Below is the text of my poem “The Anaglyph”, collected in «Starlight: 150 Poems», published in 2010 by the University of Queensland Press. Extensive notes to all the poems in that book are available on this site: [»»] Notes
“The Anaglyph” initially resulted from a commission from a Toronto magazine to write an essay of any type on John Ashbery’s 1967 long poem "Clepsydra". In response I took the first word or two and also the last word or two of each line from John Ashbery’s poem, and wrote material of my own to fill each line out.
A clepsydra is a water-driven clock, invented in Ancient Greece. An anaglyph is a drawn or photographic image, usually printed in red and bluish-green ink, that, when viewed through spectacles containing one bluish-green lens and one red lens, presents a three-dimensional image; that is, an image consisting of two superimposed and differently-coloured views of the same scene.
The poem was extensively reworked and became part of my 2009 Doctor of Creative Arts thesis dissertation for the University of Wollongong, along with 112 other poems and a thirty-thousand-word exegesis.
This piece is about seven printed pages long.
Just in: [»] Martin Duwell reviews John Tranter: Starlight: 150 Poems (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2010), 214pp.
“There can be little doubt that “The Anaglyph” is the dominant poem of this collection and one of Tranter’s great achievements…”
The Anaglyph You can read six pages of Notes to this poem [»] here.
Hasn’t the charisma leaked away from the café crowd, and that other
Authority, the Salon des Refusés ? I have forgotten much of
That old sack of enthusiasms and snake-oil recipes, the way
You have forgotten your own childhood, since
You woke up just in time to watch the adults disappear
From the world they had bequeathed us. It seems the scenery all around
Is hilly and unfarmable. Being brilliant has been reckoned
Into a procedure by some old guy, with a motto that is
More fitness, less flab. I hanker to go back to the land.
This means ruin to the culture-watchers. But the basic
Principle of my ambition is to be one excessively distracted
Entity at the mercy of the lurid, blurred and half-perceived
Motions of the Martians at the Halloween Hop. Fake? They sure are.
Summer is called Humidor here, the month of damp draughts.
The tale of my attempt to farm stubborn soil leaked from
Untruth to legend, my unlikely phase of boy-scout honesty being
Before I came to the big city. Here behind the tiny horological waterfall
Drums amplify the fun, but only at nightfall, then just for a moment
Of horrible error as I clutch the wrong person’s hand. That was true,
Only I said it wrong. Ugh. Now watch my serpentine
Gesture as I withdraw my hand, only to replace it with a congruent
Message that attempts to excuse this tactless fact,
Tearing at the sky over Twenty-second Street, but
The sky leans nonchalantly against the coop — I mean ‘co-op’ — about
As graceful as a cowboy leaning on a chicken co-op — I mean ‘coop’ — who either
Has an anger management problem or is under the influence of a form of
Some anxiety that eats at him. I’m not the fly-away
Marrying kind, nor a grumpy bachelor with a broken heart whose pieces
Are seen scattered over the range. That begs for an independent
Yet symbolic judgment from the Judge now alighting from the caboose, whose arrival
Whether timely, to the tick of a caesium atom, or tardy, has to be
Seen to be believed, like
The face of a hunter in the dim mirror killing a bear. As
Nostrils give away suppressed anger by flaring, so an argument
That is over leaves traces — nervous twitch, grimace. It
Is impossible to hide my feelings, I guess. Look ahead,
That effervescent persona and its emotional lurches and rocketings
Affected so much, and its magnum opus that was called
By another name is now the old school-teacher’s chief creed and belief,
Or something very like it, gleaming in the rain. Hold up that light.
Has it shone on the tenebrous backyards yet? Or yet admitted that
It is unable to illuminate the wasteland of wet barbecues, so much
Of its fuel has flared and lit up the landscape… this project, I admit that
It is like gutting then refurbishing a friend’s apartment. Now, are
The reply and the echo done with? I asked a redundant question, and
That answer suffocated it, as a firmly pressed pillow
Has choked a banker, but no one knows whodunnit. That whole thing
Of returning to my sources, raking through my prototypes until
The last blueprint is found and seems just right: perhaps this is
Peace — a crowded peace — under the hot sun.
That we are afraid of it — inhabiting a reputation, the whole thing
About establishing who you genuinely were — are — I’ll admit. There
You hope your opus will be taken for legerdemain, but your effort sinks
Deeper into the mulch of history, while I adjust the mask that
Just fits more loosely every decade, and then I add up the little
That memory leaves me, a kind of pittance, the totality
Mustered and gathered… a look of boredom in a young person’s eyes,
And all those hopes and struggles are quite lost.
Accents and dialects distort them, once again.
To have escaped from a tangle of difficulties, from
Nothing but obstructions, into a glowing absence
And then to take a deep breath and plunge into
Those crowded riverine cities, greedy for contact with ghosts that are
Precisely what we want them to be, our plans furthered,
Seeing alphabet soup spell out the aleatory message and the time,
Casting caution to the winds and the weather — sorry, welter
Of neighbours, barking dogs, traffic cops in a dreadful confusion.
And permit me… no, commit me, please, while the cops are standing
Around chewing the fat, and pray that these
Moments miss you like a whistling arrow. Thunk! The old tapir tapered
Into the bar: a Scotsman, an Italian, and a capybara — I’ve heard it. But
Wasn’t the story of an Eskimo inside an eviscerated bear like this?
The fact that he ‘inhabited’ the smelly bear-skin… I feel that
Neither brave feats nor stories about them can cut it.
Did not a Dandy Dinmont yap? I deliberately stayed
This way, spiritually a hunchback, drooling and gaping at the stars
That promised ashes and diamonds and nourishing food all the way,
As though clambering inside an animal was simply the reverse
Of some method of becoming notorious. My cheating heart is known
Once its modus operandi is — among the cognoscenti — firmly established.
The look of a man is the man, Buffon said, and style a condition
Of those whose reputation is a handbag and whose blindness
Was being talked about even in Paris: a troubling myopia, so
That their left and right perceptual fields, red and green, slowly separated,
Only to hitch up again, like inspiration and perspiration. Go on, shout
And be heard. Is this anaglyph what I really want? My declamatory
Nature was made to seem just a yokel act. I must admit it is
Not without a certain eau-de-cologne charm, insinuated the farmer. And yet
An invisible dread prevents me making love to you among the previsions,
Then the post-visions that afflict me arrive, fits of
The assurance Baron Corvo had an excess of, a crowing assurance
Which tainted his career, under the blasts of air conditioning,
Whatever. There on the bank statement
At the beginning of the Age of Façadism was a catalogue of waste.
A dumb waiter brought me the tablets and a note about the projected
After-effects: they may amplify the symptoms instead of curing them,
Though Frederick Rolfe was never cured. This
Emptiness will do fine. Just pop it in a doggy bag, thanks. Did you say ‘previsions’?
Was that a mispronunciation? ‘Provisions’, maybe, held
Too close to the chest, a fake poker hand of fate. The fireworks, they
Ended with a fizzing Roman candle sound that frightened the guest who was
Intended to rescue Gertie McDowell from that dirty old man. It’s
Gesture that fills out the role, as water makes the weather.
It was stupid of me to harp on the sadness
Of that animal’s demise: I should forget about the feeling
Which resembles taxidermy at midnight on an empty highway.
A telescope brings us a soothing view of distant mountains
And all the mountain people. Who knows where they’re going?
Moving from crag to cave to avoid the night
There, which is really ghastly when it comes on.
Beside the darkness, each farmer carries his own personal
Landscape around inside his head, a ‘landscape’ being
What surrounds your idea of yourself, it’s so
Honourably framed, but presented in a Potemkin-village spirit.
There was a vast electrical disturbance just outside the walls.
Each time it’s different, down through the centuries
For the sake of cultural improvements they repeat a dream that
Continually gives out a soft fluorescent glow, it was
Like standing on the prow of a moving ferry in the morning
With the spray bursting all around
And a feeling of nausea mixed with ecstasy washing over me. In a way
The whole experience was fake, except for the scale.
Really, what do Eskimos think of giants?
Not too much, I reckon. They say they like them.
A moment later they’re saying how needlessly big they are. But
Also they are likely to flatter them. A cloud of dust
Or whirling fragments resembling a mistral rises up ahead,
But no one understands it: the old verbal torrent
In new guise, transformed into a sheaf of falling leaves, which
Are gathered up, bound, and stuffed into a briefcase,
And it’s time for coffee and a Strega at Il Miglior Fabbro. When
Acts of killing fill nightmares and movies, only the calm
Of this bibulous routine can bring surcease. Then the shreds
Of another adventure assemble: a tour of the old college premises
Undertaken to the tune of the jig ‘From Rochester he came hence,
A writ of Cease and Desist clenched in his teeth’. Here, see this,
Like a pistol on a silver platter, it’s all yours
And it was mine once. Take it, go on. I kept it because
It had been handed down, and I had hoped it might be my insurance
Against the waves of devoted fans inefficiently
Seeking to take over the social scene and then the whole world.
The round platter, alas, has always been covered with dust,
So small it can hardly hold the pearl-handled revolver reclining on it.
Thereafter it should be passed on to other worthies, noted by
The comfort of strangers they fail to offer you, or me, even.
Like the wily coyote, I’m no sleep-abed; I tried all
The most difficult forms, even threnodies ending with the words
‘After all’ or ‘Never mind!’ And in my fine eye-rolling frenzy I almost
Exaggerated my métier into an obligation. This,
It seemed, was the way to build the future. But it was
Not likely to allow me to escape the whirligig of voracious time.
After all, tempus fugit however we might chase it. Indeed,
All kinds of regret sprinkled my breakfast as the slant angle of
The day lit up the diner and the light began to increase
So that I was dazzled, then I heard a loud thump, dull, heavy,
Like a polar bear falling over, and the hunter saying something
Not quite obscene, but close enough. Criminy! The way
Things fade away, le temps perdu seems to be the point
Of this rodomontade. Does a traditional verse form simply provide
A protected place for the poet to plead the case for his vital
Concern for la vie littéraire, or is it a carapace, a palace?
And you can meditate there all summer long.
It was a little insight I had, one of the world’s smallest.
Distant requests annoy me. The Poetry Club may be ultra-sensitive
But its supine and self-serving acquiescence
To the demands of those creeps… okay, that’s in the past
And it belongs there and I promised not to whine. But oh, how
The past haunts me, its vapid fashions, the rigmaroles… they wish
But also harangue, that’s why I resent them, the ones I talk with.
And in this way my paean to non-discovery
In brittle yet oracular verse persuades us, but nevertheless
The map you provided was helpful in leading us beyond
Madness to something better: squatting in Circe’s mansion. Only
You desire us to fail — just there, perhaps, where your verbal acts
Are sentinels warning us of the slow-moving, quiet
Invasion of middle America by pod people over many years.
Be quiet — hush! — they are nearby, whispering the poem itself
In a parody of oratory. I’ll explain more plainly: the map
Of the literary world is a pantomime, and its longueurs have become
Prolongations of our prevarications on bad weather days, and also
Fine days where things seem okay but are not, those dull events
We shall banish from the Ideal Republic. Who called? No, I am
Not speaking to that shit: he just wants to be
Opposite me at the literary lunch. He got some fame recently, only
To be thrust into obscurity soon, I hope. It seems broader,
The sum total, a canal reflecting its own anagram, but will it ever
Become legible? Hidden behind a screen of rocks
And foliage, the creep quickly inhales the distant
Ether and faints, thank goodness, and what I own
I see before me shining like a dagger. Meanwhile
I am only me, a faithful shadow of my real self, and
Private doubts evaporate between the Spring and the Fall
And even this is seasonal, and I thank you
For being so patient, you could have made some other
Voluntary or involuntary gesture like sneezing to prove your
Maturity or you could have hung and dangled from the branches
Of a tree to attract my attention a step or two away from them.
It intensifies my desire to know you, a gesture like that, to
Form an opinion of your feints, apparitions and mode of locomotion.
In this way I control the crowded avenue to the Palace of Fame, the one
Leading to a rowboat mounted in a park where I perch and think to
Myself and then jot it down, being careful to leave a blank space
That is the secret indication of Mallarmé’s abyss, a.k.a. ‘The Unknown.’
Eating ragwort is morally better than gobbling a quail tagine; the difference
Can never be explained to the obtuse. At this distance
It seemed impossible to reach the reader, Valéry murmured, then said the phrase
‘Over and over’ to himself, again and again. Meanwhile
Infant mortality was declining as aspirin consumption increased. There was
To be a meeting about aspirin and other drugs later that evening,
He was told. He read poems about killing large animals to keep awake
On the tepid waters of café society. Go to the meeting, don’t go, whatever.
‘Whose centre wobbles must fail,’ the Latin motto says, and having
The progression of the equinox too much in mind brings rain
As they form a phalanx of epigones, those who come after.
Why don’t they just get used to that? They can’t be equal
Without coming before, and that’s impossible. The cup of
Contentment will never touch their lips. Ministering
To stunted talents is my fate; each day I tread that lonesome trail alone
And return at nightfall bereft and grinding my teeth at
What they dish out: similes as appliqué aperçus. They
Might as well hand in embroidery. The Force, puissant yet invisible,
Still surrounds us. Yet there is also a Dark Force
Between the cruel mandates of history and them.
It is because the greatness of art is like a snobbish relative
That we shall never agree on a strategy, and
Entertainment washes over us, leaving us ethically incomplete.
Former East German border guards know too well that that
Closes off an awful lot of options. The Moment
Of Death is dallying on Ninth Avenue, as yet uncertain of
Its intentions. I’ll just leaf through the paper until
You wake up. I’m not planning to go anywhere. You know, it
Wasn’t a small thing, to turn your back on Europe. The walls
Are turning into their own murals. Please don’t speak
Of time within the hearing of that tiny hydraulic clock you
Invented, it can be self-centred and jealous, and has now
Grown furious. Deep within its complex innards a purple jewel
Exists as a blazon, rotating slowly, saying that this
Existence is temporary, that you may lodge and idle here
Only so long as you don’t irritate the gods. Someone’s
Purpose niggles at you. Then the sunbeams flood in at acute
Angles and frighten the other diners. I thought, then,
Of having whatever I wanted, but it seemed that a distant
Image of you chided me. My admiration is a test
Of how you might accept it: gracefully, or boorishly, or not.
You hesitate, don’t you? I hate that. Please accept this
Wooden gesture, and you’re right, the over-decorated representation
Returns whence it came, though it was easily said, and simply meant,
With nothing ulterior about it: a simple entendre. I’d like to alight
With you from the caboose on a hot dry day in a wonderful town. You
Must help the Judge measure the exact length of the shadow of
Your well-wrought urn in the centre of the square — it is still intact;
Appreciation gives it the shine and the shadow — but just now somebody
Is phoning to arrange for drinks — will you join me? — later this evening.
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