Vaughan Rapatahana seeks, in relatively few words, to give a flavour of Alan Corkish’s monumental and challenging 25,000-word semi-autobiographical poem
Glimpses of Notes
erbacce press, 2013
available via http://www.glimpses.webeden.co.uk/#
From the gruesome cover artwork through the deliberately a l i e n a t i n g and epistemologically and thus ontologically dis-en-franch-is-ing meta-typographical patterning of both analepsis and prolepsis syncopating its pages; right through to the final detailed notations on historical conflagrations, slaughters and general sinisterness, Alan Corkish’s new autobiographical ‘gravelogue’ of his tough life, Glimpses of Notes, is meant to really hurt your eyes and to s t r eeeee t c h your brains.
Colin Wilson died very recently, and like Corkish, another idiosyncratic and abrupt out sider be yond the mediocrity of much of English literature, he also wanted to detonate existential awareness in his readers – especially in his earlier years of writing. And by utilizing Wilson’s own sharpened sabre of Existential Literary Criticism, we can best discuss Corkish and this, his poetic Bildungsroman.
Corkish has made it his quest to write poetry in an awakening way, away from boring and petty pagewear and previous pretentious poetasters. He is antithetical to the Larkins & Eliots; dismissive of the ‘New Poets’ downward slide into obscure textual references and/or over-intellectualising of the text; and is firmly, vitally set on a path to refurbish the entire art form, not ‘merely’ to make it appear differently on a page, but also to shellshock his readers, now scanners, now font foragers – into better garnering his double-whizz bang representation of honest emotion. Much of Glimpses of Notes is like grasping barbed-wire beyond the no man’s land of ‘conformist’ poetry.
Now Corkish is not entirely original in his transpositions of typeface, his decimation of lines into vertical, diagonal, horizontal shooting stars and meteor showers, his use of different hues and fonts – see for example the work of some of the poets included in Aotearoa-New Zealand ‘s own Brief and – to a lesser degree – my own poetry.
BUT he certainly is nouveau with his continued contraptions as listed above, squeezed like cake icing onto a book looooong self-portrait pastry tasting of his own birth and the early socio-economic morass on the Isle of Man; his burgeoning social conscience; his later and intense socialist political activism; his sexual proclivities and drunken activities; his bouts of blackpig deep depression etcetera. Again, Colin Wilson comes to mind here with his notion of ‘ladder of selves’: we as individuals are many beings within one, often concurrently. Corkish’s own words from his website reinforce this – the multiple individuals who I was at various stages of my journey through life and who I have evolved into currently; be it my broken marriages, my lost children, my mental-illness, the wasted years of my youth or my, at-times, addictive personality – and all these selves are here represented.
Corkish has had a hardscrabble and peripatetic voyage indeed – we learn the sheer physicality of his early vocations, which impact strenuously into his proletarian avowals; we read between and up and down these busted lines, about his shattered relationships; whilst with the repetition of the first words of the poem at the end of Book 6 he draws a noose around the – there – very astringent yet strangely compelling recollection of his ‘Hazy Days’ of drug addiction and alcoholism and the 20 x ECT ‘treatments’ he underwent. So that now he can write relatively unfettered at last and enter the revamped late-developmental stages of writer & teacher.
Such experiential fare is echoed and paralleled throughout by the counterpoint of all the historical bastards who have colluded to continue to suppress and rupture freedom, fairness and frankness for far too long. There are innumerable villains alluded to – the infandous gang consists of Joseph Stalin and Joseph McCarthy, Anthony Eden, Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Lord Carson, General Pinochet, Pol Pot, George Ward et al. Plus God, which is an immoral bastard. And Princess Diana –
I had thought
before she died
that she was
a false messiah, a rather silly woman
although there are – of course – some martyrs and heroes.
As Duane Locke points out in one of the many critical commentaries at the commencement of Glimpses of Notes Corkish’s visual materiality becomes communicative. In other words his manipulation of all these generally poetically underutilized techne, forces us to think more about what he says, even as what he says in itself forces us to think. More. Corkish’s dualfold striates then – as another man of percipience, Robert Sheppard, mentions – are an irritant to our complacency.
All of which is what the poet wants to do and insists on doing, which although somewhat overly-unrelenting – achieves its place as quite sui generis and always uber-authentic. Lived pain exuded on the page, that – on occasion – becomes just a bit too self-centred. I also have to disagree with Corkish’s own disavowal of the value of oral readings, for in Maori tradition, it is the sung performance of the piece that gives it further cachet, clout, cogency, eh. Indeed his own readings online call out for his presence onstage reading to the masses.
Colin Wilson was quite correct here also. There are some artists whom we should take more seriously, because they are more serious about living, about how to live, and compel us to do likewise; that is, to think more deeply about existing more meaningfully and to do something about doing so. Alan Corkish is one.
& that’s a pretty h accolade in itself, eh.
Vaughan Rapatahana is a Kiwi (Te Atiawa is his iwi or tribe) who is a long-term resident of Hong Kong, with a home also in Pampanga, Philippines. He has published work in a variety of genre, including many book reviews. He was short-listed for the 2013 erbacce poery prize; and his latest poetry collection is Home Away Elsewhere, from Proverse Publishing, Hong Kong.