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Monday, 6 February 2012

John Tranter: Hulk


General Motors / Body by Fisher advertisement, 1939 (via fulltable)

...................(loosely after Baudelaire's “Une Charogne”)

Bad girl, dear creature, do you remember that thing
we saw one summer morning, wandering the paths
by Maggie’s Farm: the carcass of a ’39 Chev,
an oil-stained wreck in a tangle of weeds:
the headlights two scoops of glittery pebbles,
the radiator stained with a dribble of rusty water,
the engine block furred with grease and dust
and the steering wheel broken. The rust
and the rotting rubber and the chemicals
leaking from sump and battery gave back
to the soil various acids and heavy metals
that the generous earth had given,
in an elemental form, to factories
in China and Taiwan, liquids now escaped
from their silent, sealed utility and translated
to a cautiously-spreading poison.

Mantling a pool of fuming ruby liquid
a scum of brilliant green and scarlet
trembled and stared back at the sky.
There was a vague stink of oil and gasoline.
The sun looked down on that ruined thing,
burning the dented metal and blistered paint
that had been burned a thousand times before.

The angle of fender and running-board echoed --
so it seemed -- a quickly-sketched motif
in a Francis Bacon painting I had seen in London;
the pattern of paint blotches and scratches of rust
on the bent flank reminded me of Mark Tobey

at his most subtle. Here, these graphic images
were only graphics because I looked at them,
just as, years ago, a crack in a particular footpath
had sketched a perfect design meant for nobody,
but one stared at and stored away by me.

But this decay and desolation waits for us all:
you too, when your time comes,
and the coffin is shovelled over with dirt
and the eternal darkness begins, when the worms
come to keep you company and strip you
to the bones, you too will be forgotten
decade after decade, century upon century,
forgotten among millions: but for this
brief reminiscence: a sketch that will fade,
but less quickly, while the language lives.

General Motors / Body by Fisher advertisement, December 1937 (via fulltable)

Scrap and salvage depot, Butte, Montana
: photo by Russell Lee, October 1942 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)


TC said...

This poem came as a surprising and welcome gift from the blissful Muses of Summertime Under Capricorn, in response to the previous junked-vehicle poem here. Its author, the legendary, brilliant and wonderfully congenial (now there's a trio of adjectives that seldom hang out in company!) Australian poet and erstwhile Jacket editor John Tranter ('twas he who chaperoned modern poetry's earliest heavy date with the aethernet) keeps a fascinating online journal, definitely worth following:

John Tranter's Journal

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Cheers, John Tranter. Fine, fine work - the use of 'furred' knocked me out.

And the pictures, Tom - ah, when we all retire, eh?

TC said...

Ah, Don, I'm sure it will be much as the Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey -- they will have a special section of the Butte junkyard cordoned-off for us.

Hazen said...

“Bad girl, dear creature . . .” I love the equilibrium of that phrase and it’s ambivalence of feeling. It’s a stunning entrance, as Tranter takes a clear look at the transitory in all and everything. To Time, we’re all carrion. Nice contrast in the Russell Lee photo of junked cars, the rusted door drawing the eye. Early Kodachrome film could render only a limited range of contrasts, which made the medium hard to work with, and the results often less appealing. Lee got around that in this image.

Time’s winged Body by Fisher ever approaches . . .

TC said...


Who could but love that wonderfully familiar opening, which melts all chance of resistance from the outset, and makes one surrender to the charm of this poem immediately -- and absolutely.



Russell Lee strikes again (where are those carcasses of yesteryear?) --

"forgotten among millions: but for this
brief reminiscence: a sketch that will fade,
but less quickly, while the language lives" --

Aye, there's the rub --"Not marble nor the gilded monuments/ Of princes shall outlive this pow'rful rime". . .


pink cloud in pale blue sky above plane
of ridge, jet passing above pine branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

objects lined up on picture
plane, a wooden table

which goes by a single name,
once asked, “can one”

silver of low sun reflected in channel,
circular green pine on tip of sandspit

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

It's a great relief--a word that GM uses as a mantra in the first ad--to see poets like Tranter hard at work as demolition men.

TC said...


Another indicative case of man over mantra, then.

Hazen in his concluding allusion has already identified the category of aesthetic trade at work here, memento mori, one of those genre businesses that will never run out of customers.

(The first ninety seconds of every episode of the long-since-buried series Six Feet Under, in fact, comprise the entirety of one's memorable telly-viewing experiences of the past few... decades... centuries?)

One or two other interested customers -- readers of John's inventive and arresting poem that is -- have enquired about the source work named in JT's epigraph.

That is Charles Baudelaire: Une Charogne, dated (Prarond) as writ in 1843, published in 1857 in Les fleurs du mal.

XXIX - Une Charogne

Rappelez-vous l'objet que nous vîmes, mon âme,
Ce beau matin d'été si doux:
Au détour d'un sentier une charogne infâme
Sur un lit semé de cailloux,

Les jambes en l'air, comme une femme lubrique,
Brûlante et suant les poisons,
Ouvrait d'une façon nonchalante et cynique
Son ventre plein d'exhalaisons.

Le soleil rayonnait sur cette pourriture,
Comme afin de la cuire à point,
Et de rendre au centuple à la grande Nature
Tout ce qu'ensemble elle avait joint;

Et le ciel regardait la carcasse superbe
Comme une fleur s'épanouir.
La puanteur était si forte, que sur l'herbe
Vous crûtes vous évanouir.

Les mouches bourdonnaient sur ce ventre putride,
D'où sortaient de noirs bataillons
De larves, qui coulaient comme un épais liquide
Le long de ces vivants haillons.

Tout cela descendait, montait comme une vague
Ou s'élançait en pétillant
On eût dit que le corps, enflé d'un souffle vague,
Vivait en se multipliant.

Et ce monde rendait une étrange musique,
Comme l'eau courante et le vent,
Ou le grain qu'un vanneur d'un mouvement rythmique
Agite et tourne dans son van.

Les formes s'effaçaient et n'étaient plus qu'un rêve,
Une ébauche lente à venir
Sur la toile oubliée, et que l'artiste achève
Seulement par le souvenir.

Derrière les rochers une chienne inquiète
Nous regardait d'un oeil fâché,
Epiant le moment de reprendre au squelette
Le morceau qu'elle avait lâché.

- Et pourtant vous serez semblable à cette ordure,
A cette horrible infection,
Etoile de mes yeux, soleil de ma nature,
Vous, mon ange et ma passion!

Oui! telle vous serez, ô la reine des grâces,
Apres les derniers sacrements,
Quand vous irez, sous l'herbe et les floraisons grasses,
Moisir parmi les ossements.

Alors, ô ma beauté! dites à la vermine
Qui vous mangera de baisers,
Que j'ai gardé la forme et l'essence divine
De mes amours décomposés!

TC said...

And now, in yet another incidence of coincidence abounding on a sopping Monday night in the micro-rainforest, John T. relays his appreciation to all our wizard commenters (as of course do I).

And he helpfully adds the new, improved link to John Tranter Journal.

(This has now been corrected on the margin link list here, for what is optimistically -- cyberspeech is so infuriatingly, and groundlessly, confident in itself! -- termed "permanent" use.)

And for those still lingering in doubt as to our thematic concentration, here in the dripping shadows of the rusty hulks in the poetry junkyard, John further adds:

"Of course the original Baudelaire was about a dead horse's carcass:

"A Carcass

"My love, do you recall the object which we saw,
That fair, sweet, summer morn!
At a turn in the path a foul carcass
On a gravel strewn bed,
Its legs raised in the air, like a lustful woman,
Burning and dripping with poisons,
Displayed in a shameless, nonchalant way
Its belly, swollen with gases.
The sun shone down upon that putrescence,
As if to roast it to a turn,
And to give back a hundredfold to great Nature
The elements she had combined;

"... and so on and so forth."

(That link he's given offers variant English translations of the French original, by the by.)

ACravan said...

Well done all around. Curtis

TC said...

The shining, bloated, fly-bothered carcass of a Historically Evocative blog post is a thing of beauty, I reckon. As it all too quickly begins to decompose, and becomes a joy forever, cyberspace is thus made a richer, more regenerative place... one would hope.

This process has something of the "natural cycle" in it, wouldn't you say? An organic (over)ripeness, following upon a mechanical super-rightness?

Care and tending is essential. Conscientious bloggers are always returning the potting shed (otherwise known as the scene of the crime).

JT conscientiously contributes this useful afterthought:

"Hi, Tom. More on the dead horse effect:

"You think automobile pollution in the city is bad? Step back a century or two: from the book «The Centrality of the Horse to the Nineteenth-Century American City» (with Clay McShane); The Making of Urban America, (Raymond Mohl, ed.), NY: SR Publishers, pp. 105-130, 1997. You can read a longer excerpt here.

"... While the nineteenth century American city faced many forms of environmental pollution, none was as all encompassing as that produced by the horse. The most severe problem was that caused by horses defecating and urinating in the streets, but dead animals and noise pollution also produced serious annoyances and even health problems. The normal city horse produced between fifteen and thirty-five pounds of manure a day and about a quart of urine, usually distributed along the course of its route or deposited in the stable. While cities made sporadic attempts to keep the streets clean, the manure was everywhere, along the roadway, heaped in piles or next to stables, or ground up by the traffic and blown about by the wind. In 1818, in an attempt to control the manure nuisance, the New York City Council required that those who gathered and hauled manure, so-called "dirt carting," to be licensed, also restricting aliens to this type of carting activity. Thousands of loads of manure were gathered on special "manure-yards" to undergo a process of "rotting," and "gangs" of men were employed to overturn the manure and to expose it to weathering. In 1866, the Citizen's Association Report on the Sanitary Condition of the City observed that, "The stench arising from these accumulations of filth is intolerable."

"Nineteenth century urbanites considered the stench or miasmas produced by the manure piles a serious health hazard, but cleaning was sporadic at best. Manure piles also produced huge numbers of flies, in reality a much more serious vector for infectious diseases such as typhoid fever than odors.

"... In 1880, New York City removed 15,000 dead horses from its streets, and late as 1916 Chicago carted away 9,202 horse carcasses.



TC said...

The image of my grandfather as a lad, shoveling up horseshit from the trolley lines of Chicago, round the turn of that century, and then lighting the gas-lamps to illuminate all that ordure, and then at last graduating to trolley-driver, at the top of the dump-chain, drifted back into mind with John's e-mail.

He (my grandfather, that is, not John) always seized upon the word "ubiquitous", when it came up in conversation... admittedly not very frequently... by pausing for a beat, and then interpolating " horseshit".

That in turn set me to thinking, for some reason, of the great coal-fired power plants of the Australian continent, oft hid from view but ne'er far out of mind of the Chinese mega-power companies. (That's an awful lot of lights in an awful lot of windows to be kept burning on an awful lot of nights... and an awful lot of air-muck back home... and evidently not an awful lot to be gained by talking about it, if you are an climate Australian scientist.)

Climate Change: Dangerous Science Down Under.

(And then there was that movie Deliverance... wasn't that the one with the famous duelling-pollution-source scene... or was it that The Three Mile Brokeback Mountain of Manure Syndrome, the one where Jane Fonda barely stops the malodorous meltdown in time?)

TC said...

"Today, only a handful of people know what it really means... and they're scared."

Anonymous said...

love those old pics!!

TC said...

Thanks, Sandra.

And by the by, for those who may be interested, that wandering bird Baudelaire has wobbled through these latitudes a time or two before:

The Albatross