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Tales From the Other side


Tales From The Other Side, Christopher Ejsmond
Chipmunkapublishing 2011, ISBN 978-1-84991-663-9 £10.00

Another excellent production from Chipmunka, featuring a poet great in intelligence, sensitivity and suffering, who triumphed against mental illness and abuse. The opening Author Biography is one of the best introductions I have seen in years. Good description of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and absolutely brilliant one of ‘thought swapping’. I would have liked to know the name of the biographer; if Chris wrote it himself, hats off to him. An index would have been a good idea.

From the start, his deep level of education and sophistication is to the fore. Take the opener A plea for Toleration and its impassioned attack on social regimentation “ostracizing those who don’t fit in/So that they may exist in a vacuum/For out of sight is out of mind”. He makes a plea for ‘natural justice and the light of pure reason’

A Simple Dance – “Mutation is the order of things/Which drives me to distraction/And empties the mind/Leaving behind a strange void” This sums up his polarities of erudition and desolation. The ‘simple dance’ of the title is a relentless oppressor: “. . . the best which it truly is/It renders me and offers no repose . . .”

A Simple Truth is Spoken – the poem opens in the second person, suggesting a dialogue with an ‘alter ego’, or perhaps a sympathetic psychiatrist. In a sense, his acutely developed intellect heightens his angst: “The inexpressible truths lie within/Almost imperceptible to the battered mind/Inflexible to the degree of insanity/Touched by the divine spark . . .” There is some nostalgia for a happier past, a happy youth, and some yearning to return to naivete: “This simple truth is there for all to see/It hides not in the dusty passageways of the mind . . .”

Some straightforward sentimentality in A View of St Bernard’s (Hanwell Asylum). Across the Sky celebrates the search for an intuitive, spiritual truth “In the language of the heavens/Which was written before time began” Some yearning for the ideal state ‘In a place where the waters of heaven and earth/meet. Eloquent encapsulation of his struggles: “In flight I am likened to the New Man/Who has battled to shed the old”. He looks up to heaven, and draws an analogy between that blissful state and being taken away. After the Rain Has Fallen is an interesting slant on the Creation myth: “The world has just been born this moment in time/And I am part of the new creation . . .” “How I came into being, I know not”. A vision of paradise, a state ‘untouched by human hands’ where there are no ‘bearers of grudges’. At the end “I look with innate knowledge at that which is Good”

And I will sail out in the Storm in a Boat – a highly original, and critical, exploration of Christian imagery: “He is a contradiction/of human and divine origin.” Fusion of blood and water: ‘the blood of his crucifixion . . . and the waters which issued from his side’. Also a fusion of the Christ myth and that of the Great Flood.

With Aspergia’s Dream, some background explanation would have been very ‘reader-friendly’. Asperger’s Syndrome, as I understand it, is an autistic condition whose sufferers have unimpaired cognitive skills, and frequently pursue highly specialized interest. Surely this condition should be called an advantage rather than a handicap. I looked up Aspergia on the net, thinking I would find reference to a character from classical antiquity. What I did find was something very different, and highly illuminating:

Aspergian Story

Created in 2002, sought to address autistic culture and civil rights issues at a time when there was very little public discussion of autism outside the medical paradigm. In addition to posting provocative articles, the site was home to a forum community where lively debate took place on many issues related to society’s views of autism. The forum closed in July 2004, and several other discussion sites were founded by members of Aspergia’s community. These sites included Aspergian Island, Aspergian Pride, Wrong Planet, Aspies for Freedom, Fractalus, and FAM. Although some of these sites are no longer active, and the people of Aspergia’s community are widely scattered, the historical role of in the development of both the neurodiversity movement and the international autistic culture deserves to be recognized.
One of the articles posted on, entitled The Aspergian Mythos and Ethos, was a fictional origin myth that described autistic people as the descendants of a dispersed ancient tribe. This short story, in combination with the site’s other articles, posed a speculative question for readers to ponder: How would society treat autistic people if, rather than being defined in medical terms, autistics were seen as a minority race?
Some unfortunate misconceptions about the story have arisen over the years, such as that it reflected a separatist and/or supremacist view. This is very far from the actual intent. No claims were ever made that the story was anything other than creative fiction or that autistics were superior to anyone else.
A condensed version of the story appears below:
Very long ago, on a distant, fabled island whose true name and location have been obscured by the passage of time, there dwelt an isolated race known for gazing out upon the ocean and seeing, far beyond its billowing mists, visions of great and mysterious things. Although history contains no record of what they called themselves, their island has been described in mythical tales as Aspergia, a land of colossal towers and wondrous inventions.
It may be that Aspergia was lost in the great flood, or perhaps an earthquake caused that proud land to sink beneath the waters; the true tale will never be known. The survivors scattered in a vast diaspora to far-flung countries where they intermarried with, and soon became assimilated by, the other races they encountered. Within a few short generations, their history and culture had been almost entirely forgotten. Only fragments persisted in legend.
The migration of the Aspergians contributed to advances in human society as their inquisitive, determined minds explored the mysteries of the natural world, developed new technologies, and created epic works of art and literature. Some tribes revered these forthright, far-seeing people as prophets and shamans. Humanity’s emergence from the caves and mud huts of the ancient world was not without conflict and fear of the unknown, however. Always there were some who clung desperately to the old ways and sought to destroy the bringers of change, declaring them to be heretics or hunting them down as witches.
During a particularly benighted period in the modern era, many young people with strong Aspergian traits were stigmatized as less capable than other children. Their keen intellectual curiosity, perseverance, truthfulness, creativity, and passion for discovery were described as symptoms of a mental disorder. Then, like other minority groups in recent times, the Aspergians came together as a proud and united community to demand equal rights, social tolerance, and respect for their differences.

Christopher’s poem is obviously based on this story. He does an original slant on the story by personifying Aspergia: the island = the ruler of the island. There is a splendid lyrical celebration of ‘Aspergia’s children’ as innovators and saviours: ‘Genetic mutants on a secret mission to succeed . . . Working alone on the monumental and extraordinary.

Background Noise captures the tension between absolute (objective) and personal (subjective) time. He had a feeling of peace when time stood still and darkness ruled. But that peace was shattered: “And the voices in my head screamed aloud/The pressure inside took centre stage”. The disruption has some synthesizing value: “For I know what is real in an unreal world”.

Beginnings concerns the relativity of time – bi-directional time: “Back to the beginning and to the future . . . Today is a new beginning/It is indeed yesterday’s tomorrow”. He movers simultaneously in opposite direction. In his struggle for understanding and expression, he proclaims “I want to speak another language”

Best Before 24: Another reflection of split personality; the ego and the mirror image: “There is a man cut in two by the windows”. Then a panoramic sweep: a great event which transcends the bounds of rationality (“the reign of logic is over”), embracing the public with the intimately private: “. . . the play is set to bemuse the senses/And to confound reason/In every area of life . . . A manifesto released to public scrutiny/Finds its way into the deepest corners of the/unconscious realm”. Again a fixation on the heavenly Utopia: “We are resurrected into that Otherness . . . that pure state in which the functioning of thought/Is that which alone dictates action exempt from moral concern”. Christopher’s personal struggles involve deepening his understanding of the struggles of those labelled insane, whom he sees as knowing the truth in a manner akin to the Aspergians: “Their moral competence rests in their own severed hands . . . Free from false and demeaning rationality/From restrictive customs and structures”. A statement of fearless radicalism at the end: “The revolution of ideas will be sweet and/consistently scandalous”.

Beyond the Looking Glass: more indictment of the limitations of science and logic, and striving for ‘the world of symbols and the unconscious realms/Which were there from the beginning of time”. At the beginning he refers to the ‘genesis of a great idea’ which, as he admits, ‘can be used for good or evil’. The physical world is compared to a mirror, which links with ‘the duality of man’ and the attainment of an alter ego: “you shall receive one made in your/own image”

He continues as a spokesman for the marginalized, those ‘Mutilated by adversity’ in Children of a Lesser God. ‘Blessed are they’; “For they will surely know Truth/And reconstruct according to their will/That which had been long lost in ages past”. He contrasts ‘will’ with ‘mind’; will is the more powerful entity. I do find his attitude a bit disturbingly Nieztschean; it is articulated further in Circus Maximus, which celebrates a gladiatorial arena. But the poem does not conclude with a naïve glorification of the past: “Relics of the past such as this impregnate the modern imagination/Which witnesses nature’s final re-conquest of the human artifact.” It in a way celebrates past civilizations decaying, joining the cycle of mutability, and being overgrown by plant life. This theme is elaborated on in the following poem Crystal Palace, which was destroyed by fire. He delineates the relationship between artifact and nature by saying: “Technical marvels repeat in slow motion/The veiled mysteries of the green spaces . . .”. He laments its destruction, but finds its memory and its relics a foundation for hope: “Amid the ruins in this heart of Empire, I will build a/new country.”

Discourse on Monotheism is a straightforward poeticisation of Biblical legend. Does He Take Sugar? Is a deeply compassionate description of a patient (psychiatric or geriatric?) in a state of extreme withdrawal.

Eureka Moment is a celebration of creative originality: “I have thought outside the box/For there are no rules here . . . I have reinvented art in the civilised world . . . Imagination is more important than knowledge” Again, idealism and spirituality “. . . in turning away from the world, I have found the universe . . .” and in the process “I have redefined what it means to be human”.

Exodus: another Biblical gloss, but this time somewhat inverted. There is a ‘contemporary’ analogy between the land of bondage and the psychiatric hospitals (‘the asylum’s forgotten children’), but whereas the Biblical Exodus journey was to freedom, the journey in this poem is one of wretched exile – ‘thrust out like some ungrateful sore’. There is a rather jarring reference to the worshippers of Mammon, as if the exiles (contrasted with ‘the righteous’) had got into their situation through materialistic greed. Plagues and sacrifices also have a contemporary resonance.

Extravaganza – a futuristic panorama from a cyber-visionary: “The cycles of creativity follow secret diurnal rhythms/And usher in a new age of artistic genius”. The visionary “. . . has set himself a multitude of goals/Which he must keep or else suffer/From the shame that the madness later brings . . . As his ability to communicate leaves him standing/Witless, gregarious and full of cruel ambition.” The psychiatrists are at a loss to define him: “They have given him a differential diagnosis/For they do not yet fully understand/The mysterious origins of his mental state . . . As they seek to restore to him the ambiguity of sanity”

In Folie a Deux, madness is personified as a tempter/seducer with menacing power “. . . Persecutory delusion spinning out of control/Wreaking havoc and mistrust in its wake . . .” The couplet ‘Similar in its origins/Yet part of a greater whole” I found obscure. Likewise ‘Independent of one another/Imposed, not made/Wanting in fellow man’: presumably the ‘alpha male’ is the source of imposition. Later the reference seems to progress from the individual to the mass ‘the shared delusion of the morbidly predisposed/That empties its barrel/On the minds of its victims’. There follows some extremely disturbing disease/bacteriological imagery: “It splatters the content of their souls/Across the sky which is likened to a screen/On which the episodic melody of illness/Takes centre stage in this oddity/Aloof from its host culture”.

Foreign Skies is unusually simplistic for this collection, celebrating simple love and homeliness, and the ‘young at heart’. A welcome ‘breather’ of great charm. Four Walls is a cry from the heart of an internee – possibly in a geriatric ward? There are justified feelings of vindictiveness: “I have sewn the seeds of discontent/And will reap the harvest of revenge”. “I have worked out a plan of escape from the world” suggests a fusion of suicide and escape from an institution. There is a shift of reference to a former close partner, with whom the subject shared life’s struggles, only to be cornered by disaster: “We fell foul and almost died . . . We have been twisted like soft grey metal/In the temples and palaces of adversity”, but have managed to rally, and assert their willpower to counter their oppressors: “We have waited long for this moment/and are now ready to turn Our backs on Them”. In the course of internment the subject has managed to engineer independence of mind. Strong concluding point about those categorized as insane being the true pioneers and visionaries, who will not be neutralized or eliminated: “. . . by our very presence we proclaim that we will not go away”.

Green and Pleasant Land is an excellent gloss on William Blake, with appropriate allusions to Rousseau and Elgar. It posits a post-conflict situation ‘. . . the broken bones/And battle-scarred souls of this land’, and a pure, pristine state, from which the people descend ‘into that chaos and turmoil/From which there is no return’. There is something of an unpleasant, elitist tone in ‘. . . the lesser ones who suffer/The indignities and spurning of the ignorant and fearful masses’.

Hindsight – the theme of reincarnation, as an explanation for a deep personal bonding – “for there is an unexplained bias/Which bonds us together still/And things which have come to pass/Were known to us before”. Some lack of clarity (to me) in the second stanza: “How are these matters at once so salient/More convincing now than the possible outcome that they are not” (the possible outcome which did not materialize?). He also posits the idea of a contrary, diametric opposite, partner/alter ego: “Give me a sign to interpret . . . That after it has been read by you, I know the/opposite to be true. He warns the reader to be careful about a concept of bi-directional time: “. . . retrospective foresight is a commodity/To value and use with caution”.

Icarus Revisited – some fresh slant on the legend: “Mountains crumble before you . . . the sun broke its agreement”. Final note of optimism: “Now that the skylark will save you/and will at last deliver you to a safe place/You will not look back and will succeed again”. Ignorance is Bliss expresses nostalgia for an idyllic, blissful state before psychiatric categorization.

Invisible Hand – militant individualism: independent ‘individual action’ enhances the common good, maintains equilibrium and social harmony. ‘The dictates of moral faculty’ are, presumably, internal to the individual. ‘Self-interest which brings an unwanted result’ is contrasted with ‘self-interest for the good of the community’. Consciously, an independent individual may intend ‘only his own immediate gain’ but is ‘. . . guided by the invisible hand/To promote an end which was not part of his intention . . . individual choice is guided/By the dynamics of moral sensibility’. Those dynamics are, presumably, extra-individual.

Kristallnacht expresses simple, and wholly justified, emotions about one of history’s greatest atrocities.

Last Protocol – the approach of death, which hopefully will coincide with reconciliation to a partner. It queries/challenges that partner’s feelings at the ‘moment of truth’. Or perhaps the partner is someone threatened by death, and a life could be saved: “Forgive those who afflict you/And you will return to life”

Last Seen Wearing Black seems to refer to a female partner, cynical and manipulative, but highly attractive, object of fascination (and resentment) among ‘battle-scarred young men’. They think she might be dead, but she has reached a ‘turning point’. She is then posited as wearing black on an apocalyptic ‘day of reckoning’ when the ‘men of iron’ (presumably the forces of evil) wreak their vengeance: “Will you be the last seen wearing black?”: will she be the last martyr, or the sole survivor.
Life of Ivan Franko is the celebration of a revolutionary leader: “He was a political radical, and a founder of the socialist and nationalist movement in western Ukraine. In addition to his own literary work, he also translated the works of such renowned figures as William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, Dante, Victor Hugo,Adam Mickiewicz, Goethe and Schiller into the Ukrainian language. Along with Taras Shevchenko, He has had a tremendous impact on modern literary and political thought in Ukraine.” (Wikipedia: This poem would have merited a footnote). A profound thinker, a prolific writer in all genres, he was a cultural leader supreme, although he was somewhat misrepresented by the Soviet authorities for propaganda purposes.

Market Day: He travels to a foreign city as an outside observer; the crowded, bustling mass of humanity somehow disturb him. He longs to return to solitary peace: “I must head for the sanatorium” Excellent physics in the phrase ‘where space and time collide’. He ends by boasting of having lived to tell the tale. Metropolis explores other aspects of the big city theme, this time in the context of a bitter winter. At its centre is a tower, on which sits a welcoming angel. He has to return to his sanatorium, and has a mirage of a butterfly. Strange twists in the latter part of the poem: “I know the spoken word/which shatters all untruths. The penultimate stanza speaks volumes: “In the unwritten code of life/I have walked a perilous path/Pitied, yet exhumed of all innocence/A post mortem of the lost forensic cure”. Does he mean that purported innocence involves negative aspects of character being suppressed, as if buried in the ground. Is his life an example of failure in curative treatment? “Mine has been a token life” I find double-edged. Because of debility, loss and deprivation, it feels like a cipher, not a full and total life. Conversely/concomitantly, it is a representative token for the lot of marginalized humanity.

Misdiagnosis: A Psychiatrists professional status has been built up by downgrading a patient. ‘Confidentiality’ and professional secrecy are attacked: “And what arcane intuitions do you fathom in your scope/To yield the likelihood of a firm diagnosis? The psychiatrist should learn how to let go. He finds the psychiatric ward a place of oppression, where ‘survival of the fittest’ rules. The psychiatrist could not even make a proper diagnosis. A ‘pull-up’ appeal to common sense: “A medical fact where a way of life would suffice/As an explanation of the improbable and the symptomatic.” Later “I value practical simplicity/And have seen how nature does nothing in vain”. He makes ironic homage to a demigod psychiatrist, which he qualifies with a gesture of defiance: “I sit and challenge the source of your proclamation”. Another barbed comment with ‘A prognostic guide to well-being’. ‘Pathognomic’ is an interesting expression: Pathognomonic (often misspelled as pathognomic and sometimes as pathomnemonic, synonym to pathopneumonic) is a term, often used in medicine, that means characteristic for a particular disease. A pathognomonic sign is a particular sign whose presence means that a particular disease is present beyond any doubt. Labelling a sign or symptom "pathognomonic" represents a marked intensification of a "diagnostic" sign or symptom.” (Wikipedia). (This would have merited a footnote). Thought-provoking concept of a diagnosis being a ‘red herring’ in finding ‘the underlying cause’. “Your science is falsifiable/And your reasoning obscure”. He proposes a transformation of the structure of thought: “What is needed is a paradigm shift/To change the discourse and release a plurality of conditions//I, a subject, am subjected by subjection/And by your minimum instruction/A hypothesis shrouded by mystery/Yet is not simplicity the final sophistication?” He rails against the use of ‘complexity and ambiguity’ to find ‘erroneous solutions’.

Missing Link: The opener echoes Teresa Joyce: “It’s a fine line . . .”. He refers to ‘seven types of mind’ and ‘seven rivers to cross in life’; this is another case for a footnote. My browsing led me to possible comparisons with the general magical significance of seven, the Seven Wonders of the World, and Buddhist states of consciousness. Again he declares the relationship between his gifts and his handicaps: “Asynchronous development and social withdrawal/Are the price I pay for these precious gifts”. More supreme egotism, as implicit in the title: “I am the missing link/In the chain of human dissent . . . In imitation, I have failed/But through independent means, I have achieved great things . . . the indwelling genius that I am.” Adverse pressures have strengthened him: “While my mind has been bombarded/With surplus stimuli and emotional stability/An increased energy has dwelt within/And torn me apart with its menacing enchantment/To take a leap in the dark/And aggregate my mind to the continuum of human creativity . . .”
Mocking Bird Song – back to charming naivete: the bird with ‘no song of its own’ is benign, non-egotistical. Monad – is a brief versification of the philosophical debate between the ‘Monism’ of Leibnitz (paraphrased in the first verse), and the Dualism propounded by Descartes: “Descartes was the first to clearly identify the mind (a ‘non-physical’ entity) with consciousness and self-awareness and to distinguish this from the brain, which was the seat of intelligence.” (Wikipedia). I’m not sure that this really worked as a poem.
News from Nowhere – the subject is a traveller in a strange country, and meets a mysterious person who acts as his guide. He is enlightened – “Reborn . . . in the symbolic gestures of God’s love . . . a novel is written in the language of the angels . . .” There is a Utopian state where “The false division of life, art and work/Fall aside and render the impossible possible”. The title is taken from William Morris’s famous work of 1890.”News from Nowhere (1890) is a classic work combining utopian socialism and soft science fiction written by the artist, designer and socialist pioneer William Morris. In the book, the narrator, William Guest, falls asleep after returning from a meeting of the Socialist League and awakes to find himself in a future society based on common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. In this society there is no private property, no big cities, no authority, no monetary system, no divorce, no courts, no prisons, and no class systems. This agrarian society functions simply because the people find pleasure in nature, and therefore they find pleasure in their work.” (Wikipedia). Ejsmond tends to assume that all his readers have a literary background matching his own. Another case for some reader-friendly background and prompting.
No Connection: there is a suggestion that the ‘faith/creed/belief’ was an orthodox religious one, with which he became disillusioned, ‘betrayed by the piety of others’. He still longs to ‘connect to the cold universe’. No Sequitur: Ego again: “. . . there can be no/help from outside the Self!” Time and space are ‘remote concepts’ which ‘prolong the agony of existence’, but the ‘cold universe’ engenders ‘choice of will’.
Of Things that Are and Are Not takes the side of dualism, proposing that a ‘being’ is ‘not a substance with outward properties’. He attacks ‘tradition and received wisdom’ for ignoring ‘the unity beneath multiplicty’. Each individual tries to assume responsibility for his own existence. This is a concerted attempt to apply philosophical principles to mental distress: “If it has no being then it cannot be known/A simple metaphysic has revealed this to be so/Part of the hermeneutic circle which informs the new paradigm/If madness is being, then sanity is becoming.” This might be a bit opaque to someone without background in philosophy or literary Structuralism. Another footnote for the general reader, please. Similarly, “existence precedes essence . . . and is used to deconstruct the rule around.” “Reason sleeps while language and the arts remain supreme”: this suggests language is distinct/divorced from reason. He rails against ‘stale logic’, ‘those who idolise facts for themselves’ and ‘existence predicated by objects . . . Action related to object/Delivers nothingness and void.” He adds ‘finite in manifestation/And not being, infinite and impossible in nature. Most of the poem reads like someone struggling with a philosophy area; in academic terms, some of the ideas and explorations could be considered as ill-digested. But then it is lifted by a scientific perspective: “Conserved objects . . . Swimming through a neutral and isotropic field/In which objects very according to their nature . . . the purpose of human action/Is conceived as the source of all constants”. In sum, this poem succeeds in spite of, but also because of, its apparent awkwardness. I do not accept any arbitrary dividing line between the poetic and the exploratory/discursive. This is a poem and a struggle for an essay, A great endeavour.
On a Desert Island – equivocal feelings, longing to ‘ponder the skies in their eternal dance’, but wondering how to thrive without water.
On Language: exploration of linguistics comparable to his exploration of philosophy. He favours the literal against the figurative: “. . . figurative associations confuse/Linguistic compounds shatter the conditions/necessary for truth/And semantic error prolongs the formal dissociation/of words”. He appreciates that ‘the dynamic turn in semantics’ seeks to impart ‘variability’ and flexibility, and clarify meaning, but finds it lies ‘dormant in some sense’. He seems to contradict himself, firstly complaining of ‘Propositions which stand in the way/Of factors external to language”, but then referring to ‘a subjective construct/Grounded and consolidated through discourse’ then saying that “Symbolic grammar and conceptualisation/That drives the therapeutic relationship/Maintain the network for understanding the word”. There is a powerful sense of truth in both sides of the contradiction.
One Among Many – the highest degree of egotism in this collection: Ejsmond portrays himself as an angel: “I am reborn in the sky . . . I have transmuted matter and risen high . . . I have become the messenger of the gods . . .” There are many people with ‘empty’ voices who would be inclined to mock him for pompous conceit. I am not yet convinced that he has substantiated his claim.
Praxis is the first venture into rhyming couplets – a guide to positive, empirical thinking. From an aesthetic point of view, this is corny and clichéd: “If the cycle of learning is complete/Then nothing can knock you off your feet” indeed! However, if reciting such catechisms proved constructive in getting the mind focus through breakdown conditions, then obviously it is a good thing.
In Presumed Curable, he once again proclaims his isolation. There is a note of self-recrimination here: “And I threw the world away”. There is a desire to communicate with another, and some regret about the possibility of rejection: “If I were to tell you the truth, would you banish me from your breast?” But he is finally proud of his isolation: “For I have changed and have wings to fly”.
Recognition – Christopher has also included Sociology in his studies: ‘the social dialectic . . . intricate social patterns’. Then there is a shift to an alter ego, possibly someone encountered in a previous incarnation (there is ‘precognition’: “I recognise you for who you are/Since my memory flows like a river/Towards the estuary and the sea of faith. Back to philosophy: “the mind exists beyond time and space”. He refers to the oneiric state (a dreamlike condition in which consciousness is clouded and the subject experiences a mixture of vivid fantasies and fragmentary reflections of reality). He has an ultimate faith in his own utterances, “And that when I am gone, I will be remembered by them”.
Repetition: ‘Renders knowledge into the unconscious realm/Where it is no longer a distinct thought/But a process by which we act”. The repetition is barbed: “A fragment of veiled truth . . . sustained by fear and loathing . . .”. Fusion of the verbal and the elemental: “A river cascades down a ravine/It echoes across the chasm of forgetfulness/And a word is placed at the end of a sentence/To invoke meaning in the commonplace/And to follow the logic of its own being/Standing alone in the forest of words/Gathered together and then wrought apart /By the rules by which we live ”. There is then a reference to a paradisal state. Re-attuning to this state will bring ‘meaning and pattern to everyday life. This state is concomitant with the ‘sweet countenance’ of an alter ego, and in paradise ‘action and reason meet’ and there is some hope ‘To breach and re-invent the social order’
In Righteous Anger he correlates his personal sufferings with those of the oppressed masses, including those who ‘fill themselves with vain pride . . . Yet scupper as they fall in their own ignorance”. Then there is an expression of almost dictatorial vanity and contempt: “I exalt myself in self-knowledge/And cast down their imagination on the rocks/So that they sink to the bottom of the pitiless dark sea”. Mercifully, this is then qualified by compassion: “Yet the anger of Achilles did abate at the behest of Athena’s soothing words/And her dictate preserves the relation between subject and object”. (Grammatically, the subject perpetrates the action, the object suffers it). He pinpoints the centrality of discourse in procuring justice: “In a world of human error, where symbols and sounds/Clamour at the gates of the forgotten masses/We speak a language of hope and self-preservation. A disturbing note in the last stanza, which suggests disharmony with the alter ego: “Am I a violation of your free spirit?/And do I thwart your autonomy?” It is, however, constructive: “The anger within me has matured into a response/for corrective social action”. Repeated exaltation in self-knowledge and wisdom; I find this somewhat clumsy; can it be finally contradistinguished from the others’ ‘vain pride’.
Secret Mind: is this an attack on erudite elitism? He has a secret “Hidden from sight; controversial and privileged/A private prize of furtive knowledge/Confidential and attired in naked virtue”. He is sharply self-critical of his own egotism: “Yet I succumbed to that excess within me/Drove away the crowds with a sword at my side/And spoke with a forked tongue to escape judgment”. He feels some regret and remorse: “I have nothing to show for the remains of lies once told/Only the cryptic signs and coded words”. The tools of communication do provide some concoslation, some means to pursue life’s struggles. But then there is an apparent contradiction; secrets must be kept: “Let it be that way and let us obey the rules of mutual deception/So that we may one day pass the ken of the secret passage.” Respect for secrecy/confidentiality is fundamental to individual freedom. Individual privacy/secrecy is then counterpointed against the manoeuvres of oppressive institutions: “The conspirators wait to set the trap/And break the silent codes of concealment and revelation/While we struggle for freedom of information”. The institutions have highly effective instruments of secrecy, which frequently cover up corruption.
Serenade poetically reiterates the existence and essence debate – “one who simply is”. I do not know why he calls himself ‘Mother Nature’.
Somewhere in Eastern Europe is Christopher Ejsmond at his most political. The Eastern European states were artificial constructs determined by the struggles between the superpowers which bordered on them: “Divisions among the brotherhood of man/Superimposed by politics and religion.” The lot of a marginalised individual is worsened by this context: “Your small world was a ruthless place/And you were smaller than a grain of sand . . . By association and language you were named/And assigned for statistical convenience/By those ignorant of historical fluctuation”. He sees some hope now that ‘Eastern Europe has been re-invented’.
The Asymmetrical Resistance Theory of OCD cries out for some reader-friendly background. Some years ago, I helped edit Frank Bangay’s Naked Songs and Rhythms of Hope, which included a concise account of the ECT process. The same should have been done here: OCD is, of course, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. On initial research, Asymmetrical Resistance is derived from asymmetry between the left and right hand sides of the brain, and is vital for sanity and perception. So: “Resistance is futile against the chemical aggressor/Which abides within my soul”. Presumably this chemical aggressor is intrinsic to the metabolism, not an externally imposed medication. “Resistance to change is not an option for the commotion it renders”. Resistance seems ineffective; the obsession rules: The reflection of beauty and perfection in an imperfect world/Have torn deep into my soul/So that I am left standing as though an outsider of/my own thoughts and being.” He adds that “Meaning has become indistinguishable from the operational parallel”, so it feels as if there is no true meaning beyond the mechanical. Then there is “. . . the object/That seeks to undermine the essence of being”. He takes comfort from the familiar ‘Even though it may ultimately destroy the will . . . And disintegrate the greater part of its reasoning power’. Some indication of asymmetry of resistance with “It is as though my mind is likened to a magnetic field/Attracting the same and repelling what is alien”. The power of obsession, opposed to the commonplace, is the higher mental state: “Yet a purpose stated in the language of resistance/Shows that this is just like any other power relationship/In which that which is weaker is held as a vassal/To that which governs by asymmetrical relations” (referring to the asymmetrical brain). A major assertion: “For the universe itself is asymmetrical in state”. (Definition: “The universe is asymmetrical in that of it consists almost completely of normal mass, matter and energy. "This is lucky for us" as Symmetrical universe of equal amounts of matter and antimatter would have resulted in a universe of pure energy of Gamma rays, no planets, stars, galaxies, just radiant energy.
The big bang theory suggests that equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have been created at this event. But this did not happen.”
The Beat Goes On – idealistic vision of ‘a generation of young men and women/A core of shared values and rituals . . .an inner circle/Awakened by the trans-like dance/of the naked Maya’ . . . they are true innovators ‘Rising to the challenge/Of free expression’. “History is dead//The social delinquent has seen to that/The epitaph of time stands in the mists/Of unknowing and premature judgment”. This suggests that time is dead; time has been transcended. ‘A dictum set against the rest of time’ has its own, independent validity, while “Revisiting the past . . . will bring about one’s undoing.” One must focus on the present alone, no more on past and tuture. Art brings about a sweet, moving current, as against water turned to ice. He has some hope for the freshness and purity of a new generation, that at the time of mortality ‘Our deeds are written in stone/Upon the doors of perception’, and that “If we free ourselves from death/ We shall have a new beginning” and the doors to paradise will be opened.
The Code-Switchers – the great gifts of the disabled. “In linguistics, code-switching is the concurrent use of more than one language, or language variety, in conversation. Multilinguals—people who speak more than one language—sometimes use elements of multiple languages in conversing with each other. (Wikipedia)”.
Christopher feels he belongs to ‘an autistic speech community ‘ and an ‘autistic thought community’ He must have suffered from the obvious linguistic tension between everyday speech, academic discourse and psychiatric jargon: “Abstract entities of native speakers/Confound my comprehension . . . And the grammar of social discourse is strange to me . . . The in-group knows all about/Vernacular and subgroup identity/Linguistic change enhances cultural norms/It also excludes me and others like me” (this is a strange remark from someone with Christopher’s high linguistic skills). Language can be an oppressor: “You change subject and lower your estimation of me/By virtue of your paralinguistic expertise . . . You desire conversational dominance/And you monopolise the encounter/Though I may yet possess superior verbal skills”. He feels that oppressive language stands as an obstacle in his path, but suggests confidence in his ability to surmount that obstacle.
The King and the God – a lightweight variant on the Messiah legend, with the difference that there are plural gods, and the new God-King militantly opposes their oppressive power. The Lodger is a malignant alter ego: “He that dwells in your mind . . . has succeeded in rearranging your reality/By strengthening the connection to that which cannot be. This psychic cuckoo ‘Has reduced your life to a sideways glance/and has given you nothing but empty triteness”. But there is hope of ejecting him. The Other is a benign mirror-self: “I experience myself as seen in your look/In the same way as you experience yourself as/seen through mu eyes”. Vitally, again ‘That other is prior to self’.
The test is literal, autobiographical in tone, a survey of Christopher’s struggles at school, and in the world of work. He early encountered ‘the fear of being different’, excelling in one area of activity, at a disadvantage in all others. Society favours the ‘common man’, the mass average against the individual: “Theories of equality pay lip service in an egalitarian state/The individual as commodity is master of his own species”. He loses control when he refuses to think of himself as a commodity. “So much then for the protection of diversity.” A note of near nihilism in the middle of the poem: “Life goes on, never arriving at its destination/Hope has long left the promise made at birth” The Way We Were, by way of contract, goes into naive optimism.
The Witness tells a gruesome tale of someone brutally hospitalised. Again, an appeal on behalf of the general reader – the poem gives initials only: “CPA provides a means to accredit Clinical Pathology Services and External Quality Assessment Schemes”. The friend has been callously sedated and sectioned, the poet is a loyal friend who will do all he can to rescue his companion, against ‘the dragons that imprison your body/And poison your gentle mind . . .” The Wounded Healer finds his painful traumas are a source of enlightenment for others.
Theory of Forms: There is a cave-dweller with poor eyesight who could only obtain weak, shadowy impressions of phenomena around him. A wise man came to guide him toward the superseonsory, towards Essence: “He taught him that the Forms were outside the world/and outside time/Having no spatial dimensions and no orientation in space/Neither having any fixed location/Nor found in the mind//The Forms are perfect because they are unchanging”. A third man enters the discussion “And surmised that the idea may be like the day/Which is one and the same in many places at once/And yet continues with itself . . .”. He also discerned “That certain qualities also possess Forms/And that the Form of Otherness/Accounts for the differences between them” (He later adds that “the otherness applies to its own particulars and not to other Forms”). Great statement of the apparent contradictoriness (of dualism?) “. . . the existing non-existence/Is something and is nothing/Allowing and not allowing/Contradictory properties of one form”. After these depth explorations, there is a reference to ‘some act of insight and recollection . . . Whereby . . . there shines forth comprehension”. The blind man stood his ground and parted company, “I suspect, he proclaimed, it is beyond you and me”
This is not a Pipe tries to plumb the essence of inspiration and pure thought: “The automatism of the genius/And the somnolence of the artist/Reject category and label . . . the absence of aesthetic and ethic, custom and structure”. He venerates primitive (tribal?) forms of life ‘Accepting shared experience and spacing out its artistic freedom/Which distances itself from the mundane. Christopher refers to ‘the metaphysic of the Hebdomeros’. This reference is taken from the surrealist novel of the same name by Giorgio di Chirico, a summary of which is appropriate:
There is no plot in Hebdomeros to tie down its relentless—and non-logical—flow of vivid imagery. Instead, there is a frequent repetition of many motifs. A few of these are rooms, sleep and waking, Hebdomeros’ father, the ruins of ancient buildings and statues, a distant mountain, and the marching of massed troops. They offer, by their repetition, a setting for the wanderings of Hebdomeros.

Who is Hebdomeros? He is a man who travels from place to place pondering the eternal question, What is life? He is sometimes accompanied by friends but is often alone. He indulges in long periods of what he calls meditation, which is really thinking. He is puzzling out something that bothers him, namely that people don’t understand the things he says. He believes he is a superior being because he thinks deeply.
Although he is a thinker, Hebdomeros’ memories, visions, descriptions of his environment and disquisitions to his friends are presented in concrete images. For example, “Hebdomeros mixed with the crowds that filled the restaurants; he still hoped for the ‘unexpected’; he questioned the people around him, read the papers, lent an attentive ear to the conversation of his neighbors at the next table.”
The unexpected arrives in the form of intuitions and a vision. Hebdomeros realizes that work is important to him. “This is your life!” he exclaims. “Go and do!” Then he has the thought, “After all, it would be really too eccentric to consider oneself superior to others without first being superior to oneself.” The apparition of a female figure called Immortality completes his transformation. “Hebdomeros, his elbow on the ruin and his chin in his hand, pondered no longer … His thoughts, in the pure breath of that voice that he had heard, yielded slowly and ended by abandoning him altogether. They surrendered to the caressing waves of unforgettable words, and on these waves they floated toward strange and unknown shores.”

Thinking as intentionally as I can, I deduce that the theme of Hebdomeros is the futility of pondering deeply the meaning of life.” (Julia, in A Number of Things)
“The literal meanings given to objects/Ignore their underlying poetic and inner logic . . . Each radical subjective response Takes away from the object something of itself/Which is then internalised and given an identity/With method and foresight which cannot be apprehended/By Self or by Other . . .”
Three Bards – this is a mythological pot pourri, and ode to the ‘Age of Holy Anarchy’, some association with the Journey of the Magi, some to Classic antiquity, and a ‘gothic quest’ for good measure. He sees himself as exile and pilgrim in one, ‘. . . upon the sacred journey . . . that I may grow in wisdom and aspire to a new genesis. ‘The Commonwealth of Two Nations’ seems to refer to the 1569 Union of Lublin, which united Lithuania and Poland into a federal republic.
Time Machine – the time traveller sets off ‘On this outward journey from where there is no return’. The traveller gets existentially lost: “Time lapses and fragments into altered frames/The shift of space-time is near-complete . . . so that with the movement of the planets and stars/The traveller changes history . . . tangled timelines unravel around him . . .” The time-traveller can inspire different generations throughout history. He is a pure entity: “The traveller was never born/And will never die”
To All the Victims – a homage to a true survivor, “Your inner world can now be at peace with yourself . . . you are a messenger of the gods/Who have healed your tortured soul and your battered body/That you may go on and live according to the/freedom of your own will
Toxic Triangle –simple poem, predominantly in rhyme, discussing the double edged quality of medications: ‘Poison in a pretty pill . . . A toxic blend of morbid delights’. He welcomes the relief from pain, but pleads ‘Take not away from me the memories within’, and is happy to make do with aspirin.
Transitions – here Christopher is a partly detached observer of the toiling masses, and mingles with happy throngs, but he also thinks of the homeless, and how he might share their lot, and has reservations about his comfortable detachment: “. . . can I claim a secure distance?” He has indeed been hurt and misunderstood, ‘. . . as a sheet of paper/With a glagolothic script’. This refers to a Slavonic alphabet invented in the 9th century. But for all his comparative contentment, he longs to be spirited away ‘To a land full of verse and sweet words’. He feels he has been turned into a new man, and turns the tide of life. Nonetheless, the feels apprehensive about his journey, and pleads for a companion.
Tribute feels as if it could be dedicated to someone deceased, or perhaps sectioned – one act of disappearance. Some more explanation of the ‘indefensible lament’ would have been called for. It comes, presumably from ‘A voice from the other side’; could it refer to an unjustified suicide? The poem is couched in the terminology of Structuralist Criticism. There is a suggestion that command of these terms has been used by one of the ‘vagrant’ bureaucracy to accentuate isolation: “. . . you find joy in the angst of your own hand”
Underground Journey: The tube assumes metaphorical proportions; he travels at the speed of light, and sees the caverns beneath the city. The journey seems to have no end, and no apparent purpose. It seems to have resulted from a personal estrangement. But the journey ends; he gets off the tube at an overground station, and decides he has gained strength to go on alone without the companion.
Uneasy Silence: The authoritarian and dictatorial aspects of naming “Giving it (an object) a specific meaning which it cannot possibly/know or fathom in itself . . . Without reference to its own subjective nature and self identity.” But this power can be challenged: “the object named stands silent and defiant . . . it is what it is in itself/without words, without names ”. There is a significant period of intermediary silence: “In that translation from form to word or phrase is that silent reckoning/Where preference and choice enter into the dialectic”. Names can be arbitrary: “Are they expressions that refer to objects/independently of any properties that those objects/may have? . . . Naming is indeed an act of exercising power.” The identity conferred by a name is not absolute: “the bearer of a name is not the man in himself/Yet his name does invoke a strange power upon him. The true ‘man’ in himself may be the as yet unnamed newborn: “It is . . . that uneasy silence which is/imposed upon him at birth/That makes his name obsolete before the throne of God.
Vortex: Universal struggles for comprehension. ‘Modal confusion’ is a grammatical term referring to inaccurate use of modal verbs and conditionals. The mechanism of explanation can be the mechanism of obscurity: “. . . the complications encountered by words and symbols/Throw into doubt any ability to reconstruct their purpose . . . Utterances at once so simple/Follow a hidden grammar of expression” “The effect an utterance has in the world/and the style of communicative action/Are inseparable”. He feels the need for intermediaries: “The interlocutors in thei trivial accomplishment/Sustain communication and understanding/By means yet undiscovered to me . . . But ones which . . . I will know/through common usage”
Waiting on the Platform – the subject lives in a state of suspension ‘As though on a platform/For a train that never arrives/And a journey that never begins’. He is in a state of extreme despair and negativity: “Honest enquiry into the ordinary/Has long ceased to inspire me”. Part of him would welcome death. “There can be no absolute measure of right and wrong/And sanity is but a shroud of ignorance and fear. There is some sense of hope with “Common values and social norms/Fall asunder as the thunder of freedom sounds”, but then pessimism returns: “Reward for the sake of good deeds/Is unknown in the natural world . . . the hopeless and futile pairing/of reason and hope . . . the choice to think and act/Is surplus to existence as a being/In the world”
Warwick Avenue is a simple tale of revisitation, of a locality known to a lover or close companion. He finally got a vision of the companion’s younger self. But the journey assumed metaphysical dimensions – ‘this forbidden land . . . Away from the rest of humanity and its mutations/Where all was at peace and in harmony with the One/From which I drew supernatural life and comfort”. A return to despair precedes his final positive vision.
In Watching the World Fade Away, Christopher posits himself as a prisoner of his own mind: “I am locked away in a land of my own inspiration/Where time stands still and the will is broken. He has been spirited away to a celestial vantage point. Under his gaze, the world assumes a different form. He takes some consolation from the perpetual recurrence of daylight: “in the beginning there was no hope, no script” (now there is script and, presumably, hope). A final, powerful, unanswerable question: “Who, indeed, is truly in command when freedom is my final demand?”
Water Meadow is charmingly, wistfully light-hearted, about a (probably) imaginary past love, against a background of nostalgia centred on Byron and Rupert. Christopher certainly has a facility in changing tone. He longs to be reunited with his love.
Ways of Seeing – true depth thought here: “Concept is greater than form . . . the Grand Plan is born ahead of time. Another plea for individualism: “Defy tradition and break the rules/For Art’s sake.” Great art illuminates the everyday: “The commonplace assumes a new aspect/As relevance and theoretical significance are formed/in the mind”. He is striving for a higher level of art: “Portaits at an exhibition . . . fail to stimulate the inner eye” “The invisible surface is the true form of art/As the artist recreates the impossible in himself . . . Relinquish the easel and lift the human spirit/Declare through the artistic void”
What IS Reality? – he has descended into nothingness, realising that “the world . . . is shrouded in uncertainty and otherness . . .” “Reality is the totality of things Rendered and laboured upon” (who/what agency does the rendering and labouring?) He feels he has to leave it open to questioning as to whether reality is dependent on, or independent of ‘mental and cultural factors . . . beliefs and perceptions’. Good gloss of Descartes with “I think therefore I am in a world of which nothing can be known”. He finally assumes a stance of ‘despising blind reductionism’, and exhorts one to ‘Take delight in action which does not always/presuppose thought . . . it is personal insight into any situation/Which brings meaning and significance . . . Reality is, therefore, what you want it to be”
Whatever Happened to Samuel Stow? – I could not find any reference for this name, so I gather it could be a personal friend or acquaintance of Christopher’s. He seems to be an intending or accomplished suicide, and is portrayed with Biblical imagery as pilgrim-cum-prophet. Even in his departure, he would be a beacon of light “in death go forth, grow strong and find peace at last”. When the City Sleeps is a nocturnal, observational ramble. Wakefulness while others sleep is a positive sign – ‘Think on and take pride in your achievements . . . the darkness of the city is part of the dream’. Will You Be There seems somewhat trivial.
Window on the West, to me, evokes Peter the Great of Russia. He was renowned both as a great reformer, and for his ruthlessness. The latter predominates at the end: “Universe and mind sit in symbiotic appeasement/The poor have no place in the new city/For they carry the burden of Sisyphus/Urban yet surreal is their presence . . .”
Wipe Out opens with an indictment of warmongers, and then implicitly compares a war holocaust with ‘collision . . . at the subatomic level . . . Obedience to this law is all that holds the fragile universe together’. He states the case for an ‘intermediate quantum state’ and the ‘principle of uncertainty’. He ends with his vision of the apocalypse, when the ‘world has gone’ – a holocaust from which three tribes will escape, and a New Order will rise ‘out of the ashes of the old’
You Left Your Mark On Me is an expression of nostalgia for a departed lover, Christopher’s ‘surface area’ again. Young at Heart has an element of contradiction: firstly he says “. . . my inner world is an open book/And my words are not my own” and then goes on to proclaim his solitary independence. Then another wobble: he is on control, having ‘banished’ other people from the vicinity, but then “the carousel of life springs out of control”, and he is ‘on the road to perdition once more’. There is a confused desire to return to his youth, ‘the wilderness of my former years’.
Young Radicals – begins with some fairly obvious sentimental radicalism: “Artisans of the world unite! . . . political levellers . . .” but then a sharper sense of Realpolitik: “Coalitions of left and right have stood in the way/Of fundamental political change . . . enfranchisement is a poor substitute for action”. His use of the term ‘Natural reason’ in the context of this poem, does not seem to be well-defined. “A People’s Charter has been drafted in stone” – surely this smacks of religious fundamentalism rather than political radicalism, particularly as he proceeds to support riots and agitation to oppose ‘the Ecclesiastical dictate’. Then further confusion, appealing to the existing leaders to abandon their policies of oppression. Once cannot both amend and destroy the status quo. Again a bit of a clash between ‘Take a leap in the dark’, the uncharted, unknown, and ‘Anchor the revolutionary tradition’ – something known, previously established. I find this poem quite weak in comparison with its predecessors; Christopher has not applied the self-questioning hard thinking as he has done so impressively in many of the poems here.
I see in the preface that Christopher has four degrees, one of them from Cambridge. The scope of his erudition is very apparent. Some might say ‘he reads like academic coursework, not poetry’ – I do not believe in separating these two areas of expression into watertight compartments. There is a definite sense of struggle; the final effect is not one of detached, objective clinicality. It feels to me that he is stretching language and rationality to breaking point so that he can intuit reality (essence?) Through the cracks. I would certainly be curious to know how his academic supervisors rated him. This was a very laborious, demanding read for me, but a supremely rewarding one. If there is a future edition, it is vital for there to be background material for the benefit of the general reader.

Dave Russell
Date Added: 06/24/2012 by Christopher Ejsmond