RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: June 2015

What the Sky Arranges Poems made from the TSUREZUREGUSA of KENKŌ by Andrew Fitzsimons, with drawings by Sergio Maria Calatroni, Isobar Press

What the Sky Arranges  Poems made from the TSUREZUREGUSA of KENKŌ  by Andrew Fitzsimons, with drawings by Sergio Maria Calatroni, Isobar Press

The forthcoming launch of Paul Rossiter’s 2015 programme of books from Isobar Press, details of which can be found at the foot of this blog, has prompted me to recall an Isobar production from last year: the meditative, witty and long-lasting short poems by Andrew Fitzsimons gathered from a reading of Kenkō.

‘Travel. Wherever you go
the world you bring with you
is washed by the world you see.’

There is a refreshing sense of whole attention in these poems and a quietness of reflection that glimmers long after the little book is closed. There is a merging of closely observed detail with a background that offers years of support:

‘What is bad taste?
too many knick-knacks about the place
too many brushes in the ink box
too many Buddhas
too many shrubs and plants in a garden
too many rooms in a house
too many words on meeting someone
a ledger all plus and no minus?

Myths, tales, stories tell us something about who we are and the American poet, Robert Duncan’s autobiographical essay, The Truth & Life of Myth (House of Books Ltd. New York, 1968), referred to a sense of ‘universal humanity’ which is open to being discovered in the ‘mixing-ground of man’s commonality in myth’:

The meaning and intent of what it is to be a man and, among men, to be a poet, I owe to the workings of myth in my spirit, both the increment of associations gathered in my continuing study of mythological lore and my own apprehension of what my life is at work there. The earliest stories heard, nursery rimes and animal tales from childhood, remain today alive in my apprehensions, for there is a ground of man’s imaginations of what he is in which my own nature as a man is planted and grows.

Duncan’s book was subtitled ‘An essay in Essential Autobiography’ and the poet recalled sitting with his sister, ‘my mother between us’, looking at pictures in a book ‘as my mother reads aloud’:

‘The picture I am looking at is of three young men sleeping on a mat. One of them, the poet Basho, has awakened. Their naked feet are uncovered where they have pulled the blankets up around their necks in the cold. There is a poem that goes with that picture on the page. But this is not the poem that comes to mind even as I see the picture. For as I remember that moment, there is another scene superimposed, a double exposure, in which the very plash of a frog jumping into an old pond appears as if from actual life itself, but this vivid impression belongs to one of the most famous of all Japanese hokkus

In the poem ‘WORLDS’ by Fitzsimons the old world is washed by the new as if the lenses of the eye were being cleansed by focussed attention upon the new moment. When J.H. Prynne, at that time Director of Studies at Gonville and Caius, put together some ‘Tips on Practical Criticism for Students of English, 2006’ he associated close and broad reading skills in a way not dissimilar to this image of one world washed by another:

‘In fact, and in practice, however, close and broad reading skills reciprocally energise and complement each other. Regular exercises in close reading both sharpen and deepen accurate response to local texture and also feed into enhanced perception of larger-scale structure, to make us all-round better readers. One hand washes the other. Principles and foundations of a distinctive personal judgement begin to appear, together with increased range of response and cogency of evaluative judgement, supported by explorative argument within awareness of differing views and opinions. Step by step, as a reader, you begin to tune in and wake up.’
Read What the Sky Arranges and dwell for a moment upon ‘DATES:

‘Don’t wait till dotage for your goodness to begin.
Look at the dates on those gravestones.’

Isobar books are published to a very high standard and it would be worth going to this launch just to buy a copy of Andrew Fitzsimons’ poems let alone the new publications which include Peter Robinson’s poems from his time in Japan.
The London launch of Isobar Books takes place this Friday, 3rd July upstairs in the Rugby Tavern, Gt. James St. WC1N 3ES at 7.00.
Ian Brinton 29th June 2015

Rethabile Masilo’s Waslap (The Onslaught Press, 2015)

Rethabile Masilo’s Waslap (The Onslaught Press, 2015)

Pansy Maurer-Alvarez, as contributing editor, introduced Tears in the Fence readers to Rethabile Masilo’s poetry. Masilo, born in Lesotho, a small landlocked country encircled by South Africa, where the majority of the population subsists on farming, fled the war torn country in 1981. He lived in South Africa, Kenya and the United States before settling in Paris, France. Being in exile offers Masilo the opportunity of locating his family’s history, culture and country in sharp focus. He is a poet of observation, belief and testimony. Much of Waslap is imbued with grief and loss from the killings of the civil war, which began in 1970, and has a great sanctity for life, the natural world and family life. The narrator’s parents and grandfather, near to and after their death, emerge as central figures.

‘Mountain II’ recalls his grandfather’s hands, formed by making tools made before and used after the war for breaking stone, shaving wood and creating space to live as part of reconstruction. Here the narrator is silently led at four a.m. up the mountain and his grandfather ‘like Moses inside Mount Horeb’ breaks the silence to speak ‘to a presence in the mist.’ The extended family hold hands ‘like the last people on earth’ as he speaks to the rocks ‘halfway to heaven’ and they breathe vapour in and out standing ‘with death.’ It is a powerful image with the grandfather who ‘dreaded no one’ a modern Moses shepherding his flock ‘from the caves / staring at us with empty sockets.’

The family live in a room, ‘sunk into the earth’, in a house on a hill, ‘like a grave expecting someone’ until disturbed by guerrilla intruders ‘upsetting their prayers, and three square meals a day.’ Life expectancy in Lesotho is currently 49 years. Masilo leaves his poems open refusing any easy closure. ‘Going through my father’s things’ finds the narrator mute in the face of the documents his father left behind. He picks up

the copy of a Reformed Church
Nicene Creed he once copied in long hand, and framed,
And remain in that dark room, seeking his meaning.

The poems possess a reverence for simple things, such as the narrator’s father’s waslap (wash cloth) and his clothes, matter of factly described in ‘The waslap of my father’:

I wet the waslap and dabbed his brow,
Before scrubbing him well from
Sternum and chest down to the legs.

The poems move somewhat chaotically between an African past and Parisian present, where rebel music, the jazz of Abdullah Ibrahim and MC Solaar rapping in French contributes to the sense of a secret Africa and the narrator stays ‘strongest when I’m with prostitutes, letting their tempest admit mine.’

Waslap, illustrated throughout by Matthew Staunton, shows a deep of Lesotho, which gained independence from Britain in 1966. It is without chronological or geographical sections, and the randomness produces a meandering, African quality. Some powerful poems, such as, ‘If needs be’, prefaced with part of Nelson Mandela’s 1964 Rivonia trial speech end line “If needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”, are poorly positioned and seemingly appear out of context. ‘If needs be’ with its modulated rhythms and simple rhymes is a call for self-sacrifice to political and Christian freedom from terror, prison and death, and ends:

I cannot succumb – slay me,
slay too the baby in its sleep
as you scamper to keep
from harm no one whose loins
hold a further future: take,
take my life please right now
and let’s be done with it.

David Caddy 27th June 2015

Jongleur in the Courtyard by Mandy Pannett (Indigo Dreams Publishing)

Jongleur in the Courtyard by Mandy Pannett (Indigo Dreams Publishing)

At some point last year after I had written a review-blog about a recently published book of verse about which I was not especially ecstatic I was accused by a friend of the author of being one of those critics who refer to other poets whilst ostensibly focusing upon the subject of the review. Guilty m’lud! And I intend to continue to do that. Perhaps it is part of the legacy I received from being at university in the era that followed on from the world of F.R. Leavis whose staple diet often consisted of placing a poem by one author side-by-side with a poem by another. For instance in the ‘Judgement and Analysis’ section of The Living Principle Leavis put a piece of A.E. Housman next to one by Edward Thomas and concluded that it is a difference in movement that most strikes the reader: ‘whereas Housman’s depends on our being taken up in a kind of lyrical intoxication that shall speed us on in exalted thoughtlessness, satisfied, as we pass, with the surface gleam of ostensible value, Edward Thomas’s invites pondering…and grows in significance as we ponder it’.

On the reverse side of Mandy Pannett’s new book of poems Roger Elkin alerts us to the musical quality of the work:

‘At the heart of the collection lies Mandy Pannett’s skill with sound—these, after all, are songs of the Jongleurs! The chimings of internal rhyme, and assonantal and alliterative sound patternings help to underpin the exquisite, sensitive and varied rhythmic pulse of the collection.’

Well, it was T.S. Eliot who wrote an essay in 1942 titled ‘The Music of Poetry’ and he made a point that must not be overlooked:

‘So, while poetry attempts to convey something beyond what can be conveyed in prose rhythms, it remains, all the same, one person talking to another; and this is just as true if you sing it, for singing is another way of talking.’

Jongleur in the Courtyard is a delightful volume, which brims with literary reference; erudite and careful, it also spills over with a very human voice that fulfils Eliot’s criteria. There are references to Keats, Hardy, Neruda, Kafka, Blake, Cynewulf and, of course, Eliot. The poet of ‘Preludes’ is re-created in ‘Six O’Clock’, a poem which also echoes the feline fogs of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. In Pannett’s modern take the fog is now ‘yellow as bile’ and it ‘thickens over a skyline / that’s low, industrial, hot; / red as Whitechapel blood.’
There is a very human voice thrilling down the ribs of these poems and an enviable sense of self-doubt reassures the reader that we can be in a position to share the doubts:

‘There is not an original bone in your frame—
only burlesque, pastiche
and lampoon.’

Perhaps to the reviewer one of the most disturbing and moving of the poems is ‘Some Woodworm’:

‘poor miserable atoms
choked with the fruits
of their soft plunderings

and wiped out
in all the darkness
that once
was chosen as home’.

But, for me, the more moving is the incorporation of a Middle English ballad into a genuine cry for love’s loss in ‘Raven, My Doom’:

‘I am weary of dreams
that offer reflection of my own self
but do not yield him back

though imagination
in these hours of sleep
may reel and spin in exquisite belief

that we might say
what we always intended to say
but never did.’

Ian Brinton 25th June 2015

Richard Makin’s Mourning (Equus Press, 2015)

Richard Makin’s Mourning (Equus Press, 2015)

This third part of a trilogy, including Work (Great Works, 2009) and Dwelling (Reality Street, 2011), is formally more approachable than its immediate predecessor yet still commanding a rich tapestry of language use and imaginative construction. It is no coincidence that Equus Press have reissued Philippe Soller’s H (1973, 2001) at the same time. Makin’s trilogy has some lineage with the Nouveau Roman, offering a similar antidote to the constraints and requirements of the bourgeois novel, as well as early Modernist poetry and fiction in terms of its use of fragmentary material.

Mourning, and the trilogy as a whole, is an extraordinary and distinct achievement. It is a demanding and enriching read characterized by highly wrought sentences, which cover a range of discourses and fictional events. It is not a conventional novel. There is minimal characterisation with no discernible plot other than recurring thematic issue. There is instead a succession of linked or partially connected beginnings, which echo and take the reader on endless journeys. ‘Noun a neuron. No index of terminations at the gallows gate.’ The writing is, to use Ken Edwards’s words on the back cover, a ‘non-narrative, never-ending coherence.’ It is also deeply poetic and might well be linked to such Late Modernist poets, such as J.H. Prynne and Iain Sinclair in the way that it will severely pursues a theme for a few lines and then veers off into another discourse. The pleasure of the text is that the reader is confronted with several possible reading strategies. It is a joy to dip in and out of the novel as well as to read it in order. Mourning is perhaps less fragmentary than Dwelling and has more voices off. There is also more comedy. Those readers perhaps daunted by the thought of reading a non-narrative novel can perhaps view the work more like an epic Poundian poem with some added diversions, verve and comedy.

A reading (sitting or séance). An abandoned operating theatre, saint hospital. His party has eluded capture; those who survive will be reimbursed.
Also dream: crime, accused of – wrenching up the bolts, the tubers, the mandrake by its ear. Green shoots burst through the concrete, the shattered asphalt. I don’t know how I wrote that when I was asleep: not affliction, affection, in the archaic sense of disposition, i.e. to be drawn from something, from the thin air. A white feather quivers, balanced on her breath.

There is a video of Makin reading from this chapter at the 2014 Tears in the Fence Festival on the magazine’s website: https://tearsinthefence.com/festival

A number of chapters are devoted to comments of and around definitions. There is a probing and recording of a narrative self in endless movement and commentary at work.

Locomotor ataxia
Upper mandible of earth, shell lying below, palate soft, yielding to persistent stress.
‘Let’s turn around: on your knees.’
There were pressure ulcers, degeneration of the nerve fibres – stun-grenades, phosgene bombs.
Third: the demoralized, the ragged, those without names and unwilling to work or partake of compulsory leisure (the loudest scream, that’s all I can remember). Most often, the procedure is one of blundering mediations. And that, in short, is how the epoch names what we are.

There is an echo of William Burroughs’ Dr. Benway in lines such as, ‘The patient was hung up by the jaw and left alone for several minutes’ and those dark figures with their use of drug control, biological experimentation, and so on. This sinister narrative background is played out within a kind of subverted science fiction. It is easy to miss the tongue in cheek lines in Mourning as Makin doesn’t over signal his intentions, and is quickly onto some new line or direction. The sheer narrative force and distinct use of the English language connects him in this regard to Prynne, Sinclair and a few others. Makin is the real thing. There were many notable and cracking readings at last year’s Tears in the Fence Festival, Makin’s reading generated the most extensive discussions.

Mourning is available from Equus Press, Birkbeck College (William Rowe) 43 Gordon Square, London WC1 HOPD and https://equuspress.wordpress.com/mourning/

David Caddy 24th June 2015

The Book of Hours of Kitty Power by Moyra Torlamain

The Book of Hours of Kitty Power by Moyra Torlamain

vErIsImIlItUdE, Occasional Bulletin no.3

In the afterword to Parataxis Number 7, Spring 1995, the guest editor, J.H. Prynne, refers to the great aquarium of language:

Within the great aquarium of language the light refracts variously and can bounce by inclinations not previously observed. Some of the codes will unfold with merely adept connivance, others will swim vigorously into and by circulation inside their own medium. If you can imagine staff notation etched on the glass you can read off the scales, da carpo and mirror-folded.

The bouncing-bomb of language, like the storehouse of vectors I referred to last week, makes for disturbing reading and one is almost tempted to peer into the aquarium with the astonishment of Alice in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1872):

The shop seemed to be full of all manner of curious things—but the oddest part of it all was, that whenever she looked hard at any shelf, to make out exactly what it had on it, that particular shelf was always quite empty: though the others round it were crowded as full as they could hold. ‘Things flow about so here!’ she said at last in a plaintive tone, after she had spent a minute or so in vainly pursuing a large-bright thing, that looked sometimes like a doll and sometimes like a work-box, and was always in the shelf next above the one she was looking at.

I get a slightly similar feeling when reading this delightful and thought-provoking little chapbook of poems, or sequence of poem, by Moyra Tourlamain, published recently by Simon Smith’s home-grown press:

…I am feeling my way around the inside of a globe. All
the mountains and rift valleys and shorelines which might
offer a hand-hold are ridging up the outside, so I must splay
my hands and feet against the inner skin, or end up
crouching on the bottom.

Well, the buoyancy of language keeps us both afloat and trapped; its echoes of usage allow us to see the aquarium from the outside as

You place your left hand
hard against the glass.
From my side, I can see the palm,
crossed with its variable life-lines,
& your non-transferable
finger prints.

Of course we all experience things differently but language also is capable of convincing us of a commonality and a ‘snapshot’, ‘view from the kitchen window’, has hints of both Lorine Niedecker and W.C. Williams:

there’s nothing but a sheet of glass
between the warmth of the house
and distance written loud
absence driven home in fragments

That phrase ‘driven home’ is full of reverberations and not all of them are pertinent to the skilled workplace as opposed to domestic resolution. A lovely book, which is available from 58 Crescent Road, Ramsgate, CT11 9QY.

Ian Brinton, 22nd June 2015.

Sonofabook 1 edited by Charles Boyle

Sonofabook 1 edited by Charles Boyle

This is a beautifully produced, intelligent and forward looking new magazine; it deserves our FULL SUPPORT.

Charles Boyle’s ‘Preamble’ minces no words:

A word on independent bookshops, whose quarter-page adverts in this issue were offered free. Without good small bookshops it is very hard for small publishers to get their books out into the physical world. In February 2014 the Booksellers Association reported that the number of independent bookshops in the UK had fallen below 1,000, following on a year-on-year decline over the previous decade. This massacre is in part the consequence of ebooks and online buying, but a key moment was the abolition of the Net Book Agreement in 1997. The ending of the NBA—which required retailers to sell books at the cover price—led to aggressive discounting (which actually forces up the cover price of books, as publishers struggle to maintain their margins); concentrated bookselling in the hands of chainstores, supermarkets and Amazon; and forced the closure of hundreds of bookshops. The literary culture of the UK was changed overnight; but while France and Germany legislate to restrict discounting and offer good breaks to independent bookshops, none of the political parties in the UK cares a damn, this not being a vote-winning issue.

This issue of Sonofabook is worth buying immediately and it is clearly going to be worth subscribing to such a brave venture. Two delights for me in this first issue are:

1. ‘Springtime in the Rockies’: fourteen sonnets by Nancy Gaffield which have echoes of the world of Gary Snyder and Ed Dorn

Boulder sees first measurable snowfall
of the season, but sunny skies set to return.
Another year on or forty pass & we’re still

2. A translation of Francis Ponge’s 1947-48 essay ‘My Creative Method’. Translated by Beverley Bie Brahic this is a central Ponge document which does not often find its way into English. The introduction to this delightful piece is clear and to the point:

In 1947, during a trip to Algeria, Francis Ponge wrote ‘My Creative Effort’ at the invitation of Trivium, a Swiss magazine. Five years had passed since the publication of Le Parti pris des choses (The Defence of Things), his now classic collection of prose poems. Sartre had made the book a springboard for reflections about poetics and philosophy; painters like Braque admired Ponge’s close-ups of such prosaic objects and phenomena as a pebble or rain pinging into a courtyard. Although some of his poems, or description-definitions as he calls them in ‘My Creative Method’ (the title is in English in the original), prove on closer reading to be metaphors for the processes of language itself…

When Jeremy Prynne wrote his first two letters to Charles Olson in November 1961 he referred to Pokorny’s 1923 etymological dictionary as ‘sitting on my shelf like a bomb, ready to explode at a touch with the most intricately powerful forces caged up inside, a storehouse of vectors’:

Things are nouns, and particular substantives of this word order are store-houses of potential energy, hoard up the world’s available motions.

To subscribe to this new magazine go to http://www.cbeditions.com

Ian Brinton St. Botolph’s Day 2015

Tom Chivers: Dark Islands

Tom Chivers: Dark Islands

II

Terrors of the Dark Island

When Tom Chivers was interviewed by Will Barrett of the Poetry School in 2015 he was asked about his collection Dark Islands (Test Centre) and suggested in reply that it contained work completed since the end of the first decade of the century:

Dark Islands contains poems written over the past six years (since my debut collection How to Build a City came out). As such it’s not governed by any one defining theme; however, I hope that readers will discern a network of interconnecting ideas and motifs: bank collapse, urban geology, magic, ritual, the island as a stand-in for the body. The book also tests out—in various askew ways—the idea of faith; or, rather, what I call a ‘dodgy faith in the truth’. Can we find a centre, a still point, in this whirlpool of voices?

Dark Islands is an intriguing and often disturbing sequence of poems which is clearly revealed as the work of a London poet haunted by landscapes, hidden histories and constant movement. If Graham Swift’s Waterland is one of the influences upon Chivers’s early work the shifting phantasmagorias of Paul Auster seem to lean through this new volume of ‘night-work’. Auster’s 1987 novel In the Country of Last Things opens with a dystopian vision of the future of the city:

These are the last things, she wrote. One by one they disappear and never come back. I can tell you of the ones I have seen, of the ones that are no more, but I doubt there will be time. It is all happening too fast now, and I cannot keep up.
I don’t expect you to understand. You have seen none of this, and even if you tried, you could not imagine it. These are the last things. A house is there one day, and the next day it is gone. A street you walked down yesterday is no longer there today. Even the weather is in constant flux. A day of sun followed by a day of rain, a day of snow followed by a day of fog, warm then cool, wind then stillness, a stretch of bitter cold, and then today, in the middle of winter, an afternoon of fragrant light, warm to the point of merely sweaters. When you live in the city, you learn to take nothing for granted. Close your eyes for a moment, turn around to look at something else, and the thing that was before you is suddenly gone. Nothing lasts, you see, not even the thoughts inside you. And you mustn’t waste your time looking for them. Once a thing is gone, that is the end of it.

Another significant influence lurking behind this work is, of course, Charles Dickens and this becomes immediately evident in poem xix of Dark Islands:

Jacob’s Island

blue linen shirt peppered
with unanticipated rainfall
on Tanner Street and river
so near first one then
two pedestrians with broken limbs
whilst architects and secretaries
close little windows on the dock
or Neckinger perhaps a shanty Venice

Holy Trinity is shut adrift
in its own isle and so
I’m thinking of my body
in the rookery a garden
across another fire station
apathetic bulldog in a dip
wild flowering from boundary wall
a purple especially

who is that crouching
in the highway and slipping
by the fenceline between
the dark water and the wall
I do not call it bank
no sewer here please
as armed police are shuttled
downstream by speedboat
only one looks south their
helmets are so very black

who is that frying onion
throwing balls into the Thames
closing windows racing
scooters thru the island
like it’s never even there

Jacob’s island becomes the last hiding place for Bill Sykes and it was described by Henry Mayhew in the Morning Chronicle of 1849 as the ‘very capital of cholera’ and the ‘Venice of drains’. The description given by Dickens in Chapter L of Oliver Twist suggests the more eerie and nightmarish qualities of the place:

Near to that part of the Thames on which the church at Rotherhithe abuts, where the buildings on the banks are dirtiest and the vessels on the river blackest with the dust of colliers and the smoke of close-built low-roofed houses, there exists, at the present day, the filthiest, the strangest, the most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London, wholly unknown, even by name, to the great mass of its inhabitants.

Dickens stresses that in order to even find this place the ‘visitor has to penetrate through a maze of close, narrow, and muddy streets, thronged by the roughest and poorest of water-side people’. Once at Jacob’s Island the visitor will discover that the ‘warehouses are roofless and empty; the walls are crumbling down; the windows are no more; the doors are falling into the streets’. The world of phantasmagoria weaves its way through Chivers’s poem as the pedestrians ‘with broken limbs’ appear with Baudelairean menace and the subterranean river Neckinger winds on, ‘a shanty Venice’. The air of menace in the poem comes into focus again with the figure (s) ‘crouching’ and ‘slipping’ as well as the police, ‘armed’, being ‘shuttled downstream’. The evocation of this world concludes with senses: the smell of frying onions, the sound of scooters’, but they cannot be located in this shifting world because, after all, it is ‘like it’s never even there’.
The bleak humour which acts as a backdrop to Tom Chivers’s visceral sense of language can be noted from an early email in the Nine Arches Press volume, The Terrors:

Will, take out your field notebook. Make a tryst in blood. Employ your canines. Watch a shank of lamb slip off the bone as a woman stepping from her dress. This steaming viand, in its scrambled mess of lentils (puy), requires your total 100% concentration. I give you ‘The Huntsman’s Supper’, or some other peasant chic moniker.

Ian Brinton 15th June 2015.

%d bloggers like this: