Interview with a Poetess:
Andy Nowicki Interviews Juleigh Howard-Hobson
The following is my interview with Juleigh Howard-Hobson, whose new book of poems, “I do not belong to the Baader-Meinhof Group” and Other Poems, is now available from Counter-Currents. My questions are in italics; Juleigh’s answers follow.
As a poet, you have achieved significant success, both inside and outside of “the movement.” It is safe to say that many non-alternative right-ists/WNs/ideological heretics nevertheless enjoy your work. To what extent is your poetry an expression of your beliefs, and to what extent could it be called non-ideological?
Everything any artist does comes from inside the artist and nowhere else. There’s no escaping that. So, it’s absolutely true that everything I write is from inside of me—informed by my beliefs, my ideologies and my own experiences. I’ve lived in three nations, and two opposite coasts of one of them—my outlooks, my thoughts, my personal expressions, every word I put down on paper, are all the result of conclusions (some even unconscious ones) that I’ve come to after seeing what I’ve seen of the world, and knowing what I know of people, of culture, of how history is interpreted and even distorted, what the air smells like in London’s suburbs, what ANZAC Day means in Sydney, how to grow spring gardens in the Portland rain, how holiness is experienced . . .
Much of my poetry is written in a holy light—inspired by what I consider holy or sacred ideas, ideals, visions. Some, of course, are slightly more life-centered or history-centered than others, but all of my poems come in a white stream of inspiration. I chose inspirations only in an equal amount to how much other inspirations chose me, yet it all is an expression of my beliefs.
I submit my work everywhere I think it might be appreciated—either for what it is, or for what an editor sees in it. I am honored, rather often, to be an ambassador of poetical formalism and/or of ideological traditionalism and/or my spirituality (I am Asatru). This approach has taken my work to many places—from Catholic journals to Turkish anthologies.
And, of course, sometimes, my work may be rejected because I myself am found unacceptable due to how others view where my heart and soul lie. I don’t care. Why should I? I won’t change myself or what I write about—or where I continue submitting work to. I’ve been requested, professionally, to discontinue my associations with sites known for their “dark politics” and which are “unsavory measured by any benchmark of political decency.” (I’d give credit to whoever wrote that phrase, alas though, it was an anonymous note sent to an editor I worked with) but . . . since I’m doing this interview, my response to that was, shall we say, not to that particular editor’s liking. It sounds like a crutch to quote Baudelaire and say “The poet is of no party,” but the truth is . . . poets aren’t politicians. It’s all art. Art, real art, is sacred and exists beyond politics. I don’t write any sort of poetry that is political per se. I try to create work that is responsive, illuminated, and reflective—and in as many definitions of those words as people can come up with. And, if my illumined art should catch or throw the light where people don’t think it ought to—be it poetically, ideologically or spiritually—too bad. Kunst ist Kunst.
You identify as a “formalist” poet. How would you define formalism, and how/why do you find yourself fitting into this category? How did your Muse steer you in the direction of formalism?
Formal poetry by definition is written in form (for example the sonnet, the rondeau, the sestina), with a metrical pattern. Most formalist poetry rhymes. Some, like sestinas, don’t necessarily rhyme (although mine do). The definition, though, doesn’t capture the essential element of formalist work that makes it different (I was going to say superior, but . . . since there are one or two non-formalists whose work is of high poetic caliber—Xenia Sunic comes to mind—I can’t pretend that word wouldn’t damn their literary oeuvre) to non-formalist work. The crafting of a poem, the precision of meter, of rhyme placement and therefore word choice (and therefore sometimes line choice) is of immense importance to formalist work. There is no easy way to become a proficient formal poet—there is no simply picking up a pen and writing down, higgledy piggledy or disjointedly or elaborately or however the writer is inclined to write down words that come to his or her mind. Creation as unvarnished unpracticed personal outpouring is not a trait of formal poetry. Creation as refined personal outpouring is a formal trait. The training of the mind to think in terms of artistic expression rather than personal bent, of fitting words to form like a sculptor fits hammer to rock: smoothing away the raw material until what remains is no longer raw material but art . . . and the doing of it almost unconsciously, that’s mastery of formalism. I write sonnets without thinking about how to write them. I fit my words into the pattern of a sestina without much more than deciding that I am going to use that particular form. I don’t know how I do it, other than I spent years and years working at it. I have been writing rhymed metrical poetry since early 1979. I won the Australian ANZAC Day Award for it later that same year.
I am a formalist by natural predilection. I came across a book when I was 16 years old, John Keats and His World by Timothy Hilton, as I was looking through high school library stacks for something to write an assigned report about. I was vaguely aware that John Keats was a poet we were going to be studying, so I thought I’d get a leg up on my class and do a report about him for the assignment. I opened the book, and my life changed. I fell in love with traditional poetry. And to this day I have never fallen out of love with my first poetic love—the Romantic poets. Keats is still the one poet I think the very finest ever to have written in English, Shelley won my rebellious heart, and Leigh Hunt has my lifelong admiration. High formalists all, I learned my craft reading and re-reading theirs, and writing my own. This was in the late ’70s when free verse was the only poetic school recognized as still vital by most of the publishing world. But, as usual for me though, I didn’t care that much about what everyone else was saying or writing. I knew I wasn’t wrong in choosing not to write like everyone else thought I should write if I wanted to write “poetry.” When I was around 17 or 18 I wrote a letter to the English poet laureate (John Betjeman, the last of the old English formalists) and enclosed some of my poems, asking him what he thought of my work. To his eternal credit, he answered me. And with encouraging words. He also included a wish for me to have good luck with my poetry. I believe his wish for me has come true, I have been very lucky—I’ve forged ahead and continued writing in form, and . . . formalism has come back. There are a great many formalists now. Not too many writing from the particular vantage point of my personal belief, granted, but even here there are a few. Luck. And hard work.
As for a personal Muse. I don’t know about that. I don’t think I have one. I look inward to many illustrious souls and inspiring moments—but never outwards to a Muse. Perhaps it is because I am fully grounded in my own native faith that I don’t feel the need to adopt anything from the original Greeks? I assume that I write like all my folk have written before me—in honor of beauty and truth and high holy inspiration gathered from inside (feelings) and presented outwardly (art). If that is what Muses do for poets, then I do have one. But it doesn’t speak Greek.
Talk about the significance of the title of your latest book of poems. Why is it called “I Do Not Belong to the Baader-Meinhof Group”?
The title is a two part parry.
The first part is a nose thumb at the liberal lefties and anti-fa types who write near hagiographies of St. Andreas and St. Ulrike of the Red Army Fraction. Because I am who I am and I wear black clothes, and have tattoos and gauged ears and I wear my hair with bangs and my husband, Dave, has tattoos and black clothes and gauged ears and he has a long beard, the lefties tend to make snap prejudicial assessments of us as “part of them.” Once when we were going to see someone the left doesn’t think worthy of the right to freedom of speech (it was probably Irving), we showed up in our best West Coast New Right finery. As we approached the main door where the anti-fas and leftwingers were assembling to harass event-goers, they nodded at us and their barrage of hateful epitaphs stopped and our presence was passed over (I use that word purposely) . . . until we didn’t join in with the harassers but continued on into the building. Sorry, kids, we free thinkers don’t conform to your culture-bias.
The second part is a nod to the real Baader-Meinhof Group. They might have been wrong, politically (may I point out, though, that they were Maoist not Marxist Communists—I think there’s a big difference there) and I think they were terribly naïve . . . but . . . the original Red Army Faction had guts, had passion, had conviction and they had enviable commitment. What’s more, they had their country men’s support—they were lodged in the hearts of the people like so many Robin Hoods—so much so that the police couldn’t find them easily and were pulling over cars of young Germans who looked like they might be RAF—it got so bad that young people started putting stickers on their cars saying “Ich gehore nicht zur Baader-Meinhof Gruppe.” Had they survived, and maybe it’s merely wishful thinking on my part, but I think they might have become radical traditionalists or even further awakened. You can’t have that passion without exploring all the angles looking for some way to make it all work right—the problem for the BMG was that the first angle exploded in their faces . . . and the back of some of their heads. I do not belong with them, but I know the European soul that drove them to pursue what they honestly thought was the perfect solution. And, to any on the left or right who think it’s not right that I don’t hate the Baader Meinhof Group, sorry . . . we free thinkers don’t conform to your culture-bias.
How would you describe the thematic progression within this book, from section 1 to section 4, “Purpose” through “Epilogue”?
The first part, “Purpose,” is external in vision; the second “Blood and Soil” is internally turned. Part 3, “Eye Deep in Hell” progresses to poetically paint what happens when external forces rupture the internal soul of a folk (the first of the wars that brought our great civilization to its knees) and the epilogue is . . . the poetic equivalent of the first tendrils of new spring, planted with purpose in soil bathed by blood.
Part one, “Purpose,” contains some fascinating fluctuations of mood. The opening piece, “Sunna” has a feeling of transcendent optimism. And “Sonne,” which follows, acknowledges a struggle ahead, but still seems greatly hopeful. But much of what follows is rather dark, melancholy, and at times sounds notes of near-despair . . . How much of this fluctuation of mood related to your own sense of the Zeitgeist, of living at a time that some would call the “Kali Yuga”?
Every part of the book relates to how I feel. There are days when I think the world will recover from the madness of modern multicultural monosystemic rule—days when all we need, I think, is to hang on and wait. And while we wait, work.
Then there are days when I think I’m wrong, that we are all wrong, that like Spengler says, it is all part of a huge cycle and there is nothing we can do but become dragged further and further away from the heights we wish to live on, spiritually, mundanely, environmentally, culturally.
If there is near-despair it is because I believe, despite what Spengler may say to me on bad days, that all is not lost. That we can recover. That we will recover what once was the vast glory of Europa and her culture. That we deserve to. That not all the best and brightest of us went down into the sucking mud of the wars that wracked the twentieth century. That we are worthy and that we are worthwhile. That we pan-Europeans will survive as a people, a culture, a world, a race, a folkway. That’s the hardest, that holding on to hope. It is easy to give up, the easiest thing in the world; you just throw up your hands and become nothing at all. I will not give in to it. Hence near-despair, but never really true despair.
“Or Forever Hold No Peace” is a stirring poem about WW2 veterans, apparently from both the Axis and the Allied side of the war. The poem seems to reflect on a “bright time when/ Hope stood gladly with you, Europa’s men.” Talk about the inspiration and context for this poem, as well as your reference to the “black sun” (which is also referenced in other poems of the collection).
“What is history but a fable agreed upon?” said Bonaparte.
“Or Forever Hold No Peace” wanted to be written, it came as an image in my head: old grizzled men standing in a line, waiting for a memorial parade to begin. Which memorial, which parade, which men . . . those things didn’t matter . . . all that mattered, as far as the poem was concerned, was that the men were together and they were old and they knew something and they knew that what they knew was not what they were supposed to know—not the official story, not the sanctioned truth, not, perhaps, even the legal truth anymore . . . but still, they knew it. The poem comes from the frustration of knowing that these grand old men might take something precious to their graves because they don’t know that their truth won’t only fall on deaf ears. That some of us want to know what they knew. On both sides.
I bring in the black sun—which is the outer manifestation of the sacred black flame that lies inside all of us who are descended from Europa’s soil and soul—because it’s the link that exists connecting that old generation to my own, a bond between us that can never be severed. The black sun shines on us as it did on them. It does not shine on the whole world, it’s not a physical sun, it’s a spiritual sun. You know it when it hits your shoulders. No matter what side of that war your family was on. Both sides of that war were made of European blood.
What are some of your poetic influences? Reading your work, I think sometimes of Robert Frost, and at other times of Auden and Yeats. Certain of your war-themed poets remind me of Wilfred Owen. “Illumination,” which depicts the vapid modern world intruding upon an individual’s attempts upon therapeutic solitude, even as it depicts the vacuous anxiety which overwhelms modern minds—reminds me a good deal of “A Game of Chess,” part 2 of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. Was this a conscious homage on your part? “Silly Rabbit,” with its intrusive pop culture references, also appears to tread similar thematic ground . . .
My main influences are pretty straight forward—John Keats, A. E. Housman, Robert Frost, Aleister Crowley. I went to high school in Australia where literature was taken more seriously (at least back then) and I studied John Donne, Alexander Pope, Gerard Manly Hopkins, Kenneth Slessor and William Shakespeare to the point of being able to recite huge amounts of their works from memory. That must have had some influence on me, but it’s a subtle influence. I haven’t read them much over the years. I do have collected works of all of them on my shelves.
I was subjected to T. S. Eliot over and over again in various university courses—so, yes, I have read a lot of his work, I’ll confess to even memorizing some, but I don’t like him. Still, if “Illumination” or even “Silly Rabbit” reminds you of him, there’s something in that, except of course, I use rhyme, I use meter and I try not to be so erudite that only I know what I’m talking about. I got a degree in literature without ever becoming swayed by what my professors professed (and here I am, imagine that).
Thank you for mentioning my Great War poems—and I am so glad you didn’t compare me to Sassoon. My influences there have much more to do with A. E. Housman and Edmund Blunden, although I’d regard Owen as the master-poet of that awful time. Growing up in Australia I was soaked in Anzac lore. I found WW1 to be so terribly sad and pointless and devastating . . . the pain of it soaked deep into the fibers of me and every now and then, it re-emerges as a poem. My great grandfather was gassed over there in 1916, and lived to tell the tale—so there’s a genetic memory or two lurking there as well.
You reference certain historical figures in a subtle manner, including Savitri Devi, Unity Mitford Yukio Mishima, and Enoch Powell . . . Is “The Last Werewolf” a refernce to Eric Rudolph, or am I misreading? What role do these historical figures play in your work?
I can only write about people who inspire me to write. Which I think is a truism that can be said of every poet. Every single thing I ever reference has a facet or an aspect or an entire outlook on life that resonates with a part of myself.
The people who resonate with me, of course, are not the same as the people who inspire the majority of my contemporaries. It’s hard to say what exactly about each person is inspirational, but—for example—Savitri Devi reminds me of Shelley in her ecstatic devotion, but that isn’t the reason I find her so compelling. I think even when she lived here on earth, she was not a part of the world like most of us are a part of it—she has an otherworldly aura to her, a fraught intelligence, an ethereal quality that comes forward even in her most defiant writings. Plus, she loved cats.
Unity Mitford has been so terribly tarred and feathered for daring to associate with the enemy . . . before there was an enemy! I find that so unfair, she was the world’s darling until the world changed—she didn’t change, she was still the same girl they feted and wrote about, but once the world decided that she was somehow traitorious, that was it. Her attempted suicide and eventual death are depressing on multiple levels. What a tragic waste.
Yukio Mishima—even in translation his novels and stories are more than masterpieces, they are perfect pieces of literature. His short novel Patriotism is one of my favorite books . . . and, his self-sacrifice . . . what can be said by the still living about such a traditional selfless act?
Enoch Powell was right—sure it’s pop wisdom, but . . . even pop wisdom is real wisdom sometimes. Look around at England now—it’s not the same place that it was when I was born there. Larkin said England died in 1964, and as much as I hate to think it is so . . . it’s so. It’s all gone there, all the loveliness of that green island, all the hope, the soul . . . will Arthur return to save it? Is there any England left to save? Can it be that England might cease forever to be England? Near-despair, that thought.
I didn’t recognize the name Eric Rudolph, to tell the truth, when I read your question. I had to look him up—then I remembered (dimly) who he was. He’s no werewolf. “The Last Werewolf” is both a poem to our lost mythical past of creature-filled woods and a poem to those German forces who continued to serve their country after the war was officially lost. They are tragic icons, to me, werewolves. Hunted down by people who don’t bother to question whether werewolves have a right to live or not . . .
“Luck of the English” references the spirit world, the world of the ancient gods . . . Discuss how your spiritual beliefs inform your aesthetic vision.
I am Asatru—a newish term for the old Northern European pagan way of life that incorporates and blends this world with that unseen world we all know is there. It simply is who I am, what I do, what I eat, what I chose to have around me, how I look at the world, at history, at my family, at my values . . . I’ve been on this path for a very long time—and even before I named myself as a heathen thinker, I grew up around as pagan a bunch of Catholics as you can get. Statues of saints, dresser top “altars” made with candles and photos of ancestors, high holy days that no one else in the world celebrates but Roman Catholics . . . my world view has only slightly changed from my grandmother’s everyday folkview of spirituality, really. My poetry comes from that place of everyday spiritual awareness. It’s around me; it’s inside of me, it’s part of me. Effortless and undiminishable.
“The Luck of the English” is a reflection of this knowledge that the folk spirits are always there, just outside of what you can see. The truth of something doesn’t depend on what the majority of people think.
Finally, I’d like to close with a reading of “Maledictus Requiescat,” a chilling poem of sworn vengeance against a hated enemy . . . talk about how this poem fits into the whole of your work and with your overall perspective of things. (Hear Juleigh Howard-Hobson read her poem here.)
“Maledictus Requiscat” is a dark incantation of negatively focused will. Thank you for catching the chilling quality and recognizing it for what it is. It’s the blackest piece I’ve ever written. Sometimes hoping that someone will get what they truly deserve is an act of kindness to oneself.
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