new zealand electronic poetry centre

David Mitchell







1981 (a.d.)

The naked voice / the vogue machine

Poetry is the mystery. Ultimately it may be the very last left to us. Only the most miserable of critics could come at the mystery & not aver, that poets at their best are in a state of direct engagement in the process of integration — (personal, social, political, religious, cultural, & morally, so, withal ! ) .

More than ever, this pretty globe, this bluegreen sphere, mother earth, spaceship earth, needs every poet it can get ( and as I have always believed, ) needs them vocal, public, real; reading their works with whatever language, inflexion, nuance, bravura, whimsy, wit & serendipity, the times demand and their insights & skills allow.

Few things give me greater pleasure than to sit in an audience at poetry readings where new poets, ( not necessarily young ) are reading in public for the first time.

The gloss and patina , the stylistic flourish, the crafty pose, the ever so humble , self deprecation, or, even more tediously, the cavalier proclamation ! / or again the crassly timid, intellectual , monotone, —  these attitudes; all stale & learned ; are all absent from readings by new poets, and for a moment , for a holie moment, we hear; O Calliope ! O Nazarene ! the natural, unvarnished rhythms, the artless sensuality of the naked human voice. What a delight ! What a transport of delight — in this noisy, this difficult technological age. What sweet largesse — the human voice in all its naïve dignity, its native cunning.

In that present, in the gift of that moment, surmising worlds of the splendid future, under the aegis of the storyteller — (at best ennobled, wise, yet curiously simple — almost at times the child; — at worst agitated, wretched, didactic, over emphatic, almost at times ; the foole ! ) — in the gift of : this moment : here lies the social function, the localised function of the poet. And so he goes , as we must needs see  him; the ‘ tusitala ‘ / the teller of tales.

And who, on consideration, would be so bold, so foolish as to deny this social intercourse , is the oldest of all? We may readily picture in the mind’s eye as it were, ( as it was ! ) — the small circle at the cavemouth caught up in the polarities of light & shade, and in the enthralled motion of vocal theatre — living again events of the recent or distant past.

And what joyous insights, inscapes — the moment is much wont to bring ! — astonishment , wonder & delight, — man’s all time most fructifying emotions in terms of the aforementioned direct engagement in the cyclic process of integration; in the all time imperative of common human dignity and its various theisms, which alone , beneath the stars of technology & greed ; which alone, beneath the galaxies of sectarian hatred and of religious pride — which alone beneath the firmament and the great spirit ( most feckless, MOST inscrutable artist of all ; no matter how we conceive of him ; ) will see us through, (I do not doubt), into the 21st century & beyond the blue. Despite the nay sayers; including those poets ( culpable ) who choose the gloomy persona of doom, or revolution, of war.

Increasingly the drama of our times seems to be lack of communication — communication breakdown — person to person in the social order. Entertainment passes for art, but manifestly is not art, and, at I don’t know How many decibels, hammers this absurdity home with all the acquiescence of both the dollar grubbers and the consumers, neither of whom care to admit, at what emotional or at what social cost.

Forgive me — poetry lovers, if I presume to presume the holie banality — Love is / remains / & will be the only panacea. And all poets are born, love poets.
And all children are born poets.
Birth is the first of our several human delyts .

What happens afterwards is life, & trouble & strife & literature & vanity & vainglory & debility but at depth it is not poetry, at least , not nearly often enough , after the golden impulse. Love as Caritas ( charity ) as the roman christians knew it , and Love as . . . ‘ Feeling good right NOW ’ / does it have to be , as it most often is, the most awkward of our social imperatives. Poetry, confronting the mysteries, suggests integration.

Increasingly, we are faced with pressures that seem to demand polarisation — on all fronts, every day , we are more and more aware of the consequences of what used to be called modishly, glowingly even, existential choice. Yet who can really believe , along with wall eyed Sartre that a majority of people are swine? Or, that an elitist minority are, say, intellectual heroes ? Or mercantile warmongers? Socially, it is the aspect of people we perceive from their actions, that speaks of the inner soul. But the flesh is weak, and humanity with the best of intentions fallible. Nevertheless , increasingly, we are being forced to take this aspect as the real. This seems to me to be a serious abnegation of human licence, of natural, supportive, human , goodwill, and worse, it is the easy way out. Harsh, judgemental, efficient ! . . .  &  increasingly impersonal & planetwide. O Calliope ! O Nazarene ! What are we coming at ? / & what are we coming , to ?

No man, or woman, thinks, at depth, that the planet is at risk. But the planet is at risk. And unless the social delyts inherent in the graceful functioning of each & every tribe ( group ) are cultivated & valued we are choosing not the merely absurd, the first premise of Albert Camus, nor the inverted jolly/sad mind waste of John Cleese but the last premise of Jonestown; voluntary suicide; annihilation.

Poets, children, Fooles, & lovers, refuse to be polarised. The best poems themselves , despite their author’s clumsiness, and their critic’s partisan zeal, refuse to be polarised. Love is free & human & for all , and all the best poems are love poems , no matter what their peculiar themes.

Emotionally, social life, especially urban social life , is fraught on all sides with the insidious influence of the negative forces — for alienation, frustration, pollution & chaos. I doubt if , despite this century’s rapid technological accelerations, this problem at base has ever been much different. The synthesis afforded by a poem read aloud in public; constitutes nothing less than social therapy . . . balm for the individual personality . . . in much the same manner, say, for instance, the harmonious offerings of a string quartet might bring that peace of mind, that emotional poignancy / melancholy / buoyancy; which accompanies that lifting of the spirit ; which, so hard to describe, albeit, is so often, so easy to ( wordlessly ) recognise.

It is this familiarity, this sense of recognition , that denotes to a listener ( as much as to a performance poet ) the inherent value of the spoken word.

And , as with all such artistic privacies / intimacies / spontaneities, it is as much in the silences between the lines, the words; the imaginatively recreated fabric between the images, that the true sense of entertainment ( as much as ART ), of recreation as much as edification, of RE creation, is demonstrated.

We do identify, even if negatively, with the tusitala — the poet , since despite his eccentricities, his flamboyancies ( or his studied lack of these things ) his is the voice that brings us up against our own fecund silences — those seedbeds of delyt — no amount of commercial clatter, sterile propaganda, or inane , televised pap , can ever quite destroy.

Few things give me less pleasure, on the other hand, than to sit in an audience at poetry readings , where one after another we are subjected to Performance Poets “doing their thing”, where, in fact, dismally, this ‘thing’ has become paramount and the priceless flux of changing human personality has been subdued; extinguished, in favour of the smooth; the rehearsed; the stylised; and finally the jaded routine.

This is why I have an inbuilt distrust of actors & actresses & directors, from both stage & the media, who seek out poets with offers to interpret their work , for them. I always advise poets, particularly the younger, to persist in public readings , no matter how embarrassed or uncomfortable they feel about it. There is no substitute — not even the much sought after editorial blessing that publication in the currently vogue magazines brings. There is no substitute for a poet reading his/her work aloud.

I would even go further & claim that many published poets who do not regularly read their work aloud, do themselves THE sterling disservice; — leave themselves open to all the ills a lack of engagement with the world at large can bring, while, incidentally depriving the social milieu ( the nearest , and hence the most vitally important audience to any poet in the coming decades ) of their stance; their integrity, and their simple human dignity.

Accordingly, as a poet who has chosen to publish little over the past two decades , but one who has read in public, often ( some, there are no doubt , who would claim , too often ! ) I am delighted that the English Dept. of Macquarie University, has extended this invitation to myself , and ( next week ) to Mr. Ian Wedde of Wellington to come to Australia. I can only hope that this visit will lead to further interchange between our two countries, surely, a timely, and a mutually beneficial exchange.

Auckland / Macquarie Uni. Sydney
Mr. D. J. Mitchell
August 1981




ęDavid Mitchell

Last updated 5 March, 2010