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Festival Conversation between Simon Collings and Allen Fisher

Festival Conversation between Simon Collings and Allen Fisher

Questions for Allen Fisher, Answers for Simon Collings

Tears in the Fence Festival 2020

The Friday evening session of this year’s Festival included a conversation between Allen Fisher and Simon Collings. Simon sent Allen written questions before the event and Allen prepared written answers. During the session the conversation took a somewhat different course from the one planned. As a bonus, therefore, we are sharing here the written texts of the questions and answers prepared prior to the event. The discussion was about Allen’s magnum opus Gravity as a consequence of shape, composed between 1982 and 2007. I’m delighted to be able to share this additional material. David Caddy

Q1: You had a structure for the project from the beginning, a framework which guided the subse-quent facturing of the work. You created this framework by marking a number sequence on a card-board tube and then crushing it. Could you say something about the overall structure of the book?
A1: My poetry writing uses processual and procedural methods. For the Gravity project I chose a complex of numerical structure and a small playful book of research into some scientific practices, particularly bio-engineering and quantum physics. The premise behind the initial numerical struc-ture was that the norms of structural pattern put in place in terms of line count and line lengths, but also in terms of overall narrative schemes that you could find in Dante, in Chaucer, in Spenser and in, for example Shakespeare’s Venus & Adonis, these are demonstrations of an earlier aesthetic with a basis in coherence, exactness and certainty. We are now in a culture and civilisation that is run by liars focussed on their own riches their ownership. I am not in favour of these criminals. They are de-stroying the planet, they encourage poverty. They support torture. They refuse joy. I explicitly seek to invent, develop and provide a new aesthetic attention. I take into account a decoherent position that comprehended uncertainties but as I wrote elsewhere gives a confidence in lack.

To cut a longer story short, I devised a system of allegedly exact proportions and exponential devel-opment and part of my procedure was to scale these proportions onto a cardboard cylinder. And as you noted, I put the cylinder in a vice and crushed it and folded it so that the exact numbering be-came self-interfering, became visually energetic. It became more exact to the situation it was in the process of producing. There’s no need for anyone reading the text to know the scheme used, the via-ble knowing has to do with understanding the disruption and excitement in unpredictable aspects of what at first seemed like a straight forward narrative or description. This procedural device was then subjected to a variety of improvised and homophonic attentions both intimately in some of the indi-vidual poems, but also across the larger work to provide the potential for a pattern of connectedness.

As you have it, the poems in Gravity each have the title of a jazz dance and the design of the book derives from my earlier small research book called Ideas on the culture dreamed of, which is alphabetical. In the initial scheme I start with African Boog and end with Zip. The reader may enjoy knowing some of this, or may not, but the reading through is affected by the schemes, the reader need only be alert to the variety of patterns and broken patterns, the narrative expectations and then their subversion.

Q2: You use collage extensively, lifting material from a diverse range of sources. We’ll hear references to Blake and Dryden, material from various works on neuroscience and physics, and later on references to the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. These discourses are woven together into a poly-vocal text, reflective of the way each of us today is surrounded by multiple disourses, many too technical for us to understand. Could you say something about the poem’s appropriation of these varied discourses? You could characterise the writings in Gravity in terms of their function.

A2: The undercurrent writing takes concepts on contemporary scientific thought and practice be-cause I am paying attention to them. Trying to comprehend them. Much of the material comes from studying bio-technology as it might affect our conditions and futures as physical substance. Quantum physics in how it discusses our conditions in terms of where we are and what we are. These attentions lead into the use of language used by these groups of theory and practice. It’s a matter of taking back the language as part of the poetic material part of its substance. Both of these usages lead into and out of narrative themes in the work and also play with the vocabularies in the text. As substances to transform within the larger text.
Q3: Of course you’re making poetry, not trying to explain quantum theory or the nature of con-sciousness, so these different vocabularies are mixed in ways which produce new and surprising for-mulations. These often serve as a kind of commentary on the poem’s own process. In Cakewalk for example we have the lines: ‘The variety of their phase behaviour/encourages a focus deception/His long range special ordering/fantasises a language progression/from colloidal fluids to crystals.’ You’re interested in creating an aesthetic effect here, in provoking an experience for the reader. Is that right?

A3: Maybe aesthetic effect characterises what this is about, but we need to understand aesthetic, its basis in providing information or thoughts, in delighting the reader, in persuading the reader that it goes on and is saying something albeit elusive that there are a number of small conclusions and openings. The aesthetic effect would be a sense of wonder.

Q4: There are a series of ‘characters’ who appear throughout the text, one of the central figures be-ing the Burglar (capital B.) We’ll hear many references to the Burglar in the material you are going to read. Does the Burglar connect with your practice of appropriating text from other authors?

A4: The Burglar the Painter the Technician the Photographer the Bellman are persona in the work, I have mutual feelings about who they are and what they represent. They are metonyms for different aspects of human conditions. The Burglar steals DNA as a commodity on the stock exchange, he turns human substance into a commodity, he can put it on a USB stick, he steals consciousness, he attends to your sleep. It’s incidental that I gather my texts from texts that already exist. That would be a paradigm for Shakespeare and Chaucer, I only need to be an artist to make use of what is available. The character of the Burglar is multiple, his image is fleeting and unrecordable except as a passing wisp in the air. In a sudden lost breath. In a lost balance, stolen in that moment, in a trip on the step. Persuaded by gravity to drop instead of lift. The Burglar is a device to give the reader you or me, a landline, something to provide a recurrence and catch of bird song as it passes.

Q5: The concept of ‘entanglement’ in quantum physics interests you – the phenomenon where parti-cles remote from each other mirror each other’s behaviour. By analogy texts within Gravity are ‘en-tangled’ with each other. For example, poems at the end of the sequence, mirror texts from the be-ginning. The lines ‘The Burglar’s struggle against gravity/begins in irreversible vertigo/practiced in a periodic and reversible fashion/otherwise the lure of his search of self’ which you’ll read from ‘Bun-ny Hop’ are mirrored by: ‘The Burglar’s confrontation with exactness/held sway in this intuition, his immediate/seeing, in that false concept of a present/ trodden by fiction’ which appears in ‘Stroll’ (which you had planned to read but which we won’t have time for.) These poems were written many years apart and in very different settings. How do these textual entanglements relate to the concept of space-time?

A5: Entanglements characterises a summary of our condition as humans on a planet that is in the process of being destroyed. Our spacetime is a muliplex of where we are. The plurality of worlds that David Lewis and that for example the poet Jacques Roubaud returns to is one dimension of this, this is similar to Robert Duncan’s multiverse. It’s also more connected and interactive and self interfering than their concepts. It is disruptive in a positive way, it is energetic and the basis of our existence. It characterises that we are part of a pattern of connectedness, it’s how our human physiology works, how consciousness works or memory and our immune responses our weather. The mirrors are more extraordinary than a hall of mirrors or singular camera lens they are mobile. They are the basis of my aesthetic and my practice and my cooking. Entanglements are exemplary of the decoherence that we experience on a minute by minute condition. They articulate our loss and gains our uncer-tainty and confidence. Our accidents and corrective attentions. Our collective presences.

Your suggestion attends to composition over a broad time. You say over many years. It is also at that moment of energy that momenergy in a multiple of situations and conditions some consciously experienced others lost in the fleet of being. The benefit of project working is that it articulates the production of a poem as a job to do. It is conceptualised and planned and carried out. The idea over many years is lost to the spacetime of multiplicity and that is where the entanglement takes, is effi-caciousness, is how it is experienced as lost and found at once. Stolen and recovered at once.

Q6: A final question. On first encounter the work may seem rebarbative to a reader. But there’s a great deal of playful humour in the work isn’t there, both at the level of the language and in some of the narrative?

A6: The work is necessarily rebarbative, what a word, it feels like a blurb on the back of the book. The work is as you say playful and has an intension in humour. I can think of no better description of the human condition. In states of adversity we move through in good humour and get on with it. We interface adversity, the whole damaged condition of our planet and motivate a recovery. Maybe it is rebarbative in the sense of the barber, like the Burglar takes from you, when you are face to face with the Burglar you don’t see who it is. It is the activity that you encounter. Rebarbative because it uses vocabulary that you don’t recognise or because it feels like a demonstration of confusion, an underlying need to cohere and quickly understand, Gravity can’t be understood in that way, it offers fleets of comprehension which are continually stolen from you. I resist coherence because coherence is a death. It is lie we have been told all our lives. This civilisation does not cohere except as a death culture. We need to transform that, we need to counter it. We are tired of dying, and seeing the death of others, we are sick of the torturers and the victims of torture, tired of arms dealers and the buyers of armoury. We are rebarbative with the psychiatrist and the loss of memory. We are clowns in a circus that demands we fall over and get up. We have funny faces and cry. We demand fun and playfulness and humour, it is restorative.

Simon Collings, Allen Fisher 14th September 2020

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

A Dance With Hermes by Lindsay Clarke (Awen Publications)

A Dance With Hermes by Lindsay Clarke (Awen Publications)

The artist is an opener of doors and Lindsay Clarke’s hermetic sequence sketches for us images of gates and crossroads, gaps in landscape where the eye, itself a window to the soul, can reflect Janus-like upon the self through attention to intricacies of form in the natural world. In the ‘Note at the Threshold’ to this intriguing glimpse at the shimmering light of a Greek world Lindsay Clarke acts as our host:

“That they recognised so many impersonal powers at work through him suggests that the ancient Greeks well understood that the young Hermes who entered the Homeric world of the Olympian gods brought with him deep-rooted associations and attributes from a far earlier age. In any case, there is always an essential ambiguity in the nature of this god of the stone pile. He may be there as an invaluable guide across difficult terrain but he is not entirely to be trusted and may also choose to lead us astray. Hikers and climbers still add herm-stones to cairns, and Hermes still often faces us with choices at a crossroads; but as the image evolved in ancient times, instead of a rough stone pile, a monolith was erected in some terminal places, and a bearded head was carved on the standing stone, and out of its limbless pillar was thrust a vigorous penis. Here was Hermes as the god of fertility, drawing generative power up from the dark underworld – an ithyphallic alpha male, formidably guarding his herds beside the life-giving female presence of a spring.”

The herma marks that liminal space, that boundary between territories, that moment in both geography and imagination where one world becomes another. This is a junction, a cromlech, a door and the “sly / light-fingered god of crossways, transit, / emails and exchange…” acts as the door-keeper:

“…..the wing-heeled, shifty,
wheeler-dealing go-between, who’ll slip right

through your fingers if you try to pin
him down.”

There is a quiet lyricism in these poems and a tone of determination that places the evanescent within a topographical steadiness:

“Herma: a heap of stones such as a traveller
sweating in the noonday heat might make out
shimmering in the haze, then feel his dry throat
freshen at its signal that a spring is near.

And having drunk and put a random stone
on to the pile, might he then wonder whether
others who have placed an offering on that cairn
have also caught a glimpse of Hermes standing there?”

This lord of the threshold possesses a darker side and his rape of Chione introduces the world to Autolycus, grandfather of Odysseus the man of wiles. That figure of course also gives his name to the duplicitous snapper-up of unconsidered trifles in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale: woe betide he who encounters this singing knave as the Clown discovers to his cost!
In his ‘Note at the Threshold’, Clarke alerts us to an association between the Greek Hermes and the agent of transformation in alchemy, Mercurius Duplex. He offers us a “regular use of half-rhymes to suggest the elusive nature of the god – something almost grasped but not quite” and suggests that the format used for the opening poem, ‘Koinos Hermes’, “became more or less standard for the sequence of verses which followed hot on its winged heels almost by dictation”. This quality of elusiveness reminds me of the work of Edward Thomas and I am drawn back to those fine statements made by F.R. Leavis in 1932:

“Edward Thomas is concerned with the finer texture of living, the here and now, the ordinary moments, in which for him the ‘meaning’ (if any) resides. It is as if he were trying to catch some shy intuition on the edge of consciousness that would disappear if looked at directly.”

It is surely no accident that Jeremy Hooker, the man who wrote about Thomas in 1970 in an essay titled ‘The Sad Passion’, should have written the blurb on the back of this new book from Awen Press. In 1970 Hooker had referred to Thomas’s “quest for wholeness”, the relationship of a whole man to human society and its home on earth. Here, dancing with Hermes, he writes:

“This is an impressive collection, with an ancient and perennial wisdom”.

The Awen website can be located at http://www.awenpublications.co.uk

Ian Brinton, 23rd September 2017

The Groundlings of Divine Will

The Groundlings of Divine Will

Daniel Staniforth’s The Groundlings of Divine Will (Skylight Press 2013) http://www.skylightpress.co.uk sees Shakespeare’s first audience, ‘the groundlings of the pit’, as a secret society addressing the Master Of Revels in a glorious riposte to the ways in which Shakespeare studies have taken the playwright away from his historical context. The groundlings, with their ‘ears to hear and eyes to behold’, speak out as one voice in their defence of Divine Will   against all manner of heresies. It is great fun, satirically astute and tightly written using quotations from the plays to reinstate the work in its historical time frame.

‘Twas while shivering at the Winter’s Tale when we heard the

accused Paulina quip – It is an heretic that makes the fire not

she which burns in’t. (Measure for Measure)

The groundlings stand in the pits facing the heavens, their apostolic gazes emboldening the players in their holy writs, clinging to their Divine Will and his sacred trinity of Seneca, Plutarch and Hollinshead, ingesting the pit-rolls and piss-ales of their transubstantiation. They speak out as ‘the human wick, the Temple candle, the alchymy of light’ against theological orthodoxies and their torturing and tortuous ways garnering their evidence and support from the Divine Will, the cauldrons of dark hags, Ralegh’s School of Night, Dr. John Dee, mystical and neo-Platonist writings. Written in period vernacular and ablaze with fire, the killing of heretics, sorcerers, witches, mediums and wizards, classical and mythological references, the Gods of love, which seep in and out of the plays, the book highlights the themes that would have been more pronounced in Shakespeare’s time. The groundlings, imbued with folklore and paganism, see what characters represent and hide, connect Hamlet with Dr. Dee, note the shadowy characters, enjoy Iago’s lies, Lear’s fool and Hamlet’s gravedigger and all the allegories.

The book is beautifully designed by Rebsie Fairholm and printed in 1651 Alchemy, a Garamond type reconstructed from historical sources and comes with humorous back cover blurbs by Rev. Obadiah Horseworthy, Emanuel Swedenborg, Frater Nubilus and Ben Johnson.

It is great fun and highly recommended.

David Caddy

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