Tag Archives: arduity

Starting to pay attention to the Odes to TL61P

I’m continuing with the ‘experiments in reading’ series on arduity focusing on ‘The Anathemata’, ‘Night Office’ and ‘The Odes’. I thought I’d put the Sutherland pages here as well because this gives me an excuse/opportunity to talk about the process from the outside.

The intention is to write something which conveys something of the immediacy of my readerly experience and to thus encourage others to tackle these brilliant but challenging pieces of work. Writing about the Odes in this way has presented a number of unexpected problems. Regular readers will know that I’m of the vies that this is an exceptionally brilliant and important piece of work and that therefore my task is to praise it to the hilt. The problem that I have encountered is that its whole is so much better than its individual bits and writing honestly about those bits detracts from its true worth. This may be my problem, but I like to think that my annoyance at some of the devices is at least honest annoyance

Having realised that this was going on, the fourth attempt on Ode 1 deals with themes rather than individual lines and phrases but I’m concerned that this approach comes across as too formal, as an attempt to impose form and structure on something that is monstrously chaotic. None of these concerns will deter me from my task but they do provide additional food for thought.

The following is, as usual, deeply provisional and more than a little tentative, it’s also quite long.

Part one.

You’ve been reading this in various drafts since 2010 and now you have the Real Thing and you’ve read it a couple of times and you went to the Dalston launch where Keston read bits of it gloriously out of sequence and you’ve blogged on the Odes / Stress Position debate and now it’s time to get to grips with it.

One of your better Sutherland-related observations is that his work makes reasonable sense until you read the actual words rather than let the words wash over you. The first couple of pages appear to bear this out and you’re not sure how you feel about this so you start slowly with the first few lines:


    Each time you unscrew the head the truths burn out
    and fly away above the stack of basements inundated
    in aboriginal mucus, elevating the impeccable,
    hereafter congenitally depilated Janine rescaled to a
    grainy blank up on to the oblong top of the freezer 
    whose shut white lid unhinged at the back alone
    preserves a pyramid of rigid meat, budget pizzas,
    devirginated arctic rolls, only ever kidding in a
    prophylactic void torn into great crates of glittering
    eye shadow, dowsing all its stickiness in dark empty 
    swerves, for no-one is the radius of everything we 
    are,  reinforced steel artery in the very integument

You acknowledge to yourself the energy and the thrust, you also like the confidence of ‘only kidding’ which you’ll come back to shortly but first you decided to think about this ‘head’ that is unscrewed. You recognise that this particular noun has many, many meanings from head of lettuce through to human head and on to the head of an oil well and this last might be appropriate given that this results in burning. The other thing you notice is ‘each’ which indicates, as there’s only one head involved, that the head is unscrewed, emits truths and is then screwed back down again. You know enough about the rest of the poem to gather that this may relate to the theme of the tyranny of secrets and the absolute need to break them but you may, as usual, be rushing ahead of yourself. These ‘truths’ are also a bit of a worry because Keston’s previous truths tend to have been coloured by his Marxian perspective and Stress Position makes fairly explicit his distaste with the/my relativist tendency. You don’t recall being conscious of this getting extended in your previous readings and hope that these kind of truths relate to secrets rather than some kind of universal positivism.

You can’t resist having a peek at the OED definitions for ‘head’ and are staggered by the number and by the fact that you’d forgotten or overlooked so many but it does appear that the well head / flare stack may be the best analogy. The ever-improving Wikipedia tells you that flare stacks are used to burn off the natural gas that comes to the surface (the head of the well) with the oil and that there are normally efficient valves that can stop and start the flow as required. You also recognise that there’s more than one meaning to ‘screw’. This could all be very wide of the mark especially if you take the next two lines into account but it might be significant that these truths burn there way out and then ‘fly away’. You start with the obvious, truths are abstract and completely incapable of either burning or flying. There is however, in the world of secrets, that the content of some truths is so dangerous and corrosive that it is exposed and then flies away. You now hate yourself because you’ve just leapt to Edward Snowden currently in the noplace of Moscow airport and to the slow burn of secrets locked away in Welsh care homes. You then re-read just to make sure that this is a track that you want to go down and realise that ‘burn out’ also has connotations of becoming exhausted, stressed, demoralised and no longer fit for the tsk that you have started. You try to bear this in mind as you come up against these stacked basements.

You don’t want to be too clever or overly poetic but you can’t resist clocking the proximity of basement to abasement and then decide that this is silly, the point is that these burning truths have flown away from their source and are now above these stacks which are flooded with this Very Early snot. This is where the absence of sense may start to kick in but you persevere. Of course, a stack of basements is difficult to envisage because a basement is the room usually at the bottom of the ‘stack’ of other rooms. So if another basement is placed on top of it then that basement becomes a room because it is no longer at the base of the stack.

You consider a different approach but first realise that this Welsh care home thing relates not just to institutional and political secrets but also the truth that an abusing adult will take enormous pains to conceal. You then move on to state secrets and the fact that many of these cover up various forms of abuse from torture through to eavesdropping and reading my e-mails. The different approach turns out to be the function of the basement.

Basements are hidden from view, rarely visited and (in movies at least) the scene of very many bad things. People are killed, bodies are dismembered, the ‘truth’ is extracted in the basement precisely because it is hidden from view, indeed it might even be metaphor for the underbelly of the modern state. We know, thank to the release of truths, that the US and UK arranged for torture to be carried out in basements all over the world and that the use of ‘stacks’ may simply mean ‘very many’.

The snot problem is in part resolved by the discovery that it is only nasal mucus that is snot and that the term is “viscous substance secreted by the mucous cells and glands of animals to provide protection, lubrication, etc” which ties in a bit more with the grisly business of inflicting pain on others.

You may now be wavering between the sense and non-sense positions but you still have your suspicions that this is as it is because it contains more than a touch of the absurd and you’ve just spent ninety minutes or so reading things into something that were never there. This nagging doubt is not at all helped by the prospect of the hairless Janine.

Now you’ve read the Enitharmon blurb and you feel a little more confident about the fray to come. Before you get to the hairless Janine you need to start with “elevating the impeccable” and (by careful re-reading) you gather that it is the truths of line one that are doing the lifting. You haven’t checked but you’re taking “elevating” to indicating some kind of raising up. People are elevated to the peerage, priests are elevated to become bishops etc. There’s also elevations in terms of building plans but you don’t think that elevating is involved in producing these. So, these truths that have burned their way out are now lifting this woman / girl who is said to be “impeccable”. You don’t understand how something abstract like a truth can do something physical like rising somebody up. Then you recall that to elevate can also mean to inspire and / or lift to a higher state of consciousness which would be more in line with an abstraction like truth. In leftist terms the Truth about Capital should inspire people to join the struggle nd the fact that it doesn’t is now one of those tricky and hence ignored elephants in the room.

You then decide to think about “impeccable” and realise that this is quite a complex adjective that doesn’t quite mean “flawless” but might indicate that someone is beyond reproach, difficult to criticise, we say “impeccably turned out”, for example, to indicate that somebody has achieved the highest level in terms of both sartorial elegance and general appearance, usually in the context of a specific event.

You look at the OED which gently informs you that, when applied to people, the word means “Not capable of or liable to sin; exempt from the possibility of sinning or doing wrong”. When applied to things it means “faultless, unerring”. Now, this doesn’t work for you, neither of these seem to mirror your experience and use of the word in the ordinary world that most of us inhabit. You then realise that there is a note next to the definition which points out that this hasn’t been updated since 1899 and you follow the link to something called Oxford Dictionaries Online which tells you that the “incapable of sin” definition relates to theology and is now considered to be rare whilst the main definition is now “in accordance with the highest standards, faultless”. You are still not happy because in your head it applies to n action or quality that is above criticism which doesn’t seem quite the same as without fault.

You’ve had a response to the first of these readings re the identity of Janine: “Since we’re speculating… a (carefully circumscribed) internet search brought up adult film actress Janine Lindemulder. I’ll leave it to someone else to confirm her depilation, but the reference seems to fit with a recurring theme/trope of the poem; it also obviously adds another semantic valence to much of the quoted passage. Couldn’t decide if your ‘nagging’ doubt was about this line of inquiry, so I’ll tastelessly broach it for you.” You’re holding out for Alasdair Gray’s “Janine 1982″ because it’s vaguely literary although you also know that porn is a bit of a sub-theme (technical term) in The Odes. Of course “impeccable” in its theological sense doesn’t easily fit with either of these characters but some sense may be made of the theology of truth and the elevation to heaven of those without sin.

You move on to “hereafter congenitally depilated” and this is one of those places where sense seems to go a bit adrift. If we’re to take ‘congenital’to mean something that is present since birth then ‘hereafter’ as in ‘from now on’ doesn’t make sense. The other observation is that some of us don’t have much hair at all when we’re born but in this instance it would appear that someone has shorn Janine at birth and she has stayed that way or that she has been regularly depilated ever since. At this point your brain loses patience with itself and you begin to feel that this close examination may be an exercise in futility. As a last throw of this particular dice, you check the verb nd discover that there is a secondary definition: “To deprive of it’s skin, decorticate, peel”. Given that your previous reading had detected at least one reference to torture, this changes things around a bit. Removing someone’s skin is a particularly barbaric thing to do and flaying felons was for centuries a mainstay of our penal system and (you’re guessing) an important activity still deployed by states in basements around the world. You don’t want to get carried away with the God thing but many martyrs were flayed alive and many of these were said to be incapable of sin. You’re also reminded that flagellants flourished across Europe in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries so you check the wikipedia page that informs you that whipping yourself is much older than that.

You seem to recall that Prynne has used “congenital” in the fairly recent past and you try to remember where but fail and, anyway, knowing this probably won’t be that much help.

You move on to the Janine problem and fall across a remarkable site called “whosdatedwho.com” which contains a list of 63 Janines who might be considered to be celebrities. You love this stuff, Janine Lindemulder (porn star, probably depilated) tops the list with over 413,00 views but there’s also Janine Pommy Vega who is listed as a poet and activist and a further moment’s search reveals a youtube video of her with Fairly Short Hair. This makes much more sense but you also notice Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel, a leading French psychoanalyst who described the 1968 protesters as totalitarian stalinists who were affected by a sordid infantilism caught up in an Oedipal revolt against the father. You hope against hope that this is the Janine in question but then you notice Janine Mellor, the Britsh actress who played Kelsey Phillips in the BBC’s ‘Casualty’…..

You then realise that you’ve spent over a thousand words on just over one line and vow to do better next time.

Part two.

The Blurb

You’ve decided to leave the identity of the depilated Janine alone for a while in the hope that things may become clearer as you progress. Instead of ploughing along at the pace of an arthritic snail you decide to have a closer look at the blurb on the relevant Enitharmon web page:

The Odes to TL61P is a suite of five massive, turbulent, tender and satirical odes written and revised from 2010-13. It is the explicit history of the author’s sexual development from early infancy; a commentary on the social and political history of the UK since the election of the coalition government; a philosophical account of the common meaning of secrecy in the most intimate, private experiences and in international diplomacy; a wild work of revolutionary theory that investigates in minute detail the difference between commodities and human lives; a record of a thousand revisions, deletions and metamorphoses; an attempt to radically extend and reimagine the very possibility of the ode form; a monstrous accumulation of techniques and mimeses, from the strictest and most perfected metrical verse to the most delirious and cacophonous noise music; and a devoted love song to the now obsolete product ordering code for a bygone Hotpoint washer-dryer, “TL61P”. It is the longest poetical work yet written by Keston Sutherland and his most comprehensive effort yet to transform the grammar of human existence.

You don’t normally pay any attention (at all) to what publishers say about their wares but in this instance it would appear that this is a shameless piece of self-promotion by our poet himself and may therefore be worthy of some attention. It turns out that the above ticks the boxes of what you thought might be going on, childhood sexuality, the repressive effect of secrecy, the strange (and getting stranger) phenomenon known as ‘austerity’ intermingled with some of the to be expected Marxian guff. In terms of form, you’re guessing that you’ve started with an example of the “most delirious and cacophonous noise music”. You begin to worry about your lack of knowledge of the ode as a form and half-heartedly resolve to do something about this but you’re taking more notice of the omission of the absurd from the above.

This is puzzling because an element of the ridiculous isn’t usually that far from the surface of Sutherland’s work- the role of Black Beauty in “Stress Position” being the most endearing example. The dedication of the Odes to a “bygone” white good strikes you as firmly in the absurdist camp even though it might be an arch comment on the relationship between human lives and commodities. You’ve dipped your toe in this particular world view enough to know that it has its attractions but you wonder why such a committed Marxian should be attracted to this particular “voice”. You then re-read the blurb and try to work out whether the first page is an example more of delirium. You decide that there’s enough of both and they’re punctuated with the “only ever kidding” and “who the fuck I am now speaking to” device both of which seem to be trying to drag the hapless reader (you) back into whatever might be going on.


    Each time you unscrew the head the truths burn out
    and fly away above the stack of basements inundated
    in aboriginal mucus, elevating the impeccable,
    hereafter congenitally depilated Janine rescaled to a
    grainy blank up on to the oblong top of the freezer 
    whose shut white lid unhinged at the back alone
    preserves a pyramid of rigid meat, budget pizzas,
    devirginated arctic rolls, only ever kidding in a
    prophylactic void torn into great crates of glittering
    eye shadow, dowsing all its stickiness in dark empty 
    swerves, for no-one is the radius of everything we 
    are,  reinforced steel artery in the very integument
    to be burst asunder by reason of innately shattered
    strobes as soon lived as burnt out, ramming an unplanned
    crack into the door mechanism; who the fuck I am
    now speaking to or at or for or not at this moment
    is compensation for being completed into a circle
    resigned to resume the first square, the first on the 
    entire board, and is listening there, afloat and spent yet
    lost in streaks to the opening night whose primitively
    explosive starlight is progressively nit-picked from a 
    lately impatient and fidgeting sky, not far too far or fast
    too inquisitively squinted at, its cartilage of crudely
    lubed-up open access sex arcs scraped out piecemeal
    and in single-file, and once there inaudibly ask yourself
    why; inside it is the fundamental sky of shining fact:
    the abolition of capital is the social revolution; state

After the seemingly endless tussles with the first four lines, you’ve decided to take a more panoptic view to try and get a bit more sense of the ‘flow’. You notice that we start with “truths” and end up with at least one fact that is said to be shining whilst in the middle you’ve got crates of cosmetics, a bad joke about food, an almost lyrical evocation of the night sky interspersed with references to you, the reader. Most of this occurs after the momentary appearance of the enigmatic Janine. You’ve half-realised that you’re not being invited to worry over-much about how a void can be prophylactic. Having written “a void” your mind, in spite of itself, takes a wander to the first square and ends up with Georges Perec and all things Oulipo which requires a re-reading of the epigram(s):

And the situation is like that in certain games, in which all places on the board are supposed to be filled in accordance with certain rules, where at the end, blocked by certain spaces, you will be forced to leave more empty spaces that you could have or wanted to, unless you used some trick. There is, however, a certain procedure through which one can most easily fill the board.

Wake up my fellow citizens and middle class and go look in the mirror.

You run this through a few times, Oulipo was/is ‘about’ creating patterns and writing in accordance with certain (usually mathematical) rules in order to highlight the inherent meaninglessness of everyday life which doesn’t sound very Sutherland and indeed the above seems to be much more about the “hidden” hand of capital than any kind of Gallic nihilism. One of the really curious things about this first page is that it fights shy of its brilliance or, at least, it appears to undermine its own technique and you can’t put your finger on why this might be but there are some wondrous moments that seem to falter in their moment of triumph. You look again at “integument” and decide that it’s a saboteur, an unnecessarily complex/obscure word that adds nothing to the sense of what’s been said but just uglifies (technical term) the flow and distracts from the ‘sense’. Of course the offending noun might carry weight with those that actually went to college but you doubt it. Warming to your theme, you decide that “nit picked” provides a similar function. You look at “only ever kidding” and come to the view that this does something quite complex on the use of language to cover up or deny acts of violence and/or oppression. On the other hand it might (just) be a ‘real’ attempt to justify the arctic roll quip but this is counterbalanced by the fact that Sutherland tends to avoid “kidding” which (now you come to think about it) is a verb which requires closer scrutiny.

You decide to think some more about this person/listener/reader that Sutherland claims to be addressing and you discover that this address provides some compensation which for the moment you to take to be a softening of the blow rather than monetary reward. It turns out that this blow is being forced or cajoled or manoeuvred into the first square (again). At this stage there is some justifiable confusion in your head about who is on the square but the way that things progress would indicate that perhaps we, everybody, are all back at the first square just as we are all beneath this sky which fidgets with impatience like a small child.

So, in terms of narrative or things that happen, we seem to move from truths soaring over the murderous basements of American and British foreign policy through the hairless Janine, various foodstuffs, a freezer, some eye shadow, a door mechanism that may or may not be part of the freezer, the person whom the poet is addressing and then on to this squares/chess device before arriving at the fundamental sky of shining fact and the truism about Capital. Whilst building this trajectory, you notice again “no-one is the radius of everything we are” which stills sounds better than it should. There are two obvious questions- how can person become a radius and who are the we? you don’t know whether this is a profound observation on the human condition or just another absurdist/monstrous tic- an echo of some half-recalled pomposity. Either way, it’s annoying but that may well be the ‘point’.

Part Three

A pause.

You have cheated, you have read the next two pages carefully in order to get a few more bearings. This was not your intention but (you argue with yourself) this kind of reading does need some kind of frame to sustain it. Your reasonably attentive reading of these two pages reminds you of why you were so gobsmacked in the first place. It also underlines the usual reservation (obscurity) that you have about Keston’s work.

In order to speed things up a bit, you’ve decided to concentrate on shorter and less frequent passages so that you can get more of an idea of the broader themes. You decide to think about ‘theme’ at a later stage.

You start with:

    in the Ottoman style of the rococo circumlocution in
    liberal sex jargon recited by &#201riphile at II.i.477-508,
    in the dreamiest mannequin's subsequent scan of which

Ferret-like you and your beady eyes start to delve the depths of the web for &#201riphile and find her but spend twenty minutes (an age in interweb time) trying to find an English translation of the offending passage. Then decide to give up as life really is too short and it does seem to be almost as needlessly obscure as Hill’s more outrageous references. You then decide to beat your auto-didact self up for not knowing what either ‘circumlocution’ or ‘rococo’ mean although you do recall there being a parody of bureaucracy called the House of Circumlocution somewhere in Dickens. You resort to the OED and discover that you could have hazarded a guess as to both and you think about the interplay between rococo and the Ottoman style and decide tht this is all longhand for overly ornate and evasive speech which may or may not describe &#201riphile’s speech in act two of “Iphig&#233nie”.

You then pause and consider whether or not this level of knowledge is a pre-requirement for reading The Odes and if you should therefore give up now. You decided that it would be a rare creature indeed that would be completely au fait with the Racine and that this would limit the readership to Not Very Many. So, are we then expected to ferret away in order to appraciate / grasp the full connotations of the ‘point’ that may be being made? You know that this kind of device is an accepted and expected feature of the late modern – you just wish that it wasn’t. You’re not irritated by the complexity of the argument nor by the use of obscure language to make a point (unless it’s a foreign language) but you are by this kind of reference. You then notice the precision of the reference and then consider that this might be a joke about being convoluted in order to describe something that is convoluted – even this ‘explanation’ irritates you because it’s an example of Sutherland being too clever for his own good.

You end your pause by recognising that The Odes deserve a sizeable readership but most readers will be deterred / alienated by this kind of cleverness as it merely confirms their perceptions of and prejudices about this kind of material.

Beckett

You have been to see a production of “Not I” at the Royal Court and it now seems self evident that this refers to that particular piece of brilliance:


    in stratified squamous epithelium  to an alternatively
    screaming mouth, destined while dying inside
    to repeat before dying outside one last infinity of
    one-liners before snapping and giving up, or
    better yet pretending to, once you get it, once
    that is you really get it all, or not at all directly into
    the hot squamocolumnar junction with its intestate
    teat cistern......

There are many screaming mouths in our cultural baggage but very few that ‘do’ very many one-liners. “Not I” consists of a single mouth suspended in darkness over the stage and throwing out what appears to be the difficult to control thoughts of a very damaged mind. You sat through a discussion after the performance where it was reasonably clear that there was a different way of ‘getting it’ to yours. The panel members gave the impression that this was a particular woman who had experienced some kind of traumatising event. You are not an expert by any means on all things Sam but you have been reading “Not I” since it was first performed and you’ve always thought of it s expressing something more universal as in ‘this is how it is for us’ rather than ‘this is how it is for her’. On reflection you decide that you don’t actually care whether you get it or not because your reading of Sam is where you started from and you can’t / won’t undo forty years of reading for getting it in the way that Keston apparently does.

You are, however, intrigued by the dying / pretending to, inside / outside play as if understanding (getting) this pretence or that there is a pretence is where we / you need to be. You are less annoyed than usual by the two squams although ‘scaly’ would probably be a more approachable way of putting it. You check out epithelium and decide that ‘scaly skin’ is much much more open and comprehensible although you acknowledge that squamous sounds better. Whilst staring at the OED on ‘epithelium’ you note that it is derived from the Greek for ‘upon’ and ‘teat’ or ‘nipple’ and then you realise that some harder thinking might be required. You understand that intestate is the adjective used to describe someone who has died without leaving a will, that teat normally refers to a nipple that provides milk and that a cistern is a tank.

You re-read ‘Not I’ and discover that isn’t much help, a teat cistern could be either one of those milk churns tht aren’t in use any more, or a milk bottle / carton or the breast that holds the milk. At this point you feel that you might be getting somewhere re maternal deprivation (the woman refers to herself as a ‘waif) but decide to give this aspect a rest. You move on the the ‘one-liner’ tag and recognise that (in your head) these are normally succinct and witty phrases that accurately encapsulate an event or a mental / emotional state. Good one-liners, in your view tend to have some poetic or lyrical quality. Your all time favourite is from a Clive James song lyric from the early seventies: “The trick is not to stop the sliding said the kid / but to find a graceful way of staying slid”. You like to think that you’ve now arrived at such a state but this does not at all help with the ‘one last infinity’ above. You recognise that ‘Not I’ is composed entirely of very short phrases indeed and you scan these and they fall short in both the witty and the succinct stakes. However, infinity makes more sense in that the piece is meant to be read / performed very quickly and you get the sense, both as audience and reader, that you are interrupting something which has no end – the monologue will continue until the woman’s death. You then try and work out whether the following ‘snapping and giving up’ refers to this death. You conclude that it might.

One of the strengths of ‘The Odes’ is a sense of the absurd and the ridiculous that run through the work. This is the first:


    sucking on the ageing raging hard-on held in trust
    for young dysphagia who only comes of age, yes
    exactly but at the same time, or at some other time
    like it, or at what is not a time, but is still like it
    if not exactly like it, or at what is exactly not a time
    and therefore not exactly like it, or not like this, or 
    in an unsustainable combination of the above, to
    be waked to death and faked alive, for the known  
    good of bored stiff rich men whose sexuality is
    literalised into a rampage of leverage and default swaps,

You read this aloud a couple of times and, despite yourself, you find that it works. It’s sufficiently convoluted in it’s imitation of the qualifiers and equivocations that surround us before delivering this notion of a sexuality being made concrete in the form of those financial niceties that caused this punitive state of self-denial (austerity) back in 2007/8. You begin to note the more formal elements within the prose: aging/raging, waked / faked, rampage / leverage because these become more apparent once read aloud.

You have to look up dysphagia and discover that it refers to problems with swallowing and you begin to get a bit disturbed by the adjective and coming of age. This theme of childhood sexual desires and behaviours gets developed in much more detail later on but you hadn’t recognised that it began here, on the second page. As an ex-Marxian you need time to think about whether it was / is a literalised sexuality that drove the bored men in suits to bring fiscal disaster around our heads. Your understanding of these things is that the world of finance is stocked exclusively by overgrown adolescents who thrive on a mix of cocaine and adrenaline and burn out when they’re 35. It wasn’t either of these aspects that caused the fiasco but greed and arrogance, the morons really did think that they’d found a way to make money for ever and proceeded to stuff their pockets with as much as they could. It may be wrong but it’s still an excellent two-liner.

You think about the time entanglement and wonder whether there’s a ‘point’ beyond the simply absurd. You know that @The Odes’ are concerned with time in that they relate to childhood and that there’s increasing anxiety about how those who can respond fastest to events have an inherent advantage over other wheelers and dealers. ‘Waked’ and ‘faked’ needs some thinking about until you realise that it is in capital’s interests to maintain us in a state of living death so that we don’t think about difficult things like causes or reasons. On reflection, it is remarkable how many intelligent and rational people have failed to work out the that inherent instabilities and inequalities in the free market ‘system’ might have more than a little to do with what went wrong.

So, it’s brilliant and audacious and you really do wish that you’d written it.

Part Four.

Ode 1: an overview.

You have decided to remove yourself from line by line pondering and to try and get to grips with all of the first ode at once. This seems to make sense because it’s written in a way that encourages forward momentum and you feel that going with the flow is the best way to grasp what might be going on. At times like this you find yourself bringing to mind Prynne’s characterisation of the late modern poem, that you’ve got to have an almost panoptic grasp of how one part might relate to an/or affect another. You’ve always been a little daunted by this because there are some poems and some sequences that are too complex or too ‘big’ to fit into your small brain. ‘Streak~Willing~Entourage~Artesian’ and ‘The Unconditional’ come to mind as previous defeats in the overview stakes. This is not something you experienced with ‘Stress Position’ however so there is some room for optimism.

Starting with the basics, Ode 1 starts on p1 and ends on p18. It has five parts although it may have three parts with the third part containing a further two parts. All of the parts contain both prose and verse, some of the verse parts are quite structured and there’s a group of three 4-line stanzas that rhyme. The themes relate to:

  • the evils of late capital;
  • retail, including household appliances;
  • recent imperial stupidities in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya;
  • torture;
  • the appalling level and types of violence in Northern Mexico;
  • sex:
  • tenderness.

You are quite pleased with this list because it gives some structure to your thinking. You decide to identify what seem to be the main ‘points’ with regard to each of these.

This is not as easy as it first appears because the overt references to a theme are usually tied into other backgound elements and are thus difficult to disentangle. You start with:


   right angles folded until they froth, to triple its 
   unaccountability to an afflatus, doing as the banks
   just did not as the banks just said, I understand the
   hole that George is in, a dot whose innuendo comes
   too late, flushed with spirit toilet-trained ro life, but
   sucking on the aging raging hard-on held in trust

Before moving in on to:


   good of bored stiff rich men whose sexuality is
   literalised into a rampage of leverage and default swaps
   hovering above minimum wage like a bloodthirsty
   erection over a fairground mirror......

Neither of these are difficult to understand- the banks and servile politicians being the bad boys of our times but what you hadn’t noticed is the proximity of cash and sex, as if lust and greed are paert of the same dynamic. The doing but not saying is a nice touch and, of course, doesn’t just relate to the recent fiasco but will persist as long as there is a need to dress up the pernicious nature of capital. George (Osborne) isn’t in a hole, he isn’t destroying public services because of the economic fiascos, he’s doing this because he wants to get the state out of service provision so that we are all better exposed to the vagaries of the market. The literalisation ‘works’ until you start to think about it and then you realise that it’s not meant to make complete sense but is intended to give emphasis to a kind of bleak, lust-ridden violence at the heart of capital.

On the next page there is:


   before anyone could actually get hard or wet or both at
   once for leading members of that cast, lead role models
   for our past, who beg to differ, slave to eat the mess we
   inherited from the last orgasm in government for sexy 
   workers whipped to slurp the surplus spew of petty
   change remaindered when the banks have had their due,

and:


   and almost shut but not decisively shut yet and still
   shatterproof smeary and eternally not real window 
   sing the mess we inherited from the last beginning scraps
   the missing past to recycle the joy it brings, the power
   set, of a subset, of a power set, of a sex power,
   
 

You congratulate yourself on recognising the plaintive cry of every newly elected/installed government since Walpole. The elected party runs the following ritual:

  • it announces that it has inspected the current state of affairs and things are much worse than they first appeared;
  • as a result of this shock discovery the new administration will have to take even more draconian measures than those outlined in its manifesto;
  • these draconian measures are regrettable but the blame lies firmly with the previous adminstration.

Of course, this particular card has been played to the full by the latest band of dismalities but is there a ‘sex power’ at work here? You remain to be convinced, your view of political ambition remains that it is more driven by a desire for recognition and the opportunity to meddle on a major scale rather than by a need to sexually dominate. You notice that, as you are thinking this through, you are avoiding the ‘p’ word and that is probably because things (for you) start to get a bit queasy. You know that the exercise of power is not a one way thing, that it operates in many directions and across many societal and cultural dimensions. You also know that the relationship between sex and power is never (ever) straightforward. The notion of a sex power, if it is to be equated with the banal human greed that drives capital, might need to be explained at some length.

The other aspect that these two extracts bring to light is the close relationship between the state and the free market, emphasising perhaps the role of the state in making society (you and me) ‘safe’ for capital. This all seems to be taking place behind a “shatterproof smeary and eternally not real window” this has you nodding in vigorous agreement, it is not quite shut thereby giving the opportunity for resistance and any attempt to shatter it is self-defeating because of the immense power of the modern state to repress and destroy any kind of direct action. The window is smeary because it distorts and disguises the way that capital ‘works’, especially the exploitation and inequality that is at its core.

You worry about the tone of the first extract and whether it is more than a little gratuitous, the spew of small change may well refer to the amount left in the public purse after the various banks and building societies had been ‘recued’ but this needs a little bit of working out. Still, the equation of sex / power / capital is intriguing given the Odes concern with childhood sexuality and the power of secrets.

You now move on to retail and appliances and find that neither of these might be theme. The absence of a retail thread disappoints you but only because you are of the view that every great / good poet should have the complexities and nuances of retail in sight at all times. This particular piece of wishful thinking is derived from you relatively recent experiences in this line of business and your ongoing shock thatno-one seems capable of giving it the careand attention that it deserves. With regard to appliances, this is the first passage:


   whose cameo done in grisly nitrocellulose and gritty 
   ochre/lavender of your mother in the late style of the
   perpetually born yesterday Francis Bacon dissembling
   his tantrum to dead meat bunged in oil in an overhead
   Tefal Maxifry inanely overheated to open the end up
   half empty of Fair and Lovely a single infinitesimal,
   silver plated, tiny ring slowly and invisibly spins,

You consider the humour in this and then find yourself wondering if it isn’t a bit too absurd, a little bit too florid, that the inclusion of ‘Fair and Lovely’ might be a Brand Too Far. You then (against your better judgement) use the interweb to find out more and it v quickly transpires that this particular confection is a cream used for “face lightening” which takes you back to the faux Lenny Henry footnote in Sutherland’s “Hot White Andy”- a trope that still annoys you. As far as you can make out, there are no such associations with the Maxifry- even though the name might have ‘grisly’ connotations. You are vaguely amused by the tantrum quip but can’t be bothered to work out whether “perpetually born yesterday” is meant to be anything other than a quip. You do however discover that the uber-friendly Google machine will show you, exclusively, a whole pile of Bacon’s ‘meat’ paintings but you decided that you’d rather stay with the dissembling of tantrums as a means of artistic impression. For some strange reason both Larkin and Lowell come into your mind at about the same time. You then realise that there is some cleverness in the use of ‘bunged’ as in ‘placed’ in the hot oil and depicted in oil paint. You then notice a photograph of a bare-chested Bacon holding up two sides of beef- on in each hand and decide that you were never that fond of the work anyway.

This is also an early appearance of ‘mother’, a figure that becomes more difficult / problematic as the Odes progress. It’s not entirely clear whether this mother is the poet’s or yours, later on she clearly is the poet’s. You also wonder whether Francis Bacon had a ‘late style’ – you were under the impression that his subjects may have changed through the years but that his ‘style’stayed fairly constant.

The other ‘appliance’ reference closes the first Ode:


   The code TL61P belongs to a hotpoint dryer.
   You'll find nothing if you look 
   it up through the sky in the screen, the vault
   of exchangeable passion, Vertigo at
   the horizon, prostrate as an outstretched 
   cheek; but in the mouth that grows 
   in capacity behind that overflow,
   Nobody can take away the word for it:
   love; the provisional end until death;
   TL61P its unperfected provisional shadow
   opposite; Now go back to the start.

When you were first sent a draft of this, you did (of course) look it up on the interweb and you did indeed find nothing and you wrote and wondered about the absurdity of this until you came across a reference in some earlyish poem by Ezra Pound and considered whether this disclaimer is entirely what it seems. You thought you’d written about the Pound ‘discovery’ on your blog but it seems that you haven’t. You then spend a very pleasant few hours re-reading pre-Cantos Pound and decide that you really should pay more attention to early Ez- no luck with the appliance however.

There are three other appliances, the unidentified freezer as in “rescaled to a grainy blank up on to the oblong top of the freezer whose shut white lid unhinged at the back….” and the Canon MF8180C and Brother DPC-9045CDN faxing, copying and printing units as in “a photograph blurred into alienating aleatory po&#233sie concr&#232te by being roughly swiped back and forth over the scratched platen glass of the Canon….”. You have (as usual) more than a few problems with the use of the French when the English equivalent has the same meaning, although you do grudgingly acknowledge that the sound of the French is much more, erm, poetic. You don’t like concrete poetry because it always struck you as a bit of a gimmick- even when Charles Olson does it but (if aleatory is to mean ‘by chance’ or ‘random’) the second adjective strikes you as contradictory because there isn’t a lot of randmoness involved in making pictures with a typewriter. It then strike you that the reference might be to George Herbert but this is even more structured than its twentieth century descendants.

The “sky in the screen” is another attempt to say something different about the interweb that doesn’t quite come off but you do like the next two although the capitalisation in this section is just annoying, “Vertigo” doesn’t need the big v. The appearance of love is intriguing and you think you recall love and solidarity as two of the undercurrents throughout the work. Having spent many lines on the earlier ‘congenital’ you decide not to dwell too long on provisional except to note in your head that your definition it is something that isn’t quite finished or complete, that may be subject to change in the future, that isn’t to be relied upon. This throws up the possibility that the shadow’s unperfection is due to it being (now, thus far) provisional. As you get older and slower you realise that most things are provisional, are always on their way.

You are not surprised to find overt references to the Middle East, given Sutherland’s recent work, especially “Stress Position” which is a bitter denunciation of both the West’s ‘interventions’ and the extensive use of torture to sustain it. You are however puzzled by “You task Madiha Shenshel with cooking your breakfast (hawk eggs in fried milk, high in poly collaterals) and look up the name on the sky in the screen to find that the first three results are written by you complaining that the only result that crops up is as the point of contact for MYO Consultants, a Baghdad trading company. This is still the case except for a link to a free online text of The Odes.

The less obscure reference is:

   .................................But reality is not at the
   bottom of the abyss, the abyss is in time just reality
   being itself, at least to begin with and at the same time
   conclusively as if contracted - soft - to a single point
   (a dot) at the end of the universe, when dark matter is a
   distant memory subject for chastisement to the
   fluctuations of military nostalgia (in her foot) and I am
   not sure to go on, or how to, or even what name that is
   any more, whoever you are I do this for, person this
   human this, this window for this crack or even if I do
   it, and probably I don't, the strings on a thousand dolls,
   relief at Abu
   Naji I cite its adaptation on bliss in memory,

You are a little bit pleased with yourself because you recognise ‘Abu Naji’ as the British military base where Baha Moussa was murdered and 28 other Iraqis were tortured. The obsessive repetition of this is effective but you don’t understand what it might be that is being done. The first part of the sentence about the abyss is reasonably straightforward if the abyss is the Abyss much loved by poets everywhere. Sutherland seems to be attempting to rob it of its mystique (for the want of a better noun) and strength by pointing out that it is just the ordinary everday stuff but (being itself) stripped of the illusions and delusions that we use to make things bearable. As a depressive you can relate to this as an example of that ‘bare bones’ perspective that severe depression gifts you but you’re not sure that it might be an accurate description of What Might be Going On. The following oscillations sound better than they read and you are vaguely annoyed by the dot/foot trope which was used in Stress Position and seemed affected then. You know (as an Inquiry obsessive) that one of the concerns as Abu Naji was the use of some or all of the Five Techniques as a means of interrogation and you consider whether the military nostalgia is for the time when these could be openly deployed- they were found to be illegal in the early seventies. This makes a kind of sense because on the next page there is:

                                            Since once
   you get from A to B, take your time returning. Isn't
   it the problem that I want you to stare at me until
   our eyes trade sockets, trailing visions, fucking our
   mutual brains out all over the wrongest floor not the
   implication that hooding was banned in 1972 that asks 
   for an adaptation on bliss in memory? Light
   sockets, the halo pinned to bodies in remorse,
   devoured in a shadow life sends back?

Hooding is one of the Five Techniques and was used routinely at Abu Naji, soldiers in evidence to the Baha Moussa Inquiry claimed not to be aware that they weren’t supposed to use it. ‘Eyes trading sockets’ is nicely ambiguous as is the ‘wrongest floor’ but the central conundrum is the ‘bliss’ repetition and what it might mean in either context. This is where you might need to take the forensic guess approach that you’ve been known to use with Prynne. Normally it would make some sense if it was adaptation of bliss but it isn’t. You try first of all the reasonably rational reasoning that this bliss is in your memory and therefore has the potential to be recalled although it isn’t clear whether it is something that is being consciously remembered. You then spend some time with the OED and find that ‘bliss’ once meant “Blitheness of aspect toward others, kindness of manner; ‘light of one’s countenance,’ ‘smile.” But that this was only in Old English, the rest of the definitions match the ones that are already in your head. You then move along to ‘adaptation’ and discover this as the primary definition: “The application of something to a particular end or purpose; the action of applying one thing to another or of bringing two things together so as to effect a change in the nature of the objects. Also: an instance of this. Obs.” The first recorded use occurred in 1597. So, does this troublesome phrase mean the application of bliss to memory? This has possibilities but you decide to proceed.

The next reference to exciting adventures abroad is:

   Traherne: love is deeper than at first it can be
   thought, and the extra will last you
   past care to a better joke about
   you drilled through to infiltrate the gothic froth of Helmand.

You know that Helmand is where British troops have been thoughtlessly allowing themselves to be blown up for the last few years so ‘gothic’ would make sense. You normally think of froth as something flimsy or insubstantial, something that is used to deflect attention from the ‘real’ content. An example of this would be the current use of austerity froth by politicians everywhere to further impoverish working people or the fundamentalist and/or insurgent froths to justify random slaughter and torture. The British military presence is meant to be seen as some kind of pre-emptive defence against the threat from Muslim extremists when it has much (much) more to do with a country that is desperate to cling on to some notion of Empire and, at the same time, please the Americans. Anybody with any understanding of history knows that invading Afghanistan is even more stupid than marching into Russia. Given that our leaders are not entirely stupid we must therefore assume that this little adventure is ‘cover’ for the punishment of Arabs everywhere and for increasingly intrusive methods of malveillance on the various domestic fronts. You then decide to track down the Traherne quote:

Love is deeper than at first it can be thought. It never ceaseth but
in endless things. It ever multiplies. Its benefits and its designs are
always infinite. Were you not Holy, Divine, and Blessed in enjoying the
World, I should not care so much to bestow it. But now in this you
accomplish the end of your creation, and serve God best, and please Him
most: I rejoice in giving it. For to enable you to please GOD, is the
highest service a man can do you. It is to make you pleasing to the
King of Heaven, that you may be the Darling of His bosom.

You decide that the ‘extra’ refers to a love that “ever multiplies” which is in direct opposition to the experience of being ‘drilled though’ which may refer to soldierly drill on the parade ground – but you doubt it.

This ‘method’ of following the themes / threads seems to work in that it gives a wider view of what may be being said and it also points up things that may benefit from more focused attention.

Annotated Trigons update and further experiments in reading

For those that aren’t regulars, I’m currently collaborating with John Matthias on producing an on-line and annotated full text version of Trigons, his magnificent sequence which was published in 2010. Progress continues to be made, we now have the third section of “Islands, Inlands” (the first poem in the sequence) in a usable state together with notes to John’s headnote for the sequence as a whole. I like to think that I’m a bit clearer on the amount of information to provide and to try and rely on what I’m thinking of as primary sources (diaries, memoirs, letters, interviews etc) to expand on a theme because secondary sources dealing with Greece since 1945, for example, all seem to have a very sharp ideological axe to grind. There’s also issues of self control, I’m now of the view that the whole world should know more about Michael Ayrton and his “The Testament of Daedalus”. I could therefore write a few thousand enthusiastic words on this remarkable man but I’ve recognised that this would be serving my needs rather than those of the reader. So, Ayrton gets about the same as Miller, Seferis and Durrell.

I think I also need to say what a privilege it is to work with someone as generous and thoughtful as John on this marvellous piece of work.

Given the attention tht this project seems to be getting, I’ve had several long thoughts about arduity and have decided to cull a few of the sections (those relating to theory and lit crit etc etc) and to concentrate on poems and poets whilst retaining pages on ambiguity, meaning and allusion. The site is also in desperate need of a Big Polish in that it currently has two page formats based on completely different style sheets and I need to tweak some of my prose. In the mood for spring cleaning, I’ve now added disqus comment boxes at the bottom of the Matthias pages and will now carry this across the rest of the site. I’ve avoided the comments issue on arduity primarily because it’s technically beyond me and I’m too stubborn to use a wysiwyg editor but now I think it would be a Good Thing to have feedback at the foot of each page.

I’ve also recognised that arduity gets more traffic than this blog (4022 user sessions v 822 so far this month) and this means that the material that I think might have some value to others might be best “parked” on arduity. There are probably a number of reasons for this imbalance- people use blogs in different ways to sites with more visible navigation, the wordpress metatags aren’t very good even and this means arduity invariably beats berowed in search engine results.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I’m going to write about poems and poets on arduity and use this to think out loud about poetry in a less specific way. The first development will be extended “experiments in reading” being placed on arduity so that they are more visible to google and the rest. Which brings me to a thought following on from John Dillon a fortnight ago about the relationship between the gloss and the text and in what way can a gloss be said to be part of the poem. I think I’m beginning to sort out an answer to that but the interweb gives us another dimension in that we now have comments on the gloss that the reader can chose to integrate into his or her reading.
I’ll try and give an example, the experiements in reading are an attempt to inject a greater sense of immediacy into my readings with a view to encouraging a wider readership and to get some feedback/help with regard to the tricky stuff.

By way of illustration, a week ago I posted an experiment re the first few pages of “The Anathemata” which drew this comment:

I just have a quick point about the opening prayer. The prayer is the Quam Oblationem. According to some theologians, it is an epiklesis whereby the celebrant prays that God will send down the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the body and blood. One of the theologians who ascribed to that reading and who sees it as the actual beginning of the Consecration is Maurice de la Taille. In that sense, then, The Ana’s opening prayer acts as DJ’s invocation of the muse ( and quite a number of other things).

I’m of the view that this belongs in the body of my text as well at the bottom of the page because it enhances understanding and provides context that I don’t have. So, I will be asking permission to do incorporate this into the text in a way that acknowledges the source but is nevertheless part of the work.

This isn’t a clarion call for the “open” gloss whereby everybody can contribute what ever they want but it certainly does give another dimension that we should think about. The other dimesnion is where the speculation about meaning becomes part of the gloss. I’ve now written 2 x 1,000 word experiments on Keston Sutherland’s “The Odes” and there’s been a couple of enhanced speculations with regard to the depilated Janine:

Since we’re speculating … a (carefully circumscribed) internet search brought up adult film actress Janine Lindemulder. I’ll leave it to someone else to confirm her depilation, but the reference seems to fit with a recurring theme/trope of the poem; it also obviously adds another semantic valence to much of the quoted passage. Couldn’t decide if your ‘nagging’ doubt was about this line of inquiry, so I’ll tastelessly broach it for you.

I responded by suggesting that Alasdair Gray’s “Janine 1982″ was more likely. Here’s the response:

<

Damn, I like yours better, and have another book to read to boot. How can something be “hereafter congenital” for said textual/sexual Janine, assuming all her kidding is prophylactically voided? I’m tempted to go ‘full Prynne’ and trace congenital back to its conquest of of ‘congenial.’ Now that’s what over-reading would look like.

I’m of the view that this exchange should occur just after I first mention the prospect of “tackling” Janine. Then yesterday something else was thrown into the mix:

You’ve got me thinking about ‘congenitally depilated’. The word ‘congenitally’ contains the word ‘genitally’, so this could partially resolve to ‘genitally depilated’. Genitals and the word and the word do crop up elsewhere in the poem. This would certainly fit with the porn star reading. That still leaves ‘congenitally’. In line with the poem’s larger (troubling? important? brave?) preoccupation with childhood sexuality, I read ‘congenitally’ as collapsing the state of nature at birth into the infantilising and fashionable aversion to pubic hair among adults (not just porn stars), but here the aversion is inverted and to depilation and it’s that that’s defective. This is somewhat troubling, or at least challenging. I would justify the apparent awkwardness/senselessness of ‘hearafter’ as picking up on this temporal confusion. It also strikes me that if ‘congenitally’ can become ‘con genitally’, maybe ‘hereafter’ can be taken as ‘here after’, but I don’t know how much that helps. If it’s congenital it’s congenital from birth but in a different, artificial way, “always already” congenital in adulthood?

I think reading both of the above, it is important that when people have put some thought into things and expressed those thoughts with such clarity that they should be given a more prominent/noticeable place in the gloss.

There’s also a more precise reading:

‘aboriginal mucus’ thought of as an original inhabitant; impeccable darkness as opposed to the mere absence of light.

My unscrewed head is like a bulb in the palm of my hand. Certain kinds of ‘truths burn out and fly away’ for as long as it’s not connected to a Ground⏚

Ground is where the ‘stack of basements’ are
elevated; inundated in impeccable darkness.

My freezer has a freezer light. It’s behind a ‘grainy
blank’. Blank is another word for a cover or a plate.
I wonder what it would be like if all the world were like the contents of my freezer and only ever seen under that light. A ‘prophylactic void…’?

The etymology of Janine is the same as it is for John, John, but to take the etymological truth of Janine as gospel would be like removing the hair at birth. Are burnt out truths like hairs pulled out of your head one at a time?

I think you are onto something John. Probably something to do with the intersection between carrying secrets and burning out.

Which I need to find a place for. Of course, this wholesale lifting needs to be agreed with the writer before I move it but I do think that it’s a dimension that’s woth pursuing.

Bad lines in Good poems.

I’ve just put a page on pt 5 of ‘In Parenthesis’ on arduity. As ever, any feedback would be much appreciated.

Whilst extolling the brilliance of this masterpiece, I came across a couple of lines that could be described as Not Very Good which was a bit of a shock because Jones (in my head) is almost perfect and this got me to thinking about other bad lines in brilliant poems. So, what follows is a compilation of those examples that most readily spring to mind. The bebrowed definition of Not Very Good in this context relates, I think, to a line or two that is out of place and jars with the rest of the poem, lines that sound dissonant when read aloud. I think there’s a difference between these and Keston Sutherland’s depiction of the wrong line because that would seem to be more about apparent banality or the non-poetic in a line which nevertheless works.

This selection is personal and subjective, I’ve chosen to concentrate on poems that I feel are excellent but nevertheless are let down by this small blemish.

John Milton and ‘Lycidas’

This has been called the greatest elegy in English literature, its subject is Edward King who was at Cambridge with Milton and who drowned in 1637. I’m of the view that Milton never does lines of the above sort, in fact I’ve never been able to locate a bad line in the entire length of ‘Paradise Lost’ but the fourth and fifth lines here do seem to be out of place:

Where your old bards, the famous Druids lie,
Nor on the shaggy top of Mona high,
Nor yet where Deva spreads her wizard streams
Ay me, I fondly dream!
Had ye been there.....for what could that have done?
How could the muse herself that Orpheus bore,
The muse herself for her enchanting son
Whom universal nature did lament,

I know that this is intended as a sudden cry of hearfelt anguish and is meant to be dissonant but it does need to be strong and well put together and neither ‘Ay me’ nor ‘and ‘what could that have done?’ are up to the task. It isn’t anguished enough nor lyrical enough to justify its presence. It might be argued that this lack of verbal skill is the ‘point’ that this interjection deliberately refuses to work so as to express the depth of human feeling but the fact remains that there is little anguish in ‘what could that have done’ and that it feels both gratuitous and inept. Perhaps Milton was trying to imitate the sudden outbursts in the work of George Herbert which was published a few years before but Herbert’s interjections are both strong and believable whereas this isn’t.

Simon Jarvis and ‘The Unconditional’.

I have said this before but the above is one of the most important publications of the last thirty years. It runs to 236 pages, it is brilliantly and infuriatingly digressive and defiantly metrical. It is also deeply subversive and I don’t understand why this fact isn’t more widely recognised. It isn’t an easy read but it is important and more than repays the attention that is paid to it. It was published in 2005 and is still available from Barque Press for a mere fifteen quid.

One aspect of the Jarvis thesis is that prosody is helpful when expressing complex or philosophical ideas and ‘The Unconditional’ is, among many other things, an example of this. However, there are a few lines where things go a bit awry and one of these serves to undermine a particularly brilliant passage:

        In that domain a buried A-road may
sometime by old pavilions of its shops
remind a hoarse commercial traveller
of the remediable loss of life
in undefended type face of a font
still mutely pleading for a shoppers loves
still wearily enduring falling sales
still waiting for authenticated close
or still abiding till a ripeness when
the properly intolerable come
and foreclose closure closing it by force.
=x. was ready to feel all that.
There or anywhere else.
But he was nowhere near the area.
The hue of the metallic colouring on
his complicit vehicle accompanying him
could barely properly be named as blue-
fantastically overpropertied as though blue left blue for a blue elsewhere
or settled only in the skull of an
acatastatical erotomane
whose dream then taking vehicle form
inflicts whatever violence it can
on any object-field whose lightest flinch
might intimate a rustable flaw beneath
with a pure undersong of "blue, blue, blue".
Serene irony fell into the wrong tax bracket.

I’ve quoted this at length to emphasis the damage that a line can do. On an initial reading I thought it was the last word in ‘But he was nowhere near the area’ that was wrong, that ‘area’ seemed so out of place in the lyrical brilliance of what precedes and follows it but I’ve now decided that it is the line itself that is the problem. Both the portrayal of the commercial traveller and the improvisation on the colour of the ‘complicit vehicle’ are sustained passage of lyrical invention and technical flair but both of these are let down by the presence of this one decidedly dull line. The other issue is that I don’t entirely understand what it is supposed to be doing, it doesn’t add greatly to the sense of what’s being said and even by page 19 most of us will have recognised that =x. is disposed to this kind of self-lacerating melancholia. it is therefore difficult to see what these three lines might add.

Whilst I’ve got the opportunity, I would like to draw your attention to the brilliance of “as though blue left blue for a blue elsewhere” which is almost as good as “on any object field whose lightest flinch / might intimate a rustable flaw beneath” which is obviously wonderful.

As with Milton, this kind of ineptitude is completely out of character for Jarvis and for ‘The Unconditional’ in particular, it may of course be that this is deliberately ‘wrong’ but this kind of knowing wink is absent from the rest of the poem and doesn’t occur in what Jarvis has published since. I’ve now read the poem four times and this remains the bit that is most strikingly bad, there are other sections and lines that are overly self-indulgent, obscure or badly expressed but this is the only line that seems to be irredeemably bad.

David Jones and ‘In Parenthesis’

Anyone who doesn’t think that David Jones was one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century either hasn’t read any of his work or is a complete fool. Tom Dilworth’s claim that ‘In Parenthesis’ is one of the five great war books that we have seems to me to be an altogether reasonable claim. Having spent the last ten days or so thinking and writing about it for arduity, I now have to report that it isn’t perfect and that there is at least a couple of lines that should have been cut.

The poem recounts Jones’ experience of his service in World Ward One leading up to and including the assault on Mametz Wood during the Somme offensive in July 1916. This is from Part Five and is a dialogue between two French civilians who run the bar that the troops frequent during rest periods away from the trenches:

        She bolted the door for the night
and when it was morning
Jacques said that the Englishman's guns had kept him awake.
She said that it was a pleasant morning, and the first in June.
He said it was time the English advanced, that there wera a
stupid race, anyhow.
She said they were not.
He would like to remind her of the Pastoral,
for which she laughed a long time.
with: Vah, vah,
and her head wagging
with: La - la la, and her finger pointed, with:
Tawny-tooth go watch the priest, and:
Bent-wit.
She said that the war was lucrative and chid him feed the
fowl, and smoothed her pinafore: sometimes the Siege Artil-
lery came in during the morning, if there wasn't a shoot on.

Jones glosses ‘Tawny-tooth…bent wit’ as “Cf. Skelton. I cannot find the passage I had in mind”- and neither can I, even with the assistance of the Adobe ‘find’ gizmo. In some notes Jones also explains why he is using a particular quotation but chooses not to do so here. I have a couple of concerns:

  • the two lines spoil the rest which is a reasonably straightforward account of a conversation that isn’t at all difficult to follow;,
  • if you are going to quote something then you should try and make sure of it’s accuracy;
  • if you know that the quote might be spurious and you are providing notes then you should explain (as you do elsewhere) what you were hoping to achieve.

It could be argued that this was an innovative and experimental work but there are elsewhere sustained pieces of experimental brilliance that do what they should whereas we will never know what this was meant to achieve, it serves simply to get in the way.

So, none of the above examples are essential to the poem and could be removed without too much difficulty and perhaps it’s this more than the poor quality that I find most difficult. None of these do serious damage to the rest of the poem and I would urge all readers to read the last two, you won’t be disappointed.

‘In Parenthesis’ is currently available from Amazon at just over twelve of your finest English pounds.

J H Prynne, Mao Zedong, William Langland and the difficult poem

Having spent most of last week polishing the arduity site, I’ve had the opportunity to reconsider the scope of the project, which was initially about encouraging people to tackle work that is usually considered to be difficult. Since then I think I’ve modified my own understanding of the difficult and become a bit less zealous about converting everyone to the joys of this material. In fact, I’m now seeing it as a more detailed and thorough mulling over of stuff that is often ignored because of the ‘D’ tag.

The other lesson learned is that it’s a mistake to worry about definition, to try and compartmentalise the various facets that people might find intimidating / obscure / baffling. It is probably best to try and give examples and to concentrate on how they work or function rather than what they might mean. This is the current premise and has so far resulted in pages on ‘Scenes from Comus’, ‘The Triumph of Love’, and ‘Mercian Hymns’as well as a long page on the first three parts / chapters of David Jones’ ‘In Parenthesis’.

All of this is a way of getting ready to re-write the Celan and Prynne pages, add something on the notes to the Meridian which was published last year and to try and say something useful about ‘Kazoo Daydreams’ without scaring off those new to either poet. I want to use this to illustrate some of the problems that ‘KD’ presents. In amongst the ‘reference cues’ at the back there is an apparently famous speech ‘On Contradiciton’ from 1937 which, Wikipedia tells me, “is considered his most important philosophical essay”. I’ll deal with what Prynne does with this in a moment but ‘Piers Plowman’ (in both ‘B’ and ‘C’ texts’ is also listed and these present a similar kind of difficulty.

I think I need to point out that I’ve never been keen on this Marxian contradiction rigmarole primarily because (it seems to me) that the selection of the contradictory elements needed to achieve a resolution is too arbitrary and has led (oddly) to the reification of dialectical materialism at the expense of other methods of analysis. The part of the speech that Prynne has included exemplifies this particular tendency.

The other part of getting some structure into life is to engage with the late Medieval period and Middle English. I started with Thomas Hoccleve and am now oscillating between him and Langland. I didn’t think there would be too much in Piers Plowman that would need unpicking but then (yesterday) I got to an extended grammatical analogy which is in the ‘C’ text but not in either ‘A’ or ‘B’. This relates to the nature of reward and is part of a fascinating debate reflecting the economic anxieties of the latter half of the fourteenth century and can be considered hard to grasp at a number of different levels.

So far, ‘KD’ has three themes / subjects which are reasonably clear, the first relates to being and un-being, the second to contradiction and the third is a kind of response to the current economic fiasco which continues to destroy lives across the planet.

The thoughts on contradiction take their cue from these extracts from the 1937 essay:

There is internal contradiction in every single thing, hence its motion and development. Contradictoriness within a thing is the fundamental cause of its development, while its interrelations and interactions with other things are secondary causes……It is evident that purely external causes can only give rise to mechanical motion, that is, to changes in scale or quantity, but cannot explain why things differ qualitatively in thousands of ways and why one thing changes into another. As a matter of fact, even mechanical motion under external force occurs through the internal contradictoriness of things. Simple growth in plants and animals, their quantitative development, is likewise chiefly the result of their internal contradictions.

and-

But is it enough to say merely that each of the contradictory aspects is the condition for the other’s existence, that there is identity between them and that consequently they can coexist in a single entity? No, it is not. The matter does not end with their dependence on each other for their existence; what is more important is their transformation into each other. That is to say, in given conditions, each of the contradictory aspects within a thing transforms itself into its opposite, changes its position to that of its opposite.

Prynne follows this with:

I saw these gaps of explanation rolling like wheels contrary within
themselves, alien motions on fire with coriolis demeanour. I saw
the grains self-rotate in their own amazement with noise of spheres
metallic and burnished, along the baseline it is by amount at
principle neither so nor not because contradiction is inherent and
not alternate in sense-ordering. I saw this notion in full fiery
finesse, alive alive-o.

( For the sake of accuracy, I’ve maintained the line breaks as published).

Both of these are blockquoted paragraphs, but there is also:

...............................................'External causes
are the condition of change and internal cause are the basis
of change, and external causes become operative through internal causes'.
Mourning does become the law but not this one, to be is not to
become or at fault with moment practice was what can I say I saw,
darker than ever dark to be'.

The dilemma here has a number of dimensions, the first concerns the Marx – Lenin – Mao lineage and the variations along the way and the second concerns the relationship between the quote and what follows. I’ve just had the dubious pleasure of wading through all of the essay and really wouldn’t want to inflict this on anyone else partially because people may be overwhelmed by the apparent density therein and because I’d be tempted to point out the very high nonsense factor. As the essay is used on three separate occasions however I will have to try and provide some context- including the fact that this made Mao’s reputation as an ideologue/theorist which was instrumental in his rise to power. I’ll resist the temptation to go on about the genocidal Great Leap Forward and his readiness to kill more than 40 million people for the sake of an ideological nicety but this won’t be easy.

I have no problem with identifying the ‘Molly Malone’ lyric and waxing eloquent about Prynne’s interest in the work song, nor with puzzling over the nature of the spheres, nor with speculating about the abiding presence of ‘sense order’ in Prynne’s work.

Given the presence of contradiction throughout ‘KD’, playing down this element and concentrating on the other concerns is nevertheless dishonest so I’ll probably try to present an overview, link to what David Harvey says about contradiction and leave readers to pursue this further if they so wish.

There’s also the sad fact that I’m both deeply partisan and opinionated and what I get from poems may not be a true reflection of what is probably available to others. For example, when Geoffrey Hill uses ‘self’ in any context I have this need to go into ‘selving’ and ‘inscape’ at very great length because that’s what I want to take rather than what might actually be there.

I’ll also indulge myself with extensive quotes from Gillian Rose on Poussin and on her debate with Sister Wendy and point to what Prynne said about Professor Rose at his reading of ‘Refuse Collection’- I may even bring Geoffrey Hill’s memorialisation into things and try and make some kind of point re Rose’s denunciation of all post-structural thought and Jacques Derrida in particular”.

‘KD’ is written mostly in the form of a medieval dream-vision poem with heavy use of the ‘I saw’ trope which is how ‘Piers’ starts. Prior to paying attention to Langland, I wouldn’t have seen the parallels between this and ‘KD’ but I now see that both are in part a response to changing economic circumstances and that neither take the easy option of presenting one ‘side’ or the other but leave readers to do the ‘thought work’ instead. As noted above, the poem does have remarkably obdurate sections but it is also a very real discussion of the anxieties and resentments that pervaded England at the time – for all kinds of reasons. This is how the grammatical analogy in the ‘C’ text of Passus III begins:

        Thus is mede and mercede as two maner
rellacions,
Rect and indirect, reminde bothe
On a sad and a siker sembable to hemsuluen.
Ac adiectif and substantif vnite aske
And accordance in kynde, in case and in nombre,
And ayther is otheres help - of hem cometh retribucuon,
And that is the gyft that god giveth to all lele living,
Grace of good end and gret joye aftur:

The problem here is about just how much context do people want and how much this may be of assistance rather than providing further obfuscation. I think it’s important to try and get this right if only to demonstrate that poetic difficulty isn’t confined to the modernist thread and because it’s a wonderful example of the poem as engaged political commentary. I don’t have problem with clarifying the language and elements of the analogy, nor with presenting an overview of the argument but I do get a bit unstuck with the detail of the economic realities, of ‘bastard feudalism’ and the workings of orthodox ideas about retribution and grace. This is because there needs to be a balance between enabling people feel confident about the poem and swamping them with (partisan and partial) context even though that might be useful.

‘Scenes from Comus’ on Arduity.

About two years ago I started (launched would be too grand a verb) the Arduity site with the aim of helping readers to engage with poetry that is thought to be difficult. At the same time I applied for Arts Council funding which wasn’t forthcoming. For a year or so I added bits in a haphazard and piecemeal fashion and then left it alone. To my surprise it continues to attract between 100 and 200 user sessions per day and people still say encouraging things about it.

In an attempt to get a bit more structure into my life, I’ve decided to overhaul arduity and to move it more in the direction of poets and their work but with the same objective of encouraging ‘lay’ readers to pay attention to this material.

Apart from tidying up some of the navigation and a few of the very many typos, I’ve spent most of today writing about ‘Comus’ because the Geoffrey Hill section is a bit thin and doesn’t contain any direct examples of the work. Then there is the fact that I really like writing about this particular sequence as it’s the one that converted me to his work.

After much internal deliberation I’ve also mentioned on the Hill index page that the last three books might not be very good but, for the moment, I haven’t spelled out how utterly dismal ‘Oraclau’ actually is.

Having now read what I’ve written on ‘Comus’, which I still think of as one of the clearer sequences, I’m now beginning to dither. Two years ago I had a typical user in mind, a keen reader of poetry with a reasonable level of intelligence who is nevertheless deterred from this work because of its density, word use and allusions and by the critical chatter that surrounds it. This had been my experience and it took a very positive review of ‘Comus’ by Nicholas Lezard to attempt to tackle this kind of stuff. So, the tone was to be one of positive encouragement together with an overview of the tricks of the late modern trade.

Having now re-read some of the initial content, I’ve decided that most of it is more didactic and patronising than intended and that it lacks personal enthusiasm and tends to glide over some of the very real obstacles to access.

Starting with enthusiasm, I’ve tried with this blog to find different ways to do avid pleasure and admiration. Sometimes this ‘works’ and on other occasions it falls flat on its face but my point is that I do try to communicate the pleasure/provocation/incitement that I get from some of this material on Bebrowed whereas I haven’t with Arduity. With regard to obstacles, I’ve just written something that indicates that the reader may benefit from some baseline knowledge of-

  • Wyatt and Surrey;
  • Boethius and Fortune and/or Providence;
  • the relationship between Andrew Marvell and John Milton;
  • the red Tories of the 1820s
  • Hopkins’ improvisations on ‘self’, ‘inscape’ and ‘selving’
  • the meaning and usage of ‘couvade’

My dithering stems from not knowing how my intended user would respond to this kind of exposition. I did some self-censoring in that I haven’t done chapter and verse on ‘selving’, I’ve omitted almost completely the workings of grace and have merely mentioned Hill’s promotion of poetry as memorialisation. I tell myself that this isn’t being too dishonest and explication of some of the above does at least let users know what they might be in for.

However, there is this lingering doubt that a line has been crossed and that (again) I’m writing for myself rather than for the user and that I haven’t injected enough enthusiasm to counteract the density of the references/tone/theme. This is even harder to judge. I have been known to opine that anyone who doesn’t like a certain poem is obviously devoid of a soul and have resorted, on occasion, to quite florid hyperbole but there are very few times when I’ve said what I needed to say. Those that do come to mind have tended to be more personal and immediate rather than considered and/or mannered. For example, I’m reasonably happy about my writing about Keston Sutherland, Amy De’Ath, Sarah Kelly and Andrew Marvell but I don’t think I’ve been as spontaneous as I should about Paul Celan, Vanessa Place and Timothy Thornton.

For once, this isn’t an imaginary problem. Tomorrow I intend to write a couple of thousand words on ‘The Triumph of Love’ and I’ll enjoy this because it’s a wonderful piece of work that is also completely bonkers in term of tone and rationale. I do want to emphasise this level of eccentricity but also let users know that they will need to deal with the workings of Grace, the nature of purgatory and the Bradwardine problem. To do otherwise would be fundamentally dishonest. I’m also tempted to liven things up by including some psychopathology with regard to class background and childhood but this would only be to create a quite spurious frisson.

There is also the fact that I think it is one of the very best things to be written in the last forty years yet I don’t agree with either its centrasl ‘point’ which seems stupidly naive or its level of self-admiration. How do I include these concerns without going into enormous detail about arguments that are quite preipheral to my enjoyement of the work?

In conclusion, any thoughts on the above would be most welcome as would any views on the direction that Arduity should now take, bearing in mind that this has been about presenting an alternative to the academy rather than a supplement to it.

This blogging about poetry mularkey

I don’t understand the blog in that I haven’t worked out where it fits in the scheme of things and what it might do that’s different from a web site or a Facebook entry (or whatever they might be called). I’m also completely mystified by tumblr but I suspect that it might be this week’s future. In the interests of trying to keep up, I did ask someone about tumblr this morning but he wouldn’t tell me.

Prior to starting this blog I didn’t know that I could write about poetry. I knew that I could write and has a reasonably long list of subjects that I could write about but my thinking on the poetic seemed too wound up with and complicated by my own attempts at poetry making for anything remotely useful to emerge.

I still don’t think I can write about poetry at anywhere near the level that I’d like to (somewhere between Alastair Fowler and Helen Cooper) but the miracle that has occurred is that I can write stuff that other people take an interest in and feel sufficiently involved to make a response. The other miracle is that these responses are without exception both intelligent and (this is important) well-mannered. Some of these are so well thought out and expressed that I need to think long and hard about a suitable / appropriate response.

The other thing is that I read very few blogs and the majority of these aren’t about poetry. I look at Mark Woods, Mrs Deane and Rio Wang every day, I look at Dylan Trigg and Language Hat every other day and a number of photography and design mags every week but the attention I pay to poetry blogs is sporadic. I once had the Jacket site open whenever I was on-line but these days that honour has passed to the Claudius App and TEAMS Middle English index pages because they manage to hold my interest and Jacket2 doesn’t.

So, this is a digressive way of saying that what follows is highly speculative and probably badly worked out. The first of these relates to the difference between my web site, arduity, and these pages. I was going to say that I put more of myself into this and try to be more objective with arduity but that isn’t really what’s going on. The main difference is that I’ve got a plan for arduity and I don’t for bebrowed. They’re both ‘about’ difficult or complex poetry and they’re both intended to be useful but arduity is written with more focus on encouraging confidence to tackle this stuff whereas bebrowed follows the wavering fancies that occupy my head.

I’m now going to try and get technical. If we think of all things poetic as a relatively autonomous ‘information order’ as described by Sir Christopher Bayly then, right now, a lot of things / processes / events are taking place. The first and most obvious of these is the effect of the one to many gizmo which means that a poem can be circulated / displayed, responded to and that response can be responded to within a very short space of time. The other process that is taking place is that of circulation prior to whatever publication might mean. I and others have drafts and have commented publicly on these drafts many months in advance of publication, I have also written with puppy dog enthusiasm about at least one poem that has been circulated but probably won’t ever be published. There are parallels here with poetic practice before and after the printing press, both Donne and Marvell only had manuscripts in circulation during their lives, all their work (with a couple of minor exceptions) was published after their death

The second is the exponential growth in self indulgence. The web is now cluttered with poetry that has never been subject to the editorial glare. Last year I posted something that consisted entirely of Gillian Welch set lists in chronological order as well as the versification of the labels used on maps of Sector 5 for the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday. Neither of these would have ever been ‘published’ in the world of print and constitute an act of the worst kind of self-expression. The sad fact is that I don’t care, they’re on the blog primarily because I like them and feel they need to exist outside of my head. In mitigation I would say that I don’t do it very often and only when I feel that there is some kind of imperative.

Anyway, it now transpires that I have a readership and I try not to think about this because that might inhibit or modify what I want to say which is usually a blow-by-blow attempt to work out some kind of conclusion and / or structure. The blog also allows me to fly a number of intensely speculative kites safe in the knowledge that on or two readers will bring me back to ground- poetry as performance on the page being the most recent example.

I like to think that the well mannered responses are in part due to my decision to only write about poetry that I like and to try and pretend that the rest doesn’t exist. There are exceptions to this (Jarvis’ ‘Dinner’, Prynne’s ‘Sub Songs’) but they prove the rule. This isn’t formulated froma moral stance, it’s simply that I don’t find it very interesting demolishing poems even when they thoroughly deserve to be so treated. I have set myself this challenge of writing enthusiastically about material that I feel deserves to be better known and appreciated and I don’t have any problem at all with the fact that I am occasionally in a very small minority. I know from bitter personal experience of bulletin boards and blogs in another sphere that things can rapidly become needlessly conflictual and I’m very pleased that this hasn’t occurred here.

There’s also this feeling that something really important is happening to this particular information order but we only catch glimpses of what this might be, I keep trying to list the things that blogging has made me think about and discover, I try to examine my traffic stats as if these might give me more of a clue but most of the time this is just a collection of instinctive stabs in the dark unless I get prodded into elaborating on the technical prowess on display in ‘The Anathemata’ which means that I have an excuse to read it again…

A final point, this tries hard not to be either lit crit or the reviewing of books, what it does attempt is an honest statement of the fruits of readerly attention and I am very pleased that others find bits of it to be useful- in the sense that Richard Rorty intended.

Reading Kazoo Dreamboats

Mimi and the Girls- Sarah Small

One of the things that arduity tries to do is to encourage people to read poetry that is considered to be difficult. Most of the time this isn’t difficult because I find that I’m quite good at writing about complex stuff in a clearish manner and can usually deploy my puppy dog enthusiasm to good effect. I like to think that I’ve managed to do this with ‘The Anathemata’, ‘The Maximus Poems’, ‘Todtnauberg’ and others that deserve a wider audience.

The other main function that arduity has is to make people feel more confident about reading this stuff and not to feel intimidated by many of the more off-putting features of lateish modernism. This usually consists of writing about something that I’ve found to be foreboding or things that I know have deterred my friends and suggesting techniques for a more successful reading.

So, all of this is fairly straightforward, I’m currently in the middle of trying to say something useful about the poetry of Simon Jarvis and this is both enjoyable and rewarding. Then I come across ‘Kazoo Dreamboats’ which presents a new set of challenges to the above because it seems to exist outside both Prynne’s work and anything else that I can think of- although this may be due to a lack of imagination.

I have attempted to describe some of the poem’s basic features so I won’t repeat myself here but further attempts at reading /paying attention have thrown more issues into doubt which make writing for the first-time reader quite daunting. This is compounded by the fact that I don’t think ‘Kazoo Daydreams’ can be read without reference to Prynne’s output since 1971 if only to differentiate and indicate how much of a change this represents.

I’ll try and give some examples-

  • we haven’t had a reading list before, unless we count ‘A note on metal’ which is included in the Bloodaxe ‘Poems’ but isn’t a poem;
  • blocks of text have not been obviously inserted straight into other works;
  • this is the first prose poem, if that’s what it is or this is the first poem that looks (mostly) like a prose poem;
  • the phrases are more ‘accessible’ than anything since ‘Triodes’ but the ‘sense’ feels disrupted, I’ll try and give some examples below;
  • as well as the blockquotes, some quotes are indicated by inverted commas within the body of the text some others aren’t;
  • there’s a higher than usual level of playfulness going on;
  • the parrot, the hot pies, chicken in a basket, love potion number nine, alive alive-o, Bill Bailey, the old folks at home (etc).

There are some continuities, the use of repetition, the intensity of thought, the ongoing angry sarcasm with regard to all aspects of capitalism, the use of ‘Prynne’ words (foramen, saccadic), the occasional address to the reader, but this does feel like a completely different way to collide with the ‘unwitty circus’.

The reference cues present a different kind of challenge because most attentive readers will try and dig out the unfmiliar works in order to get some idea of what they’re about. The problem arises because the first three of these are (to my non-scientific brain) fairly difficult to grasp- I’m still working on Van der Waals forces even though the quote is the from the first paragraph in the book and haven’t yet progressed to condensed matter field theory and have only skimmed the surface of pore geometry. My point is that none of these are inviting or amenable to the non-specialist. Then there’s the troubling use of Mao Zedong on contradiction from 1937.

I’m not entirely sure what I mean by disrupted sense but I have tried to read this attentively and can begin to follow sentences and phrases that are much clearer than the recent poetry but then something gets thrown in that sets off another train of thought altogether. This is one of the clearer examples-

The dream very true, in truth a dream of human kind come back, go forward a shadow drops like stone. Water on all sides, the life of men. In the morning milk delivery up to the very door clink clink I heard it on the step, it was Andrew, our regular. My mouth should twitch beyond sufferance in its knowledge rebate, anyone could weep for no less, day by day. There is no unity in mind its line in stolen property its fainting breath absurd: a property of the void itself.

So, we move from water surrounding our lives to the arrival of milk (delivered by Andrew) to twitching mouths, knowledge rebates and the weeping anyone can do to the fragmentary nature of ‘mind’ with reference to what it steals and the absurdity of its existence which is said to be a property of the void ‘itself’. There is a lot of sense that can be made from this which is either enhanced or disrupted by the arrival of the milk which may be an indication or example of the fragmented nature of consciousness but doesn’t really account for the identification of Andrew as the Prynne’s regular milkman. Of course it could be argued that the presence of the identified Andrew is justified by the poem’s wider context or by an element that I have thus far overlooked but what the initial reaction is that the clinking arrival of the milk is so startling that it undermines the sense of what is being said. This may. of course, be the point because there is a degree of playfulness at work here which serves to interrogate the texts that are used and also to introduce a much lighter tone.

So, do I introduce ‘Kazoo Daydreams’ to new readers in terms of its difference to what’s gone before or do I talk about it in terms of itself? This isn’t an argument about quality in the way that I’d advise readers new to Hill to stay well clear of ‘Oraclau’. This dliemma is the worry that any kind of reasonably accurate introduction might put people off- “It isn’t entirely clear what it might be about, it might be a prose poem, it contains verbatim chunks of appropriated prose on quite complex subjects, it appears to be intent on undermining itself and contradicts some of what Prynne has said about poetry making in the very recent past, there moments of lyrical intensity, experiments with repetition and (all in all) it is immensely involving, compelling and (probably) brilliant.”

The ‘Reading Kazoo Deramboats’ page may need to wait for futher reflection but at the moment I’m thinking of emphasis on the startling and the odd as the most user-friendly point of entry, even if that doesn’t do justice to what might be going on.

phrases or ways of writing Todtnauberg (2 of 2)

(The leak into the tag and category clouds wasn’t intentional but it does seem appropriate- again made by a machine but I’ve removed what the WordPress machine wanted to do with it).

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arduity: a difficult poetry update

This is to announce a flurry of recent activity from contributors which is especially welcome as it means I feel less guilty about not being able to write anything useful about Eliot.
Vance Maverick has written on ‘Povel’ by Geraldine Kim which has certainly made me think again about the quality of ‘experimental’ work in the USA.
Taylor Gould has kicked off a debate on the almost dead body that is contemporary poetry and this has drawn responses thus far from Vance and myself. We all seem to be strong on diagnosis but less confident with regard to cure. Anyone else wishing to make a contribution can contact me using the address on the arduity site.
Jim Kleinhenz has produced a long and wonderfully digressive piece on Wallace Stevens’ “The Rock” which manages to take in Beethoven, Said, Adorno and many others along the way.
Any further contributions would, as ever, be most welcome.
I’ll now digress into my Eliot problem. I first read the poems forty years ago and have re-read infrequently since, I’ve also read more about Eliot than any other 20th century poet so I should be fairly well equipped to write a few sentences about the work. The problem is that so much stuff has been written that it’s really hard to write something that doesn’t feel redundant. I feel (in the spirit of the project) write something helpful about “The Wasteland” but I don’t find the poem that interesting except for its historical context. This is probably because I think I know where most of the bodies are buried and I don’t want my disenchantment to come through. I have tried but there’s too many lines that seem cheap and I’m unable to refrain from pointing at them. This is not helpful to readers who want to feel more confident in dealing with difficulty.
So, a personal plea for anyone who can write a helpful introduction to either “The Wasteland” or “The Four Quartets” without getting too lit crit or contextual would be very much appreciated.
One final question- can Zbigniew Herbert be considered to be difficult?

Difficult poetry and the arduity project

This is by way of an update on arduity which I started earlier this year. The bad news is that I was turned down for a grant from our Arts Council primarily because they didn’t accept my plans with regard to financial viability.

This has come as no great surprise but it has led me to reconsider what I hope to achieve. I’m still of the view that a non-academic resource is needed to help readers to get to grips with difficult verse and know that I would have benefited from such a resource when starting to tackle Hill and Prynne. I’m also still of the view that the site should contain readings and responses from other non-academic readers as a kind of counterweight to what is produced by the academy. In this regard it’s interesting to note that I’ve had offers of contributions from others but nothing as yet has materialised.

There was a stage a while ago when I got bogged down in worrying about platforms (arduity now has three wikis and a blog that I haven’t started to develop) but I now think that I need to give more consideration to involving others- it doesn’t matter what platform you use if the material isn’t there.

Whilst I really enjoy writing about poetry, I also recognise that my own knowledge base is limited and my personal preferences do not cover the full range of this kind of material. I’m currently trying to psyche myself up to write something useful about Eliot and Pound but I’m not avidly enthusiastic about either (and I haven’t worked my way through ‘The Cantos’). The other thought that occurs to me is that I haven’t done enough on the various components of difficulty- I posted a shortish piece on ‘meaning’ yesterday which seems to be quite popular but doesn’t really do the subject justice.

The other issue is that I need to focus on a bit of marketing. I have yet to do the reciprocal links thing with other like-minded sites and I should really begin to make a bit more of an effort. I also need to reconsider the search engine placement strategy- ‘arduity’ has a first page ranking for ‘difficult poetry’ in google but this produces zero traffic so I need to think again about keywords and phrases with a view to the content that has been created.

So, this is a double plea- any contributions would be very much welcomed as would any views on the existing content (particularly on the ‘toolkit’ section). The relevant e-mail address is at the bottom of each page if you don’t want to respond here.

Incidentally, I find I’m addicted to writing about Prynne- is there a cure?