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Your Scratch Entourage by Kris Hemensley (Cordite Books)

Your Scratch Entourage by Kris Hemensley (Cordite Books)

The introduction to this collection of poems by Kris Hemensley, the first to appear for some thirty years, makes an interesting and direct assertion taken from Alain (Emile Chartier):

“…men are afraid to complete their thoughts” [.]

This moment of realisation was shared between Lucas Weschke and Kris Hemensley as they were on their way to visit Greta Berlin whom Weschke had met in Zennor “as a small child and whose father, Sven Berlin, had enthralled a young Kris Hemensley in 1963 with the accoutrements of the artist and his first taste of red wine.”

One might be almost tempted to recall those words from the first chapter of Kenner’s The Pound Era where he refers to a moment on a Chelsea street in the early 1900s:

“Which is all of the story, like a torn papyrus. That is how the past exists, phantasmagoric weskits, stray words, random things recorded. The imagination augments, metabolizes, feeding on all it has to feed on, such scraps.”

The introduction goes on to give us a picture of how these poems relate to people in their places taking us “into deeply personal territory: the territory of sons and fathers, brothers and lovers; into the territory of war and its enduring shadows. The chapters are stakes embedded in the ground to mark what needed to be acknowledged”. The seven ‘chapters’, separate but connected areas of poetic ground, take the reader from 1971 to ‘Millenium Poems’, from Frank Prince to Ivor Gurney, from London to Weymouth:

“tracks along the shore
disappear almost as fast as they’re formed
in the sand”

The staked out land is a world of marked territory and as the poet looks back over a half-century of close involvement with the powerful urges and effects of language he recognises the clarity of “what’s the use of going against the wind?” :

“man, woman or child:
who walks here
whose footsteps disappear?”

This awareness of the effect of time is very different from Barry MacSweeney’s sharp outburst against the Colonel B and ‘Jury Vet’ mystification of truth from the ABC trial of 1977. Hemensley’s tone of voice uses the particular to point to the universal and his awareness of the way in which the staked out plots relate to each other is caught in the poem written in memory of MacSweeney:

“your scratch entourage
sans powder sans rouge
sans a sodding sausage
what’s it all in aid of
counted now on page 470 of Herodotus
inventory of spears swords daggers
shields bows & lassoes gold-plated helmets
of this & that regiment chain-mail tunics
women & tents horses & sheep
tanks & helicopter gunships
guided missile systems…”

An early poem which Kris Hemensley published in 1972 pointed us to ‘The Horizon’ where “the wider lights / lengthening days / the pink flood above / the tallest pine / blue grill of sky / talk of snow to come” lead on to a “question of occupation”:

“which time & place
awaiting spring…”

As Hemensley knows, we can only hope to occupy a here-and-now and his moving record of poems in this new collection offers a glance backward over a lifetime’s commitment. He might almost be thinking of Samuel Beckett’s Murphy who announced that “all life is figure and ground”. Meanwhile, as the seven sonnets which constitute the staked-out patch of ground titled ‘More Midsummer Night’s Dream Than Dante’ offer a mordant awareness of life passing we must also recall Flaubert writing to Louis Bouilhet in September 1850:

“Yes, stupidity consists in wanting to reach conclusions. We are a thread, and we want to know the whole cloth.”

Kris Hemensley is aware of the threads and, without wanting the whole cloth, he yearns to recognise how each field allows us a vision both backwards and for the future. This is a moving and serious collection of poems.

Ian Brinton 18th February 2017

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Launching Simon Smith

Launching Simon Smith

The first of the 2014 Shearsman events at Swedenborg Hall in London included Simon Smith reading from his recently published collection 11781 W. Sunset Boulevard. This is a fast-moving world which ranges from L.A. to Dartford in Kent, from Paradise Cove to Gravesend. One of the epigraphs to the first section, the American poems in which Simon Smith goes in search of Paul Blackburn and the ‘pure products / of the dream factory’, simply gives us ‘A crazy little place called ‘Be There Now’’ and as one is zoomed across a continent this seems very apt. One of the things I liked about these poems was, however, that impression I got of the sense of ‘Now’ being placed within a context of both ‘Then’ and a future which can loom with ominous dislocation. The click and shift of sounds and humour are underwritten with an urgency which has moments of leisure to savour ‘the taste of almonds as Time drops below the sun’.

The second half of this collection is titled Gravesend and it takes us on the North Kent railway line from Charing Cross to Chatham and beyond…and beyond. In a world of captions and key-words which present themselves as a mirror of everyday narrowness Smith gives us ‘Deposits’:

 

Refrigeration and containment

Not that far to the jail at Sheppey

Nationalise the debt for helicopter money

No time to think—extruded plexi-glass,

Or a few details from my own personal experience

Is History in real time not sampled

The exchange of containers from ro-ros to lorries,

The male located in the female.

 

The reference here to acrylic glass is both precise and illuminating since laser cut panels have been used over the last ten years to redirect sunlight into a light pipe or tubular skylight in order to spread it into a room. In this sequence of poems details of personal human experience shed light upon the poet’s perception of History and, as if in memory of the time when he threw a large clock through the window of Barnwood House in order to do a runner from the lunatic asylum in Gloucester, the poet and composer Ivor Gurney now ‘plots his great escape from Dartford Asylum’.

On the back of this volume Jeremy Noel-Tod has written ‘All the digital landfill of one London poet’s life is here, not to mention a book-stopping tribute to Cy Twombly. Line by line, Smith is one of the most exciting poets writing in England: if it weren’t for the sweet Thames and the Little Chefs, he might pass for an American.’

 

Ian Brinton 22nd January 2014

 

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