Tag Archives: amy de’ath

The Extended Claudius App Fortnight: Amy De’Ath and Cecilia Corrigan.

This might be quite uncomfortable. This conversation between Amy and Cecilia relates to gender politics at the radical end of the poetry spectrum.

The main thrust of the dialogue is that radical poetry on both sides of the Atlantic is centred around a fairly exclusive grouping that omits feminist issues. I want to think about this point made by Amy:

What I’m taking issue with here is not Keston’s work — but with a whole gestural economy that’s both historical and casually social, an economy that always ensures the white men are at the top of the pile, they are the authority, they are the ones who so often define the terms of the debate.

I am of course ripping this out of the context of a more detailed and nuanced conversation but I think it gets to the nub of the problem. Now, I’m a white male who writes about this kind of poetry and I mostly write about men. I don’t feel that I’m at the top of any ‘pile’ but I do recognise that I am part of the problem. I also recognise the accuracy of the above and would like to spend some time trying to work out why this might be the case.

The first point is that poetry has always been dominated by men and men will always be reluctant to participate in their own downfall. The second is that ‘radical’ poetry is mostly leftist/marxian poetry concerned primarily with class and less about gender (or anything else). The final factor is that poetry is currently in a ghetto and radical poetry is an enclave within that ghetto and this breeds a special kind of neuroses that feeds into the gestural economy referred to above.

Thinking my own contribution to this travesty through, I recall reading something by James Baldwin which forcefully and convincingly pointed out that the white man can/must say nothing about racism because (paraphrase) any words, no matter how well-intentioned, would define the terms of the debate. So, as the oppressor I can’t speak up for those that I oppress. What I can do is to try to live a life that does not perpetuate the misogyny that still rules this side of the gender fence. However, it would be dishonest of me to write about women poets just to even up the balance.

That doesn’t explain why I’ve written much (much) more about Prynne, Celan and Hill than Vanessa Place who I would rank alongside all three of these in terms of importance. Nor does it explain why I’ve written next to nothing about Elizabeth Bishop. So perhaps I should redress this balance. In terms of other kinds of identity issues, I haven’t written anything at all about black poets, which is primarily due to not reading their work. Thinking this through, the prevalence of mental illness in all things Poetry does mean that I don’t experience anywhere near the kind oppression that I do on other areas of my life.

I don’t think I should do the hand wringing liberal thing and plead guilty as charged and leave it at that because I don’t find that productive. I’m very keen on all of us at this end of the spectrum acknowledge, as Cecilia says, the instability of our critical position, I’d also add that the best kind of poetry works from a standpoint that is unstable and transient. I don’t think this is necessarily a relativist position but I am of the view that we need to interrogate our individual certainties a bit more.

In addition to identity oppressions, there’s a couple that I’d like to throw into the pot. Most of this material springs from the middle and lower middle classes and suffers from acadamefication, ie the product of a certain kind of economic position together with a certain level of educational attainment. This isn’t a marxian argument but leans heavily on Bourdieu who demonstrated convincingly the way in which our cultural existences are wrapped up in the prevailing economic order. The role of the academy is as a primary instrument of control and pacification and the small and marginal world of radical poetry can be experienced / read as an extension of that process. I’m tempted to suggest that the avant garde never went to college but instead will be content to observe that, since about 1915, this particular position has been quickly and painlessly malappropriated by established practice and the economic order.

I’m not suggesting that any of these aspects are fixable but I do think that we need to talk about them and find our own ways to respond. Most of us could benefit from following Cecilia in making a poetic that’s ‘legible’ outside of the confines of this particular box. Acknowledging our mutual instabilities might help too.

Jonty Tiplady and Sooty

I’ve been stung into this, which I’ve been intending to do for weeks, by Joe Luna’s recent blog piece on Jonty’s poetry. For those of you who haven’t yet read ‘Better than Language’ of the Claudius App, Joe and Jonty are two of the brightest talents that we have and both are building a formidable body of work.

I bought Jonty’s ‘Zam, Bonk, Dip’ but it didn’t make much sense to me until I read something about it on all over the grid which encouraged me to go back to the poems and now I’m one of those over-zealous converts.

Since writing the above three sentences, there is now a really quite distressing conversation going on on the All Over the Grid blog about the merits or otherwise of Project Tiplady. It’s distressing because it’s counter-productive, because I’m having to justify the unjustifiable to correspondents who (rightly) don’t comprehend this stuff and because it isn’t really a debate about the work but about the Cunning Plan that informs the work. I was about to strike the well-known bebrowed ecumenical pose (let’s all try to be excellent to each because there aren’t very many of us) and then realised that I’ve done my fair share of slagging off during the lifetime of this blog and have accused leading poets of childishness (Sutherland) ineptitude (Hill), ideological folly (Jarvis, Sutherland, Prynne), chronic self-indulgence (Hill) but I would argue that these are poets that I admire and I have to register my disappointment when they disappoint me. I don’t / try not to write about poets that I don’t like and / or see the point of. There is one borderline case that I need to confess to, I once wrote something unduly negative about Sean Bonney that I shouldn’t have posted but that is the only ‘sin’ that comes to mind during the last three years. There are many, many poets of the Cambridge/late modern/innovative/avant garde ilk that I find dismal in both scope and content, in fact some of these repel me more than Dan Paterson but not quite as much as Larkin.
What distresses me about the Tiplady debate is that it isn’t going to change anyone’s mind as most of us know what we think anyway and it is a huge and embarrassing waste of effort. In the bad old days when I was a secondary instrument of class oppression I would often find myself in a room with a group of burglars from Middlesbrough and a group of car thieves from British West Hartlepool who were intent on doing serious harm to each other. One of my jobs was to put myself between these two groups, affect to be bored and point out the inherent futility of such a course of action…….. Life really is too short and there aren’t enough of us to make a difference anyway.

Before this ‘debate’, I was going to observe that Joe’s piece has too many words and too many extended sentences for my small brain to absorb and what needs to be said is that Jonty might just represent the future of English poetry and might also be more capable than anything else of giving the world the slightest of sideways shoves. This isn’t to denigrate or demean work done elsewhere but is to suggest that the ‘voice’ and the rationale behind the voice are one step removed from the crowd in a way that is probably significant.

This isn’t to say that the Tiplady project is a universal success because there are poems that aren’t very good but it is to point to the deadly serious playfulness of his best work as a startling and enervating antidote to the way that we live our lives.

I do have some evidence for these unreasonable claims and both are in the second issue of the Claudis App. The first of these is ‘Illimitable Drag City’ and the second is Amy De’Ath’s reading of Jonty’s ‘The Undersong’.

‘Illimitable’ needs to be read at speed and then it needs to be read aloud at speed and this second reading should be done in public so that you surprise yourself and those around on the bus or those walking by in the street. You should then learn the good bits off by heart and discuss these with your friends and colleagues and the worl will be a better place. We will all have different ideas of what the really good bits are (and there are many) but I would like to draw your attention to:

It's about how what is worth living is worth
by saying right now what can't be said
that it is worth living. It is about saying that
and then don't look at this present. It's about
how that which is worth saying, right, is all worth saying
right, and the electrocardiograph
to come. I want to be inside with you
in a life which is,

signed out in the book of Necessity. It's about
boom goes yes right we got the room and did it
to be able.

This kind of stuff is really easy to do very badly, indeed English verse has been littered with variations on the Ginsbergian list for at least fifty years but this is carefully constructed and put together so that it appears to be free-flowing but isn’t and I think that there’s both a degree of (for the want of a better phrase) conceptual fluency and lyrical aptitude that seems to be missing from much of the Cambridge / late modern vein. I’m particularly fond of the electrocardiograph to come and the book of Necessity but the whole poem is full of great lines and ideas.

Now we come to Sooty and the voice of Amy De’Ath. The first point to be made is that Sooty and Sweep are a part of my childhood and occupy a reasonably unique place in English popular culture. The second point to be made is that Amy’s reading is absolutely brilliant and shows how properly recorded readings can enhance what a poem might be saying. There is also a bit of an issue with the fact that the print copy that I have on my hard drive has a different title and some of the words are different. What follows is primarily based on the print version:

Everything I did, I did with Sweep. Everything I did I did while I was in Sooty
For Example Walking on my hands with my hands in my pockets, admiring the
sweeping view. I want to move in (really fucking intense and beautiful like a screaming
rainbow

This anthem to glove puppets is also a poem ‘about’ Wall Street and it’s a serious poem about both but it’s got this intense humanity that it radiates on every line. It’s intelligent, stops me in my tracks and is at least one remove from the rest of what’s currently any good. I know that I’ve ranted in the past about poetry not having special access to the truth but this is giving me cause to think again. Which is why, like it or not, Jonty Tiplady might just be the future.

Geoffrey Hill, Amy De’Ath and Love (poetry).

I think it is reasonable to suggest that there is far more bad/appalling love poetry in the world than there is good or even average. Many, many capable and technically efficient poets have a complete blind spot when it comes to writing about love. This has always been the case but this sad fact is offset by the fact that some of the world’s finest poems are about love. Some of Shakespeare’s sonnets are head and shoulders above most other poems of any genre and Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘One Art’ wins my vote as the most perfect poem of the twentieth century.

Prior to ‘Odi Barbare’, Geoffrey Hill was one of those poets who should give the love lyric a very wide berth. I think it’s generally acknowledged that the ‘Oraclau’ sequence isn’t very good and the ‘Hiraeth’ poems are just bad and shouldn’t have been published. I’m not denying the emotional intensity and honesty of what’s been said, it’s just that this isn’t an excuse for the inept.

The good news is that the love poem in ‘Odi Barbare’ is a big improvement on the ‘Hiraeth’ poems, the not so good news is that it’s more than a little odd and the oddness gets in the way. It is addressed to a loved one and it is technically efficient and bits of it might be quite beautiful but there does appear to be a sort of smugness going on.

Amy De’Ath’s ‘Caribou’, on the other hand, contains a number of poems where a loved one is addressed but in ways that are both original and quite startling. I am about to compare and contrast these two but I think I need to state at this point that the Bebrowed perfect love poem remains ‘One Art’ by Elizabeth Bishop both because of what it says and its technical virtuosity. I also need to acknowledge that it is very hard to write credible love poems without falling into the traps of mawkish sentimentality, self-indulgence and unoriginality.

Hill’s poem/section/bit XXVIII starts well:

Broken that first kiss by the race to shelter,
Scratchy brisk rain as irritable as tinder,
Hearing light thrum faintly the chords of laurel
Taller than we were.

There’s a lot going on in this and it’s well put together. The first line is both economical and striking, to start with ‘Broken’ is a typical flourish that demonstrates an advanced and deep understanding of what language can do. ‘That’ rather than ‘the’ makes it clear that a loved one is being addressed rather than the reader and the search for shelter is a theme that is developed further. I’m very fond of ‘thrum’ as a verb and I’m sure that Hill will be aware of all its definitions as well as the musical one alluded to here. The last line (in the context of a love poem) seems a bit weak but serves to anticipate some of what follows.

Amy De’Ath’s ‘Tall Glass’ starts with this:

So you are the clearest, loneliest tall
glass, and you are free, and you are paler
than a milieu of pale teenage girls
scrubbing, condensing massively into a
huge tear, you are the advert for
the glass you are driniking from, is
this the glass you are drinking
from, is this that glass

This is the first half of the first stanza of two and I really like the way that it makes use of and subverts convention at the same time, I also like the way the originality of what is being said with its hint of obsession and an unstated desire to be clear about the emotions/desires that underline the ‘you are’ observations. The ‘milieu’ image is striking and is additionally enhanced / made even more effective by the deeply anti-poetic ‘scrubbing’. As with Hill, this is accomplished and inventive stuff that becomes more satisfying as things progress.

In the previous post on ‘Odi Barbare’ I mentioned the ‘Sapphic’ verse form (three longish lines followed by one short) and the fact that each of the poems has six verses that conform to this format. My initial response was that this particular constraint is more effective/useful than the ones used in ‘Oraclau’ and ‘Clavics’ but I’m still not entirely convinced that it works as Hill intends. It seems to me that what the blurb describes as a ‘recadencing’ of Sidney’s example may strangle or damp down the power and force of what’s being said.

This is how Poem XXVIII ends:

What though, wedded, we would have had annulment's
Consummation early, and though in darkness
I can see that glimmerous rim of folly
Lave our condition,

Had we not so stumbled on grace, beloved,
In that chanced day brief as the sun's arising
Preternaturally without a shadow
Cast in its presence.

Many of us have been enthralled and fascinated by Hill’s engagement with the workings of grace and this seems to add a further dimension. Leaving aside the many and verious theological niceties, the image of two lovers ‘stumbling’ on grace is odd as it suggests that the first kiss on that chanced day coincides with the appearance of grace and the salvation that usually comes with it. I don’t think that the last two lines of the penultimate verse work but this is probably because I don’t understand exactly (out of the many options) what is being said and the short line seems weak, the choice of ‘lave’ just seems too mannered and draws unnecessary attention to itself. The last verse is much more effective and the final line does provide a good ending. I’m still not sure how grace might be stumbled upon but the poem is so much more accomplished than the ‘Hiraeth’ poems.

I was going to type out all of ‘Tall Glass’ as a demonstration of what a good love poem might look like in 2012 but I’ve now decided to draw attention to these lines from the second stanza:

the huge baby of spring is bouncing towards us
about to cast his reckoning on his heads
and decide we are all right to go on loving if we
like, hope leaning on the air between
tenements, holy mother of snow I miss you-
altitude of bees, tall scarf a richness I know,
I will not fight about it
in the glass there is such a richness.

EWhat this demonstrates is De’Ath’s ability to do very special things with ordinary language and to produce work of real depth without resorting to some of modernism’s better known devices. The baby of spring, the air between the tenements and the altitude of bees all combine to express a range of emotions and desires in a way that seems accurate and honest- which is a way of saying that I believe in the feelings expressed in ‘Tall Glass’ whereas I have a degree of scepticism about those expressed by Hill. ‘Holy mother of snow’ manages to be heartfelt and wonderfully expressive at the same time.

The New Clever and Late Modernism

I’m going to try very hard not to display too many personal foibles in this but it does seem to me that the last six months (ish) have seen a disproportionate amount of clever/intelligent/cerebral material emerging on both sides of the Atlantic. It may well be that this degree of intelligence may have been around for some time and I’ve missed it but I’m about to make a case for the arrival of a new aesthetic which seems to be growing out of and away from the late modernist ‘thread’. I’m also aware that North America has a whole range of movements and labels apart from late modern but a number of developments there would suggest to me that the clever is on the increase.

I think that I need here to explain the ‘c’ word. This denotes both a demonstrable level of ‘inate’ intelligence that is communicated through the writing together with technical prowess in the doing of poetry and (this is key) a demonstrated understanding of what poetry can and should do. This is a working definition that avoids notions of theme or form simply because the New Clever does not ‘fit’ into those kinds of boxes. Before I give examples, I need to acknowledge that I’m attracted to cleverness in most things, I admire clever people with clever ideas so my enthusiasm may be a little warped. In my defence I have to observe that it is generally the clever material that has lasted and is revered rather than that which is efficient and/or beautiful but not very intelligent.

The fate of late modernism does seem tied up with the New Clever and this is best exemplified by our best practitioners, both of whom have recently published material which marks a significant departure in their respective careers and is wilfully and fiercely clever.

I’ve said before the The Claudius App is (after only two issues) the best poetry site on the web and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of the poets mentioned below have also featured there.

Some New Clever Poets/Poems

This is provisional, subjective and intended to be argued with- I also reserve the right to change my mind.

Simon Jarvis

I don’t think that anybody could argue that Jarvis’ work isn’t clever. ‘The Unconditional’ is one of the bravest and most challenging interventions to be made since the early seventies and ‘Dionysus Crucified’ is bursting with intellectual energy and formal experiment. In fact, it could be argued that these two very different works embody the New Clever in action. Both tackle complex ideas in ways that manage to both honour and subvert the last three thousand years of poetry whilst producing flurries of verbal brilliance:

Later in Services formica teemed.
Nonsemiotic grapefruit-eating all about
extended its impossible ideal.
Lay your knife and your fork across your plate.
Against all furious effort the slack face
still with each globful let some wet sign slip
to sit with meaning on the grating chin
while if de minimis a muscle there
could give no serviceable twitch that did
not paint a message in the vacant air
causing nonsemiosis to migrate
from off this world's bad grapefruit to some skies
of uninhabitable scientistic loss.
Agramant tucked into his bacon.

What’s clever about this (over and above the philosophical/ideological point that it makes) is that it could very easily have failed, it could have overstated the case and turned out yet another slice of poetic self-indulgence but Jarvis chooses to underplay his case and retain the ‘point’ within a comically banal frame. Agramant is the villain of the piece in this very long poem (240 pages) which is defiantly metrical throughout. He takes his name from one of the chief villains in Orlando Furioso- another very long poem. It’s verbally inventive and the point concludes brilliantly-“some skies / of uninhabitable scientistic loss”. I don’t agree with what Jarvis says but I am utterly won over by the way that he says it.

This, on the other hand is from ‘Dionysus Crucified’-

  And there they were, there on the verdigris sofa, Pen and the stranger, sitting bolt upright next to each other. Neither was saying a word,
Staring down into their Kenco while in the air all around us I noticed as soon as I sat down myself there was some kind of fusion jazz playing so quiet
That you could not really here it, could not really make out the notes, or the notes were as though they could not really bear to be notes, could not
Really will to be heard, but at each point where into the ear some decided concertion of sound might have brought its own message home, instead of this
The lost hum of saxophone dither would disappear into the airlessness, seem to become a prosthesis attaching the stranger therre to his comfortable
Sofa, although for the truth of it he didn't seem to be comfortable, sat on the edge of it just as if it were about to fades in the west as crimson
Devour him or kill in a single and swift suffocation his kin and his gods, his ancestors, with all his loving descendants, just as though all these were
shortly to vanish there into that armchair.

(The gap between ‘if it were about to’ and ‘fades in the west’ denotes that the latter is part of another poem that descends intermittently down the right side of the page.)

Pen is about to meet a sticky end- Pen being short for Pentheus who meets a horrible end in the Euripides play around which large amounts of the poem revolve. In terms of clever, I’d just like to point out that, once again, Jarvis demonstrates narrative skill whilst making a series of points in amongst the appalling colour scheme and sinister furniture.

Daniel Poppick

I know very little about Poppicks work but ‘Sneaky Freeze’ strikes me as an ideal candidate for the New Clever in that it makes startling use of language and seems at the same time against the boundaries of what it can do. This may sound hopelessly pretentious but listening to Poppick’s reading indicates to me a kind of sprint along the edge of coherence which manages to express things whilst undermining any sense of reliability. It’s very, very clever.

Amy De’Ath

“Cuteness is a Landscape” is another example of what De’Ath is doing with poetry, there’s the nods towards technique and convention, the exquisite word choice and an incredible sense of involvement that drags the reader in. I think this extract makes my point-

Your teeth are made of platinum
good for skating upside down
across the Cute, Zany & Interesting:

on Clink Street a floating
bookcase regurgitates
wonderlust. And a lesser soul am I for that

I’m going to ignore the presence of furniture and point instead to the image set up at the beginning, the presence of ‘the’ in line three and the play on wonder/wander together with the ‘straight’ poetry of the final phrase. Compelling, original and very aware of what poetry might be about.

Neil Pattison

Neil has produced some incredibly powerful work over the last few years and can be thought of as being in the vanguard of the New Clever because of his acute awareness of what words can do but also because of an absence of compromise. This is from ‘Slow Light':

		Statuary, black stinted, oily pressure
floods analogue, dial into red : graphic fluctuation
wired-in, the pasture seized in tarry drift, ejected
measuring the iris backflow, airlift, break unscratched.

Gloze edging flouresces, accelerant centre fades :
inside, the accurate flow to shell-gland, cored
optic of pure courting is

I might be the only person on the planet who finds this stuff completely mesmerising but I don’t care. ‘Gloze edging flouresces’ is significantly brilliant by itself but placed in amongst this marvellous density shows a very intelligent process pushing against the edges of the form to say what must (must) be said. Neil is also a leading light in what I’m currently thinking of as the ‘New Witholders’ who have much more going on around the poem than inside it. Other members include Francesca Lisette and Joe Luna.

J H Prynne, Geoffrey Hill and the New Clever.

Both of the above seem to be pushing themselves in new directions, ‘Kazoo Dreamboats’ certainly signifies a move away from the late modern and Hill’s ongoing engagement with pattern together with the level of learned abstraction in ‘Odi Barbare’ also signals a different way of doing clever.

So, I think I’m arguing for thinking about poems in a different way that seems more suited to what’s currently being written. Other New Clever poets would include Sarah Kelly, Reithat Pattison, Purdey Krieden and Jonny Liron but I’ll return to these in the next week or so….

The Archive of the Now- listening to poetry

The image is more of a poem than just the words on the placard, juxtaposition of two faces and one arm....

A few weeks ago I was approached by Andrea Brady asking for a link to the above which I was more than happy to provide because the archive does an incredibly valuable job of providing recordings of British poets reading their own work.

I’ve now spent some time with a number of the recordings and I’d like to draw attention to some of these.

I think I’ve said in the past that I’m not keen on listening to complex material without having the text in front of me as well. I also subscribe to the well worn but accurate observation that poets are bad at reading their own work although there are exceptions (Ezra Pound, John Matthias, Vanessa Place and Amy De’Ath spring to mind). I’m also disappointed about the sound quality of most of the readings on the web and won’t repeat here the rants that I have had in the past on this subject. All of this is counterbalanced by my recently renewed interest in how poems sound and might sound which was revitalised by Timothy Thornton’s account of the initial reading of ‘Dionysus Crucified’.

As a reasonably inept maker of poems I have a strong interest in all things archival so I want to spend some time here giving some thought to the idea of an archive of the present.

Before we get to the material, it seems that the site has had a fairly recent overhaul in terms of look and feel, it is a pity that nobody took the opportunity to update the links in each poet’s profile as many of these are either dead or redundant. The Simon Jarvis page doesn’t work at all.

There are a goodly number of what this blog considers to be essential poets reading essential poems and there’s also material that’s new to me that I need to pay more attention to. The ‘essentials’ are-

  • Caroline Bergvall;
  • Amy De’Ath;
  • Simon Jarvis (not working);
  • Francesca Lisette;
  • Neil Pattison;
  • Reitha Pattison;
  • J H Prynne;
  • Luke Roberts;
  • Keston Sutherland.

I have written before about my desire to be Caroline Bergvall and this recording intensifies that need. Some of the readings here can be listened to without the text but the brilliant ‘Chaucer’ poems would (probably) benefit from listeners having the printed version as well.

Bergvall’s work is marked by both commitment to what language can do and a readiness to experiment without losing either coherence or quality. The other observation that I need to make is that these readings are at variance with the poems that I have in my head, ie the way the poems ‘sound’ when I read them on the page. I wouldn’t read them as fast and I would be less emphatic- listening to these has made me reconsider (in a good way) how I’ve responded to the work as text.

I’ve written recently about the work of Amy De’Ath and have entered into some debate with the Harriet blog over the nature of her determined tulips and what they might signify and I don’t want to go over old ground. The readings here are from 2010 and demonstrate how poetry should be read. I first came across Amy’s virtuosity in this regard whilst listening to her read Jonty Tiplady’s ‘The Undersong’ which is a remarkable poem but made brilliant by the reading. The audio page of the current issue of the Claudius App also has Amy reading four of her own poems. Oddly, I don’t feel the need for the text for any of these even though some of these poems are at the complicated end of complex. If the archive really is about the ‘now’ then perhaps Andrea and co could commission a reading of the even-more-brilliant ‘Cuteness is a Landscape’.

I now need to register my personal disappointment at the failure of the Simon Jarvis page, particularly because I’ve never come across the first two poems and because I have a very clear idea of how ‘The Unconditional’ should be read. I think I’d also like to point out that there is absolutely no point in having a page that doesn’t function- it should be fixed or removed.

Francesca Lisette is another of our incredibly talented younger poets, she has this unerring ability to scare me and make me smile at the same time, there’s this mix of committed defiance and intellectual depth that is stunning. I remain of the view that anyone who can put ‘relinquish’ and ‘flounce’ together has got to be brilliant. The scariness also has some roots in a verbal density that really doesn’t see any need to compromise- this is one of those cases where having the text really helps. Incidentally, Mountain haven’t yet published Lisette’s latest collection but intend to do so in the fairly near future- according to their site it’s now called ‘Teens’. The relevant page does contain the text for ‘Icarus in Reverse’ which I think confirms my earlier assertion, even though her reading is perfectly judged and paced. I’d also like to draw attention to the link to Lisette’s reading at Greenwich in 2010 and ask rhetorically whether audio by itself is enough in an age where filming is incredibly straightfoward.

To conclude this part (of at least three) I’d like to observe that Neil Pattison has produced some of the finest and hauntingly brilliant poetry of the last ten years. I know this because I’ve been haunted by the ‘Preferences’ collection and by ‘Slow Light’ and ‘May Ode’. I’m going to omit the usual Pattison disclaimer and instead report that Neil is (or was) of the view that the audio version is somehow more definitive than the printed ‘Preferences’. I don’t hold to that view for two main reasons, the first is that this is complex and occasionally obscure/secretive material that repays readerly attention and there is a real danger that a first-time listener will be put off by the level of complexity that’s playing across a number of registers. This would be a tragedy because this is important/unique/groundbreaking stuff that we should all learn by heart. There’s also the issue of veracity, the first recording was made in 2005 and the collection was published in 2006 so I’m guessing that the differences between the two can be explained by re-drafting but the question then is (given Neil’s view) which should be considered authentic, or do we view authenticity as a movable commodity?

‘Preferences’ is still avaible from Barque but the link on the Archive page leads to an outfit wanting to sell me a domain name, this really isn’t helpful….

On Amy De’Ath, Anne Boyer, artlessness and ‘failure’.

Earlier this week I wrote something about Amy De’Ath which was then quoted at length by the Harriet blog on the Poetry Foundation site which has done wonders for this week’s traffic but also posed a question about artlessness and a possible connection to the ‘aesthetics of failure. Being a diligent sort of blogger, I followed the link through to the Jennifer Moore article on Jacket2 and read it.

This was going to be a considered and point by point riposte of Moore’s argument but I’ve decided that I don’t actually understand it as in I don’t follow the logic of what she’s saying. I’ve now decided to point out that there isn’t any connection between the artlessness that I referred to and whatever Moore might mean.

I do need to have a quick moan about Jacket2 which seems determined to dig its own complacent and deeply uninteresting rut. I haven’t looked at it since December because it was making me increasingly cross without having any material of interest. I experience this as a loss because the original Jacket did keep my attention even though I disagreed with most of it.

The other observation that I need to make is the amount of unthought out writing that there seems to be around at the moment, I don’t want to single Moore out because she does seem to be part of this trend towards vagueness which is less than helpful. This is in sharp contrast to the Cambridge school of over-written obfuscation which stands in stark contrast to the recent critical writings of one J H Prynne. I’m not trying to sing my own praises, bebrowed is filled with idle speculation and poorly thought through gestures but I do try to be clear as to where these might come from.

I do need to confess to an interest in failure and especially the stuttering faction within that broad front / trend / school / aesthetic. It can be argued that all poems expect to fail and that they carry this expectation with them as they make their way. It can also be argued that this has always been the case and is unlikely to change in the future. The variable comes in when this essential aspect is given emphasis be practitioners and critics. The last time that this occurred was in the late fifties in the writing and thinking of Becket, Blanchot and Celan all of whom have been massively influential ever since.

This historically recurring aesthetic is irrefutable and informs some of the finest work of the last twenty years (late Prynne, Hill’s ‘The Triumph of Love’, Sutherland’s ‘Stress Position’ etc) and has nothing to do with what Moore seems to be writing about which sounds like a kind of disenchantment with all things New York.

Moore also mentions something called the New Sincerity which is very easy for cynics like me to write off as yet another argument against the teaching of (sigh) creative writing. However, I realise that I’ve spent most of the last two years arguing strongly for a poetics that is based on honesty which I now realise isn’t a million miles from the s word. As with failure, I don’t think there’s anything new about poetic sentiment and sincerity but it is useful to run this benchmark over some of our most hallowed poets (Larkin, Lowell) if only to notice the obvious deficit in this department.

I’ve given some further thought as to what the artlessness in De’Ath’s work might be about. The ever-prescient Jonty Tiplady has described her work as ‘fading in and out of technique’ which captures most of what’s going on but there’s also an elegant / considered kind of shrug in the direction of the artful which is really quite special. I suppose that the UK’s equivalent of the Language school might be all things Cambridge or the more hardcore aspects of the late modernist vein – an analogy about place in the cultural landscape rather than manner of expression. I don’t detect any kind of grappling with the exhaustion of these two trends in this material althought this might be evident amongst other younger poets.

I’d now like to contrast Moore’s essay with Lauren Levin’s remarkable review of work by Anne Boyer and Stephanie Young in Lana Turner. I don’t have access to Young’s work but I have downloaded Boyer’s ‘My Common Heart’ which is the kind of engaged, intelligent and deeply human work that we should all celebrate. Levin talks about this stuff in the context of the Occupy movement which continues to unfold around us and communicates in a direct and atheoretical way how this material might usefully inform our politics. Whilst I don’t share some of Boyer’s politics, I do think that her work begins to sketch out how poetry and the poetic might function within this new kind of politics.

I can see the point of Occupy much more clearly than the recent UK protests at student fees, I like the fact that Occupy refuses to play the accepted political game, has one tactic (“bring tent”) and doesn’t try and promote a particular remedy. I also like the fact that the forces of reaction don’t know how best to react- the City of London is currently attempting to evict the UK group on the very tenuous grounds that you can’t erect a tent in an urban/public area whilst some American cities appear to be sticking with the old fashioned brutality approach.

To return to ‘My Common Heart’, this is much more direct than the stuff that I normally read but it is accomplished / technically efficient, contains a fair amount of repetition and says some very perceptive things about the nature of the crowd and crowding and how the practice of poetry might be related / connected to the practice of protest- a connection that many poets overlook in their eagerness to be ‘correct’.

Levin ends her review with failing but a different kind of failing, one that knows and accepts failure but continues nevertheless. As we should (must).

Amy De’Ath and the determined tulips on The Claudius App (2)

I have been intending to write about Amy De’Ath for some time and the inclusion of four of her poems on the latest issue of The Claudius App and her remarkable reading of Jonty Tiplady’s ‘The Undersong’ in the same issue has prodded me further in this direction.

In Chris Goode’s introduction to the ‘Better than Language’ anthology he concedes that several of the important younger poets have been admitted and rightly points out that readers will have a list of those who should also have been included. My personal and highly subjective list has Emily Critchley, Luke Roberts and Amy De’ath competing for first place but for entirely different reasons apart from the fact that they are all very very good.

These four poems indicates a degree of control that’s more advanced than most of De’Ath’s peers. I get a very strong sense of poems that are in charge of themselves and know where they are going, there’s also an enviable degree of skill with language. In order to show what I mean I want to focus on ‘Heaven’ and ‘You Win’ because they’re both long enough to show how this control is sustained.

On the first and second readings of ‘Heaven’, I had a problem with the road signs, the melon factory, the vole and the tulips because these appeared to be selected for their oddness alone. However I’m now beginning to see the point because heaven in this sense refers to a separate dream-like world more than it does to a perfect one although the poem seems to assume that we aspire to the ideal too.

The inclusion of the tulips does however throw up a number of questions:

  1. What are the tulips determined to do?
  2. How does a tulip show that it is determined?
  3. If the tulip’s have emerged from ‘heaven’s side door’ then which planet is it that they are marching to the figurative edge of?
  4. Are we meant to assume that the planet is our own?
  5. Why did only some of the tulips leap of the edge of the planet
  6. What did the others lean into or against?
  7. Were the tulips, like bad angels, expelled from heaven or did they leave of their own accord?
  8. How does a tulip (determined or not) get to be in heaven?

None of these queries are intended as part of a quest for deeper understanding but it does illustrate the kind of processes that this material can initiate. The same sorts of questions can be asked about the appetite of roads signs and the slewing of melon juice but I want to try to concentrate on the effect of the poem as a whole. We start with the poet setting off to heaven but the last line of the in initial paragraph suggests that this may have been a dream. The keeping of stollen for emergencies whilst burning up is excellent as is the love that thrusts and yelps. We’re also given indications that mistakes will be made with the language (spirituals/forest, revolving faithful).

The personification of heaven as male and the idea that writing artlessly is a ‘measure of his talent’ is intriguing as the writing here does at times affect to be artless. Anyone who’s tried to write in this way will know that it does require a lot of talent to get it right. The next line is gloriously complex and manages to deliver an enormous amount of ambiguity (temper, grace) without appearing to try

I like the way the poem gradually loses the dream/surreal/subconscious affect and moves into something more concrete and urgent and the ‘you’ introduced and addressed. The arbitrary is apparently rejected but the last few lines talk about a booming moon and refer to a robbery which isn’t previously mentioned.

‘You Win’ has one of the best endings that I’ve read in ages. The references to other family members are more Ronnie Laing than Sigmund Freud but there’s generally less of the subconscious on display, unless you count Havel’s clam juice. I would question the wisdom of the Swindon / Wigan device in the first stanza but this is more than made up for by the pace of the rest and the shining genius of the the third and fourth. The notions of the ‘cryless sock’ and the ateing heart have kept me smiling for days now- I’m particularly impressed by the apparent lack of effort and the refusal to show off.

Poetic control comes in many shapes and sizes, there’s control over the formal elements, over word choice, over subject matter, over cadence etc etc. I think the kind of control here is about a considered inventiveness and by this I mean a quite startling originality in terms of both voice and subject that is tempered and given direction instead of being left to fend for itself. Tis is a rare and precious gift that sets De’Ath off from her (very talented) peers.