The successor to Selerie’s Music’s Duel (Shearsman, 2009) has arrived! Hariot Double probes the life of Joe Harriott, the Jamaican saxophonist who was part of the Fifties and Sixties London jazz scene, from birth to death, and that of Thomas Harriot, the Elizabeth and Jacobean astronomer, from death to birth. In between these two narrative portraits lies a contemporary sequence entitled ‘Intermean’ serving to link the two. Both were inspired by diverse cultures. One explored the skies and colony of Virginia and the other London’s Soho and new music.
The opening poem, ‘Formation’, sets the tone. Partly in Jamaican speak the poem oscillates in triumphant wordplay, half staccato and half sliding rhythm. Thus:
‘for muse-ache bent
he’s grained to discover
now sister Ignatius
say you can blow xaymace
summit or sonnet
a cheek tale, akee all split.
As if from nothing
a seed a stalk
The first section evokes the Soho jazz scene through a variety of techniques and approaches, visual and sonic, drawing upon a range of found and documentary materials. Words are split to create more meaning and odd sounds, spare and moving forward to reflect and probe the lifestyle, period and place. The vocabulary, phrases and characterisation, draws the reader deeply into the texture of the musician’s world. The work goes beyond an echo of say the novels of Colin MacInness, such as City Of Spades (1958), into a wider tapestry of musical inspiration, journey and identity.
D-difficult racket, caw from ruin
to Lansdowne leafy block
its staircase winding
to basement den.
Shake and Cole,
you play this (spare)
and see what (ridge) happens.
Coated folding ephemerid
rule by least
the dimdown old heartscape.
All the others they play here in d’room
but what I play is out d’window.
There are not many poets as equally at home with the sonic and visual aspects of the poem as Gavin Selerie. The range of inventiveness and materials brought to light, showing considerable research, is formidable. Alan Halsey’s graphics add texture, drawing upon source materials, and visual depth helping to bed the poems.
Halsey is at home with Renaissance alchemy and astronomy having recently provided images for Nigel Wood’s from the diaries of john dee (apple pie editions, 2015). Each page, poem and visual text is carefully laid out for maximum sound and visual impact. Such consideration comes from taking seven years to bring this major work to fruition.
The Renaissance Harriot section is utterly beguiling allowing a shadowy magus figure from the circles of Sir Walter Ralegh and the ‘Wizard Earl’ Henry of Northumberland to take centre stage. His moon mapping from Syon House, near Richmond, London, preceded that of Galileo. He also drew the Sun, sunspots, and recorded the motions of Jupiter’s satellites. A sense of mathematical, astronomical, ethnological and anthropological exploration flashes through the section, which is written in period language and spelling.
I have merely scratched at the surface of this substantial, 362 page, work, which I thoroughly recommend.
David Caddy 23rd June 2016