Poem: Chant

This morning I am posting a poem from my After the Pills collection.

I wrote this poem in my early thirties back in the mid 1990s. It expressed a kind of intellectual and cultural defeat by the world. I longed to find a place of belonging for my literary and cultural endeavours, but could not find it. And the pressures and load of my day job and my drinking only made things worse. It is a kind of cry of despair.

Yet I find in this early poem a first appearance of the image of the Burning Archive, associated with Benjamin’s thesis on the philosophy of history and the fear of the self-destruction of our culture.


Every word is denied
Every act is defeated
Every thought is
in error.

We are beaten masks
In search of a theatre and a rite
to give us

Our culture is dead
And cannot once more be
borrowed into freshness.
Words lie about me
like discarded slogans,
and, in the distance,
the archive burns
while the angel of history
in flight from the arson
turns her face from
her abandoned love.

Soldiers approach me
in Axel’s last tower,
but for these broken books of magic.

I wait to be marched over
composing without
the satisfaction of an audience
the security of a library
worshipping forgotten gods
who die with me
and show the final weakness of art.

“All writing is pig shit”

Now the angel visits
only in dreams.

Every word is denied
Every act is defeated
Every thought is

in error.

A note on the poem

This poem refers to Antonin Artaud’s text All writing is pigshit. It is a remarkable text, and Artaud’s thoughts and example has haunted me since I first read The theatre of cruelty as a teenager, and attended the old Anthill theatre in Melbourne. I have thought as Artaud did, that in ten years time, maybe, “people will learn what the configuration of the mind is, and they will understand how I lost my mind.”

Antonin Artaud, “All writing is pigshit”

All writing is pigshit.

People who leave the obscure and try to define whatever it is that goes on in their heads, are pigs.

The whole literary scene is a pigpen, especially this one.

All those who have vantage points in their spirit, I mean, on some side or other of their heads and in a few strictly localized brain areas; all those who are masters of their language; all those for whom words have a meaning; all those for whom there exist sublimities in the soul and currents of thought; all those who are the spirit of the times, and have named these currents of thought—and I am thinking of their precise works, of that automatic grinding that delivers their spirit to the winds—

are pigs.

Those for whom certain words have a meaning, and certain manners of being; those who are so fussy; those who for whom emotions are classifiable, and who quibble over some degree or other of their hilarious classifications; those who still believe in ‘terms’; those who brandish whatever ideologies belong to the hierarchy of the times; those about whom women talk so well, and also those women who talk so well, who talk the contemporary currents of thought; those who still believe in some orientation of the spirit; those who follow paths, who drop names, who fill books with screaming headlines

are the worst kind of pigs.

And you are quite aimless, young man!

No, I am thinking of bearded critics.

And I told you so: no works or art, no language, no word, no thought, nothing.

Nothing; unless maybe a fine Brain-Storm.

A sort of incomprehensible and totally erect stance in the midst of everything in the mind.

And don’t expect me to tell you what all this is called, and how many parts it can be divided into; don’t expect me to tell you its weight; or to get in step and start discussing all this so that by discussing I may get lost myself and even, without even realizing it, start THINKING. And don’t expect this thing to be illuminated and live and deck itself out in a multitude of words, all neatly polished as to meaning, very diverse, and capable of throwing light on all the attitudes and all the nuances of very sensitive and penetrating mind.

Ah, these states which have no name, these sublime situations of the soul, ah these intervals of wit, these minuscule failures which are the daily bread of my hours, these people swarming with data . . . they are always the same old words I’m using, and really I don’t seem to make much headway in my thoughts, but I am really making more headway than you, you beard-asses, you pertinent pigs, you masters of fake verbiage, confectioners of portraits, pamphleteers, ground-floor lace-curtain herb collectors, entomologists, plague of my tongue.

I told you so, I no longer have the gift of tongue. But this is no reason you should persist and stubbornly insist on opening your mouths.

Look, I will be understood ten years from now by the people who then will do what you are doing now. Then my geysers will be recognized, my glaciers will be seen, the secret of diluting my poisons will have been learnt, the plays of my soul will be deciphered.

Then all my hair, all my mental veins will have been drained in quicklime; then my bestiary will have been noticed, and my mystique become a hat. Then the joints of stones will be seen smoking, arborescent bouquets of mind’s eyes will crystallize in glossaries, stone aeroliths will fall, lines will be seen and the geometry of the void understood: people will learn what the configuration of the mind is, and they will understand how I lost my mind.

They will then understand why my mind is not all here; then they will see all languages go dry, all minds, all tongues shrivelled up, the human face flattened out, deflated as if sucked up by shriveling leeches. And this lubricating membrane will go on floating in the air, this caustic lubricating membrane, this double membrane of multiple degrees and a million little fissures, this melancholic and vitreous membrane, but so sensitive and also pertinent, so capable of multiplying, splitting apart, turning inside out with its glistening little cracks, its dimensions, its narcotic highs, its penetrating and toxic injections, and

all this then will be found to be all right,

and I will have no further need to speak

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