Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tomorrowland 6 - Neptune's Open Mouth




Neptune's Open Mouth

The preceding section, Sirens, links to this one via its final line ("you dip your legs into your class just testing").  [Apart from its modern-cityscape and newly-discovered-tropical-island type locales, there is also quite a lot of educational loci in Tomorrowland ; such as this "class" (in one of its meanings), in which "you" is either a teacher or a student. Cf "warm and gentle schools" earlier on the same page.

NOM is, unsurprisingly, watery. Water is associated with sex, birth and death. (The coupling of land animals involves a temporary, damp, private re-creation of the watery environment in which our far-distant ancestors lived out the whole of their lives.)

Under the tide my legs are musical
display on moonlit net  ...

Both the opening and closing parts of NOM are vaginal. Hibiscus and sea-anemone, shell and fold.

Within, the following set pieces stand out:

1. A semi-emergent lyric called "Arrival's Song". That is, I should say at once, a dubious interpretation. The title words appear bracketed, as if introducing an embedded lyric, but the text that follows isn't clearly demarcated or distinct from the rest of NOM.

It might strike the reader that "Arrival's Song" arrives a little belatedly. After all, we're five sections in, aren't we? Isn't it a bit late for a spontaneous effusion?  That sense of a willed, even heel-dragging performance is latent here.

And could there be the complicating hint of "A Rival's Song"? (Parallel to the Shakespeare sonnets about the rival poet, e..g 86.)  In both an alienation effect, because lyric poetry is no longer associated with this activity that we're sharing now, but with that activity (an unwelcome one, to boot).

2. A group of stories of a mythical or ritual type. These include a Metamorphoses-style account of a yearning lover turned into a tree, and a relatively long account of water ritual in the days immediately following a child's drowning and before the child's spirit is fully at rest.

3. The curiously impressive apparition of a woman, near the end of this section, "with hair the colour of microphones".

This is Ovidian-in-reverse. The woman appears to metamorphose out of a bird standing "gradually" on the beach*, moving its "mouth" side to side and casting off feathers. At the same time the statement that "the woman stepped out shining" suggests a bather emerging from the sea.

She has a shadowy audience of men, to whom the words "deferential" and "cautious" are attached.

The side-to-side head movement of the bird/woman is reminiscent of the robotic Eula in the closing lines of ATBMOV .  And this final section of NOM names Eula several times  (the only one of the four to be named in NOM).  Is this emergent woman Eula? That seems far too definite an identification. But the impression that Eula has a cybernetic aspect, part technical or part bird maybe, is pervasive.

* The stuttering standing of a bird, always ruffled by the startle instinct and apt to hop about a bit. Gradual:  gradually calming down, becoming less flittery. But also gradus = a step: still moving about.


Other NOM Notes:

The unexpected appearance of Roosevelt here  - probably has nothing at all to do with the notorious massacre of Moro people in the Philippines in 1906 ("President Theodore Roosevelt sent Wood a congratulatory cablegram..."). Here's the link anyway.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Battle_of_Bud_Dajo




*

[General introduction to the essay:

The story of Tomorrowland

It's customary to commence by saying that other readings are of course possible. In this case I might go further. The present effort is more systematic than just a personal reading and can arguably be termed a wilful misreading, since it focusses on narrative and progressive aspects of a poem whose narrative progress, if any, is very much in question.

This reading takes its principal structural bearings from the eleven titled parts (I'll call them chapters) into which Tomorrowland is divided.

It's arguable that the reading offered here leans far too much on the distinctness and progressiveness of the chapters, while some other significant (though inaudible) formal features are for the most part ignored. Two in particular: the subdivision, marked by asterisks, of each chapter into up to five sections; and the fairly regular alternation of paragraphs with and without line-capitalization.

It treats the first chapter as preludial and the eleventh as postludial. It assumes that the sequence of chapters develops in a progressive and quasi-narrative manner.

As a consequence of its focus on narrative, it takes an interest in the four named characters, while acknowledging the fairly numerous other figures in the poem who are not named. To this predilection it may be objected that what we have here is not so much four characters as four structural principles, or even four multi-functional instruments that can only be grasped heuristically.

I think it was exposure to the audio version of the poem that provoked my interest in the story of Tomorrowland.  Listening to these superb readings with soundscapes brings out the long-range narrative sweep of the poem. At least that's how it seems to me. I wanted to pay tribute to that startling impression and I also wanted to encourage new readers to discover this amazing poem.

This audio version was made available (try contacting the author) as a double CD. It's also available online at Penn Sound:

http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Samuels.php

My main regret is that this approach rather neglects the close details of verse and text, because I believe it's at that close focal range that Samuels' poetry is most easily appreciated as the essential thing it is. However, I've already said plenty about that in two earlier pieces:

Review of Paradise for Everyone  (2005)
http://www.stridemagazine.co.uk/2005/Nov%202005/peverell.rev.htm
Review of  The Invention of Culture (2008)
http://intercapillaryspace.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/lisa-samuels-invention-of-culture.html


]


[I may have mentioned before that I've now discovered the whole of Lisa's CD recording of Tomorrowland  online at Penn Sound:

http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Samuels.php

Meanwhile, here's another tantalising glimpse of the Tomorrowland film, in a blog for Harriet by Duriel E. Harris:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2016/08/carving-the-mask-notes-on-re-entering-tomorrowland/


]












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