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Tag Archives: Peter Robinson

What the Sky Arranges Poems made from the TSUREZUREGUSA of KENKŌ by Andrew Fitzsimons, with drawings by Sergio Maria Calatroni, Isobar Press

What the Sky Arranges  Poems made from the TSUREZUREGUSA of KENKŌ  by Andrew Fitzsimons, with drawings by Sergio Maria Calatroni, Isobar Press

The forthcoming launch of Paul Rossiter’s 2015 programme of books from Isobar Press, details of which can be found at the foot of this blog, has prompted me to recall an Isobar production from last year: the meditative, witty and long-lasting short poems by Andrew Fitzsimons gathered from a reading of Kenkō.

‘Travel. Wherever you go
the world you bring with you
is washed by the world you see.’

There is a refreshing sense of whole attention in these poems and a quietness of reflection that glimmers long after the little book is closed. There is a merging of closely observed detail with a background that offers years of support:

‘What is bad taste?
too many knick-knacks about the place
too many brushes in the ink box
too many Buddhas
too many shrubs and plants in a garden
too many rooms in a house
too many words on meeting someone
a ledger all plus and no minus?

Myths, tales, stories tell us something about who we are and the American poet, Robert Duncan’s autobiographical essay, The Truth & Life of Myth (House of Books Ltd. New York, 1968), referred to a sense of ‘universal humanity’ which is open to being discovered in the ‘mixing-ground of man’s commonality in myth’:

The meaning and intent of what it is to be a man and, among men, to be a poet, I owe to the workings of myth in my spirit, both the increment of associations gathered in my continuing study of mythological lore and my own apprehension of what my life is at work there. The earliest stories heard, nursery rimes and animal tales from childhood, remain today alive in my apprehensions, for there is a ground of man’s imaginations of what he is in which my own nature as a man is planted and grows.

Duncan’s book was subtitled ‘An essay in Essential Autobiography’ and the poet recalled sitting with his sister, ‘my mother between us’, looking at pictures in a book ‘as my mother reads aloud’:

‘The picture I am looking at is of three young men sleeping on a mat. One of them, the poet Basho, has awakened. Their naked feet are uncovered where they have pulled the blankets up around their necks in the cold. There is a poem that goes with that picture on the page. But this is not the poem that comes to mind even as I see the picture. For as I remember that moment, there is another scene superimposed, a double exposure, in which the very plash of a frog jumping into an old pond appears as if from actual life itself, but this vivid impression belongs to one of the most famous of all Japanese hokkus

In the poem ‘WORLDS’ by Fitzsimons the old world is washed by the new as if the lenses of the eye were being cleansed by focussed attention upon the new moment. When J.H. Prynne, at that time Director of Studies at Gonville and Caius, put together some ‘Tips on Practical Criticism for Students of English, 2006’ he associated close and broad reading skills in a way not dissimilar to this image of one world washed by another:

‘In fact, and in practice, however, close and broad reading skills reciprocally energise and complement each other. Regular exercises in close reading both sharpen and deepen accurate response to local texture and also feed into enhanced perception of larger-scale structure, to make us all-round better readers. One hand washes the other. Principles and foundations of a distinctive personal judgement begin to appear, together with increased range of response and cogency of evaluative judgement, supported by explorative argument within awareness of differing views and opinions. Step by step, as a reader, you begin to tune in and wake up.’
Read What the Sky Arranges and dwell for a moment upon ‘DATES:

‘Don’t wait till dotage for your goodness to begin.
Look at the dates on those gravestones.’

Isobar books are published to a very high standard and it would be worth going to this launch just to buy a copy of Andrew Fitzsimons’ poems let alone the new publications which include Peter Robinson’s poems from his time in Japan.
The London launch of Isobar Books takes place this Friday, 3rd July upstairs in the Rugby Tavern, Gt. James St. WC1N 3ES at 7.00.
Ian Brinton 29th June 2015

Buried Music by Peter Robinson (Shearsman Books)

Buried Music by Peter Robinson (Shearsman Books)

On the back cover of this new collection by Peter Robinson Sue Hubbard is quoted:

‘Robinson is at his best when describing the strangeness of marginalia such as…”a creosoted shed / with ivy bursting through its boards”…where time is distorted and realigned like perspectives in a mirror so that a return “home” feels as strange as being in a foreign country’.

When I saw this it brought back to me those lines of the French poet Philippe Jaccottet from his 1970 publication Landscapes with Absent Figures:

And so, without desiring it or seeking it, what I discovered at times was a homeland, and perhaps the most rightful one: a place which opened up to me the magical depths of Time. And if the word “paradise” came to mind, it was also probably because I breathed more freely beneath this sky, like someone rediscovering his native soil. When you leave the periphery of things and make for the centre, you feel calmer, more assured, less anxious about disappearing or living to no purpose. These “openings” which were offered to the inner eye thus seemed convergent, like the radii of a sphere; they pointed intermittently but persistently towards a seemingly still centre.

This combined sense of the near and the far, a feature of many of Peter Robinson’s finest poems, is given to us here with the first stanza of ‘Estrangement’:

Suddenly, winter trees
appear like ruined monasteries
and, further, through wrecked architraves,
under blown clouds’ blanket cover,
grey skies, thinking, as you do,
why I see much clearer now,
again the season’s distances
have shaken up our lives.

A glance at Casper David Friedrich’s painting of an ‘Abbey in the Oak Forest’ seems to metamorphose into a Mr Bleaney who ‘watched the frigid wind / Tousling the clouds’ whilst he wonders if this is, after all, ‘home’. The second stanza of ‘Estrangement’ settles for what Donald Davie might have referred to as lowered sights, the shrug of the shoulders, the patient acceptance of a second best:

Then as circumstance would have it
in planning-blighted town or city
I find us living and lumping it, see,
with what creature warmth and comfort
we wrap about us for a start
in the distance’s vicinity.

In 1974 Cid Corman produced a beautifully presented volume of Jaccottet’s poetry, Breathings, illustrated by Anne-Marie Jaccottet and published as A Mushinsha Book by Grossman Publishers. In his introduction he commented upon the French poet’s volume, Lessons:

‘even as all the elegiac poems of Lessons, celebrating the death of his father-in-law beyond lament, where the words move off like smoke into the larger sky and the dust of words settles like ash upon the old tilled ground, reveal the constant note of mortality, the “invisible bird”, so often evoked, is sensed out there within.’

The fragility of the moment and the opening it creates in the surrounding world, so that we can look through the immediate to sense what happens if we cleanse the doors of perception, is there, for me, in the quiet beauty of many of these poems. ‘All Change’ is precise and echoing: it evokes a moment and yet leaves the guard’s cry resonating:

Then next thing you know
from a partial leaf-fall
come re-emergent distances,
new chill factors, time
shifting more quickly, and loss is
sensed as that bit more precise
now raindrops lit by streetlamps
are speckling the panes
and thunderheads, a shorting day,
its crepitations over us,
again, they cover such a range
of start-lines at each terminus
making our last hopes first past the post,
as when a train manager cuts in to say:
‘All change, please. All change.’

Peter Robinson will be reading at Swedenborg Hall this coming Tuesday, January 20th. I urge you to turn up if you can; it will be very good indeed!

Ian Brinton January 18th 2015

Uncertain Measures by Aidan Semmens (Shearsman), What The Ground Holds by Rosie Jackson (Poetry Salzburg)

Uncertain Measures by Aidan Semmens (Shearsman), What The Ground Holds by Rosie Jackson (Poetry Salzburg)

In the fifth issue of Perfect Bound (1978), the Cambridge journal that Aidan Semmens edited with Peter Robinson, I find the following lines of a prose poem;

‘The remarkable amount of flotsam in the river could be small craft that have sunk. The water is only slightly ruffled by the breeze. It is so straight it could be a canal, with regular lines of trees along the sharp, precise banks.’

We could be casting a sideways glance at the opening of Our Mutual Friend or, as I prefer to think, we could be gazing at a landscape which anticipates the ‘ritual’ one with which this new Shearsman collection opens:

‘our origin myths are not set in stone
but gradually shift
in emphasis and tone from
generation to regeneration
mutating settling encrusted
with efflorescence of ore’

The obsession that Dickens had with the past ensured that bodies never remained underground for long and even in the late Great Expectations the sound of the returning Magwitch’s footstep can be heard on the bottom stair. Palimpsest-like Semmens’s earlier working out of perspective concerning an industrial landscape peers up at the reader through a new development and this newness bears an eerie reflection of a world that we might expect to discover in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road:

down a winding path
in a shadowy scene
a woman and a man are pushing
a wagon loaded with industrial implements

(‘The Vanishing of Workers’ Settlement #3’)

However, the power of this poetry does not rest satisfied with imagery and threading its way through the texture of the verse are comments which hang together to provide analysis:

‘things have been falling apart
since the onset of modernity
fragmentation as the condition of knowledge
the extortion of desire extraction of obedience’

The myths of Demeter and Persephone seem recently to have become archetypes of the buried self and the emergence of newness from the controlling overlord of consciousness is seen as a regeneration that works; unlike that of Orpheus and Eurydice. It is there with vividness in David Almond’s novel Skellig:

‘She took wrong turnings, banged her head against the rocks. Sometimes she gave up in despair and just lay weeping in the pitch darkness. But she struggled on. She waded through icy underground streams. She fought through bedrock and clay and iron ore and coal, through fossils of ancient creatures, the skeletons of dinosaurs, the buried remains of ancient cities. She burrowed past the tangled roots of great trees. She was torn and bleeding but she kept telling herself to move onward and upward. She told herself that soon she’d see the light of the sun again and feel the warmth of the world again.’

It is there in the opening lines of Rosie Jackson’s ‘Persephone’:

‘I can’t tell you the terror of being down there.
All those miles of earth on top of me—
the stench, the dark—
and him on top
paddling my thin body like a piece of dough.’

However, here the focus is on the rape, the invasion, the claustrophobic sense of proximity to a body which has been imposed upon you. Perhaps it is no accident that the word ‘paddling’ echoes the sexually obsessive Leontes in The Winter’s Tale when he imagines the supposed adultery of his wife with his oldest friend in terms of ‘paddling palms and pinching fingers’. The emphasis upon rape is taken up in the second poem of the volume, ‘Persephone Blames the Dress’, where the silk of the garment seems to be a co-conspirator in the downfall of the girl. Not only does the material fall to the floor ‘like water seeking some underground pool’ but the moment Persephone puts it on the thunderous steps of a Classical Bromion can be heard and the victim is being hunted down: she ‘started’, ‘slipped’, disappeared between toppled birches’. The silk ‘snagged as I pulled the neck down’ and the stanza concludes with the ‘sound of something tearing.’
Rosie Jackson’s chapbook is titled What the Ground Holds and it could, of course, be seen as what the ground does not hold: Persephone returns. The collection also features Lazarus who ‘longs for light, just a slither / from the far side of that impossible stone’ and Orpheus who slips ‘easily through those seedy chinks / that lead downwards’ towards a Eurydice who will be forever barred from return. Most importantly, and to my mind successfully, there is ‘Visiting the Underworld, 1964’ in which the poet rattles down with her father ‘to these tunnels of hot darkness’. Within the confines of this workplace ‘we kneel on all fours / feeling our way, getting a taste / of what real men do’.

Some years ago, in Tears 45, Jackson had written ‘The absence of the lost one is subsumed into the present of the poem, as if the very act of the poem’s utterance reverses or undoes death, even as it laments it.’ I suspect that a reading of ‘Poems 1912-13, Veteris vestigia flammae’ may not quite support this.

Ian Brinton October 30th 2014

The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary British & Irish Poetry

The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary British & Irish Poetry

Edited by Peter Robinson

As the editor makes clear in his introduction this Oxford Handbook is a ‘collaborative effort at sketching a map of the always partially unknown’. Its range is enormous and will serve for many years to come as a perspective upon the various aspects of the poetic scene and not the least of its values lies in its ability ‘to sketch a space for curiosity and mutually enhancing accuracy of distinction that may help to mitigate the widespread self-confusion by means of other-denigration witnessed on all sides.’

The substantial 750 pages are divided into five sections: Part 1 ‘Movements Over Time’; Part 2 ‘Senses of Form and Technique’; Part 3 ‘Poetry and Places’; Part 4 ‘Border Crossings’; Part 5 ‘Responsibilities and Values’. The contributors range from Martin Dodsworth and Jeremy Noel-Tod to Peter Carpenter and Adam Piette; from Rod Mengham and Peter Middleton to Andrea Brady and David Herd. The separate subject areas range from ‘The Unburied Past: Walking with Ghosts of the 1940s’ to ‘A Dog’s Chance: The Evolution of Contemporary Women’s Poetry?’ and from ‘Auden in Ireland’ to ‘Multi-ethnic British Poetries’. There are 38 separate articles of substantial length and all I can do here is offer a pointer towards one or two of the immensely informative and exciting contents.

Rod Mengham writes about ‘The Altered Sublime: Raworth, Crozier, Prynne’ in which he quotes from Fredric Jameson on ‘Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism’. Highlighting Jameson’s observations concerning former sources of the sublime, such as the unconscious, becoming incorporated progressively into the processes of commodity production he notes how the unconscious becomes saturated by the languages of media and advertising agencies. Although Mengham concentrates specifically upon Prynne’s sequence The Oval Window we cannot ignore of course that earlier poem from Brass, the title of which refers to Alain Poher, the president of the French senate who became president of France in April 1969: ‘No / poetic gabble will survive which fails / to collide head-on with the unwitty circus’. Mengham also brings to our notice the essay by Heidegger on ‘Poetry, Language, Thought’ as the authentic gauging of the dimension of dwelling as the primal form of building:

‘Nor is poetry building in the sense of raising and fitting buildings. But poetry, as the authentic gauging of the dimension of dwelling, is the primal form of building. Poetry first of all admits man’s dwelling into its very nature, its presencing being. Poetry is the original admission of dwelling.’

One is tempted at this point to look up Prynne’s essay on ‘Huts’ which appeared in the journal Textual Practice in 2008. The article proceeds to look carefully at Andrew Crozier’s ‘The Veil Poem’ in which the focus is upon an embracing of material existence, human relationships and natural cycles despite their mutability.

Adam Piette’s contribution is on ‘Contemporary Poetry and Close Reading’ in which he takes us back to William Empson’s elaborate reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73 with its ‘unpacking of connotations’ in the reference to ‘Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang’. As Piette reminds us Shakespeare’s metaphor works because churches themselves are metaphors, being built to resemble stone forests. This timely reminder of the importance of close textual analysis is followed by an expert reading of Denise Riley’s ‘Song’ and the article closes with another timely reminder which must never be forgotten:

‘Close reading helps readers to construct a poem out of the distracted elements of their own lives and the lives of others; and it is through such loving attention, or heartbeat sensitivity to the elemental story in poetry’s forms of language, that poems begin to act upon the world.’

Ian Brinton 20th October 2014

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