14 May 2012

Poetry in motion

Poetry is where art, language and the unconscious mind come together and have dirty, dirty sex. (No, that's not an Aphorism). So the question of "true poetry" - defined by Robert Graves as the kind of words that make your hair stand on end, words that have inherent meaning in their sound and rhythm as well as their denotative meaning, where the signifier is itself a signified - is very close to the questions we pose on this blog of depth psychology, practical memetic warfare and "changing one's mind" in the literal sense of the term.

Robert Graves claimed in his seminal (or should that be menstrual?) work The White Goddess that "true poetry" was indistinguishable from the True Religion, which was (in his estimation, based on well-meaning pseudoanthropology which was in fashion of the time) the cult of the Mother Goddess and her twin son/lovers expressed in the seasonal cycle. The initiatory tradition of this sacred poetry, he argued, was alive and well in the Welsh and Irish bardic colleges, among others, but had been lost and driven underground by Christianity. He set himself the goal, in his book, of recreating the basis of that tradition, although he expressly said he didn't consider himself qualified to draw any practical conclusions from it or to start initiating people himself. (Nonetheless, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes apparently had a little domestic cult of the White Goddess going, in which case, Sylvia should have killed Ted instead of the other way around.)

You see, that's the big problem with neo-Paganism. The initiatory tradition of the Western Indo-European Mysteries was broken and a souffl├ę doesn't rise twice no matter how much wishful thinking you put into it. I spent ten years in that tradition so I know what I'm talking about. Oh, Gerard Gardner got some fragmented folk-magic rituals, jazzed it up with some Crowley and some S&M and started his own ritual lineage, with blackjack, and hookers. But does it have the "true poetry"? Not being a Gardnerian intiate, I can't speak for them, but for me, all the reconstructed paganisms - or like most traditions of Wicca, the ones who claim to be reconstructed - lack it. I can explain this no better than in the words of Leonard Cohen: "A scheme is not a vision / and you never have been tempted / by a demon or a god".

In the absence of a formal intiatory Tradition which still maintains "true poetry" - or what Robert Fripp calls "the juice" - all you have left is what Sufis call an `Uwaysî initiation, i.e. Goddess Herself comes down and taps you on the shoulder and you say me? the chosen one? and I didn't even graduate fuckin' high school. And there's no way you can make that happen, although you can prepare for it just in case. I would say that the paths of modern cults like Discordianism and SubGenius suggests that "the juice" was at least there for a while, and maybe still is, who can tell.

However, in my own personal life, I got tired of waiting for the tap on the shoulder and ventured outside my own cultural background into an intact (although suitably modernised) initiatory tradition. Which brings up the question of how Marxists etc. should react to Burkean arguments that boil down to the idea that "Tradition is like natural selection, it's there for a bloody good reason". Lenin and Trotsky were adamant that there would be no Year Zero, you couldn't start human culture from scratch, that we should take the good bits out of Bourgeois Tradition. So how would Tradition balance with the free creativity of the masses under Full Communism?

I should close with the observation by Hooman Majd: "Not every Sufi is a poet, but all the great Iranian poets were Sufis". And Robert Graves certainly covers Persian poetic lore in his magnum opus. I stopped writing poetry about ten years ago because I got the idea that more people would listen to it if I set it to an electronic beat, but perhaps I need to go back to the purity of the words.