RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Robert Sheppard

Atlantic Drift edited by James Byrne & Robert Sheppard (Arc Press & Edge Hill University Press)

Atlantic Drift edited by James Byrne & Robert Sheppard (Arc Press & Edge Hill University Press)

The opening statement of Robert Sheppard’s short introduction to this exciting new volume of transatlantic poetic focus is uncompromisingly clear in its assertion:

“Contact and conversation between transatlantic poets has always been one of fluctuating relations. North American writers have always been an important presence in British and Irish poetries, sometimes physically so. Edward Dorn, who lived in and wrote about England was aware of these relations and what he called the ‘North Atlantic Turbine’. Often the traffic is reversed.”

The fluctuating nature of these relations can of course be traced back to the early Sixties when Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry was being recognised in England with a sense of excitement. Charles Tomlinson’s forty-page Black Mountain Poets supplement to Ian Hamilton’s the Review appeared in January 1964 and three months later Andrew Crozier edited an American Supplement to the Cambridge magazine, Granta. Unlike Tomlinson’s focus on the Black Mountain School Crozier’s was more largely based on the Allen anthology and contained work by Levertov, Eigner, Woolf and Loewinsohn as well as Dorn, Dawson, Duncan and Wieners. Crozier quoted a letter Olson had written to George Butterick which included the phrase “to freshen our sense of the language we do have” and this statement might well describe the impact of this new anthology from Sheppard and Byrne. However, it might be just worth recalling the rather mean-spirited editorial note which Ian Hamilton added to the Tomlinson supplement which had offered such new ideas to a world dominated by New Lines:

“It should, I think, be made clear that the foregoing pages were given over to Charles Tomlinson to fill, more or less as he pleased, with work by the Black Mountain poets. We are most grateful to him for his co-operation. The editorial motive of the Review in this project has been a documentary rather than, necessarily, a critical one. We believe that the movement ought at least to be known about.”

As if hurled in the teeth of Hamilton’s graceless editorial disclaimer, Robert Sheppard’s comments present us with a sense of the active and living importance of what he and James Byrne have collected together. It is located in a reference to one of the contributors, Jerome Rothenberg, whose concern for the urgency and scope of poetics is presented in the words used to relate this “directly to the way he sees the world”:

“But the world we share, & our interplay with it, calls again & again for discourse: in the case of Poets, the setting forth of a poetics. I have found myself involved with that also, at first tentatively & then, once into it, discovering ways suited to my own temperament & to the sense I have…that the discourse, like the poetry, must in all events resist rigidity & closure.”

It is this resistance to closure, this refusal to adopt the safe line for poetry that is presented year after year in too many Secondary Schools, that makes this new anthology a box of fireworks. One can read Sean Bonney’s lines of lyrical politics and hear a voice that possesses not only anger but acute observation:

“An invisible person has appeared in everyone’s simultaneous dream.
Oh look here I am. Fuck the police.
It is the surveillance laws. All ages are not contemporaneous.
We are outside this century. We are very glamorous. We are
waiting in the hall.
Somewhere near Moritzplatz the adepts are getting sick.
It is the stupidity of gardens. I love the tiny sparrows.
The janitor’s kids are not playing they are digging up gold.
It is the last song you will ever hear.”

And one can turn from that to Chris McCabe’s snarled lines about “John Whittaker Straw, Labour politician” who changed his name to steal unearned value from the Peasants’ Revolt figure of 1381, Jack Straw. And then one can turn again to Rosmarie Waldrop’s ‘By the Waters of Babylon”:

“Unless we recognize a language we do not recognize a man. We
wrap entire villages in barbed wire.

My father used to close his eyes and remain as motionless as
possible to let his body-image dissolve.

I repeat myself often.

Time has no power over the Id. But heat passes from a warm body
to a cold body and not in the reverse direction.”

Look in this anthology for the America of Charles Bernstein and Claudia Rankine, Nathaniel Mackey and Lyn Hejinian; look this side of the Atlantic for Allen Fisher and John James, Geraldine Monk and Zoë Skoulding. We are presented with “Poets in both directions across the water” who “have influenced, and continue to influence each other in terms of practice and poetics.”
Atlantic Drift continues this collaboration and exchange in its alphabetic juxtaposition of twenty-four contributors and these poems ignite to provide a most effective and immediate anthology of the living power of poetry and poetics. As such it takes its place in the tradition of Donald Allen’s 1960 volume and Iain Sinclair’s 1996 publication, Conductors of Chaos.

Ian Brinton, 1st October 2017

Advertisements

The Meaning of Form in Contemporary Innovative Poetry (Palgrave Macmillan)

The Meaning of Form in Contemporary Innovative Poetry (Palgrave Macmillan)

I am no great reader of theoretical approaches to poetry but the name of the author of this one suggested something rather more exciting. I wasn’t disappointed! Of course when I first thought about reading this recent publication the well-worn quotation from Creeley to Olson about ‘form is never more than an extension of content’ sprang to mind. I have lived with this phrase for years and have often associated it in my mind with that early line from Blake’s ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’:

‘Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy’

What I like about this new book by Robert Sheppard is the way in which I am taken back to the poems themselves (or the prose in the case of Veronica Forrest-Thomson) with that clear sense of what is at stake,

‘…the agency of form: how it extends, reveals or – in my terms – enacts, enfolds, and becomes content.’

This book is about how we read poetry and it is refreshing to hear Sheppard say that ‘form’ cannot be held any longer ‘to be a simple opposite to content, a vase containing water, or even a cloud permeated with moisture.’ As a former school-master I am delighted to read the reference to Wallace Stevens’s wry note ‘The poem is the poem, not its paraphrase’. That quotation itself should be given to all teachers of poetry to pin up in their classrooms!
There are chapters in this book dealing with, amongst many others, Tim Atkins and Peter Hughes, Rosemarie Waldrop, Geraldine Monk, Allen Fisher, Bill Griffiths and Barry MacSweeney. There is a chapter on ‘Translation as Transformation’ and it reads as if Sheppard had his copy to hand of Yves Bonnefoy’s The Curved Planks, translated by Hoyt Rogers with its terrific afterword about the French poet and the ‘Art of Translation’. Paraphrasing Mallarmé Rogers suggested that translations are not made with images , but with words, and goes on to refer to a letter sent him by Bonnefoy in which the focus is on the French word “bateau” which corresponds well with “boat”. In his poetry Bonnefoy often used the word “barque” but an English equivalent (“bark” or “barque”) simply won’t do since the word is far more unusual in our language. When Rogers settled for the word “boat” he recognised that the French “barque” was evocative because, as Bonnefoy put it, ‘between the consonants the vowel forms the same dark hollow we see in a boat between the curved planks of the prow and the stern’. In his translation Rogers settled for “boat” which itself has an accumulated lyric connotation through a precedent such as The Prelude with its episode of the stolen boat. In this chapter on ‘Translation as Transformation’ Robert Sheppard looks at the practice of rendering poetry from one language into another in terms of a textual engagement, a reading, a response to the original and suggests that ‘Poetry is what is found in translation, as we shall see’.
It was a delight to see a chapter on what I find the bizarre but intriguing world of Stefan Themerson, a world ‘like that of Lewis Carroll…in which logic and poetry wrestle’. In considering the building of cathedrals Themerson writes:

‘its tower
is the thought
of its buttresses’

An example of how Robert Sheppard prompts the reader into thinking closely about the poetry being read can be exemplified by the provocative consideration of Paul Batchelor’s Bloodaxe anthology of essays, Reading Barry MacSweeney (2013) and MacSweeney’s 1997 Bloodaxe publication, The Book of Demons where

‘…readers face two models of poesis, each of which may be seen doubly. The ‘Pearl’ poems, focused upon the figure of a mute young girl as reported by the suffering ‘Bar’, are either read as rich post-Wordsworthian pastoral or as sentimental bucolic. The second half of the volume, the contrasting ‘The Book of Demons’, is read either as the self-indulgent mythologizing of an alcoholic about alcoholism, or as evidence of MacSweeney’s deep, raw honesty about dependency and its attendant psychological horrors.’

Robert Sheppard’s book is one to keep dipping into: it prompts you to want to go back to sources whilst at the same time it offers advice about how to read poetry. It is no mere accident that the first chapter should look closely at Veronica Forrest-Thomson, the critic whose question was always ‘how do poems work’. Referring to the posthumous collection from 1976, On the Periphery, the question for Sheppard remains ‘how will the poems be made?’

Ian Brinton 21st October 2016

The Drop by Robert Sheppard (Oystercatcher Press)

The Drop by Robert Sheppard (Oystercatcher Press)

When J.H. Prynne gave his Keynote Speech at the First Conference of English-Poetry Studies in China on 18th April 2008 he referred to the art of translation in terms of poetic composition:

‘The activity of composing a poem in the first place shares some features with translation-work: pausing to consider exactly which words and expressions to use, building up the form and sound of a poem as if it already exists in your mind and as if you are translating this idea or process of thought into words on a page.’

‘Building up the form’ echoes the note Prynne made one year before that speech in China when he suggested that translation was ‘a noble art, making bridges for readers who want to cross the divide between their own culture and those cultures which are situated in other parts of the world’. Those bridges may be made stone by stone, brick by brick, word by word, or, perhaps when the bridge connects a world of the present with a world of the past, drop by drop. The drop may suggest Donne’s ‘A Valediction: of weeping’ where ‘each tear / Which thee doth wear’ creates ‘a globe, yea world’. The drops of sorrow at the loss of someone close to one’s whole life may, in Donne’s terms, become

‘Fruits of much grief they are, emblems of more,
When a tear falls, that thou falls which it bore,
So thou and I are nothing then, when on a diverse shore.’

That disyllabic adjective emphasizes the distance between the lovers, each on their separate shore.
Near the end of Robert Sheppard’s elegy to his father, the poet writes that the ‘Desire the task / Of the poet is elective translation’:

‘To transmute the nothing said
Into the nothing that could

That could talk itself
Into the world the

Shadow that casts wings between
The pillars the poem’s

Ear vibrates unthreads the
Love-whisper

By interruption
Quickens the sparkle-speech scattered

Among injured words love
Intervenes

Cannot resist too
Much in love with its own resisting

Earlier in this powerful elegy Sheppard had referred to the ‘longest story ladders / Up sides of tombs’ and the whole poem explores the ability of language to explore the inability of the past’s reconstruction. Words can never bring back the dead, never ‘talk’ themselves ‘Into the world’, but the ‘translation’ referred to is ‘elective’ and the stumbling forward of language in its climbing out of the past to reconstruct what can never bridge those distances is caught in the repetition of ‘that could’. That passage from near the poem’s end brims over with suggestion: the ‘Shadow that casts wings’ inevitably echoes the valley of the shadow of death in Psalm 23 and I found myself looking back at Robert Duncan’s ‘Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow’ where the poet links the present to the past through imagination. Duncan’s scene is ‘made-up by the mind’ but is definite enough in its concrete reality to be ‘a made place’. Although personal to the poet, it is a place to which he is permitted to return; it has mythological existence as the underworld to which Kora was taken. The architecture of the hall, the domain of the subconscious/past/underworld promotes the palpability of the present in which the poet lives: ‘Wherefrom fall all architectures I am’. Olson also wrote about the impossible distances and suggested that because love is so intense and alive in its feelings it ‘knows no distance, no place/is that far away’ (‘The Distances’).

Robert Sheppard’s elegy opens with two comments which are central to understanding the nature of this unbridgeable loss. The first page opens with the italicized phrase ‘Standing by’ and the fourth stanza concludes with a reference to ‘Elegy lost in action on the outskirts of an event’. The immeasurability of the gap between NOW and THEN, the living and the dead, means that all writers of elegies stand on the outskirts of an event. As Thomas Hardy recognized in the first of his poems about the death of his wife, ‘The Going’, her death was the closure of a term and the single word ‘gone’ on line five has a musical resonance of bell-like clarity. Hardy’s image of the swallow then emphasises the impossibility of bridging the distance between that past and this present. The past cannot ever be reached despite the ability of the migratory bird to fly swiftly over extraordinarily long distances.

Beckett’s short play Krapp’s Last Tape is one of the great elegies and as the recorder of events puts it, listening to himself on tape from a former year, ‘The grain, now I what I wonder do I mean by that, I mean…[hesitates]…I suppose I mean those things worth having when all the dust has—when all my dust has settled I close my eyes and try and imagine them.’ In Robert Sheppard’s world this has become

‘My mind mummified with emotion
I thought everything

Was compiled
On reels of tape piled into temple walls’

The walls of the temple, as Krapp is compelled to recognise, do not keep memory fresh and Robert Sheppard’s ‘drop mourns itself’ and it is not only morphine which will thicken the ‘glassy eye’. The Drop is an extraordinarily powerful poem which grows more lasting each time I read it.

Ian Brinton 8th January 2015

History or Sleep by Robert Sheppard (Shearsman Books)

History or Sleep by Robert Sheppard (Shearsman Books)

In November 1981 Robert Sheppard wrote about the poetry of Kelvin Corcoran:
‘This is the first substantial selection of his work to have appeared and there is in it a celebration of a “human / world as obvious as phenomenology”.’ After referring to both A.N. Whitehead and Merleau-Ponty Sheppard makes the point that these poems do not use philosophy as a dead-weight ‘to be lumbered from poem to poem’:

‘Each moves with a speed that allows the poem to “accurately accompany”—not describe or philosophize about—the process of things in the world, which is “obvious”, maybe, but never simple. These poems do not catalogue a world of “inert fact”, but a series of “unseparated events” that nevertheless demands human consciousness to participate in perceiving its unity…As Olson before him learnt from Whitehead, “There is nothing in the real world which is merely an inert fact. Everything is there for feeling.”’
(Rock Drill, Number 3)

Robert Sheppard’s selected poems from Shearsman Books, History or Sleep, is threaded with a sense of the other. Not ‘The Other’ with its sense of a doppleganger but the other which exists in a type of absence, an ‘autrebiography’ or ‘unwritings’. The book is haunted by ghosts: Stan Tracey, Thelonious Monk, William Carlos Williams, Lee Harwood, Bob Cobbing, Charles Madge, Félix Guattari, Mina Loy, Veronica Forrest-Thomson, J.F. Hendry, Bill Griffiths. The opening poem, ‘Round Midnight’, plays from the outset with the phrase ‘The varnished Bechstein’ which tricks the eye immediately into seeing the word ‘vanished’ before giving the reader ‘the ghost’s hands / are also at their keyboard’:

‘The jumping hands below his bowed head
flesh an illusion, filling
the punched hollows as he watches.’

In ‘Returns’ the palpability of what is gone (‘When I’m / writing I’m thinking of you / as palpable as memory, somewhere / the other side of sense’) gives us ‘The touch / of your hand’ which ‘becomes almost a memory as you enter / a blank scenario’. And ‘Internal Exile’ is prefaced by a quotation from Julia Kristeva:

‘Writing is impossible without some kind of exile’.

This is not quite the same as Geoffrey Ward’s little essay on ‘The Brows with Ivy and with Laurel Bound’ in which ‘Language is doomed to unpunctuality, words chasing, describing, shadowing a reality they can do anything but actually be.’ It is perhaps more like Andrew Crozier’s Utamaro Variations in which the sun ‘breaks through the leaves / in a spectral flare’. Or, appropriately given the title of Sheppard’s magazine Rock Drill, like Pound’s Canto 93 in which we read ‘Risplende / From the sea-caves / degli occhi / Manifest and not abstract’.

The poems are ‘Murmuring memorials over / The haunted shifting sub-soil’ of Sachsenhausen and the sections from Words Out of Time merge a past long gone, memories of that past and the inevitable re-writing of a history as the poet gazes at what he carefully unpicks as truths:

‘I don’t remember going to the Grenada in Portland Road, Hove, don’t recall the film on show, and don’t remember, on the same day, seeing a play, or its plot, or its title. A frame set up, years later, by others. Outside of it there are voices, whispering. Empty landing, tall doors never shut, banging in any wind. The attic, its sloped tar-hair padding, muting all street sounds. On one page, attempts at painting, soaked blots, dried solid.’

Sheppard’s poetry-frame sets up that haunting I referred to at the beginning of this little piece of review and what was becomes seamlessly what is and the ‘punched hollows’ of the gone are filled with a lyric intensity that twists ‘into a thin-throated flower’ that ‘wavers in the vibrant gulf’.

Some four years ago Shearsman published one of the best introductions to the world of contemporary poetry, When Bad Times Made for Good Poetry (—episodes in the history of the poetics of innovation—). In his introduction Robert Sheppard made his position clear:

‘I have long held the view that the power of poetry is precisely that it both reveals itself—its poetic artifice is its undeniable facticity laid bare—and conceals itself, leaving the reader feeling that he or she has not finished, could indeed never finish, the work of reading. The text is inexhaustible in terms of both form and content and in terms of the unstable relationship between them. The writer is also strangely both present—as artificer—and simultaneously absent, from the poem; once the poem is read the only agent in or around the text is the reader.’

Towards the end of this excellent selection of his poems the poet gives us ‘The Word’ in which ‘A fish winching / itself across a screen of smudged clarities’ takes its own place in the ‘spaces of the poem’. This is a selection of poems to return to time and time again. Reading is an energetic engagement and I urge you to engage with these poems NOW.

Ian Brinton, 23rd November 2015.

The ‘EUOIA’ collaboration

The ‘EUOIA’ collaboration

The ‘EUOIA’ is a collaborative venture that extends the premise of the fictional poetry of my volume, A Translated Man, published by Shearsman in 2013, which is given over to my own invention, the fictional Belgian poet René Van Valckenborch. (He has a whole page on my website: http://robertsheppard.weebly.com/rene-van-valckenborch.html.) Apparently writing in both Flemish and Walloon, and translated and edited by entities as shadowy (and dodgy) as himself, Van Valckenborch’s split oeuvre derives from the linguistic and cultural divide within contemporary Belgium. They are ‘fictional poems’, not hoaxes, and that distinction is important for me.

The last project of his Flemish writings was to invent the ‘EUOIA: The European Union Of Imaginary Authors’. Van Valckenborch invents his own fictional authors and, being in Brussels (capital of the EU), hits upon the idea of one for each member country. In the book we read a sample of five women writers, one poem each. I’ve put together a website for it (www.euoia.weebly.com), which now describes the latest project with regular updates (as does my blog http://www.robertsheppard.blogspot.com).

You can also watch the Liverpool Camarade (February 2015) showing me reading with several collaborators here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSLlfz5mfOY, though it’s also added to the website now, as is the video of Zoe Skoulding reading our Cypriot poet Gurkan Arnavut. (It’s also here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-UHv9lFaxU). So far, the collaborations, either finished or currently underway, have been with colleagues, old friends, new friends, young poets, and (a deliberate decision) female poets. The methods of collaboration range from one word at a time (with Philip Terry) to whole poems (Kelvin Corcoran). Some (with Jèssica Pujol i Duran and Alys Conran) leave me not quite sure who wrote what. The result is a developing anthology, which I hope will be published (before the EU referendum: Van Valckenborch had NO idea how timely his project would be).

Croatia Martina Marković (1982-) with James Byrne (and Damir Šodan).
Austria Sophie Poppmeier (1981-) with Jason Argleton (See more on Sophie Poppmeier on Pages at: http://www.robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/robert-sheppard-euoia-sophie-poppmeier.html)
Belgium Paul Coppens (1980-) with Philip Terry
Bulgaria Ivaylo Dimitrov (1979-) with Patricia Farrell
Cyprus Gurkan Arnavut (1978-) with Zoë Skoulding
Finland Minna Kärkkäinen (1974-) with Allen Fisher
Greece Eua Ionnou (1971-) with Kelvin Corcoran
Ireland Sean Eogan (1969-) with Steve MacCaffery
Luxembourg Georg Bleinstein (1965-2046) with Tom Jenks
Malta Hubert Zuba (1964-) with Scott Thurston
Netherlands Maarten De Zoete (1963-) with God’s Rude Wireless (a cut up machine)
Portugal Ana Cristina Pessao (1961-) with Jèssica Pujol i Duran
Spain Cristòfol Subira (1957-) with Alys Conran (Our reading as part of Gelynion Poetry (Bangor), on May 26th 2015, may be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVOfQEMoss4.)
Sweden Kajsa Bergström (1956-) with Steven Fowler
United Kingdom Robert Sheppard (1955-)

There is a bonus track (outside the EU and beyond reality): Frisland: Hróbjartur Ríkeyjarson af Dvala (1948- ), written with Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl, and, of course: Poland: Jaroslav Biały (1962-) with Anamaría Crowe Serrano, which is featured in the current issue of Tears in the Fence.

In some ways this has been the most extraordinary collaboration, and partly because, unlike most of the other collaborators (except Jason Argleton, who is a fiction, and God’s Rude Wireless, ‘who’ is a machine) I have never met Anamaría. But Jaroslav Biały has a special place in the sequence because I felt so completely taken out of myself and made into (half) of someone else. It’s a difficult thing to describe, the process of being othered and familiarised at the same time. When it’s over, there is a period of mourning because you realise you’ll never re-create him, as it were. There’s nothing else to come. (This is a common feeling of reading foreign poetry; at the moment I’m reading a Hugo Claus selection, and I’m reading incomplete sequences and extracts that leave me dissatisfied, among the other causes of intense satisfaction: that I’d managed to get the particularly rural gloom of Belgium right, in some early Van Valckenborch poems, for example! They are just great poems anyway.)

Nevertheless, there is more of Jaroslav at The Bogman’s Cannon: http://bogmanscannon.com/2015/05/06/poetic-fictions/. But no more. Thank you Anamaría; thank you Jaroslav.

Robert Sheppard 30th October 2015

Lee Harwood III: the palpability of loss

Lee Harwood III: the palpability of loss

In early March 2012 Lee and I were invited by Kim Wyatt, the Head of English at Warwick School, to give a talk and a reading. I wanted to look at some Olson and some Hardy in relation to what I saw as Lee’s astonishingly powerful awareness of how tangible loss can feel. Some notes:

‘It is by their syllables that words juxtapose in beauty, by these particles of sound as clearly as by the sense of the words which they compose. In any given instance, because there is a choice of words, the choice, if a man is in there, will be, spontaneously, the obedience of his ear to the syllables. The fineness, and the practice, lie here, at the minimum and source of speech’. Charles Olson, ‘Projective Verse’.

Olson goes on to refer to the anonymous late medieval lament

‘O western wynd, when wilt thou blow
And the small rain down shall rain
O Christ that my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again.’

This short poem was one of George Oppen’s favourite lyrics and it is worth comparing it with his poem ‘O Western Wind’ from the 1962 collection The Materials:

‘A world around her like a shadow
She moves a chair
Something is being made—
Prepared
Clear in front of her as open air

The space a woman makes and fills
After these years
I write again
Naturally, about your face

Beautiful and wide
Blue eyes
Across all my vision but the glint of flesh
Blue eyes
In the subway routes, in the small rains
The profiles.’

Douglas Brown called Hardy’s language one of ‘thorough integrity, of actual and human relations; his matter is mutability and the place of loss in the texture of life’ (Thomas Hardy, Longmans 1954). One attempt to retrieve moments gone might be a reconstruction of the absentee’s presence by imitation, giving empty space a palpability, a sense of almost being still there. With the image of an ‘air-blue gown’ in Hardy’s ‘The Voice’ colour and emptiness are located in something as substantially matter-of-fact as a dress. Compare this with Lee’s early poem ‘As your eyes are blue’ especially with reference to the image of the shirt on the top of a chest-of-drawers. And then Hardy’s poem ‘The Walk’ from January 1913:

‘You did not walk with me
Of late to the hill-top tree
By the gated ways,
As in earlier days;
You were weak and lame,
So you never came,
And I went alone, and I did not mind,
Not thinking of you as left behind.

I walked up there today
Just in the former way;
Surveyed around
The familiar ground
By myself again:
What difference, then?
Only that underlying sense
Of the look of room on returning thence.’

It’s worth comparing Hardy’s register of loss in this poem with Lee’s ‘Y garn, Glyderau’ written in memory of Paul Evans and published in In The Mists (Slow Dancer Press 1993): memory is linked to a particular venue and, as with Hardy, opens up a different vista: ‘tugging winds and squalls’ give way to ‘clear days’:

On a cloud bound summit
you don’t stride out of the mists
across the rocks and dirt,
as I felt you might,
maybe cursing,
as I just stood there.

Instead
I plod on,
reach the familiar cairn.
No one there except the silence
and a heaviness.
The tugging winds and squalls
died down into this grey calm.

In the fifth of the interviews with Kelvin Corcoran, February 2008, Lee referred to the poem ‘September Dusk’:

‘The poem ‘September Dusk’ touches on that indescribable feeling that one has at moments, am amazement at the surrounding world, its colours, its appeal, the taste, the smell of it, the touch of the wind on your skin. Most of all it’s the feeling of being totally present.’
This puts me in mind of the quotation from Maritain which Oppen used as the epigraph to The Materials: ‘We awake in the same moment to ourselves and to things.’ The first poem in the collection is ‘Eclogue’:

‘The men talking
Near the room’s center. They have said
More than they had intended.

Pinpointing in the uproar
Of the living room

An assault
On the quiet continent.

Beyond the window
Flesh and rock and hunger

Loose in the night sky
Hardened into soil

Tilting of itself to the sun once more, small
Vegetative leaves
And stems taking place

Outside—O small ones,
To be born!

Lee in conversation with Aodhán McCardle, September 2003:
‘There’s a thing Oppen says which knocked me out the other day…He says ‘I want to be free from the career of poetry, I want to know what I will be able to say to myself in my life, and I mean…to myself. And that, that there shall be an area of silence where the poem lives, if it lives.’ It’s very personal in the sense that it’s not trying to convert anybody…’

The reply highlights a central element in Lee’s poetry:

‘I find it everywhere in your poetry, relationships between time and space, as in time between when the writing seemed to be happening and time that jumps from one line of the poem locating you somewhere, anywhere, doesn’t have to be specifics, and by the next line there’s a different location, not just spatial but in time, so therefore there are things happening simultaneously.’

And this in turn prompts a connection with John Ashbery when Lee said:

‘I think it’s probably what Ashbery, unconsciously or indirectly taught me is the foolishness of the egotistical voice. You’ve got to have that ‘meanwhile back at the ranch’ stuff. It may be a description of, say, a love poem, the two individuals, but meanwhile out in the street people are going about their business to whom the scene in the room is irrelevant or they don’t even know it, and, ah, by bringing in what’s going on outside the room, what’s going on in other parts of the world, makes the thing in the room much more…real, it puts it in perspective, makes it part of a bigger thing rather than being some giant romantic monument.’

And in conversation with Robert Sheppard, April 2005, Lee emphasized again that Ashbery concern for juxtaposition:

‘If you are describing a very intense emotional experience, and if you also then mention the noises outside in the street, or even in the next room, it makes it much more real than having just a vision of this one isolated experience. One reason is that the readers can be involved as well. They’re aware of all those things surrounding them too.’

After the talk Lee sent me the John Wayne picture. ‘I thought this old favourite might amuse you. There’s something so ham, almost camp, about John Wayne—and yet we (almost) believe in him. Or I do, anyway!’

Ian Brinton 1st August 2015

Blue Bus at The Lamb

The sixty-fourth Blue Bus poetry reading took place last night upstairs at The Lamb in Lamb’s Conduit: a joyous evening! D.S. Marriott read first and I was immersed in a richness of language that left me haunted. As well as reading some new work that is as yet unpublished he took us back to the Shearsman publications, Hoodoo Voodoo (2008) and The Bloods (2011). It was Romana Huk who raised this idea of spectres in Marriott’s work when she did the introduction to the 2008 collection:

 

‘In a sense, all of Marriott’s books are about spooks and specters—‘haunted life, as his last book of prose names them.’

 

Robert Sheppard’s most recent book is The Only Life, a collection of three stories about poets, which is published by Knives Forks and Spoons. They also publish his The Given, a piece of ‘autrebiography’, a mode of writing he has been extending in recent months. Berlin Bursts came out from Shearsman last year and A Translated Man will appear soon from there as well. Last night’s reading was sharp, witty and reminiscent of a high-performance steam-roller.

 

Sarah Kelly presented some astonishingly powerful pieces of poetry which seemed to merge the art world of Cy Twombly with the fragmentary history of the Lascaux cave paintings. They were moving and transient as she prepares to return to South America and as Charles Olson wrote of Twombly in 1952:

‘honor &elegance are here once more present in the act of paint’.

 

A great evening of word-hammering!

 

%d bloggers like this: