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no particular place to go by Laurie Duggan (Shearsman Books)

no particular place to go by Laurie Duggan (Shearsman Books)

In Robert Duncan’s interview with Ekbert Faas (Towards a New American Poetics, Black Sparrow Press 1978) the poet asserts “there are no trivial events for me. This is the question raised by Williams’ famous ‘so much depends / upon / a red wheel / barrow’. The real point of that question is: Are there any trivial events, are there any trivial people or trivial anythings, trivial beings or propositions? And for me everything happening in the poem is properly apprehended and therefore not trivial.” One consults a map because one has a particular place to reach but Laurie Duggan’s new volume of poems charts a sense of discovery which responds to experience rather than mapping it out first: read this book and you’re on the move!
When Williams highlighted the importance of his red wheel barrow he followed it with a prose statement concerning the “fixed categories into which life is divided”:

“These things are normal – essential to every activity. But they exist – but not as dead dissections”.

Laurie Duggan’s new collection is, in his own words, “an unholy gathering of discrete pieces written over the last fifteen years” but to my mind they hold together in such a way as to give a picture which is more than an accumulation of the discrete. ‘Hegemony’ is a poem which perhaps represents the sense of poetic unity:

“a world of transactions
at war with a world of immanence,
a geography without contours
against a range of singular spaces”

The immediacy of Duggan’s perceptions possess a life which is not held in by the contours of the field but which realises the geography of “range”. This fine collection is more than “singular spaces” and lives as a “world of transactions” between poet and reader. Our guide through the spaces is a perceptive wit which looks closely at the world and concludes with wry humour. Gustave Courbet’s 1854 painting titled ‘The Meeting’ is given a new breath of life by the poet’s close awareness of what the gestures in the painting point to:

“What made him present himself, greeted on the road
by another figure (engaged perhaps

in mere commerce) offer instead of an epithet
a commonplace?”

The poet has captured that “world of transactions” in which the figure on the right, a pedlar perhaps, cocks his head to one side as if appraising the figure in front of him: the painter with courteous gesture of held out left arm as if he might be wishing the man a fine day. It is typical of much of Laurie Duggan’s work that these small moments are given a life, a sparkle of immediacy. So many of the poems are addressed to individual readers and we are given sly insights into character and landscape within which character resides for a moment, a click of the lens. Tony Frazer, Peter Lanyon, Frank Auerbach, Alexander Calder, Basil King, Pam Brown, Angela Gardner, Lee Harwood, Rosemary Hunter and ‘The Ghost of WCW in a Faversham Pub’:

“ ‘I’d love to go back
to Acapulco

it was so different
and so easy’ ”

Those plums in the icebox were indeed delicious and as readers we easily forgive the seemingly inconsequential footsteps of words which step their way through these poems. Duggan’s volume may assert the “inherently occasional” but I am reminded of those Necessary Steps (Shearsman Books, edited by David Kennedy, 2007) in which John Hall reminds us of the derivation of the word “occasion”:

“The Oxford English Dictionary gives as the etymology for occasion: ‘ad. L. occasion-em falling (of things) towards (each other)’. It is not just the things that fall towards each other, though there is always, I would say, a sense of conjuncture or convergence that marks something as an ‘occasion’, even for those with their attention on the ‘everyday’. It is also that occasions are marked incidents that cause certain people to fall together.”

Given these words…there is always a “particular place to go” and I can think of few better guides that Laurie Duggan.

Ian Brinton, 6th February 2017

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

Versions of Martial by Alan Halsey (Knives Forks And Spoons Press)

Versions of Martial by Alan Halsey (Knives Forks And Spoons Press)

This whole collection brims over with outrageous delight. Of course there are the smutty sexual innuendos, the more direct insults, and the bitter spitting from carious teeth. But there is much, much more and it is a tonic to be able to recognise the satirical sharpness of some of these versions of Martial’s ‘Epigrams’ given the mixture of crocodile tears in today’s world: a child’s body is washed up on the shores of a Greek island; the International Arms Fair opens in London where DSEI ‘will host around 300 seminar sessions and keynotes across seven theatres…facilitating knowledge sharing and networking around key topics and technical areas’. Give me an ounce of civet good apothecary…Or, a page or two of Alan Halsey’s Versions of Martial:

Book III: XXXVII

‘How explain why the conspicuously rich
are so easy to offend? Ask their accountant.
He probably won’t tell you but he’ll know.’

Book V: LXXXI

‘In the Big Society the poor stay poor
and cabinet ministers stay millionaires: it’s a law.’

Book VII: LXXIII

‘I know all about the houses you own,
you’ve described them so often
in such detail—I know the views from
their every window—but, Maximus,
you’ve never told me your address.’

When Laurie Duggan’s Pressed Wafer edition of The Epigrams of Martial appeared five years ago he introduced the little bombshell by saying that ‘faithful translations of satires, while possibly of use to historians, tended to lose the satirical element altogether. For satire to bite as it ought to its objects should be at least generically recognizable and as so much of Martial’s work is ad hominem a good dose of the particular was essential.’ This approach is very much in the style of Charles Tomlinson whose review of the Loeb Classics 1994 edition of Martial praised the unpretentiously accurate approach of the translator by suggesting that ‘it helps the reader to the mental possession of the original’. I am also reminded of the preface Tomlinson wrote for his Faber edition of John Dryden’s poems in which he suggested that the Augustan poet’s Fables Ancient and Modern (1700) ‘made it new (in Pound’s phrase) especially for poets themselves’. August Kleinzahler wrote a brief afterword to Duggan’s Martial giving an account of how these pieces had originally been published in the Melbourne journal, Scripsi: ‘This Martial bit then. It bites still.’
For satire to ‘bite’ we have to be able to recognise the scale of values that has been so debased by the object of the satire. Urbanity and friendship, directness and honesty: it is in their absence that we recognise the power of their presence. Many of Alan Halsey’s poems give us the self-portrait of a man who is saddened by rudeness and contemptuous of arrogance:

Book II: V

‘I don’t mind the two-hour walk
it takes me to see you, Decianus.
I do mind the two hours it takes
To walk home when for reasons
Of your own you haven’t seen me.’

The tone captured here is reminiscent of that biting edge Ben Jonson put into his ‘Epigrammes’ when he damns ‘The Townes Honest Man’ or confronts ‘Captayne Hungry’:

‘ Doe what you come for, Captayne, with your newes;
That’s, sit, and eate: doe not my eares abuse.
I oft looke on false coyne, to know’t from true:
Not that I love it, more, than I will you.’

Halsey’s updated version of this type of barb will sound familiar to quite enough ears, I suspect:

Book III: XLIV

‘Myself I like to lounge on my sofa,
take a stroll, a shit, a bath and a nap
in peace and quiet. Who doesn’t?
You, Ligurinus. That’s why we feel suicidal
when we meet you. What you call life
is a solo nonstop poetry recital.’

Buy this book from http://www.knivesforksandspoonspress.co.uk and carry it around in your pocket like an orange pierced with cloves in a plague-ridden city.

Ian Brinton 25th September 2015.

And

Zone 2 edited by Kat Peddie & Eleanor Perry

Zone 2 edited by Kat Peddie & Eleanor Perry

http://www.zonepoetrymagazine.com

The second issue of Zone magazine, the poetry collective of writers and critics from Canterbury, edited by Kat Peddie and Eleanor Perry, is a cornucopia of poetic delights richly illustrating the diversity of contemporary poetry.

The house style of presentation of this A4 publication mostly eschews uniformity in favour of a random mixture of fonts and point sizes. This works effectively with the diverse and colourful text art to produce a visually exciting journal with a sense of the chaotic. The position of the author’s name in large point at the top of each page tends to undermine the approach through its loudness and uniformity. The poem should matter far more than the poet’s name.

There are many fine contributions from Sarah Kelly’s text sculpture, Sean Bonney’s short essay on Amiri Baraka, via six Petrarch sonnets by Peter Hughes, Ian Brinton’s translation of Francis Ponge’s ‘Snail’s to Iain Britton, Stephen Emmerson, S.J. Fowler, Mendoza, Dorothy Lehane, Duncan Mackay, R. T. A. Parker, Nat Raha, James Russell, Marcus Slease, Dollie Stephan, and Robert Vas Dias.

Amongst the work that caught my eye were sean burn’s ‘spell / check © sean burn 2013 c.e.’ simple, playful approach and Laurie Duggan’s ‘from Pensioners Specials’ with its quirky, aphoristic humour:

The Art of Poetry

don’t write when you have ‘something to say’
write when you have nothing to say

*

smaller than the syllable
the Silliman

*

Universal Toilet

This train has,
says the ‘onboard manager’
a ‘universal toilet’

Rae Armantrout’s extraordinarily condensed poems employ multiple voices and divisions to explore contested spaces. Here her four poems seemingly skirt the boundaries of plausible meaning and imply connections between each stanza, which are not entirely evident on first reading. They invite reading of the relation of part to whole, stanza to stanza. In this way, more possible reference and meaning comes into play. They insist upon both slow and wide reading, and force the reader into wider focus.

Run Time

Hidden redundancy
equals logical depth.

*

up next,

the pumpkin carving contest
under the sea

*

You talk to yourself
as if somebody cared.

Clearly an event of some kind, as yet only implied in the title and first three stanzas, is in process. The third stanza perhaps holds more than its terseness. The narrative voice is in the act of ‘talking’ to herself ‘as if somebody cared’. When placed in the context of the preceding stanzas much more possible reference and meaning comes into play. Voices are running, possibly imploring, exhorting for this onwardness towards the second half of the poem and whatever may lie within its boundaries. We could be in the world of someone in a state of loss or deprivation, or in need of care. Key words, such as ‘hidden’ send the reader off in search. Certainly the range of possible meaning gradually begins to expand. The reader is taken on a journey and there is more than a hint of implied disjunction, loss and unrest, which serves to take the reader forward.

Such poems make Zone a joy to return to.

David Caddy 22nd November 2014

Rampant Inertia by Alan Halsey (Shearsman Books)

Rampant Inertia by Alan Halsey (Shearsman Books)

As one might well expect from the highest class of second-hand book seller Alan Halsey has an ear and memory for names. This is true of a childhood recalled near Crystal Palace in ‘Idle Time-Scans’, where the pub Beulah Spa still stands as do those uplifts of memory with names such as Robin Hood or Dick Turpin engraved on their craggy surface, and it is of a literary knowledge acquired over some sixty years. The poems in this new Shearsman collection will present the reader with glimpses and echoes ranging from Homer and Virgil to Lorine Niedecker, from Dickens and Mayhew to J.H. Prynne.

 

And yet those names, books, associations have an awkward life of their own as they insist upon thrusting themselves up through consciousness and memory. Alan Halsey recalls that as a child he found it difficult to sleep since ‘I couldn’t put an end to the saying of things’ and he is compelled to tell Timothy Donnelly in a letter ‘dated 2 a.m. 26 Dec 2011’ that it only gets worse as he gets older. The experience of the avid reader takes the poet back to his memory of a piece of description from Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and London Poor in which a snake-swallower gives an account of his secret:

 

The head of the snake

 

with the ‘stingers cut out’ goes ‘about an inch

and a half down the throat and the rest of it

 

continues in the mouth, curled round.’

 

As the magician puts it: ‘As for the snakes / ‘they’re smooth one way’—he meant when they’re / going down—but the scales like things said / ‘rough you a bit when you draw them up.’. Nothing easy about either memory or poetry!

 

In 1924 Francis Ponge wrote a little piece titled ‘L’insignifiant’ the conclusion to which tells us of the poet’s belief in utterance as opposed to silence: ‘more important than the white page is the script even if it appears insignificant.’ Against the azure sky watch the quiet outline of a cloud! Look out for Alan Halsey’s convincing evidence of the worth of putting pen to paper. And also look out for Laurie Duggan’s full-length review of this delightful volume; it will appear in Tears in the Fence 60 or 61.

Ian Brinton 26th April 2014

‘One makes many’: Laurie Duggan’s Allotments from Shearsman

‘One makes many’: Laurie Duggan’s Allotments from Shearsman

One of the two epigraphs to Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems is the phrase that the poet overheard in 1953 at Black Mountain College when the cook, Cornelia Williams, said ‘All my life I’ve heard one makes many’. The phrase struck a chord with Olson and in his copy of A.N. Whitehead’s Process and Reality where the Ramsgate-born Mathematician and Philosopher had written ‘the term many presupposes the term one, and the term one presupposes the term many’ he scribbled ‘exactly Cornelia Williams, Black Mt kitchen, 1953’.

On the back of this beautifully produced new Shearsman collection of 100 short poems Fiona Wright has written ‘The small poems…slowly build up to a much larger narrative; a narrative of time and memory, of thinking and being in the world, a kind of history that is happening on the sidelines.’Or, to put it in Laurie Duggan’s words in ‘Allotment #62’:

 

to make much of little

where perception and act are one

 

each thing in its place

spread over the garden

 

poppy seeds of various hue

stolen from elsewhere

 

The delight of many of these poems, ‘Pansies’, pensées, is the sure touch of language in which that ‘perception’ and the act of the words on the page cohere to form a picture, a vignette. Some of them are just that: a picture, a photograph clicked in an instant:

 

a robin lands, curious

as I grub weeds

(‘Allotment #41’)

 

One can see the curiosity of the robin as though a head tilted to one side were there on the page; the movement from lightness of the bird to the more ponderous work of the man is caught in the contrast of sound between ‘lands’ and ‘grub’. The coherence of the picture is given to us with the dual meaning of that second word.

The connectedness between a sharply perceived ‘here’ and the shadow cast on the ground by a ‘then’ is held in

 

a moment’s silence

with Gael Turnbull,

Brigflatts Meeting House, 1987

 

later

on Hardknott Pass

November cold

 

(posted there

Legionaries

from Africa

(‘Allotment #49’)

 

The witty, almost mischievous, association between the surname of the founder of Migrant Press and the opening line of Bunting’s poem is never allowed to rest with the self-satisfaction that can come as the result of a pun; we have already moved on in time (‘later’) and the cold of the Pass bridges a ‘now’ and the builders of Hadrian’s Wall.

Laurie Duggan has an infectious awareness of history and his precision allows the reader to share moments rather like a pebble dropped in a well on the surface of which ‘stones ring.

 

Allotment #93

 

All Hallows approaches

the bar strung with rubber bats,

 

telescopes, astrolabes

obscure the windows.

 

Pepys drank in this pub

(the Thames, Wapping

 

above the tunnel

to Rotherhithe)

 

further out, rotten wharves,

hulks on the estuary bed

 

empty sea-forts

subject to slow rust

 

Ian Brinton 11th April 2014

 

 

Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry

Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry

Edited by Ian Hamilton & Jeremy Noel-Tod

 

Last week I put a few words on the UK Poetry List about this new edition of a very useful book and I make no apology for repeating them here:

 

  • Some inclusions are very welcome indeed such as Laurie Duggan, William Fuller, Lynette Roberts (amongst many, many others) and some updating is extremely sharp as with reference to J.H. Prynne’s Kazoo Dreamboats and Ben Watson’s Blake in Cambridge.

 

  • Some exclusions are a pity and I miss seeing Kelvin Corcoran, John Hall and Ian Patterson. The exclusion of Anthony Barnett is rather more bizarre given his Collected Poems of 1987 (recently updated and enlarged) as well as his important role in the field of poetry publication including the first collection of Prynne as well as that of Douglas Oliver and Andrew Crozier. His Allardyce, Barnett editions of modern poets also included the first collected poems and translations of Veronica Forrest-Thomson, an important volume which pre-dates the one mentioned in the V.F-T. entry.

 

  • Some updates needed a touch more overseeing from the central control tower and I wonder how many errors may lurk within the 700 pages. Notably: the entry for Henry Treece is simply incorrect in that it says that ‘There is a selection and discussion of Treece’s verse by Andrew Crozier in Conductors of Chaos’ No, there isn’t! I suspect that Crozier would have been very happy to provide one if he had been asked.

 

  • However, when all is said and done it is an important book with a wealth of information and it will, I suspect, remain the best of its encyclopaedic type for some years to come. I look forward to reading it more closely.

Well done J N-T.

 

Since then I have been assured by the editor (the living one!) that the Crozier/Treece blip will be corrected before the paperback edition appears. Whilst my curiosity remains over the exclusion of Barnett I have now a much greater overview of the whole project and can see how valuable it is going to be to those whose awareness of contemporary poetry is limited to the bookshelves of Waterstones or the catalogues put out by Faber & Faber. I recall from my own teaching days that all reading lists are, to a certain extent, an indicator of the individual interests of the lists’ compilers. This doesn’t mean that there is no accepted corpus, comment upon which must be visible, but that the lesser known areas of focus represent the interests of the person who created the list. Jeremy Noel-Tod’s task is a very unenviable one in that this volume carries with it a weight of imprimatur: it is published by Oxford University Press. The task is also unenviable because it will always make some poets unhappy when they discover that they don’t appear. I think that the overall scope of what the new editor has tried to do is admirable and, having said that, I now feel liberated to name a few rejoicings and regrets:

 

Terrific to see Roger Langley, Peter Larkin and Tony Lopez there; shame that there isn’t an entry for Nicholas Johnson, poet and founder of Etruscan Books. Delighted to see Gig Ryan in (look out for the review Laurie Duggan has written for Tears 58); pity there wasn’t room for Tim Longville and more on Grosseteste Press. Absolutely right to see Andrea Brady, Sean Bonney and Keston Sutherland; pity not to see Peter Hughes.

 

Top prize goes to Neil Pattison, Reitha Pattison and Luke Roberts for getting a mention for their Certain Prose of The English Intelligencer, published by Mountain Press last year. This small Poetry Press has produced some distinguished writing (including recent work by Danny Hayward) and I cannot be alone in hoping that there may be a follow-up to the Intelligencer volume.

 

Ian Brinton

 

 

 

 

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