:: Article

Burying the Dead

By Benjamin Robinson.

Three consecutive works confirmed Rick Rank as a dog whose day had come: Sniff, Groundswell, and Blockage. Akin to syllable-points of an imploding pentagram, it was Blockage, the last and some say most revealing disyllabic that was the breakthrough, a compacted tour-de-force diatribe of dissonance, choc-a-bloc with malcontent and mal au coeur, a shot in the forehead for a generation unplugged from the literary forefront, unable to clear their throats in either jest or earnest. But now that his untimely death (at the tender age of ninety-two) has put paid to any semblance of a unified counterculture, it seems apposite that we return to the enduring conflict that divided and defined its protagonists, laying waste to their careers, consigning the best parts of their lives to profligacy.

When in 1964 Theodore S. Owhw clambered out from the literary undergrowth, he described the task he was undertaking as ‘entering the groundswell to lose the plot’. One of the first to follow him was the writer, Rick Rank. If Owhw’s groundswell was a form of encyclopaedic basketball, Rank’s following him was a slam-dunked ontological full stop that would see Owhw’s newly minted groundswell sundered in one fell swoop.

His début venture in tatters, Owhw turned to poetry for solace, girding his shell-shocked loins in its ‘inviolable murmur of truth’.

In 1972, Mispronounced came into being. “Poets do not articulate anything,” Rank famously said at the launch of his robust follow up to Blockage; a work that navigated the libertarian bandwidth of Citizens’ Band radio with a wave of such vocal ferocity it beached Owhw’s ‘inviolable murmur’ on the shores of platitudinous cliché. It was Rank who pointed out that Owhw’s surname resembled a supine swellhead gazing at his own erection — “Pre-cum-prone,” he called it — describing Bidden (Owhw’s epic 1970 love poem) as the sound of ‘a lovesick lapdog gnawing on his own shinbone’.

“Literary auto-asphyxiation,” was how Owhw (who’d denounced poetry and was studying grammatical apertures) summed up Mispronounced – refuting any hand, act or part in the groundswell’s collapse, Rank would later refer (in his 1989 trilogy) to Owhw having ‘strangled the groundswell at birth in the toxic turnstiles of thought’. “An egregious campaign of verbal graffiti,” said Owhw, “amounting to little more that the mutterings and rumblings of a return to form.” Rank was, he said “leveraging himself on the transports of his own verbosity.”

For Owhw, sound had come to dominate (to the detriment of ideation’s ‘regenerative quietus’) the prevailing artistic wind. “Phonetics,” he insisted, was “the bastard love child of the imago of want,” and Rank’s current output “the jabber of a lot lizard renouncing the careful cartography of sheathed penetration” for the “thrill of spontaneous combustion.” To the anti-dialectician Owhw, it was “squeezing ex-post-facto into a borrowed tuxedo to collect an award you haven’t won.”

And so Owhw’s ‘spoken pause’ was born — “paradise truncated, hiatus as forte” as Rank counter-defined it — and the groundswell reclaimed as ‘innate perforation’.

Taking the bull by the horns, Rank sucked hard on his hash pipe and sighed out three biographical volumes of ghostwritten cant: Thuggery, Snuggery, and Skull Buggery. Released in 1989 as a roughshod multicast, the trilogy was a rogue’s gallery of heresies, inaccuracies, misnomers and chronological tautologies.

Owhw de-paused himself briefly to comment thus: “By giving vent to his pent-up mortality, Rank has out-Ranked himself. Instead of slam-dunking the portal outward, he has chosen to languish on a literary lavatory amusing himself with a suppository.”

By way of a reply, Rank pointed to Nobel Laureate Samuel Beckett. Samuel Beckett who spent the final days of his life watching — not as his Nephew, Edward, who delivered the box set to his deathbed had hoped — cricket, but Les Internationaux de France de Roland Garros. “Beckett,” said Rank, “choosing the Open over the Ashes, the forearm smash over the reverse swing, the set over the over, live action over the highlights, the static over the bipolar, The Raft of The Medusa over The Haywain.”

In his 1991 essay on William S. Burroughs, Owhw stated — in a visible softening of stance — that, “Like Beckett, William S. Burrughs found himself in the family way. Unable to remain silent, he turned by way of consolation to the hoard of harlots who’d taken up residence with him, and whispering audio amulets in their profligate ears transformed a rat’s anus into the silkiest of silk purses. In a similar vein, Bukowski farmed his judicious profanities from the outskirts in, stitching a path of privation through the heart of sanguine fertility. Like Kerouac, he turned a molehill of dust into a precipitous junk food buffet. A born looser, he was unflinching in his cups.”

“He used a portable typewriter,” said Rank in a speech to the Writer’s Guild the following year, “but what he (Kerouac) really wanted to do was build before the advancing snowploughs of materialism a snowman made of blank manuscripts, and to laze in its whereabouts sipping alter wine and reading from the Book of Common Prayer.”

In the end it was Rank and Owhw, together, beating a path through Johnston’s ‘inexorable nature of being’. Johnston who — like Plath and the stench of decay — hung flapping in the breeze, a starched white flag of surrender clenched between his teeth.

In 1995, Owhw underwent cardiovascular surgery at an unnamed Swiss clinic.

Ten years later, Hunter S. Thompson — to the sound of the Battle Hymn of the Republic — turned the starting gun on himself.

A year later, the winter Olympics were held in Turin, home to the infamous shroud.

Dressed to kill in buckskin shooting jacket and nubuck slippers, Owhw is said to have whinnied loudly when he heard of Rank’s demise.

An avid Barber Shop Quartet singer in his youth, Rick Rank contributed a faltering falsetto to Hooty-tooty, The Singing Seamstresses’ debut album. Years later, he described his input as “the melancholy twittering of a fledgling barbarian.”

Hooty-tooty is not a hyphenate Owhw would have used in public. If he had produced an album, it would have sounded like a Ferris wheel crashing through the dawn chorus into a freshly dug grave.

“We’ve eaten,” said the bedridden Owhw, when he last broke pause, “from the forbidden fruit, partaken of its savage rage, pressed our chapped lips to the two-way mirror and there’s no going back.”

Benjamin Robinson’s writing has recently appeared in ART From ART – A Collection of Short Stories Inspired by Art (anthology, Modernist Press); online at S/WORD and Recirca; forthcoming from Puerto Del Bloga and Paper Visual Art. He lives in Dublin.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, November 8th, 2012.