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Monthly Archives: July 2018

The Making Of A Story by Anthony Barnett (Allardyce Book ABP)

The Making Of A Story by Anthony Barnett (Allardyce Book ABP)

One of the things which I have admired about the poetry of Anthony Barnett, and this has been true now for many years, is his ability to adopt different perspectives. We are presented time and again with a quality of diffracted light as words bend around the corners of a subject or aperture. A typical example for me occurs on page 197 of the collected poems which appeared in 2012, Poems & (Tears in the Fence in association with Allardyce Book ABP):

“I turn away from you
whom I no longer know.

I turn towards you
whom I do not know.

We were gentle.

You were one and the same.”

The present and the past, the self and the other, are caught as in a painting by Duchamp. This new publication consists of prose fragments and poems arising from the search for an unknown woman who appears in a video clip. It has an air of mystery such as that which haunts Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy and it
recalls the words of Ortega y Gasset in his 1984 book Historical Reason:

“At another time we shall see that, while astronomy for example is not a part of the stellar bodies it researches and discovers, the peculiar vital wisdom we call life experience is an essential part of life itself, constituting one of its principal components or factors. It is this wisdom that makes a second love necessarily different from a first one, because the first love is already there and one carries it rolled up within. So if we resort to the image, universal and ancient as you will see, that portrays life as a road to be traveled and traveled again …we could say that in walking along the road of life we keep it with us, know it; that is the road already traveled curls up behind us, rolls up like a film. So that when he comes to the end, man discovers that he carries, stuck there on his back, the entire roll of the life he led.”

The first of three epigraphs which front this new volume from Anthony Barnett’s highly professional and invariably attractive small Press, Allardyce Book, is a quotation from Isak Dinesen which offers an intriguing stance from which to contemplate the nature of story-telling:

“The happy man comforted me and begged me not to take a story too much to heart.”

Barnett’s narrator is not a “happy man” but he is one who seeks, one whose restless mind plays backwards and forwards over past and present images and whose opening statement emphasizes this spirit of enquiry:

“IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT THE ONE WHO LOVES YOU IS NOT THE one who sees you every day but the one who looks for you every day. I wonder if you agree. It is possible to see and to look at the same time.”

The Making of a Story is of course about story-telling and as the pages unroll it is one which one wishes very much to take to heart whether or not this excludes one from being classified as “happy”! When I read it I was immediately put in mind of a little piece by John Berger published over thirty years ago in Granta. Berger was contemplating the portrait of Aesop painted by Velásquez and this led him to reflect upon the importance of story-telling:

“Indirectly, Aesop’s eyes tell a lot about story-telling. Their expression is reflective. Everything he has seen contributes to his sense of the enigma of life: for this enigma he finds partial answers – each story he tells is one – yet each answer, each story, uncovers another question, and so he is continually failing and this failure maintains his curiosity. Without mystery, without curiosity and without the form imposed by a partial answer, there can be no stories – only confessions, communiqués, memories and fragments of autobiographical fantasy which for the moment pass as novels.”

Anthony Barnett’s work keeps asking questions, keeps peering at different perspectives, and this lends to it a deeply moving restlessness which one can go back to time and time again. The narrator may express “anxiety for what is gone” but he moves forward “to make poetry out of the world”.

This is a deeply serious book which needs to be read by anyone who wishes to come to an understanding of who they are in relation to the world around them.

Ian Brinton, 30th July 2018

http://www.abar.net

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A White Year by Anna Lewis (Maquette Press)

A White Year by Anna Lewis (Maquette Press)

As the blurb on the back cover of this important small collection of poems tells us, the chapbook follows a year in the life of one young inhabitant of a Late Iron Age lake village at Glastonbury. In a world not entirely dissimilar to that explored by Emmanuel Le Roi Ladurie in his monumental recreation of the life of the Cathars in the area of South West France, Montaillou, Anna Lewis has based her poems on excavation reports especially those of the nineteenth-century local archaeologist, Arthur Bulleid.
The sixteen-page poem is divided into four sections and it focuses upon the ending of a way of life as the tribe is compelled to move away in reaction to a shift in climate conditions. This is not an angry or ecologically strident tale which we are being told; it is a convincingly aware reaction to changes in the outside world. It is a migrant’s tale:

“Raindrops collect like blossom on the boughs,
hang in the light an hour, and fall. By now
the grass should be dry to the root,

ants raising forts beside the paths;
as it is, rain flays the tender shoots,
the stone tracks sink into the marsh.”

There is a visual simplicity to this awareness of things not being right. The comparison between rain and blossom dangles a sense of future before us but the underlying menace cannot be ignored as the “By now” ends a line and the awareness of time lost is emphasized by what seems to be enormous distance. After all, the grass should by this time “be dry to the root”: there, after all, would be security and repetition for a future. The invasion of flood is registered by the ants “raising” what can only in effect be a temporary rearguard action, “forts beside the paths”. More disturbingly, the stone tracks sink into the marsh.
How is truth registered? In a world before the internet one could presumably only wait for news and in this sharply conceived realization of village life news is dependent upon the relied-upon return of the traveler.

“The boats are days late, with no word
from the men. When, behind our mother’s back
dark prints surge across the flags,

her face turns grey-white as the morning sky”

I take the dark prints to suggest the seeping dampness of water that is coming in and the use of the term for writing (“prints”) has an ominous feel of that which might have appeared from nowhere upon a wall during a feast.
The narrative which threads its way through this momentous year of change is firmly linked to the narrator’s small sister and the rain which is going to change for ever a way of life finds its counterpart in the “cloud” which “gathered weight inside her lungs”

“and as the brushwood shifted on the mere,
she sank from us.”

As populations move in response to environmental change they leave behind those traces that are unearthed by later excavations. In this case, as the information on the cover tells us, “One of the more enigmatic finds from the site was a lump of strange ‘bread’ consisting of un-broken wheat grains bound with a mysterious substance, possibly honey.”

“An exceptionally fine sheet bronze bowl was recovered from outside the palisade, where it had been discarded, or perhaps placed deliberately: the deposition of material into both wet and dry locations was a common Iron Age votive practice.”

As the sequence of poems ends the reader is left like the narrator:

“I sit quiet in the moss,
watch rain widen on the lake”

The lack of a final full-stop leaves us contemplating the migrant’s future. This is a terrific poem for these times and I suggest that if there any of the 100 copies left that were published towards the end of last year as Maquette # 8 then you could do no better than to get hold of one. The sequence makes a very fine complement to the Comma Press Refugee Tales.

Maquette Press,
7 Grove Terrace,
Teignmouth,
Devon
TQ14 9HT

I am pleased to be able to leave this little review as my last word before taking off for two weeks in Skiathos!

Ian Brinton, 9th July, 2018

Cold Calling (Equipage), World Frequency (Magpie Moon) by Nick Totton

Cold Calling (Equipage), World Frequency (Magpie Moon) by Nick Totton

New collections by Nick Totton are a delight and when he sent me these two a couple of months ago they were accompanied by a note that said “I thought you would like to see these fruits of my poetic renaissance. You wait for years and two come along at once…”
This image of movement and recurrence is central to Totton’s poetry and in a review of the 1976 Many Press collection, A Talisman, Bill Bennett had written in Perfect Bound 2:

“The function of the stars in ‘A Talisman’: so many of the poems ending on an edge, break or shift into another element. The stars bound the digestive tract of the poem’s working, a greasy infinity that adapts its own definitions, ‘the dream swallows me / and I am fed by it, star-milk, star- / breath’. Whether or not that space they offer is release, having freed the tongue to abdicate from it, a slackness of the jaw.”

Bennett continued to suggest that the very reticence of our utterance is the catch, and slowly, in these poems, “we can see a direct statement shaping itself, the alibis accounted for, and leaving a knowledge of possible direction coiled back on itself, a whip at rest”. Totton had worked with Ian Patterson and Martin Thom in a 1977 Cambridge publication, More Follows and then again in 1979 for a Curiously Strong publication Love Laughs at Locksmiths. It is now no surprise to read his recent opening poem to cold calling, ‘A Real Eye Opener’ being for Ian Patterson:

“Returned to the present by hand, solitude comes to play
in the immense game of air
where no pale architecture
makes a desiring rupture, where no
one’s waiting limousines
leave a silver hint at the transfer threshold.”

The Lacanian act of projection forward being at once an act of drawing back reminds us of the Moebius strip, to the topology of which Lacan devoted a good deal of thought:

“I am what I will have been for what I am in the process of becoming.”

In the words of the poet Michael Grant, retired lecturer in English at Kent University, the importance of whose work is being celebrated in a forthcoming festschrift Saluting Steadiness, “In Lacan’s view, it is this temporality of the future anterior that engenders, and is engendered by, the retroactive temporality of the speech act itself, of language in its taking place.” In the words of Nick Totton, poet whose work found a natural resting-place in the Carcanet anthology A Various Art

“What pierced name hangs reversed in startled air?
The bell is out of order but the drill
went smoothly through to the meat of it;
like slipping on the soap we are flung
into the future, where everything
happens twice.”

These are fascinating poems and their debts are fully acknowledged. ‘Drone Congregation’ is written for JH Prynne and it opens with a quotation from Skeat’s Etymological Dictionary: “DREAM…From the same root as drone and drum”. The opening lines of the poem themselves echo the cadences of Prynne’s work:

“Mating occurs in flight: to compress the kill chain
with great speed and force into her opened sting chamber,
a sweet target defined by environmental cues
clustering at predetermined frequencies” [.]

On the closing page of World Frequency (and note that reference to the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time) we are told that the title was originally a mistyping of Word Frequency Niand that most of the poems are “a mosaic of elements from different sources, conscious and unconscious; but a few are derived each from a single source, certain words and phrases being selected and used unchanged, always in the original order and with nothing added”. Poems are “sawn up history / being able to not maintain a stable plateau / ramping up cracked / fractions, acting almost normal against / a backdrop of shiny ice”.

Some of these poems from both collections have appeared in Tears in the Fence and in SNOW. Now they are collected together we are able to note what has become clear:

“a continuous undertow of matterings”

Ian Brinton, 5th July 2018

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