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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

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Poems by J.H. Prynne (Bloodaxe, 2015) ‘The Figure in the Carpet’ Part II

Poems by J.H. Prynne (Bloodaxe, 2015) ‘The Figure in the Carpet’ Part II

With a mixture of playful good humour and mordantly intricate style Henry James came to terms with the failure of his venture into the world of the London stage. The hissing and booing that greeted the curtain call for Guy Domville in 1895 gave him, according to Frank Kermode, ‘one of his worst moments, and confirmed his scepticism as to the existence of any considerable literate public’, a public capable of that measure of cooperation an artist might reasonably look for.
Reflecting perhaps upon the difference between a quality of writing and ‘fame’ in the market-place James wrote two short stories in response to his ‘failure’. ‘The Next Time’, published in The Yellow Book, deals with a lady novelist whose potboilers have ensured her both fame and money yet who also, just for once, wishes to be taken more seriously, to reach the ‘heroic eminence’ of being regarded as ‘an exquisite failure’:

‘A failure now could make—oh with the aid of immense talent of course, for there were failures and failures—such a reputation!’

Her desire to be serious flies directly in the face of a literary world of ‘trash triumphant’.

When the first collection of Poems by J.H. Prynne appeared in 1982, splendidly published by Allardyce, Barnett, it attracted the notice of Peter Porter who observed that there was ‘more of the world most of us live in, where people meet and talk, read books and exchange opinions, than there is in the poetry of Hughes and Heaney’. He also noted the ‘ghosts of traditional rhyming poems’ lurking like a complex figure, a string that Vereker’s pearls are strung on! The appropriateness of James’s image is brought into focus when one looks at Prynne’s note appearing at the end of ‘The First Students’ English Magazine of Guangzhou University’, published ten years ago, in which he referred to the ‘pearl-bright moments and shining articles all moving along in the currents of these changing times’.
When the first Bloodaxe Poems appeared in 1999 it was dedicated to Bernard Dubourg, the French translator of Chansons A La Journée-Lumière (1975), Séquentiel Diurne (1975) and Poèmes de Cuisine. The last of these was a collaborative effort between the English and French poet. The wording of the dedication made it clear that it was in memory of this French poet who had died in 1992 and when the second edition of Poems appeared in 2005 from Bloodaxe it was dedicated to Edward Dorn who had died in 1999, ‘his brilliant luminous shade’. This third edition which brings the reader right up to date with the inclusion of Refuse Collection (2004), To Pollen (2006), Streak—Willing—Entourage Artesian (2009), Sub Songs (2010), Kazoo Dreamboats; or, On What There Is (2011) and Al-Dente (2014) is simply given the epigraph ‘For the Future’. The new edition also contains ‘6 Uncollected Poems’. Whilst the whole volume looks both forwards and outwards it may not be too fanciful to suggest that the concluding poem in Al-Dente acts as a type of personal dedication to Tom Raworth, ‘fill to all loyal found’.

This is a note merely to alert readers to this important publication which is due to appear on the Bard’s birthday, 23rd April. A full-length review will certainly appear in the next issue of Tears.

Ian Brinton 30th March 2015

Beat Scene 74 edited by Kevin Ring

Beat Scene 74 edited by Kevin Ring

http://www.beatscence.net

This special issue features essays on a range of Beat writers and others visiting England, a significant January 1961 letter from Robert Creeley to Tom Raworth providing him with contact details for many Black Mountain and Beat poets as well as Gary Snyder in Japan and Louis Zukofsky in New York, an article by Iain Sinclair on meeting Olson at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Allen Ginsberg and Panna Grady at Regent’s Park in July 1967. There is also an article on Tom Raworth and Allen Ginsberg, a series of articles on the English and Scottish publishers of the Beats and Black Mountain poets in the late Fifties and early Sixties, plus a long poem, ‘The Prince of Amsterdam’ by Heathcote Williams concerning the Albert Hall International Poetry Incarnation, which included Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Corso, Spike Hawkins, et al, of June 1965.

It was 1965 and a foretaste of the Summer of Love
When it was believed that love could stop war,
And at this wholly communion
Where a Bardic tap was unscrewed
And turned into a spiritual fire hydrant

Pauline Reeves contributes an extensive essay on Ginsberg in London in 1965, the background to the Albert Hall event, filmed by Peter Whitehead as Wholly Communion, and its immediate aftermath drawing upon contemporary documentation. Brian Dalton writes about The Dialectics of Liberation conference at the Roundhouse in July 1967, which similarly brought together American and English poets and thinkers. There is a notable reprint of a 1963 article by Jim Burns on Gary Snyder, entitled ‘His Own Man’, identifying Snyder’s commitment to ‘disaffiliation’ and ‘resisting the lies and violence of the governments and their irresponsible employees’ through ‘civil disobedience, pacifism, poetry, poverty – and violence, if it comes to a matter of clobbering some rampaging redneck or shoving a scab off the pier. Defending the right to smoke pot, eat peyote, be polygamous, or queer – and learning from the hip fellaheen peoples of Asia and Africa, attitudes and techniques banned by the Judaeo-Christian West.’ Burns clearly saw in 1963 that Snyder whilst being part of the San Francisco, Black Mountain and Beat scene, featured in Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums as Japhy Ryder, was quite distinct and independent.

Eric Jacobs writes about the background to Fulcrum, Goliard, Trigram and Ferry Press and their commitment to publishing the likes of Snyder, McClure, Olson, Creeley, Duncan, Dorn, Hirschman and Ginsberg. There is good use of a Creeley 15th November 1963 letter to Andrew Crozier showing the English poets that he was in contact with. The essay also draws upon Ian Brinton’s essay ‘Nearly Brassed Off: Andrew Crozier and the Ferry Press’ from Tears in the Fence 55 as well as Jim Burns’ Bohemians, Beats and Blues People (Penniless Press, 2013). Jim Burns has an essay on Gael Turnbull’s Migrant Press begun in Worcester in 1957 to introduce certain American writers that had interested him through Origin, Black Mountain Review and the Jargon books of Jonathan Williams. He also uncovers the work of Alex Neish, as editor of Jabberwock and Sidewalk magazines from Edinburgh in 1959 and 1960 publishing Burroughs, Creeley, Olson and Michael Rumaker alongside Edwin Morgan, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Ian Crichton Smith, alongside translations of Marguerite Duras, Michel Butor and Alain Robbe-Grillet. Sidewalk was advertised as a review with a policy of anti-parochialism, which would focus upon the social and literary problems of today and tomorrow, and was attacked by the popular press of Glasgow.

There is much more to this excellent issue. Subscriptions are £26 for 4 issues.

David Caddy 11th November 2014

Poetry Penguin

Fifty years ago this year Penguin started their series of volumes each containing the work of three poets. Penguin Modern Poets was a startling and splendidly eclectic venture than ran to 27 volumes over the next thirteen years and it says something about the faith a publishing firm had in both its readership and the value of the poets published. In 1962 the first volume must have sounded a safe note with its choice of Lawrence Durrell, Elizabeth Jennings and R.S. Thomas but by the following year Christopher Middleton was there and the American West Coast scene was represented by generous selections from Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. To suggest a measure of the importance of the Penguin venture here it might be worth recalling that Andrew Crozier’s American supplement to Granta and Charles Tomlinson’s Black Mountain supplement to Ian Hamilton’s the Review did not appear until 1964. The series continued its highlighting of the Americans in 1967 with Penguin Modern Poets 9: Denise Levertov, Kenneth Rexroth and William Carlos Williams. Number 12 presented the punchy world of former San Quentin inmate William Wantling and in 1969 Charles Bukowski appeared alongside Philip Lamantia and Harold Norse. The series gave some context for the use of the word ‘Modern’ by re-issuing work by David Gascoyne, W.S. Graham (17), Adrian Stokes (23) and offering space to the more recent voices of Tom Raworth and Lee Harwood (19). It was a remarkable achievement and Geoff Ward’s comment in The Salt Companion to Lee Harwood is worth bearing in mind in terms of what it tells us about the poetry world of 1971: ‘Tom Raworth, packaged alongside John Ashbery and Harwood in volume 19 of the Penguin Modern Poets series, offers work that is broadly comparable at this early stage in its insistence on present tense actualities, rather than their ironised recovery by experience at a metrical remove.’

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