Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stephan Anstey: Introduction to a Poet

Stephan Anstey: Introduction to a Poet

You have probably not heard of the poet, Stephan Anstey, even though he is one of the most gifted and prolific writers extant. There is a good reason for that: he hasn't wanted you to know.

Recently we, at Calliope Nerve, revisited what artists we would champion. It was decided that our voice would be in the name of art, pure and simple. While you will read of many poets and writers who have published extensively in book and chap form and more, we strengthened our commitment to celebrating all artists that add to the fiber of the tapestry of The Word.

Stephan Anstey has written over 10,000 poems; a comparative handful are published. He has written three books: 1,000, Dragon In My Closet, and Minor Gods and Jellyfish. While the first two are available through the website of his publication, Shakespeare's Monkey Revue, none have been published by any of the generally recognized small press publishers. It is put forward that the primary reason for this is the preference of the poet.

His corpus of works has been carefully read, and the poet interviewed at length.

Meet Stephan Anstey.

A writer with a voice shaped by multiform influences ranging from the cadences, imagery and woven truths of a Lewis Carroll, the pure sentience and unrelenting observations of the Bukowski who caustically spits on wasted sperm in Three Oranges, the lean, crystalline Japanese form poetry of Matsuo Basso and Kobayashi Issa, and much more. Thus while it may be said that every poet has an `original voice' (a wildly overused term), some, we put forth brazenly and tautologically, are more original than others.

Anstey's definition of the art form says volumes:

"Poetry is the fascist act whereby one human, with sheer force of will, inserts a thought or feeling of their choosing into the head of an unsuspecting audience with a callous disregard for the consequence a new thought might bring."

First reaction: recoil, deliberate provocation? Second reaction: reflection. While many poets say, they relegate control over a piece when it is `freed' to merge with a reader, is that truly so? If one makes the universal personal, and the personal universal, is power not an issue? If political polemics in their knee-jerk reductionism can enflame, what is the potency of the most hermetic form of word usage? In the process of creating a work, what type of artist writes to please an audience? With respect to that last question, most would probably be comfortable in saying, `no type of artist'. So if an entire concept, a condensed world view, a slice of the eternal is put forth, the artist cannot know what the reaction will be. It may be life affirming, life affecting, life destructive and all gradations in-between. It can have no impact. But the artist does not know this, and Anstey avers that the poet does not care about the possibilities of such synergy. If they do, they are out of synchronicity with the creative process. What becomes clear from the onset is that the hackneyed thought, the `appropriate' response, is not part of this writer's conceptual framework or lexicon. This singularity and distinctiveness of thought and expression are evident throughout his work.

The concept behind 1,000 was to write 1,000 poems in a month. It was accomplished. On one day, 132 poems were written. Again, the general association is that such proliferation of work cannot possibly yield quality art. This helps all who subscribe to `writer's block' feel better. The only way this can be assessed is by looking at the work; work Anstey acknowledges changed him.

can I have fries with that freedom?

The gold-leafing that adorns the top of my statehouse

makes me feel rich

until I remember the little flags

at the cemetery

that decorate the slabs of marble and granite

etched with the names

of the currency that paid

so dearly for the sparkle I enjoy.

when she told me

when she told me how her daughter died

my heart stopped

i have a daughter

who is breathing

and my heart beats

depend on her

every uncanned laugh

poured into me

with every argument

about her eye-color


and stirred

until, stronger than a martini

she intoxicates me

all of my driving

for greatness

or something near it

the terror of life

a single heartbeat

from a crash

hating haircuts

when my friend shaved his head

I shook mine.

not for the bits of graying hair

on the ground.

for the callous disregard

he had for all those tiny

specks of creation


for a brief time

were him.

If this is fascism, than it wields a totalitarianism of somber reflection on the meaning and cost of patriotism, on the depth and evisceration requisite in loving, on the minutiae of those times of veneration that are so blithely missed. The currency of having the opportunity to live freer penetrates. Being an adoring father intoxicates the reader. Reverence for the vital which only this artist can see is placed in our hands in beautifully burnished poetic language and a lattice of structure so rarefied it almost escapes unseen. Anstey's `tyranny' leaves room for a reader to move through apertures of humanity and exposed soul; an excellent argument for `pardon' and deeper descent.

His favorite chap-child is Dragon in My Closet. The poet tells us why:

DIMC is my favorite mostly due to the fact those are the poems that I've read a few times and have gotten high-praise. They're easy to read mostly and relevant to my audience. Binding and selling it made a lot of sense and definitely worked for me. I don't think they're 'my best' -- but I do think they represent a certain vein of poetry I was writing for a long time. The overall theme of the Dragon in my Closet chapbook is an exploration of my relationship with the important relationships in my life. Myself (title work), my kids (Tigerlily), my wife, my grandparents, my community (I am still).

In reading the conclusion of I am still we are enveloped in a multitude of feelings. This is punctuated by the placement of those three words as stand alone statement observing a world without, a world passing by, a world that touches, a world that, sometimes, defies sense `in a blur of humanity dead/dying and newborn'. Thus, `my howls are silent'. Does the notion of imprisoned cries and the refusal to challenge the imminence of our eradication not pierce to core? Particularly when succored by such deceptively `simple' (should the adjective not be distilled?), poignant verse.

I was still

thinking about my sister in Miami

enjoying 80 instead of 32 even

though she claims she misses home

even if home is long gone like Kerouac

and Ginsberg's howl. she doesn't think about

the beat or the way things move so damned fast

black and white

and every damned color

dashing by in a blur of humanity dead

dying and newborn

I am still

trying to figure it all out

sometimes it makes me crazy

I am not the best mind or even among them in my generation

my howls are silent. I go gentle into each good night

The title poem has a "to do list" hanging under a clock that `stopped at the precise moment I was born', when the child-man was still free to dream of `flying machines and swords'. It reads:

"7 things I need to do before the end

a) eat a salamander

b) kiss a girl

c) catch a fish with my bare hands

d) go to south africa

e) leap a tall building in a single bound

f) write a book

g) see a dragon"

We travel a lifetime in this list, and then, in the realization of one goal, yet back again. For as Anstey shows us, the fallacy is assuming linearity in the journey, or perhaps it is but another illustration of the heart stopping child-like vision requisite in any great artist; the capacity to stare into a dark closet and watch miracles emerge.

As the author explains, the theme of his most recent compilation, Minor Gods & Jellyfish is, in part, the product of who and where he was when writing it, but also a focus on `… the relationship between life and higher power. There are a lot of poems in that collection that explore the question of faith and a relationship with God.' The dedication is two-part, to his family and:

… to all those who care enough and believe enough and want enough to struggle with faith. Of all the virtues, I believe faith is the {most} difficult. I admire, respect and love anyone strong enough to dare it. So this one's for you.

Here the poet soars as he delves into the cloud coverings that have reduced many to prosodic palaver. From I'm not brave enough for you:

In my defense, there are no trials, every butterfly is one chance

once spent (dollarless and destitute) this journey

is prosecuted. I am pocked with the craters

of gray daylight. I am dusty with dry humor

and the notion that we can dare music here

amidst the knowledge that love will grease the wheels

as the squirrels project us into lunar light.

Here is a created human being holding on to the trails of whimsy wind fall and the knowledge that hope is as evanescent as a yellow swallowtail alighting on poised finger, even as he mourns his disfigurement as a creation of any divinity.

In what is one of the penultimate poems of this volume, in what is as emblematic a revelation of the contribution this writer makes to art, the `poet' confronts the concept that a literary god is the `source' or the hope of spiritual redemption, or transformation, or sustenance for all of us who wish and wonder, and flailingly doubt and sometimes, even … pray.

Never mind, Bukowski's still Dead

You know, sometimes, right at 2:23pm,

I want to kick Bukowski right in the balls.

Don't misunderstand me, I love the guy,

and I agree with him on the value of 3 oranges.

But, I don't care what he thinks: he ain't God.

It's not even that I believe in God,

which I might, not because the big questions are answered

but because, I can accept that they aren't.

No, I can also accept that maybe God is just the hope

there are answers.

But dammit Bukowski, a poet can not be pliable.

Love is always a command.

Faith must be a dictum.

If we are our own God

then we are less than nothing.

Why we are here, I do not know

but it does not involve beer.

We not here for death, nor death for us,

trembling is not a reason

and love is no blanket for thoughts
or the dead.

--Constance Stadler is the Review Editor for Calliope Nerve and author of Paper Cuts which marked the debut of Calliope Nerve Media. She has been writing, publishing, and editing poetry from the prehistoric epoch of print journals to modern e-times. As a political anthropologist specializing in North Africa and a violinist, her influences are multiform. Work in formative years with the late poet Gwendolyn Brooks was seminal, but no less so than Sufi Dervish dancers, and the challenges of mastering Bruch's first concerto.


nicsearc said...

Great review and excerpts of Stephan's work....very much enjoyed!

Stephan Anstey said...

Thank you so much. I really appreciate this review.

Nobius said...

The pleasure is mine. Thanks to you and to Connie both.

Laurie said...

I throughly enjoyed this review and the poetry selections were excellent.

leecrase said...

Great review of a tremendous Poet-- probably one of my favorite textual Fascists, and not just because he's so generous-- well if you consider his Poetry as his primary generosity, then yes, because of his generosity.

Colleen said...

great review.. fabulous poet.. enjoyed the selected poems from Stephan Anstey's vast works

dom gabrielli said...

excellent work. this seems as good an introduction as anyone could wish for. you have me scrambling for more thank you dom