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Ianthe Poems by Peter Philpott (Shearsman Books)

Ianthe Poems by Peter Philpott (Shearsman Books)

All art is in the past, acting as a record of what was seen or felt upon some occasion, and, as John Hall reminded us in his contribution to David Kennedy’s Necessary Steps (Shearsman 2007) the Oxford English Dictionary gives the etymology for ‘occasion’ in terms of the 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.’

A poem may appear to be occupied with a dramatic present (‘It is an ancient Mariner, And he stoppeth one of three’) but once the storyteller weighs in with his narrative it is firmly past tense (‘There was a ship…’). And it is the past’s intrusion into the present that is a mainstay of all Art. A poem, if it is worth anything, interrupts the even flow of the day-to-day; it appears in the manner described by Lyn Hejinian which Peter Philpott uses as the introductory presence to the first section of this sequence of poems which revolves around his grand-daughter, Ianthe:

‘The desire to tell within the conditions of a discontinuous consciousness seems to constitute the original situation of the poem. The discontinuity of consciousness is interwoven through the continuity of reality—a reality whose independence of our experience and descriptions must be recognized.’

When I first read a piece of prose by Lyn Hejinian it was in the Salt anthology Vanishing Points edited by Rod Mengham and John Kinsella over ten years ago and a line that struck me there was to do with children’s play; ‘They bend, the hour is bound somewhere.’ Fluidity and stillness, children’s ‘present’ and the adult’s binding of a moment into a poem.

If I were still school-teaching I would use some of these fresh, innovative and delightfully playful lyrics from Peter Philpott’s new volume. I often used to present a world of childhood through the eyes of ee cummings and his little lame balloon-man as well as through the binding loss of Blake’s priest in black gowns. Now I would include Peter Philpott’s ‘non-poetic coffee shop’

‘where babies gather in their buggies
& a man gives a tutorial on public health
and the staff chat about what they bought on holiday’

I would include this world in which ‘our ease is sweet here / luscious and dropping’; a world of ‘persistent bird cries / like little lyric poems’ which ‘erupt’ to intrude upon the mundane. These poems are unafraid to be serious. These poems are unafraid to be personal and to evoke domestic connections of the highest quality. These poems remind me of the point Peter Robinson once made when he recounted how the Italian poet Franco Fortini had approached him at a poetry festival in Cambridge to ask ‘Why do all the English poems end with a little laugh?’ It seems almost as if an ironic tone is adopted in order to protect the poet from being seen as nakedly serious and wanting to refer to genuinely felt emotions. This is absolutely not true of these poems by Peter Philpott:

‘what you read here is
what wisdom in these words
uncountable but singable not
what is said but how
each word points at this world!’

The lines of a poem, the binding of a moment, the words (already an echo of the past by virtue of being language) reflect what Philpott recalls from Keston Sutherland about ‘The pressure to think and sing’. The poems constitute a type of absence:

‘a silence
or opening
that isn’t
silence but
lies underneath
that

the darkness enclosing
that too…’

Ian Brinton, 7th September 2015

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Long Poem Magazine 12 edited by Lucy Hamilton & Linda Black

Long Poem Magazine 12 edited by Lucy Hamilton & Linda Black

http://longpoemmagazine.org.uk

Issue Twelve is as eclectic as ever and features long poems by Salah Niazi, translated by the author from the Iraqi with David Andrew, Patricia McCarthy, Martyn Crucefix’s versions of parts of the ‘Daodejing’, Richard Berengarten, Jeri Onitskansky, John Greening, Norman Jope, Tamar Yoseloff, Ben Rogers, Varlam Shalamov, translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler, Alexandra Sashe, David Andrew, Alistair Noon’s Pushkin inspired travel narrative, and W.D. Jackson. Linda Black’s editorial offers insights into the current reading habits and recommendations of several contributors. Alexandra Sashe ‘neither wrote nor read poetry’ until she discovered Paul Celan: ‘The predominance of Language, which writes itself, which dictates itself … this same Language lived by the writer, becomes a new entity, something other: “essentialized”, and, faithful to its centripetal life, increasingly personal …’.

Sophie Herxheimer’s ‘Inklisch Rekortdinks’ series of dramatic monologues impressed sonically and thematically. Based on the experience of her father’s family who emigrated to London in 1938 and written in the Lenkvitch, a sort of German Jewish – English hybrid accent, of her paternal grandmother, they probe identity and immigrant experience from alienation through war and assimilation to friendship and domesticity. The sumptuous language and narrative angles make the world of Herxheimer’s poems sparkle.

Vis efferi Snip off Dill I fezzer
on my feinly slizzered Kewkumpers
I re-azzempel Leipzig
Birch Treez, Promenaats.

Vis efferi chop off peelt Eppel
es it sutds into my Disch
for Pie – zerburban Etchvair
ordinerry: I kerry on.

Timothy Adés’ ‘The Excellent Wessex Event’ uses the Oulipo univocal lipogram omitting a, i, o and u to produce a narrative poem in rhyming couplets drawing upon the film version of Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd. This one hundred line sequence comes with a set of multi-language footnotes all with the same impediment.
Lucy Sheerman clearly articulates the relevance of Lyn Hejinian’s My Life as ‘a touchstone for experimentation with the representation of thought in the field of the long poem’ in her essay feature. Sheerman quotes Juliana Spahr on Hejinian’s achievement:

Hejinian works rigorously against a capitalsed ‘Self’ or
any stability of the self. Her subjectivity, more empty
than full, concentrates on the ‘separate fragment
scrutiny.’ It is defined by fluctuation, by the
move from ‘I wanted to be’ to the lack of fixity of ‘I am a
shard.’ Or, as she writes citing the title, ‘My life is as
permeable constructedness’ (93). One of the crucial
distinctions between the multiple subjectivity of current
autobiographical criticism and Hejinian’s fluctuating
multiple subjectivity is the absence of stability in
Hejinian’s subject. Instead of offering full multiple
identities, My Life is a process-centred work that
calls attention to the methods by which the
autobiographical subject is constructed by both author and
reader. Hejinian’s constant resignification of subjectivity
confronts head-on the constructed reality of
autobiography and the reader’s seduction by this
construction.

Sheerman concludes with a number of challenging critical comments, which makes the essay immensely valuable and more than a informed introduction.

Long Poem Magazine is a veritable feast of the strange and familiar taking the reader on a wonderful journey.

David Caddy 25th November

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