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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.

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Lee Harwood III: the palpability of loss

Lee Harwood III: the palpability of loss

In early March 2012 Lee and I were invited by Kim Wyatt, the Head of English at Warwick School, to give a talk and a reading. I wanted to look at some Olson and some Hardy in relation to what I saw as Lee’s astonishingly powerful awareness of how tangible loss can feel. Some notes:

‘It is by their syllables that words juxtapose in beauty, by these particles of sound as clearly as by the sense of the words which they compose. In any given instance, because there is a choice of words, the choice, if a man is in there, will be, spontaneously, the obedience of his ear to the syllables. The fineness, and the practice, lie here, at the minimum and source of speech’. Charles Olson, ‘Projective Verse’.

Olson goes on to refer to the anonymous late medieval lament

‘O western wynd, when wilt thou blow
And the small rain down shall rain
O Christ that my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again.’

This short poem was one of George Oppen’s favourite lyrics and it is worth comparing it with his poem ‘O Western Wind’ from the 1962 collection The Materials:

‘A world around her like a shadow
She moves a chair
Something is being made—
Prepared
Clear in front of her as open air

The space a woman makes and fills
After these years
I write again
Naturally, about your face

Beautiful and wide
Blue eyes
Across all my vision but the glint of flesh
Blue eyes
In the subway routes, in the small rains
The profiles.’

Douglas Brown called Hardy’s language one of ‘thorough integrity, of actual and human relations; his matter is mutability and the place of loss in the texture of life’ (Thomas Hardy, Longmans 1954). One attempt to retrieve moments gone might be a reconstruction of the absentee’s presence by imitation, giving empty space a palpability, a sense of almost being still there. With the image of an ‘air-blue gown’ in Hardy’s ‘The Voice’ colour and emptiness are located in something as substantially matter-of-fact as a dress. Compare this with Lee’s early poem ‘As your eyes are blue’ especially with reference to the image of the shirt on the top of a chest-of-drawers. And then Hardy’s poem ‘The Walk’ from January 1913:

‘You did not walk with me
Of late to the hill-top tree
By the gated ways,
As in earlier days;
You were weak and lame,
So you never came,
And I went alone, and I did not mind,
Not thinking of you as left behind.

I walked up there today
Just in the former way;
Surveyed around
The familiar ground
By myself again:
What difference, then?
Only that underlying sense
Of the look of room on returning thence.’

It’s worth comparing Hardy’s register of loss in this poem with Lee’s ‘Y garn, Glyderau’ written in memory of Paul Evans and published in In The Mists (Slow Dancer Press 1993): memory is linked to a particular venue and, as with Hardy, opens up a different vista: ‘tugging winds and squalls’ give way to ‘clear days’:

On a cloud bound summit
you don’t stride out of the mists
across the rocks and dirt,
as I felt you might,
maybe cursing,
as I just stood there.

Instead
I plod on,
reach the familiar cairn.
No one there except the silence
and a heaviness.
The tugging winds and squalls
died down into this grey calm.

In the fifth of the interviews with Kelvin Corcoran, February 2008, Lee referred to the poem ‘September Dusk’:

‘The poem ‘September Dusk’ touches on that indescribable feeling that one has at moments, am amazement at the surrounding world, its colours, its appeal, the taste, the smell of it, the touch of the wind on your skin. Most of all it’s the feeling of being totally present.’
This puts me in mind of the quotation from Maritain which Oppen used as the epigraph to The Materials: ‘We awake in the same moment to ourselves and to things.’ The first poem in the collection is ‘Eclogue’:

‘The men talking
Near the room’s center. They have said
More than they had intended.

Pinpointing in the uproar
Of the living room

An assault
On the quiet continent.

Beyond the window
Flesh and rock and hunger

Loose in the night sky
Hardened into soil

Tilting of itself to the sun once more, small
Vegetative leaves
And stems taking place

Outside—O small ones,
To be born!

Lee in conversation with Aodhán McCardle, September 2003:
‘There’s a thing Oppen says which knocked me out the other day…He says ‘I want to be free from the career of poetry, I want to know what I will be able to say to myself in my life, and I mean…to myself. And that, that there shall be an area of silence where the poem lives, if it lives.’ It’s very personal in the sense that it’s not trying to convert anybody…’

The reply highlights a central element in Lee’s poetry:

‘I find it everywhere in your poetry, relationships between time and space, as in time between when the writing seemed to be happening and time that jumps from one line of the poem locating you somewhere, anywhere, doesn’t have to be specifics, and by the next line there’s a different location, not just spatial but in time, so therefore there are things happening simultaneously.’

And this in turn prompts a connection with John Ashbery when Lee said:

‘I think it’s probably what Ashbery, unconsciously or indirectly taught me is the foolishness of the egotistical voice. You’ve got to have that ‘meanwhile back at the ranch’ stuff. It may be a description of, say, a love poem, the two individuals, but meanwhile out in the street people are going about their business to whom the scene in the room is irrelevant or they don’t even know it, and, ah, by bringing in what’s going on outside the room, what’s going on in other parts of the world, makes the thing in the room much more…real, it puts it in perspective, makes it part of a bigger thing rather than being some giant romantic monument.’

And in conversation with Robert Sheppard, April 2005, Lee emphasized again that Ashbery concern for juxtaposition:

‘If you are describing a very intense emotional experience, and if you also then mention the noises outside in the street, or even in the next room, it makes it much more real than having just a vision of this one isolated experience. One reason is that the readers can be involved as well. They’re aware of all those things surrounding them too.’

After the talk Lee sent me the John Wayne picture. ‘I thought this old favourite might amuse you. There’s something so ham, almost camp, about John Wayne—and yet we (almost) believe in him. Or I do, anyway!’

Ian Brinton 1st August 2015

Glitter Bomb by Aaron Belz

Glitter Bomb by Aaron Belz

Persea Books http://www.perseabooks.com

 

I admire Aaron Belz’s quirky independence of thought and humour, which ranges from the self-deprecating, absurd slapstick to smart wordplay and irreverent. He is a poet and essayist, regular contributor to Tears in the Fence, who came to prominence with The Bird Hoverer (BlazeVox, 2007) and Lovely Raspberry (Persea, 2010), which was praised by John Ashbery as being like ‘dreaming of a summer vacation and taking it’. There are echoes of the lighter side of the New York School and the deadpan stand-up poetry of Los Angeles in the literariness, language play and conversational nature of his work. He is from St. Louis, Missouri, now living in North Carolina.

 

Thematically his work uses humour to probe, and ridicule, being and identity, obsessional behavior, social mores, and worries about success and failure. He is, at pains, to pinprick selfishness.

 

Thus:

 

Team

 

There’s no I in team

but there’s one in bitterness

and one in failure.

 

And

 

Your objective

 

In a given situation

Your objective should be

To act as much like yourself

As possible. Just imagine

 

The poetry connects through a diversity of linguistic strategies, which are characterized by a deadpan brevity and artful playfulness.

 

Hopkins Palindrome

 

I caught this

morning morning’s

minion, then gushed

Glossolalia thus:

“Suh tail a loss

olg deh sug neht!

Noinims gninrom

gninrom sihtth

Gu aci!!”

 

Two Utah Palindromes

 

Utah, I hatu!

 

We HATU, Utah. Ew.

 

His most memorable poems have a sharp directness.

 

Indianans

 

When I arrived here I thought it was Indiana.

I discovered people and called them “Indianans.”

I tried to convince them to become Christians.

I’ve since learned that this is not Indiana.

 

Belz collapses popular culture into high art in one tongue in cheek sweep, as in poems, such as ‘Thomas Hardy The Tank Engine’ and ‘Michael Jashbery’:

 

I’m starting with the man

in the convex mirror.

 

There’s more to Belz than being smart though. His style is an amalgamation of different approaches that produce a distinct and pleasurable peculiarity.

 

Avatar

 

Blue computer graphics woman

with smooth cat nose, you are

purer, more in touch with nature,

and actually quite a bit taller than I –

and although you’ve discovered

that your soul mate is really just a

small, physically challenged white guy

gasping for air in a mobile home,

you’ve decided to stick with him.

I’d taken you for one of those shallow

pantheistic utopian cartoon giantesses,

but now I see that I was way off.

 

Belz’s poetry hints at artifices, the metaphysical, and has many echoes, Ashbery for example. It stands tall on its own though.

 

David Caddy 19th June 2014

New from Oystercatcher’s beak

New from Oystercatcher’s beak

Rouge States

                      by Alex Houen

Later Britain

                      by Ben Hickman

When I first glanced at Alex Houen’s ‘Eucalypso Redux’ sequence of six sonnets I was given a glimpse of an energetic vista of the dispersal of meaning and reconfiguration which resisted any notion of a charting singular centre: I was on the river ‘punting down a sequence of dolly- / shots and flashbacks called the Cam’; I was listening to the margins of language where ‘Blades / chop the building rush of dark internal river’; I was immersed in a world which seemed to owe debts to both Robert Browning and to J. H. Prynne. These poems are journeys of which Browning’s Pentapolin (‘Named o’ the Naked Arm’) could create a Sordello for us by taking a stand on the boat ‘pointing-pole in hand’; they are movements which present the reader with ‘gaps of explanation rolling like wheels contrary within themselves’ on one of Prynne’s Kazoo Dreamboats: ‘alien motions on fire with coriolis demeanour’. As Peter Riley puts it on the back cover of this delightful collection, this volume contains poetry

 

where any word, almost, can suddenly flip itself elsewhere without asking permission

 

When the words behave in this manner they return to the page like a Mobius Band: we have been transported elsewhere and recognise our departure point as both the same and radically different.

 

Turning to Ben Hickman’s chapbook I discovered myself more in the world of John Ashbery’s ‘System’ where the American poet wrote with a sense of energy and delight about ‘How we move around in our little ventilated situation’ whilst discovering ‘how roomy it seems’ and how ‘there is so much to do after all, so many people to be with…’

There is a generosity of humour in Ben Hickman’s poems and a manner of utilising common phrases without any sense of the cliché. These are poems written with mordant magnanimity: yes, he is generous but don’t fall foul of him!

 

I tell myself I’m in love, that I would cry out

into the tear-charged sky, my feet tingling

like spring grass, the underground river

rising through me. Oh Dave it’s you

as I dig down, distinguished for my skill

among Greeks everywhere.

 

As well as Ashbery’s voice I detect here a trace of the Charles Olson who concluded ‘The Kingfishers’ hunting among stones.

 

Ian Brinton 15th June 2014

Oli Hazzard’s Within Habit (Test Centre, 2014)

Oli Hazzard’s Within Habit (Test Centre, 2014)

 

follows up his critically acclaimed Between Two Windows (Carcanet Press, 2012), winner of the Michael Murphy Memorial Prize. This new collection in a limited edition of 250 copies comes with an introductory note by John Ashbery and preface quotes from Archaeological Theory: An Introduction, which refers to the density of archaeological sites being so large that a line drawn through the British landscape would clip a number of sites, and Emily Dickinson’s ‘You there – I – here’ poem. Ashbery describes the work as a ‘stunning set of prose puzzles’ that ‘suggests a kit with only a few instructions supplied’ and ‘becomes exciting, necessary and new.’

 

Ashbery rightly alerts to the reader to the place where meaning may or may not arrive in these exciting poems. On first reading, Within Habit concerns what might be called a discursive cultural mapping of the spaces between lines (drawn, read | disputed) where origins may form or be appropriated. There is a beguiling repetition of figures such as Monmouth, Henry James, Paul Nash, also Latin and Greek, and intriguingly Christopher Newman, a character from The Americans, who prefers copies to originals, and Meliboeus, from Virgil’s Eclogues. Monmouth signifies both person and town with its foundation on a Roman settlement and Norman castle.

 

The twenty texts are presented in prose format with vertical lines marking divisions and connections between units creating relatively abrupt and startling juxtapositions. The texts consist of two sets of nine lines linked by a ‘hinge’ word or phrase from the end of the ninth line placed on the next line clear of both sets. This word or phrase is thus clearly referenced as between the two sets. The A3 sized book is beautifully designed with the poems positioned centrally on the page in large font, employing blue print with ample white space between them drawing attention to the visual aspects of the contents and obliquely, to representations and inscriptions of originals.

 

The poems appear to be concerned with divisions and demarcations, as in wood and trees, face and hand, mountain and valley, border and fence, original and copy, and the power around them. Like Emily Dickinson’s poem they are concerned with the construction of those divisions as the place between the lines where the self is located

 

In the space of a few lines | you may find yourself | in the space of a

few lines | roomy enough to dwell in | some cloudy morning – the

little adjustments | falling makes | in the receptacle | from which

the desire to receive | somatic perfume | of the pressure drops

halfway through | the sentence | make themselves felt as distinctions

from a state | of deep sleep | landscaping. Working as agents

induces an improper feeling of flatness | sex flowers strike | so light

it hardly registers as defeat | the tears or weak areas. To determine

the appropriate pressure | for

movement

 

to be deterred | partition calls back the candelabra-form espalier

 

 

These poems are extraordinary and leave the reader puzzled and amazed.

 

David Caddy 28th May 2014

 

 

 

 

Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations translated by Robert Yates

Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations translated by Robert Yates

(Brimstone Press, 2014) brings the work alive in a handy edition complete with extensive notes and commentary.

 

Arthur Rimbaud’s Les Illuminations first published in La Vogue literary journal in Paris in 1886 more than a decade after they were written continue to beguile and surprise. Consisting of forty self-contained prose poems and two poems of free verse the collection was a work of protest designed to shock. It abandoned the storytelling elements of the prose poem found in Baudelaire for a non-linear hallucinatory, dream-like, visionary poetry based more upon sound than meaning and seemingly futuristic mystical journey.

 

Written between 1873 and 1875 critics have sought to find connections between Rimbaud’s travels and the poems in an effort to situate them more securely. This may be a forlorn hope as first and foremost this is a work of acute imagination, informed by the occult and alchemical symbolism. Illumination here is a mystical term, which refers to a stage in the progress towards union with God. Built into its occult meaning and purpose is the necessity to find a new language on the way to becoming an illuminé, who achieves oneness through self-annihilation. Les Illuminations has an extraordinary flow of shifting connections and disjunctions, with figures appearing and reappearing in transformed states, building narrative structures that work cumulatively to produce a magic theatre. It is a difficult work to translate. Of recent translations, John Ashbery’s (Carcanet 2011) successfully captured some its gothic and sonic nature within the idioms of American English. This new translation into English by Robert Yates certainly has a distinctive quality and captures the hallucinatory nature of the original.

 

As soon as the idea of the Flood abated,

A hare stopped amid the trembling sainfoin and harebells

and said his prayer to the rainbow through the spider’s web.

Oh! The precious stones hiding, the flowers already

In the dirty main road stalls were set up, and boats were

drawn to the sea, which rose in stages as in engravings.

Blood flowed, at Bluebeard’s, – in the abattoirs, – in the

circuses, where the seal of God made the windows pale. Blood and

milk ran together.

Beavers built. Smoke from ‘mazagrans’ filled the taverns.

 

 

There are plenty of subtle differences between Yates and Ashbery and, for example, Martin Sorrell’s versions in The Collected Poems (Oxford, 2001). Ashbery has slaughterhouses instead of abattoirs, and later Witch rather than Sorceress. I would select Sorceress as it has more magical connotations for me. This is where the added value of this translation is to be found. The editor, Sebastian Hayes, himself an accomplished Rimbaud translator, provides a preface, detailed commentary and notes on Les Illuminations followed by comments on each poem. Hayes also offers an extensive and informative essay ‘A Random Walk through Illuminations’. Additionally there is an Afterword by Keith Walton ‘Rimbaud: A Point of View’. These features considerably enhance the value of this edition. The book has a great tempestuous cover, ‘The Great Day of his Wrath by John Martin (1789-1854) and is great value at £6 from

http://www.brimstonepress.co.uk

 

David Caddy 5th April 2014

 

John Ashbery and English Poetry

Ben Hickman’s new book on John Ashbery is a must for anyone who is interested in this most prolific and central of contemporary American poets. And, perhaps even more importantly, it offers a highly convincing and inviting introduction to how Ashbery’s work is closely related to his reading of British poetry. As Ben Hickman puts it in his introduction:

 

The centrality of poets like Henry Vaughan, Andrew Marvell, Thomas Lovell Beddoes and John Clare to Ashbery’s achievements, along with near-contemporaries like Nicholas Moore, F.T. Prince and W.H. Auden, show a poet reading in a manner quite foreign to most other American poets of his time, both from mainstream and avant-garde movements.

 

In this context it is interesting to recall J.H. Prynne’s comments from 1968 about J.V. Cunningham’s appraisal of Wallace Stevens:

 

Cunningham has also more recently described how Stevens’ preoccupation with the dialectic interaction of self and environment is “the residue of the teaching of Royce, William James, and Santayana” and has argued that his finest achievements like ‘Sunday Morning’ are in “the nineteenth century rhetorical style…of Wordsworth’s Prelude, Keats’ Ode to Autumn, Tennyson’s Ulysses”. One might wish to add to this sketched list: the ‘Meditations in Time of Civil War’ and ‘Coole Park and Ballylee, 1931’ of Yeats, for example, or maybe Charles Olson’s ‘The Kingfishers’ and (with important reservations) John Ashbery’s ‘The Skaters’.

 

Ben Hickman’s book on Ashbery is available from Edinburgh University Press and Michael Schmidt’s blurb on the back is a serious boost for this new book:

 

An individual and authoritative reading of one of the great poets of our time…Hickman writes with clarity and depth of knowledge.

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