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Beneath by Simon Perril (Shearsman Books)

Beneath  by Simon Perril (Shearsman Books)

In the notes at the end of his earlier volume of poems linked to the lyricism of Archilochus, Archilochus on the Moon (Shearsman 2013), Simon Perril referred to the Greek poet’s ‘nuanced voice, full of many tones and timbres’. The poet’s voice, he suggested, ‘tastes of brine, sweat and handled coins; it has the viscosity of semen’:

‘Viscosity is caused by friction; it is a measure of its resistance to gradual deformation. Archilochus crafted an intimate yell seven centuries before Christ, and a good many before Mayakovsky and Frank O’Hara.’

These words echo Peter Riley’s comments made when he was interviewed by Kelvin Corcoran in 1986 for Reality Studios 8; talking about ‘the condition of poetry’, Riley bemoaned ‘the neglect of someone like John James’ which struck him as particularly reprehensible since ‘his poetry is actually a popular poetry in some ways, it refers to people like Mayakovsky and O’Hara, the self in it is a popular self: a brash, open, aggressive, stylish, perky sort of self…it speaks of public places, and should be heard in them, literally.’ It is no mere accident that this quotation should appear in Simon Perril’s introduction to his Salt Companion to John James, which appeared in 2010, since Perril’s own poetry possesses some of those same qualities displayed in James’s ‘The Conversation’ in which the poet refers to Jeremy Prynne’s leafing through pages and giving ‘some new sense of strengthening regard for common things’. In the Companion we can also find Perril’s statement which points us towards his own poetry, ‘He shares with the New York School poets a willingness to view everyday objects not simply as degraded commodities, but as potential talismans that might be invested with hopes and desires.’

The background to Beneath is made clear on the back cover: ‘A nekyia is an underworld story preserving a rite from classical antiquity wherein the living call up the dead, and are questioned about the future.’ In 1935 Pound thought that the Nekuia episode of The Odyssey was the oldest part. In the words of Hugh Kenner, ‘foretime: a remembering of rites already ancient when the tale came to Homer’. And in the early 16th century the Nekuia was transposed by one Andreas Divus Justinopolitanus (‘Et postquam ad navem descendimus, et mare…’). And from thence to the opening of Canto I: ‘And then went down to the ship, / Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea…’ (incorporated into Canto III in Quia Pauper Amavi, 1919, just after the end of the first Great War, before being chosen to open the Draft of XVI Cantos in 1925).

In Simon Perril’s exploration of what lies beneath the surface, the voice of Neobulé, the bride-to-be of the first lyric poet, Archilochus, who committed suicide after her father had called off the wedding, gropes towards an understanding of her shadehood:

‘Hermes took me down
each step
decreased in sound’

As absence causes presence to fade into what will become the unrealisable ‘Lethe dyed my thoughts / white’

‘and I wore them
anew, so fresh

they barely contained
you’

The visceral sense of dissolution is traced from different angles throughout these eighty poems:

‘Dionysus
god in the tree

whose limbs of ivy
curled ’cross Thracian seas

will come for me
and plant a wet kiss

reclaim his daughter
as a body

of dancing water’

As the solidity of ‘tree’ and ‘limbs’ move through an abbreviated verb of transport the physicality of consonantal ‘daughter’ melts to its rhymed counterpart in the lightness of the last line.
Dissolution, a presence of process, is evident in poem after poem in this magical sequence and we become aware of how ‘constant leaving’ is a ‘leaking’. Persephone, the ‘dark abductee’ gathers the speaker

‘for I soften
lose shape

find kin
amongst the wet things

palpitate
like a fountain tip.’

Elly Clapinson’s cover photograph explores a glimpse of the journey.

Ian Brinton 27th December 2015

Sabots by John James (Oystercatcher Press)

Sabots by John James (Oystercatcher Press)

When Peter Hughes wrote to me last month to say that there was a new John James chapbook on the cards he intimated that it was ‘very unusual’ and was to be titled Clogs, ‘Pastoral dialogues from the deep south (of France)’. My reaction was one of keen anticipation on account of considering the Equipage volume from last year, Songs in Midwinter For Franco, one of the most important and moving sequences of poems I had read in a long, long time. I recall reviewing that volume for Shearsman on-line magazine and saying that what moved me was contained in the absence of the self-regarding nature that can act as an intrusive shadow looming over poems of loss. In those ‘Songs’ (for Franco Beltrametti who had been published alongside John James by the Tim Longville, John Riley & Gordon Jackson enterprise Grosseteste Books) there were references to a culture of reading and recalling as well as comments on the necessary sharp eye of the wine grower who looks out for a ‘bud break yet to come’. When I read Sabots for the first time this morning I was not in any way disappointed in my great expectations.
The opening dialogue between Peadar and Alphonse, both resident wine growers on the land of South West France, confirms that steady voice that John James has acquired over years of poem-making:

‘ah bon I don’t begrudge you in fact I marvel
at your calm in the face of our abjection it
besets us all this fear of fear & discontent
& there was I gathering in my grapes each year
till the Mairie dropped me with their flood defence
oh I sometimes think I should have seen it coming
but was too entranced perhaps by the reverie
induced by days of pleasure working in that field’

Reading these lines I was prompted to look up a book which I have admired since its first appearance in 1979 from the Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative, John Berger’s Pig Earth, the first of three books with the overall title INTO THEIR LABOURS. In the final chapter Berger points to the survival of peasant communities:

‘Peasant life is a life committed completely to survival. Perhaps this is the only characteristic fully shared by peasants everywhere. Their implements, their crops, their earth, their masters may be different, but whether they labour within a capitalist society, a feudal one, or others which cannot be so easily defined, whether they grow rice in Java, wheat in Scandinavia, or maize in South America, whatever the differences of climate, religion and social history, the peasantry everywhere can be defined as a class of survivors.’

Within James’s dialogue Alphonse says

‘I thought in my youthful ignorance everyone
was like my parents bitches bore their tiny pups
kids grew up to be such dams but now a monster
grows to enormous size & threatens all of us.’

The pun on ‘dams’ is hallmark John James. As also is the convincing sense of the here-and-now, the immediate moment caught as it passes, as Alphonse confirms not only that ‘sooner will the hind graze on the air or barbel / lie on the bare stones of the beaches of the Orb / than I’d allow my steadfast gaze give up this place’. Looking back on that earlier review I had written I notice that I referred to a poem from James’s Dreaming Flesh (Street Editions 1991), ‘The Conversation’:

‘Threading its careful path through these poems is a meticulous concern for a palpable ‘now’, an attention to detail that echoes an earlier poem, ‘The Conversation’, in which the importance of Jeremy Prynne’s leafing through pages of a book ‘gave some new sense of strengthening regard for common things.’’

Section two of this sequence, allows historical and geographical presences of this land to speak and ‘Les Randonneurs’ trace a path through what changes in the unchanging. The wines of ‘Les Grillères’ for instance mutter

‘who lives here now as that spy George Borrow might say
the house & barns & spread of land all up for sale
the crumbling old stone wall is broken by sweet bay
some leaves for a civet to perfume the cheval’

Or, of course, ‘good apothecary’ to ‘sweeten my imagination’!

The third and final section is spoken by John Le Poireau as he, Alphonse and Peadar take up the final lines of Alphonse’s comment in Section One:

‘& we still have our strength & the power to walk
tomorrow let’s call on John Le Poireau & hike
three together on the trail to Pech Saint Vincent’

As if echoing the enduring world of Edward Thomas’s agricultural world when faced with the distant wars of northern France in 1916 the ‘leek-man’ says

‘La Tramontane will crumble the broken clods as we stumble
on the rising ground Le Marin will ruin the bread & weaken the vines
but this year we’ll beat the weedy grasses & the tares
not let them hamper our shins in passage through the ranks
let the moist soil cleave to our boot soles’

Sabots is an uplifting sequence of three poems which restores a sense of vitality and endurance within a world threatened by commercial bureaucracy and ‘targets’. It is a tribute to the quietly unchanging in a fast-changing world. It’s terrific!

Ian Brinton 17th August 2015.

Half a dozen, just like you by Simon Smith (Oystercatcher Press, 2015)

Half a dozen, just like you by Simon Smith (Oystercatcher Press, 2015)

When you have bought this new Oystercatcher Press collection, and I urge you to do precisely that, turn to the poem titled ‘SUNSPOT’, the opening lines of which set a tone which reverberates with the tones of what the poet has already read:

SUNSPOT

a colourless yard
bar a couple of daffodils left to yellow
& burn in the sun—left to sunlight

bleak grey sun cloudless
behind glass
the wreckage of a Victorian fuchsia

the back gate in all its glory
blue—faded to turquoise—paint peels

in a town so small you can walk across it in minutes
not hours or days or weeks—a city—

One of the echoes of this evocation of Paris draws us back, as readers, to John James’s ‘To a Young Art Student in London’ from his 1967 Ferry Press publication MMM…AH YES:

Nothing moving on the suburban streets of every European city—

you can only be sure of your own pattern of the force, revealed
in meteorite storms of colour

figuring the space round
your own iris,
next year’s buds
hidden in
this year’s plant, the tree’s
roots growing
where no eye can see

It is no accident that the figure of John James, poet of Bristol, Cambridge and France, should figure so clearly in this little volume of poems. ‘The Night Station’ is for John James, the Equipage publication In Romsey Town is mentioned as is that early Ferry Press publication already mentioned. Two years after the publication of MMM… AH YES, Andrew Crozier published his own poem to James in Walking on Grass:

Every time you see him John’s fringe has grown shorter
so he waves it at you, and with the steel-framed
sartorial spectacle of an illustrious trans
tight vested poet, and a pleated vent,
he’s on home ground.

And these poems by Simon Smith are on ‘home ground’. It isn’t just the opening poem dedicated to Flick Allen (the FELICITÉ of the cover); it’s the localising of emotion ‘Round the Corner’ in Ramsgate, the memory of another Ferry Press publication, David Chaloner’s Chocolate Sauce, the swift movement from a Paris courtyard to Charing Cross Road; the continued accumulation of experience held in a ‘carrier bag life’ which concludes for a brief moment, a gesture, at Canterbury’s Mrs Jones’ Kitchen on 2nd of May last year.
The other John that comes to my mind at this moment is Riley whose Correspondences were published by The Human Constitution in 1970:

‘I am always on the dark side of the window, looking at them all living in the lights. I’m in good company, but with ghosts, and on the other side human beings are so solid and bright.’
Susan to John, Whitby 3rd August 1961.

Or again, describing her journey through Crete Susan writes about Knossos and the underground storerooms where the pots ‘move in their stillness’. Referring to a refusal to search for aesthetic experiences she writes ‘you just walked into the experience and everything that happened was part of it and peaceful and O.K…I’ve stopped wanting to work myself up over things; if something’s going to interest me it can come and hit me in the eye.’

This little chapbook by Simon Smith lands a punch!

Ian Brinton 20th April 2015

Songs in Midwinter for Franco by John James

Songs in Midwinter for Franco by John James

Equipage Press http://www.cambridgepoetry.org/equipage.htm 

There is a sudden immediacy about the poetry of John James which can almost catch you in the back of the throat. I think that it’s the clarity of truthfulness to experience; the absolute sense of being there.

 

This is what Andrew Crozier was perhaps getting at in his ‘To John James’ from the 1969 Ferry Press collection, Walking on Grass:

 

There he suddenly is

on the other side of the street in search of

an elusive motor, or the nearest opening time,

and for a second it looked quite filmic because

he was with you a moment ago.

 

The poetry shares a quality of exactness with Antonio Machado, whose ‘Poem of a Day’ written at Baeza in 1913, gives us such palpability:

 

Outside drizzle falling,

thinning sometimes into mist,

sometimes turning to sleet.

Picturing myself a farmer,

I think of the planted fields.

 

This new sequence of John James’s poems, twelve sections written at La Manière (Langue d’Oc) in January 2013, is simply very moving; it is a sequence which one wants to return to time and time again. It places the smallest of individual moments, accurately recorded, against the backdrop of human frailty and being. Life is made up of the small moments intruding into which ‘a sudden enormity / changes everything’. Life at La Manière has a ‘tranquillity’ which ‘is difficult simplicity’. It has room for Art, the ‘word the / inscription writ large’

 

a letter from you

out of Peru

 

in your calligraphy

is better than graffiti

 

like a trace

of a bird

 

in the snow

a trembling stem

 

lets fall a bead

of rain at night

 

In the reflective and reflecting eye of the poet ‘lost objects / will be revealed’ and I am moved to look at Pound’s Canto 95 from Section: Rock-Drill:

 

LOVE, gone as lightening,

enduring 5000years.

Shall the comet cease moving

or the great stars be tied to one place!

 

This absolutely indispensable chapbook of poems, poems to live with, can be obtained from Rod Mengham at Jesus College, Cambridge CB5 8BL.

 

Ian Brinton 20th June 2014

 

Two books by Ian Brinton from Shearsman Books

Two books by Ian Brinton from Shearsman Books

Thrills and Frills, Selected Prose of Andrew Crozier edited by Ian Brinton: Michael Schmidt once wrote that Crozier ‘is a magnificent critic, moving with the certainty of a glacier, gathering everything.’ This collection of Crozier’s prose contains work that has never been reprinted since its initial publication in magazines from the 1960s to 1990s as well as material that has never been published at all. It is very much a companion volume to An Andrew Crozier Reader (Carcanet 2012) and nothing from the former volume is repeated here.

 

‘An intuition of the particular’, some essays on the poetry of Peter Hughes edited by Ian Brinton: these essays and interviews are by a range of critics and friends and they give a wide-ranging perspective on the work of this important contemporary poet whose work is going from strength to strength. The Knives Forks and Spoons Press has just published Snowclone Detritus, Hughes’s take on Petrarch’s sonnets 97-116. ‘This is terrific work’ says John James. Peter Hughes’s Selected Poems will form a highlight of the forthcoming Shearsman reading at Swedenborg Hall in Bloomsbury on Tuesday May 7th at 7.30. for further details see the Shearsman website.

 

The Shearsman books are available from www.shearsman.com

Snowclone Detritus can be got from www.kinivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk

 

 

An Andrew Crozier Reader

An Andrew Crozier Reader

Edited by Ian Brinton and published by Carcanet, this 276 page Reader presents considerable and pertinent commentary to accompany Andrew Crozier’s poems, critical prose and interviews. Attention is given to seminal moments in Crozier’s career, such as his involvement with Charles Olson, Carl Rakosi, George Oppen, J.H. Prynne, John James, Roy Fisher and his editing of The English Intelligencer, Wivenhoe Park Review and the Ferry Press.  The contextualization of Andrew Crozier’s poems is long overdue and this book serves to make available a substantial body of work that continues to excite and beguile. Close readings of Crozier’s poetry will greatly benefit from this splendid offering.

John James

In the Keynes Library of Birkbeck College on Friday, 9 March there was a John James evening introduced by Carol Watts whose own recent volume When blue light falls 3 has just appeared from Oystercatcher. There were short talks given by Simon Perrill, Rod Mengham and John Hall all of whom had contributed to the Salt Companion to John James and these were followed by readings by both Simon and John himself. As John read from his two most recent publications, In Romsey Town (Equipage) and Cloud Breaking Sun (Oystercatcher) one became aware of that haunting quality of his poetry, that sense of ghosts lurking behind the scenes, and what John Hall has described as ‘quiet and tender acts in the departing shadow of the inevitably fugitive.’ This attractive venue had been used some eight weeks ago for the one-day Peter Riley conference and Carol Watts left us with the firm sense that there are going to be many more poetry events in the Keynes Library.