prurient poppers: poetic prose

john clare, painted by william hilton in 1820

john clare, painted by william hilton 1820

Poet John Clare (1793-1864) was committed to asylums for the last 24 years of his life, diagnosed with insanity caused by an addiction to poetical prosing. So naturally, I’m quite fond of him.

He was definitely depressed, with no money, six or seven kids to feed, and a powerful thirst. He also claimed he was Shakespeare and Lord Byron, so the diagnosis perhaps wasn’t incorrect, but the suggested cause is ridiculous. He wasn’t thought to be much in his own time, but later (because of course it’s always later), when his original work was restored to him, he became considered an important poet of the 19th century.

He’s one of those nature-loving romantics and big on rhyme, though he gets extra points for using odd, archaic, dialectic words, like rhyming lost with tost. I don’t even know what context he’s using, because he “lives with shadows tost” could simply be tossed, or the Gaelic word for silent, or a sort of Latin-y, French-y mash-up meaning early or soon, or the Polish definition, toast. Tossed shadows, silent shadows, early shadows, shadows of toast. It’s probably not that last one, though I’d like to think so.

He reminds me of an ersatz Thomas Hardian Jude, a poor, moderately literate romantic who dared to reach for things considered outside his wheelhouse. In fact, his work was edited, dumbed down to appeal to the ladies who lunch crowd, who had adopted him as their pet. His “slang,” saucy expressions and political statements were considered more than could be accepted from a common poet. Was, in fact, what made him common. He was allowed to have humble origins, that’s partly why he was such a charming little bauble pass around. He wasn’t allowed to express his experiences, because that’s not charming, it’s untidy. This censorship could be what kept him from receiving the recognition he was due in his own time, and is perhaps what pushed him over the edge. Unable to publicly reveal himself in his writing, he began to babble out loud, and sealed his fate by spewing things such as, “Why, they have cut off my head and picked out all the letters in the alphabet. All the vowels and all the consonants, and brought them out through my ears!” Madness? Sounds like poetry to me.

Prose is communication, poetry is art.

I came across that opinion quite a while ago, and have been pondering it off and on ever since. I think it’s a load of tost. Once again, someone tries to banish prose to the realm of conventional transmission, negating any attempt to experiment with sentences as a means of something more than directing the way down a straightforward path from point A to point B. Circuitous routes – that’s something we’re not supposed to attempt. Remain staid, remain undemanding, remain obscure. “Why, they have cut off my head and picked out all the letters in the alphabet. All the vowels and all the consonants, and brought them out through my ears!” Poetical prosing. It’s dangerous stuff, it’ll drive you insane.

Personally, I enjoy a little insanity.

“a way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” What a fantastic playground that creates!

“imagination is not to avoid reality, nor is it a description nor an evocation of objects or situations, it is to say that poetry does not tamper with the world but moves it—It affirms reality most powerfully and therefore, since reality needs no personal support but exists free from human action, as proven by science in the indestructibility of matter and of force, it creates a new object, a play, a dance which is not a mirror up to nature but—.” But what? But what, but what, but what? Go ahead, finish that sentence in any way you choose—the author left it up to you.

“I can feel the heat closing in, feel them out there making their moves, setting up their devil doll stool pigeons, crooning over my spoon and dropper I throw away at Washington Square Station, vault a turnstile and two flights down the iron stairs, catch an uptown A train…” Well that’s candidly evocative, yes?

“Morning. Frozen rime lusters the grass; the sun, round as an orange and orange as hot-weather moons, balances on the horizon, burnishes the silvered winter woods.” That’s lovely, that is.

If this demonstrates an addiction to poetical prosing, I willingly commit myself.

Quotation 1 from “Finnegans Wake” by James Joyce Quotation 2 from “Spring And All” by William Carlos Williams Quotation 3 from “Naked Lunch” by William S. Burroughs Quotation 4 from “Winter Woods” by Truman Capote

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