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from ‘The Runiad’ books 5 & 6

< from Books 3 & 4   from Book 7 >

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 6, which I publish with Heyzine here, and to this file I will add each new book as it is completed.

from Book 5

Begin with ‘Once upon a time there was a man named Du
Dsi Tschun: in his youth a spendthrift who squandered his inheritance.
Fond of wine and idling, he drank and continued to drink,
And when he had run through all his cash, his family disowned him.
A winter’s morning found him walking barefoot through the town.
He’d slept in a bag outside the gate where foreigners come in;
His clothing rags, his gut unfilled, his spirit broken down.

Evening came. The air was cold. He’d not found any food.
Sad of eye, and whingeing with a beggar’s meek respect,
He scoured the closing market for a scrap a dog would reject.
When night fell this young reprobate began to grieve for himself aloud.
And then an ancient, white of beard, approached him, leaning on
A cane, who asked him what he lacked since he so bewailed
His fate. ‘No one pities my condition,’ Du Dsi Tschun replied.

The old one asked, ‘How much would set you up to live in style?’
‘Fifty thousand copper coins would get me on my feet.’
‘That would not go far.’ ‘Well I guess a million might suffice.’
‘Only for a little while.’ ‘Three million, would be nice.’
‘That’s more what I had in mind!’ Out of his sleeve, the ancient
Fetched a string of a thousand coins. ‘This is for tonight.
Meet me tomorrow noon, young man, in the Persian bazaar!’

At noon, a well-fed Du Dsi Tschun went to the bazaar
Unclear about what service was required of him, but there,
Sure enough, was his patron with three million up his sleeve.
He then went off in an eerie way, leaving Du Dsi far from poor.
With cash in hand however his extravagance returned.
He rode pampered steeds, clothed himself in the finest furs,
Went back to his wine, compelled to spend and spend and spend.

Inevitably therefore those millions came to an end.
Mere cotton had to do him again instead of fine brocade.
And so, no longer riding high, once more he went to the dogs.
Was, as before, a scavenger, barefoot and in rags,
And ever in a quandary as to how to assuage
His hunger. Hopelessly, he loitered in the marketplace.
But there was the old gentleman, frail and white of beard.

‘Are you here already? Broke and back to where you were?
How very strange! However, I will bail you out once more!’
Du Dsi Tschun was filled with shame and didn’t like to accept.
Still the mysterious ancient led him back to that bazaar.
There from his sleeve he now produced a cool ten million coin.
Enough to buy a gated house, a wife and a hybrid car,
And Du Dsi offered thanks again, though mortified by shame.

Trying hard to be astute, this time he invested
And attempted thrift, so as to gain great wealth and win
Back the respect of his relatives. But, as is often the case,
It’s hard to conquer ingrown faults. The wine took over again.
The copper burnt his pocket. He couldn’t but allow free rein
To less than metaphysical desires. Thus was he divested
Of the nest egg gifted him a second time. Imagine the disgrace.

Penniless as ever he had been, he encountered
His benefactor hobbling past supported by his cane
And hid the face he felt he’d lost. The old sage seized his arm:
‘Where are you going? I can help. I’ll give you thirty million,
But then if you go broke again, there’s nothing to be done.’
Du Dsi Tschun could only thank him: ‘In my direst need
You alone have rescued me. This third and final time,

What your sleeve delivers me shall not be squandered,
That I swear; but I will use it for good works in order to repay
Your kindness, Sir. And then, my goal achieved. I will seek you out
And follow you — through fire and flood.’ This was as the aged one
Intended all along — who said, ‘That is now agreed, Du Dsi Tschun.
When you have succeeded in your aim, come to find me please
In the temple of Laotsze where I’ll be beneath two mulberry trees!’

Wealthy yet again, Du Dsi Tschun resolved to leave the town
Of his disgrace and went off to Yangdschou to start afresh.
He bought a hundred acres, built a lofty mansion there
In a well-appointed street where his rooms provided
Shelter for mendicants, widows and orphans. Then he bought
His ancestors a memorial site and welcomed needy relations.
Countless, those he helped out of desperate situations.

Thus he established a charity, and, when this was done,
He journeyed to the temple of Laotsze. The white-bearded one
Was sitting calmly in the shade of those two mulberry trees
Blowing on his cane, which turned out to be a flute.
Greetings were exchanged, and after Du Dsi Tschun had had a rest,
Accompanied by a shaggy dog, he and the ancient sage set off
For the clouded peaks of the holy mountains to the West.

When they had travelled more than a hundred li into the mountains
They espied a tall pagoda girdled round with fountains.
Many-coloured clouds floated through its gilded frames.
Peacocks graced its balconies. Cranes gyrated round its rooves.
Within it was a tripod oven. This was the stove of stoves,
Nine foot high, in which is brewed the elixir of life itself:
Effective if the fabricator can endure the absolute.

Its fire burnt in preparation, with a purple flame.
This sent a glow that leapt towards the wide octagonal walls,
Casting shadows sinuously about that sacred space.
Nine fairies stood in attendance, stoking it with cedar wood.
And there a jade-green dragon served as bellows, it would seem,
While a tiger white as snow went about whisking its tail
With a rage that simmered as the elixir came to the boil.

from Book 6

Hera also tended towards such helicopter parenting
And overdone security, placing in her orchard an immortal,
Never-sleeping, hundred-headed dragon named Ladon
As additional safeguard against the maidens tending it,
Who as we know get tempted to pick her apples for themselves.
It’s mannerist protection: helmet and cuirass, with iron
Skirt and tassets shielding the thighs, a gorget for the throat,

Vision sheltered tightly by a visor. The grip gloved in gauntlets.
So presence of an occupant can hardly be detected.
But then, of course, there isn’t anyone. Only the whiff
Of bygone armpits lingering within that space between
The pauldron at the shoulder and the steel knitting underneath it.
Trace of dribble, hint of olden dirt evidently now affect
The nostrils of a young enthusiast wandering through

The Wallace Collection. Ancient sweat she sniffs as she leans
Forward there; to straighten, raise her eyebrows, smooth her skirt
And move towards Dutch seascapes and fresh air,
Prompting the investigated suit to ask a mouse,
Am I shining armour now or a haunted house?
And what about the enthusiast, so ardently harking after art?
Does she also get out onto the streets and do her part?

Or does she say, I don’t do marches? Prompting me to see
The catastrophe from the mistletoe’s point-of-view.
What is she but a parasite, living off the strength of others?
How can she be expected to stand on her own two feet,
Say no to Loki, volunteer to take the vow and remain
True to beauty? Hold it there, though! Yet again a meaning rears its head.
Impulse for its own sake had been the intent when I began

A while back, sickened by the horrors meted out to folk
In Palestine, by concert halls in flames, Nazi regimes and so on,
Seeking escape into dreams, inconsequential juxtaposition
Tinged with a twilit melancholy perhaps —
Only to be dragged back as if down a drain into
A reason for writing. Aimlessness ambushed by aim.
So let us return to caprice. For meaning may behave like a coquette.

A flirt who has no wish to render up her precious self
To the desire she arouses, but were she not to provoke it,
How could she feel so precious and worthy of pursuit by earnest
Suitors, courtly writers seeking out that sacred bush of hers;
The ultimate meaning of meaning? How can she not appreciate her lovers,
Given that the favour she finds in her own eyes is actually based
On the favour with which she is regarded by those others?

Sleeping Beauty awoken, is she not a poem moist
With the goo of sympathy, oozing positivity, loving
Each minority, caring for the welfare of kids and pets and granny,
Magnolia and rainbows, but mostly the endorsement of the many?
Each competitive coquette seeks to prove to all other coquettes
That she is loved and worthy of her prizes, trophies and rosettes.
Therefore she stirs up desires in the lover, seeking to beguile,

Not in order to surrender, rather to enable her
To refuse him, carelessly, but with considerable style.
Indicative of sexual power, that insouciant request of hers,
That he await her glance, humbly to kick his heels
Far from the dance-floor — suffering the anguish of a wall-flower.
Diffident indifference toward her lover’s sufferings
May seem unfeigned but hasn’t much to do with some callous

Lack of interest. Not at all an absence of desire, it is his
Desire reflected back on her. Deceit alone defeats a bone,
Beats Caprice at her conceited game with an indifference
More cruel than her own. Isn’t this how the surrealists
Managed to defeat the abstracts? Should an elite close ranks
On you, slam your own door back at them. Strategy that works for me
Whenever I am shat upon. Avaunt meaning, begone!

I’ll stitch together phrases, as I please, make a patchwork quilt
While restless unease distinguishes the populace. The cross
Is now removed as Alan’s humanist funeral gets under way.
Does he hear Kit’s jokes, inside that colourful coffin of his?
As they walked towards this crematorium, the poets still among the living
Talked about their cats and about his double-breasted suits:
Pink and green and worn with orange shirts, rendering him

Fluorescent on occasion. Alan’s cat was a Manx.
Durga rides on a tiger. Perhaps she sleeps with him at night.
Taranis turns the world’s wheel from equinox to solstice
And on towards the next event with no word at the start,
And with no end in sight. Take Jesus now and nail him
To the stained glass window. We don’t need to believe in him.
Alan didn’t, that’s for sure. We rise to sing Jerusalem.

—This is the third installment of The Runiad.
See previously
Extracts from Books 1 & 2
Extracts from Books 3 & 4

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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