In A Restless World Like This Is

charles-bernstein
Charles Bernstein

I always say I am a professor of poetry, I profess poetry; think of me as a snake-oil salesman, a confidence man: I don’t want to test your accumulated knowledge; I want to convince you of the value of poetry as a method, as a way of writing, as a form of vision. . . . .

Charles Bernstein – Artifice of Absorption

In A Restless World Like This Is

by Charles Bernstein

Not long ago, or maybe I dreamt it
Or made it up, or have suddenly lost
Track of its train in the hocus pocus
Of the dissolving days; no, if I bend
The turn around the corner, come at it
From all three sides at once, or bounce the ball
Against all manner of bleary-eyed fortune
Tellers—well, you can see for yourselves there’s
Nothing up my sleeves, or notice even
Rocks occasionally break if enough
Pressure is applied. As far as you go
In one direction, all the further you’ll
Have to go on before the way back has
Become totally indivisible.


There are certain cult figures in poetry that rise through the ranks of academia or blossom because of a small cadre of fanatical readers to eventually become mainstream. When this happens it is not by chance, it is because there is a raw brilliance that forces itself into public view.  Veronica Forrest-Thomson is one such poet. Forrest-Thomson did not live long enough to cement herself during her lifetime as a poet of significant consequence of her generation.   She died from an overdose of narcotics and booze. Whether it was accidental or intentional really doesn’t matter.

Part of Forrest-Thomson continuing legacy is because of her writing on critical theory, which was championed by Charles Bernstein after her death. Forrest-Thomson described poetry as neither a replica of the natural world, or an abstract dialogue as an a window into the inner mind, but rather as a third kind, where poems are images built in the tension between language and the external world. She felt poetry shouldn’t mirror reality, neither should it be gibberish or reject the world in which we live, but instead poetry should build a space that lets us expand our understanding of language relative to ourselves and our lives.  Forrest-Thomson felt poetry has power when it maintained some continuity with the world while allowing for a specific discontinuity as well.

It sometimes feel to me like the progression of the history of poetry is a relay race, often run most elegantly by the suicidal.  Sylvia Plath handed the baton to Veronica and what a shame that she couldn’t hang on to life rather than run that same short race, breathless.


Not Pastoral Enough

by Veronica Forrest-Thompson

…………homage to William Empson

It is the sense, it is the sense, controls
Landing every poem like a fish.
Unhuman forms must not assert their roles.

Glittering scales require the deadly tolls
Of net and knife. Scales fall to relish
It is the sense, it is the sense, controls.

Yet languages are apt to miss on souls
If reason only guts them.  Applying the wish,
Unhuman forms must not assert their roles.

Ignores the fact that poems have two poles
That must be opposite.  Hard then to finish
It is the sense, it is the sense, controls,

Without a sense of lining up for doles
From other kitchens that give us the garnish:
Unhuman forms must not assert their roles.

And this (forgive me) is like carrying coals
To Sheffield. Irrelevance betrays a formal anguish.
It is the sense, its is the sense, controls,
“Unhuman forms must not assert their roles”.

 

 

 

Words Were Made To Prevent Us Near

Veronica Forrest-Thomson
Veronica Forrest-Thomson (1947 – 1975)

“No opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible. “

W. H. Auden

Sonnet

by Veronica Forrest-Thomson

My love, if I write a song for you
To that extent you are gone
For, as everyone says, and I know it’s true:
We are all always alone.

Never so separate trying to be two
And the busy old fool is right.
To try and finger myself from you
Distinguishes day from night.

If I say “I love you” we can’t but laugh
Since irony knows what we’ll say.
If I try to free myself by my craft
You vary as night from day.

So, accept the wish for the deed my dear.
Words were made to prevent us near.

 

Through The Looking Glass

By Veronica Forrest-Thomson

Mirror, mirror on the wall
show me in succession all
my faces, that I may view
and choose which I would like as true.

Teach me skill to disguise
what’s not pleasing to the eyes,
with faith, that life obeys the rules,
in man or God or football pools.

Always keep me well content
to decorate attitude and event
so that somehow behind the scene
I may believe my actions mean;

that one can exercise control
in playing out a chosen role;
rub clouded glass and then,
at will, write self on it again.

But if, in some unlucky glance,
I should glimpse naked circumstance
in all its nowhere-going-to,
may you crack before I do.