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Category Archives: Prose

Paris, Painters, Poets by Jim Burns (Penniless Press Publications)

Paris, Painters, Poets by Jim Burns (Penniless Press Publications)

An abiding feature of Jim Burns’ informative series of critical books is their range of interests and his passion in recalling neglected and marginalised artists, poets and jazz musicians. This eighth collection of reviews and essays has a sequence of essays on Paris, sections on neglected British artists and American poets, the effects of the Hollywood blacklists, the early days of communism in Russia and America, as well as some of his own short fiction.

The Parisian section has essays on Chaim Soutine, Marc Chagall and other Montparnasse outsiders, Picasso and his milieu in 1900, existentialists, including Edmund Husserl, the way the work of photographer, Felix Nadar, shaped images of the city, and the role of the barricade in successive insurrections. As ever, Burns writes in a richly contextual and inviting manner and gives useful overviews and plenty of references for further reading.

The reviews of recent exhibitions and books on Sven Berlin, John Bratby and Stanley Spencer are illuminating. I did not know, for example, that Bratby was also a novelist. He also writes the Forties and Fifties Soho bohemia that produced
Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, John Minton and Michael Ayrton, through the lens of the lives of artists, Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller, who frequently feature as minor artists in accounts of the period. As Burns makes clear any sense of transgressive artistic practice was over by the Sixties and the scene had degenerated into the same old faces drinking away their lives.

Amongst the highlights of this book for me is the discovery of the poetry of Lola Ridge (1873-1941) in the essay, ‘Lola Ridge, Radical Poet’, and of Cambridge Opinion 41 (1965), an issue devoted to the impact of William Carlos Williams on English poets. The former essay sets her work firmly in the context of American modernist poetry and its social background. Irish born Ridge came to become a Greenwich Village bohemian via New Zealand, Australia, and San Francisco. Her feminist, street poetry, voicing class conflict, social protest, won the Shelley Memorial Award in 1934 and 1935. Her first poetry book, The Ghetto and Other Poems (1918) centred on the Jewish community of the Lower East Side, and created quite a stir, despite the fact that her portrayal was mostly second hand.
There is currently a revival of interest in her poetry and Light in Hand: Selected Early Poems introduced and edited by Daniel Tobin appeared in 2007. Terese Svoboda’s biography Anything That Burns You (2015) extends to 627 pages. Burns found a copy of Cambridge Opinion 41 in his archives, as he was a contributor. The magazine is not referenced in any of the histories and bibliographies of little poetry magazines produced by the British Library and elesewhere. This significant issue features the work of Basil Bunting, Andrew Crozier, Roy Fisher, Tim Longville, Tom Pickard, J.H. Prynne, John Temple, Gael Turnbull and others. Burns provides plenty of background information on the editors and the various approaches of contributors and various other related magazines and presses. It is the kind of recovery that aptly illustrates the great value that Burns offers to us all.

David Caddy 8th February 2017

Richard Makin’s Mourning (Equus Press, 2015)

Richard Makin’s Mourning (Equus Press, 2015)

This third part of a trilogy, including Work (Great Works, 2009) and Dwelling (Reality Street, 2011), is formally more approachable than its immediate predecessor yet still commanding a rich tapestry of language use and imaginative construction. It is no coincidence that Equus Press have reissued Philippe Soller’s H (1973, 2001) at the same time. Makin’s trilogy has some lineage with the Nouveau Roman, offering a similar antidote to the constraints and requirements of the bourgeois novel, as well as early Modernist poetry and fiction in terms of its use of fragmentary material.

Mourning, and the trilogy as a whole, is an extraordinary and distinct achievement. It is a demanding and enriching read characterized by highly wrought sentences, which cover a range of discourses and fictional events. It is not a conventional novel. There is minimal characterisation with no discernible plot other than recurring thematic issue. There is instead a succession of linked or partially connected beginnings, which echo and take the reader on endless journeys. ‘Noun a neuron. No index of terminations at the gallows gate.’ The writing is, to use Ken Edwards’s words on the back cover, a ‘non-narrative, never-ending coherence.’ It is also deeply poetic and might well be linked to such Late Modernist poets, such as J.H. Prynne and Iain Sinclair in the way that it will severely pursues a theme for a few lines and then veers off into another discourse. The pleasure of the text is that the reader is confronted with several possible reading strategies. It is a joy to dip in and out of the novel as well as to read it in order. Mourning is perhaps less fragmentary than Dwelling and has more voices off. There is also more comedy. Those readers perhaps daunted by the thought of reading a non-narrative novel can perhaps view the work more like an epic Poundian poem with some added diversions, verve and comedy.

A reading (sitting or séance). An abandoned operating theatre, saint hospital. His party has eluded capture; those who survive will be reimbursed.
Also dream: crime, accused of – wrenching up the bolts, the tubers, the mandrake by its ear. Green shoots burst through the concrete, the shattered asphalt. I don’t know how I wrote that when I was asleep: not affliction, affection, in the archaic sense of disposition, i.e. to be drawn from something, from the thin air. A white feather quivers, balanced on her breath.

There is a video of Makin reading from this chapter at the 2014 Tears in the Fence Festival on the magazine’s website: https://tearsinthefence.com/festival

A number of chapters are devoted to comments of and around definitions. There is a probing and recording of a narrative self in endless movement and commentary at work.

Locomotor ataxia
Upper mandible of earth, shell lying below, palate soft, yielding to persistent stress.
‘Let’s turn around: on your knees.’
There were pressure ulcers, degeneration of the nerve fibres – stun-grenades, phosgene bombs.
Third: the demoralized, the ragged, those without names and unwilling to work or partake of compulsory leisure (the loudest scream, that’s all I can remember). Most often, the procedure is one of blundering mediations. And that, in short, is how the epoch names what we are.

There is an echo of William Burroughs’ Dr. Benway in lines such as, ‘The patient was hung up by the jaw and left alone for several minutes’ and those dark figures with their use of drug control, biological experimentation, and so on. This sinister narrative background is played out within a kind of subverted science fiction. It is easy to miss the tongue in cheek lines in Mourning as Makin doesn’t over signal his intentions, and is quickly onto some new line or direction. The sheer narrative force and distinct use of the English language connects him in this regard to Prynne, Sinclair and a few others. Makin is the real thing. There were many notable and cracking readings at last year’s Tears in the Fence Festival, Makin’s reading generated the most extensive discussions.

Mourning is available from Equus Press, Birkbeck College (William Rowe) 43 Gordon Square, London WC1 HOPD and https://equuspress.wordpress.com/mourning/

David Caddy 24th June 2015

Paul Buck’s To End It All (Test Centre, 2015)

Paul Buck’s To End It All (Test Centre, 2015)

To End It All is a prose work by writer, poet and artist Paul Buck. The text is composed of the final sentences of a varied selection of books by authors whose names begin with the same letter of the alphabet.

It began as an investigation into the endings of books, and the openings these endings offered for new beginnings. The book concludes with three extended texts, as examples of where each ending could begin to lead, as well as an implied invitation for the reader to respond to the provocation.
Edward Said argued, in his study Beginnings (1975), that a ‘beginning,’ is its own intention and method, and dependent upon an interaction with modern thought and criticism. Distinguishing between ‘origin,’ which is divine, mythical, and privileged, and ‘beginning,’ which is secular and humanly produced, Said traced the implications and understandings of the concept of beginning through history. A beginning is a first step in the intentional production of meaning and the production of difference from pre-existing traditions. It authorizes subsequent texts, both in terms of enablement and limitations. Buck’s work has an inherent argument that endings can be seen in the much the same light. Clearly a good ending should take the reader elsewhere, from back to book’s beginning to further contemplation of what the book has or has not achieved, to new possibilities of thought and writing. Here’s a sample from To End It All:

That dim hope sustains us.
That.
The choice may have been a limited one sometimes, but what an immense privilege to be able to choose!
The copper-dark night sky went glassy over the city crowned with signs and starting alight with windows, the wet square like a lake at the foot of the station ramp.
The direction seemed the right one, too.
The main thing is always the same: sovereignty is NOTHING.
The nurse left then, and Kristie heard her outside, locking the door.
The Other is what allows me not to repeat myself for ever.
Here the endings vacillate between ending and beginning and seem caught in a space somewhere adjacent to them both.

I recently saw Amy Cutler, at the Litmus 2 launch, read a poem based on the index of first lines from R S Thomas’s Later Poems. She saw the potential of forming a narrative around a love affair with memory and landscape in the background from the index. As she read along figures and a development arc emerged suggesting that the process had found latent meanings. Using an index based upon the alphabet creates its own structure. The ‘I’ is clearly a pivotal and activating point and that is the same in Paul Buck’s text. Critically one has a sense of the range of books and material Buck has used for his endings / beginnings. There is the pleasure in guessing some of the authors and books that he selected from, and beyond that an emergence of a psychic flow in the selections and possibilities opened up. Buck’s first paragraph based on the line ‘I give in to temptation’ shows that endings can indeed lead to new beginnings.

There was something against my body, there was an opening, a blaze, there was the heart. Always the crunch of gussets in the discarded harmonies. Many malcontents could be seen lounging. Through failure she snatched the gift from his broken fascination. Waiting for a constant, the chaotic condition, not the most exciting. Not as exciting as his own catastrophe, his own elimination.

David Caddy 6th March 2015

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