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Your Scratch Entourage by Kris Hemensley (Cordite Books)

Your Scratch Entourage by Kris Hemensley (Cordite Books)

The introduction to this collection of poems by Kris Hemensley, the first to appear for some thirty years, makes an interesting and direct assertion taken from Alain (Emile Chartier):

“…men are afraid to complete their thoughts” [.]

This moment of realisation was shared between Lucas Weschke and Kris Hemensley as they were on their way to visit Greta Berlin whom Weschke had met in Zennor “as a small child and whose father, Sven Berlin, had enthralled a young Kris Hemensley in 1963 with the accoutrements of the artist and his first taste of red wine.”

One might be almost tempted to recall those words from the first chapter of Kenner’s The Pound Era where he refers to a moment on a Chelsea street in the early 1900s:

“Which is all of the story, like a torn papyrus. That is how the past exists, phantasmagoric weskits, stray words, random things recorded. The imagination augments, metabolizes, feeding on all it has to feed on, such scraps.”

The introduction goes on to give us a picture of how these poems relate to people in their places taking us “into deeply personal territory: the territory of sons and fathers, brothers and lovers; into the territory of war and its enduring shadows. The chapters are stakes embedded in the ground to mark what needed to be acknowledged”. The seven ‘chapters’, separate but connected areas of poetic ground, take the reader from 1971 to ‘Millenium Poems’, from Frank Prince to Ivor Gurney, from London to Weymouth:

“tracks along the shore
disappear almost as fast as they’re formed
in the sand”

The staked out land is a world of marked territory and as the poet looks back over a half-century of close involvement with the powerful urges and effects of language he recognises the clarity of “what’s the use of going against the wind?” :

“man, woman or child:
who walks here
whose footsteps disappear?”

This awareness of the effect of time is very different from Barry MacSweeney’s sharp outburst against the Colonel B and ‘Jury Vet’ mystification of truth from the ABC trial of 1977. Hemensley’s tone of voice uses the particular to point to the universal and his awareness of the way in which the staked out plots relate to each other is caught in the poem written in memory of MacSweeney:

“your scratch entourage
sans powder sans rouge
sans a sodding sausage
what’s it all in aid of
counted now on page 470 of Herodotus
inventory of spears swords daggers
shields bows & lassoes gold-plated helmets
of this & that regiment chain-mail tunics
women & tents horses & sheep
tanks & helicopter gunships
guided missile systems…”

An early poem which Kris Hemensley published in 1972 pointed us to ‘The Horizon’ where “the wider lights / lengthening days / the pink flood above / the tallest pine / blue grill of sky / talk of snow to come” lead on to a “question of occupation”:

“which time & place
awaiting spring…”

As Hemensley knows, we can only hope to occupy a here-and-now and his moving record of poems in this new collection offers a glance backward over a lifetime’s commitment. He might almost be thinking of Samuel Beckett’s Murphy who announced that “all life is figure and ground”. Meanwhile, as the seven sonnets which constitute the staked-out patch of ground titled ‘More Midsummer Night’s Dream Than Dante’ offer a mordant awareness of life passing we must also recall Flaubert writing to Louis Bouilhet in September 1850:

“Yes, stupidity consists in wanting to reach conclusions. We are a thread, and we want to know the whole cloth.”

Kris Hemensley is aware of the threads and, without wanting the whole cloth, he yearns to recognise how each field allows us a vision both backwards and for the future. This is a moving and serious collection of poems.

Ian Brinton 18th February 2017

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Disappearing Curtains Edited by Paul Buck

Disappearing Curtains Edited by Paul Buck

In that indispensable volume about British Poetry Magazines 1914-2000 edited by David Miller and Richard Price the entry for Chapter D, 129, ‘Curtains’ , gives clear background details concerning Paul Buck’s innovative and exciting publication which was to cast its brightness over the 1970s scene: ‘Most issues are unnumbered and have alternative titles based on the Curtains theme’.

The most recent copy which was presented to me by the editor, Paul Buck, at the Free Verse Poetry Fair a few weeks ago is titled ‘Disappearing Curtains’ and it has a sense of summing up. The editorial account of what it means to start up a new literary magazine is essential reading for anyone wishing to set out on the worthwhile venture:

‘A magazine serves more than one purpose. If I am to be the editor it needs to be a personal document, an exploration of my interests. As I am a writer then being an editor revolves around the notion of editing as part of the research for my writing. However, I do see it as a wider project, that is, the magazine as a communal…a community work.’

The BPM account stressed how the series was ‘especially strong in translation of contemporary French literature’ and a steady glance through French Curtains (1973), Curtains, le prochain step (1976) and bal:le:d Curtains (1978) most certainly confirms this as one reads Rosemarie Waldrop’s version of Jabès, Glendale George’s Giroux or Paul Auster’s Georges Bataille accompanied by striking illustrations from Jeff Nuttall. However, that brief description falls far short of giving true recognition to the astonishing range and expertise reflected in this series of magazines.
Between 1971 and 1978 Paul Buck edited at least eleven issues of the magazine and published work by Roy Fisher, Larry Eigner, Anthony Barnett, Kris Hemensley, Allen Fisher, Barry MacSweeney, David Chaloner, Michael Haslam, Mark Hyatt, Peter Riley, John Riley, Jeremy Hilton, John Hall, Cid Corman, Eric Mottram, John Freeman, Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Gael Turnbull… and the list goes on. One of the delights for me was coming across the work of Paul Selby, the founder of Sweet Dawn Publishing, about whom I have written in Infinite Riches, a History of Dulwich College Poets since the 1950s. In Safety Curtain (1972) there are eighteen pages of Selby’s work before we read both Carlyle Reedy and Larry Eigner. The last contribution in that issue of Curtains is a review by Kris Hemensley of Joanne Kyger’s 1970 Black Sparrow Press collection Places To Go:

‘These poems are what one might have expected to come from Denise Levertov in the light of her statements of intent of a decade & more ago – and whilst this is no criticism whatsoever of Levertov’s prosaic mood at present – it is exceedingly fortunate in these generally sparse & even trite times that Joanne Kyger can offer the rich & the fantastic.’

As if listening carefully to his reviewer of years ago Paul Buck’s final curtain contains work by Francesca Lisette and Holly Pester as well as his own ‘Notes In & Out of the Disappearing Mist’.

Ian Brinton 11th October 2016

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