RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Ralph Hawkins

It Looks Like An Island But Sails Away by Ralph Hawkins (Shearsman Books)

It Looks Like An Island But Sails Away by Ralph Hawkins (Shearsman Books)

On the back of this deliciously fast-moving collection of poems by Ralph Hawkins there is a quotation from Peter Riley’s 2005 review of a previous Shearsman Books collection of his work, The Moon, The Chief hairdresser (Highlights):

Hawkins is a very literary poet, very aware of the written artefact as something with a long history and a mass of material accrued to it, and determined to re-invent the whole thing.

That review also contains the phrase about Hawkins’s ‘dazzingly virtuosic performance’, a quality that is also fully evident in this new book.
Two literary echoes came to my ears when I read this book: Ben Jonson and Sir Thomas Wyatt. Jonson’s Epigramme CXVIII is titled ‘On Gut’

Gut eates all day, and lechers all the night,
So all his meate he tasteth over, twise:
And, striving so to double his delight,
He makes himselfe a thorough-fare of vice.
Thus, in his belly, can he change a sin,
Lust it comes out, that gluttony went in.

Ralph Hawkins opens this new Shearsman with ‘Gut’:

Down in the tubes like corridors of blood he lived. His name was Gut and
his body had many rooms.

To the right was the Giant’s room and his name was Git. Is Git a short giant? If Git and Gut have children it will be a miracle as they don’t eat together. This would be a gustatorium. A windy palace of gables and false starts. Huge butterflies hung from Eve.

The dry and mischievous humour here is witty. As readers we move from the London Underground to the well-known joke about the difference between a penis that is flaccid and then erect. The word ‘gustatorium’ blows us towards those Tennysonian plains of Troy and ‘false starts’ take us back to the mordant humour of Jonson who could see himself as the lover who has gone beyond his sell-by date in ‘A Celebration of CHARIS in ten Lyrick Peeces’ or whose ‘Picture’ left in Scotland reveals ‘My mountaine belly, and my rockie face.’

John Muckle referred to Hawkins’s poems as a ‘version of New York school poetics’ and highlighted his ‘light-fingered touch’ where the very phrase suggests the snapper up of unconsidered trifles. ‘Since in a net I seek to hold the wind’ is a collage to live with:

a siskin and then a bunting
two killers in a red circle
the cop (un flic) knows everyone, is bad

I am not a catholic but it rains
Jean-Pierre holds his Stetson in a January wind

they rip buds and pick nuts

the (stolen) diamonds are stuffed into a holdall

you are my angel in the wind
noli me tangere
you restoreth my soul

four pills and a tube of ointment
is all it takes

Wyatt…taken from Petrarch…all diamonds are stolen and a poem is a fine ‘holdall’.

Ian Brinton 10th June 2015

The Status of the Cat by Sean Elliott

The Status of the Cat by Sean Elliott

The Status of the Cat by Sean Elliott

(Playdead Press 2013  www.playdeadpress.com)

 

Ideas of Space in Contemporary Poetry by Ian Davidson, (Palgrave Macmillan 2007)

 

 

In his fascinating study of notions of space in the world of contemporary poetry Ian Davidson refers at one point to Gaston Bachelard’s ideas of a house being a place of accumulated memory, the accumulation being produced by the repetition of apparently insignificant actions. Davidson writes about poets from Olson and Dorn to Ralph Hawkins and Fanny Howe. Spaces dominate Sean Elliott’s poems from the open beach at Dawlish to the ‘tiny pubs’ of Kent’s East Coast or the ‘white houses by the sea’ at Margate. The tone is unmistakably Larkinesque. ‘Margate’ opens up with a stanza which bears comparison with ‘Afternoons’:

 

Old world, perhaps: white houses by the sea,

the shops which may reopen in the spring,

even the clubs embrace stability:

the smoking boys, the laughing girls who sing

the latest hits against the winter gale,

an interlude of joy then home to tea.

Their young replace them without fail.

 

The tone of Larkin is caught between the compact accuracy of ‘white houses by the sea’ and the slightly wry sense of a present in relation to a possible future. The shops may reopen in the spring confirming our present situation placed in the closed season of ‘the winter gale’. The stability of progression which is repetition is firmly there in the last line with its echo of the final stanza of Larkin’s poem in which the courting places ‘are still courting places /(But the lovers are all in school)’. Larkin’s tone of quietly resigned optimism informs the final stanza of Sean Elliott’s poem:

 

Old women talk of when a summer’s crowd

would clog the coast, some comic’s punning speech

bewitched the closed theatres; we were proud.

Defeat like perfume soughs across the beach,

the wind performs a Pierrot’s drab routine;

lovers no longer pay to laugh aloud.

I cross my town’s historic green.

 

As with Larkin this picture gives us generalities, ‘Old women’, (not to be confused with T.S. Eliot’s ‘ancient women’ who carry a weight of classical allusion) and then a movement to make the general specific with ‘some comic’s punning speech’. The blurring of time and the past’s reconstruction through anecdote or gossip is nicely caught with the adjective ‘some’ and the movement which has led to the closing down of that old world is held in reminiscence as ‘Defeat’ is scent caught on the noise of a dry beach.

 

Sean Elliott will be reading from this collection on Wednesday 19th February at 7.00 p.m. in the Poetry Café on Betterton Street in Covent Garden.

 

Ian Brinton 13th February 2014

 

%d bloggers like this: