I first heard Mayhem’s De Mysteriis dom Sathanus at my friend Danny McClain’s place when I lived in south St. Louis. I’m not sure when or what year it was, but I remember thinking that the record was everything you’d probably expect a black metal record to be: intense, aggressive, etc.—whatever other words you want to use when talking about black metal. But this one stands out, as much for my memories of listening to it with Danny as for its being an atypical (and therefore influential) black metal record: it’s a relatively clean and intricate record in a genre sometimes known for its obscure sonic texture (read: crappy recording) and repetition.
Hypnotic, angular guitars form the opening progression, underlaid by a pummeling blast beat—the characteristic black metal drum beat. Attila Csihar’s vocals eventually scrape across this first song, saying that “this dark fog will appear / up from the tombs… to take one more life.”
Like Mayhem’s “Funeral Fog,” Bathory’s Under the Sign of the Black Mark opens with a song whose lyrics are dark, tending toward the downcast: after a brief ambient phrase, the totally brutal “Massacre” begins. It’s a song whose title would seem to play on the Catholic “Mass” in connection with the bloody landscape of any massacre; here, a once “peaceful valley echoes with cries / cascades of blood and brains as the midday sun rise[s]“:
For some in its ranks black metal (an extreme sub-genre of heavy metal most often characterized by an emphasis on fast (tremolo-picked) guitars, heavy use of distortion, ‘blast beat’ style drumming, poor (‘lo-fi’) recording quality, and Satanic or misanthropic lyrical content) is the anti-Christian musical force par excellence, where Christianity is thought oppressive both personally, politically, and culturally—this aside from the long history of violence done by those in Jesus’ name. As a reaction against all this, black metal has been most popularized (fetishized?) by its own history of violence, church burnings, extreme inter-and-intra band conflict, murder, suicide, nationalism, style of dress, and of course: Satan.
But for all the violent lyric imagery and dark (even angry) music, it’s still hard for me to say it’s truly ‘evil’ music. Sure, it’s associated with Satan, and it’s aggressive and downcast turning toward the depressive (though it’s by no means the absolute depressive, death-like stillness of Worship’s “Solicide and the Dawning of the Moonkult,” from their Last CD before Doomsday—a landmark funeral doom release), but I think of this as more of a concern for personal, political, and cultural issues writ into art. Calling this concern ‘evil’ just sort of misses the point.
Unfortunately, black metal’s recent popularity sometimes makes more recent and legitimately exciting bands like Deathspell Omega seem more like the genre’s Death Cab For Cutie. Deathspell Omega’s 20+ minute song “Chaining the Katechon” is a great example of just how black metal has developed since some of those early influential bands. This song’s musicianship and detail-laden structure totally eschews the repetition of its forebears; and while it still remains lyrically dark, the lyrics are much more complex—complexity being one of Deathspell’s general characteristics.
But where Deathspell Omega chart legitimately expansive boundaries, maintaining a direct connection to several ‘traditional’ black metal characteristics, other more-popular bands have taken some of the genre’s more accessible characteristics and have made something that resembles black metal, but which the true believers sometimes don’t seem to accept—or at least it’s got them arguing.
Where Deafheaven seem like they’d probably be Zach Braff’s favorite black metal band, Krallice* is the New York-based black metal band that’s taken the genre’s characteristics and stretched it in totally new and awesome ways. All of guitarist Mick Barr’s projects are equally progressive and determinately minimal, but Krallice somehow manages to take repetition and an intense sensitivity to texture, and to merge these with post-minimalist sensibilities and progressive, intricately-expansive song structures.
And so, except for some legitimately interested in exploring the music, and except for some who seem to have taken an interest in the genre’s ideological underpinnings—its musical aesthetic as well as its religious sentiment as against, and its apparent political and cultural sentiments also as against—it sometimes seems like more attention is given to the personal lives of the musicians and to its own sensationalized history. See any of the various recent documentaries to get a really thorough history lesson.
Vice’s documentary True Norwegian Black Metal does as much (maybe more) to sensationalize the genre and its history as any other. In the documentary’s final moments of an interview with Gorgoroth’s vocalist Gaahl, who had previously led the documentary crew to a tiny, secluded cabin built by his grandparents at the top of a remote, snowy mountain, he tells the interviewer “I don’t think that you ask me the right questions… I don’t think you’re focusing on what’s being told.” When the interviewer then asks Gaahl to “guide” him, Gaahl stares intensely into space for the next handful of minutes in absolute silence. He eventually takes a drink of wine and looks at the interviewer off camera, seeming to tell him “this interview is over.” It’s an extremely tense close to a documentary crammed with violence and mayhem. But it’s telling in that it focuses on and sensationalizes the scene, and ignores what’s at the center of the music.
. . .
All this brings me to Michael Cross’ The Katechon. Taking its title from the biblical concept of the katechon, Cross refers to ‘the one who withholds’ the Antichrist from appearing and, by extension, from allowing the fullness of Christ’s redemptive work to be complete on the earth—though of course “It is finished.” In this context, the one who withholds can only be God’s unseen presence on the earth actively working against absolute chaos, destruction, and mayhem from being unleashed.
It’s a relatively minor moment in the book of 2 Thessalonians, let alone all of the New Testament, but this belies its presence as a deeply intriguing theological concept—it implicates that personal, political, and cultural suffering is actively allowed by God, presumably for the sake of His Larger Purposes (which I guess would ultimately be human redemption). It also implies that it could (literally) be a hell of a lot worse.
Beyond this, however, it’s also an intriguing place for Cross to begin the poem, particularly because of its political ramifications generally, and more because of its connections to our political and cultural climate at the moment. On the first page of the Delete Press edition of lines 1-100, Cross writes: “… rugged, sat at meats, huckled bones—canaille fucked too // its licking blood, likely cleaved a face from outbreath—sprays blood on my blood.” (lines 2-3) Here Cross mixes brutal imagery with the act of ingestion in a sonically, tactilely, and viscerally dense language that expands across the page in long lines appearing to approach prose. Elsewhere, he writes:
“…the mouth’s smallish beads secreting themselves
like garbage in a muslin bag, a bouquet garnie, but a daub to ear at at first nothing,
then nothing prised out: kids stuffing themselves in moist burrows, forbidden to lick
their fingers even scrapping for a bit of the carcass.” (lines 21-24)
The body, particularly the mouth, figures prominently in several moments. By extension, this implicates language, the language of the poem itself, and the political uses of language and speech: “put tongue to take of the dust // of women what’s dug free by the pate of speech, so its violence, sans-, cum-, qua- // cruelty—the trick of speech that breath comes fluttering out when the tongue sweeps.” (lines 5-9)
In thinking of the ‘concerns’ of black metal, I can’t help but think of Cross’ poem. Cross’ language in The Katechon is easily as ‘dark’ as those of black metal bands—but of course, it’s much more satisfyingly and sonically dense, attending to itself as a tactile, textural object in ways black metal lyrics don’t even approach. Cross’ poem also addresses ‘concerns’ of our political and cultural moment: “… the tongue literally pearls // from bone, ribs blossoming light, bearing fruit in the shadow of the light // beaming through its cage and out past spatial enclosures of law (pardes).” (lines 57-59) He also writes that: “we’re so stacked against ourselves from the outset, // we who benefit from the recrudescence of franchise despite black earth, // infixed mortgage-pillars, pilferage rote to loose debt.” (lines 72-74)
In his postscript to lines 101-200 of The Katechon (in Damn the Caesars’ 2012 Crisis Inquiry special issue), Andrew Rippeon highlights the tensions between the personal and the political, tying them directly to the historical moment in which the poem is being written. And really, this is exactly what ‘concerned’ all those early black metal musicians who were more interested in reacting as against in their particular cultural, political, and personal moment (sometimes going so far as to commit suicide). Rippeon reminds us that Cross read from The Katechon during Occupy Oakland, making the point that:
“[i]deological conflict, too, has its eschatology. Protests are issued permits; maintenance schedules are cited as cause for evictions… [a]t a moment when Law and Anti-Law have crystallized so clearly in static opposition to one another, one possible reading of the katechon is merely the symbiosis of these two, their mutuality, the total figure they share (and with it, the illusion of their opposition)—a withholding, not through interdiction, but interaction.” (10-11)
So Cross’ poem posits a direct connection between each of these, asserting a relative co-existence between personal concerns (of the body, of paying our bills, etc.) and their political and cultural connections. In looking toward a future in which a political (and biblical) katechon has been removed, through a necessary release of chaos, a ‘hope’ of a kind simultaneously arrives, one in which the presence of his poem and the act of its writing posits the possibility of redemption. This would certainly seem to be against all the ideological underpinnings of black metal, but isn’t this what they were really all about: asserting that the present is not enough, that there’s something else available, even if it’s not immediate?
In the final lines of the Delete Press edition, Cross writes that “[w]hat benefits inward construals might be a singular thing in a sea of paler attributes, // may harm the body outside, name proclaimed, may be found, may be lastingly renewed.” (lines 99-100) Here, the sentence completes, but we know that the poem isn’t over. And in the final lines included in Crisis Inquiry, Cross writes of “a non-existent narrative // corresponding to a non-existent desire to explain, but take it: what goes on…” (lines 199-200)
Here, expectant for a future in which the promise of redemption takes place, where all concerns find their resolution, here the sentence hangs—here where there is no resolution.
I feel like I should mention that, writing above about listening to music with Danny, I’m struck by the strange timing of this blog entry; this past weekend marks the three-year anniversary of his death. He was an awesome human being who loved music and reading, and whose presence on the earth continues to be missed by many. I’m not writing to eulogize him or anything; I just want to draw some attention to his phenomenal work as a musician. He was drummer for St. Louis’ Grand Ulena (with Darin Gray and Chris Trull) and performed regularly doing noise and free-jazz influenced improv. Very infrequently, he played synth/electronics with St. Louis power electronics duo Killer Looks. Danny’s presence is indeed missed.
- DAVID JAMES MILLER
David James Miller is a poet, musician, and educator. He is the author of the chapbook Facts & Other Objects (JR Vansant), and his writing may also be found in Otoliths, elimae, Diagram, The Cultural Society, and elsewhere. He writes from New Haven, CT, where he lives with his wife and children.
* There was this one time I saw Bruce Andrews at a Krallice show—totally surprised to see him there; I’d only ever seen him around at poetry readings (and on the Bill O’Reilly’s show). I remember a younger hipster-looking guy in a jean jacket yanking on his arm to talk to him while Bruce seemed to be wanting to pay attention to the band
Drunken Boat, international online journal of the arts, is pleased to announce a special call for comics, animations, video art, and illustrations to celebrate its 15th anniversary issue, a folio guest-edited by Michael A. Chaney and Marco Maisto.
Along with short animations, we are open to static comix (especially comics poetry) as well as more dynamic, web-based and digital graphic novel constructions. Particularly for comics poetry, we are more interested in work that expresses itself as comics and poetry simultaneously, rather than work that merely illustrates a poem. We want work that makes the relationship between language and art more tense than intuitive, more associative than referentially grounded.
The potential crossover between literary and visual art is a rich, ever-expanding horizon, and we’d like to capture snapshots of it in this anniversary issue. So please do send us your best work. If you have poetry or flash fiction in the form of comics or a multimedia/animation project, we want to see it!
Deadline for submissions 5/1/14.
The University of Toronto Film Festival happens tonight, March 31, at 6 p.m.
It’s the World Premiere of Vision and Sound: Action Painting Underground, at the University of Toronto Film Festival. Curtains open at 6 p.m. on March 31 at the Hard House Music Room.
RED BLUE GREEN:
and David Swartz
“…for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
Calling to mind the words of Genesis, “Dust” is a striking work of free verse by Patrick Donnelly, originally published in DB 2.
Patrick Donnelly is a poet, editor, translator, and the author of two books of poetry: The Charge and Nocturnes of the Brothel of Ruin. Donnelly is a current associate editor of Poetry International and a contributing editor of Tran(s)tudies. His website is www.patrickdonnellypoems.com
In my last post I described my new Paul Thek-inspired writing process, and how when I began my failed poem I was just becoming absorbed in my new writing process. Scrawling in a big hand had somehow made my hand a better follower of my imagination. Or, scrawling in a big childlike (or maniacal) hand was somehow better suited to the new mode of thought into which I was emerging. I didn’t care that my notebooks looked feral because I was so happy to have made a breakthrough after being stuck in old patterns of thinking for so long. Finding a new method to write opened up my experience of the world and closed the gap between poetry and experience. To me, that equated with happiness.
Now I’d like to tell you how I constructed my failed poem. After my initial space-out-in-my-notebook with “For Kate I Wait” on repeat, the poem came together in several distinct stages. As I’ll outline in this post, I first transcribed my notebook, then wrote a new beginning, then added a new grammar to the poem. This occurred in three drafts, before the poem was published. After it was published I continued to revise it before I decided (for reasons which I’ll write about in the next two installments) that the poem was hopeless.
A few minutes before I started the first draft, I wrote the word “Welcome” in my notebook. Then I scrawled the word CONCISE over it, repeating it in a sort of horizontal column over and over. Over all that, I wrote two lines: “I merely need this bed to make” and “I nearly need this room to fade.” Both of these lines are things I heard in “For Kate I Wait.” I don’t know if that’s actually what Ariel Pink is singing, but the aural blurriness of the song is something I love about it (kind of a Cocteau Twins effect, or like the creepy backwards-talk in Twin Peaks or some Nirvana).
In the few days after I wrote the first draft, I wrote several more poems like it—long scrawled things with little punctuation, focused on names. I liked them all. Then I transcribed the failed poem, calling it “Welcome,” and made some very minor edits. Here’s one of my favorite parts, toward the end:
Lou Reed once told me I need
to join this century it’s true
Lou Reed! what an ass
hole full of mother Sinead
O’Connor Nothing Compares
2U Jimmie Scott Nothing C
ompares 2U David Lynch
Dandelion Dreary Mark Zu
ckerberg Mark Ruffalo M
ark Owens David Abel I’m
never gonna dance again M
aryrose Larkin Gale Lindsay
I will continue to wait to
see any faces I’ve known
Rimbaud I’ll exhaust myself
I sent “Welcome” to a small New York poetry magazine, but just a few days later I revoked it, stating: “I’m sorry to be annoying, but I have to rescind my recent submission. The martians told me the poem’s not actually done and I don’t think I’ll have it finished before tomorrow’s [August 1, 2012] deadline.” In the few days between my submission and revoking, I wrote a new opening for the poem. Doing so made me see that the poem wasn’t ready for the world—in Spicerian terms, I had more dictation to take. The new opening went:
I want to be blank so I can begin
in the flat and even rhythm
of a car alarm alarming
no one in particular
about nothing in particular
with such cruel, placid insistence
just below my apartment
this summer evening, it’s almost
11:30 and the voices
from the park have mostly quieted
except for a few teenagers
playfully taunting each other
in another language
and the irregular thumping
of a basketball and the boys
who play in the dark, I can
never see them, I can never
see the dark they see and the dark
they see through as they sweat through
their t-shirts and chirp
I don’t know where I am
as I write this, I think again of my friends
and the people I don’t know
It’s certainly the best part of the poem. Now, I see it more as its own little piece—a New York School throwback, something a real New York poet would call “Poem,” or “Maria Hernandez Park,” or “Nike Flashback,” or “Come Smash My Fucking Face,” or whatever. But at the time this seemed like the beginning of something larger, so I cut off the last part (“my friends and the people I don’t know”) and I sutured the rest to “Welcome” and changed the name to “As I Write This.”
This may have been my first bad editing choice—trying to stitch together what were essentially two different poems. I really wanted “As I Write This” to be a Big Poem and (typical male that I am) I equated length with depth. I hadn’t yet heard Steve Abbott’s wise aphorism: “When one impatiently reaches out, confusion inevitably results.” I was too impatient to make the Big Poem—and I didn’t yet know that my impatience was going to bring me a lot of confusion.
In the months that followed I thought a lot about the phrase I cut out of the opening: “my friends and the people I don’t know.” I thought about how Gertrude Stein said she wrote for herself and strangers. I thought about how by including the names of friends and strangers in my poems—tagging them—I was actively constructing my audience and including them in the process of construction. I thought about how that was the real substance of this new poetry I was writing. I wondered why more poets weren’t doing this, because (as we poets know) no one listens to poetry except for poets. Why don’t we just cut the magic show—we all know each other’s tricks. Let’s just talk to, or sing with, or scream at, or puke on each other.
It was a beautiful idea. It still is a beautiful idea.
When I used the word “substance” above it reminded me of another painting I made when I was 18 in Astoria. It was a palimpsest in black and white, a word painting which deconstructed the word “substance” in a phallic column. The top, most legible layer read something like:
There was a big yellow splotch between that last “s” and “none,” the only color on the canvas. I made a companion painting of a female nude, reclining, with a red splotch over her vagina. I wrote over it, “transient is this world.” Someone I kind of had a crush on saw it one day and said, “That painting’s so true.” I then suggested she buy the painting for $40. She didn’t want it. I think I ended up giving this one, and the “substance” one, away.*
Isn’t it funny to see how no one ever changes? How we’re all obsessed with the minute movements of our own little parameters? I can’t help noting a big parallel between my recent poems and the two paintings I just described. As a teenager I sought—intuitively, through painting—to articulate some kind of libidinal unity. In the poems I’ve written recently I think I’ve attempted this same unity via the inclusion of names, via the projection of an audience. It’s a libidinal processing of names, a linguistic equivalent of the “substance” painting’s yellow spurt and the red dripping vagina of its companion. I mean, even the page in my notebook I described to you—the beginning of what would become “As I Write This”—is visually similar to the “substance” painting.
A couple weeks after I started “As I Write This” I wrote a poem called, funnily enough, “Maria Hernandez Park,” which I haven’t published. I was walking through the park at dusk and I saw the spirits of all the wage laborers leave their bodies as they were returning home from work, beat. Mine left my body too—our spirits were all hanging above us in purplish light, the whole park lit up by a dim exhaustion. I went home and tried to write about this, but I ended up writing about my brother Jeremy, who I hadn’t seen or talked to in several years. I wrote the poem, then two days later Jeremy died. There’s a part toward the end of his poem that goes:
Lewis Warsh says
it’s a Romantic notion to think
words still have meanings,
words like “we” or “and” or “I,”
and I never stop thinking about my friends
and my brothers and mother and other people
I don’t know, I write their names in poems
and they pile up around my room, this way
I am never far from any of them
It stated what I was trying to enact in “As I Write This.” While I continued to work on “As I Write This” I fully believed in my new conception of an audience libidinally connected via the name—and that our names have meaning. But I was willfully ignoring that almost no one likes to be puked on or screamed at, that most people are too embarrassed to sing with others, and that most poets are terrible conversationalists because most poets are bad listeners. For a short happy time I didn’t want to believe Spicer’s dictum of resignation—that no one listens to poetry—and I continued to revise “As I Write This” while writing a bunch of other similar stuff, which I’m currently editing as a manuscript called The New York School. (While the first poem of the process failed, I thankfully don’t think the others have.)
In the next draft of “As I Write This” I took out some names—co-workers from past and present jobs, people who I didn’t feel I needed “close” to me in the space of the poem, who were not part of its audience. I also made the decision to add a lot of conjunctions to the poem. For instance:
Trina Josh Jamie Matt
Cori Paul John Craun
Trina and Josh and Jamie and Matt
and Cori and Paul and John Craun
I think it was a bad decision. It made a 120+ line poem—one long stanza with irregular punctuation—sonically flaccid. The repetition of all those “ands” also eroded the meaning of the word, and the names around them. Another decision I made was to leave in several blips of negativity, lines like “Jason is a fucking loser” or “I don’t care about you James Tate,” or the parts where I call Lou Reed an asshole or Ron Silliman boring and fat. These were all little passing thoughts from a first draft, the kind of things most poets (myself included, up to that point) would likely edit out or at least alter in some way to either soften the negativity or veil the identity of the person being hated on. Or, they’d just decide these things aren’t important—a decision I failed to make because, following the lesson I gleaned from the gentle older painter I told you about in the last post, I wasn’t interested in being nice. I was convinced I had stumbled into a new ideal: that poetry can take things like negativity and animosity in the service of honesty. What I wasn’t anticipating—in my utter naivety—was the backlash I’d receive. Processing the responses to “As I Write This” (and, even more so, to my poem “The New York School”) gave me a new understanding of Spicer’s lament: “Honestly, honesty you are a pain.”
Now that I’ve talked a bit about the background and the initial construction and revision of the poem in my first two posts, I’ll address some of the reactions I got in the next two. Since I started writing “Total Fail” I’ve been keeping a notebook of all the possible reasons why the poem failed. I’ll share some of this, my little confirmational jeremiad, with you. Speaking of you: if you’re here with me now, thank you.
- JOSEPH BRADSHAW
Joseph Bradshaw is a poet, educator, and archivist. He is the author of several chapbooks, as well as the full-length In the Common Dream of George Oppen (Shearsman Books). He curates a readings series at Berl’s Poetry Shop in Brooklyn called Leslie Flint Presents, and is at work on a book about the afterlife of the New York School.
*“Transient is this world, substance it has none” was something I read in some undoubtedly outdated translation of a likely-dubious Buddhist text. I was reading a lot of Buddhist stuff then—whatever books I could get at Barnes and Noble on my trips into the malls in the Portland suburbs. (After I read several of them I told my best friend at the time, Dennis, that I was enlightened and that I didn’t need his friendship anymore.) Now, when I google transient is this world substance it has none the first ten results are: 1) the Wikipedia page for Insomnia, 2) the Wiki page for “Chemical element,” 3) a lexicon of alcohol and drug terms published by the World Health Organization, 4) background info and statistics for the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 5) a page called “Schizophrenia” at patient.co.uk, 6) a Harvard page called “Six Universal Substances or Entities,” 7) “Six Universal Substances (Dravyas)” at sacred-texts.com, 8) something called “A Buddhist View of Addiction,” 9) the full text of the Declaration of Independence and 10) “IB Biology/Option D” at Wikibooks.