["Singer In The Flames". A reliquary statue in the Open Chapel of San Francisco Convent, Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala, Mexico. Photo by Warren Falcon. January, 2009. Click on the image to enlarge it.]
Click here for the Learning For Life Group Newsletter condensed version of this essay.
"Ah! I am so forsaken I will worship at any shrine impulses toward perfection!"
- Artur Rimbaud, from his poem series, The Drunken Boat, second poem
"Il a'y aura pas de reposoirs." Translation:
"There will be no altars of repose."
- a monk instructing visitors to the Abbe of Solemnes, France.
"We call it "stream of consciousness" but through the centuries memory, for want of a better term, has been referred to as flowing water . . . The growth of the river, accumulating riches, is the preparation for annihilation, for expansion and then dissolution. It fits perfectly the nature of tragedy, which is life-death." - Wallace Fowlie, from his memoir. He was/is a paramount influence in securing Rimbaud's influence in America.
"The Saviors do not lend themselves to art successfully: they are outside the pale, beyond, as incomprehensible in their love as in their example. They have never become incorporated in the blood stream. Forsaking the world, they become as the idols they sought to destroy. This is human perversity. Throughout the ages it displays itself in the individual life, and now and then it bursts forth in cosmic waves of futility and self-destruction."
- Henry Miller from his essay on American poet/iconclast, Kenneth Patchen, "Patchen, Man of Anger & Light"
I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses...
- Robert (Bob) Fletcher, lyrics to "Don't Fence Me In" (music by Cole Porter)
This essay is lovingly dedicated to Mario "now gone awandering" having left behind the broken world and the magnificent images he made to bring restorative beauty so very much needed.
The old gods were and remain gods of possession and thus are still to be approached with caution, eyes open, alert, conscious, awake, else one can be outrun and overtaken. Such encounters are transformative, yes. But for the better it is not certain. Having had these dis- and re-orienting experiences via "l'abaissement de la senses" (derangement of the senses) Rimbaud was indeed transformed, awakened to the power of the unconscious which in his case resulted in a tremendous, ungrounded ego inflation from possession by an archetypal energetic tsunami, the inundating Greek god of ecstatic merger and dissolution, Dionysus (or Bacchus of the Romans), who can and does indeed "enthuse", meaning literally from the Greek word "entheos" - "inspire, become god-filled," also "shining, brilliant", all of which accurately describes Rimbaud's oeuvre; however, this shining god no matter His brightness, in the end wears one out, as in "down and out", drained of life.
After the shining, the shinola.
Fortunately we still have - they have not been outlawed yet - Rimbaud's miraculous, voluminous "shout outs" to forever be one's self the most-est "uber alle" ["over all"], "mais avec la crasse" ["but with dirt"], some boasting from inevitable death heads and death beds aloud-ly allowed. Swiss psychoanalyst and writer Carl Jung(1) would add that every individual, like Jesus, like Rimbaud, is called "to make one's own [life] experiment" and in so doing must and will make mistakes "for life must be undone". Best to do or undo it laudly - laudanum and opiates aside.
Hence Rimbaud, the great un-doer,
the great undone, scrivener/screwer
in and out of sewers, exulting, exalting,
excoriating both pure and impure alike,
or so says that yonder limping Ethiopian
cloud, one legged, wrapped in a shroud
pointing wildly in all directions.
He turns his face en perpetua upon
all things riveted to reversals unlike
Saint Perpetua (2), She who would renounce
nothing of Saviors for the favor of martyrdom.
"Rimbaud turned from literature to life." - Henry Miller
"No one gets out of here alive." - Jim Morrison
Thus one must not imitate Rimbaud or any other epochal poet/creative artist. By 'epochal' I mean one who irreversibly turns the wheel of culture for good or for ill, usually both, for good and evil are inextricably entwined. One must only imitate Rimbaud (Verlaine, Baudelaire, Artaud, Comte de Lautréamont and others, to remain in the French pantheon) in this most important sense, each must like him make their own experiment, live according to their own "daemon" consciously else that "daemon" which is a force of nature with whom there is mutual life-long business and is conscious only as a volcano is conscious, lives/grips heedless of the agony/ecstasy it renders demanding surrender of the ego to its greater drive. Without conscious resistance and relationship to this "daemonic force" (which the poet Rilke says, "secretly deigns to destroy us" - Duino Elegies, #9) the individual's ego can be literally worn down, worn out, burnt from within and without by archetypal possession. The daemon forces one to and beyond one's own edges and those of his/her kith, kin, clan, cult and culture. One becomes most acutely, painfully self-aware at the edges and, let's face it, others are the edges.
Rimbaud pushed (or was pushed by his daemon to) the edges. Although he "broke on through to the other side" (Jim Morrison lyric from "Break On Through" by The Doors) this breakthrough which has transformed poetic art and the arts in general for more than a century and perhaps, no doubt, more to come, did not prevent his dissolution into anti-social behaviors and an early demise. His breakthrough is ours to have now, great for the arts ongoingly but his breakthrough led to a loss, if ever had, of personal ethical responsibility to others for once he abandoned his writing for good at the age of 21 he turned away from that inner fire, burning still, as Henry Miller reports, toward another life. And what a life it became, addiction and the slave trade perhaps from his own enslavement to opium having escaped poetry's grip but not that of his exacting daemon's. If he could not be truly free then why should anyone else?
So much for "breaking through". Shadow awaits on the other side. Poet Theodore Roethke writes, "The edge is what I have". It is the edge we all have. We dwell upon and within it often unconsciously or if conscious of it at all we flee or like Rimbaud plunge headlong, body long, arts long into it "come hell or high water" which did come to the poet through his dark deeds. Enthused, sundered, the Hell plundered and plundering poet is endlessly rent, surrendered to each reader for hopefully greater ends than "The End". Utterly, his poetry remains a high water mark in culture deeded to any who will have it, a great legacy of youthful traumas, treasons, thefts of divine treasures, fractured facets gained at guarded though purposeful edges.
Out of the shinola, the shine.
For all the beauty Rimbaud opened up to, the terrible beauty of dark and violent gods and the spectrum of worlds these gods create and inhabit with and within us, it did not prevent him from the slave trade and the narcotic numbing yet never negated, ever-inflamed nerve fires of conscience. Rimbaud helped to tear the personal and collective edges which keeps repressed shadow at bay, usually projected upon others, activities, places and more, thus giving it and the projected upon more power. Projected shadow gives the projector license to repress, to scapegoat and punish those others who become their and culture's "evil" purgatorial stand-ins and stunt men in perpetually pejorative/projective acts toward their own misplaced absolution and retribution.
To what purpose then this "derangement of the senses", "l'abaissement de la senses", Rimbaud preached and demonstrated? And to what consequences? I sit in and with these questions which are orientations as all questions are orienting devices which may deepen toward a more conscious engagement with the unconscious, with self and with others, enriching decisions which create or recreate entire worlds of Psyche. These questions profoundly impact my writing and my work as counselor and as a citizen of one and variant world(s). As Rilke reminds a young poet and ourselves by proxy, questions are meant to be lived. They are to be unforgiven in their assault upon security reaching toward some other experience and understanding which has ultimately ethical consequences.
The Risk That Matters
As an aspiring, and aspirating, young poet in the Blue Ridge mountains very near the site of the famous Black Mountain College where American poet Charles Olson taught and worked on his voluminous "Maximus Poems", I studied him and other writers and artists who gathered there, mid-20th century, among them Charles and Anni Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Creeley to name only a few who impacted and still do late 20th century arts and letters.
These lines of Olson's below I read early in my study of his verse which sang loudly to me with implicit encouragement:
"He can take no risk that matters,
the risk of beauty least of all.
- from "The Kingfishers"
These two lines named me in my hesitance to approach edges and take this "risk of beauty." Since then I have tried in my own hermit-like way to take that risk, have failed much yet I aspire after it still compelled daemonically in the make and break cycle/craft of living and writing. Rimbaud could have written these Olson lines and in a real sense is the progenitor of them though many have gone before him in their risk taking going after this elusive yet real and real-ing/reeling Beauty, capital 'B'.
When one risk beauty they are indeed assenting to its opposite, to ugliness, to messiness, to disorder and fragmentation. Little did I know that when I finally assented to take the risk of beauty that I was assenting to what I had already known all too much of and to more of what was to come only with a witness self beginning to consolidate in the guise and eyes/ears and writing of a fledgling and floundering but compelled and inspired poet. Rimbaud turned his most broken relationship to his mother and therefore to all of life toward poetry and already having been cast beyond the edges of mother love at the very beginning he took the risk of beauty and its attendant hells, and this all began as an obedient Church boy, off to mass with mother, a most earnest boy perhaps in earnest after what the Church proffered, surcease and security from the misplaced and rejecting world provided him by such a mother. Wallace Fowlie, Rimbaud scholar whose book on Rimbaud written in the 1040's is a masterpiece of writing itself, a sensitive and astonishingly insightful homage to Rimbaud. He writes of the child Rimbaud:
"His life was a life without one year of waiting, without one month of hope, without one day of truce. Children who are unhappy--and Rimbaud was certainly one of the most wretched--do not know that life is to be lived. For them, life is a daily force which must be destroyed, shortened, or tricked. For the unhappy child, life is one person, or several persons, who do not love him."
And what becomes of the unhappy child who discovers that he can and must sing? Arthur Rimbaud who sang what I have already quoted in the epigraph above, "Ah! I am so forsaken I will worship at any shrine impulses toward perfection."
When I first read those very words everything within my own childhood suffering snapped into new attention and perspective. My many lonely hours in the woods and streams, by the lake and under the night stars with a flashlight and star maps were suddenly named, shrines. Shrines which could hopefully gather my impulses, my secret childhood rituals in woods and viney places where tree roots were living serpents which embraced me, held me or flung me aloft to upper branches in order to be held in natural cradle limbs which swayed in wind lulling, lulling me into soothed and mindless oblivions so needed to survive what awaited unchangingly in the human world. I had early on learned, like Rimbaud, as I have just written above, that others are the edges I tried desperately to cure by my ineffectual love and subsequent escapes into woods and at 10 or so, into theology and the promises there, as Rimbaud found in the Church but only momentarily. Later, when he abandoned his poetry at 22 or so he considered taking holy orders. This does not surprise me at all for the risk of beauty and its attendant descents into ugliness and all underworld values is what professed religious vow to take on, to confront and live within in order to be discovered by Graces "beyond the fiddle" (Rilke). Perhaps I shall one day, even in my rapidly approaching old age head off to some orders or vows all the while knowing I bring my and the hell of human edges with me for Grace is not Grace at all without real knowledge of what it is very Grace to. This would be only a contained version of what I have consciously taken on so beautifully sung by another poet of suffering and risk-taking, Hart Crane, who took holy orders of the ocean depth one last ocean voyage and leapt from ship to crashing surfaces to sink to the depths where perhaps in his leap and answering to the shrine of depths he still traces:
And so it was I entered the broken world
to trace the visionary company of love...
But each vow, each journey, each risk taking must be one's own and not an imitation though perhaps at some point human choices are limited not having literal wings or fins to fly or swim the heights and depths. But is this precisely what poetry is, our wings, our fins, and more to bring beauty, poor but magnificent broken beauty into the world, discovering "the visionary company"?
One may imitate Rimbaud, Olson, Hart Crane and others in order to learn, to discover one's own vocabularies and voices at once both fluid at the edges yet solid, not static, in terms of knowing contact and relationship to the observing/witnessing self. One is always influenced by others so why not Rimbaud, "a master influence"? Young creative artists as well as older young creative artists, developmentally understand the necessity of breaking free of personal and historical (cultural) encumbrances, indoctrinations, educations which have served to socialize, to bestow an ego and persona but when rigidly adhered to these also maim, repress or kill one's authentic personal spirit and relationship to one's insistent "daemon". Rimbaud's message is, if nothing else, to quote Paracelsus Bombastus, a man whose last name and risk taking toward refining alchemical arts is where we get the words "bombast" and "bombastic", why "be another's who can be his own".
When like Rimbaud an individual becomes identified with the daemonic - the archetypal - he/she becomes inflated resulting in a narcissistic belief that they are the archetype itself. As in the case of Rimbaud this comes at a terrible price for as highly inflated one can become while possessed by the daemonic there is always a compensatory negative deflation into depression, madness/mania, and physical illness depending on the heights of inflation/identification. In the resultant deflation one suffers loss of meaning, loss of value, loss of self-and-other orientation and naturally, desperately seeks a new orientation in the other/Other which repeats the cycle of expectation and disillusionment/despair.
Depression pulls one deeply down into the unconscious in order to contact that "black hole" energy of authentic self now overpoweringly insisting upon conscious attention and earnest bringing forth and up past persona-masks. Much needed aspects of authentic self inwardly determined by that which is not the ego, what Carl Jung calls the "notI", that greater totality of the self from which the ego is derived an expression of, these said aspects that have been languishing undercover, so to speak, in the unconscious actually inflict what Jungian analyst and writer Marie Louise von Franz calls a "creative depression" because the greater self, the not-I which is ultimately mysterious as Source actually pulls one's libido/life energy in and down in order to consciously refocus the ego so that nascent "truer self" aspects may be integrated into the light of every day personality. No easy task but worth the effort. These integrated aspects create Doppler-like disturbances not only the internal field of consciousness but also in the external social field of relationships. Some people will not like the newer, wholer personality. Even failure in the attempt to confront, accept and integrate these hitherto repressed or nascent aspects if at least sincerely attempted is individuating and authenticating. One may like the Old Testament Jacob wrestle in the waste places of psyche in darkness with an aspecting aspic-angel (aspic congeals) wounding, transforming, and coagulating both self and angel in authentic encounter with life, all of it, volatile dynamic "I and Thou" encounters rather than an "I and It" relation to all things.
To further understand the daemonic goals of enforced descents into psychological depths, psychotherapist, poet and writer, Joan Poelvoode, helpfully calls creative depression "working depression" in that the conscious self is working with aspects of history to heal and emerge with a new narrative, "new" attendant psychic energies now made available to further the lifelong creative process which is individuation, a dynamic, not static, wholeness/hold-ness enriched and empowered by the very struggles in the depths. After enduring and gaining the "gold" of self in depression one is less afraid of descents, of darkness, one's own, others, daemons, gods, having learned that such descents are alchemical phases in an ongoing divine process of greater integration involving necessary disintegration toward a more inclusive reformation. One may remain dark, forever marked from the journey but consciously so. Though others may not be able to tolerate the integrated darkness it may serve and enrich some others whose wholeness and very lives depend upon their darker aspects kept safe in the unconscious until it is time for them to emerge and create not only new selves but also new worlds.
Some people are too adhered to the light and so spurn the darker, more three dimensional person. Light, too much of it, flattens out, annihilates multi-dimensionality and those who are too much identified with it often appear hollow, unlived, spiritualish zombies who remain disengaged and somehow ingraspable and amorphously present; such light over-identification guarantees an encounter with the dark gods, with depression, perhaps madness, for the psyche demands its due, "it pathologizes," says archetypal psychologist, James Hillman, and cares not a whit for egoic ideals such are comfortable fortresses of light, saintly spirituality. Hillman:
"...within the affliction is the complex, within the complex an archetype, which in turn refers to a god. Afflictions point to gods; gods reach us through afflictions. Jung's statement--"the gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor's consulting room" (Jung's Collected Works 13, paragraph 54)--implies that gods, as in Greek tragedy, force themselves symptomatically into awareness. Our pathologizing is their work, a divine process working in the human soul. By reverting the pathology to the god, we recognize the divinity of pathology and give the god his due...A complex must be laid at the proper altar, because it makes a difference both to our suffering and perhaps to the god who is there manifesting..." (Hillman, A Blue Fire, Harper Perennial pg. 146-147.
When in on a dark altar in the grip of depression and its accompanying battles with the aspecting angel or daemon/god, addictions are tempting at this point as efforts to soothe the collapsed self as well as to restore the inflated identity manic with the archetype. Addictions then carry primal projections usually of infantile dissolution and containment in some womby other/mother. Yes, this is regressive. It can be a regression in order to heal/whole, undo and renew one's start in life when one emerges again into conscious, separate life in the perpetually creative task of individuation. Rimbaud's life demonstrates a life of continual regression which did not restore or whole him. Although he encountered and wrestled with dark gods of psyche, of self, of his culture, he swelled up, a pregnant burst in his teens, and though fragmented and fragmenting, regressing more into a primitive narcissistic personality disorder or, perhaps, even bi-polar disorder, his poetry helped him to contain and maintain who and what he could within the grip of a transpersonal process personally suffered. His creative genius carried within it premonitory glimpses of cultural dissolution seeds of greater wholeness within the nigredo obviously required to be endured collectively, as well, witness the century to come, world wars, genocides, annihilating weaponry and an upsurge of atavistic aggression and religions. Rimbaud who writ large personally experienced and contained this collective nigredo.
I venture all this not in an attempt to explain away Rimbaud's genius nor to pin him to a diagnosed wall where this powerful daemon, the god he bore for the culture and still bears for us all is not, should not and cannot be reduced to a "nothing but" some mental disorder or other. Conventional psychology is reductive to complexes only, "nothing buts" with no other basis. Jungian, archetypal and transpersonal psychologies restore and liberate psychology and the modern soul from "nothing but" complexes to the gods, the living archetypal energies and their depths within our very suffering. Rimbaud prepared the way not only for the arts but for Freud, an important "nothing but-ter", Jung, and the various schools of psychoanalyses and psychologies with their attendant deities. Psychology owes a giant debt and homage to Arthur Rimbaud. Another great mad, god-wrestling poet from ever surreal American soil, Theodore Roethke, suffered bi-polar disorder, the prima materia of his taking upon himself for us all, "the risk of beauty". His scriptural lines, "What's madness but nobility of soul at odds with circumstance" could never have been written unless wrenched and rendered out upon the crushing altar of psyche's dark gods. John Berryman is another example of the massive creativity unleashed in an ongoing encounter with "the living god" which is the Psyche run rampant with flavors and sabers of deity of all kinds. These depths (in psyche heights and depths are of equal value) give birth to madness and poetry, divine possessions which are religious (attempting to re-link us to the gods) and the arts.
Forsakeness, Promiscuous Worship,
Worship As Promiscuity For There Are
Many Gods Which Are "Impulses Toward Perfection"[This section below is to be greatly expanded to explore some of that which is in the subtitle here...this is a work in progress...]
Another point I wish to make to illustrate the above points is that Rimbaud became a slave trader after he forsook poetry and eventually France for Africa. This forsaking indicates that for all the ecstatic experiences of "daemonic" possession, spiritual expansion of consciousness, and finding the language to express it he did not arrive at any moral responsibility toward and for others, so far as we know from his biographies. Quite the opposite. Slave trading is symptomatic of collective shadow as well as personal. Rimbaud's narcissistic inflation, a personality disorder whose insistent god is in its very name, Narcissus, when extreme is psychopathic or, in current psychological parlance, malignant, derived not only from parental/environment/neurological inadequacies and failures but also from a fated life-long encounter with the daemonic force which is the god Narcissus. As is clear now perhaps the greatest development of the past one hundred years or so, at least in the Western world, is the predominance of the Ego with its attendant culture of entitlement. As Huey P. Long, the "Kingfish" governor of Louisiana, proclaimed, in America every man and woman is King and Queen. The shadow side of this statement is patently obvious now, driven less by benign and altruistic democratic spirit and more by despot King and Queen Baby, childish/adolescent psyches sitting upon potty thrones insisting their deserving "only good" which they determine according to mercurial, market driven needs of the moment. Not only was Dionysus unleashed in the years since Rimbaud, but Narcissus, another youthful god, reigns supreme and most of the West and now, alas, the East unconsciously worships to personal and planetary ruin these childish and fickle gods.
To understand the god Narcissus beneath the epidemic complex of individuals and culture Edward F. Edinger, Jungian analyst, is most helpful here. I republish these notes from a previous essay on addictions to provide the archetypal meaning of narcissism which appears as "an excess of self love":
"...The myth of Narcissus implies something quite different from an excess of indulgent self-love. Narcissus was a youth who rejected all suitors for his love. In reprisal, Nemesis arranged for him to fall in love with his own rejected image in a pool and he died in despair at not being able to possess the object of his love."
"Narcissus represents the alienated ego that cannot love, that is, cannot give interest and libido to life--because it is not yet related to itself. To fall in love with the reflected image of oneself can only mean that one does not yet possess oneself. Narcissus yearns to unite with himself just because he is alienated from his own being. As Plato expressed in the Symposium, we love and yearn for what we lack. Narcissism in its original mythological implications is thus not a needless excess of self-love but rather just the opposite, a frustrated state of yearning for a self-possession which does not yet exist. The solution of the problem of Narcissus is the fufillment of self-love rather than its renunciation. We meet here a common error of the moralizing ego which tries to create a loving personality by extirpating self-love. This is a profound psychological mistake and only causes a psychic split. Fulfilled self-love is a prerequisite to the genuine love of any object, and to the flow of psychic energy in general."
"In the case of Narcissus, fulfillment of self-love, or union with the image of the depths, requires a descent into the unconscious, a nekyia or symbolic deasth. That this is the deeper meaning of the Narcissus myth is indicated by certain other details. After Narcissus died he turned into the flower narcissus. This is the "death flower" (from narkao, to be stiff or dead). The narcissus was sacred to Hades and opened the doors to his realm of the underworld...The inescapable conclusion is that narcissism, at least in its original mythological sense, is the way into the unconscius where one must go in quest of individuality." -- pgs. 161-162, Ego and Archetype, The Religious Function of the Psyche. Edward Edinger, Penguin Press, 1973.
It is no accident then to understand Rimbaud's unconscious relationship to Narcissus in his addiction to opium, a numbing narcotic, this word derived also from narkao, to be stiff or dead. Rimbaud was a precursor to an entire culture manically driven to its perceived entitled "narcissus narcosis" seeking to numb the greater emptying and voiding which is endless pursuit of personal power and gain. Every man/woman a king, indeed. Rimbaud unconsciously embodied the culture to come, the culture now present and apparently unraveling into all too easy bigotry and scapegoating currently manifesting against immigrants in American midst.
When an individual and a culture is possessed by and identified with an an archetype their sense of self identity is fluid at best. Where there is no real and solid sense of self there is no real other. Instead, others become objects to be used via narcissistic hunger for a real self. One can without, or repressed, compunction, trade slaves, pass racist laws against darker people to prevent their living and working as equals with the "good citizens of Freedom". Others (and by "others" I mean not only persons but also objects, places, activities, other beings) become surrogate selves who must mirror and mediate a true self, or one's hope for a true self, back to the narcissistically wounded/hungry one who has no "real" self but only a "symptomatic self" subject to inadequate in-fillings by individuals and archetypal energies with possibly a variety of amazing "spiritual" experiences ensuing but which in the long run leave the narcissist emptier and even more void than ever for they are a leaky vessel and nothing or very little substantial can stay, can birth self authenticity. For the inflated narcissist, sadly, as Robert Frost says - "Nothing gold can stay."
Best then to remember Paracelsus wise counsel, "Why be another when he can be his own." The journey to being one's own is fraught with difficulty, loneliness, terror, and failure of self and of others yet it is the human journey, a heroic journey toward authenticity which requires a conscious encounter with self and other as sacred in and of themselves and which is always most encountered at and beyond the edges. Narcissistic "its", objects can become with healing real I's and Thous.
Brokenness - The Means Of Individuation
Imitating the life of Rimbaud has destroyed many a creative person, Jim Morrison is an example of one who was destroyed by the daemon, by identification with the Dionysian energies. Jazz culture, Beat culture, Rock culture is still daily strewn with fragmented souls, with the young burnt out, crazed or dead. Rimbaud helped return Dionysus to us all. It is imperative that Dionysus, god of dissolution, of dissolving boundaries and of unconscious union/reunion was eventually dismembered, torn apart and eaten by the attendant, intoxicated maenads, ancient "groupies". One can and should have experience of the ecstasies but one must also, to be consistent with the mythic archetypal pattern of Dionysian rites, be aware that the dissolution of ego, its dismemberment follows. In losing the edges we lose our grasps. This can be a helpful phase, process toward greater wholeness/holdness which can contain powerful conflicting forces or it can become a pathological state of illness, mental, physical and in shamanic terms, to "soul lost".
On the other hand, Rimbaud, whether he knew it or not, functioned as a prophet of what was beginning to emerge in Western culture from the hitherto repressed Christian/Victorian unconscious. He opened up the Pandora's box of primal drives, urges, powers to turn the merely natural, the animal impulses toward the uniquely human shrines where one may worship a return to "impulses toward perfection", meaning Beauty which is what humans uniquely seek to create, express and demonstrate. Beauty, not only aesthetic but as the Native American Hopi mean the term, "balance". Where there is balance there is also imbalance and thus the Hopi wisdom of consciously acknowledging and holding both balance and imbalance as part of Nature, and of human nature. Beauty here would be the strong containing edges which allow for and incorporate powerful conflicting opposites force, order and disorder. To elevate and exaggerate one over the other is to be out of balance. However, if one understands that these forces swing and counter-swing, not valuing one over the other then one remains in balance, in Beauty.
Rimbaud returned, if you will, the repressed, ancient yet still living "gods" and values to "worship". He turned us again toward this task of Beauty/balance, which the poet Rilke says "is a terror" for a real encounter with Beauty does indeed "destroy" us, disorients and rearranges old ego and cultural stances and reifications into a new order restored or newly opened toward Beauty which though archetypal is ever new and seeks to be created and manifest in the material world presently, presently, presently. That which Beauty opens up within the individual psyche which must be somehow translated into daily mundane lives, presently in this process of orientation, disorientation, reorientation of what once was Beauty and balance but is now seeking a newer expression more appropriate to the moment at hand.
When one encounters such Beauty one then lives the "romance of the mundane", "Graceless things grow lovely with good uses, " as Buddhist poet John Tarrant restoringly writes. Every poet, every individual must arrive at his or her own "good uses" from and of the "other side" in conscious touch with the "other side" and bring to birth in the incarnate realm this balance, this Beauty which restores one to self, to others. Imitation of Rimbaud, others, anyone can only go so far. One must enter the wasteland and like Rimbaud become "so forsaken" of the familiar rote relevant and have one's own heroic desert/wilderness/"no man's land" encounter, one's own journey which involves lostness and loss of self. One make one's own experiment, undoes life since "life must be undone" (Carl Jung) toward a greater balance, wholeness/hold-ness which does not "shut out any part of one's self", as John Tarrant so refreshingly says. The way into this ongoing state which is not static but ever dynamic is not out but through.
Break on through to the other side. And return with it, with something gained there, shit or gold, hold it tightly to oneself, bring it home, put it on one's personal shrine and worship there the sacred, wrenching, restoring "impulses toward Perfection" - that beautifies, balances into ever newer opening of and toward truer self and to other.
Dreaming of Rimbaud & Christ, Enter/Exit The Empress of Contrails
The following is a poem written prior to what is printed above. I have been following a young, most extraordinary poet, Ocean Vuong, having only recently discovered him online. Only 22 years old, his poems belie a depth of maturity and suffering in content and in amazing craft for all his youth. He speaks of his early and lasting influence, Arthur Rimbaud, encountered when he was just barely a teen. Not surprising at all. I also discovered Rimbaud in my late teens and his impact and impression was astounding, almost equal to that of the King James Version of the Old and New Testaments, a language so powerful that I now no longer struggle to grow beyond its impact upon my ear, tongue and poet soul but to incorporate it, honor it and "pay it forward."
Rimbaud and Jesus would have happily hung together I am convinced. I have had a dream where I was hung upon a cross, much lower than the other two crosses beside me. In the center upon His cross was Jesus the Christ. Beside him on the other side was the poet, Arthur Rimbaud, the young man at 20, having just given up his poetry, the writing of it. This was and is indeed a crucifixion of immense suffering and impact upon the culture now and to come. I have not interpreted this dream much due to the numinous quality of it, its sacredness. It speaks to the esteem I have for both Jesus and Rimbaud, both "wheel turners" of culture. That I am low slung there may speak of inflation, certainly of some powerful identity with and honoring of both men. I know I am and never will be them. I must not slavishly imitate them either in aping their lives and lifestyle, copy catting either or both. I imitate only in the already stated sense of making my experiment, of making errors for "life must be undone" (Carl Jung) and in its undoing something may get done which furthers not only one's own self and life but that of others, and if fated, of art and culture.
Many writers and creative artists of all kinds may be familiar what has been called "the anxiety of influence" which is succinctly summarized in wikipedia:
"The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (ISBN 0-19-511221-0) is a book by Harold Bloom, published in 1973. It was the first in a series of books that advanced a new "revisionary" or antithetical approach to literary criticism.
Bloom's central thesis is that poets are hindered in their creative process by the ambiguous relationship they necessarily maintained with precursor poets. While admitting the influence of extra-literary experience on every poet, he argues that "the poet in a poet" is inspired to write by reading another poet's poetry and will tend to produce work that is derivative of existing poetry, and, therefore, weak. Because a poet must forge an original poetic vision in order to guarantee his survival into posterity (i.e., to guarantee that future readers will not allow him to be forgotten), the influence of precursor poets inspires a sense of anxiety in living poets."
Psychologically, biochemically, all humans are wired for impact and influence by primary caretakers else no individual egos would grow and develop out of the morass of uterine and neo-natal autistic seas that the infant proto-psyche is, one with everything but unconsciously so. Still, as egos, influence of others can be overpowering, dwarfing one's own journey from oneness to separation which is "I"-ness. This is true of artists and writers very creativity as the anxiety of influence described above attests. The fantasy of escaping influence is just that, a fantasy appropriate to the psychological and artistic development of creative types. One grows from opposition as phase appropriate into individuation. One can reject the influence or imitate the influence until that influence is so assimilated and integrated into one's own uniqueness as either acceptable or rejectable that the "anxiety" as such is lessened or gone, or at least is no longer noticed. Usually one does not worry about the food one eats but worries rather that it will not be digested, assimilated and eliminated in the process of nurturing one's self via what has been taken in. This is also true of poetry and all art. These influences are assimilated one way or the other. Even reaction is a kind of influence for one must react to some thing or other and thus is compelled into a certain direction.
Reading Vuong and other poets, having been returned by him and my gleaned staple of poets/writers I once again return to Arthur Rimbaud, I again return to my own fear that through the years of poetry study and writing, working on my craft, my poems are only weak derivatives and imitations and are nailed as am I on a low slung cross beside two giants, wheel turners. I share what I have gathered and possibly ill-put together for all the effort driven by my own daemon. These sharings here are my version of Rilke's Letters To A Young Poet, only, truth be told, I am the young poet still in search of authentic voice poem by poem in voices several which differ as I and the poems differ expressing variant fluid selves coalescing (and convalescing) in coagulate moments of time.
The following poem, a recent attempt still in progress, was written directly out of awareness of the "anxiety of influence", my own response to what I project as younger poets fantasies of eschewing "influence". Thus begins the first line of the poem as if in response in conversation with the "young poet" both within me still, and out in the world. I am grateful to all influences and confluences, for the happy "accident" of discovering Ocean Vuong's new voice and gift which reorients me yet again toward my own craft and what it seeks to express in those particular moments coagulate in time which now, middle aged, is also a beginning "summing up", a distilling of a life so far/so closely lived. I am increasingly aware that I have less moments in time ahead. The only coagulation left in the end will be scattered ashes and some of these words I will leave behind.
The Empress of Contrails Writes Upon Darkness - Anxiety of Influence
for Anthros Del Mar
I, on the other hand,
have lain down with
My tent is worn out.
Stains mark love-cries,
some blood where tongues
are ground down to root,
utterance hard pounded,
soft tissue torn letter by letter,
tender verbs opened to pain,
that which is paid for more
than alabaster embraces
and this strangling of waists.
My tent has drained more
of love's body than a mortuary.
Spikenard scented oils taint
fabric folds and flesh. Rote,
worn pillows are daily, sometimes
hourly turned where I half expect
to find teeth or coins,
hoping still for one true word
for love without name flies,
moths repelled instead by flame,
pillows revealing nothing
but I turn them still.
Have I not spoken of tears
subtle parentheses of blame,
brine outlines punctuated,
thinly silked, easily taken
for wing-laced salt maps,
tongue lick sighs grown
weary with enunciating.
Nightly misspoken the wine
flagons are tossed down.
Pleading echoes the tents
are packed. Forgiving camels,
commas nailed to each hoof,
tread into cool unread darkness
with all that is within it -
a history of wax seals,
once important names,
broken pledges, lies still smooth,
their nuance-scripted smiles crisp,
as predictable as riffled pages
intent on cool gain upon
desert's shifting floor.
Oasis and cloaca,
love birds parched,
now moves caravansary
toward Heart's always
There are many redactions
before the sun rises.
Perhaps my name goes
before me, my 'press',
Empress of Contrails,
in tow trailing tallies,
all faces hands have held
and, yearning beyond possibility,
hesitant dawn's mourning doves.
Men cry for my return yet burns
no desert impervious to heat of
all kinds, even human, excepting
the heart, its capacities to startle.
Its dunes in vast stretches beat,
beat for what moonlight cannot
index but only suggest.
Their secrets ride East
as many as there are
desert grains, confessions'
cyphers uselessly written,
recoiling from pathetic,
endless recounting of causes -
neglect, curses, justifications,
worst cases all, just 'tent talk' to
scorpions scribbling in silver shadows,
pitying serpents smug in their ability
to recite every skin they have shed
without regret unlike the men in veils.
For them profane winds,
lightly perfumed, do their
work of erasure well,
What lies ahead shuffles in
cursives of sound confusing
the ear, a solitary traveler
compulsive for solar winds,
tumbles it's own way.
I feel no pressure for accuracy
nor to lose plume and ink
hiding what cannot be unwritten.
A trail of brocaded skulls in time
returns to sand. One cannot see
this hand waving its goodbyes,
the other concealing tint and quill.
I have written upon human vellum
through ages, through cycles unending
and same doing what heart heat bids
though I also write, perhaps best, upon
darkness, eyes closed, tent flap opened
to all thirsters who may, supplicant,
come wandering in.
Footnotes and References
(1)In this talk given on his last day in
the US, Jung speaks eloquently, movingly about
the "failure of Christ" who "made His experiment:
(2)for more on St. Perpetua click or copy & paste:
Henry Miller, The Time of the Assassin: A Study of Rimbaud New Directions. 1946. pg. 3.