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:
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.