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Mind-altering verse, the case of Prynne's Streak~Willing~Entourage~Artesian.

This is a piece of chronic self-indulgence mainly because I need to know what I mean when a poem feels like it's turning my brain inside out. There are a couple of novels, one painting and two or three pieces of music together with five or six poems that have had this effect. Incidentally, henceforth the above poem will be referred to as Streak. I'm using this one because the effect was and is the most pronounced and instantly visceral in terms of cognitive alteration and because I understand that it's in the third Collected and hence available in a Shop Near You.

I'm using the 'm-a' adjective because, in the days of my youth, it usually referred to the effects of LSD which, on a good day, enabled different ways of thinking and provided quite involving hallucinations. It's the sense of involvement and ways of thinking that concern me here. Now, with things cultural, this needs to be contrasted with the lightning flash of realisation that brings an element of shocked admiration but not as much longer-term involvement regular readers may have gathered that I'm in the business of applying readerly attention to the Poem in order to develop and maintain a personal relationship with it. If there's something mawkishly social-workery in this then I don't care, as with all relationships there are good moments and bad moments but, I like to think, a reciprocal trust is developed over time. This applies to most of the work written about on these pages but very few have the additional transforming aspect. Those that do demand more than a degree of focus and a bit of mental flexibility.

I've chosen Streak as the first of these alterers because it's the only Prynne poem that's had this kind of enduring effect and it's had this since the day I first looked at it. It's a sequence of 12 poems each with six four line verses and one of its themes may be the IRA hunger strikes in the context of the recent civil war in Northern Ireland. These are the first two verses of the tenth poem:

 

Re-divide by attraction settle for. Simple name-sake
manual escorted obvious measure knowledge back roam
overhead split talc loan to play after. Animal cruising
baneful clip fast benefit pretty offset stimulus at all

Rank dwell sumptuous crossing, star-shape module into
loyal shade. Made to rest, over and thwart plied inference
oil prolong oil same spelled panter ruminate or tribal
bind the hand pull away lucky plinth, go for is enough

I'm the very first to admit that if you're looking for clarity or meaning then Streak isn't at all likely to provide it, what it does do is provide pointers to another way of 'doing' language. Readerly involvement comes in many forms from trying to get an overview in order to begin to work out a context at one end of the spectrum through to a forensic word-by-word examination of what's been said. I tend to favour the second approach with something as dense as the above whilst keeping an eye on what appear to be themes that go through the sequence. Accepted notions of grammar and punctuation should be left at the door and intention instead should be focused on the ambiguous and the seemingly out of place. This can either be an attraction or a deterrent. The latter reaction is completely understandable (not enough time, too much of a risk, not poetry) but foregoes an opportunity to do Different Thinking. This initial step of becoming less fettered is surprisingly liberating and it would seem to be this surprising sense of freedom that is so boggling (technical term). So, the particularly altered experience here is the act of reading which entails a series what I'm thinking of as interventions or intrusions. The above provides a couple of examples.

If we're still hanging onto the Troubles hypothesis then cruising / baneful clip fast would seem to offer a little further confirmation. 'Cruising' in the ordinary sense has a primarily maritime connotation (doesn't it?) and from there it is entirely feasible to riff on the many-sidedness of 'clip fast' as in a rate of speed, the action of cutting or shearing, joining something together, things that join things together, holding or gripping something' a rate of speed, to refrain from eating and a in to hold or grip something tight or loyal. We can then try to toggle these around baneful which the OED gives a "life-destroying; poisonous" and "destructive to well-being, pernicious, injurious". A quick marker may then be placed around the ships that were used to supply the IRA with Libyan arms and the assassination of Lord Mountbatten when sailing off the Irish coast.

So, the primary act going on is not about what is commonly thought of as 'making sense' and more, at the risk of being too lit crit, about a language that, as Novalis once apparently said, is only concerned with itself. This is my mind-altering aspect, that the relationship between words might be of more import than the things they describe. This is where the alteration gets a bit stuck because I'm old enough to be cynical about anything that seems flimsy and thus reluctant to let go of Old Certainties, such as they are, but some of Prynne's poetry and his criticism does encourage me to explore this new playground and occasionally apply it to Other Things.

Returning to Streak, an extended glance at the interweb quickly reveals that in 1971, forgotten by me (only 16 at the time. girls and drugs seemed much more important etc) the IRA had smuggled arms across the Atlantic in the Queen Elizabeth II (simple name-sake), a cruise ship which provided its passengers with a sumptuous crossing. There's also the roam/Rome homonym and the short distance from made to laid to rest. There's also a couple of heavily freighted adjectives in 'loyal' and 'tribal' both of which are intertwined with all aspects of British rule for the last 800 years. The other element that demands major involvement is 'same spelled panter ruminate' for its connections to elsewhere in the poem and those within itself.

In conclusion, the above is not very well put but it is an honest attempt to explain my developing (nascent) relationship with this sequence. Next I intend to write about the effect of Mercian Hymns and Maximus on this small brain.