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Cold Calling (Equipage), World Frequency (Magpie Moon) by Nick Totton

Cold Calling (Equipage), World Frequency (Magpie Moon) by Nick Totton

New collections by Nick Totton are a delight and when he sent me these two a couple of months ago they were accompanied by a note that said “I thought you would like to see these fruits of my poetic renaissance. You wait for years and two come along at once…”
This image of movement and recurrence is central to Totton’s poetry and in a review of the 1976 Many Press collection, A Talisman, Bill Bennett had written in Perfect Bound 2:

“The function of the stars in ‘A Talisman’: so many of the poems ending on an edge, break or shift into another element. The stars bound the digestive tract of the poem’s working, a greasy infinity that adapts its own definitions, ‘the dream swallows me / and I am fed by it, star-milk, star- / breath’. Whether or not that space they offer is release, having freed the tongue to abdicate from it, a slackness of the jaw.”

Bennett continued to suggest that the very reticence of our utterance is the catch, and slowly, in these poems, “we can see a direct statement shaping itself, the alibis accounted for, and leaving a knowledge of possible direction coiled back on itself, a whip at rest”. Totton had worked with Ian Patterson and Martin Thom in a 1977 Cambridge publication, More Follows and then again in 1979 for a Curiously Strong publication Love Laughs at Locksmiths. It is now no surprise to read his recent opening poem to cold calling, ‘A Real Eye Opener’ being for Ian Patterson:

“Returned to the present by hand, solitude comes to play
in the immense game of air
where no pale architecture
makes a desiring rupture, where no
one’s waiting limousines
leave a silver hint at the transfer threshold.”

The Lacanian act of projection forward being at once an act of drawing back reminds us of the Moebius strip, to the topology of which Lacan devoted a good deal of thought:

“I am what I will have been for what I am in the process of becoming.”

In the words of the poet Michael Grant, retired lecturer in English at Kent University, the importance of whose work is being celebrated in a forthcoming festschrift Saluting Steadiness, “In Lacan’s view, it is this temporality of the future anterior that engenders, and is engendered by, the retroactive temporality of the speech act itself, of language in its taking place.” In the words of Nick Totton, poet whose work found a natural resting-place in the Carcanet anthology A Various Art

“What pierced name hangs reversed in startled air?
The bell is out of order but the drill
went smoothly through to the meat of it;
like slipping on the soap we are flung
into the future, where everything
happens twice.”

These are fascinating poems and their debts are fully acknowledged. ‘Drone Congregation’ is written for JH Prynne and it opens with a quotation from Skeat’s Etymological Dictionary: “DREAM…From the same root as drone and drum”. The opening lines of the poem themselves echo the cadences of Prynne’s work:

“Mating occurs in flight: to compress the kill chain
with great speed and force into her opened sting chamber,
a sweet target defined by environmental cues
clustering at predetermined frequencies” [.]

On the closing page of World Frequency (and note that reference to the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time) we are told that the title was originally a mistyping of Word Frequency Niand that most of the poems are “a mosaic of elements from different sources, conscious and unconscious; but a few are derived each from a single source, certain words and phrases being selected and used unchanged, always in the original order and with nothing added”. Poems are “sawn up history / being able to not maintain a stable plateau / ramping up cracked / fractions, acting almost normal against / a backdrop of shiny ice”.

Some of these poems from both collections have appeared in Tears in the Fence and in SNOW. Now they are collected together we are able to note what has become clear:

“a continuous undertow of matterings”

Ian Brinton, 5th July 2018

Michael Grant’s Cinderella’s Ashtray, Simon Smith’s Church Avenue (vErIsImILLtUdE, occasional bulletins)

Michael Grant’s Cinderella’s Ashtray, Simon Smith’s Church Avenue (vErIsImILLtUdE, occasional bulletins)

Some new productions have appeared from Simon Smith’s publishing house and I have been fortunate enough to have a glance at two of them. Reading Michael Grant’s work always gives me a sense of footfalls echoing down a corridor and that is no surprise of course since Grant is a major critic of T.S. Eliot. Back in 1982 he edited the two volume edition of The Critical Heritage for Routledge and I am fortunate to have acquired a copy of these books which used to belong to Donald Davie, himself one of Grant’s teachers at Cambridge. Davie was a great marker of his own books, often using a biro to draw clear lines of approval (or its opposite) down the page. One of the moments in the introduction to the first volume which Davie highlights with enthusiasm reads as follows:

‘The problem of unity and disunity was raised again by John Crowe Ransom in July 1923. Ransom considered that Eliot was engaged in the destruction of the philosophical and cosmical principles by which we form our usual picture of reality, and that Eliot wished to name cosmos Chaos’

Comparing this attitude with that of Allen Tate, Grant goes on to write ‘However, for Tate, it was precisely in the incongruities, labelled as ‘parody’ by Ransom, that the ‘form’ of ‘The Waste Land’ resided, in the ironic attitude of the free consciousness that refused a closed system.’

Irony and refusal both form part of this new collection of Grant’s poetry and the influence of Eliot can still be felt in the sound of ‘a footstep echo / on the flagstone’ as the ‘shadow defends me from the shadow’ (‘For the Present’). Michael Grant is a craftsman and in this way he also pursues the path taken by his master: his writing goes through many drafts before the spare realisation on the page presents the reader with those mysterious echoes which haunt a world that seems to lie beyond language. ‘Disappointment: After Benjamin Péret’ had started many months before as

‘the wings of insects brush against the cheek
the fragment renders visible
the pure contours of the absent work
error is not in violation

of the language
the word as such has fled before the sensual god
of late hours’

This has now been strained down, compressed, condensed, given mysterious vitality as we read

‘insect wings
scarcely thicker than the rain
and as delicate
beat against the cheek

in the casual flight of day the blood has trapped

a sensual god
so pale it is unknown

even to the black outlines of the foliage’

The echoes of course are not merely of T.S. Eliot but also of the great mystics of the seventeenth-century about whom Eliot wrote with much intensity.

Simon Smith’s little collection of twenty-three poems, each containing five lines and each presented as a block of language sitting decisively on the full white page which frames it, also contains echoes. Here I become aware not only of Frank O’Hara, whose steps along the street have been threading their way through Simon Smith’s lines for many years, but also of Paul Blackburn as he ‘hollers / from a window above decades ago’. The world of Scorsese’s Travis Bickle moves along ‘as glimpses / of Manhattan Brooklyn dirty old air / sirens and yellow cabs running along / Ocean Parkway cats held in bad odor’. I recall writing about Smith’s poetry as always being on the move and remember Fifteen Exits (Waterloo Press 2001). Although published at the opening of the new century the individual ‘exits’ were all dated precisely in the closing years of the previous one. The place of first publication and the names of the travelling companions were included. That volume’s opening poem, ‘The Nature of Things’ was dedicated to J.D. Taylor and carried an epigraph from Stephen Rodefer. It began in a slightly old-fashioned epistolary fashion suggestive of being on the cusp of change:

‘Dear John, my friend
can I call you that?
No news, but poetry.’

In Church Avenue the travelling companions include his wife, Flick, and both Barry Schwabsky & John Yau.

Ian Brinton March 1st 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.

 

Poems of Yves Bonnefoy

Poems of Yves Bonnefoy

Ian Brinton & Michael Grant’s Poems of Yves Bonnefoy 1 has just appeared from Oystercatcher Press, the award-winning pamphlet publisher. These translations of Bonnefoy, the French poet and essayist born in 1923, interestingly differ from others in what is essentially a post-Heideggerian world. They delineate the separateness of the poetry of anguish, the bridge between light and darkness that comes after destruction.  Here there is silence after death, destruction, loss of God and the slow emergence of the eternal in the human voice, in bird song, in the forests of trees and memory and the healing of spring and fruit. ‘No beauty no colour detains’ this poetry that insists upon its own purity. It is the poetry of an uncertain quietness into living communication that considers ‘those processions of the light / through a land without birth or death,’ and the path to a new world.  There is a depth of voices coming out of the wilderness that is illustrated in the poem, ‘To the Voice of Kathleen Ferrier.’

 

I celebrate the voice merged with grey

Wavering in the distance of a lost song

As if beyond all pure form

Another song trembled, absolute, alone.

 

Here the translators indicate the loss of the song rather than the singing and thus the message rather than the medium. I immediately hear Ferrier’s contralto singing ‘Blow The Wind Southerly’ or Gluck’s ‘What Is Life?’ and recognize that sense of urgency coming out a generation that experienced personal loss during the Thirties and Forties and somehow have to find a way forward. One can sense more than a simple melancholy in her voice in Mahler’s ‘Das Lied von der Erde.’ Such elemental and eternal depth resonates in these carefully enunciated poems and spin off in disparate directions.

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