Monday, 18 October 2010

Black Spring by Henry Miller

What is not in the open street is false derived, that is to say, literature.

Yet another banned book! Black Spring was first published in Paris in 1936 and was not first published in Britain until 1965.

When it comes to circumnavigating the grey-wigged and false derived British literature censorship apparatus writers have had to give thanks time and again for the vital presence of French publishing houses. Perhaps today we live in more enlightened times.

If Easter falls
in Lady Day's lap
beware old England
of the clap ...

Henry Miller says about poetry: Write about what's inside you ... the great vertiginous verterbration ... the zoospores and leukocytes ... the wamroths ... and the holenlindens ... every one's a poem. The jellyfish is a poem too ...

In his novel Black Spring written in France during 1934-35 Miller sees that the next war is coming and so the obvious message is to take what life can offer before the black day dawns. The coming War will spread all over the world from New York to Nagasaki, he confidently predicts. And, of course, he's right.

The story centres around the thoughts and experiences of one man, a man whose name we don't even learn until chapter 3 or 4. It begins with his childhood in the confines of the 14th Ward in New York: The boys you worshipped when you first came down the street remain with you all your life. They are the real heroes. Napoleon, Lenin, Capone - all fiction.

The names of those real-life heroic boys of the 14th Ward ring out like gold coins - Lester Reardon, Eddie Carney, Stanley Borowski ...

But soon we move to Europe and to Paris where the poet begins to ask himself some serious questions: What is better than reading Virgil? and answers: Why, eating outdoors under an awning at Issy-les-Moulineaux...

The meal at Issy is followed by an essay on the art of urinating in the public pissoirs of Paris whilst being observed from above by shameless women leaning from their high windows...and it is, this great human joy of relieving the full bladder, it is really better than reading Virgil.

When not passing water, or strolling along the Seine, our hero reflects on the art of aquarelle for he his, like almost everyone else in Paris, also a water colourist. In 1927 or '8 I was on my way to being a painter. An amazing essay on how to paint a masterpiece, it's a picture of a horse, concludes with the words: I hold the picture upside down, letting the colours coagulate. Then gingerly, very gingerly, I flatten it out on my desk. It's a masterpiece, I tell you! You may say it's just an accident, this masterpiece, and so it is! But then,so is the 23rd Psalm.

And so is Black Spring. It's a masterpiece of the absurd. It's a masterpiece of the world going mad. It's a masterpiece of the meaning of love. It's a masterpiece of lists. It's a masterpiece of this and that and, as Miller says in one of his radio interviews, this or something like it, I wrote it at the same time as I was writing 4 or 5 other books and I threw every kind of thing to it.

Over 200 pages the daft dangerous world of the 1930's with its foibles, its coming war and its many madnesses, both internal and external, receives Miller's microscopic Pythonesque-Joycean-Orwellian inspection. The result is a timeless and prophetic novel that is, yes it is, a genuine masterpiece.

Poet-in-Residence verdict: Read it and meditate on what you are.


  1. Sorry Poet but he is not my cup of tea. But I do like the idea of a jellyfish being a poem.

  2. Pat, re "he is not my cup of tea"
    One for Dominic, maybe?

    "...more than a hint of Joyce"
    "apocalypitic and amazingly funny"
    "radiantly alive and beautifully phrased"
    "powerful, vivid and original"

  3. Perhaps it is best not to note it,the clown lennon john is in fact closure,from guitar notes ring clear while thoughts plucked from the air as it twhere,proposes the non-instrument.

  4. The human electro-magnetic field has been detected up to 4 meters from the healthy body. We can pluck many chickens!


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.