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Monthly Archives: November 2014

Beat Scene 74 edited by Kevin Ring

Beat Scene 74 edited by Kevin Ring

http://www.beatscence.net

This special issue features essays on a range of Beat writers and others visiting England, a significant January 1961 letter from Robert Creeley to Tom Raworth providing him with contact details for many Black Mountain and Beat poets as well as Gary Snyder in Japan and Louis Zukofsky in New York, an article by Iain Sinclair on meeting Olson at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Allen Ginsberg and Panna Grady at Regent’s Park in July 1967. There is also an article on Tom Raworth and Allen Ginsberg, a series of articles on the English and Scottish publishers of the Beats and Black Mountain poets in the late Fifties and early Sixties, plus a long poem, ‘The Prince of Amsterdam’ by Heathcote Williams concerning the Albert Hall International Poetry Incarnation, which included Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Corso, Spike Hawkins, et al, of June 1965.

It was 1965 and a foretaste of the Summer of Love
When it was believed that love could stop war,
And at this wholly communion
Where a Bardic tap was unscrewed
And turned into a spiritual fire hydrant

Pauline Reeves contributes an extensive essay on Ginsberg in London in 1965, the background to the Albert Hall event, filmed by Peter Whitehead as Wholly Communion, and its immediate aftermath drawing upon contemporary documentation. Brian Dalton writes about The Dialectics of Liberation conference at the Roundhouse in July 1967, which similarly brought together American and English poets and thinkers. There is a notable reprint of a 1963 article by Jim Burns on Gary Snyder, entitled ‘His Own Man’, identifying Snyder’s commitment to ‘disaffiliation’ and ‘resisting the lies and violence of the governments and their irresponsible employees’ through ‘civil disobedience, pacifism, poetry, poverty – and violence, if it comes to a matter of clobbering some rampaging redneck or shoving a scab off the pier. Defending the right to smoke pot, eat peyote, be polygamous, or queer – and learning from the hip fellaheen peoples of Asia and Africa, attitudes and techniques banned by the Judaeo-Christian West.’ Burns clearly saw in 1963 that Snyder whilst being part of the San Francisco, Black Mountain and Beat scene, featured in Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums as Japhy Ryder, was quite distinct and independent.

Eric Jacobs writes about the background to Fulcrum, Goliard, Trigram and Ferry Press and their commitment to publishing the likes of Snyder, McClure, Olson, Creeley, Duncan, Dorn, Hirschman and Ginsberg. There is good use of a Creeley 15th November 1963 letter to Andrew Crozier showing the English poets that he was in contact with. The essay also draws upon Ian Brinton’s essay ‘Nearly Brassed Off: Andrew Crozier and the Ferry Press’ from Tears in the Fence 55 as well as Jim Burns’ Bohemians, Beats and Blues People (Penniless Press, 2013). Jim Burns has an essay on Gael Turnbull’s Migrant Press begun in Worcester in 1957 to introduce certain American writers that had interested him through Origin, Black Mountain Review and the Jargon books of Jonathan Williams. He also uncovers the work of Alex Neish, as editor of Jabberwock and Sidewalk magazines from Edinburgh in 1959 and 1960 publishing Burroughs, Creeley, Olson and Michael Rumaker alongside Edwin Morgan, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Ian Crichton Smith, alongside translations of Marguerite Duras, Michel Butor and Alain Robbe-Grillet. Sidewalk was advertised as a review with a policy of anti-parochialism, which would focus upon the social and literary problems of today and tomorrow, and was attacked by the popular press of Glasgow.

There is much more to this excellent issue. Subscriptions are £26 for 4 issues.

David Caddy 11th November 2014

Tim Fletcher’s Ignis Innaturalis (First Offense)

Tim Fletcher’s Ignis Innaturalis (First Offense)

http://www.timfletcher.biz

Poet and musician, Tim Fletcher made some pertinent comments on alchemy during the recent Tears in the Fence Festival. His latest pamphlet, Ignis Innaturalis, wonderfully illustrated by Jan Fletcher, is a poetic meditation on a range of magical searches for the philosopher’s stone.

Ignis Innaturalis meaning secret fire refers to the enigmatic flame of the alchemist that does not burn and is seen as the philosopher’s kiln in which notions and ideas are transformed into abstractions of beauty. The ‘ignis’ is another term for the Buddhist ‘dharma’, or the spark, root and generator of life. It is part of a wider alchemical search for the unfolding of the mind or spiritual renewal.

The title poem begins:

Dancing … running..dashing symphonic prize …..
Dancing … running..dashing symphonic prize …..
Ignis innaturalis…. Ignis ignis innaturalis

Shadows chaste as lilac flowing …gushing…flooding ….
Into triumphant fabrics over psychic devastation

Snaking…thrusting…victorious sunfire craze sliding into curve of mooncool mirrors….

Joie du sang des étoiles

The intense musicality continues throughout the collection and is presented to great effect on the accompanying CD. Fletcher, who edits First Offense, was a member of Bob Cobbing’s poetry workshop.

Ignis Innaturalis concerns the metaphors of alchemical processes of transmutation and ranges from the heretic, Akhenaten, in ancient Egypt through to Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphonie and a French alchemical love song. The search for transmutation consists of turning base qualities into golden ones, as distinct from the medieval practitioners who tried to turn base metals into gold, and embraces the attempt to turn ignorance into enlightenment, sin into redemption, and so on.

Fletcher plays soprano, alto and tenor sax, flute, bass clarinet and effectively uses his voice to create a range of moods on the CD. One of the strongest compositions is ‘Wild into Night’, where ‘psalms sing out too big to argue with’:

falsetto of knives squeaks and
vociferous yelps circular breathing
self-cunnilingus of the snake
kindling bizarre rush of clichés turned inside-out for the secrets
of the stony paves
bursting boundaries limitations
such expansion of cadenzas
are imagined coloration of the stars

David Caddy 8th November 2014

Frances and Martine by Hilda Sheehan (dancing girl press, 2014)

Frances and Martine by Hilda Sheehan (dancing girl press, 2014)

Hilda Sheehan’s follow-up to her first collection, The Night My Sister Went to Hollywood (Cultured Llama, 2013) develops the domestic imagery of earlier work into a sequence of short prose poems based on the relationship between two female characters who share their home together. Part of the dancing girl press limited edition chapbook series, Frances and Martine, resplendent with drawings by Jill Carter, more than adequately fills the series remit of being work that is fresh, innovative and exciting.

Frances and Martine effortlessly combines magical realism with absurdist humour in sharply defined prose poem vignettes. Written retrospectively, in a matter of fact manner, the narrative employs short precise sentences without recourse to excessive baggage. The poems are cut to the grin.

The Arm

Martine had an arm off. Frances was worried. How would
Martine ever get repaired? She was never a looker, as it
was, and relied on her second arm to make up for her lack
of beauty. How will you ever get repaired Martine?
Or get a man, or another job without it? I have two legs
and I can cook. You can’t cook, not without your
second arm, because you will never control onions or slice
carrots. You are much less with one arm. I will get
something that one-armed women can do and I never planned
to marry. You are now enormously difficult, Martine, not
owning up to the disability one armed ugly women face.

The sequence works through to its exact use of domestic detail and what is not said. By withholding information the reader excitedly reads on for the next instalment of the odd couple. It is a form of the magical prose poetry, as recently developed by poets such as, Luke Kennard, Linda Black and Ian Seed. After ‘The Arm’, first published in Shearsman, comes ‘The Goose’, first published in Tears in the Fence 58:

Frances bought a goose. When she got it home she discovered
it was far too small for her. I can’t take it back, this
was the biggest goose in the shop, she told Martine. What
would that say about my weight gain? Just wear the beak,
suggested Martine. I don’t wear beak, not without the whole
goose body. Then eat the thing. I can’t eat goose! That
would be like eating my dog. Does the dog still fit you?
That’s not the point. It wouldn’t be right. Are you sure
they haven’t sold you a chicken? It looks a bit small to be
a goose. Or is it a size 10 duck?

The use of unadorned domestic detail deceptively ground the prose poems in a well known setting to produce a sense of identification which, with its deadpan ordinariness, produces the laughter. The prose poems are joyously funny whilst simultaneously discussing disability, animal rights, racism, size, the menopause, love, female relationships and other issues. It is comic writing with bite and the collection repays rereading.

David Caddy 5th November 2014

A Somersault of Doves by Valerie Bridge

A Somersault of Doves by Valerie Bridge

George Mann Publications 2013

There is something fundamentally serious about these poems and I could feel immediately what prompted Mandy Pannett to write, for the back cover, that she was ‘stunned by this collection, overwhelmed by the translucent frost of it and the interconnection of dark and light, death and birth, of brutal facts and an evocative, mystical vision.’

On the lighter side of childhood’s reconstruction we can read ‘Vertigo: or the Art of Flying’ with its evocative echoes of John Crowe Ransom’s ‘Bells for John Whiteside’s Daughter’. The American poet’s famously anthologised piece opens with the lines ‘There was such speed in her little body, / And such lightness in her footfall, / It is no wonder her brown study / Astonishes us all.’ Valerie Bridge’s flying childhood presents us with warnings, caution and exhilaration:

‘I’d grown out of my liberty bodice. Mother said,
‘over my dead body,’ when I threatened to give up vests.
‘Don’t climb trees’ she’d already shouted. Then,
‘Don’t go near the edge. Don’t cry.’ I hesitated,

climbed the gap-toothed staircase fast as fast,
with boys from the square, got down with my eyes shut,
ran to the Peter Pan tree, swung over the top at the swings,
landed smack on my head, fainted. Lied.’

The accumulation of whole sentences and individual clauses in the first stanza here opens out into the fluidity of stanza two where the accumulation of childhood associations breaks loose from restriction: ‘fast as fast’, ‘boys from the square’, ‘ran’, Peter Pan’, ‘swung’ to ‘swings’ and ‘smack’ to ‘Lied’.

In contrast, ‘Deben Beach: His Blonde Child 1943’ has a solemnity and poignant yearning that reminds me of both Radnóti and Mandelstam:

‘The escape is a hillside of poppies
drifting onto the beach at Deben
where through the barb of wire,
skull and cross bones,
he sees this fat lorry tyre,
the tread as good and deep
as furrows in fresh-tilled earth.
The sun casts rich shadows
and as his friend lights his pipe,
the dare is exchanged.’

There is an individual voice here, a personal relighting of memory and narrative, stories told to children who listen with thumb to mouth as their own pasts rise before them.

In the introduction to Six Latvian Poets (published by Arc in 2011) the editor, Ieva Lešinska, wrote

‘An overt engagement with history or social issues is almost totally absent from their work—perhaps because of an instinctive fear that the weight of history may turn out to be too much to bear and may squash their own creativity, perhaps because of a desire to place themselves in the broader context of world literature or simply because of a youthful opposition to their predecessors.’

This sense of a personal voice which is earned through experience shines through Valerie Bridge’s collection. It is moving and it is a delight. Read it!

Ian Brinton 4th November 2014

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