prying open the casket.

s36

Donald Pleasance in a scene from Wake in Fright, with shades of Ramsey Campbell’s later “Mackintosh Willy.”

This blog, like my life, has been unfortunately static and poorly applied. In an effort to break up my own rubbery will-lessness, to pry open the casket of my misliving, I’ve embarked on an interview project that will ultimately encompass a handful of friends of mine who are artists, writers, musicians, scholars, and so on. The first in the series is of my friend Steven, an East Bay local, who is a bookseller, painter, horror fiction scholar, occultist, and more. He is someone who got into many of the things I am into now back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, and for this reason and plenty of others, I wanted to get his perspective on anything ranging from: weird fiction, illustration, the gentrification of Oakland, British character actors, obscure thrillers, automatic drawing, French avant-garde literature, and magick ritual. I taped about three hours worth of material and have finished the transcription; now it is just left to write the piece around his own words.

In the meantime, I have been thinking back to one of my favorite films, 1971’s Wake in Fright. One particular scene in the film has some of the best dialogue I’ve ever seen (next to the less naturalistic lines of The Sweet Smell of Success, penned by Clifford Odets). It concerns the middle-class school teacher John Grant complaining to the alcoholic Doctor Tydon (played by Donald Pleasence) about his disgust with the poor mining town of Yabba in the Australian outback, a place he has been forced to spend some time in during the summer:

Doc Tydon: All the little devils are proud of hell.

John Grant: You mean, you don’t think “the Yabba” is the greatest little place on earth?

Doc Tydon: Could be worse.

John Grant: How?

Doc Tydon: Supply of beer could run out.

(pause)

John Grant: Why did you say that?

Doc Tydon: Say what?

John Grant: About them being proud of hell.

Doc Tydon: Discontent is a luxury of the well-to-do. If you’ve gotta live here, you might as well like it. Why don’t you like Crawford?

John Grant: Jock?

Doc Tydon: The touch of his hairy hand flensed you.

John Grant: Well, it’s the aggressive hospitality, the arrogance of stupid people insisting you should be as stupid as they are.

Doc Tydon: It’s death to farm out here. It’s worse than death in the mines. Do you want ’em to sing opera as well?

 

It’s unclear to me why this scene keeps recurring in my mind. It could be that it is time on the one hand to attempt to appreciate where I am at and what I am doing, while at the same time on the other I attempt to work on more exciting things. I’ve begun reading Thomas Owen’s “The House of Oracles,” published by Tartarus Press, and will do the full write-up that it deserves when I’m finished. Have finished all of Manly Wade Wellman’s Silver John stories, and may or may not do a brief write up on them, as they have their merits but are heavy on the formula. I sometimes read, but seldom write, and more than anything else buy lots of books – a habit I am trying to stop. The buying of books supplanting the actual reading of books is a clear enough, and banal enough, instance of the triumph of the image over reality.

Around a month ago I began a cycle of poems on the subject of the end of our wonderful Western civilization and the possibilities of love beyond it. It petered out after around eleven poems. But the original poem which is not a part of the cycle, but seemed to suggest it, I think has some interesting qualities. I’ll give it here:

The sad arc light illuminating the western coast sputters out.

The tan stars, sunk in the black sky, peer out – boozy, briary.

The cabbage-rose ocean below, through pint sunk eyelids,

appears to be galloping towards us, like all calamity gathered.

 

Your stomach full of fruit muddled vodka. The sand shifting likewise,

fruitful as bitters in what light remains. Questions shift in time,

like cloudy eggwhite in the nape of the glass. So, a thought:

kisses make a poor finger in the dyke, when the world is determined,

bloodwise, to pour its galloping agony through.

Bronislaw Linke, Sea of Blood. 1952.

Bronislaw Linke, The Sea of Blood. 1952.

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let the damned ride their earwigs to hell.

Pavel Simon

Pavel Simon, Title n/a.

Peter Redgrove, Corposant.

A ghost of a mouldy larder is one thing: whiskery bread,

Green threads, jet dots,

Milk scabbed, the bottles choked with wool,

Shrouded cheese, ebony eggs, soft tomatoes

Cascading through their splits,

Whitewashed all around, a chalky smell,

And these parts steam their breath. The other thing

Is that to it comes the woman walking backwards

With her empty lamp playing through the empty house,

Her light sliding through her steaming breath in prayer.

Why exoricse the harmless mouldy ghost

With embodied clergymen and scalding texts?

Because she rises shrieking from the bone-dry bath

With bubbling wrists, a lamp and steaming breath,

Stretching shadows in her rooms till daybreak

The rancid larder glimmering from her corpse

Tall and wreathed like moulds or mists,

Spoiling the market value of the house.

 

Herbert Palmer, Rock Pilgrim.

 

Let the damned ride their earwigs to Hell, but let me not join them.

For why I should covet the tide, or in meanness purloin them?

They are sick, they have chosen the path of their apple-green folly,

I will turn to my mountains of light and my mauve melancholy.

 

Let their hands get the primrose — God wreathe me! — of lowland and lagland;

For me the small yellow tormentil of heath-hill and cragland.

Man’s days are as grass, his thought but as thistle-seed wind-sown;

I will plod up the pass, and nourish the turf with my shinbone.

 

I should stay for a day, I should seek in high faith to reclaim them?

But the threadbare beat straw, and the hole in my shirt will inflame them.

They are blinder than moles, for they see but the flies in God’s honey;

And they eat off their soles; and they kneel to the Moloch of money.

 

They have squeezed my mouth dumb; their clutch for a year yet may rankle.

I will tie Robin Death to my side, with his claw on my ankle.

Let them come, stick and drum, and assail me across the grey boulders;

I will flutter my toes, and rattle the screes on their shoulders.

 

Let the damned get to Hell and be quick, while decision is early.

I will tie a red rose to my stick, and plant my feet squarely.

My back shall be blind on their spite, and my rump on their folly;

I will plod up the ridge to the right, past the crimson green holly.

 

Ithell Colquhoun, Gorgon. 1946.

Ithell Colquhoun, The Gorgon. 1946.

Paul Celan, Psalm.

(Translated by Michael Hamburger.)

 

Praised be your name, No one.

For your sake

we shall flower.

Towards you.

 

A nothing

we were, are, shall

remain, flowering:

the nothing -, the

No one’s rose.

 

With

our pistil soul-bright,

with our stamen heaven-ravaged,

our corolla red

with the crimson word which we sang

over, O over

the thorn.