Each piece in this second foray of Paul Revere’s Horse seems to encompass both denial and truth. Inasmuch as this not a remarkable combination, in the deft hands of these writers, denial, and the sometimes painful desire to find the truth, take on whole different meanings, each perfectly tailored to fit the writer’s needs.
A fine entry to this portal is Lisa Robertson’s introduction of poet John Clare, a contemporary of Lord Byron, who wrote parodies, of a sort, of Byron’s Don Juan (in this case the pronunciation and rhyme differs from the original, and in Clare’s turn at Byron’s Childe Harold, the content, as well as the spelling of the title character is different. In a section titled Lost Poets Reviewed, Robertson writes that, “Micro-shifts in tone, even in intent reign.” These shifts are powerfully shown in Clare’s attempt at satirization, and, in reading of Clare’s eventual admission into a lunatic asylum, one cannot help but wonder where the truth of Clare’s poems lay.
In the poem, Clare put forth, “My life hath been one love – no blot it out / My life hath been one chain of contradictions / Madhouses Prisons wh-reshops – never doubt / But that my life hath had some strong convictions.” Continues Robertson, “The poem seems gloriously not to know where it is going, but always it goes where there is the most life.” Perhaps, then, Clare spoke of the contradictions and convictions of his own life.
Most famously, for this lost poet, is his un-Byronesque Don Juan. One can tell that Clare had delight in his pen when he created this poem. To wit, “I wish young married dames were not so frisky / Nor hide the ring to make believe they’re single / I wish small beer was half as good as whiskey / & married dames with buggers would not mingle / There’s some to cunning far & some too frisky / & here I want a rhyme – so write down ‘jingle’. ” Anyone familiar with Byron’s Don Juan will note that Clare has turned the seduction of the original on its ears. Did Clare feel a sense of denial in the original, and seek his own truth? We will never know. But it’s truly entertaining to read Clare’s poetry and wonder.
A story, by Elmo Lum, “I Lived and I Was,” highlights what is, almost certainly, the standout among these truth-seekers. In this world, in an unnamed place, and at an unnamed time (but the early 1800s seems appropriate if we are to pin it down), lived a mother, a father, and an unnamed nine-year-old boy. When the young boy won’t look at the moon because of blinding hail in his face, Lum writes, “According to my mother’s mother, it’s the hailing moon that glimmers with the truth.” Continuing, “My mother didn’t fear for my safety. At least when it came to the moon. Open your eyes, my mother said. Or are you too chicken to look at the truth? I was chicken. I was nine … I couldn’t or wouldn’t open my eyes.”
But before this mother-son dare go further, a stranger appears through the mist and hail. Her name is Layla, and she offers the child the truth about dogs and chickens, and introduces the family to eggs. During Layla’s stay, revelations abound, and the father tells the boy that he has named him Hail, but that he must not tell his mother. Many truths, transformed from incarnations of denial, are learned on that hail-filled night, yet none has to do with the moon. In fact, says Layla, “That’s a country myth. The truth is the truth is always a secret.”
Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein adds one poem, amongst her two, to this exploration of denial and truth. Denial is this poet’s strong suit, and she delves into it seamlessly.
In an ironical and wonderfully realized poem from “The Optimist,” she writes, “The wind has many names but none that explain // How every ion enters the iris as the gates close, / Making us all blind to the vision that would stun // Us into waking again one again to want and birth. / No, the shut green eye doesn’t do us any good.”
Also to be found amongst the fantastic pages of Paul Revere’s Horse are Carlos Lara’s translations of two of Pablo Guevara’s (1930-2006) poems. Guevara’s “The Memory of Alcohol” dives smoothly into a complicated juxtaposition of both denial and truth:
Which climates will have felt the passage of my wounded silence?
Or when was everything kisses all around, and I merely watched?
They’ll come, I’m sure of it, beds and pendulums
to remind me that at one time (when it came to blows)
We knew how to love each other without question.
In “For Love,” also by Guevara, truth nearly screams out of his writing. “I don’t have time for regret / I’d walk through the years surviving / I should be the lips of a child anywhere / The sorcerer’s tower and the elder. // Imperfection you could not destroy me / Not if all the plazas in the world were torn apart / As the heart is violet in the libertine / The dreams of the just are not for me.”
As a complete collection, the works in this edition of Paul Revere’s Horse are an amazing bunch. Wildly entertaining, this is the sort of writing that should ensure that this journal will be around for a very long time.