2nd Vol,No1 (July 2015)
A Poetic talk with a grass poet Mike Absalom by Surabhi Bhattacharjee.
I am the grass poet.
I keep my ear close to the ground
and wait for answers from beneath.
What on earth? I am not lapsadaisical!
I am the grass poet! I am waiting for answers! ——
I am the grass poet.
I keep my nose close to the ground.
Seriously! I am not lapsadaisical.
Mike Absalom, a grass poet and his story begins with letters keeping into music and music into letters. It is too tough to call him just a poet. He is myriad minded genius. The Province once described Absalom’s musical work as “`Innocence with a Macabre Twist”. Mike Absalom was born in Torquay, Devon from an Irish and Welsh parentage. After being raised in England and Canada, Absalom was educated at Oxford University and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. He is a country boy, but Arabic at Oxford put him for a while among the mighty and gave him the handful of languages that allowed him to live by his wits in those far off places from the pages of the National Geographic Magazine which had fascinated him since he was a young immigrant growing up a parson’s son in rural Quebec. After University, life in the 1960s was a delicious Niagara with no bottom. He has had the accidental foresight to buy a guitar in 1960, a little before everyone else did the same, and this became his passport to vagrancy. From it came song writing and music and, in the end, wild performance art. He moved upwards from the street to bars that had chairs; from bars to folk clubs; from folk clubs to colleges. Afterwards he spent a lot of time on mountaintops ironing out the hangover.
He passed the next quarter of a century in Canada. In tune with the solid decorum of that country, He calmed down and became a pillar of the local community. During those years, he made his living as broadcaster, fiddler and Celtic bandleader. He also wrote newspaper articles, did recitation of poetry and toured north to South America. For a while, he lived in Paraguay, where he got mastery over harp and left no stone unturned, which, after Canada, was certainly worth it. He was dysfunctional and quite happy with the world and himself. Still, the life he had been living suddenly ended: World History gave North America a violent shaking in September 2001 and at the same time dislodged him. With him Welsh and Irish roots flapping loose, He decided it was the time to replant them in his native soil and he crossed back home over the Atlantic. He craved old stones. It was a blind jump into the void and he had no idea what would become of him. As it was, he landed on soft ground, which in his Clare grandmother’s language they call Bog.
“What is a poem?’ This Bog man does not know. In the same way that a postman does nothing except to deliver a letter, he does nothing but to deliver a poem. He writes it down, certainly. But how it comes to him and what it is and from where is a mystery. Well, no! Not entirely. It comes from Beyont! as he relaxes into his unpretentious Irish kitchen, this solid place in a solidly objective world of draughts and burning turf, of cooking smells, of rain and smoke and cats, it is very clear to him that poems come from somewhere else, from a place he will call beyont (in Irish accent). He had written:
“In front of the canvas I stand. I move my arms. I
flex my fingers. I stare. Time, that terrible and incomprehensible enigma, fades to irrelevance and leaks away slowly, vanishing under the studio door.
Paint flows and moves, the clouds of charcoal rise, fall, coalesce.
The void is before me. Darkness covers the face of the earth.Out of that darkness figures emerge, blinking, arranging themselves randomly here and there on the picture plane, at first without intent or passion, composing themselves like anonymous crowds moving through the Metro. They appear in the paint from elsewhere and jostle for meaning. If there were a Me I would say they come from beyond Me. I have not invited them. They introduce themselves, borrowing my name with an abrupt lack of etiquette, and having taken up their stations on the canvas they invite me to recognize them.They invite you too, viewer.”
Now he paints, and though he lives in the lap of rainbows and tempests on the West Coast of Ireland, the old stones are beginning to stir.
“The valleys were full of paths and the paths full of dust,
untrodden, and old abandoned houses.
The trees stood always motionless, like old people at a funeral.
They moved me often enough
as I walked through the scattered ruins they observed,
never knowing why I felt so sad
or what might once have happened there.’’
Thinking as a poet means viewing the world as a poem; thus, the poet is prone to existing in real space and time in a most vulnerable manner. Do you agree??
No I don’t agree. The question is: WHAT is real space and time?? I don’t see the world as a poem. I see the world as a world…whatever that is! Just as an aside poems are whispered to me from the Beyond, as they are to everyone. The secret is to shut up and be silent so that you are aware in the Silence that something is speaking. Maybe! We are not vulnerable, after all. We just can’t see very well, and we don’t listen. Nothing real can happen to us. We are smoke on the mind and mirrors. Something likes that. It helps to be OLD to be silent!
..Mike apart from a poet you are a painter also so do you thing poetry is also near of physical sensation???
They both come from the same place. Paintings write themselves. Poems paint themselves. They come from beyond Mind, beyond thinking, beyond metalize. And then they come down and take form…either in words or in paint or in charcoal. I am talking about work that works! That actually comes through. If you think too much the spiritual force is lost in words/thoughts. Of course…many attempts end in failure…they get caught up in thoughts/words/ideas/ideals. These are all things of a lower level of evolution: the everyday mind is thee to help the body survive only. In the end of course, it never survives. You die….sort of!! Just the car you drive around in the body. That is what I think (hope?) anyway.
There is completeness in your mind and emptiness on your page then how do you conceive these thoughts, do you find anything special that helps you to get into frame?
I just do it when the spirit orders. Write down the idea that pops up. It comes with its own RHYTHEM (from reading a lot I suppose) then I knock it about a bit so that it has form.
What do you see the role of a poet in today’s culture?
I DON’T see any role related to ‘today’s culture’. THIS is just an idea. A separation of things from the whole into entities that can be grasped by those who choose to put everything through ‘mind’ rather than experiencing direct. Anyway…I don’t have any role. I like it when I’m paid to read though!!
Jostling and rumbling of ideas and images, reaching as far as in your mind’s eye can “see” in any direction, from which to think about what some of the things in it have in common or what they might have to say to each other as a poet Mike or as a painter Mike or as a harpist Mike???
No jostling. A poem just comes. Otherwise I just sit…and look at the trees or the dandelions or the bugs. And drink tea. Or have something forbidden: croissant coffee! The important thing is to ‘not go anywhere’. Just sit. If you are able. Got to be old though’.
Who are the poets do you continually go back to?
Shakespeare. I don’t know; more definitions, more separations? I’m not an academic! HAHAHA
Tell me the name of your favorite poets?
Shakespeare, the Translation of the King James Bible.
What are the sources to access your poems if anyone wants to read you?
There are collections called Old Fart and other Poems are available on Amazon (Mike Absalom). The Scorpion Month…limited edition handmade book…poems and linocuts on Red Fox Press @ E35.
Anything from your side
They also see She Danced for Me with Her Feet in Lobster Pots and Even the Grass has a Hangover. These 4 titles are available as Mike Absalom as Chapbooks of Colour Painting (by Mike) on each cover plus illustrations (black and white) inside with each poem, E15 each plus P & P.
Say something about your paintings?
I may not remember my first drawing, but I certainly remember my first art critic.
I was four and a half years old, newly deposited in the local Kindergarten and bursting, I felt, with the urge to express myself in pencil. I did just that at the first opportunity and in the first place made available to me. This was my arithmetic exercise book, for we started young with our two times tables in those days, and the pages and pages of creamy white paper screamed out for the fulfillment of Spitfires and Messerschmitt and full frontal assaults up the beaches of Normandy. I did not disappoint those virgin pages; I poured my soul into them and filled them full. So full indeed that when the time came for tables there turned out to be no room for even one, let alone two times tables.
When the headmistress saw my portfolio she was speechless, but decided that I deserved a good talking to anyway, and did it with a bamboo cane. She was my first art critic and the memory is indelible. The marks left by the stick on my lower extremities turned out to be moderately delible, although they did last several months, which was plenty of time to think deeply about art and life and come to the conclusion that perhaps life would turn out to be more probable if I decided to let art go.
The time for wondering is over now. I have million other motifs that call for my introspection.
For this Bog man ‘’Never mind what poems are. They can be anything you like’’. Poetry hangs here like a cloud butterflies in a tropical forest, elusive but so close you can touch it.
The scent of wet wood hand
sawn on a January morning
returns to me again the
sunless sweetness of solitude.
I have cut this cottonwood
many times before
in a sleight of hand
impossible to follow,
leaves gush like leaking sap
from its dead branches.
I have even seen flowers
burst with the speed of comets
from out of the blotchy bark.
They scatter as turf ash does
into the wind-blown skies,
and sometimes I scatter with
for they are able to whirl me
in a dervish dance
deep into my own silence.( “Chipa”)
As an interviewer I have blown away by hearing few words from him. I do not know how to conclude this interesting chapter of a man who hardly speaks though says every possible thing through his crafts. In his each and every work there is a postcard picture that brings my attention on the couple of lines of a famous poet John Keats’s “Grecian Urn” that I think defines both Mike as a person on the other hand as an artist;
“Heard melodies are sweet but those unheard are sweeter”.