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Air Vault by Andrew Taylor (Oystercatcher Press)

Air Vault by Andrew Taylor (Oystercatcher Press)

In 1923 a doctor from Rutherford was convinced that something important depended upon a ‘red wheel / barrow’ and the picture that his sixteen words conjured into being was a firm belief that American culture was based in a realization of the qualities of a place in relation to the life which occupies it. Andrew Taylor’s Air Vault, where the mind is prompted to jump into echoing spaces, realises that

‘there is a poem in that
no, there is a poem in that’

John James’s poem of recollection from a 2012 Oystercatcher volume, Cloud Breaking Sun, was subtitled ‘Les Sarments’ with its reference to the twining growth of vine-shoots. Taylor’s ‘Poem beginning with a line of John James’ opens with an echo of that earlier ode:

As August counts itself out

As if to herald a clear sense of tradition Andrew Taylor not only opens his poem with the James quotation but has a clear sense of how the older poet had himself published a ‘Poem beginning with a line of Andrew Crozier’ in that 2012 collection. And it is in that earlier poem that we read the statement ‘I reach toward the poetry of kindred’.

The precision of Andrew Taylor’s writing is an infectious delight:

‘The respite of a rest area
temperature drops at midnight

Carried sandwiches foil & plastic
wrapped evening before

some kind of souvenir bread
like bread bought from a post office

Treated like a treat some things taste
better away from home

Mattresses floored a camp
shutters shut this is France after all’

John James’s ode counted August out ‘like a Rosary worn with kisses’ and autumn ‘arrives when you least expect it’. The patience of devotion is a reminder of Keats’s ‘last oozings hours by hours’ and is followed by the unexpected shift of time. Taylor’s jazzing rhythms give us ‘Fig’

‘drop with days between
a rustle’

and ‘Kenny was right’

‘Autumn falls early’

Jeremy Hilton referred to Andrew Taylor’s poetry in Tears 60 when he reviewed the Shearsman collection Radio Mast Horizon and noted the ‘expression of everyday life in all its vivid details’:

‘Colour, sound, speed and technology weave through the poems…This is a poetry of the present-time’ which carries with it a ‘full awareness not just of history but of the impact of historical changes on the lives of people’.

As I race along the tracks of this new volume I am confronted with that colour, sound and speed’: ‘Pitted repaired // there is a preference / for the plaque Michelin’

‘send a postcard
to arrive after return’ [.]

This is a world of evocative moments as the ‘square folds into quietness // after lunch’ and a ‘woodpecker feather // falls onto gravel’. The feather ‘finds a place in the notebook’.
The front cover of Air Vault invites us to peer into a room framed in blue and we have a snapshot of that poetry which reaches toward kindred: the domesticity of the scene has a privacy and austerity which is emphasised by the table-lamp on a chair and its reflection in the cabinet. Looking back at my copy of John James’s Cloud Breaking Sun I sit in front of the bold type of the introductory lines:

to the side of the terrace

the painted blue brick in the wall

warmed by the sun

spoke to me in the afternoon

it said

only you can do this

Wallace Stevens referred to Carlos Williams’s red wheel / barrow as a ‘mobile-like arrangement’ and Hugh Kenner suggested that the words ‘dangle in equidependency, attracting the attention, isolating it, so that the sentence in which they are arrayed comes to seem like a suspension system.’ I find this balancing of word in relation to word attractively present in the light swift movement of Andrew Taylor’s new poetry

‘Sunflowers bow
row after row

season seems
hardly done

time for Autumn
reflections

so soon?’

Ian Brinton 21st August 2016

Du Bellay by Philip Terry (Oystercatcher Press)

Du Bellay by Philip Terry (Oystercatcher Press)

The opening sonnet in Joachim Du Bellay’s sixteenth-century sequence of Les Regrets is immediately assertive:

‘Je ne veux point chercher l’esprit de l’univers,
Je ne veux point sonder les abîmes couverts.’

This tone of defiance eschews the world of sublime aspiration; it turns its back on any plumbing of depths; it draws no architectural designs from a skyscape. This is a mode of writing which is the product of ‘l’aventure’ and ‘accidents divers’. In Philip Terry’s fizzing rendition he doesn’t ‘paint my pictures in such rich colours’ and his sonnets enclosed in this fine Oystercatcher’s beak don’t ‘seek such lofty subjects for my verse’. In the world of ‘l’aventure’ he keeps his ‘eye on shit that happens’ since after all

‘I moan right here if I have something to moan about,
Make a joke of it or, if I wish to act the whistleblower, speak out loud,
In the sure knowledge that no-one ever reads poems.
I don’t tart them up to look presentable at award ceremonies,
Knackered times require knackered words,
But regard them as no more than minutes or blogs.’

These twenty-four sonnets are published ‘In Memory of Stephen Rodefer’ and they bring to mind of course those energetic masterpieces, Four Lectures, published by The Figures in 1982. The ‘Pretext’, an excuse perhaps for what comes first, gives the tone:

‘Then I stand up on my hassock and say sing that.
It is not the business of POETRY to be anything.’

Rodefer sees his job as ‘quality control in the language lab, explaining what went / Wrong in Northampton after the Great Awakening.’ The reference is to the religious revival in Northampton, Mass., led by Jonathan Edwards, 1739-40, in which Edwards held that true conversion was marked by, if not uniquely distinguished by, distinct bodily signs (of emotion and personal submission to God’s power), although later he qualified and even rejected this belief. Philip Terry’s poetic outburst is certainly palpable but it moves far beyond the physical into the realms of outrage:

‘It is not the rubbish-heaped banks of this Essex river,
It is not the exhaust-filled air, nor North Hill Barbers,
Which makes me pour out my misery in verse…’

It is instead the manner in which ‘Capitalism unrolls its business plans on campus.’ The campus, which is fast-becoming ‘a space allocation’ where every academic has ‘a workload allocation’ (represented by everything which ‘must be measurable and quantifiable’), presents us with a world in which ‘everything is run on a business model’.

‘We are now “stakeholders”, students “clients” –

This campus of the University of Essex was once the place of Donald Davie and Andrew Crozier and it hosted a trans-Atlantic push from Ed Dorn and Charles Olson. Now ‘We don’t spend our time here writing poetry’ and if you really want to know what goes on then here are one or two granites:

‘There is no time for teaching, we are too busy on curriculum review,
There is no time for real conversation, we are too busy on email…
There is no time for literature, we are too busy on transferable skills,
There is no time for thought, we think only of outcomes.’

In the ‘Preface’ to Four Lectures Rodefer’s poetry was ‘painted with every jarring colour and juxtaposition, every simultaneous order and disorder’ and that anarchic energy, that uplifting sense of anger and urban spleen, sparks off the pages of these twenty-four sonnets. Philip Terry’s collection is exhilarating to read and I recommend it to every teacher of English within the university system. It is, to quote Rodefer once more, ‘as deep as a museum and as wide as the world’.

Ian Brinton 31st July 2016

I Heard It Through The Grapevine: Asa Benveniste & Trigram Press (Shearsman Books)

I Heard It Through The Grapevine: Asa Benveniste & Trigram Press (Shearsman Books)

As with the best contextual histories Jeremy Reed’s account of the Trigram Press and of Asa Benveniste’s poetry has a clear narrative quality to it. As readers we are drawn into the world of the ‘submerged cult’ which ‘takes as its resources a US-inflected tone’:

‘…an image-packed line as individual as any you’ll get in the blue transitioning air-miles of seventies trans-Atlantic poetry.’

Reed highlights for us the way in which Benveniste’s poetry ‘involves the real work of making language physical’ and he relates this most naturally to the poet’s acute awareness of the world of printing. The story of Trigram Press, based at 148 King’s Cross Road, London WC1 is told with an energy and sense of mystery that draws us in as we confront the mainstream British poetry of the post-1950s which Reed sees as ‘obdurately resistant to US experimentation via Black Mountain and the O’Hara / Ashbery bouncy New York influence’ which was feeding energies into the subcultures ‘like pop, sex, drugs, and the whole urban streetwise dynamic that was the signposting of modern life, and the breaking-up of formal poetics into edgier reconfigurated patterns.’

Towards the end of this lively little book we have a Trigram Press Bibliography and it is now possible to see how the world of Anselm Hollo and Tom Raworth moves towards an interest in George Barker and J.H. Prynne as At Thugarton Church is published in 1969 and Prynne’s News of Warring Clans appears in 1977 alongside two of Zukofsky’s “A” poems.

This volume contains a sequence of Jeremy Reed’s own poems about Asa Benveniste as well as the latter’s 1980 short essay ‘Language: Enemy, Pursuit’. In addition it contains Benveniste’s sequence Edge which appeared from Joe Di Maggio in 1975 and a further essay by Reed which is not a biography of Asa Benveniste and Trigram Press ‘but a personally selective mapping of significantly great aspects of both’. In the twenty pages of this section we read of Barry MacSweeney’s Odes, which ‘triggered a socially dissident and subversive thrust to the Trigram quota’, and how Ed Dorn recommended Benveniste to publish Prynne’s News of Warring Clans, ‘as a partial concession to the Cambridge curators of language-poetry’ which Benveniste preferred to call ‘wallpaper’.

One of the attractive elements of this book is the way Jeremy Reed talks about the importance of poetry as well as his own immense debt to this maverick man-in-black:

‘Even today I test what I write against his imagined approval or disapproval. If it isn’t weird enough then push it out further to the edge and saturate the image. Always write like you’re inventing tomorrow, that’s my reason for doing poetry, unlike mainstream poets who are frozen into a largely redundant past.’

Referring to Benveniste’s work as a publisher we are offered a picture of the late sixties which includes both Cape Goliard and Fulcrum Press. For my own money I would most certainly add Ferry Press to this list. After all, Andrew Crozier’s early productions made significant attempts to bridge that pond between the US and little England when he published Fielding Dawson and Stephen Jonas along with John James, Jeremy Prynne and Chris Torrance. In 1966 Ferry Press was responsible for Jonas’s Transmutations with its drawings by Black Mountain artist Basil King and introduction by John Wieners.

Perhaps I should conclude this short review by quoting from one of the many delights to be found in this short book:

Statement from Trigram 1969 catalogue

‘The writers and artists whose books have been published under the Trigram imprint appear to work in acute conditions of exile, living and thinking on the edges of society, some outside their own countries, others within, hallucinated by a series of mental doorways. In common, they have striven for an individual voice that in any circumstance has to be heard. No artist can do more or should do any less than that.’

Ian Brinton 4th March 2016

The Cambridge Companion to British Poetry 1945-2010 Edited by Edward Larrissy Cambridge University Press

The Cambridge Companion to British Poetry 1945-2010 Edited by Edward Larrissy  Cambridge University Press

In his introductory comments to this new Companion, a collection of sixteen essays purporting to ‘explore the full diversity of British poetry since the Second World War’, the editor, Edward Larrissy, points us to some comments made by Andrew Crozier in his seminal essay ‘Thrills and Frills: Poetry as Figures of Empirical Lyricism’. Larrissy refers to the ‘Metaphor Men’ Christopher Reid, Craig Raine and David Sweetman in the following way:

‘The identification, in the period of the so-called Metaphor Men, of poetry with the striking use of simile was seen by at least one critic in terms of the easy gratification sought by a consumer society.’

He goes on to focus on the Crozier essay:

‘Whether or not this is a valid connection, the claim does not establish that good poetry could not emerge from such a supposedly inauspicious context. The real target of the critique is a supposed superficiality and narrowness: superficiality of the presentation of experience; narrowness of linguistic register and of intellectual and cultural horizons.’

Now that the Selected Prose of Andrew Crozier, including that essay ‘Thrills and Frills’, is readily available in a Shearsman publication from 2013, readers can see for themselves how linked Crozier was with the Objectivist poets and how suspicious he was of a world of poetry in which ‘tropes proliferate and are uniformly highlighted, like consumer goods in a shop window’.
In Edward Larrissy’s earlier book Reading Twentieth-Century Poetry, The Language of Gender and Objects, published some twenty-five years ago, he highlights Crozier’s comments on a poem by Charles Tomlinson. Referring to ‘Geneva Restored’, a poem from the mid-1950s, Crozier wrote:

‘Not only is the poem’s point of intersection with the world realized in detail, and in terms of particular, local qualities, the place is also remembered to possess a history, to be charged with it indeed as associations, with Protestantism, with Ruskin, which feed into the present. Yet none of these, it can be argued, owes its presence to the poet’s intervention; they occur because the poet finds them interesting and they sustain the poem accordingly.’
I was heartened to read of Larrissy’s inclusion of Crozier in his introduction to this new Cambridge book and the reference was made, perhaps, even more pertinent in the closing comments to that introduction. After highlighting The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry as initiating a debate about who was in and who was out (and both Tomlinson and Crozier are firmly out) there is a reference to the Bloodaxe anthology, The New Poetry (in which both Tomlinson and Crozier are out), in which the editors announced that ‘plurality has flourished’. Larrissy suggests that ‘it might be claimed that the characteristics of the poetry represented therein were not markedly different from those of the poetry in Morrison and Motion—and the same might be said, allowing for a slightly different selection of poets, about New British Poetry (no Crozier here either!) edited by Don Paterson and Charles Simic in 2004. Nevertheless a sense that there have been too many exclusions in British poetry is gaining ground among many readers and in the academy’.

Having read that last statement I was a little intrigued to note that Larrissy refers to the Morrison-Motion anthology four times in his introduction and twice to the Paterson-Simic. However, I looked in vain for a reference to Conductors of Chaos, A Various Art, Other, or Vanishing Points.
A less serious point, but still a little alarming, is the incorrect date given on more than one occasion. Bunting’s Briggflatts did not appear in 1960! That said, this is a wide-ranging book which offers an impressive introduction to the period and that wide range can be seen in the titles of the chapters themselves: ‘Poets of the Forties and Early Fifties’, ‘The Movement: Poetry and the Reading Public’, High Late Modernists or postmodernists?’, ‘Poetry and Class’. Separate sections on Scottish Poetry, Welsh Poetry, Northern Irish Poetry, Black British Poetry, ‘Poetry, Feminism, Gender and Women’s Experience’. And a splendid last piece by Jon Glover on ‘Poetry’s Outward Forms: Groups, Workshops, Readings, Publishers’.

Ian Brinton 17th December 2015

History or Sleep by Robert Sheppard (Shearsman Books)

History or Sleep by Robert Sheppard (Shearsman Books)

In November 1981 Robert Sheppard wrote about the poetry of Kelvin Corcoran:
‘This is the first substantial selection of his work to have appeared and there is in it a celebration of a “human / world as obvious as phenomenology”.’ After referring to both A.N. Whitehead and Merleau-Ponty Sheppard makes the point that these poems do not use philosophy as a dead-weight ‘to be lumbered from poem to poem’:

‘Each moves with a speed that allows the poem to “accurately accompany”—not describe or philosophize about—the process of things in the world, which is “obvious”, maybe, but never simple. These poems do not catalogue a world of “inert fact”, but a series of “unseparated events” that nevertheless demands human consciousness to participate in perceiving its unity…As Olson before him learnt from Whitehead, “There is nothing in the real world which is merely an inert fact. Everything is there for feeling.”’
(Rock Drill, Number 3)

Robert Sheppard’s selected poems from Shearsman Books, History or Sleep, is threaded with a sense of the other. Not ‘The Other’ with its sense of a doppleganger but the other which exists in a type of absence, an ‘autrebiography’ or ‘unwritings’. The book is haunted by ghosts: Stan Tracey, Thelonious Monk, William Carlos Williams, Lee Harwood, Bob Cobbing, Charles Madge, Félix Guattari, Mina Loy, Veronica Forrest-Thomson, J.F. Hendry, Bill Griffiths. The opening poem, ‘Round Midnight’, plays from the outset with the phrase ‘The varnished Bechstein’ which tricks the eye immediately into seeing the word ‘vanished’ before giving the reader ‘the ghost’s hands / are also at their keyboard’:

‘The jumping hands below his bowed head
flesh an illusion, filling
the punched hollows as he watches.’

In ‘Returns’ the palpability of what is gone (‘When I’m / writing I’m thinking of you / as palpable as memory, somewhere / the other side of sense’) gives us ‘The touch / of your hand’ which ‘becomes almost a memory as you enter / a blank scenario’. And ‘Internal Exile’ is prefaced by a quotation from Julia Kristeva:

‘Writing is impossible without some kind of exile’.

This is not quite the same as Geoffrey Ward’s little essay on ‘The Brows with Ivy and with Laurel Bound’ in which ‘Language is doomed to unpunctuality, words chasing, describing, shadowing a reality they can do anything but actually be.’ It is perhaps more like Andrew Crozier’s Utamaro Variations in which the sun ‘breaks through the leaves / in a spectral flare’. Or, appropriately given the title of Sheppard’s magazine Rock Drill, like Pound’s Canto 93 in which we read ‘Risplende / From the sea-caves / degli occhi / Manifest and not abstract’.

The poems are ‘Murmuring memorials over / The haunted shifting sub-soil’ of Sachsenhausen and the sections from Words Out of Time merge a past long gone, memories of that past and the inevitable re-writing of a history as the poet gazes at what he carefully unpicks as truths:

‘I don’t remember going to the Grenada in Portland Road, Hove, don’t recall the film on show, and don’t remember, on the same day, seeing a play, or its plot, or its title. A frame set up, years later, by others. Outside of it there are voices, whispering. Empty landing, tall doors never shut, banging in any wind. The attic, its sloped tar-hair padding, muting all street sounds. On one page, attempts at painting, soaked blots, dried solid.’

Sheppard’s poetry-frame sets up that haunting I referred to at the beginning of this little piece of review and what was becomes seamlessly what is and the ‘punched hollows’ of the gone are filled with a lyric intensity that twists ‘into a thin-throated flower’ that ‘wavers in the vibrant gulf’.

Some four years ago Shearsman published one of the best introductions to the world of contemporary poetry, When Bad Times Made for Good Poetry (—episodes in the history of the poetics of innovation—). In his introduction Robert Sheppard made his position clear:

‘I have long held the view that the power of poetry is precisely that it both reveals itself—its poetic artifice is its undeniable facticity laid bare—and conceals itself, leaving the reader feeling that he or she has not finished, could indeed never finish, the work of reading. The text is inexhaustible in terms of both form and content and in terms of the unstable relationship between them. The writer is also strangely both present—as artificer—and simultaneously absent, from the poem; once the poem is read the only agent in or around the text is the reader.’

Towards the end of this excellent selection of his poems the poet gives us ‘The Word’ in which ‘A fish winching / itself across a screen of smudged clarities’ takes its own place in the ‘spaces of the poem’. This is a selection of poems to return to time and time again. Reading is an energetic engagement and I urge you to engage with these poems NOW.

Ian Brinton, 23rd November 2015.

Tender Geometries by Mark Dickinson (Shearsman Books)

Tender Geometries by Mark Dickinson (Shearsman Books)

When I came across the following two lines in Tears 60, published at the end of last year, I realised that I was facing a writer of the most serious kind:

‘Sews the crews’ eyes drizzling fugue bells totes lozenges throats the swollen craw! Hope’s the carriage, to prescribe the sooth for this irritable tissue.’

The lines come from a twenty-page prose poem by Mark Dickinson titled ‘The Tangles’ and the whole of that piece now appears in this enormously impressive new book put out by Shearsman. These tender geometries, a gift as well as a register of sensitivity, contain five sections: ‘Sentinel-Stone’, ‘The Tangles’, ‘Nylonase’, ‘Sea Pens Pastoral Net’ and ‘microsleeplessbyclay’.

When I first looked at the above quotation I was struck of course with the Homeric reference to Odysseus who blocked the ears of his crew so that they should not be seduced by the song of the Sirens as they passed that isle. The shift from ears to eyes accentuates helplessness, dependency, and echoes perhaps the invocation Macbeth speaks to the ‘seeling night’ which can ‘scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day’ as a prelude to the pre-arranged murder of his supposed friend Banquo. In the Shearsman edition of Dickinson’s work the complete text of ‘The Tangles’is prefaced by a series of epigraphs, one of which is from J.H. Prynne’s poem ‘Lashed to the Mast’ first published in The Wivenhoe Park Review in early 1966 and then included in The White Stones. The importance of the poem was emphasised by Prynne when he wrote to Andrew Crozier about it in the autumn of 1965 suggesting that the poem should stand at the beginning of a series of poems which were due to appear in the Essex magazine. The Prynne quotation (slightly misquoted by having capital letters at the beginning of two of the lines) concludes with ‘hope is a stern purpose’ and here we have not only the serious propulsion towards a future but also the play with language that is enjoyed by both Mark Dickinson and the elder statesman.

Mark Dickinson’s awareness of how language and commercialism share properties is central to the section of this book dealing with fish-farming, ‘Sea Pens Pastoral Net’. Not only does the writing, the penning, reflect a record of transfer but also it possesses a lyric grace which weaves a pattern through ‘Brilliant pulses of light’ and we become aware of the ocean as ‘a function of language’. The sailor whose journey is world-wide, a cosmonaut, is juxtaposed with the feeding process as perceived by a citizen in the opening scene of Coriolanus, the ‘cormorant belly’. When Menenius tries to pacify the hungry citizens whose complaint is that the store-house of government does little in terms of real work he tells them that the ‘grave belly’ is the ‘shop / Of the whole body’ that sends the ‘natural competency / Whereby they live’ throughout the entire system.

‘Desolation shall be in the thresholds, a voice shall sing in the windows.
The cormorant clings determinate, its wings held out to dry like a totem
to the sun, the cosmonaut’s alien plunging and darting down through
origin where the mythic shears from the blink of corridors. Prey maritime
ocean crow.’

The association of underwater farms and the body politic is brought into focus from the very outset:

‘Under precipitous horizons of nephrology the formation of floating
farms. Terrestrial surfaces granulate periods of deposition skirting the edge between slight and magnitude. Drops of earth entrained in gravity, hover Aeolian graphemes, crest a loop where dunes in wavelets loess bind its loss to a carriage of transfer.’

The grinding exceeding small of these mills of commerce associate the financial terminology of deposits with the ‘language of transfer / to the human account’ (‘In the Long Run, to be Stranded’, J.H. Prynne). The fine blurring of sight with the loess, the ‘dust’, ‘all of this braiding the air’, clouds our recognition of human greed in a world ‘where the edge of collateral makes to cover credit risk as ‘options’ and ‘futures’ project the net gain or net loss being held as margin’.

There is a terrific thrust of lyrical indignation glinting and gleaming through the caged lines of this work and I know that I shall return to Mark Dickinson again and again.

Ian Brinton 14th July 2015

Half a dozen, just like you by Simon Smith (Oystercatcher Press, 2015)

Half a dozen, just like you by Simon Smith (Oystercatcher Press, 2015)

When you have bought this new Oystercatcher Press collection, and I urge you to do precisely that, turn to the poem titled ‘SUNSPOT’, the opening lines of which set a tone which reverberates with the tones of what the poet has already read:

SUNSPOT

a colourless yard
bar a couple of daffodils left to yellow
& burn in the sun—left to sunlight

bleak grey sun cloudless
behind glass
the wreckage of a Victorian fuchsia

the back gate in all its glory
blue—faded to turquoise—paint peels

in a town so small you can walk across it in minutes
not hours or days or weeks—a city—

One of the echoes of this evocation of Paris draws us back, as readers, to John James’s ‘To a Young Art Student in London’ from his 1967 Ferry Press publication MMM…AH YES:

Nothing moving on the suburban streets of every European city—

you can only be sure of your own pattern of the force, revealed
in meteorite storms of colour

figuring the space round
your own iris,
next year’s buds
hidden in
this year’s plant, the tree’s
roots growing
where no eye can see

It is no accident that the figure of John James, poet of Bristol, Cambridge and France, should figure so clearly in this little volume of poems. ‘The Night Station’ is for John James, the Equipage publication In Romsey Town is mentioned as is that early Ferry Press publication already mentioned. Two years after the publication of MMM… AH YES, Andrew Crozier published his own poem to James in Walking on Grass:

Every time you see him John’s fringe has grown shorter
so he waves it at you, and with the steel-framed
sartorial spectacle of an illustrious trans
tight vested poet, and a pleated vent,
he’s on home ground.

And these poems by Simon Smith are on ‘home ground’. It isn’t just the opening poem dedicated to Flick Allen (the FELICITÉ of the cover); it’s the localising of emotion ‘Round the Corner’ in Ramsgate, the memory of another Ferry Press publication, David Chaloner’s Chocolate Sauce, the swift movement from a Paris courtyard to Charing Cross Road; the continued accumulation of experience held in a ‘carrier bag life’ which concludes for a brief moment, a gesture, at Canterbury’s Mrs Jones’ Kitchen on 2nd of May last year.
The other John that comes to my mind at this moment is Riley whose Correspondences were published by The Human Constitution in 1970:

‘I am always on the dark side of the window, looking at them all living in the lights. I’m in good company, but with ghosts, and on the other side human beings are so solid and bright.’
Susan to John, Whitby 3rd August 1961.

Or again, describing her journey through Crete Susan writes about Knossos and the underground storerooms where the pots ‘move in their stillness’. Referring to a refusal to search for aesthetic experiences she writes ‘you just walked into the experience and everything that happened was part of it and peaceful and O.K…I’ve stopped wanting to work myself up over things; if something’s going to interest me it can come and hit me in the eye.’

This little chapbook by Simon Smith lands a punch!

Ian Brinton 20th April 2015

Beat Scene 74 edited by Kevin Ring

Beat Scene 74 edited by Kevin Ring

http://www.beatscence.net

This special issue features essays on a range of Beat writers and others visiting England, a significant January 1961 letter from Robert Creeley to Tom Raworth providing him with contact details for many Black Mountain and Beat poets as well as Gary Snyder in Japan and Louis Zukofsky in New York, an article by Iain Sinclair on meeting Olson at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Allen Ginsberg and Panna Grady at Regent’s Park in July 1967. There is also an article on Tom Raworth and Allen Ginsberg, a series of articles on the English and Scottish publishers of the Beats and Black Mountain poets in the late Fifties and early Sixties, plus a long poem, ‘The Prince of Amsterdam’ by Heathcote Williams concerning the Albert Hall International Poetry Incarnation, which included Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Corso, Spike Hawkins, et al, of June 1965.

It was 1965 and a foretaste of the Summer of Love
When it was believed that love could stop war,
And at this wholly communion
Where a Bardic tap was unscrewed
And turned into a spiritual fire hydrant

Pauline Reeves contributes an extensive essay on Ginsberg in London in 1965, the background to the Albert Hall event, filmed by Peter Whitehead as Wholly Communion, and its immediate aftermath drawing upon contemporary documentation. Brian Dalton writes about The Dialectics of Liberation conference at the Roundhouse in July 1967, which similarly brought together American and English poets and thinkers. There is a notable reprint of a 1963 article by Jim Burns on Gary Snyder, entitled ‘His Own Man’, identifying Snyder’s commitment to ‘disaffiliation’ and ‘resisting the lies and violence of the governments and their irresponsible employees’ through ‘civil disobedience, pacifism, poetry, poverty – and violence, if it comes to a matter of clobbering some rampaging redneck or shoving a scab off the pier. Defending the right to smoke pot, eat peyote, be polygamous, or queer – and learning from the hip fellaheen peoples of Asia and Africa, attitudes and techniques banned by the Judaeo-Christian West.’ Burns clearly saw in 1963 that Snyder whilst being part of the San Francisco, Black Mountain and Beat scene, featured in Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums as Japhy Ryder, was quite distinct and independent.

Eric Jacobs writes about the background to Fulcrum, Goliard, Trigram and Ferry Press and their commitment to publishing the likes of Snyder, McClure, Olson, Creeley, Duncan, Dorn, Hirschman and Ginsberg. There is good use of a Creeley 15th November 1963 letter to Andrew Crozier showing the English poets that he was in contact with. The essay also draws upon Ian Brinton’s essay ‘Nearly Brassed Off: Andrew Crozier and the Ferry Press’ from Tears in the Fence 55 as well as Jim Burns’ Bohemians, Beats and Blues People (Penniless Press, 2013). Jim Burns has an essay on Gael Turnbull’s Migrant Press begun in Worcester in 1957 to introduce certain American writers that had interested him through Origin, Black Mountain Review and the Jargon books of Jonathan Williams. He also uncovers the work of Alex Neish, as editor of Jabberwock and Sidewalk magazines from Edinburgh in 1959 and 1960 publishing Burroughs, Creeley, Olson and Michael Rumaker alongside Edwin Morgan, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Ian Crichton Smith, alongside translations of Marguerite Duras, Michel Butor and Alain Robbe-Grillet. Sidewalk was advertised as a review with a policy of anti-parochialism, which would focus upon the social and literary problems of today and tomorrow, and was attacked by the popular press of Glasgow.

There is much more to this excellent issue. Subscriptions are £26 for 4 issues.

David Caddy 11th November 2014

Ian Brinton at Tears in the Fence Poetry Festival

Ian Brinton at Tears in the Fence Poetry Festival

We are delighted that critic, editor, translator and literary historian, Ian Brinton, will be participating in the Tears in the Fence poetry festival, 24-26th October. https://tearsinthefence.com/festival

Ian has not only made a substantial contribution to Tears in the Fence as Reviews Editor but also to English poetry in the past few years. He has edited An intuition of the particular: some essays on the poetry of Peter Hughes (Shearsman 2013) and Thrills and Frills, Selected Prose of Andrew Crozier (Shearsman 2013), Andrew Crozier Reader (Carcanet 2012) and A Manner of Utterance: The Poetry of J.H. Prynne (Shearsman 2009). He has written a series of articles on Black Mountain in England for PN Review, as well as a generous number of reviews for PN Review and other journals, edited Use of English, for the English Association, and written dozens of blog reviews and essays for Tears in the Fence. He has also written Contemporary Poetry: Poets and Poetry since 1990 (Cambridge University Press, 2009), Dickens’ Great Expectations: A Reader’s Guide (Continuum, 2007) and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights: A Reader’s Guide (Continuum, 2011). He co-edits the occasional review, SNOW, with Anthony Barnett, and serves as an adviser for the Cambridge University Poetry archive. He has become a familiar and smiling presence at a great many poetry events.

Ian has translated Yves Bonnefoy, with Michael Grant, published in two pamphlets by Oystercatcher in 2013:

The Ravine

There was only a sword thrust
Into the mass of stone.
With rusted hilt, the ancient iron
Had turned the flank of the grey stone red.
And you knew you had to have the courage to take hold
Of such absence in both hands, and wrench
The dark flame out of its vein of night.
Words were scrawled in the blood of the stone,
They spoke of the way of knowledge and of dying.

Enter the depth of absence, distance yourself,
The port is here in the scree
A bird song
Will be your guide on the new bank.

We are thrilled and honoured to be welcoming Ian to the Festival. He will be an active participant. Please come along, meet Ian, and hear him talk.

David Caddy 29th September 2014

Openings, A European Journal by Jeremy Hooker (Shearsman), Silent Conversations, a reader’s life by Anthony Rudolf (Seagull Books)

Openings, A European Journal  by Jeremy Hooker (Shearsman), Silent Conversations, a reader’s life  by Anthony Rudolf (Seagull Books)

I have recently been reading two fascinatingly different accounts of a personal life, a life lived with intensity and passion. Anthony Rudolf’s examination of his collection of books and papers, an extensive and serious library which must be the envy of all bibliophiles interested in Modernsim, owes much to Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘Unpacking My Library’ (Illuminations). It also raises the ghost of Marcel Proust:

‘Moving indoors, Proust plays the ‘proprietor in a room filled to overflowing with the souls of others and which preserves the imprint of their dreams…’ As a proprietor myself, I intend to begin sorting out the books in my sitting room.’

Anthony Rudolf’s account of his library is a personal document and the importance of this reckoning-up is emphasised from the very start:

‘Now that I am approaching seventy, when I am supposed to have put aside childish things, the experience of literary time and its double, literary space, remains a major consolation.’

Throughout the five hundred or so pages we see history come to life as Rudolf comes across book after book on his shelves, under the desk, in a pile on the floor; each one has its own provenance; each one reminds both writer and then reader that these documents were written by real poets, travel-writers, translators, philosophers. This ‘silent conversation’ is the reflection of a collector, a person who seeks in Walter Benjamin’s words ‘to renew the old world’; and this collector gives us the history of the acquisition of his books so that the names and faces of those now gone appear again in front of us.
Jeremy Hooker’s journal reminds me more of Edward Thomas’s first book, The Woodland Life. It is also more immediately personal as we are presented with autobiography and the world of poetry weaving in and out of each other:

‘21 April 1983
After the Poetry Festival at Cambridge from Thursday evening until Monday night.
Mieke—how aware of each other we were at once, how easily and naturally we talked and touched. We stayed up alone together all night on Saturday, at Göran Printz-Påhlson’s, talking and making love. I walked back across Cambridge to Glen Cavaliero’s on a grey, wet morning, streets almost empty, birds singing loudly and sweetly in gardens. Went to bed at 8 and slept on and off until 1, waking to the strange sensation against my neck of the tiny silver dolphin on a chain which she had given me, and the questions often in my mind since then—Is it true? Is it possible? Can we be so suddenly in love?’

Anthony Rudolf’s book is almost like an encyclopaedia and I found myself wishing that there had been an index at the back so that I could quickly make reference to names that appear in different sections. I also found myself just questioning slightly the accuracy of all the information given when I read the comments about Andrew Crozier:

I always respected and admired him, though it took a while before I appreciated what a treasure he was. His widow Jean sent me Star Ground, a finely produced posthumous pamphlet containing three unpublished poems, one of which is the poignant and beautiful title poem dedicated to her and ending: ‘Frost heaves all night / To rise like waves / Spent on the margin / On the enduring /Particular resistance of our love.’ These are plainly the last words of a man who knows that his brain tumour is going to kill him, perhaps soon, as it did.

That little pamphlet, Star Ground, was in fact a republication of Crozier’s highly acclaimed poem from the 1970s, ‘The Veil Poem’ alongside the last major sequence he wrote, ‘Free Running Bitch’, published in Iain Sinclair’s 1996 anthology Conductors of Chaos. The title poem is a one-page, last-page, conclusion to the Silver Hounds chapbook.
Perhaps by virtue of being a diary, a journal, Jeremy Hooker’s Openings is much more readable to my mind and I became bound up in a chronological movement of reflections in which a lover, the author’s children, parents and geography weaved in and out of each other’s lives:

Did I expect to be as “free” as Sue says she is, and to grieve no longer? I must learn to watch these feelings pass. And to love the children less selfishly.
A love like M’s that draws me out…I’ve so much to learn, so much to unlearn.

Ian Brinton 11th August 2014

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