Mark Goodwin: Magishun & Shadows
I’m afraid that as I begin to think about putting into prose how a poem was made the whole process seems to slip away into the shadows . . .
That’s how I replied to Linda & Claire when they kindly asked me to write about the process I experience when writing a long poem. They reassured me, saying that was fine, and that actually they’d like me to write about that shadowy slipping away. Linda also asked if I’d I write about the ‘Magishun one’ , or to give the poem its full title: Fair & Youngish Magishun @ Ashburn Magnified . And that poem is in fact all to do with process … disappearance and re-appearance … the ever unfurling and always un … finished process that is perception …
And the poem is also very much to do with fear. And I note that I have opened this shadow-grappling essay with the words ‘I’m afraid’. And I wonder how much that is simply a turn of phrase, a mere apology for my perhaps (or probably) not being able to produce the white rabbit requested … or is it more than the way a phrase turns, or is turned, and is it actually an expression or translation — through the sound of words via the alphabet’s signs — of my body’s instinct when faced with danger? And can you see dear reader how even now I’m hiding something, and that the crystalline claim that is prose is already being dissolved and disappeared … and reformed towards a prestige of poetic flow … that feeling when meaning is uncertain, yet something true is present, something beyond words, and yet appearing through words … in the flux of poetry …
When Fair & Youngish Magishun @ Ashburn Magnified was first published, as is the way with Long Poem Magazine, the agreement was that the poem be accompanied by an introduction. I shied away from prose with the following:
‘Fair @ Youngish Magnified’ was written out quickly … or at least there was that illusion in a moment After. my first pouring of a poem, I then played with its shapes and made a few tweaks there & here. It was one of those gift poems – some kind that appears to arrive complete. But it was illusion – my fluttering my fingers across my keyboard’s cobbles and following appearances of blacksymbolsun furlinga crosswhite wastoreadra therthanwriting .A poem had grown for years. ‘@ Aceburn Mannified’ is dedicated to my fifteen year old son, Louis. And a quote that propels my poem is from a Brisith trickster; someone my son admires and has learned much from. Louis’s an illuniosist, or a macigian … although he stridently dislikes both designators, and doesn’t like to describe himself as such. Louis’ intense explorations through illusion & trrickey, prefarmonce & trust, has caught me much about my own art … and my art, poetry, has helped very much in my being being able to encourage his quest. Louis would like to make a generous art of trick(art)ery – trix to empower, rather than entrance or sujbugate. ‘Fair & Youngish’ is of coruse very much about Louis, and my admiration for his courage, to face pungent in salt form soneome decades older than himself … and be able to remain focused on his how. Showever, as Louis knows, a poem isn’t inreality about him. Appearance is always detepcive, unless weem brace knowingly our being being trickggered.
I will now try to keep my eye on the Queen of Hearts, not let the lights’ sleights change shapes with shines … I will make an effort to tell it how it was, how it came about, how it … turned … out …
Louis is now twenty-one, and is passionately and with huge commitment learning the interpretive art of acting. He would agree with me that his intense interest & commitment to performing entertainment magic, when he way a boy, has led him towards and informed his becoming an actor. Here is some of Louis’ poetry, written when he was fourteen, taken from a poem called A Sideways Dance:
Papery nonsense that’s not quite cardboard is soft on face but sharp on edge
Fifty-two military butterflies lay and slide and slip, rip, tipped in pulped frenzy
Fingertips crunch and phalanges crease as dexterity demands.
This art is one of discipline I tell myself
white rivers run in space between my ape grip
as a hyper hypothalamus coordinates the following flourish
impressive it was but pointless it is
perfect leaves laced with red&white spotted dew flounder unbalanced on withering steps as
Punctured hearts dribble spit wet diamond
this one move
took me 3 entire months to master. Three months.
And this one took over a year…
the pointless act of learning these ridiculous manoeuvres. The cards lose their meaning. I forget why I allow it to happen.
Why I allow them to soak up my time
until they are swollen spheres stuffed with my life
And so, Magishun not only appeared because it was provoked by an incident in my son’s life, but is also inspired & informed by our discussions — which taught me more than I taught — about how magic & poetry are really (or imaginatively) the same thing … how the art of poetry (or any art indeed) shares the emotional & perceptual charges of magic, be that the healing shamanistic magic of oral cultures, or sophisticated entertainment magic associated with the likes of Derren Brown.
The refined entertainer magician tricks their audience in an honest way, in that the audience know they are being tricked … and through the display of dramatic ritual are (re)assured that they are being tricked, and are thus given a safe space in which to want to be tricked … (this is the reverse of a con which tends to make an unsafe space in which to obscure trickery, and then offer an escape from that pressurised space). It turns out that the one who is actually being fooled is the magician themselves — the one doing the Tom Foolery, a Holy Fool, a jester who, for the trick to really do its work ,so perceptions are convincingly shifted, must, using their bodies, act out the disappearance & reappearance of things with the intensity of belief. If, in the moment, the magician themselves can believe they are actually dissolving a coin and then actually reconstituting it in another place-&-time … then the trick arouses awe, in both the tricked & the tricker. The poem begins by quoting Louis’ boyhood hero — and mentor via books & video — the trickster-artist Derren Brown, who revealed to Louis much about the attitude & intention required to turn a trick into a unique moment of special collaborative creative reality.
The magician depends upon the creativity of the audience, of their willingness to go with the flow of the perceptual dance … the magician does not Tango alone. However a magician can also arouse consternation and even anger. Sometimes that can simply be because of the narcissism of a magician (usually male!) who has not learned that awe is never all about ‘themself’ … but rather always all about the ‘other’. Louis, informed by a silent Teller, puts it this way: Too often entertainment magic is bad drama because it casts the magician in the role of a god. One who can click his fingers and have his way. He’s omnipotent and arrogant and egotistical and simply very very boring to watch. Sometimes, though, resistance to a magician can come from someone who simply doesn’t like the trickster’s perception-shifting gifts, someone perhaps who distrusts such gifts, and refuses to receive them … and sometimes even with an intensity that can bring forth aggression.
Or it might be just a case of some bloke taking a dislike to a clever kid, perhaps a kid he perceives as impinging on his territory. Yes, I’m still amazed by it! One September evening, Louis, when he was a boy of fourteen, went — on his own — to a village called Ashby Magna (in Leicestershire) to perform close-up magic on the streets during the village’s fair, having been invited and hired by the organiser … and some guy — old enough to by my son’s grandfather — did tell him, quite viciously, to fuck off ! … and Louis really did wander out of the village to a field, cried for a while, and then wandered back to carry on with his work. And it was not until many months later that Louis told anyone. And so, of course, much of the poem is driven by my anger and also my pride. But the drive of the poem is balanced out by my gratitude, because the organiser who had hired Louis — that I refer to in the poem as ‘the beautiful middle aged woman stall-holder’ — had, by Louis’ own account, been hugely encouraging and kind. She had trusted him, and indeed complimented him, and I suspect that she has had a significant positive effect on his growing confidence as a performer artist. And I suspect also that, in his own way, the foul-mouthed grumpy bloke also made a positive contribution.
Magishun is also importantly informed by another event & creative project that Louis & I shared with some close friends. In the poem this is referred to askant. And I remember clearly, whilst making the poem, knowing that few readers would have an inkling of the actual practice being referred to … but I liked and trusted the poetic transformation made by smudging the origins of the so-called ‘fish-eye on the alloy pole’. Essentially, Louis invented a very unusual perspective using a GoPro camera, in a way that pushed the selfie stick into something I would call the ‘otherness-pole’. He simply strapped his GoPro camera to the end of an old extendable pool-brush pole, so that the camera’s eye faced the pole-handler. This turned out to produce very odd video when the pole was manoeuvred through surrounding terrain. The pole’s long silvery length stays implacably still, fixed in the frame whilst the world around it & the handler holding the bottom of the pole are in movement. Louis & I first experimented with this on my parents’ Leicestershire farm, by doing a kind of relay through hedgerows, up & down a huge mature sycamore tree, through barns, outbuildings, and even farm machinery, walking, climbing, crawling and running whilst passing the pole from one to the other. To get a better idea of the effect, here is a link to what we call a ‘one-pole-take film’, called Quarry Some, which we made in a Leicestershire quarry with the afore mentioned friends, back in 2014 : https://vimeo.com/236231356 . Louis is the first person to ‘appear’ in the film. And so, this film, and this practice, this perspective-shifting & perceptual-transforming ocular relay game has fed, and fed into, the depth-perspective sleights of one practice and the shadow-light word-play of another … to then be mixed in to the poem’s flow …
To be honest, Magishun is a poem whose process I cannot explain, and even if it were possible to reveal to myself (& others) how it is exactly that one can proceed through the world of things & other beings by making a poem, I have no doubts about my not wanting to reason with this procession or intellectually ‘understand’ it. A poem is a performance at one with thought & body, a bull’s eye where actual bodily perception & imagined mind cross through each other. As the eco-phenomenologist David Abram says: From the magician’s, or the phenomenologist’s, perspective, that which we call imagination is not a separate mental faculty (as we often assume) but is rather the way the senses themselves have of throwing themselves beyond what is immediately given, in order to make tentative contact with the other sides of things that we do not sense directly, with the hidden or invisible aspects of the sensible.
To bend, or refract slightly, a well-known phrase: the angel is in the detail. Or rather the angel is the detail, and a single detail itself does not freight merely part of the message but is the whole message. And the whole message is the plenitude of the world’s visible/invisible details in consort & concert. And so, my re-spelling of magician — so as to include the syllable shun — I now realise, alludes to a sudden veering away from one perspective … to another, to touching and shuffling the colours of shadows, a kind of positive avoidance, a negative capability, a turning from the prudent judgement of self-assured kingly magi towards
tango with a Queen
of Hearts, a side
ways dance, a glance
into a fuzzy in
eral of twi
so as to
A sound-enhanced version of Magishun, which includes Louis’ voice as well as my own, can be listened to hear: https://markgoodwin-poet-sound-artist.bandcamp.com/track/fair-youngish-magishun-ashburn-magnified
The one-pole-take film — Quarry Some — was first presented, with my blog post introduction to the film, by Longbarrow Press. This piece expresses concerns & influences that are also pertinent to the Magishun:
Marks poem was published in Issue 13, available here : http://longpoemmagazine.org.uk/issues/issue-thirteen/