RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Robert Browning

Broken Stories by Reuben Woolley (20/20 Vision Publishing)

Broken Stories by Reuben Woolley (20/20 Vision Publishing)

As the Bishop orders his tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church in Robert Browning’s poem from Men and Women he mutters to those who stand around his bed:

“Swift as a weaver’s shuttle fleet our years”

And as if echoing down the years we read Reuben Woolley’s short poem, ‘weft’ which opens with the words

“i’m trying
to bring this crazy
into focus”

The word “crazy” is of Norse origin meaning crackle and suggests flawed, damaged, or, as Dickens used the term in 1844, “The court is full of crazy coaches” with a sense of travel that was unsound. In the tightly-bound lines of Reuben Woolley’s poems there is a desire to place order upon those shifts of Time which defy the storyteller’s art and neatness: these are ‘broken stories’.

In ‘weft’ dark unthreads every angle:

“is no next line
in mildew.old
forms crumble & this
is accidental”

The fabric which Browning’s Bishop had imagined from his deathbed as having been created over the loom of years is disrupted now. There is no next line! Forms, like patterns which are woven into shapes of recollection and purpose, “crumble”. The “accidental” has replaced the sense of purpose to be found in stories, narratives of whole remembrance.

“we wear
time like shuttles
waiting for patterns”

However, as the short poem ‘eurydice’ reminds us, the now dead wife of Orpheus looks backward into the darkness which attracts her. When she rises, as if from the dead, to follow her husband up the winding stair to light “she rises in black” and

“there is
no moon& strings
echo on distant walls”

From the world of fairy-tales the moon offers the brightness of a pathway which might lead the lost child home. Here not only is there no moon but the music for which Orpheus was so justly famed is now emptied into echo reverberating off distant walls. This is a world in which everything

“is seen
in shadows”

We cannot escape from our history and we need it in order to come to some patterning of our individual lives. But we also have to accept that history is the attempt to give an account, with incomplete knowledge, of actions themselves undertaken with incomplete knowledge. As Graham Swift’s novel Waterland made clear, if we can learn anything then it is “only the dogged and patient art of making do”. We have only ‘broken stories’ as we “Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past” (Ulysses). In Reuben Woolley’s fragmented tales there are “black / sails on black seas”: the healing hands of Iseult will not reach the dying Tristan and rather like Browning’s Bishop the figure of Arthurian Romance can only contemplate the fleeting of Time.

Ian Brinton, 19th November 2017

Advertisements

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

New from Oystercatcher’s beak

New from Oystercatcher’s beak

Rouge States

                      by Alex Houen

Later Britain

                      by Ben Hickman

When I first glanced at Alex Houen’s ‘Eucalypso Redux’ sequence of six sonnets I was given a glimpse of an energetic vista of the dispersal of meaning and reconfiguration which resisted any notion of a charting singular centre: I was on the river ‘punting down a sequence of dolly- / shots and flashbacks called the Cam’; I was listening to the margins of language where ‘Blades / chop the building rush of dark internal river’; I was immersed in a world which seemed to owe debts to both Robert Browning and to J. H. Prynne. These poems are journeys of which Browning’s Pentapolin (‘Named o’ the Naked Arm’) could create a Sordello for us by taking a stand on the boat ‘pointing-pole in hand’; they are movements which present the reader with ‘gaps of explanation rolling like wheels contrary within themselves’ on one of Prynne’s Kazoo Dreamboats: ‘alien motions on fire with coriolis demeanour’. As Peter Riley puts it on the back cover of this delightful collection, this volume contains poetry

 

where any word, almost, can suddenly flip itself elsewhere without asking permission

 

When the words behave in this manner they return to the page like a Mobius Band: we have been transported elsewhere and recognise our departure point as both the same and radically different.

 

Turning to Ben Hickman’s chapbook I discovered myself more in the world of John Ashbery’s ‘System’ where the American poet wrote with a sense of energy and delight about ‘How we move around in our little ventilated situation’ whilst discovering ‘how roomy it seems’ and how ‘there is so much to do after all, so many people to be with…’

There is a generosity of humour in Ben Hickman’s poems and a manner of utilising common phrases without any sense of the cliché. These are poems written with mordant magnanimity: yes, he is generous but don’t fall foul of him!

 

I tell myself I’m in love, that I would cry out

into the tear-charged sky, my feet tingling

like spring grass, the underground river

rising through me. Oh Dave it’s you

as I dig down, distinguished for my skill

among Greeks everywhere.

 

As well as Ashbery’s voice I detect here a trace of the Charles Olson who concluded ‘The Kingfishers’ hunting among stones.

 

Ian Brinton 15th June 2014

Browning and Barrett’s Love Letters Go Online

These letters between Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and Robert Browning were made available online on Valentine’s Day just gone but here at Tears in the Fence, being the dyed-in-the-wool romantics that we are, everyday is a day for love. Right? Someone ought to make a film about their love story already.

Find out more about the two lovebird poets here and here.

 

%d bloggers like this: