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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 (


Ian Brinton

Andrew Duncan

Andrew Duncan

Two new books from Shearsman bring some lost or uncollected work of Andrew Duncan back into the public eye and both are startlingly immediate to the eye and mind.


Threads of Iron is Andrew’s lost book: not because it was never published, but because it never appeared as intended. Instead, the original was split into two and was published in two parts by Reality Street Editions (in 1991) and by Shearsman Books (in 2000). Another part of the manuscript was cut and became Sound Surface; this latter manuscript is part of In Five Eyes, published simultaneously with this volume.


Three of the poems from Threads of Iron were first published in Grosseteste Review 15 (1984-85), Tim Longville’s last issue of the finely produced magazine that he had started along with John Riley and Gordon Jackson in 1968. ‘The Poet and the Schizophrenic’, ‘Visitors to Art Galleries Considered as a Branch of the Fine Arts’ and ‘Turkish Music’ appeared alongside work by William Bronk, Tom Lowenstein, Andrew Crozier, Nick Totton, Philippe Jacottet, Rosemarie Waldrop, Stephen Rodefer, Ian Patterson, John Wilkinson, Peter Riley, Peter Robinson, Michael Haslam, Rod Mengham, Roy Fisher, Anthony Barnett, John James, David Chaloner and more…and more…


and they were followed by ‘A letter to Andrew Duncan’ by J. H. Prynne, a short extract from which appears on the back cover of this Shearsman publication:

‘Seeing this sequence as a large, articulated work, put into its sections and with the culminations of a sustained amplitude, I esteem its achievement very highly.’


As a matter of further interest and connectedness it is worth noting that the first issue of SNOW is due out on Friday:

SNOW 1 is published on Friday and will be sent out to contributors and those

who have already bought the issue by Saturday.

SNOW is 80 pages. All contributions are previously unpublished.

Prose and poetry by Michael Haslam, Rosa van Hensbergen, Peter Hughes,(Petrarch), D S Marriott, Alistair Noon, Joseph Persad, Denise Riley,

Peter Riley, Keith Sands (Mandelstam), Nick Totton, Juha Virtanen,

Nigel Wheale, James Wilson.

An etching dated 1975 by Gisèle Celan-Lestrange; a 1983 letter by J H Prynne

substantially about Paul Celan and translation; music scores by India Cooke,

the late Leroy Jenkins, Dave Soldier; film, photography and other work by

Sung Hee Jin, Alexis Nishihata, restaurateur Alex von Riebech, Aya Toraiwa;

a drawing of Hélène Cixous reading at the 1979 Cambridge Poetry Festival.


SNOW is available only direct from the UK publisher. Issue 1 is priced at

£10 incl. mailing or euro12 or US$19 incl. airmailing. Payment can be made

to PayPal ID or by sterling cheque payable to Anthony Barnett.



Anthony Barnett, Ian Brinton, eds.

Allardyce Book

14 Mount Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1HL


Hughes & Corcoran new from Shearsman

Hughes & Corcoran new from Shearsman

Kelvin Corcoran’s For the Greek Spring consists of a selection of his poetry about Greece, combining new work with poems from his previous collections. An air of presence and mystery; a roadside shrine:


‘As if by arrangement four figures are spaced evenly in the foreground of the photograph; a road sign, an old man seated on a bench, an empty bench and a shrine. The road runs around the southern slopes of Parnassos. The view drops into the deep river valley, make one mistake and you die. Beyond, the mountain wall of silence rises out of the frame as you stand with your back to Delphi….

You stand with your back to the sanctuary. The road is empty on a morning in Spring. scattered with scrub and gorse, the white mountain rises.’

Interviewed by Andrew Duncan, published in Don’t Start Me Talking (Salt 2006), Kelvin Corcoran referred to the importance of Greece for him: ‘…spending time in Greece, visiting sites, and wanting to know something about the timetable a few thousand years before, which has led to patterns of behaviour we see as political now, I think it’s all prefigured, I don’t think that much has changed.’

For the Greek Spring gives us an ancient presence in 2013.

Peter Hughes has his own Greek poems of course and they appear in the newly published Selected Poems. As with Kelvin Corcoran this poetry explores the geography of living presence and in the selections from The Summer of Agios Dimetrios we can feel ‘the feral sea-nymphs nudging the rudders’ and note ‘the darker sound / of the sea far below which almost gasps / almost continuously & so it should / carrying for miles & years through the scrub / of this old basket of litter & stars.’



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