POETRY AS URBAN SHAMANISM
1. Urban shamanism is a poetics, originating in London, that seeks to reconnect poetry with its aboriginal light. (Leun’Deun is the antidote to ‘la Londonisation’ )
2. Taking its cue from Ivan Chtchlegov’s lament ‘We are bored in the city. There is no longer any temple of the sun’, urban shamanism has arisen out of the psychogeographical movement. (Psychogeography now brands itself as ‘a brand’.)
3. Urban shamanism rejects the materialism that was psychogeography’s Marxist/Situationist coping-stone. We do not wish to fight materialism with materialism. Of the political isms, eco-anarchism is the least backward.
4. Prose sells; the poetry is culverted, forming a system of underground rivers.
5. Urban shamanism calls for artistry over academia, mysticism/magic/mythology over Marxism, and imagination over conceptualism.
6. The work is bohemian. It is aware of the incarnations and reincarnations of bohemia: Dionysians/Orphists/Pythagoreans, Sufis/Haiku masters/Troubadours, Amaurians/Free Spirit/Ranters etc. ‘What is going on is a war between those who believe in poetry and those who don’t’ (Neil Oram).
7. The poetry is multi-stylistic rather than mono-stylistic. English is empathy. It is less about finding your voice than finding your voices.
8. ‘The poet, a magician with insecurity’ (Rene Char). Magical knowledge is needed to decipher the environs — Centrepoint, Bank, Canary Wharf, Temple— as well as such London-based poets as Shakespeare, Blake, Rimbaud, Yeats. What is sought is not hocus-pocus but accidental magic.
9. The builders of the superstructure need to be at least as serious as the builders of the infrastructure.
10. Urban shamanism is a tradition as ancient as the city itself. The first poems of antiquity to come down to us are ‘city laments’ e.g. ‘The Lament for Unug’. City poetry — on cuneiform tablets — was the first to conserve itself.
11. Though a London movement, the formula is applicable in any city. Charles Olson: ‘Polis is this’.
12. Poets go ‘beyond the gentility principle’ by mixing spirituality with scurrility. The bourgeois is wary of either, terrified of both. Misunderstanding mummifies the work for the later Egyptologists.
13. Urban shamanism — like Surrealism — is an artists’ ism rather than an academics’ ism. It cannot be done in universities; it can only be done on the streets.
14. Poetry needs to rediscover its real/wild/raw/mad emotions, the spirit of the Dark Lady sonnets. The poem should be a crime of passion. ‘Radical heart-search’ (Jonathan Griffin).
15. Urban shamanism is avant-garde/mainstream/performance in one e.g. Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, Anne Sexton. Poetry is not a genre, nor divisible into genres.
16. Poetry is an audiovisual art, not a competitive sport or an academic discipline.
17. Post-Larkin social realism is dull as CCTV. The city is suspended between New Jerusalem and Dis. One of theology’s debates is between ‘approfondimento’ (the metaphysical) and ‘aggiornamento’ (the quotidian). City poetry needs both.
18. As in the city our oxygen is polluted, so too the poetry is polluted. It contains negativity, poison, darkness, lead. ‘Air can hurt you too’ (David Byrne).
19. Story/poem/song: the trinity is indivisible. Poets are also storytellers and songwriters. The lyric is a microcosm of the epic. Concept poetry? Thanks but no thanks.
20. Glossolalia, echolalia, coprolalia… There is no such thing as bad language, only bad usage.
21. Urban shamanism seeks out sacred sites and spaces, turning them into ad hoc shrines. Crossbones Graveyard/William Blake House/Cleopatra’s Needle/The Isis-Urania Temple are outdoor theatres par excellence.
22. No uniform politics or political uniforms. Non-conformism doesn’t conform even to itself. Poetry in the first decades of the third millennium — as in the 1930s/40s — needs to be political.
23. Poetry should be numerological as well as numerical.
24. Radical pedestrianism is in. The writer is untied from the writing-desk and forced back onto the streets. ‘Pedestrian’ is no longer used as a critical term. (Poetic driving-licenses are obtainable from The Poetry Society.)
25. Psychogeography/psychohistory/psychoarchitecture/psychoarcheology are less about heritage than illumination. Rimbaud’s London prose-poems: Illuminations. ‘Juger la profondeur de la ville’, to gauge the depth of the city (or literally, to judge the profundity of the city…) The city is a dig.
26. Free verse and formal verse are techniques. One improves the other. Inspiration comes in both. If the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and New Formalist poets swapped, it would instantly raise the general standard of poetry.
27. The London of the 21st century, shrouded in twin shadows of Jihad and bankruptcy, should be reflected in the London poetry. ‘The City of Assassinations’ (Blake).
28. It is not about calling yourself a shaman; it is about recognising that poetry is shamanistic, a DIY magic.
29. A poem should aspire to be a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) i.e. not a Wagnerian opera but an artwork that evokes all the artforms.
30. Lyric/satiric, the Celtic tradition allows for tenderness of lyric and ferocity of satire. The bards were capable of regime-change.
31. Urban shamanism is Judeo-Apache. It speaks for the oppressed against the oppressors. Bible studies and 19th century French poetry are the staple diet. John Fire Lame Deer: ‘Artists are the Indians of the white world’.
32. Urban shamanism welcomes the Transition Town movement to the urban centres, and looks to the greening of the city. Ecopoetry, a fusion of nature poetry and political poetry, can also be urban. (Further reading: ‘Living in Falmouth by Peter Redgrove).
33. Christ and the Christian Mysteries are essential to poetry. Christendom is our dragon, longer in the tooth than capitalism. David Gascoyne: ‘Christ of Revolution and of Poetry’.
34. Poetry is charismatic language.
35. Art is outrageous because life is outrageous. Shock for shock’s sake is disposable. Overstatement, statement, understatement are tools – but it requires the poet to have something to say. Why has poetry ceased to be controversial?
36. The city is also polluted by thoughts, non-stop emissions from the ten million cerebellums of Greater London. Jung called it ‘urban neurosis’. The psychosphere is a collective consciousness, a mass-mediated group mind. The poet handles such toxic materials.
37. The committee of urban shamanism is comprised of Shakespeare’s falcon, Blake’s tiger, Rimbaud’s toad, Yeats’ swan.
38. In Celtic/Latin/Slavic cultures the heavyweight poets are appreciated. In England, the flyweights/bantamweights/featherweights are more prominent.
39. Urban shamanism is a method for re-reading and re-writing poetry. Past/present/future are mined for aheadness.
40. London is, etymologically, Lud Dun i.e. the Stronghold of Lud, a pan-European solar deity celebrated in Lyons, Leyden, Lugano, Luneburg etc. Rimbaud’s name for London— Leun’deun — unveils the camouflage. The Great Mind/Great Memory/Symbol of Symbols, Leun’deun is notre brick.
Text: Niall McDevit
Photos: Max Reeves
Photo of Max Reeves: Angella Dee