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Monthly Archives: March 2014

Panic Cure, Poetry from Spain for the 21st Century

Panic Cure, Poetry from Spain for the 21st Century

Edited and translated by Forrest Gander (Shearsman Books 2014).

On Monday 24th March I attended the book launch of this terrific collection; it was held in the Auditorio del Instituto Cervantes de Londres and two of the poets, Pilar Fraile Amador and Esther Ramón read in Spanish from the volume. They were accompanied by Forrest Gander who read from his translations.

 

Well, when it was suggested that ‘genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood’ Mr Eliot was absolutely spot on the mark. I don’t know very much Spanish: I was deeply moved. The readings communicated an urgency that mattered and I was quite spell-bound.

 

The book itself contains poems by ten contemporary poets and it is prefaced by a fine introduction written by Daniel Aguirre-Orteiza of Harvard University. As he says about this selection: it ‘justifies itself by its peculiar foreignness’ and its guiding principle is the translator’s ‘understanding of innovation, as defined by his acute ear as an American translator who seeks out the restless, inquiring voices now proliferating that unbounded linguistic space many Mexican and US poets are creating as we speak’.

 

From Hedge by Amador:

 

a shadow lingers behind the door. sour as those lemons we drip with

honey to eat.

we are a lump growling under the sheets. soaked purple. the source of

our pain unclear.

 

From Cattle by Ramón:

 

In the horse dump everything’s ready for rendering.

 

They flicked on the emergency lights and no one knew if they were

running to get there or to get away.

 

Ian Brinton 29th March 2014

 

 

 

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Pansy Maurer-Alvarez’s In A Form Of Suspension

Pansy Maurer-Alvarez’s In A Form Of Suspension

Tears in the Fence contributing editor, Pansy Maurer-Alvarez’s new poetry collection, In A Form Of Suspension (Corrupt Press, 2014), which is being launched at Carr’s pub, 1 rue du Mont Thabor, Paris on Friday, 28th March, explores sexual impulse through a series of lush and throbbing sound patterns.

 

My altitude wavers so rasping, it slips a ring raining onto hands

and hisses words between two spongy blue tides

Like daily loose grammar despite radiance, I soar

and improvise on paper a rapid page pressed to hinge;

sliding open a rusted gap, I sway and pitch my limbs

averting rows of loss that diminish the rewritten labyrinthine chill

 

Maurer-Alvarez’s poetry combines succulent musicality within a full poetic line and avoids the pitfalls of over-determining the line. She is the mistress of the measured longer poetic line, of the line break, and of being able to manage lines of differing lengths in one stanza. She excels in this collection. It is quite a different skill to say the likes of Rae Armantrout or Shannon Tharp, who excel with the short line and have great depth through brevity. Here the poet is more divergent and produces a beguiling journey for the reader. It is utterly pleasurable taking the reader to unusual places and thoughts, demanding repeated readings. I am reminded of the famous Dr. Niles Crane line, ‘An exquisite meal with one tiny flaw we can pick on all night’ in that there was, at times, insufficient modulation in relation to abstraction. Others may disagree. There are a wide range of sub-texts and language play that bite and that one can chew on for some time. In some cases, I was in awe and at others annoyed. Such are the many pleasures of the poems.

 

– the history of rainstorm is a naked door

– the waiter will be back, scuffed and literary, granting the acceptable

– a knife recalls blue humidity as a family instrument

– mimosa is composed of Seville

– the ingenious often chant arm in arm with tentative cymbals

– sincerity is equally rated with chamber activity

– the oboe is the flamenco’s counterattack

 

This section from ’39 Fragments On A Pebble Beach’ illustrates some of the rich diversity in this collection and her neo-aphorisms.

 

At the book’s core is a clear narrative voice gleefully indulging in gestures and speech acts:

 

I firmly think that unless this luster of excitement is not withdrawn

from the breast cavity, the jutting out acceleration of surprise will

indicate a double hollow of indulgence. I may collapse. Or a

beautiful avant-garde discourse might ensue and pulsate joy

beyond belief.

 

The book’s title is apt as a number of meanings of suspension come into play throughout. There are at times discord and dissonance as well as the sense of something being discontinued, the condition of being suspended, and a chemical mixing and the state of being dispersed. It is a collection where the sub-texts, often unsaid, outweigh the main theme albeit anchored by an incisive physicality and reverberation. It is an undoubted strength and part of the book’s abiding pleasure.

 

David Caddy 27th March 2014

Ric Hool’s A Way Of Falling Upwards (Cinnamon Press)

Ric Hool’s A Way Of Falling Upwards (Cinnamon Press)

Some years ago Ric Hool wrote a short prose piece titled ‘Two Types of Dog’ focussing on a walk on a Greek island. His ability to make the reader feel the ‘thereness’ of a place rose off the page like heat:

 

The dirt road pulled itself up as if it was stalking the blue sky above

 

A lizard, hard to distinguish from stone, didn’t even bother to scurry  away. It just clenched low to the ground, trapping its shadow.

 

This engaging new collection of poems from Cinammon Press has, for me, that same sense of actuality:

 

When night squeezes light to thinness

the reed beds shake back to balance

Webs of life reshape

 

These lines at the end of ‘Initiation’, a poem located in the Japanese Suruga Province, have a feel of Gary Snyder about them. The reed-cutting which is described in the opening five stanzas, gives way to the weariness which ‘closes conversation’ as ‘straws are lit to burn off leeches / turgid on legs’. As the oxen, laden with cut thatch, are towed back to the village there is a sense of wholeness as Hool tells us that ‘What water has grown will keep rain out’. This oneness, this sense of partnership, is then concluded with that light being squeezed (like the water from the reeds) as the world of the reeds ‘shake back to balance’ and those webs of geometric precision and repetition ‘reshape’.

These poems give us a world of interchange as people and their landscapes emerge and spread. On the Tokaido Road a lady dances and then sits with the poet, ‘without conversation’:

 

I am given tart wine to drink

as if taking communion

then follow her to the ends of the Earth

 

The closing lines of Snyder’s ‘Above Pate Valley’ come to mind as do those of ‘Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout’:

 

Looking down for miles

Through high still air.’

 

It is no surprise that many of the poems are dedicated to individuals (Eileen Dewhurst, Suzi, Richard Downing, Phil & Val Maillard, Chris Torrance, Chris Hall, Kiki, Steephill Jack, Mikka, Lee Harwood, John Jones, Graham Hartill, Tim Rossiter, Peg, Bill Wyatt). No surprise because the landscapes and the people belong together and that ‘thereness’ is also a ‘hereness’!

 

Ian Brinton, 24th March 2014.

Dave Newman’s The Slaughterhouse Poems

Dave Newman’s The Slaughterhouse Poems

Dave Newman’s The Slaughterhouse Poems (White Gorilla Press, 2013) is as vivid a portrait of the impact of the Reaganomics on the American working class between 1986 and 1989 as I have read, carrying within it a cinematic focus on the life and times of a wayward teenage narrator. It reads like a deranged cross between Charles Bukowski and William Wordsworth, yet draws its strength from both traditions.

 

Newman employs both long narrative poems, with precise and poignant detail, dramatic tension, and short pithy poems that reverse the narrative. He gives the reader a wide emotional access to the condition and relations of an impoverished and pressured community through direct speech, strong imagery, wide-eyed characterization and succinct dialogue. Each poem, never without wit and attitude, works to deepen the view of a striving and beaten underclass within a social malaise and economic recession.

 

Bikers, strippers, wrestlers, bouncers, psychos, drug dealers, prisoners, bowling alley and bar owners, slaughterhouse workers move in and out of the poems and leave a sense of desperation and of a bloodied economy. Newman has a Dickensian streak, and draws potent poems from the characters of the slaughterhouse, where drunk men work with chainsaws, cut the throat’s of squealing pigs, eyeballs collect over grates in the killing floor, and Crazy Ed, the world’s greatest juggler of cow balls, gets fired for fucking a 300-pound pig.

 

A Concise Lesson On The Delicacies Of Cuisine In Foreign Countries And Here At Home By Two Lifetime Slaughterhouse Employees

 

Because they threw pig eyes like ping pong balls

 

Because they pelted us with bull balls

because the testicles

were slimy and hard as rocks

 

Because I ran

and slid on a puddle of blood

 

Because a man older than my father

stuffed a testicle down the back of my shirt

 

Because there are lessons to be learned:

bull balls, they said, were a delicacy

in many foreign countries

and chefs for kings

called them Mountain Oysters

 

and the butcher wearing a funny hat

smoking a Marlboro Red

said “Foreign countries like Kentucky”

 

then asked me if I’d ever eaten any ass

 

 

The narrative blows and glistens entering into the signs and representations of the two America’s, and offers implied readings of the position of the lowest underclass, the single mother, as well as a contrast with the state of manhood and masculinity. People are used and abused by an economy based around neon sweatshirts, meat and killings. It is an honest and grim account of a vicious and fraudulent period.

 

The short poem, ‘The Worst Weed I Ever Bought’, echoes Ed Dorn in Recollections of Gran Apacheria, in its use of indirect implication and humour to convey a wider duplicitous situation. Seemingly self-deprecating, note how each line develops and turns the narrative into something else.

 

smelled great

didn’t get me stoned

and tasted delicious

in a nice tomato sauce

over angel hair pasta

 

Newman is an accomplished novelist and his narrative skills are given full rein in this powerful sequence of poems.

 

David Caddy  20th March 2014

 

George Herbert’s Music At Midnight

George Herbert’s Music At Midnight

John Drury’s Music At Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert (Allen Lane 2013) is an excellent addition to Herbert studies. Colour plates, integrated illustrations and maps of the places in Herbert’s life, lavishly augment the book, which is the result of extensive immersion in the life and its world.

 

Unlike Herbert’s contemporary, John Donne, there has been no new biography since Amy Charles’ A Life of George Herbert in 1977.  There is a lack of documentation of Herbert’s short life, the last four years of which were spent as rector of Bemerton with Fugglestone, just outside Salisbury, midway between Wilton House and the Cathedral. The Wilton House, home of the earls of Pembroke, archive now at Trowbridge Library, is sadly depleted of references to Mary, Countess of Pembroke and her poetic school, which attracted Spenser and Drayton, let alone Shakespeare who may have performed As You Like It there in 1605, and Herbert. Of the earliest biographies, Izaak Walton’s was no more than fifty pages of notes, published in 1670, and, John Aubrey’s, also written decades after Herbert’s death, is unreliable in terms of historical accuracy. From scanty information, Drury weaves the known details of Herbert’s life into its cultural world and his poetry, which existed only in manuscript form until The Temple appeared in 1633 after Herbert’s death.

 

Drury centres his understanding of the poetry in the movement towards, ‘Love III’, the pivotal poem in Herbert’s oeuvre,  ‘Love bade me welcome: but my soul drew back/ Guilty of dust and sin’ exploring the inherent conflict in the life towards the final realization that God wishes man to return to pure love as a token of his non-conditional love, as being ‘saturated in the conditions of life in seventeenth England’. Herbert is shown as a man torn between worldly ambition and the spiritual life of love recording his inner journey through the anguishes of grief, disappointment, hope, despair, anger and longing in his poetry.

 

Drury is good in setting out the relationship between poetry and music, the state of the Church of England, impact of the King James Bible, Herbert’s family and educational connections to poetry and music, the ways that words were enunciated during Herbert’s life and the way Herbert’s poems breathe. I love the dramatic and musical nature of Herbert’s poetry, their plain speech, which draw the reader deeply into their conflicted world, and have walked the terrain of his final years between Bemerton and the Cathedral many times. St. Andrew’s Church at Bemerton, which has a literary heritage after Herbert, is tiny; a holy enclave now surrounded by roads, with a distinct atmosphere. It is well worth visiting for a compact sense of Herbert prostrate across the floor before the altar. It seems to hold the drama of Herbert’s poetry intact. The old rectory, a few steps away, is now a private house. The water meadows, with their irrigation system of channels, ditches and sluice gates, between Fisherton and Harnham mills, from where John Constable painted the Cathedral views, are still functioning and recently flooded in much the same way as in Herbert’s time. Drury is good at showing how experience of the waterways, intensive sheep farming, entered Herbert’s poetry in the form of metaphor. The winter soaking of the meadows provided good sheep grazing in the spring. ‘Sheep eat the grass and dung the ground for more’ as Herbert noted in the poem, ‘Providence’. Drury is good at reading less well-known poems in relation to Herbert’s understanding of music’s role and function, and the music of Dowland and Byrd, which Herbert would have encountered inside and outside of Salisbury Cathedral.

 

Drury offers close, informed readings of most of the poems as well as adding flesh to the outlines of Herbert’s life, his handsome bona roba wife, Jane Danvers, and connections. It is a fine book.

 

David Caddy 9th March 2014

 

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