Tag Archives: arduity

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?

Finding fault with poetry

There’s an interesting post on Bookslut today pointing out that reading poetry is a kind of theft in that most of us read in order to pilfer more tricks of the trade from those that we admire. This is perfectly true but there are several other dimensions worthy of consideration- we use poetry as a measure of our own abilities, the first question I have (before getting to the theft) is- could I do this any better? Being arrogant about my own abilities, I tend to lose interest if the answer to this is ‘probably’. If the answer is ‘no’ then I’ll look for what I can steal but in some cases I come across stuff that is simply out of my reach and any kind of theft would result in very poor imitation. There are passages in Olson and Matthias that are very skilled but also incredibly subtle and I simply don’t have (and never will have) that degree of skill/ability.
When reading we also look for fault, the stuff we wouldn’t have put in and the stuff we would express in a different way. This doesn’t normally detract from our pleasure in the work but does at least confirm our readerly independence.
I’ve been giving this some thought since Vance’s reply the other day and realised that I’ve made criticisms of bits that are clunky and bits that I don’t think ‘work’ in that I would have found ways to do them differently.
The first poem that epitomises the ‘brilliant but flawed’ issue is Geoffrey Hill’s ‘Triumph of Love’ which must stand as one of the finest poems of the last twenty years. I can see the point of the Frankie Howerd imitation, the theological obscurities but I do question whether the direct address to the critics is useful- he’s good enough to ignore those who wish to snipe. The other reservation is the repetition of poetry as “a sad and angry consolation”, as readers we don’t need to be told that it’s a beautiful phrase, nor should it be re-stated twice over three lines. This isn’t to detract from the staggering quality of the poem but just to point out that I wouldn’t have done it in this way.
Now we come to ‘The Orchards of Syon’ and my feelings about Paul Celan. I am of the view that Celan is the most important poet of the 20th century and that his work shouldn’t be messed around with. I recognise that I am very biased about this and should perhaps exercise more tolerance to others who are careless with his legacy. ‘The Orchards of Syon’ contains several attempts to translate ‘Atemwende’, a term Celan used in the Meridian Address and as the title of his most important collection. These attempts ‘feel’ gratuitous to the poem and none of them seem to be saying anything of worth.
Poem LIII is ostensibly addressed to Ingeborg Bachman who was Celan’s girl friend when he lived in Vienna. It contains the following lines:

I think I prefer you without makeup

as I suspect Celan did also.

I’m less sure of the plump Italian; he

loved young Jewish women – Irma Brandeis,

Dora Markus, but moved on, to Opera,

which could have brought you together……

I cannot see what this is doing in the sequence, nor can I work out the relevance 0f Celan’s taste in women to Hill’s overall thrust. I’m surprised by how strongly I feel about this but again it isn’t something that I would’ve done.

I’ve spent some time on this blog finding fault with Keston Sutherland, this isn’t because I think he’s a bad poet (‘Stress Position’ is another of the best poems in the last twenty years) but there are times when I feel he lets himself down. ‘Sonnet 18’s attack on middle class guilt is simplistic and not particularly useful, the line ‘cruising for a bruxism’ from ‘Stress Position’ doesn’t work and the Derrida quip from the same poem still reads like a triumph of form over content.

I used to feel the  same about the Lenny Henry footnote in ‘Hot White Andy’ but writing on annotation  for Arduity has made me reconsider. My jury is still out on the footnotes to ‘Stress Position’.

With regard to Prynne, the fragmented and rearranged lines in the ‘Word Order’ sequence seem a bit forced. I do recognise that I have a long way to go with Prynne and am thus not really in a position to judge but this kind of improvisation does strike me as a bit inept.

Moving on to Charles Olson, my first and second readings led me to feel that there was too much stuff about myth and that the experiments with the flow of text detracted from the ‘Maximus’ sequence. I’m now on my fourth reading and (having read David Jones) my view has changed. In fact, I find it really hard to find fault with any of this great work. I remain in awe of how Olson makes doing difficult things seem quite easy and natural.

So, those of us who write the occasional line of verse steal from those who are better than us but we also learn what we aren’t able to do and what we don’t think should be done. Then some of us feel the need to write about these findings to see if others feel the same……

Clarifying difficult poetry- a plea

Regular readers will know that I’ve started a project (Arduity) which is aimed at helping non-academic readers to get to grips with difficult poetry. The support that I’ve received thus far together with promises of contributions has been very heartening but I’m at one of those crossroad moments where I don’t know how to proceed. This is unusual for me because my usual tendency is to carry on in all directions in the hope that something will eventually become clear.
This particular problem relates to having too many choices and being aware that whichever choice I make now will remain fixed for the life of the project. I know this to be the case because the choices which we made (and regretted) in my last business project remained fixed and unalterable for ten years.
I think the aim of this thing is relatively straightforward, it’s about removing some of the barriers that currently surround difficult verse and encouraging readers to provide their own responses to poets and/or their work. To this end I have begun work on a web site and have put a few pages on a wiki and also there is some of the material on this blog that can be re-used.
The advantages of using a wiki are two-fold, site users can create and display content without any mediation and those who wish to comment or add content can also do the same. The problem with this is that anyone can put non-relevant or abusive material on the wiki because there is no mediation. I’m also concerned about spam, this blog has received over 800 spam postings compared with 165 legitimate comments over the last 18 months.
The advantages of an old-fashioned site are retaining two kinds of control, I can control the content and the stats package gives me the ability to configure pages and content in order to increase the number of page views. This blog gives me the same level of control but I don’t get access to a full set of stats.
So, I’m currently thinking of a blend of all three-

  • The wiki would be used for contributions/responses to poems and poets
  • The web site would be used to provide baseline information
  • the blog would be used to develop ideas and for me to think out loud

This all made sense for most of last week when I started to dither which isn’t good because I’ve got more content and I need to put it somewhere. The other options are to just run with one or two of the above. I’m painfully aware that I know next to nothing about information architecture and even less about getting the balance between ‘fixed’ and user created content right so if anyone has any useful suggestions then I’d be very grateful

Paying attention to poetry

I’ve quoted Keston Sutherland on arduity about what reading serious or difficult work might entail. He claims that paying serious intention involves “staking an intimacy on the work of interpretation” and I quoted him because I thought that he was right.

On reflection and thinking about my own reading practice, I don’t think ‘intimacy’ is adequate and could be misleading. In preparation for a re-write of the arduity page I’ve come up with the following components of my practice-

  1. Evaluation. I’m not going to waste my time with stuff that isn’t any good so I scan the work to see if its subject(s) is going to hold my interest and to see if there are any lines that I wish I’d written. This second factor is usually crucial, I don’t need to understand the line but I do need to be impressed by it.
  2. Reading. This involves reading the poem four or five times to gain a foothold as to what it may be about. I’m not committing to interpretive work at this stage but again evaluating whether this is worth my while. It’s a this stage that I stop if I feel that the poem is dishonest.
  3. Interpretation. This involves work and usually entails me pouring most of what I know (or think I know) into working out what’s going on. This is an intellectual exercise that involves a great deal of mental effort but it doesn’t feel particularly intimate. There are some passages that speak to my personal experience and these are intimate in that they remind me of things that I try not to think about but these are usually identified in the reading stage.
  4. Re-reading and analysis. Once I’ve done the work of interpretation I re-read the poem several times and try and work out how it’s put together and the poet’s motivation for structuring it in that way. There are some poems that I re-read all the time both because it’s pleasurable and enriching to do so but also to try and work out how certain ‘effects’ are achieved.

So, the work of interpretation does involve throwing most of yourself at a poem but I don’t think that it’s just about intimacy. There’s also the element of testing yourself to see if you’re up to the task whilst evaluating whether or not the effort is worthwhile. I’m currently hovering on the brink of giving up on Simon Jarvis because I don’t think I’m up to the task.

On reflection I think I’d go with ‘immersion’ because I think that more accurately reflects what I think I do.

Any other suggestions?