Dead Crow & the Spirit Engine released

Do you find that too many poets are fixated on themselves and their hang-ups even as the world seems to be falling apart? Or worse, continue to conform to the dead end of postmodernism that treats poetry as a kind of impenetrable word salad? Do you look to poets to share insights about the world we all share instead of droning on and on about themselves? Are you interested in poems that create a compelling character and tell a gripping story?

Dead Crow 2020 FRONT coverIf so, then my new book may be just what you’re looking for. It’s taken me more than ten years to get there, but I’m proud to finally announce the launch of Dead Crow & the Spirit Engine, a linked series of narrative poems that seeks to revive the epic tradition of poetry but with a distinctly 21st century twist.

Dead Crow and the Spirit Engine answers the call for a “new mythology” by making use of Crow archetypes found the world over to create a unique new character, Dead Crow. In humanity’s oldest known epic poem, the Epic of Gilgamesh, a raven, not a dove, is sent out from the ark during the Great Flood in search of dry land. Raven or Crow has since become an iconic figure in world literature, occurring in nearly all cultures. It’s appropriate that Dead Crow would appear now, during a pandemic. Dead Crow feeds off both the culture and the collective consciousness to seek meaning wherever it may be found.

Dead Crow is an exile, sent to Earth early in prehistory as a Watcher to report back to The Makers, a mysterious godlike race. Exile is the price he must pay for misusing his powers in his own realm. Having a virtually unlimited lifespan, Dead Crow also gets the long view of human history, and this is his memoir. If the problem with people is that they forget their history and have to learn the same lessons over and over again, Dead Crow has no such handicap.

A dozen or so of the 30 poems have been published in various literary journals, and I am particularly indebted to Ernest Hekkanen, editor of the New Orphic Review, for publishing so many of them. (Sadly, the New Orphic was retired in 2018.) He was among the few editors of literary magazines who seemed to understand immediately what I was trying to do with these poems.

In addition, I created a touring road show of the Prologue to the poems, employing techniques of theater to deliver a gripping live performance. To get a taste of both studio and live performances visit my author website at: https://www.seanarthurjoyce.ca/media There are plans to produce videos of individual poems from the sequence.

Here are some excerpts from the Introduction to the book, Crow Catechism, that further illuminate my purpose in creating the poems:

Dead Crow in Kimberley 2 crop low res

Dead Crow was introduced in August 2016 at the Kaleidoscope Arts & Culture Festival in Kimberley, BC.

The genesis for the Dead Crow character was sparked by a brief passage from Medicine Cards: “There is a medicine story that tells of Crow’s fascination with his own shadow. He kept looking at it, scratching it, pecking at it, until his shadow woke up and became alive. Then Crow’s shadow ate him. Crow is Dead Crow now.” (Jamie Sams & David Carson, Medicine Cards, Bear & Co., Santa Fe, NM, 1988.) I’d been interested in crow mythology since the early 1990s, when I wrote my first Crow poem. Even earlier than that, I’d been introduced to Crow as a poetic talisman by Canadian poet Timothy Shay, an early mentor of mine. My goal was to synthesize a lifetime’s worth of study in world mythology into a unique and original character of my own.

Further, I wanted to bring forward forgotten elements of the great myths, starting from our oldest extant hero tale, the Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2400 BC). In the epic’s Great Flood tale—which predates the Old Testament by a millennium—it’s a raven, not a dove, that is sent out from the ark to find dry land. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, he tells the story of ‘The Raven and the Crow,’ in which, “The raven once had been a silvery bird, / With snow-white wings, pure as the spotless doves.”[1] But Raven/Crow causes his own undoing by revealing the infidelity of the maiden Coronis to the god Phoebus, her lover: “His ruin was his tongue; his chattering tongue / Turned that white colour to its opposite.”[2] I wanted to create a character who was equal parts Raven Trickster-Creator, Celtic Morrigan goddess (a shapeshifter who haunts battlefields) and a jaded Philip Marlowe with a laconic drawl. And I wanted to revive the epic long poem format to tell his tale. He’s a loner, a Watcher, a changeling with a bad attitude, and this is his memoir.

Dead Crow Nelson 2016

Dead Crow performs in Nelson with musician Noel Fudge, composer of the soundtrack to the Prologue.

For a hundred years now literary critics have told us that the narrative poem is dead. But with a new century upon us, Canadian poet Gary Geddes argues it’s now the lyric poem that has had its day. “After awhile the mature poet longs for a larger canvas, for which he needn’t have recourse to prose or drama. This ought to come as a breath of fresh air to poets and readers who feel that poetry has become too minimal, or that critics are waxing more and more eloquent about less and less.”[3] Storytelling on the big screen now takes the place in popular culture that was once held by the epic narrative poem. So long poems can now branch out, delve deeply, and move in a less linear, more elliptical fashion. “(Poetry’s) existence in the life of our society,” writes Geddes, depends on “its ability to absorb and assimilate new materials (linguistic and otherwise), to take upon itself the widest possible range of information, idea, event, theme.”[4]

Oh, and here’s a bonus for you regarding the poetic technique I used to write the poems. Although free verse has been the dominant poetic form during the past century, I chose to use the formal verse structure known as the tercet, using not only the three-line verses typical of that form but adding my own “reprise” or concluding line at the end. I haven’t strictly held to any particular meter for the tercets, as I wanted the flexibility to alternate between long, loping lines and short, punchy ones. My choice of three as the denominator for the verses is also based on ancient Celtic numerology, which strongly featured the triad. In fact, the sexigesimal numeric system is even more ancient than that, going all the way back to ancient Sumer. We still use that system today in the way we structure time using units of 60, divisible into units of 30 for each of the months of the year. And it remains the system with which we divide the compass.

Dead Crow and the Spirit Engine is published by Chameleonfire Editions in a beautifully designed large format edition (8”X10”), lavishly illustrated with original photographic art by the author and printed on high-quality coated paper stock. $20 plus $5 shipping in Canada. For more information or to pre-order one from the first limited edition of 100 copies, visit my author website: https://www.seanarthurjoyce.ca/dead-crow-and-the-spirit-engine

[1] Ovid, Metamorphoses, a new translation by A.D. Melville, Oxford World’s Classics, 1987/2008, p. 40.

[2] Ovid, Metamorphoses, a new translation by A.D. Melville, ibid., p. 40.

[3] Gary Geddes, Out of the Ordinary: Politics, Poetry and Narrative, Kalamalka Press, 2009, p. 39.

[4] Gary Geddes, Out of the Ordinary: Politics, Poetry and Narrative, ibid., p. 38.

Posted in Poetry, Political Commentary, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Diary of a Plague Year Parts 8–10

  1. Pocketful of Posies

1665 London Plaguei.

London, 1665. Bubonic plague rides

the greasy backs of flea-ridden rats,

an invading army no one will see

for another two centuries. Instead,

 

every dog and cat in the city is killed.

Houses of the infected are nailed shut,

entire families condemned to death,

blood-red crosses painted on the doors,

 

150,000 unanswered prayers:

Lord have mercy on us! Children chant

a jaded litany: Ring around the roses,

pocketful of posies, we all fall down dead.

 

Medical authorities insist

a nosegay of sweet blossoms

will keep away the poisoned air,

a bonfire of spiced herbs on every street

 

ward off the Angel of Death.

In the evening, gravediggers roll up

their carts to collect the bodies.

Two-thirds of London somehow survives.

 

No one bothers to ask why.

 

ii.

March 2020. Now that two centuries

of science have insulated us from Nature,

torn apart Earth’s body to steal and then

rewrite her secrets, we must find new ways

 

to keep the population down. Today’s

Angel of Death wears surgical gear

with military insignia, recombining genes

to create a bloodless victory

 

over democracy’s remains. Kinder,

gentler psychopaths salivate

over a new world order dominated

by the ever-present eye,

 

humans just another form of meat.

Facemasks and antisocial

distancing no more effective

than a pocketful of posies, the blind faith

 

technology will solve everything.

Crowd control

  1. Crowd Control

The rules are set to paradox, coercion and blind faith.

—Roy Harper, “The Game”

 

Special ops branch social engineers

brew mental toxins in tax haven

think tanks, spewing memes

like rubber bullets for 21st century

 

crowd control. An OCD Nation

of germophobes is the new abnormal—

projectile hand sanitizer

the new weapon of mass destruction

 

aimed at our own guts, that secret

garden of microbial soil working

invisibly to keep us alive, dreams

busy at their shadow work.

 

Gripping the sheets in my fever

of pandemic, the billionaire elite

coalesces into one body,

padded out like a hockey player

 

as I slam down blow after

useless blow, grab its gargoyle head

and try to gouge out its tongue

of twisted snakes, outgunned

 

by the sleeping armies of love.

 

  1. Shadow Work

People are torn and hurt because they’re sick of seeing Black men die. Constantly, over and over again. —Philonese Floyd on the death of his brother George Floyd by Minneapolis police May 28, 2020

“I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” Floyd

gasps, his larynx crushed, knee

to throat, as he mouths the mantra

of the coronavirus age. No more

 

To serve and protect, the doublespeak

slogan of occupying forces clad

in storm trooper gear bought at discount

in the Pentagon’s Boxing Day blowout.

 

Orwell’s nightmare of the future

a boot crushing a human face forever,

and that face is Black, Indigenous,

Poor, or anything else that resembles

 

the human shadow so desperately

feared by One Percent lackeys,

their Bilderberg bosses convinced

enough money and power will buy them

 

safety from the rabble. Just the cost

of doing business, they simper, as cities

ignite the globe in tear gas parades

of outrage, the smoldering guts

 

of austerity policies out in the open.

Concussion grenades explode trauma

on top of trauma, our collective eyes

burning in fountains of pepper spray.

 

No justice, no peace, chant protestors

outside the third precinct police station.

But this isn’t just about racism. It’s about

power—the beast that lurks in all of us.

 

Feed that animal love or all bets are off.

 

©2020 Sean Arthur Joyce

Posted in Coronavirus, Poetry, Political Commentary | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Diary of a Plague Year Part 7

  1. Life During Pandemic[1]
Justin Trudeau coronavirus

Photo: The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick.

Month three in lockdown

and it’s time for another

Justin Trudeau Moment,

as he steps out like Evil Spock[2]

 

in a dark blue overcoat, doing his best

President in the Rose Garden act.

Fitting that the symbol

of the Mirror Universe is a sword,

 

“Divide and conquer” its method.

Not rocket science at all. Meanwhile,

people you’ve known for years

become distant or aggressive

 

or simply burrow in as deep

as they can go, heads well below

the parapet. “It’s lonely at the tip

of the spear,” said my brother.

 

Streets heavy as decades-old

silence, a soundless string about

to snap. The conformity

most terrifying of all. Thinning

 

membrane of community

at the tip of a needle, delicate

threads pulled apart by coarse,

greedy hands with machine minds.

 

Eliot’s Waste Land an eerie dream

of the future already here—

a civilization gone vacant

of soul. Contact, people.

 

We live or die by it.

 

©2020 Sean Arthur Joyce

[1] A take-off on the Talking Heads song “Life During Wartime,” released 1979, which includes the lyrics: “My chest is aching, burns like a furnace / The burning keeps me alive / Try to stay healthy, physical fitness / Don’t want to catch no disease / Try to be careful, don’t take no chances / You better watch what you say…”

[2] “Evil Spock” is a reference to Star Trek, the original series, specifically the episode “Mirror, Mirror,” in which Spock, Captain Kirk, and the rest of the Enterprise crew meet their doppelgangers in an alternate or parallel universe. Instead of the benign exploration mission of the original Enterprise, however, the alternate Federation is an intergalactic army of brutal conquest.

Posted in Poetry, Political Commentary | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment