We Who Saw Everything by Whit Griffin

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Whit Griffin’s We Who Saw Everything opens with an elegantly haunting, demure dedication “My Daimon.” By not affixing “to” or “for” or other prepositional directive Griffin stealthily sidelines overemphasizing any understanding of relation between dedicatee and text, dedicatee and himself. Griffin goes for an understated clarity. A nod which plays off notions of the existence of an acknowledged force which lies back of the poet’s own will: a ubiquitously other presence guiding the poem-at-hand. There are abundant modernist sources for such an idea: from Yeats’ occult(ish) transcriptions of listening to the voices in the room, resonating easily with Faulkner’s “I listen to the voices,” on to Lorca’s Duende and Spicer’s Ghosts but there’s also the reach further back, to the roots of Western mythic poiesis found in Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn.” Griffin’s nod encompasses them all and then some. Griffin’s Daimon is more than muse or motivating force, it is the text itself.

This long poem—the last page notes “End Of Book One”—presents a vast bibliomancy comprised of an endless listing of ever disparate arcana including recalled events and instructive aids from out unknown archives alongside curses and charms alike. A cornucopia of details and characters from out the annals of World Myth take center stage. Griffin offers an impressive sampling from multitudinous threads of the only story there’s ever been worth telling: the story behind everything. This is a panegyric shot at world inclusivity, one grand cascading scroll of myth and fantasy, historical truths laid down beside fireside whisperings.

[…] Every ides is dedicated to
Jupiter, every Kalenda is dedicated to Juno. As
Junonius was shortened to June. As Maia is the
Good Goddess. As the Good Goddess is also Hecate,
Semele and Prosperina. Some say she has Juno’s
power. Some think she’s Medea. It is against
divine law for a myrtle branch to be kept in her temple.
Carna is the goddess charged with keeping our livers,
hearts and innards healthy. Carna receives
an offering of bean porridge and bacon. Hathor personifies
the sky. She is the goddess of all kinds of joy.
Whoever wishes to visit the temple of the goddess
must refrain from intercourse with his wife (or husband)
that day, from intercourse with another than his wife
(or husband) for the preceding two days, and must
complete the required lustrations. Jupiter bestows souls,
and receives them back after death. The hell-fire and
brimstone vision was the result of the uninformed
stumbling into glimpses of the astral plane.

There are no stanza breaks. No irregular spacing of lines around the page. As the above lines demonstrate, the poem is just one long scroll with italicized passages appearing at regular intervals. In addition, every seventh line is numbered (the excerpt is lines 1651-1669) the total coming to over 3,890 lines. Griffin also places short asides in the margin adjacent to the text on nearly every page. These interjections do not directly comment upon corresponding text so much as they simply enhance the overall ambient verve. The stage is set: “The soul breathes, / the sinews of Set provide the lyre / strings.”

In a brief prefatory note, esoteric scholar Peter Lamborn Wilson describes his own reading of the poem as the record of extended dreaming by “an alchemical immortal” recalling “his memories of all civilizations and cultures […] browsing over the occult bric-a-brac of millennia: omniscient—but asleep.” Alternately, poet Thomas Meyer’s own accompanying prefatory statement asserts that it is “not a chrestomathy, although it outsources an Alexandrian Library of ‘useful knowledge,’” colorfully declaiming “it certainly spills the beans, lets the cat out of the bag. How it does so is fascinating, if not finally inexplicable.” He continues, elaborating upon how “the tone remains a public one, explanatory, one of direct address, no lyrical overheard passages. But never really didactic.” Most importantly he points out: “At not given point are we any farther from (or closer to) a beginning, middle, or end.” Readers have free rein to dip in and out at will, perusing passages indiscriminately doesn’t at all detract from the poem’s message or its communicative power.

Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco and works at Gleeson Library for the University of San Francisco. His recent books include: from Book of Kings (Bird and Beckett Books), Drops of Rain / Drops of Wine (Spuyten Duyvil) and The Duncan Era: One Reader's Cosmology (Spuyten Duyvil). More from this author →