This piece was read by Michael Annis on NAD on March 27, 2014.
NOTES to the reading of Part 1 of “through the slits of Orlando’s eyelids.”
Today, I’ll be reading the first half of my political essay poem, “through the slits of Orlando’s eyelids,” an uncommonly structured work of literature.
Artists and writers, typically, are “commissioned” progressively in their roles to see the world through new eyes, employing fresh ideas, and new uses of language, and that reinforces their ability to express clearly many new ways of relating to their purpose as human creators and inventors. This is fundamental to how literary art—and art in general, including music—grows and develops.
When I compose any work of literature, I make it my habit to experiment with form, structure and style. I like to take a standard genre and see how I can put some signature of originality on it. If we, as “revolutionary artists” or “revolutionary poets,” continue using the same old forms and styles, the same old modes of expression, we risk locking ourselves into a redundant vision of the world, where there is a limited dialogue with what’s going on, just like in politics, or any discussion involving options and alternatives—it’s similar to “how does one tell Republicans and Democrats apart anymore?” They all sound the same, and none of their ideas can be considered progressive after one hears ideas from a true progressive. Poetry as written and taught in the United States currently is in a state of straightjacketed redundancy, therefore, it is seldom that one reads anything new that is “fresh” or “original.” It reads to be the same old same old. In contrast, the poetry of Europe, and South America is far more progressive. Form, structure, and style are there to enhance or echo the subject matter from where it has been derived. I believe that doing so increases the authenticity of purpose and content, as did Hemingway when he refused to make his peasants speak like Victorian intelligentsia, even though that was a literary convention at the time. Fortunately, he did not give in to Stein’s admonitions. He continued to make his characters speak in the vernacular of their social and economic station in life.
Given all that, I call this particular work, titled “through the slits of Orlando’s eyelids,” an essay poem–a seldom used structure, and I have never witnessed it used to the extent that is has been in “through the slits of Orlando’s eyelids.”
Also given what I’ve said so far, I have to explain the foundation for the poem, which is to be located in the work, Conducting Bodies, by French novelist Claude Simon, a revolutionary writer in the second half of the 20th century. Simon won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1985, but this is not the primary reason I admire him so much, since, as we know, the Nobel Prize can be and has been awarded cheaply, based upon some political shenanigan rather than on actual accomplishment. An example would be the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama, which is obviously a sham.
In my opinion, perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Claude Simon was how he structured his works—well over a dozen novels. Along with the works of Alain Robbes-Grillet and that of a few other authors, Simon’s comprised what the French called the “nouveau roman” or new novel style of literary composition. Briefly, in this style there is a scarcity of plot, or the plots are disjointed, disconnected—an incident might be mentioned once, then not mentioned again for 100 pages. His descriptions of events are brilliant and detailed, but they often don’t seem to connect immediately in a logical progression with anything else. Also, Simon uses punctuation, particularly periods at the end of sentences, sparsely. A single sentence might roll out for 3 to 4 pages, 1,000 words or sometimes longer. This doesn’t define it as sloppy writing, as it is very coherent, and it causes the brain to work along different channels, assimilating the information through different means other than Aristotelian structure, which is prevalent in most novels, and through a different logic. I’ve used the same technique in “through the slits of Orlando’s eyelids.”
Thematically, Simon often incorporated the horrors of war and the abuse and suffering of peasants, but did it in an atypical way. I’ve also used these themes in my poem, atypically to traditional poetic style and structure. And being French, Simon was profoundly interested in liberty, particularly freedom of expression, carrying it to uncommon lengths. His style is a mixture of narration and stream of consciousness. Through what first appear to be chaotic masses of words, Simon attempts to capture the very progression of life.
Although typically themed to many of Simon’s novels, Conducting Bodies is not his best. Considered to be Simon’s greatest works, resulting from the 1940 collapse of France in the Nazi invasion, are a group of four novels–(1958; The Grass), (1960; The Flanders Road), (1962; The Palace), and Histoire (1967)—which constitute a cycle containing recurring characters and events. Many critics consider these novels, especially The Flanders Road, to be his most important work.
I’ve pulled the poem’s title directly from one sentence in Simon’s work, as you will hear. I used this phrase since Simon never tells you directly what Orlando actually sees through the slits in his eyelids, even though the slits in the eyelids continue to reappear here and there through the novel. So, I decided I would suggest, in detail, what Orlando was or is seeing.
“through the slits of Orlando’s eyelids” was written in 2009 and first published in OMEGA 7, an online literary anthology. It was first publicly performed, in part, at the opening of an artist’s exhibition in a gallery on the Rue de Saint Jacques in Paris, by the artist, in 2010. Then last September, 2013, I performed part of it at Denver’s “100,000 Poets for Change” event, which was a single facet in the international event held in over 600 cities. It is a lengthy piece, thus has always been truncated in public readings. This performance now on the New American Dream was the first time the entire poem has been read for an audience. Since the NAD audience cannot see the poem, a bell will be rung indicating the beginning of a new line from the poem. Each time you hear the sound of the bell, the ring indicates that a new line from the poem begins, and the line always begins with one word from a passage from Simon’s “Conducting Bodies.” For example, if the Simon passage had 20 words in it, then the stanza from my poem that follows has 20 lines, each beginning with a word in succession from Simon’s work. The remaining words in the line are all mine, except in the case of where I quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which happens four times, each time being notated with the word “precept”. There are 167 lines total in “through the slits of Orlando’s eyelids,” which means I have used one word by Simon to begin each line, making a total of 167 words by Simon throughout my piece. So, you will hear first a Simon passage, immediately followed by my poem stanza. They continue to alternate throughout. When the bell rings, a new line starts.
Simon employed the Spanish language preceding the English translations to indicate that the Speaker was Spanish and the “war” or “rebellion” in the book took place in a Spanish speaking country. Also, those words used in “through the slits of Orlando’s eyelids” that are excerpted directly from Conducting Bodies by Claude Simon are set apart in red typefont in the New American Dream online publication of the work. Simon’s words run vertically down the column, beginning each line of the poem.
Due to time constraints, I was only able to do the first half of the poem on this March 27th show, and the next time I’m on in April, I will read Part 2 to conclude it.
“through the slits of Orlando’s eyelids,” PART 1:
“Suddenly he raises his arms as though he were about to speak. But he falls backward without a word, shot straight through the heart. The attack has begun. Through the slits of Orlando’s eyelids, his eyes are no more than a black thread, burning with fever and terror. Suddenly, from the wall of foliage, bright flashes of light begin to appear everywhere: firearms being discharged. The first to fall beneath the volley of gunfire is Torino, our second guide. He had been trying to go to his comrade’s rescue. Two more of our men are wounded. They crawl back on their hands and knees toward the rest of the column as we fire our weapons to give them cover. There is a lull then, the quiet disturbed only by the rattle of the firearms as they are reloaded. In the silence the speaker with the head of a proconsul slowly articulates each word in a deep bass voice, slightly distorted by the metallic crackling of the loudspeaker. Es por eso (That is why, the interpretor whispers) quo propongo para el párrafo cuatro (I propose for paragraph four) la siguiente redacción (the following wording): el escritor se define políticamente (the writer defines himself politically) por su particapicion activa, tanto espiritual como física, a la lucha revolucionaria (by his active participation, both spiritual and physical, in the revolutionary struggle). A slight murmur of protest runs the length of the two rows of bodies on either side of the green table”…
—Claude Simon; above quote and quotes following from Conducting Bodies.
That a nation of citizens-in-common should be defined by a bastard entity’s Empire
is singularly the greatest act of tyranny, simultaneously for the exploiter and the exploited
why then, has the United States abandoned its sovereignty to National Corporatism?
I condemn “Kleptocracy” exposing its cunning contempt lorded over the working class, we
Propose, rather, common purpose scribed cooperatively with beneficent goals for all mankind,
for all humanity, all races, are entitled to the wealth of the planet, not just a privileged few.
Paragraph 3, Article 21, of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states
four precepts establishing right & authority of the governed to be free from corporate Empire:
“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government …” Therefore,
following, if the will of the people is dissolved, the government retains no legitimacy—sober
wording unambiguously stating that those who govern are servants of the poorest governed;
“the will of the people shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections…” (I interject,
writer of resistance, writer of justice, who rewrote your protests to render them spineless?) and
defines the terms by which those who govern ascend to positions of authority—not by one
himself using monetary influence to purchase a throne of tyranny from which he burglarizes,
politically and socially, the democratic opportunities and life savings of 98% of our citizens
by lobbying a government for bailouts and corporate favors, by stealthily stealing through
his constituents’ misunderstanding of derivatives and ponzi schemes, claiming immunity—an
active defiance!—from the laws of economics, the laws of a nation, by being “too large to fail.”
Participation in government is not theoretical rhetoric, rather, requires sweat and blood—
both shed courageously, eyes firmly fixed upon a future hammered out by virtue; ergo,
spiritual refinement, not excess; rule of law framed for the greatest good, for the greatest
and most inclusive number of citizens. Laws not created to supplicate an indistinct God—
physical laws in a physical universe, understood via human emotional and mental challenges,
in context of human suffering & struggle, human pain, human trials, human hopes & dreams.
The quest is not to defend & justify God, rather shield justice wrought for all human beings.
Revolutionary sisters & brothers, take up the arms of empathy, experience, ethics & intellect!
Struggle alongside the least members of society, awarding dignity to them—not to bankers.
Claude Simon, Conducting Bodies: El ideal que, en cuanto escritores, (The ideal which, as independent writers), proponemos a la humanida enferma (we propose to suffering mankind) es una comunidad (is a community) que termine de una vez por todas con toda especie de explotacion, ya sea fiscal a spiritual (which will put an end, once and for all, to every sort of exploitation, be it physical or spiritual) de la criatura humana y (of each and every human being )…”
The Constitution dismantled by talk show hosts, insurance tycoons, bankers, and oil goons;
ideal document, once sacred–now erasable, shredded in favor of glib media entertainment;
which translates to immense bailouts giving immeasurable power to corporate mobsters; for
as power brokers strategized, market pseudo-freedom through premeditated mass ignorance.
Independent thinkers ostracized by unscrupulous calls for patriotism by modern neo-Nazis.
Writers of resistance, writers of human justice, who threw your tongues into a prison cell?!
We were not conceived a nation of aristocratic politicians corrupting all that they touch. I
propose that our Founding Fathers saw clearly that freedom and a lasting democracy came
to the people, from the people by the people –not rationed out by a wealthy aristocracy– their
suffering made tolerable through self-governance, the rule of law, and rights instead of duty;
mankind finding liberation through the formal implementation of “all men created equal.”
Is this principle to be found in Corporate Capitalism, or is it dominance of the many by few,
a dissolution of liberty, equality, opportunity, and justice by modern slavemakers who rape
community, state and nation, pillaging our common treasuries to fatten Wall Street coffers;
“which shall be by universal and equal suffrage (be it questions of principle, justice,
will, policy, or character) “held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”
Put an end to the fraud of democracy that rigs elections, handing authority to oil lobbyists–
an empowerment of thugs serving Empire, installing mercenaries where once sat Justice.
End the war upon Iraq, the war in Afghanistan; end the war of Capitalism upon the Masses!
Once bankers & corporations are made aware they do not own the people, or the earth
and are forced to do the will of the nation, Earth summarily treated as Habitat, not Empire,
for the good of mankind, in benevolence toward the biosphere and its rightful inhabitants,
all wars of aggression waged for profit (greed’s insatiable devouring of life) will forever cease
to convert innocence and empathy into brutality and blood-lust, and true evil—evil born by
every corrupt social/political system, regardless of nation, nationality, ethnicity, or religion.
Sort through your conscience and find the nameless ones–can you name them? Generations
of Third World poor–poor children–warehoused in dumps, dumpsters, and on reservations,
exploitation underwritten by scheming socialites, harvesting their organs for wallets & belts. Oh,
be so proud of your nation that transmogrifies every sacred thing into the Gross National Product.
It is your patriotic duty to uphold an economic system, Capitalism, that quantifies worth, be it
physical, intellectual, or spiritual, by profits generated that leave the 98% wallowing in poverty.
Or do you believe the lie that if you support this corruption, one day you will divinely rise above
spiritual bankruptcy to generously share your amassed fortunes with the downtrodden? Lies
of commission & omission are lethal, perpetuating a system that inherently exploits the poor
each time a bailout banker, industrialist, oil baron, pharmaceutical tycoon, insurance mogul,
and /or any Wall Street whoremonger increases his profits. Victimized children perish as
every horror from hell stalks them, devoured by vultures selling them into prostitution; like
human garbage, Earth’s children discarded by society, concentrated in grim border camps
being cast aside, enslaved, abused, driven into alcoholism and drug slums by war profiteers.
~Michael Annis: copyright © 2009. All rights reserved.
Ω. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
—Article 25, paragraph 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights ΩΩ.
Article 1, sentence 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights