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Long Poem Magazine 13 edited by Lucy Hamilton and Linda Black

Long Poem Magazine 13 edited by Lucy Hamilton and Linda Black

Issue 13 assembles a wide range of contributors and offers a wide focused angle on contemporary English poetry. There are some seriously considered poems in this particular issue, which repays rereading.

Ric Hool’s homage to Northumberland ‘Revista Rudiments’ captures its unruly history, from when it was a northern outpost of the Roman Empire to the Meadow Well Riots of September 1991 and through the figure of Ranter poet, Barry MacSweeney. The narrator walks the ground, hearing the sound of the land, noting the birdsong and long stories with ‘a confluence of telling / Unthank opportunists / set up camp // plough-breaker Swarland /& / Wind-cutter Snitter. The poem reaches beyond evocation to deeper historical and geographical viewpoints, and the area’s distinctiveness. It is a powerful sequence open to a number of registers and echoes.

Ian Seed’s ‘Absences’ consists of thirteen sections of four three line stanzas derived from reworked cut-up fragments to produce a dreamlike narrative similar to but distinct from his prose poetry. The fragmented narrative has a cinematic quality and revolves around a series of journeys and encounters probing the nature of a series of opposites. The poem has great power through its refusal to predicate. It hovers in pared down focus on suggested or implied infractions, which work in a cumulative manner towards possible articulation. By holding back as much as stating the poem produces surprising effects and forces the reader to reread.

Alison Winch’s ‘Alisoun’s’ uses material from the medieval pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome and the figure of Alisoun from Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale in her exploration of female sexuality and reproductive power. This spirited ribaldry is counterpointed by material quoted from key medieval texts, by Marbod of Rennes, St. Thomas Acqinas, Galen and others, attacking or denying female disobedience positioned on the right side margin. The impact is one of contextualised commentary and playfulness. The poem has a wonderful sensuality and period feel. It begins:

Arse – myne! – that’s how you know me
that & my wenching – but dear Lord what an arse!
like the dimple blush of a just-plucked pear
plump on its honey bee haunches
when the kitchen is a light box of morning sonne.

Penelope Shuttle’s ‘Effarn: Nans Ladron’ (The Valley of Thieves), a version of some lines from Dante’s Inferno, is similarly playful and intertextual mixing English and Cornish vocabulary. The English is predominantly colloquial whereas the Cornish is more earthy and physical. This tactile quality gives the whole a more robust finish and serves to provide a local flavor and accent.

Albert Einstein and Emily Dickinson provide the epigraphs to Aidan Semmens’ beguiling poem, Unified Field Theory’, which is a companion piece to his ‘Clergyman’s Guide to String Theory’ published in Long Poem Magazine 11. The poem offers a slant angle on the nature of forces and relations of change around a city under military occupation or threat where the ‘wall’ is ‘to guard things that are useless / while things that are valuable are left unattended’. It concerns change where ‘beauty lies in the refusal of meaning’ and ‘nature becomes a synonym / for suffering and death’. The title tends to make the reader consider the way different interactions impose themselves or not on a conflict situation, where ‘nothing is affected by being known’. It would be interesting to compare and contrast ‘Unified Field Theory’ with ‘Absences’. The former may appear to offer clearer predication yet tends to typically offset each fragmentary meaning with contradictory material from another field, which serves to complicate as much as open out.
Ian Brinton’s essay on ‘John Riley: From Lincoln To Byzantium’ references the poet’s journey from the thirteenth century Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste’s thinking on light and matter, to his conversion to Russian Orthodoxy. Brinton articulates Riley’s quest for spiritual awareness in his major poem, ‘Czargrad’, through a reading of the poem’s literary and philosophical sources. These include Dante’s Paradiso, George Oppen’s Of Being Numerous, Pound’s essay on Cavalcanti, Charles Olson’s ‘Projective Verse’ essay, T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday, and Bishop Grosseteste on ‘On Light / De Luce’. The most important of these sources to me is perhaps Oppen’s poem, in the way that it offers ways of connecting the parts of a disconnected world, as represented by New York, through a series of precise thoughts and images. The work has a similar clarity of vision and surely would have led Riley to thinking about the phenomenology of perception. The sources are supported through a reading of Riley’s correspondence and Brinton usefully quotes from J.H. Prynne’s response to the first two sections of ‘Czargrad’ published in Grosseteste Review 6. Like all good criticism, this essay makes the reader wish to return to the poem.

Alasdair Paterson, Geraldine Monk, Claire Trévien, S.J. Fowler, Mark Goodwin, Jay Ramsay, Greta Stoddart, and many others grace this splendid and varied issue.

David Caddy 7th June 2015

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Uncertain Measures by Aidan Semmens (Shearsman), What The Ground Holds by Rosie Jackson (Poetry Salzburg)

Uncertain Measures by Aidan Semmens (Shearsman), What The Ground Holds by Rosie Jackson (Poetry Salzburg)

In the fifth issue of Perfect Bound (1978), the Cambridge journal that Aidan Semmens edited with Peter Robinson, I find the following lines of a prose poem;

‘The remarkable amount of flotsam in the river could be small craft that have sunk. The water is only slightly ruffled by the breeze. It is so straight it could be a canal, with regular lines of trees along the sharp, precise banks.’

We could be casting a sideways glance at the opening of Our Mutual Friend or, as I prefer to think, we could be gazing at a landscape which anticipates the ‘ritual’ one with which this new Shearsman collection opens:

‘our origin myths are not set in stone
but gradually shift
in emphasis and tone from
generation to regeneration
mutating settling encrusted
with efflorescence of ore’

The obsession that Dickens had with the past ensured that bodies never remained underground for long and even in the late Great Expectations the sound of the returning Magwitch’s footstep can be heard on the bottom stair. Palimpsest-like Semmens’s earlier working out of perspective concerning an industrial landscape peers up at the reader through a new development and this newness bears an eerie reflection of a world that we might expect to discover in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road:

down a winding path
in a shadowy scene
a woman and a man are pushing
a wagon loaded with industrial implements

(‘The Vanishing of Workers’ Settlement #3’)

However, the power of this poetry does not rest satisfied with imagery and threading its way through the texture of the verse are comments which hang together to provide analysis:

‘things have been falling apart
since the onset of modernity
fragmentation as the condition of knowledge
the extortion of desire extraction of obedience’

The myths of Demeter and Persephone seem recently to have become archetypes of the buried self and the emergence of newness from the controlling overlord of consciousness is seen as a regeneration that works; unlike that of Orpheus and Eurydice. It is there with vividness in David Almond’s novel Skellig:

‘She took wrong turnings, banged her head against the rocks. Sometimes she gave up in despair and just lay weeping in the pitch darkness. But she struggled on. She waded through icy underground streams. She fought through bedrock and clay and iron ore and coal, through fossils of ancient creatures, the skeletons of dinosaurs, the buried remains of ancient cities. She burrowed past the tangled roots of great trees. She was torn and bleeding but she kept telling herself to move onward and upward. She told herself that soon she’d see the light of the sun again and feel the warmth of the world again.’

It is there in the opening lines of Rosie Jackson’s ‘Persephone’:

‘I can’t tell you the terror of being down there.
All those miles of earth on top of me—
the stench, the dark—
and him on top
paddling my thin body like a piece of dough.’

However, here the focus is on the rape, the invasion, the claustrophobic sense of proximity to a body which has been imposed upon you. Perhaps it is no accident that the word ‘paddling’ echoes the sexually obsessive Leontes in The Winter’s Tale when he imagines the supposed adultery of his wife with his oldest friend in terms of ‘paddling palms and pinching fingers’. The emphasis upon rape is taken up in the second poem of the volume, ‘Persephone Blames the Dress’, where the silk of the garment seems to be a co-conspirator in the downfall of the girl. Not only does the material fall to the floor ‘like water seeking some underground pool’ but the moment Persephone puts it on the thunderous steps of a Classical Bromion can be heard and the victim is being hunted down: she ‘started’, ‘slipped’, disappeared between toppled birches’. The silk ‘snagged as I pulled the neck down’ and the stanza concludes with the ‘sound of something tearing.’
Rosie Jackson’s chapbook is titled What the Ground Holds and it could, of course, be seen as what the ground does not hold: Persephone returns. The collection also features Lazarus who ‘longs for light, just a slither / from the far side of that impossible stone’ and Orpheus who slips ‘easily through those seedy chinks / that lead downwards’ towards a Eurydice who will be forever barred from return. Most importantly, and to my mind successfully, there is ‘Visiting the Underworld, 1964’ in which the poet rattles down with her father ‘to these tunnels of hot darkness’. Within the confines of this workplace ‘we kneel on all fours / feeling our way, getting a taste / of what real men do’.

Some years ago, in Tears 45, Jackson had written ‘The absence of the lost one is subsumed into the present of the poem, as if the very act of the poem’s utterance reverses or undoes death, even as it laments it.’ I suspect that a reading of ‘Poems 1912-13, Veteris vestigia flammae’ may not quite support this.

Ian Brinton October 30th 2014

Long Poem Magazine Issue 11 Spring 2014

Long Poem Magazine Issue 11 Spring 2014

http://www.longmagazine.org.uk

 

Edited by Lucy Hamilton, Linda Black and Ann Vaughan-Williams

 

Linda Black’s editorial states the magazine’s intention ‘to represent the broad range of contemporary poetics’ and they achieve this with aplomb. Each issue has an impressive range of long poems, introduced by each poet, and one substantial essay.

 

Issue 11 is no exception to the usual high standard. Robert Vas Dias’ essay on Paul Blackburn’s The Journals (1975) is a wonderfully written personal and critical introduction to the subject. It is highly informative, providing a contextualised reading of a neglected, major American poet. By the way, Simon Smith is editing a Paul Blackburn Reader for publication by Shearsman in 2015, which will include hitherto unpublished material from the Blackburn archive at San Diego.

 

This issue has a strong international flavour. There are translations from the Spanish of Mercedes Cebriàn’s 2005 ‘Common Market’ poem by Terence Dooley, and from the Russian of Vladislav Khodasevich’s 1926 ‘John Bottom’ poem by Peter Daniels.

Frances Presley’s ‘OBX’ poem is a tribute to and a dialogue with Muriel Rukeyser’s Outer Banks (1967) and was written in and around the Outer Banks on the Atlantic coast of North Carolina.

 

Mark Sorrell offers a translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem, ‘The Battles of Maldon’, and Kevin Crossley-Holland’s ‘Harald In Byzantium’ captures the eleventh century Norwegian giant between two worlds thinking about home and identity. Edwin Stockdale’s ‘Snowdrops’ stems from an immersion in Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1853 novel, Ruth, and Aviva Dautch responds to Pablo Picasso’s 1946 Bull lithographs in the context of Theodore Adorno’s challenge about the possibility of art after the Holcaust. ‘Eleven Developments Of A Lithograph’ employs a first person narrative to follow Picasso’s progression from the figurative to abstraction and response to barbarism. Anna Stearman’s ‘Letters to Dr. Freud’ stems from reading H.D.’s Tribute to Freud (1956) and is mediated through Rilke, Anna Freud, and others.

 

I was pleased to see D.M. Black featured. He seemed to have dropped from view in recent years due one suspects to writing unfashionable poems. His ‘The Uses of Mythology’ reads Ezra Pound’s ambition and trajectory through the myth of Marsyas, flayed alive for daring to compete with Apollo. Similarly unfashionable is Aidan Semmens’ wonderfully titled, ‘A Clergyman’s Guide To String Theory’, derived from a chance method of finding non-poetic lines on page 53 of a selection of books in his home and using playing cards to shuffle the lines and generate a random sequence. The poem begins:

 

I dropped into line with women

rich clusters of columbine heavy and dark

there is serene repose in the body

both sacred and sordid

surrounded by scaffolding

a face cut into stone the steps strewn with lavender

selection of articles collectible figurines and large scenes

a few pieces in relief entirely made by hand

ancient hunters and gatherers painted figures

of animals and humans in shades

of red and yellow ochre

on the cliffs that line the innumerable waterways

 

There is also captivating work by Mimi Khalvati, Anna Reckin, R.D. Parker, Lisa Kelly, James Byrne and Maitreyabandhu, and an editorial by Linda Black.

 

Each issue is £6. Annual subscriptions are £14.50.

 

David Caddy 24th June 2014

Litmus Magazine issue 1: the forensic issue

Litmus Magazine issue 1: the forensic issue

This is a short blog to promote what I think is one of the finest new magazines available on the market and I write it to encourage those who have not come across it to buy a copy and to subscribe to its future. Magazines (and here Tears in the Fence is a prime example having existed for thirty years through the efforts of David Caddy and without any support from the National Institutions)

 

SURVIVE

 

only because there are enough people out there who want to read something that is more than the pre-digested regurgitations of the ‘accepted’ market. Issue 1 of Litmus contains work by poets of significant renown such as David Marriott, Simon Smith, Geraldine Monk, Sarah Crewe, Aidan Semmens, Ken Edwards and Mario Petrucci but, most interestingly , it contains work by new poets and by those who have been closely involved in the world of contemporary poetry in recent years: Jeff Hilson, Richard Price, Anthony Mellors. And…it contains an essay by me about Prynne and his French translator Bernard Dubourg!

 

You won’t find this work anywhere else and Dorothy Lehane’s editorial sets out the challenge for you in uncompromisingly clear terms:

 

‘The resulting work is not easy material; it does not always attempt to educate and does not promise to add to your comprehension of science. Rather, its complex processes require the reader to explore some parallels between linguistic construction and forensic science. The reader is invited to embark upon a journey involving botany, metempsychosis, massacre and even fairy tales.’

 

The magazine can be ordered through either the editors: editors@litmuspublishing.co.uk

or

www.litmuspublishing.co.uk

 

Ian Brinton 4th June 2014.

 

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