Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The ubiquity of The Frost Fairs

I must admit to a huge partisanship about this poem. Because it is written by a gay poet whose incandescent sensibility is present in every fissure, every crevice, every interstice in this collection which it beautifully traverses, negotiating, probing, leaving space for new meanings, new layers of understanding and can, if you allow it, be a transcendent experience. Merging tradition and modernity, a dialectic between old and new, an unselfconscious intertextuality and a luminous awareness of life's transcendent possibilities, navigated through the corporeal, the quotidian yet imbued with a sense of epiphanic self revelation.

The fact of the poet's homosexuality permeates this work and a mirroring of his real life gay concerns, contextual reality underpins the entire work. This sensibility makes him the poet he is. And while as a fellow gay poet i appreciate his sensibility and celebrate a gay writer's work, especially poetry, which is scarce i would also be extremely weary of pigeonholing this amazing poet simply as being gay. His universality as an artist is irradiated by his sexual orientation and i would like to see an assimilation, a confluence between two dissociated forms of being, seamlessly coalesced.

To analyze the title a bit Frost Fairs which is seemingly oxymoronic but a clever verbal pun. While frost conjures up visions of petrifaction fairs is a carnivalesque word, filled with possibilities of revelry, merry making, affirmation. And the here and now's combination with the putatively exotic reminds of Angela Carter's Nights at the circus which within a alien context makes the most excoriating observations. No such exoticism in Mc cullough. A quiet sense of the small things of everyday life, their sexual, social dynamics ripples outwards to encompass global themes which underscores the ubiquity of this marvelous collection.And this allies the work to Carter's because voices, culturally suppressed, deemed sexually deviant, are amply represented here and given a valid form of expression. Gays, transpeople become emblems in a vast panorama of polyglot sexual possibilities that makes a political statement without being ideological. And the cultural context the roads, the freeways, the bars, seemingly insignificant but part of Mc Cullough's cultural perspective is never just a nostalgic recollection in tranquility . An awareness of subterranean gay parallel lives, its sinewy, sinuous whisking down corridors of oneness, the essential loneliness, the prophylactic of memory and the joy of communion with the past, transmuted to the present constitutes this collection.

To take an example.

'I might realize Brighton doesn't exist
is being invented for our arrival
the shops plugged in, the prom laid on.
the smiles carved in random pebbles
there where buses have names
so we can get knocked down by dusty springfield'
                            -from-Reading o'Hara on the Brighton express'.

Now this beautiful poem engages in a colloquy between two gay poets. The humble delineation of Mc cullough's engagement is a bridge between a past and present gay culture, authenticating its presence, validating its co existence with another culture, the American, with British contiguity's. The act of reading is subversive in itself but the transcribing of it into paper redoubles its iconoclasm. The poet inhabits two realms. And Brighton, as the gay capital of UK becomes a back.drop for this tableau to be unfurled.

To take another example.

'where we turned off the dissolving path
to chance uncertain territory.'

'we followed the roaming fence and like
the rabbits, daring over marram were never caught out.

'two so close, from each other from our perspective
we swore, they must have occupied the same dream.

                                            -From 'Talacre'.

Again temporality, landscape becomes an arena for secret love lives, presumably gay, to be explored. These sites, these topographies are spaces where gay lives can eke out a singular mode of being untainted by heterosexual custom, unanesthetized by cloying analgesics, reveling in a oneness whose proclamation of its togetherness is never brash, or crass but unbelievably poignant.

Here is another dimension of it
'Overnight the thames began to move again
The ice beneath the frost fair cracks.

'Even now it carries his greatcoats whiff...
I'll write my dear sweet man, he said,
then squeezed my thigh and turned'

' There is no snow in new south wales...ran
outside to see a jackdaw flat on the lawn. It
must have fallen from the sky...its neck twisted
as though broken from seeing something incredible.
                          -from-The other side of winter'

This poem is a metonym for its eponymous title. Frost and fair comes together here. The panoply of  'merry go rounds and book stalls' is a strong counterpoint to the jackdaw. A feeling of something exciting and contraband emerges here because a substratum of  subversion underlies the iciness of winter and combines with the celebratory foreground of the fair. This is the simultaneous, alternating states of being of gay life and the dying jackdaw doesn't spell and end but a new beginning. Like a phoenix it dies, its incredulity leaving behind a space for something new to come into being.

This exploration of a gay context also combines with a strong sense of roots, the relocation and repossession, imaginatively of landscapes, now altered. Memory, like a photo's sepia tints embalms these moments of being, freezes them so that the reader can revisit these poems and relive, albeit with an evolved, enhanced parenthesis, the same experience. Mc cullough's language is crisp and lyrical. His images are arresting, his descriptive powers subtle. Form and content come together and language becomes both a signifer signifying the poetic content and a inviolable, self contained means of expression.

John mc cullough is a marvelous poet. He is turning 34 and the fact that a few years back The frost fairs emergence into the literary scene is constantly affirmed by the poetic readings he still gives. The impalpable, evanescent texture of humanity becomes a crystallized reality and the demonstration of the poet's unwavering belief in the Lgbt cause, never pedagogical, never pedantic but imaginative shows his leanings as a social member, sensitized to suffering of his fellow men. This iridescent collection's opalescence, is undimmed. It will last because it goes beyond its integument and through daguerrotype dapples the surfaces of human experience with deft brush strokes and mingling the colors and hues of humaneness transfixes his work through time and space, beyond gender, beyond contemporaneity, rendering writing ethereal, rarefied and transcendent.

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