|Juleigh Howard-Hobson, poetess|
by Andy Nowicki
The following is the first part of 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.
Nowicki: As a poet, you have achieved significant success, both inside and outside of "the movement." It is safe to say that many non-alternative rightists/ 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?
Howard-Hobson: 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 3 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.
Nowicki: 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?
Howard-Hobson: 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 oevre) 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 unpractised 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.
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 70’s 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.
Nowicki: 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?
Howard-Hobson: 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 Faction. 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.
Nowicki: How would you describe the thematic progression within this book, from section 1 to section 4, "Purpose" through "Epilogue"?
Howard-Hobson: 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.
Read Part 2 here.