When I came across the following two lines in Tears 60, published at the end of last year, I realised that I was facing a writer of the most serious kind:
‘Sews the crews’ eyes drizzling fugue bells totes lozenges throats the swollen craw! Hope’s the carriage, to prescribe the sooth for this irritable tissue.’
The lines come from a twenty-page prose poem by Mark Dickinson titled ‘The Tangles’ and the whole of that piece now appears in this enormously impressive new book put out by Shearsman. These tender geometries, a gift as well as a register of sensitivity, contain five sections: ‘Sentinel-Stone’, ‘The Tangles’, ‘Nylonase’, ‘Sea Pens Pastoral Net’ and ‘microsleeplessbyclay’.
When I first looked at the above quotation I was struck of course with the Homeric reference to Odysseus who blocked the ears of his crew so that they should not be seduced by the song of the Sirens as they passed that isle. The shift from ears to eyes accentuates helplessness, dependency, and echoes perhaps the invocation Macbeth speaks to the ‘seeling night’ which can ‘scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day’ as a prelude to the pre-arranged murder of his supposed friend Banquo. In the Shearsman edition of Dickinson’s work the complete text of ‘The Tangles’is prefaced by a series of epigraphs, one of which is from J.H. Prynne’s poem ‘Lashed to the Mast’ first published in The Wivenhoe Park Review in early 1966 and then included in The White Stones. The importance of the poem was emphasised by Prynne when he wrote to Andrew Crozier about it in the autumn of 1965 suggesting that the poem should stand at the beginning of a series of poems which were due to appear in the Essex magazine. The Prynne quotation (slightly misquoted by having capital letters at the beginning of two of the lines) concludes with ‘hope is a stern purpose’ and here we have not only the serious propulsion towards a future but also the play with language that is enjoyed by both Mark Dickinson and the elder statesman.
Mark Dickinson’s awareness of how language and commercialism share properties is central to the section of this book dealing with fish-farming, ‘Sea Pens Pastoral Net’. Not only does the writing, the penning, reflect a record of transfer but also it possesses a lyric grace which weaves a pattern through ‘Brilliant pulses of light’ and we become aware of the ocean as ‘a function of language’. The sailor whose journey is world-wide, a cosmonaut, is juxtaposed with the feeding process as perceived by a citizen in the opening scene of Coriolanus, the ‘cormorant belly’. When Menenius tries to pacify the hungry citizens whose complaint is that the store-house of government does little in terms of real work he tells them that the ‘grave belly’ is the ‘shop / Of the whole body’ that sends the ‘natural competency / Whereby they live’ throughout the entire system.
‘Desolation shall be in the thresholds, a voice shall sing in the windows.
The cormorant clings determinate, its wings held out to dry like a totem
to the sun, the cosmonaut’s alien plunging and darting down through
origin where the mythic shears from the blink of corridors. Prey maritime
The association of underwater farms and the body politic is brought into focus from the very outset:
‘Under precipitous horizons of nephrology the formation of floating
farms. Terrestrial surfaces granulate periods of deposition skirting the edge between slight and magnitude. Drops of earth entrained in gravity, hover Aeolian graphemes, crest a loop where dunes in wavelets loess bind its loss to a carriage of transfer.’
The grinding exceeding small of these mills of commerce associate the financial terminology of deposits with the ‘language of transfer / to the human account’ (‘In the Long Run, to be Stranded’, J.H. Prynne). The fine blurring of sight with the loess, the ‘dust’, ‘all of this braiding the air’, clouds our recognition of human greed in a world ‘where the edge of collateral makes to cover credit risk as ‘options’ and ‘futures’ project the net gain or net loss being held as margin’.
There is a terrific thrust of lyrical indignation glinting and gleaming through the caged lines of this work and I know that I shall return to Mark Dickinson again and again.
Ian Brinton 14th July 2015