Tag Archives: jonty tiplady

The many faces of the innovative poem

I’m in the process of revamping the arduity project and thus far I’ve got a new header, a couple of page layouts and some idea of direction. Instead of focusing only on difficulty, I’ve decided to include what I consider to be innovative work being made now and those that were made in the distant past. Which has got me to try and decide what I think I mean by the ‘I’ word. My initial thought was to base the definition on Pound’s “make it new” but then I decided that newness is probably an even more ambivalent quality.

In a wider sense the attraction of the new is tied up with the notion of progess, with the Enlightenment march towards a better future. This has since been exploited by capital in persuading us to buy the latest, newest, cutting-edgiest thing. What’s different for poets now is that we have this interweb thing to play with that allows is to do new things and disseminate our work in new ways. What arduity might be about is sketching out the historical ‘trend’ and attending to those who are making it new in the now.

In order to invite an argument, here is my current list of innovators and innovations with some attempt at a rationale. Obviously this is subjective and only contains poets and work that I like, primarily because I only ever write about work that I admire:

William Langland

The wonderfully flawed Piers Plowman is attributed to Langland. Unlike Chaucer, Gower and Hoccleve we don’t know who Langlan was although that hasn’t stopped critics from making assumptions. This aside Piers is innovative because it is the leading work of the fourteenth century Alliterative Revival and because of its ambition. The poem covers the usual range of God-rlated concerns but also covers the social issues of the day: regatery (what we would call cornering the market); the undeserving poor and the mendicant problem are just a few of the debates that take place within the poem.

Thomas Hoccleve

Hoccleve isn’t innovative in terms of form and most of his poems and translations are reasonably conventional. I thought about Hocclev’s treatment of mental health in the first two poems of the Series sequence but have now (provisionally) decided that this isn’t enough to count. He’s on this list in case I change my mind.

John Skelton.

Skelton is probably the least likeable of all British poets but he was a major figure between 1480 and 1520 or thereabouts. He is included here because of the first half of his Speke Parrot which is either completely bonkers or our most innovative poem before Spenser. The relationship between the bonkers and the newly made is often quite fuzzy but in this instance Parrot embraces both qualities.

Edmund Spenser

Constantly seeking to ‘overgo’ his predecessors and his peers, Spenser’s Shephearde’s Calendar and The Faerie Queene are both massive innovative with pre-existent genres and themes. For FQ Spenser devised his own form of stanza and laid the foundations upon which Paradise Lost was built. The Mutabilities Cantos are the first poems to do serious philosophy properly.

John Milton

Paradise Lost doesn’t rhyme, God plays a major role in the narrative. God is quite grumpy. It’s very clever on timing and astronomy. The first realistic portrait of evil in any language. There can’t be any argument, can there?

Andrew Marvell

Marvell wasn’t on this list until I re-read Upon Appleton House which may contain the most abstract lines of the 17th century. An Horatian Ode can also be read as an innovative (as well as masterful) use of ambiguity.

Robert Browning.

Sordello

Ezra Pound.

Infuriating, inconsistent, wilfully provocative and rabidly anti-semitic. All of these but without him we wouldn’t be doing most of the things we do now.

David Jones.

One of the finest poets of the 20th century, both In Parenthesis and The Anathemata make it radically new in terms of theme and ‘voice’.

Charles Olson.

I’ve only read The Maximus Letters and the letters to Creeley but I can confirm Maximus asa magnificent exploration of time and place and the many relationships therein. Some have disparaged Olson as ‘sub-Poundian’ but these are the ones who haven’t paid him sufficient attention.

Paul Celan.

Celan’s work after 1960 cut new ground as he continued to engage with the German language and his cultural past. A Holocaust survivor, Celan was constantly finding new ways to express what had happened to the Jewish People and to bear witness to the unimaginable trials of the dead.

Charles Reznikoff.

Nothing at all like him before or since. Testimony marks one of the great ruptures with the literary past.

Allen Ginsberg.

For writing the poem that defined a generation and a half. The political poem of the 20th century in a voice that was radically new and massively influential.

Geoffrey Hill.

A borderline case- see above. Am now in the process of re-reading in an attempt to decide on Mercian Hymns and Triumph. Will try not to dither.

J H Prynne

A constant innovator over the last forty years whilst (only just) managing to stay within the Late Modernist vein. Prynne’s uncompromising engagement with language has led others to denigrate his apparent obscurity. His work does resist a straightforward, conventional reading, but that’s partly the point.

Simon Jarvis

Just looking at a copy of Dionysus Crucified will give some hint as to Jarvis rejection of the norm and his intention to push the limits in quite surprising ways. Both The Unconditional and Night Office are defiantly metrical and the latter rhymes throughout. Some might complain that a revival of Pope’s intent and method isn’t making things anew but it certainly is in our current context/culture. Incidentally, his reading of Dionysus with Justin Katko is a stunning example of innovation with two voices.

John Bloomberg-Rissman.

The In the House of the Hangman project is a huge, dark mirror that speaks for the way that life is or appears be in the present. Bloomberg-Rissman’s daily furtle (technical term) through the interweb brings together an entirely new means of expression. It’s also quite monstrous in scope and ambition.

Vanessa Place.

Place is either staggeringly good or disappointingly average. Her Tragodia and her Full Audio Transcripts are an important and strategic intervention in the current malaise that is the Poetry Business. The work is like nothing before it and points to where the future might be.

Keston Sutherland.

Is an innovator for introducing Black Beauty into a very serious work about the murderously idiotic fiasco in Iraq and for writing with such disturbing honesty about his sexual desires and experiences as a child. I’m not entirely certain that these two make him an innovator per se but I’d never come across anything like either of the above before.

Jonty Tiplady

Some of us are of the view that Jonty represents/embodies the future of English poetry in his readiness to use other media and to take full advantage of the interweb in a complex dance of innovation and repression. Trillionaires.

Claudius App Fortnight: Jonty Tiplady’s revelous words

First of all, a heartfelt apology to Jonty in particular and readers in general. I’ve now re-read the post on Nympholepsy and realise that it was full of typos and mistakes that rendered the prose less than readable. Sorry, think it’s now fixed.

Last time I concentrated on the first few lines of Nympholepsy and referred to ‘an ongoing revelry in language’ and I’ve since spent some time wondering what I might mean. The obvious meaning is that there’s a celebration going on that involves an active demonstration of what words can do. As I wrote last time, this doesn’t need to be ‘deep’ or portentous and Nympholepsy demonstrates what can be achieved with word play. This is a term that is often thrown around with regard to What Poets Do and covers a multitude of devices and conceits. Readers draw attention to the puns and homonyms in Prynne’s work and the neologisms and compound nouns used by Celan, on another level John Matthias demonstrates how meanings can be extended and improvised around. I’m very fond of these and use more than a few in my own prose and poetry but the word play bag of tricks doesn’t encapsulate this aspect of the Tiplady Project at work. Rather than explain, I’m going to try and demonstrate what I mean by paying attention to a few aspects of the poem that are particularly revelous:

The rain puzzled streets fell / off and drank zeros all the way home

The description of the streets is what we expect from poets, a pleasing juxtaposition of the patterns caused by the rain and the additional suggestion that the streets are perplexed by rainfall. It is how this continues that is striking – the drinking of the zeros followed by the nursery rhyme quote is clever, startling (Prynne term) and playful all at once especially when it may be Veronique’s eyes that are doing the drinking. I am trying to avoid getting down with meanings here but to ‘drink in’ is to absorb or take to oneself and zeros usually relate to absence or emptiness.

Jena said to me in ten / concurrent zones of delicious tonal alarm,

Zones of tonal alarm doesn’t make sense. Tonal alarm just about makes sense but the above is salvaged and becomes revelous by the use of these particular adjectives. Perhaps we need to foreground (appalling verb, will try not to use it again) Jena’s declaration which I’m taking as a declaration of love or affection as in: ‘you are everything to me’. So, concurrent zones signals something quite loud and concentrated occurring across different areas which sounds quite scarily foreboding and this is tempered by the second adjective which suggest that these dangerous words might also be quite enticing. The adjectives are unexpected, playful but at the same time add depth to what’s being said.

Umpteenth normcore / relapse in fated prosopognasia cinch.

Okay, confession time. Up until about 15 minutes ago, I didn’t know what prosopographia was and I assumed that this normcore was a Tiplady riff on the hard/soft/dumb varieties. It turns out that knowing the meaning only adds to the boisterous revelry in these two lines:

The description of the form or personal appearance of an individual; an instance of this

Which helps with the invented conjunction with ‘nasia’ which is almost too playfully clever for my small brain. In addition it turns out that my assumption was completely and utterly wrong. Normcore is one of the latest fashion trends which started in New York as a reaction to the hipster ‘look’ that is popular with so many of our cool young things. I’m reasonably au fait with most things hipster because my children have taken turns to tell me how and why the hipster thing is utterly naff. So an ‘umpteenth normcore / relapse’ is revelous because it’s witty and inventive and ‘umpteenth’ gives it a quite specific colloquial edge.

Briefish digression. Poetry should be much more concerned with things that it affects to despise. This is especially the case in the areas of fashion and celebrity. Fashion is worthy of attention because it manages to permeate and manipulate our sense of self. Trend refusniks like me would shun the thought that we’re concerned with how we look yet I am very careful in choosing what I buy to wear because I’d rather it went against the flow in a big way. So, I am involved in fashion and I have more than a little empathy with normcore even if it is characterised by “sports socks, high waisted trousers and beanies“.

I was going to suggest that ‘cinch’ is a colloquialism too far and then thought about it and decided that it’s a risk but a risk worth taking. This adds another dimension to the revelous, that of adventure, that of improvisation and risk-taking at the word-party.

X.

I’ve said before that celebrity is endlessly fascinating both as a range of phenomena and the language / tropes that are used. Its global popularity and quite abstract and convoluted relationship with the media exemplify the ways in which late capital tries to make life bearable for us poor and huddled masses. Jonty has always been one of the most astute users of popular culture to make this and a number of other points. Part X brings this to the fore making use of actors, a recently dead celebrity, characters from tv series, an album title and a German film about the decline of a film actress all of which are mixed in with a meditation on the writing process and the poet’s relationship to his work as well an ambition to ‘go live’ on a video sharing platform with a French 19th century socialist. The revelous elements here are:

  • go to the sky class and sing love;
  • the inevitable fact / of tardive social-mediacratic denial;
  • batshit amazing / like a primal God wank in social hieroglyphic /restraint;
  • foppish brain stem crying among all the twigs;
  • the painstaking thrum of the anti / twerking point of no return;
  • avoiding the smug / Canteen, coming down from the summit / of staying put;
  • morally daytime is weakly ecstatic;
  • bee slices the tentacles / And will see me though.

To conclude, I hope I’ve shown what the revelous poem might be and why we need many more of them in the radical English poetic.

Claudius App Fortnight: Jonty Tiplady’s Nympholepsy

Dear Claudius App,

I’ve said this before but the ‘design’ thing is getting more sixth form with each issue. If the attention is to annoy then I’m annoyed. Stop it.

Over these six issues CA has put out some of the best work currently being produced in the UK. I can’t make the same claim for the US because I don’t know enough of what’s going on there but it has supported most of the British poets that I read. With the above caveat re the pain involved in getting to the material, CA is therefore a Very Good Thing.

One of the best things that it does is to support and promote the work of Jonty Tiplady who continues to build an impressive and important body of work. I’ve said this before but Jonty’s poetry, more so than his contemporaries, is an acquired taste, it took me a while to work out what the Tiplady project might be about but now I find it completely absorbing. It’s important because of the strength therein and because it presents a unique strand of thought and practice in the current UK ‘scene’.

Jonty’s work has featured in CA before now and I wrote about it at the time but there are four new poems in CA 6 that deserve some quite detailed attention. There are also two new sonnets and a one act play but, because this is CA fortnight, I’ll leave these until later in the year.

With regard to this latest group of poems, I’ve said before that the British male isn’t very good about expressing/evoking desire, we have little or no understanding of female desire and alternate between been scared and mystified by our own. This is evident in most aspects of male-dominated British culture, the self-repressing stiff upper lip lives on throughout these shores. This is certainly true of my generation of baby boomers no matter how comfortable we claim to be with the ‘d’ word. Thankfully, it is less true of my children’s generation, across the whole spectrum of orientations and this is beginning to be seen in the work of Timothy Thornton, Keston Sutherland and a few others. This is a Very Good Thing even if some of us find it quite uncomfortable and disturbing.

We now come to the Tiplady project which consists of making a poetic that is equally playful and serious to build poems that are wonderfully and pointfully astute. The playfulness consists of the lyrical tone, some absurdist phrases and elements of popular culture. I’ll look at the three printed poems first:

Nympholepsy

The first 2.5 lines seem reasonably secure in the late modern strand and then we get these fish eyes and putschy eyes. In the interests of research I have consulted the relevant works and found that there is no such word as ‘putschy’. If this is an adjective relating to putsch then I am reliably informed that the correct word is ‘putchist’ or thereabouts. A putsch is the violent overthrow of a government in order to effect some kind of political change which, when used to describe Veronique’s eyes, doesn’t make any kind of sense. Does it?

The other thing to note in these opening lines is the playing with ‘way’. When we talk of the ‘way of the world’ we are usually referring (with an air of resignation) of how things are done in contemporary life, it may also be a quote from Paul Celan. The next sentence starts with ‘deny away’ which can have several meanings but probably means denying the truth of some assertion in this instance. The third ‘way’ is ‘all the way home’ which is a phrase from a child’s nursery rhyme. The ‘way’ of the last line probably refers to ‘method’.

The use of ‘putschy’ was the kind of device that got in the way of me grasping the nature of what Jonty might be about. Now, I don’t pretend to have either a full or definitive understanding of what’s going on but it appears to me that the deployment of ‘putschy’ isn’t an attempt to be ‘deep’ or clever but is an element in the ongoing revelry in language. The ‘point’ is that what we think of as serious or portentous is being given a playful kick in the teeth.

Read in this way, ‘clucky environs’ is really Very Good Indeed (I’m overly fond of the c word as a term of lit crit). The Hollywood image is both astute and witty, succinctly pointing out the futility of the current film industry struggle to deny the existence of the interweb.

This ‘giving breath to the shyness of a rainbow’ is worthy of some attention. The gift of breath can stand for resuscitation but also to blow out a flame or to play a musical instrument, however none of these normally apply to a rainbow and rainbows are not usually given human characteristics. Shyness might refer to the infrequency of rainbows appearing of the whole set of folk myths about the end of the rainbow and what lies there. It’s probably as well to recognise that it is the shyness rather than the celestial illusion that is being referred to. Readers will be pleased to I’ve done further research on this singing orange and have discovered that a sang is an old unit of Tibetan currency. The popular image of Tibet and Tibetans is of Buddhist monks in their orange robes so this gifted fruit could be a gift of a sang coin or note.

I’ve devoted more words than usual to these opening lines because I wanted to try and give some idea of the number of shifting, sliding things that take place throughout the sequence. Reading through the rest of Nympholepsy it becomes apparent that this is a love poem that, amongst many other things, expresses how male desire might be in the somewhat dismal ‘now’ of 2014. Incidentally, I’ve had to look up the female names most of which (apparently) relate to fictional figures in film and tv series. I’ve also discovered that a nkondi is a (usually) nail studded effigy that is used by the Kongo people to hunt down and harm bad people. I do, however know who Roland Barthes is and the manner of his death.

I now realise that I’ll need to return to this tomorrow before proceeding to the other delights that Claudius App 5 and 6 have to offer.

Jonty Tiplady and Sooty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defining literary poetry and its (contested) place

Last week I referred to Neal Pattison describing the English Intelligencer as having an ‘underdeveloped salience for our understanding of the contested place and role of literary poetry in the culture of contemporary modernity’ which seems the sort of thing an editor would say- especially if we read ‘salience’ as a typo for ‘sapience’. I was going to do something big and bold about the nature of the contest(s) but then I realised that I don’t actually know what a ‘literary’ poem is.

‘Literary’ could refer to poems that aspire to the status of literature but this merely shifts the problem. It could also mean poems that use recognised and established forms or perhaps poems with ‘serious’ themes but then we get into deciding what is serious and what isn’t. Then there’s the attention divide by which (following Keston Sutherland) the difference between those poems that can be grasped or understood on a first reading and those that require additional attention. A further troubling thought occurs to me- could the literary poem have the same status as the literary novel? This is troubling that particular label is now a marketing device rather than having anything much to do with content.

Then there is the individual poet, are Prynne and Hill literary poets and, if so, why? Can the same be said of Paul Muldoon, John Ashbery or Kenneth Goldsmith?

The final and equally troubling doubt that occurs to me is that the literary poem may be the one that includes;

  • foreign words and phrases;
  • references to obscure figures;
  • references and allusions that aren’t ‘signalled’ as such;
  • unusual syntax
  • words that the OED consider to be obscure and/or archaic;
  • words where a secondary and much less well-known meaning is intended;
  • what J H Prnne has described as ‘radical ambiguity.

Are these the characteristics that I’m looking for? Can it be the case that literary actually simply means difficult?

Then there’s the possibility that literary poetry is that which gets reviewed in the three main lit comics, in which case words like ‘dismal’ and ‘vanishingly mediocre’ spring to mind.

Given that I am blessed with impeccable readerly taste, there is the argument that literary refers to the stuff that I like although this doesn’t stand up because Eliot clearly intended ‘The Four Quartets’ to qualify as literature and it does seem to be viewed in this way by the majority even though I really don’t like it. It could be argued that the literary is a fickle beast and that it moves about as tastes and academic trends change. This may be so but I am prepared to bet a fair amount of cash on the chances of Becket and Celan being consistently though of in this way for the next couple of centuries.

<before thinking about contemporary poets, it is probably as well to see if the OED offers any kind of help:

  • of or relating to the writing, study, or content of literature, esp. of the kind valued for quality of form; of the nature of literature. Also in early use: relating to letters or learning;
  • of or relating to the letters of the alphabet, or (occas.) another set of letters or symbols used as an alphabet;
  • that is communicated or conducted by correspondence by letter; epistolary;
  • of a person or group: engaged in the writing or critical appreciation of works of literature; having a thorough knowledge of literature; spec. engaged in literature as a profession;
  • of language: having characteristics associated with works of literature or other formal writing; refined, elegant;
  • appearing in literature or books; fictional;
  • Of the visual arts, music, etc.: concerned with depicting or representing a story or other literary work; that refers or relates to a text; that creates a complex or finely crafted narrative like that of a work of literature.

Incidentally, the Oxford Historical Thesaurus provides ‘staffly’ and ‘bookish’ as alternatives and I’m becoming fond of both. Leaving out the ‘literature’ tautologies, it is possible to tease out a few revealing adjectives- refined, elegant, thoroughly knowledgeable, complex and finely crafted. The astute amongst you will note that there is nothing here about being aesthetically pleasing or deeply meaningful, indeed it could be argued that the literary poem is far more about form than content and that (by these standards) Elizabeth Bishop is the literary poet par excellence.

British poets that write in a late modernist vein have an odd relationship with the literary because (in my head) the one defining characteristic is seriousness or gravitas and some of the finest pieces of this kind of poetry gets its strength from its lack of refinement and inelegance. Most of it does fit with complex and knowledgeable but there are strong late modernist poems that aren’t finely crafted.

The conceptualists present a different kind of challenge, Kenneth Goldsmith’s verbatim transcripts of traffic and weather reports and sports commentary don’t in themselves meet any of the above criteria, indeed part of their ‘point’ is there immense banality but Goldsmith and others would argue that the idea (concept) can be judged in those terms even though this view is still considered heretical in some circles because it is ‘about’ neither form nor content in the traditional sense.

The final point of these ruminations relates to groups, are the ‘Movement’ poets, the ‘Beats’ and members of the Cambridge School literary simply because these groupings have achieved a certain academic recognition? Does this kind of recognition or label now constitute the literary?

Thinking about the younger generation of British poets, the work of Timothy Thornton strikes me as the one that best meets the above criteria, that ‘Jocund Day’ and ‘Trails’ may also embody the lyricism that the literary also entails for me. At the other end of the spectrum, Jonny Liron seems to be intent on destroying the literary in a very complex and thoughtful way, as is Jonty Tiplady.

J H Prynne’s vow to collide head-on with the unwitty circus that was and is the literary establishment would require us to look at his work as anti-literary but it is too complex, refined and knowledgeable for that. Geoffrey Hill is more clearly writing in a literary manner and yet makes use of weak jokes and imitations of stand-up comedians in his finest work. John Ashbery’ work is refined and elegant, sounds complex and knowledgeable and is loved by the literary comics- the only problem is that most of it is emptily meaningless and the poems that aren’t are the ones that attack the idea of meaning.

With regard to David Jones, ‘In Parenthesis’ can be said to be more literary than ‘The Anathemata’ because it has a better elegance/complexity balance but ‘The Anathemata’ is the better poem.

A final thought, Neil Pattison writes literary poetry that meets all of these criteria whilst managing to remain firmly in the late modernist (Cambridge faction) vein.

This may not have been a very productive line of inquiry but it has narrowed the ground for thinking in the near future about whether this material actually has any kind of ‘role’ or place in cultural modernity and whether reading ‘Certain Prose of the English Intelligencer’ does move us forward as Neil claims.

The Archive of the Now- listening to poetry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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