The first poems from Homo Sentimentalis : A Guide In Verse To Modern Emotional Intimacy date from shortly before nightfall on a snowy evening, looking over the courtyard of the Ecole normale supérieure in winter 2005.
It has been seven years... I never expected such a long fruition of this cycle, which has stayed with me throughout various stages of my life. Bad and good, lost and found (more or less in that order, with crests and troughs).
The first poem of the cycle, written in ten or so minutes with no corrections or alterations - this is no praise of energumen : all the others were touched and retouched and fiddled over with the fine tools of techne a thousand too-many times - came from a moment of deep despondency, a sensation of personal loss, and of enclosure within dead or dying conventions.
So the conventions needed to be pushed... Garnered with stars and roses. If they could not be beaten, they were to be made king.
And thus, having written before so much dreadful lyrical expressive treacly half-baked rolling-sea-Swinburnesque verse, the following words came like an overly-simple mantra to me : Nothing before has worked. Do it different.
The first poem of Homo Sentimentalis was thus a strange sort of speech to another aspect of myself, an ironic and playful part remonstrating a sentimental, twilight sensibility (equally present in my self). The result was this, at odds in some ways with the rest of the volume, and yet somehow containing, I think, the kernel of it. The poem's title later disappeared, becoming one of Homo Sentimentalis's numbered sections, but I reprint it here in its first version (only recently refound the other day):
nero (and other colours) or why aren't we as clever as the ancients ?
admitting * your faults
were those of the white lilies
or Timon of Athens—
so the city crumbled
what city hasn't ?
either you go to the war
or the war comes to etc
yes * there were riots
and the stars dipped and fell and
would not obey the * August
motions * premonitory
but blame the Vestals ! * who
told you to follow Tiresias
into the badlands
and to read exile blankly
in a clutch * of crows ?
yes * I know they were circling
but isn't that * in August
when the dry winds are up
the sort of thing * forgive me
that crows do ?
It was a strange beginning. And now it's here. Now it lives.
Many thanks are due. Too many to list. To Mark Young, the most simultaneously generous and pragmatic editor and poet one could ever be lucky enough to have. To Harry Stammer, for doing and redoing the book's cover in the face of my irritating: "Harry, could the subtitle be slightly smaller? ... Now, slightly bigger?"
To Dutch photographer Mark Van Laere for his extraordinary, voluptuous, conventional, excessive, tropological, sexual, metaphysical rose which adorns the bouquet's wrapping. It's not always the case that photographers understand the very special economy of poetry production (as in the virtual absence of all economy, or the three n's rule : Nothing Nichts Nada). Mark giving us permission to use his beautiful image free of charge is thus generous and kind and a little gift. For more information about Mark and his photography, go to www.markvanlaere.nl, and photographs may be seen here : http://www.hersenspinsels.nl.
And of course, the absolute dedication - to Céline.
Homo Sentimentalis is now available from Otoliths Books.