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Monthly Archives: June 2014

Long Poem Magazine Issue 11 Spring 2014

Long Poem Magazine Issue 11 Spring 2014

http://www.longmagazine.org.uk

 

Edited by Lucy Hamilton, Linda Black and Ann Vaughan-Williams

 

Linda Black’s editorial states the magazine’s intention ‘to represent the broad range of contemporary poetics’ and they achieve this with aplomb. Each issue has an impressive range of long poems, introduced by each poet, and one substantial essay.

 

Issue 11 is no exception to the usual high standard. Robert Vas Dias’ essay on Paul Blackburn’s The Journals (1975) is a wonderfully written personal and critical introduction to the subject. It is highly informative, providing a contextualised reading of a neglected, major American poet. By the way, Simon Smith is editing a Paul Blackburn Reader for publication by Shearsman in 2015, which will include hitherto unpublished material from the Blackburn archive at San Diego.

 

This issue has a strong international flavour. There are translations from the Spanish of Mercedes Cebriàn’s 2005 ‘Common Market’ poem by Terence Dooley, and from the Russian of Vladislav Khodasevich’s 1926 ‘John Bottom’ poem by Peter Daniels.

Frances Presley’s ‘OBX’ poem is a tribute to and a dialogue with Muriel Rukeyser’s Outer Banks (1967) and was written in and around the Outer Banks on the Atlantic coast of North Carolina.

 

Mark Sorrell offers a translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem, ‘The Battles of Maldon’, and Kevin Crossley-Holland’s ‘Harald In Byzantium’ captures the eleventh century Norwegian giant between two worlds thinking about home and identity. Edwin Stockdale’s ‘Snowdrops’ stems from an immersion in Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1853 novel, Ruth, and Aviva Dautch responds to Pablo Picasso’s 1946 Bull lithographs in the context of Theodore Adorno’s challenge about the possibility of art after the Holcaust. ‘Eleven Developments Of A Lithograph’ employs a first person narrative to follow Picasso’s progression from the figurative to abstraction and response to barbarism. Anna Stearman’s ‘Letters to Dr. Freud’ stems from reading H.D.’s Tribute to Freud (1956) and is mediated through Rilke, Anna Freud, and others.

 

I was pleased to see D.M. Black featured. He seemed to have dropped from view in recent years due one suspects to writing unfashionable poems. His ‘The Uses of Mythology’ reads Ezra Pound’s ambition and trajectory through the myth of Marsyas, flayed alive for daring to compete with Apollo. Similarly unfashionable is Aidan Semmens’ wonderfully titled, ‘A Clergyman’s Guide To String Theory’, derived from a chance method of finding non-poetic lines on page 53 of a selection of books in his home and using playing cards to shuffle the lines and generate a random sequence. The poem begins:

 

I dropped into line with women

rich clusters of columbine heavy and dark

there is serene repose in the body

both sacred and sordid

surrounded by scaffolding

a face cut into stone the steps strewn with lavender

selection of articles collectible figurines and large scenes

a few pieces in relief entirely made by hand

ancient hunters and gatherers painted figures

of animals and humans in shades

of red and yellow ochre

on the cliffs that line the innumerable waterways

 

There is also captivating work by Mimi Khalvati, Anna Reckin, R.D. Parker, Lisa Kelly, James Byrne and Maitreyabandhu, and an editorial by Linda Black.

 

Each issue is £6. Annual subscriptions are £14.50.

 

David Caddy 24th June 2014

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Songs in Midwinter for Franco by John James

Songs in Midwinter for Franco by John James

Equipage Press http://www.cambridgepoetry.org/equipage.htm 

There is a sudden immediacy about the poetry of John James which can almost catch you in the back of the throat. I think that it’s the clarity of truthfulness to experience; the absolute sense of being there.

 

This is what Andrew Crozier was perhaps getting at in his ‘To John James’ from the 1969 Ferry Press collection, Walking on Grass:

 

There he suddenly is

on the other side of the street in search of

an elusive motor, or the nearest opening time,

and for a second it looked quite filmic because

he was with you a moment ago.

 

The poetry shares a quality of exactness with Antonio Machado, whose ‘Poem of a Day’ written at Baeza in 1913, gives us such palpability:

 

Outside drizzle falling,

thinning sometimes into mist,

sometimes turning to sleet.

Picturing myself a farmer,

I think of the planted fields.

 

This new sequence of John James’s poems, twelve sections written at La Manière (Langue d’Oc) in January 2013, is simply very moving; it is a sequence which one wants to return to time and time again. It places the smallest of individual moments, accurately recorded, against the backdrop of human frailty and being. Life is made up of the small moments intruding into which ‘a sudden enormity / changes everything’. Life at La Manière has a ‘tranquillity’ which ‘is difficult simplicity’. It has room for Art, the ‘word the / inscription writ large’

 

a letter from you

out of Peru

 

in your calligraphy

is better than graffiti

 

like a trace

of a bird

 

in the snow

a trembling stem

 

lets fall a bead

of rain at night

 

In the reflective and reflecting eye of the poet ‘lost objects / will be revealed’ and I am moved to look at Pound’s Canto 95 from Section: Rock-Drill:

 

LOVE, gone as lightening,

enduring 5000years.

Shall the comet cease moving

or the great stars be tied to one place!

 

This absolutely indispensable chapbook of poems, poems to live with, can be obtained from Rod Mengham at Jesus College, Cambridge CB5 8BL.

 

Ian Brinton 20th June 2014

 

Glitter Bomb by Aaron Belz

Glitter Bomb by Aaron Belz

Persea Books http://www.perseabooks.com

 

I admire Aaron Belz’s quirky independence of thought and humour, which ranges from the self-deprecating, absurd slapstick to smart wordplay and irreverent. He is a poet and essayist, regular contributor to Tears in the Fence, who came to prominence with The Bird Hoverer (BlazeVox, 2007) and Lovely Raspberry (Persea, 2010), which was praised by John Ashbery as being like ‘dreaming of a summer vacation and taking it’. There are echoes of the lighter side of the New York School and the deadpan stand-up poetry of Los Angeles in the literariness, language play and conversational nature of his work. He is from St. Louis, Missouri, now living in North Carolina.

 

Thematically his work uses humour to probe, and ridicule, being and identity, obsessional behavior, social mores, and worries about success and failure. He is, at pains, to pinprick selfishness.

 

Thus:

 

Team

 

There’s no I in team

but there’s one in bitterness

and one in failure.

 

And

 

Your objective

 

In a given situation

Your objective should be

To act as much like yourself

As possible. Just imagine

 

The poetry connects through a diversity of linguistic strategies, which are characterized by a deadpan brevity and artful playfulness.

 

Hopkins Palindrome

 

I caught this

morning morning’s

minion, then gushed

Glossolalia thus:

“Suh tail a loss

olg deh sug neht!

Noinims gninrom

gninrom sihtth

Gu aci!!”

 

Two Utah Palindromes

 

Utah, I hatu!

 

We HATU, Utah. Ew.

 

His most memorable poems have a sharp directness.

 

Indianans

 

When I arrived here I thought it was Indiana.

I discovered people and called them “Indianans.”

I tried to convince them to become Christians.

I’ve since learned that this is not Indiana.

 

Belz collapses popular culture into high art in one tongue in cheek sweep, as in poems, such as ‘Thomas Hardy The Tank Engine’ and ‘Michael Jashbery’:

 

I’m starting with the man

in the convex mirror.

 

There’s more to Belz than being smart though. His style is an amalgamation of different approaches that produce a distinct and pleasurable peculiarity.

 

Avatar

 

Blue computer graphics woman

with smooth cat nose, you are

purer, more in touch with nature,

and actually quite a bit taller than I –

and although you’ve discovered

that your soul mate is really just a

small, physically challenged white guy

gasping for air in a mobile home,

you’ve decided to stick with him.

I’d taken you for one of those shallow

pantheistic utopian cartoon giantesses,

but now I see that I was way off.

 

Belz’s poetry hints at artifices, the metaphysical, and has many echoes, Ashbery for example. It stands tall on its own though.

 

David Caddy 19th June 2014

Artists, Beats & Cool Cats by Jim Burns

Artists, Beats & Cool Cats by Jim Burns

Penniless Press Publications 2014

http://www. pennilesspress.co.uk/books/ppp

 

Jim Burns’ fifth collection covers an extraordinary range of artistic, literary, film and music activity through a series of interlocking essays that show extensive reading. Written in an engaging, clear and non-academic manner they were first published in magazines between 1973 and 2013. The topics range from the history of Paris Dada, the Cornish coastal artistic communities, Sven Berlin, the letters and lives of Jackson Pollock’s brothers, the American radical documentary film tradition, the stories of Dorothy Parker, Jack Kerouac’s magazine writing, the history of Black Mountain College, the work of literary magazines, such as Origin, The Noble Savage, Art and Literature, the music of Billie Holiday and West Coast jazzmen, the Objectivists, Olympia Press, early Beat criticism, and the Bohemian scenes of Tangier and Soho, and so on.

 

Burns is adept at debunking generalized overviews of literary and artistic movements, uncovering key figures, lost connections, neglected links and understands that there are those that find prominence and others that do not but might well be of equal stature or interest. He gently points out some of the beautiful failures, the underdogs, and the omissions of critics and anthologists. He is brilliant at uncovering contrary readings, positions that offer less conventional viewpoints, the role of marketing and magazines, and has a healthy disregard for official versions of literary and artistic movements and periods.

 

The essays take the reader on a journey through the prominent points of understanding and analysis as well as suggesting other viewpoints. They are perceptive, highly informative and, at times, personal. His essay, ‘Words For Painters’ on the impact of abstract expressionism has a wonderful personal slant that helps the reader appreciate the impact more profoundly. He writes:

 

‘It is the personal effect that the paintings have had which interests me. I’ve always found in much of Willem de Kooning’s work a wonderful reaction to the city. I recall coming out of the Tate Gallery in London after a de Kooning exhibition in the late-1960s and realizing how alive I was to the colour, noise, vitality, and variety of the streets. In Dore Ashton’s fine book, The Life and Times of the New York School, she says of de Kooning. “He loved the complexity of the cosmopolis, and he found in its physical appearance an excitement and beauty that he consciously tried to reflect in his paintings.” I read that a few years after first encountering de Kooning’s work, and it confirmed what I’d felt about the paintings.’

 

The essay is beautifully constructed, effortlessly moving from the personal to the critical, to apt use of sources and quotation, from general to localized reading.

 

‘With a painter like Franz Kline, possibly my favourite of all the abstract expressionists, it similarly struck me that his large black and white canvases were also representative of urban life. It maybe a tougher street-wise version of it when compared to de Kooning, whose European sensibility still came through despite his years in America. Kline was once described as “a night person, drinking with friends first, painting later, and sleeping during the day. Kline’s nighttime joy, his love of night as a congenial time permeates the warm, expansive blacks in several of his abstractions. Like night itself, these paintings are filled with unpredictable encounters with light: incandescent flashes and glowing reflections.” Interestingly, it always seemed that Kline was the least talked about of the abstract expressionists, both in terms of conversational focus and critical evaluation.’

 

The essay, which is typical of the collection as a whole, moves economically forward covering a lot of ground on Kline, his contemporaries and their work, and leaves the reader wanting to view the paintings and read more about the painters.

 

This is an exceptionally strong collection of diverse essays, which serve to illuminate and widen understanding. The reader finishes the book in a happier and more informed mood.

 

David Caddy 17th June 2014

 

 

New from Oystercatcher’s beak

New from Oystercatcher’s beak

Rouge States

                      by Alex Houen

Later Britain

                      by Ben Hickman

When I first glanced at Alex Houen’s ‘Eucalypso Redux’ sequence of six sonnets I was given a glimpse of an energetic vista of the dispersal of meaning and reconfiguration which resisted any notion of a charting singular centre: I was on the river ‘punting down a sequence of dolly- / shots and flashbacks called the Cam’; I was listening to the margins of language where ‘Blades / chop the building rush of dark internal river’; I was immersed in a world which seemed to owe debts to both Robert Browning and to J. H. Prynne. These poems are journeys of which Browning’s Pentapolin (‘Named o’ the Naked Arm’) could create a Sordello for us by taking a stand on the boat ‘pointing-pole in hand’; they are movements which present the reader with ‘gaps of explanation rolling like wheels contrary within themselves’ on one of Prynne’s Kazoo Dreamboats: ‘alien motions on fire with coriolis demeanour’. As Peter Riley puts it on the back cover of this delightful collection, this volume contains poetry

 

where any word, almost, can suddenly flip itself elsewhere without asking permission

 

When the words behave in this manner they return to the page like a Mobius Band: we have been transported elsewhere and recognise our departure point as both the same and radically different.

 

Turning to Ben Hickman’s chapbook I discovered myself more in the world of John Ashbery’s ‘System’ where the American poet wrote with a sense of energy and delight about ‘How we move around in our little ventilated situation’ whilst discovering ‘how roomy it seems’ and how ‘there is so much to do after all, so many people to be with…’

There is a generosity of humour in Ben Hickman’s poems and a manner of utilising common phrases without any sense of the cliché. These are poems written with mordant magnanimity: yes, he is generous but don’t fall foul of him!

 

I tell myself I’m in love, that I would cry out

into the tear-charged sky, my feet tingling

like spring grass, the underground river

rising through me. Oh Dave it’s you

as I dig down, distinguished for my skill

among Greeks everywhere.

 

As well as Ashbery’s voice I detect here a trace of the Charles Olson who concluded ‘The Kingfishers’ hunting among stones.

 

Ian Brinton 15th June 2014

I, Love Poetry by Ira Lightman, Anticipating the Metaverse by Dylan Harris

I, Love Poetry by Ira Lightman, Anticipating the Metaverse by Dylan Harris

(both published by www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk

 

When I read Ira Lightman’s conversation with Claire Trévien, available online, I was immediately reminded of Charles Tomlinson’s comments in the opening pages of his terrific autobiographical sketches, Some Americans. Tomlinson was writing about when he first came across Pound’s poetry and commented ‘nobody that I knew of could have written more cleanly than that…it was a sense of cleanliness in the phrasing that drew me, still puzzled, to Canto 2’. And, of course, to those lines ‘Lithe turning of water, / sinews of Poseidon, / Black azure and hyaline, / glass wave over Tyro.’

Lightman comments on the influence of Larkin over his work when he started out in the late 80s ‘writing Larkinesque work and being much more interested in what poetry there was in big circulation magazines like the New Statesman or the London Magazine or the TLS’. It was his residence in New Zealand in 1990 that made the real difference, and the real different, as he began reading Modernism, especially Pound, ‘because it’s the key first movement of poets travelling and seeing the whole world , and it allows in non-correct non-standard English. And I was off! But the experience also made me prickly about my old interests in Larkin and so on’. For me it was a reading of Lightman’s ‘Architectural Drawing’ that brought the Tomlinson piece to mind as I recognised what might be meant by ‘cleanliness in the phrasing’:

Schematic housing horizontal

and vertical through the view

enjoins on the council hill

a cornered grid. Its blue

must thin wherever dawn

vellums in the white

of a nostalgic summer’s morn

love always shall sun, right.

All my exes don’t live here

misses taken that miss

much of the innocent viewer

conflagrated in bliss

that I seek. Flashback

retraces at the scene of lack.

 

One thing about this sharply perceived awareness of loss is the palpability of its existence.

 

Closer to hand, at Luxembourg rather than New Zealand, Dylan Harris writes poetry and runs the splendid corrupt press that produced Rod Mengham’s chapbook, The Understory, about which I wrote a few days ago. In the second sequence of poems titled ‘the word the world’ Harris writes

 

the weakness

not the word

the language

 

the humanity

the language

 

the strength

 

And here I am reminded of the letter sent by Francis Ponge to M. Spada:

 

Talking, explaining with words, is a matter of moving dirty linen around in an old trunk up in the loft…to create something clean it is necessary to write it down.

 

It is a joy to look at the writing in these two fine publications, two years apart, from one of the most prolific and intelligent small poetry presses.

 

Ian Brinton 11th June 2014

 

Nine Plays by Will Stuart

Nine Plays by Will Stuart

Edited with an Introduction by Ian Heames & with

an Afterword by J.H. Prynne  (Face Press, Cambridge 2014)

 

After reading these fascinating pieces of dramatic realisation one comes across Jeremy Prynne’s concluding comments:

 

‘This suite of recently composed performance scripts is instructively hard to categorise’.

 

Hooray, I thought, no box to simply pack these into then! And the opening sentence of that Afterword took me back to re-read Ian Heames’s Introduction which in a way set the scene in a very appropriate manner:

 

‘A book of plays in which characters can stand on-stage not really playing their parts casts the familiar role of a general introduction in an awkward light. In the context of the work that follows, the usual range of opening manoeuvres would be a dress-rehearsal for the wrong occasion.’

 

Of course Samuel Beckett’s ghost haunts the wings of this display and the merging of lyrical intensity with a breath-taking awareness of what constitutes loss is a hallmark of much of the writing here:

 

‘The past. What is it? What is the past? The past, what is it? What is the past? The past is a present. It is a no-longer-useable present. Gone and forgotten. Gone and not forgotten.’

 

Prynne’s comments are instructive as they direct us to another haunting presence:

 

‘The emotional carapace overall that encloses precarious life is assembled from off-the-peg elysian fancies that are profoundly tested e.g. against the lyrical reticence of Thomas Hardy, poet: in the more distant background lurk parody dinosaurs dressed up as a light blend of Harold Beckett and Samuel Pinter; not to mention Lucian and Ovid in deeper shade.’

 

A fascinating volume…get it…

http://face-press.org/nine-plays.html

 

Ian Brinton 9th June 2014

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