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Then by Linda Black (Shearsman Books)

Then by Linda Black (Shearsman Books)

I simply love this book and could quote from it endlessly. Split into nine sections it’s playful yet serious and seriously playful at the same time. These are poems which sing and suggest, slip from idea to idea, confuse your thought processes yet delight the eye and the brain with an abundance of energy, skill and sheer brilliance. There is rhyme and assonance in abundance, all the traditional tricks of the trade yet done in such a way as not to overstate the case and even when this is the case to do it with such bravado and gusto that the reader is helplessly in thrall. Here, for example, are the first and final stanzas in the opening poem ‘Time is of the effervescence’:

          Then   it’s   popped.  Likewise   a   pillar  of   well-being – too   much   taboo

          contravenes the notion that all’s well. Many are non-believers confounding

          the desire to know. An expansive watch tells it all.

          On  the  dot. Safety  behind the door. Larger than  the frame it purports

          to fit. Come winter down it goes – contradicted and back to size. A well

          beginning for a venture. 

From an unexpected beginning (has the previous sentence been omitted?) which could signify a ‘grand opening’ we follow through with non-sequiturs which nevertheless take you off at tangents of possibly intriguing thoughts. That or filling in the dots, which each reader can do in his or her own fashion. There’s a charm to the process which is hard to pin down but it’s wonderful writing. Sometimes you get a sense of deja vu from a snippet or phrase which you think you can locate from elsewhere but you’re never quite sure. How much ‘found language’ there is in this process is difficult to ascertain as it all trips along so beautifully even amid the abrupt interjections, and how contradictory is that? Wordplay, as in the title – which you can easily misread at first attempt – 

is central to the method and can be ‘effervescing’ (as here!) or more subtly intertwined within the texts.   

In ‘Lark’ we have the following:

          Folly me dandy                             Follow me rare

          Up from the broad room            Down for repair

          Clopped in the cow pat               Snapped in the snare

          Glandular fever                             Dip snip & dare

          Influence effluence                      Stock still and stare

          Safety-pin paraffin                        Polish & swear

          Pickle & candy                               Cauliflower pear

This is pure nursery rhyme material from the section of mainly shorter poems entitled ‘Each shell or barnacle’ where charm is an essential guide. 

     We have lists and prose poems and visually induced pieces such as ‘A smidgen’ from which we get the following:

                                     scales

                      STICK      in the gullet   a fork

                                    is a powerful tool

                                    I desire

                      a bowl of cake   a broth   hot-pot   gob-stop

                         of scalded chicken       a cut-glass

                      reservoir   DON’T   serve me

                            Octopus  deprived

                      of its mate   Lay   gall-stones

                                    around my plate

I can’t precisely replicate the typographical variation here but you get the gist and these poems are clearly written by somebody with visual training as well, perhaps, as a writer with an interest in concrete poetry. I’m reminded a little here of Edwin Morgan whose versatility stretched to early computer-generated work as well as translations from the Hungarian but his poetry always had a sense of the playful about it which is seriously true of Linda Black’s work also. There appears to be a lot of cooking going on in these poems so I detect the appearance of ‘a foodie’ at work both in terms of the subject matter and in the sense of ‘cooking up’ a readable concoction.

          Riddle

          Head fold   arm swivel   twizzle drizzle

          polarised eyes   meagre   penniless

          concave gaze   a turn  a tail   slight flea-bite

          foot drop   (under the arches  second left)

          stiff back/ed linen   hump lump  impeded gait

          older days   leaden light   adult daze

          paralysis   (atypical depression)

          quarried tiles (misfit)   slab slap overlap  

          assemblage of nuts & bolts   (hard wear)

          crockery  mockery   (Scott not free)

          calories count   stark Clark’s shoes

          spleen   Scalextric   running late

It’s wonderful the way this material all hangs together, whether derived from word association, awareness of the sound aspects of the written word or indeed the artificial nature of process (‘assemblage of nuts & bolts’), there’s a sense of immediacy and a lightness of touch here which is so good to encounter. 

          Each shell or barnacle

          Kingfisher  or   kite,   closely   observed.   A   tarpaulin  to  rest  upon – no

          sting or  carbuncle – leisure  caressing  all surfaces. No ache  (body blithe,

          unruffled).  No  significant  other, trailing  dandelion heads.  Pine needles,

          kelp. Forwards may run forever. The breadth of the breath, the hearth of

          the heart.

          An even temperature. The desire for narrative, the smooth ascent,

          enclosure the sodden clay. Take a runner nailed into place – a (straight)

          forward path; an intermittent placing on the doormat.

          Playtime pops in – something creative. It is time to engage.

So we have ‘the desire for narrative’ allied to what appears to be an often aleatory mix of registers and materials. There is ‘playtime’ just ‘popping in’, as it so often does and now it’s ‘time to engage’.  

     These poems, prose poems and other texts accumulate and begin to work on the reader as they do though it’s equally quite possible to just dip in and worry away at a poem, enjoying the language and the placing of somewhat discordant phrases which nevertheless begin to ‘make sense’ as the images and sentences accrue and accrete. Linda Black knows how to juxtapose and to create poems which may puzzle and occasionally frustrate but also entertain and make you think. There’s a wealth of creativity here and as I said at the beginning I love this book and could quote from it endlessly. Wonderful stuff.

Steve Spence 15th May 2022

Afterword by David Miller (Shearsman Books), Circle Square Triangle by David Miller (Spuyten Duyvil)

Afterword by David Miller (Shearsman Books), Circle Square Triangle by David Miller (Spuyten Duyvil)

David Miller’s writing has always crossed boundaries: between poetry and fiction, between the confessional and poetically distant, the heartfelt and philosophical. His work has consistently used short texts – often containing quotes or intertextual allusions – in juxtaposition to other short texts to build up a patchwork effect within a text. In the ‘Notes’ to Afterword, he refers to ‘independent texts. Yet related.’ and ‘Ruins, edifices, fragmented architectures.’ Adopting a phrase from Circle Square Triangle a reader might think of reading Miller more as ‘through & past & back’.

But it is never a puzzle to be solved, or a jigsaw that makes a picture with straight edges and is complete. Miller’s work is often more like an archaeological tesserae, the remains of a mosaic that has slowly been revealed by digging and then patient brush work. The quotations and allusions, be they from neglected authors, obscure religious texts or other poets’ writing, are sufficient in themselves: we do not need to read them for ourselves, Miller has captured the essence of what he wishes to say or mention and embedded that within his own web of writing.

Because the texts are so brief, it means the language and ideas have to work hard on the page. These are poems that have been edited and shaped, revised and rewritten until there is just enough on the page, enough to capture a moment, a thought, an image or idea. These are then allowed to accumulate and link, via association and theme, to produce a complete work. It risks being precious, elusive and cryptic, but Miller’s work is consistently clear-headed and precise, carefully sculpted on the page and for the ear.

The back cover blurb suggests that Afterword is ‘a long poem in fragments, but it might also be seen as a poem sequence of memories and mediations, dreams and visions’. Thankfully, Miller retains his specificity and imagistic skill to keep away from the new age ideas this conjured up for me, although at times these texts can be more abstract than much of his writing, relying on wordplay, visual/aural echo and surprising trains of thought to make their point:

     rage

     rags | rags we have | rags we become we are       (page 86)

     so late | & still it rains

     so long ah so long that it rains it rains & it rains

     cherries in kirsch | once               (page 83)

Much of Afterword references spirituality, belief and love, often within the context of regret and loss, but also in relation to art, theology and relationships, and the book slowly moves towards a kind of resolution which is rooted in the physicality of fingers, speech and lips.

Circle Square Triangle is more of a sequence in the expected way: a long poem in four numbered parts, sometimes divided again into numbered parts, with individual poems (or parts of poems) delineated by asterisks between them, but the whole running on over the pages. I confess that even after several reads (and also as an unnamed character who is briefly present in a poem) I struggle with this work. It is the first time for me that Miller has tried to imbue too much meaning into some of his images or let named artists and writers stand in as a kind of shorthand for what he wants to say. And the title phrase does not resonate or underpin the work as Miller clearly wants it to do.

There are wonderful memories and moments, even compressed narratives, in this text, but there are also poems that moan and poems that seem too ordinary in what they depict. It is clear these autobiographical stories and memories are important to the author, but sometimes they seem slight or disgruntled in their retelling. Others, of course, may disagree and find ways to engage with Circle Square Triangle, but for me it is Afterword, along with Miller’s Collected Poems, Reassembling Still, I shall be returning to.

Rupert Loydell 6th February 2022

Then by Linda Black (Shearsman Books)

Then by Linda Black (Shearsman Books)

Describing her first collection, Inventory (2008), Linda Black drew a parallel between her writing style and her approach to etching. ‘As a visual artist (and art teacher),’ she said, ‘my process was to begin without a preconceived idea—to approach a blank sheet, or etching plate, by merely making a mark, with as it were a blank mind, to delight in the not knowing, the exploration, the opening up of possibilities.’ A matching openness to where words might lead characterised that first collection, and has been a hallmark of her poetry ever since. With each new volume, her writing seems to take more risks, the most recent book, Then, continuing this trajectory.

Memories, domestic objects, children’s games, fairytales, and the doubtful wisdom of common sayings are all grist to Black’s process. Word associations, puns, rhymes and alliterations are allowed to lead, the poem discovering itself as it goes along. ‘Call my refrain     a form/of recitation …….  my favourite/polyphony’ she writes in ‘The thrum   string   strain’. 

There are echoes of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons in some of the poems, for example in phrases like: ‘Suppose it is done and frequent as the moth’, ‘stuck lift/when there is kindness/a solid spoon’, and ‘Concerning cutlery were canteens.’ Like Stein, Black often focuses on the domestic: clothing, food, washing, household items. One section of Then, called ‘Frippery…’, groups poems about dress, including the delightful ‘What she is wearing today she may not have’. The second paragraph reads:

Slipped on the shoe. Many laced and pin-tucked as featured. Browse for the time being. Snag a caught loop on a chain. There are many ways to travail for example on the slide without a care. Never having driven nor for that matter the length of a thread. Forewarned is to dangle, toes tapping.

Travailing ‘on the slide’ might be a description of Black’s own work method. Anna Reckin speaks to this in her back-cover endorsement of Then:  

Words ‘collude / allude’, slip over each other, with many near-misses. They lean into one another, threaten connection, narrowly miss and ricochet in another direction. Allusions are so nearly (neatly-delightfully) pinned down, are always on the verge of escaping.

In the book’s next section, ‘The un-envisaged…’, we find poems reference eating and the kitchen. ‘A smidgen’ makes extensive use of typographical devices in its witty celebration of gluttony. The poem begins:

          Of fudge   a…

screa m  of carrion   fat-lipped   drained

          of FANCY    a st0rm

in a st0mach   walls   str-e-e-e-tch

          churn   regurgitate   just a   little

     bit  MORE  salvation: latkes   tzimmus

(Latkes are potato pancakes, and tzimmus presumably refers to tzimmes, a kind of stew of vegetables and dried fruit.) 

Another poem of note, which comes in the final section, is ‘A Causeway Runneling Between Two Lands Either Side of a Parting’, a long prose piece which riffs on the tropes of Medieval Romance literature. Fortunate is kind of a knight errant, a ‘traveller’ who knows well ‘in which direction lies pleasure & fervour, rest & a full stomach.’ ‘Tralalee, tralalee,’ he sings, ‘this is my domain.’ 

But Fortunate’s sense of entitlement is challenged later in the poem by a mocking authorial voice. ‘Sort yourself out!’ it admonishes. ‘The world is not a shellfish!’ ‘The water is furring, the air is hardening, a storm is nigh,’ the voice warns. ‘Fuel is eating the planet. To go by foot is honourable. When it comes to tomorrow: Then!’ 

The collection includes several grid poem, some of them reading like skipping rhymes. I particularly like ‘Lark’, the title capturing the poem’s ludic approach:

Folly me dandy                          Follow me rare

Up from the broad room            Down for repair

Clopped in the cow-pat             Snapped in the snare

Glandular fever                          Dip snip & dare

Influence effluence                    Stock still & stare

Safety-pin paraffin                     Polish & swear

Pickle & candy                           Cauliflower pear

As well as engaging in this kind of childlike play, Black’s poetry can also address more personal and difficult subjects. A section near the beginning of the book, ‘Misdemeanour’, includes poems about Black’s deceased parents, the mood here far more sombre. In ‘Mother’ she writes of a parent about whom she clearly has conflicted feelings, a mother ‘with the perfect/script’, a ‘quite comfortable/off mother  fed/to the teeth’, a ‘flat iron mother/about faced’. 

In ‘He lay down…’ she compares her aging father to a ‘dormant parasol […]/its skirts/declined   limp  all life/gone out of them’. The final poem of this section, ‘I like’, says of her father’s death: 

if it was up to me

I’d deem you well

alive and well

and sitting opposite

There is a great deal of variety in this engaging collection, both in form and theme. Black’s playful, quizzical, at times elusive poetry is well worth getting to know if you’re not already familiar with it.

Simon Collings 27th June 2021

March by Andrew Taylor (Shearsman Books)

March by Andrew Taylor (Shearsman Books)

The title of Andrew Taylor’s recent new publication from Shearsman is already on the move as the reminder of a new spring is joined to an order for progress: a season’s transience is accompanied by a planned manoeuvre. With both travel and stillness in mind I want to consider in some detail one particular poem in this fine collection.
The witty conjunction of poetry and Time’s effacement is of course not new and it is worth just remembering Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 in which the lines of ageing on a face are held “in eternal lines” on a page. More recently, W.S. Graham’s ‘Malcolm Mooney’s Land’ ranged over a page’s snowscape:

“From wherever it is I urge these words
To find their subtle vents, the northern dazzle
Of silence cranes to watch. Footprint on foot
Print, word on word and each on a fool’s errand.”

Andrew Taylor’s ‘Honesty Box’ is the most recent example of this focus on how words can present a more lasting reflection of Time’s inexorable progress. It is an important poem and one that deserves some serious consideration as the latest example of a fine genre in which a human individual contemplates both movement and stasis. With that in mind, I quote it in full:

“This is not automatic
it has to be earned

Capturing moments of sounds
and noises before they escape
through the ceiling

In the hopes of preserving something

felt tip painted nails
I will build a shared archive

Greenness of meadow
redness of terminus lights

Early morning empty platforms
prospect of four into two
a day on the network

wait twenty years to search
for peeled paint

Foliage insulation
good for cold May

Shell collecting a rippled shore
wash the finds in pools

Follow tracks in soft sands
keep the notes
focus on the corner chair

Hold the seeds
to your face
walk The Pads

spot the scarecrows
spot the swallows

across to the city
see the cranes see the spires

there’s blood there’s soil
there are generations

Old School free range eggs
honesty box
pass the feather

let’s always share”

In a way that is alert to the NOW the poem tries to capture those moments of sound, those echoes of transience which escape immediately “through the ceiling”. The poem’s intention is to preserve something that, word by word, stone by stone, “will build a shared archive”. A little like Gary Snyder’s ‘Riprap’ the purpose behind the writing is to lay down words “Before your mind like rocks // placed solid, by hands / In choice of place”. The living presence of the moment is caught between the “Greenness of meadow” and the end of the line with its “redness of terminus lights”. This stark presentation of Death will be hinted at again in the closing lines of the poem where the command to “pass the feather” echoes King Lear’s haunting cries of loss as he deceives himself into thinking “This feather stirs”. Snyder’s “Solidity of bark, leaf, or wall” is mirrored in Taylor’s shell collecting where the finds are washed in pools to be kept for recollections in tranquillity. Tracks which are followed are in soft sands which will become all too soon submerged and the poet’s focus moves to the keeping of notes and the solidity of the “corner chair”. Scarecrows in this poetic landscape remain still, swallows move not only swiftly but also over long distances as Hardy recognised in his elegiac poem ‘The Going’. And is if with an eye pursuing the bird’s flight the poet’s attention shifts “across to the city” and notes the inevitable signs of urban growth, “cranes”, “spires”, “generations”.
Lear’s anguish had recognised that a feather’s movement was “a chance which does redeem all sorrows / That ever I have felt”. The concluding line of Andrew Taylor’s poem pleads “let’s always share” and if we are to remain faithful to an Honesty Box then our concentration must be trusted: we must contribute our full attention in the act of reading.

Andrew Taylor will be reading from this new collection at the Shearsman Reading next week, Tuesday 14th November in Swedenborg Hall. Not to be missed!

Ian Brinton 7th November 2017

The Messier Objects by Michael Zand (Shearsman Books)

The Messier Objects by Michael Zand (Shearsman Books)

In a talk given at Barrack’s Studio, Newcastle-under-Lyme, 6th May 1995, Roger Langley referred to those moments which, rather akin to Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’, seem to assert themselves like islands within the time schemes that dominate our everyday lives. George Simmel had referred in 1911 to adventures that interrupt the everyday as ‘islands’. Not like a state which is part of a continent, in that its boundaries are generated from within itself, against the opposition only of an altogether different medium, the sea, which is forced to comply with the directive from the land. After all, episodes in ordinary life have their beginnings and ends determined by boundaries which are, in a sense, mechanical, not organic like those of the island, since they are drawn by mutual pressure from both sides from similar things, as are the boundaries of a state on a continent amongst other states, where frontiers are set by equal pressures and compromises between them. Langley goes on to add ‘In this way, then, the adventure is a foreign body in our existence, yet it also speaks of the unity of all life in a way that normal events woven into the surface daily routine of our lives cannot. The adventure shows things which seem essential. As such it has affinities with three other types of event; the game played by a gambler, the dream, and the work of art, the poem.’
In his Foreword to this collection of poems, Michael Zand tells the reader a little about the background to the Messier Objects:

‘Messier was a comet hunter and was frustrated by seeing objects in the sky that he thought were comets, but turned out to be random and uninteresting clouds of dust. He drew up the list to avoid comet hunters wasting time on what he regarded as the “worthless detritus of the skies”. Ironically it was later discovered that these objects were in fact galaxies, nebulae and other deep sky phenomena…’

The moving sequence of these poems highlights the importance of what we can too easily be tempted to overlook. There is a sense that the importance of life is in the smallest things which can be dismissed as detritus. And this constitutes ‘loss’. ‘M1’ opens with a mythical feeling of beginning ‘vaguely in the shape of an apple tree’ and many of the later poems and prose-poems record a history of a Fall.

‘how much time do you have
these star clouds are all that’s left

anything you say
anything with a word in it
has been exhausted’

The draining of language that is used by ‘the methods/ of our society’ (‘Lyra’) is a matter of ‘cheap shots’ with an unavoidable violence contained in the layers of meaning tucked into that last word. Michael Zand plays with language and hints and shifts; he avoids the classification of words which can permit behaviour of narrow-mindedness, cruelty and ultimate blindness.

M 89

‘they seems impossible . these stars
but they are part of us . and remains so beautiful

even though it messes things up
who cares . let them

they are our horses they—

In his introduction to Roger Langley’s Complete Poems, the editor, Jeremy Noel-Tod, quoted from J. H. Prynne’s speech in Bramfield church on 12th February 2011:

‘[For Roger] the smallest things were absolutely everything—if you knew the difference between a martin and a swift you knew everything—not just something—you knew the whole universal truth of things if you knew one thing deeply and exactly and carefully.’

These words came as no surprise to us as we sat there in St Andrew’s and recalled Prynne’s own poem about inclusiveness, the importance of what can so easily be overlooked, ‘L’Extase de M. Poher’, in which ‘Rubbish is / pertinent; essential; the / most intricate presence in / our entire culture’. In Michael Zand’s world of messier objects, The Messier Objects, in which the ‘messier’ ob-jects,
We have pauses of lyric grace and watchfulness:

‘fig and parsley and drift wood
percussions revolve around the—’

And those dashes with which so many of these pieces conclude, as if there were so much more I could say about—

Ian Brinton 2nd September 2015

Tender Geometries by Mark Dickinson (Shearsman Books)

Tender Geometries by Mark Dickinson (Shearsman Books)

When I came across the following two lines in Tears 60, published at the end of last year, I realised that I was facing a writer of the most serious kind:

‘Sews the crews’ eyes drizzling fugue bells totes lozenges throats the swollen craw! Hope’s the carriage, to prescribe the sooth for this irritable tissue.’

The lines come from a twenty-page prose poem by Mark Dickinson titled ‘The Tangles’ and the whole of that piece now appears in this enormously impressive new book put out by Shearsman. These tender geometries, a gift as well as a register of sensitivity, contain five sections: ‘Sentinel-Stone’, ‘The Tangles’, ‘Nylonase’, ‘Sea Pens Pastoral Net’ and ‘microsleeplessbyclay’.

When I first looked at the above quotation I was struck of course with the Homeric reference to Odysseus who blocked the ears of his crew so that they should not be seduced by the song of the Sirens as they passed that isle. The shift from ears to eyes accentuates helplessness, dependency, and echoes perhaps the invocation Macbeth speaks to the ‘seeling night’ which can ‘scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day’ as a prelude to the pre-arranged murder of his supposed friend Banquo. In the Shearsman edition of Dickinson’s work the complete text of ‘The Tangles’is prefaced by a series of epigraphs, one of which is from J.H. Prynne’s poem ‘Lashed to the Mast’ first published in The Wivenhoe Park Review in early 1966 and then included in The White Stones. The importance of the poem was emphasised by Prynne when he wrote to Andrew Crozier about it in the autumn of 1965 suggesting that the poem should stand at the beginning of a series of poems which were due to appear in the Essex magazine. The Prynne quotation (slightly misquoted by having capital letters at the beginning of two of the lines) concludes with ‘hope is a stern purpose’ and here we have not only the serious propulsion towards a future but also the play with language that is enjoyed by both Mark Dickinson and the elder statesman.

Mark Dickinson’s awareness of how language and commercialism share properties is central to the section of this book dealing with fish-farming, ‘Sea Pens Pastoral Net’. Not only does the writing, the penning, reflect a record of transfer but also it possesses a lyric grace which weaves a pattern through ‘Brilliant pulses of light’ and we become aware of the ocean as ‘a function of language’. The sailor whose journey is world-wide, a cosmonaut, is juxtaposed with the feeding process as perceived by a citizen in the opening scene of Coriolanus, the ‘cormorant belly’. When Menenius tries to pacify the hungry citizens whose complaint is that the store-house of government does little in terms of real work he tells them that the ‘grave belly’ is the ‘shop / Of the whole body’ that sends the ‘natural competency / Whereby they live’ throughout the entire system.

‘Desolation shall be in the thresholds, a voice shall sing in the windows.
The cormorant clings determinate, its wings held out to dry like a totem
to the sun, the cosmonaut’s alien plunging and darting down through
origin where the mythic shears from the blink of corridors. Prey maritime
ocean crow.’

The association of underwater farms and the body politic is brought into focus from the very outset:

‘Under precipitous horizons of nephrology the formation of floating
farms. Terrestrial surfaces granulate periods of deposition skirting the edge between slight and magnitude. Drops of earth entrained in gravity, hover Aeolian graphemes, crest a loop where dunes in wavelets loess bind its loss to a carriage of transfer.’

The grinding exceeding small of these mills of commerce associate the financial terminology of deposits with the ‘language of transfer / to the human account’ (‘In the Long Run, to be Stranded’, J.H. Prynne). The fine blurring of sight with the loess, the ‘dust’, ‘all of this braiding the air’, clouds our recognition of human greed in a world ‘where the edge of collateral makes to cover credit risk as ‘options’ and ‘futures’ project the net gain or net loss being held as margin’.

There is a terrific thrust of lyrical indignation glinting and gleaming through the caged lines of this work and I know that I shall return to Mark Dickinson again and again.

Ian Brinton 14th July 2015

Due North by Peter Riley (Shearsman Books, 2015)

Due North by Peter Riley (Shearsman Books, 2015)

As the author’s blurb on the back tells us this is a poem in twelve chapters ‘concerned with human movement northwards or out in the quest for work, subsistence, settlement and gratification, and in danger of getting trapped in various enclosures, including thought-traps.’ It is serious; it is where we are; it places ordinary people in the history and geography of their upbringing.

The opening chapter brings to my mind the early sections of R.F. Langley’s Olsonian venture ‘Matthew Glover’. Riley has ‘human groups moving / over the great grasslands with the herds’ across ‘vast green and red lands without division’ and registers for us those ‘footsteps measured in millennia’. Langley’s poem opened with movement and settling: ‘To start with throve heavy forest / this district, on its marl / thick blue marl’. And this in its turn brings to mind the thoughts of Mircea Eliade’s suggestion that a sacred place has a unique existential value for religious man as ‘A universe comes to birth from its centre’. As Peter Riley’s opening chapter puts it, wisdom is learned ‘in a form of desire, a distance to be gained’ and this in turn is accompanied by ‘Orphic stasis’; no looking back unless it be at the fast disappearing shadows of what one thought one might have brought with one.

The movement is ‘Not “travel”’ since there ‘were needs, and displacements’ and an ‘outpacing’ of the desert ‘trekking in a great curve across the African savannah / towards the northern swamps and forests / the great diadem that divides the sky / into days and days into hours, captured / in a circular stone hut’.

Music, history and personal reminiscence merge as ‘A precise liquid touch on the keyboard / small cloven hoofs on the packed stones’ and the ‘everyday which is where we live’ is also the place ‘in which we are trapped.’

This is a terrific book which contains the previously published The Ascent of Kinder Scout (Longbarrow Press 2014) about which I wrote a blog on August 22nd last year. This is a book to carry ‘in a side pocket through morning thoroughfares’:

‘Silence folded against the flank as the sky is folded
tight behind the morning fogs and closed shops
and there is no refuge to be had across the great
housing estates, sleeping citizens of eternity.’

Ian Brinton 14th April 2015

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

Reassembling Still: Collected Poems by David Miller (Shearsman Books)

Reassembling Still: Collected Poems by David Miller (Shearsman Books)

I felt highly honoured when asked to provide a few words for the back cover of this long-awaited collection and make no apology for repeating those words here:

 

The dreams of David Miller hang tantalizingly over the mind’s edges: their disappearance is ‘manifestation and absence’, like breath into the wind. Through those ‘irregular / small gaps’ an attentiveness to the world of the other permits him to focus upon the immediate.

 

In the short essay on the ‘Theme of Language in Relation to Heidegger’s Philosophy’ which appeared in Paper Air, Volume 3, number 1 in 1982, Miller referred to the German philosopher’s regard for language as the ‘place or dimension where beings are brought into the light of unconcealment’. He concluded with a statement that is so pertinent to his own poetry:

 

The thinker and the poet would presumably be “listening” to Saying rather than merely forcing language to do their bidding; so that beings could be “released” into their “whole” being: then beings would be encountered in such a way “that Being would shine out of them”.

 

In a similar vein Miller also wrote an important account of the poetry of Charles Madge for Great Works 7 (1980) in which he referred to Madge’s poetry working ‘at an uncovering, indeed a double disclosure’:

 

It seeks to uncover and demystify the myths of capitalist society; and also to disclose a fundamental richness and beauty in both the life we do live and, importantly, the life we could live but may be prevented from living.

 

An early section of Miller’s substantial sequence ‘The Story’:

 

that story was the story you told,

a curve

as notation for music.

 

to question the term “unit” is to

question the term “totality”

and I question it.

no one knows what is meant by

“perception”.

 

This long awaited collection offers the reader both units and totality: it is a terrific volume which Shearsman has produced.

 

Ian Brinton, 30 May 2014.

Rampant Inertia by Alan Halsey (Shearsman Books)

Rampant Inertia by Alan Halsey (Shearsman Books)

As one might well expect from the highest class of second-hand book seller Alan Halsey has an ear and memory for names. This is true of a childhood recalled near Crystal Palace in ‘Idle Time-Scans’, where the pub Beulah Spa still stands as do those uplifts of memory with names such as Robin Hood or Dick Turpin engraved on their craggy surface, and it is of a literary knowledge acquired over some sixty years. The poems in this new Shearsman collection will present the reader with glimpses and echoes ranging from Homer and Virgil to Lorine Niedecker, from Dickens and Mayhew to J.H. Prynne.

 

And yet those names, books, associations have an awkward life of their own as they insist upon thrusting themselves up through consciousness and memory. Alan Halsey recalls that as a child he found it difficult to sleep since ‘I couldn’t put an end to the saying of things’ and he is compelled to tell Timothy Donnelly in a letter ‘dated 2 a.m. 26 Dec 2011’ that it only gets worse as he gets older. The experience of the avid reader takes the poet back to his memory of a piece of description from Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and London Poor in which a snake-swallower gives an account of his secret:

 

The head of the snake

 

with the ‘stingers cut out’ goes ‘about an inch

and a half down the throat and the rest of it

 

continues in the mouth, curled round.’

 

As the magician puts it: ‘As for the snakes / ‘they’re smooth one way’—he meant when they’re / going down—but the scales like things said / ‘rough you a bit when you draw them up.’. Nothing easy about either memory or poetry!

 

In 1924 Francis Ponge wrote a little piece titled ‘L’insignifiant’ the conclusion to which tells us of the poet’s belief in utterance as opposed to silence: ‘more important than the white page is the script even if it appears insignificant.’ Against the azure sky watch the quiet outline of a cloud! Look out for Alan Halsey’s convincing evidence of the worth of putting pen to paper. And also look out for Laurie Duggan’s full-length review of this delightful volume; it will appear in Tears in the Fence 60 or 61.

Ian Brinton 26th April 2014

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