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Atmosphered by Eléna Rivera (Oystercatcher Press)

Atmosphered by Eléna Rivera (Oystercatcher Press)

In her act of translating those fragmentary pearl moments which had originally belonged to Isabelle Baladine Howald, to which I referred in the last blog, Eléna Rivera revealed herself to be a poet: one who understands the contours of language. In translating the opening movement of ‘August’ she had written ‘Word is too brief’ as though to call up in front of us that memorable line from Bunting, ‘Pens are too light take a chisel to write’. In this companion Oystercatcher volume of her own poems, Atmosphered, that hard-edged clarity, graven, is evident from the opening ‘Holes. / In the ambit. / Cherished. In the box / Holes. In the container / Not alone in this.’

It is one of the abilities of poetry to bring a fresh sense of life to language. Communicating through sound as well as sight poetry weaves its traces in tone as well as stone, engaging our eyes with what Prynne referred to as the ‘pearl-bright moments of words moving along the currents of our changing times.’ It could almost be with that in mind that we read Rivera’s delicate tracery of thought:

‘My limits, my language—Mine?

mobile beyond all reason

Metamorphic above a given location

“A reed shaken by wind”

The intricacy of moving forward’

When contemplating our own limits, our own language, we have to question its provenance: whose language is it that I am using? As a friend of mine once put it the ‘awful thing about words is that you don’t know whose mouth they have been in before!’ Words are mobile, they are constructed of those standing emblems on a page ‘shaken by wind’, they move, as Prynne put it, ‘along the currents of our changing times’. However, in the breath of the poet they are also the ‘intricacy of moving forward.’ Currents and changing may well be inseparable from continuity.

These poems are delicate reassertions of an ongoing domesticity of existence:

‘Return. Returns.
The pain of—
Keep cleaning the closet—
Recurrence, vexation, pullulation,

or simply: Keep dusting’

The security offered by language is the flipside of the coin. Repetition of the well-worn epithet, worn thin by usage which may be increasingly commercial, may be unnerving to the acute sensibility of a user of language who has weighed out those tones and contours but

by the image,
that meeting place in language—
Snowed in—
Couldn’t move away’

Read these poems, they are striking and memorable!

Ian Brinton 16th October 2014.

Michael Farrell & Scott Thurston

Michael Farrell & Scott Thurston

Two new collections of living poetry brought to the surface by the




When Michael Farrell’s collection, Open Sesame, appeared from Giramondo Press in Australia two years ago it had this comment on the back cover: ‘This poetry can be unsettling, and its abstract music is passionate as well as parodic. Farrell’s fractured narratives seem to settle in the reader’s mind where they become a form of pure lyricism’.


The Australian poet Henry Lawson (to whose memory a statue of the poet accompanied by a swagman, a fencepost and a dog was put up in Sidney in the early 1930s) becomes the title of one of these new fast-moving pieces which merge the world of Michael McClure and that parodic humour pointed out the blurb above.


reading henry lawson


i go into the snow &

see a rainbow. cars have action: streets shriek

‘our love affair.’


Quoting the tones of


your voice…chaste


backpack, head full of ‘i’


words. don’t make me rue


the day i took up Spanish things. (hold


the tool in your would be


mallar me

In his introduction to Talking Poetics, Dialogues in Innovative Poetry (Shearsman 2011) Scott Thurston reminded us that ‘writings have their own secret life which escapes the writer, which eludes her or him, and without which the whole endless, sacrificial labour of writing would be worthless’. Scott’s new sequence, Figure Detached, Figure Impermanent, gives us that truth on the page as we confront mystery and a compassionate understanding of cultural values:


This poem has already been read for you. Isn’t a word a site

of interaction? No need to overcome disagreement when

you throw yourself away so easily. Source the act.

Recognise, reject pattern; find equilibrium. In the luxury of

the past she went into character as a listener, the witness just

another brick in the wall.


Both these chapbooks are full of humour: mischievous and graceful, sharp-edged as comments upon the world. Whether it is Scott Thurston’s nod in the direction of Samuel L. Jackson’s hit-man in Pulp Fiction who tells his partner that it is time for them to ‘get into character’ or Michael Farrell’s shift of the name of a French poet, so dear to contemporary poetics, into a self-pummelling verb of astonishment (‘mallar me’) there is a vibrancy about these two volumes which make them worth ordering immediately.



Ian Brinton 4th April 2014.


Alan Baker and Sarah Hayden from the Oystercatcher’s beak

Alan Baker and Sarah Hayden from the Oystercatcher’s beak

all this air and matter by Alan Baker


System Without Issue by Sarah Hayden


When these two little Oystercatchers arrived in the post they were accompanied by a note from the founder of the Press: ‘A brace of autumnal Oystercatchers for your table, with the compliments of the mizzly, leaf-littered season. These 2 are as alike as a dog & a cog in a pod.’


Alan Baker’s poems give us a clear sense of presence as this sequence contemplates ‘what might be made / from all this air and matter’. People and sounds shift their movements across the pages and the conditional ‘as if’ reminds us of a world which is waiting for words to give it shape. Whether reality can be found in ‘grey stone paths and stone-grey sky’ or in ‘wind in the grass’ will be a matter of the associations of language but what can never be doubted from a reading of these poems is that ‘the present has always existed’. It needs the lyrical poet to weave the outlines of a drawing that is ever on the move and so within a sonnet that begins with touches of O’Hara (‘stop for a coffee / at London Road Diner’) the fourth and fifth line move us forward


sunny day


and windy!


The foot of the piece holds the fragile construction up on the page as the waitress emphasises the present


in silhouette

as she wedges the wind-blown door

with a piece of cardboard



Sarah Hayden’s sequence of small-font texts present a feeling of authority from the beginning:


This is the song of the daughter born without a mother

This is how she spun out the cold nights when there was none to be tending [to]

This is how flat she lay

This is how clear the lines

How singular the purpose

How glossy her ripolin

And how ineffable her intention


That enamelled combination of the smooth, the glossy and the perfected sets a scene for a remarkable sequence of poems which, whilst at some moments eschewing any personal air, at other moments play within the linguistic associations of a lyrical tradition. One of the fascinating qualities of this writing is its ability to both keep the reader at arm’s length and at the same time to present an echoing yearning for attachment. The ‘system’ may be without issue but the interweaving of linguistic associations determine some very palpable issues.


Do order both of these splendid books; they are, in their different ways, just the right thing for the cold days ahead.


Ian Brinton, December 6th 2013



Wrecked by Simon Howard

Wrecked by Simon Howard


New from Oystercatcher: Wrecked, a series of poems by Simon Howard.


The epigraph from Herakleitos, itself a fragment, tells us ‘The most beautiful order of the world is still a random gathering of things insignificant in themselves.’


Reading these poems I found myself taken back to those comments made by Roger Langley when he was interviewed by R.F. Walker, published in the Salt collection Don’t Start Me Talking. Remembering a time when he stood under a tree for an hour and a half having walked out of the village at dusk ‘it occurred to me that I ought to stand without moving at all for that length of time and see what happened. Not even turning my head. A lot of rabbits came up and sat on my feet. And moths whipping about within inches of me. A feeling that you might get through to what was really there if you stripped off enough. I thought that was an interesting experience: to be alone and perfectly still. As soon as you move things take on meaning, don’t they? Because things become things that you’ve got to step round or walk over or something. They instantly become part of your map, as it were. Whereas if you stand absolutely still, then they might not be part of any map at all. You ‘see’ the place when you haven’t got any designs on it.’

Langley had been reading Thomas Nagel’s The View from Nowhere with its contemplation of objective understanding and attempts to transcend our particular viewpoint.


Simon Howard’s accumulation of fragments, ‘These roaring cupboard / these whispering chair’, takes us to ‘The edge / at the edge // of every narrative’. We are in a world of William Carlos Williams and surreal order, a unity of sounds and solidity, a chronicle of damage


Nail notch



a lane alien

a line align




autobiography of a location

something obscures their heads


I try to be objective

I’ve become an object


Buy this book from Oystercatcher Press,


Ian Brinton


Peter Dent’s Private Utopias

Peter Dent’s Private Utopias

Peter Dent’s Private Utopias: or ‘Noises in the Head’ (Oystercatcher Press 2013) contains utterances that are to be relished as poetic artifacts that reverberate with flamboyant first person narratives and odd distillations of life falling between public and private familiarity. Here are pinpricks along a number of discourses that probe viewpoints and show the weave in and out of a number of binary oppositions. It is the suggested otherness, the private utopia, which works in balance with an implicit probing that lifts the poems off. Words and phrases from distinct discourses intermingle with colloquialisms and clichés. Significantly, they are not juxtaposed and thus the reader is often confronted with a sequence of linked lines where public and private coalesce. There may be slippages, as the back cover blurb suggests, but they are unitary slippages inherent to the narrative.


You may well ask ‘why’ but they couldn’t possibly say   so


heads it’s a tailspin tails it’s a guaranteed loss leader   who

read the outcome should have voiced their concern at the

time  for two pins I’d swap our current preoccupation with


fixing outcomes for a decent walk – any walk – in the hills

if that means being in two minds well so be it   I’m not a


It is wonderfully rich and open poetry, adopting Robert Creeley’s maxim to have more than one event per line. Dent regularly offers one and a half events per line that make the poems zip along in an unpredictable but lucid manner. It is possible to approach the poems with different reading strategies that offer ways toward an immensely satisfying journey. It is Dent’s great achievement that they are both settled and unsettling.


I could be a gift to an implant manufacturer  one creating


private utopias but it’s late in the day   curiosity about the

instruments of Java and Bali combines with the howling of a

pack of wolves to restore hope in a world more dangerous



David Caddy






Pamphlet Revival: Ag and Au

Pamphlet Revival: Ag and Au

Poetry pamphlet publishers are filling the gap of more staid and conservative publishers by publishing sequences and more often.   Pamphlets are having a revival. They continue to be as relevant to the emergence of new work, especially sequences and work in progress as they were thirty or forty years ago. They serve as interim reports, markers of what is new and emerging from the pit face. Oystercatcher Press, Happenstance Press, Corrupt Press, Like This Press and several others have helped to revitalize the pamphlet-publishing scene. They appear to be far more effective than e-pamphlets and have the advantages of mobility and samizdat alterity.


Charles Wilkinson’s poetry pamphlet Ag & Au (Flarestack Poets 2013), illustrated by Birmingham Institute of Art & Design students, explores the history of Birminghams’s Jewellery Quarter and the qualities of silver (Ag) and gold (Au). ‘The Golden Triangle’ has flourished since the nineteenth century and occasions this wonderfully atmospheric, spare and balanced sequence. Wilkinson employs found materials and his own archival research into the location, jeweller’s craft and individual craftsmen, to add depth and texture to his poems. Wilkinson welds a specific vocabulary, imbedded in a distinctly localized, social and economic history, and overlays with tight musicality.


opening the shutters

to let in the tall morn-

ing, pace it out, & smile

as if recording, though

an instant & it’s done;

take out My Lady’s Tray:

the same gravitas, open-

ing the door; sir-hiss o

how many times a day – His

Lordship always out, he’s

          by the herringbone stream,

sir: soft sound goes deeper,


Ur and the silver on

the sideboard black white, chang-



These visually attractive poems sparkle with ballads, gems, jeweller’s boxes, bells, lemel bricks, fool’s silver, seasilver and are vitalised by reference to the world of service, child labour, trade disputes and cuffs of light.


David Caddy

‘an intuition of the particular’ Peter Hughes

‘an intuition of the particular’ Peter Hughes

‘An intuition of the particular’: some essays on the poetry of Peter Hughes (Shearsman Books 2013), the companion volume to his Selected Poems, (Shearsman 2013), illuminates and excites the reader through close textual readings. Hughes is a poet, painter, musician and publisher of the award-winning Oystercatcher Press. He is undoubtedly one of the most prolific and accomplished poets currently working in England. His recent work translating Petrarch’s sonnets into the landscape of the Norfolk coast being both impressive and popular. This volume is a perceptive and useful accompaniment to his poetry.

Behoven 16

he would stalk

the winter quarters

of the circus

glaring at bears

The essays, edited by Ian Brinton, feature in an informative interview with John Welch, who also writes about publishing Hughes early collections. There are essays by Peter Riley on The Metro Poems, Derek Slade on three poems from Blueroads, John Hall on Behoven, Andrew Bailey on The Summer of Agios Dimitrios and Simon Howard on the Petrarch sonnets that significantly mark the range of Hughes’ output. David Kennedy and Simon Marsh offer insights into the ways that artists and musicians, such as Paul Klee, Joan Miro, Art Pepper, Keith Tippett, Beethoven and others have fuelled and shaped poetic sequences and collaborations. Nigel Wheale offers a reader’s response to the experience of reading Hughes over time. Gene Tanta writes on why poetic collaboration matters, Riccardo Duranti contextualises Hughes’ Italian poetic connections, and Ian MacMillan writes about Oystercatcher Press. Ian Brinton’s introductory essay highlights Hughes ability ‘to condense the universal into the field of local habitation and name.’ This wonderfully stimulating volume deserves to be read by anyone interested contemporary poetry.

David Caddy

Hool Goes There

Hool Goes There

Ric Hool’s Selected Poems has just appeared from Red Squirrel Press and it can be obtained from Sheila Wakefield, the Founding Editor of that interesting and attractive publishing venture. The address is Briery Hill Cottage, Stannington, Morpeth NE61 6ES:


It is very appropriate that this new volume of Ric’s should come out from the North East since this is where he hails from. Equally appropriate is the inclusion in the volume of the ‘Five Devotions to Barry MacSweeney’ which had originally been published in the summer of 2002 in Tears Number 32. When Ric Hool’s Collective Press volume, Making It, appeared in 1998 it had a back cover which included MacSweeney’s blurb: ‘I like it very much and find the firmness and sureness of the lyricism refreshing in this cynical and flaky world. A poet with a joyful soul is rare indeed these days.’ Another quotation on the back of that little volume is from Chris Torrance who commented that ‘the poet is not supplying any easy answers, but posing dilemmas that are philosophical, ethical, ecological. It is work that I can read again, knowing that it is durable, poetry that can move with time.’


Those comments are equally appropriate to this new volume and as Fiona Owen says ‘Themes such as space, mapping and music trickle through the book like a stream.’


With these comments in mind I want to highlight the new Oystercatcher Press volume of Amy Cutler’s Nostalgia Forest. This is an astonishingly attractive chapbook which everybody should get hold of and Peter Larkin’s comments on it are worth taking very seriously indeed: ‘Though any forest memory may be at best like one of Aristotle’s “shaggy waxes”, these diagrammatic profiles offer intimations of calamity or nurture, or a tonal or atonal transversal of timber, itself an astute truncation of nostalgia’s own magnetic time-intervals.’ If you are in London on Thursday June 6th then do go to the evening of drinks and live music at the launch of a belfry exhibition of small press poems, one-off editions, book works, art and archival photographs. Copies of Nostalgia Forest will be on sale there.


Time, the deer, is in the wood of Hallaig                                            /                                             Tha tìm, am fiadh, an Coille Hallaig

7.30 at The Belfry Art Gallery, St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9PA

Ian Brinton




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.

New from Oystercatcher

New from Oystercatcher

Three very different books arrived on my desk within the past few days and all are worth serious attention.


Robert Rowland Smith’s On Modern Poetry, From Theory to Total Criticism, gives a serious account of how we engage with reading poetry. In the introduction he points to the difference between poetry and prose as being demonstrated by poetry’s camera-obscura genius not just for focusing on the tiny and projecting it on a larger screen, but for turning it upside down:


‘Where a prose narrative keeps going with the pinpricks—and then this, and then that—accounting for every line in the budget, the poem takes us inside its own endarkened shoebox cinema and shows us a little scene, some magic theatre, of luminous non-sense’


The concluding chapter in this book is titled ‘The case of J.H. Prynne’ and it provides a fascinating close reading of ‘A blow on the side of the mouth’, the last poem in the sequence Word Order which appeared in 1989 from Peter Larkin’s Prest Roots Press.


Two new Oystercatchers


The Liverpool-based poet Sarah Crewe and the London-based Richard Parker both have excellent new chapbooks out from Peter Hughes’s Oystercatcher Press and these can be obtained by going to the website


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