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Poems by J.H. Prynne (Bloodaxe, 2015) ‘The Figure in the Carpet’ Part II

Poems by J.H. Prynne (Bloodaxe, 2015) ‘The Figure in the Carpet’ Part II

With a mixture of playful good humour and mordantly intricate style Henry James came to terms with the failure of his venture into the world of the London stage. The hissing and booing that greeted the curtain call for Guy Domville in 1895 gave him, according to Frank Kermode, ‘one of his worst moments, and confirmed his scepticism as to the existence of any considerable literate public’, a public capable of that measure of cooperation an artist might reasonably look for.
Reflecting perhaps upon the difference between a quality of writing and ‘fame’ in the market-place James wrote two short stories in response to his ‘failure’. ‘The Next Time’, published in The Yellow Book, deals with a lady novelist whose potboilers have ensured her both fame and money yet who also, just for once, wishes to be taken more seriously, to reach the ‘heroic eminence’ of being regarded as ‘an exquisite failure’:

‘A failure now could make—oh with the aid of immense talent of course, for there were failures and failures—such a reputation!’

Her desire to be serious flies directly in the face of a literary world of ‘trash triumphant’.

When the first collection of Poems by J.H. Prynne appeared in 1982, splendidly published by Allardyce, Barnett, it attracted the notice of Peter Porter who observed that there was ‘more of the world most of us live in, where people meet and talk, read books and exchange opinions, than there is in the poetry of Hughes and Heaney’. He also noted the ‘ghosts of traditional rhyming poems’ lurking like a complex figure, a string that Vereker’s pearls are strung on! The appropriateness of James’s image is brought into focus when one looks at Prynne’s note appearing at the end of ‘The First Students’ English Magazine of Guangzhou University’, published ten years ago, in which he referred to the ‘pearl-bright moments and shining articles all moving along in the currents of these changing times’.
When the first Bloodaxe Poems appeared in 1999 it was dedicated to Bernard Dubourg, the French translator of Chansons A La Journée-Lumière (1975), Séquentiel Diurne (1975) and Poèmes de Cuisine. The last of these was a collaborative effort between the English and French poet. The wording of the dedication made it clear that it was in memory of this French poet who had died in 1992 and when the second edition of Poems appeared in 2005 from Bloodaxe it was dedicated to Edward Dorn who had died in 1999, ‘his brilliant luminous shade’. This third edition which brings the reader right up to date with the inclusion of Refuse Collection (2004), To Pollen (2006), Streak—Willing—Entourage Artesian (2009), Sub Songs (2010), Kazoo Dreamboats; or, On What There Is (2011) and Al-Dente (2014) is simply given the epigraph ‘For the Future’. The new edition also contains ‘6 Uncollected Poems’. Whilst the whole volume looks both forwards and outwards it may not be too fanciful to suggest that the concluding poem in Al-Dente acts as a type of personal dedication to Tom Raworth, ‘fill to all loyal found’.

This is a note merely to alert readers to this important publication which is due to appear on the Bard’s birthday, 23rd April. A full-length review will certainly appear in the next issue of Tears.

Ian Brinton 30th March 2015

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Henry James’s ‘The Figure in the Carpet’

Henry James’s ‘The Figure in the Carpet’

One of the finest fictions about the role of the literary reviewer must surely be Henry James’s 1896 story ‘The Figure in the Carpet’. When the narrator of the short fiction is asked to write a review of the latest novel by Hugh Vereker it is, of course, for The Middle, a highbrow literary journal so-named ‘from the position in the week of its day of appearance’. The hint here is surely that not only can the critic expect to trot out some ‘middle’ perceptions but, after all, these will be all that his readership will expect to digest. When Vereker reads the little review his response, given at a social dinner, is in reaction to Miss Poyle’s comment asking for his reaction to the so-termed ‘panegyric’. The novelist’s response is given with great good humour:

‘Oh it’s all right—the usual twaddle!’

When Miss Poyle pursues her prey by asking ‘You mean he [the reviewer] doesn’t do you justice?’ Vereker laughs out loud and tosses out the comment ‘It’s a charming article’. When Miss Poyle accuses the novelist of being ‘deep’ he in turn suggests that the author often does not see what the reader might see:

‘Doesn’t see what?’
‘Doesn’t see anything.’
‘Dear me—how very stupid!’
‘Not a bit,’ Vereker laughed again. ‘Nobody does.’

As the narrator goes to bed that night he encounters the famous novelist who has gone upstairs to change and Vereker wishes to explain a little more about what he meant concerning literary critics. With a charming sense of self-effacement he refers to his own work in terms of the critics missing ‘my little point with a perfection exactly as admirable when they patted me on the back as when they kicked me in the shins.’ When pushed a little further about what exactly this ‘little point’, the central aspect of his work, might be the artist replies:

‘By my little point I mean—what shall I call it?—the particular thing I’ve written my books most for. Isn’t there for every writer a particular thing of that sort, the thing that most makes him apply himself, the thing without the effort to achieve which he wouldn’t write at all, the very passion of his passion, the part of the business in which, for him, the flame of art burns most intensely? Well, it’s that!’

Perhaps to search for a figure in the carpet is to search for a ‘hidden meaning’ in a work of art almost as if reading with intensity was merely a matter of extending the children’s comic game of ‘Where’s Wally’. When reading a serious poem or piece of prose we are treading upon the whole carpet into which there may be a figure woven that merges with the entire pattern and, if so, then ‘Tread softly because you tread on my dreams’.

Ian Brinton March 28th 2015

Tears in the Fence 61

Tears in the Fence 61

Tears in the Fence 61, designed by Westrow Cooper, with a stunning winter woodland cover, is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward It features poetry, fiction, art criticism and drama from Mike Duggan, Robert Vas Dias, Ian Seed, Jennifer Compton, Anne Gorrick, Kelvin Corcoran, Charles Wilkinson, Sheila Hamilton, Chris Daly, Gerald Locklin, Mark Goodwin, Kimberly Campanello, David Pollard, James Roome, Tim Allen, Matt Bryden, Sheila Mannix, Cora Greenhill, Jackie Sullivan, Colin Sutherill, Yvonne Reddick, Michael Henry, Andrew Shelley, S.J. Litherland, Elizabeth Cook, Cristina Navazo-Eguía Newton, John Bloomberg Rissman & Anne Gorrick, Nigel Jarrett, David Goldstein, Reuben Woolley, Kate Noakes, Rupert M. Loydell, Paul Sutton, Seàn Street, Louise Anne Buchler, David Clarke, David Andrew and Ziba Karbassi.

The critical section consists of David Caddy’s Editorial, Hannah Silva’s Make It Strange
, Anthony Barnett’s Two Childlike Antonyms
, Andrew Duncan on Kathleen Raine
, Steve Spence on Daniel Harris & Rupert M. Loydell
, Ric Hool on Tom Pickard
, John Muckle on James Wilson
, Elaine Randell on John Muckle
, David Caddy on David Miller
, Mandy Pannett on Jay Ramsay
, John Welch on Paul Rossiter
, Belinda Cooke on Yves Bonnefoy and Leonid Aronzon
, Fiona Owen on Victoria Field, Jay Ramsay on Anna Saunders
, Anthony Barnett’s Antonym: Literary Tumbles
, Sheila Hamilton on Melinda Lovell
, Notes On Contributors
 and Ian Brinton’s Afterword.

David Caddy 12th March 2015

Tony Lewis-Jones’ Fuero (Increase) Edited by Rachel Bentham & Rive Gauche

Tony Lewis-Jones’ Fuero (Increase) Edited by Rachel Bentham & Rive Gauche

The American poet William Carlos Williams was convinced about how much depended upon ‘a red wheel barrow’ and what made the Rutherford doctor so convinced was that something depended upon that picture which the words conjured into being:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

The picture becomes more exact with the following lines of description

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens

Here was a firm belief that American culture was based upon a realization of the qualities of a place in relation to the life which occupies it. Williams’s poem was written only a year after the publication of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land where the American hope for cultural distinction seemed to be based upon an inheritance of a European and classical tradition of placing oneself in a very different context from the one asserted by the doctor from Rutherford. In defiance of Eliot’s world, Williams insisted upon starting with local materials and ‘lifting these things into an ordered and utilized whole (The American Background, 1934). However, if so much is to depend upon this localisation of background then it must be because firm observation of the local leads to a greater insight into thoughts and emotions which transcend what could otherwise be regarded as simply parochial.
I suppose that Haiku were originally written in the days before the camera. If a traveller through the world wished to register a moment of the here-and-now which could be placed in contrast to an echo of both the past and the hoped-for future then a short piece of poetry might be the best way of providing that record. Some of these short poems by Tony Lewis-Jones place that recorded moment against a clear white background:

March frost—
Winter’s last throw
of the dice.

The juxtaposition of dark dots on a die contrasts with the surrounding whiteness of the cube itself. Small moments are the remnants of a gone season, a last throw cast by a loser whose frosty belligerence will not prevent what will, inevitably, overcome: Spring wins!
We measure out our life, perhaps, not with coffee spoons but with the unbidden recollection prompted by a cup of ‘café au lait’: ‘up early / café au lait- / thinking of you / our nights / in Paris’

Wallace Stevens referred to that red wheelbarrow as a ‘mobile-like arrangement’ and Hugh Kenner suggested that the words used by Williams ‘dangle in equidependency, attracting the attention, isolating it, so that the sentence in which they are arrayed comes to seem like a suspension system.’

Have a look at these new Haiku by Tony Lewis-Jones who runs the Bristol-based on-line site Various Artists and the book is available via Amazon.

Ian Brinton 10th March 2015

Paul Buck’s To End It All (Test Centre, 2015)

Paul Buck’s To End It All (Test Centre, 2015)

To End It All is a prose work by writer, poet and artist Paul Buck. The text is composed of the final sentences of a varied selection of books by authors whose names begin with the same letter of the alphabet.

It began as an investigation into the endings of books, and the openings these endings offered for new beginnings. The book concludes with three extended texts, as examples of where each ending could begin to lead, as well as an implied invitation for the reader to respond to the provocation.
Edward Said argued, in his study Beginnings (1975), that a ‘beginning,’ is its own intention and method, and dependent upon an interaction with modern thought and criticism. Distinguishing between ‘origin,’ which is divine, mythical, and privileged, and ‘beginning,’ which is secular and humanly produced, Said traced the implications and understandings of the concept of beginning through history. A beginning is a first step in the intentional production of meaning and the production of difference from pre-existing traditions. It authorizes subsequent texts, both in terms of enablement and limitations. Buck’s work has an inherent argument that endings can be seen in the much the same light. Clearly a good ending should take the reader elsewhere, from back to book’s beginning to further contemplation of what the book has or has not achieved, to new possibilities of thought and writing. Here’s a sample from To End It All:

That dim hope sustains us.
That.
The choice may have been a limited one sometimes, but what an immense privilege to be able to choose!
The copper-dark night sky went glassy over the city crowned with signs and starting alight with windows, the wet square like a lake at the foot of the station ramp.
The direction seemed the right one, too.
The main thing is always the same: sovereignty is NOTHING.
The nurse left then, and Kristie heard her outside, locking the door.
The Other is what allows me not to repeat myself for ever.
Here the endings vacillate between ending and beginning and seem caught in a space somewhere adjacent to them both.

I recently saw Amy Cutler, at the Litmus 2 launch, read a poem based on the index of first lines from R S Thomas’s Later Poems. She saw the potential of forming a narrative around a love affair with memory and landscape in the background from the index. As she read along figures and a development arc emerged suggesting that the process had found latent meanings. Using an index based upon the alphabet creates its own structure. The ‘I’ is clearly a pivotal and activating point and that is the same in Paul Buck’s text. Critically one has a sense of the range of books and material Buck has used for his endings / beginnings. There is the pleasure in guessing some of the authors and books that he selected from, and beyond that an emergence of a psychic flow in the selections and possibilities opened up. Buck’s first paragraph based on the line ‘I give in to temptation’ shows that endings can indeed lead to new beginnings.

There was something against my body, there was an opening, a blaze, there was the heart. Always the crunch of gussets in the discarded harmonies. Many malcontents could be seen lounging. Through failure she snatched the gift from his broken fascination. Waiting for a constant, the chaotic condition, not the most exciting. Not as exciting as his own catastrophe, his own elimination.

David Caddy 6th March 2015

SNOW 3 Spring 2015, edited by Anthony Barnett & Ian Brinton

SNOW 3 Spring 2015, edited by Anthony Barnett & Ian Brinton

SNOW 3 is a cornucopia of international delights and quite unlike any other UK literary review. There are translations, musical scores, drawings, writing paintings, original poetry and prose, essays, extracts and stills from Rei Hayama’s film, The Focus, based upon a Nathaniel Hawthorne story, extracts from the correspondence between the Dutch writer, Cees Nooteboom, and Anthony Barnett, sketches by Harold Lehman, and a photographic essay on the artists and musicians at the Grand Terrace Cafe, Chicago, in early 1941.

The poetry translations include Simon Smith’s Catallus, Emilia Telese’s Erika Dagnino, and Barry Schwabsky’s Pierre Reverdy. Anthony Barnett translates the poetry and prose of Gunnar Ekelöf. Christina Chalmers and Concetta Scozzaro translate Andrea Zanzotto’s essay ‘Infancies, Poetries, Nursery’, Ian Brinton translates Philippe Jaccottet on Francis Ponge, Jørn H. Sværen translates his own prose from the Norwegian. Konrad Nowakowski writes on Busoni’s Letter to Verdi and Bridget Penney writes about the literary and artistic connections of Abney Park Cemetery, north London. The original poetry, less than usual, comes from Caroline Clark, Dorothy Lehane, Yamuph Piklé, Alexandra Sashe and John Seed.

This extraordinary mix is beautifully designed and presented by Allardyce, Barnett, Publishers. 14 Mount Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1HL.

http://www.abar.net

David Caddy 3rd March 2015

Michael Grant’s Cinderella’s Ashtray, Simon Smith’s Church Avenue (vErIsImILLtUdE, occasional bulletins)

Michael Grant’s Cinderella’s Ashtray, Simon Smith’s Church Avenue (vErIsImILLtUdE, occasional bulletins)

Some new productions have appeared from Simon Smith’s publishing house and I have been fortunate enough to have a glance at two of them. Reading Michael Grant’s work always gives me a sense of footfalls echoing down a corridor and that is no surprise of course since Grant is a major critic of T.S. Eliot. Back in 1982 he edited the two volume edition of The Critical Heritage for Routledge and I am fortunate to have acquired a copy of these books which used to belong to Donald Davie, himself one of Grant’s teachers at Cambridge. Davie was a great marker of his own books, often using a biro to draw clear lines of approval (or its opposite) down the page. One of the moments in the introduction to the first volume which Davie highlights with enthusiasm reads as follows:

‘The problem of unity and disunity was raised again by John Crowe Ransom in July 1923. Ransom considered that Eliot was engaged in the destruction of the philosophical and cosmical principles by which we form our usual picture of reality, and that Eliot wished to name cosmos Chaos’

Comparing this attitude with that of Allen Tate, Grant goes on to write ‘However, for Tate, it was precisely in the incongruities, labelled as ‘parody’ by Ransom, that the ‘form’ of ‘The Waste Land’ resided, in the ironic attitude of the free consciousness that refused a closed system.’

Irony and refusal both form part of this new collection of Grant’s poetry and the influence of Eliot can still be felt in the sound of ‘a footstep echo / on the flagstone’ as the ‘shadow defends me from the shadow’ (‘For the Present’). Michael Grant is a craftsman and in this way he also pursues the path taken by his master: his writing goes through many drafts before the spare realisation on the page presents the reader with those mysterious echoes which haunt a world that seems to lie beyond language. ‘Disappointment: After Benjamin Péret’ had started many months before as

‘the wings of insects brush against the cheek
the fragment renders visible
the pure contours of the absent work
error is not in violation

of the language
the word as such has fled before the sensual god
of late hours’

This has now been strained down, compressed, condensed, given mysterious vitality as we read

‘insect wings
scarcely thicker than the rain
and as delicate
beat against the cheek

in the casual flight of day the blood has trapped

a sensual god
so pale it is unknown

even to the black outlines of the foliage’

The echoes of course are not merely of T.S. Eliot but also of the great mystics of the seventeenth-century about whom Eliot wrote with much intensity.

Simon Smith’s little collection of twenty-three poems, each containing five lines and each presented as a block of language sitting decisively on the full white page which frames it, also contains echoes. Here I become aware not only of Frank O’Hara, whose steps along the street have been threading their way through Simon Smith’s lines for many years, but also of Paul Blackburn as he ‘hollers / from a window above decades ago’. The world of Scorsese’s Travis Bickle moves along ‘as glimpses / of Manhattan Brooklyn dirty old air / sirens and yellow cabs running along / Ocean Parkway cats held in bad odor’. I recall writing about Smith’s poetry as always being on the move and remember Fifteen Exits (Waterloo Press 2001). Although published at the opening of the new century the individual ‘exits’ were all dated precisely in the closing years of the previous one. The place of first publication and the names of the travelling companions were included. That volume’s opening poem, ‘The Nature of Things’ was dedicated to J.D. Taylor and carried an epigraph from Stephen Rodefer. It began in a slightly old-fashioned epistolary fashion suggestive of being on the cusp of change:

‘Dear John, my friend
can I call you that?
No news, but poetry.’

In Church Avenue the travelling companions include his wife, Flick, and both Barry Schwabsky & John Yau.

Ian Brinton March 1st 2015

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