Categories
Interview

A Renaissance Poet in the Twenty-First Century?

Dustin Pickering in conversation with Mitali Chakravarty

He talks of love and religion and writes poetry that is often critiqued by some as similar to verses from the past. And his role model is from the Renaissance — Michelangelo. To some, he is a loyal friend in need, a person who whips up essays and articles on demand. He is often published within India, which could well be his second literary home. He is prolific with his writing and publishing. He also does paintings and sings songs with a guitar on you tube. Some might have guessed by now — he is Dustin Pickering.

Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press. This year one of their books, Neon Apolcalypse by Jake Tringali, has been nominated for the Elgin Award 2020 along with names like Ilya Kaminsky, Marge Simon and Brian Dietrich. Pickering is also the founding editor of Harbinger Asylum, which  was nominated for best poetry journal by the National Poetry Awards in 2013. That same year, Pickering participated in Houston’s Public Poetry reading series and was interviewed on 88.7 KUHF. He has been a featured poet for Ethos Literary Journal, a contributor to Huffington Post, and has published essays in Cafe Dissensus, Countercurrents, Borderless, Journal of Liberty and International Affairs, as well as reviews in The Statesman (India), Tuck Magazine, Lost Coast Review, World Literature Today, and Inverse Journal. He placed as a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal‘s 2018 short story contest, and was a Pushcart nominee in 2019.

His books include The Daunting Ephemeral, The Future of Poetry is NOW: bones picking at death’s howl, Salt and Sorrow, A Matter of Degrees, Knows No End, Frenetic/No Contest, The Alderman: spurious conversations with Jim Morrison, O’Riordan: spurious conversations with Dolores, The Madman and Fu, Be Not Afraid of What You May Find, The Red Velvet Robe, The Forever Abode, and a collaboration with Dory Williams called Imitations of Love Poems. He recently attended New York City Poetry Festival, and has been a reader at Austin International Poetry Festival many times. He hosts the interview and oddities for authors site thedailypoetsite.com. He co-edited the anthology Selfhood: Varieties of Experience, and published its companion Epiphanies and Late Realizations of Love. He has written introductions for books by Amit Saha Sankar, Kiriti Sengupta, Bitan Chakraborty, and Jagari Mukhergee. He was given a Jury Prize at Friendswood Library’s Ekphrastic reading in 2019, and was awarded with honourable mention by The Friends of Guido Gozzano in 2019. He lives in Houston, Texas, USA. In this exclusive, Pickering reflects on his journey as a writer.

Why do you write?

Within me, there seems to be a deep passion and yearning for something inexplicable. I also write to combat doubts, leave a record of my thoughts for myself, and to tell the world whatever interior mysteries I uncover within my own mind and studies.

When and why did you start writing?

Very young. One boring day at home in 1st grade, I asked my grandmother what sort of activity I should do. She suggested I write a story about something I wanted but didn’t have. I wrote a children’s book called The Little Red Wagon about a child who loses a wheel on his wagon. He looks everywhere for it and finds it behind a tree where he least expected to find it.

What form came to you before — poetry or prose?

Prose, but poetry is always more natural to me.

Lots of your essays and poetry have to do with God or spirituality. What makes you weave these into your lore?

I was raised Catholic, and as they say, “Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.” I model myself after an early hero of my teen years, Michelangelo. I consider myself a person of Renaissance nature. I also believe we are in a pivotal moment in human history where the guidance of God and Spirit is needed. I think poets are the best people to bring this message to the world, that science and faith are compatible.

You have a whole book dedicated on God, I believe, which did rather well — Salt and Sorrow. Do you believe in God or are you an atheist? Do you believe in any religion? If you are an atheist why do you write on God?

I counted myself an atheist for many years, beginning at age 13. I was probably led there by the punk band Bad Religion and may have inherited it from my mother whose father was also an atheist. Yet some part of me felt connected to the mysteries of Spirit I could not apprehend and did not want to. Something moves the world and the universe, but I believe that is something I am inclined to believe is sentient, not merely pure accidental motion. I believe this because my life has always felt purposeful to me. I also borrow from Christian humanists such as Erasmus, the Renaissance artists, Shakespeare, many others who share a love for humanity and a sense of purpose for our existence. Although Macbeth did say:

“Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

The use of the word “signifying” is mysterious to me. It seems to designate a sense of randomness or entropy — perhaps humankind is the idiot? Yet life is a tale told, passionately!

You have published Salt and Sorrow in India. Was there a reason for that?

I connected with publisher Kiriti Sengupta a few years ago after publishing the acclaimed Indian poet Usha Akella’s masterful work The Rosary of Latitudes. He saw a lot of my Facebook posts at the time concerning spirituality and asked me to write a collection that brought out “the God of the Bible.” For some reason, perhaps my sensibilities, I have developed a strong presence in India. I have never visited, but I hope to someday!

You often refer to fossil in your poetry, especially in your upcoming collection, The Skin of Reality, you have a poem that says, “I stare but see an empty fossil:/ what is final is never the end.” To what purport do you see the fossil? Is it a relic from the past? Why do you use the image of fossil?

The simple answer is I am fascinated by rocks, fossils, embodiments of history. What came before. It is still present in the very earth we walk on. I believe the human genome is a record of where we have been, and it also records where we are individually and contains a lot of animal history. Jung’s archetypes and collective consciousness seem to indicate this as well. As a child age 5, I used to sit on the playground where there were a lot of rocks. I picked them up, observed them. I kept some but the teacher told me I could not take them home. I told her they were fossils. She examined them herself and agreed, surprised. She allowed me to take one home. I still have it. That line seeks to illumine the truth I see that death is not final—who we are leaves an impression on the world irrevocably.

Where will you be bringing out this collection? In India or US?

I don’t have a publication plan right now. It is still in its infancy.

Where do you find/seek your inspiration?

Most of my ideas come from a lot of readings and thought. I don’t even entirely understand a lot of what I read, but it shapes my creative impulse in an extraordinary way. I am very forgetful too, so I have to continuously reinvent myself and how I choose to express my ideas. A lot of my imagery comes from life, including my long battle with mental health struggles.

Which writers fascinate you the most? Have any of them influenced your writing?

I cite as my primary influences in thought and writing the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and The Holy Bible, particularly The Old Testament. I also am intrigued by mystical writings from the Kabbalah, St. John of the Cross, sacred Hindu texts such as The Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, St. Francis of Assisi, and the endless list of mystics. I also found metaphysical poetry interesting in my college years. I accidentally stumbled upon John Donne and found him interesting. Milton influenced me in my teen years as well. My senior yearbook quote was, “The mind is its own place and in itself can make a hell of heaven, a heaven of hell.”

I love the surrealist poetry of David Gascoyne. I read all of William Blake, W H Auden, and a long list of others, but those seemed to have left the strongest impression. I’m also interested in psychoanalysis and have read a lot of Anthony Storr, Freud, Jung, Kay Redfield Jamison, and several others.

I appreciate philosophy too, and enjoy works by Plato and Aristotle, Heidegger, Sartre, Emerson, Burton, and many others. Among fiction writers, I enjoy Henry James, Tennessee Williams, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Hermann Melville, Dostoevsky, and many others. I especially love Dostoevsky’s psychological acumen in The Double. I tend to prefer short fiction but have read all of Joyce. Nietzsche has invaluable insights into the art of writing, but you have to mine them.

You bring out a popular quarterly, Harbinger Asylum. Did you start that? When and why?

I founded the journal in 2010 with my longtime friend Alex Maass who sometimes writes the “Not Quite a Political Column” and suggests themes. I started it after a poetry gathering at University of Houston-Clear Lake. I was invited by my new friend at the time Dru Watkins, who was an early contributor, and after coming home I thought about how I could better serve the literary community. The journal started with an anarchist bent and I published a lot of libertarian writing. I also included writing by friends. Over the years, we’ve had submissions from highly regarded poets such as Simon Perchik, Joseph Bottone, and others whose names I ran across before getting their submissions. Later on, we acquired two new editors Z. M. Wise and Stuti Shree. Z. M. is my good friend and business partner, and Stuti is a university student in India.

You run a blog that belongs to Transcendent Zero Press. It is a strange name. Any reason for calling it as such?

Transcendent Zero Press is the company through which I publish Harbinger Asylum, as well as other books. It’s the name of my publishing company. Years ago, it was my punk band that never happened. I liked the concept. So, I re-made it into the publishing company.

It began with a word I read in the dictionary combined with the popular song “Zero” by Smashing Pumpkins. I thought it had a distinct conceptual flavor. Ultimately, I also designed the logo to be conceptual. On one side of the zero, there is a dark crescent. The other side has a bright crescent. This symbolizes Ultimate Nothingness, the idea that all is in harmony. Essentially my own mystical concept. Then a “T” crosses it, symbolizing the axis of the universe. I also conceived of God as having the qualities the Tao ascribes to great leaders. A person who does nothing yet let’s all happen. Lao Tzu wrote, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves.” Zero signifies such an approach to life.

What are your future plans as a writer, editor and publisher?

We recently expanded into publishing literary criticism. So far, the books have dealt with Indian works in English. I would like to publish more literary criticism but about literature in other countries. We will soon have an anthology of Albanian poetry released. I’m interested in Southeast European literature as well. I may publish a broad collection of Edgar Lee Masters’ lesser known work. I have a friend, Dr. Ryan Guth, who plans to work that out for us.

Any message for aspiring writers?

My English teacher in high school Mrs. Teltschik used to say, “Write because you have to.” Something in you must answer a call. Write to contribute but write for yourself. It is hard to break in at all. Don’t shoot high if you are young unless you have exceptional talent, connections, or both. Work your way through. Don’t be afraid to learn. Be thankful and mindful of all your successes, and consider failure and rejection an instructor, not an obstacle. Don’t fear revision. Stay focused. Write a lot. Read a lot. Find what makes you spin rapturously and write about it. Keep a journal, especially if you are young. Don’t throw away your writing. Mine old material or edit when you are dry on inspiration. Most of all, learn to enjoy! Live as well as write. Travel!

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Essay

Pandemic Paxicide

By Dustin Pickering

Globally, three million children a year die of hunger or malnourishment according to theworldcounts.com. The site also notes the number is dropping steadily. In a May 2019 editorial ,Voice of America reports, “Today, some 821 million people suffer chronically from hunger. And although this is significantly fewer people than the numbers we saw a decade ago, hunger still kills more people than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.”

Why then does the coronavirus, which has claimed more lives in the United States than other countries at 91,163 total deaths, offer cause for a global economic shutdown? Belgium hosts the highest rate of mortality in the world from the virus at 16.4 percent. In the United States, Cook County, Illinois records 61,212 cases of the virus as of May 17 according to John Hopkins University of Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center. There are 315,174 total global deaths attributed to COVID-19 so far, with the highest confirmed numbers in the United States. Transmission of the virus, says this Chinese study, is elevated by cooler and less humid climates. This possibly explains why areas such as New England and Chicago are heaviest affected, especially New York City.

This essay does not intend to question the lifestyle of American citizens or the policies of the global leadership. However, it may take that tone but I ask that you dig deeper. I propose a question to the reader: why does a mutation of the COVID bug command so much initiative from us whereas global hunger does not seem too much of a concern? How long before the equitable world we all wish to see appears before us?

Already the Coronavirus lockdown has an economic cost reported at BBC here. We are seeing oil prices in the negative in the USA, stock values declining, looming recessions worldwide, and massive unemployment due to the response. Industry is slowing in China where the virus is said to have originated. All in all, we are seeing global political conflicts ranging from who controls the narrative to what cure will work best while political leaders tell citizens “business as usual”, or in contrast turn to authoritarian measures. Richard Hoftstader writes of the paranoid leader in “The Paranoid Style of American Politics”, “He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated — if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.”

In this work on social psychology, Hoftstader further writes: “It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him.” Clearly the authoritarian and paranoid styles merge in conspiratorial logic. The Other must face blame, ostracisation, or anything to distract the populace. The paranoid leader in authoritarian style pins the fearful onto the opposition; it is that fear which he or she embodies in this action that makes the leader effective to others.

Authoritarians thrive on fear, hostility, and incomprehensibility so it is no wonder they are cropping up during these emotionally heated times. Regardless of whether or not coronavirus is indeed “a little flu” , Brazil’s president makes himself the central issue. He is the victim of a conspiracy. Even President Trump in the United States practices better diplomacy — he suggests that he has worked with governors in all the states, of both parties, and they are working together. He also notes in an April press conference that the pandemic shows why the United States must be an ‘independent nation’.

In spite of the media’s attempts at Paxicide and character assassination, the Global Happiness Report tells us that in 2020 more than half the world’s citizens are in urban areas and that “Cities are economic powerhouses: more than 80 percent of worldwide GDP is generated within their boundaries. They allow for an efficient division of labour, bringing with them agglomeration and productivity benefits, new ideas and innovations, and hence higher incomes and living standards.”

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx’s praise of the bourgeoisie speaks for itself: “The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.”

What is this pandemic and what is the panic around it? Returning to Hoftstader’s comments on the paranoid style, it seems the establishment has pruned and developed it. As the United States faces the worst unemployment rate in history since the Great Depression, and a study predicts a possible extra 75,000 deaths due to despair from the conditions imposed by the virus, there is no easy way to measure the economic costs of this pandemic.

Even now, Chinese officials say the virus may be changing as new cases show symptoms much later, and take longer to test negative. No one knows what the future harbors. The uncertainty itself is torturous as the Well Being Trust and The Robert Graham Center study relates its reasons for calculating higher numbers of deaths of despair, “unprecedented economic failure paired with massive unemployment, mandated social isolation for months and possible residual isolation for years, and uncertainty caused by the sudden emergence of a novel, previously unknown microbe.”

The human is a social animal. Imposing bizarre restrictions on our social lives seems unnatural, especially under conditions we cannot assess.

There are also socioeconomic factors that are emerging in this crisis. The chart shows that workers with less than high school education are suffering the highest rates of unemployment at 21.2 percent, and education level seems to even further reflect on one’s employment according to the chart. Perhaps it is time for a radical restructuring of the economy and tax policy, which may be possible suggests an article in MIT Technology Review. It’s not quite what you expect, however. For instance the article tells the reader that “The tax policy that the AI Economist came up with is a little unusual. Unlike most existing policies, which are either progressive (that is, higher earners are taxed more) or regressive (higher earners are taxed less), the AI’s policy cobbled together aspects of both, applying the highest tax rates to rich and poor and the lowest to middle-income workers. Like many solutions that AIs come up with—such as some of AlphaZero’s game-winning moves—the result appears counterintuitive and not something that a human might have devised. But its impact on the economy led to a smaller gap between rich and poor.”

Let’s not confuse this with flat rate or regressive tax rates that countries like Estonia or Russia used to build capitalist markets. We have capitalist markets in the United States, and do not need to build them. But will we have markets as rich and sturdy post-COVID? The uncertainty is mind-boggling, and the propaganda regarding the virus is frightening.

Janet Yellen of the Brookings Institute tells CNBC that GDP in the United States may be down 30 percent in the second quarter due to the virus. She said, “This is a huge, unprecedented, devastating hit, and my hope is that we will get back to business as quickly as possible.” This interview took place in April 2020. The first quarter already saw a drop of 4.8 percent according to the BEA.

According to a March 2020 Bloomberg article, China’s GDP is at -20 percent in Q1. The article quotes Michelle Lam, a greater China economist at Societe Generale SA in Hong Kong, “We expect infrastructure stimulus to be much stepped up to support aggregate demand and tax and fee cuts to cushion the COVID-19 shock, especially now external demand will be much dampened by the global pandemic.”

President Trump is also calling on infrastructure development, as reported in this CNBC article. When he first entered office, he wanted a two trillion dollar infrastructure package while interest rates were at zero but the Fed upped the rates.

Perhaps, the pandemic paxicide is also bringing some agreement.

The fact is we will not know what COVID-19’s inception into the world will bring until the future arrives. Have we seen any white horses yet? Or is the garbage mounting in sea? As government spending escalates, I think it is safe to assume we are running a course only our imaginations can dream. Meanwhile, migrant workers in India continue to suffer while people use their plight to further their reputations. In the USA, as mentioned we see a downward spiral in the future of blue-collar workers.

It is time we consider something new. While the entire system collapses, we must rebuild because if the future isn’t certain, one thing is: we must make the future. Possibilities are already emerging for us, such as this initiative in Portland.

“’Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” wrote Emily Dickinson who also wrote “Will there really be a ‘Morning’?” Perhaps there will be. A more equitable world stands before us if we wish to make it.

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Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Editorial

As Time Flies…

Hello World!

And what a lovely and magical life it is despite the COVID 19 — which I am sure we will battle, even if the path seems long. Meanwhile, we remain connected in this virtual world of friendship, harmony and giving!

We completed another month! And what a month it has been — the two greatest bards celebrated their birthdays — Shakespeare and Tagore. We carried an essay on one and a discussion between two greats of modern Indian literature on the other! Other than that, more essays, stories, musings, translations and poetry took our readers globe-trotting. We are doing our best to seamlessly create a world of ideas in which we can drift effortlessly and find a whole new world where we can all meet to have exchanges beyond borders drawn by the exigencies of history, politics, economics, greed and more.

Writers are doing such a wonderful job of connecting us with similar concerns worldwide. Our experiences with COVID 19 and quarantine actually unite us in a large way as humans. One of our story writers has plucked the heart strings of readers across oceans on distant lands and received many encomiums for it. We all seem to be getting more linked by the pandemic caused by the corona virus, giving all of us time to pause and reflect on the commonality of human sufferings, as shown by the narratives from different parts of the world in the journal.

We continue to be fortunate to find many of our pieces a second home in Countercurrents.org. I am also happy to announce we have been listed again as one of the top places for submissions in an Indian site this time.

We have more happening here with all the action from our dynamic editorial board. Dustin Pickering, the editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum, on our editorial board, has suggested a promotion for us in his quarterly this July. So, some of our authors will be republished in hard copy from USA in the summer edition of Harbinger Asylum.

We are also starting a young persons’ section from the end of this month. This will be organised by Bookosmia, a children’s publisher. The founder of this popular children’s publishing concern, Nidhi Mishra, also on our editorial board, will be giving us the best from her blog for youngsters and we will exhibit it in our new section called Sara’s Selection.

We want this to be a family friendly journal and to nurture young talents along with established writers. You can check our submissions if you want to publish in the young person’s section, which will cater to aspiring writers under eighteen. We have an email — sara@bookosmia.com – which will take you straight to Bookosmia and the submission of the under-eighteen’s section of both BookOsmia and ours. We will be publishing only a few selected pieces from their blog and others could just be featured in Bookosmia, the blog run by the publisher.

We welcome children from all over the world to write in to Sara. The tie has been announced by Bookosmia in The Hindu, a well-known and established newspaper in India. I am attaching a link to the news below*.

We are overwhelmed with support from all of you and are looking into the periodicity of the Borderless Journal and will be announcing more changes next month on June 14th.

As we move forward in the spirit of Ubuntu or “oneness to humanity”, towards a world filled with love and kindness, where vibrancy and positivity can wash away darkness and hatred, where the freedom of speech does not descend to narrow abuse and anger, marginalisation and boundaries, I welcome you all to write in to me if you feel we need to expand our horizons further.

As I bid you adieu for another month, I hope you will keep reading our journal and writing for us.

Best wishes,

Happiness and Peace,

Mitali Chakravarty, Founding Editor, Borderless Journal.

*Click here to read about Bookosmia and our plans in this report in The Hindu.

Categories
Essay

No One Is Tamed, No One Is Equal

Dustin Pickering on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew

A literary work is often a code that reveals distinct things. Sometimes these things are simply too advanced or the logic of them too cruel. The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare’s most performed plays and its language is easily read and understood. However, the embedded symbolism may pass by even the most astute mind.

The play is obviously about gender battles, and it seems to some that Kate is tamed by her husband. However, a deeper look at the intricately woven tropes exhumes a critique of culture, a sense of equal justice, and the way institutions impress on our minds. The play extends beyond property relations and the inequality of women. It also poaches one of theatre’s daunting faults. In Shakespeare’s day, women could not play the female roles and instead teenage boys were selected. The theatre was considered dangerous and women too unfit to perform. There was lead in the makeup and the stage action too rough. Theatre was too bawdy.

The Taming of the Shrew contains puns on horses, games, “moveables”, music, and theatre itself. Props or “furniture” signify costumes; there are witty puns revealing the dissembling nature of appearances. In Act IV, Scene III, Petruchio says, “And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds, / So honor peereth in the meanest habit.” The sun in this respect is the human mind because it is “the mind that makes the body rich”. After Petruchio is delivered a faulty wedding dress, he pontificates on the problem of physical beauty. It is true that he uses this reasoning to tame Katherina. It is part of the ploy to obfuscate her with a list of her own faults. He seeks to embody her worst aspects so she can learn from them how devilish they are. This discussion concerning the gown further moves toward critiquing the use of teenage boys to fill roles meant for females. Again, Petruchio: “is the adder better than the eel, / Because his painted skin contents the eye?” I remind the reader of the lead makeup.

Perhaps Shakespeare intends to remind us real world experience supplements bookish learning. When Vincenti is confused with a young virgin boy by Katherina (Act IV, Scene V), she realizes her error and admits to being “bedazzled with the sun”. Taking up from the aforementioned sun symbolism, Katherina’s error stands in as a trope for pure reason. With pure reason absent of categories, all things merge without identity or qualities. Her vision of green is one of seeing the world “light”. Much of the symbolism in The Taming of the Shrew references binaries such as bottom/top and heavy/light. There is a wild pun on the nature of matter. Actualities contain density while potentialities are ethereal. In an early passage, Tranio prescribes a middle way between the Stoics and Ovid. He advises Lucentio, “The mathematics, and the metaphysics, / Fall to them as you find your stomach serves you: / no profit grows where no pleasure is ta’en.”

Other engaging puns bring to mind property relationships of the Elizabethan era. A role reversal encouraged by Petruchio, of Katherina and Dian, and the playful engagement of dungeon metaphors parody imprisonment. I doubt it can be said with certainty what sort of political statement Shakespeare is making. Is he reflecting the faults of that era, or is he acclimatised to them? The bandying about concerning an imprisoned Kate, her shrewness, and the several occasions where property relations speak on their own behalf invite me to this conclusion: the play is comedic not just in form, but it is a satire of an unequal socio-political environment.

Continuous role reversals, contradictions, and allusions to myths concerning rape and chastity lead me to assume the play indicates that property relations sever our deepest humanity. Katherina can either be her husband’s chattel slave, or she can remain chaste. Both these options are not appealing and neither can be safely ruled out. Perhaps Petruchio marries for the dowry, or maybe he realises his error. After all, the play puns and moralises on looking beyond surface appearances.

Katherina is intent on remaining a shrew but Petruchio is set in taming her. Perhaps in the process both learn something new.

Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

Categories
Poetry

The Moment and more…

By Dustin Pickering

The Moment

Before I met you, my life was full of joy.
Before I met you, my life was full of fear.

The day I met you was fearful and joyful,
a joyous unbinding from merciless wounds.

Fear thrust into my heart to unearth joy.
I rejoiced in seeing you, and love you.

You are my heart, and you are satisfied with love.
You are satiated with my companionship.

What we become together depends so much on Being:
Being is continuity of action, and love must be forever.

















promising darkness

words in violation
of strict premises
	glory or face
times diluted in fear

pretense tightens the mask
a failure of childhood
	buried beside insolence
your mind lays unaddressed

who opened the door to chaos
feelings flayed in the open
	dreams and reflections
against promising darkness
















Empty Longing

I don't exist: that helpless look of duty 
is empty longings, friend. 

If your angel only cast one lumbering breath 
to hunt holiness, he will blind the livid temper 
to its egging impulses. 

Heed this prayer, o wicked deliverance, 
if kisses are tied to innocence.

Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

Categories
Essay

Strangers in Our Midst

By Dustin Pickering

( dedicated to President Donald Trump)

In the uncertain and unsettling time of the COVID-19 crisis, we may be wise to consider our good fortune and family. We are fortunate, in fact, that our family bonds exist and we have loved ones at all. This testifies to God’s ever shining mercy. However, in the current crisis we should also consider those who are distant from us and less fortunate. A variety of faiths teach mercy to the needy.

The word family originally referred to domestic servants under one roof. It only emerged in its current meaning in the 1600’s. Strangely, the word familiar also has a unique history:

mid-14c., “intimate, very friendly, on a family footing,” from Old French famelier “related; friendly,” from Latin familiaris “domestic, private, belonging to a family, of a household;” also “familiar, intimate, friendly,” a dissimilation of *familialis, from familia (see family).

From late 14c. as “of or pertaining to one’s family.” Of things, “known from long association,” from late 15c. Meaning “ordinary, usual” is from 1590s.

The noun meaning “demon, evil spirit that answers one’s call” is from 1580s (familiar spirit is attested from 1560s); earlier as a noun it meant “a familiar friend” (late 14c.). The Latin plural, used as a noun, meant “the slaves,” also “a friend, intimate acquaintance, companion.”

— Online Etymology Dictionary

Family and familiar share a common background apparently. Suspected witches, burned in numerous witch trials, had their familiar spirits. Some speculate that the European psyche was traumatised by the Black Death that depopulated the land, and such widespread trauma led to the historic witch hunts. Fear has a way of unraveling the human psyche and creating an atmosphere of unrest. We are facing similar conditions now.

When our social ties loosen, we turn on one another. Strangers are seen in every human face. Yet what is a stranger? What makes a person a stranger? Are strangers only those who cross borders? Is it the distance separating him or her? Is it a transformation of self that makes another person strange?

Recent foreign policy blunders have shaken the world and created a refugee crisis that only time or God could sort through. From Arab Spring and Mubarak, to Assad and Syrian protests, horrific deaths and destabilizing events shook the Middle East as well as Europe. Refugees fled and were welcomed by Germany, Canada, and the United States, but to the dismay of much of those countries’ populace. Quite possibly, these events brought by the Obama administration are a cause for Brexit as well as tightened immigration policies. France, as recently as 2018, imposed tougher immigration policies and included assimilation and learning French in their priorities for accepted refugees.

The question of nationalism is a heated one. However, even the founder of The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, once opposed lax immigration policy though she is an immigrant herself. The debate concerning immigration policy revolves around culture, law, human trafficking, employment, and human rights. Why do nations safeguard  a certain identity for themselves? Why is “the Other” to be feared, misunderstood, deported?

Is there something integral to nation states that they desire to protect themselves from those outside them?

All across the world we are asked to practice “social distancing”, to quarantine ourselves to protect against the spread of COVID-19. To “flatten the curve”, experts say, we must work at home and venture out only for essential tasks, and then we must keep our distance from others. As can be expected, people are lonely and restless. The virus has generated conspiracy theories, shut down events and outdoor activities, and emptied stores of wares, especially toilet paper.

 According to Rene Girard, an anthropological philosopher, the plague was often blamed on those of the Jewish faith. Many Jews practiced medicine, and their ability to heal also made them suspect. They were believed to cause the illness they could treat. They were accused of poisoning community wells. It turns out the plague was actually carried by fleas on rats. Hysteria distorts our perceptions of one another. Where there is no perceived explanation, we invent one from our fears and suspicions.

Does a quality of strangeness arouse suspicion? If so, what defines the quality? Is strangeness something within us, not so much outside? When facing inner transformations, do our surroundings alienate us? In what sense are we even masters of our environment, so heated by political strife?

One thing is certain: President Trump told Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto that his border wall was at the bottom of the priority list. However, couldn’t he tone down the divisive rhetoric? Or is this the way he befuddles a hostile press?    

American Historian Howard Zinn wrote, “Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals the fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners.”

 Recall the etymology of family and familiar. The strangeness of the Other is the strangeness of our haunted psyche. We project our fears and naked ambitions onto the Other, or the outsider, who we construe secretly to harbour those same things within. Does the Other become our double? Considering our eusocial nature, Othering may be the psychological stumbling block we put our heads on before the executioner arrives.

President Trump insisted on calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus” during this crucial period of trade negotiations with the Chinese government. In his briefing, he informs the press and public that his negotiations are going well. In what sense is he, as President, Othering China? Do we Other him in our recoil against his rhetoric? Perhaps he is the doppelgänger of our country’s hideous history coming to bite us back. Perhaps he is the voice of the forgotten, as his adviser Stephen Miller told CNN.  In being the voice of the forgotten working class, has he saved the working class at all or only confused things more?

One thing is certain: we are strangers to ourselves if we cannot answer these questions.

Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author and not of Borderless Journal.

Categories
Essay

Poetry as Utopia and Apocalypse

By Dustin Pickering

The word “prophet” is rooted in the Greek word prophetes, a word that breaks down etymologically into “to speak before or foretell”. A soothsayer is considered a prophet in the sense that he foretells events. Such is the soothsayer in Julius Caesar who tells Caesar to “beware of the ides of March” when he was doomed to assassination. The Prophetic books of the Old Testament inform the people of Israel what God desires of them and what will happen if they disobey His commands. In Amos 3:7, it is written: “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” This designates the place of the prophet as one who knows God’s secrets. Amos reveals that the prophets had been instructed to remain silent until the burden became too great. Throughout Scripture, there is a love for justice which maintains the distinct definition of sympathy for the disadvantaged, and upholding God’s Word. A prophet is thus one who speaks on behalf of God Himself. The prophet Amos indicates throughout that the Lord will speak when He is out of patience. God is a God of all nations and will not tolerate disobedience even from Israel.

The Arab poet, Adonis, said, “It is an awful idea that after this one prophet, after this one book, everything would be said and written, isn’t it? If Mohammed would really be the last of the prophets, then no human word can be uttered anymore, and even much more frightening, no divine word either. The holy book is a trap closing in on us. Every monotheistic religion has the same problem. Christianity had the chance to avoid the trap but it didn’t. It identified itself with power and it embraced dogmatics.” Here we have a radical view that prophecy continues in the modern world. Richard Wilbur in “Advice to a Prophet” writes:

Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.   

How should we dream of this place without us?—

The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,   

A stone look on the stone’s face?”

Here the poet is a prophet of a particular kind. Bringing God’s message to the people becomes something peculiar— in this, the prophet defines the meaning of humanity. The role of prophet in Wilbur’s poem is one who does not warn of the imminent threats to human life, but rather defines the human role within Nature and Being itself. The modern reflection of God is much more personal and forgiving. As stated by Adonis, Christianity could have unleashed the powers of human language but, instead, gave way to power structures. Language carries the unique gift of uniting disparate things. The power of analogy is that of reconciliation. The poet, with his or her unique gift, invites comparisons between things that have little in common as if to agree with Heraclitus who wrote, “All things contain their opposites.” Perhaps not their opposites, but definitely things of dissimilar nature. The dark contains the light, and the light is contained by the dark. One interiorises the other. This strange capacity of language to reveal what is concealed in the dark is a magic of its own. A word is a form of conjuration, something brought into being by shining a light on it. That light itself is the poem—a unified body of language that conditions the reader to a certain subjectivity, thus causing the reader to recognise some hidden aspect of him or herself.

What is this thing of revelation? “Apocalypse” is from the Greek apokalupsis which means to unveil, uncover. The nightmarish visions portrayed in Revelations are considered to be end of the world prophecies. The opening of the scrolls, the rivers of blood, the hellfire and dragon tossed into the pit: these things are seen as happening at the endtimes. This branch of Biblical study is called eschatology. What is it that eschatology uncovers? What is God unveiling to us in His prophetic writings?

 Is it that true theology, the branch of learning concerned with the study of God, includes a side of God we are less acquainted to receive and understand? In Answer to Job, Carl Jung proposes what he called the Quaternity. According to Frith Luton, “The quaternity is one of the most widespread archetypes and has also proved to be one of the most useful schemata for representing the arrangement of the functions by which the conscious mind takes its bearings.” In Answer to Job, Jung writes of Job himself, “Because of his littleness, puniness, and defencelessness against the Almighty, he possesses, as we have already suggested, a somewhat keener consciousness based on self-reflection: he must, in order to survive, always be mindful of his impotence. God has no need of this circumspection, for nowhere does he come up against an insuperable obstacle that would force him to hesitate and hence make him reflect on himself.” The Quarternity is an extension of the Trinity. Jung believed the traditional conception of God was lacking. He invented the Quarternity to define the evil face of God. Thus, God becomes a holistic vision of the cosmos.

In Answer to Job, Jung portrays a human god who is capable of feeling guilty. In the end, Jesus is sacrificed not to cleanse humankind of sin but to rid God himself of guilt. Why wouldn’t God share the being of that created in His image? However, traditional theology includes a study of theodicy or reconciling divine goodness with the existence of evil. The ultimate question is why God might permit evil. We might even ask what constitutes a definition of evil. C. S. Lewis writes in Defense of Christianity, “God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible.” However, the definition here has an inevitable fallacy. In using free will to excuse God of wrongdoing, Lewis tells us he cannot imagine a free creature that has no capacity to do wrong. In applying this logic to God Himself, we are left with two possibilities. Either God isn’t a free creature, or God is also capable of wrong. In what capacity could God not be free? God is seen as “omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent.” He is defined as sui generis, a being that causes itself. How could a self-caused being not maintain perfect autonomy? If God has will, He must have the ability to err if we take Lewis’s definition at face value.

 Continuing along my original line of inquiry concerning the Apocalypse. What does it say about God’s nature? One, it demonstrates that we as fallible creatures are capable of causing great destruction. Why is that quality inherent in us? The Apocalypse, or “unveiling”, is shown to be final — creation is revealed for its full promise. The conclusion of time is the extinction of choice — it is ultimate revelation of true being. All secrets come undone. The lid to Pandora’s box is unclasped and all evil is unleashed. This tells us that something is hidden within Creation itself. Our awareness is incomplete. The Apocalypse completes that awareness and shows us the purpose we missed—complete annihilation. Why should God desire the annihilation of His creation? Why did He command the death of His Son as a sacrifice to the world?

Humankind is bent on forging a utopia, a paradise that lasts eternally. Behaviorist B. F. Skinner invented a utopia based on his model of psychological conditioning where people are entirely robbed of choice. Instead they are conditioned by authorities to fit their chosen roles. This theory is presented in Walden Two. In this novel, Skinner applies his understanding of behaviorist psychology to the creation of a perfect society. Children are conditioned to perform certain roles from the onset. Each person has a role chosen for them. What we don’t consider is who is making the decisions for the roles given to each person. By nature, this model eliminates choice by individuals—yet how is there any order without choice? The authorities are making the ultimate decisions but who chooses that role for them? In this utopian vision, we see a flaw inherent in the system itself. Humankind is robbed of “freedom and dignity” for the sake of a perfect community conditioned to serve the aims of the community as a whole. Yet what criteria is used to sponsor this concept of communal well-being? Again, who decides?

Aldous Huxley presents us with a similar enigma in Brave New World. This is a utopia that is so oblivious to its flaws that it is dystopian to the onlooker. People are robbed of dignity again, but in the process, they become childlike in their understanding. Human misery is alien to them because they take measures to eliminate it and inoculate themselves from it. The results are the same. We are left with a set of social engineers who demonstrate scientific objectivity in their observations. They comment on the community, applying their superior awareness of things. Knowledge is too specialised in such a community. It becomes the risk of those designated to “know” rather than the shared offerings of the community. So much for community.

Lois Lowry’s The Giver is another dystopian vision where knowledge becomes specialized for a few. The Giver is a person who is entrusted with the collective history of humankind, and this person imparts it to another person as the role is relinquished. This arrangement resembles the pagan priesthoods where the Eleusinian mysteries were kept secret exempting those initiated into the sacred cult. What did these secret rites entail? No one knows because they are extinct. However, the parables of Jesus Christ contain a certain mystery to them. They are the prophecy of God in themselves. Jesus was known for his unique gifts of teaching and language. The ancient prophecies concerning him told us that he would not be physically attractive so that his message would be the accent of his coming to the earth. In Matthew 13:11, Jesus answers his disciples who ask why he taught in parables. “He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” So, what are the rites of the initiated?

Paul the Apostle writes in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Jesus is also described as the unveiling in various verses—thus the Apocalypse is understood as the wedding of the Paschal Lamb. In Exodus 12, the Paschal Lamb is the sacrifice whose blood is put on the doors of the firstborn of Israel so the avenging angel would spare them. Jesus Christ is seen as the Paschal Lamb in the New Testament whose blood protects believers from the avenging angel, or Satan. In Revelations 19:7 it is written, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.”

It seems God spares those He decides to spare. The firstborn of Israel were spared by Moses’ prayer and desire for their freedom from Egypt. One man’s strong desire for the justice of his people pleases God. As we know, Israel would later also sin and be condemned. However, the revelations of Israel became the truth of all of the nations and God’s people span the entire world.

The relationship of utopia and apocalypse is nowhere more apparent than in the Holy Bible. God defines Israel’s purpose. History shows they failed in acknowledging God after His power rescued them from Pharaoh. Even Moses came up short of God’s will and was not permitted to see the Kingdom of God. One universal truth of Scripture is that all of us, no matter how holy or chosen, fall short of God’s grace. It is thus we see the emergence of Original Sin. Original Sin is itself a revelation of St. Augustine, early Church father and Christian apologist. He began his journey in truth as a Manichean. In Confessions, he tells us that God showed him the error of his ways. It was then he discovered the power of Original Sin—that darkness cast on the world by Adam’s first disobedience. We are created in God’s image but are not God Himself; Jesus Christ alone is seen as the true image and equal of God in his Passion and innocence.

In short, utopia is the promise we can redeem ourselves with radical changes to our world or relations. Utopians tell us that their vision is superior and if we conform to it, we will all be better off. Politicians are often utopians with realist proclamations. They desire to shape the world in their own image, as God did with us, and grant us our salvation. The poets use utopia as a vision—it becomes a kind of mnemonic device in understanding the nature of the world. Prophecy is a revelation of utopia—which is modeled after God’s being. Our concepts of goodness are even deficient, but we all desire to live in a world of productivity and happiness for all. A poet casts his or her eyes forward to a world known in the imagination. Such visions shape the world as ideas and influence our thinking. The Romantics, for instance, were conservative republicans. They desired freedom from authoritarian righteousness—both political and religious autonomy. William Blake, an Anabaptist, voiced these visions the best in All Religions Are One. He writes, “That the Poetic Genius is the true Man, and that the body or outward form of Man is derived from the Poetic Genius.” He further explains that all nations experience this poetic genius differently. He defines this capacity as prophecy. Our true state of Being is poetic. Our form is a distinct relationship to that poetic being. Poetry, then, is being itself expressed in variety.

I remind the reader again of Heraclitus: “All things contain their opposites.” Therefore, what we see conceals a deeper mystery and faith. Even consciousness withholds certain fundamental values and truths from us. The unveiling of those values and truths has great destructive and restorative power. The Apocalypse is a lifting of the veil of consciousness to bring the powers of wholeness to Being. It is ultimate light and extinction—and therefore it is a vital annihilation. The power of chaos is spoken of in Genesis where we see God wrestling with the deep to create a new world. The creation of a new world from rough matter is the very act from the spirit of utopia. Utopians desire to restructure existence to perfect it. God summons His powers of light to unveil the cloud of unknowing.

Poetry as Being and Knowledge is the truth of God. It declares itself to the world and seeks to order it and restore its original purpose. However, the poet is largely unconscious of this power when he or she writes. Language is the poet’s tool. The poet casts language like a net to gather truth and display it to the world. The poet is a maker, a prophet, a seer, a utopian radical.

The Poet is the sheer image of God and the shadow of Christ’s spirit.

Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author and not of Borderless Journal.

Categories
Review

The Forever Abode

Book Review by Candice Louisa Daquin

Title: The Forever Abode
Author: Dustin Pickering
Publisher: Transcendent Zero Press

I’d not read a lot of Dustin Pickering before reading a draft copy of The Forever Abode. Pickering had mentioned this was a collection of poetry about a long-term relationship and thus, I found the idea intriguing. Poetry and love going so well together.

The first thing you notice reading Pickering is, he’s not a modern poet. His writing style and the emotional emphasis behind it, is very much inspired by, and in the genre of poetry from the 17th and 18th century poets.

For many this may be a little too classical, but I found it refreshing and ironically, original, because of its homage to the poetic form of old. What better genre in which to accomplish this than poetry about love or love in poetry?

Pickering is a huge romantic, that’s clear from the first few lines. Another thing in his favour. When men are romantic, I think they excel at it. It becomes their life blood and bleeds into their words effortlessly. Who better to be romantic about than a woman? She is the object of desire, whether we with our modern principles accept this or not.

The style is distinct. Pickering doesn’t title all his poetry. He has three sections. In 1. Baby, the first poem speaks of:

“because I honor you because love isn’t cheap— / my heart sequestered by phantom desires / and touch what soul?”

I love the use of his question(ing) in the lines, this reminds me of William Blake so much and is very poignant, working so well with the idea of asking (the desired one) whilst at the same time beseeching them.

“when darkness preens our bodies / flight like a whistle birds of stone we cannot eat / I lay quietly in your light.”

If you say this poem out loud, you can hear the skill with which it was wrought. There is a baseline melody and then an upper cadence, rhythmic throughout and the ‘voice’ is extremely predominant, almost begging you to usher it into existence. This accomplishes a sense of: the poet himself, the object of his desire, his emotions. In many ways this is a classical recipe when writing love poems and you either love them or hate them. I fall into the former category.

Beautiful wordplay also dominates almost effortlessly. One such example: the use of “phantom desires” saying so much in two words. And the ending – “I lay quietly in your light” such a brief ending, so perfectly crafted with the flow of words, and overall feeling of gentle love and adoration. The tenderness he is able to evoke using his mastery of language is evident from the first line.

Although it’s harder to navigate the book due to not having titles, I quite like the idea of titleless poems and a reliance instead on the meaning, the emotion, the swell so to speak. In the second poem of 1. Baby, the lines: “by design I am fatal/ horse of sleep / carrying you toward me / where dreams eviscerate the mind” stood out as being stocked with metaphor and glorious imagery. Sometimes when you write obliquely in some ways and at the same time, say so much through your use of image, you set a stage far more vividly than by deliberate illustration. Suffice to say, such lines appear classic in their magnificent deliberation, how Pickering is able to shift our reading by the choice of which line they appear on, is surely the poet at his finest.

Poem 3 in the same series states: “you inhabit this tender world/ with a majesty no one recognizes/ but me.” By using “tender” before world Pickering deliberately and artfully softens the tone. Again using “majesty” he reveres his subject without needing to say more, and so, in three lines, so much is given, and little is lost. Another poetic device few possess, for we are often tempted to spell out what can be self-evident if we know our craft well enough.

As I read on, I find lines like: “the efficacy of dawn / like hammers clutched to the skin—” . These are equal to lines you would recall from taking a poetry course, that’s how tight and well-woven they are, and remain long after reading. Few authors have the ability to bring two lines alive with such dexterity and it is to Pickering’s credit that he is able to do this throughout this collection again and again.

Then suddenly there is a titled poem – “We Are Descending Together (After Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2)” and from this, I learn, how Pickering is able to be the poet I find. He takes a snapshot of something beautiful and speaks on it. As he does here, as he does throughout, and it works with such a crescendo of evocative naturalness, you feel he’s the creator and the subject:

“I admit to my failure at lovemaking. / I don’t make love; I destroy it.”

These lines are shattering. Their purity is staggering and I am reverent in my appreciation of Pickering’s high feeling like I have never been before.
I become aware that maybe I have mis-stepped, that this format is actually more deliberate than I even realised. I think of Duchamp’s staircase and then see the way these poems are arranged, with title or section title it matters not, these are meant to be read as one would fall down or climb up a staircase. You can hear it in the arrangement, as if Pickering were a composer writing music. That is exactly how this collection reads and I have never read a book of poetry that did this, not even Rossetti’s Goblin Market.
Within this, lines stand out like stars: “in empty fear there is an impulse to love—”. A mature and eerie understanding of human beings, emotions, desire, compulsion: “bolt the doors, rinse your wings: / every fear is justified. / nightingale slit throat, stolen honey.” It is a veritable glut of homage to every poet from Keats, the Brontë’s, through to Sappho, but done so naturally that it is in no way pretentious or seeking acclaim on the back of another. No, this is informed writing at its best.

Whether you are fan of poetry en masse or classical poetry, you will sink into lines like: “how do worms canker the flower? / envy’s sweet bud purses its lips in song.” I expect at times you may find this removed from the modern world and that will be a delight, because poetry isn’t of this world and a real poet will not conjure our world but a mirror of it, and reflect it back. Pickering has accomplished this through his breadth of knowledge about the world of literature and his own heart, that lives among those airy lines.

In the second section, ‘II Adult.’, Pickering shows his virtuoso as a philosopher of poetry with lines like; “What is known is not what we are certain of” and “heaven is anonymous and there are raging flags / above us”. And “nothing is senseless. Only the lack of sense.” (‘Intuition and Destiny’). Lines like those make me envy the quiet mind Pickering possesses, how he intuitively gleans beneath surfaces and remains in his imagination in ways that bring redolent colour and depth to his language.

The irony of when Pickering states: “you will be born forever into my tired stanzas.” Is that nothing could be further from the truth. These stanzas are anything but tired, they are fresh with intensity and passion and for those who love poetry, they are a welcome boon from the lackluster world beyond. If you find yourself envying his muse, then you know his work as a true romantic poet is accomplished.

Section Three is called ‘Walking Stick’ and symbolically I felt this line spoke of its meaning: “if I was perfect your stars would engage me.” This is the last part of the journey, where love slips through his hands, as beautifully as tragedy can be:

“if a monster I am, let me galvanize the pretty flux of death. / rapid sleep, dream in agency, I will not forgive.”

As an ardent fan of tragic love as well, I found Pickering’s handling of this delicate grief remarkable. It is far, far too easy as a writer to slip into maudlin self-pity and to retain that flourish of poetry whilst writing such despair is extremely challenging. Pickering succeeds in making tragedy beautiful and this is when you know, yes, he’s got that bittersweet magic in his soul:

“if prayer and fortune are no better than chance, / sublime randomness rules the punch— / we dig in, we live, the banquet of folly.”

It sounds pretentious of me to say this, but I have to because it’s what I thought reading The Forever Abode. Dustin Pickering’s writing reminds me of Shakespeare in his dexterous handling of tragedy especially and John Keats or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in his wild submergence into love. With lines like:

“I will not forget my love, for she is silver / to gestalt eyes.”

What else can come to mind but those greats, who know how to pick silver from the darkness and make it see? Equally, as a writer of poetry I have learned so much about the importance of line breaks, something so seemingly obvious and yet, Pickering could give seminars on it in his sleep.

Two final points necessary to make mention of. Firstly, that Pickering may use old-world language in such a way we have seen and grown bored of before, but he does it with intelligence. He doesn’t just borrow the words; he inhabits and understands them. Many times, I read words like ‘o-er’ and know the author doesn’t really understand more than the obvious meaning behind them, and not how to employ the rhythm and romance of those old words into song. Pickering is dexterous in his awareness of these words, both then and now, and as such they are not just symbols, he is bringing the past into the future.

Lastly, Pickering has wrought a beautiful creation with The Forever Abode. He has reminded me why I was drawn to poetry way back when I first read it. He has tapped me on the shoulder and let me know it’s okay to be a hopeless romantic. He has let it be okay to love language and wordplay without needing a modern twist. For this I owe him a debt of gratitude. Reading The Forever Abode has been an awakening into my own love affair with poetry and how no matter what, it endures within us, without us and throughout us, in its ability to make us feel … everything.

“Gold chalices are floating in an array of fleecy torpor: / wind puts the candle to its test. Failure is only a game./ It doesn’t matter how or when— / love will sink into you like a raw fruit / seeded by memory. / The thought of you reconciles me to death.”

Candice Louisa Daquin is a Sephardi immigrant from France who lives in the American Southwest. Formerly in publishing, Daquin is now a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com

Categories
Essay

The Poet as Warrior

                                    (Dedicated to Kai Coggin)

By Dustin Pickering

W. H. Auden’s poem “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” is often quoted to dismiss the importance of poetry as a form of social justice. The current fashion among poets is that poetry can revolutionize social inequalities, make positive changes, build empathy for marginalized groups, and convey information about causes important to the poet. For example, Robert Huddleston writes in Boston Review, “In its day, W. H. Auden’s claim that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’ was a necessary reproof to an ideologically mandated culture of protest that had a chokehold on the literary left in the 1930s, an example it remains important to consider today. Clashes over the political rights and wrongs of poetry, then as now, are often disguised contests over cultural and academic turf, ideological purity, and even the relative priority of criticism versus artistic practice.” He is correct concerning the cultural war that cloaks literary discussion. Literary figures and public intellectuals are often chided for their implicit biases. However, I conceive of the poem as saying something drastically different; I do not see it as being a political rebuttal at all, but rather serving as one within a larger context.

Auden’s poem contains these lines:

…For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives

In the valley of its making where executives

Would never want to tamper, flows on south

From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,

Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,

A way of happening, a mouth.

The poem carefully navigates the terrain of the unchangeable dimensions of political life. However, it clears a safe space for the poem as a thing of its own. Poetry does not instigate events; rather, it is an event itself. The day remains cold for Yeats’s death, and his poetry lives beyond him through the many misinterpretations it will face. “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” defies the culture war to uphold the dignity of the human spirit to which poetry testifies. Auden once defended Pound from censorship by his publisher. He said anti-fascism will become the new fascism. The publisher relented and granted Pound a space in the anthology. In this course, Auden defends the integrity of the poet as a person whose work dignifies the ideal humanity. In this respect he clears a space for poetic license because a poet must spend their life empting themselves.

No, poetry makes nothing happen. It is an event itself. It is the fire of intellect applied to the cold apathy and spiritual destitution we suffer. As protest against the human condition, it becomes universal in its design.

Hence poetry is spiritual warfare. The poet is a paradigm for virtue. The contemporary world now challenges the absolute freedom of the visionary. It is historically stated that the visionary should be exempt from moral considerations. Recent shifts in consciousness concerning this attitude are becoming mainstream. The UK Telegraph reports, “Janet Marstine, Honorary (Retired) Associate Professor, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, added: ‘The National Gallery has taken an important step in acknowledging that it is no longer ethically tenable to interpret in an aesthetic vacuum. An artist’s position in the Western canon does not make them immune from accountability.’” The visionary in question at the National Gallery is Paul Gauguin. He is under question for exploiting the myth of the noble savage for his sexual and financial gain. The moral dilemma posed by such considerations does not discount the artistry or accomplishments of individual artists. Its intent is to hold artists accountable for immoral behaviour. The hope in the #metoo era is these considerations will keep living artists accountable rather than giving them license to act uninhibited, and influence the broader society.

Vincent van Gogh, a friend of Gauguin who he accused of insanity, wrote, “The way to know life is to love many things.” Van Gogh is historically considered a misunderstood visionary who underwent severe lifetime disappoint and failure. His legacy is a myth of its own. He was expelled from his church where he was minister. His father thought of him as a lunatic with stupid ideas. However, he is also considered a beautiful person who showed the world a light it misses in so much conflict. Don McClean wrote of van Gogh, “The world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.”

These two towering figures in art leave us with widely divergent displays of personal conduct. Van Gogh’s misconduct is chalked up to a serious mental health issue, but Gauguin is a sexual deviant who exploited the European assumption of the noble savage. What can be learned from these patterns? Emerging views of artists’ conduct have more at stake than aesthetic considerations. They are the battleground of the purpose of ideas. Gauguin’s art and moral conduct are under question not because his art is unpleasing, but because ideas hold power: we must take into account how ideas can effect culture and the treatment of others. Misconceptions of indigenous people have serious repercussions historically. Our worldview must consider that others are right to their cultural experience without infringement. This is where the culture war stems.

If we conceive a race as inferior, does our conduct toward them change? Gauguin is not being questioned as much as an entire colonialist legacy and how it shapes the behaviour within the culture that adopts it. Human dignity is universal; a person should never be treated as inferior. Perhaps we are right to question history so vapidly, and demand the culture at large change. The most important thing may be a humanist conception of world culture. Those who deny it are perhaps harming not only others, but also degrading themselves.

The culture war is the domain of values and whose values develop dignity in the human heart. Art is one of the most developed and poignant tools to communicate values. The Marshall Plan advanced capitalism throughout Europe using art to influence people. Culture is what stands as testimony to prevalent attitudes, reactions to those attitudes, and the historical presence of a people. We are right to subject it to deeper inquiry.

In fact, I would consider a moral duty to question historical circumstance through art. Duty is defined in the Bhagavad Gita, “It is better to do one’s own duty, however defective it may be, than to follow the duty of another, however well one may perform it. He who does his duty as his own nature reveals it, never sins.” This offers a subtext for individuality. Art is the historical realm of the individual—they who create art are the most developed in ideas. One’s heart will reveal one’s purpose. St. Paul writes in Romans 12:2 (KJV), “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” The world’s major faiths are abundant in praises of nonconformity. As St. Paul carefully describes, interpreting the will of God is a struggle. One must resist pressures external to oneself. Sometimes one must question oneself deeply to find the moral current within. Jihad, or “struggle”, is spiritual warfare in three senses: against one’s own temptations, against one’s peers, and in defense of one’s territory. Aristotle wrote, “Wicked men obey from fear; good men, from love.” The perennial wisdom seems to be of the consensus that morality is deeply personal, and one’s character is deeply revelatory. Art is where the person speaks honestly with high eloquence. Art itself is action. How much of artistic achievement depends on cultural consensus? Is art rather a defiance of consensus, bearing more of the soul of the artist than their times? A moral purpose should derive from the inner life, and counter the wheel of consensus in bare revolt. John Milton writes in Paradise Lost:

“A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”

Vatsala Radhakeesoon, contemporary poet of Mauritius, grants insight into the nature of freedom, character, and morality of being in her poem “Unconditional Thread”:

Born from
the Divine’s golden thread
Molded with
perfection, purity and grace
I’m the invisible heart –
the unconditional thread
ruling the universe

I’m soft
I’m generous
I’m not from
the Mundane
the materialistic world
the uncanny competitive rules

I’m omnipresent
but recognized, seen
only by the unadulterated

I, Unconditional Thread
survive in immortal realms
and go on whispering
in every ear
“ Love, love and love
discarding mental blocks
and embracing spontaneity.”

A poet warrior embraces compassion, action, duty, and dream. Henry Miller writes, “All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without benefit of experience.” One’s leap becomes one’s light. The darkness illumined is one’s spiritual landmark. To seek beyond one’s perilous comfort is an act of defiance in a world where complacency is sanctified. The artist’s presence stirs the world from sleep if they are securing their foundations. Ultimately, we are clueless about life: where it takes us, what it means, how we cope with it. We engage in symbolic acts of protest and incite civil discussion on important issues. Papers are published on every subject; scholars shake their fists at apathy and ignorance. Theories emerge from data and trends. Life’s most recent turn provides us with newfound perspectives. Once the trend is fulfilled, new storms rage on the horizon. Science is continuously revising and incorporating new facts and figures. There is nothing steady in the order we endure; in fact, to call it order defies its purpose.

In such a world of flux, kindness is even spirited defiance. In “Kindness”, Naomi Shihab Nye carefully constructs the meaning of kindness in counterintuitive language:

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt weakened in a broth.

What you held in your hand,

What you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

Walter Pater writes in The Conclusion to The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Ideas, “Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which comes naturally to many of us. Only be sure it is passion—that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness.” Kindness is passion. Etymologically speaking, “passion” reflects suffering, endurance, and loss. Compassion means to “suffer with”; hence, Nye’s poetic rendering of kindness defines it as passion.

St. Francis of Assisi writes in “Praises of the Christian Virtues” of the three virtues of Wisdom, Poverty, and Charity that “Whoever possesses one virtue without offending the others, possesses them all.” Guatama Buddha is recorded as saying something profoundly similar, “We will develop and cultivate the liberation of mind by loving kindness, make it our vehicle, make it our basis, stabilize it, exercise ourselves in it, and fully perfect it.” In the doctrines of Buddhism, the problem of suffering is rooted in attachment. Attachment pertains to physical things, mental habits, and stubborn attitudes. When one is attached, the object of attachment invokes fear of its loss, and can trap the mind in unhealthy suffering. In Sanskrit, the word samsara translates “it flows together.” In  Hinduism and Buddhism, the concept signifies worldliness, attachment, and the cycle of rebirth and suffering. To be released from this cycle one must be released of oneself and desire. This state of enlightenment is called Nirvana.

Octavio Paz, poet and ambassador of Mexico to India, writes in “Perpetua Incarnada”:

Hour by hour I saw him slide

wide and happy like a river

shadow and light linked its shores

and a yellow swirl

single monotonous intensity

the sun set in its center

Then he writes:

I ask for strength I ask for detachment

open the eyes

unharmed evidence

between the clarities that are canceled

Not the abolition of images

the incarnation of pronouns

the world that we all invented

sign town

and in its center

Solitary

Perpetual incarnate

one half woman

peña manantial the other

Word of all with whom we speak alone

I ask that you always accompany me

man reason

This poem reflects an existential loneliness but it extends into territories much broader. He asks prayerfully that the world be returned to the state of the ‘Word’ from its embodiment of images. Once again, we return to Pater in his essay on Leonardo da Vinci. “We recognise one of those symbolical inventions in which the ostensible subject is used, not as a matter for definite pictorial realisation, but as the starting point of a train of sentiment, subtle and vague as a piece of music.”

 In “Flux and Movement in Walter Pater’s Leonardo Essay” critic Lene Østermark-Johansen writes, “The body which twists around its own spine creates the illusion of moving from one extreme to another thus resulting in a kind of harmony of opposites, a concordia discours.” This statement not only describes drawings and sculpture, but applies to rhetoric also. The concept of Self is illusion because all things contain their opposites. One cannot step in the same river twice. We are the river, and our Self is a form within the flux of promissory existence. We are granted time within this cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. As the Cross represents redemption, one reaches Nirvana by letting go. Christ is reborn to demonstrate he can conquer the forces of death.

 Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche writes, “The Shambhala teachings are founded on the premise that there is basic human wisdom that can help solve the world’s problems… Shambhala vision teaches that, in the face of the world’s problems, we can be heroic and kind at the same time.” A warrior poet sets the world aright through their heroism, but what does setting the world aright mean exactly? According to Shambhala: the sacred path of the warrior, the world must restore its focus to human dignity.

Mirabai writes:

O friend, I sit alone while the world sleeps.
In the palace that held love’s pleasure
the abandoned one sits.
She who once threaded a necklace of pearls
is now stringing tears.
He has left me. The night passes while I count stars.
When will the Hour arrive?
This sorrow must end. Mira says:
Lifter of Mountains, return.

– “The Necklace”               

We cannot restore dignity alone. Existential dread implies that as individuals we are alone to choose and must live with that responsibility. In her abandonment, Mirabai still affirms her dignity as God’s beloved. She calls to God to return. This reflects the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth as eternal flux which harmonises with our physical existence. God is with us. Christ is ever present in our domain of suffering.

It is no coincidence that Paz concludes his poem with the words “I ask to be obedient to this day and tonight.”

U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo writes in “The Myth of Blackbirds”:

“Justice is a story by heart in the beloved country where imagination weeps. The sacred mountains only appear to be asleep…We cannot be separated in the loop of mystery between blackbirds and the memory of blackbirds.”

Myth is a cultural awakening. Being “alone to choose” does not defer human dignity or one’s relationship to the divine because we are creatures of memory. As Plato reflected, learning is remembering what one already knows. Such a cycle is not promising. It is eternal.

 We are ripe with questioning historical errors in this period of history. “The emergence of pessimistic philosophies is by no means a sign of some great and terrible distress; rather, these question marks regarding the worth of life arise when the human condition has been so improved and ameliorated that the mosquito bites of the body and soul are found too altogether gruesome and gory, and in their poverty of experience of actual pain, people will even take being troubled by ideas to be suffering of the highest order,” writes Nietzsche in The Joyous Science. Is our ability and right to assess history as such a privilege offered by our affluence and security? It was the intellectual who once hid in ivory towers. Now, do we all live in ivory towers with epigenetic fears and concerns?

Such a question does not demean our relative poverty, private traumas, failures and shortcomings, or deprivation. What it suggests is we have plateaued to become so complacent and unconcerned that it requires serious tragic thinking to stir our imaginations. We may long for suffering; yes, we may hunger for the cross. As they say, comedy is born of tragedy. Is the opposite also true?

Wendy Chen-Tanner describes Kai Coggin’s collection Wingspan in the following words: “Wingspan is a book about becoming, transforming, and unfurling into the fullness of selfhood in all its disparate parts.” The human soul fluxes and fades with the human condition. Being is Becoming. This discovery of the fullness of being is impressively expressed in “Everything Silver/Artemis and Her Lover.” Students of Greek myth know the story of Actaeon and his tutelage under Chiron. When he witnesses Artemis bathing, she turns him from hunter to the hunted. Coggin’s poem is deeply personal. She observes the two as lovers experiencing oneness together. She writes:

“I will watch them,

the hunter and the hunted,

these lovers mounted in the stars,

I will watch them,

and wish for an arrow to fall from the sky into my open heart.”

Aside from the sheer beauty of these lines, the poet transforms herself into hunted for the sake of the poem. Perhaps it is self-voyeurism—the poem is solitary in tone. Gazing into the attic of her heart, Coggin sees the night sky and the eternal myth of huntress and hunted. The ebb and flow of life enchants the poet deeply and she wishes to be one with it. The opening phrase “attic of my heart” parallels the night sky and symbolically suggests yearning for oneness. Chen-Tanner’s description is impressively accurate. Jeremy Taylor writes in Psychology Today, “The universally experienced world of dreams and dreaming has always been a deep mystery, ever since the first confusing hints of self-awareness arose in our instinctively nervous, curious mammalian ancestors. Awakening and remembering that we were dreaming just a moment ago always suggests that we live in two successively alternating worlds – one of made of dreams, and the other composed of our waking experiences.” The article (“The Expanse of Our Unconscious is as Immense as the Night Sky”) combines psychology with evolutionary principles to explain the interconnectedness of the dream and waking worlds. Poetically rendered, Taylor incidentally offers insight into the importance of myth. Our minds are myth-makers in their own right. The bridge between self-awareness and yearning, our ancestral past and myth, is accentuated in the story of Actaeon and Artemis. Coggin immortalises them in the starry fixtures of night. The hunter and hunted are not only archetypes, but also offer a dialectical conversation with oneself. Akin to Hegel’s master and servant dialectic, the need for truth anticipates struggle and dissipation.

 Coggin’s poems are rich in spiritedness, thoughtfulness, and hope. Hope strives for unity of self, toward knowledge of one’s desires, and deeper into the wilderness of dream. The dialectic flips on itself as the wise hunter becomes the hunted—his desires are too stubborn to resist, and he is transfixed by the translucent beauty of the immortal. He ascends into fatherhood by transfiguration into his master’s image. The transfiguration is an exact mirror-image of his role as hunter. This reversal is symbolically important because it reflects a registry of Becoming. Revolutionary ideas shrivel into double standards, mimicry of their exactness, and memory. Hope is a struggle against the unfathomable and inevitable decline of meaning. It is assertive. Like energy within neurological structures, it dissipates and connects. The mind is forever incorporating the ancient and traumatic into meaning.

 Andrea Gibson writes of Coggin’s Periscope Heart, “Kai Coggin’s Periscope Heart is beauty mapping the dark, a canyon of becoming and letting go.”

I want to learn you like a language,

speak you on my tongue until I am

no longer foreign to your body…

Periscope Heart feels more personal. In “Language”, loving is compared to constructing a language. In a real sense, myth-making is language. Language is universal mapping, constructing roads through the caverns of being, and developing a common language. Powerful insight serves as the poet’s resolution.

Dorothy Day writes, “To offer the suffering of celibacy, temporary or permanent, to the Lord is to make use, in the best possible way, of man’s greatest joy.” Such is the world we live in, Day writes, that “The lack of tenderness in people’s relations with each other, tenderness expressed by warmth of voice and speech, handclasp and embrace–in other words, the warmth of friendship–lack of these things too means a concentration on sex, and the physical aspects, the animal aspects of sex.” Poet and reviewer Jagari Mukhergee writes in “Metapoem”:

“My poems are vinyl dolls that I make for you sketching in eyes and nose and lips with watercolor ink. My poems are glass lanterns — every time one is lit on nights when the soul has no electricity from within… My poems are a dusty tempest seething. Each a life.”

The warrior poet brings light to the world. Her tenderness is chastity and her self-love is universal nature. Her tears water the foundations of our aching existence. Our longings are satisfied in her dissolutions and dreams. The warrior poet is the self within each person.

Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

Categories
Editorial

Hello World!

Welcome to Borderless — a journal that hopes to role out an invitation to all those who are willing to venture into the vastness of wonders, ideas and creativity. It seeks out thoughts that can soar above borders not just like birds but also like clouds. Clouds waft without pausing at differences, join together and bring water to the parched lands across all terrains as do writers and readers who look beyond differences. The writing will be like raindrops that create a downpour of love, tolerance, kindness, wit and humour. With a little soupçon of such values, we hope to unite into a world that can override differences, hatred, angst, violence and COVID-19. 

In these pages, we welcome hope for a future that makes us happy; we welcome all writers of all ages to come and revel in words and ideas and we invite readers to come and read and give us comments and write to us about what they would like to read at editor@borderlessjournal.com.  They are also welcome to try their hands at writing. In a world forced to segregate for the sake of survival, this is a way to connect with ideas. 

We start the journal with some input from the team from the editorial board, constituting a few writers who are outstanding and eminent in their own areas. You can read about the team in ‘About Us’ and savour some of their work under the different subheads: essays, reviews, stories and poetry. 

Dustin Pickering, somewhat of a rebel poet, a Pushcart nominee and a brilliant essayist, columnist and publisher, has contributed a scholarly essay on ‘Poets as Warriors’ — I love the idea even though I differ with some of his surmises. Maybe a war of words can convince people eventually that war with weapons is not the best way to maintain peace. Meenakshi Malhotra, a specialist in gender studies, bring us an essay on whether solidarity between women is possible. What do you think?

Namrata, a writer who hides behind fuchsia curtains and spills out lovely reviews, has a tempting review on a book edited by Sarita Jenamani and Aftab Husian — Silences between the Notes. Curious? Read and find out.

Sarita Jenamani, the PEN Austria general secretary, herself has contributed poetry — like the tinkling of crystal chandeliers evoking an evening in Vienna where she lives. Sohana Manzoor, the literature page editor in Daily Star, Bangladesh, has contributed a story, the title of which brings a smile — ‘Parul and The Potato Prince’ — reminded me a little of an O’ Henry in a Bangladeshi setting! 

Nidhi Mishra, a successful publisher of children’s stories, rolled out a fabulous piece on corona that hovers between an essay and a slice of life. It is in a grey zone — and that is why there is a new name for it — Musings. In Musings, you will also find Debraj, a popular columnist and an associate professor in Delhi University, with an unusual piece — again hovering between multiple genres. That is partly also what we hope do in Borderless, we explore genres and non-genre based writing to create new trends. 

Read it all and tell us what you think.

I look forward to Borderless as ‘your’ journal — a site that hosts contributions and looks for readership from all of you! 

Thank you all for your goodwill and friendship. 

Welcome again to a world without borders!

Mitali Chakravarty