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 Consolat Del Mar – The Customs of the Sea – Awash

ACI COMENCEN LES BONES COSTUMES DE LA MAR

Here Commence the Good Customs of the Sea

In Old Catalan, ‘sea’ can be masculine or feminine

AQUESTS SON LOS BONS STABLIMENTS E LES BONES COSTUMES, QUE SON DE FET DE MAR, QUE LOS SAVIS HOMENS, QUI VAN PER LO MON, NE COMENCARAN A DONAR ALS NOSTRES ANTECESSORS; LOS QUALS FAEREN PER LOS LIBRES DE LA SAVIETAT DE LOS BONES COSTUMES.

These are the good constitutions and the good customs which regard matters of the sea, which wise men who travelled over the world communicated to our predecessors, who composed therewith books of the science of Good Customs.

Politeness comes to be irrelevant when there is confidence. When mutuality is lacking, customary behaviour makes up the bulk of an exchange. A generational divide can be summed up with the claim that “It is very fashionable to criticize the government”.

ON D’AQUI AVANT PODEM TROBAR. QUE DEU SENYOR DE NAU FER A MERCADERS E A MARINER E A PELEGRI O A ALTRE HOME QUE VAJE EN LA NAU, E ENCARA QUAL COSA DEIA FER MERCADER A SENYOR DE NAU, E MARINER AL SENYOR DE NAU O DEL LENY, E PELEGRI ATRASSI.

In what follows we shall find laid down the duties which the managing owner of a ship owes to the merchants and to the mariners and to the passengers, and to the other persons who are on board the ship, and likewise the duties which the merchant and the mariner and the passenger also owe to the managing owner.

No-one leaves home without an audience. Waking from a dream in which, returning from travels, I found neither friends nor family able to recognise me, I decided to make preparations to leave those with whom I was currently venturing- colleagues, lovers and competitors- and salvage the remaining goodwill of my hometown.

CON PELEGRI ES DIT TOT HOME QUI DEIÁ DONAR NOLIT DE LA SUA PERSONA SENS SA MERCADERIA.

The term passenger includes all who ought to pay freight for their persons apart from their merchandise

You are told that he who travels alone travels fastest, and he who walks with his house on his head is heaven.

COMENCEM. COM LO SENYOR DE LE NAU O DEL LENY COMENCARA DE FER LA NAU E VOLRA FER PARTS, ELLE DEU DIR E FER ENTENENT ALS PERSONERS, DE QUANTES PARTS LA FARA, E DE QUIN GRAN, E QUANT HAURA EN PLA, E QUANT HAURA EN SENTINA, ET QUANT OBRIRA, E QUANT HAURA PER CARENA.

Let us commence. When the managing owner of a ship or vessel undertakes to construct a ship, and wishes to share it with others, he ought to explain and make intelligible to the part-owners into how many shares he intends to divide it, and of what size it is to be, and what tonnage it is to have, and what depth in the hold, and what beam and length of keel.

More easily started than ended, wars resemble journeys when the reason for starting is not fear but pride, feeling the need to explain oneself to no-one at the outset. Each conversation starts with your hometown. Very soon, you are expected to show that you know the population, size and temperament of the people- not of the place where you are from, but where you now have found yourself.

I often think about the relationship between wanting someone and wanting to be someone. What is the different between admiration and attraction? Between adoration and appreciation? There is a participatory element in adoration– like so many paintings of Christian iconography. Appreciation is what someone does when they see such a painting. There are spectators to my love for others– I participate in my love for others, but I also spectate on it sometimes too.

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Can one be a participant in a play, act, or performance without others? Unrequited love is a soliloquy– love between two people might be performance, though of this I feel skeptical. Watching a wedding ceremony is a truly gross affair, I mean literally groß, as though a spectacle would imbue psyche with permanence were its dimensions substantial enough. A self-fulfilling prophecy is often revealed as one to its participants in hindsight– weddings seem fake and hideous in their demonstrations of what should have been forever between two people. At this juncture, I feel a pang of affection for A. My interior life has a geography, my ID Card, my fingerprints an external necessity. When I traverse truly on my own thoughts, with an exploration that is not necessarily “deep” but honest, and without deception, I come not to a conclusion of singularity, but a clarification of the pluralities. I love many people. I love them as though without them all I could really love no-one. Perhaps with years, one or more of them will fade in my mind, and I will not be kept awake on a transatlantic flight on Christmas eve by the thought of running my hand along the edge of their neck, or of speaking to them deeply in an honest, dignified manner.

 

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The people I’ve loved and the people I’ve made love with only overlap occasionally. There is some truth to the topic of wanting only what is out of reach, yet an American attitude would uncompromisingly encourage pursuit of that goal nonetheless. “Any port in a storm” so I recently heard. What about “any port with beautiful features, with great trading opportunities”?

I will leave it there, as I have just realised that the sound of my typing is waking up the passenger next to me. I am all for aspirational pursuits, eg writing at 3am, but I do love my fellow neighbor too.

This started as a note on my phone, one that follows a list of odds and ends that people have suggested I look up and track down. The Tree of Codes, The Epic of Manas and Ed Dorn’s Gunslinger are literary examples of tips that after four months I have still not followed up on. This speaks both to daily life as a writing student in New York and to the work being produced- texts and days start out, or at one point in the ‘process’ become a soup of floating signifiers whose resonance has yet to be clarified.

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Poetry, as Americans have come to know and give out prizes for, originates mostly in the aristocratic European traditions: the early modern British civil servant-versifier and German philosopher-poets the Medieval French troubadours, the Renaissance court poets of the Kingdom of Spain and of the city states of Italy.

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Comparatively weaker strains of influence from travelling bards, street singers, folk & gypsy song can be evidenced in postwar American verse; performance & slam poetry (rap also) can be counted among their inheritors, though I concede this connection begs the question, which is to yet say nothing of whether or not American practitioners would acknowledge this influence.

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Regardless, my point in tracing this the dominant sector of US poetry to unequivocally privileged positions is to bring to the fore the status and qualities of everyday living that are a prerequisite for the production of writing which would be considered by critics as poetry in conversation with, for example, Dante, Milton and the anonymous authors of Canto de Mio Cid, The Seafarer, and other texts requiring, principally, access to consistent and substantial quantities of free time, cultural capital, and the practical means to support oneself during the process of composition (not to mention freedom from the commitments of raising children and looking after elderly family members).

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While admirable and distinctively ‘founding fathers’ type American efforts to democratize the production of art through philanthropy-driven library construction, the direct constraints (or lack thereof) that industrial capital puts on the efforts of artists survives from Walt Whitman, who was fired from his desk job for working on Leaves of Grass during office hours, to Taylor Swift, whose frictionless rise to fame as a lyricist at age 20 beginning with regional poetry competitions, was endorsed from the beginning by her father, a Merrill Lynch executive.

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This is not to pour scorn on the aspirational, or to discredit funding bodies in their efforts to champion writing that would not otherwise survive without financial support. (cf. Ed Hirsch whose claim that ‘the system cannot support so many poets,’ as are created by MFA programs nation- (and world) wide.) It is instead to prove that the styles, output and methodology of contemporary Anglophone poets cannot realistically be expected to reflect those of the aristocratic ancestors without a compromise of some sort, unless they somehow equal them in status. Thus, when the poems in this pamphlet speak with confused, jumbled or rough-edged voice, it is because there has not been enough time and resources applied to them.

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Nonetheless, that they evidence such tensions and frustrations is not I hope the only outcome of reading it. Moreover perhaps they can be seen as a procession from the political to the observational to the personal, a curation that seems appropriately enough to cover the main bases that I am interested in.

When men get old and tired

and have no more to say,

we’ll cut them up in ribbons

and sail them down the way.

On to the brimming waterfalls

where heaven droops to meet,

they’ll love with renewed innocence

and fall down on their feet.

O take, take up their anger,

use it to lever the dead.

Love, love with your appetites,

be a servant when you take her to bed.

O buy a tray of silver and thow it in the sea,

kiss, kiss your favourites, but run your way back to me.

I’ll take the ribbons of the dead,

and trail a track in rhyme,

they’ll hear about us in the air,

though we’ll be old this time.

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I once cracked a tooth biting into a fork because I was too engaged in watching TV on my laptop while eating. Living alone, one is hardly ever able to eat with others without going out.

A poem is like a cracked tooth– evidence that we are no longer among people [society Latin- societas from socius- ‘companion’], but like waking in the night to find a knife sticking into the wall above your head, the how, who and when of your isolation is no longer traceable– all that remains are an ensemble of wounds and damaged apparatus dressed up in language and a font that the journal editors might find appealing.

For all the postulating on the ethereality of poetry, some things like criticizing the government, never go out of style; also like treating the poem as object. I love the muse, the whip-crack of tradition, but think also of the possibility of the poem as a designed object– subject to ergonomics, prototypes and choice of materials.

Language, Conceptual and Concrete poetry is or was labeled as radical, yet their work is a metaphor for construction– literally, a carrying over of the work from philosophy, mysticism, religion, politics and other text-based discourses, into the realm of engineering, product design, the plastic arts and drama.

Of this work I am sure its use and input is the driving force behind poetry’s jailbreak from archival condemnation. But of the lost semantic and semiotic clarity? As with culture jamming and drag queens, I don’t yet know enough to say.

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I have not written poetry,

ever. The morning sky fasts,

no space above to dwell.

 

Which country will my

reckless desires next turn

toward? There are no

 

reservists in the dockyards,

I volunteer to trawl again.

Where there is space to sit,

 

you will find someone to sit

with. If you find yourself willing

the sun to rise, stick to your

 

passions, and remain a man

swiping at memories, or hoovering

up the final crumbs of night.

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