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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

A talk given at the Cambridge University Library to highlight the new venture of a Modern Poetry Archive dealing with ‘Cambridge poets and their papers’.

A talk given at the Cambridge University Library to highlight the new venture of a Modern Poetry Archive dealing with ‘Cambridge poets and their papers’.

I

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. My talk here today revolves around the very particular case of the acquisition of Archive material of the poet, translator and publisher John Riley and I hope to share with you a sense of the intricate pathways down which one might expect to proceed in pursuit of the past. I say in pursuit of the past quite deliberately because when one reads the correspondence of a group of friends who were up at Cambridge at roughly the same time in the early 1960s there is an intimacy of communication which seems to place flesh upon the dry bones of biographical history which is a little akin to the world of the French Historical school, Annales. When one reads such immediate accounts of thoughts and events put down on paper, in a pre-electronic age, to be sent between friends who had gone different professional ways after leaving university and who now lived in different parts of the country,  it is as though the vividness of that past possesses a moment of risplende: it shines. In order to get the context in place it is necessary to say a few words of biographical detail concerning not only John Riley but also two of his particular friends, Tim Longville and Michael Grant.

John Riley was born in Leeds in 1937 and after doing A levels was called up for National Service, joining the Royal Air Force in 1956. It was during this period, some of which he spent in Germany, that he learned Russian. In 1958 he went to Pembroke College to read English, graduating in 1961. It was at Pembroke that he met Tim Longville who was also reading English and with whom he was to found the Grosseteste Press in 1966 and Grosseteste Review, the first issue of which appeared early in 1968. After leaving Cambridge John taught in primary schools in and around the Cambridge area before moving to Bicester, near Oxford. His first book of poems, Ancient and Modern, was published by Grosseteste in 1967. Some of these poems had already appeared in The English Intelligencer, the privately circulated poetry worksheet which ran over three series comprising nearly forty individual issues from January 1966 to April 1968 and which had been started by Andrew Crozier and J.H. Prynne. Crozier, a graduate from Christ’s College, had recently returned from SUNY where he had been studying under Charles Olson and was about to join the newly-founded English department at the University of Essex, at the invitation of Donald Davie. Prynne was, of course, a Fellow of Caius.

The rest of this talk can be found on Ian Brinton’s Academia.edu account and in the Notes section of this Tears website.

 

Ian Brinton, February 2014.

 

New from Equipage

New from Equipage

Last Tuesday there was a book-launch in Heffer’s main shop in Cambridge in which Rod Mengham’s Equipage Press presented two excellent new items.

Keith Sands has translated 17 Voronezh Poems from the Russian of Osip Mandelstam. As he pointed out these poems were written between 1935 and 1937 and do not constitute a sequence. Sixteen of the poems are from the Voronezh Notebooks written during exile first in Cherdyn and then in Voronezh. The last of the translations was written in June 1937 just before Mandelstam’s second arrest.

It seems opportune here to note that John Riley, one of the co-founders of Grosseteste Press, published two translations of the Russian poet. Mandelshtam’s Octets appeared from Grosseteste in 1976 and the Stalin Ode Sequence, From the Second Voronezh Notebook was published by Rigmarole of the Hours in Australia in 1979 the year following Riley’s murder in Leeds.

The second new publication from Equipage is Mother Blake by Carol Watts. A sequence of fifteen poems this book makes a fascinating and welcome continuation of work that had been so striking in When blue light falls 3 (Oystercatcher Press) which I reviewed in Tears 55.

These books are available from Equipage, c/o Rod Mengham, Jesus College, Cambridge CB5 8BL.

A Various Art

A Various Art

Twenty-five years ago Carcanet published an anthology of poems edited by Andrew Crozier and Tim Longville. Crozier had been, of course, the founder of Ferry Press and Longville, in close collaboration with both John Riley and Gordon Jackson, had been the founder of Grosseteste Press. The introduction to A Various Art opens assertively:

 

This anthology represents our joint view of what is most interesting, valuable, and distinguished in the work of a generation of English poets now entering its maturity, but it is not an anthology of English, let alone British poetry. We did not begin with this distinction in mind; indeed, had we done so it might have appeared that there were no operative criteria by which to proceed. We knew this was not the case. Why, then, make such a distinction, as though the work of English or British poets did not belong to the general category of their national poetry?

 

The poets included in this seminal anthology are central to the developing quality of poetry in this country and many of them are still writing and publishing. In the words of Iain Sinclair, from his introduction to another central anthology Conductors of Chaos, ‘If these things are difficult, they have earned that right. Why should they be easy? Why should they not reflect some measure of the complexity of the climate in which they exist? Why should we not be prepared to make an effort, to break sweat, in hope of high return? There’s no key, no Masonic password; take the sequences gently, a line at a time. Treat the page as a block, sound it for submerged sonar effects. Suspend conditioned reflexes.’

Sinclair’s point is that ‘if it comes too sweetly, somebody is trying to sell you something.’

The names in A Various Art: Anthony Barnett, David Chaloner, Andrew Crozier, Roy Fisher, Veronica Forrest-Thomson, John Hall, Ralph Hawkins, John James, Tim Longville, Douglas Oliver, Peter Philpott, J.H. Prynne, John Riley, Peter Riley, John Seed, Iain Sinclair, Nick Totton.

In the current issue of PN Review there is an account of David Caddy’s So Here We Are (Shearsman Press) and its concluding sentence makes a point that associates Caddy’s work with precisely the assertive statements informing the introduction to A Various Art:

 

‘Beneath the attractive guise of belles-lettres we are alerted to the timbre of dissident voices whose music will continue to be heard through the jamming signals put out by the official keepers of the canon.’

 

Happy New Year to our readers.

 

 

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