The Electrodes of Montage
In 1987, Ted Hughes in a heartening piece of advocacy for Keith Douglas, wrote that Douglas employed all he knew ‘about economy and penetration, compact simplicity and the electrodes of montage, the path of the nerve under language, tensile strength.’ This was in relation to the metamorphosis that took place between ‘A Dead Gunner’ and ‘Vergissmeinnicht’, where we lost ‘blowflies’ but gained ‘swart flies’; the ‘cruel soldier’ simply ‘soldier’. The crafting and editing process of my poem ‘Thousand Knives’ has certainly vied for that economy of image, but, I think, given the nature of the project it’s a part of, has always been beholden to a source material that opposes such stoicism and embraces a fraught whimsy.
‘Thousand Knives’ is of a music-ekphrastic suite of poems I’ve been working on recently: all responses to the Japanese pianist and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Playing the Piano album. Writing the poems seems to require entering a state that resembles a sensory deprivation tank—lights off in the living room, eyes shut, scribbling down every image that enters the mind during the endlessly looped tracks; a process related to automatic writing in some respects. However, ‘Thousand Knives’ is unique in the sense that it becomes rather like a mise en abyme: the ekphrastic response is not just to the song ‘Thousand Knives on Playing the Pen’, but to the whole 1978 debut solo album of Sakamoto by the same name. Each section of the poem is reacting to another song; four and half lines for four and a half minutes, and this formal logic is somewhat consistent ...
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