ADOLESCENCE 2--HORMONISED POEMS:
Dave Lordan reviews Tina Pisco's translations from the Spanish by Manuel Arana
Dave Lordan was born in Derby, England, in 1975, and grew up in Clonakilty in West Cork. In 2004 he was awarded an Arts Council bursary and in 2005 he won the Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry. His collections are The Boy in the Ring (Cliffs of Moher, Salmon Poetry, 2007), which won the Strong Award for best first collection by an Irish writer and was shortlisted for the Irish Times poetry prize; and Invitation to a Sacrifice (Salmon Poetry, 2010). Eigse Riada theatre company produced his first play, Jo Bangles, at the Mill Theatre, Dundrum in 2010. He has lived in Holland, Greece and Italy, and now resides in Greystones, Co Wicklow.
Adolescence 2: Hormonised Poems
Translations by Tina Pisco and Aoileann Lyons
(Bradshaw Books, 2011)
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A dream is a lie. Perhaps it is a numinous lie, but it is a lie all the same. Artists are displayers of their dreams, i.e. they are professional, habitual liars. They are career peddlers of lies. Their truth is a rarefied practice of deception. John Cage writes in his 'Lecture on Something' that "the job of the artist is to hide the truth" while Manuel Arana tells us here that "the truth hides beneath my verbiage".
These poems, well and unobtrusively translated, in the main, by Tina Pisco and Aoileann Lyons, are the lies, dreams and love songs of a laconic European bachelor-philosophe. Arana is a wise old owl of 25, one who knows all about the unreality of the objects of male desire and the comical futility of courting women that are mostly figments of the reified imagination. Yet he continues "writing little poems to the wrong women" nonetheless, condemned to disbelieve in the idols that he is equally condemned to worship and that he knows he will never possess in the unrealisable flesh.
But never fear, if we do not get to sleep with our poeticised lovers, we can make charming poems out of our failure instead. And, if we are going to die, we can at least distract ourselves from it with the absurd but still enchanting notion of artistic posterity. C’mon, Lilliputians!: Let us build an ideal beauty that will make death tremble, outlast nature, halt all decay!
The imagination tries to make up for the impotence of human desire, for our powerlessness against chaos, infinity and death. It tries to give us what we don't and can't have, to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. It is our over-compensating, mollycoddling parent.
Artists generate works which conceal and distract from our natural impotence, often making it seem like its opposite, a great and metamorphic power transforming the world into what we want it and need it to be. Weirdly then, in art, it is impotence that generates, just as on the battlefield it is fear which causes bravery. Our creative works – culturally shrouded in a mystic discourse of artistic ‘truth’ – are often monuments of the underhand, survivalist functioning of creativity. Why do we work so hard to erect such beautiful but futile lies? Because we are unfit for reality. Because reality would drive us to suicide. We can only survive by our illusions. The grander they are, the fitter for purpose. We need the impossible and because we cannot have it in reality, we must have it in illusionary form, one way or another.
But, as the decades pass, unloading their horrors, and reality becomes more and more obvious and awful, ideals and illusions become impossible to sustain and believe in, and art, at first merely possessed of dread and ennui, must turn ever inwards both to confront and to flee its crushing failure of effect. The Vision blinds itself, going blind.
Human beings – or at least artistic and/or revolutionary human beings –
would like to exist in a continuous state of ever-amplifying ecstatic consummation. We would like to experience all possible experiences, with no ill consequences. We would like to be totally unfettered by physical or moral limits. We would like to partake of endlessly various and endlessly pleasurable stimuli. That is, we would like to raise heaven from the dust of which we are made. But we know we cannot. Deep down in that fundamental neurobiological realm where we are programmed for survival first and foremost, and which Sylvia Plath designates in aptly geological terms as "cold and planetary", we know that we are much too common and dust-like to effect such great things. We recognize, with a dizzy and dismaying horror, that the total change we wish to be is not for us, who are only a cobble on the long and winding evolutionary road towards it, at best. The utopian cosmos of desire, the object of all grand artistic vision, (seeing it gives us Blake, not seeing it Goya), is millions of centuries distant and we will never be epiphanically absorbed into it. Our meagre epiphanies are only teasing flashes, through the proverbial dark glass (half-empty of gin), of what may come to be when our world and our being is long gone.
Instead, our fanatical, unaccepting and, yes, mechanical desire can only erect the virtual and vicarious assumptions and metamorphoses of the art-object, to pass the time amusingly for ourselves and everyone else until we suddenly and irrevocably cease existence. And who can tell the difference between the real and the virtual in art? And what does it matter? As Arana puts it "I have you almost so perfect at this stage that I may never need to meet you."
Aptly, the poet doubts the naturalness and the sincerity of "what I'm saying" and the poetic form in which he finds himself obliged to say it: "that piece of clockwork with its hundreds of possible permutations".
Perhaps there is a zen message—that the finding of love lies precisely in the not finding of it, that truth is found in the consciousness of being unable to tell it. But one feels, thank chaos, that things are not so soft or so simple-minded or so easily summarized or neatly Buddha-ized here.
As in much interesting poetry, the epicurean aspects of this work—its stimulating metaphysics, its pleasing wit, its gratifying fluency, its sensual music and glinting imagery serve as cover for more disturbing themes and allegories which become available to the alertly seeking reader. The world in these poems is a trinity of boredom, frustration and disappointment. Love is barren—it only produces the same non-encounters, the same conventions, and the same kinds of unpoetry over and over. But lies are fertile, lies are what we need to keep us going, to keep us interested, which is why Arana spends the whole book to convince us that "The only woman worth living for... is the one who doesn’t exist".
Adolescence 2 aches with adolescent longing which has become tired of itself, and also with a far more hurtful and deeper sense that such longing as these poems express can never be satisfied, only endlessly and restlessly deflected and distracted. It is a poetry aware that it may the last stop on the way to the adult-forming realisation of the total futility of an existence in which desire and possibility have been so radically split—in which, as Bataille puts it, "desire has no object". Adolescence 2 is made up of and partakes of that futility, of that generative nothingness in which it is grounded and which the book exists simultaneously to admit and to deny.
Adolescence 2 stops just before strolling jauntily over the cliffs of oblivion, in order to admire its own fancy-work at being able to dance on the emptiness that it both announces and enlists. In doing so, Arana manages to briefly make self-regarding futility appear appealing by virtue of the poems’ consistent beauty, charm and wit. This may be one of the few achievements open to poetry, or any art, in the anti-creative age of the internet narcissus and of the streaming bulimic suicides on giant sized TVs. I am full of admiration for this poet who has pulled it off in front of all us.
©2012 Dave Lordan
Lordan page at Salmon Publishing
'Surviving the Recession', Lordan poem at the Human Genre Project
Articles by Dave Lordan in Irish Left Review