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Black Book by Robert Vas Dias & Julia Farrer (Shearsman Books)

Black Book by Robert Vas Dias & Julia Farrer (Shearsman Books)

This profoundly serious book is an oeuvre noir, ‘an ethical response to a range of contemporary atrocities and acts of inhumanity’ (Robert Hampson). The ‘Black Book’ has an authoritarian and punitive sense to it: if you do not fit in with the rules then your name will be entered in the ‘black book’. The power of the book was legendary and even Christopher Tietjens’s father in Ford Madox Ford’s Some Do Not held an implicit belief in the ‘great book’ in which a mark might be placed against your name, damning you for social elevation! But there is also the oeuvre au noir which forms part of the alchemical magic suggesting that a new world might be created from this current one. For that we might go to Marguerite Yourcenar’s novel about Zeno. If this powerful new work by Robert Vas Dias is not despairing of humanity it is because, as the Rector of St. James’s Piccadilly puts it on the back cover:

‘…black dwells just before the light shines and hurts my eyes. Black invites me to rest from the uninvited and exhausting battery of illusions that fill my days. A book that is black narrates stories of night-time experiments in the telling of truth.’

The Forward that Vas Dias writes focuses on a register of ‘our outrage at the inhumanity of humanity’ and the book that he and Julia Farrer have composed ‘is analogous to the ways in which war poets, war artists and photographers, and journalists have always worked and exhibited’. The subtitle of the book is ‘An Assemblage of the Fragmentary’ and the poet and the artist played around with the idea of ‘an art of fragments, an art that recapitulates the way in which we receive information in fragmentary form in media reports that start as necessarily incomplete stories’. Julia Farrer’s images were drawn on a computer using a 3-D program, ‘fragmented and manipulated randomly’; Robert Vas Dias’s writing combines a ticker-tape of text which bears witness to the suffering of the body under regimes of torture with, above it, a series of statements:

‘let us consider the forming of walls, the mortar

of words I use to form my walls, to make my side

a better side, the other side is where the other side

resides, I’m on the right side and you are not, the

side you’re on is undesirable and my side is right

because I am right and you are wrong…’

Juxtaposed against these words are shorter lines in red and they include such phrases as ‘enhanced interrogation’ and ‘surgical precision’. The walls that are presented here have little to do with Robert Frost’s famous lines concerning ‘Mending Walls’ but have more in common with William Blake’s sharp proverb of Hell: ‘Prisons are built with stones of law, Brothels with bricks of religion.’ The epigraph to this book is a statement from Tagore: ‘where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls’ and the fragmentary episodes threading a narrative throughout reveal ‘black sites’ where ‘anything went’.
This book demands to be read and its responses taken to heart:

‘for refugees it’s not about seeking a better life
it’s about having any life at all

I have a dream a world without borders
today more than ever’

Ian Brinton 8th December 2016

Tears in the Fence 61

Tears in the Fence 61

Tears in the Fence 61, designed by Westrow Cooper, with a stunning winter woodland cover, is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward It features poetry, fiction, art criticism and drama from Mike Duggan, Robert Vas Dias, Ian Seed, Jennifer Compton, Anne Gorrick, Kelvin Corcoran, Charles Wilkinson, Sheila Hamilton, Chris Daly, Gerald Locklin, Mark Goodwin, Kimberly Campanello, David Pollard, James Roome, Tim Allen, Matt Bryden, Sheila Mannix, Cora Greenhill, Jackie Sullivan, Colin Sutherill, Yvonne Reddick, Michael Henry, Andrew Shelley, S.J. Litherland, Elizabeth Cook, Cristina Navazo-Eguía Newton, John Bloomberg Rissman & Anne Gorrick, Nigel Jarrett, David Goldstein, Reuben Woolley, Kate Noakes, Rupert M. Loydell, Paul Sutton, Seàn Street, Louise Anne Buchler, David Clarke, David Andrew and Ziba Karbassi.

The critical section consists of David Caddy’s Editorial, Hannah Silva’s Make It Strange
, Anthony Barnett’s Two Childlike Antonyms
, Andrew Duncan on Kathleen Raine
, Steve Spence on Daniel Harris & Rupert M. Loydell
, Ric Hool on Tom Pickard
, John Muckle on James Wilson
, Elaine Randell on John Muckle
, David Caddy on David Miller
, Mandy Pannett on Jay Ramsay
, John Welch on Paul Rossiter
, Belinda Cooke on Yves Bonnefoy and Leonid Aronzon
, Fiona Owen on Victoria Field, Jay Ramsay on Anna Saunders
, Anthony Barnett’s Antonym: Literary Tumbles
, Sheila Hamilton on Melinda Lovell
, Notes On Contributors
 and Ian Brinton’s Afterword.

David Caddy 12th March 2015

Zone 2 edited by Kat Peddie & Eleanor Perry

Zone 2 edited by Kat Peddie & Eleanor Perry

http://www.zonepoetrymagazine.com

The second issue of Zone magazine, the poetry collective of writers and critics from Canterbury, edited by Kat Peddie and Eleanor Perry, is a cornucopia of poetic delights richly illustrating the diversity of contemporary poetry.

The house style of presentation of this A4 publication mostly eschews uniformity in favour of a random mixture of fonts and point sizes. This works effectively with the diverse and colourful text art to produce a visually exciting journal with a sense of the chaotic. The position of the author’s name in large point at the top of each page tends to undermine the approach through its loudness and uniformity. The poem should matter far more than the poet’s name.

There are many fine contributions from Sarah Kelly’s text sculpture, Sean Bonney’s short essay on Amiri Baraka, via six Petrarch sonnets by Peter Hughes, Ian Brinton’s translation of Francis Ponge’s ‘Snail’s to Iain Britton, Stephen Emmerson, S.J. Fowler, Mendoza, Dorothy Lehane, Duncan Mackay, R. T. A. Parker, Nat Raha, James Russell, Marcus Slease, Dollie Stephan, and Robert Vas Dias.

Amongst the work that caught my eye were sean burn’s ‘spell / check © sean burn 2013 c.e.’ simple, playful approach and Laurie Duggan’s ‘from Pensioners Specials’ with its quirky, aphoristic humour:

The Art of Poetry

don’t write when you have ‘something to say’
write when you have nothing to say

*

smaller than the syllable
the Silliman

*

Universal Toilet

This train has,
says the ‘onboard manager’
a ‘universal toilet’

Rae Armantrout’s extraordinarily condensed poems employ multiple voices and divisions to explore contested spaces. Here her four poems seemingly skirt the boundaries of plausible meaning and imply connections between each stanza, which are not entirely evident on first reading. They invite reading of the relation of part to whole, stanza to stanza. In this way, more possible reference and meaning comes into play. They insist upon both slow and wide reading, and force the reader into wider focus.

Run Time

Hidden redundancy
equals logical depth.

*

up next,

the pumpkin carving contest
under the sea

*

You talk to yourself
as if somebody cared.

Clearly an event of some kind, as yet only implied in the title and first three stanzas, is in process. The third stanza perhaps holds more than its terseness. The narrative voice is in the act of ‘talking’ to herself ‘as if somebody cared’. When placed in the context of the preceding stanzas much more possible reference and meaning comes into play. Voices are running, possibly imploring, exhorting for this onwardness towards the second half of the poem and whatever may lie within its boundaries. We could be in the world of someone in a state of loss or deprivation, or in need of care. Key words, such as ‘hidden’ send the reader off in search. Certainly the range of possible meaning gradually begins to expand. The reader is taken on a journey and there is more than a hint of implied disjunction, loss and unrest, which serves to take the reader forward.

Such poems make Zone a joy to return to.

David Caddy 22nd November 2014

Robert Vas Dias’ Arrivals & Departures (Shearsman Books, 2014)

Robert Vas Dias’ Arrivals & Departures (Shearsman Books, 2014)

From the same series as Patricia Debney’s Gestation and Anthony Rudolf’s Go into the Question, this chapbook of prose poems effectively uses the literary device of arrivals and departures for a pared down and celebratory poetry. It is at once joyful and thwart with potential danger, and sustains a wonderful balance between narrative voice and literary effects.

She arrived with the woodpigeons. That is to say, she arrived
and they left. Not that she had anything obviously to do with
it. Of course she did. She kept on arriving and then she left.
They appeared to be constantly fleeing the roost at her, at
his, at anyone’s approach, though clearly they had to have
returned in order to flee again. He never saw them return but
they always fled. She came to stay with him and then she
went. They – or more usually one of them – would explode out
of the treetops with a clatter of wings against foliage that
sounded like falling buckshot, and hurl themselves down to
the field below the house.

The sequence works on the binaries of things lost and found, presence and absence, meetings and disappearance. There is an abiding sense of mishap not far from joyfulness within relationships and social life. Vas Dias, though, elevates the binaries through the use of fresh language and unpredictable detours leavened with humour.

His darling sent him in the garden to deadhead the petunias
but he mistook the limp, budding flowerets for dying ones
and twisted them off. You’ve ruined my petunias, she
wailed. Don’t be upset, we’ve still got the weigela. It’s
not the same, she cried. We’ve still got the fuchsia. It’s
not the same, she sobbed. We still have the lobelia,
hibiscus, morning glory, wisteria, agapanthus,
trachelospermum jasminoides, honeysuckle, grape vine,
Japanese maple, pieris forest flame, hydrangea, camellia,
geranium, agave, anemone, hellebore. And you have me. Go
fuck yourself, she complained.

Vas Dias’ humour is essentially rooted in realism slowly unfolding into an absurdism, as in ‘The Cabinet of Husbands’:

You would have to say the cabinet was in need of restoration.
It was an antique – 175 years old – and was getting shabby,
but she was not one for restoring it. She was not one for
restoring anything, except perhaps husbands. He was her
fifth, older than her by fifteen years. All her husbands had
been older than her, they had a certain patina. She bought
antiques only when she was certain about their genuineness.
Her husbands had been genuine though they had not worn as
well as her antiques.

This is an uplifting sequence of prose poems probing the nature of symbiosis in various relationships here and what is required to be life giving there. It is necessary reading for anyone following contemporary developments in the prose poem.

David Caddy 12th November 2014

Long Poem Magazine Issue 11 Spring 2014

Long Poem Magazine Issue 11 Spring 2014

http://www.longmagazine.org.uk

 

Edited by Lucy Hamilton, Linda Black and Ann Vaughan-Williams

 

Linda Black’s editorial states the magazine’s intention ‘to represent the broad range of contemporary poetics’ and they achieve this with aplomb. Each issue has an impressive range of long poems, introduced by each poet, and one substantial essay.

 

Issue 11 is no exception to the usual high standard. Robert Vas Dias’ essay on Paul Blackburn’s The Journals (1975) is a wonderfully written personal and critical introduction to the subject. It is highly informative, providing a contextualised reading of a neglected, major American poet. By the way, Simon Smith is editing a Paul Blackburn Reader for publication by Shearsman in 2015, which will include hitherto unpublished material from the Blackburn archive at San Diego.

 

This issue has a strong international flavour. There are translations from the Spanish of Mercedes Cebriàn’s 2005 ‘Common Market’ poem by Terence Dooley, and from the Russian of Vladislav Khodasevich’s 1926 ‘John Bottom’ poem by Peter Daniels.

Frances Presley’s ‘OBX’ poem is a tribute to and a dialogue with Muriel Rukeyser’s Outer Banks (1967) and was written in and around the Outer Banks on the Atlantic coast of North Carolina.

 

Mark Sorrell offers a translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem, ‘The Battles of Maldon’, and Kevin Crossley-Holland’s ‘Harald In Byzantium’ captures the eleventh century Norwegian giant between two worlds thinking about home and identity. Edwin Stockdale’s ‘Snowdrops’ stems from an immersion in Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1853 novel, Ruth, and Aviva Dautch responds to Pablo Picasso’s 1946 Bull lithographs in the context of Theodore Adorno’s challenge about the possibility of art after the Holcaust. ‘Eleven Developments Of A Lithograph’ employs a first person narrative to follow Picasso’s progression from the figurative to abstraction and response to barbarism. Anna Stearman’s ‘Letters to Dr. Freud’ stems from reading H.D.’s Tribute to Freud (1956) and is mediated through Rilke, Anna Freud, and others.

 

I was pleased to see D.M. Black featured. He seemed to have dropped from view in recent years due one suspects to writing unfashionable poems. His ‘The Uses of Mythology’ reads Ezra Pound’s ambition and trajectory through the myth of Marsyas, flayed alive for daring to compete with Apollo. Similarly unfashionable is Aidan Semmens’ wonderfully titled, ‘A Clergyman’s Guide To String Theory’, derived from a chance method of finding non-poetic lines on page 53 of a selection of books in his home and using playing cards to shuffle the lines and generate a random sequence. The poem begins:

 

I dropped into line with women

rich clusters of columbine heavy and dark

there is serene repose in the body

both sacred and sordid

surrounded by scaffolding

a face cut into stone the steps strewn with lavender

selection of articles collectible figurines and large scenes

a few pieces in relief entirely made by hand

ancient hunters and gatherers painted figures

of animals and humans in shades

of red and yellow ochre

on the cliffs that line the innumerable waterways

 

There is also captivating work by Mimi Khalvati, Anna Reckin, R.D. Parker, Lisa Kelly, James Byrne and Maitreyabandhu, and an editorial by Linda Black.

 

Each issue is £6. Annual subscriptions are £14.50.

 

David Caddy 24th June 2014

The Son of a Shoemaker

The Son of a Shoemaker

Linda Black’s new publication from Hearing Eye Press, The Son of a Shoemaker, has just arrived and I note that Robert Vas Dias has written the blurb for the back:

 

‘Make no mistake: this is poetry of the highest order. Black is without doubt one of Britain’s foremost experimental writers. These enchanting / enchanted short pieces, based on collaging or treating the text of a fictionalised biography of Hans Christian Andresen, slip in and out of conscious understanding without compromising that essential kernel of awareness and apperception which characterises the best poetry.’

 

Robert’s own Perdika Press volume, London Cityscape Sijo, is reviewed in the forthcoming issue 56 of Tears in the Fence and Linda Black’s new volume is being reviewed by Dzifa Benson for Tears 57.

Robert Vas Dias

Last Friday, June 8th, Robert Vas Dias launched his new collection of poems from Perdika Press, London Cityscape SIJO. The event at The Rugby Tavern, Great James Street, London, was packed and Robert read quite a few of these new poems. He pointed out that after he had started writing a sequence of short poems about the city, specifically his North London street and neighbourhood, ‘they began to want to arrange themselves into six short lines of observations, episodes, vignettes.’ His conception of sijo reflects its classical Korean character as the popular form that superseded the courtly poetry of the previous age, i.e., before the late fourteenth century; it became the predominant form and was Korea’s chief contribution to world literature. It’s more subjective, lyrical and personal than haiku, and, for Vas Dias, it offers more scope than the Japanese form to employ metaphor, symbol, allusion, and other figurative language.

This is another volume in the excellently produced series of chapbooks published by Perdika Press to which I refer in my article on ‘Pods, Presses, and Pamphlets: Poetry in England Today’ in last September’s issue of World Literature Today (Volume 85, Number 5), the bimonthly journal issued by the University of Oklahoma.

Robert Vas Dias published another collection, from Shearsman in 2010, titled Still. Life and the comments included on the back of that selection include those of Robert Duncan and George Oppen. Duncan’s comments on the earlier work of this prolific poet capture one of the essential qualities of this lively and engaged poetry: ‘What means most to me is how at once humorous (alive to the humours of what was going on in the expression—re-creation—of feeling) and personally engaged you keep the poem.’

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