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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

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

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.

Hool Goes There

Hool Goes There

Ric Hool’s Selected Poems has just appeared from Red Squirrel Press and it can be obtained from Sheila Wakefield, the Founding Editor of that interesting and attractive publishing venture. The address is Briery Hill Cottage, Stannington, Morpeth NE61 6ES: www.redsquirrelpress.com

 

It is very appropriate that this new volume of Ric’s should come out from the North East since this is where he hails from. Equally appropriate is the inclusion in the volume of the ‘Five Devotions to Barry MacSweeney’ which had originally been published in the summer of 2002 in Tears Number 32. When Ric Hool’s Collective Press volume, Making It, appeared in 1998 it had a back cover which included MacSweeney’s blurb: ‘I like it very much and find the firmness and sureness of the lyricism refreshing in this cynical and flaky world. A poet with a joyful soul is rare indeed these days.’ Another quotation on the back of that little volume is from Chris Torrance who commented that ‘the poet is not supplying any easy answers, but posing dilemmas that are philosophical, ethical, ecological. It is work that I can read again, knowing that it is durable, poetry that can move with time.’

 

Those comments are equally appropriate to this new volume and as Fiona Owen says ‘Themes such as space, mapping and music trickle through the book like a stream.’

 

With these comments in mind I want to highlight the new Oystercatcher Press volume of Amy Cutler’s Nostalgia Forest. This is an astonishingly attractive chapbook which everybody should get hold of and Peter Larkin’s comments on it are worth taking very seriously indeed: ‘Though any forest memory may be at best like one of Aristotle’s “shaggy waxes”, these diagrammatic profiles offer intimations of calamity or nurture, or a tonal or atonal transversal of timber, itself an astute truncation of nostalgia’s own magnetic time-intervals.’ If you are in London on Thursday June 6th then do go to the evening of drinks and live music at the launch of a belfry exhibition of small press poems, one-off editions, book works, art and archival photographs. Copies of Nostalgia Forest will be on sale there.

 

Time, the deer, is in the wood of Hallaig                                            /                                             Tha tìm, am fiadh, an Coille Hallaig

7.30 at The Belfry Art Gallery, St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9PA

Ian Brinton

 

 

 

Paladin Poetry: Re/Active Anthologies

Paladin Poetry: Re/Active Anthologies

In February 1990 Andrew Crozier wrote to Ian Paten the Editorial Director of Grafton Books concerning the possible publication of his own work alongside that of Donald Davie and C.H. Sisson in one of Iain Sinclair’s new triad of poets: Paladin’s Re/Active Anthologies. Crozier’s letter stressed the importance of the Grafton poetry programme and recognised that it is ‘perceived as such I know by literary and academic colleagues.’ He concluded ‘I am very glad to be associated with it.’ Iain Sinclair’s editorial work with Paladin had overseen the publication of some remarkable volumes at the end of the eighties and beginning of the nineties including John Ashbery’s April Galleons, Gregory Corso’s Mindfield, Jeremy Reed’s Red-Haired Android, Douglas Oliver’s Three Variations on the Theme of Harm, the Crozier-Longville anthology A Various Art as well as his own collection Flesh Eggs & Scalp Metal. As if to pick up on the ambitious Penguin venture of the seventies of placing three poets together between the covers, so to speak, Sinclair’s new venture of Re/Active Anthologies was a sheer delight. The first to appear contained a subtitle, future exiles, 3 London Poets, and represented the work of Allen Fisher, Bill Griffiths and Brian Catling. As the blurb put it these poets are ‘rogue angels, dynamic presences as yet largely ignored in the cultural life of the capital.’ The second volume to appear was subtitled ghosts in the corridor and contained a substantial selection of work by Crozier, Davie and Sisson. The Andrew Crozier poems were of course selected by himself and it is no surprise to see ‘The Veil Poem’ and ‘Pleats’ in their entirety as well as some separate delights such as ‘The Heifer’, a poem written ‘after Carl Rakosi’ and for Andrew’s wife, Jean. The third of these remarkable anthologies, the tempers of hazard , contained work by Thomas A. Clark, Barry MacSweeney and Chris Torrance. Sinclair’s own account in Lights Out for the Territory says it all:
The Tempers of Hazard was launched with a reading at Compendium. And then rapidly pulped…An instant rarity. A book that began life as a remainder and was now less than a rumour. A quarter of a century’s work for the poets: scrubbed, reforgotten.
Referring to the pulping of this last Re/Active Anthology Chris Torrance wrote to me eight years ago to say that ‘The Paladin Glowlamp was already written into the script. I was forewarned; I could see which way the wind was blowing, the wind of razors shredding text, of Farenheit 451.’

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