As I turned the corner of the street a couple of nights ago I had a big surprise. The full moon was neatly suspended from the hook of a giant crane. I have heard since that this was the brightest it has been since records began and certainly, had I owned a pair, I might have put on sunglasses. My sublunary source, a friend of ours called Annie, is a midwife and she can testify that at the hospital where she works there was all manner of heightened nocturnal activity. One wonders what the babies will be like. Will they become the 'feral children' of whom the novelist Pat Barker recently spoke?
Also, the moon that night figured hugely in the two short operas we went to see, Bluebeard's Castle and Schoenberg's Erwartung, in the second of which a clearly demented woman wanders through a moonlit forest and stumbles upon the corpse of her lover whom she then and at length berates for having been unfaithful to her. Who was the captive audience, then, the corpse or we? My wife fought a rare fit of the giggles. Still, Inga Nielsen sang beautifully in her red satin dress while managing not to trip over the debris scattered all over the stage. She could see, after all, by the light of the silvery moon. As for the moon, the real one, were I to have looked a bit closer I would have seen there wasn't any hook at all holding it up in place. I might have reasoned, too, that the moon is in fact much larger than it appears and that the crane would have toppled forward with the weight, quite possibly bringing the moon crashing down on my head. And then where would I be? I would certainly not be in this prose nor would I have had the pleasure this evening of listening to, for the first time, Luciano Berio's Voci and Naturale, the second of the pieces being for solo viola and percussion. This is what Bart=k would have sounded like had he been a Sicilian. And I would not have had the bright idea to add two hard-boiled eggs, both of them halved, to the Tuscan bean soup I had for dinner. All sorts of things happened that might not have.
Some years ago, walking near Llangollen with the Welshified French-Canadian concrete poet whose nom de plume is Childe Roland, I caught sight of the full moon finely balanced on the sharp tip of a roughly pyramidal hill. We stood in silence and marvelled at what it was to be, just then, a couple of old friends partaking of a small miracle of nature. There was absolutely no need for the sentiment to squeeze its way into language. A couple of minutes later the moon, pricked on the arse, rose, and we continued on our way, talking not the great talk that people imagine when they hear of two poets, Wordsworth and Coleridge, for example, walking through Nature but rather the talk, our preferred mode, that is an unbridled nonsense.
I first met Childe Roland shortly after his one and only suicide attempt, when he rushed blindly towards a canal lock only to find himself, seconds later, at the dry bottom of it, physically and emotionally bruised. The reason for this was that his major thesis, The Alexander Graham Bell Book, had just been rejected by the English Department, which up to that point had been split down the middle on the issue. A compromise had been offered but not one he could take. The actual book comprises a hand-written 'allo', the loops of the l's covering a hundred pages, a hundred pages being the minimal length prescribed for a thesis, and is visually suggestive of telephone wire and bookishly reflective of the author's argument that one of the characteristics of literature is that it takes up space. Our mutual friend, the distinguished poet and Icelandic scholar, George Johnston, even he, most saintly of men, had failed to console Childe Roland in this his bleakest hour. I wonder if the gaggle of professors had actually reached the end of his book where, on the last page, is written the word 'Bell', so the work, in effect, becomes a honorific salutation to the inventor of the telephone ๙ "allo Bell"๙the final bell an echo of the ding-a-ling old-fashioned telephones used to make.
My first deep acquaintance with Childe Roland's work, however, was a piece I saw him perform in Ottawa in 1972, ACK ACK, which is dedicated to Susan, his infinitely patient wife. The poem evokes in pure and tender language, its meaning enshrined in the sounds the words make, the beams of light emitted from tracer bullets fired by the World War Two gun of the poem's title. While he recited the piece, in a deeply felt voice, a plump ballerina called Gayna danced to the gentle pianissimo of Erik Satie's Trois GymnopTdies, her falls reproducing, unintentionally I believe, the reports of distant gunfire. I went in amorous pursuit of Gayna once, but the brief idyll was shattered when at the greasy spoon where I declared my interest in her a drunk in the street outside smashed the huge window, its many hundreds of shards of glass narrowly missing the customers seated inside. I chased after him, unsuccessfully, and when I returned Gayna dumped me, right there and then, for being too conservative in my attitudes. I have been politically confused ever since.
When Childe Roland moved from Canada to Wales in 1979, he brought with him the red granite tombstone he had specially made for himself, beneath which he plans to lie in eternal peace, and which bears a finely carved television screen and, under that, his familiar rounded signature. Childe Roland is an avid admirer of the medium and, I believe, only rarely does he discriminate between one programme and another, although his favourites are said to be nature documentaries and Blind Date. Childe Roland is like a leprechaun blown up to a human scale, eternally child-like, a child even to his own children who are older now than he was when I first met him. Over the last few years much of his creative energy has been devoted to a series of brilliant variations on the bar code. When I phoned him just now to check on the details of the Ottawa performance, he assured me they were as I had remembered them, except, he reminded me, we shared the stage, filling the interval in a performance given by the jazz-rock fusion group, Weather Report. Also, when I informed him of my lunar experience, he told me that two nights ago, while here at the Royal Opera House Miss Nielson bellowed her female troubles, he had been taken on a shamanic journey. According to his spiritual guide, Pip, Childe Roland journeyed from this, our Middle World, through a hole in a tree, into a Lower World landscape in order that he might meet there his 'power animal', the spirit archetype that provides each aspirant with its own particular medicine. "And what did you meet there?" I asked him. "A moose," he replied. So not only were things hopping here, they were hopping in Wales too.
A story of two moons, then, or rather, the same moon seen at different times from different perspectives. What human nature loves, of course, is a construction. A sense of moment is just that, of course, an alignment between something other and us with the crooked antennae. Whole religions, shamanism too, have been constructed on that very premise. Stonehenge was built in order that a single moment of alignment be celebrated each year at precisely the same time. A poem is an attempt to capture, by casting several lines or more, some aspect of our fleeting existence. We are abstract creatures that every so often need to be sated with simplicities. What was it, though, about this composition for moon and construction site that makes it plushy with significance? The ancients would have had a ready answer whereas I crawl slowly towards one. And now, if I may pull the argument down from the skies, is not everything we see a construction that is wholly unique, glimpsed but once? All surely is a matter of perspective, and what I saw at that precise moment, two nights ago, could only have been witnessed by me. Another person could not have stood in my place. And there was nowhere else in the world from where one could have seen what I saw, not even from a few feet to either side of me. So Annie, Childe Roland and Gayna wherever you are, however clumsy or fine these words may appear, the perspective from which they come is wholly mine. Sweet moon, it's all I have. ๒
Marius Kociejowski has published two collections of poetry in England, Doctor Honoris Causa and Music's Bride (both Anvil Press), both of which will be published in 2003, in Canada, by Porcupine's Quill, under the title So Dance the Lords of Language.