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Stephen's book about Super Mario World and death, If All The World And Love Were Young is unfortunately not available through bookshop.org yet, but you can get it here. You can get the rest of the books (including Stephen's first collection, Oils), as well as books related to this episode via my booklist for AEWCH 145 on bookshop.org.
One of my best friends, a poet, once told me that her first word was no. She said that that was a huge part of how she became a poet - that the world wouldn’t stay in place for her without her help. There was something about seeing things differently, about the world opening up for her through a refusal to see it as fixed just by the words that had been handed to her, the explanations, the definitions and lines.
Today’s episode with poet Stephen Sexton, which features his reading of poetry from his book If All the World And Love Were Young about death and Super Mario World - each poem is named after and loosely follows a level in the game - helped me understand just how deeply poetry can go. We also talk about light, and surfaces, and the dead, and the way repetition works. He also reads from his book Oils, and his forthcoming book (out in August!) Cheryl's Destinies.
We talk about the playing of console games as spells and as a sort of suppressed pornography, about writing an elegy of poems to put grief into a game and turning it into a monument, about the tarot and how to make a time-horse - a bridge between all forms of time - through poetry.
Stephen’s poetry gives you a doorway in, or maybe a green pipe, a portal - to a strange world that is our own world.
I know that people who are interested in poetry often sing its praises to the bafflement of those who don’t read it. And I also know that so many people talk about poetry by defending poetry.
But it doesn't need a defense or de-bafflement. It just needs to be heard, read, written, gathered.
ON THIS EPISODE
- Stephen reads his poems, "Gnarly" "Groovy" "The Death of Horses" Donut Ghost House" "My Second Favourite Locked Room Mystery" "Terror"
- How to look at the world of console games like a natural historian
- Should we do and Siamese of Super Mario World
- Playing video games as magic, or video games as stand-in pornography
- A poem as a curse
- Indexes as a map of a writers' unconscious
- The ghosts in Super Mario World as an approximation of our relationship to the dead
- Does writing console us? (Also, I like the word "consolation" and console)
- Creating a monument to the dead out of Super Mario World
- Poetry that folds space and time
- Can Nintendos understand punctuation
- The significance of 100 year anniversaries
• For more on Stephen, here's his lovely acceptance speech when he won the Rooney Prize, Irish's oldest literary prize. And here he is on a video game podcast
• And - why not? - here's a walkthrough of Super Mario World, which helps give an interesting window on Stephen's book and poetry, as well as digital landscape.
• "The light by which we see things is only a symbol. At the point of seeing the light, we lose it. Pur loss of the light is what we see as light." - Massimo Scaligero
• I love that Stephen refers to Mario as a "single person in an overwhelming world."
• Have you read Annie Dillard's great essay "Seeing" ?
• Thought I didn't bring it up, Stephen's poem "Groovy" reminded me of a sort of inverse of the song "Jesus Christ" by the band The Pupils. Here are the lyrics:
You hang on high in the hanging sky
Upon a crown that you expel
from your womb bright,
from your bladder and your brain
Like a silver tear
from an ancient flood
of alien blood
that we must drink to bathe
our compound face
O, Jesus Christ
Pure and polluted,
you’re the devil in a fable
a corpse at the banquet table
You’re stuffed with the first fruits
of the quasi-evoluted
You can not be refuted
You can not be explained
You can not be worshipped
You can not be contained
You’re a trail through the trackless
and a toil for the taskless
You’re a carnivorous tree
A cyclopean star
You’re a plesiosaur
A crested wave
You destroy what you save
And then you save it all again
Establishing the end of all mental mind signs
O, Jesus Christian
on a magic mission
with your mammary glands, one at sea and one on land
You irrigate the ashes.
You communicate in flashes.
O, Jesus Christ.
• Anne Carson is an incredible poet and both Stephen and I love her. If you're not familiar with her poetry and essays, here's an essay on her. And here's a photo of and a poem by her, "Wolf Town", which is found in her book, Plainwater.
Kill them let bears.
Kill them let tapeworms and roundworms and heartworms.
Kill them let them.
Kill each other let porcupine quills.
Kill them let salmon poisoning.
Kill them let them cut their tongue on a bone and bleed.
To death let them.
Freeze let them.
Starve let them get.
Rickets let them get.
Arthritis let them have.
Epilepsy let them get.
Cataracts and go blind let them.
Run themselves to death let eagles.
Snatch them when young let a windblown seed.
Bury itself in their inner ear destroying equilibrium let them have.
Very good ears let them yes.
Hear a cloud pass.
• Remember Game Genie? My favorite digital djinn. Here's how it worked.
• I had poet Zachary Schomburg on waaaay back on AEWCH 40. It's still one of my favorite episodes. And be sure to read his essay, "Poetry As Violence" is one of my favorite essays about poems ever. It's stunning.
• Also, here's AEWCH 91, probably the most special episode to me; it's the episode I made with my mentor Lynn Margulis.
• No comment on the below.
• For two examples of ekphrasis, here's Auden's beautiful poem, "Musee des Beaux Arts". And John Burnside's beautiful poem about Brueghel's "Hunters in the Snow" is in his book Black Cat Bone, which is a lovely and dark book of poetry all around.
• Stephen's forthcoming book, Cheryl's Destinies - which features Yeats in conversation with Billy Corgan - inspired me to listen to Smashing Pumpkins again. Anyway, here's one of their biggest hits, "Today" from Siamese Dream.
• Go here for more on Peter Doig, plus a lot of his paintings.
• I really love the movie Older Than Ireland, so watch the trailer and then watch the movie!
Until next time friends, reach for the star,