Issue 13 assembles a wide range of contributors and offers a wide focused angle on contemporary English poetry. There are some seriously considered poems in this particular issue, which repays rereading.
Ric Hool’s homage to Northumberland ‘Revista Rudiments’ captures its unruly history, from when it was a northern outpost of the Roman Empire to the Meadow Well Riots of September 1991 and through the figure of Ranter poet, Barry MacSweeney. The narrator walks the ground, hearing the sound of the land, noting the birdsong and long stories with ‘a confluence of telling / Unthank opportunists / set up camp // plough-breaker Swarland /& / Wind-cutter Snitter. The poem reaches beyond evocation to deeper historical and geographical viewpoints, and the area’s distinctiveness. It is a powerful sequence open to a number of registers and echoes.
Ian Seed’s ‘Absences’ consists of thirteen sections of four three line stanzas derived from reworked cut-up fragments to produce a dreamlike narrative similar to but distinct from his prose poetry. The fragmented narrative has a cinematic quality and revolves around a series of journeys and encounters probing the nature of a series of opposites. The poem has great power through its refusal to predicate. It hovers in pared down focus on suggested or implied infractions, which work in a cumulative manner towards possible articulation. By holding back as much as stating the poem produces surprising effects and forces the reader to reread.
Alison Winch’s ‘Alisoun’s’ uses material from the medieval pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome and the figure of Alisoun from Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale in her exploration of female sexuality and reproductive power. This spirited ribaldry is counterpointed by material quoted from key medieval texts, by Marbod of Rennes, St. Thomas Acqinas, Galen and others, attacking or denying female disobedience positioned on the right side margin. The impact is one of contextualised commentary and playfulness. The poem has a wonderful sensuality and period feel. It begins:
Arse – myne! – that’s how you know me
that & my wenching – but dear Lord what an arse!
like the dimple blush of a just-plucked pear
plump on its honey bee haunches
when the kitchen is a light box of morning sonne.
Penelope Shuttle’s ‘Effarn: Nans Ladron’ (The Valley of Thieves), a version of some lines from Dante’s Inferno, is similarly playful and intertextual mixing English and Cornish vocabulary. The English is predominantly colloquial whereas the Cornish is more earthy and physical. This tactile quality gives the whole a more robust finish and serves to provide a local flavor and accent.
Albert Einstein and Emily Dickinson provide the epigraphs to Aidan Semmens’ beguiling poem, Unified Field Theory’, which is a companion piece to his ‘Clergyman’s Guide to String Theory’ published in Long Poem Magazine 11. The poem offers a slant angle on the nature of forces and relations of change around a city under military occupation or threat where the ‘wall’ is ‘to guard things that are useless / while things that are valuable are left unattended’. It concerns change where ‘beauty lies in the refusal of meaning’ and ‘nature becomes a synonym / for suffering and death’. The title tends to make the reader consider the way different interactions impose themselves or not on a conflict situation, where ‘nothing is affected by being known’. It would be interesting to compare and contrast ‘Unified Field Theory’ with ‘Absences’. The former may appear to offer clearer predication yet tends to typically offset each fragmentary meaning with contradictory material from another field, which serves to complicate as much as open out.
Ian Brinton’s essay on ‘John Riley: From Lincoln To Byzantium’ references the poet’s journey from the thirteenth century Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste’s thinking on light and matter, to his conversion to Russian Orthodoxy. Brinton articulates Riley’s quest for spiritual awareness in his major poem, ‘Czargrad’, through a reading of the poem’s literary and philosophical sources. These include Dante’s Paradiso, George Oppen’s Of Being Numerous, Pound’s essay on Cavalcanti, Charles Olson’s ‘Projective Verse’ essay, T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday, and Bishop Grosseteste on ‘On Light / De Luce’. The most important of these sources to me is perhaps Oppen’s poem, in the way that it offers ways of connecting the parts of a disconnected world, as represented by New York, through a series of precise thoughts and images. The work has a similar clarity of vision and surely would have led Riley to thinking about the phenomenology of perception. The sources are supported through a reading of Riley’s correspondence and Brinton usefully quotes from J.H. Prynne’s response to the first two sections of ‘Czargrad’ published in Grosseteste Review 6. Like all good criticism, this essay makes the reader wish to return to the poem.
Alasdair Paterson, Geraldine Monk, Claire Trévien, S.J. Fowler, Mark Goodwin, Jay Ramsay, Greta Stoddart, and many others grace this splendid and varied issue.
David Caddy 7th June 2015