“Illegal?” Like a deranged parrot!

Had the pleasure to speak with Adam Francis Cornford last night–hell of a guy, very polite, and a denizen of Golgonooza, to be sure.  He linked me to some of the most interesting thoughts I’ve yet seen on “Neo Surrealism”–each day I’m getting a wee bit closer to understanding exactly what that term means in the future of aesthetics and dialectic.



On the evidence seven or eight decades later, Breton’s faith was misplaced. First of all, the most important poets of the original group—Eluard, Péret, Desnos, and Breton himself—all had strongly individual styles. All were passionate about poetry and dedicated to its practice before the group formed. Their vocabularies were large, their mental libraries of previous poetry presumably extensive. Others from the group may have cast up their share of “emeralds and foaming algae,” but these seem to have accompanied mostly imitative dross—the equivalent, in Breton’s pelagic metaphor, of styrofoam or other manufactured flotsam.

The same has proven true until quite recently of subsequent poets and writers affiliated or identifying with Surrealism. There are recognized major figures such as Lamantia, Mansour, Carrington, Césaire, Valaoritis, and Cortez; some other poets of real significance (mostly from the first and second New York Schools) who are open in their debt to surrealism without such affiliation, like Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, Ron Padgett, or the later Alice Notley; and a sprinkling of (mostly and undeservedly) lesser-known figures from my own generation, like Ivan Arguelles, John Yau, Will Alexander, Charles Borkhuis, Joseph Donahue, Andrew Joron, and Matt Hill (all represented here). This same 1970s generation produced a host of epigones who have since “moved with the times” either back toward comfy mainstream verse or into the more fashionable form of post-Language “innovative” writing, which for the most part is innovative in the same sense in which most “independent” films that reach the theaters are independent. Only in the last decade or so have remarkable younger poets emerged—several of them represented here—who identify themselves as aligned with surrealism and whose work owes little to the neo-Romantic/deep-image stylings of late ’60s-’70s vers surrealisant.

We can therefore reasonably conclude that not all “recording instruments” are equal. Perhaps a better analogy for the poet’s role in the creation of a text that opens to the marvelous is that of a musical instrument rather than a recording device: the linguistic skills and abilities of the poet, which in turn tap the vast associative networks within language, are “played” by the unconscious workings of the mind.


This is, indeed, a sobering reality every surrealist must face: not all recording instruments (“transcendental recorders,” as David Gascoyne put it) can play the notes equally.  “Poetry is made by all, not by one,” Lautreamont said in his Poesies (whether they were meant ironically or not isn’t really a question anymore.  They resound in the surrealist reader’s psyche like razor fanged cheerios in divinized brine.)  That may be the case, but despite all the surrealist magic and occultation and such in the world, some are graced with the carnival of midnight’s abandoned chamber music and some can only approach the carnival.  Image


This, then, for verbal poetry, is the “neo” in “neosurrealism”: the continual deployment, whether by invention or appropriation, of formal, lexical, syntactic, tropic or prosodic devices, in pursuit of the marvelous image or complex of images. Far from being exhausted, these poets insist, the marvelous image is renewal itself, the model of the power of the human brain whose potential synaptic connections literally outnumber the galaxies in the observable universe. Surrealism worthy of the name is always new.

Eighty-eight years after Surrealism manifested itself, then, the poles of the poetic experience remain the same:

Revelation—at its most humble, of unobserved or numbness-concealed aspects of the consensus reality; but also of hidden orders of causality or relation (“objective chance”), the inkling of connections between phenomena that normally escape the dominant perceptual grid; and of other, “imaginary” phenomena, including those of the mind. Poetic revelation gives access to other realities or parallel universes and to the richer cosmos (or, as Helène Cixous calls it, chaosmos) that includes them. This is poetry’s “moment of being.”

Transformation—at its most basic, of language, of moribund meaning into new congruence with experience; but also transformation of other systems of signification (graphic, architectural, kinetic, cinematic) by dismantling their old meanings and reconfiguring them within a field of desire; and, more than ever, transformation of an impoverished, brutalizing, stupefying, ecocidal, antipoetic and antirevelatory social order. This is poetry’s “moment of becoming.”

Becoming. “Reality is the apparent absence of contradiction. The marvelous is the eruption of contradiction within the real.” The real: the Merrill Lynch Bull. The marvelous: the dancer poised atop it, signaling a previously incredible revolt. It is time for the marvelous—sought, demanded, shared—to occupy and transform the real. Every true poem now is a moment, a molecule, of this occupation. Surrealism is what will be.

Along with Adam’s contribution, we see in this issue a wunderkind of surrealist celebration:  

Autonomous Prairies  (John Yau)

The value of a green pebble can quadruple because of the circumstances in which it was pried loose from its neighbors.

Isn’t this example beautiful?

You will not see another like it again in your lifetime.

Little room remains for further appreciation, whereas depreciations of every imaginable kind linger in the unfiltered air.

The sky collects the remains. Prune-colored products are sent inland for shoemaking. There are seldom any further opportunities. A framed painting of a slate-colored swamp hangs next to a yellowing calendar—on a wall of substitutions, pictures of wood on which to mount wooden shelves. Admittedly, some of us are possessed by an undeniable need to accumulate bric-a-brac. Chances for economic recovery are about to encounter a speed bump because of the unexpected introduction of new variables. Pink flamingoes and white egrets form a sea of vertical strokes nearly overcome by the ashen atmosphere. A cockroach has started running around in my doll’s bathroom. It is the size of a toy truck. Who locked the cage behind me? I did not ask for this to happen. Can we ever reach the intersection where choices about our destination are plainly labeled? Where does the hogwash go? The ostensible reason is a missing set of teeth, one of which is cracked. Glass baubles hang above the doors that open onto the ocean. It has started raining inside the last photograph to have been issued from these mechanical hands.




Invocation to the Mad Queen

I would you were the hollow ship
fashioned to bear the cargo of my love
the unrelenting glove
hurled in defiance at our blackest world
or that great banner mad unfurled
the poet plants upon the hill of time
or else amphora for the gold of life
liquid and naked as a virgin wife.
Yourself the prize
I gird with Fire
The Great White Ruin
Of my Desire.
I burn to gold
fierce and unerring as a conquering sword
I burn to gold
fierce and undaunted as a lion lord
seeking your Bed
and leave to them the
burning of the dead. 

                Harry Crosby

My chat with Adam (and reading his interview, along with these other artists) has restored my faith, (oops, I mean my hope) in the future of Surrealism.  And as a token of tribute, here we have a poem which I now often think of when imaging the diaphanous crystal that has come to be called “Surreal” (naked of the ism): 


The fingers of snow

up on the small drum  

of space:

Parabolas of cloud

have a halo 

of crystal

above the snow covered mountain

A line and

a plane 

I want to look

only into the space that is simple

And at the same time complex

Jose Maria Hinojosa

Translated by Mark Statman




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