Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Pirate King

Guest post by Jamie Field

We are pirates; poets travelling across a vast ocean of literature and culture; plundering images, forms, ideas, even whole sentences. We will hijack an ocean liner carrying the complete works of Shakespeare; plundering a sonnet or two or even going to the lengths of kidnapping a character. With no remorse we will take a Greek myth and modernise it, we may even have the brass to imitate a particular writer. We pirates will even steal from other pirates.
Once there was a code, we pirates were a very thankful, modest bunch.  We use to confess our sins in the form of attributions and epigraphs, and in general the majority of us still abide by that law. There once, however, lived a pirate who inspired a generation of Douglas Fairbanks’s to discard their cutlasses and pick up an AK47. There once lived a Pirate King who would drink himself into a stupor before writing; a moderniser who would steal under the cover of darkness, who would take away any text and then change it beyond recognition.  He was a poet of immense technical skill who died at sea, a poet ahead of his time, a pirate called Hart Crane.  
On page 58 in Melville’s Moby Dick there is the following sentence:
‘As morning mowers side by side slowly advanced their sides through the grass of marshy meads even so these monsters swam making a strange de-cutting sound, endless swathes of blue in the endless sea.’
Crane’s Repose of Rivers (1926) begins: 
The willows carried a slow sound,
A sarabande the wind mowed on the mead.
I could never remember
That seething, steady leveling of the marshes
Till age had brought me to the sea.

Crane lifts about six words from Moby Dick and alters or disregards the rest. The poem in its entirety has nothing to do with Moby Dick or Ishmael; the poem itself alludes to something entirely different. He borrows the sound of Melville’s words to start, and then uses his own to finish.
Unlike Pound who alludes to the source of a line, Crane was the first Modernist to do it without attribution; not bothering with the source but primarily with the words. Crane’s poetic voice is primarily an ill-suturing of other people’s words.
Living in London, jumping from one poetry reading to another, seeing the same familiar faces, I have noticed a rise in poets stealing from each other; using the same words and images but altering the context so radically that most of the time the original poet doesn’t even realise. Most of the time this public act of piracy happens subconsciously.  No one ever brings up the issue of plagiary because the new poem is so radically different to the source, to the point where both pieces are in their own way unique. 
To end, there’s nothing wrong about being a pirate, in fact be a Hart Crane and take pride in it, as long as you put your own fresh stamp on the loot.



vicky ellis said...

I am Keyzer So...I mean Hart Crane.

Great post Jamie. I shall wield that AK47 with pride :)

Ashley R Lister said...


I've taken your advice to heart (Crane) for my post this weekend :-)