Monday, May 14, 2007

Nathaniel G. Moore's Let's Pretend We Never Met
TWELVE YEARS ON, Catullus was a poet on whom I had no intention of giving up. He was someone I didn’t particularly want to lose to another. By any means necessary I would be his and he would be mine. That's the thread of this storyline. So when I finally met up with his literary agent in late 2005 do discuss a new project, I felt like things were going to work out between us. The meeting was legendary, conducted at The Chelsea Room on Dundas Street West. The whisky sours, poured in front of low watt bulb cleavage, were anointed with spearmint, which particularly cocooned the ice, creating an addictive residue. I reviewed all the letters I'd sent Catullus over the years. They were neatly tied up in a red silk scarf. Harvey Mandolini, Catullus's agent, showed me photographs of him on a ski trip, as well as some at his office. In one, Catullus was petting a black goat. "He sneezed on Catallus," Harvey recalled. "Catullus was terrified for months."

Next to him on the table were several letters Catullus had written to me but never mailed. I told Harvey about the project, and his eyes lit up. When I revealed the plan, which involved moving the bawdy bard into a house with some of his old friends, Harvey explained how as of late Catullus really "needed to interact with others," and how it seemed as if the poet were "in a real rut."

It could be said that Catullus devoted his life to eroticizing pain rather than exorcising it. Have I read too deeply into his romantic crime-scene after-gashes? Perhaps. Upon hearing I was into Catallus, my grandfather wrote me in 1997: "And what is your interest in Catallus? I read his poetry in 1932 and thought little of it."

IDENTIDEM means again and again, and is found in Catullus's landmark piece in which he reveals a secret and married lover, Clodia Metelli, as Lesbia. (Carmen LI) In this word (identidem) I hear the word tandem, identity and of course dent. I also hear the word identical, as it identical acts: I feel this again and again, I see this happening again and again. I picture someone saying softly 'I dented him.' This takes my breath away. An obsessed congregation of one, talking in tongues. Perhaps two tongues. In Catullus's work, duality is a theme, the voice simultaneously loving and hating, expressing remorse and detachment, curiosity and apathy, without commitment to remain in either field, without commitment to an absolute.
And so begins the newest story of Catullus, as told by Nathaniel G. Moore. There's just something to the way Toronto (or Montreal, depending on what kind of week he's having) writer Nathaniel G. Moore treats his subject, in his own version of Catullus in Let's Pretend We Never Met (Toronto ON: Pedlar Press, 2007). As the back cover says, "Catallus, renowned Roman poet who wrote lyrical love poems for his secret mistress Lesbia (Clodia Metelli), died in 54 BC, heartbroken, at the age of thirty." Moore moves Catullus into modern times as a vehicle for a story of his own broken hearted obsessions in what becomes part poem, part essay and part fiction, blending the two in a twisted narrative that could be compared, structurally, to Michael Ondaatje's The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (Toronto ON: House of Anansi, 1970). Certainly, Moore isn’t the first contemporary Canadian poet to deal with the image or figure of Roman Catullus; Canadian poet and essayist Anne Carson has referenced Catullus in various places, and Toronto poet and translator Ewan Whyte even did his own bilingual Latin/English edition of Catullus a few years ago, publishing Catullus: Lyric Rude & Erotic (Oakville ON: Mosaic Press, 2004). As Whyte wrote in the introduction to his edition,
The Roman poet Catullus wrote with a sensibility so close to our own that sometimes it is hard to believe he was an ancient writer. He did not write about legendary wars, the Roman Empire, or its founding myths. He wrote mostly about people he knew and either loved or hated. He drew upon a tradition that was originally Greek and he transformed that older tradition into something modern and graceful.
Just based on that, how could someone like Moore, known previously for a fictional documentary novel about the life of a bowler, the novel Bowlbrawl (Montreal QC: Conundrum Press, 2005) not want to work through the familiar strains of Catullus' writing and life? Both books share the same initial premise: starting from the point of an argued combination of fact and fiction, and twisting them into Moore's version of what could easily be either, or both, but completely making it his own. Making it his own to the point that it becomes hard to tell where the fictional character ends and Nathaniel G. Moore begins.

Temporary Lust Supplement

Treasure the wound; cherish its cohesive state, its topical status.
Envy red puffy synergy, its vulnerable theatre, as odorous

cure-alls clog nose of room, it was like the poem to a napkin thief
Catallus wrote, a rotten dinner guest who made off with—

Perhaps someone sat on it, disappeared in a pocket or curve.
Cherish its cohesive state, topical status,

ache over the missing napkin, in our daily lives.
Each moment we breathe, "pass me a napkin,"

our inner Catallus does inventory, forever domestic,
nostalgic, hung up on all the wrong things.

Envy the red puffy synergy, sopped-up sleeve of red wine.

Is this Catullus or is this Moore? As Whyte continues,
Catullus tells us that his book was not popular in Rome. That is understandable; it was too new. Cicero read his poems, and Catallus' friend, the poet Calvus, had a correspondence with Cicero that filled two volumes, but it is now lost. We do not know what Cicero thought of Catullus and his literary circle but there was one poem addressed to him from Catullus. It seems it was just the type of poem Cicero would have liked:

The highest praise of the sons of Romulus
who have come before, and those yet to come,
is yours for eloquence Marcus Tullius.
Catullus, worst of poets, offers you his gratitude.
The worst of poets as you are the greatest of Orators.
Based on the outsider status that Moore, self-titled "literary superstar" has been cultivating (with echoes of Montreal writer Jon Paul Fiorentino's "beta male") over the past few years, Catullus would seem an almost perfect fit. When he edited the poetry and fiction anthology Desire, Doom and Vice: A Canadian Collection (Stratford ON: Wingate Press, 2005) a few years ago, in his "Editor's Note," he wrote that:
People will always say something, but it is not always written down or fettered into record. No, society leaves that up to the neurotic, the twitchy, the falsely nostalgic, or the magicians of words who blur lines between emotionally-intellectual vexing and the everyday vapid lust exorcisms of primal urges. Yes, writers, or those suspected of being writers.

When one is kicked down the stairs, whether it is carpeted or not, whether there is an echo or silence, one picks up a few souvenirs on the way. The same occurs when
one walks up the stairs without a tumble.

Conceptually and historically, objects such as a burning farmhouse or a volcanic shopping mall have represented Doom, but it originated from the human mind, and remains a word beyond a singular or collective image, and therefore—to those who choose to use it—the word can be as subjective as sock colours, fruit textures, cut of
underwear or even yes, bus fumes. I mean, if one really hates money for example; and works in a bank, but is paid well, can support their family, pay the bills, then in a very narrow way, according to their own discrepancy, that person is doomed. It's with that annoying and exacting nature that I have formed my attachment to the three veins Desire, Doom and Vice.
It's an argument that, easily, could apply to Catullus as well, or at least Moore's treatment of him.

Beta Love

tweaks a brilliant tracking problem
with some Scotch Tape and brandy

consumed with talcum lips,
charmed in prickling cactus tears,

cures hunger with rich salad,
strawberries and my special vinaigrette,

drowns a sentimental rain forest
does stroke and your face glides

in regrettable forecasts; from the ghost
of the sun to the lotion the wind wears,

panic lovingly then insane
over the price of soap


knot up anxious at the fear of gums
being massaged by human bristles

scalded by your callousness,
I am so afraid I run away

to the mountains and feed my body
to the famine mascot birds until I crawl

back into your cave streaked with cranberry
tears, mouth rimmed in wet sand.

I should visit
I can always run away

if you try to chainsaw my limbs off
but you know I need love.

Everybody loves a lost-love story; lyric poetry, as they call it, seems to be filled with all sorts of love lost, love neared, love betrayed and love achieved, in whatever order or combination an author might see fit, depending on their circumstance. Even the late John Newlove said that all of his poems were about "desire." What is it about the story of Catallus and his Clodia that appealed specifically to Nathaniel G. Moore? As American author and translator Peter Green wrote in the introduction to his own comprehensive volume of Catullus translations, The Poems of Catullus: A Bilingual Edition (Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 2005):
I therefore accept, in broad outline, what is in fact the old and traditional account of Catullus' famous, intense, and (despite its brief moments of happiness) essentially ill-starred infatuation, together with its long-accepted chronology (with some variations, Schwabe's version [1862- 358-61]; for recent criticisms and corrections see Holzberg 2002, 19-21; Skinner 2003, xix-xxii). His inamorata was Clodia, second (?) daughter of Appius Claudius Pulcher, the wife of Q. Metellus Celer. They probably met for the first time in 62/1, during her husband's tour of duty as propraetor of Cisalpine Gaul. Clodia was then about thirty-three. We do not know how long she and Metellus had been married, but it may have been as much as fifteen years (her one child, her daughter Metella, could by then have been nearly nubile). Catallus was probably twenty-two or twenty-three—a good decade younger. Where did the meeting take place? Verona is a possibility. Even if governors' wives normally stayed in Rome, a woman like Clodia made her own rules, and as Caesar later stayed with Catullus's father when en poste, it is very likely that Metellus did so too.
There is a fresh quality (and a strange humour) that Moore brings to the voice of Catallus, and channeling that voice through Catullus and into something else, that previous versions of the same character just seem to miss, as he mixes high art with low art, emotional highs and lows with pop culture references and in-betweens and all the nonsense of the every day into something it already was: the real.

All The Gory Sadness Is Over
I told you we would howl

from this proximity it's not stalking
we share a large pint of malt Viagra
sipped through bendy straw
tofu or not we sparrow fast forever

all the cycles have sickened
all the gory sadness is over
we will heckle Jupiter all night
without science or scholars
knot the telescope
in our shadowed boxers
dripping dry

I have executed the congregation
finish your conjunctions
meet me in
isolation chamber C
with the safeguard carpeting

spectre never
you a double you
me a double me
on my knees gregarious,
gargling laryngitis tea

evaluate like encourage
joy valve
resolve like revolver
release single, "Roll Over, Catullus"

life diced
lies diced

lice combed
tombs toned
shafts shackled

now that you’ve relived it
relieve it; release its
caustic imprint
all the gory sadness is over
all is known, everything is nouned

overdose on pain variables
creates verb recollection
debt absolved, love solvent
become solved

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