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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

movement

 

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

 

 

 

 

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