Saturday, December 28, 2019

At Dusk

At DuskAt Dusk by Mark Valentine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mark Valentine has to be my favorite contemporary writer. From his clever, yet sumptuous stories of the Connoisseur to his erudite and searching non-fictional essays on obscure writers to his weird fiction to his poetry, the man is one of the most accomplished writers alive.

His works are, at times, difficult to find and expensive to procure, and At Dusk is no exception. I've spent a pretty penny on Valentine's work in the past, and I mean to in the future. You won't find this rare gem (my copy is #48 of 235) laying around in some second-hand bookshop, fortunately or unfortunately, as the product itself speaks to its value. This Exposition Internationale edition is one of the more beautiful books I own, both in presentation and in content. The hardcover is split between a wonderful photo by Goticus Polus and a strange felt that imitates some sort of animal hide. It is a sturdy volume, heavier than one might think, with the silk ribbon that is an almost-required accessory for a book of such fine pedigree.

The heft of the book is not only in its thick pages of prose-poetry, interspersed with dark photography throughout, but in the weight of the words. For example, the piece dedicated to Gertrud Kolmar, entitled "Their Strange Beasts" begins as a beautiful ode to Kolmar's sense of poesis, then echoes, with a shock, her death at Auschwitz:

Unicorns, bears, black swans, brindled horses, eagles,
ravens, crowned stags, serpents. She dreamt of Teuton
heraldry, wrote about the badges of towns, their strange
beasts, their crests, their tinctures, their proud flourishes.

All the country was for her a living mythology. The same
burghers who sat under these grand arms gave her in the
end a badge: a yellow star.

Not all the poems are so grim, not by any means. Some pose a strange optimism, a hope for things beyond this world, as in the dedication to poet Antonio Machado, entitled "These Footfalls":

We walk in this world as if it were the only one. Yet there
is a side-step when we seem to stray into another. A few
moments pass, we waver on the brink of a revelation. We
could dissolve into another existence. Then, this world
tugs us back, and we return, as we think, to our usual
selves. But we are not unchanged by this glimpse, by
these footfalls towards another domain: we remember
with yearning what we briefly almost knew. A daydream,
or reverie; an uncanny intensity; perhaps, a sense of
drifting along some unremarkable street; or a strange
significance in the sudden look of a passer-by; something
in the turn of a road, or the fall of sunlight upon leaves,
the hovering of a shadow upon a white wall. If we are
fortunate, there might even seem to be a figure, waiting
for us.

I am tempted to reveal more: about the playfulness of "Gnostic Comedian" or the familial, domestic-banality-cum-mysticism of "Sabbath Candles" or any number of the other scintillating prisms through which Valentine shows us the breadth of the internal human experience. At Dusk is truly a kaleidoscope, one that will enthrall for a far longer time than it takes to read these short works. The power in them is their activation of the heart and mind, the setting in motion of the spirit, the becoming they allow.

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