November 6, 2014
This episode was recorded as part of the VERSschmuggel project at the Poesie festival in Berlin this year. The aim of this cross-cultural collaboration was to pair Scottish and German language poets together to produce “cover versions” of each other’s poems, where you can hear the original but you also appreciate the new voice too. As organiser Aurelie Maurin says of the process it shows how “it’s possible to have two tongues in the mouth of one poem.” Featuring Don Paterson, J.O. Morgan, Katharina Schultens, Peter Mackay, Dagmara Kraus, Björn Kuhligk, Odile Kennel, Michael Donhauser, Anna Crowe and Ryan Van Winkle. Presented by Ryan Van Winkle @rvwable and produced by Colin Fraser @kailworm of Culture Laser Productions @culturelaser http://www.culturelaser.com
March 31, 2014
Just a quick reminder that myself and JO Morgan, last seen collaborating on ‘All Signs’, will be joining Hiva Oa, Lipsync for a Lullabye and a line-up of super talented musicians, writers and visual artists for Decagram, part of DAY 7 (aka Thursday 3 April) of the Hidden Door Festival. It all kicks off at 7pm, see you there!
DECAGRAM is a transcendental fusion of contemporary, classical, post-rock, tribal, noise, dub and hip hop that will eat your brains.
The bill of highly contrasting music artists will collaborate at the transitions between sets, creating a seamless three hours of music set against a spectacular visual feast of short film, animation, improvised visuals, motion graphics and projection mapping.
Programmed by Ed Stack of Ten Tracks
- Numbers are Futile
- Hiva Oa
- Ryan Van Winkle & Jo Morgan
- Lipsync for a Lullaby
- Small Feet Little Toes
- Urban Farmhand
- Matthew Collings
March 18, 2014
Ryan and JO Morgan will be performing this poem along-side some mind-bending music and visuals as part of Decagram at the Hidden Door Festival. They’ll be playing with Lipsync for Lullaby & Hiva Oa. The whole event is going to be in the key of Major. More details here. Thursday 3 April, 7pm.
Ryan says: I am an unabashed fan of JO Morgan‘s work. His beautiful books from CB Editions are amongst my favourites and his ability to write a long poem remains inspiring. If you haven’t yet read his poetic biography of boyhood on the Isle of Skye (Natural Mechanical) than you are in for a treat and I recommend you treat yourself soon. By far this is the most ambitious collaboration I’ve undertaken partly due to JO’s penchant for the sustained and partly because I didn’t quite realise how many signs there are in the zodiac until it was too late. Enjoy! x
VAN WINKLE ~ MORGAN
Today is a good day to think about Rome. Ancient footprints. Worn leather sandals. Blood and bile sluiced out into the streets. If you were born in the morning, ask yourself: what have you managed to build? If you were born at night, consider how even a paper boat may cut quickly forgotten paths along the gutter.
(Every country has its Rome: the pinnacle, or else
the pit, towards which every tributary flows,
and with that flowing: all the effluence that wants
for higher life. Although the gold, hammered out
to near translucence, does eventually flake off;
scratches are too easily made, exposing all that rot
so long ignored beneath; while those others who
live any great way from the core have lost all care
in such postures; have lost much care in themselves;
they gather together, form insular groups; they turn
circles, watch for the lone interloper; are astonished
when one of their number breaks ranks, and how
he departs with such abject abandon, to scatter
confetties of cranes, of lilies, about him as he goes.)
You’ll find yourself wanting to pay more attention to the hefted silver sickle of the moon, but it’s the shifting of the earth you should be mindful of. If you have forever lived looking out over the circle sea, you should try sleeping tucked in a doorway, once in a while. Otherwise, lower your head, shoulder the construct you never intended to build, and sharpen what horns you have left; now is the time to see red. There are rewards for breaking all the china.
(The question of piercings is paramount: some prefer
to linger in painful reminder of how we may never
maintain true liberty; that though some may dance
unadorned, their picture of freedom is no more
than mere fiction. For we all know it’s the gelding
who runs the longest race; that to hold yourself intact
is to lie apart, heavy with underused muscle, alone
within your pig-ploughed field; that sometimes there
are benefits in permitting yourself to be led by the nose.)
You feel inclined to admit you can only get rich by taking from other people. It’s best to abort all efforts to give new names to every visible star, to muse on what awaits you in heaven. It’s okay sometimes to think only of your own troubles. Before, you were an empty bucket; now you need filling with strong clear liquor, with wet smoke, music, fried chicken. Imagine yourself as a neat set of tracks in the dust, tracks that will soon disappear beneath the lightest push of air.
(Most are separated when still in infancy, and so
grow up never knowing of their doubles or that
they are themselves not whole, except for a niggling
suspicion, felt first at the onset of puberty, that
some where there is some one, some other who
may fully comprehend them, inside and out, and
who, with a mere glance sees through their everything,
and knows they too have likewise been examined, that,
for a moment, their similar souls have co-mingled,
spun, and again come apart – yet weightier than before.
These all-too-brief connections occur just as readily
between two shoppers in a hardware store reaching
both for blue methanol, as between two outcasts
combing through the warm red ash for rice grains
spilt from a corner-torn sack. The separation
is always worse this second time around. Most
are able to suppress their new yearning while others
may create a semblance of sanity only by repeating
to themselves in times of anguish: she is there
and I am here, she is there and I am here, she
is there and I am here – till balance is restored.)
Childhood was a school of self-disgust and insecurity. You need to reach out and scratch those you love into some kind of wakefulness; things may grow beyond the point where you have any lasting influence if you delay. You have become an easy target for oblivion, sat alone on a raft of rot-wood, adrift on an ocean that’s set to expand exponentially.
(When the crisis, long expected, hits,
there’s no recourse to the coping devices
built up for your protection; despite best intentions
of being the last one standing, of beating back
whatever you’ve been forced to bear, still,
without warning, the carapace cracks
and squeezes your too-soft body out,
now fully exposed to what you know
you cannot hope to endure; all that remains
is to hide away your rawness under stones
till in the dark somehow you find the means
by which to re-harden your skin.)
Late at night you’ll wake turgid and sheetless, will understand that kindness is as scarce, as priceless, as the milk of queens. Because there is no moon, and no one will see, you’ll find yourself, rising, going outside, shrugging your robe to the lawn as you look for the deepest black between the spinning stars. Here is where you draw the draught of milk that asks you for no second gulp. Your friends think you ferocious, in your cravings, in your guile; even they don’t know of your timidity, the bleat of fear you muffle with your cloak.
(Out of strength came sweetness, though the bees
didn’t grow nor burst from rotting bones, they chose
instead to structure their house amidst the brittle ribs
of the golden corpse – there to manufacture living food;
food which, as milk, need not be killed to be consumed,
both juices freely flowing; though unequal in viscosity.
Now mixed and tinned for your convenience, take care
not to wrap your tongue too tight to the pleasure
of a dunked then swiftly twisted spoon, as you sit
cross-leggéd beneath the lonely spread of tamarisk,
while some scrawny thing, with hunger glowing,
stalks you from within the long dry grass.)
The sky and all its circles tell us that the ones we love must some day take their final leave. This is no shortcoming of the stars, nor is it laziness to remind us of the things we struggle daily to ignore. Simply, you must accustom yourself to the disagreeable taste and texture of another’s bread – how bitter it can be, how stringy, how dry. As soon as it feels right to do so: share a long-kept secret with a lover while they sleep; memorise the underlying blueprint of their bones; trace and trace again the soft green highways of their veins. For one day, understand, you will be driving, just driving; you will not be lost, you’ll merely realise how, today, you have nowhere to go.
(In the same way it can be hard to differentiate
between the melting sensation stirred in your gut
as your lover passes close and the nausea welled
as your driver feathers the clutch, so is it hard
to be sure that what you feel in interconnecting
your self with that one other self is in any way different
to how you’d feel with another such self so inclined.
Is that ignored uncertainty the best way for any new life
to be begun? If only there were a way to take out
what lies in you and mix it with what lies in her;
a curious magic that operates far beyond touch
while you both stand, calmly, before one another,
unmoving but for the shivers that ripple across
your naked skin, that could be mere coolness:
a night breeze slipping in from the balcony; or
some other sensation, growing, as yet unnamed.)
You might spend the day full-ensconced in your bed watching TV in nothing but knickers and vest dunking chocolate digestives in coffee kept hot in the vacuum flask that you stole when you were still in your teens. This is fine for the world beyond your world is too full of airheads demanding your participation in social engagements they only indulge in because it allows them to feel more connected to people as clueless as they are regarding their need to be seen taking part. Or you might spend all day outdoors, just walking, hands in pockets, while your shadow shrinks to meet you, creeps again outwards behind, to cover up the fallen leaves your restless feet have kicked aside. This too is good for you as you’ve been feeling very heavy, and you do not wish to give in to the weaknesses built up through lethargy, defeating dizziness by making sure your feet stay active, closer to the ground.
(The shelves may be lined with book after book
on the rules for proper living, written by men
who knew no more nor less than any other men;
while, outside the land is full of beasts, who,
being free, have no recourse to wrongfulness,
are free to fuck or rip each other limb from limb,
who look up with bloodied muzzle for the reproach
that never comes, nor even the shake of a head. But
man feels safe within the houses man alone has built;
can cast out other men who disagree with how
this house is run. And it is right to live this way.
Nonetheless, when the door stands open, be it
into frost or mud or sun-hot sands, and you
without your shoes stand on the doorstep looking out,
it is no less right to hitch up your skirts and go.)
It is only an arbitrary conduit towards theoretical recapitulation; don’t let yourself get so heated by things beyond your control. People will spit the word phony right in your eye. Even those who live far away, babbling incomprehensively, understand that a foolish man is a man who hankers after childlike ignorance. Don’t worry about the scales that blinker your sight, most will acknowledge you aren’t the one to blame. Let yourself listen to songs nobody seems to like but you. Learn it’s possible to walk on water; how birds see air as just another fluid to be swum through. Don’t broadcast the link; not this time and never again; don’t send another positive word into the maw.
(I am the most at risk from my own violence.
A chance remark from you and down I plunge.
I wish to mark my mistakes yet can’t come close
in case the poison bubbled up in me somehow
seeps into you. Simple household tools transform
into potential weaponry. If the fruit-knife finds
a skin not fit to bite so its point will turn inward.
I dare not release the pressure built up in my heart.
All I can do to hold myself back is to race on
ahead of my thoughts, there to sever the cord
that connects them to action, whilst trying ever
to repair the faulty link. Don’t risk your sensibility
in securing my comfort. You needn’t endure this.
I am not fit to know you, nor be friend to anyone.)
All arrows; no target. You hold your head up, stretch the sinew, shoot, because – what else can you do? It might make more sense to close yourself into the basement; to synchronise the beat behind your eyes against the chugging of the pipes. If there is no basement: try the stairs. You are so full of points you can no longer move outside yourself with any honesty. You’d be far better off relinquishing your scattergun approach, to fix your aim on one green apple in an orchard as vast as the sea, as multifarious as stars.
(You may hunt to survive, or for sport, or as
a lonely act of war, though your technique
remains the same for each; your soft footfall,
your muscles taut, intent to kill, your greed
for being the only one left standing, till
on pushing aside dry leaves you see her
bathing in a oil-black pool, overhung by rock,
and as you lift your gun to line its notches
on the scoop of skin between her shoulders
so she turns and sets her creamy almond eyes
against your blue; she has you now; you’re hers;
but she is gentle in her wild possession, lets you
watch her wade yet closer; lets you see
the dark rim of her long lips tightening;
only then are you able to put down your gun
and back off, forgetting her – letting her be.)
What gets called new blood is so often no more than the same old red paint, just thickened and darkened with age. You need to make more of an effort. Delays on the subway will always require you to question your mortality. Make it look like you’re checking your watch, and for God’s sake don’t cry – it won’t get you anywhere near where you wanted to go. Push your shoulders back until you can be certain on the tension and length of your spine. Don’t fall for the trap of investing emotions in other people’s transitory problems. Being mostly water, through and through, remember you know how it feels to be caressed.
(Take two small goats, one fine, one average.
Keep the one of better breeding pure. Allow it
cream instead of milk so that its coat is glossy,
full, so that its softened skin is without spot.
Bring it indoors on cold nights. Sing it to sleep.
Put the lesser beast to the hill; strengthen its gut
with coarse dry grass; let its hair grow tangled,
thick as thorn; fill its belly with young; prolong
its pain in removing its pre-weaned kids, so that
each day it aches to contain such presses of milk.
And then, at the perfect moment, kill the other:
the coddled, virginal, hand-reared animal; let it
live on in the bound spines of books; as gloves,
fine knitwear; in casseroles, pâté, hors d’oeurves.
Let its sibling continue unknowingly, just as before:
more kids, more milk, its small neat hoofprints
divergent, repeated, for ever and ever, where
change favours only the fortunate, not the most fit.)
The things we do to try and keep our children good: milk always fresh in the fridge, but you never do know what may turn a child bad. A trip to the play-park ends in the dismemberment of a hitherto favoured plush toy. A bowl of warm apple purée for dessert begs a fire in the toolshed not long after the rains. Some mornings: an orgy of dresses, slapped over the front lawn, brittled by frost. Sometimes your only recourse is to leave them be; if you don’t you’ll soon find yourself flooded with exhaustion, unable to retaliate, unable to move.
(All light poured in is stripped out by degrees. Red
is the first to go, along with its associated warmth:
the blood drained, thinned to wishy-washy pinks
and peaches, juiceless oranges. Then yellow
gives up quick – as was ever to be expected;
its plasmic aide to the living condition, held back,
so that green is forced out too, can no longer breath.
Most try to hold position at these easier earlier levels
though some will push on to dwell within blue, peering
over its border into an ever continuing gloom. Even in
the midst of all that nothingness survival is still
possible, so long as the bright beam of your lifeline
remains intact; though you’ll need to compress
all of your wits not to fade away into the black,
which sucks as sharply as it penetrates, which can’t
be reasoned with, doesn’t love you, only hurts.)
The rain comes down so fast one can forgive that inarticulate homesickness for anything-that-matters. As the seas rise think fondly of the whale, easing its bulk with the currents, blowing out hard before each breath new-held. The whale has no great aim, seeks no golden ticket, is as much a part of the stars as the dust it ingests. For weeks the whale is content to hang in a column of water, to press its face to the sheen of kept-out air, to fill its cold cathedral with lament. But here, if it rains for more than you can bare, you will be forgiven if you write in your diary: stretch me no longer across this rough and presupposing world.
(It’s like wearing yourself inside out, allowing
the world to flow over you, through you, to filter
the mica from the muck, to let that thickness
in which each small good dwells, pass right on
and out. Though it is important to move, to stir
the world-stuff in travelling through it; so that
what gets taken in is always fresh, is balanced
by what is given to gain it. With no movement
the stagnant home-space is soon exhausted
of anything worth having, yet still you go on
drawing in, to grow fat on mere stuff, such
a bloat you become unrecognisable, till in you
but a few grains of goodness remain, no more
than microscopic morsels, adrift in the gloop
that once was you, as your border dissolves,
as you join with all that other gloop, drift off,
to be filtered by a more deserving passer-by.)
JO says: “Having not given the idea of collaboration much thought, there was a certain amount of reluctance to take part in this; but Ryan is a guy it’s hard not to like. It was left to him to choose the subject we would use as a launch-pad for the work, and it wouldn’t be true to say I was in any way pleased with what he settled on; but it wasn’t my place to make a fuss, so I kept quiet. I had little idea of how it would all work so when his first bit of text came through I merely responded to it in a way I felt might be of some interest as companion piece. The parentheses seemed wholly natural to the tone being created. After that had been done, and sent back, I started to see how the full work may look; I started to get the shape of it. I liked it; liked what it could become. I don’t know what process Ryan used to come up with his half-sections; I feel he had the harder task: to think of something fresh each time. I merely needed to respond to whatever he came up with; trying not to think about the up-coming sign till his new block of text came through; and trying then to respond to it as quickly as I could – apart from on one occasion, where I became impatient, and a thought came to me before I had a chance to block it, and I sent my half-section to him first. I suspect I’m not such a good person to collaborate with. But I like Ryan no less now than before – and I like too the new work we’ve come up with; even if it is a bit on the short side, overall.“
March 12, 2014
October 28, 2013
I interviewed J.O. Morgan at his home in the Scottish Borders. His latest book, At Maldon by CB Editions, was launched on 8 October at Looking Glass Books in Edinburgh. We discuss his approach to writing and talk in detail about his first book length narrative poem, the award-winning Natural Mechanical. He also discusses the intriguing story of how At Maldon started out as a translation of an Anglo-Saxon poem and how he was fascinated by the fact that it is a form of historical document written by the losers rather than the winners of the battle.