An Act of Failure


'Su Tenderdrake explores the agonies of identity, in a firm yet emotional kaleidoscope of diverse poems, utterly unique in foregrounding the poet as makar of a distinct world. Her collection A Coalition of Vegetables both confronts yet - paradoxically - comforts.' 

Unique is a devalued term, especially in poetry. We're drowning in unique voices, doing identical things.

Paul Stubbs is the only English poet I think the term applies to. His work shows no interest in anything, except the poetic imagination.

How it exists, and coexists, with his inner religious landscape. And what future his imagination can create.

Not exactly the staple of a million stupid 'poetry workshops'.

In fact, his work is so far removed from any contemporary context, an interview seems the only way to approach it.

Your poetry is superbly ambitious, exploring fundamental (timeless) ontological and theological questions. 

For an English poet now, it is almost unique in featuring nothing social, familial or contemporary. However difficult, could you quickly summarise the central concerns you explore?

You talk of my work being
'superbly ambitious', but for me 'ambition' in a poetical sense is irrelevant, defunct, for if I have ever been ambitious it was only to succeed through language in purifying man of man. This comes from the sense that when writing I always feel as if I am a million years before mankind or after it, belonging just as well to its beginnings as to its end. And this kind of weakness for imaginative chaos I find quickly kills ambition of any kind. Thus I have no 'poetical' ambitions, only anthropological and cosmological ones.

With regard to your notion of my exploring 'fundamental (timeless) ontological and theological questions', well, for me, it is either this or detach myself from myself and celebrate only the stupor of non-history, condemning authorhood in the process to a mere chronological ordering of sentences. The 'divisions' of mankind do not, in any social or political sense, concern me. As for the 'social, familial or contemporary', to be interested in such 'divisions', I might well also have had to be interested in those poets who have continued to write about them, and I have never been.

You could suggest that the poets still interested today in writing about such topics were at some stage (in all probability) drawn to the poetry of Larkin for instance; yet when I was foolish enough to first read Larkin, I felt only a deep inner revulsion, a great nothingness, a terrible nullity, as if instead of hearing his voice, I heard only the dripping of my own pulse into the well of a neutral abyss. I read Hlderlin, Kierkegaard, Rimbaud, Pilinszky, Gascoyne, Simone Weil, W.S. Graham, Gregory Corso, etc., and their 'concerns' seemed sufficiently universal enough to interest me.

My central concerns? Only in each poem to place myself outside of historical, cosmological and linear time, for I seek always to abandon myself to a secondary Earth, a humanless terminus, so that nothing inside of my imagination can be reconciled, not one race with another. In poetry my biggest concern has always been to arrive at a place in no-time (beyond the imagination?) or to a point in man's consciousness where we have all begun 'to out-imagine man's final evolutionary increase in brain-size' ('Afterworldsmen').

To achieve this I realized early that I would need to replace all of the generic icons of the world, if only for the duration of my own words, with new ones capable of out-staring God. A big task, but one I have always pursued. I have always had a huge respect for Yeats, and especially his 'Rough Beast', which I trail throughout the new book; which for me has become an ongoing symbol of man's intellectual failings to unite what, in God, theology has always lacked, i.e. a completion to the imagination.

What form of poetry do you think best suits this? 

The only
'form' of poetry that 'suits' me is one not obscured by the totality of a one-planet imagination, and by that I mean a poetry written outside of literature's age-old monadology of producing only earth-bound perceptions of existence in language.

You have been compared to Hill, but it is noticeable he uses a much more rhetorical approach
and sometimes a hectoring of an imagined audience. Has this ever appealed to you?

Any comparisons with Hill are often born of laziness on the part of the critic, for essentially his concerns are not mine. He is a poet of the intellect and who, amid the gnarled complexity of his mind, takes his readers up the steep gradient slopes of not just any language, but his
language; while I am merely a bewildered human working at the core of bewilderment.

I have no 'literary' approach as such, seeing what I do as having more in common with the historical discrepancy between myth and religion than with the 'Art' of poetry.

I have no audience inside of my head, only an unclassifiable race of the future that, before I have even had a chance to see them, appears always to have already removed the mask of my own face. I believe that the further a poet gets from an 'imagined audience', the further he can progress into the imaginary terrains of his own mind. So no, to hector an audience is not an issue for me, for as I have already said, I have never ever thought about one.

How do you balance your intellectual concerns with the need to produce something which is aesthetically pleasing, as poetry? 

Firstly, the idea of an
'aesthetically pleasing' poetry is to me repulsive. Kierkegaard, in summing up a lifetime of writing said: 'What was to be done? Well, obviously the poetical had to be evacuated, anything else was impossible for me'. And that feels close to me also, for I had no intellectual concerns when writing this book, I was concerned only with the pious.

When writing the poems, for the most part, I felt always theologically posthumous, even at the expense of my own intellect; like someone already abandoned to each syntactical hinterland of the imagination before even picking up the pen. Poetry should never be pleasing. It should, if anything, be 'authentic', which as E.M. Cioran quite rightly said usually has nothing itself to do with 'poetry'. The poet should think only 'of what has been as what is to come...' (Heidegger). The only real task is to subjugate the intellect for the primal, i.e. to be modern, which, in poetry (how in a metaphorical sense I see it), consists only in replacing the pea inside the whistle of man's most distressed and inhuman cry.

A fascinating point, raised by your work, is the impossibility of language capturing the imagination. Can you say more on this?

'impossibility' is born of the fact that the poetical imagination is one thing, and the biblical imagination something else; for side by side, they have always struggled to co-exist. This premise, for poets, is born also of the all-too obvious truth that the god of the church and its language is not necessarily the god and the 'language' of the universe.

A poet like Rimbaud sought only the fleshlessness of the synecdoche, the half-empty vessel of the rcit, that and any displacement in language in which his allegiance to the imagination prevented him from completing a final thought. I myself realized all too frequently that I could never overcome the biblical imagination (i.e. God's) by attempting, through poetry, to re-open the inhuman healing-points at the core of Christ's death; thus my own poems have been forced to function always amid the artificiality of the geography inhabited by any one figure (most of the figures found in this new book) both in view of and apart from the abyss.

So maybe the question should be not whether language can 'capture' the imagination, but whether or not language can be completed by it. Yet when we consider the imagination, we ask usually what it is, not necessarily what it is not. So then the only question for a poet like myself has been to ask is: 'which one came first, God or the imagination?'

The dilemma being of course that even to imagine beyond the imagination is still to be using it. To disbelieve in anything beyond the imagination is not only to refuse to believe in God, but is also to not believe in the imagination. I have written, from various angles, about the resurrection, but only the 'resurrection' that was interrupted by the biblical imagination (when of course it was written about) just as Christ, in his emancipation from God's imagination, interrupted ours.

Yet the poetical imagination is without talent in such moments, citing biology as a prelude to such truths, not as it should, by renouncing poetical freedom as unsubstantiated freedom. So, if God existed before the imagination, as seems most likely, then the death of God, at any one time in history, would automatically then herald the death of the final forms of the poetical imagination.

Thus, in the very act of my failure to find a language capable of completing the imagination, my every idea has become nothing but a nail contributing to the boarding-up of the churches of the poetical imagination in which only superfluous gods have been prayed to, those gods not invented by the biblical imagination. And maybe there is no better proof that the biblical imagination existed before God's idea of Christ than in the fact that not one excavation of hell by a theologian has managed to produce yet even one bone of Christ's that preceded man's memory on Earth.

Thus there can be no completion and no 'capturing' of anything but what, in theology, appears to man as being either a psychological or metaphysical error. All that language has given me then is an ability to hide the 'I' which, like Rimbaud, I have always kept concealed like a dagger in the sheath of my mind, and which, in poems, I have used often to cut down Christ from the cross, if only to prevent the Bible from ever having been completed.

So I would say that only the poetical imagination has allowed me to believe in God, while the biblical imagination has led me nowhere but back and back always to myself, like Cain or Job to walk the denuded terrains of my own always incomplete Earth.

And if this is true, does it not allow you to prejudge your poetry a 'failure'paradoxically, allowing you to avoid any real critique?

'failure' of all writing is that which is caused by our possession of a one-planet imagination; thus the imagination on Earth, for as long as we stay here, will remain ontologically redundant and secure for the upcoming generations only the continuation of a vegetal wisdom.

All poetry I would say is a 'failure' in an anthropological sense. Literature will only succeed when the curiosity of the scientist and the philosopher ends. All art is a failure because no poem has ever yet managed to describe a lung that has allowed man to breathe forever, likewise no artist, via an installation consisting of say a gramophone, a paper-cup and a piece of string, has ever yet managed to successfully feign the cry of Christ upon the cross. The real critic can only act as an intermediary between the opening and closing of his own mouth.

After all, authentic poetry confirms and disclaims nothing, is only understood by those perceptive enough in history to speak between the minutes, days, years, etc. Any poetry that seeks to last will succeed in doing so only by rendering itself obscure, unsacred to the masses, oblivious of the 'critical' veils draped across that seek always to hide it. Unpopular times call for unpopular poems, so yes, 'paradoxically' poems must be their own 'critique', their own judgement.

Your use of Bacon's paintings is wonderfully free of the tedium associated with
'poems inspired by paintings'. But some admirers of Bacon's work claim they are not primarily religious in inspirationbeyond the obviously surface (and so frequently misinterpreted) imagery. Would this matter, for this book?

Well, these poems are not in anyway
'about' the paintings. The vision in these poems I had for several years already been propounding. I have used these paintings as a mere starting-point, each an anti-ontological terminus in which each 'figure' fleetingly meets and departs. If each of Bacon's paintings is but a series of never to be united opposites, then the poems themselves present only the conflict of belonging to a truth yet to be reconciled by the two incompatible worlds of imagination and language.

The 'figures' introduced in the poems differ very markedly from the ones in the paintings, for they are not in any way part of our human activity: rather they appear transfixed by a compass which no longer directs them towards the unthinkable will of God. The poems contemplate only the world in which Bacon himself was a diversion. Either inhabiting a new spiritual reality, or imbued with a sense of horrifying rationality, each figure holds no identical emotion, nothing parallel to the world in which they live.

The poems' sole concerns are the evocation of an undreamed-of holiness, the ineffable purity of 'placing' a body outside of historical, cosmological and linear time. None of the central figures in the poems appear unified, or reconciled to the fact that they have been abandoned to a new alien plain, for between the primitive co-existence of innocence and terror, flesh and bone, being and non-being, all of them watch on in vain at the 'final theological / drift of the peoples of / the faiths'. Unnaturally human, these figures celebrate a secondary Earth, a new imagined abyss, a lexiconical universe in which each world is limited only by the boundaries of the human imagination.

Certainly there are some traditional 'religious' figures in the poems, such as a priest, a pope etc., but these, like in the paintings of Bacon, are too contorted, and seem unable even to exist inside of the folds of the infinite flesh of the imagination, shapes forced ontologically free to exist now inside of the realm of a new churchless and religionless Christianity, one in which a prehensile and more biological Christ has begun to awaken upon the cross. So to answer your question, neither Bacon's life, his religious views or his opinions on art have any relevance whatsoever in these poems.

Obviously, you function completely outside the intellectually barren
'British Mainstream' poetry world. Are you in anyway angered by this? Or are you happy to locate yourself amongst those poets who address such difficult and fundamental (existential) questions that this is inevitable?

If I do function
'completely outside' of the mainstream as you put it, then I am certainly not in anyway 'angered by it', for this is the inevitable outcome (as you propose) of pursuing a terrible singularity, and in any case I am utterly indifferent. I feel alone, but happily so, and to be 'excluded' from the British poetry world is hardly a deathblow worth recovering from. All that matters is the work. I remain as I once described the philosopher E.M. Cioran in an essay, as someone who is 'solely who he is, a bone-stratum feigning a literary erosion'.

Again, I don't feel happy or discontent to be among those poets who 'address such difficult and fundamental questions' as you put it, for to me such concerns are normal, everyday preoccupations; so perhaps the question should be why are writers who deal with the 'difficult' screened off as you suggest from the mainstream, and if this is indeed the case, then what exactly does that make the mainstream?

And if such an exclusion is 'inevitable' then I can only echo the words of Cioran who, when writing about the work of Joseph Maistre said 'what is an argument for the defence that neither torments nor troubleswhat is an eulogy that fails to kill?' maybe, just maybe, that is the mainstream.

What processes do you use when writing
how instinctive is it?

'processes' as you put it are, in truth, a shadowless intuition, an instant when my imagination feels fully imagined by someone else as, into the depths of my mind, all of the unageing, celestial and still unresurrected torsos that resemble me are lowered into my view.

Thus I pick up the pen only to extol, make public within my own soul, wherever there are crumbling nations, superstitions that doubt, and absolute holy fictions, or wherever man, suddenly external to the universe, attempts in vain to overcome the calamity of his own human consciousness. I never have been and never will be interested in 'keeping my hand in', for if I never write again after this book, then that will be fine.

Who would be your ideal reader?

God, or Hölderlin, or Rimbaud, or all three preferably.

How did you start in the
'poetry world' and how do you see yourself in it now?

I have always felt distinctly dissimilar to the 'poetry world', though I never did believe (and still don't) that it actually existed. I have never felt part of it, and for those who do feel part of some giant poetical 'family' I can only think of them as being false believers in a contradiction, in an anthropocentric anomaly between flesh and words.

So I do not see myself in anything now, yesterday or tomorrow. And perhaps I would first have to think about what a 'poetry world' actually entails before deciding if I were part of it, so what is it? Readings? Poetry classrooms? Teaching? All of which, to my mind, sound like nothing but tolerable forms of negation, religions of backbiting and, if each poet is fortunate enough, a continuous monologue about pride and vanity; none of which of course have anything to do with the imagination.

    Paul Sutton & Paul Stubbs 2015