More must be said, too, of Devin’s book, Precipitations: Contemporary American Poetry as Occult Practice. ‘Tis a book of criticism prepared by Devin based on a dissertation he wrote under the supervision of Robert von Hallberg and Saree Makdisi at the University of Chicago. I am grateful Devin wrote it — for with its overview of prior acts of trance-scription by the likes of poets Robert Duncan, James Merrill, and H.D. comes the potential to retell the backstory of what I’ve done. It sits with me here as I write.
Tag: The Home of the Gay Wizard
Devin’s essay “The Needs of Ghosts” turns upon “Interrupted Forms,” a poem by Robert Duncan, included at the start of the latter’s Poems from the Margins of Thom Gunn’s “Moly.”
Given its dedication to one who is both there and not there, ‘tis a poem that is both desirous and recollective simultaneously.
Into the situation of Duncan’s poem, I project this character of mine, the Gay Wizard — the ghost who haunts “The House on Shady Blvd.”
Of him, or of a ghost of similar make, Duncan writes as follows:
Long slumbering, often coming forward,
haunting the house I am the house I live in
resembles so, does he recall me or I
Wanting today to alter the condition set upon me by the ghosting of me by others, I sing the poem to those I love. I sing it to you, dear reader, “as if telling could reach you,” hoping against hope you have ears to hear.
The Needs of Ghosts
There’s more to it, though; this vein of coincidence runs deep.
For Devin, too, has a place in this story.
I reach out to my colleague C., a poet-friend who studied under Dillon, and ask if he knows, too, of Devin. C. confirms that Dillon and Devin are indeed father and son.
Devin wrote an essay called “The Needs of Ghosts: On Poems from the Margins of Thom Gunn’s ‘Moly.’” The start of that title hits home, of course — startles me, lands with me now as I recollect my time on Shady Blvd. Having taught poems from Moly in my course on Hippie Modernism, I relish the opportunity to read Devin’s commentary. Not yet having familiarized myself with the other text about which he writes, however, I set to work doing so. I track down and read Robert Duncan’s Poems from the Margins of Thom Gunn’s “Moly,” a serial poem that Duncan published as a pamphlet in 1972, later reprinted in his 1984 collection Ground Work: Before the War.
For Duncan, writes Devin, crafting poems in the margins of Gunn’s book was a form of collaboration. The collaborator, he explains, is for Duncan “an inspiration from outside.”
And like that, it happens. The idea grows legs as I read. For I, too, wish to craft a text in the margins of another’s book. Mine will be a story crafted, in a sense, in the margins of Devin’s.
I admire a small stone and a pair of clam shells: mementos from last weekend’s party on the beach. In thinking about bathing the stone in salt water, an occult practice suggested in Aidan Wachter’s book Weaving Fate, I’m reminded of Devin Johnston’s Precipitations: Contemporary American Poetry as Occult Practice (Wesleyan University Press, 2002), a book I read last fall. Although most of Devin’s books are collections of poetry, the above book is a work of criticism — as were the books on Irish poetry published by Devin’s father Dillon Johnston, who Devin thanks in the above book’s acknowledgements.
I introduce each figure here, as each plays a part in my tale.
Dillon taught in my department, his time overlapping that of his more famous colleague, the poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou. Dillon is the one who founded the press here at my university. His name now graces our reading series.
And oddly enough, Dillon lived for a time here on Shady Blvd, this street about which I’ve been writing — his home Mitch Easter’s home, two doors down from my own. He settled there in the wake of a divorce, and stayed there for several years.
Indeed, in all respects, he seems like an interesting character — someone I would have liked to have known. By the time of my own tenancy on Shady, however, Dillon had moved on to Wash U., where he trained several of my friends and colleagues. Our times thus never aligned in our respective homes — though I suspect Dillon’s stint overlapped that of the Gay Wizard.
For hyperstition’s sake, let us assume the two to have been friends and neighbors. The story of their friendship is one I venture to tell in what follows.
The Narrator, the Traveler, the Gay Wizard, and the Ghost
Our cast can be imagined as three parts of a single psyche, plus one.
The first three—imaginable, perhaps, in relation to categories like present, future, and past—nevertheless share time in a single home, like users sharing computing time on a mainframe.
Who, though, is the Ghost? The alleged “plus one.” Not quite mind-at-large, certainly. The whole person? The unifying soul? An author-function self-fashioned into being via hyperstition? That which presides in each?
“It might be helpful,” quips the Narrator, “to map these characters onto a Greimas square.”
“But my preference,” he adds, “is to do as Iris DeMent suggests, and let the mystery be.”
Because of its stained glass, its gaudy chandeliers, its profusion of mirrors, there was always a liveliness, a vibrancy to the Shady home’s interiors. The home’s mirrors were the equivalent of portals. Black Lodge, the occult-themed bar in town, utilized similar décor—though of course, as the name suggests, with the color removed: the Shady home stripped of its shine, replaced with an abundance of black.
By Some Strange Manner of Coincidence
The author sits uncomfortably on his meditation pillow pondering the tranche of 80s jangle-pop / Paisley Underground LPs that turned up at Goodwill mere days after he set out to tell his story. In the heart of the heart of the story is the house he lived in two doors down from Mitch Easter’s Drive-In Studio. “Who or what passed these records to us,” he wonders, “at such an opportune time? What kind of entity must we presuppose, what manner of causality must we assume here in our rendering of the cosmos?” For two of the records are themselves Easter-produced efforts: one of them recorded and the other mixed at Drive-In. “Was it the Ghost who sent them?” inquires the author. “Or is there some other force at work?” Some covert, time-traveling, Antikythera-wielding group from the future, perhaps, name composed of a string of Cs. Such was the solution OG psychonaut John Lilly arrived at, his paranoid, drug-powered Cold War musings leading him to posit the existence of a shadow organization known as the Cosmic Coincidence Control Center.
Entry of the Ghost into the Narrative
The Ghost reminds me of me. There it is dancing alone in my apartment, singing “I want you to hold me,” as the Violent Femmes do on their song “American Music.” The Ghost thinks its lovers speak to it through the songs on its radio.
It sets forth each night assured of this, listening as one such lover follows “Gold Soundz” and “A Pillar of Salt” with “Lariat” and “Web in Front.” “If it means I get to hear you singing to me,” reasons the Ghost, “if it means our last words weren’t wasted, then so be it.”
Inspired by the aforementioned, Ghost decides on a whim to live well again. It comes and goes as it pleases amid the timestream of its ghosting, resolved in each instance to rip it up and start again.
Replace “Old Sounds” With “Gold Soundz”
“Going back to old sounds won’t help,” thinks the Time Traveler. “Do so and the Narrator stands revealed as a bloody mother fucking asshole.”
The Narrator, not quite omniscient and thus taken aback by the thought, asks of his sub-creation, “You think so?” “What, then?” he wonders. “Do we edit the entries to make me likable? What would we write instead?”
Thus it happens, thinks the Traveler. “The Ghost would have to enter into the narrative,” he says. We know for certain that some such being spoke to us via auditory hallucination, don’t we? And we know as well that it was already there, doing its work upon us in the house, prior to our introduction to marijuana. The latter didn’t invent the Ghost — but it amplified it. It gave it back its voice. Let us open ourselves to the Ghost, then, and recognize it as a potential for apartness within us that is always-already part of us. Once we accept all that is loop-like, all that is like Ouroboros in our nature, we reveal ourselves as we are, infinite: a single, transtemporal, interdimensional being, enunciating itself across time.
Confronting the Obstacle
One version of the narrative begins with the Narrator rereading old trance-scripts, feeling unhappy with his former self’s negative self-image. He arrives to a realization of how much of an obstacle he was to his flourishing. The Narrator wonders: should I “burn the diaries,” as Canadian poet Moyra Davey recommends? Should I edit, revise, re-sequence events? Is that how one creates an Alter-Destiny?