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Tears in the Fence 66

Tears in the Fence 66

Tears in the Fence 66 is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, prose poetry, fiction and flash fiction from Rachael Clyne, Camilla Nelson, Steve Spence, Isobel Armstrong, Anna Reckin, Jeremy Reed, Greg Bright, Adam Fieled, Maurice Scully, Zainab Ismail, Michael Henry, Sarah Cave, Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese, Paul Kareem Tayyar, Jinny Fisher, Alison Frank, Bethany Rivers, Nick Totton, F.J. Williams, Vahni Capildeo in Conversation with Suzannah V. Evans, Mike Duggan, John Welch, Jill Eulalie Dawson, James Midgley, Richard Foreman, Andrew Henon, Cora Greenhill, Peter J. King, Jane Wheeler, Jonathan Chant, Martin Stannard, Kate Noakes, Jonathan Catherall, John Goodby, David Clarke, Ren Watson, Claire Polders, Flash Fiction 3rd Prize winner, Keith Walton, Flash Fiction 2nd Prize winner, Sheila Mannix, Flash Fiction 1st Prize winner.

The critical section features Ian Brinton’s editorial, Jennifer K Dick’s Of Tradition & Experiment XIII, Steve Spence on Poems for Jeremy Corbyn, Norman Jope on Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry, Andrew Duncan on Seditious Things, Nick Totton on J.H. Prynne & Non-Representational Poetry, Lesley Saunders on Jane Draycott, Geraldine Clarkson, Jeremy Hilton on Sharon Morris, Alfred Celestine, Ulrikka S. Gernes, Scott Thurston on Allen Fisher, Steve Spence on New Plymouth Poetry, Will Daunt on Amos Weisz, Oliver Dixon on James Byrne, Cora Greenhill on the Scottish Women’s Poetry Symposium, Suzannah V. Evans on Richard Price, Mandy Pannett on Trumbull Stickney, Morag Kiziewicz’s Electric Blue 2, Kat Peddie on The Sovereign Community, Notes On Contributors and David Caddy’s Afterword

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The Meaning of Things: Poems and Prose by Elaine Randell (Shearsman Books)

The Meaning of Things: Poems and Prose by Elaine Randell (Shearsman Books)

There is an old saying about not judging other people until you have walked a mile in their shoes. In her reminiscences about her father, the concluding section of this powerfully moving new book, Elaine Randell puts it slightly differently:

“If anyone ever behaved badly or was criticised by my mother or me, he would always say, to know all is to forgive all, you have to understand why people do certain things and behave in a certain way before jumping in, Elaine.”

Elaine Randell’s career in social work and psychotherapy complements her substantial work as a poet which stretches back to Nos 3 & 4 of The Curiously Strong in November 1971 where she appeared alongside Barry MacSweeney in ‘The official Biography of Jim Morrison’, Just 22 And Don’t Mind Dying. Two years later a short book of poems appeared from MacSweeney’s Blacksuede Boot Press, Telegrams From The Midnight Country, and it is one of these short pieces that lingers in my mind as I read Randell’s new volume from Shearsman Books:

“See how the tree comes to
ward.
A heavy wind here pesters
loose wood.
Sky steps are light.
The birds fly up ex
static.”

In an interview the American Objectivist Charles Reznikoff suggested that poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling: it should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling. Of course the feeling is there in the selection of material: you pick certain things that are significant—that’s your feeling. You don’t go into the feeling; you portray it as well as you can, hoping that somebody else reading the poem will get your feeling:

“Now, as part of that, I should perhaps say that I try to be as clear and precise as possible….my own belief is to name and to name and to name—and to name in such a way that you have rhythm, since music (and I think George Oppen would agree with me) is also part of the meaning”.

I’m sure that Randell would certainly agree with Reznikoff and that early poem, titled ‘For You – Today’, would not look out of place in the 1934 Objectivist Press publication Jerusalem the Golden. For instance look at the three lines of ‘July’ in that Reznikoff volume:

“No one is in the street but a sparrow;
it hops on the glittering sidewalk,
and at last flies – into a dusty tree.”

Randell’s The Meaning of Things is divided into four sections the last being two autobiographical pieces of memory of the poet’s mother and father. In section II that naming and rhythm which mattered so much to both Reznikoff and Oppen is placed securely in ‘Easter 2014 Romney Marsh’:

“On such a day the skylark
heard above the tractor before seen
up that high.
Who could not be charged
by his ecstatic salute to life
upwards and yet further up he shows how to sing while flying
while
plummeting
vertically effortlessly hovering before parachuting back.
On such a day you had also heard this
known perhaps that despite their aerial activities,
skylarks nest on the ground not in trees which may catch the wind.”

Forty-four years ago in ‘For You – Today’ the second line opens with what might be perceived to be the second syllable of the word “toward”. However, by being placed where it is that word becomes a verb “ward” and the note of warning and care held in both sound and meaning of that small word leads the reader forward to the third line’s reference to “A heavy wind” and the repeated ‘w’s, agitated by the use of “pesters”, take us to the fragility of “loose wood”. In this new poem there is a contrast between the firm placing on a ground, “On such a day”, with the following nine syllables of line two ending in the open music of “seen”. The poem echoes the surge of movement and song as the lark moves “upwards and yet further up he shows how to sing while flying”.
George Oppen was a great admirer of the slightly older Reznikoff and in a 1959 letter to June Oppen Degnan, his half-sister and publisher of San Francisco Review, he wrote:

“Rezi wrote

Among the heap of brick and plaster lies
A girder, still itself among the rubbish.

Likely he could mull along and tell you what he had in mind. But how other than with this image could he put into your mind so clearly the miracle of existence—the existence of things. It is only because the image hits so clear and sudden that the poem means what it means. I don’t know that he could make it any clearer by talking about it.”

Elaine Randell’s new publication presents the reader with poetry and prose. The poetry stands clear on the page, THINGS. The prose, reminiscent of John Berger’s account of a doctor in the Forest of Dean in A Fortunate Man, gives us human voices that unsettle us with their convincing presentation of emptiness and perseverance, loss and determination. This is an important book.

Ian Brinton 4th March 2017

Tears in the Fence Flash Fiction Competition Results

Tears in the Fence is delighted to announce that the winners of its first Flash Fiction Competition are as follows:

First Prize: Many a Pearl is Still Hidden in the Oyster by Ingrid Jendrzejewski
Second Prize: To Thee Do We Send Up Our Sighs by Niamh MacCabe
Third Prize: Coeval by Jackie Sullivan
Highly Commended: Found in the Street by James Bell.

Congratulations to the winners. Their flash fiction will appear in Tears in the Fence 65, due out in February.

The Tears in the Fence Flash Fiction Competition was judged anonymously by three judges. The judges were looking for inventive use of the form and to be drawn into and surprised by a fictional world. There were many striking and moving entries with some unusual plots and arcs. Many entries combined strong characterisation with unpredictable plots. Each judge produced a long list and then a short list. A great many entries made the long lists indicating that the general standard of entries was fairly even. From the combined shortlists a final shortlist emerged, which each judge reread and produced a top five. From the top fives and an agreed top four emerged.

The final shortlist was suitably diverse with many unpredictable stories and comprised of the following entries:

Strange Creatures by Keith Walton, Those Little Details by Ren Watson, Too Close for Comfort by Emma Norry, A Fine Goodbye by Ren Watson, Ten Ways to Prepare for Your Brothers’ Visit by Judith Higgins, Molly and the Toe Rag by Catherine Edmunds, Found In The Street by James Bell, Campanula Capratica by Phil Knight, To Thee Do We Send Up Our Sighs by Niamh MacCabe, Then It Was Autumn Again by Sherri Turner, Many a pearl is still hidden in the oyster by Ingrid Jenrzejewski, Spy Film by Alan Beard, Ladybird by Alan Beard, Snowdrop by Jacqueline Haskell, Jack’s Hat by Robert Vas Dias, and Coeval by Jackie Sullivan.

Congratulations to all those whose work was recognised by the judges.

We will be holding a second Flash Fiction Competition between issues 65 and 66.

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.

Chances of a Storm by Rod Mengham (Carcanet Press)

Chances of a Storm by Rod Mengham (Carcanet Press)

Rod Mengham’s tale, ‘The Cloak’, is written in a tone of voice that reminds me of the compelling power of storytelling as exemplified by Tolstoy in the 1880s with his tales such as ‘What Men Live By’, ‘How Much Land Does a Man Need’ or ‘A Spark Neglected Burns the House’. At the same time, the anger and bitterness of injustice that threads its way through the storyteller’s art makes one realise how much the tale is about the very language used to tell it. When writing about the focus Dickens brought to bear upon sliding scales of value Mengham has, in the past, suggested that ‘A specific human complexity is reduced to the level of the lowest common denominator—exchange value—’. In his 1995 book, Language, he went on to give the reader a powerful passage from Our Mutual Friend in which Mr and Mrs Boffin search for an orphan to adopt and uncover an endless supply of equally dispensable human units:

‘The suddenness of an orphan’s rise in the market was not to be paralleled by the maddest records of the Stock Exchange. He would be at five thousand per cent discount out at nurse making a mud pie at nine in the morning, and (being inquired for) would go up to five thousand per cent premium before noon…fluctuations of a wild and South Sea nature were occasioned, by orphan-holders keeping back, and then rushing into the market a dozen together. But, the uniform principle at the root of all these various operations was bargain and sale…’

The bitter humour that juxtaposes the language of ‘Stock Exchange’ and ‘mud pie’ can be recognised in Mengham’s powerful story of ‘The Cloak’ which had been first published in PN Review 222 earlier this year before taking up its place in this fine collection being published by Carcanet this November.

‘The most affecting stories of urban poverty—workers dying of cold, starving in basements—were penned by a neat bourgeois from a small town whose louvred windows were never opened wide on impulse; its aesthetic awareness was tailored by having to choose the right kind of paving slab, riven or smooth. The repair, maintenance, adornment, beautification of the urban fabric was discussed during the evening passegiate. The walking and talking was conducted through the main shopping thoroughfare, which itself became the focus for rival schemes of showy benefaction. In this way, the town acquired its world-famous drain covers. Their extravagant designs were meant to publicise the wealth of donors, but only put the lid on their stench.’

The image of unpleasant matters being swept under the carpet is powerfully placed here and calls to mind the passage Dickens wrote about Newgate Prison in Sketches by Boz in which he refers to ordinary people strolling along streets, walking and talking, passing and repassing (passegiate)

‘this gloomy depository of the guilt and misery of London, in one perpetual stream of life and bustle, utterly unmindful of the throng of wretched creatures pent up within it—nay, not even knowing, or if they do, not heeding, the fact, that as they pass one particular angle of the massive wall with a light laugh or a merry whistle, they stand within one yard of a fellow creature, bound and helpless, whose hours are numbered, from whom the last feeble ray of hope has fled for ever, and whose miserable career will shortly terminate in a violent and shameful death.’

The pictures that appear on our international news channels, filling up the space between sports news and a dancing competition, are of refugees and migrants searching the globe for something more than starvation and bloodshed. In Mengham’s powerful tale they become symbolized by the one figure of ‘a man sitting by the dusty road that stretched out of view’. When asked by the narrator what is the matter the ‘man could not reply but pulled aside his cloak revealing a dead child’. The echo of the second ghost, that of Christmas Present, in A Christmas Carol is loud and clear. In Dickens’s tale the figures lurking beneath the ghost’s cloak are ‘yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish’ and they are named ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Want’. The warning is given ‘Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.’
Rod Mengham’s prophetic tale ends with the only hope that can survive: ‘All that might be preserved was the memory of their flight; and the poor man could now relinquish this charge to his listener.’ Like a modern-day Ancient Mariner the fleeing man tells his story:

‘Into this deadened world came the smallest flicker of life, like the flare of a match inside a blackened dome. It was the poor man’s voice, feeling its way in the dark towards the gossamer-like trance of words leading him almost against his will towards failing light. He began to tell his story—for the first and last time, since in the act of listening the writer could not help changing words, adding several details while leaving many out; and in general making the story his own; and the poor man perfectly realised this before laying his burden down.’

The dead child is to be placed in the garden of the highest tower ‘For there is the grave that is nearest to heaven’. But the tower from the opening of Mengham’s book on Language is, of course, that of Babel. When stories are told they will be in different languages and there will be enormous confusion. Perhaps the only way to reveal what is under the paving stones before the stench becomes unbearable and deadly is to attempt to keep language clean from ‘exchange value’. Or as Mengham put it in Language

‘It is in the area of tension generated between a horizon of fixed standards and a horizon of no standards that the conditions of identity can be explored.’

This new collection of poems and prose-poems contains two sequences that were published last year, The Understory (corrupt press) and Paris by Helen (Oystercatcher), both of which I wrote about in blog reviews in June and July 2014. But it also, most valuably, contains much, much more and for me the volume would be worth acquiring even if it were just for that marvellous, moving and central tale, ‘The Cloak’.

Ian Brinton 5th November 2015

End Matter by Katrina Palmer (Artangel and Book Works, 2015)

End Matter by Katrina Palmer (Artangel and Book Works, 2015)

Katrina Palmer’s diverting book consisting of End Matter, such as appendices, addendum, attachment, epilogue, postscript, postface and maps serves as the documentary vestiges of a missing book. This book is immediately open to conjecture and the consideration of Portland, its history and stone. Following J.H. Prynne, the reader should be prepared to work outside the immediate text of End Matter in order to fully enquire beyond what remains of the missing book. End Matter accounts for the loss of Portland stone, one key to its history, through the work of the Loss Adjusters, responsible for accounting and balancing the material and historical shifts of the island. This peculiar angle offers great fun and some insight but crucially ignores the quarry stone owners, such as Portland Stone Firms active since 1700, and their exploitation of the quarrymen and their families. It does though afford a questionable narrative involving a writer in residence on the island, a rogue Loss Adjuster, a Carniter of the Court Leet, the deviant daughters of a quarryman and a convict in some unreliable stories. This offers Palmer the opportunity of filling out a fiction in the appendices and takes the form of Loss Adjuster reports:

Ostensible Format of Loss Adjuster’s Minutes For General Meeting No. –
Retrieved From The Memory Archive
Further To The Loss of The Rogue Loss Adjuster
Further to the Discovery of The Writer-in Residence’s
narrative: ‘The Rogue and The Carniter’

This is achieved very much tongue in cheek. Thus:

Data under investigation should be spoken aloud in the office, each Adjuster taking a paragraph in turn, interspersed with interpretation.
In this way a compressed and layered history can be formulated.

The Loss Adjusters are able to comment upon the illogicalities of the writer’s narratives, which offer a potted history of the island. In fact, the island’s history and that of the quarrymen and the stone buyers is quite complex and far from uniform. There is a local saying that the reason the Houses of Parliament exterior Portland stone is chipping away is that the owners when pricing the blocks, with a mark used to place the stone frontally, would turn them around and change the agreed price to make more money. There were decades of acute depression in the Portland stone market and times when the industry almost disappeared. However, the quality of the stone was always the preferred one for the country’s most important buildings such as Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, the National Gallery, the British Museum, the Cenotaph, and the Bank of England.

Palmer’s angle is to look at loss and absence as the most striking feature of Portland stone through the work of the Loss Adjuster’s material representations of the displaced landscape and the compensation accrued in the form of buildings elsewhere. This avoids dealing with the social relations between quarrymen and the buyers of their labour, complicated yet further by the variable quality and uses of the stone and its exact constituents. However, this may be the missing book, and that is where the book’s attraction lies.
The narrative in the appendices offers an alternate reading of what may or not lie in the book of the reader’s imagination. If some readers know little of Portland they may think that there are tales of piracy, shipwrecks, sea fishing and romance connected with the island.

Palmer is good on the harbour, its forts, and the prison, opened in 1848 as a convict prison. The Adjusters note the equation of Portland stone removal and intake of prisoners on the island. There is an absence of the indigenous Portlander’s cultural distinctiveness. They are, in my experience, quirky and adaptable people. Consider the poets, such as Tim Allen, Jack Clemo, Cecil Durston, also a master stonemason, Richard Mason and Louisa Adjoa Parker, connected with or from Portland. End Matter, in the end, is a clever work of fiction rather than a deeper social-historical working of the island’s materials. The Loss Adjusters appendices have been made into an audio walk, with field recordings, and are available for download at http://www.artangel.org.uk/projects/2015/end_matter/about_the_project/end_matter and the Quarryman’s Daughters has been broadcast on BBC Radio Four. The book has some generous photographs and is beautifully produced. It is a notable work.

David Caddy May 28th 2015

Rod Mengham’s descent into language: The Understory

Rod Mengham’s descent into language: The Understory

(corrupt press limited January 2014)

www.corruptpress.net

 

In the opening pages of his book Language (published by Fontana Press in 1995) Rod Mengham examined the world of Babel; ‘for there was confounded the lippe of all the erthe’ according to John Wyclif’s translation of Genesis 11:9 which hit the light of day some six hundred years earlier.

 

‘The descent from the Tower, then, is like another Fall: a decline into anarchy and linguistic isolation. And yet the instant of chaos in the biblical myth stands for nothing less than the whole of human history, for the process of gradual divergence, and occasional re-convergence, of multifarious linguistic traditions.’

 

It is quite echoing then to read in the first of these six short fictions which have recently appeared in a delightful chapbook from corrupt press about Icarus:

 

He is a diver to the inky cold of the ocean floor, among blind crabs. Volcanic tapers flare briefly. Cormorant fledgling breaks away from the gelid wax. Oiled skin breathes the Kleinian blue. But pressure rattles the lens, changes the convexity of the eye. Currents of lymph sweep away the pin-head sharks and invisible squid. Retinal flurry translates into rushing shoals leading him down to muffled chasms, cathedral rocks. Breathing equipment shuts off, oxygen tubes flatten, general failure of instruments measuring depth, pressure, and the malignity of the earth’s crust.

 

We are transported into a world that merges ‘Landscape and the Fall of Icarus’ (once attributed to Brueghel and made famous with Auden’s poem) with the art of reading: we are looking for what lies beneath the surface of these compelling fictions, the understory, the subtext.

There are other echoes inhabiting these stories and I found myself recalling Paul Auster’s terrifying futuristic novel In the Country of Last Things as I read Mengham’s ‘Diary of an Imperial Surgeon’ and the historical mischievousness of Milan Kundera as I read the opening paragraph of ‘Will O’The Wisp’. In that earlier book, Language, Rod Mengham had suggested that in its evolutionary descent ‘language has become inextricably meshed with the codes of information processing to a degree that makes less and less distinction between technological and vital structures and processes. On the one hand, there is a register in which the difference between hardware (mechanical equipment) and software (programmes) is neither more nor less apparent than either’s difference from liveware (human beings)’.

 

Rod Mengham runs Equipage Press in Cambridge and an excellent introduction to the history of that small press which has had so much to do with the world of contemporary poetry can be located in PN Review 215 where Luke Roberts wrote a brief history as well as giving a list of publications in print.

 

I found The Understory fascinating and it is a little pamphlet to which I shall return again and again not least on account of the clarity and clean edge of the prose.

 

Ian Brinton 5th June 2014

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