Bruce Ross-Smith

Truth Is Concrete

 Brecht carried with him over the years and across many locations a notice to remind him that  ‘TRUTH IS CONCRETE’ .  In ‘a breakfast conversation with Benjamin and Brecht’ (2009 & 2022) Augustus Young has Brecht say: ‘Ideas need a grounding in everyday life. Take Schopenhauer’s flute away from him, and he disappears up his own air.’ Across an extraordinarily rich and diverse publishing history, Augustus Young would need more than a flute to confront the full volume of his works, perhaps best heard and seen through Swift’s ‘Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.’

As for everyday life, Young’s three-part extended verse sequence The Credit (1980/1986) is subtitled ‘A Comedy of Empeiria’.  It should be noted that ‘empeiria’ translates both as experience and adeptness:

Our memories at best are myths,
The persons in them better dead.
So the past and present are quits,
Cancelling out each other,
Instead of vying. Thus the recap fits.
No backward look to tempt regret.
What’s true or false are absolutes,
beyond distinction when it suits.

The Credit across the sum of its parts is carried on ottava rima which allows determined rhythm. Rhythm is also vital and vivid across Young’s prose works, notably in the auto-fictions Light Years (2002) and Storytime (2002) and The Nicotine Cat and other People (2009). Light Years, among much else, offers an account of an encounter with Basil Bunting, characteristic  of Young’s  inherent gift for capturing the absurd and the profound or, in Bunting’s case, the absurdly profound.

Young has not confined his incursions and excursions to Europe, where he has in recent years lived in south-eastern France: ‘le vent se lève/il faut tenter de vivre’, as Valéry wrote. Brazil has also captured Young’s gifts : In Lampion and his Bandits (1994) he brings to larger-than-life the traditional bandits of the Brazilian north-east and the world of the ballad singers, with potent translations of their compositions. Brazilian Tequila (2017) could fairly be described as auto-fictional ethnography mediated through the sympathies of the storyteller poet: ‘Eu canto porque o instante existe …’

To say Augustus Young is sui generis is certainly true but also does him a disservice. Over more than fifty years of publications, of which only a fraction is recalled here, he has unfailingly found those elements which Aristotle listed as proper to virtue.

That most remarkable of classical scholars, E.R. Dodds, a poet in his Irish youth, used to remind Louis MacNeice and, later, Jon Stallworthy, that being true to oneself is always perilous, especially for poets.  Augustus Young has never wavered in seeking and revealing what is proper to virtue and for that this reader is deep in appreciation.

Augustus Young and Basil Bunting (Light Years page 199) : “Basil listened attentively. My outburst climaxes. ‘I see myself as a socially useful human being with a harmless secret. When I die some poems will be discovered. If any are good enough, they will survive. If not, so be it.’ He puts his hand on my arm. ‘There is, Augustus, a lot to be said for just being useful. Now back to the taxi. The BBC coffers are only so deep.’”

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The Duras Press

The Duras Press