A Close Reading of J.R.Q. MacPrune’s ‘Now’


Light. Now the open field          falls          across the
river. Only now. And I see the
memory fully. Thy youth’s now,
so gazed on proud.

by J. R. Q. MacPrune

These notes have been devised both to aid the literary critic and the common reader. I present them in hope that they might prove testament to MacPrune’s memory and illuminate this, his greatest work.

The poem is a psalm to his native Scotland, a country he once described as "a lump of rock somewhere near Oxford," but here MacPrune acknowledges the influence of his Scottish origins – "Scotland was my birthplace, and each poetic word or event relates to my birth. For instance, this battered cod I am eating now is the poem, not only the words on the page." MacPrune left Scotland for New York City, aged 2.

  • The title "Now" contains an obvious nod to Jim Carruth’s:
    While others graze scarce pasture
    One cow partners the mountain air
    To dance the barren landscape
    That poem’s “cow” is as much like “now” as “sow” or “wow!” One can affirm nothing precise about a “cow”. Not now, not ever.

    MacPrune stated, “I prefer reading English poems when they have been translated into languages I don’t understand. ‘Belgium’ or ‘venison’ make less sense to me than ‘uitwaaien’ or ‘koshatnik’. The ‘now’ of my poem finds its significance in the animalistic foreign-ness of the moment.”

  • “Light” - MacPrune’s famous distrust of poems that conclude with the word “light” or “puberty” lies behind this uncharacteristic act of wit. Light emerges, with biblical force, in the beginning, but for MacPrune, of course, “light” has no substantive reality, only gradation, shift. From A. R. Sborthes:
    “A language that is truly literary works always to undercut its own signification. It describes nothing beyond its self and goes on to unaffirm even that.”

  • “Now the open field falls across the / river” – a clear reference to the fall of man (Milton) and the final mythic journey across the River Styx (Dante), but MacPrune sees only the tangle of branches (Yeats) at the end of the crossing (Heaney). “Across the river and into the trees,” he jotted in his wife’s (the post-post-structuralist poet and critic, Lora Roedinh) notebook in a Havana youth hostel. This image may enter the poem through a supreme act of imagination.

  • “Only now” – MacPrune’s use of the word “only” parallels Presley’s Only You, but with the immediate and playfully-chiming “now”. “In language, one harbours no expectations,” wrote MacPrune to his childhood mentor, Prof. Jack Ishbry. “A word is written that could have been any other word.” Ishbry did not reply. This moment marked the split between the two men. In a clear act of revenge, Ishbry published a sequence of 500 extended villanelles, all employing the second-person singular. MacPrune had always denied the existence of the singular.

  • “And I see the memory fully” – the “I” here signifies what MacPrune terms the “multitudinous consciousness”. Critics have interpreted this concept in various ways, but for MacPrune, the phrase resists precise definition. He has directed critics to a little-known haiku of Sorley MacLean, which contains the words “latitudinous conscience” in Gaelic.

  • “Memory fully” recalls MacPrune’s dictum, “One should have been only what one must be.” Images of hamburgers held with trembling hands, and a lamplight glow (Eliot), spring to mind.

  • “Thy youth’s now” – Sir Thomas Wyatt’s A Renouncing of Love – “Farewell, Love, and all thy lawes for ever,” Billy Grime’s epic prose-poem, Jeezus, Designer Psychiatry, and Yoof Culture, Rob A. Mackenzie’s Dated, previously titled Then, a poem lost to posterity when MacPrune, during an eight-hour conversion to Gothik-Marxism, burned every page Mackenzie had written. “That title-change from Then to Now was significant and helped me finish the line,” MacPrune wrote in his 900-page Collected Self-Critical Works. “But Mackenzie was ridiculously old-hat, even for the 15th century.”

  • “so gazed on proud” – “gazed”, only an –r different from “grazed”, which evokes cows again. Whatever “cows” might be.

  • “Proud”, besides the slant-rhyme with Ezra Pound (MacPrune - “Obviously the word ‘Pound’ does not feature in the poem, but L4 of Pound’s Separation on the River Kiang is much in evidence. It’s what I call a silent slant”), also mimics Samuel Butler’s “Nor can there on the face of Ground / an individual Beard be found”. MacPrune shaved for the first time in his life while working on this poem.

Further reading – Bovine Pastoral (Jim Carruth), "East Coker" (T.S. Eliot) L14-15, Greatest Hits (Prof. Jack Ishbry), Sonnet No. 2 (Shakespeare) L3, A Social History of Mountain Dairy Farming on Small Islands (Brnozny) pp. 36-968.

J. R. Q. MacPrune died on an unspecified date last year. Only his thumb has been recovered. Some reports suggest that the rest of his body has risen from the dead and is teaching English literature in a secondary school on an unnamed Hebridean island.

may have had a hand in this.

Surroundings – http://robmack.blogspot.com