No 11 - 2001
poetry books reviewed
Arc Publications, Nanholme Mill, Shaw Wood Road, Todmorden, Lancs, OL14 6DA
Landbridge - Contemporary Australian Poetry ed. John Kinsella, A5/saddle stitched, 400pp/£9.95
This anthology might be better named Landmark; it sites a major monument in the English language in which the minor landmass that is 'Britain' becomes the land down under. Kinsella brings internationalism to the UK as an import. This is interesting in itself. The selection is a vehicle for this idea; and it’s a bold move. Australian poetry - historically characterised as provincial - has found its unique contribution? Long since the Promethean brilliance of Ern Malley stole what might-have-been the brilliance of Australian modernism, this placeless poetic has traded on the secondary gains of being a cultural backwater, a stagnant cul-de-sac, in which English Georgianism replaced whispering beeches with 'sour nostalgia' and an idealised/realistic (gritty, grounded, gruff) 'outback'. Poetry gets stuck up a gum tree in this epic. The Urb is not truly an Urb. Never mind though, John Kinsella has presented a book ideally crafted for the suburban UK market and he has offered Australian poets another chance, this time as 'Internationalists'. In this ideological version they must be innovative but not extreme. In a way this anthology makes the construct of Australian poetry into a New Labour phenomenon. Both Blair and Kinsella have a problem with history. Perhaps both will learn that you can write history out of your manifesto or Introduction, but you can't keep it out of everyday speech or poetry. That is not a path into forgetfulness, it is merely a conceit: "Australian poetry, from the point of view of this anthology, is a geographic and psychological entity rather than a purely historical one. If the poet is from Australia, lives in Australia, or perceives him or herself to be part of Australia, however they might envision it, then they should be considered for inclusion." So this poetic is equally accessible to all? Apparently, so long as everyone pretends Australia to be an abstract land mass that has no history, it is. And if that is no more than denial, if its just to let the posh white boys of the hook, well the marketability of such a product is its justification
The editor's selection of his own work, which he describes as 'radical pastoralism' emphasises a revisionist rather than a radical agenda. A radicalism that isn't too radical (or isn't radical at all); a pastoralism that owes more to the shifty retrenchment of Craig Raine than John Clare? By 'radical' he means 'linguistically innovative', but - although the literary buzz words are there - it’s the pastoralism that holds the field. When a jet-setter elects themselves into the tradition of Clare they risk sounding like a liberal land owner (i.e cuddly-bunny liberal glove puppet on the usual cultural fist). Commodification and profit. Haven't we encountered this form of radicalism before? Kinsella says:
they scour the field (men
& women anonymously clothed
seated on a spidery raft dragged
behind a plodding tractor,
monotony testing the free-will factor),
from Skeleton weed / generative grammar
It's the People's Poetry, didn't you know? Makes your heart bleed. Fit for a princess; and he is a prince disguised as a yokel leaning on the fence discussing philosophy with a shepherd. Truly republican too, in banishing himself. It's unlikely that he picks skeleton weed seeds out of the fields now, but he might have done when he was a student, or in the symbolic realm (a zone of struggle). Regardless of these stresses, Kinsella generously bestows favours, refreshing the laurel as he goes.
There are 44 poets and there are lots of different sorts. Alison Clark seems to voice the repressed anxiety that undermines the Landbridge:
Not only is this not your territory -
you find you've drawn a supporting role
which requires nothing but your presence.
Is this asking too little or too much?
Pondering the matter leaves you speechless
from Being and Existing
You can see her dilemma. And what to do, especially when the properly liberal/ethnic thing to do is 'buy into' aboriginal culture? But when that offers little more than the misery of indigenous nationalism or commodified ethnicity, what then? Well, for a start you buy in (that's nation building, an anti-debate):
Only $200 - Ladies /
Gents and you could
Become an Aborigine
For two whole days!
Lisa Bellear, from Souled Out
And tokenism is one way to buy in; you get a truly inclusive national poetry which is a boon when you said all along that's not what you wanted. Or, seeing that as crap, you get a self-appointed, self-congratulating national elite that hops about the academic/arts world confirming and being confirmed by other national elites. Commodity preening itself, an illusion of culture. It's what art and the academic world are for (some of these writers practically live in Universities). A place in an anthology keeps most everyone happy though. This book is too political to include experimental poetry and not political enough to be interesting; as landmarks go, it should be blown up. Patronise and reap the rewards? Well, there's me slagging it off, but it worked for John Kinsella.
Cape, Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, SW1V 2SA
Men in the Off Hours Anne Carson, A5/perfect bound, 166pp/£10
Men in the Off Hours is 'peopled' by a multitude of 'voices'. It is an anthology or a crowd. There is plenty of novelty, but nothing new, and that seems to be the point (which is present as an absence) of the book. "The unique, as Derrida puts it, eludes discourse." (from TV Men: Artaud, Vendredi) Novelty exists within pattern, which makes the pursuit of novelty a game. So, games theory applies? Almost. You could take this book as an exploration of the spectacular construction of manhood within culture. The mass media is all-pervading, so TV Men are also 'spectacular' men? The culture of maleness mediated, made unreal. Another possible approach might involve ideas of Gestalt. This Lady of the Theories, she plucks a flower here, a flower there. Each one has her own face. But the feeling grows as you work through the book of something felt within the field called 'unique', that non-space where language can't go. It's the monster of desire, creating? Or the body, subjectified? It's the myth of a connection, or it's what we don't feel when we look at a photo of someone we were, or perhaps still are, attached to. Like Margaret Carson, pictured at the very end of the text, after what feels like 'naïve' prose-poetry or autobiographical writing. She might be called Dolores. You cannot say anything in such a complex field without straying into conscious error - but to be consciously in error is to learn? The poems tease out inadequacies, not so much in language but in our use of it. The sequence TV Men: Akhmatova (Treatment for a script) mediates an encounter with a poet with a false name who can only be encountered via translations, both literary and political. She can only be rehabilitated. She can never recover. The poems are both stylistically typical (they purport to be a treatment for a script, thus they never even approach their suggested final form) and compassionate. The following is a complete poem from this sequence of 23:
CAMPAIGN AGAINST AKHMATOVA BEGINS (1922)
She ran from lamppost to lamppost, the wind slammed.
Trotsky reviewed her in Pravda: One reads with dismay…
and an unofficial Communist Party resolution banned her
She didn't notice, didn't know what a Communist Party was in those days.
Fog choked the city.
Russia's great poets were all about 35 years old.
Scraggly trees wandered by the canal in dim sun.
It's something to do with knowing you are not who you are. The idiocy of descriptions. Beyond spectacular time/history, everyday life involves a strange dream.
You on the other hand creature whitely Septembered
can you pause in the thought
that links origin
from Hopper: Confessions, Evening Wind
The book also includes an essay - Dirt and Desire: Essay on the Phenomenology of Female Pollution in Antiquity - which mediates 'male' discourses of 'pollution' as cultural/mythic strategies to 'control' female 'transgressions'. The incarceration of a woman in her self; ideologies of social psychology; a context for Akhmatova - half-nun, half-whore - leaking into history from behind; containment theory, a self help manual; Sappho reified.
Equipage, c/o Rod Mengham, Jesus College, Cambridge, CB5 8BL
The Gates of Gaza Drew Milne, A5/saddle stitched, 20pp/priceless
In these sixteen 12 line poems a narrative out of time becomes abstract art; formality opens up its portfolio of tangents and the meaning is what you make it. The two quotes at the front - one from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the other a short thesis on making a human from a piano - set the parameters. When God calls us to account, "what shall hand-moulded clay reply?" A modern-day Gaza Golem stumbles from scene to scene, unable to reply to the Creator, unsure of identity, of whose hands did the moulding. Concrete images emerge from the linguistic geometry, only to be quickly annulled by abstraction: "yet more apt in armoured personnel / cars rusting by a separately moving / pax-brede tree…" (i) Later, a would-be Samson ponders an asses jaw, but no image fully forms. Information, image and media; what is made out of events, the building of apocalypse narratives: "to / let slip tortured armies leased to / light-weight image editors…" (iii) So, the processes which inform the creation of 'news narrative' are mirrored in the editing techniques which inform the poems, creating an effect that is "misleadingly abstract" (vi). This world will not compute, the words could be the subtext to a corporate art show, a private view of public events handily codified and re-presented to the world as evidence of partnership working, or of 'stakeholders'. It's abstract but it does drop hints. The words are poised. Politics is the new software, "its ethical flora so vain, blunt who / do at least drop simple propositions / like flannels for a brow's even heat". Well, does it work? These are fine abstracts. And, is there hope? It'll be okay if we keep talking.
Etruscan books, 24a Fore Street, Buckfastleigh, Devon, TQ11 0AA
Foil ed. Nicholas Johnson, 15cm x 15cm/perfect bound, 400pp/£6.95
The publication of an anthology is a political act as well as a literary one. In subtitling Foil 'defining poetry 1985-2000' Nicholas Johnson pokes the hive with a stick and then runs away. His strategy is to seek attention and then to not define anything. He wishes to present that contemporary cliché the ''fragmentary' world and it is in his interests to do the opposite of what he says he sets out to. To be or not to be 'defining', that appears to be the question. So our Hamlet plays at the politics of Poesy in a neat way to avoid questions of literary definition and how that relates to other things.
An ancient tale, a moth
around temptation, the language
riots then expires or goes
wandering across these hollows
searching for the border
Jennifer Chalmers, from Peat
Oh well. Andrew Duncan, rising to the challenge, perceives his own definitions. In his review of Foil he referred to its "delicate chamber poetry", seeing a poetic of diminution, of the avoidance of responsibility in a fear or devaluation of feeling (he is after a grand narrative though, he seeks the opposite outcome to Hamlet/Johnson). This diminution is present in Foil, but then so are other things; other notions of poetic engagement are buried in these 400 pages. Duncan's references to games theory and the clown Bozo - with his use of the Cambridge Method (a kind of poetic diet plan) to entertain carnival goers in the US - does hit the mark, but it's a glancing blow (foiled?). Poetry is, was and ever will be much more of a varied art than either of these participant-observers would have us believe. Johnson presents a fairly narrow view, but includes the best in with the worst (Aidan Dun should put on his mystic trousers and team up with Bozo - or is Iain Sinclair really a clown after all?). So there are many fine poems in here and - as Blake indicated - there are big stories in the discrete details of things; and this book resists a hierarchy within, even if it does exist as an elite product. Oddly, the contradiction between the content and (sub)title of this anthology seems to have left the punters confused, perhaps putting a damper on critical debate? If so, then the Duncan critique has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, if - ironically - one articulated by someone else. The absence of definition is spectacular. This book is and is not 'important'.
Maquette Press, 3 South Street, Sheepwash, Beaworthy, Devon, E21 5LZ
Glory Box Ken Edwards, A5/saddle stitched, 16pp/£2.50
Ken Edwards starts his monograph with a meditation on the moment of starting a media project. The text proceeds as a commentary upon itself, showing up its own weaknesses and strategies as it goes: "I have / started off / with the most empty / formulae…" "The worst / is often the / beginning, does / emotion really / start things / off? Lots of / music doesn't / have emotion- / al content." After remarking that "musical is a social art" (and poetry isn't?) we go, on page four, to 'to move is to stand still': "The point / of a starting / point is to / move away / from it." Thus page four is realised as subject and object within the text that carries it, or within the text it carries? This is the stuff you think when you don't get out enough. Ironically, the social aesthetic is central to this monologue and the irony is further enhanced; the media project is some web-based thing. The web browser is a kind of Plathean bell jar. Best to get out amongst people and sing a tune? Social responsibilities get in the way of social relations though (more irony): "One who is / loved / plays / the piano / in an adjacent / room, / it is for / their / welfare that I / choose my / projects." The text then dallies in metaphysics awhile before making a formal return to an imagined 'real' world: "A thump / of bombs / in the / hills / changes the / air pressure / in the / room, / phenomena / like these / had no place / in the / geometries / of the past." The reference to geometry is telling, for as the Textual Alignments website has pointed out, this poem is structured around a complete textual ley line which moves "from nothing into nothing." It isn't just that the text is presented in short lines, often of one word, creating a continuous column, but a more revealing alignment - approximately the width of an HB pencil line - can be traced. There are 12 pages of text and each page is exactly aligned. Now that can't be a coincidence.
Oasis Books, 12 Stevenage Road, London, SW6 6ES
Thunder on the Dew Ian Robinson & Ray Seaford, A5/saddle stitched, 48pp/£5
"In the beginning, once upon a time, that's how all good stories start, isn't it? Abracadabra and off you go. Except it doesn't really work like that. And this isn't a story." (text 31). Thirty-one prose texts, inspired by the principles of the Japanese renga verse form. The authors write alternate sections. Each section is influenced by the section that preceded it. The first text is poised and poetic. The final text is an uncertain statement of despair. Generally, as you proceed through the book the texts get longer. My main criticism is that the texts do become increasingly dismal. Yes, so there is a negative side to things and we can all meditate on how long we have lived in a house, looked at a wall, aged, not lived up to expectations, been disappointed. These two obviously love it though, which is a paradox? Still, the dynamics of literary relationships are often obscure to those on the outside, even when published. There are some finely observed/constructed moments though, which belie the unassuming aspect of this chain of text: "A stained-glass window is brilliantly lit by sunlight, the colours mottling the tiles of the aisle. A hymn is sung, then the vicar bids his congregation bow their heads in more prayer. Through the open doorway a white cat enters, pauses to lick a front paw, then silently walks along the aisle, the colours from the window staining its white fur yellow, then red and blue, then green, then yellow as it moves." (4) Much of the writing is quite dark - in one way it seems almost humorous as the two writers set each other up - but there is an element of somebody grieving something too. The exotic, as with the camp moggy, just kind of strolls in. Even the most unusual event is described in flat tones. Whilst contemplating the Milky Way an unexpected phenomena occurs: "…we walked back down the long back road from Ballyvaghan and saw an orange-yellow light slowly becoming visible between two rocks on top of the Burren. At first it was like the headlights of a car but, within five minutes it grew much bigger, rose higher over the flat top of the Burren and even picked up speed. We could see it moving and expanding until it was three times the size of the normal moon, still an orange yellow, then moving away from us until it was hidden again behind that wall of limestone." (29) Some have said this was the Poetry Field Club conducting a Working, but Chazzy M says we must call it 'earthlights' cos that's what it is.
The Sentences of Death Matthew Mead, A5/saddle stitched, 16pp/£4
Subtitled nine aspects of a syndrome this collection of nine poems stoats about the territory of Death, taking the odd ferry ride across the river on the way. Death is a presence and an absence, simultaneously creating/underpinning the mundane and exotic aspects of reality, including language and 'place'. Thus the matter of culture is as deathly as it is vital; in fact the poems present culture as more deathly than vital, like a form of denial or repression. The author lives in Germany; this is an otherworld, of a kind (a bureaucratic kind). Death is perhaps administrator of this bureaucracy, keeping things in their place. "walking through Bad Godesberg / Waiting for death / - 'of which we know nothing' - / Strolling through town / Down the avenue to the river." (from Local Colour Seen as Camouflage) The author is able to move about, but is unable to get anywhere. The syndrome would appear to be a form of cultural melancholia, a bad god reified as an absence of governance, or a governance that does not address vital issues. It is as if history - the history of Europe, or of Anglo-German relations - has engulfed and nullified our attempts to deal with it. This pamphlet does facilitate a modified view of death, as if it were a neighbourhood you could get to know, but despite the absence of overtly mystical perspectives it offers only song - the lyric as a challenge to deathly things - by way of a strategy. In the land of death the lyric seems to be firmly held within the bureaucracy of death. Such poems must provoke an Orpheus or Perseus into form? Well, perhaps, but perhaps not. Neat, if rather grim. Lyrics to die for.
Sonatas & Preliminary Sketches Alan Halsey, A5/saddle stitched, 30pp/£5
This collection of collage-based prints brings together items published over the last fifteen years. The Sonatas are comprised of images and text superimposed - and more or less intact - over sheet music. The text can be fragments of single letters (very Lettrist) or whole words and names, some in Latin. The images are mostly antiquarian or technical, showing fragments of antique buildings and mazes, bits of a machine - or a diagram of Tall Ship's rigging (Sonata for the Ancient Mariner) - along with a playing card (the Jack of Clubs, called Ben Moderato), musical instruments and more abstract symbols and mythic figures. The Preliminary Sketches Towards the Rebuilding of the Crystal Palace in the Year 2000 - five works which seem to illustrate the hermetic aspect of the Millennium Dome - are less dense and more poised than the Sonatas. They too mix abstract and figurative elements to create meditational workings to stimulate (Sonatas) or soothe (Sketches) the mind. Not so much 'designed image', more 'magical semblance'. Each print is 8.5cm x 13.5cm, one per A5 page.
Street People Jean Demélier, A6/saddle stitched, 24pp/£4
Four sketches originally published in Gens de la Rue, a book of forty such stories (Gallimard, 1971). Demélier is a graphic artist as well as a novelist and both aspects are represented here; the prose sketches placed alongside pen and ink illustrations of people at large. For the most part, it is the public nature of the subjects that is the focus of interest; the difference between how things appear and how you think they might be. Characters with their guard up, but at the same time the barriers are oddly transparent, as if one with the skill could expose them with a few lines of the pen. And that is exactly what Demélier does. Or is it that he only appears to? Whether in public view, or in the gaze of one who is already past the gate, Demélier's subjects seem ill at ease with themselves: "…he spread his hand and put his palm down on the bread that was in front of his glass, sank his head even more into his shoulders, and squarely dunked a lock of his hair in his wine glass - meeting up without ever seeing themselves, without any dialogue in the silence and reciprocal disinterest - he paused, pushed back his hair again, gazed above her little blue hat trimmed with a single white violet, into the void… life; what do you think of it? he said looking at her, almost staring. Yes, she said." (from A Blatherskite)
Reality Street Editions, 4 Howard Court, Peckham Rye, London, SE15 3PH
Data Shadow Tony Lopez, 12cm x 17cm/perfect bound, 60pp/£6.50
50 sonnets written after post-information trauma subsided into a residual layer of imagery, rhythm and reconnected meanings. These poems feature lyrical enigmas, disjuncture and the kind of data leakage you might expect in data's shadow. The poems are 'abstract', but these forms have functions; the abstraction is thus figurative. The poems are politically engaged. There might have been a crime - someone has stolen identity and matter has become ironic? So, who did this? The answer might be 'capitalism' - or perhaps it was us? Lopez spells out the impetus at the start of his preface: "When someone allows music to play upon them and to pour into their soul, all their experiences are muted out, and so is delayed the return to essentialist thinking. Language is rich in expressions of this cognitive mode, so internalised as to release the political from the tyranny of the self-evident. Should we not therefore will this state of culture beyond our natures into being?" This statement is problematic. There is irony in the reference to nature and culture - which appears to be taken as self-evident - the question negates 'our natures' as it posits their existence. The preface deconstructs the self as an image in the mind of the reader as a preparation for reading. We are deprived of our narratives. This process is described within the main poetic text:
This is how we stabilise a chaotic array
In neurologically normal right-handed males:
From permutation to negativity
A simple but non-trivial pattern emerges
Which cannot be called unconscious.
from Restricted Zone (slight return), p. 27
This 'normal' male is the literary 'embodiment' of 'essentialist thinking'? Whatever. Data itself is an image, and a nostalgic one at that. It might be (fanfare) nothing less than the 'proletariat' - the masses, those others who could be 'informed' by ideology - presenting their own iconic third way, neither conscious nor unconscious… Post-ideology man pulls on his indiscriminate world of experience and inhabits a nonspace between the adverts. If he develops missionary zeal we will be back in the Victorian age, again?. But this book is like science; it debates. It's an argument with a set of notions of the self. There is no answer, no sum of the parts to represent, no closure (oh dear). With its cunning switching between registers, with movements from throwaway imagism to romantic excess to technical quotation, to etc., the poetry - in 'primal' 'lines' - carries itself through a series of moments. You can't go back to a moment, its all different when you re-read. And you can't recall them either, you end up inventing them. The forms are monumental, but their meanings are not. Essentially, there is an architectural feeling in the relationship between the sonnets. It's as if a city has been shuffled. The poems were written and then the lines re-sorted, swapped about by a light and lyrical hand. "It was a chill, blue-fingered hour and the gardens / Were nearly empty, as will often be true / In structured or viscous populations." (from Radial Symetry, p. 53) There is humour too: "The worst fears of researchers: / Forests haunted by shapeless apparitions / From the middle-England mail-order catalogue." (from Always Read the Label, p. 43). All that is mainstream is absence…
The Weather Lisa Robertson, A5ish/perfect bound, 78pp/£7.50
"My purpose here is to advance into / the sense of the weather, the lesson of / the weather. Forever I'm the age 37 / to calm my mind." (from Tuesday, p. 24) So Lisa Robertson advances into Contradiction (which is just outside of Cambridge), the mutable weather and a self fixed, textually, in time. A fixed self, all the better to view abstraction from. The abstract self and an unavoidable misreading of a Romantic approach and pathetic fallacy seen from 'East Vancouver'. Objects sensed in how they are not sensed, the chirp to existence. A leaf or small bird made immanent in how words do not describe them, or name them, or even indicate them at all outside of custom. Language is learned behaviour. Lisa Robertson just reminds herself that this is so, without kidding herself that that means too much. "…repeatedly to speak of some small / proximity…" (p. 25.) These are sweet lyrics, they bring the mind to weather, a landscape, a momentary chirrup. All this goes on within a learned framework - and another similar mind - but it is all song. The lyricist creates the things around us using sleight of tongue. It is the ultimate trick, to pull empty space out of a hat. The quote at the front end anchors the text, so it isn't as fly as I make it sound. "Architecture, fashion - yes, even the weather - are, in the interior of the collective, what the sensoria of the organs are in the individual… they stand in the cycle of the eternally selfsame, until the collective seizes upon them in politics and history emerges." (Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project) Lisa Robertson balances herself between the individual (her historical self) and the collective assumption or perception of an apparently objective reality; she plays the part of a verb. The weather is a kind of consciousness, a complex of moods. Somewhere there was a text, it rained over Cambridge and Lisa examined the clouds. Language, the dirty lens of a spyglass, gets in the way of what it reveals; but Lisa is Canadian and deals with this in a matter-of-fact way. She isn't 'up her own arse' with her experimentalism, its just that a language conscious approach is unavoidable to all but those with their heads buried in the landscape, or in a naïve notion of 'arse'. The poems - long runs of prose (highly structured) and short, simple lyrics (which speak to you directly, or so it seems) - develop over a week and are titled as such. The final section is the exception, its called Porchverse. It completes the downtoearth troubadour set with a song. Here's a snippet:
The porch unclasps each word
of what I say: are these words
perhaps nothing in July?
What makes pronouns, problems
Pedestals? We are lucky
once again, and the socius
of "le texte"
The approach is straightforward throughout. It puts me in mind of Robert Frost. The components of a short descriptive passage do not describe the cloud, but they mirror its actions and contrive a sympathetic or magical aspect of language that more figurative poets might aspire to. This book reminds us that reality is all about imagination, that all objects are symbols. It's a visitor's addition to 'English' poetry of place that reminds us that we know nothing of where we are. The Introduction is a manifesto. It's an addiction I have recently acquired.
Redbeck Press, 24 Aireville Road, Frizinghall, Bradford, BD9 4HH
The Redbeck Anthology of British South Asian Poetry ed. Debjani Chatterjee, A5/perfect bound, 184pp/£9.95
This is the first anthology of contemporary poetry in English by South Asians in Britain, work from over 70 poets is represented. Producing this book has been a long haul for Debjani Chatterjee, from the Foreword it would seem that she encountered uncertainty from some publishers about the 'viability' of the project. One wonders who she asked. Chatterjee goes on to emphasise the richness of the poetry, its versatility and its range. Of these three qualities or virtues, richness is the most prominent, though the others are there. Perhaps when a person attempts to learn, think in and be in a language other than their mother tongue they become aware that the only 'alien' thing in a human life is language? But then things expressed in language are alien too, and as we create and express our notional selves in language, so that has little practical meaning. Language is our matrix and it is false. Whether arguing directly with language, or with a state of exile, or with a map or a new cultural reality, or an old one, or with the stubborn persistence of a reality you've always known and so must change, these poets have a privileged view of English and its received, bureaucratic, religious, economic, vernacular and mass media manifestations. The conflicts thrown up drive poems into form, releasing endless alignments between the values, mythologies and holy days of different cultures. There is no manifesto here, apart perhaps from a general assertion that people are pretty much the same all over, regardless of skin and the colours of skin, sexuality, sex, etc.. If there's a bugbear it is History and the sado-masochistic aspects of that. Ancient grievances and methods of forgetfulness; the exotic qualities of both victim and abuser. But these things are only opportunities for heroism and celebration, if you approach them right:
Bare-foot in sacred mud, ooze and slime,
we walked like seasoned explorers on a slippery climb,
swaying to the rhythm of the divine temenos
situated in the cave-womb lit with a circle of lamps
of hope and despair, faith and forgiveness.
Shanta Acharya, from The Night of Shiva
Editor Debjani Chatterjee addresses a poem To the English Language and recounts a past relationship and sets conditions for it in the future, the main one of which seems to be acceptance: "I know you now / with the persistence that a stranger musters. / I know the madness hidden in your rules and relics, / I see the glory where you would disown it. / I see my own desperate yearning, / but I do not come to your rhythms empty-handed / - the treasures of other traditions are mine…" It is typical of the so-called 'English' that they reject what they need and then deny it. Our racism is not ours personally, it is in our culture (?). We are all institutionalised now, and of course anyone can be a racist and there are lots of other ways of being unpleasant and those never get a mention, do they? Ludicrous and hardly to the point, the invention of 'otherness'. "The boundaries of land shatter memory, / there is no map to lead my family / home. They travel to voices / and words become death. / The colour of my roots / makes me shout. I am located in earth, / my feet have no voice, I am located in sound, I walk into language." (Maya Chowdry, from Brides of Dust) As we have already said, the 'land' is made of language, and that's as mad as it gets.
Shearsman Books, Lark Rise, Fore Street, Kentisbeare, Cullompton, Devon, EX15 2AD
Interviews Through Time Roy Fisher, A5/perfect bound, 148pp/£9.95.
This book is an essential object to those interested in Fisher's work or modernist/extra-modernist poetries. Fisher is the weathervane that reads and displays the fortunes of the rest of the re-represented. His story is mythic. An Orphean hostage in his home City - o his jazzy lyre - then the ritual sacrifices enacted by 'funding bodies'; a conservative backlash; his fabulous American Fame; the absurdity of poetry as 'access' to meaning or the measure of life, its inclusivity. The invisible pilot at the centre of the storm, he plays Trotsky to Prynne's Lenin. The bureaucratic Gods of Art may be more political than cultural, but the heroes have an afterlife, come back to haunt, are stronger than before. Shearsman have sifted through the published interviews, listening to the murmurings, have mediated these via cut-and-paste surgery to create a readable book. Therapeutic, but not recuperative. No mean feat. The interviews are arranged chronologically by decade; the texts are edited to focus on poetics. "…the poem I write is the portrait of a mind, and the senses of the self, a sense of the world, which is responding to a landscape in such a way that the landscape doesn't quite have a chance to congeal. I dramatise, I deprive the landscape of a painter's vocabulary… I'm dramatising the landscape to put dynamic lines in, so that there are certain imperatives - in fact, to energise, to potentiate it." (interview with Peter Robinson, p. 73) The book contains rare prose by Fisher too, a first person Antebiography, a third person On Roy Fisher and Talks for Words. As it says in the blurb, "the interviews and essays collected here serve as an underpinning for the interested student or reader of Roy Fisher's poetry and serve as an ideal companion to the Oxford volumes or the Bloodaxe 'New and Selected', The Dow Low Drop." That's true that is.
Switching and Main Exchange Andrew Duncan, A5/perfect bound, 61pp/£6.50
"These poems were written as part of a book called Threads of Iron, of which the other half has been published as Cut Memories and False Commands [Reality Studios 1991]… 17 years later I am someone else…" So says the author in his afterword; the afterword is a defining text in this set, the publication of which marks a high point in the author's historification of himself. He is informed of his own past inadequacies, noting how his attempted "seizure of a world, not as it is, but as a set of moving patterns generating a future world, thus failed…" All this emotion re-recollected in tranquillity is, ironically, as much an attempt to re-recuperate the words of an earlier Prynne (now someone else) as to capitalise on them; his authorisation - quoted on he back cover - is 'compelling'. This is a backward glance at lost youth. Not a youth wasted on pubs and drugs, but in study and the work's canteen. It can be read as 'a kind of nerd lament' or as "major landmarks in Duncan's development…" This landscape is the flipside to Nicholas Johnson's Foil, it is the big view in which detail founders. These are bold lyrics, by turns gentle and robust: "The soft unspoken lyric is our keepsake and we are the air / The silent song…" (from Oreads) The intro prose, Endless Highway, does read like something written in a state of youthful narcissistic withdrawal - "I watch the city spread out like the dead forms of my depression" - but the rest of it is much less adolescent. It races along too, with that amphetamine velocity readers of Duncan will be familiar with, the symphonic aspect redolent of Shelley. His poems work best in the context of a collection, where the grandeur of the vision - a kind of personal Thule effect - can be seen as overarching, defiantly modern.
Pauper Estate Andrew Duncan, A5/perfect bound, 49pp/£6
"Train rush of big emotions shivering words with / turbulence like wings, wilder and more shaking than / articulate sound." These lines, quoted from The Speaking Head, go some way to defining the techniques used in Pauper Estate. It rushes along, as if aligned on some arbitrary and (Modernist) fixed point on the horizon, in a hurry to proceed but providing a commentary on something else, a failed chemical wedding, an economic context in which each relational aspect remains unknown to itself. It's as if our sado-economic lives have been recreated or represented as the performance of a state of mind. "We see the withdrawal from politics, and from exploring emotional experience." So said Duncan in his Foil review. Pauper Estate is the manifesto piece that backs up and contradicts the statement. In relation to Switching and Main Exchange, the same romantic persona is present but the alienation has been refined. The book contains some neat literary criticism too:
I wouldn't mind taking out Neil Astley with a Heckler & Koch, catching
Peter Forbes in the open with a Glock nine mill,
freezing Seamus Heaney with a long-barrelled Ruger.
The anus is a key innovation and not everything has one."
from Commerce and local advantage
There are times when Andrew Duncan is nothing but a crowd-pleaser. His self-mutilating symbols of power, when collected and laid out in the right order, are a discrete Kabbalah of affective revolutionary praxis. None of these cards have pictures on, but they do appear to work.
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The