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Balkan Poetry Today, 2017 edited by Tom Phillips (Red Hand Books)

Balkan Poetry Today, 2017 edited by Tom Phillips (Red Hand Books)

In his editorial comments at the opening of this first issue of a new magazine, Balkan Poetry Today, Tom Phillips stakes out his purpose with clarity and determination:

Balkan Poetry Today is not designed to be a comprehensive survey. Nor is it a ‘greatest hits’ package. Not every country in SE Europe, not every language spoken there is represented in this issue (although many are) and readers already familiar with those few poets from the region who have been translated into English may wonder at some of the more notable absences. This, though, is a magazine, not a representative anthology, and our policy has simply been to publish the best work which we have been sent or otherwise come across rather than to fulfil the more ambitious task of charting an entire region’s poetic output.”

This is the beginning of an adventure and it carries with it the momentum of a serious journey. That setting of keel to breakers reminds me a little of J.H. Prynne’s ‘Tips on Translating Poems (Into or Out of English)’ which he wrote in Cambridge a little over ten years ago. The last of the 24 tips pointed to the importance of recognising that no translation work is ever fully completed since there “can never be a best or a right solution”. He reminded his readers that the best kind of poetical translation of a poem is another poem, “without any didactic extras” so that the reader “will be rewarded by enjoyment of a good poem which gives a strong experience of its foreign original”. Prynne concluded that this was the aim of all poetical translation and that it allowed the efforts of the translator “to bring very real benefit in understanding between cultures”.
This last point is one which was highlighted by Ana Martinoska in her introduction to the 2011 Arc publication of an anthology of Six Macedonian Poets in which she commented that “there are no nations or literatures that are small, insignificant or culturally less important than others” and that every culture and genre “should be presented to a broader audience without hesitation or fear of marginalisation”. Prynne’s last comment in his tips was “Translation is noble work!” and Martinoska referred to the translation of poetry as being “one of the best forms of cultural representation, as mediation among languages and nations, cross-cultural and inter-cultural communication bringing the world closer together, both in time and space”.
With this last statement in mind it is refreshing and heartening to read Tom Phillips’s words:

“It is, of course, conventional for any publication with the term ‘Balkan’ in the title to attempt a definition of the region. BPT has adopted a rather loose one with blurry edges – and one which includes the various and not inconsiderable Balkan diasporas. We are, in fact, pretty much leaving it to the poets themselves to decide whether they identify themselves as Balkan or not and to define where the cultural, geographical and linguistic boundaries lie. In practice this means that in this issue you’ll find work by a Romanian poet who writes in Czech, a Bulgarian who lives in Slovakia and a Croatian who writes multilingual poems in Croatian, French and English. In future issues we hope to publish work in transnational languages like Roma and Vlach. We use the word ‘Balkan’ in the broadest possible sense and with no intention of suggesting that ‘Balkan poetry’ exists as a single, homogenous entity.”

This first issue of an exhilarating new journal is sheer delight and one of the first poems that drew my attention immediately was ‘Private lessons in May’ by Aksinia Mihaylova (translated by Roumiana Tiholova):

“I’m trying to teach you the Cyrillic alphabet of scents:
that the geranium on the balcony across the street
is more than a mere geranium,
that the linden tree in June
is more than a mere tree,
but we aren’t making progress fast enough.
Your thumb is following the candle shadow
that the wind is making tremble on the open page,
as if drafting mobile borders
between you and me,
as if to protect you,
as if you are that boy,
who once lost his watercolours
on his way home from school,
and who’s still painting
the lost sky of his childhood and the hills
in the same colour.”

In 1923 William Carlos Williams had been convinced that “so much depends / upon // a red wheel / barrow // glazed with rain / water // beside the white /
chickens”. Wallace Stevens was to refer to those words as a “mobile-like arrangement” and Hugh Kenner suggested that they dangled in equidependency, “attracting the attention, isolating it, so that the sentence in which they are arrayed comes to seem like a suspension system.” The delicate movement in Mihaylova’s poem traces the act of translation itself, the spaces between one mind and another in a world of “mobile borders”.

Balkan Poetry Today is available in a limited edition print version via the Red Hand Books website: http://www.redhandbooks.co.uk/ and an e-book version will be available soon.

In a world of narrowing confines this new journal is refreshing: it opens doors on each page.

Ian Brinton 30th July 2017

Vanishing Points Eds. John Kinsella & Rod Mengham (Salt Publishing)

Vanishing Points Eds. John Kinsella & Rod Mengham (Salt Publishing)

The moment of change between one century and another is no easily defined discrete box into which ideas can be crammed later to become defined as Twentieth Century as opposed to Twenty-first Century. Thomas Hardy knew this well when he published his much anthologised poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’ on December 31st 1901. The poem looks forward to the newly defined Twentieth Century with a limited sense of blessed hope “whereof he knew but I was unaware” whilst also looking back at the Nineteenth Century’s corpse “outleant”. This sense of one eye being cast over the shoulder whilst the other is fixed firmly ahead is the hallmark of the Salt anthology of poems, Vanishing Points, edited by John Kinsella and Rod Mengham and published in 2004.
The backwards glance is towards the anthology Conductors of Chaos, edited by Iain Sinclair in 1996 in which, as Randall Stevenson suggested in Volume 12 of The Oxford English Literary History, there was a clear attempt to make great demands on readers to ensure that they “looked at the language on the page—rather than through it, towards a familiar, represented reality—transparency and ease of ordinary understanding had to be eliminated as far as possible”.
Sinclair’s introduction to Conductors of Chaos had thrown down a glove for the editors of anthologies and for serious readers of modern poetry:

“The work I value is that which seems most remote, alienated, fractured. I don’t claim to ‘understand’ it but I like having it around. The darker it grows outside the window, the worse the noises from the island, the more closely do I attend to the mass of instant-printed pamphlets that pile up around my desk. The very titles are pure adrenalin; Satyrs and Mephitic Angels, Tense Fodder, Hellhound Memos, Civic Crime, Alien Skies, Harpmesh Intermezzi, A Pocket History of the Soul. You don’t need to read them, just handle them: feel the sticky heat creep up through your fingers. If these things are ‘difficult’, they have earned that right. Why should they be easy? Why should they not reflect some measure of the complexity of the climate in which they exist? Why should we not be prepared to make an effort, to break sweat, in hope of high return? There’s no key, no Masonic password; take the sequences gently, a line at a time. Treat the page as a block, sound it for submerged sonar effects. Suspend conditioned reflexes. You don’t need to sign up for Tom Paulin’s masterclass to reap the reward. If it comes too sweetly, somebody’s trying to sell you something.”

As if to emphasise even more the links between one century and the next, three of the seven titles mentioned by Sinclair were published by Rod Mengham’s Cambridge based Equipage Press and there is perhaps a sense of appropriateness here in his being the co-editor of the first significantly challenging new anthology of the Twenty-First Century. In his introduction to Vanishing Points Mengham takes up the challenge of reading as thrown down by Randall Stevenson, looking at language on the page:

“The vanishing point lies beyond the horizon established by ruling conventions, it is where the imagination takes over from the understanding. Most anthologies of contemporary verse are filled with poems that do not cross that dividing-line, but our contention is that many poems in this volume are situated on the threshold of conventional sense-making. They go beyond the perspective of accepted canons of taste and judgement and ask questions about where they belong, and who they are meant for, often combining the pathos of estrangement with the irascibility of the refusenik.”

The thirty-two poets in this anthology are from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States of America but despite this wide geographical range what binds them together is “a strong insistence on finding ways of continuing and renewing the lyric impulse in poetry in English”. The British contributors include Caroline Bergvall, Brian Catling, David Chaloner, Andrew Crozier, Andrew Duncan, Roy Fisher, Ulli Freer, Tony Lopez, Barry MacSweeney, Anna Mendelssohn (Grace Lake), Drew Milne, Ian Patterson, J.H. Prynne, Peter Riley, Geoff Ward and John Wilkinson. Some of the poems in the anthology are from a much earlier date and Roy Fisher’s The Cut Pages first appeared in 1971 from Fulcrum Press before re-emerging in 1986 as a joint production of Oasis Books and Shearsman Books. Introducing the first appearance of the poem Fisher had told his readers that the “aim in the improvisation was to give the words as much relief as possible from serving in planned situations” and that the work “was taken forward with no programme beyond the principle that it should not know where its next meal was coming from”. This method of composition “produced very rapid changes of direction”. More on the cusp of the millennium Barry MacSweeney’s ‘Totem Banking’ and ‘I Looked Down On a Child Today’ were both written in 1998-1999 and included in his posthumous selected poems, Wolf Tongue, which appeared from Bloodaxe in 2003. ‘Totem Banking’ is dedicated to J.H. Prynne and the appropriate nature of its inclusion in this anthology is emphasised by Mengham’s introductory comments concerning the way in which “writers in this anthology have been part of a process of exchanging ideas manifested in little magazines, in the publishing programmes of small presses, and in the sheer volume of email and internet transactions”. It was Prynne, along with Andrew Crozier, who began much of this exchange of ideas with the creation and publication of The English Intelligencer back in the 1960s and it is a measure of the Cambridge poet’s professional commitment to new forms of writing that an extract from his own Red D Gypsum should form part of the new horizon posited by the editors of Vanishing Points.
Although Red D Gypsum was published by Barque Press (Andrea Brady and Keston Sutherland) in 1998 it was one of the later sequences which prompted Andrew Duncan in 2003 to write “Of course, Prynne’s aesthetic of difficulty often causes panic anxiety, feels like sensory deprivation, and invites misconstruction…people have different perceptions of what ‘good pattern’ is, and may experience incompleteness as anxiety as well as cognitive freedom”. Writing about the sequence in 2009 Nigel Wheale suggested that it is worth thinking about the sense in which reading it “may be a cumulative experience for the reader” requiring a different reading strategy. This, of course, is entirely in tune with the editorial comments in Vanishing Points and John Kinsella, the co-editor, stressed that “Typically, a poem gives the reader or listener something to take away from the text—an emotional gravitas, whimsical joy, intellectual or spiritual connection or awakening”.
At the end of the last century Kinsella had formed a publishing partnership with Clive Newman and Chris Hamilton-Emery and this new Salt Press heralded the world of Print-on-Demand (PoD). The press soon made a name for publishing a pluralist view of poetry and the 2004 publication of Vanishing Points was like the raising of a standard.

Ian Brinton 10th April 2017

Tears in the Fence 64

Tears in the Fence 64

Tears in the Fence 64 edited by David Caddy is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, fiction, prose poetry and translations from Jeremy Reed, Jim Burns, John Welch, John Freeman, Sally Dutton, Chris Hall, Michael Henry, Beth Davyson, Kinga Tóth, Paul Kareem Tayyar, D. I., Lydia Unsworth, David Pollard, Mike Duggan, Jeff Hilson, Sheila Mannix, I.S. Rowley, Richard Foreman, Jay Ramsay, Alison Winch, Andrew Taylor, Alan Baker, Sophie Herxheimer, L. Kiew, Ric Hool, S.J. Litherland, Rachael Clyne, Andrew Shelley, Tom Cowin, Morag Kiziewicz, Matt Bryden, Jessica Mookherjee, John Phillips, Ian Brinton & Michael Grant trans. Mallarmé, Terence J. Dooley trans. Mario Martin Giljó, Greg Bachar, Jennifer K. Dick, Matthew Carbery, Mark Goodwin, Aidan Semmens, Peter Dent, Sarah Cave, Julie Irigaray and Maria Isokova Bennett.
The critical section features John Freeman on Jim Burns: Poet as Witness, Andrew Henon on Timeless Man: Sven Berlin, Mary Woodward on Rosemary Tonks & Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Jeremy Reed on John Wieners, Norman Jope on Chris McCabe, Marsha de la O in conversation with John Brantingham, Neil Leadbeater on Jeremy Hilton, Nancy Gaffield on Geraldine Monk, Lesley Saunders on Alice Miller, Belinda Cooke on Carole Satyamurti, Steve Spence on Dear World and Everyone in it David Caddy on Andrew Lees’ Mentored by a Madman, Nigel Wood & Alan Halsey, Duncan Mackay on E.E. Cummings
, Notes on Contributors, and Ian Brinton’s Afterword.
The front cover is a black & white detail of a Sven Berlin watercolour (1982, private collection) and the magazine is designed by Westrow Cooper.

Map, (Poems After William Smith’s Geological Map of 1815) Edited by Michael McKimm Worple Press

Map, (Poems After William Smith’s Geological Map of 1815)  Edited by Michael McKimm Worple Press

In the early decades of the nineteenth century the civil engineer and geologist William Smith produced his maps giving a stratigraphic table for the rocks of Britain. As Michael McKimm tells us there are about 400 copies of this map, produced between 1815 and the 1830s, and one hangs on display in the entrance hall of the Geological Society of London. Two hundred years on from Smith’s Delineation of the Strata this anthology responds to that recognition of the way we relate to what lies beneath us in terms of both geological structure and historical fabric; it is an anthology of poems dealing with that world about which Charles Olson wrote in 1950 when he declared that ‘whatever you have to say, leave / the roots on, let them / dangle // And the dirt //Just to make clear / where they come from.’ As the editor puts it:

Their poems illustrate not only the vibrancy and variety of contemporary poetry but also poetry’s unique ability to take on uncharted territory with vision, to make connections…

The anthology contains a wide range of poems and I just highlight one or two as a taster of the delights to be found in this little volume from one of our very best small publishers.

John Freeman has four entries here and I am struck by the way in which ‘Strata Smith’ reminds me of early Dorn or Olson. I am thinking here of the early Dorn historical metanarrative, ‘Relics from a Polar Cairn’, which the American Black Mountaineer had sent to Gordon Taylor in December 1953 before it was published in Cid Corman’s Origin 13 in the summer of 1954. Comments on the poem appear in the second of my Black Mountain in England sequence of articles I did for PN Review ten years ago. Freeman’s poem opens up with that conversational informality which helps to reconstruct a scene:

We don’t know what they ate or drank. Three men
in a private room on a June evening,
the glass and china cleared from the table.
One man spoke, a second wrote, having ruled
a horizontal and four verticals
on a very large sheet of paper. The one
dictating went through, in order, with names
some of which he had improvised himself,
the twenty-three layers of various stuff,
including chalk, sand, clay and fuller’s earth,
always in the same sequence underground.
Each man took a copy before they parted.

This scene is placed for us, reconstructed along lines that might have stepped out of the pages of a narrative by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, and it is only by allowing the movement of the sentence to take us gently forward that we are able to register the stunning importance of the word ‘always’ heading that penultimate line. This map will change history. As Freeman puts it in the second section, ‘Nobody had ever seen this before. / There had been no understanding of what lay, / lies, beneath their feet and ours.’ The movement outwards from the local to the vast, as in some of those early Snyder poems based upon his experiences in Yosemite, is expansive as the poem concludes with days that ‘were getting longer and longer’:

that time of year when it seems light will go on
filling the whole world more and more brightly.

The anthology is too rich for me to give an account of each poem but there are delights from the well-known names of Philip Gross, Peter Robinson, John Greening, Anthony Wilson, Elizabeth Cook, Andrew Motion as well as so many more. Andy Brown, the editor of the very fine Kelvin Corcoran Reader The Writing Occurs as Song, (Shearsman 2014), gives us fossils as ‘a haunting from the underlying past’ and Helen Mort, the organiser of the recent John Riley Symposium in Leeds merges a past with a present in which she wishes to stay ‘until the very end’:

feeling the earth
move under me,

known by
nobody, part

of nothing,
whole

Get this important anthology from http://www.worplepress.co.uk

Peter Carpenter has got it right again!

Ian Brinton 10th May 2015