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A Poetry Boom 1990-2010 by Andrew Duncan Shearsman Books

A Poetry Boom 1990-2010 by Andrew Duncan Shearsman Books

On the back cover of this energetic book Andrew Duncan, blurb-master, tells us that in the years 1999-2001 ‘roughly as many books of poetry were published as in the whole of the 1970s. This is a poetry boom’. And his book has a reverberation to it in keeping with that little statistic. It is a very strange book indeed comprising a selected Whos Who of the contemporary poetry scene and some waspish attacks which are rather funny. It offers highly interesting insights into what it means to read a poem and dismissive strokes to the boundary for those who may have thought themselves in for the long innings. It reminds me a little of Falstaff’s comments about Mistress Quickly whom he suggests is like an otter. When asked ‘Why an otter?’ his reply is prepared for maximum target-hitting:

‘Why, she’s neither fish nor flesh; a man knows not
where to have her.’

Let me give you an example from a subsection, ‘Powers of Intuition’:

‘People who read poetry prefer the line of intuition, first person insight, creativity, personal symbols. This predisposition got them to the poetry section in the library, allowed them to be attracted by a book of poetry, and guides them into the meaning of the poem’

Yes, indeed, one has met these people and the emphasis upon that mean little definite article in the last clause gives us the closed shop of poetry readers, and, I shudder to say, many secondary teachers of English!

Now, try this from the same sub-section:

‘My idea of poetry sees it as a zone where suggestibility, collusion, identification are enhanced and made effortless. Take Kenneth Allott. (editor of Mid-Century Poetry, Penguin) If he thought 40.6% of the significant British poets (1918 to 1960) were Oxford graduates, that shows that he had taken collusion a long way. He was reading signs of authenticity but he defined them as signs of having been to Oxford—as he had. Prominently, he carried out repetitive acts of judgement and pleasure.’

This raises interesting issues about the role critics play as readers and I rather relished Duncan’s following paragraph in which he makes comment upon THEORY:

‘Everything taking place under the label of theory acts to reduce the value of artistic connoisseurship and of individual taste. The only purpose of poetry is the first-hand experience of someone inside the poem, where everything happening depends wholly and solely on individual judgements and acts of appreciation.’

This prompted me to recall a short section from the Notebooks of Philippe Jaccottet:

Inside, outside. What do we mean by inside? Where does outside end? Where does inside begin? The white page belongs to the outside, but the words written on it? The whole of the white page is in the white page, therefore outside myself, but the whole word is not in the word. That is to say there is the sign I write down, and its meaning on top of that; the word has first been in me, then it leaves me and, once written, it looks like strapwork, like a drawing in the sand; but it keeps something hidden, to be perceived only by the mind. It is the mind that is inside, and the outside is all the mind seizes on, all that affects, touches it. In itself it has neither shape, nor weight, nor colour; but it makes use of shapes, weights, colours, it plays with them, according to certain rules.’

If I am left dissatisfied with Andrew Duncan’s burlesque at any points it will come down to the ease of that Falstaffian response! For instance, in a sub-section titled ‘Prynne Follower’ I am confronted by the following passage in which Lockwood Laudanum, that well-known Classicist of the very best school, is being interviewed. Upon being asked ‘What would you pick out as a perfect purchasing experience?’ L.’s reply is forthright:

Twelve Poems, by R.F. Langley, which I bought from Peter Riley in Sturton Street in 1993. This just absolutely summed up what I like in poetry. Obviously anything not based on Prynne is second-rate and out of date and doesn’t really count. Obviously anything that isn’t impenetrable isn’t really modern and doesn’t repay the effort. I find most modern poetry tedious but I obtain my supplies by following a particular genealogy. It’s like inheriting an estate, the closer you are to the primogenitary bloodline the more of the estate your share is. Pound goes to Olson and Olson goes to Prynne. It’s like the Da Vinci Code really.’

Ok, shades of Jonathan Swift and Henry Fielding but I would like to know more about Duncan’s views on Langley who, incidentally, inherits far more from Olson that he does from Prynne. The fun of mischief-making is often delightful although, when it stretches to three-hundred pages I wonder if a little more variety might have been offered. I’m being fussy since after all I did enjoy so many of the side-swipes. Get a copy from Shearsman and decide for yourself!

P.S. I wonder how many poets gave their money to appear in the show; and I wonder how many paid not to.

Ian Brinton 20th December 2015

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Tears in the Fence 62

Tears in the Fence 62

Tears in the Fence 62 is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, fiction and essays from Simon Smith, Nancy Gaffield, Patricia Debney, Andy Fletcher, Michael Farrell, John Freeman, Afric McGlinchey, Anamaria Crowe Serrano, Anamaria Crowe Serrano & Robert Sheppard, Sarah Connor, Samuel Rogers, Rose Alana Frith, Michael Grant, Charles Hadfield, Mike Duggan, Dorothy Lehane, Vicki Husband, Hilda Sheehan, Andrew Darlington, David Miller, Karl O’Hanlon, Amy McCauley, Rupert Loydell & Daniel Y Harris, Sam Smith, Rodney Wood, David Greenslade, Lesley Burt, L.Kiew, Graheme Barrasford Young, Andrew Lees, Michael Henry, James Bell, Rhys Trimble, Sophie McKeand, Haley Jenkins, Alexandra Sashe-Seekirchner, Richard Thomas, Alec Taylor and Steve Spence.

The critical section consists of David Caddy’s Editorial, Anthony Barnett’s Antonym, Jennifer K. Dick’s Of Tradition & Experiment XII, Alan Munton on Steve Spence, Andrew Duncan on Kevin Nolan’s Loving Little Orlick, David Caddy on Gillian White’s Lyric Shame, Robert Vas Dias on Jackson Mac Low, Laurie Duggan on Alan Halsey, Chris McCabe on Reading Barry MacSweeney, Mandy Pannett on Angela Gardner, Mary Woodward, Ric Hool on Ian Davidson, William Bonar, Steve Spence on John Hartley Williams, Linda Benninghoff on Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability, Notes On Contributors
and Ian Brinton’s Afterword.

21st September 2015

Simon Smith’s Navy (vErIsImILLtUdE, 2015)

Simon Smith’s Navy (vErIsImILLtUdE, 2015)

In these times of bewilderment and dislocation it is important to read poets who recognise the contours of the political landscape and it is vital to attend to voices that quietly insist upon pursuing truths despite being noised-out by the chatter from the island. Or, as one modernist poet put it in 1968:

And so slowness is
interesting and the dust, in cracks between
boards

The same poem, ‘A Gold Ring Called Reluctance’, written by a young poet in his early thirties continues ‘Fluff, grit, various / discarded bits & pieces: these are the / genetic patrons of our so-called condition.’
When Simon Smith was interviewed by Andrew Duncan for a book titled Don’t Start Me Talking (Salt 2006), a book incidentally that was dedicated to David Herd and Robert Potts, ‘visionary editors for a new sight’, he referred to poems being conceived as a type of dialogue with other poems. The precise background to Smith’s comment was his writing of Night Shift (1991), composed in ‘quite a strict or regular verse form’ in response, partly, to Peter Riley’s ‘Ospita’ and Tom Raworth’s Sentenced to Death and Eternal Sections:

‘There seemed to be some sort of dialogue going on between these poetries, formally I mean, and I found myself taking part in that dialogue, or should I say the poem found its way through this kind of engagement. The poems then ‘talk’ to one another within the sequence. Building poems in series like this is a feature of the so-called avant garde in this country—it’s a way of replacing linear narrative without losing scope, or compromising perception.

Simon Smith’s recently published volume Navy is an interesting movement forward from these ideas and it does not make for comfortable reading. The opening section of the book is titled ‘England, A Fragment’ and I am quickly made aware that this does not refer to a small part of the country but is itself a description of that which is in the process of falling apart.
The dialogue here is with William Carlos Williams and the use of the three-ply line stretches the eye down the page as we move from ‘dirt from under the nails / on Dover Beach’ to ‘a shrieking gull’. The whole sequence is threaded with fragments of poetic and musical reference and the Matthew Arnold backdrop to those opening lines soon becomes the early world of Olson’s poems as illustrated by Corrado Cagli. Debussy and Schubert are fragments stored against ruin but so is the early morning ‘station pie’ with its echo of Larkin’s change of trains at Sheffield in ‘Dockery and Son’. There is, however, another voice behind this moving and important poem-for-our-times and that is the hoof-fall of Ed Dorn’s ‘Gunslinger’. Through the world of East Kent the ‘UKKK’ are bringing ‘law to town’ and hooded men in pointy hats are on the move.
The epigraph to this terrific and terrifying volume includes words by that voice of sanity and careful consideration, John James:

‘but it’s wonderful to wake up & know that
despite everything
France is still there’

The book is, as a moment of connection to that early conversation, also dedicated to David Herd.

And to me; for which, Simon, many thanks; I am honoured.

Copies of this little collection can be obtained from the publisher at 58 Crescent Road, Ramsgate, CT11 9QY

Ian Brinton, 9th May 2015

Tears in the Fence 61

Tears in the Fence 61

Tears in the Fence 61, designed by Westrow Cooper, with a stunning winter woodland cover, is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward It features poetry, fiction, art criticism and drama from Mike Duggan, Robert Vas Dias, Ian Seed, Jennifer Compton, Anne Gorrick, Kelvin Corcoran, Charles Wilkinson, Sheila Hamilton, Chris Daly, Gerald Locklin, Mark Goodwin, Kimberly Campanello, David Pollard, James Roome, Tim Allen, Matt Bryden, Sheila Mannix, Cora Greenhill, Jackie Sullivan, Colin Sutherill, Yvonne Reddick, Michael Henry, Andrew Shelley, S.J. Litherland, Elizabeth Cook, Cristina Navazo-Eguía Newton, John Bloomberg Rissman & Anne Gorrick, Nigel Jarrett, David Goldstein, Reuben Woolley, Kate Noakes, Rupert M. Loydell, Paul Sutton, Seàn Street, Louise Anne Buchler, David Clarke, David Andrew and Ziba Karbassi.

The critical section consists of David Caddy’s Editorial, Hannah Silva’s Make It Strange
, Anthony Barnett’s Two Childlike Antonyms
, Andrew Duncan on Kathleen Raine
, Steve Spence on Daniel Harris & Rupert M. Loydell
, Ric Hool on Tom Pickard
, John Muckle on James Wilson
, Elaine Randell on John Muckle
, David Caddy on David Miller
, Mandy Pannett on Jay Ramsay
, John Welch on Paul Rossiter
, Belinda Cooke on Yves Bonnefoy and Leonid Aronzon
, Fiona Owen on Victoria Field, Jay Ramsay on Anna Saunders
, Anthony Barnett’s Antonym: Literary Tumbles
, Sheila Hamilton on Melinda Lovell
, Notes On Contributors
 and Ian Brinton’s Afterword.

David Caddy 12th March 2015

Kelvin Corcoran’s Radio Archilochos (Marquette Press 2014)

Kelvin Corcoran’s Radio Archilochos (Marquette Press 2014)

The shadowy background to this carefully judged sequence of poems by Kelvin Corcoran is provided by both the Greek lyric poet Archilochus, from the seventh century B.C., and the Aegean island of Paros on which he possibly lived and died in battle with the men from Naxos:

‘Archilochos, his voice broken, sits collapsed,
legs splayed on the soft bed of summer dust;
a spear sticks out of his chest, its black length
rises and dips with his last breath and the next.’

In the Loeb Classical Library’s volume of Greek Elegy and Iambus the translations of J.M. Edmonds from the existing fragments of the work of Archilochus present the reader with a figure of humour and pathos, realism and a lyricism which echoes down the centuries:

‘I love not a tall general nor a straddling, nor one proud of his hair nor one part-shaven; for me a man should be short and bowlegged to behold, set firm on his feet, full of heart.’

The fragments of the Greek give us a man from over two thousand years ago ‘stood on the edge between sea and wind’. Kelvin Corcoran gives us a present-day world where ‘The whole place is out of season, buried, / the crested grey wave curls under a grey sky.’

There are of course other shadows in the background, poetic ones. I detect a voice of Robert Browning behind the spat words

‘Above all else I swear bad poetry will do for me,
the lickspittle decrepitude of our lolling tongue;
after invasion and the markets going yoyo mental
etymology alone counts, crooks make snots of words.’

There is the haunting voice of the folk ballad ‘Barbara Allen’ transferred from Scarlet Town to Candid Town and there is the uncompromising ‘I’ of Barry MacSweeney’s Ranter ‘calling / on VHF’:

‘Then I am a man.
One third, warming
the fipple.
His flute song.’

(Ranter, Slow Dancer Press, 1985, p. 11)

‘I am The Man I am I claim
to please the boys in the clinch;
think all the dirty work we did
tropes cast in blank memory?’

Most of all of course there is the voice of Kelvin Corcoran whose poems are ‘dense, intense, filled with sharp fast thought’ (Lee Harwood) and for whom myth is a living presence:

‘The ancient landscape overlays the modern and I see the mythology as local and useful and not detached from the everyday.’

(from an interview with Andrew Duncan published in Don’t Start Me Talking, Salt, 2006 and quoted in Andy Brown’s introduction to his indispensable Corcoran reader, The Writing Occurs as Song, Shearsman 2014)

The chapbook Radio Archilochos confirms one’s opinion that Corcoran is at the front of contemporary poetry: the lyric grace of his language is threaded with an historical perspective that raises the poetry far beyond the world of a localised present.

Radio Archilochos is published by Andy Brown’s Maquette Press and is the first in a new series of chapbooks which will soon include The Hospital Punch by Sally Flint and A Plume of Smoke by Jos Smith. Copies can be obtained from the Press at 7 Grove Terrace, Teignmouth, Devon TQ14 9HT.

Ian Brinton 21st November 2014

MacSweeney: Strap Down in Snowville

MacSweeney: Strap Down in Snowville

Paul Batchelor’s edition of essays about Barry MacSweeney is here at last from Bloodaxe Books as number 13 in their Newcastle / Bloodaxe Poetry Series and the opening paragraph of the editor’s introduction is immediately spot on:

‘The last full-length collection that Barry MacSweeney lived to see published was The Book of Demons. Many of the most impressive aspects of this volume—the intricate symbology, the vertiginous swoop of registers, the unsparing wit, the complexity of characterisation, the syntactical resourcefulness—had been earned over a lifetime of restless self-testing; but this same restlessness simultaneously gives the book the kind of daring, hubristic, allusive, raw dazzle usually associated with a precocious first collection. The book draws its power from such contradictions: a chronicle of failure, it has a swaggering confidence; a departure, it felt to many like a homecoming’.

This is a wide-ranging book and it should certainly reawaken interest in a poète maudit from the North-East whose area of focus ranged from Chatterton to Bob Dylan, from Seventeenth-Century nonconformist radicals to the social consequences of Thatcherism, from Mary Bell to Apollinaire.

This fine introduction to MacSweeney contains essays by Harriet Tarlo, Matthew Jarvis, Andrew Duncan, William Walton Rowe, John Wilkinson, Peter Riley, W.N. Herbert, Terry Kelly and Jackie Litherland as well as by the editor himself.

Among the cast who do not make an appearance my biggest regret is to see nothing from Luke Roberts but, of course, this volume has certainly been talked about for some years now and it may well be that he was not on the tracks of ‘Pookah Swoony Sweeney Swan Ludlunatic’ back then. However, I am hoping that I can persuade him to write a review of this new book for the next issue of Tears!

Ian Brinton, December 17th 2013.

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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