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a book with no name by Ken Edwards (Shearsman Books)

a book with no name by Ken Edwards (Shearsman Books)

I have been anticipating this book ever since reading some of the texts on Intercapillary Space and in PN Review 230. It does not disappoint. The book comes with the back cover proviso that ‘It is not a book of poems. / It is not a long poem. / It is not a novel. / Nor a volume of short stories. / It is not a work of philosophy. / It is not an object – like a stone. / Yet it drops into the well of nothingness /and is never heard of again.’ The book ‘fuses the optimism of Beckett and the hyperrealism of Stein’.

The texts clearly make a sound, as indicated in the note, through a series of speech acts presented as prose poems, defined as continuous prose without line breaks. They are distinct from say the ‘non-generic’ prose of Richard Makin in his trilogy of novels, which read like knotted prose poetry without conventional novelistic devices, and the internal conversations of R.D. Laing’s prose poems, Knots (1970), on the other. In contrast, the text titles guide the reader into small areas of focus where the movements of attention are incrementally tiny, and call back upon themselves, as small acts, through the slow nature of the development. These small movements accumulate incrementally, as in ‘The facts’:

I have the facts. I have those. I have those facts. I have all those facts. I have all the facts. I have those I have. I have examined those. I have examined those facts I have. All those facts I have examined.

The small statements, each with their own distinct place within the developmental structure, become acts of possession and assertion along the narrative arc. Focus is thus upon the nature of each small statement as they occur. The poet, Lee Harwood, frequently drew attention to small movements within landscapes, climate, moods, and in so doing, also drew attention to the acts of being mindful. This attentiveness to the workings of the mind also occurred in Laing’s dialogues. Here Edwards is working with monologues and there is much less interest in any external world of relationships.

The impact is similar to some serial music, cumulative and entrancing. The reader is drawn into the artifice and drama of speech acts. There is sometimes a sense of inevitability to the conclusion, a sort of rounded closure, as if the text were on a loop. Other endings are much less predictable.

‘Live at Birdland’ subverts any sense of predictability that a list poem may engender by taking a finite set of verbs connected with the activities of birds. The title puns on the New York jazz club of that name and in particular, the John Coltrane album, ‘Live at Birdland’. Here the text progressions are gradual, slightly altered and repeated through the duration and eventually extended as in Coltrane’s music. So that after the verbs have been laid out the progression comes in the form of adverbs and repletion of verbs. Thus the birds that previously call, perch, jump, feed, kill, mate and so on, later do so erratically, willfully, lazily, strongly, madly, lazily and so on. The verb repetitions are innate to the activities of birds and this produces a trance like effect as if one had been intensely watching the activities of birds or indeed closely listening to some Coltrane. The singular image clusters serve to mark the poetic element of the prose narrative on the journey from a definitive opening to its seeming negation through the use of ‘Never’ in the final six lines. The overall impact of the piece is utterly beguiling and one is left enthralled.

a book with no name has a beguiling and absorbing quality. A poem, such as, ‘Dialectics’ based upon permutations from ten words produces a distinct music and elaborates a thought sequence around the propositional pronoun ‘this is’ and its negation with ‘not’. The gradual accumulation of the various propositions and their negatives produces a range of thoughts connected to the various definitions and possible use of ‘dialectics’. The concluding line ‘This is not the way it was supposed to happen’ employing all ten words for the first time together leaves the reader suitably engaged with the text and the subsequent development of the sequence.

I thoroughly recommend a book with no name.

David Caddy 5th September 2016

Long Poem Magazine Issue 15, ed. Lucy Hamilton & Linda Black Sure Hope 1, ed. Joseph Persad

Long Poem Magazine Issue 15,  ed. Lucy Hamilton & Linda Black  Sure Hope 1,  ed. Joseph Persad

In The Pavilion Hotel, 37 Leinster Gardens, London W2, Ken Edwards gave an interview on 15th February 1995 in which he talked about the world of poetry and the world of poetry magazines. Reality Studios had a ten-year lifespan and Edwards made it clear that he was interested in questioning the ‘basis of belief and acceptance of what writing is’.

‘So that is what I was trying to do in the magazine’.

Ken Edwards also made it clear that he did not want the magazine ‘to have a dogmatic line on anything, because I do not feel I have one…The thing is when you edit a magazine, people do come to you with preconceived notions of what you are doing, like if you publish soandso’s poetry, therefore you support this line and therefore soandso must be an enemy. Unfortunately, poetry is riddled with this kind of factionalising.’ One year later Iain Sinclair’s anthology Conductors of Chaos appeared and his introduction emphasised those points in vivid language as he suggested that poets ‘are a quarrelsome bunch; dealing with them is like dipping an arm into a sack of vipers’. In terms of the publication of an anthology (and the same could be said of a magazine) they demand ‘Who else is involved’.

This month two magazines have appeared and in their different ways they are exemplary in showing how the best can be achieved. Long Poem Magazine has been running for a few years now and it is produced with care and style. The editors, both poets in their own rights, were able to announce in the opening pages of this recently published issue that LPM has been awarded ‘an Arts Council grant to fund issues 15 and 16’. They also presented a clear sense of their own purposes as editors:

‘Since LPM’s inception, we have striven to publish an equal proportion of women to men, and to foster a sense of literary community and engagement across languages, cultures and countries—publishing translations from nine languages to date, with a tenth in the pipeline.’ The range of poetry is eclectic as work by the Russian of Anatoly Movshevich (translated by Peter Daniels) brushes shoulders with that of Philippe Jaccottet (translated by Ian Brinton) and the ‘Extracts from Uruk’s Anthem’ by Adnan al-Sayegh, translated by Jenny Lewis, are simply outstanding. I am reminded here of the published letter of Jeremy Prynne to Andrew George concerning the latter’s Penguin translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh in which he congratulated the translator on his ability to present ‘with great clarity and force… a poem of tremendous nobility and passion, evidently linked by many threads to the social structures of governance and adventure among men who still felt themselves close to the world of an elaborate pantheon of gods and supernatural agencies, but also displaying deep powers of psychological insight and human character and interaction’. To listen to Adnan al-Sayegh reading from his contribution to LPM at the launch was to be stilled for a moment, to be caught in a web of interwoven histories.
Submissions can be sent via http://www.longpoemmagazine.org.uk

Sure Hope 1 is a delight to read and its editorial note looks forward in the very best sense. As its title suggests it is here to stay for a while.

Sure Hope is a magazine of the arts, fairly convinced that writing, radically considered, remains an optimized framework for investigating the continued possibilities of hope, invisibility, equality, expansion, space, history, love…..It is hoped readers will enjoy what is presented, observing that these contents look out to broad horizons of conversation, life, and argument…’.

The range of contributors is impressive as Ian Patterson and Anthony Barnett rub shoulders with Justin Katko and Sophie Seita; Lisa Jeschke & Lucy Beynon appear along with Ian Heames and Luke Roberts. From the migrant camps of Calais we can read Harry Soolia as he chalks up the ‘intelligent and deliberate manipulations of opinions / tintin’s tears dripping from the feed’. This new magazine is worth supporting and submissions can be sent to troposphereeditions@gmail.com

Ian Brinton 23rd May 2016

Country Life by Ken Edwards (Unthank Books)

Country Life by Ken Edwards (Unthank Books)

This is a strange journey into a twilight world of sea and land and ‘We may observe two figures moving in this landscape of cold, dark matter’. The friendship between two young men, based upon mutual dependence and then betrayal, placed against a socio-political background of unrest, dominates Flaubert’s great novel L’Éducation Sentimental. Having found its first contemporary counterpart in Julian Barnes’s Metroland it now finds its second in Ken Edwards’ humorous and moving account of youthful idealism in Country Life. The geographical landscape shifts between a coastal country which has echoes of Dungeness and city life, as Flaubert’s contrasted the world of the upper Seine and the Paris of the 1848 revolution.
In Ken Edwards’ narrative one dominant image is that of the nuclear power station:

‘South of the glory that is the illuminated nuclear power station, lies the Peninsula, a tiny settlement beginning to glow in the shadow of a Sunday evening, under the cold, dark mass of the sea.’

That little word ‘glow’ is mischievously uncomfortable as the world of nuclear power is juxtaposed with the homing sense of lighted rooms with their illusive hint of safety. As the two figures, Dennis and Tarquin, move towards the aptly-named pub ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ they discuss relative positions:

‘The question is, says the big lad with the spiky hair and glittering glasses, where are you in the human food chain? It’s that savage.
He has been talking non-stop since they came out to walk on the strand, here at the end of the world. The talk has been of human handwidth, negative space, power structures.’

Tarquin, the non-stop talker, gives the younger Dennis (a budding musician who is working on World Music Parts 1-25, ‘based on rhythmic patterns’ given off by the surroundings) a lesson in political hierarchies. After all, Tarquin has just finished a 550-page book on Neo-Marxist Aesthetics and the Marketing of the Moment:

‘Like, in the human food chain you might say, the fucking bosses, captains of industry as they used to call them—these days, CEOs of mega-corporations, or chairmen or persons or big-shot shareholders or hedge fund investors, you know what I mean, the Great White Sharks…’.

At the bottom of the food chain, according to the political wisdom of Tarquin, are the tiny ones which are eaten by everything else: krill.

‘Yeah, that’s right, krill. Food for everything else. you understand what I’m saying? that’s the kind of capitalist society we have. At the bottom of the food chain.
Right, says Dennis.
At the bottom. Then you’re fucking krill, man!’

This is an eerie world where the style of Paul Auster meets that of Douglas Woolf: the landscape, brutality and barely submerged violence conjures up the world of Auster’s The Country of Last Things while the quiet but determined humour of domestic engagement brings to mind Doug Woolf’s Ya! in which a father finds his daughter and they both roll out into the darkness. As his daughter, Joan, says “This is wild”, Al replies with a clear sense of what is important, “Yes, it is”. In Country Life an elderly woman clutching a plastic supermarket bag carrying the hopeful logo SAVERS PARADISE weeps quietly because she doesn’t know where she is. When asked by Tarquin and Dennis if she is from round here she nods “Yes, I…don’t know where. I am.” That full-stop after ‘where’ is something to hang on to. She thinks that she lives on the mainland, on an estate, and she thinks that she went to a hospital last week to see her dying husband who has ‘been resting in his grave all these years, the poor dear’. With that glimmer of recognition known only perhaps to the lost she says of her ‘home’ “I’ll know it when I see it…I came out too far.”
This is a world turned upside down with an amphibious life drifting along, a world in which the nuclear reactor ‘will produce enough controlled energy to satisfy the electricity needs of the entire region’:

‘Large magnetised rotors turn inside thick copper coils to generate the electricity that is fed to the grid. Turning each rotor is a large turbine. High pressure steam drives its blades and the rotor revolves inside the copper coils to produce the electricity. Each morning, central heating system boilers will be triggered by time-switches, kettles will be plugged in, radios and TVs will be switched on. The people will wake from their individual dreams, and re-enter a collective dream.’

Country Life has echoes of J.H. Prynne’s Kitchen Poems in which ‘we all share the same head, our shoulders / are denied by the nuptial joys of television, so that what I am is a special case of / what we want, the twist point missed exactly / at the nation’s scrawny neck’. And it draws to a close with a poetry reading given by Tom Raworth in a venue that one could be forgiven for thinking resembles the Lamb in Lamb’s Conduit.

This novel is wonderfully funny in places and it allows the reader to produce his or her own key to characters that play out their roles on a stage of such poignant shifting moments.

Ian Brinton 16th February 2016

CLASP: late modernist poetry in London in the 1970s Edited by Robert Hampson & Ken Edwards, Shearsman Books 2016

CLASP: late modernist poetry in London in the 1970s  Edited by Robert Hampson & Ken Edwards, Shearsman Books 2016

In Tears in the Fence 57 (summer 2013) the Australian poet Laurie Duggan reviewed Cusp, Geraldine Monk’s terrific piece of history and recollections which looked back at ‘British poetry in that age located generally between the bomb and the world-wide web’. The review concluded with the statement that ‘This history is of its nature a ragged one though the work produced has by now equalled, perhaps exceeded, the hopes of its authors’. Geraldine Monk’s book was published by Shearsman in 2012 and now, four years on, this new history of late modernist poetry in London in the 1970s seems like a sequel. It has an intriguing name which almost suggests that one can hold the past close to one. That said, I am reminded of an early paragraph in Julian Barnes’s Flaubert’s Parrot:

How do we seize the past? Can we ever do so? When I was a medical student some pranksters at an end-of-term dance released into the hall a piglet which had been smeared with grease. It squirmed between legs, evaded capture, squealed a lot. People fell over trying to grasp it, and were made to look ridiculous in the process. The past often seems to behave like that piglet.

As Robert Hampson puts it in his introduction to this eminently readable burst of flame which sheds light onto an otherwise darkened area (darkened that is by the Poetry Police who seem to tell us that nothing has really changed since the world of New Lines more than half a century ago!):

CLASP is an exercise in collective remembering—with, as Lawrence Upton’s essay suggests, a consciousness of memory work as also a process of selecting, forgetting and inventing.

Hampson refers to a counter-culture in the 1960s which revolved around institutions such as the Institute for Contemporary Arts in Dover Street, the Arts Lab in Drury Lane, and the independent bookshops such as Indica Books on Kingsway, Better Books in Charing Cross Road, Bernard Stone’s Turret Books in Kensington and Compendium in Camden Town. These venues ‘not only provided access to books and magazines, but also acted as centres for information-exchange and making contacts.’ This was after all the world and time of Andrew Crozier’s The English Intelligencer so intelligently written about in Alex Latter’s recent account from Bloomsbury, Late Modernism and The English Intelligencer.
One comes away from reading this new collection of reminiscences reeling with the excitement and energy of a world brought back into focus; this is all heady stuff! It reminds me of a series of History books put out by Blackwells in the 1970s, They Saw It Happen. A flavour might be given here by mentioning Iain Sinclair’s account of his journey from London to Wales to search of the émigré member of the Carshalton Chapter, Chris Torrance. After reading J.H. Prynne’s short review of Green Orange Purple Red, published by Crozier’s Ferry Press (taking its name from the Woolwich mode of river-crossing), Sinclair ‘was out of the door, on the road, back home to Wales’:

‘I walked over the hills, through decommissioned mines, conifer plantations, midge clouds, sunburn, blisters, rusty streams, bubbling tarmac, to Torrance’s Neath Valley farmhouse. It was an excitement to make contact with what was already a very active network, the magazines and contributors with whom Chris had been involved, his transmigrations from Carshalton to Bristol to Wales.’

A brief list of some of the short accounts given in CLASP will tease you into getting a copy without delay: Robert Sheppard ‘Took chances in London traffic’, Elaine Randell was ‘Tangled up in politics’, Paula Claire was ‘Working with Bob Cobbing through the 1970s’ while Tony Lopez was moving from Brixton to Wivenhoe to Gonville & Caius. John Muckle’s ‘Inklings’ contrast with Peter Barry ‘Climbing the twisty staircase’ and David Miller reckoned it was ‘A good decade for getting lost’.

Ian Brinton 10th February 2016

Richard Makin’s Mourning (Equus Press, 2015)

Richard Makin’s Mourning (Equus Press, 2015)

This third part of a trilogy, including Work (Great Works, 2009) and Dwelling (Reality Street, 2011), is formally more approachable than its immediate predecessor yet still commanding a rich tapestry of language use and imaginative construction. It is no coincidence that Equus Press have reissued Philippe Soller’s H (1973, 2001) at the same time. Makin’s trilogy has some lineage with the Nouveau Roman, offering a similar antidote to the constraints and requirements of the bourgeois novel, as well as early Modernist poetry and fiction in terms of its use of fragmentary material.

Mourning, and the trilogy as a whole, is an extraordinary and distinct achievement. It is a demanding and enriching read characterized by highly wrought sentences, which cover a range of discourses and fictional events. It is not a conventional novel. There is minimal characterisation with no discernible plot other than recurring thematic issue. There is instead a succession of linked or partially connected beginnings, which echo and take the reader on endless journeys. ‘Noun a neuron. No index of terminations at the gallows gate.’ The writing is, to use Ken Edwards’s words on the back cover, a ‘non-narrative, never-ending coherence.’ It is also deeply poetic and might well be linked to such Late Modernist poets, such as J.H. Prynne and Iain Sinclair in the way that it will severely pursues a theme for a few lines and then veers off into another discourse. The pleasure of the text is that the reader is confronted with several possible reading strategies. It is a joy to dip in and out of the novel as well as to read it in order. Mourning is perhaps less fragmentary than Dwelling and has more voices off. There is also more comedy. Those readers perhaps daunted by the thought of reading a non-narrative novel can perhaps view the work more like an epic Poundian poem with some added diversions, verve and comedy.

A reading (sitting or séance). An abandoned operating theatre, saint hospital. His party has eluded capture; those who survive will be reimbursed.
Also dream: crime, accused of – wrenching up the bolts, the tubers, the mandrake by its ear. Green shoots burst through the concrete, the shattered asphalt. I don’t know how I wrote that when I was asleep: not affliction, affection, in the archaic sense of disposition, i.e. to be drawn from something, from the thin air. A white feather quivers, balanced on her breath.

There is a video of Makin reading from this chapter at the 2014 Tears in the Fence Festival on the magazine’s website: https://tearsinthefence.com/festival

A number of chapters are devoted to comments of and around definitions. There is a probing and recording of a narrative self in endless movement and commentary at work.

Locomotor ataxia
Upper mandible of earth, shell lying below, palate soft, yielding to persistent stress.
‘Let’s turn around: on your knees.’
There were pressure ulcers, degeneration of the nerve fibres – stun-grenades, phosgene bombs.
Third: the demoralized, the ragged, those without names and unwilling to work or partake of compulsory leisure (the loudest scream, that’s all I can remember). Most often, the procedure is one of blundering mediations. And that, in short, is how the epoch names what we are.

There is an echo of William Burroughs’ Dr. Benway in lines such as, ‘The patient was hung up by the jaw and left alone for several minutes’ and those dark figures with their use of drug control, biological experimentation, and so on. This sinister narrative background is played out within a kind of subverted science fiction. It is easy to miss the tongue in cheek lines in Mourning as Makin doesn’t over signal his intentions, and is quickly onto some new line or direction. The sheer narrative force and distinct use of the English language connects him in this regard to Prynne, Sinclair and a few others. Makin is the real thing. There were many notable and cracking readings at last year’s Tears in the Fence Festival, Makin’s reading generated the most extensive discussions.

Mourning is available from Equus Press, Birkbeck College (William Rowe) 43 Gordon Square, London WC1 HOPD and https://equuspress.wordpress.com/mourning/

David Caddy 24th June 2015

Peter Hughes from Reality Street

Peter Hughes from Reality Street

Peter Hughes is a prolific poet and an increasingly confident one. His lyrical tone is juxtaposed with a passionate concern for getting things right and his mordant sense of humour adds both grace and depth to his writing. This new collection from Ken Edwards’s Reality Street publications, Allotment Architecture, contains five major sequences, ‘Lynn Deeps’, ‘Behoven’, ‘Site Guide’, ‘18’ and ‘Berlioz’. Behoven appeared of course as an Oystercatcher in 2009 and John Hall’s account of it is essential reading (‘An intuition of the particular’, some essays on the poetry of Peter Hughes, Shearsman Press 2013). Some selections from ‘Lynn Deeps’ and ‘18’ appeared in the recent Shearsman selected Hughes but it is a delight to be able now to read the whole pieces and recognise their breadth and continuity. It is always refreshing to read Peter’s work and I wholly endorse Peter Riley’s comments on the back of this new volume where he refers to the ‘reassurance to readers that all of the many forms in which experience and language confront us are open to our own powers and defences’. The next major publication must now surely be a collected Petrarch which will gather together Peter’s splendidly vivid interpretations of the Italian poet: fourteenth century Avignon informing the Norfolk coast-line. Perhaps the dedication of this volume to his parents and to Cliff Hughes says it all: ‘This book is dedicated to my parents, Mary Hughes and the late Cliff Hughes, who showed me early on how to get off the path in order to explore, and who continue to support these explorations in different ways.’

 

Allotment Architecture is published by Reality Street, 63 All Saints Street, Hastings, East Sussex TN34 3BN.

www.realitystreet.co.uk

 

Ian Brinton

 

 

Martin Anderson & Ken Edwards

When the second volume of The Hoplite Journals appeared from Shearsman two years ago I wrote a brief account of it for Todd Swift’s EYEWEAR. What had struck me then was the writer’s awareness of the palpability of a past which haunts our present and a first reading of this lovely new volume of selected poems, Snow, confirms that view. As Paul Ravenscroft’s blurb comment says: ‘His form of vision allows experiences to interpenetrate in an imaginative space and emerge in new and original patterns.’

 

Ken Edwards’s Bardo is a modern rewrite of the Bardo Thodol, the devotional work known in the West as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, intended to be read to dead people, to help them in resisting reincarnation. The illusory gods and demons haunting the original have been translated into modern equivalents, while the original colour scheme of the seven days has been retained. This version has the port and old town of Hastings as its backdrop.

 

Snow is available from Shearsman Books at www.shearsman.com

Bardo is available from The Knives Forks And Spoons Press, 122 Birley Street, Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside, WA12 9UN

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