Sunday, May 24, 2009

Chrestomathy, concluded.


For Reginald Shepherd, like a number of significant modern poets, the poet lives in relation to myth. This relationship might be intimate, as in the case of HD, and worn like a chiton. It might be an elaboration of modern life as with Duncan. Mythology might run under the poet’s creative thinking, like veins of coal, in the work of Ted Hughes. It might become a mode of transformation…in Gunn and Doty. In Orpheus and the Bronx, Shepherd troubles over this relationship, well aware of the mythologizing instinct in his own verse. Living out myths is “like wearing clothing that doesn’t fit properly.” Putting on the robes of high Western culture is fitting and awkward. In what sense? In a tragic mode? Like Macbeth? A troubled kingship?


Fata Morgana includes a work that is very important within the corpus of Shepherd’s work: “Some Kind of Osiris”. Even the title acknowledges the uncertainty with which Shepherd wears this myth. “Some Kind of”. There is hesitancy, a mantle passed on. But from whom?


To read it is to encounter holes.

“Green calls green into being/speaking my skin into colour,”
The abstract underpins specific greens…especially in the case of Death, for Green was the Egyptian colour of Death— linked to the mummified flesh of Osiris.

Echoing Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus and their belief in the continuity between Death and Life, Shepherd’s poem relates the world of “beetles and dung” (the Egyptian scarab that rolls light) with “smell of basil”.
“The crops will be thick in my death year” wrote Pound. Life ascends from Xthonic forces.

But this is hard “Without Wings”… an allusion to Laurie Lamon brings what into the chrestomathy? A sense of lyric and the elemental?

This Osiris is “less a person/than a place” locution is bound with locus, speech with place. When Whitman wrote his great “Scented Herbage of my Breast”, he did so after studying an image of Osiris. He was struck by the hermetical image of a dead body sprouting plant life. And “less a person than a place”, Whitman’s body of song raised leaves of grass, poetic life turning death into exhilaration.

The body of the poet was the body of America.

In “Some Kind of Osiris”, Reginald Shepherd is loosely mummy-bound (unlike Yeats). No set hermetical path will guide him into occult wisdom...the path of Hermes is wound out in the poem.


Like Delany, writing in the erotic wasteland between Death and Life, Reginald Shepherd tries on myths for size in many of his poems, seeing where mouthing/muthos will lead…what mystery might be sucked in the darkness of language.


Jee Leong Koh said...

Thanks, Andrew, for these notations on the dead.

Eshuneutics said...

Hi, Jee, hope all is well. I see there is an update on RS's site of late, published work. Flowerings after death, in a way.

Art Durkee said...

I wish more poets would think along the mythopoetic lines, as you do here. Not in exclusion of other modes, but in complement. The mythic, vatic, and yes, chrestomathic, modes have largely been lost or suppressed, lately; especially in those contemporary poets who are trying to build taxonomies. There's a lot of feeling vs. thinking, expression vs. intellect, meaning vs. language, arguing going on; yet hardly anyone considers the mythic modes in poetry, and when they do, or when they're offered as a third way past the taxonomies, they're largely shouted down. I appreciate your reminders of this mode; I hope more folks read it.

Eshuneutics said...

Hello, Art, thanks for your interesting comment. I would have replied before now but haven't been able to access comments on my blog for a week! I agree wholeheartedly with what you say...and you say it so clearly. Thanks for your point of view.