Michael Thomas Taren's In Smithereens

In 2011 I wrote a paragraph for my bebrowed blog on Taren's appearance in the first issue of The Claudius App. This is it:

Michael Thomas Taren is also a product of the creative writing machine who seems to be able to create quite distinctive voices for his work. I'm ignoring the first because I can't be bothered to think about it but the second two are poems that are both striking and very confident. What I find most appealing is Taren's readiness to take risks with language and to write lines that shouldn't make any kind of sense- "and I answer that my neck is looking now like light in a swimming pool" is deeply attractive. In my experience it is rare to find poets who can sustain this level of quality but both Taren and Poppick seem to manage it.

(Re-reading this three years later, I am appalled by the 'can't be bothered' quip and obvs wish that it wasn't there. Sorry.)

Ever since then I've been intending to write some more because I was intrigued and impressed by the obvious level of talent. At the end of the summer, Purdey Lord Kreiden (who may be in some kind of official relationship with Michael) forwarded me In Smithereens which I understand is to be published about now. She's also written a scabrously banal essay for arduity on Michael's work. Oviously I'm not going to compete with that kind of insiderism but I do want to throw my writerly hat into the ring because I think In Smithereens is important, for the reasons I set out below.

The pdf I have on my hard drive contains 120 pages of material so I'm not going to attempt a comprehensive overview but rather a justification of my claim as to importance. These poems are even more striking and inventive, using a variety of conceits to produce work that has strength and a very impressive level of invention. I'll try and give a few examples, starting with the lyrical. These are the closing lines of EGYPT ALIVE.

    It's the blue screen, your neck is blue, and your face.
    everything that I around him is forever
    do we have them now in writing, or is it impossible
    to have rimbauds last words. that's what you should be duing now
    growing up as a boy. Cretured.

I'm not going to dwell on whatever Rimbaud's last words might have been. The blue neck and face hints at some form of damage or injury- bruising, strangulation, decomposition which is reinforced by the blue screen which may or may not be the 'blue screen of death' which displays on computers when Windows decides to crash. This you/your is addressed with tenderness and care throughout the poem so I'm assuming that this is a love poem of sorts but also a kind of language adventure. The second line is startling (in the best Prynnian sense) although the (mis)spelling device seems to me to be a bit mannered but it does demonstrate confidence in abundance.

The last line is special because it contains a variation on 'creature', which is a very big word indeed in the arduity dictionary, and because "growing up as a boy" is so unexpected, so provocative because of its implication that a girl is being addressed who either needs to assume boyness or has had boyness placed upon her or has made a choice about boyness. As a standardly repressed white British male, I find this disconcerting. The 'c' word is a big word because it's a bit of a key in Paul Celan's Meridian Address:

This always-still of the poem can indeed only be found in the work of the poet who does not forget that he speaks under the angle of inclination of his Being, the angle of inclination of his creatureliness.

Now is not the place to unpack this sentence but rather to point out the fact that I want 'Cretured' to be concerned with poetry in the wider sense and perhaps Rimbaud in particular. If it isn't, then the attentive reader may need to unpack the verb, as in to make someone or something into a creature even though we are all creatures, aren't we?.

Most good poets are very good at doing one thing but not so good at other forms / themes. I'll put forward Spenser's Amoretti sonnets and Geoffrey Hill's attempts at rhyme as examples. This isn't the case here. This is the full text of a poem about writing:


    the mood, in a soft girdle that lifts the breasts
    everywhere free peoples.
    And in them all the lands reflux.
    Six crucifixes on a hill
    I see a hill that I see in a story. The hills looking back at Loki
    toward their angel wings.
    Should she suck germinals flower.
    A publisher for works collected like pigs sliding down Kirby park hill.
    Is it the same hue offered by rock

   They wrote, to each other and they slept at each others places, letters
    the just name offered
    that night Oedipus learned to draw a swastika
    the same night he held the froth of parenting
    The armor is hued, in an earlier time in at least one time
    stop hitting on me as John Clare.
    Too in awe to begin
    the awful beginning begun. It would want to end.
    One must stop after waking and sleep and wake again.
    One must pause before sleeping, awake.
    One must wake in an inundated meadow, musn't one?
    Was this helpful to you?

We'll start with Loki who, the interweb tells me, is a Norse god who appears in medieval Nordic literature, he is also a villain in a Marvell comic series. There's germinal. a publisher, Oedipus and John Clare. These are the reasonably transparent ones although 'germinal' is more likely to refer to spring than to the novel. Oedipus' place in literature was assured by Sophocles who provided an explicit depiction of the 'froth' of parenting. John Clare was a nineteenth century nature poet who spent his later years in an asylum. The flooded meadow brings to mind Marvell's Upon Appleton House but this might be because I want it to.

I want to draw attention to the the 'begin' repeat and the fact that it does, for me, contain a compressed but precise description of the blank sheet of paper problem, the one that most of us writerly types know only too well. We've all sat down, full of ideas, filled with language, and stalled before the first mark is made and yet we also know that things will become much easier once we have started.

I'm taking the last line as a question for the reader and might be an allusion to "Or does that tell you enough, resilient botherhood, is this the one inclined". From Prynne's To Pollen which is at least a nod in the direction of the Celan sentence quoted above. Of course, I'm of the view that everyone who cares about the Poem should be aware (at least) of the Celan quote because the Address is the most important statement of poetics since 1945. Having guessed at all that, I'm not at all sure that the question, as with Prynne, is necessary. In this instance, of course, it could be that someone else is being addressed.

The first stanza is the weirdest of the two, does the 'them' in the third line refer to thy peoples or the breasts? Why are there six instead of three crucifixes and why is this word used rather than the standard 'cross'? Why Kirby Park (which is in New York) rather than any other? Who is it that may suck spring flowers? What is the 'it' of the last line? I'm having a rest from forensic investigation so the questions will be left there for others to consider.

I want to finish for the moment with this:

        .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. HILLS AND THE
     SLOPES BENEATH.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..

                So they bring him down.
    So he seems to have been walking in the woods.
                 I meant not read it and yet I could never read it.
                 I valued it and yet I hated it.
    It caused me to think and yet it was the opposite of thought. It
                was thought fused with non thought, a 'signal region'

               My reality is not simple, nor human. A greening
    in the rafters. Choir upon choir upon choir, disseminating their every song
               all the songs they know, in the time it takes
    for a thrush to beat its wing, not a thrush, a bat,
              not a bat, a book, a book from the school bag, that's
               overturned in the course of the walt family
                           shambling to the dinner table.
                           So the phone rings.
              So time towers in the outer precinct.
              Stare at the lights of the infernal houses on the slopes.
                           And as you stare at the lights
              suck in your breath, exhale sharply on the window.
                           Don't the lights explode. Who gives a damn!

             This suburb jerks off
    with the hand it can't block the sun with.
    A wreath plopped in the lake. It's November still.

I've chosen this because I think it completes my argument for importance. Here, I'm referring to work that may not be the most technically proficiant nor the most daringly experimental but the kind of material that changes the 'frame' or moves things forward. As I hope I've begun to demonstrate, Taren's work is both challenging and inventive and carries with it the traces of our finest late/high moderns. Many have tried to emulate Prynne, even more have attempted to follow on from Celan and all have fallen short. Perhaps Taren's use of a similar 'voice' and phrasing ("non thought, a 'signal region'", "a greening in the rafters"and "time towers in the outer precinct") with an added level of ingenuity might point to another way out of the Poem's current malaise. I also have to confess that, here on the Isle of Wight, we have many suburbs that do nothing other than jerk off.