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Selected Prose, 1934-96 Hardcover – 1 Jan 1998


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 450 pages
  • Publisher: Enitharmon Press; First edition. Hardback. Dust jacket. edition (1 Jan 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1900564017
  • ISBN-13: 978-1900564014
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 14.7 x 3.8 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,523,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

David Gascoyne's death in November 2001 was marked by the lead obituaries in all the British broadsheets as well as in Le Monde. As a poet and translator he had been internationally renowned since the 1930s. He was the first chronicler in English of the Surrealist movement, and an essayist and reviewer of dazzling range. His association with Enitharmon Press dates back to 1970 and in the past decade there have been eight publications which will be a lasting testament of his importance.

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A Prose Touchstone For All Future Poets 11 Dec 2001
By Jeremy Reed - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
David Gascoyne's elegantly measured prose provides the reader with the rare instance not only of how a visionary poet reads his contemporaries, but of how he blueprints ideas which provide the instructive dynamic informing his poetry.
Gascoyne's mind is awesome. An isolated spiritual journeyer in a materialistic century, Gascoyne's integrity stems from his belief in visionary imagination as inspired interface between conscious and unconscious worlds. From his first youthfully audacious paper, Gascoyne distinguished between poetry as activity-of-the-mind and poetry as means-of-expression. His powerful affirmation of the superior value of an imaginatively alive poetry over one that simply describes was from the start his inspired credo.
This book is a moving human document of what it means to be a poet, and to survive by that means alone, in a society radically unsympathetic to this calling. Having experienced the defenceless vulnerability of being a committed poet in a capitalist ethos, I find Gascoyne's survival heroic, his courage paradigmatic to the poetic calling.
Although David Gascoyne writes warmly of the darker aspects of T.S. Eliot's psyche, Eliot was in large to prove the prototype of the poet deserting his art for the sanctuary of an editor's desk. Many poets have done an injustice to poetry seeking personal security in acceptable professions. They relegate art to the status of a consuming hobby. How can one be fully open to the possibilities of experience if one's days are given over to immersion in establishment values? Gascoyne is among the best antidotes to this duplicitous trend.
Gascoyne's poetry of imploded mystic hallucination sounded a completely new, revolutionary note in British poetics. He found, for the English language, visionary continents already mapped out by Lautreamont, Rimbaud and the surrealists. He was to encounter madness in the process, often the way for those who pursue the journey to the interior. He says: "I am a poet who wrote himself out when young and then went mad. I tried to write poetry again and succeeded to a certain extent but it is not the same as the poetry I wrote before." Gascoyne's greatness hinges on this tragic concept of burning out.
Collateral with the inspired poetry he was writing in the 30's came the equally eventful prose essays which form the early part of this book, chief amongst them being Gascoyne's preface to his book of free translations Hölderlin's Madness (1938). This particular essay is one of the finest ever written on the subject of visionary poetry. It achieved an empathy for its subject's plight prophetic of Gascoyne's own. At only twenty-two his declarative statement in defence of poetic vision was published. Already he inhabits the great night of the German romantics in which the poet anticipates imagination becoming reality."They are poets and philosophers of nostalgia and the night. A disturbed night, whose paths lead far among forgotten things, mysterious dreams and madness. And yet a night that precedes the dawn, and is full of longing for the sun. These poets look forward out of their night: and Hölderlin in his madness wrote always of sunlight and dazzling air, and the islands of the Mediterranean noon."
To have realised this at such a young age was also an initiation experience into the excruciating social isolation which comes of holding these secrets. Gascoyne was not only set apart from the predominantly social concerns of British poetry in the 1930s, but from the main thrust of twentieth-century British poetry, with its attempts either to repress or sanitise the imagination. "Persistence is all" Rilke was to advise, and David Gascoyne, as poet, has never wavered. The price has been high. Lacking any support structure for his undertaking, David Gascoyne the private man has been broken by his quest. He returned home to his parents in middle-age, broke, ill, conceiving himself a failure in their eyes.
In 1965, his Collected Poems were published. He felt it was some sort of justification for having lived, some vindication of an identity denied him by a capitalist ideology. These are the sufferings inherent in pursuing a poetic vocation, as opposed to writing poetry as an avocation to a career. Gascoyne is one of the few who in every generation are prepared to sacrifice their lives in the interests of poetry. In his "Note On Symbolism" Gascoyne further enforces his conviction that the way to apprehending spirit is through the inner evaluation of experience. He writes: 'Each man must undertake alone and in silence the task of objective and empirical reality's changing and uncertain surface.'
Of extreme interest are the two autobiographical essays: "The Most Astonishing Book In The English Language" and "Self-Discharged." In the first of these Gascoyne describes having discovered in the early 1940s at Watkins bookshop an extraordinary book named OAHSPE: A New Bible. Its prophetic contents are subscribed to by a cult called Kosmon, purporting to expound the secrets of the visible and invisible universes. These became inextricably linked to the delusional promptings about apocalypse which eventually led to Gascoyne's confinement. (The poet at one time believed it his mission to break into Buckingham Palace and alert the Royal Family to the coming of a new spiritual awareness.) The consequences of his compulsive actions were to have Gascoyne sectioned, and in 'Self-Discharged' he describes life inside the dystopian precinct of an asylum.
Gascoyne's prose and poetry are of the highest significance, products of an imagination in discourse with the archetypal Kingdom. If both Hölderlin and Rimbaud "believed the poet to be capable of penetrating to a secret world and of receiving the dictation of a transcendental inner-voice," David Gascoyne did, too. The poetry stopped. His continued celebration of the exalted visionary dynamic did not. His later criticism, especially of surrealism, involves a generosity of spirit which is in itself a monumental achievement.
This book represents poetic truth as we seldom encounter it, and as such should be a touchstone for all future poets. A hard-won achievement of a great poet.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
"For our generation lives as in Hades, without the Divine..." 13 Jun 2006
By J from NY - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
It is far past time that poets of the present pay their dues and recognize the greatness, inhuman resilience, and almost perfectly ideal life of poet-warrior David Gascoyne.

As Kathleen Raine puts it in her introduction to this indispensable work on the life of this authentic seer, Gascoyne's existence consisted of a "total commitment to the role of the poet."

On the fringes of the Surrealist movement because of his Christian mysticism and discriminated against, like Artaud, for his refusal to make one concession or compromise to the bureaucracy Breton eventually created (perhaps unwittingly), it is neither exaggeration nor sentimentality to characterize this Promethean figure as a sort of poetic saint.

His unwavering and frenetic pursuit of visionary truth is evidenced by his statements such as the following: "The poet's job is to go on holding on to something like faith, through the darkness of total lack of faith, what Buber calls the eclipse of God."

These days unimaginative poetry is the rule rather than the exception, and even today a giant like Gascoyne might seem curiously out of place in a world that has backed off from the intensity of figures like Poe, Rimbaud, Artaud--a lineage Gascoyne fits in quite well.

His was a life plagued by misfortune: bouts of madness, mostly from the mental overstrain he imposed on himself for the sake of his craft, drove him to long periods of tragic silence more than once.

Few stories are as painful to read as an older Gascoyne crashing the gates of Buckingham Palace, insisting that they listen to the transcendental dictation he had received from another world. Sacrificing himself and the integrity of his rational mind in favor of Rimbaud's derangement of the senses, his amphetamine addiction became a death-grip until there was nothing left to do but flame out.

Gascoyne, however, did more than wait for "The Sun At Midnight" to arrive: he was engaged in the cultural, political, and literary endeavors of his time as much as anyone else. The early essays in this book, most of which were written by a younger and more naive Gascoyne, are seminal to any understanding of the man.

His intuitive understanding of Novalis' thirst for eternal night, his fascination with thinkers like Leon Chestov, and his impassioned theories on the role of the poet are as vital to our survival as poets caught in the throes of capitalism as Shelley's "Defence of Poetry".

As a struggling young poet myself, I have found this text to be the sort I carry around with me everywhere to arm myself against the inevitable onslaught vision suffers everywhere in this world. Like Maldoror, Rimbaud's "Illuminations", and the work of Villon, it is an extra conscience of sorts keeping me from compromise.

Read not for leisure but necessity, that someday this seemingly forgotten "Christ of Revolution and Poetry" might start appearing more in bookstores and warm us by the fire of his Sacred Hearth.
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