Friday, March 06, 2009

from "Pioneers of Modern Poetry" Edited with notes & a preface by Robert L. Peters and George Hitchcock (A Kayak book, c. 1967)

Measurements of Large Mammals


Circumference of neck
below the head
Circumference of neck
in front of the chest
Circumference of body
behind the fore legs
Circumference of body
before the hind legs

The circumference
of the
is always recorded
also of the head
in front of
the ears

Humerus and femur
for the knobs
of the humerus and femur
and measure
the distance
between them

feel for the knob

of the femur
and then
the center line


feel for the knob

should be taken again
after the animal
has been skinned.

Length of the back
is made by beginning
at the base of the skull
along the line of the back
to the base of the tail

Length of tail
is always a

a mammal
is to be
by the dermo-

(from "Methods in the Art of Taxidermy", 1894.)
"The Measurement of Large Mammals" deals with a problem which so far as we
know is entirely original in poetry. The subject matter is so basic that the work
might well be a part of a longer poem on Noah appointing the specimens for the
ark, or on Adam and Eve taking inventory in the Garden of Eden. Oliver Davie
writes with a marvellous unenigmatic sureness; he knows precisely where the
various measurements of these mammals are to be taken and exactly how one
detects say the position of humerus and femur by feeling the living, as opposed
to prehistoric, animal. There is absolutely nothing blind here; Davie is not another
of those legendary Orientals mistaking the physical parts of the elephant for
entirely incongruous things. He knows his craft intimately, whether it be writing
or taxidermy. On of his delights is the superbly handled repetition of key words
and phrases. The opening stanza is a structural marvel based upon repeated motifs
combined with sentence units of approximately the same length and syllabic
arrangement. Further, one is impressed by the neat logical progression of parts
from head to legs to back to tail. There is something clean and neat about this
entire performance. We feel assured in the hands of this master, and are nearly
willing to allow him to take our own measurements along the lines he describes.
In fact, his gentleness is so appealing that we may even crave to have ourselves
stuffed by him. Is this illusion, however, or is it delusion? A quality does emerge
slowly from these lines not entirely unlike lust, and one comes to wonder whether
sodomy isn't the writer's true subject. In fact, the more one considers it, the more
anxious one grows. See the material in part 2 which advises repeated feelings of the
knob, striking the center line, and feeling the knob again. And doesn't one detect a
sort of lustful snigger behind the block capitals of "ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT
MEASUREMENTS / WHICH CAN BE RECORDED" ? Davie seems to be cruising for
contacts. The last line of this section -- we blush to say it -- may refer to the nasty
business of drawing back the prepuce of the horse, bull, tiger, elephant, etc. Finally,
there is absolutely no concealment in section 3: by "the dermoplastic method", the
affixing of skin to skin, the "mammal" (note the wonderful equivocation here -- as we
suspected, humans are included) "is to be / mounted". Penetration is, of course, one
such "dermoplastic method". If it were not for the consummate artistry of this
exceptional poem we would surely have excluded it. Our criterion has been through-
out that quality of execution supersedes content; and we can only hope that the vast
majority of readers will agree that we are justified in allowing this disturbing poem to
appear in print. Finally, it does illustrate a contemporary principle -- that no subject
matter ought to be excluded by the poet, no matter how potentially disgusting or perverse.

1 comment:

Hayes said...

this book is amazing...(dia)(poly)(logic)(lectic)...a must read for any intrepid bandit wolfing around the goon plot pasture...