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Monthly Archives: May 2014

Reassembling Still: Collected Poems by David Miller (Shearsman Books)

Reassembling Still: Collected Poems by David Miller (Shearsman Books)

I felt highly honoured when asked to provide a few words for the back cover of this long-awaited collection and make no apology for repeating those words here:


The dreams of David Miller hang tantalizingly over the mind’s edges: their disappearance is ‘manifestation and absence’, like breath into the wind. Through those ‘irregular / small gaps’ an attentiveness to the world of the other permits him to focus upon the immediate.


In the short essay on the ‘Theme of Language in Relation to Heidegger’s Philosophy’ which appeared in Paper Air, Volume 3, number 1 in 1982, Miller referred to the German philosopher’s regard for language as the ‘place or dimension where beings are brought into the light of unconcealment’. He concluded with a statement that is so pertinent to his own poetry:


The thinker and the poet would presumably be “listening” to Saying rather than merely forcing language to do their bidding; so that beings could be “released” into their “whole” being: then beings would be encountered in such a way “that Being would shine out of them”.


In a similar vein Miller also wrote an important account of the poetry of Charles Madge for Great Works 7 (1980) in which he referred to Madge’s poetry working ‘at an uncovering, indeed a double disclosure’:


It seeks to uncover and demystify the myths of capitalist society; and also to disclose a fundamental richness and beauty in both the life we do live and, importantly, the life we could live but may be prevented from living.


An early section of Miller’s substantial sequence ‘The Story’:


that story was the story you told,

a curve

as notation for music.


to question the term “unit” is to

question the term “totality”

and I question it.

no one knows what is meant by



This long awaited collection offers the reader both units and totality: it is a terrific volume which Shearsman has produced.


Ian Brinton, 30 May 2014.

Oli Hazzard’s Within Habit (Test Centre, 2014)

Oli Hazzard’s Within Habit (Test Centre, 2014)


follows up his critically acclaimed Between Two Windows (Carcanet Press, 2012), winner of the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize. This new collection in a limited edition of 250 copies comes with an introductory note by John Ashbery and preface quotes from Archaeological Theory: An Introduction, which refers to the density of archaeological sites being so large that a line drawn through the British landscape would clip a number of sites, and Emily Dickinson’s ‘You there – I – here’ poem. Ashbery describes the work as a ‘stunning set of prose puzzles’ that ‘suggests a kit with only a few instructions supplied’ and ‘becomes exciting, necessary and new.’


Ashbery rightly alerts to the reader to the place where meaning may or may not arrive in these exciting poems. On first reading, Within Habit concerns what might be called a discursive cultural mapping of the spaces between lines (drawn, read | disputed) where origins may form or be appropriated. There is a beguiling repetition of figures such as Monmouth, Henry James, Paul Nash, also Latin and Greek, and intriguingly Christopher Newman, a character from The Americans, who prefers copies to originals, and Meliboeus, from Virgil’s Eclogues. Monmouth signifies both person and town with its foundation on a Roman settlement and Norman castle.


The twenty texts are presented in prose format with vertical lines marking divisions and connections between units creating relatively abrupt and startling juxtapositions. The texts consist of two sets of nine lines linked by a ‘hinge’ word or phrase from the end of the ninth line placed on the next line clear of both sets. This word or phrase is thus clearly referenced as between the two sets. The A3 sized book is beautifully designed with the poems positioned centrally on the page in large font, employing blue print with ample white space between them drawing attention to the visual aspects of the contents and obliquely, to representations and inscriptions of originals.


The poems appear to be concerned with divisions and demarcations, as in wood and trees, face and hand, mountain and valley, border and fence, original and copy, and the power around them. Like Emily Dickinson’s poem they are concerned with the construction of those divisions as the place between the lines where the self is located


In the space of a few lines | you may find yourself | in the space of a

few lines | roomy enough to dwell in | some cloudy morning – the

little adjustments | falling makes | in the receptacle | from which

the desire to receive | somatic perfume | of the pressure drops

halfway through | the sentence | make themselves felt as distinctions

from a state | of deep sleep | landscaping. Working as agents

induces an improper feeling of flatness | sex flowers strike | so light

it hardly registers as defeat | the tears or weak areas. To determine

the appropriate pressure | for



to be deterred | partition calls back the candelabra-form espalier



These poems are extraordinary and leave the reader puzzled and amazed.


David Caddy 28th May 2014





Unfinished Study of a French Girl by Todd Swift

Unfinished Study of a French Girl by Todd Swift


Alec Newman’s splendid Knives Forks and Spoons Press has just released some imaginative and inspiring new volumes and I am delighted that this treads closely upon the heels of Juha Virtanen’s review article on the Press in the current issue of Tears.

Unfinished Study of a French Girl is Todd Swift’s first pamphlet of poetry in years and, having written about Mainstream love hotel (Tall-Lighthouse 2009) some years back, it gives me pleasure to pore over this new little chapbook. I recall referring in my earlier review to Swift’s grounding of language and ideas in the personal and being struck by the feeling that there is a convincing quality to domestic reference that avoids the prurient by appealing to the universal. As the blurb on the final page of this new book tells us ‘Exploring how absence “ghosts” all our desires and hopes, our fears and fun, this collection artfully and playfully takes poems to rarely seen places, aesthetic, elegant and witty as always.’ Given that statement and my earlier reading of Todd Swift’s work it should come as no surprise that I turned to the poem ‘Kora in Hell’ which stands spread over the central pages of this new chapbook.


never bite

the red seeds bitterly bursting their small loan

onto the banks of your tongue

in the wan gardens underground


where no noon is.


This is a poem about transience and hope, about being ‘near the sun and on the ground’ which ‘is to be alive’. With an awareness of how time both takes and gives we are presented with that buried world in which ‘love lights darker candles’ and in which ‘a starker irresistance thrives’. I am reminded here of Donne’s ‘A Hymne to Christ, at the Authors last going into Germany’:


As the trees sap doth seeke the root below

In winter, in my winter now I goe,

Where none but thee, th’Eternall root of true love I may know.


Just as ‘Churches are best for Prayer, that have least light’ Swift’s underworld seeks to possess ‘The darker longing / is to keep the slim sweet guest who never stays.’ One of the beauties of the myth of Kora lies in its confirmation that all possession is itself short-lived and the ‘slim sweet guest’ will return to land and sun. There is no binding to oneself a joy! In William Carlos Williams’s 1920 publication, Kora in Hell, he referred to a discrimination between true and false values and concluded that the true value ‘is that peculiarity which gives an object character by itself’:


The imagination goes from one thing to another. given many things of nearly totally divergent natures but possessing one-thousandth part of a quality in common, provided that be new, distinguished, these things belong in an imaginative category and not in a gross natural array.


These are accomplished and delicate poems which play with ideas of presence and absence and which sometimes have that awareness of ‘only air where art / could have been’ in terms of the title poem of the collection.


Next year Todd Swift’s publishing company, Eyewear, intends to produce a book to help push current serious poetry criticism of contemporary British and Irish poetry into new and informative directions. The book will be aimed at the general intelligent reader and well as undergraduate and M.Litt university students, and of course, poets themselves.

Swift’s own account of this new venture is ‘I am thinking this will be a sort of brief critical encyclopaedia’.


Ian Brinton 26th May 2014



Continental Drift by Nancy Gaffield (Shearsman Books)

Continental Drift by Nancy Gaffield (Shearsman Books)

When David Herd wrote that Nancy Gaffield’s poetry ‘speaks directly and beautifully to the contours of our contemporary moment’ he touched upon something very important indeed. Not only do these delightful pieces of writing resonate with a contemporary sound but also the contours of their language and focus take us into an imaginative world which breathes that salt-laden fragmentary lyricism to be found in Sappho.


The first of two epigraphs placed by the poet at the opening of this fine volume is a quotation from James Schuyler’s ‘Salute’ in which he asserts that the ‘Past / is past’


I salute that various field.


That salute to the field, that greeting to the long gone, brings to my mind the opening lines of Robert Duncan’s ‘Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow’


as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,

that is not mine, but is a made place,


that is mine, it is so near to the heart,

an eternal pasture folded in all thought

so that there is a hall therein


that is a made place, created by light

wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.


I have written more about this Duncan poem some ten years ago in Tears in the Fence 44. That field to which Schuyler refers is ‘various’ as he thinks of the ‘clover / daisy, paintbrush that / grew in that field / the cabin stood in…’ and his poem is haunted by the inability to make a past stand still. As Nancy Gaffield recognises in this, her second collection of poems (Tokaido Road won the Aldeburgh First Collection Prize three years ago) the world is in constant flux and the title, Continental Drift, bears a suggestion of both seismic trauma and reflective eyes cast back on a world now gone. I am reminded here of Walter Benjamin’s extraordinarily fine essay on ‘The Task of the Translator, published in Illuminations where he sees the translator not in the centre of the language forest but on the outside facing the wooded ridge. Translation, like bringing the past into a present, calls into that forest aiming at the single spot where the echo is able to give, in its own language, the reverberation of the work in the alien one. The sounds of such movement can be heard in Continental Drift and as the short prose piece which closes this delightful volume makes clear


Something happens when you dislodge the outward aspect of the familiar. A border has been crossed. You become a world-builder. Place-making means multiple acts of remembering. Pas à pas imagination slides between the frames of reference. Not opposition, but apposition. We go by side roads.


In his monumental novel Les Misérables Victor Hugo tells us that the past is like a ghostly voyager who, like his main character Jean Valjean, convict and outcast, always travels with a false passport. But as Nancy Gaffield tells us ‘you cannot / wipe the slate clean / language gets used / over and over again / re-coupling / letting see / what has been hidden / beneath’


Ian Brinton 25th May 2014


Tears in the Fence 59

Tears in the Fence 59

Tears in the Fence 59 is now available from and features poetry, fiction and nonfiction from Lucy Burnett, Anne Gorrick, Colin Sutherill, Peter Larkin, Mark Goodwin, Chris Hall, Sue Chenette, Stefan Zweig translated by William Ruleman, Lesley Burt, June English, Sheila Hamilton, Rachel Sills, Mandy Pannett, Janet Rogerson, Valerie Bridge, Elizabeth Stott, Seàn Street, Charles Hadfield, Natalie Bradbeer, Grahaeme Barrasford Young, Charles Wilkinson, Eleanor Rees, Christos Sakellaridis, Carole Birkan, James Bell, Nicolas Ridley, Gerald Locklin, Caroline Clark, Simon Jenner, Rosie Jackson, Geraldine Clarkson and Steve Spence.

The critical section includes David Caddy’s Editorial, Anthony Barnett’s Antonym: A Disaccumulation of Knowledge, A Conversation Piece with John Freeman by Gavin Goodwin, Jennifer K. Dick’s Of Tradition and Experiment X: Five Small Press Publications, Peter Hughes on John Hall, Ben Hickman on Keston Sutherland, Norman Jope on recent Waterloo Press books, Elizabeth Stott on Kathleen Jones’ biography of Norman Nicholson, Juha Virtanen on recent Knives Forks and Spoons Press publications, Tom Jenks on Robert Sheppard, Mandy Pannett on Valerie Bridge, Rosie Jackson’s Between The Lines, Anthony Barnett’s Antonym: Gunnar Ekelöf ’s Table and Ian Brinton’s Aferword.

Poetic Adventures in Scotland with Seventy Selected Poems

Poetic Adventures in Scotland with Seventy Selected Poems

Sally Evans and diehard poetry press


Like all the best old stories this one starts in a traditional manner: ‘This story really begins with the Sandy Bells. My then husband moved us to Edinburgh for a job in the University buildings in the lane behind this pub, where the taxi disgorged us on my first arrival in Edinburgh’.

This is a magnetic story of being ‘mesmerised by the company of a group of Scottish poets who largely revolved round the Sandy Bells’. As Hamish Henderson’s biographer, Timothy Neat, was to put it ‘Sandy’s now became the gathering place for folksingers, musicians and a fair proportion of Edinburgh’s more radical thinkers’ and by the mid-1950s the pub was widely recognised as the hub of the Scottish Folk Revival. It was frequented by Alexander Trocchi, Billy Connolly, Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochhead, Bruce Chatwin, Gordon Brown, Iain Banks, Ian Rankin and, of course, Sally Evans.


The life history of Sally Evans is punctuated with poems and publications and she recalls her first printing in ‘a spiral-bound booklet and a School of Poets card’:


‘I helped produce a whole series of these cards by different beginners, which seemed to validate mine, in the same way that publishing other people’s books and poems validates my doing my own’.


This autobiographical record which Sally has produced, published by her own diehard press, is a sheer delight to read and should be on the list for every young poet who wants to feel some increasing confidence concerning what they most want to do. It is uplifting! I was delighted at one point to read that some of her poems were published by Tony Lewis-Jones’s Firewater Press in Bristol. Tony, a former pupil of mine from the 1970s, is one of the major promoters of poetic activity in the Bristol area and it is absolutely appropriate that he should be recognised in Sally’s book which, after all, charts the world of the non-mainstream publishing venture.

Sally’s own poems are scattered like rich seed throughout the volume and perhaps the best quick taste is to read the closing lines of ‘Villanelle’:


I ran through groves of oranges and limes.

I ran by rivers to the ocean.

Now I have nothing but my singing rhymes.


Up, up beyond where vegetation climbs,

down, down till there was nowhere else to run,

I ran away from him too many times.

Now I have nothing but my singing rhymes.


To buy a copy of these poetic adventures contact Sally Evans at


diehard at the Callender Press, 91-93 Main Street, Callander, FK17 8BQ


Ian Brinton 7th May 2014.


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