Tag Archives: joe luna

The Odes to TL61P and the nodding dog

The Odes had their London launch last week and I now have to take back anything I’ve previously said about the way that Keston reads his work- this was a magnificent performance which managed to do justice to the text and to throw up more food for thought. Prior to this there was launch in Brighton which was recorded and is now on soundcloud and I think we all need to thank Joe Luna for producing such a clear and professional account of the event.

I’m currently spending most of my reading time with the Odes mainly because I don’t understand how they work – there seems to be a new (to me) set of devices being thrown together and I have yet to work out how the various effects are achieved.

There is one section that is beginning to furrow my brow in unexpected ways, this is the offending paragraph in full:

      China is now a multilateral partner. That joke
about the reference to the answer in the riddle in the
reference to the answer to my life will be repeated
without a pause until I laugh. Bush says three people
were waterboarded, and hold the zeroes; our text today
is maintain physical integrity, but a hundred times funnier,
and therefore a hundred and one times funnier,
billions of times funnier, and hereafter infinitely more
because stupefying at a compound growth rate
too big to fail. There is always something we need to do about
everything, something it is always hard to be. Career
poets are part of the problem, smearing up the polish,
drying out the fire; chucking shit all over the place; not
being party to the solution; banking on the nodding
head 'the reader' saying 'yes, that's what it's like' so
as not to know what it's for, since meaning is easier,
that way, gaped at through the defrosted back window
of the Audi, hence the spring for a neck; we all
know where that shit got us: being what we eat. The
British have become snobs. The don't want to be security
guards always getting the nightshifts at KFC illegally
married to sewage technicians, subject to racist abuse
which intelligent politicians learn they must not be seen
on camera to regard as bigotry; the immigrants are real
because they do. They say, I am more realistic than
you. But at least you listen. The EU ones are the
mainstream, the non-EU ones are the avant garde.

I want to think a bit about the ‘that’s what it’s like’ jibe which I’m informed is a quote from Don Paterson. The normal Bebrowed line on this is that any criticism of this particular poet is a Good Thing per se but this particular
assault may deserve unpacking. As a reader there are very few poems that come close to describing how something is for me. Some, like John Matthias’ ‘Kedging in Time’ are immensely evocative of a group of feelings and attitudes that I hold but I don’t know how those things ‘really’ were because they occurred before I was born. I don’t share John Milton’s faith but his depiction of the way we are brought to do evil seems fairly astute. Keston Sutherland’s depiction of mental anguish in Stress Position strikes a major chord with my experience of severe depression- it isn’t exact but its flow and feel does say more than something about the spirit of the beast. I’m therefore, at least in part, sitting on the rear shelf of the Audi.

Slightly more attentive reading reveals that description (how it is) is being extended into meaning which makes things a bit more complex. Poetic mimesis is complex and layered enough but meaning takes us into this new and shining realm of smoke and mirrors. To get us into this position, Sutherland contrasts similarity for function. ‘what it’s for’, and implies that we attentive readers should concentrate on this aspect if we are to avoid becoming the nodding dogs.

I have no idea, and have no intention of discovering, of the context in which Paterson made this effortless remark but I think the quality of the description is reasonably crucial in leading us to think about function. For example, the Odes describe this really odd but little noticed phenomenon of an acceptance of austerity measures amongst the UK population because we feel that we (somehow) deserve to be punished, that in some way our personal behaviour has resulted in the ongoing fiasco. As a reader, I’ll only be encouraged to think about the meaning or function of that piece of wilful masochism if it is described or alluded to in a way that I can recognise. I think what I’m trying to say is that most of the time I need to be a nodding dog before I can become a thinking dog.

This paragraph also exemplifies Sutherland’s enviable skill in ramming several devices up against each other in ways that shouldn’t even begin to work but do, the themes move from diplomacy, torture, absurdist repetition, mimesis, meaning, the sins of the career poet, immigration, racism and menial labour in a few brief lines and mostly make sense. The only sentence that might not make sense is “There is something we need to do about everything, something it is always hard to be”. I’m struggling with the second half of this primarily because it might sound better than it is. Either this could mean that there is something that it is always hard to be, without this something being specified, or it is hard to be that person that must do something about everything, either way I don’t think it ‘works particularly well but this is small price to pay for the general level of brilliance that runs through this material.

I think the best way to approach the Odes is to read them straight through at least a couple of times so that you can grasp the glory of the full picture before beginning to think about the component parts.

The Odes to TL61P is published by Enitharmon and sells for £8.99.

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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.

Withheld Poetry

I have been thinking about this for a while but what follows is more tentative speculation than anything with definition or clarity, I’m also likely to change my mind. Last year I wrote about Joe Luna’s contribution to the ‘Better than Language’ collection and remarked that what mattered was the stuff going on outside and around the text rather than the words themselves. I’ve since elaborated on this a little but it now occurs to me that several of our better poets are in the business of withholding or making poems that function as a collection of items/events that are incidental to what’s being talked about.

This line of thought started with a discussion with Neil Pattison about obscurity, I felt that one particular reference was far too obscure for it’s own good- Neil responded by pointing out that this might be secret rather than obscure. This was followed by coming across Luke Roberts’ observation of the ‘deliberate secrecy’ deployed in the work of Francesca Lisette.

I probably need to be a bit more detailed, I’m not talking about allusion in the sense that a phrase can allude or point to something else. The material that is withheld isn’t signposted at all except by the fact that it isn’t present and the poem that we have appears to be what is left when the’secret’ has been removed.

Before this gets hopelessly and incoherently abstract, I’m going to take refuge in some examples of what I’m failing to describe. In my head, Luna, Pattison and Lysette are the most conscious/deliberate withholders at the moment so I’ll use a poem from each. This is Joe Luna’s poem from the ‘document’ containing this and poems by Francesca Lisette, Jonny Liron and Timothy Thronton which was published by Grasp last year. The blurb says “Joe Luna’s poem is a singular work made from revisions and concanetations of smaller poems, written alongside and sometimes in response the others here”. This is the first half of the third part of this singular work;

with silliness & love taut multiplies
the trauma that produces humans. here
is my head so bleed it will you make my
infant mouth stay nothing: there, if I am
fully human, what goes in and how
the square can phrase that with a charge
of infantilism or crack: head's mother
tongue's cheap trick, selling short what's smashing
but prevented, love: given half a chance
who wouldn't harm what represents us,

I should perhaps have mentioned that this collection is a response to this government’s enlightened approach to the funding of higher education but that really isn’t much help with what might be going on here. The astute amongst you will have noticed that sense seems to have been deliberately disrupted or damaged without quite veering off into the completely abstract. The reader (me) is thus left with the impression of something which has been excised from the poem but still exists outside it. This notion is further enhanced by the considered use of punctuation- the full stop in the second line is not a typo and is followed by the lower case ‘h’. Normally I might find this kind of thing overly clever but this is more than redeemed by the degree of invention and the careful use of language that allows for this kind of disruption.

What’s also remarkable is the shifting nature of the proximity to sense/clarity, of how we almost know what “here / is my head so bleed it will you make my / infant mouth stay nothing” refers to or means even though we never can.

I’ve said this before but Francesca Lisette writes stunning poetry that manages to combine defiance with invention and humour.

Coincidentally, Mountain Press have just published ‘Teens’ which appears to gather together most of Lisette’s work. This is all of ‘Descension’:

fractionate uglies pass under mucked,
where eyes are, where palms grit to bless.
lunar spacings fringe the raw velvet
revolving the splintered crease.
[pin intervention]
now decidedly a field: turned-up,
caught in buttercup
high confessional
black touching dank silver
working to undermine the grease
side-guided,
jellyish strapped-in. blue myths wheel and caw;
bones stream in particles winded
caesarian synapse gives out: gives over

afterwards the shadowed wreckage
bacon won breeds eyes silkily
intentionally fathered.
cloud-set skin replaces knives and worm-wracked pentagonal
it is the laugh, the hairshine.
throttles on vampirically.
features too, escape voluble knowledge
all the undoings dozed out while braised:
carrying this kiss of initials like a stricture

Is this what Roberts means by “deliberately secret”? I’d like to put it another way, the above contains brilliant moments of verbal invention and enough indicators to allow us an informed guess as to what might have gone on but this can only ever be a ‘might’ because the language never quite gets to be formed even though it gives the impression of wanting to. It could be argued that this is just another piece of dense oddness but (as with Luna) what’s important is what isn’t said and we can only catch this at the corners and edges of the lines.

Neil Pattison’s ‘Slow Light’ is one of the best poems written in the last ten years. This has primarily to do with the ‘voice’ of the poem and the determined urgency that it contains but it also withholds in a way that is slightly more nuanced than Luna and Lisette. This is a section that makes my point:

Scope under the silicon tint is tinfoil, patches
thumbnail, scan. Rubric, stinted, component of
this limb
is related to this joint
radiant proteins, bonding in a dream, stripped
out in light : tint qualifies, the eagles venturing
acquisition only ; stability maps in to sculpted
enamels, restriction polishes up as belt, teething
ulterior surface, desaturated : is tinfoil, scoped
then selective, this humane break in the product
line. Tracking its metric, folding, cursive, the scan
is firebreak, no quality witheld, the stinted whole.

This is grown-up poetry that isn’t for the faint-hearted, it’s got to be worked with, the reader has to identify the things that aren’t being said which without doubt are much more terrible than the things that are. In fact I’d like to suggest that Neil’s withholding is to do with heightening and intensifying our anxiety and pushing us toward action or at least a response to the Bad Things that are almost described.

Another thought occurs to me- this keeping back isn’t done so that the reader can fill the gaps with whatever his or her experiences might suggest. These are real and tangible things that are not being said and that might be the point because the world is full to bursting with things that are made clear, are made plain to such an extent that we think we know lots about what there is to know. Only we don’t know very much at all and these poets are very good at bringing us back to the many absences and gaps that we need to recognise and pay attention to.

Joe Luna and clever poetry

I’ve been intending to do this for a while and have been stung into action by the inclusion of some Luna poems in the Better than Language anthology. Of the current group of younger poets, Luna is at the ‘clever’ end of the spectrum in a couple of ways, he says complex things in deceptive ways and these deceptions encourage the reader to think about the unspoken world that moves around the poem. This, by any definition, is clever stuff but there are number of pitfalls with cleverness. The first of these is being clever for the sake of being clever whereby the poet uses an obscure allusion or reference to say something that could be said in a more direct manner. The next is the use of the clever as a means of plumage and/or display. The last main trap (there are many others) is when poets disguise some banality by means of intellectual glitter – a trick that is fundamentally dishonest. Even our best poets seem incapable of falling into these from time to time.

I am however always ready to be impressed by the clever phrase, the point made with wit and intelligence, the off kilter but compelling juxtaposition etc etc, but I also like to think that I’m getting better at identifying where the above misdemeanours occur.

There’s a degree of nervousness that I need to address. I’m of the view that writing about clever oblique work should be done in as clear and direct a fashion as possible without underplaying the subtleties of the work. I’m also trying to find different ways to write about poetry so what follows is more than a little experimental.

When writing about Luna’s contribution to Better than Language I made the entirely provisional observation that what might matter is not what’s in the text but what’s around it. Since then I’ve been a bit concerned that this observation is both too clever for its own good and (much worse) inaccurate. So I’ve spent some time this morning with more of Luna’s work in an attempt to kick this particular piece of glibness into touch. This went reasonably well until I came to ‘Life’ in the ‘Lovers’ collection which starts like this:

         Life harping on at its believable
angle
he will I say not
venture
an incision, but life
itself. Now bite one off - the observable
universe wrapped in snow, an ulcer
sinks into a song.........

I don’t intend to undertake a detailed analysis of ‘Life’ or the above extract but I do want to use it as an illustration of what I mean about stuff going on outside and around the poem. In these eight lines we’re given a very wide field to play in, ‘life itself’ ‘the observable / universe’ would indicate that we’re in some kind of abstract territory but this is undercut by the particular, ulcers, incisions, angles and a life that harps on. This kind of polarity invites me as an attentive reader to fill in the gaps between the two and to concentrate on what might be placed there. The rest of the poem continues to make this demand on me and it’s a deeply absorbing process.

I’d now like to try and pin down this particular kind of cleverness by having a closer look at ‘For the White Lake Blot” which is on the remarkable Claudius App.

In my new found determination to experiment with ways of writing about poetry, here’s a list of things that I want to say:

  1. this teeters on the brink of the hyper clever which might not be a good thing;
  2. the way that the line endings/ruptures function throws up many questions about form but that’s probably the intention;
  3. the repetition at the start of part 4 is really effective although I do accept that I’m a bit obsessed by the reiteration business and am therefore biased. As with the enjambment I could go on about this for a very long time;
  4. section three fits Prynne’s breathtakingly startling criteria, the last line comes right out of nowhere and disturbs/challenges what’s gone before;
  5. there may be a whiff of the too clever hanging over section three but this is avoided or redeemed by lines 4 and 8 which are good enough to allay any concerns about pretension;
  6. I worry about section 7’s “read my lip gloss’ (which is naff) playing off against “in kid solemnity” (which isn’t) and my concern is whether this naff/not naff ploy is deliberate or unwitting;
  7. there is an argument to be had as to whether or not the poem’s last stanza is essential or annoyingly frivolous/gratuitous/smug. What’s interesting is that I don’t yet know which side I’m on.

There are some poems that don’t work or aren’t completely successful or feel a bit forced and I think this is primarily due to the nature of the risks that Luna is taking. It is much easier to do complex or abstract poetry in a single register but Luna is employing a number of registers not only as a means of expression but also as an integral part of that expression and in the very best poems he’s nodding in the direction of what might be going on rather than telling us. The risk with this is that the registers can begin to lose clarity or edge and the normally incisive tone descends into mere parody of itself. Fortunately this is rare in Tuna’s work but ‘esque’ from the Better than Language anthology is to my mind an example things beginning to get a bit smug and empty. The poem ends with this:

Four score and seven monkeys
late appeal makes
loving
tied to win reprieve
fully
conscious & waving & and drowning &
bent toward the sun at your
disposal well today we are giving
back to a new
future largesse replete
with
in range
of all my early poetry
attacks
on weather systems in Nevada

but I could not help it

Unless we’re being really ironic here, the last five lines are really quite bad, aren’t they? The reference to weather systems is neither odd enough nor vivid enough to justify/account for the mannered weakness of the last two lines. This clunkiness isn’t representative of the vast majority of Luna’s work but it does I think indicate the kind of risks that he runs.

On a final note, in the protracted discussion with Chris Goode, I did make the point that the unifying factors for me were more about desire, playfulness and subversion than ‘queerness’. I really do not want to reignite that debate but I would like to say that Luna manages to create poems that play with desire and yearning to subvert both political and poetic forms and that this is yet another reason for being optimistic about the future of British poetry.

Open letter to Joe Luna re Oslon and Temporality

Dear Joe,

I hope you don’t mind but I’ve wanted to respond to your piece on Maximus since the end of last year and have only just reminded myself whilst looking for your insightful thoughts on Jonty Tiplady.

I think that finding ways to think and write about Maximus as a whole rather than relying on the various threads or aspects is really important, to that end I’d like to begin with the background to my first encounter. About two years ago I decided that I should try and engage with Prynne and in order to combat my ongoing bafflement I decided to read what I could find of Prynne’s prose on the web. I came across part of that 1971 lecture that you refer to and reasoned that a more rational way into Prynne might be via Olson. I then bought Maximus and started to read. Prior to this my only knowledge of Olson was his relationship with Cy Twombly at Black Mountain College so it was a major shock to read how compelling the Maximus poems are. Of course they are no help whatsoever in engaging with post-71 Prynne but I was hooked.

The other preface that I need to add is that this isn’t in any at variance with your thoughts but more of an attempt to add mine into the ‘mix’.

‘Maximus’ is slippery because it covers so much ground in a great deal of depth. I think yemporality is important and that we need to bear in mind that it was written over twenty years. I think I’d like to make a plea for a little more emphasis on the ‘relational’ aspect. By this I think I mean that we are invited to consider the nature and quality of the relationship between things rather than the things themselves. I also think that by ‘process’ Olson is referring to changes in these relationships rather than just something happening sequentially.

I want discuss a bit more your remark that Maximus can be read as a working through of the poetics ‘which are yet to be found out’. I was once of this view but now I’m less clear about the presence of Whitehead in the work and I think this alters as the poem progresses where it becomes more about immersion and the fruits of the archive. I have to admit a degree of bias because I’m rather keen on the use of archival material that is placed in contemporary poetry. I’m also rather keen on archival research being seen as an essential ingredient in creative activity.

Olson once expressed the view that in order to write about something you must first of all immerse yourself in it. I think he said this about the Melville book but I think it can also apply to his immersion in Gloucester and its history. Reading the history within the poem I don’t get a sense of temporality per se but I do get more of an impression of the results of embedding himself in both the process of making history and Gloucester itself. I think this springs from the mixture of myth, historiography and the archive. I can’t give any more detailed evidence for this but it does reflect the poem that’s in my head.
Here’s a final and vaguely contrary thought. In one of his earlyish letters to Robert Creeley Olson relates conversations he’s having with Cy Twombly about the nature of the line and remarks how rewarding it is to talk with someone without having to go back to first principles. I don’t want to make too much of this but there are similarities between the two, interest in the line as line, in myth, in the sea and in ‘natural’ processes.
Hope this makes sense.
John

Better than language and ‘queer praxis’

Before we start I need to make an important announcement, at long last Timothy Thornton’s ‘Jocund Day’ is now available for sale from the Mountain Press site. I’ve written about this before and I don’t propose to repeat myself other than to say that it’s important and only costs five of your very best English pounds. I also note that Mountain Press is going to publish work by another three of my favourites, Neil Pattison, Luke Roberts and Francesca Lisette all of which we ought to get excited about.
Also published this summer is ‘Better Than Language’, an anthology of younger poets put together by Chris Goode. Let me say at the outset that we all owe Chris an enormous debt of gratitude for putting together material of such high quallity. Before I get on to the poetry, I’d like to give some consideration to some of the things that Chris says in his introduction. I don’t normally pay much attention to introductions but I read this one because I wanted to know how someone else would ‘frame’ this material and because the collection contains an incredible amount of strong material. There is much in the introduction that I agree with but there are two things that I’d like to take (tentative) issue with. The first is-

In fact queer praxis – whether or not the term itself would be gladly accepted by the poets considered – stands out as an important influence on much of the writing collected here. Returning again and again to the body, and to erotics, and especially to performance as both theme and modality, many of these poets are working inventively with language and forms through which they seek to evade or disturb or infect or destabilise the normativities of patriarchy, gender and sexuality. For some more than others, this reflects their own lived experience, for none of them, though, I think is it a matter of identity politics exactly. Rather this sense of queerness which runs through so much of the anthology (reflecting in part, to be fair, my own editorial interests no less than some generational tendency) is plainly continuous with a clear thread of anticapitalist thougt and ideation that, again, comes through more strongly in some places than others, but is almost always present, as in the most delicate love poem as in the boldest most amped-up geopolitical bulletin.

I’ve quoted this at length because I don’t wish to be guilty of cherry picking in order to make a point. I want to start by acknowledging that I am thoroughly straight in terms of sexual orientation and that I am about thirty years older than most of Goode’s contributors. I’m also ignorant of the latest trends in sexual politics. I do like to think that I might know something about the doing of poetry and have to query whether the first sentence of the above is altogether helpful in terms of what follows. The most obvious point is that nobody talks about ‘straight’ praxis yet this is the obvious other side of Goode’s coin. To be fair, he does acknowledge his own ‘editorial interests’ when talking about ‘this sense of queerness’ but it isn’t for me the most unifying factor in the collection and is probably less than helpful for those approaching these poets for the first time.
The single most unifying theme for me in these poems is the description and expression of desire together with a sense of unaffected honesty. The first quality has been notoriously absent from English culture for the past few centuries and I hope to give some examples below of the refreshingly frank expressions contained in this material.
Regular readers will know that the Bebrowed editorial board has little time for dishonest or overly mannered verse, in fact we tend to condemn dishonesty as the gravest possible sin which frequently gets in the way of otherwise accomplished work. I have to report that I have yet to come across a single dishonest poem in this collection although there will be a discussion on the mannered in what follows.
The other brief quibble relates to the Cambridge School’s Brighton Faction and all things Keston Sutherland- I have to say that Goode’s description of the influence of Sutherland and Bonney on the work is a little misleading and his attempt to place in the tired old debates about the Cambridge School only serves to perpetuate a way of thinking that is rapidly becoming irrelevant.
The poets in the anthology are Sarah Kelly, Jonny Liron, Francesca Lisette, Joe Luna, Nat Raha, Linus Slug, Josh Stanley, Timothy Thornton, Anna Ticehurst, Jonty Tiplady, Mike Wallace-Hadrill, Tomas Weber and Steve Willey. I’ve written before in praise of Lisette, Luna and Thornton and their work here matches that level of quality. The Thornton section contains extracts from ‘Jocund Day’ and from ‘Pestregiment’ which was first published in 2009. I have a copy of the original and in many ways it’s a pity that all of it wasn’t printed here because that would give mre of an idea of Thornton’s range. This stanza is probably the most ambitious of the four included here:

Your Albion slack having eaten mandrakes under brute
encouragement pales slacker. Settlement only eyot aerial
just drive you, filamentous outgrowth of a bitch, escaped
dead mesh sifting. Clock: that sounds like something
you should definitely never do. Kids wave out the Volvo
to the pyres and a dog. They hangman posit, they, they uh,
lawns just perform said anything about Shropshire just
three-point the hell to grips with this software now only
drive alchemy
this, into fucking in the grit, which is tock
as it is felt, it'll do you hey riven at the cirrus broadcasts.

I would argue that this is both startling and very, very confident stuff. There are so many wonderful things in the above but I’ll simply point to ‘lawns just perform said anything about Shropshire’ and ‘Clock: that sounds like something / you should definitely never do’ as examples of a really strong talent. It’s also of note that there seems to be a complex relationship between subject and form in all of Thornton’s work as well as a lyrical delight in what language can do. It is this quite joyful lyricism that marks Thornton off from the rest.

Now we come to the Jonny Liron problem. I have read some of his stuff in a Grasp publication earlier this year and formed a view that Liron was out to shock and that this desire to unsettle by fairly obvious means gets in the way of anything else. It transpires however that there is another Liron who is a very accomplished and effective doer of poetry. He’s also the poet that most accurately reflects the disturbing and destabilising aspects of ‘queer praxis’ that Goode outlines. His ‘Room Manoeuvre’ manages to combine elements of the disturbing with some finely crafted lines and a theme that is more or less straightforward. Even so, both aspects of the Liron persona are on display here. The one that’s out to shock does:

if you kiss me there
and stuff coke up your blow hole
keep my cock in there is mysterious
pointing see anti depressed zone
of yes so she just says yes and wants it
'make me feel special'

horny stream kid puckers up to be
black in sheen of piss flicked up
to de respect the massacred respect time

This I think teeters on an interesting edge between the need to de-stabilise and the need to say something useful. In the above the latter probably wins out and it could be argued that the useful things are more likely to be heard if they are thought of as part of the sloganeering.
The poem is five and a half pages long, this is the final part:

now the precarious testimony for reading
the unsilenced body shuddering relapsed
form of smell and yearning wound glazed
streets and strategies of tongues and hands
no bodily possibility of resistance to this
rising tide of welcome hurtling straight
of the crowd of the crown of your rose
the fundament tactic of singing up against
the air in the wall is a door floored by naked
heads and teem the sea and car park flooding
the disco of fear with subversive emptying
re-railing the corollaries of obedience to
disappearance and plants twirl up in bared
velocity preaching louder by the train wreck
of poster boys find each other and hold each
other so we watch by the fire and lose weight
in the search for food, hoods become material

In terms of the initial Bebrowed quality test, the above contains a great many lines and phrases that I wish I’d written and the whole thing is put together with an impressive amount of sustained thought. In an anthology of very impressive work this poem is another one of those that stands out for me. I’m particularly impressed by ‘the train wreck / of poster boys’ and ‘smash troops of faggot joy dancing the gross / streets and strategies….’. There’s also an extended prose piece that I haven’t yet paid sufficient attention to but that seems to be doing the half-controlled mania thing.

I’ve written at some length about Joe Luna in the piece on the Claudius App in which I made a tentative observation that what might be important are the things that aren’t said. I noted that I was struggling with this observation and this was due to the inevitable fear of being wrong but also because it feels more than a little glib. ‘Better than language’ does however give me an opportunity to try and work this through in more detail. I want to make use of the ‘A bigger you’ sequence which is dedicated to Josh Stanley and is ‘about’ love yearning and desire. There are eleven poems, the first and the last are fairly conventional in form and the others aren’t. Some of those that aren’t seem to go some way to demonstrating my point but I’ll start with the first poem:

a bigger you your
on surplus debt
a fraction of my total love
hived off
at meat incarnate
bobbing in the swim spunk
numberless acrostic

on drum time I
sing w/your load
in my mouth your
cuteness
a bloody kid
raked in the light
of an image we

forget to touch

I’m sure that most would agree that this is fairly conventional and very well done, I like its directness and the honesty of expression. The last four lines especially are an example of language in a heightened form used to express complex thins that prose can’t begin to touch. I’m not sure whether ‘your load / in my mouth’ should be filed under ‘erotics’ or as an expression of intimacy and I don’t think that it really matters.

The fourth poem is more oblique as well as being quite radical in form. I’ll try to replicate the spacings:

rent asunder as
the blood
activates our
screen, dump
or
portal
tending to
a local
heartache
wounded in
thick grass
bending to
a visionary
bliss
sanctioned in
our midst

I’m of the view that this is remarkable more because of what may be going on in the background and the questions that are opened up for the reader- is it the hearteache or the visionary bliss that is sanctioned? who or what is doing the sanctioning needed? why is the heartache described as local and whose heartache are we talking about? why is there a very deliberate comma between screen and dump? I’m beginning to work through these and several others mostly be referring to other bits in the sequence but also by thinking about my own experiences and responses.

I’m going to leave it at that for now but will write about the other very talented young people in the very near future. Better than Language is available from Ganzfeld Press at only a tenner. There really is no excuse.

The Claudius App, compare and contrast.


The above is the set list from a recent Gillian Welch gigs at the Rogue Theatre in Grants Pass, Oregon. It’s a poem because I say that it’s a poem.
I was recently sent a link to the Claudius App which contains new work from Simon Jarvis, Keston Sutherland and Joe Luna. Given that it contains both UK and North American poets, I was going to write something about the vast superiority of the Brits over the cliche riddled mediocrity of our American cousins. Then I read the poems and realised that this strategy won’t work in this instance. This isn’t because the British poets aren’t any good, Sutherland, Jarvis, Luna and Lisette are some of the very best that we have but rather that some of the American poems are very good indeed. This came as quite a shock as the vast majority of North American stuff strikes me as being hopelessly poetic and a result of some creative writing course somewhere on the eastern seaboard.
Like Geoffrey Hill, I’m against the teaching of creative writing especially in the field of poetry and am of the view that the proliferation of such courses is responsible for the mediocrity that is threatening to kill poetry as a means of expression. In my head, North America is the home of the creative writing phenomena and therefore all North American poets who are the product of this system can’t be any good.
So I approached the Claudius App with the intention of concentrating on the British contingent but then started to look at some of the Americans. I want to set out some initial responses-
Vanessa Place is officially the Bebrowed scariest poet on the planet because of the challenge that she presents to the rest of us and because she really does mean it. Her readings are an absolute joy and her work is exceptionally challenging. In a recent interview, Kenneth Goldsmith has again ‘explained’ conceptualist poetry as stuff where the idea is more important than the content and goes on to say that Place- “is taking legal briefs that she writes during the day in the law field. And she doesn’t do anything to them, she just represents those as poetry.” Anyone even vaguely familiar with the Place output will know that this is more than a slight distortion. For example, Place’s contribution here is based on the ‘Statement of Facts’ but large sections of it have been blocked out. I’ve written about the original ‘Statement’ for arduity where I think I’ve made it clear that this is work that we are meant to read and think about. The current contribution also shows that Place is now ‘doing things’ with the original material. The extracts from Juliana Spahr and Steven Fama and the statement that this is a response to the “negative reviews” of Statement of Facts might only be helpful to those who have actually read the original work, to Place virgins what follows may appear as needlessly gratuitous. So anyone with an interest should read ‘statement’ first and then come to judgement about what’s presented here. I may be in a minority but I’ve always felt that a respectful silence is the best way to respond to adverse comment and it does seem that stripping the rapes of any kind of context demeans the original work.
So, given that Place scares me to death (in a good way), I’m not entirely sure why she should choose to respond even though that response is typically extreme. These reservations do not in any way detract from my view that she is one of the most important poets currently practicing and cannot be ignored.
|Kent Johnson in my head has always been the slightly contrived bad boy of American verse. I’ve followed some of his interventions in debaters on the other side of the Atlantic and have gained the impression that he adopts this contrarian stance purely to gain a reaction and thus what he says shouldn’t be taken seriously. His piece here however reflects what many of us must be feeling about Jacket2 which already has become a very pale shadow of its predecessor. I don’t want to launch any kind of attack on this entity but to register my personal sorrow that an essential destination has been replaced with something so weak. I’m guessing that Johnson’s wry description of the politics behind this is reasonably accurate and it really is sad that this kind of empire building can lead to such a loss. I’m taking care to refrain from giving specific examples of this loss, suffice it to say that I for one am missing the original- which wasn’t perfect but contained stuff that was worthy of consideration and attention.
Emily Dorman. I know nothing at all about Emily Dorman who seems to be absent from most of the web so I can only assume that this is a contribution from the American side of the divide. “Towards a New Critical Vocabulary” is one of the cleverest things that I’ve read this year. It could be argued that I’m biased towards the clever and am often prepared to be impressed by cleverness for it’s own sake. Whilst this may be true, this particular piece manages to combine oddness and deliberation to produce something that is staggeringly good. It manages to make me smile and (at the same time) to turn most of my thinking processes inside out. This is a good thing. I’m particularly impressed by section 7 and the immortal sentence: “Some readers may gripe that the ideas in the sequence are overcooked (‘a moment’s monument’ walks lockstep with mommy poems for instance) but the technique leaves few bones to pick”- which manages to speak enormous volumes about the entire lit crit business. The word ‘lockstep’ is particularly brilliant. I’ve read this four or five times and each time I find something else that makes me smile in admiration. So, if anyone has any more details on Emily Dorman, I really would be very grateful.
Daniel Poppick is a product of the creative writing machine yet manages to avoid the writerly nonsense that seems to infect most of his peers. I think I’d better try and qualify this, without doing an in-depth survey of the stuff currently being produced, I think my main concern is about the misuse of the adjective and the faked inability to be clear coupled with an odd determination to be wry and cool at the same time. Poppick manages to avoid all of these and to put together lines that are very good indeed. This is unusual because I’m not usually attracted by poems that are as direct as this but I don’t think anyone can deny that there are some bits that are breathtakingly strong. I would cite the second and the sixth stanzas of the first poem and all of ‘Sucking the Sherbets’ as being particularly effective. Poppick seems to have that knack of making the uncanny seem very familiar and vice versa, this is very impressive material.
Michael Thomas Taren is also a product of the creative writing machine who seems to be able to create quite distinctive voices for his work. I’m ignoring the first because I can’t be bothered to think about it but the second two are poems that are both striking and very confident. What I find most appealing is Taren’s readiness to take risks with language and to write lines that shouldn’t make any kind of sense- “and I answer that my neck is looking now like light in a swimming pool” is deeply attractive. In my experience it is rare to find poets who can sustain this level of quality but both Taren and Poppick seem to manage it.
We now come to Joe Luna and an introductory disclaimer. Up until last week or thereabouts the only thing that I knew about Joe was that his blog sends more people to this blog than any other site in the known universe. I have no idea what if anything this might signify but I am nevertheless grateful for all the traffic that I can get. So, I was intrigued to see one of his poems included here and have since been provided with others. having acknowledged some potential bias, I now feel able to state that ‘For the White Lake Blot’ is one of the best poems to be published in the last three or four years.For those of you who may wish to doubt this I suggest the following strategy-
1. Read the poem, start at the beginning and read through to the end, read all of the words, do not skip bits that seem superfluous, do not re-read bits that may seem obscure or difficult.
2. Try and remember what you have read.
3. Read the poem aloud, do this three or four times.
4. Read the poem to yourself again.
Following this strategy will lead you to an appreciation of both the depth and originality of this sequence. There are a couple of moments when it seems like Sutherland’s influence is going to take over but this isn’t sustained- what emerges is something where (and I am struggling with this) the gaps, the what-isn’t-said is as important as what’s on the page. This isn’t to demean what the poem says but rather to point to the unsaid stuff that seems (struggling again) to lurk between the lines. The sequence is full of stuff that is clever, challenging and intriguing, I’m particularly fond of the conversational voice that’s used to say some quite ‘deep’ things. Right now I’m busy reading more of Luna’s work and can confirm its consistency in terms of strength. I’ll be writing more about Luna shortly.
The same goes for Francesca Lisette.
I wrote all of the above about ten days ago and have spent the intervening time having a bit of a struggle with despondency and confidence which is annoying because I’m supposed to be recovering. This unwelcome interval has been spent amongst some primary sources for the last decade of the 16th century – narrative history remaining the best distraction when my concentration is shot. The period has also been marked by an odd sense of unease about poetry that requires attention which I do intend to write about. Returning to the two Lisette poems today has restored some confidence. I have read some of her other stuff and am awaiting the arrival of some more but the two on display here are simply outstanding and challenging on a number of levels. I’m still getting my brain around some of the finer points but would wish to draw your attention to “living underground with stockings made of rain / my free fucking watercooler wrung hands of all / authority;” which is both startling and clever and “mantra dies off / in the bread of giving up we rose / caulked and feckless” which is almost perfect. It is stuff like this and the Luna poem that restores my faith in the future of English verse whilst also managing to challenge the ways that I read and think about poetry. This is a good thing.

The above is a set list from a recent Gillian Welch gig in San Francisco, it’s another poem in the ‘tour’ sequence because I say it is.
With regard to the three Jarvis poems, I’ll obviously need to give these much more attention after I’ve negotiated the various threads in ‘Dionysus Crucified’ – I’ll have more to say once I’ve got my brain around both the depth and the breadth of the Jarvis project. Incidentally, looking at the background to George Herbert has led me to ‘Godly sorrow’ and John Donne on kenosis which may shed a little more light on the dying god theme in ‘Dionysus’ and on “or voiding inside their once barbarous pageants of national violence and love” from Z.15. It could of course be yet another example of over-reading and leaping to conclusions that aren’t actually there. I’m not at all sure about ‘Barcarol’ mainly because of line length but I also accept that I need to pay this much more attention.
As for the Sutherland contributions, I’m of the view that the selection from the Odes contains one of the weakest bits of the sequence, the excerpt from ‘Ode 4’ is a little too controlled and rational for my taste and (probably) not ‘superabundant’ enough. The bit from Ode 5 gives a much better idea of the quality of the sequence as a whole. I’m also a little puzzled as ‘Living stops to fit the empty” was once part of the ‘Odes’ and probably makes more ‘sense’ in that context rather than as a separate poem. Does anyone know when/if the sequence will be published?
I realise that this may cause offence but I’m bored of kettling poems and becoming bored of austerity poems (unless they are really, really good) and ‘The Clearance’ is a kettling poem, it’s a clever and clearly heartfelt piece of polemic but there are much bigger fish to fry…

Welch, Toronto, Monday night, the final poem in the sequence.