By Rod Beecham
Dear BGO Members,
I write to draw your attention to my eBook, ‘The Evidence of Our Senses’: Language, Belief and Britain’s Great War. The book is the product of a student of English literature whose interest, in postgraduate years, turned more specifically to history and the relationships between language, patterns of thought and decision-making. The book examines the confection of a British sense of national identity during the second half of the nineteenth century and relates this to the illogicality and irrationality of the British decision to intervene in the European war that broke out in 1914. It examines the language of English poetry of the war, avoiding the sterile labels of ‘pro-‘ and ‘anti-‘ war verse. It gives the most thorough account to date of Siegfried Sassoon’s 1917 protest against the war’s continuation, demonstrating that the incoherence of that protest is attributable to the incoherence of the war itself (i.e. there was nothing identifiable against which to protest). It reviews British military conduct of the war, demonstrating that the shortcomings of senior British commanders are attributable to their subscription to the meretricious value-system confected in the nineteenth century. It reviews the Treaty of Versailles, confirming both that the Treaty was an improvisation and that the tenets of economic orthodoxy are fundamentally incompatible with a world-view that accepts the possibility of war. It reviews the factitious ‘war-books’ controversy of 1930 and indicates that latter-day attempts to attribute negative British perceptions of the First World War to the influence of a handful of literary works are recrudescences of the mind-set that created the war itself. In this sense, the book is an allegory of the contemporary Zeitgeist. An earlier version of Chapter One appeared as, ‘Confecting a British Identity’, in The New Nationalism and the First World War, ed. Lawrence Rosenthal and Vesna Rodic (Basingstoke and New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), pp. 19-46. An earlier version of Chapter Three was delivered as the paper, ‘Gesture and experience in “patriotic” and “anti-war” poetry’, at the English Association Conference, ‘British Poetry of the First World War’, at Wadham College, Oxford in September 2014. An earlier version of Chapter Seven appeared as, ‘Fiction and Memoir of Britain’s Great War: disillusioned or disparate?’, in the European Review of History: Revue européenne d’histoire, 22:5, 791-813. In an age of ‘fake news’ and labyrinthine relativism, I believe my book is extremely important. At the very least, it could start a discussion about the nature of truth and how we are to establish it. I think that is a discussion we need to have.
I hope I have not committed a solecism by advertising my work here. Of course, I hope that people will be interested in my book, but I understand that advertisements can be irritating!
I'm just wondering what kind of poetry people enjoyed in their younger years, as sometimes I find it hard to think what to recommend to the teeny-weeny's in my library. All that I can think I enjoyed around the late teens was Alice Walker and Seamus Heaney.
This prose-poem below will deal with: goals and goal setting, purpose and process, dealing with difficulties and seeking understanding, among other subjects.
What makes poetry, at least for me, is the simultaneity of ideas, the greater density of language. I attempt linearity and the sequential in my poetry; these are the chief features of prose. Much of my poetry is very much like prose and this is, as I say, because of the sequence and the linearity in my work. I do this partly to make it readable. I’m after simplicity and communication, not obscurity and complexity. But these goals can’t be reached all the time. I write quickly in both forms; the length of novels puts me off. I don’t have the energy and enthusiasm for fifty to one hundred thousand words with characters, story-line, etc. Also I don’t like writing dialogue, so most story forms are out of my league.
Reworking pieces of writing is also something that does not interest me, although I often rewrite a poem when posting it on the internet for some specific purpose. I write a piece and move on: poetry or prose. When I read it later on: says, weeks, months or years later the poem feels like the work of someone else. It feels fresh, new or it feels stale, or, or.....It is then that I write a new poem. This was the approach of the Irish poet, W.B. Yates. His poetry and style serve as one of my many models. I may make the occasional alteration or many alterations but, as Yeats says, he makes a new poem whatever alternation he makes. And so do I--at least that is how I see the process.
I find the approach of Marjorie Pickthall(1883-1922) to poetry relevant to my approach. The music of poetry and the supremacy of thought was more important than the "heavy mechanism of verse," as she put it. Strict adherence to form was "ruinous to the temper." One year before her death in 1922 she was "more firmly rooted than ever" in her opinion that rigid schemes of construction and melody were "fatal" to poetry in the English language (Remembrance 131-32). In the context of her poetry, these remarks suggest that Pickthall conceived of poetic thought as a pleased and pleasing, yet exact and musical, manipulation of a wide range of literary contexts.(1)
My poetic, like Pickthall’s retains traces of what Walter Pater called "speculative culture," which must perceive and disseminate a reality of "the inward world of thought and feeling" where the flame of perception burns "more eager and devouring." Her search for literary intensity gradually matured into the psychological paradox of a longing for death that was, at the same time, a desire for life. But my approach to poetry has many differences to Pickthall. She had no use for her contemporaries. Due to the internet I have access to more contemporaries than I can shake a stick at, so to speak. She took no part in the established systems of politics, sociology or religion; her chief desire was for liberation from all abstract ideas, systems and forms. I find that these fields, these disciplines, of thought, provide fertile worlds for my writing.
My poetic aims at what Baudelaire said of the prose poem in his Spleen of Paris: "Which of us......has not dreamed of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical, without rhyme and without rhythm, supple enough and rugged enough to adapt itself to the lyrical impulses of the soul, the undulations of the psyche, the prickings of consciousness."(2)-Ron Price with thanks to (1) Alex Kizuk, “THE CASE OF THE FORGOTTEN ELECTRA: PICKTHALL'S APOSTROPHES AND FEMININE POETICS,” in Studies in Canadian Poetry, Volume 12, No.1, 1987; and (2) This quotation comes from Michael Benedikt, "Introduction," The Prose Poem: An International Anthology, Dell, NY, 1976, p. 43.
A poem is like an axe or an iceberg:
it breaks-up the woodenness of life
and sometimes melts life's frozen sea-
not global warming, inner warming
and my waters flow down to the sea.1
A poem is also like an opera,
unnatural really, however much
I try to make the intensities
something for quotidian man--
still it is unnatural--to most.
A poem is an exercise
however much I try
not to pose & posture.
I find I come at a poem
like a hawk or a pigeon
in a dive and sometimes
I come up with nothing
at all, empty handed--
and I fly up and away
yet again in an endless
search of the skies.
I search to survive, to eat,
to fly unrestrained as the
wind, or on the air's still
space by oceans of air.
1 Thanks to a former student, Serene Anderson, who sent me a photo of an iceberg, including the part beneath the surface and to Franz Kafka in Poets at Work: the Paris Review Interview, editor, George Plimpton, Viking Press, 1989, p.41.
16/11/'09 to 24/7/'13.