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Excess Measures by Adrian Clarke (Veer Books)

Excess Measures by Adrian Clarke (Veer Books)

As I sat down this morning to read this little book I became engrossed by the mixture of urgency and outrage which threads it way through the linguistic labyrinth of Poetry and University, Creative Writing and Consumerism. The book is a delight!
In the opening section, SO WHAT, extradition to a poem sequence, we move from Godard to Bruce Andrews—I Don’t Have Any Paper So Shut Up (or, Social Romanticism)—from Schloss on Joyce to Prynne on ‘performance poetry’. Interleaving its path through the outrage and humour we are confronted by some extremely disturbing ideas which cannot be easily dismissed:

‘So is what I say something else? or is that what I do? As for a common language, if you really believe it’s enriching itself at an ever-increasing rate, it’s in willful ignorance: overall, variety of and within languages—mine included here?—is withering fast. Basic English dropped the adjective. And buzz words and argots usefully alter no-one’s perception of anything with the redundancy of their faddish affectedness and phony exoticism.’

The echo of Syme’s work on the Dictionary in 1984 (‘It’s a beautiful thing, the Destruction of words.’) is uncomfortably close and it is followed by the sort of self-questioning which is increasingly necessary in the global political arena:

‘There’s a social orchestration of me-meaning in which the “me” is still usually white, at least as rich as Croesus in an African villager’s eyes and mindful of its moral duty to trade any pretender to a share in the action off the planet’s face. You don’t need the subjunctive for that.’

In terms of what goes on within the world of universities it is refreshing to read about the ‘Communities of poets’ who ‘risk becoming marketing strategies before or after the event.’ And, of course, those marketing strategies lead right on to the awarding of prizes. Judith Palmer, director of the Poetry Society, is quoted from The Guardian concerning the fact that prizes have a role in the marketplace:

‘Within the arts, the measurability, the ability to make excellence quantifiable and defined has become much more important. So you’re trying to offer your arts funders evidence that you have met key performance indicators of excellence’.

Aaagh! I detect a word like ‘Impact’ lurking beneath this maelstrom.

However, just as you might consider the author of this window-smashing little pebble to be simply of the side of some brave new world we read the following:

‘Tangentially, J.H. Prynne thinks that the printed poem’s sound is donated by the language—or rather “a distinct sub-variant of the generic phonology of a specific language”—and nothing is added by “performance of poems in their author’s own voice”—an attitude I might be inclined to characterize as anal-retentive if I could take Freud seriously. The poetic text may be more than a musical score, but, when available, it would be stupid to ignore the information from its creator’s performance of its rhythms, tempi, volumes, emphases and pauses’.

Very recently a retired university Professor commented to me that in his opinion Prynne spoke different languages. He wasn’t referring to German, French, Old Norse or Mandarin but to the different registers which the poet uses, a register that includes a rich sense of humour. My response to this very reasonable suggestion was to include words like Plantagenet Palliser, Christopher Tietjens and Jonathan Swift. And so when Adrian Clarke concludes his sideswipe against Prynne by adding ‘as I’ve observed elsewhere, unignorable poet though he be, it’s hard imagining any question of a debt to pleasure when Mr Prynne is auditing the books’ I find myself reminded time and again of the humour behind those shifts of register referred to by that Professor. They come to mind as cool as a mountain stream.

This is a most refreshing book and it should be looked at by all first-year undergraduates and by Vice-Chancellors. When I had finished that twelve page introductory piece I turned to the poem ‘After Oppen’ and delighted in the shrewd understanding Clarke has of the American Objectivist’s style:

‘sensed at
their limits
numerous means
rootless wanting
a language
a state
of matter
the city
would appropriate
to know
ourselves in
its reflection
a light
for the
times rolled
over before
the mineral
fact’

The gentle humour behind pastiche suggests that it certainly is the ‘road of excess’ that leads to the ‘palace of wisdom’. Thank you, Adrian, I shall return to this book again. After all, I want that word ‘Excess’ as a noun as well as an adjective!

Ian Brinton 22nd September 2015

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