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The Thief of Talant: Pierre Reverdy translated by Ian Seed (Wakefield Press)

The Thief of Talant: Pierre Reverdy translated by Ian Seed (Wakefield Press)

When Philippe Jaccottet wrote a short account of the central importance of Reverdy in an essay from 1960, reproduced by Gallimard in 1968 as part of a collection of essays titled L’Entretien des Muses, he highlighted the way in which the poetry is to be found “dans chaque mot qui éclate sur la page sèche, avide, éblouissante”. This is not, he continued, the large noble architecture of Claudel or Saint-John Perse but instead it focuses upon the “moindre bonheur, les voiles de la pluie, la fuite des nuées, les lueurs des vitres”. It is this sharp awareness of the accumulation of detail in the world that makes his work so important to two later poets, Frank O’Hara and Simon Smith. O’Hara’s lunch hour walk around the city concludes with the lines

“…My heart is in my
pocket, it is Poems by Pierre Reverdy.”

The poetry in O’Hara is in each word which bursts onto the empty space of the page, “avide”, asserting its right to be there.

“There are several Puerto
Ricans on the avenue today, which
makes it beautiful and warm. First
Bunny died, then John Latouche,
then Jackson Pollock.”

The fragility of the everyday is caught melting between the Puerto Ricans who make the day “beautiful and warm” and the end-of-line word “First” which heralds the references to the death of three close friends. The poet seems to be not only a step away from the dead but also from the fast movement of the day, as sensations disappear almost as soon as they are presented. Simon Smith’s volume from 2003, Reverdy Road (Salt Books), pays nodding homage to both the French and American poets as his poems, whilst appearing to present a quality of the random, are in fact highly-wrought and careful vignettes of modern urban and suburban life. The 2011 sequence, Gravesend (Veer Books), offers reflections of a train journey between Charing Cross and Chatham and what Jaccottet referred to as “lueurs des vitres” stabilize themselves with a desire for permanence within a shifting landscape: the poems themselves attempt to halt the sense of vertigo prompted by a world of captions and key-words presenting themselves as mirrors of everyday narrowness.

Ian Seed’s translation of Reverdy’s Le Voleur de Talan, the first time that it has been translated into English, brings us a world of a hundred years ago. The First World War is being fought, Cubism bisects reality and Reverdy’s friends are Picasso, Braque, Apollinaire. In his clear and informative introduction Ian Seed recreates a sense of that time:

“Up until the outbreak of the First World War, Reverdy also frequently met up with the poet Guillaume Apollinaire at the Café de Flore. Their discussions would often revolve around the use of punctuation in poetry and the shape of the text on the page. Reverdy, like Apollinaire, was uneasy with the way punctuation could interfere with the flow of a poem. They also questioned the poem’s abandonment of the right side of the page to blank space. What they were searching for was syntax and visual arrangement of text that would allow a poem to achieve its full expression.”

It is worth bearing in mind here of course that Mallarmé’s ‘Un Coup de Dès’ had appeared in 1897 shimmering and weaving its way across the pages of Cosmopolis.
Seed’s translation captures that “fuite des nuées” talked about by Jaccottet and he presents the reader with what he refers to as “a hauntingly beautiful long poem” which contains at its heart “Reverdy’s growing sense of dislocation and loss of self”. We read details as “Lights ran between doors / Soft sounds brushed / the partitions and some women went by / singing” and distance them as “Paler than old memories”. We seek a world of Orpheus as “We often turn our / heads and behind us / something flees much / faster than us” but the poet wants “to go / up once more after I / had descended forever.”

“Outside the closed door people passed by
slowly looking at the ground

They were looking for traces of my footsteps”

The traces are in the printer’s marks on the white page and we are now able to follow them in English thanks to the quality of Ian Seed’s own poetry: he brought something back to life.

Ian Brinton 8th January 2017

Baby Patricia Debney Liquorice Fish Books (Cinnamon Press; www.inpressbooks.co.uk)

Baby  Patricia Debney  Liquorice Fish Books (Cinnamon Press; www.inpressbooks.co.uk)

In Julian Barnes’s novel Flaubert’s Parrot the narrator, Geoffrey Braithwaite, refutes the role of historiographer and explodes what could have been a singular history into infinite fragments, interminable possibilities. Even where there are well-documented sources such as the Greek journeys of Flaubert and Maxime Du Camp the story-teller presents the reader with contradictions as accounts differ, journals disagree and, in conclusion, Braithwaite tells us “What happened to the truth is not recorded”.
Patricia Debney’s new collection of poems and prose focuses upon the edge of vision, that which can be detected out of the side of the eye, and the often quite imperative tone confronts us with a sense of responsibility for what seems to be hiding there:

Things Which Had I Stopped to Consider –
Really Consider – Or If I’d Been Older –
Might Have Been Clues

‘That time we took Violet the cat – who had six toes on each front
paw – up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. You said she would like to
get out of the city. We opened the car door and she ran away, right
into the rhododendron up the side of the mountain. We called and
called – Violet! Violet! – but she never came back.

The time you locked yourself in the bedroom. I screamed – don’t
do it, don’t do it
– but you still didn’t come out.’

On the back cover of this remarkably disturbing volume of memory’s fragments Simon Smith mentions the ‘desolation of Hopper’ and there is an eerie exactness about this reference. In the 1939 painting ‘Cape Cod Evening’ (National Gallery of Art, Washington) a man sits on the doorstep in front of a house and a woman stands with folded arms looking downwards at his hand which is offered out with something in it held there to attract a dog. There is a kind of serenity in the scene except that the dog is peering alertly away from the man and, with ears pointed and tail sticking out horizontally, is staring at something (some thing) off stage. It is a very unsettling painting as one becomes aware of the importance of whatever is there, just out of sight!
Carrie Etter’s comment raises to my mind another source for this collection of ‘fragments, prose poetry, and white space’ (Jane Monson):

‘In her compelling new collection, Patricia Debney deftly fractures narratives, lines, and syntax to evoke a daughter’s struggle with an unstable mother. Baby intelligently renders their fraught relationship in all its emotional complexity.’

I am drawn back here to Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved which opens with the uncompromising statement ‘124 WAS SPITEFUL. Full of a baby’s venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children.’ The epigraph Toni Morrison chose for her novel was from the letter Paul the Apostle wrote to the Romans and the nine sections of Debney’s poem ‘Armour of Light’ take their title from a reference to Romans 13:12. Whereas Morrison’s reference presents us with a contradiction concerning who is beloved Debney’s has a positive assertion of the day being at hand as the night is far spent. In these fragmentary shards of writing the poet sifts through ashes, picks ‘through remnants / of fires / in which not everything / burned’:

‘fragments
of bone
mostly yours
evidence
of kindling
not caught

and horded
secret hopes’

Just as History isn’t what happened but is instead what Historians tell us happened, the story of our selves is an accumulation of fragments upon which we place narrative sequence. Patricia Debney’s eerie and moving collection presents us with characters whose story is made up of what happens between the lines and just off the stage.

Ian Brinton 6th October 2016

Salon Noir by Simon Smith (Equipage)

Salon Noir by Simon Smith (Equipage)

The epigraph at the front of this stunningly presented new book of poems from Rod Mengham’s Equipage is significant in that it points the way forward:

‘Place and the spirit of place is the inspiration of more poetry than we nowadays like to admit; and to do poetry justice, the critic needs to turn himself into a tourist’.

These words conclude Donald Davie’s essay on ‘The Cantos: Towards a Pedestrian Reading’ (spring-summer 1972) and they possess the faint timbre of a Michelin Guide to the Cathar regions of Foix, Palmiers, Montaillou and Montségur. And in similar mode one of the best tourist guides of poetry during the Pound era, Hugh Kenner, allowed his engaging narrative to act as our signpost in 1972 as we were transported back to 1919, ‘a good summer for the impecunious to travel’. Ezra and Dorothy Pound met Tom Eliot ‘near Giraut de Bornelh’s birthplace, Excideuil’:

‘The three headed south, the Pounds finally to Montségur but Eliot on a divagation of his own to inspect nearby cave drawings. That may have been at the Grotte de Niaux. We are to imagine him, rucksacked, deep inside a mountain, individual talent confronted by the Mind of Europe, satisfying himself that art never improves (“but the material of art”—here, bison “d’un pureté de trait étonnante” drawn with magnesium oxide in bison grease—“is never quite the same”), while 20 kilometers eastward by crows’ flight the Pounds, fortified with chocolate, were climbing the southwest face of Montségur to the white walls that ride its summit like a stone ship.’

Naturally enough Thomas Stearns Eliot, gentlemanly figure from London, was a different type of tourist from the Pounds, as is evident from his short letter to Lytton Strachey written in late August that year:

‘I have been walking the whole time since I arrived and so have had no address at all. Through Dordogne and the Corrèze, sunburnt—melons, ceps, truffles, eggs, good wine and good cheese and cheerful people. It’s a complete relief from London.’

Simon Smith’s poetic journey into that part of France north of the Pyrenees merges past and present as his Airbus A320 ‘prepares for final descent & the slip towards Tolosa / Piere Vidal’s town’. This is the first reference to Paul Blackburn, a haunting presence throughout the sequence of poems, and to his Peire Vidal translations published by Mulch Press also in 1972, a year after the American poet’s death. A second follows immediately:

‘the lines you carry with you
lines in lieu of memory
the ghost of Paul Blackburn takes up the work from E.P.
poets metamorphosise
into tourists & time shuffles forward one hour’

This awareness of time is central to the whole sequence and in the fifth poem we are presented with the Salon Noir itself deep within the Grotte de Niaux:

‘Gallery of the Scree the Deep Gallery
damp limestone metamorphosing
stalactites drip

reform as stalagmites
climb the ossified sand dune
thirty-odd feet high

& to the Salon Noir a kilometre deep
bison some ice-age horses ibex deer
off limits the Réseau Clastres & the only weasel

Panel II bison facing away
right 13,850 BP counterpoint
to Panel VI 12,890 BP bison facing left

a dead female & a thousand years between

outlined in charcoal or a mixture
manganese dioxide
for black haematite for red

clear as today lit by torch battery
our eyes are their eyes
no history between’

In his introduction to Blackburn’s Peire Vidal, the editor commented upon the excellence of the American poet’s choice in translating the poetry of the Provençal troubadours because it was a choice made out of a special affinity for them: ‘Because he had the gifts and desire, he became one and all of them, as with genius and learning he gave their poems his own voice and new life in a new language.’ There is an integritas in the late-twelfth century poet which also sits closely alongside Simon Smith’s re-creation of the Cathar world of Montségur, the temple to the sun which Pound had brought back into focus in Canto 76:

‘….and the rain fell all the night long at Ussel
cette mauvaiseh venggg blew over Tolosa
and in Mt Segur there is wind space and rain space’

Simon Smith’s ‘Montségur’ opens with space and movement, white on the page, background to the movement of ‘swallows tipping in / & out of thermals’. The expansion of light as recorded by Robert Grosseteste in his De Luce: a little tract from around the same time as Vidal’s song which tells us that ‘light of its very nature diffuses itself in every direction in such a way that a point of light will produce instantaneously a sphere of light of any size whatsoever, unless some opaque object stands in the way.’ In Smith’s poem the ‘luminous’ is ‘a punishing light & infinite thirst’ as we are presented with the sketch of

‘the last two hundred die-hard Cathars
below the prat dels cremats
eight months of dissent’

The movement of history and geography, the tourist’s awareness of how time does not alter everything and, as Eliot was to assert about the unchanging nature of art, the then and the now overlap like ‘the infinite / tripping over of water / from the fountains into the babble of voices’.

Paul Blackburn’s ‘Ab l’alen tir vas me l’aire’ opens with the immediacy of

‘I suck deep in air come from Provence to here.
All things from there so please me
when I hear
in dockside taverns
travelers’ gossip told
I listen smiling,
and for each word ask a hundred smiling words,
all news is good’

Simon Smith’s journey to the Salon Noir brings back this sense of air and noise, a history of both then and now. As with every good tourist trip a reader will want to return and return in order to savour again those moments glimpsed; such as

‘John James alone on the wide terrace of the Café de la Paix
a half empty glass of vin blanc on the table
happy for another as we are of the first

and talk
of a new book—Songs in Midwinter for Franco
Franco Beltrametti.

Ian Brinton 16th March 2016

Tears in the Fence 62

Tears in the Fence 62

Tears in the Fence 62 is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, fiction and essays from Simon Smith, Nancy Gaffield, Patricia Debney, Andy Fletcher, Michael Farrell, John Freeman, Afric McGlinchey, Anamaria Crowe Serrano, Anamaria Crowe Serrano & Robert Sheppard, Sarah Connor, Samuel Rogers, Rose Alana Frith, Michael Grant, Charles Hadfield, Mike Duggan, Dorothy Lehane, Vicki Husband, Hilda Sheehan, Andrew Darlington, David Miller, Karl O’Hanlon, Amy McCauley, Rupert Loydell & Daniel Y Harris, Sam Smith, Rodney Wood, David Greenslade, Lesley Burt, L.Kiew, Graheme Barrasford Young, Andrew Lees, Michael Henry, James Bell, Rhys Trimble, Sophie McKeand, Haley Jenkins, Alexandra Sashe-Seekirchner, Richard Thomas, Alec Taylor and Steve Spence.

The critical section consists of David Caddy’s Editorial, Anthony Barnett’s Antonym, Jennifer K. Dick’s Of Tradition & Experiment XII, Alan Munton on Steve Spence, Andrew Duncan on Kevin Nolan’s Loving Little Orlick, David Caddy on Gillian White’s Lyric Shame, Robert Vas Dias on Jackson Mac Low, Laurie Duggan on Alan Halsey, Chris McCabe on Reading Barry MacSweeney, Mandy Pannett on Angela Gardner, Mary Woodward, Ric Hool on Ian Davidson, William Bonar, Steve Spence on John Hartley Williams, Linda Benninghoff on Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability, Notes On Contributors
and Ian Brinton’s Afterword.

21st September 2015

The Book of Hours of Kitty Power by Moyra Torlamain

The Book of Hours of Kitty Power by Moyra Torlamain

vErIsImIlItUdE, Occasional Bulletin no.3

In the afterword to Parataxis Number 7, Spring 1995, the guest editor, J.H. Prynne, refers to the great aquarium of language:

Within the great aquarium of language the light refracts variously and can bounce by inclinations not previously observed. Some of the codes will unfold with merely adept connivance, others will swim vigorously into and by circulation inside their own medium. If you can imagine staff notation etched on the glass you can read off the scales, da carpo and mirror-folded.

The bouncing-bomb of language, like the storehouse of vectors I referred to last week, makes for disturbing reading and one is almost tempted to peer into the aquarium with the astonishment of Alice in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1872):

The shop seemed to be full of all manner of curious things—but the oddest part of it all was, that whenever she looked hard at any shelf, to make out exactly what it had on it, that particular shelf was always quite empty: though the others round it were crowded as full as they could hold. ‘Things flow about so here!’ she said at last in a plaintive tone, after she had spent a minute or so in vainly pursuing a large-bright thing, that looked sometimes like a doll and sometimes like a work-box, and was always in the shelf next above the one she was looking at.

I get a slightly similar feeling when reading this delightful and thought-provoking little chapbook of poems, or sequence of poem, by Moyra Tourlamain, published recently by Simon Smith’s home-grown press:

…I am feeling my way around the inside of a globe. All
the mountains and rift valleys and shorelines which might
offer a hand-hold are ridging up the outside, so I must splay
my hands and feet against the inner skin, or end up
crouching on the bottom.

Well, the buoyancy of language keeps us both afloat and trapped; its echoes of usage allow us to see the aquarium from the outside as

You place your left hand
hard against the glass.
From my side, I can see the palm,
crossed with its variable life-lines,
& your non-transferable
finger prints.

Of course we all experience things differently but language also is capable of convincing us of a commonality and a ‘snapshot’, ‘view from the kitchen window’, has hints of both Lorine Niedecker and W.C. Williams:

there’s nothing but a sheet of glass
between the warmth of the house
and distance written loud
absence driven home in fragments

That phrase ‘driven home’ is full of reverberations and not all of them are pertinent to the skilled workplace as opposed to domestic resolution. A lovely book, which is available from 58 Crescent Road, Ramsgate, CT11 9QY.

Ian Brinton, 22nd June 2015.

Simon Smith’s Navy (vErIsImILLtUdE, 2015)

Simon Smith’s Navy (vErIsImILLtUdE, 2015)

In these times of bewilderment and dislocation it is important to read poets who recognise the contours of the political landscape and it is vital to attend to voices that quietly insist upon pursuing truths despite being noised-out by the chatter from the island. Or, as one modernist poet put it in 1968:

And so slowness is
interesting and the dust, in cracks between
boards

The same poem, ‘A Gold Ring Called Reluctance’, written by a young poet in his early thirties continues ‘Fluff, grit, various / discarded bits & pieces: these are the / genetic patrons of our so-called condition.’
When Simon Smith was interviewed by Andrew Duncan for a book titled Don’t Start Me Talking (Salt 2006), a book incidentally that was dedicated to David Herd and Robert Potts, ‘visionary editors for a new sight’, he referred to poems being conceived as a type of dialogue with other poems. The precise background to Smith’s comment was his writing of Night Shift (1991), composed in ‘quite a strict or regular verse form’ in response, partly, to Peter Riley’s ‘Ospita’ and Tom Raworth’s Sentenced to Death and Eternal Sections:

‘There seemed to be some sort of dialogue going on between these poetries, formally I mean, and I found myself taking part in that dialogue, or should I say the poem found its way through this kind of engagement. The poems then ‘talk’ to one another within the sequence. Building poems in series like this is a feature of the so-called avant garde in this country—it’s a way of replacing linear narrative without losing scope, or compromising perception.

Simon Smith’s recently published volume Navy is an interesting movement forward from these ideas and it does not make for comfortable reading. The opening section of the book is titled ‘England, A Fragment’ and I am quickly made aware that this does not refer to a small part of the country but is itself a description of that which is in the process of falling apart.
The dialogue here is with William Carlos Williams and the use of the three-ply line stretches the eye down the page as we move from ‘dirt from under the nails / on Dover Beach’ to ‘a shrieking gull’. The whole sequence is threaded with fragments of poetic and musical reference and the Matthew Arnold backdrop to those opening lines soon becomes the early world of Olson’s poems as illustrated by Corrado Cagli. Debussy and Schubert are fragments stored against ruin but so is the early morning ‘station pie’ with its echo of Larkin’s change of trains at Sheffield in ‘Dockery and Son’. There is, however, another voice behind this moving and important poem-for-our-times and that is the hoof-fall of Ed Dorn’s ‘Gunslinger’. Through the world of East Kent the ‘UKKK’ are bringing ‘law to town’ and hooded men in pointy hats are on the move.
The epigraph to this terrific and terrifying volume includes words by that voice of sanity and careful consideration, John James:

‘but it’s wonderful to wake up & know that
despite everything
France is still there’

The book is, as a moment of connection to that early conversation, also dedicated to David Herd.

And to me; for which, Simon, many thanks; I am honoured.

Copies of this little collection can be obtained from the publisher at 58 Crescent Road, Ramsgate, CT11 9QY

Ian Brinton, 9th May 2015

Half a dozen, just like you by Simon Smith (Oystercatcher Press, 2015)

Half a dozen, just like you by Simon Smith (Oystercatcher Press, 2015)

When you have bought this new Oystercatcher Press collection, and I urge you to do precisely that, turn to the poem titled ‘SUNSPOT’, the opening lines of which set a tone which reverberates with the tones of what the poet has already read:

SUNSPOT

a colourless yard
bar a couple of daffodils left to yellow
& burn in the sun—left to sunlight

bleak grey sun cloudless
behind glass
the wreckage of a Victorian fuchsia

the back gate in all its glory
blue—faded to turquoise—paint peels

in a town so small you can walk across it in minutes
not hours or days or weeks—a city—

One of the echoes of this evocation of Paris draws us back, as readers, to John James’s ‘To a Young Art Student in London’ from his 1967 Ferry Press publication MMM…AH YES:

Nothing moving on the suburban streets of every European city—

you can only be sure of your own pattern of the force, revealed
in meteorite storms of colour

figuring the space round
your own iris,
next year’s buds
hidden in
this year’s plant, the tree’s
roots growing
where no eye can see

It is no accident that the figure of John James, poet of Bristol, Cambridge and France, should figure so clearly in this little volume of poems. ‘The Night Station’ is for John James, the Equipage publication In Romsey Town is mentioned as is that early Ferry Press publication already mentioned. Two years after the publication of MMM… AH YES, Andrew Crozier published his own poem to James in Walking on Grass:

Every time you see him John’s fringe has grown shorter
so he waves it at you, and with the steel-framed
sartorial spectacle of an illustrious trans
tight vested poet, and a pleated vent,
he’s on home ground.

And these poems by Simon Smith are on ‘home ground’. It isn’t just the opening poem dedicated to Flick Allen (the FELICITÉ of the cover); it’s the localising of emotion ‘Round the Corner’ in Ramsgate, the memory of another Ferry Press publication, David Chaloner’s Chocolate Sauce, the swift movement from a Paris courtyard to Charing Cross Road; the continued accumulation of experience held in a ‘carrier bag life’ which concludes for a brief moment, a gesture, at Canterbury’s Mrs Jones’ Kitchen on 2nd of May last year.
The other John that comes to my mind at this moment is Riley whose Correspondences were published by The Human Constitution in 1970:

‘I am always on the dark side of the window, looking at them all living in the lights. I’m in good company, but with ghosts, and on the other side human beings are so solid and bright.’
Susan to John, Whitby 3rd August 1961.

Or again, describing her journey through Crete Susan writes about Knossos and the underground storerooms where the pots ‘move in their stillness’. Referring to a refusal to search for aesthetic experiences she writes ‘you just walked into the experience and everything that happened was part of it and peaceful and O.K…I’ve stopped wanting to work myself up over things; if something’s going to interest me it can come and hit me in the eye.’

This little chapbook by Simon Smith lands a punch!

Ian Brinton 20th April 2015

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