Gifted, Patrick Williamson
corrupt press Ltd, 2014
Lightening the school of souls
This pamphlet has taught me the difference between found poems that are ‘treated’ and those that are not, this set having been drawn from text in Humbolt’s Gift by Saul Bellow which — though it is terribly famous — I have not read.
Here, the found text has been ‘treated’, which means (thank-you Wikipedia) ‘changed in a profound and systematic manner’). I don’t know how far the treatment extends, or how important the novel is to the poems.
I’ll come clean. I don’t understand why someone would create a set of poems this way, except as a private game. But games are intrinsic to poetic art.
So putting my reservations to one side, here are 30 fragments set in a huge context: the afterlife, with hell on hand, and heaven a dubious possibility. The first poem begins ‘after death’, we are in ‘eternity’ by page 2, and ‘the shades’ are gathering. The imagery is strange, shifting, weird. There’s a ‘judge’ who says ‘your works / weren’t good enough’. Love (for the first person narrator) is a major concern, but ‘the soul’s journey / past the gates of death’ is already underway.
Yes, there is some humour in all of this, and a kind of interaction between two people, or two souls, or between the narrator and the judge, or between the poet and the reader. There is not only an ‘I’; there is a ‘we’.
The sequence is not hard to read: a lightness of touch bounces the fragments (punctuationless but not formless) from page to page. Here is the text on page 21:
We were lofted
corrugations of seas
no higher to eye
than palate to tongue
we plunged across
this deep place
the school of souls
I believed the glimmers
only a fool would
If one were to set out to write a poetic sequence in which the word ‘soul’ recurred, along with love, death, life, eternity and hell, it might well be alienating. These are words freighted with centuries of connotation.
How interesting that repurposing such terms from somebody else’s novel makes them lighter — little balls to throw in the air, ideas to conjure.