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New York Hotel by Ian Seed (Shearsman Books)

New York Hotel by Ian Seed (Shearsman Books)

Some difficulties with visual particularism haunt the phantasmagoric world of Lewis Carroll and a moment from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There anticipates the nightmare world of Kafka whilst also casting a glance back over the shoulder at the world of Todgers’s Guest House in Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit:

“The shop seemed to be full of all manner of curious things – but the oddest part of all was, that whenever she looked hard at any shelf, to make out exactly what it had on it, that particular shelf was always quite empty: though the others round it were crowded as full as they could hold. “Things flow about so here!” she said at last in a plaintive tone, after she had spent a minute or so in vainly pursuing a large bright thing, that looked sometimes like a doll and sometimes like a work-box, and was always in the shelf next above the one she was looking at.” [1872, Chap. V]

“You couldn’t walk about in Todgers’s neighbourhood, as you could in any other neighbourhood. You groped your way for an hour through lanes and bye-ways, and court-yards and passages; and never once emerged upon anything that might be reasonably called a street. A kind of resigned distraction came over the stranger as he trod those devious mazes, and, giving himself up for lost, went in and out and round about, and quietly turned back again when he came to a dead wall…” [1844, Chap. IX]

It was in a comment on the back cover of Ian Seed’s 2011 collection Shifting Registers (Shearsman Books) that we are referred to the fragmented yet rich lyricism of the writing which “crosses borders between lost and rediscovered identity”: the poet’s “navigation of different realities” is expressed through his willingness to contemplate “new spaces through language.” This powerful focus upon shifting realities keeps the reader’s eye firmly on the pages of New York Hotel as we are confronted with what “felt familiar and yet like another world” (‘Baptism’). These short prose poems are haunting; they are compelling to read and John Ashbery’s comment upon Seed’s work is absolutely on the nail:

“The mystery and sadness of empty rooms, chance encounters in the street, trains travelling through a landscape of snow become magical in Ian Seed’s poems.”

I reviewed Ian Seed’s translation of Pierre Reverdy’s Le Voleur de Talan (The Thief of Talant) about one year ago and was struck then by the ability of both poets to render Orphic vision palpable. Both poets are struck by the sense that as they turn their heads to stare at the past “something flees much faster than us.” In that world of shifting realities (“Things flow about so here”) Reverdy sees how “Further off a forest merged with the city” and it was Philippe Jaccottet who recognised how Reverdy’s words focus upon “la fuite nes nuées, les lueurs des vitres” (the evaporation of dark clouds, glimmers of light through the shutters). Jaccottet’s words are absolutely right also for Ian Seed’s powerful understanding of how we live isolated lives haunted by the flickering images of a past that informs a present.
Perhaps it is because I spent so many years school-teaching that when I read something that holds my attention as firmly as does New York Hotel I am aware of looking around for what I want to read next, return to, advise my pupils to look at. One of the voices that came to mind as I read ‘Orphanage’ was that of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy:

“It was my responsibility to accompany the boy in a taxi to an orphanage on the other side of the city. When we arrived, I was surprised to see what a rundown area it was in. I wondered if we had come to the right place. Although I was worried about the expense, I told the driver to wait while I took the boy and went to find out.”

As readers we are held immediately by that opening word “responsibility” and its association with what we need to take charge of in relation to vulnerability. Rather like the Ancient Mariner Ian Seed has caught us with his version of “There was a ship…” and we cannot choose but hear what happens next. A rundown area, doubts about it being the correct destination, anxiety over cost, reliance upon the escape route. I shan’t tell you any more! Buy a copy of New York Hotel and read it for yourselves. In Auster’s City of Glass the shifting figure of Stillman, a man who imprisoned his son in an apartment with covered up windows for nine years, traces out the letters of TOWER OF BABEL on the “labyrinth of endless steps” that constitute New York watched by a private detective called Paul Auster who also uses the name of Quinn. In Ian Seed’s world of the phantasmagoric we are presented with a ‘Generation Gap’:

“My maternal grandfather turned up at my council flat with his father, who was a tiny bearded man in an ancient wheelchair. I hadn’t seen them for a long time. without saying hello, my great grandfather raised a fist in the air and began to berate me for being nearly sixty and still without a proper home or job. Even when my grandfather lifted him out of the chair, carried him to the toilet and put him down on the seat, he continued to scold me. The whole flat soon started to stink, but I said nothing through fear of offending them.”

When I return to the classroom for a term in September this year I shall present some of these wonderful fictions to my Year 10. After all it is now some fifty-five years since I first came to recognise the palpability of loss: before that there was the magic of the now.

Ian Brinton February 5th 2018.


An Interview with Lucy Hamilton on Stalker by Ian Seed

An Interview with Lucy Hamilton on Stalker by Ian Seed

These questions come from a seminar with my creative writing students at the University of Chester. Stalker is a set text on third year course Life Writing that I teach there. Ian Seed

1.Why did you choose the form of the prose poem to write Stalker ? Why not longer prose or lineated poetry?

This is a question I often address when I give readings. Stalker didn’t begin as a collection of prose poems. It was twenty years before I could write about the events referred to in the title sequence. I wrote a short story called ‘Stalker’, which was published in a small magazine that also included my article on John Steinbeck. This was my first published work. Some years later I took the manucript of a novel to an Arvon fiction course. It was based on my two years living in Paris as a teenager. One of the tutors asked if I wrote poetry and a year later I signed up with Mimi Khalvati at the Poetry School in London. I was writing long rhymed poems about Vincent Van Gogh. Then one day, out of the blue, I wrote a long poem in unrhymed quatrains and took it along. It was about an experience in the States and unlike anything I’d written previously. I received positive feedback, no-one suggested revisions. Yet for some reason the poem didn’t feel right to me and I didn’t send it anywhere. Three years later I got it up on my screen and started playing with it. I did away with the first four quatrains and put them into a paragraph. Suddenly it felt right! The sensation was almost physical: as if I’d altered a sweater and now it fitted and felt comfortable. I changed the remaining quatrains and worked on it and gradually the pieces became ‘Algae Beds, Wyoming’. This form acted as a catalyst: all at once I was writing prose poems set in my teens and twenties, including my two years in Paris, which are referred to in Section 2: Storms & Stations. The prose poem offers enormous scope: it doesn’t have to be linear narrative, you can jump around, twist and turn, play, begin after the beginning and end before the end.

2.Did the ideas behind he book dictate the form of the prose poem, or did you decide on the form first?

I have no doubt that the poem ‘Algae Beds, Wyoming’ chose its form and that this form released all the other poems belonging to that period, which eventually became Stalker.

3.Who are your influences?

The most important writers for me are those concerned with the psychological and spiritual predicaments of men, women and children grappling with the everyday exigencies of their lives from the perspecitve of their own times and cultural backgrounds. Writers who may have influenced my own writing will invariably reveal a poetic sensibility in their work, irrespective of genre. Also those who use historical and mythical epics as a vehicle to portray aspects of the modern world. Aside from writers mentioned in Stalker, others who made a great impression on me include the Irish dramatist Seán O’Casey, Carson McCullers, Hermann Hesse, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, Nawal El Saadawi, Michael Ondaatje, James Baldwin, Edmund White. Also Virginia Woolf and George Eliot. South American writers with their magic realism entranced me. Also classical French writers such as Jean Giono and short story writers such Alphonse Daudet and Guy de Maupassant, whom I loved for their use of French dialect as well as their portrayal of working and peasant life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Short story writers such as Catherine Mansfield, E. Annie Proulx, and contemporary writers such as Lydia Davis, Lyn Hejinian, Anne Carson who blur bounderies between poetry and prose. The poetries of Derek Walcott, Yehuda Amichai, Rumi … too many to mention them all. But I should mention a critic who had an enormous influence on my perception of writing and on my sense of affirmation: the French Algerian writer, playright, poet, philosopher and literary critic, Hélène Cixous. I read her while I was still attempting fiction and can’t over-emphasise the excitement and encouragement I felt when reading her books for the first time, particularly: Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing, Coming to Writing and Other Essays, and Rootprints. Cixous is a feminist writer but she is not sexist in my view.
Reading and translating ancient and traditional texts from the French, which are themselves translations from the original Arabic, has influenced aspects of my new book. This second collection of prose poems attempts a greater textual layering than Stalker : a desire to reference history within the present. I have also been greatly influenced by visual art, as is apparent from the obsession with Vincent Van Gogh. I have a strong visual memory and my current work-in-progress (for three years) begins with my making a visual photomontage, which can take weeks or months. This visual work then acts as a stimulus for the poem that follows. The poems are all in unpunctuated couplets, so it’s a departure from prose poetry. Again, I believe the poems found their own form.

4.What for you, the author, are the most important themes of Stalker?

For me the most important themes are those that compelled me to write it. I think they can all be viewed as a form of stalking. Dreams, for example, have always been part of my life and, especially when I was young, could haunt and stay with me for weeks. Dreams are a rich resource for writing, but it was years before I could make use of them. Living alone is another theme. I had never ‘dealt’ with my experiences of living alone as a young woman, trying to make sense of the world, trying to find a meaningful way to live that was true to her own nature. How to be true to your conscience. How to love. Being a twin is another important theme for me. As one poem says, my first memory was of two. We are not identical, in fact we are very different in temperament and interests, but the the depth of intimacy between twins is unique and can certainly be felt as haunting, a form of stalking. Language itself, the origin of words, my mother’s native tongue are all food for creative writing. In her review of Stalker Sandeep Parmar says: ‘Words are stalked through the ages by their roots and, by using them, we are also dogged by what they signify… Ultimately these types of ‘stalking’ are what gives life its viscosity…’ (Sandeep Parmar, PN Review).

5.Why do you make use of so many literary references?

Reading is an important theme for me. These references are to books I was reading at the time I was actually living the events portayed in Stalker. To have omitted reference to what I was reading during those periods in my life would have been unthinkable: a denial of my inner life. Books helped me make sense of what I was living. Not by giving me a replica, but by showing me the inner lives of women and men during different periods in history and in other countries and cultures. Great literature gave me paradigms against which I could test out and measure my own beliefs and position. It inspired and encouraged me by showing me essential truths about human nature and behaviour.
The poem ‘Nigg Bay, Aberdeen’ relates directly to Tolstoy’s Resurrection, which was like a revelation to me when I read it while living in Aberdeen aged 18 and very unhappy. Tolstoy’s book helped me so much because it showed another human being grappling with his own conscience and remorse, as well as loneliness. The fact that his hero was a privileged prince living in the 19th century didn’t matter to me because Tolstoy revealed Nekhlúdov’s innermost feelings as a man, a human being. Nekhlúdov had betrayed a woman he had loved and she was now in prison. I was working in a Care home for young boys, some of whose fathers were in prison. The theme of conscience is also in the poem ‘What Men Did Not Read in Their Hearts’, which quotes the Catholic Catechism I had to learn as a young child, and again at the Catholic secondary school I was sent to. I didn’t like the Catholic belief in absolution, which seemed to suggest we aren’t accountable for our own actions.
Steinbeck was very important to me as a writer for similar reasons. I read him at a time I was grappling with love, life and work while living alone in Gravesend, Kent. Gravesend was an edgy place to live in the late 70s, when many rented bedsits didn’t even have a payphone in the building. The title sequence ‘Stalker’ refers to this time. A time when it was unusual for a woman to go to a café on her own, and virtually taboo to go alone to a pub, since that’s what prostitutes did. This didn’t stop me as I needed to be independent, but it was hard in a town without a student culture to make pubs and cafés feel women-friendly. I loved Steinbeck’s portrayal of misfits and people living on the edge. I was blown away by his Journal of a Novel. This is the diary he wrote every morning to warm up before continuing his day’s work on East of Eden. We see the famous author struggling with his own demons, women, drink, two broken marriages, children he loved.

6.There is a feeling of depersonalisation throughout the book. Is this one of the effects you wished to convey? If so, why?

No, I didn’t choose convey an effect of depersonalisation, though I know it is there. That is to say, it wasn’t an ‘intellectual’ decision. I think it springs from an involuntary and organic need to be objective in order to write about these experiences.

7.Your main character remains something of a mystery, which some readers will find frustrating. Why doesn’t she have a stronger presence?

Yes, I understand this reaction. Again it wasn’t a conscious decision to create a mysterious character. I think it relates to question 6 and is to do with an instinctive need to keep a distance from painful experiences in order to write about them at all. No doubt a better writer would have been able to overcome this. For me, even from this distance, I often found it extremely painful to relive the experiences as I wrote about them.
The issue of character presence also relates back to question 1. Stalker is prose poetry, not fiction. There is usually an element of mystery in poetry, of ‘showing it slant’. The novel I took along to that Arvon fiction course dealt with the two years I lived in Paris as a teenager. It is written in the 3rd person and I think the narrator has a fairly strong presence throughout. But I wrote it without any group support or feedback and it was unwieldy and poorly structured. Years later, I took it along to a small fiction workshop and was encouraged, but life intervened and finally I had to choose, and chose poetry. But I love the blurring of boundaries and cross-overs in different art forms. There are really exciting things happening including innovation and experimentation. I think it’s important to explore and keep open to possibilities, and then be true to what feels right for yourself.

Lucy Hamilton’s Stalker is published by Shearsman (2012) and was short-listed for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Her new collection is Of Heads & Hearts. For more information, go to

Ian Seed 2nd February 2018

The Thief of Talant: Pierre Reverdy translated by Ian Seed (Wakefield Press)

The Thief of Talant: Pierre Reverdy translated by Ian Seed (Wakefield Press)

When Philippe Jaccottet wrote a short account of the central importance of Reverdy in an essay from 1960, reproduced by Gallimard in 1968 as part of a collection of essays titled L’Entretien des Muses, he highlighted the way in which the poetry is to be found “dans chaque mot qui éclate sur la page sèche, avide, éblouissante”. This is not, he continued, the large noble architecture of Claudel or Saint-John Perse but instead it focuses upon the “moindre bonheur, les voiles de la pluie, la fuite des nuées, les lueurs des vitres”. It is this sharp awareness of the accumulation of detail in the world that makes his work so important to two later poets, Frank O’Hara and Simon Smith. O’Hara’s lunch hour walk around the city concludes with the lines

“…My heart is in my
pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.”

The poetry in O’Hara is in each word which bursts onto the empty space of the page, “avide”, asserting its right to be there.

“There are several Puerto
Ricans on the avenue today, which
makes it beautiful and warm. First
Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollock.”

The fragility of the everyday is caught melting between the Puerto Ricans who make the day “beautiful and warm” and the end-of-line word “First” which heralds the references to the death of three close friends. The poet seems to be not only a step away from the dead but also from the fast movement of the day, as sensations disappear almost as soon as they are presented. Simon Smith’s volume from 2003, Reverdy Road (Salt Books), pays nodding homage to both the French and American poets as his poems, whilst appearing to present a quality of the random, are in fact highly-wrought and careful vignettes of modern urban and suburban life. The 2011 sequence, Gravesend (Veer Books), offers reflections of a train journey between Charing Cross and Chatham and what Jaccottet referred to as “lueurs des vitres” stabilize themselves with a desire for permanence within a shifting landscape: the poems themselves attempt to halt the sense of vertigo prompted by a world of captions and key-words presenting themselves as mirrors of everyday narrowness.

Ian Seed’s translation of Reverdy’s Le Voleur de Talan, the first time that it has been translated into English, brings us a world of a hundred years ago. The First World War is being fought, Cubism bisects reality and Reverdy’s friends are Picasso, Braque, Apollinaire. In his clear and informative introduction Ian Seed recreates a sense of that time:

“Up until the outbreak of the First World War, Reverdy also frequently met up with the poet Guillaume Apollinaire at the Café de Flore. Their discussions would often revolve around the use of punctuation in poetry and the shape of the text on the page. Reverdy, like Apollinaire, was uneasy with the way punctuation could interfere with the flow of a poem. They also questioned the poem’s abandonment of the right side of the page to blank space. What they were searching for was syntax and visual arrangement of text that would allow a poem to achieve its full expression.”

It is worth bearing in mind here of course that Mallarmé’s ‘Un Coup de Dès’ had appeared in 1897 shimmering and weaving its way across the pages of Cosmopolis.
Seed’s translation captures that “fuite des nuées” talked about by Jaccottet and he presents the reader with what he refers to as “a hauntingly beautiful long poem” which contains at its heart “Reverdy’s growing sense of dislocation and loss of self”. We read details as “Lights ran between doors / Soft sounds brushed / the partitions and some women went by / singing” and distance them as “Paler than old memories”. We seek a world of Orpheus as “We often turn our / heads and behind us / something flees much / faster than us” but the poet wants “to go / up once more after I / had descended forever.”

“Outside the closed door people passed by
slowly looking at the ground

They were looking for traces of my footsteps”

The traces are in the printer’s marks on the white page and we are now able to follow them in English thanks to the quality of Ian Seed’s own poetry: he brought something back to life.

Ian Brinton 8th January 2017

(the book of seals) by Mark Russell (The Red Ceilings Press)

(the book of seals) by Mark Russell (The Red Ceilings Press)

The Red Ceilings Press ( limited edition chapbook series is in A6 in format and a joy to read and collect. Recent publications in the series include Fidelities by Ian Seed, First & Last by Rupert Loydell & Nathan Thompson, Taxi Drivers by Paul Sutton and Unnecessarily Emphatic by Kathrine Sowerby. They are pocket size booklets are easy to carry around and read as part of your daily routine.

Poet and dramatist, Mark Russell’s 2015 chapbook with Red Ceilings Press, Saturday Morning Pictures has sold out. His latest, (the book of seals), effortlessly draws the reader into a disturbing dystopia, where the first person, singular and plural, narratives are imbued with insecurity, uncertainty and lost innocence. Each poem in the sequence falters under the strain of dislocation, denial of anger, seemingly self-inflicted disasters and drought. The social landscape somewhere in Eastern Europe appears close to a police state, divided, under arrest and dominated by fear:

fear of bottleneck fear of fire fear
of crème anglaise fear of the eggs
that bind it fear of blindness and
light fear of being a suspect fear of
fear of the fingers in the ears fear
of the dried river bed fear of fools
fear of three days and nothing to
show for it fear of now fear of then
fear of now now now

The fear of three days may be an echo of Othello’s demand to hear of the death of Cassio from Act 3 Scene 3 of Othello, or some revelation of three day shortage or darkness, or another connection going back to the Book of Revelation. The narrative uncertainties serve to propel the reader forward. Each poem, inventive and plaintive, works serially in an evocative and suggestive manner.

It won’t be long now.
Three days at most.
Time enough to tie up the runners.
Time enough to close the books.

It won’t be long.
We are surrounded.
We ask for torments.
We fear belonging.

The poems echo and interrogate recent protest movements, extreme migrant
experience and dislocation through circular repetition of limited data from the perspective of the victim. The first person narrative voice, knowing, dramatic and pleading, comes across with force and musicality.

when we can no longer take the
amount of blood on the walls stairs
and carpets on the windows and
mirrors in the cups and saucers on
the plates and forks and spoons
and knives when we can no longer
accept the amount of blood sold in
the marketplace when we can no
longer agree to the amount of
blood discussed at committee
meetings when we can no longer
drink another drop of blood

The ‘when we can longer’ refrain echoes throughout the poem, disintegrating into ‘when we can take no more’ and ‘we can take no’ and ending ‘when the / blood is blood nothing but its own / blood nothing but blood’.

This compelling sequence is a worthy addition to the Red Ceilings Press output and comes highly recommended.

David Caddy 28th July 2016

Tears in the Fence 63

Tears in the Fence 63

Tears in the Fence 63 is now available from 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

Long Poem Magazine 13 edited by Lucy Hamilton and Linda Black

Long Poem Magazine 13 edited by Lucy Hamilton and Linda Black

Issue 13 assembles a wide range of contributors and offers a wide focused angle on contemporary English poetry. There are some seriously considered poems in this particular issue, which repays rereading.

Ric Hool’s homage to Northumberland ‘Revista Rudiments’ captures its unruly history, from when it was a northern outpost of the Roman Empire to the Meadow Well Riots of September 1991 and through the figure of Ranter poet, Barry MacSweeney. The narrator walks the ground, hearing the sound of the land, noting the birdsong and long stories with ‘a confluence of telling / Unthank opportunists / set up camp // plough-breaker Swarland /& / Wind-cutter Snitter. The poem reaches beyond evocation to deeper historical and geographical viewpoints, and the area’s distinctiveness. It is a powerful sequence open to a number of registers and echoes.

Ian Seed’s ‘Absences’ consists of thirteen sections of four three line stanzas derived from reworked cut-up fragments to produce a dreamlike narrative similar to but distinct from his prose poetry. The fragmented narrative has a cinematic quality and revolves around a series of journeys and encounters probing the nature of a series of opposites. The poem has great power through its refusal to predicate. It hovers in pared down focus on suggested or implied infractions, which work in a cumulative manner towards possible articulation. By holding back as much as stating the poem produces surprising effects and forces the reader to reread.

Alison Winch’s ‘Alisoun’s’ uses material from the medieval pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome and the figure of Alisoun from Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale in her exploration of female sexuality and reproductive power. This spirited ribaldry is counterpointed by material quoted from key medieval texts, by Marbod of Rennes, St. Thomas Acqinas, Galen and others, attacking or denying female disobedience positioned on the right side margin. The impact is one of contextualised commentary and playfulness. The poem has a wonderful sensuality and period feel. It begins:

Arse – myne! – that’s how you know me
that & my wenching – but dear Lord what an arse!
like the dimple blush of a just-plucked pear
plump on its honey bee haunches
when the kitchen is a light box of morning sonne.

Penelope Shuttle’s ‘Effarn: Nans Ladron’ (The Valley of Thieves), a version of some lines from Dante’s Inferno, is similarly playful and intertextual mixing English and Cornish vocabulary. The English is predominantly colloquial whereas the Cornish is more earthy and physical. This tactile quality gives the whole a more robust finish and serves to provide a local flavor and accent.

Albert Einstein and Emily Dickinson provide the epigraphs to Aidan Semmens’ beguiling poem, Unified Field Theory’, which is a companion piece to his ‘Clergyman’s Guide to String Theory’ published in Long Poem Magazine 11. The poem offers a slant angle on the nature of forces and relations of change around a city under military occupation or threat where the ‘wall’ is ‘to guard things that are useless / while things that are valuable are left unattended’. It concerns change where ‘beauty lies in the refusal of meaning’ and ‘nature becomes a synonym / for suffering and death’. The title tends to make the reader consider the way different interactions impose themselves or not on a conflict situation, where ‘nothing is affected by being known’. It would be interesting to compare and contrast ‘Unified Field Theory’ with ‘Absences’. The former may appear to offer clearer predication yet tends to typically offset each fragmentary meaning with contradictory material from another field, which serves to complicate as much as open out.
Ian Brinton’s essay on ‘John Riley: From Lincoln To Byzantium’ references the poet’s journey from the thirteenth century Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grosseteste’s thinking on light and matter, to his conversion to Russian Orthodoxy. Brinton articulates Riley’s quest for spiritual awareness in his major poem, ‘Czargrad’, through a reading of the poem’s literary and philosophical sources. These include Dante’s Paradiso, George Oppen’s Of Being Numerous, Pound’s essay on Cavalcanti, Charles Olson’s ‘Projective Verse’ essay, T.S. Eliot’s Ash Wednesday, and Bishop Grosseteste on ‘On Light / De Luce’. The most important of these sources to me is perhaps Oppen’s poem, in the way that it offers ways of connecting the parts of a disconnected world, as represented by New York, through a series of precise thoughts and images. The work has a similar clarity of vision and surely would have led Riley to thinking about the phenomenology of perception. The sources are supported through a reading of Riley’s correspondence and Brinton usefully quotes from J.H. Prynne’s response to the first two sections of ‘Czargrad’ published in Grosseteste Review 6. Like all good criticism, this essay makes the reader wish to return to the poem.

Alasdair Paterson, Geraldine Monk, Claire Trévien, S.J. Fowler, Mark Goodwin, Jay Ramsay, Greta Stoddart, and many others grace this splendid and varied issue.

David Caddy 7th June 2015

Frances and Martine by Hilda Sheehan (dancing girl press, 2014)

Frances and Martine by Hilda Sheehan (dancing girl press, 2014)

Hilda Sheehan’s follow-up to her first collection, The Night My Sister Went to Hollywood (Cultured Llama, 2013) develops the domestic imagery of earlier work into a sequence of short prose poems based on the relationship between two female characters who share their home together. Part of the dancing girl press limited edition chapbook series, Frances and Martine, resplendent with drawings by Jill Carter, more than adequately fills the series remit of being work that is fresh, innovative and exciting.

Frances and Martine effortlessly combines magical realism with absurdist humour in sharply defined prose poem vignettes. Written retrospectively, in a matter of fact manner, the narrative employs short precise sentences without recourse to excessive baggage. The poems are cut to the grin.

The Arm

Martine had an arm off. Frances was worried. How would
Martine ever get repaired? She was never a looker, as it
was, and relied on her second arm to make up for her lack
of beauty. How will you ever get repaired Martine?
Or get a man, or another job without it? I have two legs
and I can cook. You can’t cook, not without your
second arm, because you will never control onions or slice
carrots. You are much less with one arm. I will get
something that one-armed women can do and I never planned
to marry. You are now enormously difficult, Martine, not
owning up to the disability one armed ugly women face.

The sequence works through to its exact use of domestic detail and what is not said. By withholding information the reader excitedly reads on for the next instalment of the odd couple. It is a form of the magical prose poetry, as recently developed by poets such as, Luke Kennard, Linda Black and Ian Seed. After ‘The Arm’, first published in Shearsman, comes ‘The Goose’, first published in Tears in the Fence 58:

Frances bought a goose. When she got it home she discovered
it was far too small for her. I can’t take it back, this
was the biggest goose in the shop, she told Martine. What
would that say about my weight gain? Just wear the beak,
suggested Martine. I don’t wear beak, not without the whole
goose body. Then eat the thing. I can’t eat goose! That
would be like eating my dog. Does the dog still fit you?
That’s not the point. It wouldn’t be right. Are you sure
they haven’t sold you a chicken? It looks a bit small to be
a goose. Or is it a size 10 duck?

The use of unadorned domestic detail deceptively ground the prose poems in a well known setting to produce a sense of identification which, with its deadpan ordinariness, produces the laughter. The prose poems are joyously funny whilst simultaneously discussing disability, animal rights, racism, size, the menopause, love, female relationships and other issues. It is comic writing with bite and the collection repays rereading.

David Caddy 5th November 2014

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