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Monthly Archives: April 2014

I Love Roses When They’re Past Their Best (Test Centre, 2014)

I Love Roses When They’re Past Their Best (Test Centre, 2014)

Edited by Harry Burke, this anthology assembles work by sixteen young poets, from the UK, USA and Spain, concerned with exploring the implications for the poem, its borders as an object, and poet, of digital technologies. Some of the poets engage with online search results, social media, and the reorganization of pre-existing materials from diverse sources. There is a strong sense of critical questioning of context and how a poem may function in the future as well as a probing of identity.

 

Sophie Collins composes centos derived from other poets lines found by typing a word into the Poetry Archive website’s search engine. The number of lines in each cento is directly proportionate to the number of poems found within each search term. This method is not entirely without authorial choice and the results are effective, spare and fun.

 

panties

 

maybe you need to write a poem without grace

 

remorseless and in poor humour

 

In his Introduction, Burke suggests that the ‘difference between reflecting the infrastructure that surround the poem and critically interrogating its ideological presumptions’ is crucial to the work in the anthology.

 

Guillermo Ruiz de Loizaga’s ‘2030’ made me laugh with its references to the institutionalization of knowledge and what is tolerated as study objects. The poem also made me think more of how we obtain information rather than say Foucault’s archaeology of knowledge, and led to online searches on the Treemen of Indonesia and Romania.

 

avaaz.org advocates plant-human marriage

(10% of the population is bio-curious)

secretly 3d-printing sex toys at home

new irony is the new new sincerity

the Cambridge companion to goodiepal

phd in livejournal archaeology

 

Indeed I was hoping for more critical questioning of the ways social media and phone companies are infiltrating our lives in ways as controlling and threatening as supermarkets, and more probing of the management and selling of information. We live in world of surveillance and tracking.

 

I must confess to being enticed by some of the poem titles, such as ‘Henry Thoreau Arrives At Cabin In Woods Needing Nothing, Orders Axe Off Ebay In Crisis Of Confidence’. I was especially engaged by the work of Francesca Lisette, Marianne Morris, Harry Burke and Bunny Rogers. There is a great deal of humour running through the anthology, which enhances its pleasure. Carina Finn’s work has wit and bite around cultural identities. ‘DEAR ROBERT LOWELL’, in particular, is wickedly funny:

 

Feminism is more than

emulating a Roosevelt. I

contain morality clauses in

my contract.

I’ve made a bunch of banes.

 

This anthology fulfills its promise and delivers a considerable amount of engaging poetry that is thoughtfully alive.

 

David Caddy 27th April 2014

 

 

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Rampant Inertia by Alan Halsey (Shearsman Books)

Rampant Inertia by Alan Halsey (Shearsman Books)

As one might well expect from the highest class of second-hand book seller Alan Halsey has an ear and memory for names. This is true of a childhood recalled near Crystal Palace in ‘Idle Time-Scans’, where the pub Beulah Spa still stands as do those uplifts of memory with names such as Robin Hood or Dick Turpin engraved on their craggy surface, and it is of a literary knowledge acquired over some sixty years. The poems in this new Shearsman collection will present the reader with glimpses and echoes ranging from Homer and Virgil to Lorine Niedecker, from Dickens and Mayhew to J.H. Prynne.

 

And yet those names, books, associations have an awkward life of their own as they insist upon thrusting themselves up through consciousness and memory. Alan Halsey recalls that as a child he found it difficult to sleep since ‘I couldn’t put an end to the saying of things’ and he is compelled to tell Timothy Donnelly in a letter ‘dated 2 a.m. 26 Dec 2011’ that it only gets worse as he gets older. The experience of the avid reader takes the poet back to his memory of a piece of description from Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and London Poor in which a snake-swallower gives an account of his secret:

 

The head of the snake

 

with the ‘stingers cut out’ goes ‘about an inch

and a half down the throat and the rest of it

 

continues in the mouth, curled round.’

 

As the magician puts it: ‘As for the snakes / ‘they’re smooth one way’—he meant when they’re / going down—but the scales like things said / ‘rough you a bit when you draw them up.’. Nothing easy about either memory or poetry!

 

In 1924 Francis Ponge wrote a little piece titled ‘L’insignifiant’ the conclusion to which tells us of the poet’s belief in utterance as opposed to silence: ‘more important than the white page is the script even if it appears insignificant.’ Against the azure sky watch the quiet outline of a cloud! Look out for Alan Halsey’s convincing evidence of the worth of putting pen to paper. And also look out for Laurie Duggan’s full-length review of this delightful volume; it will appear in Tears in the Fence 60 or 61.

Ian Brinton 26th April 2014

Ian Seed’s Makers of Empty Dreams

Ian Seed’s Makers of Empty Dreams

Ian Seed’s third collection, following Anonymous Intruder (2009) and Shifting Registers (2011), for Shearsman Books, is a playful sequence of prose poems full of desire and implication. It reads convincingly as a dream sequence and has a strong narrative pull around the life of a young Englishman studying Cesare Pavese in Milan. Divided into three parts the sequence sees the protagonist age, marry, travel and return to Italy. The movement is from desire to loss and estrangement, within the dream world, as well as from the outside to the protagonist’s inner world. The prose poems are impressionistic, fragmentary and immediate. They work as stories in that there is some change, albeit suggested, after an event or action. The narrative developments are invariably quirky and serve as twists or imply anxiety, menace or loss.

 

Accident

 

The baby fell from the balcony just as I was walking past. Luckily I was fast enough to catch it. The mother didn’t seem at all grateful. But I said nothing when I handed the baby back to her because I recognized her as the woman whom I met for sex on an almost daily basis in another part of town.

 

 

Unlike K in Kafka’s The Trial, Seed’s protagonist has the freedom to note his dreams and offer psychological insights into the private and personal spaces of his city life. The city prose poem, according to Nikki Santilla in her study, Such Rare Citings (Associated University Presses, 2002) has contracted its horizons and boundaries throughout the twentieth century from Baudelaire to Charles Tomlinson and Samuel Beckett steadily moving into the mind of the protagonist. Here the contraction continues in terms of the brevity of each poem. Thus:

 

Nightclub

 

I didn’t remember who she was, but when I began kissing her, I knew from the feel of her lips that she was someone I had once kissed years before.

 

However, Seed cleverly mixes the psychic material under review by repetition and the reappearance of characters. This makes for a playful and fascinating read. Thus the old man and his much younger wife in ‘Chances’ reappear in ‘Marriage’ and Nunzia, the girl from Naples, reappears in the poem, ‘Exchange’. In the poem, ‘Alba’, during a search for Cesare Pavese’ former home, the protagonist’s wife leaves him and a woman whispers in his ear that she knows of a room where they could make love, implying the protagonist is caught by the trappings of his earlier life.

 

This compelling and exciting collection of prose poems comes with an acknowledgement that they are fiction, and preface quotations from Martin Heidegger and Max Jacob.

 

 

David Caddy 19th April 2014

Flood Drain by Tom Chivers

Flood Drain by Tom Chivers

(Annexe Press   www.annexemagazine.com)

 

In The Terrors (Nine Arches Press 2009) Tom Chivers tried to map for us the city and how it all connected: ‘Sodden hooks north; strip developments; turnpikes; vowels that stretch and bend with the roadway.’ Now he has published Flood Drain, commissioned for last year’s Humber Mouth Literature Festival. When Philip Larkin was working on early drafts of his poem about Hull, ‘Here’, he complained that it was caught, trapped, as a ‘pointless shapeless thing about Hull’. In October 1961, having completed the poem that was to stand as the opening to The Whitsun Weddings, Larkin wrote that he meant it as a celebration of Hull: ‘It’s a fascinating area, not quite like anywhere else’.

 

Tom Chivers has written a fascinating poem that could stand most interestingly alongside Larkin’s in terms of the shifts and changes that have taken place in English poetry over the past half-century. Flood Drain is much closer to the world of Charles Olson and the refracted language of R.F. Langley’s ‘Matthew Glover’ than it is to Larkin’s. What it shares with Larkin’s world is that fascination with the merging of history and industrialism that haunts that North-East coastline and the history which interests Chivers is more akin perhaps to that which interested Graham Swift in his writing of Waterland: the tone of voice in the opening author’s note is a register that I suspect Swift would recognise:

 

Hull is also a lost word. A name with no definitive etymology. Some claim it as Celtic for ‘deep river’ or Saxon for ‘muddy river’, but the most alluring explanation was offered by Nathan Bailey in his 1721 An Universal Etymological English Dictionary: HULL…of hulen, Lower Saxon heulen, Teutonic, to howl, from the Noise the River makes, when it meets with the sea.

 

Flood Drain swirls around a walk Chivers made in an attempt to ‘trigger an altered state of conscciousness’ and with that visionary sense he takes as his model Langland’s Malvern dream of Piers Plowman in the opening of which the poet lies down ‘under a brod banke by a bourne syde’ before drifting into a sleep charmed by the sound of the stream’s waters. Very different from the ambitious Medieval allegorical world of Langland’s dream poem this witty and intelligent take on industrial drainage in the twenty-first century has no qualms about playing with sounds and inferences

 

I had a drain                  /

I had a flood drain

in a somer seson

the day after St Jude’s day

 

The reference to St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, has a bleak appropriateness as Chivers conducts us through a ‘flat world in which everything slips’. And there again the echo of Waterland can be heard as the past emerges from a silted land:

 

“See all this waste up here? It’s called slag.

It gets wet & it gets all muddy almost like

a liquid & that’s when it makes a landslip.”

 

Within and across this landscape which is brought to life for us in this splendid new poem by Tom Chivers what we hang on to is our only shield:

 

Hull into Humber.

Humber into sea.

This we know.

This much we know.

 

Ian Brinton 14th April 2014

 

 

‘One makes many’: Laurie Duggan’s Allotments from Shearsman

‘One makes many’: Laurie Duggan’s Allotments from Shearsman

One of the two epigraphs to Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems is the phrase that the poet overheard in 1953 at Black Mountain College when the cook, Cornelia Williams, said ‘All my life I’ve heard one makes many’. The phrase struck a chord with Olson and in his copy of A.N. Whitehead’s Process and Reality where the Ramsgate-born Mathematician and Philosopher had written ‘the term many presupposes the term one, and the term one presupposes the term many’ he scribbled ‘exactly Cornelia Williams, Black Mt kitchen, 1953’.

On the back of this beautifully produced new Shearsman collection of 100 short poems Fiona Wright has written ‘The small poems…slowly build up to a much larger narrative; a narrative of time and memory, of thinking and being in the world, a kind of history that is happening on the sidelines.’Or, to put it in Laurie Duggan’s words in ‘Allotment #62’:

 

to make much of little

where perception and act are one

 

each thing in its place

spread over the garden

 

poppy seeds of various hue

stolen from elsewhere

 

The delight of many of these poems, ‘Pansies’, pensées, is the sure touch of language in which that ‘perception’ and the act of the words on the page cohere to form a picture, a vignette. Some of them are just that: a picture, a photograph clicked in an instant:

 

a robin lands, curious

as I grub weeds

(‘Allotment #41’)

 

One can see the curiosity of the robin as though a head tilted to one side were there on the page; the movement from lightness of the bird to the more ponderous work of the man is caught in the contrast of sound between ‘lands’ and ‘grub’. The coherence of the picture is given to us with the dual meaning of that second word.

The connectedness between a sharply perceived ‘here’ and the shadow cast on the ground by a ‘then’ is held in

 

a moment’s silence

with Gael Turnbull,

Brigflatts Meeting House, 1987

 

later

on Hardknott Pass

November cold

 

(posted there

Legionaries

from Africa

(‘Allotment #49’)

 

The witty, almost mischievous, association between the surname of the founder of Migrant Press and the opening line of Bunting’s poem is never allowed to rest with the self-satisfaction that can come as the result of a pun; we have already moved on in time (‘later’) and the cold of the Pass bridges a ‘now’ and the builders of Hadrian’s Wall.

Laurie Duggan has an infectious awareness of history and his precision allows the reader to share moments rather like a pebble dropped in a well on the surface of which ‘stones ring.

 

Allotment #93

 

All Hallows approaches

the bar strung with rubber bats,

 

telescopes, astrolabes

obscure the windows.

 

Pepys drank in this pub

(the Thames, Wapping

 

above the tunnel

to Rotherhithe)

 

further out, rotten wharves,

hulks on the estuary bed

 

empty sea-forts

subject to slow rust

 

Ian Brinton 11th April 2014

 

 

Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations translated by Robert Yates

Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations translated by Robert Yates

(Brimstone Press, 2014) brings the work alive in a handy edition complete with extensive notes and commentary.

 

Arthur Rimbaud’s Les Illuminations first published in La Vogue literary journal in Paris in 1886 more than a decade after they were written continue to beguile and surprise. Consisting of forty self-contained prose poems and two poems of free verse the collection was a work of protest designed to shock. It abandoned the storytelling elements of the prose poem found in Baudelaire for a non-linear hallucinatory, dream-like, visionary poetry based more upon sound than meaning and seemingly futuristic mystical journey.

 

Written between 1873 and 1875 critics have sought to find connections between Rimbaud’s travels and the poems in an effort to situate them more securely. This may be a forlorn hope as first and foremost this is a work of acute imagination, informed by the occult and alchemical symbolism. Illumination here is a mystical term, which refers to a stage in the progress towards union with God. Built into its occult meaning and purpose is the necessity to find a new language on the way to becoming an illuminé, who achieves oneness through self-annihilation. Les Illuminations has an extraordinary flow of shifting connections and disjunctions, with figures appearing and reappearing in transformed states, building narrative structures that work cumulatively to produce a magic theatre. It is a difficult work to translate. Of recent translations, John Ashbery’s (Carcanet 2011) successfully captured some its gothic and sonic nature within the idioms of American English. This new translation into English by Robert Yates certainly has a distinctive quality and captures the hallucinatory nature of the original.

 

As soon as the idea of the Flood abated,

A hare stopped amid the trembling sainfoin and harebells

and said his prayer to the rainbow through the spider’s web.

Oh! The precious stones hiding, the flowers already

In the dirty main road stalls were set up, and boats were

drawn to the sea, which rose in stages as in engravings.

Blood flowed, at Bluebeard’s, – in the abattoirs, – in the

circuses, where the seal of God made the windows pale. Blood and

milk ran together.

Beavers built. Smoke from ‘mazagrans’ filled the taverns.

 

 

There are plenty of subtle differences between Yates and Ashbery and, for example, Martin Sorrell’s versions in The Collected Poems (Oxford, 2001). Ashbery has slaughterhouses instead of abattoirs, and later Witch rather than Sorceress. I would select Sorceress as it has more magical connotations for me. This is where the added value of this translation is to be found. The editor, Sebastian Hayes, himself an accomplished Rimbaud translator, provides a preface, detailed commentary and notes on Les Illuminations followed by comments on each poem. Hayes also offers an extensive and informative essay ‘A Random Walk through Illuminations’. Additionally there is an Afterword by Keith Walton ‘Rimbaud: A Point of View’. These features considerably enhance the value of this edition. The book has a great tempestuous cover, ‘The Great Day of his Wrath by John Martin (1789-1854) and is great value at £6 from

http://www.brimstonepress.co.uk

 

David Caddy 5th April 2014

 

Michael Farrell & Scott Thurston

Michael Farrell & Scott Thurston

Two new collections of living poetry brought to the surface by the

 

Oystercatcher

 

When Michael Farrell’s collection, Open Sesame, appeared from Giramondo Press in Australia two years ago it had this comment on the back cover: ‘This poetry can be unsettling, and its abstract music is passionate as well as parodic. Farrell’s fractured narratives seem to settle in the reader’s mind where they become a form of pure lyricism’.

 

The Australian poet Henry Lawson (to whose memory a statue of the poet accompanied by a swagman, a fencepost and a dog was put up in Sidney in the early 1930s) becomes the title of one of these new fast-moving pieces which merge the world of Michael McClure and that parodic humour pointed out the blurb above.

 

reading henry lawson

 

i go into the snow &

see a rainbow. cars have action: streets shriek

‘our love affair.’

 

Quoting the tones of

ICE ISLAND SIGHLAND SIC ICELANDIC EYES

your voice…chaste

 

backpack, head full of ‘i’

 

words. don’t make me rue

 

the day i took up Spanish things. (hold

ELEPHANT ENFANT

the tool in your would be

 

mallar me

In his introduction to Talking Poetics, Dialogues in Innovative Poetry (Shearsman 2011) Scott Thurston reminded us that ‘writings have their own secret life which escapes the writer, which eludes her or him, and without which the whole endless, sacrificial labour of writing would be worthless’. Scott’s new sequence, Figure Detached, Figure Impermanent, gives us that truth on the page as we confront mystery and a compassionate understanding of cultural values:

 

This poem has already been read for you. Isn’t a word a site

of interaction? No need to overcome disagreement when

you throw yourself away so easily. Source the act.

Recognise, reject pattern; find equilibrium. In the luxury of

the past she went into character as a listener, the witness just

another brick in the wall.

 

Both these chapbooks are full of humour: mischievous and graceful, sharp-edged as comments upon the world. Whether it is Scott Thurston’s nod in the direction of Samuel L. Jackson’s hit-man in Pulp Fiction who tells his partner that it is time for them to ‘get into character’ or Michael Farrell’s shift of the name of a French poet, so dear to contemporary poetics, into a self-pummelling verb of astonishment (‘mallar me’) there is a vibrancy about these two volumes which make them worth ordering immediately.

(oystercatcherpress.com)

 

Ian Brinton 4th April 2014.

 

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