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Raceme

Raceme

This new Bristol-based magazine is edited by Matthew Barton and Jeremy Mulford and is published by Loxwood Stoneleigh, an imprint of Falling Wall Press. The first issue appeared in May last year and the Winter issue for this year, number 5, has just come into view. For those whose botanical knowledge is not quite up to the mark a quick glance at the Shorter Oxford is helpful:

From the Latin for a cluster of grapes ‘Raceme is a simple inflorescence in which the flowers are arranged on short, nearly equal, pedicels, at equal distances on an elongated axis’.

The editorial at the front of the first issue presented an attractive engagement with the way writing can prompt responses and it boded well for the future of this attractively produced magazine. As Barton and Mulford put that first issue together there was clearly an intention that the magazine could make space for ‘strings or sequences of poems with contextual thread or preface from the authors’. What they also discovered was that ‘connections began to sprout between pieces by diverse writers, a crackle of igniting responses’. The issue included poems by Graham Hartill (whose selection from Slipping the Leash appeared in my blog from earlier this month) and Philip Gross. It also contained tributes to Anne Cluysenaar alongside some of her poems and it is worth recalling the comments that poet made about the art of translation in her contribution to the book on British Poetry Since 1960 by Michael Schmidt and Grevel Lindop:

‘Translation is indeed a symbol of the basic activities of sympathy and metamorphosis involved in creative writing.’

As if in response to those words written over forty years ago Tom Phillips offered us in issue number 3 ‘Bulgaria Revisited’:

‘Not so many years ago, two young writers in Sofia, friends from school, launched an online project. Letters of Flesh was arguably one of the first signs that a new generation of writers was emerging in Bulgaria, a generation born after the end of the communism in 1989 and savvy to the potential of the internet and a generation which was almost certainly going to ruffle the feathers of the country’s literary establishment.’

The two writers, Georgi Belorechki and Ilyan Lyubomirov, had collaborated with Tom Phillips in translations of their own work represented in that issue. Belorechki had translated his own short poem in which the wall between the self and the other dissolves in a manner I have become used to in reading Philippe Jaccottet:

‘When you find me
in the dark,
don’t go out looking
for light –
I swallowed it.’

Phillips’s poetry has a particular timbre and when I reviewed his Unknown Translations in October this year I recall being struck by his reference to the way he started writing in Bulgarian as the new language prompted ‘unexpected connections in my mind’. There was in that fine collection a clear sense of life beyond the parochial and it is surely no coincidence that he should have found space for his work in this adventurous new magazine.

The editorial to that issue number 3 also offered a clear sign for the promising future:

‘Wherever we live we place our steps mostly unwittingly on the back of the past, but touching into it is a fascinating undertaking and one perhaps very close to the delvings of poetry, reconnecting with the undertow – all the more powerful because invisible – of a reality that exists for us only if we recreate it in the imagination.’

Other work to look out for in that issue included poems by Peter Robinson, David Cooke and David Punter . It also contained stunningly fine engravings by Trevor Haddrell, a retired teacher of Art who spent many years at Ashton Park School on the south side of the city.

Other magazines based in Bristol have included both The Resuscitator and The Present Tense. The former, co-edited by John James, started in 1963 and contained poetry by George Oppen, Charles Tomlinson, Roy Fisher and Peter Armstrong before it moved its headquarters to Cambridge for the second series. The latter was edited by Michael Abbott and contained work by Tomlinson, Anthony Rudolf, John Greening and Glen Cavaliero. All of this is far removed from the parochial sense of self-satisfaction gloried in by inhabitants of what Hugh Kenner was to call ‘The Sinking Island’ (a title by the way that he took from a letter written to him by Tomlinson!).

Issue number 5 of Raceme has just appeared containing amongst many other delights Peter Robinson’s translation of Georgio Bassani. Details of how to subscribe can be found on the Raceme website: http://www.racemepoetry.com and contact for subscription can be made via fallingwall76@gmail.com

Ian Brinton 30th November 2016

A Poetry Boom 1990-2010 by Andrew Duncan Shearsman Books

A Poetry Boom 1990-2010 by Andrew Duncan Shearsman Books

On the back cover of this energetic book Andrew Duncan, blurb-master, tells us that in the years 1999-2001 ‘roughly as many books of poetry were published as in the whole of the 1970s. This is a poetry boom’. And his book has a reverberation to it in keeping with that little statistic. It is a very strange book indeed comprising a selected Whos Who of the contemporary poetry scene and some waspish attacks which are rather funny. It offers highly interesting insights into what it means to read a poem and dismissive strokes to the boundary for those who may have thought themselves in for the long innings. It reminds me a little of Falstaff’s comments about Mistress Quickly whom he suggests is like an otter. When asked ‘Why an otter?’ his reply is prepared for maximum target-hitting:

‘Why, she’s neither fish nor flesh; a man knows not
where to have her.’

Let me give you an example from a subsection, ‘Powers of Intuition’:

‘People who read poetry prefer the line of intuition, first person insight, creativity, personal symbols. This predisposition got them to the poetry section in the library, allowed them to be attracted by a book of poetry, and guides them into the meaning of the poem’

Yes, indeed, one has met these people and the emphasis upon that mean little definite article in the last clause gives us the closed shop of poetry readers, and, I shudder to say, many secondary teachers of English!

Now, try this from the same sub-section:

‘My idea of poetry sees it as a zone where suggestibility, collusion, identification are enhanced and made effortless. Take Kenneth Allott. (editor of Mid-Century Poetry, Penguin) If he thought 40.6% of the significant British poets (1918 to 1960) were Oxford graduates, that shows that he had taken collusion a long way. He was reading signs of authenticity but he defined them as signs of having been to Oxford—as he had. Prominently, he carried out repetitive acts of judgement and pleasure.’

This raises interesting issues about the role critics play as readers and I rather relished Duncan’s following paragraph in which he makes comment upon THEORY:

‘Everything taking place under the label of theory acts to reduce the value of artistic connoisseurship and of individual taste. The only purpose of poetry is the first-hand experience of someone inside the poem, where everything happening depends wholly and solely on individual judgements and acts of appreciation.’

This prompted me to recall a short section from the Notebooks of Philippe Jaccottet:

Inside, outside. What do we mean by inside? Where does outside end? Where does inside begin? The white page belongs to the outside, but the words written on it? The whole of the white page is in the white page, therefore outside myself, but the whole word is not in the word. That is to say there is the sign I write down, and its meaning on top of that; the word has first been in me, then it leaves me and, once written, it looks like strapwork, like a drawing in the sand; but it keeps something hidden, to be perceived only by the mind. It is the mind that is inside, and the outside is all the mind seizes on, all that affects, touches it. In itself it has neither shape, nor weight, nor colour; but it makes use of shapes, weights, colours, it plays with them, according to certain rules.’

If I am left dissatisfied with Andrew Duncan’s burlesque at any points it will come down to the ease of that Falstaffian response! For instance, in a sub-section titled ‘Prynne Follower’ I am confronted by the following passage in which Lockwood Laudanum, that well-known Classicist of the very best school, is being interviewed. Upon being asked ‘What would you pick out as a perfect purchasing experience?’ L.’s reply is forthright:

Twelve Poems, by R.F. Langley, which I bought from Peter Riley in Sturton Street in 1993. This just absolutely summed up what I like in poetry. Obviously anything not based on Prynne is second-rate and out of date and doesn’t really count. Obviously anything that isn’t impenetrable isn’t really modern and doesn’t repay the effort. I find most modern poetry tedious but I obtain my supplies by following a particular genealogy. It’s like inheriting an estate, the closer you are to the primogenitary bloodline the more of the estate your share is. Pound goes to Olson and Olson goes to Prynne. It’s like the Da Vinci Code really.’

Ok, shades of Jonathan Swift and Henry Fielding but I would like to know more about Duncan’s views on Langley who, incidentally, inherits far more from Olson that he does from Prynne. The fun of mischief-making is often delightful although, when it stretches to three-hundred pages I wonder if a little more variety might have been offered. I’m being fussy since after all I did enjoy so many of the side-swipes. Get a copy from Shearsman and decide for yourself!

P.S. I wonder how many poets gave their money to appear in the show; and I wonder how many paid not to.

Ian Brinton 20th December 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

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