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The Celestial Set-Up (Oystercatcher Press) & A Revolutionary Calendar (Shearsman Books) by Zoe Skoulding

The Celestial Set-Up (Oystercatcher Press) & A Revolutionary Calendar (Shearsman Books) by Zoe Skoulding

When Harriet Tarlo’s challenging and deeply rewarding anthology of ‘Radical Landscape Poetry’, The Ground Aslant, appeared in 2011 from Shearsman Books it attracted a review by Robert Macfarlane for an issue of Saturday Guardian. Referring to details of landscape providing ‘no reliable resting place for the eye or the mind’ the reviewer alerted us to the movement onwards ‘in an effortful relay of attention from speck to speck’. He also pointed to Peter Larkin’s awareness of particularity, ‘highlights in the moving light of the ordinary’, which brings to mind the ‘message from far away’ that Jeremy Prynne wrote in 2005 for the opening issue of Pearl Contents, the First Students’ English Magazine of Guangzhou University:

‘Out on the Pearl River enjoying a festive excursion I was watching the water currents slide by, flashing with lights from the banks on either side and lightning from the sky; and I realised how brilliant would be the new magazine of the Guangzhou University English Writing Classes, full of pearl-bright moments and shining articles all moving along in the currents of these changing times.’

In Zoë Skoulding’s new group of poems from the Oystercatcher’s beak we are offered ‘The Celestial Set-Up’, ‘star clusters’ which scatter into ‘islands breaking into archipelagos’: pearl-drop moments of a ‘network of events’. Their relation to time as well as distance is given to us as the possibility of ‘love moving on the epidermis’, ‘a crackle on a hand’, and they unravel ‘in tenses / between your past and my future’. This poetry is a finely-tuned gaze at the particularity of who we are and what we see and it prompts me to look back at Ruskin’s concern in Modern Painters for the ‘Truth of Space’ as dependent on ‘The Focus of the Eye’:

‘First, then, it is to be noticed, that the eye, like any other lens, must have its focus altered, in order to convey a distinct image of objects at different distances; so that it is totally impossible to see distinctly, at the same moment, two objects, one of which is much father off than another.’

Skoulding’s awareness of the possible relationships between the near and the far is central to her focus upon the Menai Straits that separate the coast of North Wales from the Isle of Anglesy. In ‘A Strait Story’ she waits for the tide to turn:

‘Under morning sun, the surface stirs and flicks: this is how it appears, as retreating blue looking black. But what do I know? Soundings off the sea floor come up in layered patterns as the data stream flows in different intensities: a cobalt speckled band of fish; refracted harmonics of the lower levels. You’d be swayed by the glimpse of a seal led by fish led by movement led by transfer of energy, but who’s to say who sways what in the dip and shudder of knowledge, a vessel.’

This range of thought, soundings, brings to my mind the moment in Charles Olson’s ‘Letter 5’ of The Maximus Poems in which he refers to reading ‘sand in the butter on the end of a lead, / and be precise about what sort of bottom your vessel’s over.’
The precision and awareness of depth which prompts Zoë Skoulding’s poetry to compel the past to pierce the present, to speak of days which give utterance ‘all at once, their tongues punctured with green blades’ (‘A Divinatory Calendar’) is central to her reconstruction of A Revolutionary Calendar. As Lyn Hejinian puts it on the back cover of this compelling new publication from Shearsman Books:

‘With expert grace and subversive panache, Zoë Skoulding has written a collection of 360 five-line poems gathered into twelve sections of thirty poems each – a form that replicates that of the ‘Republican Calendar’ created in the immediate aftermath of the French Revolution…The resulting sequence of meticulous observations and penchant forays…maps out a temporal intersection, bringing historico-political time (linear and progressive) into conjuncture with seasonal agricultural time (cyclical and recursive).’

Just as all time is irrecoverable all matter changes shape and ‘oil pressed from / dark fruit won’t / hold summer’s shape’: the ‘Olive’ from Frimaire, the November of frost, will ‘ooze’ into a new day. The connection between what was and what is may be held in scents as the axe from Pluviôse (January / February)

‘felled at the root:
here’s an endpoint
sharpened by split
wood scented
with beginning’

Zoë Skoulding’s poetry is meditative, a drawing aside of curtains to allow a scene to be discovered to the reader: it seems like an act of instant as if a light is suddenly turned brightly focused upon a moment. As the poems rest securely on the page the focus is altered in order to permit the poet to convey a distinct image of objects at different distances. This is a poetry to go back to time and time again.

Ian Brinton, 30th August 2020

Lessons: Selected Poems Joel Oppenheimer (edited by Dennis Maloney & introduced by David Landrey) White Pine Press / Buffalo, New York

Lessons: Selected Poems  Joel Oppenheimer (edited by Dennis Maloney & introduced by David Landrey)  White Pine Press / Buffalo, New York

In Black Mountain Days, the engaging autobiographical account of the early 1950s at Black Mountain College, Michael Rumaker described his fellow student Joel Oppenheimer as that “fierce-featured poet from the Bronx and refugee from Cornell, whose father owned a luggage shop in mid-Manhatten”. When Oppenheimer wrote a short biographical note for the concluding pages of Donald Allen’s 1960 ground-breaking anthology The New American Poetry, in which he was represented by five poems, he wrote:

“Born for the Depression, but too young to remember any suffering. Too young for WWII – in school and 4 F during Korean. Consequently, having missed the 3 major social calamities of my time, I am always feeling just a little guilty. Now living in NYC”.

There is a clarity in these phrases of self-accounting as well as a wry touch of humour. This is the man who, in a little anecdote told me some years ago by Jeremy Prynne, caused the Zukofsky family a certain amount of consternation. Prynne and Oppenheimer had paid a visit to the Zukofsky home and Joel, being of some considerable physical size, started to throw his arms about in energetic enthusiasm. According to Prynne, Louis Z. was terrified for the safety of the little ornaments with which the flat was decorated!
Dennis Maloney’s new selection of poems by Oppenheimer brings the extravagant and dedicated figure of Oppenheimer back into focus and David Landrey’s introduction directs us to some very good reasons why the poet who bridged the world of North Carolina and New York should be read again now. Landrey writes about simplicity in Oppenheimer’s work not as being opposite to complexity but as being more connected to what Emerson wrote in his 1836 book-length lecture Nature:

“When simplicity of character and the sovereignty of idea is broken up by the prevalence of secondary desires – the desire of riches, of pleasure, of power, and of praise – and duplicity and falsehood take place of simplicity and truth, the power over nature as an interpreter of the will is in a degree lost; new imagery ceases to be created, and old words are perverted to stand for things which are not; a paper currency is employed, when there is no bullion in the vaults.”

At Black Mountain College Charles Olson taught the value of limpidity and Rumaker recalled soon after leaving there a letter he wrote to Olson in September 1956:

“Four years ago or so when I first read your work (mostly in Origin) I thought you were straining after an impossible chaos – that it was whimsical, meaningless, sensationally tricky. But what was necessary was a correction of my ear. I didn’t see the form, I didn’t hear the limpidity of your thought and feeling, your rhythm – what you were always after me for, limpidity, telling me that night over the dishrack to go to Williams, as I did, and found, as I find now the same in you, in all I’ve read of you.”

Oppenheimer’s short poem ‘The Gardener’ first appeared in Robert Creeley’s magazine Black Mountain Review 4, Winter 1954:

“on the left branch, a
blossom. on the
top branch, a blossom.
which child is this.
which flowering
of me. which
gold white bloom.
which the force of my life.”

Of course there is Williams in this but there is also a delicately thoughtful contemplation which is entirely Oppenheimer: an awareness of one’s self, a throwing open of one’s arms. Zukofsky might have had justification for his touch of anxiety! In ‘Chaos’ from the 1994 collection New Hampshire Journal there is a further contemplation of the relationship between the poet and his creations:

“CHAOS is where
we come from
FORM we reach
occasionally
then fall back
into chaos
to start again
renewed

INCOHATE
means beginning

comes from the root
TO HARNESS

getting into harness
is just the beginning

how we plow and
what we plant
determines the field

the field
determines
what feeds us
while we wait
to fall back
to grow again”

This is a fine poem which focuses on the link between the present and the future recognising the way in which we can learn from what we have created: this is poetry which has a sense of newness, a sense of the future and yet it contains a limpid grasp of where ideas come from, a humility. It recalls for me that early Olson poem ‘These Days’ which I am so fond of quoting:

“whatever you have to say, leave
the roots on, let them
dangle

And the dirt

Just to make clear
where they come from”

In his ‘Poem for the New Year 31 December 1973’ Oppenheimer describes being strangled by Medusa in a nightmare from which he struggles to awake. As he puts it “i am saved / by the old poet, he helps me / break loose”. The old poet is Charles Olson who had died some three years before but whose teaching would continue to have a major effect on American poetry.

Ian Brinton, 12th May 2017

Sonofabook 1 edited by Charles Boyle

Sonofabook 1 edited by Charles Boyle

This is a beautifully produced, intelligent and forward looking new magazine; it deserves our FULL SUPPORT.

Charles Boyle’s ‘Preamble’ minces no words:

A word on independent bookshops, whose quarter-page adverts in this issue were offered free. Without good small bookshops it is very hard for small publishers to get their books out into the physical world. In February 2014 the Booksellers Association reported that the number of independent bookshops in the UK had fallen below 1,000, following on a year-on-year decline over the previous decade. This massacre is in part the consequence of ebooks and online buying, but a key moment was the abolition of the Net Book Agreement in 1997. The ending of the NBA—which required retailers to sell books at the cover price—led to aggressive discounting (which actually forces up the cover price of books, as publishers struggle to maintain their margins); concentrated bookselling in the hands of chainstores, supermarkets and Amazon; and forced the closure of hundreds of bookshops. The literary culture of the UK was changed overnight; but while France and Germany legislate to restrict discounting and offer good breaks to independent bookshops, none of the political parties in the UK cares a damn, this not being a vote-winning issue.

This issue of Sonofabook is worth buying immediately and it is clearly going to be worth subscribing to such a brave venture. Two delights for me in this first issue are:

1. ‘Springtime in the Rockies’: fourteen sonnets by Nancy Gaffield which have echoes of the world of Gary Snyder and Ed Dorn

Boulder sees first measurable snowfall
of the season, but sunny skies set to return.
Another year on or forty pass & we’re still

2. A translation of Francis Ponge’s 1947-48 essay ‘My Creative Method’. Translated by Beverley Bie Brahic this is a central Ponge document which does not often find its way into English. The introduction to this delightful piece is clear and to the point:

In 1947, during a trip to Algeria, Francis Ponge wrote ‘My Creative Effort’ at the invitation of Trivium, a Swiss magazine. Five years had passed since the publication of Le Parti pris des choses (The Defence of Things), his now classic collection of prose poems. Sartre had made the book a springboard for reflections about poetics and philosophy; painters like Braque admired Ponge’s close-ups of such prosaic objects and phenomena as a pebble or rain pinging into a courtyard. Although some of his poems, or description-definitions as he calls them in ‘My Creative Method’ (the title is in English in the original), prove on closer reading to be metaphors for the processes of language itself…

When Jeremy Prynne wrote his first two letters to Charles Olson in November 1961 he referred to Pokorny’s 1923 etymological dictionary as ‘sitting on my shelf like a bomb, ready to explode at a touch with the most intricately powerful forces caged up inside, a storehouse of vectors’:

Things are nouns, and particular substantives of this word order are store-houses of potential energy, hoard up the world’s available motions.

To subscribe to this new magazine go to http://www.cbeditions.com

Ian Brinton St. Botolph’s Day 2015

Edward Dorn – Two Interviews

Edward Dorn – Two Interviews

Edward Dorn’s Two Interviews (Shearsman Books) edited by Gavin Selerie and Justin Katko is a useful companion to the Collected Poems (Carcanet Press 2013), reviewed by Peter Hughes in Tears in the Fence 58. Dorn’s poetic achievements are towering and well worth exploring. If you have never read anything by Dorn, I recommend starting with Recollections of Gran Apacheria (1974), which works by revealing a history of effects through suggestion and has a deep emotional pull, and proceed to the satirical epic, Gunslinger (1968-1975).

 

Two Interviews features The Peak Interview from July 1971 in Vancouver with Robin Blaser’s students, Tom McGauley, Brian Fawcett and John Scoggan, with Jeremy Prynne, Stan Persky and Ralph Maud present and contributing, and The Riverside Interview from 1981 between Dorn and Gavin Selerie. Both are terrific conversations, with Dorn speaking informally in the first and more extensively in the second. Justin Katko’s Preface surveys recent and forthcoming Dorn related materials and gives a context to this decade of adjustment for Dorn. There are obviously differences of tone and occasion, in Dorn the speaker in 1971 and 1981 that provide the book’s vitality. Dorn, as these interviews and Iain Sinclair’s memoir American Smoke (2013) suggest, was a man who knew the lie of the land and what happened in the wide spaces of the badlands and beyond. His methodology, derived from Charles Olson at Black Mountain College, was to locate himself in a place through a close reading of its cultural landscape, history, geography and geology. The great joy in this book comes from a greater understanding of his practical working methods as well as the way he adapted to new locations and developed his use of wit and aphorism. He was to some extent a nomadic exile by choice looking across and beyond the American West. There are questions devoted to his time in England, teaching at Essex University, and his fruitful friendships with Jeremy Prynne, Tom Clark, his first biographer, and Donald Davie.

 

Two Interviews includes a short selection from Dorn’s unpublished daybook, The Day & Night Report, from 1971, a selection of two chapters from Dorn’s unpublished prose work, Juneau in June (1980-1981) and three uncollected poems, originally published in Spectacular Diseases No. 6 in 1981, and rare photographs, including the human totem pole of Jeremy Prynne, Ed Dorn, Jennifer Dunbar Dorn, Kidd Dorn and Maya Dorn. Gavin Selerie provides a highly informative and detailed introduction to the Riverside Interview and there is also a bibliography of Dorn Interviews. The whole book as Justin Katko indicates is a worthy addition to Ed Dorn Live: Lectures, Interviews and Outtakes (University of Michigan Press, 2007).

 

David Caddy  December 22nd 2013

Edward Dorn’s 1981 Charles Olson Memorial Lecture

On April 25th this year I mentioned the publication of Michael Rumaker’s Selected Letters as part of the extraordinarily professional and helpful series Lost and Found, The Cuny Poetics Document Initiative produced under the general editorship of Ammiel Alcalay. Having now seen the whole of Series 3 I have to say more!

Number 5 in the series contains the Charles Olson Memorial Lectures given by Edward Dorn. Dorn opens his lecture of March 19th 1981 by referring to Olson’s ‘legacy of intelligence’ which ‘has surely equipped those who knew him, or have learned from what he left, to weather in some spirit the abysmal storms which are routine in any future.’

What Dorn misses in Olson is, amongst so much else, ‘what all of us got from his actual presence: the ameliorating transport of his ability to relate not just the parts to the whole, but all the parts.’

 

The lecture also includes a letter from Jeremy Prynne to Dorn dated 22nd February 1981 which is well worth contemplating as he refers to English poets who ‘just fade smugly away; only a jetsam of token culture—poets, with hands outstretched toward disconnected levers, hanging around in Ireland or Earl’s Court.’

 

This wonderful Series 3 of the Lost & Found project includes two volumes of correspondence between Charles Olson and John Wieners and the whole batch of chapbooks can be purchased from The Centre for the Humanities, The Graduate Centre, CUNY, 365 Fifth Avenue, Room 5103, New York, NY 10016.

You can also subscribe or order books online at http://centerforthehumanities.org/lost-and-foundEdward

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