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The Wedding-Guest by Keith Bosley Eds Owen Lowery & Anthony Rudolf (Shoestring Press)

The Wedding-Guest by Keith Bosley Eds Owen Lowery & Anthony Rudolf (Shoestring Press)

I have started writing a book about English teaching based upon my own experiences over the past forty-five years and am determined to give it the title “There was a ship”. When I mentioned this to a colleague recently he asked what that meant and I explained something about the hypnotic power behind Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner who stopped a wedding-guest in his tracks:

“It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

‘The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.’

He holds him with his skinny hand,
“There was a ship,” quoth he.

The wedding-guest attempts to break away but is held by the Mariner’s “glittering eye” and he stands still to listen “like a three years’ child” as the old man unfolds his tale of guilt and redemption, a tale in which he tells the listener about how he was

“Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!”

In his Preface to this fine collection of Keith Bosley’s poems Anthony Rudolf directs us immediately to the central image of the story-teller:

“At the heart of the book is the powerful poem whose title the editors have chosen for the whole, ‘The Wedding-Guest’, a World War Two poem spoken by the poet narrator himself and his friend.”

Rudolf gives us the dramatic scene of Coleridge’s wedding guest standing as a literary antecedent behind Keith Bosley and the Ancient Mariner himself standing behind the friend “just as he did for Primo Levi, who inspired our cover illustration”. The illustration is by Jane Joseph and it was used for the fine Folio edition of Levi’s The Truce. However, as Rudolf also points out for us it is the wedding guest who tells this story and both the host and the reader are compelled to stand fixed, rooted to the page:

Sometimes we are afraid of you
as if you knew too much
from going to the pit and back
so that when you touch

less travelled lives like ours
you burn
and we are scarred with a knowledge
from which there is no return

Keith Bosley’s poem is immensely powerful and in a world where we are surrounded by so much inescapable history I was left thinking what is it about the quality of this writing that so moves me. The style of the narration reminds me perhaps of Brecht’s 1939 poem ‘The Children’s Crusade’; Bosley’s narrative has a similar simplicity in its style. Brecht opens with an almost naïve tone to his four-line stanzas:

“In ’thirty-nine, in Poland
a bloody battle took place,
turning many a town and village
into a wilderness.

The sister lost her brother,
the wife her husband in war,
the child between fire and rubble
could find his parents no more.

From Poland no news was forthcoming
neither letter nor printed word,
but in all the Eastern countries
a curious tale can be heard.

Snow fell when they told one another
this tale in an Eastern town
of a children’s crusade that started
in Poland, in ’thirty-nine.”

Perhaps it’s that word “curious” that rouses the attention, that sense of the singular nature of a tale to be told. Keith Bosley’s narrative possesses a similar sense of understatement as the simplicity of the four-line stanzas is used as a frame for the most awful experiences which will never disappear. The Guest’s narrative begins, like Brecht’s, with a clear and simple picture:

“In January ’43 (he will say)
because I had not enlisted
in the German occupying forces
I was arrested”

The tale is harrowing but it never moves into the sentimental: the craft of the poet’s language keeps us clearly on track:

“We were locked in the hangars to sleep
on sawdust and concrete
and the frost bit uncovered toes
on rows of wood-shot feet.

‘Blow wind…’: we sang the ancient song
huddled on a little hill.
The other nations who had no songs
gathered and stood still.”

Bosley has for many years been recognized as a translator of some distinction and Owen Lowery is very helpful in bringing this status to the fore in his introduction. Lowery reminds us of Bosley being awarded the Finnish State Prize for Translators and being made a Knight First Class of the Order of the White Rose of Finland in 1991. His translation of Kalevala is the one published by Oxford World Classics and an Agenda review of that publication celebrated not only its “scholarly awareness” but also how its freshness provides “sheer pleasure”. Lowery quite rightly also directs the reader to Bosley’s ability to focus on the details of individual stories and lives, “indicative of an intellectual and compassionate curiosity”. That quiet and humane concern for capturing the moment is clear in a previously unpublished poem written for Antony Rudolf, himself a poet and translator of distinction, ‘Visiting A Poem’:

“August, late afternoon: we are in Gloucestershire.
Chipping Campden: we pass through the old market town.”

The purpose of the journey is to visit the source of Eliot’s poem ‘Burnt Norton’ and to wonder if “great poems” can “be called private?” The “two middle-aged men” go down a track until they are confronted with a notice that spells out “PRIVATE”.

“We drive over a grid, scattering sheep and goats
and arrive at a gate: here is the poem, here”

With a sense of excitement Bosley takes us, now the guests, into a world in which “we have spotted a word, a / phrase and even a line or two”.

“But we waver because no one expects us here
so two middle-aged men take a quick photograph”

The two turn homeward “as if we / heard some bird saying Go, go, go.”

And the echo of that Wedding-Guest’s narrative from January ’43 can be felt as we recall Eliot’s lines:

“Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality,”

The integrity and care behind the craft of Keith Bosley’s poems make this volume from Shoestring Press worth getting NOW. Read these poems, then stop, and then read again. An Ancient Mariner is always worth listening to!

Ian Brinton, 2nd December 2018

Robert Vas Dias’ Arrivals & Departures (Shearsman Books, 2014)

Robert Vas Dias’ Arrivals & Departures (Shearsman Books, 2014)

From the same series as Patricia Debney’s Gestation and Anthony Rudolf’s Go into the Question, this chapbook of prose poems effectively uses the literary device of arrivals and departures for a pared down and celebratory poetry. It is at once joyful and thwart with potential danger, and sustains a wonderful balance between narrative voice and literary effects.

She arrived with the woodpigeons. That is to say, she arrived
and they left. Not that she had anything obviously to do with
it. Of course she did. She kept on arriving and then she left.
They appeared to be constantly fleeing the roost at her, at
his, at anyone’s approach, though clearly they had to have
returned in order to flee again. He never saw them return but
they always fled. She came to stay with him and then she
went. They – or more usually one of them – would explode out
of the treetops with a clatter of wings against foliage that
sounded like falling buckshot, and hurl themselves down to
the field below the house.

The sequence works on the binaries of things lost and found, presence and absence, meetings and disappearance. There is an abiding sense of mishap not far from joyfulness within relationships and social life. Vas Dias, though, elevates the binaries through the use of fresh language and unpredictable detours leavened with humour.

His darling sent him in the garden to deadhead the petunias
but he mistook the limp, budding flowerets for dying ones
and twisted them off. You’ve ruined my petunias, she
wailed. Don’t be upset, we’ve still got the weigela. It’s
not the same, she cried. We’ve still got the fuchsia. It’s
not the same, she sobbed. We still have the lobelia,
hibiscus, morning glory, wisteria, agapanthus,
trachelospermum jasminoides, honeysuckle, grape vine,
Japanese maple, pieris forest flame, hydrangea, camellia,
geranium, agave, anemone, hellebore. And you have me. Go
fuck yourself, she complained.

Vas Dias’ humour is essentially rooted in realism slowly unfolding into an absurdism, as in ‘The Cabinet of Husbands’:

You would have to say the cabinet was in need of restoration.
It was an antique – 175 years old – and was getting shabby,
but she was not one for restoring it. She was not one for
restoring anything, except perhaps husbands. He was her
fifth, older than her by fifteen years. All her husbands had
been older than her, they had a certain patina. She bought
antiques only when she was certain about their genuineness.
Her husbands had been genuine though they had not worn as
well as her antiques.

This is an uplifting sequence of prose poems probing the nature of symbiosis in various relationships here and what is required to be life giving there. It is necessary reading for anyone following contemporary developments in the prose poem.

David Caddy 12th November 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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