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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Martin Anderson & Ken Edwards

When the second volume of The Hoplite Journals appeared from Shearsman two years ago I wrote a brief account of it for Todd Swift’s EYEWEAR. What had struck me then was the writer’s awareness of the palpability of a past which haunts our present and a first reading of this lovely new volume of selected poems, Snow, confirms that view. As Paul Ravenscroft’s blurb comment says: ‘His form of vision allows experiences to interpenetrate in an imaginative space and emerge in new and original patterns.’

 

Ken Edwards’s Bardo is a modern rewrite of the Bardo Thodol, the devotional work known in the West as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, intended to be read to dead people, to help them in resisting reincarnation. The illusory gods and demons haunting the original have been translated into modern equivalents, while the original colour scheme of the seven days has been retained. This version has the port and old town of Hastings as its backdrop.

 

Snow is available from Shearsman Books at www.shearsman.com

Bardo is available from The Knives Forks And Spoons Press, 122 Birley Street, Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside, WA12 9UN

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Blue Bus at The Lamb

The sixty-fourth Blue Bus poetry reading took place last night upstairs at The Lamb in Lamb’s Conduit: a joyous evening! D.S. Marriott read first and I was immersed in a richness of language that left me haunted. As well as reading some new work that is as yet unpublished he took us back to the Shearsman publications, Hoodoo Voodoo (2008) and The Bloods (2011). It was Romana Huk who raised this idea of spectres in Marriott’s work when she did the introduction to the 2008 collection:

 

‘In a sense, all of Marriott’s books are about spooks and specters—‘haunted life, as his last book of prose names them.’

 

Robert Sheppard’s most recent book is The Only Life, a collection of three stories about poets, which is published by Knives Forks and Spoons. They also publish his The Given, a piece of ‘autrebiography’, a mode of writing he has been extending in recent months. Berlin Bursts came out from Shearsman last year and A Translated Man will appear soon from there as well. Last night’s reading was sharp, witty and reminiscent of a high-performance steam-roller.

 

Sarah Kelly presented some astonishingly powerful pieces of poetry which seemed to merge the art world of Cy Twombly with the fragmentary history of the Lascaux cave paintings. They were moving and transient as she prepares to return to South America and as Charles Olson wrote of Twombly in 1952:

‘honor &elegance are here once more present in the act of paint’.

 

A great evening of word-hammering!

 

Robert Vas Dias

Last Friday, June 8th, Robert Vas Dias launched his new collection of poems from Perdika Press, London Cityscape SIJO. The event at The Rugby Tavern, Great James Street, London, was packed and Robert read quite a few of these new poems. He pointed out that after he had started writing a sequence of short poems about the city, specifically his North London street and neighbourhood, ‘they began to want to arrange themselves into six short lines of observations, episodes, vignettes.’ His conception of sijo reflects its classical Korean character as the popular form that superseded the courtly poetry of the previous age, i.e., before the late fourteenth century; it became the predominant form and was Korea’s chief contribution to world literature. It’s more subjective, lyrical and personal than haiku, and, for Vas Dias, it offers more scope than the Japanese form to employ metaphor, symbol, allusion, and other figurative language.

This is another volume in the excellently produced series of chapbooks published by Perdika Press to which I refer in my article on ‘Pods, Presses, and Pamphlets: Poetry in England Today’ in last September’s issue of World Literature Today (Volume 85, Number 5), the bimonthly journal issued by the University of Oklahoma.

Robert Vas Dias published another collection, from Shearsman in 2010, titled Still. Life and the comments included on the back of that selection include those of Robert Duncan and George Oppen. Duncan’s comments on the earlier work of this prolific poet capture one of the essential qualities of this lively and engaged poetry: ‘What means most to me is how at once humorous (alive to the humours of what was going on in the expression—re-creation—of feeling) and personally engaged you keep the poem.’

John Ashbery and English Poetry

Ben Hickman’s new book on John Ashbery is a must for anyone who is interested in this most prolific and central of contemporary American poets. And, perhaps even more importantly, it offers a highly convincing and inviting introduction to how Ashbery’s work is closely related to his reading of British poetry. As Ben Hickman puts it in his introduction:

 

The centrality of poets like Henry Vaughan, Andrew Marvell, Thomas Lovell Beddoes and John Clare to Ashbery’s achievements, along with near-contemporaries like Nicholas Moore, F.T. Prince and W.H. Auden, show a poet reading in a manner quite foreign to most other American poets of his time, both from mainstream and avant-garde movements.

 

In this context it is interesting to recall J.H. Prynne’s comments from 1968 about J.V. Cunningham’s appraisal of Wallace Stevens:

 

Cunningham has also more recently described how Stevens’ preoccupation with the dialectic interaction of self and environment is “the residue of the teaching of Royce, William James, and Santayana” and has argued that his finest achievements like ‘Sunday Morning’ are in “the nineteenth century rhetorical style…of Wordsworth’s Prelude, Keats’ Ode to Autumn, Tennyson’s Ulysses”. One might wish to add to this sketched list: the ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ and ‘Coole Park and Ballylee, 1931’ of Yeats, for example, or maybe Charles Olson’s ‘The Kingfishers’ and (with important reservations) John Ashbery’s ‘The Skaters’.

 

Ben Hickman’s book on Ashbery is available from Edinburgh University Press and Michael Schmidt’s blurb on the back is a serious boost for this new book:

 

An individual and authoritative reading of one of the great poets of our time…Hickman writes with clarity and depth of knowledge.

Peter Larkin’s Lessways Least Scarce Among

Lessways Least Scarce Among: Poems 2002-2009

 

Peter Larkin’s new volume from Shearsman Press is sheer delight. The volume opens with ‘Turf Hill’, an interplay between the wild and the industrial, the electricity pylon and the tree:

‘How the boles thin to the widener of tracking turf, pylon by terrace of heeded instrument! If the tree-standing for wire is the pull of cantileaf, what can indent its continuous ornament looping on power line? The trees are resident by unavailing advantage, full technical sorrow lattices their derivative store of staying beside-hand a cloaked way below. Each wafer strut as actuator, soft spring between wing and store. Field follower across overhead pitch, into the straits which fertilise a neb of impasse, but where wire cups to its beak, a lift of towers inciting local spine, so spike your green along. Forked untransformable at heel of branch, trees topped for their sail-at-root, they bare these iron masts whenever nothing can have happened to the great limb.’

Here vulnerability threads its way through ‘unavailing’ to the word ‘sorrow’ before shifting to the association of the human traveller (‘cloaked’) which suggests both secrecy and protection. The density of this rich passage concludes with a further shift towards commercialism as the verb ‘topped’, associated with the wood management of pollarding, moves towards the pun on ‘sail’/sale and the voyaging image of ‘masts’ pushing on wards with human commercial enterprise.

This new volume from Shearsman gives us a comprehensive account of how Peter Larkin’s landscape is not so much a thing as a process.

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