J H Prynne in Paris

(Incidentally, further thoughts on Sutherland’s second Ode TL61P are now on arduity)

This is a bit of a revelation – film of Prynne reading nearly all of ‘To Pollen’ and ‘Refuse Collection’ in Paris in 2009 together with Pierre Alferi reading his translation of ‘Pearls that Were’. Given the reservations that Prynne expressed in ‘Mental Ears’ (and alluded to here), I’m reluctant to claim any staggering new insights but I do want to note the following:

  • Prynne reads very clearly and the sound quality is excellent- this contrasts somewhat with the ‘Prynne in China’ dvd;
  • He makes an interesting comment about the difficulties involved in following the more direct approach adopted in ‘Refuse Collection’;
  • his phrasing allows me to put some of the commas back into ‘To Pollen’;
  • he makes slight changes to some of the words and leaves out the penultimate poem in the ‘To Pollen’ collection;
  • he plays music to the audience before reading, soothing lyrical music which is in total contrast to the angry polemic of the verse;
  • he taps his foot as he reads, the camera pans down to capture this.
  • watching and listening to him read (on this occasion) has enhanced my appreciation of both poems.

The changes made to words in the text may be minor and some may be attributed to mis-reading but I’m not comfortable with the fact that these alternatives have been placed in my head, adding a further dimension to pay attention to.  The other question that needs to be asked is whether the penultimate poem was omitted on purpose or whether this was done in error. My only quibble  is the annoying layout of the page, it took me a little while to realise that each of the four segments could be accessed by means of the slide bar on the left side of the screen and a further few minutes to realise that the segment could be paused by clicking on the screen.

I also want to try and describe the experience of listening to a reading of ‘To Pollen’ with the words in front of me. I’ve had this tome since December 2009 and initially engaged with it enthusiastically, there are two posts on this blog expressing this enthusiasm and my own vanity in working some bits out.  I then became distracted by the awesome (in every sense) austerity of ‘Streak~~Willing~~Entourage~~Artesian’ and have given ‘To Pollen’ a bit of a rest. As a result of this reading, I’m now fully immersed in the multi-dimensional aspects of the work and am now of the view that it might be better (ie more satisfying) than either ‘Streak’ or ‘Unanswering Rational Shore’ because the experience of hearing the words read ina professional manner has added greater depth to my appreciation (as opposed to my understanding which is still fairly tenuous). This reading and listening activity is proving oddly addictive and pleasurable, it feels like I’m in the presence of something quite important rather than’just’ listening to a poem.

I can’t pass judgement on the French translations that are also read but I’m sure that they’ll provide a feast for those who are more fluent than me.

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4 responses to “J H Prynne in Paris

  1. ”an atrocity without parallel”! There’s quite a number that spring to mind…in China and Iran now and in the past, in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, germany under Hitler, Russia under Lenin and Stalin, the list goes on and on.

    • I know exactly what you mean, there was a coterie of poets (Bonney, Prynne, Sutherland, Wilkinson) that seemed to be especially outraged about this one- my view is that this may be because of the photos and the readiness of the media to report it.
      It’s really difficult for me to ‘rank’ one atrocity above another and I’m not convinced that Prynne makes a convincing case for doing so. Having said that, Refuse Collection is a remarkable poem- one of the best pieces of polemic that I’ve ever read.

  2. I was happy to read your last bullet point” watching and listening to him read (on this occasion) has enhanced my appreciation of both poems.”
    Even after he warned me (us) that “When an audience hears reading of work in the poet’s own voice they believe so readily that some special insight has been communicated to them because the poet’s voice is authentic and true and inward and so the whole mystery of the poem is presented directly to the ear of the audience. This belief is completely false; in my impression, totally misguided, misleading, untrue and false”….. I felt after watching the film a strange affinity for the poetry – and the poet – I had not experienced in either my readings of his poems or in watching the “China” video. Perhaps it was the subject matter and the great power to convey it that he possesses in reading which made me think I now know more than I did before. In any case, thanks for your own insights which are a pleasure to read.

    • Thanks for this, I don’t think it’s altogether incompatible with Prynne’s view to derive more pleasure/affinity from a poem when hearing it read properly- although I still want to know why he missed one out, this being a pragmatic question rather than any quest for authenticity.

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