Community authorities across much of North America
Are voicing concerns that we may be witnessing
Outbreaks of a new and highly contagious virus.
At this stage, experts disagree as to whether
Intertextuality practised to excess (the indiscriminate
Sharing of texts), has contributed to the crisis;
But undoubtedly in the North-west the problem has spread rapidly.
Officials were first alerted when several readers reported
Reluctance to turn the page of recent books
Beyond page 26; first noted amongst new accessions
In a small library in Saskatchewan, symptoms
Include the increased incidence of the words “heuristic”
“Hermeneutics”, “syncretion”, which, while not in itself
A cause for worry, set off alarm bells when found repeatedly
Accompanied by “phenomenologies” and “epistemologies” both
At dangerously high levels and both in the potentially
Lethal plural form. In Anchorage, Alaska there have been reports
That a book using on every page the word “electracy”
(Meaning “being able to access electronic data bases”)
Set off security systems and could not be desensitised.
Rumours persist that in the University of Calgary library
A slim volume had metamorphosed into a suspiciously
“Glutinous” state, every word changing itself
To the word “grammatology”. Authorities have issued
An appeal for calm, stressing that these reports have yet
To be given official status. However it does appear
That the experience of one community borrower in Lethbridge, Alberta
Is not atypical: his enjoyment of Gone With the Wind
Was disturbed by the discovery that pages 100-160
Were by some curious printing or binding error
Portion of a book by Michel Foucault, and that
Its title had become Reading Scarlett. Foul play
Has not been ruled out. But one thing is certain.
Spontaneous Text Mutation (STM) seems set to proliferate.
The origins of chintz, the paradox of ikat
Where the warp changes horses in midstream,
The distribution of insect parts in amber,
Snow spread by leaf meal and held on stalks by grass,
Snow resigned to being like moss before melting,
Land seen from the air with a texture
Like animals’ new winter fur,
Various minerals displaying two shades
Of the one tone, jokes about bi-polar bears,
Cavafy’s poem about the barbarians
Whose arrival is initially feared
But who by failing to show up become indispensable –
These are the sort of oblique sections
To take through the fossil-bearing pebble of experience,
To address them
With something of the enthusiasm and endorsement
Shown by the bimbo in the Lorenz drawing
Who assures her cool boyfriend:
“No, Really! I love it
When you talk in sentences.”
Upstairs on the 11th Floor,
A labyrinth of corridors leads to
Creative Writing. On the door
Above the blurbs and puffs and notices
For raves or readings at some pub
The following truth which sweeps the rest aside,
A slightly strained tetrameter,
Then an immaculate pentameter:
Never believe anything
Until it’s been officially denied.
Three Robert Frost cartoons:
In probably the most basic,
A man in a bar is breaking down
As he relates a regrettable decision –
“Two roads diverged in a wood
And I – SOB.”
The second, under the title
YOUNG ROBERT FROST, shows a nerdish
Boy in reversed baseball cap
Looking from a travelling car.
He is saying, “Look, Ma!
Two roads diverged in a wood”
In the third, two chickens;
One is brushing back tears and saying,
“Two roads diverged in a wood
And he tried to cross both of them.”
A Few Things I Know About Elizabeth Bishop:
For a year she lived alone in Brittany.
A violent allergy to cashew-nuts
Initially detained her in Brazil.
She told Miss Moore she looked like Mickey Rooney.
Miss Moore was pleased. Miss Moore said she admired
The Nude, but just, of course, in moderation.
Miss Moore liked roller-coasters, and once lost
Her favourite combs of tortoiseshell, descending
At such speed. Two sailors brought them back.
A further oddity concerns Miss Moore:
A line of hers, “The bell-boy with the buoy-ball”,
Was by Elizabeth Bishop, actually.
Always, to illustrate pentameter
She used the line from Billie Holliday,
I hate to see that evenin’ sun go down.
Now here’s an oddity!
Susan Sontag, of all people,
Making the word “that”
Go into a spin
And turn on its heel
Forced to be both
Relative pronoun and conjunction
Introducing a noun clause:
“Anne Carson is one
of the few writers in English
that I would read
anything she wrote.”
Now perhaps this is
Deliberate, for it certainly
Does seem to simulate,
Even if only marginally,
The sort of perplexity
Which hovers at the nexus
Or interface between
Perception and the perceived.
In the library catacombs,
At nine I came upon the objection
That “Let us go then, you and I”
Should, in fact, strictly speaking, be
“Let us go then, you and me.” At ten
I sank my teeth, as it were, into
Volumes of still-lifes featuring fruit,
With a seeming emphasis on fruit –
Pomegranates particularly – cut and glistening.
A little later in the labyrinth
Of stairwells I passed a boy and girl
Eating a banana. Somewhere near there
I read about Leonardo’s drawings
Of women laughing, which disconcerted Freud
As uncomfortably exuberant. At eleven
Or thereabouts I encountered a homage
To the Hammerclavier sonata invoking Coleridge
And his positing of the term nimiety
As a German characteristic. Next, a chance
Reference to the “Brocken Effect”, a phenomenon
Of atmospherics whereby mountain climbers see
Soon after dawn themselves reflected in the sky.
Before lunch an article presented itself
On the Expressionists and the manner of their meeting
Their Muses. Still I had not touched down
Nor returned to my seat in the vicinity
Of texts on the origin of languages. I went downstairs
And there endured a period of what might well
Be inevitable, namely the dispersal of focus, the dissolve
Into a pointillism in which the viewer cannot
Back far enough away from the subject,
An hour or two of detritus and corridors
Devised and maintained by Jackson Pollock;
Then a trolley came rolling gently forward
And on it a book fell open at the revelation that
“The Wordsworths never dine, you know… When
They are hungry they go to the cupboard and eat.”
At this I was considerably emboldened, and went out
To my own modest grab-bag lunch
And to encounter for the millionth time
Things never before written, since never experienced.
The pleasures of discursion
The pleasures of discursion set
Agendas for meandering;
The day begins beguilingly
With promise of irrelevance.
Christopher Logue had lists of words
He’d like to use one day. He gives
As an example ‘philtrum’ which means
The dimple in the upper lip;
And this he has already used
Somewhere, but others still must wait.
Joyce of course, we’re often told,
Found ‘cuspidor’ euphonious
Beyond words and all other words.
That ‘cuspidor’ means spittoon means
That euphony and meaning part
Like lovers in a snow filled grove
As shadows drape the heartwood,
And serves to show how poetry
Attaches to the odd and strange.
In fact, one might be led to think
That all is sub-text, a means to graze
On curious facts adduced to serve
A thesis which they scarcely touch,
Thus rendered radiant in themselves.
It scarcely matters what the excuse
To introduce such random facts,
For instance, at this wavering point,
It might be possible to cite
The anecdote where Coleridge
Is buttonholing Lamb, and Lamb
Discreetly with his pocket-knife
Cuts off the button Coleridge holds,
And thus escapes while Coleridge still
Five hours or more expatiates,
His eyes remote, unnoticing
The button still clenched in his hand.
And then one might move on to quote,
In passing, here the ancient joke
That Bacon could not be the Bard
For otherwise one would have had
Lamb’s Tales From Bacon. After this
Lamb’s loud disgrace at Hazlitt’s wedding:
(“Anything awful makes me laugh...
I misbehave at funerals...”)
The quick brown fox
Lies down in a green copse
Heavy with freesia honey
For half the valley morning.
Digressively sunning itself
It is woken by sunshower light,
Then describes a figure eight
And several larger numerals
Loping then lapping from a lake.
The sun is raised on a pike.
Clouds clamour. Then finally it
Jumps over the lazy dog.
A summer breeze refreshing as a lake;
Or lake, in spring, its ice gone
Amenable again to sailing, refreshing
As a summer breeze.
Or as this opened window
From the letters of Mary Russell Mitford,
Describing “our great favourite, Miss Austen”:
“Mamma says that she was then
The prettiest, silliest, most affected,
Husband-hunting butterfly she ever remembers.”
Let F R Leavis have the penultimate word:
At the book sale in the Village Hall
In the dim and antique light,
A copy of Revaluations,
Surplus to library requirements,
Opens at the hard-won sentence:
But there is no need to go on.
Above this has been firmly pencilled
You can say that again.