RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Francis Ponge

Sonofabook 1 edited by Charles Boyle

Sonofabook 1 edited by Charles Boyle

This is a beautifully produced, intelligent and forward looking new magazine; it deserves our FULL SUPPORT.

Charles Boyle’s ‘Preamble’ minces no words:

A word on independent bookshops, whose quarter-page adverts in this issue were offered free. Without good small bookshops it is very hard for small publishers to get their books out into the physical world. In February 2014 the Booksellers Association reported that the number of independent bookshops in the UK had fallen below 1,000, following on a year-on-year decline over the previous decade. This massacre is in part the consequence of ebooks and online buying, but a key moment was the abolition of the Net Book Agreement in 1997. The ending of the NBA—which required retailers to sell books at the cover price—led to aggressive discounting (which actually forces up the cover price of books, as publishers struggle to maintain their margins); concentrated bookselling in the hands of chainstores, supermarkets and Amazon; and forced the closure of hundreds of bookshops. The literary culture of the UK was changed overnight; but while France and Germany legislate to restrict discounting and offer good breaks to independent bookshops, none of the political parties in the UK cares a damn, this not being a vote-winning issue.

This issue of Sonofabook is worth buying immediately and it is clearly going to be worth subscribing to such a brave venture. Two delights for me in this first issue are:

1. ‘Springtime in the Rockies’: fourteen sonnets by Nancy Gaffield which have echoes of the world of Gary Snyder and Ed Dorn

Boulder sees first measurable snowfall
of the season, but sunny skies set to return.
Another year on or forty pass & we’re still

2. A translation of Francis Ponge’s 1947-48 essay ‘My Creative Method’. Translated by Beverley Bie Brahic this is a central Ponge document which does not often find its way into English. The introduction to this delightful piece is clear and to the point:

In 1947, during a trip to Algeria, Francis Ponge wrote ‘My Creative Effort’ at the invitation of Trivium, a Swiss magazine. Five years had passed since the publication of Le Parti pris des choses (The Defence of Things), his now classic collection of prose poems. Sartre had made the book a springboard for reflections about poetics and philosophy; painters like Braque admired Ponge’s close-ups of such prosaic objects and phenomena as a pebble or rain pinging into a courtyard. Although some of his poems, or description-definitions as he calls them in ‘My Creative Method’ (the title is in English in the original), prove on closer reading to be metaphors for the processes of language itself…

When Jeremy Prynne wrote his first two letters to Charles Olson in November 1961 he referred to Pokorny’s 1923 etymological dictionary as ‘sitting on my shelf like a bomb, ready to explode at a touch with the most intricately powerful forces caged up inside, a storehouse of vectors’:

Things are nouns, and particular substantives of this word order are store-houses of potential energy, hoard up the world’s available motions.

To subscribe to this new magazine go to http://www.cbeditions.com

Ian Brinton St. Botolph’s Day 2015

Give Forest Its Next Portent by Peter Larkin

Give Forest Its Next Portent by Peter Larkin

Shearsman Books

In Robert Browning’s poem from the 1864 sequence Dramatis Personae, ‘Gold Hair’, the poet refers to the ‘beautiful girl…/ Who lived at Pornic, down by the sea’:

‘Yet earth saw one thing, one how fair!
One grace that grew to its full on earth:
Smiles might be sparse on her cheek so spare,
And her waist want half a girdle’s girth,
But she had her great gold hair.’

The word ‘sparse’ is derived from the Latin verb spargere, to scatter, and can refer to being widely spaced or spread out as well as distributed in all directions. In the section from this new book from Peter Larkin, ‘Sparse reach Stretches the Field’ (2011) the word is used on some twelve occasions and refers to an outward thrust of growth ‘stretched at drawn-out fully sparse’. In the earlier section of this lovely collection of writing, ‘exposure (A Tree) presents’, following on from an epigraphic quotation from Roger Langley (‘The Tree. It shows what we would call / constraint. It bursts through rock in calluses’) we are given a piece of prose which is unmistakably Peter Larkin:

Already unsealed from itself but poor enough to steal attached life to a kit of relation, a blunt jerk towards additions of acceptance, copiously sparse, rooted from edge.’

The words push outwards, unsealing, becoming movements which steal in stealth with an unstoppable ‘blunt jerk’: they are rooted from edge, prayer-like upwards and stretching towards what lies beyond the page.

‘Prayer takes the flightpath of a world not yet cleared of trees but they already betoken its etiolation the by-tallness of placing ascent to
obtrude through seems already stretching past the flattened way firs obsess a periphery beyond what is their focal legion, patrolling a prayer
at its slender successors of margin’

(Section III of ‘praying // firs // attenuate’, 2014)

When I wrote a short review three years ago of Harriet Tarlo’s anthology of Radical Landscape Poetry, The Ground Aslant, I referred to Peter Larkin’s work in comparison with the prose poems of Francis Ponge and suggested that the French writer’s eye had been attracted to contrasts, edges, contours, meeting places: those areas which define where one thing ends and another begins. Ponge’s interest in edges, boundaries, ‘bords de mer’, dispelled the vertigo of gazing at the overwhelming bulk of phenomena: the grand ocean of Victor Hugo’s language is dispelled by a focus on the particular and seashores offer a framework akin to the pages of a published piece of writing. Or as Charles Tomlinson put it in a poem composed in December 1952, ‘REALITY is to be sought, not in concrete, / But in space made articulate: / The shore, for instance, / Spreading between wall and wall; / The sea-voice / Tearing the silence from the silence.’

The taut and straining movement of Peter Larkin’s work inevitably brings to mind the complexity of language used by Gerard Manley Hopkins and I looked up the 1873 ‘Journal’ to find

‘At the end of the month hard frosts. Wonderful downpour of leaf: when the morning sun began to melt the frost they fell at one touch and in a few minutes a whole tree was flung of them; they lay masking and papering the ground at the foot. Then the tree seems to be looking down on its cast self as blue sky on snow after a long fall, its losing, its doing’

As Larkin suggests

‘Nothing squats in the midst of guileless void unless hollows a layer of intricate tackle out of the way of itself cunning of branch at a longitude of members if this is to allow itself at last there will be fewer withheld packets countering as sheer twist the vertical risk of thickets’

Note please the absence of a full-stop at the end of either of these quotations. Life continues to push outwards and ‘sparse’ will lead to ‘great gold hair’.

Ian Brinton, 23rd October 2014

I, Love Poetry by Ira Lightman, Anticipating the Metaverse by Dylan Harris

I, Love Poetry by Ira Lightman, Anticipating the Metaverse by Dylan Harris

(both published by www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk

 

When I read Ira Lightman’s conversation with Claire Trévien, available online, I was immediately reminded of Charles Tomlinson’s comments in the opening pages of his terrific autobiographical sketches, Some Americans. Tomlinson was writing about when he first came across Pound’s poetry and commented ‘nobody that I knew of could have written more cleanly than that…it was a sense of cleanliness in the phrasing that drew me, still puzzled, to Canto 2’. And, of course, to those lines ‘Lithe turning of water, / sinews of Poseidon, / Black azure and hyaline, / glass wave over Tyro.’

Lightman comments on the influence of Larkin over his work when he started out in the late 80s ‘writing Larkinesque work and being much more interested in what poetry there was in big circulation magazines like the New Statesman or the London Magazine or the TLS’. It was his residence in New Zealand in 1990 that made the real difference, and the real different, as he began reading Modernism, especially Pound, ‘because it’s the key first movement of poets travelling and seeing the whole world , and it allows in non-correct non-standard English. And I was off! But the experience also made me prickly about my old interests in Larkin and so on’. For me it was a reading of Lightman’s ‘Architectural Drawing’ that brought the Tomlinson piece to mind as I recognised what might be meant by ‘cleanliness in the phrasing’:

Schematic housing horizontal

and vertical through the view

enjoins on the council hill

a cornered grid. Its blue

must thin wherever dawn

vellums in the white

of a nostalgic summer’s morn

love always shall sun, right.

All my exes don’t live here

misses taken that miss

much of the innocent viewer

conflagrated in bliss

that I seek. Flashback

retraces at the scene of lack.

 

One thing about this sharply perceived awareness of loss is the palpability of its existence.

 

Closer to hand, at Luxembourg rather than New Zealand, Dylan Harris writes poetry and runs the splendid corrupt press that produced Rod Mengham’s chapbook, The Understory, about which I wrote a few days ago. In the second sequence of poems titled ‘the word the world’ Harris writes

 

the weakness

not the word

the language

 

the humanity

the language

 

the strength

 

And here I am reminded of the letter sent by Francis Ponge to M. Spada:

 

Talking, explaining with words, is a matter of moving dirty linen around in an old trunk up in the loft…to create something clean it is necessary to write it down.

 

It is a joy to look at the writing in these two fine publications, two years apart, from one of the most prolific and intelligent small poetry presses.

 

Ian Brinton 11th June 2014

 

Rampant Inertia by Alan Halsey (Shearsman Books)

Rampant Inertia by Alan Halsey (Shearsman Books)

As one might well expect from the highest class of second-hand book seller Alan Halsey has an ear and memory for names. This is true of a childhood recalled near Crystal Palace in ‘Idle Time-Scans’, where the pub Beulah Spa still stands as do those uplifts of memory with names such as Robin Hood or Dick Turpin engraved on their craggy surface, and it is of a literary knowledge acquired over some sixty years. The poems in this new Shearsman collection will present the reader with glimpses and echoes ranging from Homer and Virgil to Lorine Niedecker, from Dickens and Mayhew to J.H. Prynne.

 

And yet those names, books, associations have an awkward life of their own as they insist upon thrusting themselves up through consciousness and memory. Alan Halsey recalls that as a child he found it difficult to sleep since ‘I couldn’t put an end to the saying of things’ and he is compelled to tell Timothy Donnelly in a letter ‘dated 2 a.m. 26 Dec 2011’ that it only gets worse as he gets older. The experience of the avid reader takes the poet back to his memory of a piece of description from Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and London Poor in which a snake-swallower gives an account of his secret:

 

The head of the snake

 

with the ‘stingers cut out’ goes ‘about an inch

and a half down the throat and the rest of it

 

continues in the mouth, curled round.’

 

As the magician puts it: ‘As for the snakes / ‘they’re smooth one way’—he meant when they’re / going down—but the scales like things said / ‘rough you a bit when you draw them up.’. Nothing easy about either memory or poetry!

 

In 1924 Francis Ponge wrote a little piece titled ‘L’insignifiant’ the conclusion to which tells us of the poet’s belief in utterance as opposed to silence: ‘more important than the white page is the script even if it appears insignificant.’ Against the azure sky watch the quiet outline of a cloud! Look out for Alan Halsey’s convincing evidence of the worth of putting pen to paper. And also look out for Laurie Duggan’s full-length review of this delightful volume; it will appear in Tears in the Fence 60 or 61.

Ian Brinton 26th April 2014

Missel-Child by Helen Tookey

Missel-Child by Helen Tookey

Missel-Child by Helen Tookey

Carcanet, £9.95

 

One of the links connecting the prose poems of Francis Ponge and the early poetry of Charles Tomlinson is a concern for boundaries, edges, limits that define what is just visible before the limit is decided. Tomlinson called it ‘space made articulate’:

 

The shore between wall and wall;

The sea-voice

Tearing the silence from the silence.

 

Ponge wrote about steering to the edges of things so that we can recognise them. Helen Tookey’s first full-length volume of poems also brings into focus a clear vision of where one world meets another. Whether it be in the epigraph quotation from Sir Hugh Plat’s Herbarium of 1653, aptly called The Garden of Eden, or in the emergence of a lost world at Formby Point, these remarkably haunting poems give us a vision of ‘what’s lost’ being ‘everywhere’. The flatlands at Burscough and the flat lines on a page offer ‘black coffers’ which ‘lie rich with the drowned.’ I used the word haunting about these poems because time and again I am struck by a past which, palimpsest as it appears, has a vivid tangibility that can be uncovered: footprints which have become lithographic over time, uncovered, become alive with the validity of their presence:

 

four-toes, twisted, no use

at the hunt; this girl, months-heavy, inching

her way, clawed feet curled hard into the mud;

and the children, quick, unhurried, knowing

themselves alone possessed of a future.

 

These children suggest kinship with those whose hidden and excited quickness of laughter were connected to ‘Time past and time future’ in ‘Burnt Norton’.

Just as the tide uncovers the relics left by ocean the narrator of ‘Cockleshells’ contemplates the margin between presence and absence:

 

I carry

merely yesterday’s meanings but

 

you are already translated, turning

towards the bright months while I

 

collect October’s cockleshells,

curetted cleanly by the sea.

 

One of the most intriguing and compelling poems in this book is ‘Hollow Meadows’ which opens with a quotation from the early notebooks of Gerard Manley Hopkins in which he gives some definitions of ‘Hollow’ relating the word to ‘hull (of ships and plants)’ and then skulls/heads which are both hollow and ‘hold’. Hopkins ends by suggesting the shape of Hell. Tookey’s poem guides us through a range of memories and extracts circling around these definitions of hollowness before concluding with one of those boundary moments where one world intrudes momentarily and eerily upon another. Hopkins was well aware of Hell and in his 1883 ‘Meditation’ on the subject he wrote ‘And as it is by the imagination that we are to realize these things so I suppose it to be by the imagination that the lost suffer them and that as intensely as by the senses or it may be more so.’

Helen Tookey’s imaginative realization of worlds just beyond the visible horizons is both striking and deeply enchanting: take care!

 

Ian Brinton 27th January 2014. 

Caroline Clark’s Saying Yes In Russian

Caroline Clark’s Saying Yes In Russian

Saying Yes In Russian by Caroline Clark

Agenda Editions 2012

 

This is a poetry of junctions, places where one road meets another, one language meets another, a place where in the ‘Night Train’

 

Ahead

the untouched tracks

 

become

the foregone night

 

It is a world of definitions where meaning takes place, dawningly, as light intrudes on darkness and ‘void’ becomes ‘lightened window’ or ‘differences dawn lightly, / first away, then towards’. Richard Price’s comment on the back cover of this handsome Agenda edition is very much to the point when he says that Caroline Clark’s poetry ‘explores the Russia she knows intimately—city, forest, snow—and always with a music that seems to soothe the fear of gaps she finds, edges beyond the edge.’ This poetry recognises that an object’s individuality is obtained by contrasting it with other objects: we perceive things by contrast. In his essay ‘My Creative Method’ the French phenomenologist, Francis Ponge suggested the importance of these borders in outlining one experience from another in the creation of personal identity:

 

…la variété des choses est en réalité ce qui me construit. Voice ce que je veux dire: leur variété me construit, me permettrait d’exister dans le silence même.

 

When Caroline Clark comes to a place ‘where the tower blocks stop / and do not give way to woods / or open field’ she sets out into a new world. Initially there are potholes, ‘things to avoid’, ‘obscenities’; and then comes new language, ‘a tugging / at comprehension’:

 

They took me to a village wedding,

the name of the place meant apple.

Yábloko, yábloko. Give me a word

I can understand. Say it with a bite.

 

As the poet tells us ‘these words are not my own’. But it is the new conjunctions, the fresh juxtapositions, which make these words convincingly evocative of a life lived with seriousness. This is a terrific first collection of poems.

 

Ian Brinton 20th January 2014

SNOW

SNOW

SNOW 2 Fall 2013- Spring 2014 (Allardyce, Barnett Publishers

14 Mount Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1HL) http://www.abar.net is an extraordinarily high quality literary review.

This issue has considerable variety encompassing poetry, translations, photography, film stills, music, drawings, visual poems, and essays. A veritable cornucopia of delights beautifully designed and presented.

SNOW 2 consists of poetry by Ralph Hawkins, Eleanor Perry, William Fuller, Peter Larkin, John Hall, Justin Katko, Simon Howard, Ray Ragosta, James Wilson and collaborative texts by Vincent Katz and Barry Schwabsky. There are superb translations by David Lloyd of Anne-Marie Albiach, Ian Brinton of Francis Ponge, Anthony Barnett of Giuseppe Ungaretti, and Andrea Zanzotto, Boyd Nielson of Raul Zurita, Keith Sands of Osip Mandelstam, and Jørn H. Svaeren by the author.  Music is provided by Joëlle Léandre, Michelle Rosewoman, and Dave Soldier, with words by Anthony Barnett, in the Requiem to the Memory of Amy Li.  The drawings are by Anthony Barnett, Dom Sylvester Houédard, photographs by Sung Hee Jin, Pauline Manière, visual poems by Sarah Kelly, and film stills by Nick Collins.

Amongst the essays Kumiko Kiuchi writes on ‘The Silence of Film And The Voice From The Spectral: Samuel Beckett, Buster Keaton And …’, J.H. Prynne writes on ‘The Night Vigil’ of Shon Zhou, David Hutchinson writes on ‘Caring for Historic Buildings in Japan and England, and Anthony Barnett on ‘Parts Of A Lost Letter From George Oppen’.

David Caddy

%d bloggers like this: