Apollonian Workshop

by Aidan Andrew Dun

At a beautiful pre-Raphaelite country-retreat I recently ran a workshop called Shelley’s Guitar… all about the overlap of literature and contemporary song-writing. We looked at rock-poets and wildmen from Rimbaud to Eminem, the Dionysian/Apollonian divide between raw experience and cool analysis, the poetic project of imposing order on chaotic fate; we looked at the old quarrel between the higher cortex and the limbic reptilian brain. And we ended up listening to a lot of good rap starting with my all-time-fave: Bahamadia’s ‘True Honeybuns’.

We went a long way from a cold start, as is sometimes the case. 15 or 20 teenagers recruited in most cases against their will to my workshop weren’t that easy to grab right away. (I reckon with teenagers you have about 30 seconds to engage, after that, if you’ve flopped it, you’re going nowhere fast.) The day after the workshop I climbed a hill in the sunshine, happily exhausted by the previous day, and found myself semicircled in a meadow by curiously slavering cows.

This poem resulted…


A semicircle of dumb herd-animals
drooling transparent stuff from chins,
perpetually-chewing, American-style:
reminiscent this morning of other beasts,
yesterday’s fiercer pack of hungover
sixteen-year-old wolves: teenagers,
sleepy, yawning, sceptical, ill-at-ease
under troubled skin, trapped behind
practiced expressions of indifference,
mirror-perfected masks of boredom,
impenetrable walls, generation-gaps,
all the old defences of the innocent.

Ranged also in a crescent like these –
probing vast pink nostrils with tongues –
grumpy, lazing on scattered cushions,
they waited, steaming with impatience,
probably frogmarched to the ordeal,
barked-at in some off-limits bedroom
usually barricaded with audio;
told by the authorities to attend,
ordered for their own good where
culture reaches out to new victims,
boring the tits off everyone.

One particular wolf in bovine clothing,
no poser, on Union Jack floor-cushion
sprawled in scruffy chic, bedhead
carefully pomaded to simulate
passing of a hurricane across the skull,
growled a greeting almost as guttural
as last-night’s phone-call to Australia
via the porcelain connection,
the cables of spaghetti bolognaise
drooling from the chin with lactic acid:
that regurgitation of the small hours.
Another eyed his potential torturer
as some kind of undercover pedagogue
smuggled into the Easter hols
in a last-ditch parental bid
to kick dyslexic offspring into line.

Then a zither began to sound
from the old days of the citharode;
and cloud-shadows began to slide
across an unfamiliar countryside.
Then rivers began to foam with black
milk from the breasts of a she-wolf
as forty singers sang the circle-ode.
Until the crescent closed suddenly
as shivering voltages changed the world.
And nostrils of the wild beasts flared
as into the distance sixteen eyes stared,
looking wildly out of time and space
into the mountain-ranges of the god Apollo.