Tag Archives: casebook

The World According to Francesca Lisette

I wrote last October extolling Lisette as one of the finest younger poets writing at the moment and I’ve now bought ‘Teens’ from Mountain Press which collects most of her stuff in one place. A fortnight ago I read something about Julian Barnes in one of the lit. comics which ventured the view that the English literary novel can be read as a series of disappointingly rainy afternoons. It might not have said that but that’s what I wanted it to say. Since then I’ve been overly occupied thinking about the world of the innovative English poem and this has revealed that this line of thought ‘works’ with regard to some individual poets but not with others and the reason for this split isn’t altogether clear.

Francesca Lisette’s work does (for this reader any way) contain a defined world and I’d like to spend some time thinking about what this might look like. I’d also like to stress that this isn’t about ‘themes’ in that it’s not so much what people write about or even the way that they write but much more about the place that they write from which in turn isn’t about influences or personal background. Before getting myself into deeper abstraction, I’ll proceed by example.

Just as the literary English novel comes from a world of bourgeois disappointment and rain in the afternoon, Lisette’s work can be thought of as coming from the body or bodies. I’ve said before that Lisette’s tone is of ragged defiance and there’s more than a little of this in the way that bodies are in the work. Although Lisette’s poetry is both dense and oblique (withdrawn) these bodies bring something tangible to the readerly experience which works in a number of ways. This is from ‘Cite College Remix’:

  exudes a velveteen primp icon
nesting in teeth and tongue. frilly gangblast
rocks censored gash: rhododendron witness
twitters off kerbline, covers for a threaded agent
not allowing crystal layby
scoop organ mesh.
no matter how much blue
tears //into the jargon that sleeps in your body

(Lisette doesn’t do capital letters at the start of a sentence, she does full stops but not capitals)

I think it’s entirely reasonable to assume that this is not a poem about bodies but that the body and body parts are used as a kind of grounding, as a counter to the juxtaposed abstraction that makes up the poem’s subject(s).

By way of further illustration these extracts are from ‘Preface’

        educated hordes sustain a wiped gob
- corn, grated in th'umbrous bowels


    mirror sips flesh atop the pale flight of stairs

‘Preface isn’t a poem ‘about’ bodies but it might be a poem that makes use of the flesh and fleshy things as an undercurrent. Incidentally, I’d much prefer it if ‘umbrous’ had this definition from 1481 “He was umbrouse or shadewous, that is to saye he was colde and refrigerat fro all concupyscence of the flesshe” which seems much more fitting than its primary definition.

There are very few poems in this collection that don’t have bodies or bits of bodies in them and this brings me to think about the place that this stuff might come from. It occurs to me that young children have an unfettered and uninhibited interest in their own bodies until what we call socialisation and this ‘fits’ more than the obvious butcher / operating table / morgue places. I don’t however think this childish place is altogether happy, there’s too much violence in the work for that.

I now want to turn to the use of ‘ash’. I’m of the view that this is a word that needs to be treated with immense care in the wake of Celan’s ‘Aschenglorie’. This might be a personal foible but I can make a case for that poem’s insistence on care and precision. This is from ‘What Continues’-

all festooned where half-fashioned
rooves have crept: mantra dies off
in the bed of living up we rose
caulked and feckless,

brimming over with ash we die
and knit itches into permanence
bloody hurricane fighting brow
vacantly suck.

Before proceeding, I want to note the brilliance of ‘caulked and feckless’ which must rank alongside ‘relinquish flounce’ as proof of Lisette’s invention and skill. It’s not entirely clear that our death occurs because we are brimming over with ash but I’ll take this to be the case, our bodies are filled (to the brim) with ash and we die because everything is blocked up. ‘Permanence’ relates to something that doesn’t die and we, the dead, tie itches or irritation into it. This is very strong stuff and does treat ‘ash’ with the care that it deserves.

This is the start of ‘Flesh Elect’-

Roll river bank cyclical  lumped ash welts
smearing the city's
clicks and the hand glows

This is one of the angriest and ‘raggedly defiant’ poems in the book and it’s about shopping, the idiocies of retail, the stupidity of the consumer and the violence we do to ourselves-

The shade to be seen
asphyxiating your gullet with."

I’m not sure about ‘lumped ash welts’ but I think that can recognise the connotations that are being reached for. As with ‘What Continues’ the word is being used to suggest some kind of defilement but I don’t think a welt constructed from ash works as well as it reads.

This final example is from the third ‘Patient’ poem in the ‘Casebook’ sequence:

leads lose or abdicate expression  4am ash-light pours over you in cast metal
breather have you in tragic motion oder starred denial unchangeable ridge

The ash here could be cigarette ash but I prefer to think of it as approximating Celan’s use, I think the notion of the light from the ash being poured (or pouring itself) over someone particularly strong. This particular sequence is deeply political and the second ‘Patient’ poem is the best in a very impressive collection.

So, does any of this indicate a world? For me, this is a very urban world that exists in almost permanent night and continues to dance around the threat of crisis. The nearest I can get to it from my experience is central London in 1973/4 with bombing campaigns, strikes, and the strong stench of corruption. The all night cafes where you could plot the revolution and it all seemed….. feasible.


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….