 2000. ‘You rate / your game a “family show” – while leering / at ads for beer and damsels cheering.’

Res Publica, Book One, Canto the Second

92.

‘A cold?’ I asked, as we ascended
toward some beastly clouds, their fattened,
beat-up faces, swollen, blackened
eyes and puce contusions blended
in each enormous, lumpish head.

‘No. Just allergies,’ she said.

Yes, she.

                     O reader, I’ve always loathed
that B-grade trick, where women clothed
as men in films – and often riding
motorcycles – are really hiding
in helmets, or hooded winter-wear,
great tresses of Rapunzaline hair.

93.

But I’m no Peter Jackson.50 And may
whoever films this docu-poem
be as good as he is – or know him,
at least, to make producers pay.
For you’ll need special effects beyond
what any software yet has spawned
– and not just for the seething sky
I mentioned above, or to supply,
in open sea, the tiny islet
which my helicopter pilot
struggles to find. But wait til you see
the marvels in my Canto Three!

94.

Now back to Megan – for that’s her name,
(though soon I’ll call her Copter Meg;
and once, while rifling through her bag
of nasal sprays, she made the claim
she was a ‘crazy, crack-brained sort’.
So soon I’ll call her ‘Nutmeg’ for short.)
A fleshy, big-boned curio,
Canadian, part Eskimo,
she stole her features from the kind
of shop our regal tourists find
along our city’s queenly strand51
– all polished goods and carved by hand.

95.

Her long smooth hair of Asian teak,
its grain defined in rippling rows;
a curvy Teko-Teko nose;52
a whalebone chin and Patu53 cheeks.
And let me not forget to speak
about her eyes (which strain to seek
out calmer skies) – the brows of jet
like peacock plumes in silhouette,
or clashing fists above two orbs
so dark they managed to absorb
and trap within her heavy lashes
several nearby lightning flashes.

Upper Paleolithic, Venus von Willendorf, estimated to have been carved 24,000–22,000 BCE

Upper Paleolithic, Venus von Willendorf, estimated to have been carved 24,000–22,000 BCE

96.

And let me not forget her breasts!
For just as Tolstoy loved girls’ feet,
divine Nabokov the furry sheathe
of armpits, I’m more common – impressed
by that which every barman knows
can fill a house, and if he chose,
a stadium! Indeed, as Janet
showed before TV could ban it,54
a breast can change a nation’s fate!
O strange America! You rate
your game a ‘family show’ – while leering
at ads for beer and damsels cheering.

97.

O blessed are you, you lecherous lot!
I sing to all the beer-drinking masses,
the ones who don’t care what ‘high class’ is;
the ones who think that J-Lo’s not
a diva – but her ass is.55 Bring me
your footy fans, in hordes or singly;
the sooty men with sports-car tools,
the speedway goers, sports-bar ghouls,
your schools of bikers and monster truckers
for whom the greatest nippers and tuckers
work to perfect the silicon breast
for you to visually molest!

50 Academy award-winning New Zealand film director, born 1961.

51 Queen Street is the central street of Auckland’s central business district. It rises from Queen’s Wharf on the waterfront and extends uphill for almost three kilometers in a mostly straight south-southwesterly direction. The street is filled with shops selling popular souvenir items such as Maori carvings, black pearls, honey and kiwifruit products, paua shells, rugby shirts, greenstone and sheepskins.

52 A Maori figurine commemorating ancestors or used as a protection from evil, usually of a curvaceous shape, with bulging belly, squat legs, outstretched tongue.

53 A wide, usually smooth (but sometimes ornamented), Maori blade, often carved of greenstone, wood or whalebone and used as a weapon.

54 During the halftime show of America’s Superbowl gridiron match in January, 2004, the pop singer Janet Jackson’s right breast was bared on live television.

55 J-Lo, or Jennifer Lopez, is a popular singer and actress in America whose alluring haunches, according to the Sunday Observer of London, have been insured for US$1 million.

Ali G. and Shaggy sing "Me Julie"

Ali G. and Shaggy sing "Me Julie"

Zireaux’s comments on these stanzas
The girl’s feet adored by Tolstoy, the furry axilla described by Nabokov — and what about the breast? Our narrator Arcady would find a soulmate in the 17th century poet, Robert Herrick:

Upon Julia’s Breasts

Display thy breasts, my Julia—there let me
Behold that circummortal purity,
Between whose glories there my lips I’ll lay,
Ravish’d in that fair
via lactea.
– Robert Herrick, The Hesperides, 1648

A remarkable little stanza, in which Julia’s breasts become cosmic spheres, as vast and timeless as the Milky Way (via lactea). “Circummortal” is Herrick’s own, if somewhat oversized, neologism, and we must admire a poet who draws new vocabulary from his beauty’s teat.

Herrick sings often of his Julia in The Hersperides. The name Julia itself is youthful, brimming, ebullient, circummortal. From Shakespeare to Sacha Baron Cohen, the name has kept its connotations. Here’s the brilliant Cohen character, Ali. G, singing about “me Julie.”

From the song “Me Julie,” by Ali G. and Shaggy:

You got your Julie, I got my Julie.
Anybody else who don’t have a Julie needs to get one.

Julie, you know I love you
Truly,
From me head down to my
Goolie.
You turn me on with your big Babylons.

My readers will recall that I’ve addressed the poetic beauty of breasts (and the origins of mazophilia) in previous posts: the “large unruly orbs” of Mary McCallum’s “Pink T-Shirt,” and, most scientifically, the “Big Hips and Breasts” of Kamal.

 

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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NZ Poetry Day: Lines from Res Publica, Book One

Frank Sargeson's Home in Takapuna (water-stained walls not clearly visible in this photo)

The narrator in this scene is hiding out at writer Frank Sargeson’s bach in Takapuna, on Auckland’s North Shore. As he writes his epic story, he takes a moment to contemplate New Zealand’s literature.

Lines from Res Publica, Book One

To loneliness! And water-stained walls!
Woe is he whom literature calls!
This place I write, this shameful shed,
informs us where good writers are led.
Why must our country’s minstrelsy
exist in crippling poverty?
Is it, as Kipling said, some debt
which traps us?1 Have we not paid it yet?

Of course, we’ve written honorable cheques,
each signed by a distinguished name
— by Katherine, Witi, Hulme, Frame
and others. And some, to be direct,
by cranks and frauds. (One name’s enough
to stain our credit — rhymes with “bluff”);
But though we’re often praised and thanked,
well, are these payments ever banked?
Are writers like Sargeson and Stead
in Kipling’s homeland ever read?
And even our Peter-the-Great’s new throne
was built on fiction Tolkien loaned.

I sometimes wonder, dear country — perhaps
we’re richer than we know; a kind
of native gold as yet un-mined
and not displayed on any maps
but which, in fact might dwell below

Pahutakawa Tree, photograph by Steven Pinker

Pahutakawa Tree, photograph by Steven Pinker

our very noses. The planet knows
your thickly oozing golden light,
your sails and whales and sea birds in flight,
your Wearable Arts2 and well-carved boats,
and surely if we took a vote,
why all the trees would love to wear
your bright red bows in their summer hair.

You are…a triple-seeded pod
of land in fruitless, boundless blue.
You don’t do what the others do.
You’re young, and thus, a leader of
our hearts, a spirit that we love
— the way you shrewdly shirk the ships
who lewdly whisper, ‘Apocalypse’
into your pretty ear. You set
the world’s best example — and yet

a side of you (all sheep and farm)
could use a lyric ornament
to earn the long-due compliment
of English patrons. (How fast such charm
transforms the debt extractor
into an instant benefactor).
Despite your beauty, it takes a jewel
to end a creditor’s pursual.
Now here’s my point (for too much drivel
makes narration’s compass swivel):
As unadorned as you appear,
your jewels might exist right here.

Right here, in our own hemisphere,
a Nobel Laureate could in fact be
working in an Auckland taxi.
Right here, a modern day Kabir3
could well be writing you a Wonder
of the World! And what a blunder
— to leave it unappreciated.
For beauty unseen is uncreated.

Keisha Castle-Hughes

Keisha Castle-Hughes performing in the film Whale Rider, based on the book by New Zealand writer Witi Ihimaera

But beauty bejeweled is beauty matured!
Just look at Keisha Castle-Hughes.
‘Twas Oscar’s gild that made her lose
her youth — and, too, her fame assured.
Or look at Van Gogh. Who noticed his flowers
until they were noticed by wealthier powers?

We know the times a writer sits
and draws a blank and stares into
the void and hemorrhages life. While all
our readers are flushed, engorged, enthralled
with life; and well-employed, competing
for mates, earning money, eating
fine foods, lifting weights and buying
whatever the ads suggest, complying
to fashions, courting with cars (beating
out the latest dents; cheating
on odometers), getting pissed
as hell in bars — O what a list

of rituals which you can practice
while we, poor poets, grow fresh boils
on our bums and know our toil’s
dragging us — or no, in fact is
causing all of life to shift
like soil around a man whose swift
descent in marshy earth is only
hastened by his kicks. The lonely
struggle for words. The kicking, the flailing
of thought. Each frantic gasp inhaling
still more thickened mud. Suffice
to say, we know the writer’s price.

Yet still we write! And hope for fees
when it is we, who (by the word!)
must pay in days and loves deferred,
in limbs, by god — we amputees
with life itself our severed fare,
our minds confined to wheelchairs;
or rather, more immobilized,
more like a patient paralyzed
and spread across the stars to hear
the happy banter in the sphere
below — O tantalizing noise! —
and know we miss life’s simplest joys.
_________________
Footnotes:
1Kipling’s story, “My Lady of Wairakei,” in which Kipling makes this point, first appeared in the
New Zealand Herald on January 30, 1892.
2Part fashion show, part creative dress-up competition, Wearable Arts began in 1987, in the South Island city of Nelson. Today it’s recognized as an international artistic event.
3Fifteenth century Indian spiritual philosopher and writer, famous for his pithy, poetic epigrams about the beauty of a simple life. Here’s an example of his work (translation by Robert Bly,
Kabir: Ecstatic Poems, Beacon Press):

There is nothing but water in the holy pools.
I know, I have been swimming in them.
All the gods sculpted of wood or ivory can’t say a word
I know, I have been crying out to them.
The sacred Books of the east are nothing but words.
I looked through their covers one day sideways.
What Kabir talks of is only what he has lived through.
If you have not lived through something it is not true.

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