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from ‘The Runiad’ book 8

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

from Book 8

Most narratives are compromised and some appear more compromised
Than others. Jenkins turns up close. Features clenched in anger. Wants
To punch me in the face. All down to the narrative he endorses;
Would have liked to espouse too but she’s dead. Dead and celebrated.
BBC documentary. Movie made in Hollywood. How could I cast doubt
On it? His narrative was never mine. Now, with his muse slated,
How can he accept that I can take his writing, not what it’s about?

Why are we so practiced in the self-deceptive reflex
That we find in language and belief? Empire managers explain:
“We kind of just think these actions that are happening,
Across college campuses especially, are like a sideshow — no,
They are the show. Because if we lose the intellectual debate,
We will not be able to deploy any western orientated army
Ever again. This is the reason why there’s overwhelming support

For shutting down TikTok and other entities of a similar sort.
Physical papers like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal
And The Washington Post are not where our target reads a report.
No, for now we are on an intravenous feed with new impulses,
With inputs every millisecond, easily supplied from any mobile
In the field. And of course, the way this new sourcing has played out
On social media has affected the narrative we prefer to control.

Now, as the empire’s architects, we are having to contend
With a media ecosystem environment in which context, history,
Facts, as we construe them for our benefit get lost, while instead
The emotion, the impact, the nature of each image rears its head.
Our narrative no longer dominates the media, and we can’t —
We can’t discount that, and we need to stamp it out,
Because, from our perspective it leads to a challenging impact.”

These narratives, however, yours or mine, are they what
They seem? Chains of causes aptly leading to effects?
Mine a gross fabrication, leaving Jenkins unimpressed.
His, manipulation by the powers that dominate the West,
As I see it, when the Azov now receive a welcome in the Commons
From the straw-mop clot whose arrogance seems mystically blessed
By popularity. Quick to do the bidding of our bullish Romans,

He will lead us into gore and glory. All for the sake of his story.
Meanwhile it’s all collapsing; neither the Labour nor the Tory
Tale convinces us, because the idea that either could contrive
An authorised version is about as obsolete as a penny-farthing.
Pundits aim to pontificate but seldom hit the spot.
We’re as quantum as our physics, analyse entanglement
As best we can. However we deliberate, we end up in a knot.

I was gliding into a pylon. This being all that I can remember
Of some complex dream, but all my dreams are dreamt by Kafka.
What little else I recall may have been encountered on some other night.
As when there were only four of us sat in the chapel — unlit
Because Fleur insisted on it, saying the dark was a symbol.
Douglas was passed between us. Each of us kissed his nose.
Then he was laid to rest on the bier, before sliding off

Into the fiery furnace. Burn the Guru, kill the Buddha.
As for effective altruism, that’s the recipe for some vengeful father
Of a narrative to garner an Aladdin’s cave of funds;
And frankly the bigger the pot the more likely you are to drown
In it, steeped in the blood of the innocent. You may promote
The use of reason and evidence so as to justify ends.
Ask not after the means, unless you want to lose your friends

To fiends who wish to abort the past, destroy the rotation of
The crops. Blot out the sun for our own good. Their narrative
Stinks, but they can’t smell it. They live on the other side of the river
Of Kush, encircled by a stream of fire no mortal can ever come near.
They dwell in beautiful houses, and no unclean creature is found
In their land and their flocks and their stocks as well as their fields
Bear twice a year. No child dies there during its parents’ lifetime,

Who live to see a third and a fourth generation. They never
Close their homes at night, for there is no theft or wickedness
Among them. All that, they project, via an assortment of missiles
And drones, over to our side of the Kush, sending one rampaging
Mother of a plague after another. Each supposed to make us better
People as well as to teach us to value the advantages of being able
To settle in a gated community with access to a prosperous posterity.

Take your daughter to be droned, furnished with a life-support
Of virtual reality, with a ‘copter implant
For her flying dreams. This is how the management
Regains control; by engineering fantasies of revolt: revolt against
Genitalia works very well — or getting wedded to aliens.
Use the impulse to seek independence as your honied trap
To lead them down the garden path into the hornet grasses.

Now they’re entering the Breughel Zone, a knife between
Their ears, for dalliance in a deer park mixed with war footage
So that they experience social unrest that never occurred.
Now they’re all out on the street wearing those coloured glasses
You need for 3D. Essential in Georgia today. Lobotomised insurgency.
Your drones cloned; your clones droned. So that the West reclaims
Its myth of supremacy, and management restores the empire’s aims,

These being accompanied by trigger warnings, cautionary tales
Concerning pressing, staring, touching, saying unclean things
In loud voices. Seek only to find Fibonacci in the cow parsley.
Wondering at the wonder of it all: clouds going one way, trains another.
And you have a penis, as does your brother, while your little sister
Is far too toughly rooted to be pulled up out of the ground.
And poetry today, you say, suffers from a surfeit of “I”s.  Ghastly

Ones mainly, going on and on about their prep schools in the trenches.
Just how many “I”s can one accommodate, each with its own
Traumatic narrative? Shouldn’t the chameleon apply itself instead
Solely to the article? The hedgehogs on a cold night.
The dense fume of nettles in the shade. The piece of paper
On which she wrote down her email. The philosophical aspects
Of walking through walls. The plastic solitude, the solitude of signs.

One might well feel too left alone like this, but luckily
Poets greet me in my sleep, and boy, do they make a fuss of me.
They offer me rolled-up tobacco which I insist on refusing.
One of them knows the work of Sunthorn Poo, a poet who
I long to get to know. The women want to confide in me
And rattle on about their affairs of the heart, despairs of the cunt,
Generating bitter verses written in the night’s recesses.

Equanimity incarnate, I am over all such excesses.
Elder and hawthorn making up to the plane trees:
These supply sufficiently white lyrics to sustain my desires
These days. Now that I manage to get quite happily erect
By conjuring up some buxom young woman who I’ll place
In a situation that appeals to both of us. She is the fruit
Of unrestrained imaginings, and nothing could be juicier.

I obey no call to reduce, resign, restrict my mental wealth.
Why embrace some grey and neutered replica of a former self?
Keats got it right. And poets can be all the more chameleon
As they get older, basking now, amid their thoughts’ foliage.
The women offer doubtful nods.  And as for me, I’m ashamed.
Fallen into the I-trap — even as I denigrate the trait in others!
Foisting upon them all this narrative about my made-up lovers.

—This is the fifth installment of The Runiad.
See previously
Extracts from Books 1 & 2
Extracts from Books 3 & 4
Extracts from Book 5 & 6
Extract from Book 7

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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