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City Trappings (Housing Heath or Wood) by Peter Larkin (Veer Books)

City Trappings (Housing Heath or Wood) by Peter Larkin (Veer Books)

The menacing satirical quality of George Cruikshank’s 1829 print of ‘London Going Out of Town or the March of Bricks and Mortar’ may well have reflected the view the artist saw from the windows of his house in Myddelton Terrace in Islington as extensive building works were in progress in the Camden and Islington area. St Paul’s Cathedral appears amid the smoke from chimneys on the left of the drawing and a variety of inanimate things come to life in an invasion of the rural surroundings. Haystacks are seen fleeing from the discharge of bricks as from a muzzle-loading mortar and the whimsicality of having the workmen, who are digging up the ground and tearing up the trees, possess heads made from beermugs does little to soften the impact of such invasive development.
The ‘Note’ at the beginning of Peter Larkin’s disturbingly powerful 21 poems recently published by Veer Books gives a clear account of the area of his focus:

‘These poems arise from an ambivalent fascination with new perceptions of the urban environment and wildlife, especially in terms of remaining pockets of ‘trapped’ or encapsulated countryside…’

The direction of Cruikshank’s invading army of bricks and mortar might suggest the partial urbanisation of Hampstead Heath during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and if so it is worth contemplating the poetry of response to this move. Leigh Hunt went to live there and his house became a centre for the leading literary figures of the day: both Coleridge and Crabbe visited there at about the same time as Cruikshank’s apocalyptic satirical vision. As Larkin goes on to say in his introductory comment these pockets of ‘trapped’ countryside are ‘often survivals of deer parks or chases which were never intensively farmed but are just large enough to drop containment on the far side of their horizon’. The growth of these ‘pockets’ of ‘encapsulated’ rural freedom may well have led to the formation in 1882 of the National Footpath Preservation Society whose main aim was to protect the commons from entire absorption by private landlords and railway companies. The city-dweller started to take his Sunday morning walking-tour and this became so popular that the subsequent decline in church attendance led to the Convocation of Canterbury meeting to discuss the “Sunday question”.
Section 3 of Peter Larkin’s sequence of poems sets a scene for ‘Population prescience’ and ‘con / fined deferral’ and the question is asked about the emergence of that which is not to be repressed:

‘….if emergence
is entrenched core, which
urban valve emulates
the flow?’

The first of the three epigraphs to the sequence comes from J.H. Prynne’s ‘In the Long Run, to be Stranded’ from The White Stones (1969):

‘called the city and the deep
blunting damage of hope’

Prynne’s city is an inalienable whole within which we live and the echo of damage is felt in Larkin’s section 4:

‘urban in-hollowing, full exposure to lateral concern is the
trapping itself: horizons glide and raise accordingly

nostalgia implode supplies a rind to content, at this point the
urban handle does turn: we are tipped for zones horizoning
us by event, by disconvention post-immaculate but purely
on implanted spot’

As Larkin looks at what might be perceived as ‘a universally normative urban inclusiveness’ he also wonders ‘how much idyll is untransferable’; that verbal echo of a nineteenth-century reminder of a long-gone world evoked by Theocritus casts its own shadow as we look at the second of the epigraphs to the poem. Christina Rossetti’s lines ‘And other eyes than ours / Were made to look on flowers’ can be juxtaposed with the prose section 7 in which we encounter ‘a green gap is a gate to walking the entrapment’ and the city ‘conspires protection under its feet / initial urban running ahead into the domain…’. In this world which is being explored by the poet of the Twenty-first Century Nature is ‘only portable / through a mesh of local / variation’. It might be worth recalling here another nineteenth-century voice, that of Richard Jefferies who published his Nature Near London in 1883 one year after the setting up of that footpath society:

‘Though my preconceived ideas were overthrown by the presence of so much that was beautiful and interesting close to London, yet in course of time I came to understand what was at first a dim sense of something wanting. In the shadiest lane, in the still pinewoods, on the hills of purple heath, after brief contemplation there arose a restlessness, a feeling that it was essential to be moving…This was the unseen influence of mighty London. The strong life of the vast city magnetized me…’.

Peter Larkin’s near-microscopic focus upon what he sees allows us to become aware of what might lie behind his ‘ambivalent fascination’ and the final poem offers us a ‘heath’ which is ‘prying into its lyrical tent’

‘where urbanisation dives
for no human help, spell
out the survival nodes

coalescent emergency ribbons
a green inference: less of ours
in the more to be given’

The pun on the word ‘spell’ opens up a conclusion which suggests that the ‘City Trappings’ do not solely represent imprisonment and the third of the epigraphs has a direct voice from Peter Riley which it would be foolish to ignore:

‘We’ll evict ourselves when we need to’

Ian Brinton 17th August 2016

Tears in the Fence 63

Tears in the Fence 63

Tears in the Fence 63 is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, fiction, non-fiction and translations from Peter Larkin, Laurie Duggan, Geraldine Clarkson, Kathrine Sowerby, Mélisande Fitzsimons, Rethabile Masilo, Sally Dutton, Hugo von Hofmannsthal translated by William Ruleman, Cristina Navazo-Eguía Newton, William Ruleman, Nathan Thompson, Richard Foreman, Melinda Lovell, Charles Wilkinson, Caroline Maldonado, Colin Sutherill, Colin Winborn, Jackie Felleague, Basil King, Eilidh Thomas, Paul Rossiter, Alda Merini translated by Chiara Frenquelluci & Gwendolyn Jensen, Michael Ayers, Helen Moore, Rachael Clyne, Elizabeth Stott, Caitlin Gillespie, Alice Wooledge Salmon, D.N. Simmers, David Ball, Cherry Smyth, John Freeman, Linda Russo, John Brantingham, Roy Patience, Denni Turp, Lesley Burt, Natasha Douglas, Sarah Cave, Valerie Bridge and Steve Spence.

The critical section features Frances Spurrier on Eva Gore-Booth, Dorothy Lehane on Sophie Mayer, Mandy Pannett on Out Of Everywhere 2, Ben Hickman on Tim Allen, Ric Hool on Chris Torrance’s Frinite, Fiona Owen on Jeremy Hooker, Seán Street, Oliver Dixon on English Modernism, Joseph Persad on Maurice Scully, Mark Weiss, Ian Seed on Jeremy Over’s prose poems, Kat Peddie on Marianne Morris, Kelvin Corcoran interviewing Peter Riley on Due North, Belinda Cooke on Antonia Pozzi trans. Peter Robinson, Paul Matthews on Fiona Owen, Mandy Pannett on Pansy Maurer-Alvarez, David Caddy on The New Concrete, Anthony Barnett – Antonym: César Vallejo, Notes On Contributors and Ian Brinton’s Afterword.

Copies are £10. UK Subscriptions £25 for three issues or £40 for six issues.

9 April 2016

Poems 2004 -2014 Harriet Tarlo (Shearsman Books)

Poems 2004 -2014 Harriet Tarlo (Shearsman Books)

In January of last year Shearsman Books published a delightful collection of poems by Harriet Tarlo and I do not use that adjective without some consideration. I remember reviewing her Anthology of Radical Landscape Poetry, The Ground Aslant (Shearsman 2011), when it first appeared and being struck by the sharp focus of the poet’s introduction in which she wrote ‘Language is a form in which landscape can come alive’. The quiet and perceptive intelligence of this brief statement was brought back to my mind yesterday when I was reading Madame Bovary in preparation for a talk to be given to Sixth-formers in a couple of weeks’ time. Flaubert’s understanding of the world as seen through the eyes of the sentimental Emma is placed, at one point, in terms of landscape:

‘She liked the sea only for its storms, and greenery only when it was thinly scattered among ruins. She had to be able to derive a kind of personal advantage from things; and she rejected as useless all that did not immediately contribute to her heart’s consummation—being of a temperament more sentimental than artistic, seeking emotions and not landscapes.’

Also in her introduction, the editor accounted for the diversity of texts by Wendy Mulford, Peter Larkin and many others as juxtaposing differing arrangements of prose blocks, found text and stanzas of poetry, ‘each within their own spaces.’ She then suggested that ‘these diverse texts speak to each other across the space, allowing readers to enter the poem and speculate over their relationship to each other’. I think that that it was the importance of this last statement that came back to my mind when I was looking at Harriet Tarlo’s Poems 2004-2014 and I re-read Gillian Allnutt’s comment on the back about this being a poetry ‘that thinks through time and place’.

I was looking closely at the concluding sequence of eleven poems, ‘insurmountable chasm’, many of which were originally embedded in an essay entitled ‘An Insurmountable Chasm?’: Revisiting, Re-imagining and Re-writing Classical Pastoral through the Modernist Poetry of H.D.’ which had been published four years ago in Classical Receptions. The first piece is what Tarlo terms ‘original’ and I think that it is very striking indeed in the different ways it can be read.

found words over space list
shunting sound leaf dust under
learning to hesitate leave it
long and longer over-creepage
ivy

The way that this poem is laid out is central to the manner in which it can be read and I am hoping that the spaces will have come over okay when my little piece has been transferred to the website blog. If not then readers will have to write out the twenty-one words for themselves or, much better, buy a copy of this delightful collection: it will repay many hours of focused study as one appreciates how language is a form in which landscape can come alive.

In his essay ‘Four Different Ways of looking at J.H. Prynne’s Chinese Poem’ (Quid 7), Li Zhimin wrote:

‘To judge whether a classical Chinese poem is successful, the first and most important question is to see whether it creates an integrated Yijing, which refers to the overall effect of a poem, a sort of picturing imagination fully including the poet’s genuine understanding of life at large, of human beings, of nature and the universe…The appreciation of a good classical Chinese poem often runs beyond explanation. In many cases, it is simply unexplainable. The more one explains, the more its beauty will be blurred for readers…’

Li Zhimin goes on to tell us that the usual way of reading a traditional Chinese poem is (i) from right to left vertically downwards. A more modern Chinese way, more familiar of course to us, is (ii) from left to right, horizontally. A third way of reading (iii), combining the two cultures could combine the traditional Chinese-right-to-left and the English-horizontal and one might even be compelled to try (iv) the English-left-to-right and the traditional Chinese-vertical way. Looking at Harriet Tarlo’s first poem in ‘insurmountable chasm’ the effect of these different ways of reading can be felt immediately and I just want to point out a few of the delights which I came across while leaving the continued and continuing reading of these poems to you.

In (i) watch how the pun on ‘leave’ (leaf) is followed by the thrust forward of ‘over-creepage’ to ‘over leaf’ which hesitates before the enclosing growth of ‘ivy’ becomes language.
In (ii) watch how ‘space list’, a white page perhaps(?), seeks space ‘over’ language, words which are that ‘dust’ of accumulation under ‘leaf’ can be given voice ‘shunting sound’.

This beautifully put together book of poems sheds light.

Ian Brinton 17th January 2016

Give Forest Its Next Portent by Peter Larkin

Give Forest Its Next Portent by Peter Larkin

Shearsman Books

In Robert Browning’s poem from the 1864 sequence Dramatis Personae, ‘Gold Hair’, the poet refers to the ‘beautiful girl…/ Who lived at Pornic, down by the sea’:

‘Yet earth saw one thing, one how fair!
One grace that grew to its full on earth:
Smiles might be sparse on her cheek so spare,
And her waist want half a girdle’s girth,
But she had her great gold hair.’

The word ‘sparse’ is derived from the Latin verb spargere, to scatter, and can refer to being widely spaced or spread out as well as distributed in all directions. In the section from this new book from Peter Larkin, ‘Sparse reach Stretches the Field’ (2011) the word is used on some twelve occasions and refers to an outward thrust of growth ‘stretched at drawn-out fully sparse’. In the earlier section of this lovely collection of writing, ‘exposure (A Tree) presents’, following on from an epigraphic quotation from Roger Langley (‘The Tree. It shows what we would call / constraint. It bursts through rock in calluses’) we are given a piece of prose which is unmistakably Peter Larkin:

Already unsealed from itself but poor enough to steal attached life to a kit of relation, a blunt jerk towards additions of acceptance, copiously sparse, rooted from edge.’

The words push outwards, unsealing, becoming movements which steal in stealth with an unstoppable ‘blunt jerk’: they are rooted from edge, prayer-like upwards and stretching towards what lies beyond the page.

‘Prayer takes the flightpath of a world not yet cleared of trees but they already betoken its etiolation the by-tallness of placing ascent to
obtrude through seems already stretching past the flattened way firs obsess a periphery beyond what is their focal legion, patrolling a prayer
at its slender successors of margin’

(Section III of ‘praying // firs // attenuate’, 2014)

When I wrote a short review three years ago of Harriet Tarlo’s anthology of Radical Landscape Poetry, The Ground Aslant, I referred to Peter Larkin’s work in comparison with the prose poems of Francis Ponge and suggested that the French writer’s eye had been attracted to contrasts, edges, contours, meeting places: those areas which define where one thing ends and another begins. Ponge’s interest in edges, boundaries, ‘bords de mer’, dispelled the vertigo of gazing at the overwhelming bulk of phenomena: the grand ocean of Victor Hugo’s language is dispelled by a focus on the particular and seashores offer a framework akin to the pages of a published piece of writing. Or as Charles Tomlinson put it in a poem composed in December 1952, ‘REALITY is to be sought, not in concrete, / But in space made articulate: / The shore, for instance, / Spreading between wall and wall; / The sea-voice / Tearing the silence from the silence.’

The taut and straining movement of Peter Larkin’s work inevitably brings to mind the complexity of language used by Gerard Manley Hopkins and I looked up the 1873 ‘Journal’ to find

‘At the end of the month hard frosts. Wonderful downpour of leaf: when the morning sun began to melt the frost they fell at one touch and in a few minutes a whole tree was flung of them; they lay masking and papering the ground at the foot. Then the tree seems to be looking down on its cast self as blue sky on snow after a long fall, its losing, its doing’

As Larkin suggests

‘Nothing squats in the midst of guileless void unless hollows a layer of intricate tackle out of the way of itself cunning of branch at a longitude of members if this is to allow itself at last there will be fewer withheld packets countering as sheer twist the vertical risk of thickets’

Note please the absence of a full-stop at the end of either of these quotations. Life continues to push outwards and ‘sparse’ will lead to ‘great gold hair’.

Ian Brinton, 23rd October 2014

Tears in the Fence 59

Tears in the Fence 59

Tears in the Fence 59 is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, fiction and nonfiction from Lucy Burnett, Anne Gorrick, Colin Sutherill, Peter Larkin, Mark Goodwin, Chris Hall, Sue Chenette, Stefan Zweig translated by William Ruleman, Lesley Burt, June English, Sheila Hamilton, Rachel Sills, Mandy Pannett, Janet Rogerson, Valerie Bridge, Elizabeth Stott, Seàn Street, Charles Hadfield, Natalie Bradbeer, Grahaeme Barrasford Young, Charles Wilkinson, Eleanor Rees, Christos Sakellaridis, Carole Birkan, James Bell, Nicolas Ridley, Gerald Locklin, Caroline Clark, Simon Jenner, Rosie Jackson, Geraldine Clarkson and Steve Spence.

The critical section includes David Caddy’s Editorial, Anthony Barnett’s Antonym: A Disaccumulation of Knowledge, A Conversation Piece with John Freeman by Gavin Goodwin, Jennifer K. Dick’s Of Tradition and Experiment X: Five Small Press Publications, Peter Hughes on John Hall, Ben Hickman on Keston Sutherland, Norman Jope on recent Waterloo Press books, Elizabeth Stott on Kathleen Jones’ biography of Norman Nicholson, Juha Virtanen on recent Knives Forks and Spoons Press publications, Tom Jenks on Robert Sheppard, Mandy Pannett on Valerie Bridge, Rosie Jackson’s Between The Lines, Anthony Barnett’s Antonym: Gunnar Ekelöf ’s Table and Ian Brinton’s Aferword.

Ian Heames’ Out Of Villon

Ian Heames’ Out Of Villon

Last Saturday at the Free Verse poetry book fair in Conway Hall I ran into Ian Heames who was manning a stall alongside Justin Katko. Katko’s press, Critical Documents (http://plantarchy.us), has published some very important material over the past couple of years including J.H. Prynne’s Kazoo Dreamboats, Josh Stanley’s Contra Night Escha Black, Ryan Dobran’s Ding Ding as well as work by Ian Heames such as Gloss To Carriers.

 

There is a lyrical energy weaving its way through Ian Heames’s poems and I was much struck by small pamphlet poem Out Of Villon which has been published by cucpress (cucpress.tumblr.com). Here I found myself reading echoes of Robert Browning filtered through Basil Bunting and Stephen Rodefer:

 

This evening, select, extant

Dictating these discrepant lays

All day by the bell of Sorbonne

 

That predicted angel who has none hour sounds

 

At the time, I felt Lady Memory

To begin again in the metro

 

By doing this I’m drinking wine

By force

 

My asperity is a lyre.

 

This poem is dated December 1st 2009 and was published in 2011. Look out for it; it is a haunting poem which won’t quite leave you alone. Ian Heames has also edited an interesting little magazine, No Prizes, issue 2 of which appeared earlier this year. It contains work by Bill Fuller and Sean Bonney as well as Jeremy Prynne’s thoughts on Peter Larkin which had been delivered at the inaugural event of the un-American Activities reading series in May of this year in Cambridge.

 

Ian Brinton

 

 

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: www.redsquirrelpress.com

 

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

 

 

 

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