‘The Encounter of M’ by John Stammers (Interior Night, 2010)

Posted: August 7, 2011 in John Stammers Page

‘The Encounter of M’ has puzzled some readers; but if we read it as a take on Alain Resnais’ avant-garde masterpiece of French cinema, Last Year in Marienbad, then it comes somewhat more accessible. The ‘… geometric topiaries/ that seem to throw no shadow. I see that you and I/ cast long dark shadows’, is a direct reference to the classic iconic poster of the film; and there are the film’s long tracking-shots of the endless, involuted and claustrophobic corridors to consider when we think about the structure of this poem. This is made concrete in Robbe-Grillet’s text for the film, in particularly the long and continually looping monologue behind the opening tracking shots.

Does Stammers have enough film-nous to know that the actual character’s shadows in the film poster were painted onto the pathway, that they were false-shadows? Interview-comments and textual references seem to suggest his film-repertoire is quite extensive. The ‘large topiary pyramids’ are exact. The woman in the poem-encounter replies: ‘I find it tiresome practically to the point of death/ to be approached by a stranger in dinner-dress.’ Here we explore one of the suggested meanings of the film, that it is the after-death experience of the characters; this is part of the film aficionado’s many discussion topics. The poem is not written as a poetic attempt at cinematic writing, as one critic seems to suggest; it uses the film as a jumping off point for its own investigation into a recurring complex of relationships; it is suggestive, associational; the narration loops back on itself. As the above excerpt also shows through its rhythm, the piece has its tongue firmly in its cheek. The assonantal rhyme further underlines the quality of the poem’s tone: the slightly wobbly frisson of balance between threat and parody. Stammers here has the Orson Welles cloak about him; his manner is knowledgeable, as well as seriously playful. This poem could be a depiction of an obsessive haunting, but the writing balances the content and expression expertly.

The form of the poem is that of a continuous overflow of conversation between the two characters. There is the equivalent of a standard iambic line; it is open enough to allow catalexis and hyperlexis. The conversation often overlaps, but what can be discerned as we work through the circling, remembering, is a change in the power dynamics between the two. In the film it is the male character who persuades the woman of past intimacy, who railroads her into a future action; the woman slowly wakes from the torpor and we almost voyeuristically become aware of the relationship web she is a part of: the partner/husband she is with, the ‘other man’, her own self. The partner/husband displays certain diabolic tendencies. It is said that one should never play cards with the devil; in this film he wins every game that is set up; his power over the woman seems particularly diabolical. What Stammers does with this in the poem is present a more gender-friendly relationship, more balanced. The poem ends as it begins.

When considering the simulacra of Baudrillard, this artifact of a poem based upon a wholly fictitious film-event, that is, in an historical sense wholly unreal, would be an interesting candidate: as the characters and their shadows are unreal, false-shadows, so the film is a false-shadow of reality and a real event; the hotel featured in the film is anonymous, unnamed (Marienbad, after all, was last year) and as such the film inhabits a space out of place and time; and the poem here, a take on an emphatic fiction, an even further abstraction. The ‘real’ event of the film, and hence the poem, exists only in hyperreality.

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