The above images are cropped screenshots of the layout work done by Timothy Thornton prior to the publication of the poem. There is a Greek character missing from the top centre of the lower image but the rest is a faithful representation (with the exception of the outline of the cross) of the text as it appears in the printed copy. You’ll need to use your browsers zoom gizmo to get a better idea of the text.
In the book, the outline a cross is placed over the text obliterating or occluding some of it. The lower line of the right arm of the cross goes through the line that begins ‘It now to’ although it is possible to make out ‘the’ and ‘daughter collect’. The other word is unreadable. ‘ROME’ is split so that only the top two thirds are visible, The ‘L’ in ‘CURIAL’ is only discernible if you look very hard. Both the first and last ‘d’ in ‘Doesn’t understand’ have vertical line running through them. The ‘U’ in the curving ‘STRING UP’ is almost completely hidden.
I have no idea what this might intend or signify but, given the Jarvis track record, it is likely to be more than whimsical pretence.
It is possible to discern the following phrases from the top half of the page:
- STRING UP;
- error suspect;
- TIE HIM DOWN AGAIN;
- Petrine madrasa / Erastian patrols
- CODE RED;
- MEANS CURIAL ROME THREAT.
‘Erastian’ relates to the ‘superiority’ of the state over the church but the notion of an Erastian patrol is mystifying and I’ll take a long while to get to grips with ‘Petrine madrasas’.
What might also be relevant is that this occurs after a lengthy dialogue between Dionysus and Pentheus at the end of which Pentheus appears to meet his unfortunate end. The prose section after this is a monologue from some kind of security officer in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
There are other parts of the poem that can’t be read from left to right and there are also parts which are intended to be read out loud by two voices together. In order to make more sense of this aspect of this remarkable poem, I’ve obtained this report from Timothy Thornton who provided the second voice when the poem was given its first public reading in July-
just a few notes, from my point of view, on what Simon and I got up
to. It wasn’t announced that we were reading together, which I think
Simon probably quite liked, as the whole thing was probably quite
surprising: he was careful that we made no introduction beforehand,
but launched straight in with the reading. The first two syllables
were, as rendered in the international phonetic alphabet on the front
of the book, “ssh”. He also performed the schwas — everything on the
cover was read except the title, subtitle, publishing information, and
author name. Simon said he wasn’t sure how to “perform” the box
cutting through SUBDITHYRAMB-TRAP-COMPONENT, but the first
struckthrough “abk” he simply said while clamping his mouth shut with
We stood very still throughout, at the back of the stage, and someone,
I forget who, pointed out that we were both following the score very
intently even when not performing, except for one moment in particular
(I’ll mention it later). It was deliberately a fairly dramatic reading
— Simon is capable of an extremely hushed but still very
well-projected tone, which, from Pi’s phrases beginning “What’s that I
can hear?”, made for a truly intense and arresting sound. Certainly
these are long stretches of text, and he read page two very slowly.
I read the opening of page one — in fact, throughout, I read Delta
and Simon read Pi. In the dialogue sections we ended up modulating
tone instinctively, I think, though Simon pointed out that by the
exchange of “Peacekeeper” / “Beekeeper” it should almost have reached
a level of jeering, playground-taunt hoquetus.
Simon had suggested beforehand that one of the chorus sections (the
one beginning halfway down the first page) we actually read together,
with him leading, and my starting each line as soon as possible after
he had. In the end, having tried this, I found it instinctively easier
to try to match him, syllable for syllable as much as I could. Simon’s
delivery here was extraordinary and was a kind of fevered
sprechgesang, probably in quite a high baritone but with extreme
variations in pitch that I wouldnt know: in any case, what he’d
suggested is that I speak the lines, contrastingly, as
matter-of-factly as possible. In the brief run through which we had, I
found, again by instinct, that I wanted to speak these lines as a kind
of drone or pedal, getting my voice as low as possible while still
being loud enough to match Simon. I found I liked the sound this made
so much I suggested doing it for the third chorus as well (halfway
down the page with the cross); Simon agreed.
For the second chorus (top of p.3), Simon recited, in German, the poem
of which the section is “a mutated double translation” —
What else? The cross page: Simon requested that the top section of
this page was one in which I showed audible disinterest (clearing
throat, coughing, whistling if I could — I can’t — humming —
whatever it was “in as desultory a fashion as you can manage”), while
he whispered the text as loudly as he could. Then, straight back into
another chorus section.
For the lines on the messenger page, the layout of which I’ve
mentioned before — probably easiest to quote Simon exactly on this:
“Page 9: Messenger’s speech. I will read the main body of this,
prefacing it with the announcement ‘Messenger’. But you will read the
small fragments of interrupting text which appear at the right margin
(viz. from ‘impaled on the fir’ to ‘final & cold demise’). In each
case you will read each phrase as soon as I have finished the line to
the left of it, whilst I shall continue on to the next line
The next page, the canticle, Simon sung in a strident, loud voice,
those parts taken from the Magnificat in the Book of Common Prayer;
the tunes were improvised and dodecaphonic. I spoke, intoned, let’s
say “bellowed”, the other words in the canticle, without much
expression or inflection, just trying to be loud enough to be heard.
In the run-through we decided it’d be good to carry the tone I was
having to adopt in the canticle back into the short phrases with which
I was interrupting the messenger’s speech — so they were pretty
violently delivered too. (Simon marked up a copy for me; I wouldn’t
have known which sections of the canticle to read, otherwise). We did
not make /too/ much effort to synchronize, here, but I paused
occasionally so that we were, for the most part, in the same place on
the page, and both finished the oval-shaped block of text at the top
of the page at around the same time.
The melody-fragments to which Simon sung his parts of the canticle
were improvised but I think did have a logic to them in terms of a
lasting interest in the settings of the canticles; he mentioned having
listened to many of them, and, specifically “World without end” he
sung to a phrase from a setting by Kenneth Leighton. The last two
lines were sung in the usual style, but with a deliberately bum note
on “queen”. Then we quickly closed the book at the same time
(throughout, I’d found myself trying to match the timing of such
page-turn gestures as closely as possible, the tightness and
synchronization appealed to me) and ducked back into the audience.
I enjoyed it tremendously; certainly it’s one of the oddest
performances I’ve ever been involved in — and Simon’s readings of
pages two and three were genuinely spooky. I was almost derailed at
one point because I’d forgotten that the poem is also funny.
Timothy tells me that another reading is in the offing and that Jarvis intends to do it differently. I’ve included the above because of the additional musical and performative elements that aren’t obvious from the text. This brings into question whether the performed poem takes priority over the printed version and whether the poet needs to be involved in the reading/performance on every occasion. Timothy’s account also gives a clearer indication of some of the intention/method behind the poem which is an additional help for those of us who are still getting to grips with it. Whilst I think I’ve got the main themes worked out and understand how the sections relate to each other, I now need to add the musical dimension nd rethink the poem as a whole with performance more to the fore….