This is the tragi-comic statement of the melancholic alchemist, who is driven to make new things come into being through an essential lack or nostalgia for a lost object of love, relation, ego. The poem has a classic Forbes double action: being both self-mocking and an act of virtuosity it works as a scourge of his own self-image as a poet and of guileless Romantics who purchase the soft furnishings of “depth,” “poetry,” “love,” and “breath,” setting up these little puffballs of typical poetical value just to have them go directly under the hammer. The poet is heroic and damned and Forbes seems to prefer it this way: the narcissistic poise of a perfectly achieved poem, which this is, leaves you “ugly and stranded,” bathed in negative affect. The poem here is black matter, nothing is purified or transcended, and yet the abyss which it uncorks is immaculate with a sort of salty nihilism, whose consonantal and sibilant crystals: “Self-conscious bitterness,” “lust,” “detached disgust” are in the mouth like chewing glass. The poem is perfectly ambivalent about its recognitions of the daemon: the idea of such a thing is mockingly classed with other Romantic standards: Poetry, love, breath, yet as the negative participle of “Anti-Romantic” still contains the Romantic, the daemon is admitted through its naming and attempted shaming. Doubt, misery and the risk of failure are muses for Forbes, as for they were for Frank O’Hara who decides “… unhappiness, like Mercury, transfixed me” (292).
Forbes’s paganism places its faith and practice in a ritualised attention to language as charm, creating on the utopic space of the page prime conditions for the trope, the infinitely mixed scheme of devious signs which we inherit, to go wild, allowing forms of life to proliferate following Frank O’Hara’s credo: “Grace/ to be born and live as variously as possible” (256). This credo is embodied for Forbes in the living body of the poet and the living body of language as it is loved by poetry, not as a necrotic discourse of agreed meanings or smiling topoi or two signs in the chaste embrace of a metaphor. Poetry promises the word made flesh again as it is put in the mouth. What I am trying to transmit is something of the fury of Forbes’s embrace of poetry as a revolutionary practice of an immanent awareness of incarnate being.
To make a pagan sermon is not to preach but to take up the whip of the trope as a living thing, having investments in the physical and the metaphysical, the human and the inhuman, the homely and the alien. Forbes is no secular St Francis of Assisi: he gambled on the horsies and the doggies, he drank opiate derivative cough medicine to get high, he was addicted to it, his poems profess a fondness for both the plastic technofilth of his civilisation and the grubby propagandic plays of ideology on television, in the cinema, and in public political life. His poetry affirms these things as it critiques them.
Questioned on the possible relevance of poetry to contemporary Australia (and elsewhere), Michael Farrell suggests that:
Poetry – like most art – signifies something that resists the concept of “use value”. It’s the making of culture. Unlike many corporations, poetry networks aren’t making a huge effort to destroy the planet. Poetry entails a thinking about thinking that opposes the thinking in order to wield power of both governments and business.
I am interested in the animal stakes of this collective instinct of being against the predatorial and parasitical. Forbes turns to poetry as a material praxis in order to engage in the pleasures of the secular world and its synthetic enchantments, and he eschews symbolic modes in favour of a fascination for tropes themselves as living species: the movements of the vernacular, slang, crusty rhetoric, cliché, whatever combinations of past and present usage combust in a kind of original rigour, to produce poems as “things … liberated from the drudgery of usefulness”, a notion that, within the cult of productivity and a capital value on most things, becomes revolutionary (Benjamin qtd in Arendt 197).