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Monthly Archives: November 2014

Urban Pastorals by Clive Wilmer (Worple Press)

Urban Pastorals by Clive Wilmer (Worple Press)

When I heard Clive Wilmer read his Urban Pastorals last Monday evening in the Cambridge University Library I was moved. There was a quiet solemnity about the delivery but it was tinged with wistfulness and a gentle wry humour that had echoes of Alan Bennett talking of his Yorkshire childhood. Peter Carpenter’s Worple Press has published these short pieces of nostalgic insight into a childhood spent in the South London of Tooting Bec and I recommend everyone to get a copy. The Press is based at Achill Sound, 2b Dry Hill Road, Tonbridge, Kent TN9 1LX and is well-known for excellent productions (including volumes by Iain Sinclair).

When D.W. Harding wrote his seminal essay on nostalgia for the first issue of F.R. Leavis’s Quarterly Review, Scrutiny, in 1932 he referred to ‘simple homesickness’ being ‘an aspect of social life’ where the home that one yearns for ‘comprises the whole familiar framework—objects and institutions as well as people—within which one lives and in dealing with which one possesses established habits and sentiments.’ It is an established truth that no man is the author of himself and in moments of clarity, and humility, we can recognise how much we are the result of everything that has happened to us. This awareness is, of course, a far cry from some regressive tendencies that can be bound up within the world of nostalgia:

‘regressive because the ideal period seems to have been free from difficulties that have to be met in the present, and nostalgic because the difficulties of the present are seldom unrelated to the difficulty of living with an uncongenial group.’ (Harding)

Clive Wilmer’s beautifully poised writing never runs the danger of forfeiting its tone of recognition: the past’s importance is registered precisely because it is the past. Tooting Bec Common reappears before our eyes like some Proustian scene as the waters of time recede:

‘A boy playing on summer afternoons could forget that he did not live in a rural paradise. There were ponds and a boating lake and stretches of woodland, an Italian ice-cream cart and a swimming-pool. There were squirrels and songbirds, and you’d come home with sticklebacks in a jam-jar or a stag beetle in a matchbox.’

It was a time of hope: Clement Attlee, public drinking-fountains, Public Libraries, Socialist Ministers ‘whose lexicon was Morris and John Ruskin’ and who wanted ‘to build a paradise on earth’. When Clive Wilmer spoke about the background to this sequence of pieces he was clearly moved: the hopefulness of those years offered a glow just as the early ventures into the world of schooling centred around Miss Inkpen who ‘passed on her legacy’, a copy of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

‘She had already taught me to count and spell. That day, I held the English language in my hand.’

Clive Wilmer is a fine poet and I recall the short piece he wrote for the TLS in June 2007 when he referred to the world of translation. After pointing out that those who put themselves through the labour of learning a language deserve our respect and deference he made the central statement ‘but skill in languages is no guarantee of poetic accomplishment’. Urban Pastorals gives us the fruit of Miss Inkpen’s legacy as did the earlier volume from Worple Press, Stigmata. In the opening poem from that 2005 volume Wilmer’s lens of words clicks sharply and decisively:

‘A withered leaf that curls round its own form—
Though not resisting death, still on the tree,
Still of the world, simply by being there.’

‘Still’: time and quietness; a past reflected upon, mused upon; the light of Urban Pastorals when all that seemed to lie ahead is all that composes the now, the still, the still.

Ian Brinton 28th November 2014

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Long Poem Magazine 12 edited by Lucy Hamilton & Linda Black

Long Poem Magazine 12 edited by Lucy Hamilton & Linda Black

http://longpoemmagazine.org.uk

Issue Twelve is as eclectic as ever and features long poems by Salah Niazi, translated by the author from the Iraqi with David Andrew, Patricia McCarthy, Martyn Crucefix’s versions of parts of the ‘Daodejing’, Richard Berengarten, Jeri Onitskansky, John Greening, Norman Jope, Tamar Yoseloff, Ben Rogers, Varlam Shalamov, translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler, Alexandra Sashe, David Andrew, Alistair Noon’s Pushkin inspired travel narrative, and W.D. Jackson. Linda Black’s editorial offers insights into the current reading habits and recommendations of several contributors. Alexandra Sashe ‘neither wrote nor read poetry’ until she discovered Paul Celan: ‘The predominance of Language, which writes itself, which dictates itself … this same Language lived by the writer, becomes a new entity, something other: “essentialized”, and, faithful to its centripetal life, increasingly personal …’.

Sophie Herxheimer’s ‘Inklisch Rekortdinks’ series of dramatic monologues impressed sonically and thematically. Based on the experience of her father’s family who emigrated to London in 1938 and written in the Lenkvitch, a sort of German Jewish – English hybrid accent, of her paternal grandmother, they probe identity and immigrant experience from alienation through war and assimilation to friendship and domesticity. The sumptuous language and narrative angles make the world of Herxheimer’s poems sparkle.

Vis efferi Snip off Dill I fezzer
on my feinly slizzered Kewkumpers
I re-azzempel Leipzig
Birch Treez, Promenaats.

Vis efferi chop off peelt Eppel
es it sutds into my Disch
for Pie – zerburban Etchvair
ordinerry: I kerry on.

Timothy Adés’ ‘The Excellent Wessex Event’ uses the Oulipo univocal lipogram omitting a, i, o and u to produce a narrative poem in rhyming couplets drawing upon the film version of Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd. This one hundred line sequence comes with a set of multi-language footnotes all with the same impediment.
Lucy Sheerman clearly articulates the relevance of Lyn Hejinian’s My Life as ‘a touchstone for experimentation with the representation of thought in the field of the long poem’ in her essay feature. Sheerman quotes Juliana Spahr on Hejinian’s achievement:

Hejinian works rigorously against a capitalsed ‘Self’ or
any stability of the self. Her subjectivity, more empty
than full, concentrates on the ‘separate fragment
scrutiny.’ It is defined by fluctuation, by the
move from ‘I wanted to be’ to the lack of fixity of ‘I am a
shard.’ Or, as she writes citing the title, ‘My life is as
permeable constructedness’ (93). One of the crucial
distinctions between the multiple subjectivity of current
autobiographical criticism and Hejinian’s fluctuating
multiple subjectivity is the absence of stability in
Hejinian’s subject. Instead of offering full multiple
identities, My Life is a process-centred work that
calls attention to the methods by which the
autobiographical subject is constructed by both author and
reader. Hejinian’s constant resignification of subjectivity
confronts head-on the constructed reality of
autobiography and the reader’s seduction by this
construction.

Sheerman concludes with a number of challenging critical comments, which makes the essay immensely valuable and more than a informed introduction.

Long Poem Magazine is a veritable feast of the strange and familiar taking the reader on a wonderful journey.

David Caddy 25th November

Zone 2 edited by Kat Peddie & Eleanor Perry

Zone 2 edited by Kat Peddie & Eleanor Perry

http://www.zonepoetrymagazine.com

The second issue of Zone magazine, the poetry collective of writers and critics from Canterbury, edited by Kat Peddie and Eleanor Perry, is a cornucopia of poetic delights richly illustrating the diversity of contemporary poetry.

The house style of presentation of this A4 publication mostly eschews uniformity in favour of a random mixture of fonts and point sizes. This works effectively with the diverse and colourful text art to produce a visually exciting journal with a sense of the chaotic. The position of the author’s name in large point at the top of each page tends to undermine the approach through its loudness and uniformity. The poem should matter far more than the poet’s name.

There are many fine contributions from Sarah Kelly’s text sculpture, Sean Bonney’s short essay on Amiri Baraka, via six Petrarch sonnets by Peter Hughes, Ian Brinton’s translation of Francis Ponge’s ‘Snail’s to Iain Britton, Stephen Emmerson, S.J. Fowler, Mendoza, Dorothy Lehane, Duncan Mackay, R. T. A. Parker, Nat Raha, James Russell, Marcus Slease, Dollie Stephan, and Robert Vas Dias.

Amongst the work that caught my eye were sean burn’s ‘spell / check © sean burn 2013 c.e.’ simple, playful approach and Laurie Duggan’s ‘from Pensioners Specials’ with its quirky, aphoristic humour:

The Art of Poetry

don’t write when you have ‘something to say’
write when you have nothing to say

*

smaller than the syllable
the Silliman

*

Universal Toilet

This train has,
says the ‘onboard manager’
a ‘universal toilet’

Rae Armantrout’s extraordinarily condensed poems employ multiple voices and divisions to explore contested spaces. Here her four poems seemingly skirt the boundaries of plausible meaning and imply connections between each stanza, which are not entirely evident on first reading. They invite reading of the relation of part to whole, stanza to stanza. In this way, more possible reference and meaning comes into play. They insist upon both slow and wide reading, and force the reader into wider focus.

Run Time

Hidden redundancy
equals logical depth.

*

up next,

the pumpkin carving contest
under the sea

*

You talk to yourself
as if somebody cared.

Clearly an event of some kind, as yet only implied in the title and first three stanzas, is in process. The third stanza perhaps holds more than its terseness. The narrative voice is in the act of ‘talking’ to herself ‘as if somebody cared’. When placed in the context of the preceding stanzas much more possible reference and meaning comes into play. Voices are running, possibly imploring, exhorting for this onwardness towards the second half of the poem and whatever may lie within its boundaries. We could be in the world of someone in a state of loss or deprivation, or in need of care. Key words, such as ‘hidden’ send the reader off in search. Certainly the range of possible meaning gradually begins to expand. The reader is taken on a journey and there is more than a hint of implied disjunction, loss and unrest, which serves to take the reader forward.

Such poems make Zone a joy to return to.

David Caddy 22nd November 2014

Kelvin Corcoran’s Radio Archilochos (Marquette Press 2014)

Kelvin Corcoran’s Radio Archilochos (Marquette Press 2014)

The shadowy background to this carefully judged sequence of poems by Kelvin Corcoran is provided by both the Greek lyric poet Archilochus, from the seventh century B.C., and the Aegean island of Paros on which he possibly lived and died in battle with the men from Naxos:

‘Archilochos, his voice broken, sits collapsed,
legs splayed on the soft bed of summer dust;
a spear sticks out of his chest, its black length
rises and dips with his last breath and the next.’

In the Loeb Classical Library’s volume of Greek Elegy and Iambus the translations of J.M. Edmonds from the existing fragments of the work of Archilochus present the reader with a figure of humour and pathos, realism and a lyricism which echoes down the centuries:

‘I love not a tall general nor a straddling, nor one proud of his hair nor one part-shaven; for me a man should be short and bowlegged to behold, set firm on his feet, full of heart.’

The fragments of the Greek give us a man from over two thousand years ago ‘stood on the edge between sea and wind’. Kelvin Corcoran gives us a present-day world where ‘The whole place is out of season, buried, / the crested grey wave curls under a grey sky.’

There are of course other shadows in the background, poetic ones. I detect a voice of Robert Browning behind the spat words

‘Above all else I swear bad poetry will do for me,
the lickspittle decrepitude of our lolling tongue;
after invasion and the markets going yoyo mental
etymology alone counts, crooks make snots of words.’

There is the haunting voice of the folk ballad ‘Barbara Allen’ transferred from Scarlet Town to Candid Town and there is the uncompromising ‘I’ of Barry MacSweeney’s Ranter ‘calling / on VHF’:

‘Then I am a man.
One third, warming
the fipple.
His flute song.’

(Ranter, Slow Dancer Press, 1985, p. 11)

‘I am The Man I am I claim
to please the boys in the clinch;
think all the dirty work we did
tropes cast in blank memory?’

Most of all of course there is the voice of Kelvin Corcoran whose poems are ‘dense, intense, filled with sharp fast thought’ (Lee Harwood) and for whom myth is a living presence:

‘The ancient landscape overlays the modern and I see the mythology as local and useful and not detached from the everyday.’

(from an interview with Andrew Duncan published in Don’t Start Me Talking, Salt, 2006 and quoted in Andy Brown’s introduction to his indispensable Corcoran reader, The Writing Occurs as Song, Shearsman 2014)

The chapbook Radio Archilochos confirms one’s opinion that Corcoran is at the front of contemporary poetry: the lyric grace of his language is threaded with an historical perspective that raises the poetry far beyond the world of a localised present.

Radio Archilochos is published by Andy Brown’s Maquette Press and is the first in a new series of chapbooks which will soon include The Hospital Punch by Sally Flint and A Plume of Smoke by Jos Smith. Copies can be obtained from the Press at 7 Grove Terrace, Teignmouth, Devon TQ14 9HT.

Ian Brinton 21st November 2014

Peter Please’s Clattinger (Away Publications)

Peter Please’s Clattinger (Away Publications)

http://www.peteralfredplease.co.uk/shop/

Peter Please’s Clattinger: An Alphabet of Signs from Nature developed from the experience of regularly walking Clattinger Farm in Wiltshire, a rare lowland grassland farmed by the Ody family without artificial fertilisers and taken over as a nature reserve in 1996 with a Site of Special Scientific Interest designation. As the water meadows had been traditionally managed with grazing and hay cutting on alluvium overlaying Oxford Clay they produce an extraordinary diversity of plants, including the snakes’s head fritillary, downy-fruited sedge, green-winged orchids and meadow saffron. Please wanted to find new words for his experiences at the Farm.

This limited edition of idiosyncratic prose poems or poetic sketches comes with 26 new words and their meanings set within drawings of their signs and related calligraphy. Each letter of the alphabet is derived from a physical object, a is from axed tree, g from gate, m from mirror of face in cistern, x from crossed branches, and so on. He did not feel constrained by the alphabet, nor did he search for older words worthy of resurrection.

Assoune, I breathe out slowly. Assssooooone. I like a word
for change with the poetry of longing in it. I rock in my
time. I note the beady eyes standing in the way, the
hairline faults, the thin angular lips demanding
perfection. Zip zip ZAP!

The new word ‘assoune’ is given the meaning ‘meaning by loss / change / absence. I may be wrong. However I think that new words come into usage through need or desire within a community of speakers. New words tend to have sharply focussed meaning which can widen or narrow as well as become used positively or negatively. Of the 26 new words, the compound ‘youme’ defined as ‘representative / alone with many / end of season’, although I can see the txt version ‘ume’ appearing, and ‘zipzygo’ meaning ‘impenetrable / not now’ were typical in their combination of playful invention and fun.

‘Weepod’ from wayside meaning ‘arrival / alone with / journey’ produced:

I plant my seat and sit upon it as the upform of the oak
zigzags its wayward certainty. Still I sink, yet stay
upright, not down, neither up. I strain to hear and so
become immobile. A light breeze sifts sand in my ears, a
flyby wasp patrols a straight line. Buzzflies do
dizzywhizzies or pass-overs. One hundred voices I hear
speaking incognito, fast and fleeting, as ear-babble. Or
are they bubbles singing a blackcap? A sound installation
of breath? Among people and alone is a strange mix.

The book is a hybrid of digital production and hand stitched papers with a cover by artist, Sean Borodale, showing a distinct tangle of grasses and the signs of some of the new words. Clattinger first published in 2008 has received scant attention. It is well worth exploring.

David Caddy 19th November 2014

Clive Bush’s Lingerings of the Large Day (Five Seasons Press, 2014)

Clive Bush’s Lingerings of the Large Day (Five Seasons Press, 2014)

http://www.fiveseasonspress.com

This beautifully produced book typeset on 16pt Bembo and printed on recycled paper comes with drawings by Allen Fisher, as did Bush’s previous poetry collection Pictures after Poussin (Spanner Press, 2003). Clive Bush has written evocatively of some of the dissenting voices of the late twentieth century in Out Of Dissent (Talus, 1997), a study of the work of Thomas A Clark, Allen Fisher, Bill Griffiths, Barry MacSweeney and Eric Mottram.

Lingerings Of The Large Day consists of a series of long poems, which draws upon the work of seventeenth century poets, scientists and dissenter, when ‘the world turned upside down’, and meditates upon the world then and now. It has a restless probing, a cultural linking as well as a deep veneration of the book and its role in democracy, and comes with a list of resources at the back as well as a sprinkling of quotations at the beginning of several poems.

Ignoring the apparatchik learning
I found their notes above the white noise of history
And dodging the scholars of war
I reached again for the child that wondered
who led me again by the hand my body riddled with life
turning from the waiting for the arrest in the dark
making a line
Fludd, Dee, Herbert, Vaughan to 1647

The presentation and poetic approach recalls the marvellous long poem, South Wales Echo by Gerardus Cambrensis published by Enitharmon Press in 1973, which displayed a deep range of reading and came with copious footnotes. Here though the lingerings of seventeenth century turbulence and brilliance of thinkers, such as John Harrington, William Harvey, John Milton, provide not dissimilar dissenting echoes. There is a similar sense and use of polyphony and rhythm, established by the use of space rather than punctuation. My intention in citing the work of Gerald Casey is more concerned with the theme of both books, that is to say the echoes of books and thinkers long after historical time.

The poems employ a collage effect and move swiftly from one mood to another within the larger arc of the whole:

It is said Thomas James in Bodleian used the Index to order books. Later in 1660, well warmed with strong beer, high priests officially burned his books. In 1683 Oxford also books of dissent. In 1905, translated into Russian, Paradise Lost was popular with soldiers and peasants, although it was not allowed in school libraries.

without trace
to hide in night
begin again

to know nothing
a sure ground
know nothing
night hid

ruit hora
Adamus exulus

there is no art of the possible –
it is black act –

Lingerings Of The Large Day is a wonderful achievement and the Allen Fisher drawings are a joyous gift to the effect of the whole.

David Caddy 17th November 2014

Robert Vas Dias’ Arrivals & Departures (Shearsman Books, 2014)

Robert Vas Dias’ Arrivals & Departures (Shearsman Books, 2014)

From the same series as Patricia Debney’s Gestation and Anthony Rudolf’s Go into the Question, this chapbook of prose poems effectively uses the literary device of arrivals and departures for a pared down and celebratory poetry. It is at once joyful and thwart with potential danger, and sustains a wonderful balance between narrative voice and literary effects.

She arrived with the woodpigeons. That is to say, she arrived
and they left. Not that she had anything obviously to do with
it. Of course she did. She kept on arriving and then she left.
They appeared to be constantly fleeing the roost at her, at
his, at anyone’s approach, though clearly they had to have
returned in order to flee again. He never saw them return but
they always fled. She came to stay with him and then she
went. They – or more usually one of them – would explode out
of the treetops with a clatter of wings against foliage that
sounded like falling buckshot, and hurl themselves down to
the field below the house.

The sequence works on the binaries of things lost and found, presence and absence, meetings and disappearance. There is an abiding sense of mishap not far from joyfulness within relationships and social life. Vas Dias, though, elevates the binaries through the use of fresh language and unpredictable detours leavened with humour.

His darling sent him in the garden to deadhead the petunias
but he mistook the limp, budding flowerets for dying ones
and twisted them off. You’ve ruined my petunias, she
wailed. Don’t be upset, we’ve still got the weigela. It’s
not the same, she cried. We’ve still got the fuchsia. It’s
not the same, she sobbed. We still have the lobelia,
hibiscus, morning glory, wisteria, agapanthus,
trachelospermum jasminoides, honeysuckle, grape vine,
Japanese maple, pieris forest flame, hydrangea, camellia,
geranium, agave, anemone, hellebore. And you have me. Go
fuck yourself, she complained.

Vas Dias’ humour is essentially rooted in realism slowly unfolding into an absurdism, as in ‘The Cabinet of Husbands’:

You would have to say the cabinet was in need of restoration.
It was an antique – 175 years old – and was getting shabby,
but she was not one for restoring it. She was not one for
restoring anything, except perhaps husbands. He was her
fifth, older than her by fifteen years. All her husbands had
been older than her, they had a certain patina. She bought
antiques only when she was certain about their genuineness.
Her husbands had been genuine though they had not worn as
well as her antiques.

This is an uplifting sequence of prose poems probing the nature of symbiosis in various relationships here and what is required to be life giving there. It is necessary reading for anyone following contemporary developments in the prose poem.

David Caddy 12th November 2014

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