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Monthly Archives: February 2014

A talk given at the Cambridge University Library to highlight the new venture of a Modern Poetry Archive dealing with ‘Cambridge poets and their papers’.

A talk given at the Cambridge University Library to highlight the new venture of a Modern Poetry Archive dealing with ‘Cambridge poets and their papers’.

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Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. My talk here today revolves around the very particular case of the acquisition of Archive material of the poet, translator and publisher John Riley and I hope to share with you a sense of the intricate pathways down which one might expect to proceed in pursuit of the past. I say in pursuit of the past quite deliberately because when one reads the correspondence of a group of friends who were up at Cambridge at roughly the same time in the early 1960s there is an intimacy of communication which seems to place flesh upon the dry bones of biographical history which is a little akin to the world of the French Historical school, Annales. When one reads such immediate accounts of thoughts and events put down on paper, in a pre-electronic age, to be sent between friends who had gone different professional ways after leaving university and who now lived in different parts of the country,  it is as though the vividness of that past possesses a moment of risplende: it shines. In order to get the context in place it is necessary to say a few words of biographical detail concerning not only John Riley but also two of his particular friends, Tim Longville and Michael Grant.

John Riley was born in Leeds in 1937 and after doing A levels was called up for National Service, joining the Royal Air Force in 1956. It was during this period, some of which he spent in Germany, that he learned Russian. In 1958 he went to Pembroke College to read English, graduating in 1961. It was at Pembroke that he met Tim Longville who was also reading English and with whom he was to found the Grosseteste Press in 1966 and Grosseteste Review, the first issue of which appeared early in 1968. After leaving Cambridge John taught in primary schools in and around the Cambridge area before moving to Bicester, near Oxford. His first book of poems, Ancient and Modern, was published by Grosseteste in 1967. Some of these poems had already appeared in The English Intelligencer, the privately circulated poetry worksheet which ran over three series comprising nearly forty individual issues from January 1966 to April 1968 and which had been started by Andrew Crozier and J.H. Prynne. Crozier, a graduate from Christ’s College, had recently returned from SUNY where he had been studying under Charles Olson and was about to join the newly-founded English department at the University of Essex, at the invitation of Donald Davie. Prynne was, of course, a Fellow of Caius.

The rest of this talk can be found on Ian Brinton’s Academia.edu account and in the Notes section of this Tears website.

 

Ian Brinton, February 2014.

 

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Skylight Press

Skylight Press

Skylight Press (http://www.skylightpress.co.uk ) continues to impress with their beautifully designed books of literary fiction, poetry and the esoteric. Their recent books include some extraordinary publications, such as the reissue of Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat: A Book Of The Dead Hamlets, first published in 1975, with an introduction by Allen Fisher, an afterword by Michael Moorcock, maps and illustrations by Brian Catling. As Andrew Crozier wrote:

     Lud Heat is ostensibly a narrative of a period of employment in the

Parks Department of an East London borough; this temporal

location, however, receives less stress than the spatial one with

which it intersects: that of the pattern imposed on the townscape

by Nicholas Hawksmoor’s churches, potent presences in the poets

working environment, around which accretes a second temporal

dimension, historical and mythological, which constitutes the

writer’s real subject.

Crozier concluded that ‘The book is a notable achievement, and an impressive indication of the real health of English poetry.’

Sinclair was inspired, in part, by the poets and poetics of Black Mountain College, where the poet and painter, Basil King, was educated. King left London’s East End in 1947 and subsequently studied at Black Mountain before becoming a New York based painter, seeking an art that moved ‘from the abstract to the figure, from the figure to the abstract.’ King’s Learning to Draw / A History, edited by Daniel Staniforth, an evolving, transformative narrative, mixing poetry and prose, documenting the memoirs of his life and times is one of the many significant titles.

Michael S. Judge’s thoughtful and strange novel,  … And Egypt Is The River, is similarly indebted in part to Charles Olson’s poetics in his fascination with etymology, and to quote from an interview, ‘the cartography of the attentions – personal, cultural, political, mythic, cosmological’. Egypt here is read as a state of being in a series of beguiling chapters that transmute the division between poetry and prose.

Tonight the star is hot with evil speech.

Tonight the star wants enemy to drink.

Tonight the star’s in coils that shock us when they’re wet.

Tonight the star’s back panel snaps and furnace cracks its wall.

Tomorrow night, we’ll say: There used to be a star.

Skylight Press is wonderfully diverse with many books on the magical and pagan traditions, and includes the recently published The Lost Art Of Potato Breeding by Rebsie Fairholm, in its catalogue. This book has practical instructions on how to make seeds from potato berries, cross different varieties, choose which ones to experiment with, and how to keep your newly created varieties growing in the future. I admire a publisher that embraces gardening and poetry.

David Caddy 19th February 2014

The Status of the Cat by Sean Elliott

The Status of the Cat by Sean Elliott

The Status of the Cat by Sean Elliott

(Playdead Press 2013  www.playdeadpress.com)

 

Ideas of Space in Contemporary Poetry by Ian Davidson, (Palgrave Macmillan 2007)

 

 

In his fascinating study of notions of space in the world of contemporary poetry Ian Davidson refers at one point to Gaston Bachelard’s ideas of a house being a place of accumulated memory, the accumulation being produced by the repetition of apparently insignificant actions. Davidson writes about poets from Olson and Dorn to Ralph Hawkins and Fanny Howe. Spaces dominate Sean Elliott’s poems from the open beach at Dawlish to the ‘tiny pubs’ of Kent’s East Coast or the ‘white houses by the sea’ at Margate. The tone is unmistakably Larkinesque. ‘Margate’ opens up with a stanza which bears comparison with ‘Afternoons’:

 

Old world, perhaps: white houses by the sea,

the shops which may reopen in the spring,

even the clubs embrace stability:

the smoking boys, the laughing girls who sing

the latest hits against the winter gale,

an interlude of joy then home to tea.

Their young replace them without fail.

 

The tone of Larkin is caught between the compact accuracy of ‘white houses by the sea’ and the slightly wry sense of a present in relation to a possible future. The shops may reopen in the spring confirming our present situation placed in the closed season of ‘the winter gale’. The stability of progression which is repetition is firmly there in the last line with its echo of the final stanza of Larkin’s poem in which the courting places ‘are still courting places /(But the lovers are all in school)’. Larkin’s tone of quietly resigned optimism informs the final stanza of Sean Elliott’s poem:

 

Old women talk of when a summer’s crowd

would clog the coast, some comic’s punning speech

bewitched the closed theatres; we were proud.

Defeat like perfume soughs across the beach,

the wind performs a Pierrot’s drab routine;

lovers no longer pay to laugh aloud.

I cross my town’s historic green.

 

As with Larkin this picture gives us generalities, ‘Old women’, (not to be confused with T.S. Eliot’s ‘ancient women’ who carry a weight of classical allusion) and then a movement to make the general specific with ‘some comic’s punning speech’. The blurring of time and the past’s reconstruction through anecdote or gossip is nicely caught with the adjective ‘some’ and the movement which has led to the closing down of that old world is held in reminiscence as ‘Defeat’ is scent caught on the noise of a dry beach.

 

Sean Elliott will be reading from this collection on Wednesday 19th February at 7.00 p.m. in the Poetry Café on Betterton Street in Covent Garden.

 

Ian Brinton 13th February 2014

 

Rebecca Schumejda’s Waiting At The Dead End Diner

Rebecca Schumejda’s Waiting At The Dead End Diner

New York literary tourists now have a new place to locate and visit following the perceptive exploration of the elaborate world of the Dead End Diner by Rebecca Schumejda in her great page-turner of a poetry book, Waiting At The Dead End Diner (Bottom Dog Press, 2014).  The woman narrator explains that this Diner was named possibly because ‘once inside / you reach a point where / movement and progress is impossible’ and you become trapped in a black hole.

 

Schumejda’s narrator allows the reader wide access to the world and the language of the Diner where chefs, busboys, waiters and waitresses work double and triple shifts to make financial ends meet and serve their counter congregation. The waitresses range from women committed to working all their life at the Diner to College educated newbies that either sink or swim in the fast food industry.

 

To the Lifer waitress The Dead End Diner, open 24 hours a day, is not the last resort, it is an art form with calculated movements, simple gestures and a huge heart. This 200 page book leaves an overwhelming sense of the Diner as home and a supportive community of multiethnic workers attempting to earn as money as possible from seemingly dead end employment. Schumejda has produced a collection of such narrative force and characterization that she deserves to be compared to Raymond Carver and Lori Jakiela. Like them, Schumejda unravels a complicated world of local and immigrant labour, social stratification, gender, race, love and religious difference, is acutely aware of the importance of small details and, at times, very funny.

 

While marrying ketchup

with Jolene, she tells me

about her sex life,

including how she loves when

her boyfriend, who works at

the bowling alley, brings home

rental shoes for her to sniff

while he fucks her up the ass.

She pulls a crusty ring of ketchup

from the rim of a bottle,

slides it on her fat pinky finger

and asks, Do you think this is why

     they call it marrying ketchup?

 

Schumejda’s Long Island narrator emerges from waitressing a much stronger woman than when entered, having encountered more than life’s vagaries, friendship and hope, within this tough community, moves to Alaska to leave behind ‘the geography of fate’, and finally returns for a degree of independence, a ‘landscape of regulars’ and ‘the friendly banter between family’.

 

American working class female labour has rarely been given such social insight as these poems offer. Working lives are laid bare and the minutiae of that work given significance. By the second half of the book the poems concern sequential events and roll out a serial narrative of hourly and daily life at the Diner during an autumnal and early winter season. The narrative flows naturally, gracefully, and creates a wide picture of street hard characters, with little time to question apart from on the nightshift, finding solidarity and connection through adversity.  Schumejda handles the serial form with panache, finding and developing memorable lines from conversations, some of which are used to preface each section.

 

During a lull, while vacuuming the carpets

in this empty diner, I cringe thinking

about what Jolene told me earlier tonight:

I went bowling right after the free clinic

     sucked the misfortune from my womb

     and actually beat my record with a 210.

 

This collection is eminently enjoyable, acutely perceptive, and deserves to be widely read.

 

 

David Caddy 10th February 2014

 

Derek Jarman’s a finger in the fishes mouth

Derek Jarman’s a finger in the fishes mouth

A facsimile edition of Derek Jarman’s only poetry collection, A Finger in the Fishes Mouth, originally published by Bettiscombe Press, Bridport, Dorset in 1972, is due to be published by Test Centre, with a new Foreword by Sophie Mayer and Afterwords by Keith Collins, Jarman’s partner, and Tony Peake, his biographer.

 

Postcards from Jarman’s own collection, here gorgeously reproduced in an evocative green, preface each of the 32 numbered poems, written when he was in his early twenties. The impact is at once beguiling, light and playful. The original printers refused to reproduce an image of a priest being pleasured by a nun before the poems, ‘Christmas 64’ and the image has not survived into this edition.

 

The book will be launched on Wednesday, 19th February at the London Review Bookshop, twenty years to the day since Jarman’s death. It is a fascinating insight into the mind of the film director, diarist, gardener and gay activist just after he left King’s College, London having studied English, History and History of Art to study painting at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, in the early Sixties.

 

http://www.londonreviewbookshop.co.uk/events/2014/2/a-finger-in-the-fishes-mouth-the-legacy-of-derek-jarman

 

This collection then stems from a time when Jarman was immersed in the wide range of historical, literary and cultural references, which inform his provocative films, and when he was in the process of finding his own sexuality and providing a tradition with which he could align himself. Jarman has his feet firmly both in Renaissance tradition and Modernist experiment.

 

On first sight of the front cover, Wilhelm von Gloeden’s picture of a young boy with his finger in the mouth of a flying fish, I anticipated a collection of absurdist poems from the era of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell and their artistic pranks defacing library books.  It is in fact more of a travelogue of loosely linked postcard images and words and in part has a Beat connection. This is perhaps Jarman’s version of ‘On The Road’. Jarman loved Beat poetry and visited San Francisco and City Lights Bookshop in the summer of 1964 to pay his respects.

There are also poems here that come from Jarman’s immersion with painters from Rembrandt to Rothko, poets such as Coleridge, as well as cities from Calgary, New York to Venice and Greece.

 

One of the strongest poems, ‘Death Comes Through Mirrors’, is prefaced with a Twenties Riviera hotel interior and dance room,

and has an easy conversational style complete with a Jean Cocteau poem quotation:

 

Death comes through mirrors

is a blind man with a violin

collecting grudging offerings

I ask you’, is the hat

full yet

and you reply

‘Consider the fiery red

cherubims in the blue sky

or those empty cavernous

spaces where the image

scatters on the silver’

no his hat is empty

he is a young man

with violets in his eyes

he is blind and sings

 

It is thought that Jarman destroyed the majority of the first edition and so the new edition fills in a missing piece in Jarman’s extraordinary oeuvre.

 

 

 

David Caddy 5th February 2014

 

 

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