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Three books from Paul Rossiter’s Isobar Press

Three books from Paul Rossiter’s Isobar Press

From the Japanese by Paul Rossiter

What the Sky Arranges by Andrew Fitzsimons

Arc Tangent by Eric Selland

These three books from Paul Rossiter’s recently founded ISOBAR Press are a delight to see, hold, read, re-read. These are publications of a very high quality indeed and they sit in the hand likes works of art. I am struck by a sense of cool distance, things seen from afar and I read Eric Selland

‘Everyone carries a room inside him. Yesterday I ran into C for the first time in many months. He had returned in September from a research trip overseas but was now despondent, insisting to me that he should have stayed. It was at this moment that I realized my experience of returning to this country after years living abroad had been much the same. And now I see that a part of me never truly returned. In effect, I have lived out much of my life as if I were not actually here. In a way, I was never wholly present. But on the other hand, perhaps one is never wholly present in the world. The very notion of turning back.’

When I read this I was immediately put in mind of an eerie Henry James tale from 1892, ‘The Private Life’, in which Lord Mellifont only seems to exist when someone places him as the centre of social conversation, a place he would expect to be. If you were looking for him (unknown to him) you would discover that ‘He was too absent, too utterly gone, as gone as a candle blown out…’. As the narrator suggests, there was a peculiarity about Mellifont ‘that there could be no conversation about him that didn’t instantly take the form of anecdote’. It is as if we are made up of the stories people tell about us; as if we are a gilded obelisk, the external and crystallised surface of a buried life!

Or, as Selland puts it elsewhere in this fascinating pair of prose-poem sequences ‘Like an object abides in the plasticity of an aspect. A setting that determines coordinates’.

What the Sky Arranges is a collection of wise, witty, compassionate and, occasionally, cranky ruminations on the business of living by the monk, Kenkō (c. 1283-c. 1350). It is wonderfully illustrated by the photographs of Sergio Maria Calatroni. There is a clear simplicity to these poems such as the carpe diem of ‘DATES’:

‘Don’t wait till dotage for your goodness to begin.
Look at the dates on those gravestones’

And, as if in response to Pascal, there is ‘WORLDS’:

‘Travel. Wherever you go
the world you bring with you
is washed by the world you see.’

In From the Japanese Paul Rossiter’s own poems range from a version of a prose poem by Basho (completed in 1969 before he went to Japan) to a letter from the city of Ishinomaki, severely damaged in the tsunami of 2011. There is an echo of Gary Snyder, whose poetry I rate very highly, in the merging of precision and spiritual possibility:

‘wave pattern in raked sand
very particular pine trees
we climb stone steps to the hall’

There is a quiet grace in these poems, a measured tracing of pictures in words which I know I shall return to time and again:

‘eyes down to search for tokens
loving this shell and this one and this one

the grace of these anonymous sarcophagi
each an emblem
of a life’s urgent spiralling to order
licked clean by the sea’s salt tongue
haunted by echoes, empty as light’

ISOBAR PRESS

14 Isokon Flats, Lawn Road, London NW3 2XD http://isobarpress.com

Ian Brinton 10th September 2014

Some Poems 2006-2013 by John Seed (Shearsman), The Ascent of Kinder Scout by Peter Riley (Longbarrow Press)

Some Poems 2006-2013 by John Seed (Shearsman), The Ascent of Kinder Scout by Peter Riley (Longbarrow Press)

When Allen Fisher wrote a review of the Crozier/Longville anthology A Various Art (Carcanet 1987) he opened it with a serious reference to narrative and history:

Where a history accounts for a group of people’s activities as depending more on culture than on force as a means of social control, it can be said that their appearances are a matter of inescapable political significance.

With the publication of these two chapbooks from Peter Riley and John Seed, both contributors to that seminal anthology of poets defying the mainstream ownership of poetry-reading, I am reminded of that political significance.
Although Clio as the Muse of History, the derivation of whose name suggests recounting or making famous, dominates the second half of John Seed’s selection of poems the opening echo is of the American Gary Snyder. Not only is there the placing of words within a very particular context but also that focus of Snyder’s which merges the here-and-now and the historical and geographical ‘there’ of the East. The opening poem is titled ‘From Genthe’s Photographs of San Francisco’s Old Chinatown 1895-1906’ and the lines giving us a picture of ‘near-to-far’ would be at home on Sourdough:

Drift of dead leaves

piled against a closed gate

no footprints in grass grown wild

suddenly an old man…

is this hard wind blowing all the way to T’ai-shan

white clouds drift there without end

The other voice to be heard here is, of course, more distinctly English and that sudden appearance of an old man calls to mind a leech-gatherer in ‘Resolution and Independence’. This awareness of social outcasts takes these poems forward to the ‘trampers’ who ‘arrive in twilight…’selling brooms lines door-mats’. The force behind Allen Fisher’s comments in that 1988 review from the last issue of Reality Studios can be felt when we read

calculate disturbing forces
obstruction’s rough palms
surplus population in any parish
chargeable becomes removable
audits the last place wanted

Peter Riley’s ‘Note’ at the end of his volume gives the reader a very precise historical context for the work:

The Kinder Trespass of April 1932 was a protest by
about 400 people against the permanent closure of
large areas of the wild uplands of Derbyshire for the
exclusive use of grouse-shooting parties which took
place on about twelve days per year.

This has an echo for me of that fine E.P. Thompson book about the Black Acts of the Eighteenth Century, Whigs and Hunters. Riley’s account in prose and poetry is of an ascent from Hayfield

A stone path up the ridge end, ghosts fleeing in the wind, calling, most of them scout leaders and members of Class 2B 1952, most of them long dead, half-remembered and gone.

This is a beautifully haunting book which places our very personal sense of the ‘now’ in which we live against a ‘then’ in which historical moments took place. Twenty years have passed between the Kinder Trespass and Riley’s climb ‘to find out what there was, at the end of a climb asking to be walked, at the end of a history under erasure.’ All history is a record of loss and all historians tread the underworld in the hope of bringing a Eurydice back: task doomed to failure by the very glance backwards which is the historian’s concern. Peter Riley’s conclusion is more uplifting, however, and he closes this lovely little volume with three simple words, ‘Persistence, optimism, grace.’ This doesn’t make ghosts disappear but keeps them firmly in their place!

Longbarrow Press, 76 Holme Lane, Sheffield S6 4JW (www.longbarrowpress.com)
Shearsman Books Ltd, 50 Westons Hill Drive, Emersons Green, Bristol BS16 7DF

Ian Brinton, 22nd August 2014

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.

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