Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Silent Structure: Part 2 (of 7)




The term gay poet recognises an ordering of the creative agenda. And that ordering implies much more than writing about gay sex or writing with a gay sensibility. The gay poet draws from a desire for a defining style/Hermes/Thoth, god of the stylus, creates through technique/Apollo, and includes sexual experience into what is created/Eros. This “giving style”, for Nietzsche, involved bringing all contradictions under “one yoke”, a kind of discipline that exerted pressure on many unequal points and brought them to a single focus. (Very Poundian). This dedication to style and identity is something that characterises the gay poetic tradition as it runs through the hands of Robert Duncan, H.D. and Reginald Shepherd. (Duncan and H.D. are unquestionable Hermeticists and Shepherd follows a decidedly hermeneutical bent). In his truly perceptive review of Seven Studies for a Self Portrait, Nicholas Liu’s claims that Jee Leong Koh’s project, in SSfaSP, is “Elotian”. I think this is an over-emphasis and leads to a restrictive view of the book and erases the sexual element in favour of a disincarnate English poetic. In a somewhat Nietzschean manner, Nicholas Liu attempts to make many fragmentary influences fit into one: the style is Eliot’s. The taste of the poem is Eliot’s. Really there are many varied sources, however, if a reader listens to the music of the poems. There is a tightness derived from Dickinson, a looseness born of Whitman, a symbolic sharpness from Yeats, even the quiet deadliness of Larkin. And there are moments that take flight like Rumi.

SSfaSP is a book of sevens. There are seven sequences and the seventh sequence, made of 49 ghazals is 7x7. As a number deeply associated with The Bible and the Christian tradition (being the number of Creation and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit) seven shapes the book, yet the content continuously pulls against the shadow of Puritanism. This is not a volume that awaits “The dove descending…with incandescent terror.” (Four Quartets, Little Gidding, IV, ll 200-201). As "Study #1" concludes in reply to Durer’s portrait of himself as Logos: “Word can stand down, leave by the door.” It is words and memories which sit on the poet’s tongue, a cock in the mouth rather than the eucharist. This silent structuring, in SSfaSP, evokes a tradition running from the medieaval period and sets a context for the spiritual enquiries within the book. Such a quiet, over-arching structure suggests the roots of Jee leong Koh's spiritual identity. He still feels an older architecture. Yet, his quest for identity is not, like Eliot's, set within a framework of Christian possibilities.

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