“The poet knows that we are all dying men.” John Gartland
Art by Chris Coles
What greater knowledge is there, one might ask? The risks are mild to ask a poet to talk about poetry but not without some form of rebuke. And while I am at it I ask John about those loathsome critics as well. It is my pleasure to interview that rare man nowadays, a true artist. John Gartland was born and educated in the North of England. His mother was Irish, and he considers Ireland his second home. His first home is now Thailand, where he is married, and has lived and worked for more than a decade. He is widely traveled including the USA. He has earned the right to voice his opinions even when I do not agree with them. That’s preferable, actually, because John’s opinions, like his poetry, make one pause and reflect. That’s not a bad thing. Recently, in co-operation with musicians Keith Nolan and Chris Healy in Bangkok, he has produced an audio album of his poetry, called “Hologram Heart”. This is available on You Tube. Seek it out. You will be entertained in a way that is challenging – intelligently. It’s good to be challenged. Mr Gartland’s work is also published and available at Amazon.com. You can find his author page here.
In addition to his novel Oragsmus and book of poetry Bangkok – Heart of Noir, which features the art of Chris Coles, a chapter of his poems can also be found in my book Bangkok Beat. I’m no dummy. The project in the wings is called Blanc et Noir a selection of poems featuring the photographs of Mark Desmond Hughes. John has won over many new fans in the past three years in Bangkok – well deserved.
On with it, as John’s friend in Phnom Penh likes to say:
KC: In A Defense of Poetry by Percy Bysshe Shelly, Shelly talks of poets being teachers, unacknowledged legislators, and prophets. What, if anything, does John Gartland attempt to teach, legislate or predict through his poetry?
Poetry. Don’t ask me to talk about poetry.
Poetry. People say they don’t get it.
That’s up to them, but..
Sometimes I wish I didn’t get it so strong.
I hear myself chanting these phrases of self-doubt
all along, and indignation, over the psychic deluge;
increasingly, obsessive, ominous.
I saw God the Father fisting the patriarchs,
a dick as huge as Cleopatra’s needle.
and not a vision good for the longevity,
or the enjoyment of lunch, that’s obvious
Find myself laughing at such stuff, in supermarkets,
to all appearances a madman, or a foreigner I can hide behind.
There are scary losses of short-term memory;
blocks of data dropping out, with free-fall suddenness;
wear and tear on the master-chip, apparently,
But then, it is the way it is, and not the way it ought to be.
But then, but then,
there are phases of jumping between illuminations,
Like glittering ice-floes.
So, don’t ask me to talk about poetry;
“Those who speak do not know”, those who know….
should never go there, without poetry.
KC: Shelly also talks about “inharmonious barbarians”. Who are they today? Please provide some poems which illustrate these barbarians in verse.
JG: My work is full of examples of rage at the inharmonious barbarians. Here are just a few:
HARUM SCARUM JOKEBOOK
That rictus is prophetic not cosmetic.
As students of anthropology know well,
their god may be some backward desert meme,
but that has never stopped him raising hell.
Every man-jack of us is under the gun,
myths long-outed still vomiting credos.
Religion, the arch-whore, is still getting naked,
only spiritual extinction porn. turning us on.
Obsessing on it doesn’t make one wise,
but she, and her poisonous holy-book sniffers
have already tried on your future for size.
Dim liberals meanwhile, mouth imbecilic welcome
to predatory cockroaches and rapists who hate them;
and social engineering, well-oiled with lies,
has compliant masses, conned and patronized,
then abused by their betters and scourged
with Korrectness when they recognize,
this malignant tsunami is scorpions;
has always been scorpions;
was never, as the lie went, butterflies.
Fugue on Freeway Nine
You hardly knew me?
I’m doing fine.
Sure, I promised well in an earlier time,
then my best fruit withered on the vine,
now I’m going to rot on Freeway Nine.
The writing? That’s long gone my friend.
A gig in a catatonic ward,
or juggling for the blind,
the public scratch of a private itch
and the overspill of a fevered mind.
Guess the writing left me far behind…
with a few bad lines on Freeway Nine.
Back there, the system spits you out
to premature decline,
the taxman robs your money
and some jobsworth, up-yours
bureaucrat will screw you every time.
The wasters get the housing,
handouts, benefits and breaks,
the ethnics bite the hand that feeds,
and any imbecile can see
Al Quaeda’s on the make.
So I left the place, pig sick of
its complacency and crime,
but what the hell would I know?….
a reactionary swine,
reading Spengler, drinking wine,
getting laid on Freeway Nine!
Lie back and learn to love
Especially on a daily basis
rape means rage and tribulation.
Get wise that such humiliation’s
futile and corrosive;
not to mention an explosive parcel
ticking in your sanity.
You can’t reject the corporate embrace.
To think you can resist
is merely vanity.
Understand, you’re on your back,
and they’re right in your face.
It’s macro‑economic systems
goosing all humanity.
True, the world’s in corporate pawn,
even the oceans.
So is the air we breathe,
the lakes and trees.
Objections will be neutralised
as weird, subversive notions.
In profit‑led inventiveness,
these systems hover over us
from when we’re born
to our assured decease.
It’s wearing, on a daily basis,
we recognise, beyond a doubt.
Admitting you’ve been had’s
just one more burden
you can live without.
We clarify your rights
and we appreciate your trust.
We anticipate your protest and
advise against all self‑disgust.
So do yourself a favour,
and accept the situation.
Give all the ins and outs of it
their due consideration,
and go easy on yourself,
for rape is rage and tribulation.
Relax and smile; bend over,
learn to love the corporation!
KC: Do you care about what the critics think?
JG: A poet can’t dismiss critics as insupportable, since, by definition, any poet worth his salt is a critic of the world order, and a score of other things. Rational and constructive criticism is fundamental to correction and improvement, in any system, so critics are something we have to live with.
As a poet advances in years and experience, however, he becomes more confident in his craft and his artistic judgments. The utterances of critics will seem less oracular to him. Without that confidence in his own course, it will be very difficult for a poet to make progress. Poetry, complex art form, and ancient tradition that it is, is widely maligned and misunderstood in a world of junk food, short attention spans and plastic flowers. The poet, knowledgeable and self-orientating, stands, so the wisdom goes, on the shoulders of giants, the past masters of the art. Critics can be found in that pantheon; however, but those critics, Pound, Eliot, Coleridge, D H Lawrence, Mathew Arnold, George Bernard Shaw, George Orwell, and many more, were primarily poets and creative writers before they were critics.
So the answer is, spare some thought for the writings of critics. They can’t all be deluded. Remember though, that every major modern art movement, and many ground-breaking novels and collections of poetry, had first to brave a torrent of invective from contemporary critics, before taking their honoured place in the new order.
KC: 2015 was a busy year for you. What are you working on in 2016?
JG: This year Lizardville Productions will publish my joint book with noir photographer, Mark Desmond Hughes, “Blanc et Noir”, to be available in digital download and printed editions at Amazon..
Lizardville will also release my novel, “Resurrection Room” to be available in digital download and printed editions at Amazon.
Also, my joint production with painter, Chris Coles is to be made available, through Amazon, as a print-on-demand full colour version. That’s “Bangkok Heart of Noir” from Lizardville Productions: all very soon.
A reading is planned with music from Chris Minko and Sophea of the band Krom, in Phnom Penh, in early April. I hope to fit in some other readings in Cambodia, too.
I hope to keep finding the creative flow in 2016, and have a crazy plan to start another novel. I’d like to continue with the occasional reading, in Bangkok, in 2016, venues permitting.
Poetry Universe Page by John Gartland