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Modernist Legacies Ed. Abigail Lang & David Nowell Smith Palgrave Macmillan

Modernist Legacies Ed. Abigail Lang & David Nowell Smith Palgrave Macmillan

On 18th February this year David Caddy posted a blog about the Manchester University Press publication of essays edited by David Herd, Contemporary Olson. The book itself arose out of a conference held at the University of Kent in November 2010. As the Acknowledgements section in this recently published collection of essays from Palgrave Macmillan stresses ‘Like so many collections of essays, the current volume has its beginnings in a conference titled “Legacies of Modernism: The State of British Poetry Today”, which took place at the Université Paris-Diderot, Institut Charles V, June 9-11, 2011. The Charles Olson book was terrific in its range of essays and is possibly the most important book on the American giant who coined the term ‘Postmodernism’ to have appeared for some considerable time. This new book, subtitled ‘Trends and Faultlines in British Poetry Today’, is also a very powerful introduction to the world of contemporary poetry in Britain. Divided into three sections (‘Histories since Modernism’, ‘The Modernist Legacy’, ‘Poetical and Political Commitments’) the book looks at major poets such as J.H. Prynne and Barry MacSweeney, Anthony Barnett and Allen Fisher, Andrea Brady and Wendy Mulford, as well as focussing upon a wide range of other poets whose work is central to the world of contemporary poetry: Caroline Bergvall, Jeff Hilson, Drew Milne and Keston Sutherland.

I was fascinated by the interview between Allen Fisher and Robert Hampson dealing with the ‘Interaction between American and British Poetries 1964-1970’. The background to much contemporary poetry comes to life as we can read about Better Books and how Tony Godwin enlarged the shop on Charing Cross Road to incorporate shops at 1, 3, and 5 New Compton Street in November 1964. As Fisher had made clear in an earlier interview with Adrian Clarke, Better Books did not just sell books but also created ‘a space where you would find out about other activities going on’. The shops became informal meeting places for the building-up of a subculture and as such they were perfectly in tune with a world that Fisher recognises as connecting John Ashbery and Wendy Mulford. Referring to a poem from the late 1960s in Mulford’s Bravo to Girls and Heroes, as well as poems by Andrew Crozier, David Chaloner and Roy Fisher, Allen Fisher says

‘What these poems share with Ashbery is a self-consciousness made explicit in the form—the poem discusses its own processes in the script of the facture en route. But also, it’s self-analysis not so much as questioning as rather indicating its dialectical thrust—the logic of the particular having a larger interest as if—or, rather, so that—the simple description or fragment of description feels metonymic for a far larger philosophical position.’

This interview gives us fascinating insights into the world of American poetry’s effects upon what was happening in Britain and if I have any quibble it must only be about one tiny piece of misinformation given as a footnote. Allen Fisher tells us about Jonathan Williams (Jargon Books) often being at the Dulwich poetry readings in South London but the footnote says that the readings were held upstairs in “The Crown and Sceptre” in Dulwich village. The pub was actually named “The Crown and Greyhound” and it still stands there today!

How refreshing to find a chapter devoted to the work of Anthony Barnett. As Xavier Kalck, associate professor at the Paris-Sorbonne University, points out ‘Barnett’s work opens Andrew Crozier and Tim Longville’s landmark 1987 anthology A Various Art, and his work then and since epitomizes the well-known connection pointed out by Crozier and Longville in their introduction: “Certainly, at the time [the 1960s], one of the means by which many of the poets in this anthology were identifiable to one another was an interest in a particular aspect of postwar American poetry, and the tradition that lay behind it—not that of Pound and Eliot but that of Pound and Williams.” Kalck also highlights Barnett’s central position within the world of contemporary British poetry when he refers to the newly collected poetry and noncritical prose numbering no less than 647 pages.

I was delighted with this book, the most recent contribution to a fine series devoted to ‘Modern and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics’ promoting and pursuing topics in the burgeoning field of twentieth-and twenty-first-century poetics. It is a goldmine of information and suggestion, constituting a perfect starting-point for anyone interested in what can sometimes feel like a difficult territory to map out.

Ian Brinton 30th September 2015

Clive Bush’s Lingerings of the Large Day (Five Seasons Press, 2014)

Clive Bush’s Lingerings of the Large Day (Five Seasons Press, 2014)

http://www.fiveseasonspress.com

This beautifully produced book typeset on 16pt Bembo and printed on recycled paper comes with drawings by Allen Fisher, as did Bush’s previous poetry collection Pictures after Poussin (Spanner Press, 2003). Clive Bush has written evocatively of some of the dissenting voices of the late twentieth century in Out Of Dissent (Talus, 1997), a study of the work of Thomas A Clark, Allen Fisher, Bill Griffiths, Barry MacSweeney and Eric Mottram.

Lingerings Of The Large Day consists of a series of long poems, which draws upon the work of seventeenth century poets, scientists and dissenter, when ‘the world turned upside down’, and meditates upon the world then and now. It has a restless probing, a cultural linking as well as a deep veneration of the book and its role in democracy, and comes with a list of resources at the back as well as a sprinkling of quotations at the beginning of several poems.

Ignoring the apparatchik learning
I found their notes above the white noise of history
And dodging the scholars of war
I reached again for the child that wondered
who led me again by the hand my body riddled with life
turning from the waiting for the arrest in the dark
making a line
Fludd, Dee, Herbert, Vaughan to 1647

The presentation and poetic approach recalls the marvellous long poem, South Wales Echo by Gerardus Cambrensis published by Enitharmon Press in 1973, which displayed a deep range of reading and came with copious footnotes. Here though the lingerings of seventeenth century turbulence and brilliance of thinkers, such as John Harrington, William Harvey, John Milton, provide not dissimilar dissenting echoes. There is a similar sense and use of polyphony and rhythm, established by the use of space rather than punctuation. My intention in citing the work of Gerald Casey is more concerned with the theme of both books, that is to say the echoes of books and thinkers long after historical time.

The poems employ a collage effect and move swiftly from one mood to another within the larger arc of the whole:

It is said Thomas James in Bodleian used the Index to order books. Later in 1660, well warmed with strong beer, high priests officially burned his books. In 1683 Oxford also books of dissent. In 1905, translated into Russian, Paradise Lost was popular with soldiers and peasants, although it was not allowed in school libraries.

without trace
to hide in night
begin again

to know nothing
a sure ground
know nothing
night hid

ruit hora
Adamus exulus

there is no art of the possible –
it is black act –

Lingerings Of The Large Day is a wonderful achievement and the Allen Fisher drawings are a joyous gift to the effect of the whole.

David Caddy 17th November 2014

Back Channel Apraxia by Juha Virtanen

Back Channel Apraxia by Juha Virtanen

(Contraband 2014)

‘It is the imagination’s peculiar function to admit, draw sustenance from, and celebrate the ontological priority of this outside world, by creating entities which subsequently become a part of the world, an addition to it. Hence the tensions between metre and rhythm, between credibility and dramatic cogency, in fact the stringencies of artifice and discipline generally which constitute the dimensions within which the imagination is realised and becomes intelligible, embody both the process and its difficulties, and the resistances proper to its substance. Just as for Marcel and Merleau-Ponty the existence of my body, as mine, bridges the gap between my consciousness and the world, so the substantial medium of the artist and the autonomy of his creation establish the priority of the world while at the same time making it accessible.’

J.H. Prynne’s essay on ‘Resistance and Difficulty’ appeared in issue number 5 of the Cambridge magazine Prospect during the winter of 1961. Interestingly Prynne wrote a letter to Charles Tomlinson in May of that year in which he commented upon what he saw as Charles Olson’s poetry being almost entirely lost to the world of self sufficient forms ‘where a disciplined emotion can command our insight without insisting on a participating involvement in the final construction.’ In this early critical stance one can feel the journey here away from self and on to a sea of language, or what Prynne would later refer to as a ‘great aquarium of language’ in which the ‘light refracts variously and can bounce by inclinations not previously observed.’

To read Juha Virtanen’s sequence of three separate, but intriguingly inter-referring, texts in this new publication from Contraband is to be immersed in a sea of language: a welter of textual presentation in which we bump up against diagrammatic forces and photographs in which words emerge on the seemingly fluid surface of the printed page. It is a journey, eerie and uncomfortable; a geography in which ‘Multiple fractal types: tectonic sig- / natures familiar as disintegrations / into subatomic matter’ place us in an environment of inherited language structures which are themselves splitting and re-forming. I urge readers to get aboard the ship and ‘set keel to breakers’ in order to be faced with ‘oligarch authority underneath // going under chemical change // exerted on the bodies by the // agents to enact with within // history as much in shadows // as with substance the engine // outside was outlined by rot’.

Nor is this floating language a ‘cruising yawl’ which swings ‘to her anchor’. There is no Marlow here to face the Accountant or the Lawyer, a guide to show us the heart of darkness and we recognise all-too-well the fracturing of language to which we are day-by-day exposed.

‘Fixed organ safaris mapped on the signal box now
convulsive as velocity in Kevlar ring fence formed
at the openings the sutures were such a wealthy dis-
play.’

The bullet-proof vest and the surgical strike are both show and fun: war-games for the wealthy, wounds for the healthy.

On the Contraband website, where you can buy this high-charge poem in three sections, Allen Fisher writes

Back Channel Apraxia has three distinct sections. ‘Some of its Parts’, the first, immediately engages the reader through graphic text shifts, interruptions, and at once thought-through and heart-felt resistance to a range of planetary and local conditions. The section is followed by ‘Orathera’, a textual immersion in which the verbal DNA sinks in and out of view. The last section, ‘10,000! YRS’, brings a high octane vocabulary, or many vocabularies, wonderful collisions and then openings through constructed clarities. The book has an eloquence that shudders.”

Ian Brinton 1st October 2014

Some Poems 2006-2013 by John Seed (Shearsman), The Ascent of Kinder Scout by Peter Riley (Longbarrow Press)

Some Poems 2006-2013 by John Seed (Shearsman), The Ascent of Kinder Scout by Peter Riley (Longbarrow Press)

When Allen Fisher wrote a review of the Crozier/Longville anthology A Various Art (Carcanet 1987) he opened it with a serious reference to narrative and history:

Where a history accounts for a group of people’s activities as depending more on culture than on force as a means of social control, it can be said that their appearances are a matter of inescapable political significance.

With the publication of these two chapbooks from Peter Riley and John Seed, both contributors to that seminal anthology of poets defying the mainstream ownership of poetry-reading, I am reminded of that political significance.
Although Clio as the Muse of History, the derivation of whose name suggests recounting or making famous, dominates the second half of John Seed’s selection of poems the opening echo is of the American Gary Snyder. Not only is there the placing of words within a very particular context but also that focus of Snyder’s which merges the here-and-now and the historical and geographical ‘there’ of the East. The opening poem is titled ‘From Genthe’s Photographs of San Francisco’s Old Chinatown 1895-1906’ and the lines giving us a picture of ‘near-to-far’ would be at home on Sourdough:

Drift of dead leaves

piled against a closed gate

no footprints in grass grown wild

suddenly an old man…

is this hard wind blowing all the way to T’ai-shan

white clouds drift there without end

The other voice to be heard here is, of course, more distinctly English and that sudden appearance of an old man calls to mind a leech-gatherer in ‘Resolution and Independence’. This awareness of social outcasts takes these poems forward to the ‘trampers’ who ‘arrive in twilight…’selling brooms lines door-mats’. The force behind Allen Fisher’s comments in that 1988 review from the last issue of Reality Studios can be felt when we read

calculate disturbing forces
obstruction’s rough palms
surplus population in any parish
chargeable becomes removable
audits the last place wanted

Peter Riley’s ‘Note’ at the end of his volume gives the reader a very precise historical context for the work:

The Kinder Trespass of April 1932 was a protest by
about 400 people against the permanent closure of
large areas of the wild uplands of Derbyshire for the
exclusive use of grouse-shooting parties which took
place on about twelve days per year.

This has an echo for me of that fine E.P. Thompson book about the Black Acts of the Eighteenth Century, Whigs and Hunters. Riley’s account in prose and poetry is of an ascent from Hayfield

A stone path up the ridge end, ghosts fleeing in the wind, calling, most of them scout leaders and members of Class 2B 1952, most of them long dead, half-remembered and gone.

This is a beautifully haunting book which places our very personal sense of the ‘now’ in which we live against a ‘then’ in which historical moments took place. Twenty years have passed between the Kinder Trespass and Riley’s climb ‘to find out what there was, at the end of a climb asking to be walked, at the end of a history under erasure.’ All history is a record of loss and all historians tread the underworld in the hope of bringing a Eurydice back: task doomed to failure by the very glance backwards which is the historian’s concern. Peter Riley’s conclusion is more uplifting, however, and he closes this lovely little volume with three simple words, ‘Persistence, optimism, grace.’ This doesn’t make ghosts disappear but keeps them firmly in their place!

Longbarrow Press, 76 Holme Lane, Sheffield S6 4JW (www.longbarrowpress.com)
Shearsman Books Ltd, 50 Westons Hill Drive, Emersons Green, Bristol BS16 7DF

Ian Brinton, 22nd August 2014

Allen Fisher in Lambeth

Allen Fisher in Lambeth

Andrew Duncan’s comments on the back of this new book from Shearsman are inviting:

 

‘The first interview dates from 1973. I took the decision to collect old interviews rather than make an all-new book. I am fascinated by the idea of a very long base line, records of one person’s views over 30 years, change as part of the object recorded.

 

This is indeed a fascinating compilation of interviews and statements beginning with a conversation with Eric Mottram at the ICA in 1973 where the focus of the event was avant-garde magazines and self-publishing. There is an interview for Alembic (January 1976) conducted by Peter Barry and Ken Edwards and one for Angel Exhaust from 1987. Talking to Victoria Sheppard in 2003 Fisher refers to Spanner magazine that he had been running since 1974 as well as the Keith Tuma led UK poetry list run from Miami Ohio. Andrew Duncan’s own interviews with Allen Fisher form a significant part of this exciting volume and the more I read the more I came to realise how much of an informative background the whole book has to offer. If you want to know more about the fabric of contemporary poetry then settle down with these conversations.

 

‘A Note on Notes’: in conversation with Duncan in 2005 Allen Fisher says that he likes the ‘instance that Prynne put difficult notes in the back of Aristeas’. Andrew comments ‘Only that one time. And ‘A Note on Metals’’. The next response suggests an intriguing ouverture into Prynne’s work: ‘I never really got to a full conversation with him about that, but I have spoken to him about it. And I can see why. It’s a kind of almost like an alchemical reason for not saying what the resources are. So that someone can tease them out and get the pleasure of doing that, maybe.’

 

With that comment in mind I recalled Anthony Mellors telling me that a line from ‘Of Movement Towards a Natural Place’ [Wound Response, Street Editions 1974] was a quotation from Dickens’s Great Expectations where the character of the false ‘gentleman’ Compeyson is seen on the marshes and ‘upon his lips curious white flakes, like thin snow.’ And in Sub Songs [Barque Press 2010] the opening poem, ‘As Mouth Blindness’, takes us to the Lear who can say, of his daughter Cordelia, ‘her voice was ever low.’

 

The Marvels of Lambeth, Interviews & Statements by Allen Fisher can be purchased from Shearsman (www.shearsman.com)

 

Ian Brinton

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