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from ‘The Runiad’ books 1 & 2

from Books 3 & 4 >

A Fortnightly Serial.


ANTHONY HOWELL writes: My own romantic notion of myself has encouraged me to attempt an epic. It will have 24 books and be the same length as the Odyssey. Each book will be approximately 24 pages long, with three seven-line verses per page. I have completed a clean draft of books 1 to 4, which I publish with Heyzine here, and to this file I will add each new book as it is completed.


from Book 1

A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Ugly as he is, Hephaestus
Fashions things of beauty, artificial things. Physical beauty belongs
To his wife Aphrodite. Here we enter into the mazy
Depths of an enigma. Beauty may describe a weapon such as Excalibur,
A warhorse such as Bucephalus, bred of the best Thessalian strain.
Meanwhile it was Theseus who set up the establishment
Of Aphrodite Pandemos on the Southern slope of the Acropolis.

Beauty, in which case, may be applied to some persuasive slut
Serving any visitor from anywhere in Attica, whether from Eleuthera
Or Sunium. Beauty “common to all”, that’s to say available
To anyone who’s got the cash, just as on the dark web you can buy
Your own thing of beauty, your hypersonic high precision
Quanta-dodging arrow-head (Smoother than a tiger shark when super-clad
In sight-resistant finish). Brigadiers, give it a try!

War caresses Beauty’s thigh. Using stealth technology
War inserts a finger and a short while later they’re in hubby’s bed;
Beauty having slithered out of her heels from Saint Laurent,
Her figure-clinging costume from Mugler, Cartier bracelets,
Rings (Bulgari), costing twelve and thirteen thousand bucks,
Her Hermes gear, Van Cleef and Tiffany neckwear, shoulder-bag from Baer:
Seventy thousand dollars’ worth, strewn about her as she fucks.

What’s that to War? Not much compared to one autonomous weapon,
Killer robot, spoofing system. He can blow a tank or two
On her expenses. That’s what tanks are for, aren’t they?
War may be a racket but he won’t get done for doing what comes naturally,
Nor for his financing it by engineering an invasion.
Who foresees the tripwire that may trip them up eventually?
Untouchable for Valentine’s, Al Capone got done for tax evasion.

Sailing through the air between a thistle and a rose,
Arachne establishes the first line of boundary for her web.
She anchors this to a thorn. Again she sails through the air between
That rose and another, thus she makes a criss-cross star
And then embarks on weaving this its rigging and its centre.
Abandon hope all ye who enter: midges, muckleheads and flies…
The trembling of an empire’s web registers where doomsday lies.

It’s anchors are its bases, in Kosovo, Iraq, Niger, Poland, Syria.
Hephaestus has an avatar in many-legged Arachne
And it is she who helps him weave his web. Weave his web above,
Below and all around the marriage bed. Web created
Using invisible thread. A miracle it took many runes to devise.
Just as I compose this poem using algebraic equations,
Heph creates a net and lays a trap for underhand liaisons.

But how can War be such a fool as to seek conjunction underground,
Deep in the mine for gold below Hephaestus’ factory?
For underground liaisons go to the heart of just what Hamas is.
At last the jigsaw fits, the net being drawn in on the Samson option
Netanyahu favours, preferring it to jail. Hamas has its roots in Egypt
Where the Muslim Brotherhood was born. Hamas then Takfiri Sunni,
Sponsored via that “strategy of tension” spawned in some dark crypt.

Thus was used Al Quaeda in Afghanistan, thus they use DAESH
To justify their occupations, ever and anon maintaining the “containment”
Of these terrors is their purpose as they reinforce a military base
While making sure these terrors that they’re subsidizing stay in place.
Dante would have fulminated mightily upon such a laying on of hands
That offers absolution to the very force you speak of as your enemy.
Worthy of the Magus, such simony. A net — that Netanyahu understands.

But soon this net becomes a fog, for commentators disagree.
In metaphor alone do the roots dictate the nature of the tree.
Resistance movements must mature, learn to coalesce with forces
Once inimical. Contrarian ideologies tend to bury differences
In the face of common threats. Outcomes challenge discourses.
An era of injustice may create the opportunity
For schisms to embrace each other in the name of unity.

The present is invisible, the past alone reveals whatever
Up-to-date opinion makes of what has happened, hard to say
With certainty that this is not a fiction too. Undying verse
Wisely sidesteps current matters. Legends are less controversial
Than interpretations of the news. A myth proves more reliable,
And only academic pedants dare to pick a bone with you.
The present is a minefield, a quagmire, a hornets’ nest of views.

Invisible nets and well-spun webs and those entangled photons
(Grains that react in sympathy over incredible distances
To show one the location of hostiles dug in deeply), plus the tell-tale
Sun revealing the location of that heavily-inked emboldened
Mercenary thug deeply going about your wife while you are out,
Attending, as you told him, a meeting of the board on Lemnos,
Help you get the set-up intended for revenge no doubt.

And ah, revenge is sweet, and as sweetly is it engineered
By those whose trophy brides provide a motive for their hate,
While “hit back twice as hard” remains the mantra most
Israelis murmur and would murmur back in 1948.
It’s easier to exterminate a danger you can blame.
Witness Mars and Venus snared in Vulcan’s hidden trap.
In Latin, Greek or Hebrew, exoneration rules the game.

A thing of beauty gets away with murder could be just as well
The moral of this story, since the thing is sex objectified
And worshipped for her bottom, for her bosom and her belly.
Curling from her bush and curving upwards to her crown
She chimes with Fibonacci. Which is why her upper self
Appears Platonic, emblem of perfection in immortal form
Expressed through human attributes. The star that rises with the moon.


from Book 2

Most violence is justified by arguments that have no worth
Or bearing on the mayhem that is being inflicted in their name.
Organs sold by Kiev, excised from casualties, create a need
For living vegetables; the trenches being a source of their supply,
For in the West — where kidneys are concerned — demand is high
And profits astronomical. Enough to buy a brace of yachts,
A gravestone, perhaps, and a bouquet of Forget-me-nots

Once the casualty is mined of all intact commodities.
Snipping off a he-man’s locks made Délila a millionairess.
British Aerospace is doing very well indeed
From a war that’s well worth losing. As for us, we couldn’t care less.
Carpet bombing nowhere near us doesn’t make our living-rooms
Less décor-conscious. Quite the opposite. We fuck and shop.
If not on us, we’re unconcerned about what bombs you care to drop.

Escalating numbers get dispensed below the scanner.
What business have we got that proves as profitable as making
Missiles, bombs and munitions? Every multi-billion toy
Guaranteed to self-destruct no sooner than it finds employ.
This beats built-in obsolescence by a very long way.
Put an end to this industry and cast the state into penury.
Moralise, if you must. Hephaestus funds the urban planner.

Shards and gherkins propagate. Standards are maintained.
House and Garden praises the sophistication of your home
(Wars being fought in collusion with the enemy). The profiteers
Anchored somewhere off the coast of Sardinia perhaps
Invite each other onto their immaculately polished decks.
These being the days when a cosmic caste of aristocrats
Enjoys the life of aliens connected to this vale of tears

Only in that they, like us, breathe oxygen — or maybe not.
As far as we’re concerned they could hail from some far galaxy.
Genocide occurs when some other side is out
Of ammo and the conflict a matter of divesting ones depot
Of armour past its due date, getting rid of surplus stock.
Any reason given is cynical, a fallacy concocted to excuse
The flattening of quarters seen as antlike structures way below.

Meanwhile Samson labours at the mill. The grain is ground.
The grain he should have burnt, and this increases his despair.
Blind, bound and defeated, treading the same sad circle:
Object now of ridicule, a thing they feel they can ignore,
His captors, taking scant account of the regrowth of his hair.
He sleeps, slumped at the wheel. He dreams, dreams of Délila,
Dreams of how she mocks him, saying, what a fool you were!

Samson, smug in your strength. Suffer now the agony
Your foxes suffered as they went in frenzy through our fields,
Bound by their tails; those handsome brushes that you set alight.
In the battle of the bed you were just no match for me.
What’s the point in wielding arms when you fail in strategy?
Cunning is the art of conning. Women use it more.
Ares rules the battlefield. Athena wins the war.

Devastation everywhere. That aforementioned pope
Who observed the black mass of holocaust would smile at this
Palace of Justice blown to bits, that ruined university
And babies turned to carcasses in incubators starved of power.
The earth scorched, the night ablaze. Palestine, abandon hope,
Defeated by the people from the sea and from the air
Who’ve settled here as self-promoted victims of adversity.

But there’s a twist to our laconic fable from an ancient book.
In confidence, the strong grow weak. Though robbed of hope,
The weak become the strong for hope is grown as is the hair
On any hero’s head. And Samson, taken from the mill, paraded
Through the Gazan streets and offered to a jeering throng
Crammed into the temple of Dagon, seeks to rest awhile
Between the columns holding up the building and its balconies.

Délila is there of course, his heifer of a wife as well
Who mooed to them his riddle. The pews are filled, the terraces.
And there’s this blinded, black and hairy monster of a man.
Out of the eater came forth fare, out of the mighty
Came forth sweetness. This enigma proves his own
Epiphany. His sacrifice ensures the destruction of his enemy.
Legendary suicide of Samson of the tribe of Dan.

Imagine Samson as a place, a country heading for defeat,
A state whose entity’s demise could usher in apocalypse
In this nuclear age of ours; its leader facing prosecution,
Now his star is in eclipse, who feels his mortal frame is worth
More than a billion others. Ending it, he’ll push apart
The pillars that support us all and wreck humanity as well
As his own survival, should his people fail to stake their claim.

Call it the code of the suicide bomber. Call it what you will.
Genocide the price of his predestined fall from power.
See it from one viewpoint or another, this enduring tale:
A portent of what agony may come to pass if Gaza
And its conflict cannot be resolved. Chances are this criminal
Will bring the temple of the heavens down upon himself
And all who dig and delve below in his final tumble into hell.

—This is the first installment of The Runiad.
See next
Extracts from Books 3 & 4
Extracts from Book 5 & 6
Extract from Book 7
Extract from Book 8
Extract from Book 9

Anthony HowellANTHONY HOWELL, a former dancer with the Royal Ballet, was founder of The Theatre of Mistakes and performed solo at the Hayward Gallery and at the Sydney Biennale. His articles on visual art, dance, performance, and poetry have appeared in many publications including Art Monthly, The London Magazine, Harpers & Queen, The Times Literary Supplement. He is a contributing editor of  The Fortnightly Review. In 2001 he received a LADA bursary to study the tango in Buenos Aires and now teaches the dance at his studio/gallery The Room in Tottenham Hale. He is the author of a seminal textbookThe Analysis of Performance Art: A Guide to Its Theory and PracticeDetails about his collaborative project, Grey Suit Editions, are here. In 2019, his exploration of psychic chaos, Consciousness (with Multilation)was published by the Fortnightly’s imprint, Odd Volumes. His latest collection is From Inside (The High Window).

Image credits: Drawings by Anthony Howell. Top image from Burak Basturk.

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