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For The Future (Shearsman Books)

For The Future (Shearsman Books)

In June 2016 David Caddy wrote a fine review of this little book. In October Tom Phillips also wrote a review and this was sent to all the contributors whose work had made the book important. As a consequence of some computer difficulties suffered by Tony Lewis-Jones’s Various Arts website, based in Bristol, this review never saw the light of day and so it is with great pleasure that I include it here under his name as a guest-blogger. It is important that Tom’s work is seen at large not least because it can now be included in Michael Tencer’s Full Bibliography of the work of J.H. Prynne.

Ian Brinton 8th July 2017

Review: For The Future: Poems & Essays In Honour Of J.H. Prynne On The Occasion Of His 80th Birthday, Ian Brinton (ed.), Shearsman Books, 2016

Of course, the usual starting point for discussing Jeremy Prynne’s poetry is to say something about how difficult or daunting it is. Saying this, however, is tantamount to not saying much at all. As several contributors to A Manner Of Utterance – the 2009 collection of essays about Prynne also edited by Ian Brinton and published by Shearsman – pointed out, if you start from the assumption that Prynne’s poetry is ‘difficult’ and therefore like a puzzle which needs solving, you’re probably coming at it from the wrong angle. Indeed, as Prynne himself has demonstrated with his extraordinarily expansive critical investigations of poems like Wordsworth’s ‘The Solitary Reaper’, even relatively simple-seeming work has multiple complexities and, yes, ‘difficulties’ if you look at it hard enough.
As in A Manner Of Utterance, then, the poems and essays in this insightful and wide-ranging new collection edited by Brinton counter the notion that Prynne’s work is the literary equivalent of the north face of the Eiger and that all it does is make exhausting intellectual demands of its readers. To be sure, the absence of a recognisable and autobiographical lyric ‘I’, the polyphonic assemblage of idiolects and specialist vocabularies and the unexpected shifts in grammar are disorienting, unfamiliar and have been at odds with the predominant modes of poetic expression for the fifty years that Prynne’s been publishing his work, but as the poet Peter Hughes puts it in his contribution to For The Future, that work has a “peculiar mass” nevertheless – and with mass comes gravity and you are drawn in.

Hughes also likens reading a Prynne poem to arriving in a foreign country – “Everything is going on around you and you do your best to go with the flow and pick up what you can” (which seems like very sensible advice) – while for Peter Gizzi the poems in the 1969 volume The White Stones have a “necessary and productive restlessness”. For Anthony Barnett – the first publisher of Prynne’s Poems (the steadily evolving ‘collected’ whose latest manifestation appeared from Bloodaxe in 2015) – it is a question of refusing “to be intimidated by the so-called difficulty or those critiques on difficulty, positive or negative, that have infected our academic and popular literary cultures both.”

Despite its sometimes abrasive surface textures, then, there is an energy coursing through Prynne’s work which keeps you reading it even if “the figure in the carpet” isn’t always readily apparent. Some of the essays here, of course, do posit hypotheses about what the ‘figure’ might be in specific poems or collections. Matthew Hall, for example, makes a persuasive case for understanding 2002’s Acrylic Tips in the context of “the physical landscapes and colonial history of the Australian continent” while Masahiko Abe finds a way into 1989’s Word Order through Rosalind Krauss’ concept of the ‘grid’ (as she applied it to modernist/minimalist art). Michael Tencer, meanwhile, unpacks the allusive density of Prynne’s ‘Es Lebe der König’ and identifies the multiple sources which feed into one of the very few poems dedicated to a specified individual – in this case the Romanian-German poet Paul Celan. Harry Gilonis’ discussion of Prynne’s Chinese poem ‘Stone Lake’ also illuminates how the indeterminacy and myriad ambiguities of Chinese poetry in general might offer a way of understanding how Prynne’s English poems operate and how we might approach them as readers. With Chinese poetry, after all, the general assumption is that it takes a lifetime to understand a poem as fully as it’s possible for any individual reader to do so.

For The Future, though, is not a book of critical essays per se and while the insights into specific corners of the writerly labyrinth sent me back to Poems with the thought “Ah, so this might be a potential starting point …”, the memoirs about Prynne and the poems dedicated to him also shed light on the man, the poet and the teacher. Brinton himself, for example, details the protracted negotiations between poet, publisher and printer over the publication of 1971’s Brass – thereby illustrating the care with which Prynne approaches the physical appearance of his texts – while John James’ poem ‘Affection’ steers a course through the ethical and political concerns which animate the work of a poet whose avant gardism is not an affectation but the inevitable product of a heterodox set of ethical and political concerns about transaction, encounter, power and language. Above all, perhaps, what the many and varied contributors to For The Future do is provide a reminder that Prynne is also a generous and profound teacher (more than a few of the essays here are by former students who encountered him at Cambridge) and that, whatever response you have to his poetry, he’s the kind of writer whose work needs to be read – much like that of the Black Mountain poets he did so much to champion – if you’re going to have any kind of understanding of what poetry has done in the past and what it might do in the future. As Nigel Wheale writes in his essay here: “What comes across so vividly is the range of concerns vigorously worked through, worked over, in these books, an intellectual project uniquely ambitious.”
With both A Manner Of Utterance and now For The Future, Ian Brinton has served that uniquely ambitious project well. In so doing, he is also helping to restore the contours of contemporary English-language poetry to the shape they might have assumed had the silly/shameful ‘poetry wars’ of the 1970s not disfigured them or turned them into the boundary markers of the literary cliques which are, as Michael Haslam observes in For The Future, “the scandal of poetry in England”.

Tom Phillips, October 2016

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For The Future Poems & Essays In Honour Of J.H. Prynne On The Occasion Of His 80th Birthday Ed. Ian Brinton (Shearsman Books)

For The Future Poems & Essays In Honour Of J.H. Prynne On The Occasion Of His 80th Birthday Ed. Ian Brinton (Shearsman Books)

This collection, with a beautiful cover designed by Ian Friend, ranges from the academic to the creative and anecdotal, and is both a festschrift and response to the poet and teacher, showing the awe and gratitude felt by many of his friends and admirers.

To begin with there are some fine poems by John James, Simon Smith, D.S. Marriott, Gavin Selerie, Elaine Feinstein and Rod Mengham in response to the man and his poetry. Several contributors recall the measure and force of tutorials in Prynne’s rooms at Caius Court and provide ample testimony to their challenge, depth and impact. Indeed Michael Grant responds fifty years later to a question asked of him about some lines by T.S. Eliot leading to a fine essay on retroactive and symbolic temporality enacted in the opening lines of Burnt Norton. John Hall eloquently draws the reader into the world of undergraduate Cambridge English 1964-1967, enlisting the memories of Paul Ashton and Colin Still for reading lists and poems discussed, to produce a moving insight into the world of a Prynne tutorial at that time. John Wilkinson recalls the staircase leading to the room that was open to all comers and the walk-in wine cupboard where Veronica Forrest-Thompson was once ‘propelled by the exasperated occupant’. Michael Haslam, Nigel Wheale, Masahiko Abe and Peter Riley also capture a sense of being and place.

Anthony Barnett describes how the first collected edition of J.H. Prynne’s Poems came about and set the template for future editions, a fact that Barnett is not sufficiently recognized for. His efforts are in stark contrast to the troublesome difficulties involved with the appearance of Brass in 1971 accounted for by Ian Brinton. Ian Friend and Richard Humphreys recall their literary and sporting conversations at the Morpeth Arms, Millbank, London leading to an evaluation of The Oval Window.

Prynne’s poetry and essays are covered in various ways and his interests and concerns are well illuminated. Harry Gilonis, for example, gives a highly informative and contextual reading of Prynne’s Chinese poem, ‘Jie ban mi Shi Hu’. Michael Tencer writes on the poem, ‘Es Lebe der König’, written in response to Paul Celan’s death, providing part of the poem’s historical, etymological and literary context in order to open up perspectives on the poem. The title comes from Georg Büchner’s play Dantons Tod and was discussed by Celan in his 1960 Georg Büchner Prize acceptance speech. Anthony Mellors shows how the exchanges in the English Intelligencer from March 1966 to April 1968 shaped a poetics and poetic intervention that has subsequently broadened whilst being cognisant of the sonorities and sedimented sense-patterns of language as historical record. This sense of how Prynne’s poetics and poetry widened and took on the shapes and approaches that it did also comes into the essay by David Herd on Prynne’s 1971 Simon Fraser University lecture on Olson’s Maximus IV, V, VI. Herd shows Prynne scrutinizing and reassessing the defining axis of the poem and Olson’s lexicon from the distinct outlook of viewing from another part of the world. This reassessment establishes a new tension between the rhetoric of lyric, view, geography, spatial geometry and coast and leads Prynne to question how language voices its condition and address the issue in The White Stones. Key terms such as lyric, localism, cosmos, planet, curve, border, home and wanderer are subsequently tested. He thus used the terms of Olson’s epic to reach an understanding of the necessity to register that we are all continuous within language past, present and future. Matthew Hall offers a compelling reading of Acrylic Tips as a response to the colonialisation of Indigenous people in Australia and the politics and lexical complexity of the female pronoun. Hall argues that the structural patterns of landscapes, argot, botanical studies and Indigenous knowledge in the poem are unique to Australia. He cites John Kinsella’s poem, ‘The Hierarchy of Sheep’ as a parallel text stemming from Prynne’s time in Australia with Kinsella.
Joseph Persad notes the way conventional formal structures help focus the emotive artifice employed in the later poems and locates Kazoo Dreamboats within a context of historical protest and resistance citing Prynne’s reading at the 2011 occupation of the Lady Margaret Hall against the government’s dismantling of higher education. This fittingly returns us to the dedication of the 2015 edition of the Poems: ‘For The Future’ and the privilege of being challenged by a mind that firmly believes in pressing on.

This treasure trove of celebratory thoughtfulness, affectionately introduced by Ian Brinton, is reminiscent of Tim Longville’s For John Riley (1979) in the way that it eschews any chronology for a more impressionistic and sonorous response.

David Caddy 14th June 2016

Tears in the Fence 63

Tears in the Fence 63

Tears in the Fence 63 is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, fiction, non-fiction and translations from Peter Larkin, Laurie Duggan, Geraldine Clarkson, Kathrine Sowerby, Mélisande Fitzsimons, Rethabile Masilo, Sally Dutton, Hugo von Hofmannsthal translated by William Ruleman, Cristina Navazo-Eguía Newton, William Ruleman, Nathan Thompson, Richard Foreman, Melinda Lovell, Charles Wilkinson, Caroline Maldonado, Colin Sutherill, Colin Winborn, Jackie Felleague, Basil King, Eilidh Thomas, Paul Rossiter, Alda Merini translated by Chiara Frenquelluci & Gwendolyn Jensen, Michael Ayers, Helen Moore, Rachael Clyne, Elizabeth Stott, Caitlin Gillespie, Alice Wooledge Salmon, D.N. Simmers, David Ball, Cherry Smyth, John Freeman, Linda Russo, John Brantingham, Roy Patience, Denni Turp, Lesley Burt, Natasha Douglas, Sarah Cave, Valerie Bridge and Steve Spence.

The critical section features Frances Spurrier on Eva Gore-Booth, Dorothy Lehane on Sophie Mayer, Mandy Pannett on Out Of Everywhere 2, Ben Hickman on Tim Allen, Ric Hool on Chris Torrance’s Frinite, Fiona Owen on Jeremy Hooker, Seán Street, Oliver Dixon on English Modernism, Joseph Persad on Maurice Scully, Mark Weiss, Ian Seed on Jeremy Over’s prose poems, Kat Peddie on Marianne Morris, Kelvin Corcoran interviewing Peter Riley on Due North, Belinda Cooke on Antonia Pozzi trans. Peter Robinson, Paul Matthews on Fiona Owen, Mandy Pannett on Pansy Maurer-Alvarez, David Caddy on The New Concrete, Anthony Barnett – Antonym: César Vallejo, Notes On Contributors and Ian Brinton’s Afterword.

Copies are £10. UK Subscriptions £25 for three issues or £40 for six issues.

9 April 2016

SNOW 3 Spring 2015, edited by Anthony Barnett & Ian Brinton

SNOW 3 Spring 2015, edited by Anthony Barnett & Ian Brinton

SNOW 3 is a cornucopia of international delights and quite unlike any other UK literary review. There are translations, musical scores, drawings, writing paintings, original poetry and prose, essays, extracts and stills from Rei Hayama’s film, The Focus, based upon a Nathaniel Hawthorne story, extracts from the correspondence between the Dutch writer, Cees Nooteboom, and Anthony Barnett, sketches by Harold Lehman, and a photographic essay on the artists and musicians at the Grand Terrace Cafe, Chicago, in early 1941.

The poetry translations include Simon Smith’s Catallus, Emilia Telese’s Erika Dagnino, and Barry Schwabsky’s Pierre Reverdy. Anthony Barnett translates the poetry and prose of Gunnar Ekelöf. Christina Chalmers and Concetta Scozzaro translate Andrea Zanzotto’s essay ‘Infancies, Poetries, Nursery’, Ian Brinton translates Philippe Jaccottet on Francis Ponge, Jørn H. Sværen translates his own prose from the Norwegian. Konrad Nowakowski writes on Busoni’s Letter to Verdi and Bridget Penney writes about the literary and artistic connections of Abney Park Cemetery, north London. The original poetry, less than usual, comes from Caroline Clark, Dorothy Lehane, Yamuph Piklé, Alexandra Sashe and John Seed.

This extraordinary mix is beautifully designed and presented by Allardyce, Barnett, Publishers. 14 Mount Street, Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1HL.

http://www.abar.net

David Caddy 3rd March 2015

Ian Brinton at Tears in the Fence Poetry Festival

Ian Brinton at Tears in the Fence Poetry Festival

We are delighted that critic, editor, translator and literary historian, Ian Brinton, will be participating in the Tears in the Fence poetry festival, 24-26th October. https://tearsinthefence.com/festival

Ian has not only made a substantial contribution to Tears in the Fence as Reviews Editor but also to English poetry in the past few years. He has edited An intuition of the particular: some essays on the poetry of Peter Hughes (Shearsman 2013) and Thrills and Frills, Selected Prose of Andrew Crozier (Shearsman 2013), Andrew Crozier Reader (Carcanet 2012) and A Manner of Utterance: The Poetry of J.H. Prynne (Shearsman 2009). He has written a series of articles on Black Mountain in England for PN Review, as well as a generous number of reviews for PN Review and other journals, edited Use of English, for the English Association, and written dozens of blog reviews and essays for Tears in the Fence. He has also written Contemporary Poetry: Poets and Poetry since 1990 (Cambridge University Press, 2009), Dickens’ Great Expectations: A Reader’s Guide (Continuum, 2007) and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights: A Reader’s Guide (Continuum, 2011). He co-edits the occasional review, SNOW, with Anthony Barnett, and serves as an adviser for the Cambridge University Poetry archive. He has become a familiar and smiling presence at a great many poetry events.

Ian has translated Yves Bonnefoy, with Michael Grant, published in two pamphlets by Oystercatcher in 2013:

The Ravine

There was only a sword thrust
Into the mass of stone.
With rusted hilt, the ancient iron
Had turned the flank of the grey stone red.
And you knew you had to have the courage to take hold
Of such absence in both hands, and wrench
The dark flame out of its vein of night.
Words were scrawled in the blood of the stone,
They spoke of the way of knowledge and of dying.

Enter the depth of absence, distance yourself,
The port is here in the scree
A bird song
Will be your guide on the new bank.

We are thrilled and honoured to be welcoming Ian to the Festival. He will be an active participant. Please come along, meet Ian, and hear him talk.

David Caddy 29th September 2014

John Freeman at the Tears In the Fence Festival

John Freeman at the Tears In the Fence Festival

We are excited that John Freeman, a long time and regular contributor to the magazine will be reading at the Tears in the Fence Festival, on Saturday, 25th October. Our Festival will be held in a large marquee by the White Horse, Stourpaine, Dorset, on 24th -26th October, in the heart of beautiful countryside. The venue nestles beneath Hod Hill and is close to the north Dorset Trailway.

John Freeman is a leading exponent of the prose poem and an authority on the British Poetry Renaissance. A Lecturer in English at University College, Cardiff since 1972, John specialises in modern poetry, the Romantics, and Creative Writing. His most recent books include White Wings: New and Selected Prose Poems (Contraband, 2013), A Suite for Summer (Worple Press, 2007) and a critical work The Less Received: Neglected Modern Poets (Stride Publication, 2000).

In Tears in the Fence 59, Ian Brinton described White Wings as a book that ‘when you have read it you will want to keep turning back to it time and again.’ He notes that ‘these pieces by Freeman give us pictures caught in the act of movement’ and that they ‘possess
a palpability’ of the precise unfurling of the moment. Freeman continues to probe the present moment in this poem in Tears in the Fence 60.

The Exchange By The Stile

Let it be creation, let it be even
illusion, the sense of a coherence
in the story we tell ourselves of ourselves,
isn’t it a story worth telling? We have
only the present moment, they say, breathing
in, breathing out, but what of how, driving
along the humming dual carriageway
in early May, I notice the beginnings
of small new leaves on trees where a stile guards
the path I used to walk along the river,
often alone, but one time with my father,
and feel a presence here as delicate
as the tender shoots not fully open.
Because I forget what either of us said
at this spot, I remember, driving on,
what he said later after we had skirted
the playing fields under the trees beside
this same river, the other side of it –
we’d have crossed it on the springy footbridge.
We were deep in placid communion,
about to leave the green part of the walk
to cross a busy road and head for home.
I touched his arm and we turned and stood still,
seeing the grass and the tall woods behind us,
and he said that looking back was something
he wished he’d thought to do and done more often.
He meant it literally about his years
of walking, cycling, and exploring, but then
the hidden meaning in it overtook him,
and we both heard it in the same instant,
ambushed, together, by unspoken feeling.
Whatever it was that happened and was said
at that stile I flash past on my journey,
or merely passed unsaid but felt between us,
it was present in that later retrospect,
the two moments fused into one moment,
infusing this one, not by an act of will,
but as fragrance taking me unawares,
like the penetrating scent of lilac
that caught me yesterday by the front gate
taking me back to mornings in my childhood.
We live in so much more than just the present.

In an interview with Gavin Goodwin in Tears in the Fence 59, Freeman said that his most consistent drive in writing White Wings was the ‘raising of consciousness’ to avoid sleep-walking through life.

Freeman is a measured reader of poetry and we have a treat in store.
We can’t wait!

David Caddy 19th September 2014

Tears in the Fence 60

Tears in the Fence 60

Tears in the Fence marks its Thirtieth Anniversary with a poetry Festival 24-26th October, and the publication of issue 60.

Tears in the Fence 60 is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry and fiction from Lucy Hamilton, John Freeman, Ric Hool, Francis Ponge translated by Ian Brinton, Lynne Wycherley, James Midgley, George Ttoouli, Melinda Lovell, Michael Farrell, Paul A. Green, Norman Jope, Rethabile Masilo, Jo Mazelis, Helen Copley. Saint James Harris Wood, Paul Kareem Tayyar, Linda Black, Jeremy Reed, Peter King, David Ball, John Torrance, Jay Ramsay, Dorothy Lehane, Caroline Maldonado, Mark Dickinson, Michael Henry, Amy McCauley, Lesley Burt, Deya Mukherjee, Colin Sutherill, L. Kiew, Adam Fieled, Rob Stanton, Steve Spence, Colin McCabe, Elaine Randell, Mandy Pannett and Mark Russell. There is also a Conversation Piece between Fiona Owen and Ric Hool.

The critical section includes Hannah Silva’s Make It Strange, Jennifer K. Dick’s Of Tradition & Experiment, Anthony Barnett’s Antonyms, Belinda Cooke on recent translations, Basil King’s Learning to Draw / A History, Ben Hickman on Tony Lopez, Jeremy Hilton on Andrew Taylor, sean burn, Ric Hool, Peter Hughes on Women’s Experimental Poetry in Britain, Philip Crozier on Andrew Crozier in Hastings, Gavin Goodwin on Thomas A. Clark, Mandy Pannett on Simon Jarvis, David Caddy on John Goodby’s The Poetry of Dylan Thomas, Rosie Jackson’s Between The Lines, Notes on Contributors and Ian Brinton’s Afterword.

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