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Monthly Archives: January 2015

Beat Scene 75 Winter 2014 Edited by Kevin Ring

Beat Scene 75 Winter 2014 Edited by Kevin Ring

This issue features along essay by poet, Ron Loewinsohn on the North Beach, San Francisco scene in the mid-Fifties before City Lights bookshop, Allen Ginsberg became famous and made the area a mecca for beats and hippies. Loewinsohn was encouraged to write and submit poems to LeRoi Jones, later Amiri Baraka’s Yugen magazine, by Ginsberg. This eventually led to Baraka publishing his first book, with an introduction by Ginsberg. The memoir centres on the April 1956 Berkeley Community Theater reading hosted by Kenneth Rexroth and featuring Ginsberg, Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder and Michael McClure, and how it transformed poetry reading events in the area from the literary equivalent of a polite piano recital to an informal gathering with the distinction between poets and audience blurred. On stage the poets commented on each other’s poems as they were being read and cheered good lines, along with the audience. It was here that Ginsberg gave the first full reading of Howl:

… pacing himself so that the intensity of his delivery built to three separate climaxes at the ends of the poem’s three sections. It was an extraordinary performance. It was far more than a recitation to a passive audience. This interaction between the poet and his audience affirmed the community that had been formed by the occasion: the poet articulated the community’s values and its ethos, while the community then affirmed the poet as its spokesman.’

Jerry Cimino writes about the re-discovery of Neal Cassady’s ‘Joan Anderson letter’, which inspired Jack Kerouac’s writing style. Eric Shoaf is interviewed about his career as a bibliographer and collector of William Burroughs literary works. Dan Poljak interviews Pierre Delattre, who was part of the North Beach scene in the late 50 and 60s about his memories, in particular of the arrival and influence of the Black Mountain College alumni and also Colin Wilson’s The Outsider.

Jim Burns’s essay on Discovery magazine, the paperback pocket-book size journal, edited by Vance Bourjaily, details its relevance to the Greenwich Village scene. Kevin Ring offers his thoughts on Tom Waits reading of Charles Bukowski’s Nirvana poem, on a film set in Forest Hill, London, and Paul Lyons essay on John Wieners quotes heavily from The Journal of John Wieners is to be called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holiday 1959 (Sun & Moon Press, 1996) and delineates its background.

The joy of Beat Scene is always in the discovery of forgotten writers, poets and magazines and its extensive review section. Here David Holzer writes about Terry Taylor’s Baron’s Court, All Change (1961), an English beat novel, republished by Five Leaves Press in 2012 in its New London Editions. The novel has received a strong review in Modern Review describing it as ‘an essential piece of literature that, as Kerouac’s On The Road or Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, sums up not only a generation or movement, but a sentiment of restless youth and rootless verve that lives on in today’s society as much as in any other’.

As ever, there is much to enjoy in Beat Scene. Subscriptions are 4 for £26. Email: kev@beatscene.freeserve.co.uk

David Caddy 28th January 2015

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Solitudes & Other Early Poems by Antonio Machado trans. Michael Smith & Luis Ingelmo (Shearsman Books)

Solitudes & Other Early Poems by Antonio Machado trans. Michael Smith & Luis Ingelmo (Shearsman Books)

In 1983 Charles Tomlinson published his Translations, a selection of poems which he had worked on with Henry Gifford from the University of Bristol. At the end of the introduction he asserted that the freedoms he had taken with the originals had been ‘to ensure a living result’. The selection includes some pieces from Antonio Machado, the Spanish poet whose life and work ranged over the turn of the nineteenth century up until the time of the Spanish Civil War. In the excellent Foreword to this fine new Shearsman publication of Machado’s early work the translators, Michael Smith and Luis Ingelmo, give us a clear picture of this great poet:

‘In the ’20s and ’30s Machado spent his time schoolmastering in provincial towns, travelling round Spain and writing his poems. By the time the Civil War took place, his reputation was made. That catastrophe, however, put an end to more than Machado’s poetry; it also killed him. Machado, along with the majority of Spanish intellectuals, supported the Republic and the new Spain it was hopefully and painfully ushering in; and he stayed in Spain to the bitter end, despite an offer from England of a lucrative position as a teacher of Spanish literature. At the fall of Madrid, Antonio, with his mother, his youngest brother José and José’s family, made his way in the most appalling circumstances and with thousands of other starving and destitute refugees, to the small French border town of Collioure.’

Tomlinson’s introduction had mapped out a path for the reader of poetry-in- translation in which each poem ‘starts from a given ground’ and ‘carries the reader to an unforeseen vantage-point, whence he views differently the landscape over which he has passed’. The landscape of Machado is one of fountains, roads, pine groves, poplars, light and shadow, sounds of water, deserted town squares and paths which, as pointed out by the translators of this new edition, lead ‘into that spiritual order where the soul enjoys its own profound and redemptive freedom.’

Emotion for Machado is placed within the context of objects in a landscape such as with poem XXXI:

‘The moss grows in the shady
square and on the church’s old
and holy stone. In the porch, a beggar…
His soul is older than the church.

In the cold mornings he climbs very slowly
along the marble steps
till he reaches a stone nook…There his withered
hand appears within the folds of his cloak.

With the hollow sockets of his eyes
he has seen how, on clear days,
the white shadows pass,
the white shadows of holy hours.’

When Tomlinson translated a little of Machado’s work he was tempted to move the lines into the structure of William Carlos William’s three-ply step forward and I can see how this might work with the Spanish poet’s emphasis upon objects and the emotions which can burst from within things. But these new translations by Smith and Ingelmo keep more closely to the structure of the original language and capture a frieze-like intensity in which movement and stasis are held as in a block of stone. The ‘white shadows’ that pass are themselves a shade of passing time as ‘cold mornings’ move to ‘marble steps’ to conclude in a ‘stone nook’ which is itself translated into the ‘hollow sockets of his eyes.’

These new translations are monumental and hard-edged, delicate and moving, conveying Machado’s intent on ‘discovering and appreciating that mysterious transcendence which gives life its depth and meaning.’

Ian Brinton 25th January 2015

Basil King’s The Spoken Word / the Painted Hand from Learning to Draw / A History

Basil King’s The Spoken Word / the Painted Hand from Learning to Draw / A History

(Marsh Hawk Press, 2014) http://www.marshhawkpress.org/BKing3.html

Basil King emigrated from South Chingford in 1947, attended Black Mountain College from 1951-56, and subsequently became an abstract expressionist painter and poet / writer. He continuously moves between painting and writing, and is highly regarded both sides of the Atlantic. His artwork has been included in poetry books by Amiri Baraka, Paul Blackburn, and Allen Ginsberg.

This warm-hearted collection of wide-ranging essays, one of which was published in Tears in the Fence 60, moves effortlessly between prose and poetry in a freewheeling style. The essays are highly informative drawing upon King’s extensive knowledge of art, artists and their experiences, as well as history, film and autobiographical detail. There is great charm, self-deprecating humour, running throughout the book which has the repeated refrains of ‘Leave home. Meet strangers. And learn to draw’ and ‘Be Rich. Get Rich. Be Rich. Get Rich’. The refrains gain piquancy as one reads on. A typical sequence from an essay on ‘The White Tablecloth’ follows:

‘The origin of the table knife is attributed to Cardinal Richelieu. He wanted to cure dinner guests of picking their teeth with the point of a knife. Later, in 1669, King Louis XIV of France banned pointed knives in the street and at his table, insisting on blunt tips, in order to reduce violence.

A man and a woman sit at a table
Without a tablecloth
Another couple sits at a table
With a white tablecloth
Both couples use knives and forks’

PAUSE

According to Sir Isaac Newton white light is the effect of combining the visible colors of light in equal proportions. White is all colors combined to make white. Black is the absorption of all color. So black and white are opposites.’

It is an absorbing collage of anecdotal memory, knowledge and gentle argument full of insight. In his essay on why the miniature is as important as the mural King insists that light abstracts the smallest thing. As part of his argument he moves from his work at Kulicke Frames in New York in 1963, to Jack Odell, the self-trained engineer whose inventions led to Matchbox toys, Giacomettti in Switzerland, traditional Japanese garments and miniature sculptures, to his own collection of miniature vehicles, and onwards to the intricacies of the Book of Kells, Olemic murals, Walt Disney’s obsession with miniatures, the German miniaturist painter, Adam Elsheimer’s Flight into Egypt (1609), the first moonlit night scene in European painting, a quotation from Philip Ruben’s lament at Elsheimer’s death, and Velazquez’s painting of dwarfs and half-wits as people with personalities. The impact is cumulative and thoughtful, allowing a larger picture and frame of reference to emerge and yet still allowing for the smallest of details to have impact. It is clever and thoughtful writing.

I note that King’s Black Mountain tutor for History and Literature was that polymath with an enquiring mind, Charles Olson. Like Edward Dorn, another of Olson’s students, one has a sense of the practical and lived going hand in hand with the perceptive intellectual. The whole book is a joyful engagement.

David Caddy 23rd January 2015

Michael Henry’s Bureau of the Lost and Found (Five Seasons Press, 2014)

Michael Henry’s Bureau of the Lost and Found (Five Seasons Press, 2014)

Michael Hulse’s back cover blurb captures the spirit of this collection:

‘In Bureau of the Lost and Found Michael Henry’s
poetry resembles W.G. Sebald’s prose in its rich
understanding of the invisible connective tissues of
individual lives and national cultures. A lover of the
little things and the larger significance alike, he wears
his erudition lightly in these wonderfully sensitive,
even-humoured poems.’

The collection reads like a W.G. Sebald journey with its illuminating twists and turns through history, knowledge, geography and relationships, movements back and forward in time. The discovery of a genealogical hidden past through his German father, a Liverpool based surgeon, of a Belgian grandfather with French connections, and a great grandfather, who married in Brussels in 1882, with French and German witnesses, leads to travels and archival research.
The narrative of lost family connections and a quest for roots, prefaced by an extensive portrait of the narrator’s father in exile, and the intense recall of childhood memories, is quite distinct from say Walter Benjamin’s Berlin Childhood, around 1900, with its pursuit of fugitive knowledge through sensory memory and farewell to old Berlin. Here the poems, rich in detail and cultural accretion, produce a sense of wonderment at a missing family connection that disappeared between the world wars. We are though in the world of migration and a difficult past.

Colophon for my Father

My father wrote his name
on Page Thirteen of all his school textbooks:
de Vigny’s Cinq-Mars – the writing
tall and spiritual like a saint’s cathedral carving;

….

But on Page Thirteen
of Conrad’s Tales of Unrest,
his History prize, I can still make out
his former German name, in spite of crossings out.

Henry explores the nuances of cultural resemblances and connections, traits and obsessions in an effort to discover larger substantive knowledge. This begins with naming and a search for identity and leads on to the acquisition of a bureau of documents, objects, in a widening arc of associations.

The Invisible Man

His occupation stands in the register:
tailleur between pelletier and coiffeur,
The man who came to Brussels from Aix-la-Chapelle;
I never knew him.
Ce n’est pas un Belge.

….

He lived in one of the ‘disappeared’ streets
Of Old Brussels, seen only
In old maps and aquarelles.
I never knew them.
Ce n’est pas une adresse.

The narrative unfolds as much as by implication as what is said. The narrator’s family moves to Cheltenham where father, with his ‘Gladstone bag of tricks’ and son become immersed in the old English ways of education, with Latin as its bedrock and a guidebook to hand, a Victorian eye for detail, cricket, teas and love of the countryside.

The poems are unassuming, cumulative, and effortlessly draw the reader into their world with an exactness of detail and measurement.

David Caddy 20th January 2015

Buried Music by Peter Robinson (Shearsman Books)

Buried Music by Peter Robinson (Shearsman Books)

On the back cover of this new collection by Peter Robinson Sue Hubbard is quoted:

‘Robinson is at his best when describing the strangeness of marginalia such as…”a creosoted shed / with ivy bursting through its boards”…where time is distorted and realigned like perspectives in a mirror so that a return “home” feels as strange as being in a foreign country’.

When I saw this it brought back to me those lines of the French poet Philippe Jaccottet from his 1970 publication Landscapes with Absent Figures:

And so, without desiring it or seeking it, what I discovered at times was a homeland, and perhaps the most rightful one: a place which opened up to me the magical depths of Time. And if the word “paradise” came to mind, it was also probably because I breathed more freely beneath this sky, like someone rediscovering his native soil. When you leave the periphery of things and make for the centre, you feel calmer, more assured, less anxious about disappearing or living to no purpose. These “openings” which were offered to the inner eye thus seemed convergent, like the radii of a sphere; they pointed intermittently but persistently towards a seemingly still centre.

This combined sense of the near and the far, a feature of many of Peter Robinson’s finest poems, is given to us here with the first stanza of ‘Estrangement’:

Suddenly, winter trees
appear like ruined monasteries
and, further, through wrecked architraves,
under blown clouds’ blanket cover,
grey skies, thinking, as you do,
why I see much clearer now,
again the season’s distances
have shaken up our lives.

A glance at Casper David Friedrich’s painting of an ‘Abbey in the Oak Forest’ seems to metamorphose into a Mr Bleaney who ‘watched the frigid wind / Tousling the clouds’ whilst he wonders if this is, after all, ‘home’. The second stanza of ‘Estrangement’ settles for what Donald Davie might have referred to as lowered sights, the shrug of the shoulders, the patient acceptance of a second best:

Then as circumstance would have it
in planning-blighted town or city
I find us living and lumping it, see,
with what creature warmth and comfort
we wrap about us for a start
in the distance’s vicinity.

In 1974 Cid Corman produced a beautifully presented volume of Jaccottet’s poetry, Breathings, illustrated by Anne-Marie Jaccottet and published as A Mushinsha Book by Grossman Publishers. In his introduction he commented upon the French poet’s volume, Lessons:

‘even as all the elegiac poems of Lessons, celebrating the death of his father-in-law beyond lament, where the words move off like smoke into the larger sky and the dust of words settles like ash upon the old tilled ground, reveal the constant note of mortality, the “invisible bird”, so often evoked, is sensed out there within.’

The fragility of the moment and the opening it creates in the surrounding world, so that we can look through the immediate to sense what happens if we cleanse the doors of perception, is there, for me, in the quiet beauty of many of these poems. ‘All Change’ is precise and echoing: it evokes a moment and yet leaves the guard’s cry resonating:

Then next thing you know
from a partial leaf-fall
come re-emergent distances,
new chill factors, time
shifting more quickly, and loss is
sensed as that bit more precise
now raindrops lit by streetlamps
are speckling the panes
and thunderheads, a shorting day,
its crepitations over us,
again, they cover such a range
of start-lines at each terminus
making our last hopes first past the post,
as when a train manager cuts in to say:
‘All change, please. All change.’

Peter Robinson will be reading at Swedenborg Hall this coming Tuesday, January 20th. I urge you to turn up if you can; it will be very good indeed!

Ian Brinton January 18th 2015

Contemporary British Poetry by David Wheatley

Contemporary British Poetry by David Wheatley

This is a recent addition to Nicholas Tredell’s fine series of Readers’ Guides to Essential Criticism which are published by Palgrave and it is as ambitious and wide-ranging as we have come to expect from the series.

Opening with the required quotation from Adorno, ‘The recent past always likes to present itself as if destroyed by catastrophes’ David Wheatley guides us through a short labyrinthine history of ‘contestation and counter-contestation, each generation theatrically forswearing its precursor’. I am minded of the opening to William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell published in the revolutionary times of 1793: ‘Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence’. In Blake’s world-turned-upside-down ‘Good is the passive that obeys Reason’ and ‘Evil is the active springing from Energy’.

In chapter 5, ‘Experiment and Language’, there is a subsection titled ‘The dust of our wasted fields’ which opens up with a statement that is worth placing next to these ‘Contraries’:

‘Narratives of rupture and discontinuity will always be to the fore in discussions of modernism, but it is also worth insisting on deeper continuities. To Jeremy Noel-Tod, surveying the links between the experimental and Romantic traditions, Prynne’s project is “essentially Wordsworthian”, confirming affinities across centuries which only the vagaries of contemporary anti-modernism serve to obscure. Reading an early Prynne essay, ‘Resistance and Difficulty’ (1961), Noel-Tod uses the first of those terms to suggest an alternative to the more usual accusation levelled at Prynne’s poetics, unintelligibility. The Romantic landscape offers resistance to our too-easy progress, and requires careful thought and engagement before it can be negotiated. Landscape is encountered rather than mastered, in the sense that familiarity does not exhaust a Wordsworth landscape, whereas a field in the path of a motorway is recognised and assessed as an obstacle and swept aside.’

Given this emphasis it is no surprise, but a real delight, to read Wheatley on Harriet Tarlo’s wonderful Shearsman anthology of ‘Radical Landscape Poetry’, The Ground Aslant (published in 2011 and worth getting hold of NOW). This anthology which reports from what Wheatley refers to as ‘more marginal zones’ corrects, as he puts it, an assumption that British experimental writing operates in a realm either of rarefied abstraction or of metropolitan indifference to anything beyond the city limits. And it is within this context that he also then writes about the fine poem by R.F. Langley, ‘Matthew Glover’. When Langley was interviewed by Robert Walker (Angel Exhaust 13) he talked about the background to this poem:

‘I didn’t start writing until I found out about American poetry. There was Donald Davie at Cambridge who talked about Pound. But Davie never talked about Olson. It was really Olson who convinced me that I might write something myself. So that something like ‘Matthew Glover’ is a fairly naïve attempt to do a miniscule Olson in an English setting.’

I recall writing a review of the Harriet Tarlo anthology, soon after it appeared, for Todd Swift’s EYEWEAR publishing and since that review is still up there online I had a quick peek to remind myself what it was that I had found so refreshing and valuable about that book: ‘Language is a form in which landscape can come alive’.

David Wheatley’s overview of the contemporary scene is a balanced and intelligent one. Of course there are points at which we want him to say more but this is a ‘Readers’ Guide’ and its purpose is to point out features of the landscape which we can go and explore for ourselves. The test of a good book of this type is whether or not it can engage the reader with an infectious sense of enthusiasm that prompts him then to use the bibliography, the reading list, the list of further suggestions. This is a good book!

Ian Brinton 17th January 2015

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