In ‘Operation ‘Or,’’ Nicholas Powell says, ‘I thought the acting was excellent/ excuses for our failure,’ suggesting how so much middle-class ‘activism’ is simply mild appearance: ‘Protest movements—just a little, please.’ Daniel Pilkington’s ‘Alphabet Suit’ presents a masque audience as ‘yawning/ zealots’. Other poems selected for this issue imagined possible resistances. Resuscitating the avant-garde, Andy Carruthers’ ‘Descort for Riotous Orchestra’ focuses on the musical element of a masque, updating Langston Hughes’ Chant for May Day with the instruction that the poem is ‘to be read by a Worker with, for background, the pulsating waves of a Mass Orchestra, multiplying its sounds like the roar of a mighty Cascade.’ Alternatively Louise Molloy presents the possibility of a wild ‘make-over’ in ‘Tips for Avoiding Extinction,’ as Pam, the unemployed Nail Technologist, reinvents herself through a trans-animal lizard prosthesis: ‘There are no bounds to what an/ extravagant, yet natural,/ frill of a collar can do/ for one’s sense of importance.’ Molloy’s piece also transmogrifies the poem, as an example of artful mixed media.
The idea of transformation in masque can be found in Chloe Callistemon’s ‘A Bird’s Guide to Flight.’ Corey Wakeling plays on repetition and guise in ‘Charlatan.’ John Carey offers his own devious brocading of masque with the term ‘burgastice’ not only being a ‘verse form sung/by Dalmatian shepherds to their sheep’ but also ‘a formal measure characterised by the obligatory/ caesura after the seventh syllable/ that echoes the halt at nightfall/ of combats against Turk or Bulgarian/ or the exhaustion of sated troubadours/ after their ‘doux combats’ with well-muscled/ milkmaids.’ Situated self-consciously within the tradition of the lover’s complaint, Duncan Hose’s ‘Lamb Chantey’ foregrounds the sensual eroticism of meat cuts, contrasting a gustatory erotic appetite along with an awareness of one’s own inevitable decline: ‘Hello middle-age, hello bone-flutes and summer’s corpses that go pop’. Melinda Bufton’s ‘Continental Hourglass’ calls up the female erotic tradition of Anais Nin and Collette and stages a burlesque that nods to troublesome manipulations (‘peekaboos stylings like the/ cellular arts were always commodifying’) while empowering the speaker through self-conscious sexual revelry with ‘inner locations.’ Ken Bolton’s ‘Hindley Street’ contemplates ‘How to be perfect there’ by invoking the New York School’s Frank O’Hara and Ron Padgett, with Peter Bakowski in disguise as a pirate ‘of the future.’ Revisions, hesitations, loving quips, and friendship become part of the poem’s constitution.
Many of the poems allude to masque as a swirl of signs and dreams, such as Jordie Albiston’s poem:
Jericho walls always fall hard on the ear too many signs luxate too brightly the eye once we believed in a thing call it silence a thing like a thing like a song we believed in a visual dream call it green that! dream was nothing but balm once we believed in all manner of things once we believed we believed nought nought we throw back our heads & cover the every word we are but a poet & hardly
Others focused on the masque of nature such as Megan Kaminski’s ‘The Birds’ where ‘seeding whispers promissory notes/ leaf and pail heaven-sent sun-soaked/ drenched in colored light.’ In Rasiqra Revulva’s ‘Chinese New Year,’ ‘The trees are costumed in stripes’. In both these poems, nature and the social world are mutually reflective.
Another constellation of poems approached the masque theme through the domestic or the familial, including Miro Bilbrough’s ‘Tea Dances of this World,’ Jo Langdon’s ‘Making Love & Omelettes,’ and Meredith Wattison’s ‘Armstrong’s Zeitgeist Visor.’
There are many poems I haven’t yet mentioned, those which are so complexly playful on the theme of the masque that they defy framing and those that startle in their stylistic singularity. I particularly liked Zenobia Frost’s ode to a friend’s vulva: ‘It is the/ changingest part of you and I have few/ words, but find myself glad it’s there,/ insisting something.’ That said, there are numerous poems in this issue that insist and surprise, as well as promise, reveal and seduce. What I hope to have given in this all-too-brief introduction is an idea of some of the approaches to the theme. I hope that Cordite readers enjoy the thematic and formal range, and are, in no small part, politically spurred and pleasurably entertained.