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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

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(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 (http://www.theredceilingspress.co.uk/) 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 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

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

Ian Seed’s Makers of Empty Dreams

Ian Seed’s Makers of Empty Dreams

Ian Seed’s third collection, following Anonymous Intruder (2009) and Shifting Registers (2011), for Shearsman Books, is a playful sequence of prose poems full of desire and implication. It reads convincingly as a dream sequence and has a strong narrative pull around the life of a young Englishman studying Cesare Pavese in Milan. Divided into three parts the sequence sees the protagonist age, marry, travel and return to Italy. The movement is from desire to loss and estrangement, within the dream world, as well as from the outside to the protagonist’s inner world. The prose poems are impressionistic, fragmentary and immediate. They work as stories in that there is some change, albeit suggested, after an event or action. The narrative developments are invariably quirky and serve as twists or imply anxiety, menace or loss.

 

Accident

 

The baby fell from the balcony just as I was walking past. Luckily I was fast enough to catch it. The mother didn’t seem at all grateful. But I said nothing when I handed the baby back to her because I recognized her as the woman whom I met for sex on an almost daily basis in another part of town.

 

 

Unlike K in Kafka’s The Trial, Seed’s protagonist has the freedom to note his dreams and offer psychological insights into the private and personal spaces of his city life. The city prose poem, according to Nikki Santilla in her study, Such Rare Citings (Associated University Presses, 2002) has contracted its horizons and boundaries throughout the twentieth century from Baudelaire to Charles Tomlinson and Samuel Beckett steadily moving into the mind of the protagonist. Here the contraction continues in terms of the brevity of each poem. Thus:

 

Nightclub

 

I didn’t remember who she was, but when I began kissing her, I knew from the feel of her lips that she was someone I had once kissed years before.

 

However, Seed cleverly mixes the psychic material under review by repetition and the reappearance of characters. This makes for a playful and fascinating read. Thus the old man and his much younger wife in ‘Chances’ reappear in ‘Marriage’ and Nunzia, the girl from Naples, reappears in the poem, ‘Exchange’. In the poem, ‘Alba’, during a search for Cesare Pavese’ former home, the protagonist’s wife leaves him and a woman whispers in his ear that she knows of a room where they could make love, implying the protagonist is caught by the trappings of his earlier life.

 

This compelling and exciting collection of prose poems comes with an acknowledgement that they are fiction, and preface quotations from Martin Heidegger and Max Jacob.

 

 

David Caddy 19th April 2014

Tears in the Fence 58

Tears in the Fence 58

Tears in the Fence 58 is out and available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward/ and features poetry and fiction from Paul Kareem Tayyar, Giles Goodland, Robert Vas Dias, Sarah James, Rupert Loydell, Simon Turner, Anamaría Crowe Serrano, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Kat Peddie, Tim Cresswell, David Andrew, Jeffrey Graessley, Simon Zonenblick, Jay Ramsay, Lydia Padellic, Alice Wooledge Salmon, Malcolm Povey, Carrie Etter, Ian Seed, Nicky Mesch, Michael Sforza, Hilda Sheehan, Richard Evans, Alice Lyons, Mike Duggan, Michael Grant, Sheila Hamilton, Andrew Darlington, Dorothy Lehane, Aidan Semmens, Dan O’Brien, Rosie Jackson, Lisa Mansell, Simon Currie, L.Kiew, Matt Haw, Jennifer K. Dick, Sarah Crewe, Michael Henry,  Peter Dent, Norman Jope and Sascha Akhtar

The critical section includes Jennifer K. Dick on Habib Tengour, Peter Hughes on Ed Dorn, Norman Jope on Gertrude Kolmar, Laurie Duggan on Gig Ryan, Oliver Dixon on Jorie Graham, David Caddy on Jim Burns, Jennifer K. Dick, Dzifa Benson on Linda Black, Fani Papageorgiou, Cora Greenhill on Sally Goldsmith, Jay Ramsay on Simon Jenner, Ian Brinton on D.H. Lawrence, selections from the Ian Brinton / Andrew Crozier Correspondence, Brian Hinton on David Caddy, plus regular columnists David Caddy, Rosie Jackson, Anthony Barnett and Ian Brinton.

Copies are available in the UK at £10. Please make cheques payable to Tears in the Fence, and send to David Caddy Portman Lodge, Durweston, Blandford Forum, Dorset DT11 0QA. Copies elesewhere are £13 and available through the website. Please pay through the Donate button.

 

 

 

 

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