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Category Archives: English Prose

England on Fire by Stephen Ellcock and Mat Osman (Watkins Press)

England on Fire by Stephen Ellcock and Mat Osman (Watkins Press)

Which writer is not at some level engaged with place, landscape, mythology, folklore and stories? It may be overt, it may be in opposition to established histories or geographies, it may be about colonisation, rebellion or immigration, it may be about revisiting the past and present through the lens of gender, sexuality or identity, it might simply creep into our writing because we all live somewhere and hear and see things others don’t.

England on Fire is subtitled A Visual Journey Through Albion’s Psychic Landscape, the kind of phrase that smacks of vague New Age mysticism and woolly religious philosophies. It doesn’t do itself many favours by this kind of labelling, because the book – an anthology of carefully curated images accompanied by Mat Osman’s poetic prose – is much harder-edged and interesting than that subtitle and dour cover with a deer-headed figure against a circle of light suggests.

Stephen Ellcock talks about research, intuition, pattern making and collage in the brief authors’ biographies at the start of the book, all creative processes I can relate to. The book is in 12 themed chapters or sections, each evocatively titled (‘Out of Darkness’, ‘Weeds & Wildness’, ‘Rebellious Nature’, ‘Acardia’), each a cluster of beautifully reproduced painting, photos, prints, sculptures or drawings, each opening with a few hundred words from Osman, who responds to Ellcock’s themes through tangent, metaphor and storytelling.

Osman also supplies a more straightforward, if slightly polemical, ‘Introduction’, where he explains how ‘Stephen juxtaposes and weaves imagery around itself, teasing out narratives and finding wild connections in a kind of visual language’, suggesting that the project is politicised, ‘a very English rebellion of the nameless many against the privileged few’, and uses ‘a language that speaks to England’s subconscious’. Heady stuff! But fair enough, although Osman seems to find the images in here more unknown and obscure than I do.

Anyway, what do we get? To start with there is George Frederick Watts’ swirl of creation, swiftly followed by John Martin’s apocryphal ‘The Deluge’, William Blake, Arthur Rackham, Ken Kiff, Samuel Palmer, an Anglo-Saxon brooch, a photographic stereograph of ‘The Devil’s Chimney’, Norman Palmer and one of Madge Gill’s channeled spirit works on paper. This wonderful visual cornucopia is repeated throughout the book, with still from Derek Jarman’s Avebury film, fairy photographs, Notting Hill carnival images, Richard Dadd’s asylum paintings, landscape photography, mazes, the changing face of ‘Settlements’, until we get to the final section ‘Visions’. Here, Osman becomes ecstatic:

   ENGLAND IS A FIREWORKS DISPLAY
   THAT SETS THE NIGHT ABLAZE

   […]

   And us? We are flame-lit and bonfire
   -warmed. We walk in beauty like the night,
   secure in the knowledge that everything
   grows better after a wildfire […]

   England is a firework that burns forever.

Shooting stars, ‘thought forms’ erupting from a cathedral tower, abstract psychedelic inkjet prints, John Martin again, sunsets by George Shaw and Francis Danby… and then Blake’s ‘Jerusalem, The Emanation Of The Giant Albion’ and Dan Hillier’s ‘Older Light’, a heavenly figure radiating light into the darkness.

Elsewhere, scarecrows, the green man, corn figures, bonfires, dragons, druids, the Padstow Obby Oss, witches, mummers, along with Punch & Judy appear; as do ruined buildings, masks, stained glass and documentary photos from Rock Against Racism. This is Albion, an imaginary and hyper-real version of England, in all its glory. A land where races mingle and co-habit, magic and religion co-exist, as do ritual and science, poetry and song, humans, ghosts and imaginary creatures. I wish it said Britain, not England (maybe that’s just me being PC – England seems so non-inclusive) but this new book is inspirational and thought provoking, part documentary, part challenge, part of the ongoing change we are living through: ‘England is an immigrant song that changes us with every singing.’

Rupert Loydell 21st May 2022


Tears in the Fence 75 is out!

Tears in the Fence 75 is out!

Tears in the Fence 75 is now available at https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, prose poetry, translations, fiction, flash fiction and creative nonfiction by Mandy Pannett, Greg Bright, Penny Hope, David Sahner, Stephen Paul Wren, Alexandra Fössinger, Mark Russell, Maurice Scully, Gavin Selerie, Mandy Haggith, Lynne Cameron, Sarah Watkinson, Jeremy Hilton, Gerald Killingworth, Lesley Burt, Nic Stringer, Sam Wilson-Fletcher, Lilian Pizzichini, Paul Kareem Tayyar, Beth Davyson, Rethabile Masilo, Tracy Turley, Olivia Tuck, Elisabeth Bletsoe & Chris Torrance’s Thirteen Moon Renga, Wei Congyi Translated by Kevin Nolan, Basil King, Robert Sheppard, Lucy Ingrams, John Freeman, Mélisande Fitzsimons, Deborah Harvey, David Harmer, David Ball, Rupert M. Loydell, Jeremy Reed, Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana, Sian Thomas, Chaucer Cameron, Huw Gwynn-Jones and Simon Collings.

The critical section consists of editorial, essays, articles and critical reviews by David Caddy, Elisabeth Bletsoe Remembering Chris Torrance, Jeremy Reed on The Letters of Thom Gunn, Simon Collings’ ecocritical perspective of Rae Armantrout, Isobel Armstrong on Peter Larkin, Barbara Bridger on Barbara Guest, Andrew Duncan on Elisabeth Bletsoe & Portland Tryptich, Frances Presley on Harriet Tarlo,  Simon Jenner on Geoffrey Hill, Steve Spence on Sarah Crewe, Mandy Pannett on Charles Wilkinson, Clark Allison on Ken Edwards, Guy Russell on Paul Vangelisti, Norman Jope on Ariana Reines, Lyndon Davies on Elena Rivera and Scott Thurston, Harriet Tarlo on Carol Watts, Morag Kiziewicz’s Electric Blue 10 and Notes On Contributors.

The Release by Jeremy Hooker (Shearsman Books)

The Release by Jeremy Hooker (Shearsman Books)

This is a very vital work for a variety of reasons. Prose and poetry are juxtaposed and interrelated as Jeremy Hooker acknowledges he has occasionally undertaken since his Welsh Journal (2001) and it is very revelatory in that regard. The prose records four visits to hospital Hooker, nearing 80, experienced having been affected by a serious kidney condition, and by the end we find he is not yet receiving but anticipating dialysis. The play of the book is between hospital diaries and poems Hooker wrote during the same passage of time, and it is fascinating to note the mutual influences, one upon or against the other.

     There is a long opening stretch of prose, about 30 pages, which can acculturate the reader to Hooker’s style and voice. Here one very pertinent assertion is made early on where our author cites Barry Lopez saying that ‘All great art tends to draw us out of ourselves.’ (p16) Lest this seem to work against the ego, and Hooker admits he is not fond of psychologising, Freudian or otherwise, elsewhere he does assert that our self, ego or individuality is what distinguishes us from other species, albeit that Hooker is very much in tune and sympathy with the aims and attitude of ecopoetry.

Although Hooker’s voice tends to the open, good natured and optimistic, he does cite a quote used by John Cottingham from Malebranche ‘To myself I am but darkness’ (p63). He also asserts elsewhere our relative inability to know ourselves, maintaining in a religious mode that only God can know us fully; but Hooker is very much more spiritual and earthy than he is religious.

Hooker is perhaps fortunate in the sense of seeming to be relatively untroubled; if there is a darkness to the self he seems quite reconciled to it, and few doubts or veerings off are encountered, the disposition of the prose is reassuringly positive and stable. We hear about the occasional ‘bad night’ or indeed ‘a night when I thought I might die’ (p11) but not lengthy details or dwellings upon it. 

     This then makes for a very interesting reader experience. We are as it were allowed access to the ground and forming of the poems, besides which the prose is also highly engaging, albeit that there is anxiety about the seriousness of his condition. In hospital he needs help with movement, sometimes spending long spells in his chair, and with bathing, and is fitted with a catheter. Nonetheless he remains mentally highly alert, and most of the poems are thoughtful, vivid and well formed. I’d regard it as a brave gesture to risk such a precarious journal, given that things could not unequivocally be expected to have a positive outcome; this revelatory predilection is generous and emotionally frank, almost unsparing.

     From the prose we are given quite a bit not just of Hooker’s daily activities, and he seemed to enjoy having a window side bed when that happened, and indeed he has a moving poem ‘In Praise of Windows’, some references to his reading and listening, radios 3 and 4, but also his attitude to poetry in general, albeit in passing, but adding up to a kind of orientation. He speaks movingly of his admiration of David Jones, Keats, Lawrence and Edward Thomas, although he cautioned against the ‘danger of Thomas worship’ (p18). Hooker favours the existential, experience, sense perception, even touch, but is pretty much opposed to what he alludes to as system building or excessive idealism. He is unabashed at identifying himself as keeping a poet’s notebook, and some of the nurses found him ‘posh’, though surely not aloof.

Among the selection of poems we conclude with two dedicated to his great grandson Archie. As Hooker says ‘You will not know me,/ Archie, unless in a poem’ (p94). ‘A squib for Archie’ is quite a strong final volley, where he reflects on the peculiar contrariness of death and birth, age and youth, ‘a generation of Toads,/ bouncing in buggies…ferocious with innocence’ who ‘mean no harm’ but ‘intend no good’. Whereupon the final lines here,

            ‘So beware, oldies,

            dads, grandpas, great

            grandfathers.

            Step aside, and instead

            of falling, wave as they pass.’ (p95)

and, again, Hooker seems unpessimistic at the mutual incomprehension of succeeding generations, particularly in these changing times.

That Hooker has chosen to be so open about his life at a vulnerable or challenging time I take some reassurance from; the effect is unusual, unanticipated and intrinsically human. It did take a little while to get into Hooker’s poetic voice after the opening 30 pages, but the poems are assuredly well fashioned full of insight, engagement and verve. It is intriguing to reflect on how the poetry and prose differ, certainly, could one deduce one from the other, well probably not, which is one thing that makes this book enlightening. This is a very candid and gently provocative book that I can’t help but feel breaks new ground where others might follow.

Clark Allison 11th January 2022

I Don’t Want To Go To The Taj Mahal by Charlie Hill (Repeater Books)

I Don’t Want To Go To The Taj Mahal by Charlie Hill (Repeater Books)

I Don’t Want to Go to the Taj Mahal is comprised of a series of ninety-five vignettes, mostly single page length, the shortest being two lines long. An epigram by Samuel Beckett is appropriate for the content: ‘It’s all a muddle in my head, graves and nuptials and the different varieties of motion.’ The reader is treated to snapshots views of the author’s family, his schooldays, his days in the youth club or drinking in the bikers’ club. Music and records provide a backcloth to lost chances, lost loves, and there is a whole string of early jobs in a fish shop, the Co Op, a packaging firm, Samuel the jeweller and Harrison Drape, the factory for curtain accessories where he drove a forklift truck ‘because it was the best of a shit job’ but nearly lost life and limb when it toppled off a ramp as he reversed it. Most of these jobs ended with him being escorted off the premises because of too many days going awol or putting himself on flexitime. One vignette describes a romantic interlude with a first love when he phoned up pretending to be snowbound in Devon so that ‘we spent the morning warm under thin blankets, feeding each other fresh strawberries dipped in cream, mouth-to-mouth.’

Throughout, the writing is detailed but concise with pithy comments. Sunday evenings in boyhood were spent watching a BBC serial ‘with bonnets and sideburns and Mum would provide us with plates of pilchard sandwiches.’ There are layers of implication in this remark about the siblings: ‘My elder sister resented my presence, my younger brother had blue eyes and curly blond hair.’ The tone is consistently laconic such as this one: ‘One year we won a goldfish at the Mop … by the time we got it home the goldfish was dead.’ Or there is this analysis of a relationship: ‘I am with a woman. We lived together, she went away, we lived together, we can’t anymore, so how does this work now?’ A comment on another relationship, many years later with a film maker, is equally downbeat and anti-climactic when he remembers her with nostalgia and thinks how good it would be to reminisce together ‘so I look her up, send her an email and hear nothing back.’

One of the most enjoyable aspects of these vignettes is Charlie Hill’s skill is creating a sense of time and place. Scenes of life in Birmingham are evoked:

‘I live in inner-city Balsall Heath with outlaws, dole-ites and artists and get a job with a packaging firm. The packaging firm is in Tysely, a fraying patchwork of factory estates and boarded-up pubs. I smoke among the cardboard boxes in the warehouses … After managing an office consisting of me all day, I come home to a house full of New Age travellers chopping speed … and a tea of Special Brew and noodles.’ 

A passage I find especially evocative is set in India where the author has gone in search of his girl friend:

‘We sit on flat roofs and look at the cows and the billboards advertising toothpaste. From the Ganges we hear incantations, while in the narrow street below men play chess. There is a festival on and the sky is full of bright kites, darting like sprats, stitching the sky with messages of devotion. She says it would be a nice idea if we get married. I demur.’

Subtle humour and I Don’t Want to Go to the Taj Mahal is rich in it. But it’s humour with an undertone of the bitter-sweet, the nostalgic and poignant. This a book I loved reading. Unforgettable.

Mandy Pannett 11th August 2021

Tears in the Fence 74 is out!

Tears in the Fence 74 is out!

Tears in the Fence 74 is now available at https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, prose poetry, fiction, flash fiction, translations and creative non-fiction by Seán Street, Mandy Pannett, Isobel Armstrong, Jeremy Reed, Andrew Mears, Anum Sattar, Ian Davidson, Joanna Nissel, Simona Nastac, Alan Baker, Lilian Pizzichini, Lucy Ingrams, Beth Davyson, Charles Wilkinson, Scott Thurston, Gerald Killingworth, Gabriela Macon, Kate Noakes, Peter Robinson, Kay Syrad, Huw Lawrence, Lesley Burt, K. V. Skene, John Freeman, Jane Wheeler, Tamsin Hopkins, Rachel Goodman & Elvire Roberts, Andrea Moorhead, Rebecca Althaus, Rachel Goodman, Mark Goodwin, Marina Tsvetaeva translated by Belinda Cooke, Alice Tarbuck, Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana, Adrian Clarke, Nigel Jarrett, Norman Jope, Steve Spence, Maddie Forest, Claire HM, Peter Larkin and Mark Russell.

The critical section includes Richard Foreman’s Editorial, John Freeman on Shelley’s Animism and Ecology, Alice Tarbuck on Thomas A. Clark, Carla Scarano on Margaret Attwood, Jeremy Reed on Yours Presently: The Selected Letters of John Wieners, Sarah Acton on Martin Stannard, Phil Maillard on d.a.levy and Bill Wyatt, Graham Hartill on Phil Maillard’s Bill Wyatt, Simon Jenner on Jay Ramsay’s Pilgrimage, Simon Jenner on Jay Ramsay’s Other Long Poems, Jeremy Reed on Patricia Hope Scanlon, Andrew Duncan on Will Harris, Belinda Cooke on Peter Robinson, Steve Spence on Ric Hool, Ian McMillan, Mandy Pannett on Sarah Cave, Maria Jastrzębska on Marcin Świetlicki, Ric Hool on Mike McNamara, Morag Kiziewicz’s Electric Blue and Notes On Contributors 

Atha by Sally-Shakti Willow (Knives Forks Spoons Press)

Atha by Sally-Shakti Willow (Knives Forks Spoons Press)

Atha is part of Sally-Shakti Willow’s PhD in Utopian Poetics, and indeed reads more like a practical experiment than a poetry collection. The volume begins with some explanatory pages which could have been taken out of a literary theory textbook, explaining Utopian Poetics. The idea is that Utopian Poetics is a medium of meditation ‘in which one encounters one’s embodied and intersubjective self’, which I understand as experiencing oneself, as in a mindfulness or yoga routine. Willow calls this ‘non-alienation’, and the poem ‘performs and anticipates the possibility of non-alienation, whilst operating within the alienation of this world’. This thesis itself rests on more familiar territory for the post-structuralist: ‘Poems need readers to live. Poems need writers to give them form’, essentially a ‘Death of the Author’-esque reader-response theory about the sovereign control of the reader.

The poems, sometimes stimulated by an image, wind in and around the theme of the body, branching out to the external matters that surround the body and penetrate through the mind. The poems resemble a yoga routine in that they attempt to ground their musings in the body, in an attempt to process and then expel or internalize broader topics. One poem repeats the question ‘how to metabolise this’, foregrounding the idea of a bodily digestion, a literal stomaching of the outer world. This conceit works well, and matches the theme of meditation, questioning the possibility of how we live, thrive off, and in that sense ingest the outer world when its iniquities might otherwise poison or corrupt.

Unfortunately, often these poems swiftly turned into the author’s personal tract against specific, perceived evils of the world, singled out with strange selectiveness. War, or violence, or the manifold crookedness that we see in ourselves and individuals as much as in the world around us, does not get a hearing. Meanwhile, fracking, immigration (and Brexit, of course) are presented as universal evils and goods. It is ironic that a poetic mode whose purpose is be a ‘non-violent’ place of ‘non-oppression’, supposedly a ‘function of openness and multiplicity’ ends up being heavily contrived, controlled and didactic. This descent to a sugar-coated attempt to aggrandize one’s own narrow political interpretation certainly sticks in the throat. The result is that, unless you are perfectly aligned with the poet on what is good and bad in our immediate socio-political climate, you will probably struggle to reach Willow’s utopia, which rather undermines what is meant to be a poetry of inclusiveness. Moreover, despite borrowing techniques and concepts from the East, the poems ended up being very Western-centric. The multiplicity and openness of the poetics is thus let down by these spasms of self-righteousness. It is a shame that the arts world has come to expect, and accept, such pompous tunnel-vision.

The general conceit showed promise of an interesting and refreshing insight into the way subjects interact with the world, reconciling mind with body and then mind and body to the outer world. That this collection frequently resembled a confused and inaccessible train of thought, and failed to fulfil its own ethical criteria, makes one question whether Utopian poetics, let alone utopia, is ever attainable. It is perhaps true that both will remain a theory, at best partially embodied in created forms.

Yvette Dell 5th June 2020

Tears in the Fence 70

Tears in the Fence 70

Tears in the Fence 70 is now available at https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry and prose poetry from Jeremy Hilton, Charles Hadfield, Mandy Pannett, Lisa Dart, Robert Sheppard, Simon Collings, David Ball, Tamsin Blaxter, Seán Street, Jessica Mookherjee, Peter J. King, Lucy Hamilton, Andrew Henon, David Sahner, Rhea Seren Phillips, Beth McDonough, John Freeman, L. Kiew, Andrew Duncan, Charles Wilkinson, Rhys Trimble, Ruby Reding, Peter Hughes, Maria Jastrzębska, Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, Hazel Smith, Lucia Daramus, Vik Shirley, Julie Mellor, Michael Henry, Cora Greenhill, Maggie Giraud, Paul Matthews, Adam Horovitz, Sarah Barnsley, Beth Davyson, Paul Green, Caroline Maldonado, Lesley Burt, Jonathan Chant, Jane Wheeler, Miranda Lynn Barnes and Reuben Woolley.

This issue is designed by Westrow Cooper and features a cover photograph by Emile Guillemot.

The critical section consists of Ian Brinton’s Editorial, Jeremy Reed on Bill Butler, Mary Woodward on Turin and Pavese, Barbara Bridger on Hari Marini, Ruth Valentine on Isabella Murra & Caroline Maldonado, Mark Prendergast on Chris Wallace-Crabbe & Kris Hemensley, Richard Makin on Ken Edwards, Caroline Maldonado on Mandy Pannett, Ian Seed on Martin Stannard, Duncan Mackay on Eleanor Perry, Sarah Connor on California Continuum Vol. 1, Nigel Jarrett on Rhys Davies, Cora Greenhill on Lena Khalaf Tuffaha, Lisa Dart on Kay Syrad, Nic Stringer on Michelle Penn, Adam Coleman on Duncan Mackay, Fiona Owen on Paul Deaton, Notes On Contributors, and David Caddy’s Afterword

Bettbehandlung by Dorothy Lehane (Muscaliet)

Bettbehandlung by Dorothy Lehane (Muscaliet)

Jean-Martin Charcot was a neurologist, a physician who specialized in diseases of the nervous system. He was a professor of pathological anatomy at the Sorbonne and physician in charge of the care of patients at the Salpêtrière. When he died in 1893 an obituary was written by his pupil Sigmund Freud and one of the paragraphs is of particular note:

‘But to his pupils, who made the rounds with him through the wards of the Salpêtrière – the museum of clinical facts for the greater part named and defined by him – he seemed a very Cuvier, as we see him in the statue in front of the Jardin des Plantes, surrounded by the various types of animal life which he had understood and described; or else he had reminded them of the myth of Adam, who must have experienced in its most perfect form that intellectual delight so highly praised by Charcot, when the Lord led before him the creatures of Paradise to be named and grouped.’

As Thomas Szasz puts it in his monumental book from 1960, The Myth of Mental Illness / Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct:

‘To Charcot and Freud, these patients are mere objects or things to be classified and manipulated. It is an utterly dehumanized view of the sick person. But then, we might recall that even today physicians often speak of “cases” and “clinical material” rather than of persons, thus betraying the same bias.’

In Dorothy Lehane’s powerful prose pieces published last year by Muscaliet Press Charcot is ‘show-man’ and the portrait of women we see are ‘performative’. Throughout this relentlessly poignant account of medical imprisonment (definition of what constitutes need for the hysterical female subjects is provided by those in charge) we hear pleading voices of the incarcerated who are ‘always drawing an assembly to convince’, voices of those who are aware of the centrality of performance since, after all, ‘the performative “I do” is a means to the end of marriage’. Performance in a public sphere is closely bound up in Lehane’s terms with the public expectations of sexuality; ‘high & holy is performative’ where the first word hints of suicide and the ‘leap out of a window’ whereas the second confronts the reader with ‘the human face is a multiple sexual organ’.
Time and again during my reading of this unforgettable wring of anguish I am reminded of the final chapter in R.D. Laing’s The Divided Self, published one year before Thomas Szasz. In ‘The ghost of the weed garden (a study of a chronic schizophrenic)’ Julie is perceived by her mother as going through three stages changing from ‘a good, normal, healthy child’ to being ‘bad…caused great distress’ before finally all parental responsibility could be peacefully resolved by the judgement that Julie had gone ‘beyond all tolerable limits so that she could only be regarded as completely mad’. The existential deadness of being socially/domestically good had been followed by Julie’s desperate attempt at self-expression (bad) before retreating into the defined world of madness where her words perhaps said more than anything else to express that isolation of entombment:

She was born under a black sun.
She’s the occidental sun.
I’m the prairie.
She’s a ruined city.
She’s the ghost of the weed garden.

Or, as she concluded, ‘She’s just one of those girls who live in the world. Everyone pretends to want her and doesn’t want her. I’m just leading the life now of a cheap tart’.
Dorothy Lehane’s new book is intense and complex and I have merely scratched something on the surface here. I recall a review I wrote five years ago when Lehane’s magazine Litmus came out. In her editorial introduction to issue 2 she said that within the journal we will find ‘a scientific undertow; the poetry is inherently neurological and yet doesn’t labour to assign literary parallels for scientific theory, nor promote heavy use of devices such as metaphor, but presents subtle coded work operating at the limits of collaborative engagement’. I urge readers here to engage with this intensely demanding new network of language and recognise how deeply we are all involved in the definitions which enclose us:

‘mama’s swan song was believing that the sing-
song is just a game’

Also, I urge you to recall the fist within the glove of language and never forget Toni Morrison’s assertion in Beloved that definitions belong to the definer not to the defined.

Ian Brinton, 25th March 2019

Tears in the Fence 68 is out!

Tears in the Fence 68 is out!

Tears in the Fence 68 is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, prose, creative non-fiction and prose poetry from Ian Seed, Simon Collings, Melisande Fitzsimons, Anna Backman Rogers, Beth Davyson, Robert Sheppard, David Miller, Peter Hughes, Tracey Iceton, Jill Eulalie Dawson, Kate Noakes, Taró Naka Trans. Andrew Houwen & Chikako Nihei, Aidan Semmens, Mark Goodwin, Barbara Bridger, Alexandra Strnad, Daragh Breen, Andrew Darlington, Caroline Heaton, Peter J. King, Amelia Forman, Clive Gresswell, Steve Spence, Rebecca Oet, Sue Burge, Chloe Marie, Lucy Sheerman, Peter Robinson, Michael Henry, Wendy Brandmark, Abeer Ameer, Reuben Woolley, Kareem Tayyar, Sarah Cave, Angela Howarth, Norman Jope, John Freeman, Eoghan Walls, Jennie Byrne, Marcel Labine Trans. John Gilmore and Peter Larkin.

The critical section features Ian Brinton’s editorial, Andrew Duncan on Sean Bonney, Mark Byers on Jasper Bernes and Sean Bonney, Nancy Gaffield on Zoë Skoulding, Frances Spurrier – Poetry, resilience and the power of hope, Simon Collings on Ian Seed, Peter Larkin, Clark Allison on John Hall, Astra Papachristodoulou on Nic Stringer, Greg Bright – What Is Poetry?, Mandy Pannett on Seán Street, David Pollard on Norman Jope, Louise Buchler on New Voices in South African Poetry, Anthony Mellors on Gavin Selerie, Linda Black on Anna Reckin, Jonathan Catherall on Nicki Heinen, Richard Foreman on M. John Harrison, Morag Kiziewicz’s column Electric Blue 4, Notes on Contributors and David Caddy’s Afterword.

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

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

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

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

I turn towards you
whom I do not know.

We were gentle.

You were one and the same.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian Brinton, 30th July 2018

http://www.abar.net

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