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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Hannah Silva’s Forms Of Protest

Hannah Silva’s Forms Of Protest

Sound poet and playwright, Hannah Silva’s long awaited debut collection, Forms Of Protest (Penned in the Margins 2013), admirably illustrates the variety of her poetry. Her range encompasses sonic repetition, sonnet, collage, monologue, list, SMS messaging symbols, and probing text and is never predictable. There is a great sense of musicality and of contemporary language use. Indeed my sixth-form students love her work both on the page and read aloud.  One of our favourites, ‘Gaddafi, Gaddafi, Gaddafi’, echoes childhood playground chants, and works through its long, flowing, circular lines, as if on a loop, as much as the repetition of the word Gaddafi.

 

I am going to tell you my name Gaddafi but I am

Going to tell you my age Gaddafi my age is ten

Gaddafi and I am going to tell you about a game

Gaddafi a game that I play Gaddafi I play with my

Friends Gaddafi you can play it alone Gaddafi

Or play it with friends Gaddafi. GO into a room

 

Hannah Silva’s work positively blurs the edges between voice-in-performance, theatre and poetry. She is a contemporary sound poet of distinction, building on the work of Maggie O’Sullivan, Bob Cobbing and the neo-Dadaists, employing patterns of sense and sound in waves of overlapping textual layer that echo and stay in the mind. Her best work engages with political discourse exposing the limitation and mediocrity of its tropes as well as implicitly indicating the need for deeper communication, as in the long dramatic poem, ‘Opposition’. Here Silva’s playfulness finds full rein and her text cuts through the sense and sound of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ speech delivered on 19th July, 2010 at Liverpool Hope University.  https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/big-society-speech

Liberalism it can call

Empowerment call it call it

Freedom can it can it

Responsibility (titty) can

I call it: ‘Er Ih Oh-ay-ih-ee’

 

Her work recalls Bill Griffiths’ poetry in its attempt to undermine the sources of political power and effectively allows the reader to hear the repetitions and patterns of political speech.

 

You can call it liberalism

You can call it empowerment

You can call it responsibility (titty)

I call: ‘Er Ih Oh-ay-ih-ee’

 

Her poems of direct speech, such as, ‘Hello My Friend’, ‘The Plymouth Sound’ and ‘An Egoistic Deed’ are as exciting as the cut-ups and broken speech. Reading through the collection one derives a sense of the Kafkaesque emptiness that is contemporary politics. This collection is in the great tradition of radical poetry and deserves to be widely read.

 

 

David Caddy 29th December 2013

 

 

 

 

George Oppen

George Oppen

Eric Hoffman’s new book, George Oppen: A Narrative is one of those compelling books that simply takes one over. Hoffman’s introduction celebrates the connected nature of art and biography as he asserts, boldly and with no apology to the contemporary world of criticism ‘To understand a poet’s work it is necessary to understand the life from which it came.’ In dealing with the importance of the years of political focus which occupied the lives of both George and Mary Oppen we are presented with the fundamental importance of the world of poetry as the 1950s encouraged the same convictions that had resulted previously in a creative silence. Almost as if in response to Heidegger’s 1946 essay ‘Why Poets?’ for George Oppen ‘Poetry provided a way out.’

 

This book not only tells the story of George Oppen but also provides us with some convincing close readings of the texts and this concentrated engagement with the words of the poems themselves brings to our attention one of the phrases Hoffman uses early on: ‘Such a refreshingly measured, carefully weighed and painstakingly crafted verse is especially welcome in an era of countless ephemeral information.’ Poetry is a way of thinking and we are given a compelling sense of how the defining poem of the 1960s, an equivalent of T.S. Eliot’s seminal 1920s modernist poem ‘The Waste Land’, may well be ‘Of Being Numerous’.

 

It is most appropriate that the Preface to this new Shearsman publication should have been written by Michael Heller whose own poetry and prose featured a year ago in Tears 56: ‘For the reader of  the poetry, Hoffman’s narrative carries a kind of electrical charge as event after event becomes both potential and flashpoint for a poem or induces a meditation on the act of writing and remembering.’

 

This November publication from Shearsman is £14.95 and can be obtained via the website www.shearsman.com

 

Ian Brinton December 27th 2013

Edward Dorn – Two Interviews

Edward Dorn – Two Interviews

Edward Dorn’s Two Interviews (Shearsman Books) edited by Gavin Selerie and Justin Katko is a useful companion to the Collected Poems (Carcanet Press 2013), reviewed by Peter Hughes in Tears in the Fence 58. Dorn’s poetic achievements are towering and well worth exploring. If you have never read anything by Dorn, I recommend starting with Recollections of Gran Apacheria (1974), which works by revealing a history of effects through suggestion and has a deep emotional pull, and proceed to the satirical epic, Gunslinger (1968-1975).

 

Two Interviews features The Peak Interview from July 1971 in Vancouver with Robin Blaser’s students, Tom McGauley, Brian Fawcett and John Scoggan, with Jeremy Prynne, Stan Persky and Ralph Maud present and contributing, and The Riverside Interview from 1981 between Dorn and Gavin Selerie. Both are terrific conversations, with Dorn speaking informally in the first and more extensively in the second. Justin Katko’s Preface surveys recent and forthcoming Dorn related materials and gives a context to this decade of adjustment for Dorn. There are obviously differences of tone and occasion, in Dorn the speaker in 1971 and 1981 that provide the book’s vitality. Dorn, as these interviews and Iain Sinclair’s memoir American Smoke (2013) suggest, was a man who knew the lie of the land and what happened in the wide spaces of the badlands and beyond. His methodology, derived from Charles Olson at Black Mountain College, was to locate himself in a place through a close reading of its cultural landscape, history, geography and geology. The great joy in this book comes from a greater understanding of his practical working methods as well as the way he adapted to new locations and developed his use of wit and aphorism. He was to some extent a nomadic exile by choice looking across and beyond the American West. There are questions devoted to his time in England, teaching at Essex University, and his fruitful friendships with Jeremy Prynne, Tom Clark, his first biographer, and Donald Davie.

 

Two Interviews includes a short selection from Dorn’s unpublished daybook, The Day & Night Report, from 1971, a selection of two chapters from Dorn’s unpublished prose work, Juneau in June (1980-1981) and three uncollected poems, originally published in Spectacular Diseases No. 6 in 1981, and rare photographs, including the human totem pole of Jeremy Prynne, Ed Dorn, Jennifer Dunbar Dorn, Kidd Dorn and Maya Dorn. Gavin Selerie provides a highly informative and detailed introduction to the Riverside Interview and there is also a bibliography of Dorn Interviews. The whole book as Justin Katko indicates is a worthy addition to Ed Dorn Live: Lectures, Interviews and Outtakes (University of Michigan Press, 2007).

 

David Caddy  December 22nd 2013

It’s Open House: Leafe Press

It’s Open House: Leafe Press

Three very attractive chapbooks from Leafe Press arrived in the post as an example of Alan Baker’s fine new pamphlet series:

 

sea witch by Sarah Crew, Newton’s Splinter by Simon Perril and Chapters of Age by Peter Riley

 

When I read Sarah Crewe’s poem ‘bridge’ in her Oystercatcher volume flick invicta last year I was immediately aware of an eerie and uncomfortable voice, which came from the depths. This is a poet who listens ‘on ocean floor’ and whose sensitive awareness ‘tells me / you are near’. Opening this new volume of electric seriousness I realise that she is even nearer as ‘a cruising white american / king sized drag submerged / from bathing / to thrashing / to screaming / to nothing’. There is a clear sense that these poems matter: they explore the personal world as it segments with ‘silent glide’ into a social scene.

 

When Michael Schmidt wrote the blurb for the back cover of Simon Perril’s Shearsman publication Archilochus on the Moon he suggested that Perril’s eighty poems were themselves ‘shells and fragments that constitute a haunted narrative’ and as I leaf through Newton’s Splinter I can see again what he means by this. The two sequences here come from a larger manuscript called A Soft Book and they possess a thrusting forward movement which seems to catch at the reader as the words fly past

 

says pawn to dawn

break on, brag

at baize we’re snookered upon

 

The urgency of ‘on’ contradicts the slowing pun on ‘break’ and yet complements the morning shift between past night and new day, a new dawn which is shadowed by history as the American Space Shuttle Programme flew its final mission in July 2011 and reminded us of the connections between ‘then’ and ‘now’.

 

And as if to explore this theme with the measured depth of understanding that Peter Riley’s work invariably offers us we have Chapters of Age with its subtitle placed inside the book, ‘Stone landscapes of Inishmore and Burren, May 2010’. The photography by Beryl Riley on the cover gives us crag and grass, age and growth, and the opening poem juxtaposes ‘Ruins of small monastic settlements’ with ‘Dull pain to right of middle back.’ This is a hauntingly beautiful book of poems in which the reader, walker, observer contemplates not only those relics and remnants of another world but also, inevitably, the questions which are ‘flying at us every day’:

 

What is the plant with dark green leaves and

Tiny white flowers? What is the answer to fear?

 

These are beautifully produced chapbooks and are well worth getting from www.leafepress.com

 

Ian Brinton December 20th 2013

 

 

 

 

Vahni Capildeo’s Utter

Vahni Capildeo’s Utter

Reading Vahni Capildeo’s Utter (Peepal Tree Press, 2013) is an absolute joy, displaying the range and registers that the best of contemporary poetry should exhibit more fully. Capildeo is both Trinidadian and universal. The reader is taken on an inventive and linguistically fresh journey.  The prose poem, ‘The Drip’, which extends her interest in the borderline between the human, animal, and natural, is a favourite with my sixth form students:

 

The Drip

 

Cheese is in his blood. He is pale and sweats like a cheese. Some

invertebrates breathe via spiracles, a rattle of tiny holes along

their sides, a scale of inaudibility. The cheese: as it sweats, does it

breathe? Disproportion appears between the porosity of the

surface and the pearling reek that seeps stinking out the street,

marking the atmosphere: the passing of the cheese. Awful to

admit to him! Like the hours before five a.m.  Sooner say that “I

was up at ten past five” than admit to five to the hour. He is half

four at best. A wet lowing lies somewhere at his origins. A

reluctant cow was milked in the rain. Unpasteurized, clumsy, he

free-ranges this city. He fetches up at your side and starts oozing.

Cheese looks for kindness but gets the knife. Tie him up in a piece

of gauze and be done.

 

 

My students are excited by the poetic possibilities such a poem reveals, the language use, word play and humour. Who wants more mundane regurgitation of poems that have gone before? Capildeo is never far from fable and approaches her themes from extraordinary angles using a multiplicity of voices.  Her writing is lush, fresh, often celebratory of simple things and deceptively beguiling moving towards the edge of horror. She has a wicked sense of humour. Her lexicography work for the Oxford English Dictionary has doubtless helped broaden her already extensive language use into more exacting and applied nuances, as well as inspiring ‘Quhen’, being an obsolete Scottish word for when.

 

Quhen

 

[When] that I spelled and uttered your word’s harsh start –

too young to understand – I told nobody that

you fetched up in my heart like a stalactite:

formed, formal, ruckled, fell;

struck through, I breathed you out,

nobody noticing you’d made me your kingdom,

in all the frozen variety of your freedom.

 

Here I love the use of ‘spelled’, which makes me consider the naming and writing of letters, be a sign or characteristic of, under the effect of a spell and the reciting of letters.  Also ‘ruckled’, meaning to make wrinkles on a smooth surface and to make a hoarse, rattling sound. ‘Spelled’ though takes me on to the title poem, ‘Utter’, which partly defines itself as ‘a thing in translation: / eggshell-shy. A thumb’s worth of glory, / nesting near the coastlines of your palm.’

 

This exuberant collection deserves more than a thumb’s worth of glory.

 

David Caddy  December 21st  2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

MacSweeney: Strap Down in Snowville

MacSweeney: Strap Down in Snowville

Paul Batchelor’s edition of essays about Barry MacSweeney is here at last from Bloodaxe Books as number 13 in their Newcastle / Bloodaxe Poetry Series and the opening paragraph of the editor’s introduction is immediately spot on:

‘The last full-length collection that Barry MacSweeney lived to see published was The Book of Demons. Many of the most impressive aspects of this volume—the intricate symbology, the vertiginous swoop of registers, the unsparing wit, the complexity of characterisation, the syntactical resourcefulness—had been earned over a lifetime of restless self-testing; but this same restlessness simultaneously gives the book the kind of daring, hubristic, allusive, raw dazzle usually associated with a precocious first collection. The book draws its power from such contradictions: a chronicle of failure, it has a swaggering confidence; a departure, it felt to many like a homecoming’.

This is a wide-ranging book and it should certainly reawaken interest in a poète maudit from the North-East whose area of focus ranged from Chatterton to Bob Dylan, from Seventeenth-Century nonconformist radicals to the social consequences of Thatcherism, from Mary Bell to Apollinaire.

This fine introduction to MacSweeney contains essays by Harriet Tarlo, Matthew Jarvis, Andrew Duncan, William Walton Rowe, John Wilkinson, Peter Riley, W.N. Herbert, Terry Kelly and Jackie Litherland as well as by the editor himself.

Among the cast who do not make an appearance my biggest regret is to see nothing from Luke Roberts but, of course, this volume has certainly been talked about for some years now and it may well be that he was not on the tracks of ‘Pookah Swoony Sweeney Swan Ludlunatic’ back then. However, I am hoping that I can persuade him to write a review of this new book for the next issue of Tears!

Ian Brinton, December 17th 2013.

John Brantingham’s The Green of Sunset

John Brantingham’s The Green of Sunset

Regular Tears in the Fence contributor, John Brantingham has followed up his crime novel, Mann of War (Dark Oak Mysteries 2013) and collection of short stories Let Us All Now Pray To Our Own Strange Gods (World Parade Books 2013) with a collection of poetry, The Green of Sunset from Moon Tide Press.

 

The Green of Sunset consists of two sequences of prose poems that show the strengths of simplicity and lightness of touch and pitch in creating a memorable collection. They are comparable to Lee Harwood in their clarity and delicacy. Indeed the title poem addressed to an unborn child reminded me of Harwood’s ‘Salt Water’ on the loss of his child. Whereas Harwood deploys an extraordinary restraint and control through his line breaks and hiatuses, Brantingham has no line breaks, speaks directly to the unborn, is restrained, and looks to the simple nourishing things of life as a source of renewal.

 

These unsentimental prose poems draw upon childhood memories, travels to London, Canada, New York, the Sequoia National Park Trail to Bearpaw Meadow in 1978, 1985 and 2005, the streets and freeways of Los Angeles, and his engagement with the life and poetry of Wilfred Owen to embrace what matters most in life. It is in the broadest sense a work of spiritual resonance with a big American heart. This self-deprecating poet of Los Angeles has a wide reach straddling his ancestral family roots in Yorkshire, the God of Lindisfarne, mountain climbing in California, the impact of seeing Chaucer’s grave or a satellite crossing Orion, praise poems for dogs and insects, all marked and dated with the spit of suggestion and the ‘time and mildew’ that pulls apart.

 

The Dog, Autumn 1979

 

Eight days after the operation, I’m walking home by myself when a dog starts to bark at me from behind his gate. I must have heard a dog before then. I must have. But the sharpness of his yelling fills my ears, and he stops me, and I cannot move from the place I’m standing until someone comes out and finds me staring at him and weeping.

 

The book has a foreword by Donna Hilbert and a cover design by Ann Brantingham. I think that many readers will return to this supple, entertaining and moving collection.

 

David Caddy

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