Emily Critchley, 5 Poems on Blart 2

As with Amy De’Ath, I’ve been intending to write about Emily Critchley since reading the remarkable ‘For Susanna Gardner’ in the first issue of the Cambridge Literary Review in 2009. I’ve also wanted to argue with her about her thoughts on Vanessa Place (published in a later issue of the same comic) primarily because hers is not the Vanessa Place that I have in my head.

My recent discovery of the Blart magazine site and the inclusion of five of Critchley’s poems in issue two has prompted what follows. I also have to point out that both issues of Blart contain really good stuff and that the brilliant Sarah Kelly is in the second issue. The other observation is that navigation is much, much more user friendly than that deployed on The Caludius App although it is still quite annoying in full screen mode.

This was going to be called ‘Emily Critchley’s ambivalent use of the exclamation mark’ but I’ve decided that yesterday’s tulip headline is enough eccentricity for this week. Instead I’m going to talk about voice and range because both are quite distinctive and striking.

I know that there’s loads of Critchley’s stuff all over the web but I want to focus on these five because they seem to indicate the direction of travel. Starting with ‘voice’, which is used here to indicate a mix of persona and intensity, the first thing that needs to be said is that this is very clever and involving stuff that manages the difficult Charles Olsen / John Matthias art of appearing relaxed whilst doing some quite strenuous things. One of the most obvious examples of this is the first stanza of the ‘Cambridge L=O=V=E Poem’ which manages to say startling things about sex/desire and poetry at the same time and ends with the remarkable ‘just most isn’t’. There’s also this very skilled language use that threatens to slide into late modern unintelligibility but just about manages to hold sense together. I always worry about this kind of thing because it’s easy to do it badly but all of these are really coherent and skilled:

  • sit across / different isobars frm each / other;
  • for what / fucking point isn’t;
  • Sing into our fishhearts / littel remedies;
  • Curve that roughly / her chiseled jaw;
  • I doubt even a stag / can fawn past intellection;
  • The playing distance rules;
  • The full measure Melismatic / Countenance / Of good tasting / Or locate your gills / You will be ever more & so / Where citadels coat wax and / We are burnt licking of that;
  • Yre that fish outside fluid / all in a happy torture soup.

In the interests of brevity I have omitted some examples but I think these make the point about language that is careful not to make sense but to create an (and I’m struggling here) impression of sense or coherence. This inhabits a different planet from the faux artlessness of Amy De’ath’s work, this seems like it’s steeped in the poetry of the last ninety years, a kind of hyper-modern modernism with great lyrical strength.

I’d like to talk about the puns prior to the punctuation marks, I’ve decided that I don’t like puns in poetry because they’re usually deeply unfunny and tend to detract from what’s being said. I know that this is a minority view but I do wish poets would stop it and get on with writing poems rather than word games. The puns here are not as bad as those in ‘Kazoo Daydreams’ but they are bad, stags fawning past intellection may be both skilled and intelligent but it’s still a pun. I know that being against puns flies in the face of at least 3000 years of poetic tradition but it does seem like a sixth form tradition rather than one for rational adults. Doesn’t it?

We now move on to emphasis, mock emphasis and ironic emphasis. The first three poems here appear to do emphasis in three different ways: the exclamation mark; the italic and the block capital. The prolific use of exclamation marks isn’t usually done in the contemporary / late modern / innovative poem because it is usually (and correctly) considered to be naff / unpoetic / weak. In fact, I can only bring to mind Neruda’s poem about the blood in the streets as an example of appropriate usage.

Closer examination of these three poems reveals that there might be more going on than straightforward emphasis. ‘Cambridge L=O=V=E poem’ contains all three forms of emphasis although the use of block capitals for ‘love’ as well as being more than a nod to New York might also be a hint at what else is going on. The single exclamation mark occurs at the end of the oddest and most awkward phrase in the poem whereas the italicised words are used in much more normal / direct phrases although the emphasis applies to different elements in each. I’m not well enough read to know who Jasmine Rosenbloom might be but I’m guessing that love with equal signs is some kind of riff on New York’s language school- hence the use of Cambridge in the title.

The single exclamation mark in ‘Precept upon Precept’ is much more sensible, adding additional strength to the dramatic introduction (which might also carry echoes of the 17th century cry ‘Bring out your dead’ during outbreaks of plague) of the poet’s successor.

Looking again at ‘The conception of the event after the event runs slowly thru the cloud cover’ I realise that I omitted the bold type emphasis probably because this is used in conjunction with exclamation marks which raises the question of whether bold type increases emphasis or is being used to give a different kind of exclamation and whether or not two exclamation marks would have had the same effect. I’m taking ‘right’ to mean factually correct or as in starting something and ‘wrong’ to mean factually incorrect although there are many other definitions which may also be implied. I have to say that I really like this poem because of its verve, confidence and general wit (in the 16th century usage). The section / stanza / part that ends in the non-sexiness of ambivalence is exuberantly LOVABLE.

I’m also personally fond of ‘Nothing about love’ because it ends really well, it fact its end is so good that I’m prepared to overlook and get past the duct tape conceit in the first line and the repetition of ‘fucking hutrs’ which would be good (lucid) if it didn’t rely on the ‘F’ word.

I know nothing at all about Eleni Sikelianos and therefore can’t really comment on the last poem although ‘fucking dumb’ isn’t terribly impressive at the moment.

I’ll finish with a brief note on range, there’s this really impressive glide from micro to macro going on moving from the personal to the public and with a willingness to really push the innovate button to GOOD EFFECT!

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