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Category Archives: Poetry Pamphlet

Versions of Martial by Alan Halsey (Knives Forks And Spoons Press)

Versions of Martial by Alan Halsey (Knives Forks And Spoons Press)

This whole collection brims over with outrageous delight. Of course there are the smutty sexual innuendos, the more direct insults, and the bitter spitting from carious teeth. But there is much, much more and it is a tonic to be able to recognise the satirical sharpness of some of these versions of Martial’s ‘Epigrams’ given the mixture of crocodile tears in today’s world: a child’s body is washed up on the shores of a Greek island; the International Arms Fair opens in London where DSEI ‘will host around 300 seminar sessions and keynotes across seven theatres…facilitating knowledge sharing and networking around key topics and technical areas’. Give me an ounce of civet good apothecary…Or, a page or two of Alan Halsey’s Versions of Martial:

Book III: XXXVII

‘How explain why the conspicuously rich
are so easy to offend? Ask their accountant.
He probably won’t tell you but he’ll know.’

Book V: LXXXI

‘In the Big Society the poor stay poor
and cabinet ministers stay millionaires: it’s a law.’

Book VII: LXXIII

‘I know all about the houses you own,
you’ve described them so often
in such detail—I know the views from
their every window—but, Maximus,
you’ve never told me your address.’

When Laurie Duggan’s Pressed Wafer edition of The Epigrams of Martial appeared five years ago he introduced the little bombshell by saying that ‘faithful translations of satires, while possibly of use to historians, tended to lose the satirical element altogether. For satire to bite as it ought to its objects should be at least generically recognizable and as so much of Martial’s work is ad hominem a good dose of the particular was essential.’ This approach is very much in the style of Charles Tomlinson whose review of the Loeb Classics 1994 edition of Martial praised the unpretentiously accurate approach of the translator by suggesting that ‘it helps the reader to the mental possession of the original’. I am also reminded of the preface Tomlinson wrote for his Faber edition of John Dryden’s poems in which he suggested that the Augustan poet’s Fables Ancient and Modern (1700) ‘made it new (in Pound’s phrase) especially for poets themselves’. August Kleinzahler wrote a brief afterword to Duggan’s Martial giving an account of how these pieces had originally been published in the Melbourne journal, Scripsi: ‘This Martial bit then. It bites still.’
For satire to ‘bite’ we have to be able to recognise the scale of values that has been so debased by the object of the satire. Urbanity and friendship, directness and honesty: it is in their absence that we recognise the power of their presence. Many of Alan Halsey’s poems give us the self-portrait of a man who is saddened by rudeness and contemptuous of arrogance:

Book II: V

‘I don’t mind the two-hour walk
it takes me to see you, Decianus.
I do mind the two hours it takes
To walk home when for reasons
Of your own you haven’t seen me.’

The tone captured here is reminiscent of that biting edge Ben Jonson put into his ‘Epigrammes’ when he damns ‘The Townes Honest Man’ or confronts ‘Captayne Hungry’:

‘ Doe what you come for, Captayne, with your newes;
That’s, sit, and eate: doe not my eares abuse.
I oft looke on false coyne, to know’t from true:
Not that I love it, more, than I will you.’

Halsey’s updated version of this type of barb will sound familiar to quite enough ears, I suspect:

Book III: XLIV

‘Myself I like to lounge on my sofa,
take a stroll, a shit, a bath and a nap
in peace and quiet. Who doesn’t?
You, Ligurinus. That’s why we feel suicidal
when we meet you. What you call life
is a solo nonstop poetry recital.’

Buy this book from http://www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk and carry it around in your pocket like an orange pierced with cloves in a plague-ridden city.

Ian Brinton 25th September 2015.

And

What the Sky Arranges Poems made from the TSUREZUREGUSA of KENKŌ by Andrew Fitzsimons, with drawings by Sergio Maria Calatroni, Isobar Press

What the Sky Arranges  Poems made from the TSUREZUREGUSA of KENKŌ  by Andrew Fitzsimons, with drawings by Sergio Maria Calatroni, Isobar Press

The forthcoming launch of Paul Rossiter’s 2015 programme of books from Isobar Press, details of which can be found at the foot of this blog, has prompted me to recall an Isobar production from last year: the meditative, witty and long-lasting short poems by Andrew Fitzsimons gathered from a reading of Kenkō.

‘Travel. Wherever you go
the world you bring with you
is washed by the world you see.’

There is a refreshing sense of whole attention in these poems and a quietness of reflection that glimmers long after the little book is closed. There is a merging of closely observed detail with a background that offers years of support:

‘What is bad taste?
too many knick-knacks about the place
too many brushes in the ink box
too many Buddhas
too many shrubs and plants in a garden
too many rooms in a house
too many words on meeting someone
a ledger all plus and no minus?

Myths, tales, stories tell us something about who we are and the American poet, Robert Duncan’s autobiographical essay, The Truth & Life of Myth (House of Books Ltd. New York, 1968), referred to a sense of ‘universal humanity’ which is open to being discovered in the ‘mixing-ground of man’s commonality in myth’:

The meaning and intent of what it is to be a man and, among men, to be a poet, I owe to the workings of myth in my spirit, both the increment of associations gathered in my continuing study of mythological lore and my own apprehension of what my life is at work there. The earliest stories heard, nursery rimes and animal tales from childhood, remain today alive in my apprehensions, for there is a ground of man’s imaginations of what he is in which my own nature as a man is planted and grows.

Duncan’s book was subtitled ‘An essay in Essential Autobiography’ and the poet recalled sitting with his sister, ‘my mother between us’, looking at pictures in a book ‘as my mother reads aloud’:

‘The picture I am looking at is of three young men sleeping on a mat. One of them, the poet Basho, has awakened. Their naked feet are uncovered where they have pulled the blankets up around their necks in the cold. There is a poem that goes with that picture on the page. But this is not the poem that comes to mind even as I see the picture. For as I remember that moment, there is another scene superimposed, a double exposure, in which the very plash of a frog jumping into an old pond appears as if from actual life itself, but this vivid impression belongs to one of the most famous of all Japanese hokkus

In the poem ‘WORLDS’ by Fitzsimons the old world is washed by the new as if the lenses of the eye were being cleansed by focussed attention upon the new moment. When J.H. Prynne, at that time Director of Studies at Gonville and Caius, put together some ‘Tips on Practical Criticism for Students of English, 2006’ he associated close and broad reading skills in a way not dissimilar to this image of one world washed by another:

‘In fact, and in practice, however, close and broad reading skills reciprocally energise and complement each other. Regular exercises in close reading both sharpen and deepen accurate response to local texture and also feed into enhanced perception of larger-scale structure, to make us all-round better readers. One hand washes the other. Principles and foundations of a distinctive personal judgement begin to appear, together with increased range of response and cogency of evaluative judgement, supported by explorative argument within awareness of differing views and opinions. Step by step, as a reader, you begin to tune in and wake up.’
Read What the Sky Arranges and dwell for a moment upon ‘DATES:

‘Don’t wait till dotage for your goodness to begin.
Look at the dates on those gravestones.’

Isobar books are published to a very high standard and it would be worth going to this launch just to buy a copy of Andrew Fitzsimons’ poems let alone the new publications which include Peter Robinson’s poems from his time in Japan.
The London launch of Isobar Books takes place this Friday, 3rd July upstairs in the Rugby Tavern, Gt. James St. WC1N 3ES at 7.00.
Ian Brinton 29th June 2015

Sally Flint’s The Hospital Punch (Maquette Press)

Sally Flint’s The Hospital Punch (Maquette Press)

Reading this little chapbook of poems, eleven in all, I kept thinking ‘Why am I moved by these glances into the life of a hospital?’ The answer when it came was something to do with the compassion and care threading its way through the tone of Sally Flint’s poems. It brought to mind the article I had read by Gavin Francis yesterday in the review section of The Guardian. The article revolved around that masterpiece from 1967 by John Berger, A Fortunate Man. Gavin Francis presented the reader with a brief account of Berger’s book, ‘a collaborative work that blends John Berger’s text with Jean Mohr’s photographs in a series of superb analytical, sociological and philosophical reflections on the doctor’s role, the roots of cultural and intellectual deprivation and the motivations that drive medical practice’. The article also quotes Berger as stressing that he is ‘a storyteller’:

‘Even when I was writing on art it was really a way of storytelling—storytellers lose their identity and are open to the lives of other people.’

Sally Flint’s pictures of the ordinary and echoing history of hospital workers, those whose lives are touched by the intimacy and importance of what they are committed to, strike a bell of familiarity: one almost gets to know the characters as one would within the margins of storytelling. In ‘The Hospital Punch’

‘Henry, the anaesthetist, who swayed
like he’d sniffed nitrous oxide all his life,
un-wrapped one of the biggest sterile bowls
used to collect swabs in theatre.
He carried it like a ceremonial platter
to the staff room, leered over his spectacles
and said, ‘What we need is alcohol.’’

Within the narrative a baby/child has died and Nancy, one of those who will be at this ceremony of recovery, is ‘swollen-eyed / as the grey-faced parents she’d consoled’. Within this world of professional commitment and loss boundaries are melted as Big Marlon, the porter, brings glasses ‘out of store’ and tips into the bowl a hip-flask of rum whilst whispering the half-bitten cliché ‘It’ll warm the cockles’. As the wake continues the question of bringing the dead back to life ‘wouldn’t sink’:

‘It was nobody’s fault, we chorused.
Life wasn’t ours to give or take,
except for the exceptions—
when we’d fought and won.’

This carefully-poised poem, poised between the banality of a moment and the stretching eternity of responses to death, the echoing in our minds of Donne’s meditation in which he says ‘No man is an Island’, concludes with a sharply-drawn picture which could come from Black Mountain Michael Rumaker’s story ‘Exit 3’:

‘Slowly, Henry began feeling
dents in the locker doors
when the junior doctor said he couldn’t stand
the heat. As the sun slipped
behind the hospital chimney
he swung at the window, made his fist bleed.’

This little press, Maquette, from the University of Exeter, is worth keeping an eye out for and they can be contacted at 7 Grove Terrace, Teignmouth, Devon TQ14 9HT. Later on today I am looking forward to reading the third volume that has appeared from the press, A Plume of Smoke by Jos Smith.

Ian Brinton 8th February 2015

Radioactive Relicts by Peter Hughes

Radioactive Relicts by Peter Hughes

Petrarch Sonnets 117-136
Litmus Publishing

In his Keynote Speech given at the First Conference of English-Poetry Studies in China, Shijazhuang, P.R. China, on 18th April 2008, the visiting speaker, Mr. J. H. Prynne addressed the issue of ‘Difficulties in the Translation of “Difficult” Poems’. At one point he looked at the idea of ‘surprise’:

Poetry is surprising, and good difficult poems sometimes surprise us so much that we can hardly breathe. A translation cannot be successful if, in order to make a foreign poem understandable, it makes it ordinary and rather predictable in its use of words. Thus, the language used in the translation of a difficult and surprising poem must also be difficult and surprising.

Prynne went on to refer to the letter Keats wrote to John Taylor in February 1818 in which he asserted that ‘I think Poetry should surprise by a fine excess and not by Singularity—it should strike the Reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a Remembrance’.

I was drawn back to these ideas when I started reading this new Litmus publication of Peter Hughes’s Petrarchan Sonnets 117-136, Radioactive Relicts. For instance the opening lines of number 131, a version of ‘Or che ’l ciel e la terra e ’l vento tace’:

walk in local darkness hearing nothing
except the distant tinkle of the rich
the rest of us stare into burning sticks
till our eyes begin to itch & tingle

the nymph Callisto prowls the April night
shifting her weight from paw to monstrous paw
her body made of empty space & stars
paraded as a banner for all those…

Henry Howard’s early version ‘A Complaint by Night of the Lover not Beloved’ is worth looking up here in any collected edition of the poems of the Earl of Surrey:

Alas! so all things now do hold their peace!
Heaven and earth disturbed in nothing;
The beasts, the air, the birds their song do cease,
The nights car the stars about doth bring
Calm is the sea; the waves work less and less…

These two versions of the original are very much of their time but I have to record how much I am cast under a spell by Peter Hughes’s delicate handling of language: listen and look at the way in which the ‘tinkle’ of line 2 becomes the drawn out ‘itch & tingle’ of line 4 where the words seem to add power to that use of ‘rich’. Callisto prowls the night not only as a great, if supposedly untouchable, beauty but as an echo of a folksong memory of the fleeting presence of Simon and Garfunkel! And for those who might be wondering what happened between the mid-Sixteenth Century and now spot the Matthew Arnold quotation; he certainly will have read his Surrey!
This new publication is yet more evidence, for those who still need it, of the outstanding lyric quality of these translations. Buy a copy now from LITMUS publishing (www.litmuspublishing.co.uk)

Ian Brinton 3rd August 2014

Pamphlet Revival: Ag and Au

Pamphlet Revival: Ag and Au

Poetry pamphlet publishers are filling the gap of more staid and conservative publishers by publishing sequences and more often.   Pamphlets are having a revival. They continue to be as relevant to the emergence of new work, especially sequences and work in progress as they were thirty or forty years ago. They serve as interim reports, markers of what is new and emerging from the pit face. Oystercatcher Press, Happenstance Press, Corrupt Press, Like This Press and several others have helped to revitalize the pamphlet-publishing scene. They appear to be far more effective than e-pamphlets and have the advantages of mobility and samizdat alterity.

 

Charles Wilkinson’s poetry pamphlet Ag & Au (Flarestack Poets 2013), illustrated by Birmingham Institute of Art & Design students, explores the history of Birminghams’s Jewellery Quarter and the qualities of silver (Ag) and gold (Au). ‘The Golden Triangle’ has flourished since the nineteenth century and occasions this wonderfully atmospheric, spare and balanced sequence. Wilkinson employs found materials and his own archival research into the location, jeweller’s craft and individual craftsmen, to add depth and texture to his poems. Wilkinson welds a specific vocabulary, imbedded in a distinctly localized, social and economic history, and overlays with tight musicality.

 

opening the shutters

to let in the tall morn-

ing, pace it out, & smile

as if recording, though

an instant & it’s done;

take out My Lady’s Tray:

the same gravitas, open-

ing the door; sir-hiss o

how many times a day – His

Lordship always out, he’s

          by the herringbone stream,

sir: soft sound goes deeper,

archaeological:

Ur and the silver on

the sideboard black white, chang-

 

 

These visually attractive poems sparkle with ballads, gems, jeweller’s boxes, bells, lemel bricks, fool’s silver, seasilver and are vitalised by reference to the world of service, child labour, trade disputes and cuffs of light.

 

David Caddy

Poems of Yves Bonnefoy

Poems of Yves Bonnefoy

Ian Brinton & Michael Grant’s Poems of Yves Bonnefoy 1 has just appeared from Oystercatcher Press, the award-winning pamphlet publisher. These translations of Bonnefoy, the French poet and essayist born in 1923, interestingly differ from others in what is essentially a post-Heideggerian world. They delineate the separateness of the poetry of anguish, the bridge between light and darkness that comes after destruction.  Here there is silence after death, destruction, loss of God and the slow emergence of the eternal in the human voice, in bird song, in the forests of trees and memory and the healing of spring and fruit. ‘No beauty no colour detains’ this poetry that insists upon its own purity. It is the poetry of an uncertain quietness into living communication that considers ‘those processions of the light / through a land without birth or death,’ and the path to a new world.  There is a depth of voices coming out of the wilderness that is illustrated in the poem, ‘To the Voice of Kathleen Ferrier.’

 

I celebrate the voice merged with grey

Wavering in the distance of a lost song

As if beyond all pure form

Another song trembled, absolute, alone.

 

Here the translators indicate the loss of the song rather than the singing and thus the message rather than the medium. I immediately hear Ferrier’s contralto singing ‘Blow The Wind Southerly’ or Gluck’s ‘What Is Life?’ and recognize that sense of urgency coming out a generation that experienced personal loss during the Thirties and Forties and somehow have to find a way forward. One can sense more than a simple melancholy in her voice in Mahler’s ‘Das Lied von der Erde.’ Such elemental and eternal depth resonates in these carefully enunciated poems and spin off in disparate directions.

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