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Tag Archives: Harriet Tarlo

Tears in the Fence 75 is out!

Tears in the Fence 75 is out!

Tears in the Fence 75 is now available at https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, prose poetry, translations, fiction, flash fiction and creative nonfiction by Mandy Pannett, Greg Bright, Penny Hope, David Sahner, Stephen Paul Wren, Alexandra Fössinger, Mark Russell, Maurice Scully, Gavin Selerie, Mandy Haggith, Lynne Cameron, Sarah Watkinson, Jeremy Hilton, Gerald Killingworth, Lesley Burt, Nic Stringer, Sam Wilson-Fletcher, Lilian Pizzichini, Paul Kareem Tayyar, Beth Davyson, Rethabile Masilo, Tracy Turley, Olivia Tuck, Elisabeth Bletsoe & Chris Torrance’s Thirteen Moon Renga, Wei Congyi Translated by Kevin Nolan, Basil King, Robert Sheppard, Lucy Ingrams, John Freeman, Mélisande Fitzsimons, Deborah Harvey, David Harmer, David Ball, Rupert M. Loydell, Jeremy Reed, Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana, Sian Thomas, Chaucer Cameron, Huw Gwynn-Jones and Simon Collings.

The critical section consists of editorial, essays, articles and critical reviews by David Caddy, Elisabeth Bletsoe Remembering Chris Torrance, Jeremy Reed on The Letters of Thom Gunn, Simon Collings’ ecocritical perspective of Rae Armantrout, Isobel Armstrong on Peter Larkin, Barbara Bridger on Barbara Guest, Andrew Duncan on Elisabeth Bletsoe & Portland Tryptich, Frances Presley on Harriet Tarlo,  Simon Jenner on Geoffrey Hill, Steve Spence on Sarah Crewe, Mandy Pannett on Charles Wilkinson, Clark Allison on Ken Edwards, Guy Russell on Paul Vangelisti, Norman Jope on Ariana Reines, Lyndon Davies on Elena Rivera and Scott Thurston, Harriet Tarlo on Carol Watts, Morag Kiziewicz’s Electric Blue 10 and Notes On Contributors.

Cut Flowers by Harriet Tarlo (Guillemot Press)

Cut Flowers by Harriet Tarlo (Guillemot Press)

The enthralling collection Cut Flowers by Harriet Tarlo cleverly combines form and content in hybrid structures in which the horizontal lines intersect with a vertical reading. This form allows different possibilities that coexist at physical and conceptual levels. The poems are also beautifully illustrated by Chloe Bonfield, though they were not created in collaboration with the artist. In her previous works, Tarlo collaborated with many artists. For example, in the exhibition ‘A Fine Day for Seeing’ at Southwark Park Galleries she worked with Judith Tucker in reference to the artwork ‘Dark marsh: silvered out’ (2021) in relation to her poem ‘Winter Saltwort’. The illustrations in this collection strongly express the essentiality of the writings, whose style is a minimalist one:

cut flowers why would they when

it came to it         lasting longer

long days             before dawn sees

a fair light            crows & robins upright

on the wall           look out, learn to travel in

deep time             blood fish & bone, find

new ventures        prepare, parse, prey for

vegetables

The poem can be read horizontally and the part on the left vertically as well, which is reminiscent of a mesostic or of a wordplay. This form gives the lyric a structure that is both open and closed that is reflected in the illustrations too. In fact, some of the pictures have geometrical closed shapes with grids and dots of sorts symbolising flower shapes, while others are delicately sketched minerals or barely traced wall structures that are open to multiple interpretations by the viewer.

The collection is divided into four parts, each featuring one of the four seasons, though this division is not especially strict. The sequences are more linked to the long-term practice of daily observation and diary annotations, with particular attention given to the weirdness and unpredictability of everyday events. The tone is not autobiographical, and the attention is on feelings. The language is mostly expressed using a tangential view that suggests rather than states:

they got darker than he meant them to

bleeding            into body, blurring into

portal                 light lost – Fall maybe or

out of                 all Four Seasons together

art scene             people can stand anything

these days          more than cube, depth

frame or             field could interiorise

internalise

The floral aspect could also be a reference to botanical catalogues and old prints of flowers and seeds such as the ones conserved at the British Library and the Natural History Museum in London. The body is a recurring image of loss and regaining, sometimes abused but at other times cherished and always explored in its diverse aspects. Tarlo therefore plays around with cut flowers, wildflowers, flowers in greenhouses and in garden centres, and city flowers that trigger ‘PAIN        ANXIETY  FERTILITY/WELL        BEING STRESS’. Cutting flowers could also be a reference to cutting living things, cutting lines off and to the practice of flower arranging and making decorations out of flowers, hobbies often associated with women. The changing of seasons, weather conditions and situations the poet explores suggest a changing of mind that subtly comments on the status quo. This is especially clear in the use of apparently isolated words listed in the left vertical part of the poems. These lines express political connections, for example to Syria, environmental concerns and concerns about violence against women. Therefore, the collection patiently traces a detailed quotidian observation of ordinary life with an eye on global issues. Different possibilities coexist in a comprehensive and yet fragmented vision that might be unsettling but is also illuminating. This view is skilfully expressed both in the structure and in the imageries and language of the poems and is exquisitely emphasised by the illustrations. Tarlo gives a unique interpretation of a botanical reality that is profoundly human and, at the same time, intensely empathetic towards nature.

Carla Scarano D’Antonio 4th October 2021

2021 Tears in the Fence Festival

2021 Tears in the Fence Festival

We are delighted to be able to announce that we will be holding the Tears in the Fence Festival Digging Deeper: Roots and Remains on 2nd to 5th September 2021 via Zoom and at the Stourpaine Village Hall, Stourpaine, Blandford Forum, Dorset DT11 8TA.

Amongst our featured readers and speakers will be Sascha Akhtar, Rae Armantrout, Elisabeth Bletsoe, Vahni Capildeo, Abigail Chabitnoy, Simon Collings, Emily Critchley, Melisande Fitzsimons, John Freeman, Alan Halsey, Jeremy Hilton, Fawzia Kane, Luke Kennard, Geraldine Monk, Mandy Pannett, Maurice Scully, Harriet Tarlo, Carol Watts, Sarah Watkinson.

There will be a celebration of the poetry of Rae Armantrout and Carol Watts. There will be open reading sessions, music, videos, talks, discussion, book signings and Festival bookstall. Amongst the open readers will be Lesley Burt, Paul Matthews, Aidan Semmens, et al.

Festival bursaries are available.

More details at http://www.tearsinthefence.com/festival.

The Celestial Set-Up (Oystercatcher Press) & A Revolutionary Calendar (Shearsman Books) by Zoe Skoulding

The Celestial Set-Up (Oystercatcher Press) & A Revolutionary Calendar (Shearsman Books) by Zoe Skoulding

When Harriet Tarlo’s challenging and deeply rewarding anthology of ‘Radical Landscape Poetry’, The Ground Aslant, appeared in 2011 from Shearsman Books it attracted a review by Robert Macfarlane for an issue of Saturday Guardian. Referring to details of landscape providing ‘no reliable resting place for the eye or the mind’ the reviewer alerted us to the movement onwards ‘in an effortful relay of attention from speck to speck’. He also pointed to Peter Larkin’s awareness of particularity, ‘highlights in the moving light of the ordinary’, which brings to mind the ‘message from far away’ that Jeremy Prynne wrote in 2005 for the opening issue of Pearl Contents, the First Students’ English Magazine of Guangzhou University:

‘Out on the Pearl River enjoying a festive excursion I was watching the water currents slide by, flashing with lights from the banks on either side and lightning from the sky; and I realised how brilliant would be the new magazine of the Guangzhou University English Writing Classes, full of pearl-bright moments and shining articles all moving along in the currents of these changing times.’

In Zoë Skoulding’s new group of poems from the Oystercatcher’s beak we are offered ‘The Celestial Set-Up’, ‘star clusters’ which scatter into ‘islands breaking into archipelagos’: pearl-drop moments of a ‘network of events’. Their relation to time as well as distance is given to us as the possibility of ‘love moving on the epidermis’, ‘a crackle on a hand’, and they unravel ‘in tenses / between your past and my future’. This poetry is a finely-tuned gaze at the particularity of who we are and what we see and it prompts me to look back at Ruskin’s concern in Modern Painters for the ‘Truth of Space’ as dependent on ‘The Focus of the Eye’:

‘First, then, it is to be noticed, that the eye, like any other lens, must have its focus altered, in order to convey a distinct image of objects at different distances; so that it is totally impossible to see distinctly, at the same moment, two objects, one of which is much father off than another.’

Skoulding’s awareness of the possible relationships between the near and the far is central to her focus upon the Menai Straits that separate the coast of North Wales from the Isle of Anglesy. In ‘A Strait Story’ she waits for the tide to turn:

‘Under morning sun, the surface stirs and flicks: this is how it appears, as retreating blue looking black. But what do I know? Soundings off the sea floor come up in layered patterns as the data stream flows in different intensities: a cobalt speckled band of fish; refracted harmonics of the lower levels. You’d be swayed by the glimpse of a seal led by fish led by movement led by transfer of energy, but who’s to say who sways what in the dip and shudder of knowledge, a vessel.’

This range of thought, soundings, brings to my mind the moment in Charles Olson’s ‘Letter 5’ of The Maximus Poems in which he refers to reading ‘sand in the butter on the end of a lead, / and be precise about what sort of bottom your vessel’s over.’
The precision and awareness of depth which prompts Zoë Skoulding’s poetry to compel the past to pierce the present, to speak of days which give utterance ‘all at once, their tongues punctured with green blades’ (‘A Divinatory Calendar’) is central to her reconstruction of A Revolutionary Calendar. As Lyn Hejinian puts it on the back cover of this compelling new publication from Shearsman Books:

‘With expert grace and subversive panache, Zoë Skoulding has written a collection of 360 five-line poems gathered into twelve sections of thirty poems each – a form that replicates that of the ‘Republican Calendar’ created in the immediate aftermath of the French Revolution…The resulting sequence of meticulous observations and penchant forays…maps out a temporal intersection, bringing historico-political time (linear and progressive) into conjuncture with seasonal agricultural time (cyclical and recursive).’

Just as all time is irrecoverable all matter changes shape and ‘oil pressed from / dark fruit won’t / hold summer’s shape’: the ‘Olive’ from Frimaire, the November of frost, will ‘ooze’ into a new day. The connection between what was and what is may be held in scents as the axe from Pluviôse (January / February)

‘felled at the root:
here’s an endpoint
sharpened by split
wood scented
with beginning’

Zoë Skoulding’s poetry is meditative, a drawing aside of curtains to allow a scene to be discovered to the reader: it seems like an act of instant as if a light is suddenly turned brightly focused upon a moment. As the poems rest securely on the page the focus is altered in order to permit the poet to convey a distinct image of objects at different distances. This is a poetry to go back to time and time again.

Ian Brinton, 30th August 2020

Gathering Grounds 2011-2019 by Harriet Tarlo images by Judith Tucker (Shearsman Books)

Gathering Grounds 2011-2019 by Harriet Tarlo images by Judith Tucker (Shearsman Books)

In her introduction to The Ground Aslant, An Anthology of Radical Landscape Poetry (Shearsman Books, 2011), Harriet Tarlo had suggested that the word “landscape” was itself a compound of both the land and its scape, its shaping. The importance of this note was in its acknowledgement of the interventionist human engagement with land. The title of her new collection of poems, accompanied by the powerful evocations of place contained within the drawings of Judith Tucker, contains a similar acknowledgement. “Grounds” are themselves the foundations upon which something is built up, suggesting an underlying principle of growth, and it is entirely appropriate that the opening section of some fifty pages (poems written between 2011 and 2014) should be titled ‘Tributaries’, those streams of water which lead into larger rivers. In his copy of A.N. Whitehead’s Process and Reality Charles Olson made a note alongside the philosopher’s statement that “the term many presupposes the term one, and the term one presupposes the term many” registering his awareness of what the cook at Black Mountain College, Cornelia Williams, had meant in 1953 when she said “All my life I’ve heard / one makes many”. The statement became the epigraph for The Maximus Poems and Olson called it “the dominating paradox on which Max complete ought to stand.”
Tarlo’s opening poem is dedicated to Judith Tucker and it stands in stark black lines on the white page:

“in place, drawing
where things
start, where to
cut landscape off
seam or folded
. lead
turning at an
imagined centre, it
begins with a
line in space

Almost in echo of Zoe Skoulding’s poem ‘In the forest where they fell’ where “Time spirals out of seed” and “Specific histories / don’t fade but circle in a constant outward movement”, the opening poem to ‘Tributaries’ begins with “place…begins with a / line in space.” As Harriet Tarlo had also pointed out in her introduction to that other handsome volume from Shearsman Books, that anthology of radical landscape poetry:

“These diverse poems speak to each other across the space, allowing readers to enter the poem and speculate over their relationship to each other.”

The tributaries that lead to the larger more recognisable movements of water contain a world of submerged etymologies and the first record of this image is in Cymbeline in 1611 where the “poor tributary rivers” provide “sweet fish”. Printed lines on a white page, the lines of drawing “where things / start”, confront us with a language in which the relationship between ourselves and the world around us can come alive, human engagement. As Hopkins’s stones ring “in roundy wells” Tarlo’s opening poem turns “at an / imagined centre” and one might think about Thomas Nagel’s conception of reality as “a set of concentric spheres, progressively revealed as we detach gradually from the contingencies of self.” Or one might also bring to mind Wordsworth’s Fenwick note to his early poem ‘An Evening Walk’ in which the seventy-three year old poet recalled that moment from his youth when he had become aware of “the infinite variety of natural appearances.”
Judith Tucker’s drawing that sits on its own page alongside that first poem of ‘Tributaries’ may of course begin “with a / line in space” but it is to the eye a complex and beautifully dense account of a wood beside a stream and it suggests that whereas the act of expression may well have to commence with a line it soon interweaves into a complexity of thought. As if in decided rejection of that Whitehead/Olson dictat Harriet Tarlo goes on to write that “there isn’t a way / there isn’t a way to go / off-path, counter-path”. In ‘March: Wessenden Head Moor to Reap Hill Clough’ she recognises that “working up to where / they spring, unseen / their several sources / not anything comes from / one.”

This is a remarkable book of poems and drawings and by following those tributary streams one will arrive at Tetney Lock Bridge, the first of the ‘Past Winter’s Sonnets’ sequence from 2017-2018:

“….turnstone flies over flood
gates, under pipe siphoning sweet oil from sea line,
then out & out all gathered rivers, becks & drains
under winter-flocking geese, swirling starlings
through whimbrel marshes into wide tide mouth.”

Ian Brinton 30th March 2020

Poems 2004 -2014 Harriet Tarlo (Shearsman Books)

Poems 2004 -2014 Harriet Tarlo (Shearsman Books)

In January of last year Shearsman Books published a delightful collection of poems by Harriet Tarlo and I do not use that adjective without some consideration. I remember reviewing her Anthology of Radical Landscape Poetry, The Ground Aslant (Shearsman 2011), when it first appeared and being struck by the sharp focus of the poet’s introduction in which she wrote ‘Language is a form in which landscape can come alive’. The quiet and perceptive intelligence of this brief statement was brought back to my mind yesterday when I was reading Madame Bovary in preparation for a talk to be given to Sixth-formers in a couple of weeks’ time. Flaubert’s understanding of the world as seen through the eyes of the sentimental Emma is placed, at one point, in terms of landscape:

‘She liked the sea only for its storms, and greenery only when it was thinly scattered among ruins. She had to be able to derive a kind of personal advantage from things; and she rejected as useless all that did not immediately contribute to her heart’s consummation—being of a temperament more sentimental than artistic, seeking emotions and not landscapes.’

Also in her introduction, the editor accounted for the diversity of texts by Wendy Mulford, Peter Larkin and many others as juxtaposing differing arrangements of prose blocks, found text and stanzas of poetry, ‘each within their own spaces.’ She then suggested that ‘these diverse texts speak to each other across the space, allowing readers to enter the poem and speculate over their relationship to each other’. I think that that it was the importance of this last statement that came back to my mind when I was looking at Harriet Tarlo’s Poems 2004-2014 and I re-read Gillian Allnutt’s comment on the back about this being a poetry ‘that thinks through time and place’.

I was looking closely at the concluding sequence of eleven poems, ‘insurmountable chasm’, many of which were originally embedded in an essay entitled ‘An Insurmountable Chasm?’: Revisiting, Re-imagining and Re-writing Classical Pastoral through the Modernist Poetry of H.D.’ which had been published four years ago in Classical Receptions. The first piece is what Tarlo terms ‘original’ and I think that it is very striking indeed in the different ways it can be read.

found words over space list
shunting sound leaf dust under
learning to hesitate leave it
long and longer over-creepage
ivy

The way that this poem is laid out is central to the manner in which it can be read and I am hoping that the spaces will have come over okay when my little piece has been transferred to the website blog. If not then readers will have to write out the twenty-one words for themselves or, much better, buy a copy of this delightful collection: it will repay many hours of focused study as one appreciates how language is a form in which landscape can come alive.

In his essay ‘Four Different Ways of looking at J.H. Prynne’s Chinese Poem’ (Quid 7), Li Zhimin wrote:

‘To judge whether a classical Chinese poem is successful, the first and most important question is to see whether it creates an integrated Yijing, which refers to the overall effect of a poem, a sort of picturing imagination fully including the poet’s genuine understanding of life at large, of human beings, of nature and the universe…The appreciation of a good classical Chinese poem often runs beyond explanation. In many cases, it is simply unexplainable. The more one explains, the more its beauty will be blurred for readers…’

Li Zhimin goes on to tell us that the usual way of reading a traditional Chinese poem is (i) from right to left vertically downwards. A more modern Chinese way, more familiar of course to us, is (ii) from left to right, horizontally. A third way of reading (iii), combining the two cultures could combine the traditional Chinese-right-to-left and the English-horizontal and one might even be compelled to try (iv) the English-left-to-right and the traditional Chinese-vertical way. Looking at Harriet Tarlo’s first poem in ‘insurmountable chasm’ the effect of these different ways of reading can be felt immediately and I just want to point out a few of the delights which I came across while leaving the continued and continuing reading of these poems to you.

In (i) watch how the pun on ‘leave’ (leaf) is followed by the thrust forward of ‘over-creepage’ to ‘over leaf’ which hesitates before the enclosing growth of ‘ivy’ becomes language.
In (ii) watch how ‘space list’, a white page perhaps(?), seeks space ‘over’ language, words which are that ‘dust’ of accumulation under ‘leaf’ can be given voice ‘shunting sound’.

This beautifully put together book of poems sheds light.

Ian Brinton 17th January 2016

House At Out Mark Goodwin Shearsman Books

House At Out  Mark Goodwin Shearsman Books

I find that reading books is in no way a discrete business and the same, inevitably, holds true for writing reviews. Looking at the blurb on the reverse side of this new collection of Mark Goodwin’s poetry I see the words of Simon Perril:

In House At Out, Mark Goodwin steps beyond the physical landscapes of Back of a Vast, into a new topography: a world that is a “wild’s inf i
nite b its” approached through the gaps and hollows in the word. The holes are apertures as we zoom into language, crack open word hoards and find worlds of association, “hole keys” with which we open kinetic lands as nimble as “music thinking of water”’.

A few days ago, in my review of The Cambridge Companion to British Poetry 1945—2010, I didn’t have sufficient space to say what I wanted to about Perril’s excellent contribution about ‘High Late-Modernists or Postmodernists?’ but now I am prompted to return via this topographical reference to Goodwin’s work. Early on in Perril’s essay he refers to Geraldine Monk in terms of the emotional geography of place, most especially her native Lancashire:

‘Her habitats are haunted by a sense of inequalities and injustices that the landscape has preserved as its own memory, and that charge the language with both neologistic verve and a sense of regional historical witness.’

This combination of neologisms and ‘historical witness’ is central to Mark Goodwin’s work as in ‘Our Shoulle’:

‘a round voice in the bottom of an impossible tube is
nearly silent yet ticks away a shiny poem coils of a
whole other place pull me in it is thin in a last place
a shell makes so wide at first a thrush has smashed a snail

shell on a doorstep think of bricks think of your family
we always wonder why sky doesn’t flatten a shell with its
simple vast coiled solid song song of wafer stone stone
that is a song a crab may live in an on & on song a snail

carries around exchanges for size & no size we do not live
in shells because our feet are too big they would not fit into a
tight pink compartment where a shell goes no further into
the round of all a world slates so slight against her round

voice bright raging sky with a rain in a bottom of impossible’ [.]

There is a Hopkinsian quality of the music of ‘things’ here (‘choses’ as Ponge would have had it) as we are offered ‘a round voice’ in which stones might ring, as they do in the second stanza as ‘song song’ becomes ‘stone stone’. The voice may be ‘nearly silent’ and yet its insistent measuring of Time pulls both poet and reader into a new world. The comparison of shell to brick, of wafer to stone, takes us back a page to the title of this section of the book, ‘A Bachelard’s Château’ and Gaston Bachelard’s comment in the opening pages of The Poetics of Space

‘all really inhabited space bears the essence of the notion of home’.

In the world of Bachelard, imagination can build walls of impalpable shadows and, to refer again to Ponge, imagination can compare the human to the hermit crab:

‘The monuments built by man appear like offcuts from his own skeleton: but they don’t raise the spectre of a creature of comparative size. Compared to a shell, the portals of the greatest cathedrals open to release a crowd of ants and the most wealthy villas or chateaux, home to one man only, are more akin to a hive or an ants’-nest divided up into its separate rooms. When milord departs from his manor-house he certainly appears a lot less impressive than that gigantic claw of the hermit-crab swelling out of the mouth of that cornet shell which he calls home.’
(‘A Note addressed to SHELLS’, translated by Ian Brinton, Oystercatcher Press 2015)

There is, to my ear, a roundness, a completeness as ‘slates’ move to ‘slight’ and, round, to ‘bright’; an echo coiling round a spiral ‘in a bottom of impossible’. I recall Harriet Tarlo’s wonderful anthology published by Shearsman four years ago, The Ground Aslant, in the introduction to which she wrote ‘I have focused here on poets whose formal techniques are exploratory and experimental enough to be called radical, poets whose ideological pushing of the boundaries is to be found integrated into the forms their poems inhabit’. Mark Goodwin’s work was, naturally enough, featured in that volume as ‘the lock of the sun clinks its heat’. And when Robert Macfarlane reviewed the anthology for the Saturday Guardian (16/4/11) he referred to Mark Goodwin’s landscape details as providing no reliable resting place for the eye or the mind:

‘It simply refers the subject onwards in an effortful relay of attention from speck to speck. Keep going. Move along now.’

In this world of spatial vectors and Heraclitean flux I hear the opening lines of one of the poems in Prynne’s The Oval Window:

‘In darkness by day we must press on,
giddy at the tilt of a negative crystal.’

Keep it moving as fast as you can, citizen! And Mark Goodwin writes ‘thoughts escape leave us free and we are poem coils / of a whole i am’.

Ian Brinton 23rd December 2015

Contemporary British Poetry by David Wheatley

Contemporary British Poetry by David Wheatley

This is a recent addition to Nicholas Tredell’s fine series of Readers’ Guides to Essential Criticism which are published by Palgrave and it is as ambitious and wide-ranging as we have come to expect from the series.

Opening with the required quotation from Adorno, ‘The recent past always likes to present itself as if destroyed by catastrophes’ David Wheatley guides us through a short labyrinthine history of ‘contestation and counter-contestation, each generation theatrically forswearing its precursor’. I am minded of the opening to William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell published in the revolutionary times of 1793: ‘Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence’. In Blake’s world-turned-upside-down ‘Good is the passive that obeys Reason’ and ‘Evil is the active springing from Energy’.

In chapter 5, ‘Experiment and Language’, there is a subsection titled ‘The dust of our wasted fields’ which opens up with a statement that is worth placing next to these ‘Contraries’:

‘Narratives of rupture and discontinuity will always be to the fore in discussions of modernism, but it is also worth insisting on deeper continuities. To Jeremy Noel-Tod, surveying the links between the experimental and Romantic traditions, Prynne’s project is “essentially Wordsworthian”, confirming affinities across centuries which only the vagaries of contemporary anti-modernism serve to obscure. Reading an early Prynne essay, ‘Resistance and Difficulty’ (1961), Noel-Tod uses the first of those terms to suggest an alternative to the more usual accusation levelled at Prynne’s poetics, unintelligibility. The Romantic landscape offers resistance to our too-easy progress, and requires careful thought and engagement before it can be negotiated. Landscape is encountered rather than mastered, in the sense that familiarity does not exhaust a Wordsworth landscape, whereas a field in the path of a motorway is recognised and assessed as an obstacle and swept aside.’

Given this emphasis it is no surprise, but a real delight, to read Wheatley on Harriet Tarlo’s wonderful Shearsman anthology of ‘Radical Landscape Poetry’, The Ground Aslant (published in 2011 and worth getting hold of NOW). This anthology which reports from what Wheatley refers to as ‘more marginal zones’ corrects, as he puts it, an assumption that British experimental writing operates in a realm either of rarefied abstraction or of metropolitan indifference to anything beyond the city limits. And it is within this context that he also then writes about the fine poem by R.F. Langley, ‘Matthew Glover’. When Langley was interviewed by Robert Walker (Angel Exhaust 13) he talked about the background to this poem:

‘I didn’t start writing until I found out about American poetry. There was Donald Davie at Cambridge who talked about Pound. But Davie never talked about Olson. It was really Olson who convinced me that I might write something myself. So that something like ‘Matthew Glover’ is a fairly naïve attempt to do a miniscule Olson in an English setting.’

I recall writing a review of the Harriet Tarlo anthology, soon after it appeared, for Todd Swift’s EYEWEAR publishing and since that review is still up there online I had a quick peek to remind myself what it was that I had found so refreshing and valuable about that book: ‘Language is a form in which landscape can come alive’.

David Wheatley’s overview of the contemporary scene is a balanced and intelligent one. Of course there are points at which we want him to say more but this is a ‘Readers’ Guide’ and its purpose is to point out features of the landscape which we can go and explore for ourselves. The test of a good book of this type is whether or not it can engage the reader with an infectious sense of enthusiasm that prompts him then to use the bibliography, the reading list, the list of further suggestions. This is a good book!

Ian Brinton 17th January 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

British Women’s Experimental Poetry

British Women’s Experimental Poetry

 

Women’s Experimental Poetry in Britain 1970-2010: body, time & locale

by David Kennedy and Christine Kennedy,

Liverpool University Press.

The opening chapter to this important book makes no compromises and takes no hostages: ‘There is, then, a large body of women’s experimental poetry in Britain that has never received its critical due and continues not to, with the result that it is forever in danger of being forgotten or overlooked.’ Very appropriately this statement is followed by a quotation from that splendid survey of new British poetries which Robert Hampson and Peter Barry edited for Manchester University Press in 1993 with its subtitle ‘The scope of the possible’.

This whole book is a serious survey of what needs to be more widely read and the poets looked at range from Veronica Forrest-Thomson and Wendy Mulford (both with their Cambridge connections from the early 1970s with the publication of Language-Games in 1971 whilst working on modern literature at Girton College and the founding of Street Editions in 1972)

to

Geraldine Monk’s ‘recognition of common humanity, emotional geography, other selves and historical echoes’ which ‘are crucial to the book-length sequence Interregnum.

to

Denise Riley’s related questions concerning how the self is to be given language and the provenance of the words used. In this chapter Clair Wills is quoted as suggesting that the Reality Street publication Mop Mop Georgette is ‘an extended meditation on what is inside and outside the self, and the purpose of lyric.’

to

Maggie O’Sullivan’s reading of ‘To Our Own Day’ which left Charles Bernstein with the experience of each listening bringing ‘something new, something unfamiliar’ and wondering at how ‘such a short verbal utterance could be so acoustically saturated in performance.’

to

Caroline Bergvall, Elizabeth Bletsoe, Andrea Brady, Jennifer Cooke, Emily Critchley, Elizabeth James, Helen Macdonald, Anna Mendelsshon, Marianne Morris, Redell Olsen, Frances Presley, Sophie Robinson, Harriet Tarlo, Carol Watts.

This is an expensive book (£70) but I gather that it is to be reissued as an e-book. In the meantime badger your library to get hold of a copy; I promise that you will not regret reading this remarkably clear account of what has needed to be pulled together for far too long. To refer back to the beginning and to Veronica Forrest-Thomson it seems quite appropriate to quote from J.H. Prynne’s words placed at the end of the Street Editions 1976 publication of On The Periphery: ‘With great brilliance and courage she set fear against irony and intelligible feeling against the formal irony of its literary anticipations.’

Ian Brinton January 2nd 2014

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