Every so often a new voice disrupts the silence of sameness, evoking old ghosts and new phantoms with equal surety. …And Egypt Is the River is a collection of mystical prose-poems which the author describes as an attempt, based on the linguistic theories of R.W. Emerson, Ernest Fenollosa, and Hugh Kenner, among others, to trace the evolution of cosmology and myth as derived from a people’s immediate sensory experience. In one sense it is an exploration of the genesis of language, the primal utterances that transcend from the physical world of sound denoting object to how images come to bring about self-awareness and fuse shared mythologies; or as the poet would say – “impact that compels words, that collect in fossil tidepools of the skull.” Fenollosa’s exploration of Chinese characters and Kenner’s fascination in modernist mechanisms were a big influence on the developing Ezra Pound – and that sort of inspiration is evident in this exciting collection by a new name in contemporary poetry, Michael S. Judge.
Of course, the prose poem goes as far back as ancient Greece and had quite a heyday in 19th Century France and Germany when championed by the likes of Baudelaire, Novalis, Hölderlin and Heine. A relative newcomer to the scene but no stranger to such writerly inspirations, Judge has dabbled in translations of Baudelaire (among others) as well as exploring avant gardist’s lives and perspectives in his upcoming novel, The Scenarists of Europe (forthcoming from Dalkey Archive). But more than just collating a few meaningful prosodies, Judge works a an elaborate theme across his poetic patchwork to the point that …And Egypt is the River could be said to be an experimental novel of sorts, similar to fellow Skylight offerings such as Martin Anderson’s Interlocutors of Paradise, Rikki Ducornet’s The Cult of Seizure, Richard Froude’s The Passenger or Daniel Staniforth’s The Groundlings of Divine Will. But perhaps the best recent examples of such a literary phenomenon come from Iain Sinclair, author of the recently reissued Lud Heat and Suicide Bridge, whom the author willingly cites as a major influence on his work. Indeed, Sinclair has offered the following assessment of …And Egypt is the River:
“Riffs of heightened prose pleasure the senses, with auditory, tactile, and hallucinatory provocations. To endure such a rigorous and sustained assault on the essential poetic metaphors is a fierce initiation. This Egypt of the Mental Traveller is a dream of the true path, subtle and dangerous and undeceived.”
Another visionary British writer and artist, Brian Catling, had this to say:
“If Egypt was a river, then it would eddy and flux, and sinuously expand like MSJ’s hypnotic language. This is something rare and dangerous. Rich, sensuous and edgy, an unfurling scroll or a besotted map, powering Conrad up inside a post colonial Kubla Khan. Let it read you and be transformed.”
The book invites us to explore the world of Hibou, the experiential, Klang, the experienced, and the 3rd, who oscillates somewhere in between. The reader will embark upon a brave and exploratory work in which he or she will have to embrace a new language, one that evolves as a physiological outgrowth of such a world. In good literary company, Judge deftly manages to dispense with the cloying parameters of time and place and send the reader into a world of strange amalgamated scopes and scapes. Of his work he says coyly – “you could say it takes place in the pharaohs’ Egypt, though it doesn’t; or in Pisistratian Greece, though it doesn’t; or for that matter in Missouri, say around 2666, which it might.” In a similar fashion to which Iain Sinclair weaves his ‘psychogeography’ Egypt becomes a sand-shifting ideal or a state of being rather than a concrete and historic locale. Rather like Durrell’s Alexandria, Kerouac’s Road, Barth’s Funhouse, it hints at a potential spirit-state rather than any fixed point – and one well worth co-habiting.
Skylight Press is thrilled to publish And Egypt is the River, the first work of a dynamic young writer that promises much in years to come.