Note: I am quoting from an advance copy of the book, and the final version may contain changes. I’d also like to mention that I will be lightly spoiling this very ancient text — I enjoyed a great deal of it because I had no idea what would be happening next.
We’re all looking for an audience — someone to really see us, someone to be a fan of our work. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have something you’ve created be appreciated.
Even gods worry about this — after all, if you’re not being prayed to and sung about, how will your name live on forever? That’s certainly why I write these newsletters, so I may live forever in your promotions tab.
The Popol Vuh, translated from the K’iche’ by Michael Bazzett is the Ancient Mayan creation myth and starts with such a problem for a god. A little like Hesiod’s Theogony, our deity is an Ur-deity that exists as a kind of everything in two bodies which build the world through conversation. It’s workshopping a good idea into a great one.
They begin with the usual canvas of nothing and fill it out in the usual way — language brings forth life which is directly connected to them, the former and the shaper. There are a few beautiful turns within the very light and bouncing text:
Then the problems begin — they make animals, which are insufficient to praise them because they only bark and tweet (you can fill in the rest of the farmyard yourself). The animals are punished by being tasty. Next they try making people from wood, and then mud — each less than satisfactory and ending with the golems being smashes up by woodland creatures. And then it is realised that there are beings in this world that are making claims to being gods, despite simply being something more like Ancient Greek Titans, and this will stop them finding the necessary materials to make true humanity.
This is when the two heroic twins arrive (or always were?), Hunahpu and Xblanque, born in a mixed version of eve in the Garden of Eden (if she was from a form of the underworld) and the immaculate conception of Mary. They go about more or less tidying up all these odd usurpers of the natural and intended order — but the reasons and ways that it happens are magnificently farcical. There’s something about the way that these two approach everything as a game because of their ability to shape the world around them that makes for a similar feeling to when you read magical realism. You’re simply asked to go along with the text. So, you have a giant being tempted into a shallow cave with a crab made of leaves only for the twins to convince the mountain to sit on him. You have the worst version of email being used to convey a message from the grandmother to the twins: telling your message to a louse which, in an attempt to be quicker, accepts being eaten by a frog, which is eaten by a snake, which is eaten by a falcon — who all then have to expel their passenger to pass on the message. The presentation is this:
The message itself is an invitation of an equivalent of hell, because currently the twins are playing a ball game above and causing quite a racket. As such the lords of this underworld would like to invite them to play a game with them with the intention of killing them. It’s certainly one way to deal with the flat above. The games are interspersed with a series of trials, and the eventual unwinding of these (which includes a decapitation and a marrow replacement, which is fine apparently for the interim) has such a playful joy that you’re happy to go along with the light touch.
The language in the poem has a certain lightness to it, a matter-of-factness that is required for words that are myth. The interspersion of comically terse and colloquial dialogue is also a treat — demanding nothing of the reader other than to come along for the ride. I read the entire thing in one sitting and found it’s pace and strangeness delicious.
The poem concludes with the god finally deciding what the right substance is to create true humans, and then deciding what to give them — originally as powerful as gods, seeing all, they were not particularly good at seeing who to praise. As such the gods made them more short sighted. Someone once said (tweeted?) that most novel writers seem to write about protagonists who are exactly like the writer but 10% less intelligent. I feel that’s what’s going on here, looking for the perfect vessel for your desire to be seen.
The poem ends with the people of the earth calling for the first sunrise, finally.
The Popol Vuh, translated by Michael Bazzett is published on October 9th 2018 — pre-order it here.
Chen Chen doing really interesting work over here with an erasure of Michael Derrick Hudson’s poems. (If you don’t remember Michael Derrick Hudson is the white chap who pretended to be Asian to get published)
I had three things published in Eunoia Review: You Are Good For Poetry, Relearning All My Lines, and Back From The Flood.
Relearning all my lines was a bit of a stab at tying to capture the rhythm of Chen Chen’s In The Hospital and everyone seems to like the iphone line from Back From The Flood.
I have two poems going up in Terror House Magazine next Tuesday/Wednesday. They’re both a bit weird, so hopefully they’re at least readable.
This week’s song is Maribou State feat. Holly Walker — Midas
Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own, I write this for you and you alone, everyone else is just a happy mistake. I’ve recently been offered a chance to return to the world of work, which is a joy, but I would expect my newslettering to become a little scattier (or more organized by necessity, we dream). I hope your weekend stretches before you lazily with the promise of rest and at least the thought of some kind of delicious treat. Mine certainly does.