Our sky is their sea

Last week, I wrote about Celtic Studies scholar John Cary’s hard core study of the varied tales of sky ships in medieval Ireland and its consequences for taking stories of this kind as ancient versions of modern-day UFO sighting reports. Cary points out the motif that equates sea and sky, seabottom and land is prevalent, not only in world, but Irish, literature as well, from the ancient poems about the hero Bran to one by Seamus Heaney. I added that the comparison of clouds to sea foam is equally ancient, and that that familiar childhood revery helps make the point clear to anyone who remembers sharing it.

I noted, but didn’t publicize, at the time, I had spontaneously hit on the same pattern of imagery in my first trade edition Grand Gnostic Central in the collection’s titular poem. Nor had I read Heaney’s poem until many years after composing the one that follows or even taken up my present mytho-ufological concerns at the time. The prose poem records a very real perception of Montreal, imaginably possibly familiar to anyone who has wandered its streets on any one of its clear, semi-tropical, humid summer nights.

 

from “Grand Gnostic Central”

The metropolis is unexceptional except for its foundation sunk profoundly deep into the bedrock of the ocean floor.  A hemisphere of breathable air is maintained by a permeable membrane admitting needed gases and releasing excess into the seawater.  Lights, that on the surface are aircraft, here trace supertankers.  A traffic of smaller craft swirls into constellations nightly.  The potentially catastrophic difference between air and sea pressure is corrected by three beams of light rotating atop the city’s highest edifice.

 

[Photo by Ed Hawco (Blork)]

Phantom Airships, after the fact

Recently, a commenter at UFO Conjectures felt the need to share with me a link concerning mystery aircraft, from 1865-1946. I was a little taken aback, as I’ve been well-apprised of this history since beginning my work on Orthoteny in the early 1990s.

The 1994 chapbook On the Phantom Air Ship Mystery cuts about the same swath, focusing on the Phantom Airships of 1896/7, then jumping ahead to the years just before the Great War, ending with the first bombing of London by Zeppelins and the story of Hill 60, before punctuating the section with the first modern sighting, Kenneth Arnold’s, in 1947.

I therefore share today the final three poems from the Phantom Airship sequence proper.

 

1913

 

The luminous object witnessed early last evening

The War Office has declared a spy-craft

 

Tonight a piercing light

                lit up every corner

                                swept up to the hills

Bright lights flew over at thirty miles an hour

                huffing like a faint train

                                the squeal of gears a clank of flaps

 

Rising last evening

                all of magnitudes greater

                                than Venus

Before daybreak

                unidentifiable lights

                                crossed the Channel

Seen overhead

                sixty miles further

                                every hour after

All afternoon

                they cruised west in threes

                                streets crowded to see

With sunset

                one’s lamp played down

                                gone in a flash

From the east

                three came

                                to hover an hour

Silhouetted

                in their own

                                dazzling glare

 

 

Zeppelin

 

The tram stops

Blackout

A distant drone

 

The audience rises

To sing

“God Save the King”

 

One incendiary

Crashed through the ceiling

Went off in the hall

 

They were in bed and old

Knelt by the bed

And held each other

 

Another fell between the roofs

Onto the narrow lane just in front of them

But bounced off before it burst

 

The side of one house

And the Salvation Army Barracks windows

Blown out

 

A boarding house burned down

The Butcher’s shutters rattled

Neighbours in sheets on the street

 

Three of them lit up against the sky

Incendiaries fireballs falling

Searchlights and the city burning making a twilight

 

 

Hill Sixty

 

Dawn broke clear over Sulva Bay

Only six oval silvery clouds loafed

Undisturbed by the breeze

 

At sixty degrees

To us twenty-four

Six hundred feet away

 

Over the Hill a gunmetal cloud

Three hundred feet high and wide nine hundred long

Not nineteen chains from the trenches

 

The First

Fourth Norfolk

Ordered to reinforce the Hill

 

Were lost to sight as they marched

Into the cloud

For almost an hour

 

It rose then

Off with the others

North

 

No trace

Or record of them

Every found

More from Orthoteny (w.i.p.): Magonian Latitudes

Last week, I shared one section from a long poem, “Magonian Latitudes” (from my second trade edition, Ladonian Magnitudes), that rimes with another section from my treatment of the Phantom Airship Mystery of 1896/7.

Here, I share the entirety of the poetic sequence, an attempt to wind together the notion of the myth-as-myth and allusions to ancient (and medieval) aliens. It has six sections, the beginning of each indicated by the bolded, upper-case first letter of the section’s first line.

Poetically, this sketch for a part of Orthoteny (my work-in-progress dealing with the myth of things seen in the sky in its totality as explored here at Skunkworks) draws on a catholic sampling of the poetics of international, Twentieth-century poetry. It ain’t no doggerel!

Magonian Latitudes

…there is a certain region, which they call Magonia, whence ships sail in the clouds…

 

A change of dimension

            not just locale

Like lungs for gills

            or water to air

 

Horses, bison, mammoth, ibex,

            numberless others unheard of

Rendered on cave-walls

            palimpsest thick

Yet on the ceiling alone

            in threes and fours

Flying Saucers hover

            over their occupants

 

The Cabalist Zedechias

            in Pepin’s reign

Sought to convince the world

            Daimonas Sadaim

Neither angelic nor human in kind

            inhabit the Elements

Required the Sylphs show themselves

            in the Air for everyone

Which they did sumptuously

            in the Air in human form

In battle array marching in good order

            halting under arms or magnificent tents

Or the full sails of ships

            riding clouds

 

When winds rose and blew

            black clouds overhead

The peasants ran to the fields

            to lift tall poles

To stay the ships

            from carrying off

What rain or hail

            culled from the crops

Called up by a tempestaire

            for a tithe

Which practice persisted despite

            the Capitularies of Charlemagne

 

The Sylphs saw alarm

            from peasant to crown

Determined to dissipate their terror

            by carrying off men

To show them their women

            and republic

Then set them down

            again on earth

Those who saw these as they descended

            came from every direction

Carried away by the frenzy

            hurried off to torture

Over all the lands countless tested

            by fire or water

 

A marvel in Cloera County

            interrupted Sunday Mass

It befell an anchor on a rope

            caught in Saint Kinarus’ door-arch

Where the line ended in clouds

            the congregation saw some kind of ship

One crewman dove and swam down

            as if to free the flukes from the keystone

But they seized and would hold him

            but that the Bishop

On grounds terrestrial air

            may well drown one celestial

Forbade it

            and freed

Quick as limbs can swim he rose

            to hands on ropes and ladders

The anchor rang and cut

            the line coiled down about them

 

The cave is a long way in from the mouth open to the sky

Generations there stare straight ahead on haunches

Higher up behind a fire burns

A wall before those hurrying past between

Both ways up and down the track there

Their burdens their shadows

 

One over her share

            the water over the earth

The other in the firmament

            the water over the earth

The air a mirror

Whose face is an ocean

            waves electro-magnetic

There they stare dreaming

A quiet blue eye flickers

Rime & Confirmation: two excerpts from Orthoteny (w.i.p.)

The motivation behind all the work here in these Skunkworks is the composition of a version of that “modern myth of things seen in the sky”, whose working title is Orthoteny. That title is taken from the ufological writings of Aimé Michel, specifically his Flying Saucers and the Straight-line Mystery (1958).

Within the texture of the poetic work, such straight lines are the rimes or repetitions between parts of the myth or that connect the myth to the wider field of human culture. Within the phenomenon itself, such repetitions of shape, behaviour, and other features are taken as confirmation of the objective reality of UFOs and the entities associated with them. Such echoes are also often adduced as evidence the phenomenon has been a constant in human history. Ufologically, I am vigilantly critical of such ahistorical thinking, but in the context of the mythopoetic work they lend the theme vista.

As an example, I post two excerpts from the work-in-progress. The first is the fourth section of the poetic sequence, Magonian Latitudes, from my 1996 trade edition Ladonian Magnitudes, concerning the Thirteenth century story of a cloud ship whose anchor got caught in the door arch of Saint Kinarus’ Church, Cloera County, Ireland. (Irish poet and Nobel Prize laureate Seamus Heaney treats the same theme in the eighth section of his poem “Lightenings” from his 1991 collection Seeing Things). The second is from a section of my chapbook On the Phantom Air Ship Mystery (1995), “The Phantom Air Ship” that concerns an analogous story, this time from Merkel, Texas, in 1897.

 

[from Magonian Latitudes]

 

A marvel in Cloera County

            interrupted Sunday Mass

It befell an anchor on a rope

            caught in Saint Kinarus’ door-arch

Where the line ended in clouds

            the congregation saw some kind of ship

One crewman dove and swam down

            as if to free the flukes from the keystone

But they seized and would hold him

            but that the Bishop

On grounds terrestrial air

            may well drown one celestial

Forbade it

            and freed

Quick as limbs can swim he rose

            to hands on ropes and ladders

The anchor rang and cut

            the line coiled down about them

 

[from On the Phantom Air Ship Mystery] 26 April [1897]

 

Sunday in Merkel church-goers returning from evening service saw a dragging along the ground

Followed it bounce onto the tracks and catch a rail

A light ship’s anchor roped high up to a lamp brighter than a locomotive’s

And lit gondola-windows of an air ship

After nine minutes a small man in a cobalt blue jumpsuit

Came down the line to look things over and cut it

 

 

 

On the Unreal Reality and Real Unreality of the UFO: redux, or “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate…”

There has been lately, understandably, some miscomprehension about what I’m up to here at Skunkworks or what I’m on about in my comments at other ufological blogs (mainly UFO Conjectures). The Anomalist (31 July 2019) takes my critique of the view that for some ufophiles fragments of UFOs function like sacred relics of old as turning the question of recent claims made by To The Stars Academy that it has acquired unidentifiable metamaterials “into a philosophical disquisition”, while Rich Reynolds insists on believing I’m trying to “use the ‘techniques’ of philosophical thought to get at the UFO problem” (which for him is only the question of the reality and nature of UFOs).

One of the earliest posts here was titled “Concerning the Unreal Reality and Real Unreality of the UFO”. There I distinguished Scientific Ufology (concerned with the reality, truth, and nature of the UFO) from what I called “Phenomenological” Ufology (that brackets the question of UFO Reality to focus on the UFO Effect, the varied and various ways the UFO is meaningful in culture). The discerning reader will grasp that the latter includes a study of the former, i.e., Scientific Ufology, as an activity carried out by human beings, is one aspect of the UFO Effect, but, more compellingly that the attempt to grasp the reality of the UFO comes up empty-handed, while holding the question of UFO Reality in abeyance is rewarded with a plethora of concrete phenomena for investigation.

It was of course Carl Jung whose own justly-famous thoughts on flying saucers as A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies operated under just this distinction. Since, the UFO-as-cultural-effect has been the subject of study from a wide range of disciplines, from what today is most readily recognizable as Cultural Studies (including anthropology and sociology) in works such as M. J. Banias’ The UFO People, Bridget Brown’s They Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves:  The History and Politics of Alien Abduction, Jodi Dean’s Aliens in America, Brenda Denzler’s The Lure of the Edge, and the scholars collected in Deborah Battaglia’s ET Culture, to Folklore (e.g., Thomas Bullard’s The Myth and Mystery of the UFOs and David Clarke’s How UFOs Conquered the World:  The History of a Modern Myth), Religious Studies (e.g., the scholars represented in James R. Lewis’ The Gods Have Landed:  New Religions from Other Worlds, Christopher Partridge’s UFO Religions, or Diana G. Tumminia’s Alien Worlds:  Social and Religious Dimensions of Extraterrestrial Contact, the dual-authored The Supernatural:  Why the Unexplained is Real by Whitley Strieber and Jeffrey J. Kripal, or the single-authored volumes Aliens Adored:  Raël’s UFO Religion by Susan Palmer or American Cosmic:  UFOs, Religion, Technology by Diane W Pasulka), Art History (e.g., In Advance of the Landing:  Folk Concepts of Outer Space by Douglas Curran and Picturing Extraterrestrials:  Alien Images in Modern Mass Culture by John F. Moffitt), and even Philosophy (e.g., Evolutionary Metaphors:  UFOs, New Existentialism and the Future Paradigm by David J, Moore). Many other approaches and examples are possible.

One might term such studies, variously, “Meta-ufology”, “cultural ufology”, or even “philosophical ufology” if it extends, in the manner of the philosophy of science, to the assumptions and implications in the self-understanding and methodology of Scientific Ufology in particular, and the concepts underwriting or implied by the UFO Effect, in general. Surely, those concerned especially or exclusively with the question of UFO Reality-as-such, as well as the majority of ufophiles or ufomaniacs, will be unmoved and uninterested by the bookshelf I haphazardly list above, but this judgement is hardly any evaluation of the worth of the work. Ironically, not only is Scientific Ufology an object for (let’s call it) Cultural Ufology, i.e., it is subsumed by it, but the cultural ufologist is closer in spirit to the believer, witness or experiencer, as for none of them is the reality of the UFO ever at stake(!).

But most importantly for myself, as any persistent reader of Skunkworks will grasp, it is precisely the teasing and evasive significance of the UFO no less alluring and ungraspable than the thing itself (whatever in fact that may turn out to be) that’s at issue here. Skunkworks is a workshop labouring to design a working version of The Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky (or what the German Romantics called for as “a New Mythology”, or William Burroughs as “a mythology for the Space Age”). As a poet, I look to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, for example, for inspiration, which did for classical mythology what might be accomplished for this one. In the meantime, one can only brainstorm, take notes, draw up blueprints and build working models in the hope that one day to get something off the ground.

You can read a copy of one of the prototypes for this project here, and hear it being performed by the author, here. Others I’ve posted here are readable under the “poems” tag.

 

 

 

 

On the launch of MJ Banias’ The UFO People

Monday 29 July 2019, MJ Banias launched his first book, The UFO People, in his hometown of Winnipeg.

I had a commitment of my own that evening, in Montreal, to give a poetry reading at the Accent Reading series. Though I couldn’t help Banias celebrate in person, at least I was able to acknowledge the launch of his book with a performance of the poem “Flying Saucers” from my book Grand Gnostic Central.

Congratulations, MJ! A review of your book is forthcoming (eventually) here at Skunkworks…