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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Anthony Barnett & Barnacles

On Monday 24th September Anthony Barnett gave a reading at the Poetry Library, Royal Festival Hall as a contribution to the launch of illustrator Mary Kuper’s new book Barnacles & Dames, an anthology of etymologies, poetry and images. Other poets included in the book are Brodsky, Joyce, Armitage, Muldoon, Adcock, Stevenson, Scupham, Padel and Kaufman.

Anthony read his poem ‘In All Weathers’ which had originally appeared in his collection Carp and Rubato, Invisible Books 1995. The poem is, of course, republished in his recent magnum opus Poems & (Tears in the Fence in association with AB).

As well as reading this major piece Anthony also read J.H. Prynne’s ‘Es Lebe Der König’ which he had published in The Literary Supplement, Writings 1, Nothing doing (formally in London) 1973. This poem by Prynne had originally been published in Peter Riley’s Collection 7 in 1970 before appearing in the Ferry Press publication, Brass.

The reading included the first stanza of ‘At Chartres’ from D.S. Marriott’s Incognegro (Salt 2006) and the first section of Barnett’s own translation of Zanzotto’s ‘Vocative Case’ which can be found in his recently published collected Translations (Tears in the Fence in association with AB) before concluding with the short piece ‘Remembrance’ from Antonyms & Others.


It is with dismay that I think about writing another poem

along these lines. My imperious whore, my visited muse.

I suffer vertigo and nausea in a labyrinth of cleansed dirt.

Anthony Barnett has a regular column in Tears in the Fence and a review of his recent publications can be found in the current issue of The Poetry Review.

John Keats and Charles Tomlinson

On 21st September 1819 Keats wrote to J.H. Reynolds from Winchester:


‘How beautiful the season is now—How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, chaste weather—Dian skies—I never lik’d stubble fields so much as now—Aye better than the chilly green of the spring. Somehow a stubble plain looks warm—in the same way that some pictures look warm—this struck me so much in my Sunday’s walk that I composed upon it.’

The composition, of course, was the famous ‘To Autumn’ which was written on September 19th.


In December 1958 Charles Tomlinson wrote his own poem, ‘At Holwell Farm’, which Richard Swigg, Tomlinson’s most careful and patient critic, refers to in his statement about ‘a constancy of relation with the energy and singularity of phenomena’. Tomlinson’s poem centres upon a farmhouse which lies within a few hundred yards of his own dwelling and it opens with a reference to that letter from Keats to Reynolds.


It is a quality of air, a temperate sharpness

Causes an autumn fire to burn compact,

To cast from a shapely and unrifted core

Its steady brightness.


This poem was one of those presented by J.H. Prynne to his students at Gonville & Caius in 1969 for the purposes of ‘Practical Criticism’ and, for one student at least, it proved to be the door which opened into a new world of poetic intensity and care: a quietness in which urbanity and the rural stepped side by side.

Sea Pie, a Shearsman anthology of Oystercatcher poetry

Sea Pie, a Shearsman anthology of Oystercatcher poetry

This is a terrific anthology of poetry and if I were still teaching I would buy a set for my Sixth-form without thinking twice. There is a flavour of excitement in this ‘Sea Pie’, a newness that is neither obtrusively academic nor mundanely accepting: these are the sort of poems which wake one up to the echoing sound of language in which experience is both personal and yet recognisably ‘other’. If real thought is ‘man in his wholeness wholly attending’ [D.H. Lawrence] then these poems reflect exactly that.

Peter Hughes places the anthology emphatically and with modest care in his fine introduction:

‘In the spirit of the best English poetry of the past, these poets have opted to move on. They make it new without resorting to gimmicks, make it aesthetically potent rather than merely decorative, and make it contemporary rather than modish. When you are dealing with the very new, as we are here, the merit of individual works of art is bound to be disputed. Some will be ignored, some dismissed, especially by those still relishing the styles of 1956. But, to paraphrase John James, it wasn’t like 1956 in 1956 either.’

This essential volume for those who want to taste the new recipes with the old ingredients can be purchased from Shearsman Books:

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