Sacrum Regnum I by Daniel Corrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I recall seeing the two volumes of Sacrum Regnum up on the Heiroglyphic Press website many years ago. Foolishly, I didn't buy the volumes back then. In hindsight, I robbed myself. Yes, I would eventually come to know and love the work of many of the authors in this volume, but I would have come to it much sooner had I picked up these volumes. I had already known and liked Brendan Connell's work by this time (he and I actually co-wrote a story that was published years before the volume under discussion was published) and I was familiar with Mark Samuel's work, at that point, as well. I should have followed my hunches and bought both volumes right then. Alas, I waited, and wouldn't you know that the editor, Daniel Corrick sold out of his remaining copies of volume 2 literally two weeks before I got in contact with him (about a week ago). Drat. Now I shall have to comb the interwebs and pay an outrageous price for the next volume.
But if volume I is any indicater, it's totally worth it!
Some of my favorite artwork is that of the Symbolists, a group of painters and poets, for the most part, whose peak output occurred in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon (some of whose work I have seen in person), both considered Symbolists, are among my favorite artists of all time. The stated desire of the editors of Sacrum Regnum to hew closely to the Symbolists obviously resonated loudly with me.
The structure of the work is divided among fiction, poetics (many in translation), essays, and reviews.
I can think of no better start to such a volume than D.P. Watt's "The Phantasmatorical Imperative". It is an invitation, through story, to unleash and revel in one's imagination, to participate in the transformative magic of dream and irreality, which is, in a way, it's own reality. It is a wonderful story espousing a most hopeful philosophy of life interwoven with magic; imagination as apotheosis. Wonder-full.
If Watt's story was the dream, then Mark Samuels' "The Ruins of Reality" is, in contrast, the nightmare. Nihilistic to the utmost, this tale still shares an ontological bent with Watt's work. Perhaps these two extremes set a framework for the rest of the volume, for "everything in between". The Ligotti-esque wallowing in misery is something I've seen in Samuels' fiction before, but which surprised me a bit here. It didn't feel completely out of place, but did contrast sharply with the other fiction presented herein.
With typical aplomb, Mark Valentine interjects a bit of absurdity into his typical gravitas with "An Officer of the Reserve". Valentine's turns of phrase and often-metaphorical imagery never cease to amaze. As usual, the reader is left to wish that he would have written such a story as he simultaneously squints to see what lies between the lines. And therein lies the story behind the story, unwritten, but not unread.
"The Candles of Widondorf" is a monument to beauty in the midst of decay and decay in the midst of beauty. Perhaps this story effectively ties together the tones of Watts' and Samuels' works mentioned earlier. Here Colin Insole traces a micro-history, a psychogeography of the borders of the iron curtain before and after the war that led to its construction. It is a map of sepia-tones and lost colors, contrasting brightly with the brilliant, rich smudges of a time that once was, but is now lost in grey entropy. Poignant and horrid, but not without an almost overwhelming beauty.
The Poetics section in this volume is marvelous. Prose poems of Hugo von Hoffmansthal, translated by Claus Laufenburg, are dreamlike, while Brendan Connell's translations of Gabriele d'Annunzio's poems are keen works with a touch of cynical humor. I dare not delve too deeply into the poems themselves, as I don't want to spoil them (isn't this always the trouble with reviewing poetry?), but they are truly something special and a rare treat, coming from poets that are relatively unknown in the English-speaking world.
Adam Cantwell's essay on The Dedalus Meyrink Reader is far more than a book review. It's a biography, literary analysis, and review rolled into one but, more importantly, it reflects the inner Meyrink and the zeitgeist of his era (even though he was anything but subsumed in it). I've read The Opal and Other Stories and my Tartarus Press edition of The Golem is among my more prized possessions, but I had somehow missed the Dedalus book. So many books, so few years on planet earth. I shall have to make up for lost time and read it, especially after such a thoroughly engaging and enlightening essay.
Speaking of engaging and enlightening essays, Hugo con Hoffmanthstal's poetry and life continue to be examined through Daniel Corrick's long essay "The Cavalier of the Blue Rose". This is the sort of essay that sends me scrambling for the bibliography in a search for sources, both primary and secondary. An excellent piece of scholarship on an a relatively unexplored life and work. I will be mining this essay for future readings of those whose work influenced or was influenced by Hoffmanthstal, as well as the work of the man himself.
Mark Valentine's essay on the mystical fiction of Mary Butts is, as is always the case with Valentine's essays, thoroughly-researched, erudite, and entertaining. Valentine is known for bringing "lost" authors back into the light, and this essay is an illuminating example of him doing just that.
Finally, a series of book reviews and recommendations of then-forthcoming (now long-since released) works rounds out the volume, sending the reader off to hunt down copies of many of these books.
I am saddened that the "series" only consisted of two volumes. If I were to begin editing again, this is exactly the sort of thing I would produce. This volume makes me want to edit again, a desire that has lain dormant, but very, very weak, for many years. This, I could sink my teeth into!
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