BIBLE OF NOTHING; BIBLE OF EMPTINESS:
Until I was invited to review and comment on the above bodies of work; I was fortunate enough not to be overly familiar with either the previous works of this author or, for that matter, with the author himself. The benefit of which, if we put aside the obvious dis-benefits of overlooking the output of such an accomplished poet and author: Is that I am now able to come to his work with a fresh eye, an open mind and no entrenched knowledge of, or acquaintance with, the character of the author himself to colour my judgement.
It has been my experience that in such an examination; it is all too easy to make erroneous assumptions based on one’s own familiarity with the poet. Assigning, or otherwise conferring meaning and nuance to selected tracts and/or entire pieces, based on the known intellectual and emotional predispositions of the poet; rather than on a frank and impartial assessment of the work as presented in isolation.
Contained within the poet’s ‘books’, as detailed above, is a substantial body of work: As a matter of expediency therefore, and in an attempt to neither tire nor confuse the reader, I propose to address each titled work as a wholly separate and disparate enterprise. Limiting any comparison to a brief ‘overview’ at the end of this discourse…
BIBLE OF NOTHING; BIBLE OF EMPTINESS:
I begin this treatise with some trepidation; Not merely because it is a large and complex body of work — but because my gut instinct is to set out upon this course by turning the spotlight first on the introduction preamble itself: entitled ‘Bible of nothing; bible of emptiness’…
Nowhere, in this substantial collected work, is the poet more perversely obtuse; more wilfully enigmatic or more symbolic than here. It seems both fair and expedient therefore to prepare the reader for what is to come by tackling it first.
It is my impression, for I believe the poet intended this particular work, as an introduction, to mean all things to all men and yet; something different to all of us. A unique vision; a single personal perspective held to be unique to each and every reader.
We must deal here then with MY vision: In and of which, inevitably, there will be some components and concepts common to each reader’s interpretation. Facets that must and will be manifest in each of our ‘visions’ for this work.
Let me begin then with my belief that; the symbolic dimension of this work, the finely worked trios of ‘glyphs’ that lead the reader both in and out of the work; are intended by the poet to plant the seed in the reader’s psyche that, pursuant to the other works we are later to examine, that all corporeal and mercenary power is transient. That all things come in cycles and therefore all empires MUST perish. The allegory of futility contained within the overt and visual reference to the swastika are, in my view, inescapable. It is here that the poet first ‘tests’ his reader; a gambit he uses again and again as we explore rest of these offerings. The swastika, whilst an overt reference in its own right, carries a hidden message he expects the worthy reader to unearth…
“The word swastika came from the Sanskrit word svastika, meaning any lucky or auspicious object, and in particular a mark made on persons and things to denote good luck. It is composed of su- meaning “good, well” and asti “to be” svasti thus means “well-being.” The suffix -ka either forms a diminutive or intensifies the verbal meaning, and svastika might thus be translated literally as “that which is associated with wellbeing,” corresponding to “lucky charm” or “thing that is auspicious.”
The word in this sense is first used in the Harivamsa. As noted by Monier-Williams in his Sanskrit-English dictionary, according to Alexander Cunningham, its shape represents a monogram formed by interlacing of the letters of the auspicious words suastí (svasti) written in Ashokan characters”
This introduction tells us the coming assault — for poetic assault is what it is — is about raw and absolute POWER… The power within, the power without, the wielding of power and its corrupting influence. Not merely on man as a sentient being: but on all living things; and how our inner selves may draw sustenance from; or be destroyed by; that self same force…!
If this entire body of work in its various parts may be regarded, to indulge my argument for a moment, then the eight pages of symbology and their contained tracts must assuredly be the key by which the author intends his reader to unlock that code. So intense is the enigmatic complexity of the intellect that performed these literary gymnastics the reader may not allow him or herself a moment’s respite. Each page, each symbol, each phrase must be closely studied, absorbed and understood. No page or piece may be glanced through, passed over or ignored. For in each piece lays the key to its brethren… Tiny insights into the mind of the poet that illuminate the pathway into the next piece and the next and the piece thereafter.
As in life; in this manuscript — There is no reward without due diligence, honest toil and stead fast application…
To overlook the title, ‘AMERICA’, of this body of work is to rob it of its ‘street map’ – the core concept of this poetic opus — that twists and turns and weaves, labyrinthine and perverse through the poetic city of its various edifices; Offering you the streets and alleyways in all their complexity; and the lists of their names. Each entitled in turn; road by road, street by street and lane by lane. Whilst in turn not giving the reader any clue at all as to which name belongs to which street…
YET: to attempt to link the title to these works is to invite the poet to lead the reader, often by the nose, occasionally by the soul, up endless blinds, cul de sacs and back alleys so closely and enigmatically interwoven as to be almost uninterpretable…
This body of work, taken in isolation, is deeply spiritual. Each literary construction built brick by brick by a master builder into cunningly designed accommodations with any number of aspects and features to delight the temporary dweller within. Do not however fall into the trap of mistaking their brevity, a succinctness carved with surgical acuity from the solid rock of the author’s intellect, as simplicity. Each piece is as complex, moral and enigmatic as its fellow as they form street and block and narrow within this tortuously complex intellectual city. A city pitched with skyscraper and adobe dwelling shoulder to shoulder, cheek by jowl, with splendid and opulent palaces to rival the Babylonian gardens…
Yet within that spirituality lies a dreadful pragmatism that smacks of ancient deities and old overturned religions; set incongruous against a reverence for the natural world birthed deep and impermeable within the soul of a poet borne of a thousand generations of earth bound forefathers: all tempered by the demands of millennia of cruel and worshipful priests and unquestioning followers. No-one who reads this may doubt, for one moment, that its author must, manifestly, be as complex as the work. There beats here the heart of a true poet — an ancient soul, compassion for his fellow man motivates perhaps more of his work than even he imagines…
Wherein, I believe, lays the conundrum that is ‘AMERICA’…
Where two worlds collide: East and West.
This work isn’t, as the title suggests, about America in my opinion… But about a man; a man like any other man. A man from a deeply spiritual culture, a man of words, a poet: A poet and an artist in mourning for an entire people. Mourning that other men; men who breathe the same air; lay their children to play on the same grass; who eat and sleep and laugh like his people. Men, in their terrifying lust for all things material, who have lost their way. He mourns, silent and apart, for their very souls…
HONEY OF POETRY:
behind the Paradise
Heaven — is
not the first
Ismail Ax — is
not the last
out of the Ancient
The poet speaks nothing of his god or gods: This is not about the poet himself. Neither does he suggest, not here nor in any of a hundred other places, that the issue lies with the west’s lack of religious fervour.
THIS is about spirituality!
It is a sorrowful indictment on the west — not an angry or vengeful creation — but written with a profound emotional sorrow for a people who have set themselves above and apart from the earth that gave birth to them; apart and above the creatures of this world; each as worthy, as complex and as wonderful in its creation, in its own right, as the upright ape who dares, in his hubris and his arrogance, to claim dominion over it.
But most of all; in heart rending and soul crushing sorrow. Sorrow for the fragile, and oh so precious, thread that bound them to the tapestry of life. To their spirit, and the spirit of all things. A thread that has long since parted. Parted leaving them drift, alone and afraid, in the darkness of their lost spirituality… The loss of the quiet and meditative serenity that hears the silk moth weave and feels its labours in their own being; feels the earthworm move under their feet as sure as the crusts of continents in their titanic crashing; feels the draught of a moth’s last flutter into the flame. The real things…
“the beauty of the flower is —
the worst betrayal of
He labours the wonders of being: Teaches that only the beauty of the music remains after the profits have been taken; and the composer stoned to death by the pin striped suits with their rocks of avarice and lust and power and want…
the doors are opened…”
He weeps for strangers. Weeps for the things their stranded souls will never understand; no more than the worm may understand the mind of god; Weeps for the spirit being that lays crippled and dying, inside the decaying husk of each wanton soul, of stifling malnutrition within a cancer ridden culture; where mammon and avarice are the only deities.
Weeps for souls strangled by religious fundamentalism; by spiritual despots of all creeds and colours whose own spiritualism lies bruised and bleeding; cast amongst vipers in the lustful and avaricious pursuit of a new and more powerful master… Power!
Last, but by no means least, there comes the anger. Only when he speaks of the poets and of the teachers, the prophets, in all their guises; do we begin to detect the faint aroma of fire and brimstone. A race apart; whose sworn and ancient duty is to be the unwavering and incorruptible guardians of their people’s souls…
Only when he speaks of them; their failure, their weakness, their cowardice, do we feel the sparks of a smouldering anger sting our skin…
ALL these things are within this magisterial body of work — but in their finding the poet holds out no hand; offers no crutch and holds aloft no torches. YOU must seek them out! For without the trial there is no worth in the prize.
Profound, enigmatic, complex, deeply spiritual and gut wrenchingly emotional… But above all — broodingly compassionate.
THAT is ‘AMERICA..’
Literally translated from its mixed languages; “The way of battle.” To say that however is to over simplify both the concept and the body of work from which it is drawn — for ‘Tao’, from its Daoist root, is more an unspoken concept, a thought, a vision, a spiritual ethos than a physical word capable of definition: and in that lies the spirit of this body of work.
Tao or Dao (S•, Pinyin: Dào ) is a metaphysical concept originating in Daoism that has been adopted in Confucianism, Chán and Zen Buddhism and more broadly in East Asian religions and ancient Chinese philosophy. While the word itself literally translates as ‘way’, ‘path’, or ‘route’, or sometimes more loosely as ‘doctrine’ or ‘principle’, it is generally used to signify the primordial essence or fundamental aspect of the universe. In Daoist philosophy the word Dao is not generally considered to be a ‘name’ for a ‘thing’: it is a reference to the natural order of existence, often referred to as the “eternally nameless” (Dao De Jing-32. Laozi) to distinguish it from the countless ‘named’ things which are considered to be its manifestations. In Buddhism and Confucianism, by contrast, Dao has come to refer to the outcome of meditative or moral practices (respectively), which is closer in meaning to the Daoist concept of De (virtue).
In all its uses, Dao is considered to have ineffable qualities that prevent it from being defined or expressed in words. It can, however, be known or experienced, and its principles can be followed or practiced. Much of East Asian philosophical writing focuses on the value of adhering to the principles of Dao and the various consequences of failing to do so. In Confucianism and religious forms of Daoism these are often explicitly moral/ethical arguments about proper behavior, while Buddhism and more philosophical forms of Daoism usually refer to the natural and mercurial outcomes of action (comparable to karma). Dao is intrinsically related to the concepts yin and yang (Pinyin: yînyáng), where every action creates counter-actions as unavoidable movements within manifestations of the Dao, and proper practice variously involves accepting, conforming to, or working with these natural developments.
The concept of Tao differs from conventional (western) ontology, however; it is an active and holistic conception of the nature, rather than a static, atomistic one.
There is much in this collection that defies description… Demanding of the reader a vision, an inner understanding, a visceral reaction to the poet’s words; above and apart from intellectual process. Beyond the pragmatic analysis that a poetic work might customarily be subjected to.
In direct contrast with its predecessor, ‘America’ there is no gentle invitation to follow the poet through the sad but gentle maze of his work. THIS body of work is full of anger! Bitter and resentful and smouldering with a barely suppressed rage against ‘the machine’… The despotic influence of political and religious dogmas that serve the few and which, for all their prayers and slogans and sound bites; all their empty promises on Valhalla, Nirvana, paradise and the Ellysian fields deliver nothing. NOTHING! The poets cries out in his frustration and his anger…
This work; ‘Tao Kampf’ bewails the broken promises of the priests and the false gods; the mendacious governments and their politicians; and their simpering servitude to forgotten ideals… It rales against the coming of the dark and the awful and vacuous emptiness that these hallowed institutions; the churches, the parliament, the soothsayers and the priests leave in their wake.
“Where is your spirit?” It asks. Where is the god within you? Why doesn’t it rage against the horrors and the destruction all around you? Where is your spirit?
“This is the ultimate end of man, to find the One which is in him; which is his truth, which is his soul; the key with which he opens the gate of the spiritual life, the heavenly kingdom.”
What gains a man if in its gain he lose his soul? And in this we find a common thread in the poet’s work — Spirituality. It pervades his work in the way incense pervades the slow air of the temple.
Each piece demands of its reader that they reach inside themselves and drink deeply of the waters of life; taste their sweetness; gorge themselves on that precious nectar until their thirst is quenched and they can tear their minds from the corporal and the mundane; believe in themselves. Believe that in their single spirit there lies a foots soldier in the vast and terrible army that is the unconquerable and indomitable spirit… The ‘Way of Battle’. The poet demands of us that we understand the battle that rages, within us, without us; in every field and sky, every mouse hole and ants’ nest, every tree and under every bush… To stretch out shrunken minds to breaking in the struggle for the understanding that the war that wages therein and IS life! Every creature that sets the planet, swims the seas and flies the air is a critical piece in the jig saw that is existence.
The poet tells us, in his anger and his pain, that THESE things are the stuff on enlightenment and must be observed and understood in all their complexity. Begs us to realise we have become each deaf, blind and mute to anything but the material world and to claw at the rags over our ears and the scales over our eyes before we are lost…
To demand of us our comprehension that life itself is a battle; a war waged between the ‘real’ and the ‘unreal’: That the ONLY thing important in this shortest of spans; the ONLY thing worth struggling to attain; is the growth of our spirit — again that deeply, deeply spiritual message carved deeper and deeper into each piece as if the poet had let his own blood to make the letters.
Like a Shakespearian actor he struts the stage as ‘The Christmas Carol’s — Ghost of Christmas Present’ beseeching, cajoling, demanding with ghostly, spectral images and infinitely and intricately woven cautions and parables, that we see the error of our ways before it is too late!
But… I suspect I will repeat this caution through my review of all these four bodies of works: Don’t expect to get this message on a plate. This is a big body of work and it is crafted with ingenuity sometimes bordering on the perverse. The poet expects, wants, even demands of the reader that they work hard and climb, climb, climb for the sweetest fruit out of reach up in the very highest branches: Each successive piece offering the diligent and intelligent reader the very barest and slipperiest of footholds to aid their ascent…
Again the concept that; without trial there is no merit in reward. He tests his readers on their courage and tenacity and dares them put the work aside and abandon its message. At the peril of their very being but: Free choice is theirs. As all good teachers he offers choice. Only the willing will attain the tree’s canopy and the joys that wait there…
This work is complex: It has been conceived so to tempt the reader into stretching themselves intellectually, morally and spiritually; asking them if, having finally accepted that they are in a war that is being fought for their very souls, if they have the mettle, the courage, the strength to fight that battle — Let alone win it!
This literary feast should not be wolfed down as if by a starving man. Each mouthful must be savoured and rolled around the palate if the diner is to discover the depth of layer after layer of the most enchanting spices…
In this volume I feel the poet giving himself over to something akin to despair in his musings on the spirituality of all things. Their brevity, their frailty, their mortality…
in their dreams see fears —
O wake them up, Horror!
to sting and
– – –
From: Black Sakura Blossom: Black Garden 4 sets the tone of the poet’s deeply, deeply philosophical commentary on how fleet life is; and, how amongst the beauty and the pleasure the life of ALL things is bejewelled with pain beyond endurance, suffering and tragedy. His purpose in this is not clear as we begin the treatise and only reveals itself as we move on into the sequence:
O only Death
is more important than
the blossoming of flower!
the berries that are ripe
desire to be poisoned with —
has blossomed out
O feel orgasm,
From Nothing Of Matsuo Basho: Nihilbasho 3
The concept that life is in all death and death is in all life — It is the way (Tao) of all things. Asking us to consider that faced with inevitable extinction; we should better employ our brief and guttering candle in illuminating the ‘way’— casting its light on our own inner beings and seeking enlightenment in our own paradoxical inconsequentiality. Paradoxical in that; he shares with us in his previous work the godlike majesty of the human spirit; its indefatigability, its courage, its indomitability — and yet here reduces it to the level of the meanest insect. The lowly worm. The very meanest of creatures that creep and crawl and slither. Here, once again, worlds and philosophies collide!
He shines his intellectual torch on how similar our own futile existence is to the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and the lowliest crawling things on the face of our earth… How pitiful in their transience are the false gods of mammon, of power and greed. He cautions poetic parables the awful consequence of neglecting those things that nourish our being: That raise us above the beasts: That lift us towards the heavens.
This volume leads us into a world without men… It reduces our scrambling to the mindless and pre programmed doings of the life that writhes beneath our feet…
the old pond —
the frog has leapt…
than storm — is the Smooth
with the Other
than gas chambers —
the aroma of the flower
From Lotuses Of The Evil: Pure pond 1 slips into metaphors that link back, subtle, cunning and unspoken to the swastika emblems in the introduction. In fact: ‘metaphor’ is the clue and the key to this volume of the poet’s work. The hints and whispers at the dark acts of man and their terrible consequences; yet also; of how quickly and easy forgot are the terrored and terrible atrocities of man’s awful inhumanity to his brother: Of the dreadful wrath that is the imposition of one man’s god on another in the name of peace, love and idle brotherhood!
It is within those very metaphors the reader will find themselves chasing the butterflies of innovative and poetic thought through the woods and meadows of labyrinthine imagery in headlong flight. Through mire and midden, stream and raging torrent. The poet offers readers no respite and expects no plea for it; giving no quarter and asking none…
of Eternity in Its
to show the edge
when blade is
to follow the trace
of the Flame in
casts away no
to splash out the nectar
for the sake of the drop
From Hieroglyphs Of Worms the poet goes on to explore our fleeting and inconsequential nature by overtly comparing man, the reader and all man, mankind in its broadest definition; with the truly infinite. To highlight the profundity of our ignorance — holding up to his face and asking; No, demanding, he stare into it. A dark and unforgiving mirror in which he seeks to reflect the true nature of man’s breathtaking hubris; his piety and sanctimony; his utter and all encompassing self satisfaction with himself and his vainglorious doings. Declaring that man had indeed made god in his own image: that he might make humble and self effacing supplication to his own vanity…
The motif of desperation and despair is continued through most of this work and yet; for the observant and understanding reader, hidden within the twists and turns of the latter pieces are hints at salvation amongst the leaves of the poetic branches… Hints and whispers at hope and redemption, reprieve, deliverance. Subtle half thoughts and half formed ideas that murmur of man’s ability to save himself had he but the wit and the wisdom. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow — There will always be tomorrow…
In this we find the heart of the author: the part of him that despises yet seeks to forgive, to reprieve, to rehabilitate and redeem. Schizophrenic almost in its messages and metaphors it confuses and enlightens all but the brightest and most diligent reader; such is the complexity of these works…
I must pause at this juncture to explore a side issue: The poet refers to parts of his poetic work as ‘Haiku’: A perfectly valid standpoint in and of itself as the term has come, in recent years at least, to mean a multitude of things: corrupted to the point that any three line work of a set number of syllables is cheerfully, if inaccurately, described as ‘Haiku’…
That said: There are schools of thought on both side of this argument: The one that NO piece of poetry not written in the original Japanese from which the form is drawn and containing the traditional ‘Kigo’ (a word intimating at, but not actually naming, the season) and other key devices may call itself Haiku… In as much as the Japanese language sets Haiku not in syllables but in ‘characters’. A single character with meanings as diverse as a single letter or syllable, a whole word or even an entire phrase; making translation difficult and construction in any other language quite impossible.
The other school declaring that Haiku must, to survive as a form, be willing and able to‘ evolve’ as a form; and therefore many different constructions in many different languages are both valid and acceptable Whether the poet’s work does or doesn’t qualify as ‘Haiku’ however, in the true sense of the word, is not at issue here. In order to circumvent being bogged down in that argument, one that is still a subject of heated debate amongst poetry scholars, and for the sake of expediency in the preparation of this review, I have assessed ALL of the work herein exclusively on its merits as poetry. Making no remark as to construction on those pieces the poet himself might otherwise consider modern haiku.
With that final caveat: There you have it. A profoundly complex, emotional and enigmatic work steeped in the emotional abyss that is life itself and the multifaceted spirituality of a dozen or more of the most ancient and equally enigmatic philosophies. A literary trial sparked with anger and righteous indignation, yet tempered with compassion and great, great sadness; A work of philosophical and spiritual significance in a world where all values have been sacrificed to the gods of power, lust, wealth and materialism. This opus never intended to be ‘easy’…
A cry in the wilderness from the Don Quixote of his generation… Forever another giant; ever another quest; always another windmill at which to tilt…
“A puzzle, within an enigma, wrapped in a conundrum”
Perhaps best describes the literary voyage the poetic adventurer sets sail upon when he seeks to unlock the mysterious and labyrinthine mind of the poet, philosopher, scholar and seeker after truth that is Azsacra Zarathustra…
Sullivan the Poet
Michael Sullivan. Born a British subject of an English mother and Irish catholic father in the late January of ’53; ‘Sullivan’ spent his early years with his family in the Far East. Returning with his parents to England in the late fifties where he was subsequently educated.
Thereafter pursuing what could perhaps be best described as a broadly colourful career; with callings as diverse as gun dealer and consultant, freelance journalist, magazine editor, commercial photographer, publican, fleet limousine operator, lecturer and an unpaid ‘Special Needs’ tutor: To name but a few — even a brief spell under the flag enjoying the Queen’s shilling!
Throughout which the only truly common thread has been his writing, an enduring passion never completely abandoned; Fuelled by his lifelong fascination with not only the beauty of the English language and its literature in general, but the richness and diversity of its poetry in particular. A fascination well illustrated in the almost perverse multiplicity of styles and subject matter contained within his slim volumes of poetry…
Widely published in mediums as eclectic as his work, from poetry anthologies to text books; wall hangings and mixed media fine art works: ‘Sullivan’ is seemingly content to share, with anyone and everyone, and in whatever poetic medium takes his fancy; His works, his philosophies, his passions…