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Category Archives: English Poetry

Happenstance by Duncan MacKay (Muscaliet Press)

Happenstance by Duncan MacKay (Muscaliet Press)

In writing about Eleanor Perry’s ‘Pataquerical Imagination’ in issue 70 of Tears in the Fence last autumn Duncan MacKay suggested that close reading and close listening ‘function in tandem’ and that they are indeed the ‘two complementary poles of our experiential poetic whole’. That wholeness of response rings out of the pages of Muscaliet Press’s new selection of MacKay’s poems, Happenstance, and as we read the poem ‘HER WORDS HIS’ we recognise a quality of poetic response to ‘displacements of faulty memory’ where ‘in transposition we refigure the word’. In terms of that refiguring it is interesting to note how MacKay’s interest in the poetics of J.H. Prynne had led him to quote from an interview given in 2011 in which the Cambridge poet spoke of the difficulties of translating his own work at the time of the publication of a bilingual English-Chinese edition of his selected poems. MacKay’s quotation comes from his article on Prynne’s Kazoo Dreamboats which appeared in Tears 65. Prynne had suggested that for the English Poetry Studies Institute in Guangzhou there might be some focus upon how to translate the words of the poems, ‘their activity of language, rather than to resolve what might seem to be the question of meaning and then to render the meaning of the resulting interpretation’. MacKay’s interest in Prynne’s poetry might also be detected in his own earlier collection of poems, Briefly Speaking (Blurb, March 2015) where in ‘A Poetry of Logical Ideas’

‘All now seemed
possible, making
connections, rather than
a stop
& start, but by
putting a twist
in &
letting go.’

In Happenstance there is a careful precision of language and it comes as no surprise that one poem should bear an epigraph from Leo Tolstoy: ‘It’s in the linkages’. ‘HER WORDS HIS’ is the poem preceding this reference and the echoes and melodies in it are worth pausing for:

‘Few we are & fall from each other’

The hint of loss in that word ‘fall’ is partly to do with the source of the phrase in Thomas Nashe’s ‘Litany in Time of Plague’ where ‘Brightness falls from the air’ but is also heard in the shift of vowels from ‘few’ to ‘fall’: a sound which precedes a hint of the loss of social being with the inclusion of the last three words. That opening line is followed by an indented phrase the appearance of which on the page defines its own visible presence:

‘dust on the shelf as dust’

Dust is not only a word associated with the permanence of loss as in a funeral service but remains as a reminder of what is produced in stillness and this quiet emphasis is taken up in the third line

‘among the self-effacing typed scraps photos black & white’

And this world of visual re-creation, like tears shed by Leontes at a tomb’s side, echoes again that late play by Shakespeare in which ‘who that was lost is now found’. MacKay’s interest in A Winter’s Tale is here an echo of the poem of that title which appeared towards the close of the earlier volume of poems where

‘As time drew on as I do
of each the light of stars
as rain of snow, those moments
just but always turning as of words’ [.]

Happenstance is a beautifully produced volume which I urge readers to buy and it is worth bearing in mind the words used by Robert Hampson on the inside cover:

‘A sustained exploration of writing as an enactment of cognition; perception through the materiality of language.’

The phrase used here anticipates MacKay’s forthcoming book on George Oppen’s poetry which will appear from Liverpool University Press. Oppen like Prynne is a figure in the shadowed background of Happenstance and ‘George & Mary answered for one another’ finishing sentences ‘the other had begun’ before occasionally speaking ‘the same words in unison’.

Ian Brinton 15th July 2020

Shop Talk: Poems for Shop Workers by Tanner (Penniless Press)

Shop Talk: Poems for Shop Workers by Tanner (Penniless Press)

Since the mid-2000s, Tanner (the ‘Paul’ was dropped in about 2009) has been publishing interesting, distinctive work in The Crazy Oik, Monkey Kettle, Penniless Press, Pulsar, The Recusant and elsewhere, as well as satirical cartoons and a novel. The earlier collections include graphics and prose heavy on bodily fluids and youthful opinion, but among them are poems that shine in their energy, wit and fast-paced depictions of bus-stop-level life ‘in the autumn of our country’ in Birkenhead and Preston. This latest collection has identified the strongest stuff and honed it well. The settings are a series of supermarkets and minimarkets, and the perspective is of a low-paid shelf-stacker/ till-attendant. The management are a pain,

they’d keep you behind, unpaid
for 15 minutes a night
just because they could,

but the customers are far worse. They queue-jump, moan, spit, make personal comments, demand unreasonable discounts or refunds, and are consistently abusive and occasionally violent. Their kids, meanwhile, trash the store. The shopworker gets riled, and can’t resist reacting with demurral, wisecracks or mere candour, and after comic and sometimes hair-raising escalations, ends up being warned, sacked or even assaulted ‒ or simply walks out. The pattern repeats with variations in the manner of a comic-strip or sitcom series: he’s back on the dole, then into another dead-end job, and up comes another snotty punter… The poems themselves set up each drama and conflict fast. Their line-breaks and cadences are functionally perfect. They zip along, low on pretension, fuss and adjective count:

She told me
her and her daughter
were going to wait outside the shop
after closing
and stab me

she even showed me the knife:

More impressive still, they build cumulatively into a disquieting picture of what post-community consumerism is doing to our sense of decent behaviour. Tanner’s particular focus is what it does to the poorest, who can treat shopworkers as one of the few groups they can successfully bully. And how, in turn, the resentment of such workers towards the non-working plays into the hands of the Right. Tanner’s character isn’t going to join a union, take up an Open University course, turn to crime or even go into a different line of work. Shop experience is all he has – along with (less commonly) the compensation of writing:

I could have told him
he was going the right way about
ending up in a poem

and the possibility of even that let-out veering, via the Orwellian, towards the traditions of Knut Hamsun and Céline. (The last poem, consolingly, does suggest a nascent solidarity.) At any rate, with both narrator and creator now well into their thirties, the comedy, I imagine, will continue getting wryer and bleaker:

they tell me
none of us is immortal
but sometimes working in retail
feels life-threateningly close to it.

The book’s back cover quotes fake reviewers carping about it in the same petulant, bad-tempered manner as the supermarket shoppers. Not this one, though: who thinks it’s a fresh, original, eye-opening and powerfully written collection; who’s a very happy customer.

Guy Russell 6th July 2020

This Small Patch by Tom Kelly (Red Squirrel Press)

This Small Patch by Tom Kelly (Red Squirrel Press)

Born in Jarrow, working at sixteen in the Merchant Dry Dock and still living not far away, Tom Kelly has been producing plays, music and film lyrics, short stories and poems for over thirty years in his native North-East. His lifetime’s knowledge of his locality continues, as the title here signals, to be his major source of subject-matter. This collection ‒ his eighth from Red Squirrel in the last twelve years, not forgetting earlier ones from KT, Here Now, Smokestack, and (long ago) Tears in the Fence ‒ also contains song lyrics, speeches from the 1930s Jarrow Crusade, and explanatory prose commentaries. The lyrics lose something on their own, as lyrics generally do, but it’s worth checking the Men of the Tyne songs on the CD, and the documentary on YouTube, where they come into glorious full effect. Of the poems, there’s none here as brilliant as the earlier, savage ‘The Wrong Jarrow’ and no line as arresting as ‘‘No’ is the password, stamped on their hopes’ with its terrific repurposing of ‘password’. Nonetheless the majority preserve a solid style and feel across time: the present historic, the asyndeton, the low-key language and deferred epiphany. Sometimes Kelly’s poems appear to stop before they’ve got going. Sometimes they feel like notes. Moments of pure lyricism are sparse, like moments of joy:

The film’s something celestial
fallen into our laps,

More often, ‘fine phrasing’ gets cut with grim bathos:

Tears hold their own in the corners of her eyes
wishing they could be used in the pawn shop.

Admittedly, it’s not the most rewarding style if you’re in search of linguistic fireworks and metatextual car-chases. Other writers identifying with the skilled working class ‒ Tony Harrison or Andy Croft, say ‒ forge arabesques of wordplay alongside precise rhyming in difficult formalisms to enact toil and struggle and craftsmanship. But perhaps Kelly’s offers an equally authentic way to approach the mental universes of these industrial lives of outward good-fellowship but constricted emotional display, whose laconic narrators resist at all costs the flashy, long-worded or bombastic, and retreat into collocation or summary at the moment of truth:

There’s just a great gap of love
you endured
and my gaping wound.

Certainly, the poems sent me away to investigate Tyneside history: from Bede, whose monastery was in Jarrow, through England’s last gibbeting, the abrupt end of shipbuilding in 1933 and the unspeakable deprivation that led to the march to London; the post-war recovery, and then the early-Eighties destruction. All of these are touched upon and intermixed with family histories and 1950s childhood memories in a nice counterpointing of the social and personal. The concluding section returns to the present, memorialising the decline of Working Men’s Clubs – a topic entirely new to poetry? – alongside family elegies and scary portrayals of the erosion of personal memory. The overall effect, though, remains uplifting: this is poetry as archaeology and conservation, an exegi monumentum not to the poet himself but to the community he’s part of, and all the better for that.

Guy Russell 2nd July 2020

The Allen Fisher Companion Eds: Robert Hampson & cris cheek (Shearsman Books)

The Allen Fisher Companion Eds: Robert Hampson & cris cheek (Shearsman Books)

For readers interested in the complex and challenging work of poet Allen Fisher, this publication provides a useful, and very readable, range of resources. The essays trace the development of Fisher’s creative output, from early Fluxus-related pieces, through the major projects of Place and Gravity as a consequence of space, to the more recent SPUTTOR. Together they offer an informative set of commentaries on the poet’s working practices, influences, and values.

The introduction by Robert Hampson provides a helpful initial survey of Fisher’s writing career, which began in the late 1960s with links to the ‘British Poetry Revival’. The essays that follow discuss the evolution of Fisher’s work in a more or less chronological sequence.
The first piece, by Will Rowe, provides an interesting analysis of Place, the poet’s ‘decade long investigation of the limits of knowledge and truth’ (as Rowe describes it). Rowe examines how Fisher deals in this poem with different types of ‘knowledge’ and their relationship to ‘desire, will, politics and truth’. Some of the key influences on Fisher are usefully traced, including the writings of Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem. Rowe also offers interesting reflections on the differences between Place and Fisher’s second major project Gravity as a consequence of space.

Pierre Joris follows this with a focus on the extent to which ‘health’ (both bodily and societal) is a key theme in Fisher’s early work. Redell Olsen’s essay, ‘Start Place in Flux’, offers insights on Fisher’s early work with a detailed account of his involvement in Fluxus-influenced activities in Britain in the early 1970s. Olsen traces the connections between Fisher’s performance-based work and texts produced during this period, and how these ‘find their way into the synthesis of materials that make up Place.’
Performance and its relation to the text is also discussed by cris cheek, in an account of a reading of ‘Vole’ and ‘Volespin’ (two of the poems in Gravity) which Fisher recorded on video tape. The nature of Fisher’s performance of these poems, which includes visuals and an element of improvisation, and the status of the recording as ‘documentary’, are discussed in relation to concepts of stability, damage, and process, key preoccupations in Fisher’s work.

The essays which follow mainly focus on Fisher’s magnum opus, Gravity as a consequence of space, ‘factured’ between 1982 and 2005. Particularly interesting are Will Montgomery’s examination of the racial context informing ‘Brixton Fractals’ (the sequence with which Gravity opens), Robert Sheppard’s reflections on Fisher’s Apocalyptic Sonnets, written in the late 1970s, as marking a transition between Place and Gravity, Scott Thurston’s close reading of ‘Mummer’s Strut’ from Gravity, and Clive Bush’s critical evaluation of the influence of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatari on Gravity.

Both Place and Gravity include extensive lists of resources upon which Fisher drew in facturing the work. Sheppard quotes Peter Barry saying that Place requires the reader to ‘reactivate a body of reading’ not as a preparation for reading the text, but as a process in which we ‘read the sources in the light of the poem and the poem in the light of the sources.’ This is a process equally critical to an engagement with Gravity. Sheppard describes Gravity, with its complex collaging and overwriting of source texts, and internal cross-referencing, as ‘no longer content-specific poetry. Fisher is not making references for readers to ‘study’; he is making art for readers to engage with.’
Fisher has provided detailed notes on the use of source material in Mummer’s Strut, and Thurston’s analysis of this poem is a helpful exploration of the poet’s method. ‘To read Fisher’s work,’ Thurston writes, ‘is to experience a complex tension between rapid juxtapositions of different materials and patterns of continuity generated through repetition and rhyme: between discontinuity and continuity. A reader must actively negotiate the jumps and continuities in order to build his or her own reading of the poem.’

The Allen Fisher Companion concludes with an interview with Fisher (and his partner Paige Mitchell) conducted by Shamoon Zamir, which forms part of Fisher’s book Imperfect Fit (University of Alabama Press, 2016), and an edited version of an exchange of texts between Fisher and the poet Karen MacCormack, plus commentary by others, originally published online by the Slought Foundation as Philly Talk 19.

‘Discontinuites and continuities’ extend across Fisher’s major texts, each individual poem being ‘entangled’ with others. Gravity is a highly structured work, as is Place. This aspect of Fisher’s oeuvre is not really addressed in this volume, which for me is something of a gap. Gravity is organised around a number scheme subjected to damage by physically compressing a cardboard tube on which the sequence was marked. The ‘damage’ can be seen in the breaks in the alphabetical sequence of the titles and the parallel presentation (vortex) of texts in the middle of the book.

Fisher uses contemporary ideas of space-time, derived from physics, to structure Gravity, in the same way Elizabethan writers used Neoplatonic number symbolism in the ordering of their work. A contribution on this would have been a useful addition. But this criticism does not detract in any way from the many insightful essays mentioned above. This welcome collection adds significantly to the available resources on Fisher’s work.

Simon Collings 14th June 2020

Chords by Raymond Crump (SSEA Press / Face Press)

Chords by Raymond Crump (SSEA Press / Face Press)

In a letter dated 14th March 1968 written to Ray Crump and published in Series 3 of The English Intelligencer the Cambridge poet J.H. Prynne asserted something which threads its way through Crump’s poetry:

“Rhyme is the public truth of language, sound paced out in the shared places, the echoes are no-one’s private property or achievement; thus any grace (truly achieved) of sound is political, part of the world of motion and place in which language is like weather, the air we breathe.”

The rhythmic movement revealed in ‘Melancholy’ reminds one a little of the weighing of echoes and tones in Louis Zukofsky’s first poem in ‘Songs of Degrees’. Crump’s poem from the late 1960s first appeared in Series 3 of Intelligencer:

“As pale still
you little
say but look
and careless play your
careful tune
to life that dies or is grown
slow as
waving pines. There we
sat, eating summer
in a melon
on the mossy lip
of a great hole”

The movement forward from “say”, echoing “pale”, and “little”, echoing “still”, takes the reader to a moment of Blakean ease as “careless” and “careful” possess a wistful tone of meditation. However, that slight shift of the second syllable in each of those last two words promotes a heaviness and the less becomes the full, a thickening out of perception which slows down the movement to the rhyme of “grown” and “slow”. The punning sound of the former (groan) prepares us for a gesture of farewell in “waving pines”. It is as though the focus has meticulously been brought to bear upon the actual and we are “There” in a world of the domestic which teeters on the edge of the Fall. As we read this progression of forty-one words over twelve lines we might be witnessing what Prynne referred to as a “pivot of great beauty” which “is brought lightly off”.
In Zukofsky’s ‘A 6’ he had written of “The melody! the rest is accessory” and when Charles Tomlinson received a copy of the Jonathan Williams edition of Some Time he noted the visual precision as well as the aural meticulousness of the American poet:

“Hear, her
Clear
Mirror,
Care
His error.
In her
Care
Is clear”

In his ‘Commentary and Memoir’ on Ray Crump, appearing ten years ago in Cambridge Literary Review, his fellow student at the University of Kent, Chris Hardy, referred to the poems as appearing to be made effortlessly. He also referred to the way in which they resembled music:

“Though they can be dissected into units of language and image, so that their effects can in part be explained, the poems, when read straight through, create a response in the reader that includes a sort of non-verbal understanding.”

Both Crump and Hardy were taught by Michael Grant, another contributor to The English Intelligencer, and in some recollections of those days of the late 60s Crump recalled how Grant “would take the blue pencil to my ingenuous efforts at versifying, cutting the poem at point to its essence”. He thanked Michael Grant for this “because although love of poetry has sometimes slept in the years since, it was dreaming in the shades of Orpheus and reawakens to feel that melancholic yearning for an Ode which I still desire to fulfil.” It is testimony to this debt that Crump should have written to Grant in February 1974 enclosing “a few worthless poems” including ‘Night into Day’ which has never been published before:

“it is dark
in the room
but the patterns
of the rug find
light to dance
time sleeps
her treasure
displayed
at ashen dawn”

Chords is divided into two sections and as Boris Jardine points out in his bibliographical note at the end of the volume all the poems in Part 1 were written prior to 1970. That which had been dreaming in the shades of Orpheus for some years now stretches into the light of Part 2 where the nineteen poems have all been written since 2010. The last one, ‘Late Friends’, and echoing Thomas Hardy’s ‘Exeunt Omnes’, plays upon an Orphic lyre:

“How they leave us here
like islands in their lost future
and we cast a downward glance
into still water, less like Narcissus
than melancholy piping Pan.”

I shall be writing an article about the mysterious figure of Raymond Crump for the forthcoming issue of Tears in the Fence 72.

(http://face-press.org/crump.html / https://ssea.press/chords-new-and-selected-poems-by-raymond-crump/ )

Ian Brinton, 1st June 2020

Moveable Type by Jo Clement (New Writing North)

Moveable Type by Jo Clement (New Writing North)

Already established as an editor, poet, workshop leader and researcher, Jo Clement published her first collaborative pamphlet with fellow writer and Traveller, Damian Le Bas, and printmaker W. John Hewitt in the weathered poems of Outlandish (NWN 2019). Together, the artists used St Cuthbert’s Way on Holy Island as a starting point for poetry and art inspired by the edgelands of the North East. Several of those poems touched on her Gypsy heritage. But it is in Moveable Type, Clement’s solo debut pamphlet, where the poet examines the poetics and politics of her Traveller ethnicity in depth through the engravings of printmaker Thomas Bewick (1753-1828).
These contemporary and lyrical poems evolve from family and childhood, and culminate in a homecoming at Appleby Horse Fair, the largest annual gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in Europe. On pulling back the eye of a cob the skillful rhythms of ‘The Impression of Water’ resonate:

How fast the water flows in lines
against the Traveller’s face, her clothes,
the supplementary weight.

In this multi-layered poem we feel the pressure on both the Traveller and on the wood carver’s images. This ekphrastic practice continues as Clement assigns artwork with titles, juxtaposing an 18th Century man pole-vaulting across a river with the poem ‘Vault’. This poem teems with imagery from the northern council estate, Lascelles:

til his fists scream
on the glass
and they flush out
like so many bees
or game, back to the Moor,
where porn pulps open crotches

a powerful combination of the musical and the visceral. The final stanza in this poem is a reminder of how her own journey as Traveller, academic and poet has involved a certain ‘kicking back’ inside mainstream society: ‘His sloe arm moves her still, / lifts ‘til vaulting, she stamps the air.’
Two revealing poems then face each other, both corralled and blown free, first in ‘Teesdale Erratics’, and then ‘Market’:

The photographer says
turn a cartwheel, girls

but they shy away
pinch petunias

from pub planters
push stalks behind ears.

Here, the subtle imagery exposes the exploitive media succinctly.
We come across enviable terms such as ‘King Faa’, a poem smattered with delightful kennings like ‘fiddlescrape’ and ‘kettleflute’, as well as the Romani patrins: signposts for fellow Travellers made from twigs. Clement beautifully illustrates the horse dealer’s traditional haggle: ‘let horse dealer hands / take wing in soft claps / that swoop and slap / themselves away’. Meanwhile, Bewick’s tail-piece engraving of a powerless father and son next to the sign: KEEP ON THIS SIDE, reminds us of centuries of land-grabbing Enclosure Laws, and their impact on not only Travellers but on the rural community as a whole.
Clement certainly doesn’t shirk the uncomfortable. In ‘Knots’, Wordsworth is held to account in his poem ‘Gipsies’: ‘He saw us as spot, a spectacle, knots’. ‘Playing Cards’ also delivers a palpable shudder as the speaker falters when asked to tick a box pertaining to ethnicity as either ‘White or Gypsy’:

Black triangles
Needled to our chests like stars, badges of shame
That marked us work-shy Zigeuner.
The death camps devoured us

a reminder of how 200,000 Roma and Sinti Gypsies were put to death during World War II. But it is the pride in her heritage that defines Clement’s writing. ‘Homecoming’, in which the poet takes us to Appleby Fair, is sensuously charged:

In black-wet denim
all teeth and chest shining
half-boy
half-hoss
all bray

Walk alongside a young woman through the joys and frustrations of modern Traveller life inside poems of blood, politics and honesty, and you will see how ‘Gypsiness’ is inextricably linked to heritage and ethnicity, regardless of whether home is house or road. Moveable Type is an anthem, a celebration, and a timely reminder of all our histories.

Notes:

Traveller – the contemporary collective term for Gypsy/Roma/Traveller (GRT).
Zigeuner – the German noun that described Gypsies.

Sarah Wimbush 29th May 2020

Café By Wren’s St James-In-The Fields, Lunchtime by Anna Blasiak, photography by Lisa Kalloo (Holland House Books)

Café By Wren’s St James-In-The Fields, Lunchtime by Anna Blasiak, photography by Lisa Kalloo (Holland House Books)

This extraordinary and substantial 136 page bilingual publication in English and Polish is a collaborative work between Polish poet, Anna Blasiak, her accomplished translators, Marta Dzivrosz, Maria Jastrzębska, Danusia Stok and Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese, and photographer, Lisa Kalloo. Each translator took a set of 12 or 13 poems to translate into English. The results are uniformly exquisite, pared and pointed. The book is a joy to read and a feast for the eyes thanks to Lisa Kalloo’s photography which enhance the reading and visual experience of the work.

The poems move through the isolation of the migrant condition searching for roots whilst dealing with home and family memories to the near silence of a new condition.

Amnesia, Obstinately

Every evening I learn a day
by heart.

Mornings I forget everything again.

Blasiak’s poems, pithy fragments, are almost epigrammatic and allusive in their dealings with emigration, otherness and hidden moods. Typically, a few lines long they are like fists of pressured existence.

Draught

The doors to both rooms
propped open by my shoes.

In the end
I might be
swept away.

This poem appears next to a close up image of a chain lock on a shabby door with pealing blue paint. The photograph adds depth and texture as the eye is drawn to the original wood behind the blue paint, and this in turn echoes the half hidden past beneath the surface veneer.

The narrative selves are often pressured, trying to take root and absorbed within the condition of being isolated, swinging from one mood to another, liable to stumble and be swept away at any time. One collects ‘unfinished sentences / to stubbornly piece them into / something like a whole.’ Another knows that ‘Expectations have / to be heeded. / They do overwhelm.’ The poems reminded me of Paul Celan and to some extent, Anne-Marie Albiach, in that they are sparse and coming out of silence with uncertainty and sparsity. They certainly make one think of some of the best European poetry.

I was sitting on the plane tree,
Slowly taking root.
One more branch.

Someone walked past.
Didn’t spot the difference.

Kalloo’s colour photography augments and enhances the texts serving to widen the perspective, provide additional viewpoints, which add to the whole work. The various photographs, capturing lights and shadows, interiors and street scenes, are works of art in their own right, reverberating around the stillness and isolation of the poems, providing provocative juxtapositions and new elements. I also like the way that both the poems and photography move avoid any linear chronology in recognition that the condition under review is dynamic as well as fragmentary.

I am sad that the collaborators are missing out on a book launch due to COVID-19 as this work is tremendous and put together with great care and attention to detail. I applaud everyone involved in this wonderful book.

David Caddy 8th April 2020

Kalimba by Petero Kalulé (Guillemot Press)

Kalimba by Petero Kalulé (Guillemot Press)

A kalimba is an African instrument consisting of a wooden box and fingerlike metal tines which are plucked by thumbs, and an acoustic hole, which can also be used to make a sound, by hovering one’s thumbs over the hole. Watching it being played, I was struck by the handiness of the instrument, held in two hands like a mobile phone, the tines plucked as though the player is sending a text message.
It is easy to see the appeal of this instrument to a poet, particularly a poet deeply interested in music, like Petero Kalulé. The collection’s dedication reads ‘for all my friends: that these notations may vibrate close in y/our hands’. The physical book is shaped like a kalimba, and the cover is designed as one. The conceit is that, as we read Kalulé’s poetry, aloud or in our heads, we are playing an instrument. Whether Kalulé wants us to play his music or use his poems like notes with which to make our own music, is unclear. The difference is that either the poetry book is a music book, with pieces with notes to be read and obeyed, or it is like the instrument itself, simply to be played with.

As the instrument conceit suggests, Kalulé’s principal focus in his poems is sound. Like Gerard Manley Hopkins, Kalulé’s poems indulge in the rich sounds that words strung together make, alongside directions of dashed and parentheses which are not unlike musical notations. Words are split and divided, by line breaks or using letters which, when spoken, sound like a syllable. This excerpt is from ‘Sahara’:

sun, ocean, islets cowries, manatee, manity, scope, memory, glee
vision s, minarets, spires
language, b
-orders, planets, poems, music, spells, serpents, shells, piss,
Blood
[….]
It un does tXture

The typography, like the verses, is a law unto its own. One word becomes another; Kalulé draws out surprising links between words, either semantically related or seemingly unrelated, purely by the way they sound. Words are manipulated in this way such that the poems, more like music than poetry, are sequences of sound with a tone and a mood, but no other direction.

In a certain mood a reader can allow the sounds and words to roll over their tongue and mind in a pleasing way, meaning almost whatever one wants it to mean.

Kalulé’s aesthetic, his structure-breaking structure, feels rigid by virtue of its forcefulness. A word can mean a myriad of things, but strangely, Kalulé’s attempts to push and pull words, to familiarize and then defamiliarize, rather seems to be an attempt to imprison or pin down words. For example, the word ‘borders’ is almost forced into meaning borders as in the border of a country, by the very fact it is forcibly divided, and the word ‘order’ within the word, is attenuated. Almost only, because it is of course impossible to force words to do anything. It is like Kalulé wants his words to have more than one meaning, but no more than the three he is thinking of. His unconventional, aesthetic approach to the practice of poeticizing, rather than being liberating, felt like a harness. Words in chains, and their chains were these erratic, driven, structures. This quotation from Cecil Taylor is included as foreword to the collection: “Part of what this music is about is not to be delineated exactly. It’s about magic, & capturing spirits.” There is tension here, in the freedom of escape from restrictive ‘delineating’, and the desire for ‘capturing’. Experimental structures and manipulation of lyric traditions, by calling attention to the way they can be formed, seem to do exactly this: delineate. These structures, to me, felt less playful than paranoid.

I enjoyed the rush of sound which Kalulé releases into the world, delicious and intriguing, signs and significations that rear their heads like fish between the waves before vanishing or transfiguring. Nevertheless, after reading these poems, I was left with the resounding sound of the futility and frustration of a poet, who finds his words less like an instrument to be played and more like a horse to be reined in. Whether by accident or on purpose, Kalulé’s musical conceit impressed on me the realisation that words are not like musical notes. They are neither consistent in their sound, nor played and silenced by the touch, or untouch, of a thumb.

Yvette Dell 3rd April 2020

Gathering Grounds 2011-2019 by Harriet Tarlo images by Judith Tucker (Shearsman Books)

Gathering Grounds 2011-2019 by Harriet Tarlo images by Judith Tucker (Shearsman Books)

In her introduction to The Ground Aslant, An Anthology of Radical Landscape Poetry (Shearsman Books, 2011), Harriet Tarlo had suggested that the word “landscape” was itself a compound of both the land and its scape, its shaping. The importance of this note was in its acknowledgement of the interventionist human engagement with land. The title of her new collection of poems, accompanied by the powerful evocations of place contained within the drawings of Judith Tucker, contains a similar acknowledgement. “Grounds” are themselves the foundations upon which something is built up, suggesting an underlying principle of growth, and it is entirely appropriate that the opening section of some fifty pages (poems written between 2011 and 2014) should be titled ‘Tributaries’, those streams of water which lead into larger rivers. In his copy of A.N. Whitehead’s Process and Reality Charles Olson made a note alongside the philosopher’s statement that “the term many presupposes the term one, and the term one presupposes the term many” registering his awareness of what the cook at Black Mountain College, Cornelia Williams, had meant in 1953 when she said “All my life I’ve heard / one makes many”. The statement became the epigraph for The Maximus Poems and Olson called it “the dominating paradox on which Max complete ought to stand.”
Tarlo’s opening poem is dedicated to Judith Tucker and it stands in stark black lines on the white page:

“in place, drawing
where things
start, where to
cut landscape off
seam or folded
. lead
turning at an
imagined centre, it
begins with a
line in space

Almost in echo of Zoe Skoulding’s poem ‘In the forest where they fell’ where “Time spirals out of seed” and “Specific histories / don’t fade but circle in a constant outward movement”, the opening poem to ‘Tributaries’ begins with “place…begins with a / line in space.” As Harriet Tarlo had also pointed out in her introduction to that other handsome volume from Shearsman Books, that anthology of radical landscape poetry:

“These diverse poems speak to each other across the space, allowing readers to enter the poem and speculate over their relationship to each other.”

The tributaries that lead to the larger more recognisable movements of water contain a world of submerged etymologies and the first record of this image is in Cymbeline in 1611 where the “poor tributary rivers” provide “sweet fish”. Printed lines on a white page, the lines of drawing “where things / start”, confront us with a language in which the relationship between ourselves and the world around us can come alive, human engagement. As Hopkins’s stones ring “in roundy wells” Tarlo’s opening poem turns “at an / imagined centre” and one might think about Thomas Nagel’s conception of reality as “a set of concentric spheres, progressively revealed as we detach gradually from the contingencies of self.” Or one might also bring to mind Wordsworth’s Fenwick note to his early poem ‘An Evening Walk’ in which the seventy-three year old poet recalled that moment from his youth when he had become aware of “the infinite variety of natural appearances.”
Judith Tucker’s drawing that sits on its own page alongside that first poem of ‘Tributaries’ may of course begin “with a / line in space” but it is to the eye a complex and beautifully dense account of a wood beside a stream and it suggests that whereas the act of expression may well have to commence with a line it soon interweaves into a complexity of thought. As if in decided rejection of that Whitehead/Olson dictat Harriet Tarlo goes on to write that “there isn’t a way / there isn’t a way to go / off-path, counter-path”. In ‘March: Wessenden Head Moor to Reap Hill Clough’ she recognises that “working up to where / they spring, unseen / their several sources / not anything comes from / one.”

This is a remarkable book of poems and drawings and by following those tributary streams one will arrive at Tetney Lock Bridge, the first of the ‘Past Winter’s Sonnets’ sequence from 2017-2018:

“….turnstone flies over flood
gates, under pipe siphoning sweet oil from sea line,
then out & out all gathered rivers, becks & drains
under winter-flocking geese, swirling starlings
through whimbrel marshes into wide tide mouth.”

Ian Brinton 30th March 2020

Bonjour Mr Inshaw poetry by Peter Robinson & paintings by David Inshaw (Two Rivers Press)

Bonjour Mr Inshaw poetry by Peter Robinson & paintings by David Inshaw (Two Rivers Press)

Writing about his paintings from the 1970s which had been influenced by the landscape of Wiltshire and the poetry of Thomas Hardy, David Inshaw suggested that his main aim “was to produce a picture that held a moment in time, but unlike a photograph, which only records an event.” Comparing the world of a painting with that of the camera he went on to point out “a painting could give a more universal, deeper meaning to that moment by composing one instant from lots of different unrelated moments.” And so ‘The Badminton Game’, originally given a title from the early Hardy poem ‘She, To Him’,
holds a stillness which is quite remarkable and it interestingly graced a wall in Number 10 in 1997!

This new publication from Two Rivers Press is extremely attractive and the stillness of Inshaw’s focus upon more than the moment is complimented by the way in which Peter Robinson’s poems note the depth of the present’s conversation with the past. In another painting from 1972 which retained its title from one of Hardy’s ‘1912-13’ poems written after the death of his wife, ‘Our days were a joy and our paths through flowers’ (‘After a Journey’), a haunting awareness of how the past and the present can be caught in a stillness of reflection is complimented by Robinson’s poem ‘Haunting Landscapes’:

“But time you stop won’t go away.
Perpetually present, it has to stay
replete with others’ meanings
from gallery walls, gone into the world
of chiaroscuro, image, reputation,
not knowing how or why,”

The precision in the painting holds the attention. A woman in black stands to stare behind her with hands on hips as though to address what is no longer there. The context of the loss is given a permanency by the way that Inshaw has painted the geometrically exact gravestones, some of which lean slightly in the direction of the woman’s gaze, and the carefully tended hedge and grass that occupy the foreground:

“Each blade of grass, brick course and ripple,
whether through water, leafage or sky
dryly individuated stills its still point
into a distanced reminiscence…”

In the Preface to this beautifully designed book Peter Robinson gives an account of his meetings with Inshaw when they were both at Trinity College, Cambridge, the poet working for a PhD on Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts and the latter on a two-year stint as Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts. When his first collection of poems, Overdrawn Account, appeared from the Many Press in November 1980 it included a short prose piece which of course was not reissued in the Shearsman Collected Poems. The piece was dedicated to Inshaw and given the title ‘A Woman A Picture and a Poem’. Opening with ‘The flattened cumulus darker than slate’ it goes on to refer to the ‘deepening presence of…what if she leaves him?’. It is perhaps that deepening presence which pervades this new poem of haunting landscapes and it is worth noting Adam Piette’s comment on the book’s back cover:

“Robinson is the finest poet alive when it comes to the probing of shifts in atmosphere, momentary changes in the weather of the mind, each poem an astonishingly fine-tuned gauge for recording the pressures and processes that generate lived occasions.”

The collection of poems in this new publication reflect Robinson’s thoughts after visiting Inshaw’s studio early last year and those shifts of atmosphere can be seen weaving their paths through the poem ‘After Courbet’, written as a response to Inshaw’s 1977 painting ‘The Orchard’:

“You were working on The Orchard.
We talked about its foreground ladder,
the feet secured, it seemed, nowhere
on that unresponsive canvas
with tension problem, sunken paint
where one girl’s reaching, as for apples,
the other stares, oh distant women—”

The presence of Thomas Hardy is felt in the distant gaze and one is tempted to recall the opening of the second section of that 1866 publication of ‘She, To Him’:

“Perhaps, long hence, when I have passed away,
Some other’s feature, accent, thought like mine,
Will carry you back to what I used to say,
And bring some memory of your love’s decline.”

One might also think of James Joyce’s Mr. Duffy in ‘A Painful Case’ who now gazes out of his window “on the cheerless evening landscape” after learning of the death of a woman to whom he used to be close. Or, perhaps more pertinently, one might want to look back at the deeply moving late tale by Henry James, ‘The Beast in the Jungle’:

“It was in the way the autumn day looked into the high windows as it waned; in the way the red light, breaking at the close from under a low, sombre sky, reached out in a long shaft and played over old wainscots, old tapestry, old gold, old colour.”

Bonjour Mr Inshaw is a beautifully produced book and I urge readers to get hold of a copy immediately.

Ian Brinton 9th March 2020