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Category Archives: Collaborative venture

Black Book by Robert Vas Dias & Julia Farrer (Shearsman Books)

Black Book by Robert Vas Dias & Julia Farrer (Shearsman Books)

This profoundly serious book is an oeuvre noir, ‘an ethical response to a range of contemporary atrocities and acts of inhumanity’ (Robert Hampson). The ‘Black Book’ has an authoritarian and punitive sense to it: if you do not fit in with the rules then your name will be entered in the ‘black book’. The power of the book was legendary and even Christopher Tietjens’s father in Ford Madox Ford’s Some Do Not held an implicit belief in the ‘great book’ in which a mark might be placed against your name, damning you for social elevation! But there is also the oeuvre au noir which forms part of the alchemical magic suggesting that a new world might be created from this current one. For that we might go to Marguerite Yourcenar’s novel about Zeno. If this powerful new work by Robert Vas Dias is not despairing of humanity it is because, as the Rector of St. James’s Piccadilly puts it on the back cover:

‘…black dwells just before the light shines and hurts my eyes. Black invites me to rest from the uninvited and exhausting battery of illusions that fill my days. A book that is black narrates stories of night-time experiments in the telling of truth.’

The Forward that Vas Dias writes focuses on a register of ‘our outrage at the inhumanity of humanity’ and the book that he and Julia Farrer have composed ‘is analogous to the ways in which war poets, war artists and photographers, and journalists have always worked and exhibited’. The subtitle of the book is ‘An Assemblage of the Fragmentary’ and the poet and the artist played around with the idea of ‘an art of fragments, an art that recapitulates the way in which we receive information in fragmentary form in media reports that start as necessarily incomplete stories’. Julia Farrer’s images were drawn on a computer using a 3-D program, ‘fragmented and manipulated randomly’; Robert Vas Dias’s writing combines a ticker-tape of text which bears witness to the suffering of the body under regimes of torture with, above it, a series of statements:

‘let us consider the forming of walls, the mortar

of words I use to form my walls, to make my side

a better side, the other side is where the other side

resides, I’m on the right side and you are not, the

side you’re on is undesirable and my side is right

because I am right and you are wrong…’

Juxtaposed against these words are shorter lines in red and they include such phrases as ‘enhanced interrogation’ and ‘surgical precision’. The walls that are presented here have little to do with Robert Frost’s famous lines concerning ‘Mending Walls’ but have more in common with William Blake’s sharp proverb of Hell: ‘Prisons are built with stones of law, Brothels with bricks of religion.’ The epigraph to this book is a statement from Tagore: ‘where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls’ and the fragmentary episodes threading a narrative throughout reveal ‘black sites’ where ‘anything went’.
This book demands to be read and its responses taken to heart:

‘for refugees it’s not about seeking a better life
it’s about having any life at all

I have a dream a world without borders
today more than ever’

Ian Brinton 8th December 2016

Fifty Six: a poem sequence Carol Watts & George Szirtes (Arc Publications)

Fifty Six: a poem sequence Carol Watts & George Szirtes (Arc Publications)

The author’s note at the beginning of this wonderful adventure into a world of language and imagination weaves its charm:

‘Collaboration at its best is a magical form of encounter, a curious listening and discovery.’

This statement immediately recalled to my mind one made by Octavio Paz at the opening of his collaborative work with Charles Tomlinson published in 1981 as Airborn / Hijos Del Aire:

‘Since its origin poetry has been the art of joining together the echoes of words: chains of air, impalpable but unbreakable’.

Tomlinson’s account of the collaboration gave a precise point of origin:

‘These collaborative poems were the result of a meeting, early one summer in Gloucestershire, when, out of the many words we had thought and spoken, we chose “house” and “day” as the words for a future postal meditation in sonnet form. “House” arose because the stone cottage in which Octavio Paz and his wife were our guests was a place we all felt affection for, and also because at that time the Pazes had no settled house of their own. “Day” was our last day together, when the sky took on a Constable-like activity, the breeze moving clouds swiftly through the blue and involving the landscape in a rapid succession of changes. I think time was at the back of all our minds, and that “day” (time passing) thus came into a natural relationship with “house” (time measured by place).’

The echoing music of language in these recently published 56 poems by George Szirtes and Carol Watts is there from the outset: ‘words are outflung birds’ soon calls up a response of ‘wings, winds, blinds, pinks, mornings…’. As the growth of the sequence focuses on ‘coming in to speech’ and a ‘complicity with / what is out of reach & nonetheless a naming’ so it prompts an echoing call of ‘All else is translation’. The ‘Dead skin’ of language moves and stays still:

‘…out of the core
into its own marginalia, its reimagining
into the perpetual hover between desire
and its objects, into its own remaining’.

The poets tell us of an exchange which became much more than ‘a collaborative game for both of us’. In the process of a chant from one to the other, ‘speaking-singing’, other voices rise: ‘Chaucer surfaced, a whaling song, fragments of overheard conversation, the thickness of paint’. As the sequence glides forward

‘We became involved less in the mechanism, more in the rich ground that kept opening. The exchange is littered with fractures and hints, with associations that leap off in both linguistic and narrative directions.’

This litter, (‘Loved Litter of Time Spent’ as Andrew Crozier would have put it), contains tiny echoes of the song of the Rhine-daughters (‘la la’), of Pound’s Pisan Cantos with its rain-space and those small cries ‘you hear in the far distance / settling in the gaps’. The first poem consists of 28 lines and its responding poem has 27; the movement forward is decisive as a tide. Poem 28 has one line only ‘You took the words out of my mouth’ and the following poem endorses this point of change by simply saying ‘But the struggle to begin, neap tongue’. And with that the movement flows forward again page by page as ‘The tide that sweeps in draws back’. As we arrive at 27 lines (poem 55)

‘…Skin takes over the task
of telling, its folds & scrimping.’

The 28 lines of the 56th poem gives us a final literary echo of Auden’s ‘As I Walked Out One Evening’ and the sequence concludes with

‘…It’s late
and the wind is caught in the mouth of the clock.
Bare branches. Clarities. The clear cold night.’

Having opened this short review with an eye cast back to the 1980s I will close it by referring to another collaboration between poets of distinction. In 2011 Shearsman Books published The Pistol Tree Poems of Peter Hughes and Simon Marsh. At the time Nathan Thompson wrote that this collaboration was ‘wide-ranging’ and ‘deceptively deep-thinking’ and that the poetry was ‘disguised as imaginative twitches at the mind’s eye-corners’. These glimpses of presence and loss prompted Marsh to write from Varzi in April 2010, a few days after the death of his partner Emanuela:

‘tiles of
primary brightness
cast in
muntin shadow
a tattered map
fallen
at my feet
whenever
we were lost
we held
each other’s breath’

His contribution closes with a single line taken from Emanuela’s prints, ‘& swap love for light’.
In Fifty-Six the concluding poem by Carol Watts leaves us ‘In light, / the action of. Continual beginning.’ This collaboration which is in front of us now is poetry of a very serious order; once read you will return to it time and time again.

Ian Brinton 11th August 2016

The ‘EUOIA’ collaboration

The ‘EUOIA’ collaboration

The ‘EUOIA’ is a collaborative venture that extends the premise of the fictional poetry of my volume, A Translated Man, published by Shearsman in 2013, which is given over to my own invention, the fictional Belgian poet René Van Valckenborch. (He has a whole page on my website: http://robertsheppard.weebly.com/rene-van-valckenborch.html.) Apparently writing in both Flemish and Walloon, and translated and edited by entities as shadowy (and dodgy) as himself, Van Valckenborch’s split oeuvre derives from the linguistic and cultural divide within contemporary Belgium. They are ‘fictional poems’, not hoaxes, and that distinction is important for me.

The last project of his Flemish writings was to invent the ‘EUOIA: The European Union Of Imaginary Authors’. Van Valckenborch invents his own fictional authors and, being in Brussels (capital of the EU), hits upon the idea of one for each member country. In the book we read a sample of five women writers, one poem each. I’ve put together a website for it (www.euoia.weebly.com), which now describes the latest project with regular updates (as does my blog http://www.robertsheppard.blogspot.com).

You can also watch the Liverpool Camarade (February 2015) showing me reading with several collaborators here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSLlfz5mfOY, though it’s also added to the website now, as is the video of Zoe Skoulding reading our Cypriot poet Gurkan Arnavut. (It’s also here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-UHv9lFaxU). So far, the collaborations, either finished or currently underway, have been with colleagues, old friends, new friends, young poets, and (a deliberate decision) female poets. The methods of collaboration range from one word at a time (with Philip Terry) to whole poems (Kelvin Corcoran). Some (with Jèssica Pujol i Duran and Alys Conran) leave me not quite sure who wrote what. The result is a developing anthology, which I hope will be published (before the EU referendum: Van Valckenborch had NO idea how timely his project would be).

Croatia Martina Marković (1982-) with James Byrne (and Damir Šodan).
Austria Sophie Poppmeier (1981-) with Jason Argleton (See more on Sophie Poppmeier on Pages at: http://www.robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/robert-sheppard-euoia-sophie-poppmeier.html)
Belgium Paul Coppens (1980-) with Philip Terry
Bulgaria Ivaylo Dimitrov (1979-) with Patricia Farrell
Cyprus Gurkan Arnavut (1978-) with Zoë Skoulding
Finland Minna Kärkkäinen (1974-) with Allen Fisher
Greece Eua Ionnou (1971-) with Kelvin Corcoran
Ireland Sean Eogan (1969-) with Steve MacCaffery
Luxembourg Georg Bleinstein (1965-2046) with Tom Jenks
Malta Hubert Zuba (1964-) with Scott Thurston
Netherlands Maarten De Zoete (1963-) with God’s Rude Wireless (a cut up machine)
Portugal Ana Cristina Pessao (1961-) with Jèssica Pujol i Duran
Spain Cristòfol Subira (1957-) with Alys Conran (Our reading as part of Gelynion Poetry (Bangor), on May 26th 2015, may be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVOfQEMoss4.)
Sweden Kajsa Bergström (1956-) with Steven Fowler
United Kingdom Robert Sheppard (1955-)

There is a bonus track (outside the EU and beyond reality): Frisland: Hróbjartur Ríkeyjarson af Dvala (1948- ), written with Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl, and, of course: Poland: Jaroslav Biały (1962-) with Anamaría Crowe Serrano, which is featured in the current issue of Tears in the Fence.

In some ways this has been the most extraordinary collaboration, and partly because, unlike most of the other collaborators (except Jason Argleton, who is a fiction, and God’s Rude Wireless, ‘who’ is a machine) I have never met Anamaría. But Jaroslav Biały has a special place in the sequence because I felt so completely taken out of myself and made into (half) of someone else. It’s a difficult thing to describe, the process of being othered and familiarised at the same time. When it’s over, there is a period of mourning because you realise you’ll never re-create him, as it were. There’s nothing else to come. (This is a common feeling of reading foreign poetry; at the moment I’m reading a Hugo Claus selection, and I’m reading incomplete sequences and extracts that leave me dissatisfied, among the other causes of intense satisfaction: that I’d managed to get the particularly rural gloom of Belgium right, in some early Van Valckenborch poems, for example! They are just great poems anyway.)

Nevertheless, there is more of Jaroslav at The Bogman’s Cannon: http://bogmanscannon.com/2015/05/06/poetic-fictions/. But no more. Thank you Anamaría; thank you Jaroslav.

Robert Sheppard 30th October 2015

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