It’s snowing David Bowie / one humdrum Sunday later. / Slow ashen clown drops / unsettling everywhere / over South London. / Death’s the kabuki next door / with its masks and mime, / its dark carpet demanding / you scatter more stars / so the end makes sense / which it will if you’re there / standing by the wall.
from THE RAINBOW FACTORY Templar Poetry 2016
FRAME OF REFERENCE In truth the work Is not just instrumental in that manner: not just a means to an end, it is an end in itself in one way, though not again as an entirely immanent self-circling whole. It incarnates a certain perfection in the respect not of an indefiniteness overcome by self-determination but as an overdeterminacy — a superfluity, an too muchness, a fullness more than full, a pluperfection. It is a brimming happening that exceeds the brim. … It is of the nature of agapeic fullness, of overfullness, rather than the self-containment of the pantheistic universal that pivots away from any reference beyond itself. WILLIAM DESMOND, The Intimate Universal, 86.
This elegy for David Bowie always gets to me. Yes I have memories of meeting Bowie through his Tin Machine guitarist Reeves Gabrels, or rather Reeves introduced my teenaged son to Bowie after a concert in Boston. Gabrels helped the shape-shifting Bowie shift yet again. Depending on your musical point of view, Tin Machine was either a too-muchness overflowing from musical genius or a louder than loud travesty. Bowie was superbly himself and very loving to my son, a legally blind high school student from the Boston suburbs.
Fiddes’s elegy is perfect in its excess. It moves from terrible absurd loneliness to ontological companionship. Hear me out! It is about ontological excess, the possible impossibility of the moreness in death itself.
It pulls this off by fulfilling the lyric narrative. It starts with the humdrum of the horrible days—aftermath of death. The humdrum bears down with mocking unsettling clown drops. Equivocities reveal how death unsettles as well as confirms our worst fears. Human feelings are open sores. Loss is spilt everywhere you go.
To use Geoffrey Hill’s concept, Fiddes first gives judgment (Bowie’s death and its immediate effect on us); we can’t escape it. Then he involves us in the condition of the judgment. The poem doesn’t escape the judgment but makes us aware of our part in it as an event beyond our feelings. The narrative moves from the crazy appearances into the dialectical darkness of death. Masks. Mime. Art. Alienation. Death is the mother of beauty maybe, or at least its plurivocity —the poet’s indirections finding direction out for the increasingly frenzied self.
We need the end to make sense of our condition in this between of life — what a life!— and death. Death makes no sense. There’s more to the end than death. We look to the dead for help. We write poems for them; one of the first uses of lyric! We INVOKE them. Scatter more stars, beautiful Bowie! You have always pulled through— pulled us through our depression, boredom, despair.
At the end, lyric often turns to other voices than the poet’s. The voice of the lyric itself.
The poem has reached the edge, dialectically exhausted its tropes. Then something happens “aesthetically,” which does not mean artificially unless you consider the flesh artificial. Bowie in the flesh, “standing by the wall.” That line draws on several voices relevant to the finiteness of the other. It is perfected out of these senses. There is no “pantheism” here. Bowie is mortal like us. The wall of finitude is there— no wishing it away. Bowie is there beside it. In the flesh, to the flesh. Fiddes nailed the Bowie slouch—elegant, narcissistic, self- mocking. The metaxical doubleness of the image fulfills the narrative with a worthy end. The poem can now be enjoyed as a porosity between the mortal and the immortal, which is what metaxical means in our recovery of the narrative of lyric.
Fiddes like the rest of us may return to his small, elegant “elegy,” which draws on energies deep within the English lyric, and wonder how he went beyond genre to ontology. He had help. Lyric moves poet and writer to zero and beyond/back, but the lyric beyond is the created, finite other.