RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: November 2016

Raceme

Raceme

This new Bristol-based magazine is edited by Matthew Barton and Jeremy Mulford and is published by Loxwood Stoneleigh, an imprint of Falling Wall Press. The first issue appeared in May last year and the Winter issue for this year, number 5, has just come into view. For those whose botanical knowledge is not quite up to the mark a quick glance at the Shorter Oxford is helpful:

From the Latin for a cluster of grapes ‘Raceme is a simple inflorescence in which the flowers are arranged on short, nearly equal, pedicels, at equal distances on an elongated axis’.

The editorial at the front of the first issue presented an attractive engagement with the way writing can prompt responses and it boded well for the future of this attractively produced magazine. As Barton and Mulford put that first issue together there was clearly an intention that the magazine could make space for ‘strings or sequences of poems with contextual thread or preface from the authors’. What they also discovered was that ‘connections began to sprout between pieces by diverse writers, a crackle of igniting responses’. The issue included poems by Graham Hartill (whose selection from Slipping the Leash appeared in my blog from earlier this month) and Philip Gross. It also contained tributes to Anne Cluysenaar alongside some of her poems and it is worth recalling the comments that poet made about the art of translation in her contribution to the book on British Poetry Since 1960 by Michael Schmidt and Grevel Lindop:

‘Translation is indeed a symbol of the basic activities of sympathy and metamorphosis involved in creative writing.’

As if in response to those words written over forty years ago Tom Phillips offered us in issue number 3 ‘Bulgaria Revisited’:

‘Not so many years ago, two young writers in Sofia, friends from school, launched an online project. Letters of Flesh was arguably one of the first signs that a new generation of writers was emerging in Bulgaria, a generation born after the end of the communism in 1989 and savvy to the potential of the internet and a generation which was almost certainly going to ruffle the feathers of the country’s literary establishment.’

The two writers, Georgi Belorechki and Ilyan Lyubomirov, had collaborated with Tom Phillips in translations of their own work represented in that issue. Belorechki had translated his own short poem in which the wall between the self and the other dissolves in a manner I have become used to in reading Philippe Jaccottet:

‘When you find me
in the dark,
don’t go out looking
for light –
I swallowed it.’

Phillips’s poetry has a particular timbre and when I reviewed his Unknown Translations in October this year I recall being struck by his reference to the way he started writing in Bulgarian as the new language prompted ‘unexpected connections in my mind’. There was in that fine collection a clear sense of life beyond the parochial and it is surely no coincidence that he should have found space for his work in this adventurous new magazine.

The editorial to that issue number 3 also offered a clear sign for the promising future:

‘Wherever we live we place our steps mostly unwittingly on the back of the past, but touching into it is a fascinating undertaking and one perhaps very close to the delvings of poetry, reconnecting with the undertow – all the more powerful because invisible – of a reality that exists for us only if we recreate it in the imagination.’

Other work to look out for in that issue included poems by Peter Robinson, David Cooke and David Punter . It also contained stunningly fine engravings by Trevor Haddrell, a retired teacher of Art who spent many years at Ashton Park School on the south side of the city.

Other magazines based in Bristol have included both The Resuscitator and The Present Tense. The former, co-edited by John James, started in 1963 and contained poetry by George Oppen, Charles Tomlinson, Roy Fisher and Peter Armstrong before it moved its headquarters to Cambridge for the second series. The latter was edited by Michael Abbott and contained work by Tomlinson, Anthony Rudolf, John Greening and Glen Cavaliero. All of this is far removed from the parochial sense of self-satisfaction gloried in by inhabitants of what Hugh Kenner was to call ‘The Sinking Island’ (a title by the way that he took from a letter written to him by Tomlinson!).

Issue number 5 of Raceme has just appeared containing amongst many other delights Peter Robinson’s translation of Georgio Bassani. Details of how to subscribe can be found on the Raceme website: http://www.racemepoetry.com and contact for subscription can be made via fallingwall76@gmail.com

Ian Brinton 30th November 2016

Advertisements

Poetic Artifice Veronica Forrest-Thomson Edited by Gareth Farmer for Shearsman Books

Poetic Artifice  Veronica Forrest-Thomson  Edited by Gareth Farmer for Shearsman Books

Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s Poetic Artifice, subtitled ‘A theory of twentieth-century poetry’, was published by Manchester University Press in 1978 and I bought my copy from a remaindered book-sale of University Press publications which was taking place at Austick’s in Leeds in May 1983. I seem to recall that I paid 50 pence for it. Nowadays I gather that copies of this hard-back first edition of what transpired to be a remarkable book are on sale for £60 and above. Thank goodness for Tony Frazer and Shearsman Books that can bring back into a public eye such a provocative and interesting survey of twentieth-century poetry at a price that is not prohibitive! And thank goodness for the expertise and dedication of Gareth Farmer who has edited this new edition of Poetic Artifice.

Farmer’s research-work on Forrest-Thomson, ‘Poetic Artifice and the Struggle with Forms’, contains one of the most clear and direct introductions to her world:

‘Throughout Poetic Artifice, Forrest-Thomson implies that the poem contains within itself a codified intent which it is a reader’s passive duty to identify. Her position is perhaps derived from the structuralist argument of Riffaterre who proposes the text’s self-sufficiency whereby, “the mythology we need for the text is entirely encoded in the words of text”. A reader need look no further than, as Riffaterre neatly puts it, the “necessary […] verbal artefacts” of the poem’s structure. In illustrating what she means by the function of the image-complex, for example, Forrest-Thomson describes the activity of interpreting the Shakespearean metaphor, “Out, out brief candle, / life’s but a walking shadow”. As she argues, a reader understands by the context of the passage that only certain features of candle are relevant (not that it’s waxy, but that it’s finite and frail). However, she also stresses that “the level of coherence” is “established by the lines” and that this “tells us that only certain features of empirical candles are relevant to the passage.”’

This statement concerning the ‘certain features’ of a candle in one of the most well-known of quotations from Macbeth appears in Forrest-Thomson’s own Preface to that 1978 M.U.P. edition of Poetic Artifice and, as Farmer points out, it illustrates what the author would later describe as the ‘latent intentionality of poetic language’.

Gareth Farmer opens this long overdue and most welcome republication of Forrest-Thomson’s theoretical stance in an engaging manner. He quotes from ‘an intriguing letter’ written by Forrest-Thomson to Paul Buck in July 1972 in which she says that she is in the middle of writing a book ‘centred on William Empson but very post-structuralist orientated, a sort of ars poetica…’. He then provides us with a very precise contextual picture: black-ink calligraphic handwriting, Forrest-Thomson’s typewriter on her desk in Flat 5, 17 West Road Cambridge, an audacious challenge to the claims of another poetic and critical Cambridge voice, that of William Empson. As Farmer puts it, ‘This 1972 letter affords us a window into a Cambridge literary world of the early 1970s’ and he provides us with a context within which to read this stimulating and energetic engagement with the art of reading poetry:

Poetic Artifice and Forrest-Thomson’s other writings from this time are useful historical documents registering shifts in literary-critical terminology, the type of questions being brought to bear on literary texts, as well as the role and function of language.’

Gareth Farmer’s serious academic interest in the work of Veronica Forrest-Thomson was evident when he edited some previously unpublished prose in Chicago Review 56 in the autumn of 2011. ‘His True Penelope Was Flaubert: Ezra Pound and Nineteenth-Century Poetry’ is a ‘condensed’ version of the project Forrest-Thomson was working on after Poetic Artifice. Those essays which Farmer edited in 2011 exist only in single versions and are clearly drafts of her application of poetic theory to nineteenth-century verse, something to which she alluded in the third chapter of Poetic Artifice:

‘One might say, in fact, that both the poetry Pound recognised, such as the Cantos, and the poetry he repudiated, such as early Canzoni, are relevant to our situation today. This matter must wait for another book, though, which will concern Pound, the ’Nineties, and the great fictionalisers, Tennyson, Swinburne, Rossetti, who lie behind them.’

In referring to the tracking down of some of Forrest-Thomson’s unreferenced quotations in her work Gareth Farmer again arouses our interest and intriguingly directs us to the Dame Ninette de Valois epigraph to the book’s second chapter:

‘I knew from talking to Jonathan Culler that Forrest-Thomson had been fascinated by ballet when they had met and had been attending classes in Cambridge. I had attributed this to the influence of Mallarmé and Baudelaire, but the concentration on form, perfection and mastery in the quotation also belies her restless pursuit and fetish of pure form. Indeed, the presence of the balletic body in Forrest-Thomson’s theory and work is a demonstration of both perfection and imperfection—the notion of pure and controlled form occurs at the same time as the presence of an irreconcilable body, gangly, impure, imperfect and never able to attain the perfection to which it strives. The ballet dancer reaching for perfect form, striving to control the unwilling and ever-impure contours of the body, is a figure which describes Forrest-Thomson’s own struggling aesthetics.’

The conclusion to Gareth Farmer’s major editorial work reflects not only the pleasure of having discovered the above aspect of Forrest-Thomson’s ‘ever-engaging and surprising’ critical focus but also contains an invitation to others ‘to find more and to let me know.’ Congratulations to the Farmer-Frazer partnership!

Ian Brinton 17th November 2016

Slipping the Leash Graham Hartill, Phil Maillard & Chris Torrance Aquifer

Slipping the Leash  Graham Hartill, Phil Maillard & Chris Torrance Aquifer

In his poem ‘Little Haven’ Graham Hartill asks a serious question:

‘Where does the poem end?
Where are its outsides
in terms of the fields
that stutter away to the silent swollen river
bouncing along with its human trophies:
furniture, cars and mirrors?’

This last-line accumulation is not the same as Philip Larkin’s refusal to present a historical perspective to his lists of semi-industrial landscape detritus. As Donald Davie put it when writing about Larkin in Thomas Hardy and British Poetry, there is ‘no measuring of present against past’. Nor is there any sense of what Emerson saw in Carlyle’s The Diamond Necklace where he commented upon the British essayist’s picture of ‘every street, church, parliament house, barrack, baker’s shop, mutton stall, forge, wharf, and ship, and whatever stands, creeps, rolls, or swims thereabouts…Hence your encyclopediacal allusion to all knowables’. Hartill’s little list is not to do with a profusion of structureless facts and phenomena so overwhelming, according to J.H. Prynne’s notes on The Outlook and Procedures of the Post-Romantic Mind, ‘that the speculative mind, unwilling to re-direct its energies in favour of radical description, also fails to bring off any radical and coherent analysis’. Hartill’s question is about the relation of poem to place; at what point does the poet’s awareness of ‘plastic bags stuck high in trees’ become a mirror in which he is compelled to recognise himself within an environment? If I look for any form of tradition here it is bound to the world of Gary Snyder whose interview with Gene Fowler in 1964 emphasised reaching ‘beyond our social nature’ in order to recognise ‘our relationships in nature’, reaching inward to see the relationships ‘that hold there’.

Snyder’s focus upon the particularities of living also inform Phil Maillard’s work and the exercise of ‘Fixing the Light’ has that firmness of tone and precision of touch which Snyder brought to bear upon making a stew in the Pinacate Desert, ‘Recipe for Locke & Drum’. Maillard’s poem is much more than a list, it is an insight:

‘Remove light bulb
The only problem is the collar
round the fitting, which falls apart
with the removal of the bulb
Get new fitting purchased by Gwain
in Swansea market…’

The cadence of the poem’s conclusion presents the reader with the task done:

‘Put cover back on fuse box
Shake hands all round
Replace furniture
Total running time two minutes
thirty five seconds for
entire operation
Nobody died
Make coffee in new coffee pot
Sit by fire under new light
and drink it’

When Snyder wrote a late poem about ‘How Poetry Comes to Me’ he said that ‘It comes blundering over the / Boulders at night, it stays / Frightened outside the / Range of my campfire / I go to meet it at the / Edge of the light’.
This beautifully produced book from Aquifer (aquiferbooks@gmail.com) is a generous selection from three poets whose work is centred around South Wales and the World. Although Phil Maillard’s homage to Snyder, ‘To Snyder’s Avocado Stone’, does not appear here it is worth referring to and can be located in Grazing the Octave, a Galloping Dog Press publication from Swansea in 1977: ‘there are visions / before you, retained, / markers in the snow / ancient stone figures / seen from miles / still commanding the whole valley’.
Linked to this language of the immediate and the distant, visions marked in transient snow and more lasting stone, there is the work of the third poet riding aboard the troika, Chris Torrance. From his own Galloping Dog Press volume The Diary of Palug’s Cat we are presented with the nearness of the domestic and the reaches of a surrounding sky:

‘I have an idea
certain compartments in my head
are very firmly
locked
shut

WHAT THE HELL
WENT WRONG WITH MY MARRIAGE?

Others, equally,
are bolted
wide open

the sense of freedom

buzzards swirling. The blue sky
beckoning.’

When I wrote about Chris Torrance for PN Review some ten years ago or more (PNR 163, ‘Black Mountain in England 2’) I referred to the critical work of John Freeman, poet, prose-writer and teacher based in Cardiff. In a Stride Research Document from December 2000 he had compared Torrance’s work with that of Charles Olson:

‘Charles Olson set out with his own particular tools to make Gloucester, Massachusetts, real in the Maximus poems; his means of locating Gloucester include the context historical, geographical, geological, mythical and political. A similar range of interests and formidable expertise inform Torrance’s work, in part thanks to Olson’s example. Maximus is not easy reading, but it adds to the idea of what the long poem can do in making a place real, in recreating the whole context in which a living consciousness awakens to reality; rooted in particular location, but open to anything. Anything that can modify human consciousness can find its place in the field of forces constituting the poem.’

In the selection of Torrance’s work in Slipping the Leash we can move beyond boundaries and there is a ‘constant shift / from the frame / of the real / into an infinite, / mythic dissolve’. There are ‘no boundaries to the universe’ and any answer to Graham Hartill’s initial question about ‘where does the poem end’ is perhaps only to be found within the covers of this excellent publication.

Ian Brinton, 13th November 2016

%d bloggers like this: