Monday 8 August 2016

David Jones, In Parenthesis

David Jones' In Parenthesis is as visceral a long piece of language as you could find anywhere. As impenetrable as war itself. He called his poem Rosi when he was writing it in the 1920s, from the heart of NeuRosiS. Did it help to medicalise war? Did it help to write it, to rebuild the paraphernalia, the accents, glimpses of french farm life, violation of landscape, clouds, how firm the mist holds in low places? Is helping even a word?
 How piteous the torn small twigs. Thin blue smoke rises straight, like robber-fire,
The immediacy is too dire. I have to stare out at my own surroundings, the windy summer day. And then I can read it. This intimacy and pliancy. For a short time.

Likewise I can't take too much news (about Syria). I heard on the radio about a bookshop or book club in, I think, Aleppo. Isn't it dangerous to be going out getting books here? asked the reporter. It's dangerous everywhere, said a man who was reading Hamlet: I've read half and before the end of the year I hope to read the other half.

What was David Jones reading in the trenches? He must have been writing when he could, holding on to the landscape the moonlight and the soldierspeak, as well as all the reading he'd done, all the words he'd absorbed. In Parenthesis is saturated with The Golden Bough, Malory, the Old Testament, Plato, Shakespeare, the songs the Welsh sang at rugby matches. Ransacking for comfort in the era of footnotes. David Jones footnoted in gentlemanly fashion. I read them, mostly, even when I don't need to. To step outside the trenches.

I read part 4 up at the pond this afternoon. Neither sunny nor not. Fished out lemna betimes. Two buzzards out, one bathing in the feeder pond when I went up. The savagery of David Jones' language next to a whirr of whirligig beetles in the middle of the pond. One intimacy for another. One routine. Lemna watch. Rat watch.
When it's all quiet you can hear them:
scrut scrut scrut
when it's as quiet as this is.
It's so very still.
Your body fits the crevice of the bay in the most comfortable fashion imaginable.
It's cushy enough. 
The relief elbows him on the fire-step: All quiet china? — bugger all to report?—kipping made? christ, mate—you'll 'ave 'em all over.
If trenches in France you can't comprehend, if the big picture is crooked once you're inside it, absorb what's closest—in a trench everything is close—including death, life and lukewarm tea, populate with Welsh myth and legend, Morte d'Arthur and sundry heroes, fools and dreamers.
Roll on duration—
  we're drawing pith-helmets for the Macedonian war—they camel-corps won't have platoon drill anyway—deux grenadine ma'm'selle—this is mine, Alphonso—here's the lucky Alphonse, the genuine lion heart, back in time for the 'bus to Jaffa and the Blackamoor delectations.
  He swayed his pelvis like a corner-boy.
 In Parenthesis is a diary written afterwards, an onward rush through a year or so of World War 1. You have to read it as he wrote it. Is that an obvious thing to say? Or does certain writing present as the only way to say it, no compromise, no cliché, no long list for literary award, no list at all?

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