RSS Feed

Tag Archives: A.N. Whitehead

Spacecraft by John McCullough (Penned in the Margins)

Spacecraft by John McCullough (Penned in the Margins)

Robert Kaplan published his ‘Natural History of Zero’, The Nothing That Is, in 1999 and it opens with the intriguing assertion that ‘If you look at zero you see nothing; but look through it and you will see the world’. Nature often supplies us with circular hollows: from an open mouth to the faintly outlined dark of the moon; from craters to wounds. Nabokov wrote ‘Skulls and seeds and all good things are round’. Zero, a nought, allows us to contemplate the very large by building up towards it in stages. Place a row of noughts after a figure of 1 and ‘rather than letting our thoughts diffuse in the face of immensity’ we can watch the world expanding. It is significant that the epigraph to that building up of a large picture in Charles Olson’s Maximus begins with the Black Mountain cook, Cornelia Williams, exclaiming ‘All my life I’ve heard / one makes many’. Her statement overheard by the poet complements that of A.N. Whitehead in Process and Reality: ‘…the term many presupposes the term one, and the term one presupposes the term many.’ In John McCullough’s poem ‘O’, in the second section of his forthcoming collection of poems from the enterprising publishing house of Tom Chivers, this letter, itself an echo of nothing, ‘is not the simplest letter, not always / a lucid stroke’:

‘….In my book of scripts

O sloughs its symmetry, tilts toward discord,
its wall subsiding, air charging out

as the winds inside gnash and ravel,
upgrade to howl. I lay my finger

on the page and trace each flourish.
I conjure up your lips saying

the letter, forming the shape but stopped
mid-word. I read it over and over,

I who know too well these days
how a single sound can hold a city.

When Gloucester met Lear on the sands and shoals of the blind and the mad he addressed his monarch with the words ‘O let me kisse that hand’ and Lear’s response was immediate: ‘Here wipe it first, it smels of mortalitie’. In shocked dismay the loyal earl cries out ‘O ruind peece of Nature, this great world should so weare out to naught, do you know me?’ In the Warton Lecture on English Poetry given by J.H. Prynne in 1988 he commented upon this passage:

‘There are deeply buried puns here, beyond the comprehensions of either speaker yet ensconced within their predicament of speaking about utter perdition: the round O of loyal plea turned into horror and outcry at ruined nature, broken and unpeaceful, is the self-same figure as the great world itself and the cypher it has come to, the naught.’

Mathematics and literature, figures and emotions, overlap and John McCullough’s time-machine can bring back before our eyes a Lee Harwood whose death in 2015 does not remain a nought: ‘There it was again // the softness / of your voice // the cushioned spaces / of its hesitance // that constant search / for the right way // to question yourself.’ By giving the poem the title ‘Rooms’ McCullough brings to mind the absence of the word ‘White’ and the statement in ‘When The Geography Was Fixed’ that ‘The colours are here / inside us, I suppose’. In McCullough’s airy drawing the figure of Lee Harwood comes before us, glimpsed, before a disappearance that leaves him with only ‘the silence of clouds’, ‘shuffled pebbles’ and the respect and affection that prompts him towards ‘the gaps I listen for // inside the rain’.

Another poet who died last year was Charles Tomlinson and I make no apology for repeating a quotation I have used many times before. It comes from a poem written some sixty years ago, ‘Aesthetic’:

‘Reality is to be sought, not in concrete,
But in space made articulate’.

It seems to be an appropriate statement for John McCullough’s new volume as I read with delight one of the concluding poems about living in a basement, making a space articulate:

‘A fine pleasure, to live beside the uncertainties
of a basement garden, to sit curled
near the hydrangea’s unfolding, a pipistrelle’s
click-click-click. Earlier I ran inside
and watched a squall assault the ground,
drops pummelling the glass of tea I left
on chipped slate. They made liquid coronets
in the air above it, the dark drink rising quickly,
spilling over—soon running wholly clear.

Spacecraft will be published on May 1st this year and for further information about it contact James Trevelyan at james@pennedinthemargins.co.uk

Ian Brinton 24th March 2016

‘One makes many’: Laurie Duggan’s Allotments from Shearsman

‘One makes many’: Laurie Duggan’s Allotments from Shearsman

One of the two epigraphs to Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems is the phrase that the poet overheard in 1953 at Black Mountain College when the cook, Cornelia Williams, said ‘All my life I’ve heard one makes many’. The phrase struck a chord with Olson and in his copy of A.N. Whitehead’s Process and Reality where the Ramsgate-born Mathematician and Philosopher had written ‘the term many presupposes the term one, and the term one presupposes the term many’ he scribbled ‘exactly Cornelia Williams, Black Mt kitchen, 1953’.

On the back of this beautifully produced new Shearsman collection of 100 short poems Fiona Wright has written ‘The small poems…slowly build up to a much larger narrative; a narrative of time and memory, of thinking and being in the world, a kind of history that is happening on the sidelines.’Or, to put it in Laurie Duggan’s words in ‘Allotment #62’:

 

to make much of little

where perception and act are one

 

each thing in its place

spread over the garden

 

poppy seeds of various hue

stolen from elsewhere

 

The delight of many of these poems, ‘Pansies’, pensées, is the sure touch of language in which that ‘perception’ and the act of the words on the page cohere to form a picture, a vignette. Some of them are just that: a picture, a photograph clicked in an instant:

 

a robin lands, curious

as I grub weeds

(‘Allotment #41’)

 

One can see the curiosity of the robin as though a head tilted to one side were there on the page; the movement from lightness of the bird to the more ponderous work of the man is caught in the contrast of sound between ‘lands’ and ‘grub’. The coherence of the picture is given to us with the dual meaning of that second word.

The connectedness between a sharply perceived ‘here’ and the shadow cast on the ground by a ‘then’ is held in

 

a moment’s silence

with Gael Turnbull,

Brigflatts Meeting House, 1987

 

later

on Hardknott Pass

November cold

 

(posted there

Legionaries

from Africa

(‘Allotment #49’)

 

The witty, almost mischievous, association between the surname of the founder of Migrant Press and the opening line of Bunting’s poem is never allowed to rest with the self-satisfaction that can come as the result of a pun; we have already moved on in time (‘later’) and the cold of the Pass bridges a ‘now’ and the builders of Hadrian’s Wall.

Laurie Duggan has an infectious awareness of history and his precision allows the reader to share moments rather like a pebble dropped in a well on the surface of which ‘stones ring.

 

Allotment #93

 

All Hallows approaches

the bar strung with rubber bats,

 

telescopes, astrolabes

obscure the windows.

 

Pepys drank in this pub

(the Thames, Wapping

 

above the tunnel

to Rotherhithe)

 

further out, rotten wharves,

hulks on the estuary bed

 

empty sea-forts

subject to slow rust

 

Ian Brinton 11th April 2014

 

 

%d bloggers like this: