A Terrible Blogger is Born!

March 26, 2010

An ill-advised foray into poetry

Filed under: Literature — rmangum @ 10:41 am
Tags: , , ,

Once upon a time, my brother and I were going to collaborate on a comic-book that would be a gothic/surrealist fantasy, a sort of Alice in Wonderland with adults instead of children. Our characters would awake to find themselves in a frightening and ever-shifting landscape, with only fragmentary memories of their previous lives, and no knowledge of how they came to be in that place. Are they dead or dreaming? They would have to learn how to navigate the new world as well as deal with its demiurge, a character we called “Mr. Trumble” (the name I see as a portmanteau of “tremble” and “trouble”, but this is an afterthought), who offered himself as a guide through the wilderness. Should they trust him?

The comic was to be called “Spiderland”. I did not invent the name, but stole it from the title of an album by the band Slint. The title seemed so evocative to me because of my lifelong fear and fascination of spiders. An early memory I have is of seeing a large spider and stomping on it, only to have seemingly hundreds of little spiders run out from under my foot. I did not know at the time that mother spiders carried their brood upon their back, and thought I might have created a hundred creepy crawly things by killing one. So the spider to me became a symbol of nature’s fecundity and indestructibility, it’s thwarting of human actions as well as the guilt which comes from all violence (much like the albatross in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”).

So when our comic project was shelved I couldn’t resist retaining the name for another creative work, this time a poem I wrote for my creative writing class. The poem “Spiderland” has nothing to do with the plot of our story (though I retain the Alice in Wonderland allusions), and perhaps not much with the spider of my memory. Here I associate it more with human consciousness than nature, but already from the aforementioned spider-stomping it had become an overdetermined symbol. Anyway, here it is:

Spiderland

Away from placid pools
Far from the adulating sun
The slow spider winds her way
Down, down, down.

How deep goes the spider-hole?
All the way down.

Calm as a star
Curious as a crystal

The slow spider slips her thread
(thin white line parting sea of black)
Down, down, down.

There are no effete tulips
or pragmatic pine-trees
upon a benignant plain
in Spiderland.

Only strand linking to strand
Webs spun within webs.

Her subtle, inquiring legs are
Affixed to her logical body,
Anchored by silk chain,
Clinging to the web,
Hung from air.

How deep goes the spider-hole?
All the way down.

There is an imagist influence, but my poem is too abstract for imagism. There is also the influence, I retroactively determine, of Whitman’s “A Noiseless Patient Spider”, where a spider is compared to the poet’s soul. Even more strikingly resonant are these lines by the gnostic theologian Valentinus (hat tip to Harold Bloom):

I see in spirit that all are hung
I know in spirit that all are borne
Flesh hanging from soul

Soul clinging to air
Air hanging from upper atmosphere

Crops rushing forth from the deep
A babe rushing forth from the womb.

At a still more abstract level than Valentinus, I find this quote from Beckett relevant to the journey of the spider-soul down the spider-hole:

The only fertile research is excavatory, immersive, a contraction of the spirit, a descent. The artist is active, but negatively, shrinking from the nullity of extracircumferential phenomena, drawn into the core of the eddy.

And what Beckett says of the artist is strangely applied in this excerpt from an interview with Harold Bloom, speaking about another literary demiurge, Yahweh, which then brings us back to Whitman:

In a perfectly, I think, Kabbalistic way that Yahweh may have come into existence by this act of Zimzum, this act of contraction or withdrawal, which means that he diminished himself in order to get started. Which I find fascinatingly parallel to Walt Whitman, in which I again follow Scholem: who used to say in conversations with me, that in a secular world somehow Whitman by some miracle without knowing anything about Kabbalah had in effect reinvented his own Kabbalah, and I think that is true. Whitman throughout Song of Myself and elsewhere is always saying that he is expanding, that he is getting to contain more and more multitudes, that his sense of self is steadily increasing. But in fact he too is always contracting and withdrawing. He is endlessly elusive and evasive, and the worlds that he creates and ruins also seem to come from some process of self-withdrawal.

But don’t take these a posteriori quotations too seriously. I’m just wondering on what I wrote more than a year ago and “musing, venturing, throwing- seeking the spheres, to connect them”.

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