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Vanishing Points Eds. John Kinsella & Rod Mengham (Salt Publishing)

Vanishing Points Eds. John Kinsella & Rod Mengham (Salt Publishing)

The moment of change between one century and another is no easily defined discrete box into which ideas can be crammed later to become defined as Twentieth Century as opposed to Twenty-first Century. Thomas Hardy knew this well when he published his much anthologised poem ‘The Darkling Thrush’ on December 31st 1901. The poem looks forward to the newly defined Twentieth Century with a limited sense of blessed hope “whereof he knew but I was unaware” whilst also looking back at the Nineteenth Century’s corpse “outleant”. This sense of one eye being cast over the shoulder whilst the other is fixed firmly ahead is the hallmark of the Salt anthology of poems, Vanishing Points, edited by John Kinsella and Rod Mengham and published in 2004.
The backwards glance is towards the anthology Conductors of Chaos, edited by Iain Sinclair in 1996 in which, as Randall Stevenson suggested in Volume 12 of The Oxford English Literary History, there was a clear attempt to make great demands on readers to ensure that they “looked at the language on the page—rather than through it, towards a familiar, represented reality—transparency and ease of ordinary understanding had to be eliminated as far as possible”.
Sinclair’s introduction to Conductors of Chaos had thrown down a glove for the editors of anthologies and for serious readers of modern poetry:

“The work I value is that which seems most remote, alienated, fractured. I don’t claim to ‘understand’ it but I like having it around. The darker it grows outside the window, the worse the noises from the island, the more closely do I attend to the mass of instant-printed pamphlets that pile up around my desk. The very titles are pure adrenalin; Satyrs and Mephitic Angels, Tense Fodder, Hellhound Memos, Civic Crime, Alien Skies, Harpmesh Intermezzi, A Pocket History of the Soul. You don’t need to read them, just handle them: feel the sticky heat creep up through your fingers. If these things are ‘difficult’, they have earned that right. Why should they be easy? Why should they not reflect some measure of the complexity of the climate in which they exist? Why should we not be prepared to make an effort, to break sweat, in hope of high return? There’s no key, no Masonic password; take the sequences gently, a line at a time. Treat the page as a block, sound it for submerged sonar effects. Suspend conditioned reflexes. You don’t need to sign up for Tom Paulin’s masterclass to reap the reward. If it comes too sweetly, somebody’s trying to sell you something.”

As if to emphasise even more the links between one century and the next, three of the seven titles mentioned by Sinclair were published by Rod Mengham’s Cambridge based Equipage Press and there is perhaps a sense of appropriateness here in his being the co-editor of the first significantly challenging new anthology of the Twenty-First Century. In his introduction to Vanishing Points Mengham takes up the challenge of reading as thrown down by Randall Stevenson, looking at language on the page:

“The vanishing point lies beyond the horizon established by ruling conventions, it is where the imagination takes over from the understanding. Most anthologies of contemporary verse are filled with poems that do not cross that dividing-line, but our contention is that many poems in this volume are situated on the threshold of conventional sense-making. They go beyond the perspective of accepted canons of taste and judgement and ask questions about where they belong, and who they are meant for, often combining the pathos of estrangement with the irascibility of the refusenik.”

The thirty-two poets in this anthology are from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States of America but despite this wide geographical range what binds them together is “a strong insistence on finding ways of continuing and renewing the lyric impulse in poetry in English”. The British contributors include Caroline Bergvall, Brian Catling, David Chaloner, Andrew Crozier, Andrew Duncan, Roy Fisher, Ulli Freer, Tony Lopez, Barry MacSweeney, Anna Mendelssohn (Grace Lake), Drew Milne, Ian Patterson, J.H. Prynne, Peter Riley, Geoff Ward and John Wilkinson. Some of the poems in the anthology are from a much earlier date and Roy Fisher’s The Cut Pages first appeared in 1971 from Fulcrum Press before re-emerging in 1986 as a joint production of Oasis Books and Shearsman Books. Introducing the first appearance of the poem Fisher had told his readers that the “aim in the improvisation was to give the words as much relief as possible from serving in planned situations” and that the work “was taken forward with no programme beyond the principle that it should not know where its next meal was coming from”. This method of composition “produced very rapid changes of direction”. More on the cusp of the millennium Barry MacSweeney’s ‘Totem Banking’ and ‘I Looked Down On a Child Today’ were both written in 1998-1999 and included in his posthumous selected poems, Wolf Tongue, which appeared from Bloodaxe in 2003. ‘Totem Banking’ is dedicated to J.H. Prynne and the appropriate nature of its inclusion in this anthology is emphasised by Mengham’s introductory comments concerning the way in which “writers in this anthology have been part of a process of exchanging ideas manifested in little magazines, in the publishing programmes of small presses, and in the sheer volume of email and internet transactions”. It was Prynne, along with Andrew Crozier, who began much of this exchange of ideas with the creation and publication of The English Intelligencer back in the 1960s and it is a measure of the Cambridge poet’s professional commitment to new forms of writing that an extract from his own Red D Gypsum should form part of the new horizon posited by the editors of Vanishing Points.
Although Red D Gypsum was published by Barque Press (Andrea Brady and Keston Sutherland) in 1998 it was one of the later sequences which prompted Andrew Duncan in 2003 to write “Of course, Prynne’s aesthetic of difficulty often causes panic anxiety, feels like sensory deprivation, and invites misconstruction…people have different perceptions of what ‘good pattern’ is, and may experience incompleteness as anxiety as well as cognitive freedom”. Writing about the sequence in 2009 Nigel Wheale suggested that it is worth thinking about the sense in which reading it “may be a cumulative experience for the reader” requiring a different reading strategy. This, of course, is entirely in tune with the editorial comments in Vanishing Points and John Kinsella, the co-editor, stressed that “Typically, a poem gives the reader or listener something to take away from the text—an emotional gravitas, whimsical joy, intellectual or spiritual connection or awakening”.
At the end of the last century Kinsella had formed a publishing partnership with Clive Newman and Chris Hamilton-Emery and this new Salt Press heralded the world of Print-on-Demand (PoD). The press soon made a name for publishing a pluralist view of poetry and the 2004 publication of Vanishing Points was like the raising of a standard.

Ian Brinton 10th April 2017

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Richard Makin’s Mourning (Equus Press, 2015)

Richard Makin’s Mourning (Equus Press, 2015)

This third part of a trilogy, including Work (Great Works, 2009) and Dwelling (Reality Street, 2011), is formally more approachable than its immediate predecessor yet still commanding a rich tapestry of language use and imaginative construction. It is no coincidence that Equus Press have reissued Philippe Soller’s H (1973, 2001) at the same time. Makin’s trilogy has some lineage with the Nouveau Roman, offering a similar antidote to the constraints and requirements of the bourgeois novel, as well as early Modernist poetry and fiction in terms of its use of fragmentary material.

Mourning, and the trilogy as a whole, is an extraordinary and distinct achievement. It is a demanding and enriching read characterized by highly wrought sentences, which cover a range of discourses and fictional events. It is not a conventional novel. There is minimal characterisation with no discernible plot other than recurring thematic issue. There is instead a succession of linked or partially connected beginnings, which echo and take the reader on endless journeys. ‘Noun a neuron. No index of terminations at the gallows gate.’ The writing is, to use Ken Edwards’s words on the back cover, a ‘non-narrative, never-ending coherence.’ It is also deeply poetic and might well be linked to such Late Modernist poets, such as J.H. Prynne and Iain Sinclair in the way that it will severely pursues a theme for a few lines and then veers off into another discourse. The pleasure of the text is that the reader is confronted with several possible reading strategies. It is a joy to dip in and out of the novel as well as to read it in order. Mourning is perhaps less fragmentary than Dwelling and has more voices off. There is also more comedy. Those readers perhaps daunted by the thought of reading a non-narrative novel can perhaps view the work more like an epic Poundian poem with some added diversions, verve and comedy.

A reading (sitting or séance). An abandoned operating theatre, saint hospital. His party has eluded capture; those who survive will be reimbursed.
Also dream: crime, accused of – wrenching up the bolts, the tubers, the mandrake by its ear. Green shoots burst through the concrete, the shattered asphalt. I don’t know how I wrote that when I was asleep: not affliction, affection, in the archaic sense of disposition, i.e. to be drawn from something, from the thin air. A white feather quivers, balanced on her breath.

There is a video of Makin reading from this chapter at the 2014 Tears in the Fence Festival on the magazine’s website: https://tearsinthefence.com/festival

A number of chapters are devoted to comments of and around definitions. There is a probing and recording of a narrative self in endless movement and commentary at work.

Locomotor ataxia
Upper mandible of earth, shell lying below, palate soft, yielding to persistent stress.
‘Let’s turn around: on your knees.’
There were pressure ulcers, degeneration of the nerve fibres – stun-grenades, phosgene bombs.
Third: the demoralized, the ragged, those without names and unwilling to work or partake of compulsory leisure (the loudest scream, that’s all I can remember). Most often, the procedure is one of blundering mediations. And that, in short, is how the epoch names what we are.

There is an echo of William Burroughs’ Dr. Benway in lines such as, ‘The patient was hung up by the jaw and left alone for several minutes’ and those dark figures with their use of drug control, biological experimentation, and so on. This sinister narrative background is played out within a kind of subverted science fiction. It is easy to miss the tongue in cheek lines in Mourning as Makin doesn’t over signal his intentions, and is quickly onto some new line or direction. The sheer narrative force and distinct use of the English language connects him in this regard to Prynne, Sinclair and a few others. Makin is the real thing. There were many notable and cracking readings at last year’s Tears in the Fence Festival, Makin’s reading generated the most extensive discussions.

Mourning is available from Equus Press, Birkbeck College (William Rowe) 43 Gordon Square, London WC1 HOPD and https://equuspress.wordpress.com/mourning/

David Caddy 24th June 2015

Tom Chivers: from drainage to Dark Islands

Tom Chivers: from drainage to Dark Islands

I

Words around the grate

When Nine Arches Press published Tom Chivers’s The Terrors in March 2009 the blurb on the back was written by Iain Sinclair:

Dark London history, dredged and interrogated, spits and fizzes with corrosive wit. Language-receipts sustain the necessary illusion. IT MATTERS. It matters: the weight and pace of delivery, the balance of breath. Tom Chivers understands the risks he risks, the play in a taught rope. “I’ll ghost-write, if you ask.”

The poet addressed the reader at the opening of this startlingly powerful reconstruction of pages that owe much to The Newgate Calendar:

What follows is a sequence of imagined emails sent from the author to inmates at London’s Newgate Prison incarcerated between roughly 1700 and 1760. All mistakes, typos and anachronisms are deliberate.

An interest in how the past threads its way through our present was evident after Tom Chivers went up to St. Anne’s College, Oxford, to read English in 2001 and founded a magazine of contemporary writing, Keystone. The first issue of this little magazine contained work by Ric Caddel, the co-Director of the Basil Bunting Poetry Centre, David Caddy, whose influence on the work of Tom Chivers was immense, Lucy Newlyn, winner of the 2001 British Academy’s Crawshay Prize for her work on ‘Reading, Writing, and Romanticism: The Anxiety of Reception’ and Bernard O’Donoghue, teacher of Medieval English at Corpus Christi College whose collection of poems, Here Nor There, was a Poetry Book Society choice. The long poem which Chivers wrote himself for this first issue was titled ‘Effra’ after the lost river of South London which had two branches in the Norwood area, flowed under Half Moon Lane in Herne Hill towards Coldharbour Lane, Brixton before ending in the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge. It has been suggested that one possible derivation for the name of the river is from the Celtic word for ‘torrent’ and John Ruskin, who grew up in Herne Hill, referred to it in his autobiographical writing Praeterita:

Our house was the northernmost of a group which stand accurately on the top or dome of the hill, where the ground is for a small space level, as the snows are, (I understand,) on the dome of Mont Blanc; presently falling, however, in what may be, in the London clay formation, considered a precipitous slope, to our valley of Chamouni (or of Dulwich) on the east; and with a softer descent into Cold Harbour-lane on the west: on the south, no less beautifully declining to the dale of the Effra (doubtless shortened from Effrena, signifying the “Unbridled” river; recently, I regret to say, bricked over for the convenience of Mr. Biffin, chemist, and others)…

Ruskin also suggested that his first sketch revealing any artistic merit, done when he was thirteen in 1832, was at the foot of Herne Hill (where the Half Moon Tavern is now), showing a bridge over the Effra. He also suggested that the stretch of the river towards Dulwich was ‘a tadpole haunted ditch’ and the language here finds echoes in Graham Swift’s novel Waterland and Chivers’s own poetry:

Under tarmac, Effra
swills in drains,
only witness
to every crime,
and one eye to the Thames.

Let us forget
the river: block him up,
his seasons and his rages.
Let’s shout him out
And seal him up
Beneath the Railton Road.

Effra! Effra!
calling at night.

The river bore strange testimony and in the nineteenth-century a coffin was discovered floating in the Thames having sailed from West Norwood Cemetery although the grave itself was undisturbed. It was hinted that the grave had been dug too close to the course of the Effra which runs beneath the cemetery, and that the coffin had subsided into the river, flowing underneath south London before reaching the Thames at Vauxhall.
Tom Chivers combines a passionate interest in Medieval literature with a fascination for what lies buried below a surface. In 2013 he was commissioned for Humber Mouth Literature Festival to write Flood Drain, published by Annexe Press in the following year. The author’s note at the opening of the chapbook gives an intriguing picture of the poet’s awareness of the connections between the past and the present:

In the opening of the great medieval dream vision Piers Plowman, the narrator lies down ‘on a brood bank by a bourne syde’ and is sent to sleep by the sound of the stream which, as he says ‘sweyed so murye’. The poem registers a universal truth, that there is something mesmeric about running water, but it also prefigures the Jungian association of rivers with dreaming and the unconscious. The river, of course, can also stand for death or, as Styx, the underworld. In another medieval poem, Pearl, an unfordable river separates the dreamer from the ghost of his daughter and the promise of heavenly paradise.

The poet tells us that his poem ‘meditates on the dual themes of dreaming and drainage, inspired by a two-day drift down the river Hull’:

The city, recently announced as Britain’s Capital of Culture for 2017, is properly called Kingston-upon-Hull; but such is the ubiquity of the shortened name Hull that the river itself has got somewhat lost. Perhaps this is not so surprising; after all, the city faces out into the vast grey estuary of a much larger river, the Humber, leaving its eponymous stream to snake through the industrial landscape of wrecking yards and ruined docks undisturbed and unrecognised.

Just as in the early poem ‘Effra’ the derivation of the name is important. Whereas the lost river of south London may have taken its name from the Celtic word for ‘torrent’ or even, given the epigraph to the poem (‘Sous les pavés, la plage! Paris, 1968), the French ‘effroi’, the name for Hull has no definitive etymology:

Some claim it as Celtic for ‘deep river’ or Saxon for ‘muddy river’, but the most alluring explanation was offered by Nathan Bailey in his 1721 An Universal Etymological English Dictionary:

HULL…of hulen, Lower Saxon heulen, Teutonic, to howl, from the Noise the River makes, when it meets the Sea.

An interest in the world of medieval dream-poetry may well have merged with Chivers’s interest in contemporary poetry: the Gawain-poet’s Pearl is linked of course with Barry MacSweeney’s sequence of poems about which he talked on Radio 4 in 2009.
The movement of rivers to the sea lurks behind James Joyce’s injunction in Ulysses, ‘Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past’ and drains filter out those relics which lie stranded on the shores of a grating:

flat world in which everything slips
fix a chain & a windlass at the mouth of the new cut
disgorging of pipes / tubing / culverts & drains
into Sayer’s Creek
disgorge into estuary
deep slug of Humber
pours the gravy of Hull
in a sound like a sawmill
in a sound like vomiting
in a sound like the howling
of the Fever Hospital

Green City
City of Tomorrow

what is old /
what is new

(Flood Drain)

In his collection of short case-histories, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks wrote that ‘We have, each of us, a life-story, an inner narrative—whose continuity, whose sense, is our lives. It might be said that each of us constructs and lives, a ‘narrative’, and that this narrative is us, our identities […] for each of us is a biography, a story. Each of us is a singular narrative…’ With these thoughts in mind it is possible to understand why the History teacher, Tom Crick, in Waterland talks of the Grand Narrative as a ‘filler of vacuums’ and the ‘dispeller of fears of the dark’; the ‘dark’ is the absence of a narrative, either on an individual or a collective level. The dark is a terrible amnesia or a fragmented mass of information, unbounded by the comforting coherence of memory, that inner narrative ‘whose continuity, whose sense, is our lives. As teachers / adults we tell stories to children and acknowledge that, as Crick informs his class of children in a Greenwich school, reality is a vacuum; defying the amnesia and chaos of the universe we construct narratives, tell stories, tales, look at the debris collected by the bars of the drains, convert detritus to words and, as the phenomenological world dries out, we create islands, even dark ones.

Ian Brinton 14th June 2015

Contemporary Olson edited by David Herd (Manchester University Press, 2015)

Contemporary Olson edited by David Herd (Manchester University Press, 2015)

Contemporary Olson, based upon talks given at a University of Kent conference in 2012, re-assesses Charles Olson’s work and place in recent poetic history. Written by writers, poets and academics, this book of essays contextualises Olson’s thought and work, placing him in his period, and focuses upon individual poems and essays. Olson’s ideas, assumptions and practice are examined and contested with a critical eye. These engagements are divided into sections, knowledge, poetics, gender, history and space, based on key preoccupations within Olson’s work.

There are some terrific essays in this wide ranging volume and I shall try to give a flavour of some of its contents.

Peter Middleton’s essay ‘Discoverable unknowns: Olson’s literary preoccupation with the sciences’ delineates Olson’s concerns with the sciences and scientists and points out the poetic consequences of inscribing scientific knowledge and methods into the field of the poem. Reitha Pattison analyses Olson’s understanding of cosmology and clarifies the function of ‘cosmology’, ‘space’ and ‘breath’ in his prosody. She concludes that ‘Apprehending the extent of Olson’s insistence upon the concrete and literal condition of all cosmic forms in his prose permits a more accurate sense of the textual space the writer heralded in ‘Projective Verse’. Michael Grant and Ian Brinton translate Olson’s concern with space and breath into one of void and voice, and place his postwar image of hell in ‘Cold Hell, in Thicket’ in relation to T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, where there is a different understanding of the physically projected voice.

Some notable facts are explored and deepened, such as Olson’s work as a poet-teacher, which is founded upon intellectual and poetic exchanges not only with male poets, such as Paul Blackburn as read here by Simon Smith, but also some relatively ignored women figures, such as Frances Boldereff, a relationship examined by Robert Hampson. Rachel Blau DuPlessis notes how Maximus, in its detailed attention of the world of work, ignores female labour, and is framed by its masculinity. There is recognition of the importance of Olson’s typographic work for several subsequent women poets from Susan Howe onwards. Stephen Fredman in his reading of Olson’s poem, ‘The Lordly and Isolate Satyrs’, first published in Evergreen Review 4, locates him, through the central image of motorcyclists at the heart of a cultural moment in the late 50s and early 60s. It might have been interesting to compare that poem to Thom Gunn’s ‘On The Move’ and other motorcycle poems published in 1957.

Gavin Selerie outlines Olson’s British contacts, travels and legacy, including his visit to Dorchester County Museum, to research Weymouth port records, in the summer of 1967. Ed Dorn would similarly visit south Dorset for the summer a few years later. Elaine Feinstein recalls the moment when Olson’s poetics first intersected with British poetry. Iain Sinclair, in an outstanding essay, recalls the effect of encountering Olson in July 1967 and returns the reader to Olson’s position in Gloucester, Massachusetts, at the sea’s edge, and recounts his visit there watching Henry Ferrini’s DVD of John Malkovich reading sections of Maximus at the Writer’s Center. ‘The real punch arrives at the end as one of the extra features’, writes Sinclair, when Olson reads and is ‘absolutely mesmerizing and lifted everything from the theoretical pitch … to a different register. You witness the man, the energy of him as he grasps his own poem; the practical demonstration of projective verse, the full body reading.’

Ralph Maud also takes the reader to the Cape Ann coastline that was the vantage point of Olson’s major writing and first poem, and emphasises that Olson’s work should always be read as a work in progress, a draft that is designed to stimulate and enable thought. As Olson wrote:

It is undone business
I speak of, this morning,
with the sea
stretching out
from my feet

Here ‘undone’ is read as ‘ongoing’ with a necessity to engage once more. The contemporary relevance of Olson’s work rests precisely in the opening up of possibilities, which it continues to do. To my mind, one of the greatest testimony to Olson’s achievements, and this could have been explored more, is the impact of Olson as a poet-teacher, at Black Mountain and elsewhere, on the likes of Ed Dorn, Jeremy Prynne, and others. In particular, the practical, as opposed to theoretical, knowledge that Olson gave Dorn. This knowledge, in turn, helped shape a way of reading people and landscape, of asking and shaping questions, of reading signs and history. Much could have been made of the fact that both Dorn and Prynne departed from Olson’s direction as very different poets from the ones they were before their encounters. Prynne one suspects drew many lessons from Olson, one of which is surely seen in his acknowledgement that thought is always ongoing, subject to correction and error.

I am looking forward to reading many more essays, including those by Charles Bernstein, Ben Hickman, David Herd, who also provides an introductory essay, Anthony Mellors, Miriam Nichols, Sarah Posman, Kalien van den Beukel and Tim Woods.

David Caddy 18th February 2015

Iain Sinclair’s 70 X 70 Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked in 70 films

Iain Sinclair’s 70 X 70 Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked in 70 films

(King Mob, 2014) http://king-mob.net/

Ian Sinclair’s selection of 70 films in celebration of his 70th birthday, based on films related to the locations and enthusiasms of his life, constitutes a kind of accidental novel in its autobiographical journey. Screened in unusual venues across London in the build up towards his birthday they include rare and less well known European art cinema and British films. There are films related to his time at Trinity College, Dublin 1960-1962, film school at Brixton, films that he has made, including those related to his books, and films connected to those parts of London, which have fuelled his obsessions. His sense of London’s geography was constructed through finding cinemas, and there are extracts from the most recent films shot outside London.

The book’s format consists of Sinclair’s introductory notes to each film, which contextualise its impact on and connections to his life and writing. Orson Welles, Hitchcock, Luis Buñuel, Jean-Luc Godard, Herzog, Fassbinder, Rosselini, Antonioni, Michael Reeves, Patrick Keiller, William Burroughs, the Beats, J.G. Ballard are well featured. There are substantial and illuminating interviews with his collaborators Chris Petit, Susan Stenger, Stanley Schtinter, Andrew Kötting, as well as critic Colin MacCabe, on Godard’s Le Mépris (1963) and the writer of The Long Good Friday (1980), Barrie Keeffe. The Whitechapel Gallery film curator, Gareth Evans, director John Smith and others provide introductory notes to specific films, which with the pages of still photographs enhance the impact of the whole.

The book’s strength lies in the stories behind the films, the quirky manner in which they came to be the way they are as well as the ways the selection adds to the contextualization and interaction with Sinclair’s writing. For example, Muriel Walker, who was part of the crew that made William Dieterle’s Vulcano (1950) and became actress Anna Magnani’s secretary, provides a fascinating insight into Rosselini’s lover and the film’s production. Her photographs and diary from the shoot were featured in Sinclair’s American Smoke.

Of John Brahm’s Hangover Square (1945), loosely based on Patrick Hamilton’s 1941 novel and subtitled a tale of Darkest Earl’s Court, he writes:

‘Brahm’s film is a minor classic, a shotgun wedding of
expressionism and surrealism: barrel organs, leering
pawnbrokers, cor-blimey-guv urchins. Linda Darnell
enthusiastically impersonates a knicker-flashing singer
with flea-comb eyelashes and hair in which you could lose a
nest of squirrels. There are two mind-blowing sequences:
the bonfire on which the faithless Netta is incinerated,
while a mob of Ensor devils howl and chant – and the
concerto, when a raving Bone hammers away at a blazing
grand piano.’

As ever, the reader wishes to see the film.

Sinclair refers to Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1979/80), based on Alfred Döblin’s novel, as the pivotal film in the curation, as it is ‘the physical object with the most mystery.’ He writes: ‘For me going to Berlin, quite late on, was an expedition made through the filter of, initially, Döblin’s book and then the film. When I wrote about the labyrinth of memory that is Berlin, in a book called Ghost Milk, it was a tribute to both those works and a way of seeing this city.’

Gareth Evans’ closes the book with an essay ‘On the Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes’ and notes that whilst the curated films map ‘the road taken with wit, idiosyncrasy, combative, collaborative flair and no end of passionate poetry’ they also offer ‘a way forward, posting a typology of possible futures – of multiple spaces, found or made, for the public gaze – for how and why film is seen’. He concludes with a line from Theodore Roethke ‘In a dark time the eye begins to see’.

There is much more to this wonderfully spirited book, not least a description of actor, Toby Jones, possessing the figure of John Clare, and I urge readers of Iain Sinclair and lovers of the possibilities of film to engage with this joyous celebration.

David Caddy 7th December 2014

Beat Scene 74 edited by Kevin Ring

Beat Scene 74 edited by Kevin Ring

http://www.beatscence.net

This special issue features essays on a range of Beat writers and others visiting England, a significant January 1961 letter from Robert Creeley to Tom Raworth providing him with contact details for many Black Mountain and Beat poets as well as Gary Snyder in Japan and Louis Zukofsky in New York, an article by Iain Sinclair on meeting Olson at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Allen Ginsberg and Panna Grady at Regent’s Park in July 1967. There is also an article on Tom Raworth and Allen Ginsberg, a series of articles on the English and Scottish publishers of the Beats and Black Mountain poets in the late Fifties and early Sixties, plus a long poem, ‘The Prince of Amsterdam’ by Heathcote Williams concerning the Albert Hall International Poetry Incarnation, which included Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Corso, Spike Hawkins, et al, of June 1965.

It was 1965 and a foretaste of the Summer of Love
When it was believed that love could stop war,
And at this wholly communion
Where a Bardic tap was unscrewed
And turned into a spiritual fire hydrant

Pauline Reeves contributes an extensive essay on Ginsberg in London in 1965, the background to the Albert Hall event, filmed by Peter Whitehead as Wholly Communion, and its immediate aftermath drawing upon contemporary documentation. Brian Dalton writes about The Dialectics of Liberation conference at the Roundhouse in July 1967, which similarly brought together American and English poets and thinkers. There is a notable reprint of a 1963 article by Jim Burns on Gary Snyder, entitled ‘His Own Man’, identifying Snyder’s commitment to ‘disaffiliation’ and ‘resisting the lies and violence of the governments and their irresponsible employees’ through ‘civil disobedience, pacifism, poetry, poverty – and violence, if it comes to a matter of clobbering some rampaging redneck or shoving a scab off the pier. Defending the right to smoke pot, eat peyote, be polygamous, or queer – and learning from the hip fellaheen peoples of Asia and Africa, attitudes and techniques banned by the Judaeo-Christian West.’ Burns clearly saw in 1963 that Snyder whilst being part of the San Francisco, Black Mountain and Beat scene, featured in Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums as Japhy Ryder, was quite distinct and independent.

Eric Jacobs writes about the background to Fulcrum, Goliard, Trigram and Ferry Press and their commitment to publishing the likes of Snyder, McClure, Olson, Creeley, Duncan, Dorn, Hirschman and Ginsberg. There is good use of a Creeley 15th November 1963 letter to Andrew Crozier showing the English poets that he was in contact with. The essay also draws upon Ian Brinton’s essay ‘Nearly Brassed Off: Andrew Crozier and the Ferry Press’ from Tears in the Fence 55 as well as Jim Burns’ Bohemians, Beats and Blues People (Penniless Press, 2013). Jim Burns has an essay on Gael Turnbull’s Migrant Press begun in Worcester in 1957 to introduce certain American writers that had interested him through Origin, Black Mountain Review and the Jargon books of Jonathan Williams. He also uncovers the work of Alex Neish, as editor of Jabberwock and Sidewalk magazines from Edinburgh in 1959 and 1960 publishing Burroughs, Creeley, Olson and Michael Rumaker alongside Edwin Morgan, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Ian Crichton Smith, alongside translations of Marguerite Duras, Michel Butor and Alain Robbe-Grillet. Sidewalk was advertised as a review with a policy of anti-parochialism, which would focus upon the social and literary problems of today and tomorrow, and was attacked by the popular press of Glasgow.

There is much more to this excellent issue. Subscriptions are £26 for 4 issues.

David Caddy 11th November 2014

Openings, A European Journal by Jeremy Hooker (Shearsman), Silent Conversations, a reader’s life by Anthony Rudolf (Seagull Books)

Openings, A European Journal  by Jeremy Hooker (Shearsman), Silent Conversations, a reader’s life  by Anthony Rudolf (Seagull Books)

I have recently been reading two fascinatingly different accounts of a personal life, a life lived with intensity and passion. Anthony Rudolf’s examination of his collection of books and papers, an extensive and serious library which must be the envy of all bibliophiles interested in Modernsim, owes much to Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘Unpacking My Library’ (Illuminations). It also raises the ghost of Marcel Proust:

‘Moving indoors, Proust plays the ‘proprietor in a room filled to overflowing with the souls of others and which preserves the imprint of their dreams…’ As a proprietor myself, I intend to begin sorting out the books in my sitting room.’

Anthony Rudolf’s account of his library is a personal document and the importance of this reckoning-up is emphasised from the very start:

‘Now that I am approaching seventy, when I am supposed to have put aside childish things, the experience of literary time and its double, literary space, remains a major consolation.’

Throughout the five hundred or so pages we see history come to life as Rudolf comes across book after book on his shelves, under the desk, in a pile on the floor; each one has its own provenance; each one reminds both writer and then reader that these documents were written by real poets, travel-writers, translators, philosophers. This ‘silent conversation’ is the reflection of a collector, a person who seeks in Walter Benjamin’s words ‘to renew the old world’; and this collector gives us the history of the acquisition of his books so that the names and faces of those now gone appear again in front of us.
Jeremy Hooker’s journal reminds me more of Edward Thomas’s first book, The Woodland Life. It is also more immediately personal as we are presented with autobiography and the world of poetry weaving in and out of each other:

‘21 April 1983
After the Poetry Festival at Cambridge from Thursday evening until Monday night.
Mieke—how aware of each other we were at once, how easily and naturally we talked and touched. We stayed up alone together all night on Saturday, at Göran Printz-Påhlson’s, talking and making love. I walked back across Cambridge to Glen Cavaliero’s on a grey, wet morning, streets almost empty, birds singing loudly and sweetly in gardens. Went to bed at 8 and slept on and off until 1, waking to the strange sensation against my neck of the tiny silver dolphin on a chain which she had given me, and the questions often in my mind since then—Is it true? Is it possible? Can we be so suddenly in love?’

Anthony Rudolf’s book is almost like an encyclopaedia and I found myself wishing that there had been an index at the back so that I could quickly make reference to names that appear in different sections. I also found myself just questioning slightly the accuracy of all the information given when I read the comments about Andrew Crozier:

I always respected and admired him, though it took a while before I appreciated what a treasure he was. His widow Jean sent me Star Ground, a finely produced posthumous pamphlet containing three unpublished poems, one of which is the poignant and beautiful title poem dedicated to her and ending: ‘Frost heaves all night / To rise like waves / Spent on the margin / On the enduring /Particular resistance of our love.’ These are plainly the last words of a man who knows that his brain tumour is going to kill him, perhaps soon, as it did.

That little pamphlet, Star Ground, was in fact a republication of Crozier’s highly acclaimed poem from the 1970s, ‘The Veil Poem’ alongside the last major sequence he wrote, ‘Free Running Bitch’, published in Iain Sinclair’s 1996 anthology Conductors of Chaos. The title poem is a one-page, last-page, conclusion to the Silver Hounds chapbook.
Perhaps by virtue of being a diary, a journal, Jeremy Hooker’s Openings is much more readable to my mind and I became bound up in a chronological movement of reflections in which a lover, the author’s children, parents and geography weaved in and out of each other’s lives:

Did I expect to be as “free” as Sue says she is, and to grieve no longer? I must learn to watch these feelings pass. And to love the children less selfishly.
A love like M’s that draws me out…I’ve so much to learn, so much to unlearn.

Ian Brinton 11th August 2014

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