Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Review Pours In!

As you may recall (both readers), last week I wrote an epic poem (albeit a short and insignificant one on a minor theme) and posted it here.

I am happy to say that Mr. Joe Orton of the Hawley Smoot Post and Tariff, has emailed me his review of my work. I post it here, without comment, which is more or less what it deserves.

The central theme/muse/symbol in all Montgomery’s major works is beer. This is Beer the Creator of modern man and beer the inspiration (e.g. in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the 'wild man' Enkidu is given beer to drink. "...he ate until he was full, drank seven pitchers of beer, his heart grew light, his face glowed and he sang out with joy."). Montgomery often relates Mankind’s creative process with the work of a creator, a brewer, an artist. In the natural world it is man’s artistic vision that brings creation to its zenith -- by revealing the world as it is, by sharpening perception, by giving form to ideas, by creating order out of chaos. Beer, of course, is in “the Mogi,” as any serious critic of Montgomery’s work would guess. But in “The Mogi” Montgomery steps outside of man’s creative role, to examine the creative and destructive role of the universe that surrounds us.

One of the beauties of Montgomery’s work is its (extreme) simplicity and you do not need to understand Montgomery’s divine-visionary-drunken beliefs to appreciate "The Mogi." Even a teetotaler can enjoy this work, for at its core the poem reprises the questions that many of us asked when we first heard the claim that God was a benevolent creator. "If that is so, why is there bloodshed and pain and horror? Why death? Why disease? Why the Lakers?" Most answers to these kinds of questions seem rote, incomplete or dishonest. "The Mogi" recounts, in a mythic context, the experience of not getting satisfactory answers to this key question of faith.

Montgomery does not stop here (he is not prone, actually, to stopping at all). "The Mogi" also describes that precipitous moment in which reason is overwhelmed by the antipodal but linked beauty and horror we find in the natural world. "When the stars threw down their spears / And watered heaven with their tears" is perhaps is the densest and most thematically rich section of "The Mogi." In the creation story in "Job", the stars sing for joy at creation, and it is to this that Montgomery refers. This key moment of creation is, of course, immediately definitively linked to Montgomery’s own “star tears,” the beer in the hand of the Creator. Unusually, Montgomery suggests that this might not be an altogether good thing.

In “The Mogi,’ stars represent reason and objectivity. Although Montgomery is generally a rationalist, and fully appreciates the understanding that science can bring to the world, he is also enough of transcendentalist to know that there is an experience to hearing the buzz of a Mogi at night that can't be communicated in entomology class: Our sense of annoyance and fear defies reason. As the Mogi’s buzz gets closer to our ears we have all had the experience of flailing frantically at that noise in the vain hope of destroying nature’s littlest assassin. It is not too much of a stretch, in fact, to argue that the Mogi can be read here as a symbol of death as well as of nature’s implacable might. The two are certainly linked

Regardless of whether the Mogi is taken as a symbol of death or of the power of nature lurking beneath and beyond our concrete ramparts, Montgomery makes the point that contemporary rationalists (of all political stripes) who hope to control the world by thought and application of power must eventually face the reality of the Mogi. As the lines “Who the devil? What dread grasp / Makes you want to sting my ass?” make clear, Montgomery believes that if we do not face the reality of the Mogi, the Mogi will come back to bite us on the ass.

Some critic would have you believe the Mogi represents evil. These critics are stupid. They eat steak don’t they? It is certainly not "evil" for a real Mogi to dine on humanity, but is part-and-parcel of our world. Yet it still inspires a certain horror and a sense of awe, that we are in the presence of the transcendent mystery at the very heart of creation -- and a certain terrible beauty. If Montgomery’s lyric has brought this to our attention, it has been successful.

Now I'm going to go and get a nice frosty one!


Anonymous said...

they are evil. no, really.


Anonymous said...

William wept.


Charles Montgomery said...


Ok.. point taken there. ;-)

MAF - I thought that was Jesus?


Anonymous said...

No, in this case, I think it was Blake.

Jesus loves me this I know
for the bible tells me so...