Barbaric Vast & Wild is subtitled 'A
Gathering of Outside and Subterranean Poetry from Origins to Present' and is
the concluding fifth volume of the Poems for the Millennium series of
anthologies. To my mind it's the crowning achievement of the project, for
whilst each previous volume has been generous and inclusive in their
contents, these 400+ pages really do give the reader a vast overview of work
by mystics, shamans, seers, prophets, lunatics, ranters, deviants, loners,
heretics and visionaries who have in the main been ignored by those who
control and oversee the literary canon. To have the work presented as poetry
first and foremost, complete with critical and social contextualisation along
with some editorial comment, is fantastic.
Although much of this work is available to readers, it is usually only in the
form of samizdat, scholarly or niche-market publication. Cave drawings - one
of which starts this anthology - are normally considered as art or
anthropology; 'The Gospel of Judas' as an apocryphal Biblical text; 'The
Thunder, Perfect Mind' as an occult gnostic text; and Harry Partch's libretto
for 'Barstow', which uses found hitchhiker inscriptions, is only considered
(if it is) within contemporary classical or avant-garde music studies.
What is interesting is how much of the work gathered here seems very akin to
contemporary poetry, particularly in its asides and polyphonic voicings, in
it's performative elements, in its freewheeling and freeform layout and its
use of image and typefaces. There are amazing similarities between Ezekiel's
visions of fiery chariots, William Blake, Hannah Weiner's clairvoyant texts,
Shaker poems, Maria Sabina's 'The Mushroom Velada', and a transcribed Easter
Sermon by W.T. Goodwin from 1971. Each is ecstatic, strange, and possesses
it's own musical and linguistic shape.
Similar lines of association could be drawn between shaman songs, 16th/17th
century Tom O'Bedlam Songs, and Mayan incantations; between Krazy Kat
cartoons, Kuo-an Shih-Yuan's 'The Ten Oxherding Pictures' and Adolf Wšlfi's
self-obsessed and private art; between slogans from Paris 1968 and Mother
Goose rhymes; between Kassandra's 3,000 year old texts found in Mycenae and
Larry Eigner's 20th century poetry; or between the erotic and
sexual [sometimes sexist]
subject matter of Drupka Kunley's 'The Sutra of Sex', Gwerful Mechain's 'Ode
to the Pubic Hair' and John Wilmot, The Earl of Rochester's 'A Ramble in St.
James's Park', whose author is on predatory heat.
If this hasn't whetted your appetite, I don't know what will. Rothenberg and
Bloomberg-Rissman have skilfully abutted and arranged this diverse wealth of
material in four sections: A Book of Visions, A Book of Voices, A Book of
Extensions and A Book of Performances. The first is chronological, allowing
an overview, the others allow carefully orchestrated dialogues between the
included material, allowing primary and underlying themes, evolving shapes
and forms, different literary and cultural contexts, to be made visible with
little editorial intervention.
Having said that, most entries come with notes about the source of the
material, along with commentaries, asides and notes by critics, publishers,
translators, associates and the editors, who also note similar material
within the book. This wonderful anthology is both celebratory and
informative, a marvellous gathering of some of the political, visionary,
utopian, lunatic, fringe and maverick voices to be found throughout human
history, the underground made visible.
(This review was first published in international times)