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The Magic Door by Chris Torrance (Test Centre Publications)

The Magic Door by Chris Torrance (Test Centre Publications)

Test Centre Publications: http://www.testcentre.org.uk

In June this year Phil Maillard wrote the introduction to Test Centre’s collected and complete earliest published books of Chris Torrance’s ongoing poem-cycle The Magic Door. As he says, “They cover the years from 1970, when the poet moved to a cottage in the Upper Neath Valley in South Wales, to 1996, thus representing about half of his near-50-year residence there.”
Maillard goes on to make a central statement about Torrance’s poetry:

“The poet inhabits borders and boundaries, between worlds, both physical and imaginative. The portals, gateways and doors so prevalent in the writing open both outwards and inwards.”

This new publication is like a cromlech: the reader passes through the portal covers into a new world and the opening sequence, Acrospirical Meanderings in a Tongue of the Time, is the first greeting that one discovers. Published by Albion Village Press in 1973 it consists of poems written at Glynmercher Isaf between June 1970 and October 1972 and contains ‘The Theatre of its Protagonist’s Desires’, dedicated to Andrew Crozier:

“Strode out into the woods with
cat, axe & saw to bring back
mushrooms: Ceps
&Rough-stemmed Boletus: apricot-
lunged Chanterelle; pretty, intoxicant
amanita muscaria emerging
richly red from her
silky membranous fur. The
music becomes more insane, more unreadable.
Tea onto the compost heap. Empty the cats’
shitbox. & then, preferring “my ease
to my will” (Valéry)
nettle & marigold beer
trickles down my throat. Buzzard
flies by the moon as I crouch
down on the porch to watch
Sweetheart of Sigmund Freud crunch up
yet another mouse. My beard has grown
as lushly as my garden. The fire
hisses & flares. The fire in my head
is a crippled demon I am burning up.

September 1970

The title of the poem is taken from a letter sent by Andrew Crozier to Chris Torrance soon after the London poet had arrived in Wales in the summer of 1970. Writing to me in 2006 about this poem Torrance suggested that Crozier’s letter was something along the lines of “the poet finding the right place to fully pursue his work, in the theatre of its protagonist’s desires”.
The opening presents us with a frontiersman’s spirit of determination with the word “stride”. This purposefulness is no meander, that will come later, and the accompanying tools suggest a world more akin to that of Robinson Crusoe than a rural ramble: the cat, for a reminder of domesticity, the axe and saw for the intentional task of survival. The listing of the fungi conveys a movement outward and the sharply sounded separation between “Ceps” and “Rough-stemmed Boletus” followed by the angular sounding “apricot-lunged Chanterelle” is seductively followed by the seemingly innocuous word “pretty” which then sinuously unwinds over the next three lines. Perhaps the word “fur” with which the sentence concludes adds a frisson to the living quality of the poisonous fly agaric which had been previously conjured up by being referred to as “her”.
This poem is located in the immediacy of small events: “tea on the compost heap” or emptying the cats’ shitbox. The meandering quality of thought which succeeds to that purposeful opening is heralded by the preference for taking “my ease” rather than by subduing this to “my will”; the viscous quality of the beer is felt in the contrast of “nettle” and “marigold” before a Keatsian ease is captured in “trickles down my throat”. This accumulation of details, moving the poet outwards from the purposeful opening of the poem is, in conclusion, registered as time passing. The poet’s beard grows lushly as does his garden and the purgative experience of unwinding (an ironic echo of the book’s title, Acrospirical Meanderings, the twisted new growth of a leaf as it pushes out being accompanied by the winding of the Phrygian river) ends with fire. The “hiss & flares” are reflective of a sharply heard and seen burning away of poisonous dross. The poet has passed through a doorway into a new world.

This is just a glimpse into some of the delights of this new Test Centre publication and I shall be doing a further account for PN Review.

Ian Brinton, 28th October 2017

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Paul Buck’s To End It All (Test Centre, 2015)

Paul Buck’s To End It All (Test Centre, 2015)

To End It All is a prose work by writer, poet and artist Paul Buck. The text is composed of the final sentences of a varied selection of books by authors whose names begin with the same letter of the alphabet.

It began as an investigation into the endings of books, and the openings these endings offered for new beginnings. The book concludes with three extended texts, as examples of where each ending could begin to lead, as well as an implied invitation for the reader to respond to the provocation.
Edward Said argued, in his study Beginnings (1975), that a ‘beginning,’ is its own intention and method, and dependent upon an interaction with modern thought and criticism. Distinguishing between ‘origin,’ which is divine, mythical, and privileged, and ‘beginning,’ which is secular and humanly produced, Said traced the implications and understandings of the concept of beginning through history. A beginning is a first step in the intentional production of meaning and the production of difference from pre-existing traditions. It authorizes subsequent texts, both in terms of enablement and limitations. Buck’s work has an inherent argument that endings can be seen in the much the same light. Clearly a good ending should take the reader elsewhere, from back to book’s beginning to further contemplation of what the book has or has not achieved, to new possibilities of thought and writing. Here’s a sample from To End It All:

That dim hope sustains us.
That.
The choice may have been a limited one sometimes, but what an immense privilege to be able to choose!
The copper-dark night sky went glassy over the city crowned with signs and starting alight with windows, the wet square like a lake at the foot of the station ramp.
The direction seemed the right one, too.
The main thing is always the same: sovereignty is NOTHING.
The nurse left then, and Kristie heard her outside, locking the door.
The Other is what allows me not to repeat myself for ever.
Here the endings vacillate between ending and beginning and seem caught in a space somewhere adjacent to them both.

I recently saw Amy Cutler, at the Litmus 2 launch, read a poem based on the index of first lines from R S Thomas’s Later Poems. She saw the potential of forming a narrative around a love affair with memory and landscape in the background from the index. As she read along figures and a development arc emerged suggesting that the process had found latent meanings. Using an index based upon the alphabet creates its own structure. The ‘I’ is clearly a pivotal and activating point and that is the same in Paul Buck’s text. Critically one has a sense of the range of books and material Buck has used for his endings / beginnings. There is the pleasure in guessing some of the authors and books that he selected from, and beyond that an emergence of a psychic flow in the selections and possibilities opened up. Buck’s first paragraph based on the line ‘I give in to temptation’ shows that endings can indeed lead to new beginnings.

There was something against my body, there was an opening, a blaze, there was the heart. Always the crunch of gussets in the discarded harmonies. Many malcontents could be seen lounging. Through failure she snatched the gift from his broken fascination. Waiting for a constant, the chaotic condition, not the most exciting. Not as exciting as his own catastrophe, his own elimination.

David Caddy 6th March 2015

Derek Jarman’s a finger in the fishes mouth

Derek Jarman’s a finger in the fishes mouth

A facsimile edition of Derek Jarman’s only poetry collection, A Finger in the Fishes Mouth, originally published by Bettiscombe Press, Bridport, Dorset in 1972, is due to be published by Test Centre, with a new Foreword by Sophie Mayer and Afterwords by Keith Collins, Jarman’s partner, and Tony Peake, his biographer.

 

Postcards from Jarman’s own collection, here gorgeously reproduced in an evocative green, preface each of the 32 numbered poems, written when he was in his early twenties. The impact is at once beguiling, light and playful. The original printers refused to reproduce an image of a priest being pleasured by a nun before the poems, ‘Christmas 64’ and the image has not survived into this edition.

 

The book will be launched on Wednesday, 19th February at the London Review Bookshop, twenty years to the day since Jarman’s death. It is a fascinating insight into the mind of the film director, diarist, gardener and gay activist just after he left King’s College, London having studied English, History and History of Art to study painting at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, in the early Sixties.

 

http://www.londonreviewbookshop.co.uk/events/2014/2/a-finger-in-the-fishes-mouth-the-legacy-of-derek-jarman

 

This collection then stems from a time when Jarman was immersed in the wide range of historical, literary and cultural references, which inform his provocative films, and when he was in the process of finding his own sexuality and providing a tradition with which he could align himself. Jarman has his feet firmly both in Renaissance tradition and Modernist experiment.

 

On first sight of the front cover, Wilhelm von Gloeden’s picture of a young boy with his finger in the mouth of a flying fish, I anticipated a collection of absurdist poems from the era of Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell and their artistic pranks defacing library books.  It is in fact more of a travelogue of loosely linked postcard images and words and in part has a Beat connection. This is perhaps Jarman’s version of ‘On The Road’. Jarman loved Beat poetry and visited San Francisco and City Lights Bookshop in the summer of 1964 to pay his respects.

There are also poems here that come from Jarman’s immersion with painters from Rembrandt to Rothko, poets such as Coleridge, as well as cities from Calgary, New York to Venice and Greece.

 

One of the strongest poems, ‘Death Comes Through Mirrors’, is prefaced with a Twenties Riviera hotel interior and dance room,

and has an easy conversational style complete with a Jean Cocteau poem quotation:

 

Death comes through mirrors

is a blind man with a violin

collecting grudging offerings

I ask you’, is the hat

full yet

and you reply

‘Consider the fiery red

cherubims in the blue sky

or those empty cavernous

spaces where the image

scatters on the silver’

no his hat is empty

he is a young man

with violets in his eyes

he is blind and sings

 

It is thought that Jarman destroyed the majority of the first edition and so the new edition fills in a missing piece in Jarman’s extraordinary oeuvre.

 

 

 

David Caddy 5th February 2014

 

 

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