Tag Archives: claudius app 2

Jonty Tiplady and Sooty

I’ve been stung into this, which I’ve been intending to do for weeks, by Joe Luna’s recent blog piece on Jonty’s poetry. For those of you who haven’t yet read ‘Better than Language’ of the Claudius App, Joe and Jonty are two of the brightest talents that we have and both are building a formidable body of work.

I bought Jonty’s ‘Zam, Bonk, Dip’ but it didn’t make much sense to me until I read something about it on all over the grid which encouraged me to go back to the poems and now I’m one of those over-zealous converts.

Since writing the above three sentences, there is now a really quite distressing conversation going on on the All Over the Grid blog about the merits or otherwise of Project Tiplady. It’s distressing because it’s counter-productive, because I’m having to justify the unjustifiable to correspondents who (rightly) don’t comprehend this stuff and because it isn’t really a debate about the work but about the Cunning Plan that informs the work. I was about to strike the well-known bebrowed ecumenical pose (let’s all try to be excellent to each because there aren’t very many of us) and then realised that I’ve done my fair share of slagging off during the lifetime of this blog and have accused leading poets of childishness (Sutherland) ineptitude (Hill), ideological folly (Jarvis, Sutherland, Prynne), chronic self-indulgence (Hill) but I would argue that these are poets that I admire and I have to register my disappointment when they disappoint me. I don’t / try not to write about poets that I don’t like and / or see the point of. There is one borderline case that I need to confess to, I once wrote something unduly negative about Sean Bonney that I shouldn’t have posted but that is the only ‘sin’ that comes to mind during the last three years. There are many, many poets of the Cambridge/late modern/innovative/avant garde ilk that I find dismal in both scope and content, in fact some of these repel me more than Dan Paterson but not quite as much as Larkin.
What distresses me about the Tiplady debate is that it isn’t going to change anyone’s mind as most of us know what we think anyway and it is a huge and embarrassing waste of effort. In the bad old days when I was a secondary instrument of class oppression I would often find myself in a room with a group of burglars from Middlesbrough and a group of car thieves from British West Hartlepool who were intent on doing serious harm to each other. One of my jobs was to put myself between these two groups, affect to be bored and point out the inherent futility of such a course of action…….. Life really is too short and there aren’t enough of us to make a difference anyway.

Before this ‘debate’, I was going to observe that Joe’s piece has too many words and too many extended sentences for my small brain to absorb and what needs to be said is that Jonty might just represent the future of English poetry and might also be more capable than anything else of giving the world the slightest of sideways shoves. This isn’t to denigrate or demean work done elsewhere but is to suggest that the ‘voice’ and the rationale behind the voice are one step removed from the crowd in a way that is probably significant.

This isn’t to say that the Tiplady project is a universal success because there are poems that aren’t very good but it is to point to the deadly serious playfulness of his best work as a startling and enervating antidote to the way that we live our lives.

I do have some evidence for these unreasonable claims and both are in the second issue of the Claudis App. The first of these is ‘Illimitable Drag City’ and the second is Amy De’Ath’s reading of Jonty’s ‘The Undersong’.

‘Illimitable’ needs to be read at speed and then it needs to be read aloud at speed and this second reading should be done in public so that you surprise yourself and those around on the bus or those walking by in the street. You should then learn the good bits off by heart and discuss these with your friends and colleagues and the worl will be a better place. We will all have different ideas of what the really good bits are (and there are many) but I would like to draw your attention to:

It's about how what is worth living is worth
by saying right now what can't be said
that it is worth living. It is about saying that
and then don't look at this present. It's about
how that which is worth saying, right, is all worth saying
right, and the electrocardiograph
to come. I want to be inside with you
in a life which is,

signed out in the book of Necessity. It's about
boom goes yes right we got the room and did it
to be able.

This kind of stuff is really easy to do very badly, indeed English verse has been littered with variations on the Ginsbergian list for at least fifty years but this is carefully constructed and put together so that it appears to be free-flowing but isn’t and I think that there’s both a degree of (for the want of a better phrase) conceptual fluency and lyrical aptitude that seems to be missing from much of the Cambridge / late modern vein. I’m particularly fond of the electrocardiograph to come and the book of Necessity but the whole poem is full of great lines and ideas.

Now we come to Sooty and the voice of Amy De’Ath. The first point to be made is that Sooty and Sweep are a part of my childhood and occupy a reasonably unique place in English popular culture. The second point to be made is that Amy’s reading is absolutely brilliant and shows how properly recorded readings can enhance what a poem might be saying. There is also a bit of an issue with the fact that the print copy that I have on my hard drive has a different title and some of the words are different. What follows is primarily based on the print version:

Everything I did, I did with Sweep. Everything I did I did while I was in Sooty
For Example Walking on my hands with my hands in my pockets, admiring the
sweeping view. I want to move in (really fucking intense and beautiful like a screaming
rainbow

This anthem to glove puppets is also a poem ‘about’ Wall Street and it’s a serious poem about both but it’s got this intense humanity that it radiates on every line. It’s intelligent, stops me in my tracks and is at least one remove from the rest of what’s currently any good. I know that I’ve ranted in the past about poetry not having special access to the truth but this is giving me cause to think again. Which is why, like it or not, Jonty Tiplady might just be the future.

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The Emily Dorman Problem part 2

I was going to start this with a list from ‘Super Poem Future Machine’ with a list of people I didn’t know, followed by a list of people I’m aware of but have never read followed by a list of people the I’m fairly (reasonably) familiar with and then point out that I’ve never heard of Dana Ward but I have been making use of his site intermittently for several years.

I was then going to ask readers of this blog to mentally do the same with the lists (this would make me feel better) and then to read the poem. I’ve decided not to do that but instead write about Readerly Anxiety. This is a phenomenon that I’ve probably experienced for years but have only just recognised it as a condition. RA is different from the anxiety of the self-taught (which is not the condition as described by P Bourdieu) because it has no straightforward resolution. RA is about the nature of the text rather than the codes and references that trouble auto-didacts and ‘Super Poem Future Machine’ causes me deep RA because there are many things that I admire about it but I’m not sure how much of it is satire and how much (if any) isn’t.

The audio recording compounds rather than eases this worry. The anxiety is whether or not it is deliberately bad or parodic. I’m also not entirely sure of the ‘status’ of the image of the concrete slab that accompanies the text – although I have spent a few moments looking at images of the shiny new building in Chicago.

Vanessa Place comes in the third list and I have looked up both Zucker and Zapruder before I decided that I wasn’t interested enough to follow this through. I don’t think the last sentence is funny enough but I’m prepared to accept that the rest might be hilariously acute.

RA would be more manageable if all of this consisted of weak in-jokes some of it is both inventive and accomplished and there’s the rub- I’d rather have it as all good or all bad but this fretful middle doesn’t do me any good at all. Anyone who can write “Hephaestus loves Carol King with tongs. But no-one writes songs” has got to be good.

Of course, readerly anxiety may just be a sub-set of the bipolar and the problem may well belong exclusively to me but I’ve noticed RA twinges with ‘Kazoo Dreamboats’ too but that’s about trying to position it in what I thought was the J H Prynne project. RA isn’t pleasant, it’s nothing like the Pleasure of Bafflement whereby there’s things that the reader looks forward to doing in order to reduce/alter the degree of unknowing. RA is much more scratchy and queasy than that, more like ‘The Conversation’ than ‘Histoire(s) du Cinema’.

Enough of this, I’d like to draw your attention to the wonderful neediness of the ‘letter’ to Hamiri and the ‘being with’ device applied to both Van Gogh and Ruskin although much more fun could have been had with the otherness of Blanchot and Bataille even if (s)) is a nice touch.

I’ve just read the comments to the earlier part of this and I accept that my knowledge of most things North American is woeful and comes wrapped up in a cacophony of prejudice, I also accept that I’ve managed to steer completely clear of all things flarf and consider this to be an achievement. So, this should come down to frailties in my sense of humour or the inevitable resentment of the self-taught in direct collision with biting satire that is beyond my reach.

However, I don’t think this works as well as the first. To give a brief example- a riff on the ‘integrity of the fragment’ could have been very promising but any wit/satirical intent is fatally undermined by ‘grok’. Perhaps this is due to my ignorance but how many of us are familiar with the works of Thomas Percy?

I started this over a week ago fretting about fretting- now I’m of the view that ‘Super Poem Future Machine’ is a step backwards, except for the reading which remains completely glorious, obviously.

Amy De’Ath and the determined tulips on The Claudius App (2)

I have been intending to write about Amy De’Ath for some time and the inclusion of four of her poems on the latest issue of The Claudius App and her remarkable reading of Jonty Tiplady’s ‘The Undersong’ in the same issue has prodded me further in this direction.

In Chris Goode’s introduction to the ‘Better than Language’ anthology he concedes that several of the important younger poets have been admitted and rightly points out that readers will have a list of those who should also have been included. My personal and highly subjective list has Emily Critchley, Luke Roberts and Amy De’ath competing for first place but for entirely different reasons apart from the fact that they are all very very good.

These four poems indicates a degree of control that’s more advanced than most of De’Ath’s peers. I get a very strong sense of poems that are in charge of themselves and know where they are going, there’s also an enviable degree of skill with language. In order to show what I mean I want to focus on ‘Heaven’ and ‘You Win’ because they’re both long enough to show how this control is sustained.

On the first and second readings of ‘Heaven’, I had a problem with the road signs, the melon factory, the vole and the tulips because these appeared to be selected for their oddness alone. However I’m now beginning to see the point because heaven in this sense refers to a separate dream-like world more than it does to a perfect one although the poem seems to assume that we aspire to the ideal too.

The inclusion of the tulips does however throw up a number of questions:

  1. What are the tulips determined to do?
  2. How does a tulip show that it is determined?
  3. If the tulip’s have emerged from ‘heaven’s side door’ then which planet is it that they are marching to the figurative edge of?
  4. Are we meant to assume that the planet is our own?
  5. Why did only some of the tulips leap of the edge of the planet
  6. What did the others lean into or against?
  7. Were the tulips, like bad angels, expelled from heaven or did they leave of their own accord?
  8. How does a tulip (determined or not) get to be in heaven?

None of these queries are intended as part of a quest for deeper understanding but it does illustrate the kind of processes that this material can initiate. The same sorts of questions can be asked about the appetite of roads signs and the slewing of melon juice but I want to try to concentrate on the effect of the poem as a whole. We start with the poet setting off to heaven but the last line of the in initial paragraph suggests that this may have been a dream. The keeping of stollen for emergencies whilst burning up is excellent as is the love that thrusts and yelps. We’re also given indications that mistakes will be made with the language (spirituals/forest, revolving faithful).

The personification of heaven as male and the idea that writing artlessly is a ‘measure of his talent’ is intriguing as the writing here does at times affect to be artless. Anyone who’s tried to write in this way will know that it does require a lot of talent to get it right. The next line is gloriously complex and manages to deliver an enormous amount of ambiguity (temper, grace) without appearing to try

I like the way the poem gradually loses the dream/surreal/subconscious affect and moves into something more concrete and urgent and the ‘you’ introduced and addressed. The arbitrary is apparently rejected but the last few lines talk about a booming moon and refer to a robbery which isn’t previously mentioned.

‘You Win’ has one of the best endings that I’ve read in ages. The references to other family members are more Ronnie Laing than Sigmund Freud but there’s generally less of the subconscious on display, unless you count Havel’s clam juice. I would question the wisdom of the Swindon / Wigan device in the first stanza but this is more than made up for by the pace of the rest and the shining genius of the the third and fourth. The notions of the ‘cryless sock’ and the ateing heart have kept me smiling for days now- I’m particularly impressed by the apparent lack of effort and the refusal to show off.

Poetic control comes in many shapes and sizes, there’s control over the formal elements, over word choice, over subject matter, over cadence etc etc. I think the kind of control here is about a considered inventiveness and by this I mean a quite startling originality in terms of both voice and subject that is tempered and given direction instead of being left to fend for itself. Tis is a rare and precious gift that sets De’Ath off from her (very talented) peers.

Purdey Krieden on the Claudius App (2)

I’ve spent the past week avoiding this in the hope that the need to write about the above might go away. The reason for this procrastination is twofold-

  • this is a kind of poetry that I’m not familiar with and don’t know how to ‘place’;
  • I find the apparent themes to be too challenging for comfort.

I am aware that the North Anerican poetry market / discourse / shop has a number of less than useful labels for a bewildering gaggle of poetic tendencies which I can’t be bothered to get my brain around because they appear to be less than useful- the placing of Barbara Guest as a member of the Language faction springs to mind as do many others. These three poems may fit snugly into a recognised type but this eludes me and I don’t intend trying to find out.

With regard to themes, I need to state that I spent too many years of my early career in the business of safeguarding children (usually from members of their family) and this experience has led me to question whether it is appropriate / fitting / responsible / helpful to write imaginatively about the bad things that can happen to children. I’m not suggesting that all work of this type does more harm than good but I don’t think that the confessional poems of Sylvia Plath or Robert Lowell have been in any way beneficial.

Bad things happen to children and adults behave badly in all three of these poems which are also linked by an almost elegaic cadence. This means that I should be against them, that I should be able to walk away from them and read something else (and the is some very good stuff in this issue) but I can’t because of the amount of talent that’s on display. I’m increasingly coming round to the Jonathan Meades view that the only school that matters is the school of talent and my definition of talent is anything that I wish I’d done myself (talent) or anything that is so good that I know I’d never be able to match it (extreme talent). I’m not suggesting this as a universally applicable tendency but it works for me because it’s something I recognise and don’t need to rationalise. For example, I really do wish that I’d thought of placing Black Beauty in Baghdad as a central feature of a poem about American foreign policy but I know that I’ll never be able to write something like Book V of the Faerie Queen, Book II of Paradise Lost, The Anathemata, Celan’s Aschenglorie, and most things by Hill and Prynne all of which are examples of extreme talent.

Leaving the social work anxieties aside, these three poems contain many flourishes and conceits that I’m jealous of, that manage to be both intelligent and original. The other rather glib observation is that all three seem to start from a point of chaos and work towards (but never quite reach) a point of coherence or sense. With most innovative poetry, this usually occurs in the opposite direction (with a few notable exceptions).

There are some parts of this material that I can recognise as accomplished but nevertheless have qualms about what they appear to ‘say’. One of the more obvious of these is the bell around the brother’s neck which is contasted obliquely with his sister’s mouth which her mother fills with grapes. The bell can make a noise which may or may not alert others to the brother’s plight where as the girl is silenced by the actions of her ostensibly indulgent mother after which the brother dies. This quite remarkable passage also throws up a number of questions that don’t appear to be resolved:

  • did the brother’s question cause his death or was he going to die anyway?
  • does the evil eye carry just the ordinary meaning or are we meant to think of the Bataille novel too?
  • is the position of the eye under the sheets intended to infer that it’s powers are diminished or is there some other significance that I’m missing?
  • what (precisely) are the limits of her lips and why do they mingle to rather than with?

All three poems have touches that are dangerously brilliant but some feel to me as if they’re trying too hard. Let’s start with the brilliant:

  • we would press the bleeding tissue on our horses faces / and mystify the names of the children in front of their pretty mothers;
  • our mother died a virgin my eyelids are still black after the rain;
  • and we would receive silence from god’s glands / and spread it on our faces; i feed my brothers with my own gleaming body and myself with dusty semaphores;
  • I ran to the lake with my knees uselessly wet / people with torn eyes mostly walk around at night / shirley spat rain under my skirt;
  • these love bites your family jewelries my son;
  • sometimes i urinate rain even though i am not a catholic;
  • you see me now as I was in your garden twenty years ago, as long as it is pretty he said;
  • ‘I love pudding’ – me too, he cum; / those noises are insects tickling the mold on your tits / vinegar was injected in the cells, then a foxtrot;

The list grew as I was going down the page, some of this is really very accomplished and I wish I’d written most of it. There are bits that hold it back by too much effort, the backwards words and anagrams is tedious, the figure of the guinea pig doesn’t ‘work’, the ‘salomon’ conceit seems fairly pointless, the are either too few or too many mis-spellings.

So, I don’t think I’ll get this stuff out of my system any time soon and I’m stil not sure of the taste that’s currently in my mouth but I think I might be a little less disturbed / challenged and this may not be a Bad Thing.

Jerimee Bloemeke and the effective poetic list

After writing about David Jones and list-making yesterday I came across ‘L&M 1: The Gemstone Ruby System’ by the above and was impressed by its obsessive and unpoetic cleverness and this got me to thinking about why I like the list poem and what makes such a poem work.

Then, in response to the Jones piece, Vance Maverick drew my attention to ‘America, a history in verse’ by Edward Sanders and I looked at the first few pages of volume 6 which contains one of the worst poetic lists that I have ever read.

Before we go any further I need to throw in a kind of disclaimer because I’m going to (amongst other things) write about my own poetry making. I’m going to do this because I understand the rationale for the list poems that I make and because I feel that they ‘do’ what I want them to. I’m not writing about them in order to draw attention to my practice, I put them on this blog because I like them and because I can. I’m also going to write about a list poem that has me as its subject, this was written by my daughter and I use this because it’s a good poem and because it shows that list poems can be quite lyrical and tender. I need to stress that I’m not comparing either of these with any of the others that are included primarily because different lists are about different things.

So, this will look at lists by John Matthias, Charles Olson, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Goldsmith, Jerimee Bloemeke with a glance at the fiction of John Updike and Roberto Bolano.

This was going to be called ‘the tragedy of the list’ but that seemed too lit crit, however I want to start with a couple of lines from the current master of the list, John Matthias:

............They argue (the cognates) that a manifest
Attached to shipment listing all colaterals and cogs,
Codes and Codices for Mdme's Nothing Else Cockaigne Machine
In fact are elegaic poems, that David sings for Jonathan,
Gilgamesh for Enkidu. They inscribe themselves as
Manifestos which proclaim their faith in algorythms of an
Unknown field of force. They're cognizant and they can glow.
They're coeternal and they rise to an occasion.
Although they tell no story of their lives, their little trumpets blow.

This is the second time I’ve quoted these closing lines from ‘Laundry Lists and Manifestos’ and I do this because they show great technical skill and because the point that is made is an important one. We all use lists to impose some order on our lives and the environment in which we exist, the business of science is essentially about creating sophisticated lists from raw data (simple lists). The sadness / tragedy of the list is that it will never be adequate to its task and thus contains within it an elegy to itself. I think my personal interest in or obsession with lists is that the Rortian relativist in me views them as essentially and fascinatingly fictive. as increasingly obsessive attempts to paper over the cracks of our collective neuroses.

Because Matthias understands lists and (this is important) is a very accomplished poet, he can do brilliant poetic lists. This stanza is from the ‘Autumn’ section of ‘Four Seasons of Vladimir Dukelsky’:

Diaghilev soon died and Gershwin soon after. Dukelsky grabbed at
Balanchine, the movies. Emigre composers headed for LA as
Wall Street crashed and Sunset Boulevard survived. Prokofiev heckled him
From Moscow about maids who become prostitutes to feed their mums.
His mother ate. He wrote his songs: April in Paris on a tuneless upright
In the back of West Side Tony's bistro; Words Without Music for
The Ziegfield Follies 1936. Duke would dig Dukelsky from the rubble
Of Depression. Dancers kicked their can-cans on the silver screen.

This may not feel like a list but it is structured around a succession of proper names (ie a list) and these names are all connected to Dukelsky (aka Vernon Duke) and are built into an evocative chronology of a specific cultural event- the arrival of European musical talent in Hollywood. There’s also the ‘d’ alliteration of the last two lines. Because Matthias is both telling a story and making a point the reader tends to miss just how listful this is and the fact that the succession of names gives added impetus to the story.

Charles Olson’s ‘Maximus Poems’ is one of the major works of the last century and is in part based on the historical records of Gloucester, the fishing town that is the subject of the sequence. ‘Maximus’ contains many lists but this is one of the most striking:

14 MEN STAGE HEAD WINTER 1624/5

they required

7 hundredweight biscuit bread £ 5. 5. 0.
@15/ per hundred
7 hhds of beer or sider 53/4 the tun 20. 0. 0.
2/3 hhd beef 3. 7. 2.
6 whole sides of bacon 3. 3. 0.
6 bush. pease 1.10. 0.
2/3 firkin butter 1. 0. 0.
2/3 cwt. cheese 2. 0.
1 pecke mustard seed 6. 0.
1 barrel vinegar 10. 0.
15 lbs candles 1. 0. 0.
3 pecks oatmeal 9. 0.
2/3 hhd/ aqua vitae 3. 0. 0.
2 copper kettles 3. 0. 0.
1 brasse crock 1. 0. 0.

The list contains many more costed items and the total expenditure is then used to compare the different costs of a ‘mere’ station and a plantation.

In the poem Oslon is clear to clarify that the list is ‘calculated’ from the original but it is also clear that it is a straightforward piece of appropriation with little or no embellishment.

I’ll ignore the various points that ‘Maximus’ makes about the doing of history and instead look at the effect on the reader. Olson believed that if you wanted to know something about a subject then you should immerse yourself completely in it- something he achieved to good effect when writing his brilliant study of ‘Moby Dick’ – and this, together with the other chronologies and genealogies is his attempt to thoroughly involve the reader in Gloucester’s story. There’s also something about placing the past undiluted and complete into the present which is an echo of Whitehead’s ‘Process and Reality’ thesis which underpins the sequence as a whole.

Ferlinghetti’s ‘Big Fat Hairy Vision of Evil’ is a lengthy multiple definition, these lines are taken from section 1:

Evil is death warmed over
Evil is live spelled backward
Evil is lamb burning bright
Evil is love fried upon a spit
and turned in on itself
Evil is sty in eye of universe
hung upon a coughing horse
that follows me at night
wearing blinders
Evil is green gloves inside out
next to a double martini
on a cocktail table

This is at the opposite end of the listful spectrum, it is lyrical, poetic and goes on to develop something about the poet’s relationship with evil. I first read Ferlinghetti when I was fourteen and remain of the view that he’s the most skilled of the Beats- although I don’t think there’s a lot of technique in the above which is more about having an idea and seeing it through.

We now come to Kenneth Golsmith’s ‘Traffic’ which is a transcript of unadulterated and sequential traffic reports every ten minutes from a New York radio station. It’s a poem because Goldsmith says it’s a poem and it’s classed as conceptual because the idea is supposed to be more important (worthy) than the material. I’m in a minority here because I’m fascinated by the text and less impressed by the idea because the text is about how short bursts of language can be used to communicate useful knowledge about a complex and changing environment.

It can be argued that my interest in this comes from an interest in urban space rather than poetry but isn’t this compression of knowledge into short bits of language an element of what poetry does best?

We now come to the intensely personal, My daughter (Kayt) made this a few years ago and I use it here to demonstrate that list affinity may be genetic and how this device/conceit can be used to produce something intensely personal and affectionate.

Then there is the list in fiction (as opposed to the fictional list. I need here to confess that I can’t see the point of John Updike and part of this disdain comes from the first Rabbit novel where a list of objects in a shop window is used to evoke both mood and place but is done so heavy handedly that the reader just notices the device and can’t get to the desired effect. Bolano’s ‘2066’ has a mesmerising description of murder upon murder committed against women in Northern Mexico which is both unbearable and compelling because it is presented factually with nouns and verbs rather than the usual surfeit of describing words.

As for me, I’ve got a strong interest in the poem as data and am also of the view that poetry is currently far too poetic for its own good. In the last six months I’ve made poems consisting of the stats for this blog, of the labels and captions used for maps and plans at the Bloody Sunday Inquiry and images of 25 or so set lists from the recent Gillian Welch tour in chronological order. All of these are lists, all of these are appropriated from elsewhere and they all ‘do’ what I want them to which is to throw up questions about data, evidence, veracity and the authentic and the place of these in our cultural landscape. It is really important to me that these shouldn’t contain any of the usual poetic conceits (the enjambment in the label poem is taken from the labels themselves) and that they should primarily be lists.

What’s really good about the Bloemeke list is the repetition of ‘purchase’, the flat level of detail without digression and the absolute absence of adornment. It is archival, documentary, hypnotic a poem that is entirely of itself and an entirely fitting (heartbreaking) elegy for these dismal times.