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Monthly Archives: March 2018

Tears in the Fence 67 is now available

Tears in the Fence 67 is now available

Tears in the Fence 67 is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward

This issue is designed by Westrow Cooper and features poetry, fiction, flash fiction and talks from Peter Riley, Angela Gardner, Jeremy Reed, Geraldine Clarkson, Mike McNamara, Khairani Barokka, Caitilín Gormley, Beth McDonough, Nigel Jarrett, Mark Dickinson, Colin Honnor, Jessica Sneddon, Lesley Burt, Charles Wilkinson, Colin Sutherill, Doug Jones, Radka Thea Otipkova, Maria Stadnicka, Richard Makin, Fiona Moore, Tess Jolly, Gerald Killingworth, Norman Jope on Lessons From A Left-Behind Laureateship, L. Kiew, Rupert M. Loydell, Jill Abram, Harriet Parker, Gram Joel Davies, Judy Darley, Charles Hadfield, Amy McCauley, Lucia Sellars, Tim Allen, David Ball, Jay Ramsay, Lydia Harris, Rosie Jackson, Rachael Clyne, Maitreyabandhu, Michael Farrell, Andrew Henon, Anna Backman Rogers, Andrew Shelley, Alexandra Sashe, Kris Hemensley, Cat Conway, Morag Kiziewicz and Jeremy Reed on Starman: Temenos Academy Talk.

The critical section features Ian Brinton’s Editorial, Isobel Armstrong on Carol Watts, Andrew Duncan on Steve Ely, Frances Presley on Hazel Smith, Rosie Jackson on Cora Greenhill, Melinda Lovell on Sheila Hamilton, Richard Foreman on Leonora Carrington, Vanessa Gebbie, Ian Brinton on Douglas Woolf, Elaine Randell on John Muckle, Lesley Saunders on Josephine Balmer, Mandy Pannett on Jay Ramsay, Fiona Owen on Matthew Barton, John Freeman, Andrea Moorhead on Pansy Maurer-Alvarez, Charlie Baylis on Rupert M. Loydell, Richard Foreman on Alan Moore, Suzannah V. Evans on the 2017 T.S. Eliot Summer School, Elizabeth Stott on Kathleen Jones, Jonathan Catherall on Robert Vas Dias & Julia Farrer, David Caddy on Stairs & Whispers, Morag Kiziewicz’s Electric Blue 3, Notes on Contributors and David Caddy’s Afterword.

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Article 50 by Kelvin Corcoran (Longbarrow Press)

Article 50 by Kelvin Corcoran (Longbarrow Press)

1n his 1981 book The Political Unconscious: Narrative as Socially Symbolic Act Frederic Jameson argued that reality presents itself to the human mind primarily in the form of narrative. Two years later in Waterland, one of the most moving examinations of the interwoven sense of History and Fiction, Graham Swift put the following words into the mouth of a South London teacher of History who is facing redundancy. Addressing his last Sixth-form he preaches:

“Children, who will inherit the world. Children to whom, throughout history, stories have been told, chiefly but not always at bedtime, in order to quell restless thoughts; whose need of stories is matched only by the need adults have of children to tell stories to, of receptacles for their stock of fairy-tales, of listening ears on which to unload those most unbelievable yet haunting of fairy-tales, their own lives…”

In Kelvin Corcoran’s recent chapbook of poems, so exquisitely produced by Longbarrow Press, we are also presented with the weaving fabric of history and fiction as the signing of Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, enacted by the Treaty of Lisbon on 1st December 2009, set in motion that procedure for a member state to withdraw from the European Union. In the satirical portraits of some of the main characters promoting the cutting adrift of this sceptered isle one can almost hear the cracking open of champagne bottles on the side of a craft as it slips down the beach. In the sequence of three poems titled ‘Biographies of the Brexiteers’, with its little echo of that famous gallery of miscreants portrayed in The Complete Newgate Calendar, we read of ‘The Quiet Man’ (Ian Guido Smith), ‘Boris Johnson and Seventy Two Virgins’ and ‘Twisting Michael of the Gove’. The tone of Corcoran’s writing is unmistakable as we are presented with vignettes of these three political figures. ‘The Quiet Man’ looks over the Channel:

“As the girl Europa struggled all at sea, Guido looked on dreaming,
arranged the limbs of the drowned to spell Breakthrough Britain;
and gathered the spoils to build a new nation for old time’s sake.”

And there’s the rub! The launching of the Brexit boat for nostalgic reasons, the leading backwards “into an England of last resort”.
What is most valuable about this new collection of poems is the ability and determination of the poet not to rest contented in a satirical mode however successful that may be. Kelvin Corcoran moves the reader forward with a tone of anger and anguish, a tone which requires us to take account of what is truly meant by loss both personal and social. The third poem in the volume is titled ‘Radio Logos’ and it conjures up a portrait of a thinker who sits on a cliff-top watching the inexorable movement of the Brexit vessel:

“I sit here on the edge of time gazing out to sea;
if history is an account of semantic drift
it can be read backwards to the well of speaking.

That was lesson 4 – were you even listening?
Were you just smiling at the pretty dial-light?
So here it is again – call it Terms of Resistance.

Lesson 4: you must trust the people, their erudition
from unlikely sources, from the stream of first meaning
from the mouths of all the people under the ringing sky.

As surprising as the beauty of recalled trade routes
the acquisition of obsidian, highland cedar and coral,
the expansion of ritual activity, the invention of sailing.

As surprising as the small pool of cool water
found high in the mountains, that bright ellipse
keeping a cold eye on the arching blue.”

I can almost hear the urgency of Tom Crick, history-teacher in Greenwich, whose subject is being shut down despite his Headmaster’s assurance that “I’m not dropping History. It’s an unavoidable reduction. There’ll be no new Head of History. History will merge with General Studies.” And I wonder if that fictional Headmaster ever read that fictional account of a fictional future in 1984: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

The overarching sense of loss in these poems is placed with quiet and humbling reflection as, in the nine poems that make up ‘A Footnote to the Above’, we encounter the shades of Lee Harwood, Roy Fisher and Tom Raworth. In this Dante-like underworld they appear held exact in a moment of time:

“Roy read as he wrote with no show, no pomp;
in Newcastle-under-Lyme twenty years ago
standing with Carl Rakosi and Gael Turnbull:
come up, come up my thinking shades”

The past merges with the present as the poet thought he saw “Robert Sheppard in the market / Place Dumon, Brussels, bright for business / wearing a leather Fedora and a fine jacket” and Corcoran makes the past “most alive living nowhere now”. It takes us back to the interview he gave with Andrew Duncan (Don’t Start Me Talking, Salt, 2006):

“Imagine that the classical edifice of mythology is no such thing but an overlaying and retelling of competing localised myths and songs, arising out of a sort of civic pride, giving back meaning to the specific group. The ancient landscape overlays the modern and I see the mythology as local and useful and not detached from the everyday. I think it’s also a sort of code which tells us exactly what is happening in the present Oil Wars for instance, it is a type of ignorance to behave as though such things have not happened before and it’s only in the interests of the perpetrators to act as if such things have not happened before.”

This beautifully produced little book should be read by anyone who values lyric poetry and by all those who can still call to mind the closing lines of Shelley’s poem written just over two-hundred years ago:

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away”

Ian Brinton, 26th March 2018

http://www.longbarrowpress.com

Women of Resistance: Poems For A New Feminism Eds. Danielle Barnhart & Iris Mahan (OR Books)

Women of Resistance: Poems For A New Feminism Eds. Danielle Barnhart & Iris Mahan (OR Books)

This anthology has a strong feminist ethos that cuts through race, gender identity and sexuality. The resistance in the title stems from the fight for agency through suffrage in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as US President. The editor’s note that ‘suffrage’ comes from Middle English, meaning intercessory prayer, and this informs their invocation of the other, encompassing transgender women, as well as its sense of grieving for the violence, rape and oppression of women. They affirm that womanhood is not limited to the biology of the female body and glory in work that occupies poetic space for all who fall in the category of the other within white patriarchy.

The first stanza of the opening poem, ‘A Woman’s Place’ by Denice Frohman sets the defiant tone:

i heard a woman becomes herself
the first time she speaks
without permission

Here women and others speak out and are not named and shamed into silence. Frohman’s poem ends:

if this poem is the only thing that survives
me
tell them I grew a new tongue
tell them I built a throne

tell them when we discovered life on another planet
it was a woman
& she built a bridge, not a border

got god & named gravity
after herself.

Many poems occupy the space of resistance, protest and survival, supporting stances for Planned Parenthood, Reproductive Rights, Black Lives Matter, Civil Rights, and other issues. There is also a strong sense of grieving for women that have unfairly lost their lives, as in Kaveh Akbar’s poem, ‘Heritage’, which commemorates the life of an Iranian woman hanged in 2014 for killing a man who was attempting to rape her. Akbar’s poem moves towards prayer and hope that God may ‘beat us awake’ and that we may ‘measure every victory / by the momentary absence of pain’.

Others have a more explorative, transformative and open edge. A prime example is Dorothea Lasky’s dense and suggestive poem, ‘The Secret Life of Mary Crow’. The poem works on several levels, positing a secret life as the place ‘where we are no longer us / But the beginning of things’, and sees the body as ‘corpse and text’ and also ‘a possibility’. The poem effectively enacts a series of losses, uncertainties and moves beyond grieving to another deeper place. I was also impressed by Jade Lascelles, poem, ‘This Is Why We Are Afraid’, a striking allegorical poem of quiet power and subtle depiction of young females under attack. The poem paints a broad canvass with its third section highlighting shades of blue revealed after fracture and when darkness becomes visible. The poem later highlights female resistance to male figures that are against nature and wild creatures: ‘Fragile containers at the whim and mercy of a flicking wrist.’

Several poems, such as Ada Limón’s ‘Service’, emphasise and enact the need for independent space, and locate a space for female survival, as in Safia Elhillo’s ‘After’, where ‘every day i go missing one eyelash at a time’. They work through implication and benefit from being less explicit. Similarly, Kimberly Johnson’s poem, ‘Female’, employs new urban words to offer a sense of an emergent female being transformed by ‘Secret, quaint horror’ and ‘betrayal of the flesh’.

This vibrant and dynamic anthology is far from being one-dimensional and has many fine poems to which I shall return.

The book comes with a cover blurb by Eileen Myles. Amongst the contributors are new writers, academics and established voices such as Kim Addonizio, Jericho Brown, Kwame Dawes, Karyna McGlynn, Mary Ruefle and Anne Waldman.

http://www.orbooks.com/catalog/women-of-resistance/?utm_source=Tears%20in%20the%20Fence&utm_medium=review&utm_campaign=womenofresistance

David Caddy March 13th 2018

Selected Poems 1971-2017 by Laurie Duggan (Shearsman Books)

Selected Poems 1971-2017 by Laurie Duggan (Shearsman Books)

William Carlos Williams, a Doctor from Rutherford, was convinced that something did indeed depend upon a ‘red wheel / barrow’ because he firmly believed that American culture was based upon a realization of the qualities of place in relation to the life which occupies it. Laurie Duggan, Australian poet who now lives in Kent, writes poems which share some of this concern and in his work minute and seemingly inert things come to life much as dry twigs become shoots and buds: speed is essential for such freshness. As the Australian critic and poet Fiona Wright noted on the back cover this is a “kind of history that is happening on the side-lines” and one of the memorable aspects of Duggan’s work is its ability to bring into sharp focus what seems to be caught out of the side of one’s eye. On the one hand in a public statement it possesses a dry wit such as the ‘Salute to the Cambridge Marxists’:

If you’re not at the High Table
you’re not in the room

On the other, in quiet memory of another gifted poet, Lee Harwood, an excursion to the South Coast is recorded in trees that were “partly flattened / by gales twenty years back” which are now “resuming a shape”:

a semblance of high wind,
clouds massing, the profile of a hilltop.

Turning his back on solemnity Duggan also notes in the same visit to Brighton “a mechanical duck pedals a tricycle / across a floor in Hove.” In the hands of a lesser poet there might be a temptation towards the sardonic here; in Laurie Duggan’s work it is more a Jonsonian wit. And, as he tells me, the mechanical duck was there and it was exactly what Lee would have delighted in!
The website of photographs which Laurie Duggan began some ten years ago can be located at graveneymarsh.blogspot.co.uk and the precise visualisation of carefully caught moments offers an interesting insight into his poetry.
One of Jack Spicer’s posthumously published volumes, A Red Wheelbarrow, was produced in an edition of 1000 copies by Arif Press, Berkeley in January 1973 and it opens with a tone that reminds me of Duggan’s work:

“Rest and look at this goddamned wheelbarrow. Whatever
It is. Dogs and crocodiles, sunlamps. Not
For their significance. For being human
The signs escape you.”

In his indispensable book on Spicer’s work, The Poetry of Jack Spicer (Edinburgh University Press, 2013), Daniel Katz wrote about these opening lines in terms of how Williams’s “characteristically inviting tone” gives way to the no less “characteristic Spicerian note of crochety querulousness”:

“No ideas but in things these lines seems to say, with their negation of significance and their recusal of metaphor, while the imperative to Rest and look immediately valorizes the visual, in line with Williams’ emphases again.”

That sharply focussed concern for the visual links Duggan’s and Spicer’s work and it is worth looking back at the opening lines of Spicer’s first ‘Imaginary Elegy’ from the late 1940s:

“Poetry, almost blind like a camera
Is alive in sight only for a second. Click,
Snap goes the eyelid of the eye before movement
Almost as the word happens.
One would not choose to blink and go blind
After the instant. One would not choose
To see the continuous Platonic pattern of birds flying
Long after the stream of birds had dropped or had nested.”

A camera freezes one moment in time and with that “click” followed by a “Snap” the moment is both caught and broken and, in a sense, the poem does become that “continuous Platonic pattern of birds flying” which can be looked at, still life, by other people in other times. One of Duggan’s poems from 1991 makes an interesting comparison here:

“Not to assume a mantle,
not to have you look so closely,
I refuse to be explicator;

instead, a wanderer
in a landscape prefigured
trying not to bend its edges

The camera of course offers precisely that edge, that separating of one moment from another within a stream and, by holding still in front of us an image of what is irremediably gone it echoes that Orphic sense of no return. The world of appearances, Art, consists of edges, contrasts, meeting-points of different phenomena: individuality. Art also acts as a constant reminder of what is not. In Spicer’s terms the only reason for valorizing what he goes on in ‘Imaginary Elegy I’ to call “These cold eternals” is because of their “support of / What is absolutely temporary”.
Laurie Duggan is not an explicator; he presents what he sees and a late snap is ‘DEMOLITION’:

“A square of houses, windows bricked in.
Around these, dust, gamblers, the edge of a market.

A block away streets resume their regular pattern”

For a moment I hear another voice, another influence: that of Charles Reznikoff.

Ian Brinton, 11th March 2018

Heretics of Language by Barry Schwabsky (Black Square Editions)

Heretics of Language by Barry Schwabsky (Black Square Editions)

This is a compelling collection of essays focussing upon a wide range of artists and led by the pied piper of the Arts, Barry Schwabsky. We can engage with Jack Spicer and John Ashbery, Samuel Beckett and Italo Calvino, Peter Manson and Denise Riley…Paul Celan and more…and more.
A taster: the review of Rasula and Conley’s anthology Burning City: Poems of Metropolitan Modernity (Action Books, 2012) opens with an uncompromisingly clear tone:

“There’s nothing like an ambitious anthology for redistricting your inner map of poetic possibility.”

There is a clean sense in Schwabsky’s use of the word “redistricting” which locates us firmly in the urban world that Blake might have recognised in his use of the word “charter’d” in ‘London’. Ambitious anthologies might include Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry (1960), Crozier and Longville’s A Various Art (1987) and Iain Sinclair’s Conductors of Chaos (1996); they certainly include the one mentioned by Schwabsky, Jerome Rothenberg’s Poems for the Millennium. The time-frame of Burning City is approximately 1910-39 and “Jed Rasula and Tom Conley have given us a historical anthology with clear implications for our present sense of what literary modernity might be and of how we could still be implicated in it”. As the editors assert “We still inhabit metropolitan configurations pioneered under the auspices of Modernism” and therefore, implicitly, our writing is still conditioned by such habitation. It was Ben Jonson who wrote that “Language most shewes a man: speake that I may see thee” following that dramatic statement with the assertion that language “springs out of the most retired, and inmost parts of us, and is the image of the Parent of it, the mind”. Barry Schwabsky’s review of this anthology reflects his own sense of mind: a fairness concerning the enormous amount of work done by the editors spending “untold hours leafing through half- or entirely forgotten magazines in seemingly every European language (there are a few Asian writers included as well)”. It comes of course as no surprise that Schwabsky should also pick up on what he sees as something rather surprising, that this complex piece of publishing “has been undertaken by a small press like Action Books:

“One would have thought this kind of project to be the preserve of the university presses…but these days, apparently, such things depend less on institutions than on the heroic efforts of a few individuals. Action Books had long since won my admiration for its publications by contemporaries like Glenum, Aase Berg and Kim Hyesoon, but Burning City puts the press on another level altogether”.

Towards the end of this essay on the Poetry of the Modernist City Barry Schwabsky points us to a central aspect of the urban when he says that the city “seems to be constantly in the process of destroying itself but – through (or as) that very destruction – it persists”. In my mind this seems to point back to Paul Auster’s terrifying picture of the future of urban living in his 1987 novel In the Country of Last Things:

“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.”

In the opening words to this remarkable collection of essays Barry Schwabsky tells us that to use language is always, in some degree, to disturb it, “to trouble the solidity of the identification through which it is structured – to induce a mutation, momentary or momentous as it may be.” My response is YES! And that is what makes reading so engaging and so important.

http://www.blacksquareeditions.org

Ian Brinton, 1st March 2018.

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