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The Magic Door by Chris Torrance (Test Centre Publications)

The Magic Door by Chris Torrance (Test Centre Publications)

Test Centre Publications: http://www.testcentre.org.uk

In June this year Phil Maillard wrote the introduction to Test Centre’s collected and complete earliest published books of Chris Torrance’s ongoing poem-cycle The Magic Door. As he says, “They cover the years from 1970, when the poet moved to a cottage in the Upper Neath Valley in South Wales, to 1996, thus representing about half of his near-50-year residence there.”
Maillard goes on to make a central statement about Torrance’s poetry:

“The poet inhabits borders and boundaries, between worlds, both physical and imaginative. The portals, gateways and doors so prevalent in the writing open both outwards and inwards.”

This new publication is like a cromlech: the reader passes through the portal covers into a new world and the opening sequence, Acrospirical Meanderings in a Tongue of the Time, is the first greeting that one discovers. Published by Albion Village Press in 1973 it consists of poems written at Glynmercher Isaf between June 1970 and October 1972 and contains ‘The Theatre of its Protagonist’s Desires’, dedicated to Andrew Crozier:

“Strode out into the woods with
cat, axe & saw to bring back
mushrooms: Ceps
&Rough-stemmed Boletus: apricot-
lunged Chanterelle; pretty, intoxicant
amanita muscaria emerging
richly red from her
silky membranous fur. The
music becomes more insane, more unreadable.
Tea onto the compost heap. Empty the cats’
shitbox. & then, preferring “my ease
to my will” (Valéry)
nettle & marigold beer
trickles down my throat. Buzzard
flies by the moon as I crouch
down on the porch to watch
Sweetheart of Sigmund Freud crunch up
yet another mouse. My beard has grown
as lushly as my garden. The fire
hisses & flares. The fire in my head
is a crippled demon I am burning up.

September 1970

The title of the poem is taken from a letter sent by Andrew Crozier to Chris Torrance soon after the London poet had arrived in Wales in the summer of 1970. Writing to me in 2006 about this poem Torrance suggested that Crozier’s letter was something along the lines of “the poet finding the right place to fully pursue his work, in the theatre of its protagonist’s desires”.
The opening presents us with a frontiersman’s spirit of determination with the word “stride”. This purposefulness is no meander, that will come later, and the accompanying tools suggest a world more akin to that of Robinson Crusoe than a rural ramble: the cat, for a reminder of domesticity, the axe and saw for the intentional task of survival. The listing of the fungi conveys a movement outward and the sharply sounded separation between “Ceps” and “Rough-stemmed Boletus” followed by the angular sounding “apricot-lunged Chanterelle” is seductively followed by the seemingly innocuous word “pretty” which then sinuously unwinds over the next three lines. Perhaps the word “fur” with which the sentence concludes adds a frisson to the living quality of the poisonous fly agaric which had been previously conjured up by being referred to as “her”.
This poem is located in the immediacy of small events: “tea on the compost heap” or emptying the cats’ shitbox. The meandering quality of thought which succeeds to that purposeful opening is heralded by the preference for taking “my ease” rather than by subduing this to “my will”; the viscous quality of the beer is felt in the contrast of “nettle” and “marigold” before a Keatsian ease is captured in “trickles down my throat”. This accumulation of details, moving the poet outwards from the purposeful opening of the poem is, in conclusion, registered as time passing. The poet’s beard grows lushly as does his garden and the purgative experience of unwinding (an ironic echo of the book’s title, Acrospirical Meanderings, the twisted new growth of a leaf as it pushes out being accompanied by the winding of the Phrygian river) ends with fire. The “hiss & flares” are reflective of a sharply heard and seen burning away of poisonous dross. The poet has passed through a doorway into a new world.

This is just a glimpse into some of the delights of this new Test Centre publication and I shall be doing a further account for PN Review.

Ian Brinton, 28th October 2017

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Slipping the Leash Graham Hartill, Phil Maillard & Chris Torrance Aquifer

Slipping the Leash  Graham Hartill, Phil Maillard & Chris Torrance Aquifer

In his poem ‘Little Haven’ Graham Hartill asks a serious question:

‘Where does the poem end?
Where are its outsides
in terms of the fields
that stutter away to the silent swollen river
bouncing along with its human trophies:
furniture, cars and mirrors?’

This last-line accumulation is not the same as Philip Larkin’s refusal to present a historical perspective to his lists of semi-industrial landscape detritus. As Donald Davie put it when writing about Larkin in Thomas Hardy and British Poetry, there is ‘no measuring of present against past’. Nor is there any sense of what Emerson saw in Carlyle’s The Diamond Necklace where he commented upon the British essayist’s picture of ‘every street, church, parliament house, barrack, baker’s shop, mutton stall, forge, wharf, and ship, and whatever stands, creeps, rolls, or swims thereabouts…Hence your encyclopediacal allusion to all knowables’. Hartill’s little list is not to do with a profusion of structureless facts and phenomena so overwhelming, according to J.H. Prynne’s notes on The Outlook and Procedures of the Post-Romantic Mind, ‘that the speculative mind, unwilling to re-direct its energies in favour of radical description, also fails to bring off any radical and coherent analysis’. Hartill’s question is about the relation of poem to place; at what point does the poet’s awareness of ‘plastic bags stuck high in trees’ become a mirror in which he is compelled to recognise himself within an environment? If I look for any form of tradition here it is bound to the world of Gary Snyder whose interview with Gene Fowler in 1964 emphasised reaching ‘beyond our social nature’ in order to recognise ‘our relationships in nature’, reaching inward to see the relationships ‘that hold there’.

Snyder’s focus upon the particularities of living also inform Phil Maillard’s work and the exercise of ‘Fixing the Light’ has that firmness of tone and precision of touch which Snyder brought to bear upon making a stew in the Pinacate Desert, ‘Recipe for Locke & Drum’. Maillard’s poem is much more than a list, it is an insight:

‘Remove light bulb
The only problem is the collar
round the fitting, which falls apart
with the removal of the bulb
Get new fitting purchased by Gwain
in Swansea market…’

The cadence of the poem’s conclusion presents the reader with the task done:

‘Put cover back on fuse box
Shake hands all round
Replace furniture
Total running time two minutes
thirty five seconds for
entire operation
Nobody died
Make coffee in new coffee pot
Sit by fire under new light
and drink it’

When Snyder wrote a late poem about ‘How Poetry Comes to Me’ he said that ‘It comes blundering over the / Boulders at night, it stays / Frightened outside the / Range of my campfire / I go to meet it at the / Edge of the light’.
This beautifully produced book from Aquifer (aquiferbooks@gmail.com) is a generous selection from three poets whose work is centred around South Wales and the World. Although Phil Maillard’s homage to Snyder, ‘To Snyder’s Avocado Stone’, does not appear here it is worth referring to and can be located in Grazing the Octave, a Galloping Dog Press publication from Swansea in 1977: ‘there are visions / before you, retained, / markers in the snow / ancient stone figures / seen from miles / still commanding the whole valley’.
Linked to this language of the immediate and the distant, visions marked in transient snow and more lasting stone, there is the work of the third poet riding aboard the troika, Chris Torrance. From his own Galloping Dog Press volume The Diary of Palug’s Cat we are presented with the nearness of the domestic and the reaches of a surrounding sky:

‘I have an idea
certain compartments in my head
are very firmly
locked
shut

WHAT THE HELL
WENT WRONG WITH MY MARRIAGE?

Others, equally,
are bolted
wide open

the sense of freedom

buzzards swirling. The blue sky
beckoning.’

When I wrote about Chris Torrance for PN Review some ten years ago or more (PNR 163, ‘Black Mountain in England 2’) I referred to the critical work of John Freeman, poet, prose-writer and teacher based in Cardiff. In a Stride Research Document from December 2000 he had compared Torrance’s work with that of Charles Olson:

‘Charles Olson set out with his own particular tools to make Gloucester, Massachusetts, real in the Maximus poems; his means of locating Gloucester include the context historical, geographical, geological, mythical and political. A similar range of interests and formidable expertise inform Torrance’s work, in part thanks to Olson’s example. Maximus is not easy reading, but it adds to the idea of what the long poem can do in making a place real, in recreating the whole context in which a living consciousness awakens to reality; rooted in particular location, but open to anything. Anything that can modify human consciousness can find its place in the field of forces constituting the poem.’

In the selection of Torrance’s work in Slipping the Leash we can move beyond boundaries and there is a ‘constant shift / from the frame / of the real / into an infinite, / mythic dissolve’. There are ‘no boundaries to the universe’ and any answer to Graham Hartill’s initial question about ‘where does the poem end’ is perhaps only to be found within the covers of this excellent publication.

Ian Brinton, 13th November 2016

Ric Hool’s A Way Of Falling Upwards (Cinnamon Press)

Ric Hool’s A Way Of Falling Upwards (Cinnamon Press)

Some years ago Ric Hool wrote a short prose piece titled ‘Two Types of Dog’ focussing on a walk on a Greek island. His ability to make the reader feel the ‘thereness’ of a place rose off the page like heat:

 

The dirt road pulled itself up as if it was stalking the blue sky above

 

A lizard, hard to distinguish from stone, didn’t even bother to scurry  away. It just clenched low to the ground, trapping its shadow.

 

This engaging new collection of poems from Cinammon Press has, for me, that same sense of actuality:

 

When night squeezes light to thinness

the reed beds shake back to balance

Webs of life reshape

 

These lines at the end of ‘Initiation’, a poem located in the Japanese Suruga Province, have a feel of Gary Snyder about them. The reed-cutting which is described in the opening five stanzas, gives way to the weariness which ‘closes conversation’ as ‘straws are lit to burn off leeches / turgid on legs’. As the oxen, laden with cut thatch, are towed back to the village there is a sense of wholeness as Hool tells us that ‘What water has grown will keep rain out’. This oneness, this sense of partnership, is then concluded with that light being squeezed (like the water from the reeds) as the world of the reeds ‘shake back to balance’ and those webs of geometric precision and repetition ‘reshape’.

These poems give us a world of interchange as people and their landscapes emerge and spread. On the Tokaido Road a lady dances and then sits with the poet, ‘without conversation’:

 

I am given tart wine to drink

as if taking communion

then follow her to the ends of the Earth

 

The closing lines of Snyder’s ‘Above Pate Valley’ come to mind as do those of ‘Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout’:

 

Looking down for miles

Through high still air.’

 

It is no surprise that many of the poems are dedicated to individuals (Eileen Dewhurst, Suzi, Richard Downing, Phil & Val Maillard, Chris Torrance, Chris Hall, Kiki, Steephill Jack, Mikka, Lee Harwood, John Jones, Graham Hartill, Tim Rossiter, Peg, Bill Wyatt). No surprise because the landscapes and the people belong together and that ‘thereness’ is also a ‘hereness’!

 

Ian Brinton, 24th March 2014.

Iain Sinclair’s RED EYE

Iain Sinclair’s RED EYE

Soon to be published by Test Centre (www.testcentre.org.uk) in an edition of 500 copies these sequences of poetry, ‘now dusted down and assembled’ were originally written in 1973 at which point they were intended to be a publication from Sinclair’s Albion Village Press. As the notes at the end of this handsome volume tell us the idea was set aside ‘so that Albion Village Press could run with Acrospirical Meanderings in a Tongue of the Time by Chris Torrance and Vorticegarden by Brian Catling.

Sinclair had been highly impressed with the Ferry Press world that Andrew Crozier had founded and had received a copy of Torrance’s Aries Under Saturn and Beyond which Crozier had published in 1969. In a letter from December 1972 he wrote to Crozier ‘the ease & openness of the line; the energy so cleanly played out; a book of internal clouds.’  By April 1973 Sinclair had expressed a wish to do a book with Torrance and in July he reported to Crozier that he had visited C.T. in Wales to gather his manuscript: ‘Walked there, 20 miles over the home mountains. A good spot. Quiet valley, hidden behind the encroaching industrial mess of Neath-Glynneath. A compact & centred existence which has its charms…I now have to find the money to do the book.’  Prynne had looked at the manuscript of what was to become Acrospirical Meanderings in a Tongue of the Time and liked it very much, even to the point of suggesting that he might sell his copy of Robert Duncan’s Letters (Jargon 14), one of 60 signed and specially bound copies with endpapers hand-drawn by the author, to throw some money into the venture. The Torrance book appeared in January 1974 and Sinclair suggested that Vorticegarden, ‘looking , I’m told, like the new English bible, may be, again, our last throw for a while.’

Two sections from ‘Red Eye’ appeared in the summer of 1974 in Volume 7, Nos. 1-3 of Grosseteste Review. ‘Counting The Steps Towards Pollen’ and ‘Frog Killer Memorial’ appear there for the first time and it is a fascinating exercise to compare the changes made from that publication to this final version from Test Centre. For instance, look out for the removal of a host of definite articles. In Turpin Nine, following Torrance’s own extracts from ‘The Magic Door’, Sinclair published ‘The Moon of Making Fat’ and ‘Martian Hymns’. Again the final version now available is significantly different and it would be an excellent exercise of critical reading to put the two versions side by side.

 

Ian Brinton 29/10/13

 

 

Iain Sinclair’s Suicide Bridge

Iain Sinclair’s Suicide Bridge

The new edition of Iain Sinclair’s Suicide Bridge: A Book of the Furies, A Mythology of the South & East – Autumn 1973 to Spring 1978 (Skylight Press 2013) expanded on the original Albion Village Press 1979 edition, constitutes the first complete version of the work. The Books of Gwantok, Brerton, and Bowen have been recovered from typescripts, notebooks and magazine publication. It includes a contemporary review of the original edition by Robert Sheppard, which serves as a useful introduction and contextualization as well photographs and artwork from the first edition, and new photographs by the author. This new edition, beautifully designed by Rebsie Fairholm, appears prior to the first publication of a long lost poem, RED EYE (Test Centre 2013), from 1973, on 23 October. Albion Village Press contributors, Brian Catling and Chris Torrance, join Iain Sinclair to launch RED EYE at the Test Centre, Stoke Newington on that date.

http://testcentre.org.uk

I recall the excitement of first reading Suicide Bridge with its heady mixture of poetry and prose, text and counter text, scientific and literary quotation, cut-up’s and interwoven texts, beginning with the introductory statement ‘Intimate Associations: Myth and Place’. Man is rooted in Place but looks toward Myth for his living breath. Myth emerges as a weapon, a tool of resistance, echoing Robert Duncan. This was heightened open-field poetics applied to Albion, via William Blake’s Jerusalem, re-animating Blakean mythology through the low life of East London, with its sacrificial victims, and other occurrences. Hand and Hyle, the demonic twins, primitive and shadowy, born from a black hole, redolent of the Kray twins, emerge and are born again, ‘anchored / to the fate, the corruption of this island’ unleashing cycles of birth, death and re-birth in a violent and bloody portrayal of Albion. Other characters from Jerusalem are brought to life in a series of mythical texts that provide a memory or reordering of cultural resistance to the powerful and malign in a world split between good and evil. Suicide Bridge offers, in essence, a reordering of literary and cultural history, with references to iconic Sixties events and materials, through a series of textual workings to ‘THE ENEMY’. It is a joy to re-read.

David Caddy

On the Cusp of Shearsman

Shearsman has recently published a wonderful book of reminiscences, autobiographical fragments and sheer feats of memory:

 

CUSP: recollections of poetry in transition

 

The Preface by the book’s editor, Geraldine Monk, sets the appetising tone:

This book is probably best described as a collective autobiography. With few exceptions the contributing poets write about their origins and influences and how they became involved in poetry. My main objective is to present the spirit of a brief era which, in retrospect, was exceptional in its momentum towards the democratisation and dissemination of poetry. The era or “cusp” I’m concentrating on is between World War II and the advent of the World Wide Web. Already extraordinary in its social, political and cultural upheaval, it seems even more heightened when set against the technological transformation which has since been unleashed.

 

The series of short pieces, each 8-10 pages long, by writers who were on the front-line of the small-press-magazine-poetry reading world around the country is simply a delight to read. It is a narrative of a world where there was a shared sense of excitement and bravado and its underlying thrust is always that ‘Poetry Matters’. Contributors range from Jim Burns and Peter Riley to Chris Torrance and Kris Hemensley; from Tony Baker and Peter Finch to Paul Buck and Nick Johnson. And more and so many more: Roy Fisher, Hannah Neate, Gillian Whiteley, Connie Pickard, Tom Pickard, John Freeman, Peter Hodgkiss, Alan Halsey & David Annwn, Fred Beake, Glenda George, John Seed, Tilla Brading, Tim Allen, Chris McCabe, Frances Presley, Ian Davidson, Anthony Mellors and, of course, the book’s editor Geraldine Monk.

 

Laurie Duggan will be reviewing this book in issue 57 of Tears in the Fence

 

And a new arrival from Oystercatcher: Peter Hughes’s excellent renderings of Petrach, Regulation Cascade. Twenty poems are presented in that familiar Oystercatcher style: attractively imaginative cover holding in 20 pages of clear white paper on which the poems sit firmly-framed in white space. As the first poem suggests, idea becomes object becomes love becomes laurel tree becomes thought becomes

POEM

 

Peter Hughes’s Selected Poems will be published by Shearsman next year, together with a volume of responses to his work, edited by 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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