Escape: Parvit of Agelast
The blog is later in the month than usual because I’ve been scrambling to edit my verse fantasy for its imminent publication by Arlen House. ‘Parvit’ suggests smallness, as in ‘parvitude’ (Latin parvus, little) and an ‘agelast’ is a person who doesn’t laugh (from Gk, a- ‘not’ and gelan/γελᾶν, to laugh). In the end, the title comes to mean something new, that I didn’t foresee.
I seem to have spent most of life wishing for an ‘escape’—although I scorn the word when it’s used by travel agents. What does the average person in our society have to escape from that’s so vicious? Each other maybe, responsibility certainly, anxiety definitely; but these are things posited on a degree of comfort, unlike what refugees need to escape from, i.e. DEATH.
I want to escape all of the above too, except, I like to say, DEATH, which I see as the ultimate escape; but I’m health-and-appearance conscious, and I obsess about mental equilibrium, so that could be a lie I tell myself, or a port in a storm. Main thing is, I keep asking myself why life is so hard, when it’s actually I who am hard. Which brings me to Agelast.
I was sick of feeling I had to account for everything. I wanted to explore (justify?) the aspect of my personality that always wants to be somewhere else when things get sincere but is too scared to find an alternative. Like Anaïs Nin, I get quickly dulled by conversation that keeps pushing responsibility. The colour drains out of me.
Which brings me to Pauline Bewick. I wrote a poem called ‘Yellow Woman’ about 'escape': a woman embedded in nature, lying about, just growing; and a work-bound seeker, probably male, who catches a glimpse of her. A little time later, I picked up a book of Pauline’s paintings, also published by Arlen House, and found the woman from my poem. I knew Pauline’s work to some extent, but, as she seemed to have painted my yellow woman, I thought I might write a set of poems that would use her work as a visual backdrop. Bernadette McKenna once said that acting is reacting. In the same way, I think of poetry as response—internalisation in order to produce synthesis (or the synthetic).
Which brings me to my chosen form for the extended ekphrasis that is Parvit of Agelast. Synthetic. Constructed. Not ‘natural’. Taking Pauline’s plethora of ecstatic women, I wondered what they weren’t, and found grey. She agreed, saying that her paintings suggested escape. From what? Disappointment. Male order. Eggshell Woman, Slate Man (1) emerged as the central symbolic definer. Hence Parvit begins as a formless blob of matter hidden in a slate city. She’s eggish, but not inside her shell; her shell broke and she swallowed it, so the city will have to do, and it won’t do.
Pauline’s work has a caricaturish symbolism in it, and she’s not perturbed that it’s often described as decorative. “Why not?” she says. I’m not so glib. I need to justify myself all the time—Saturn in the seventh house, my own inner grey. But Pauline feels one side of her yellow and one side grey, and she’s certainly not an unboiled egg. Light as the tone is, her paintings are worked with and within great discipline. No-one with constant coherent production is glib.
I like to play, especially with words. In fact, I think all desired projects are play-in-work. Poetry always has the element of play, as Seamus Heaney wrote in The Government of the Tongue. I may also have been influenced by having been weaned on comics. If you like graphic novels, you may like this. Everything tends towards dance in my head, and dance is both free and contained, like everything. Starting with the concept of a slate city, some things fell into place and some things were planned by seemingly logical progression. I made an Encyclopedia of Agelast, intuiting/devising its structure and composition. But the plot-line suggested itself, as did the amorphous observing giant, who watches the entire action through a single eye.
There’s travel between the fantasy city and the real world we love-to-hate, so I’ve applied true stories that exist outside the ‘escapist’ worlds of both Parvit and Agelast. Parvit might want to avoid unpleasantness, but so does ‘unpleasant’ Agelast, whose philosophy rules out the existence of anything outside the city.
I suppose it’s allegory, but I don’t think I’m moralising, or trying to limit the reader by caricaturing. I followed the images that came to me, and experienced it as an externalisation of inner reactions, impressionism to some extent. There are politics, ecology, abused women, work habits, and a theocracy. There are also an ‘escape’, a chase, drinking, outfits, hairdos, ‘breatharianism’ (look it up on the web!) and lipstick. And a Vivienne Westwood acrostic:
THREE GOOD REASONS TO BE A VIVIENNE WESTWOOD TARTAN DRESS
‘It's quite incredible to think that we might be able to save the world through fashion.’ (Vivienne Westwood)
When global warming worsifies,
Earth will shrink incredibly to
Size 4 or so, a billion souls
Tightly squeezed on a patch of ground
West of the water, the measure
Of a Hermès dip-dye silk scarf.
Off the shoulder will be good, but
Diamante with long train, no.
Vivacity takes the biscuit
In all famines. Red crayon lines
Vie with wrinkles and brighten eyes.
In the Nairobi slums she mixed
Effluence with style to make bags
Nifty enough to fill with nothing.
Never wear knickers with a skirt.
Ewer twill says so much about ewe.
Oh, and a constraint of 16 lines per poem. Four-square, yeah.