Tag Archives: poem

Is J H Prynne Worth the Bother?

I’ve spent some time recently glancing through everything I’ve written on Prynne here and on my arduity site. There’s a lot of it and I find myself asking whether paying this amount of attention to his work has been Altogether Worthwhile.

This might seem strange for one who has advocated Prynne’s value and championed his cause very much against the prevailing mainstream scorn. However, I know that I will spend my life with Hill, Celan, Jones, Milton and Spenser by my side, I can’t say the same for Prynne. Because I’m a stubborn bastard, I enjoy worrying verse into submission,in opening it up picking over the entrails and seeing where its bodies lie. Prynne offers more opportunities than most for this kind of obsessive ferreting but I’m not sure that I read him for pleasure any more.

My route to the Prynne foothills was from Milton via Geoffrey Hill. About 20 years ago I got over a period of Poem Disenchantment with Milton which led to Geoffrey Hill’s Comus and the rest of his obdurate oeuvre. Patting myself on the back I decided to have another look at Prynne as the other but even more difficult late modernist. As this blog and arduity show, there’s been a lot of tussling mostly until my latest disenchantment in 2015. The high point of these encounters was opening Streak Willing Entourage Artesian for the first time and getting immediately dragged in to its many delights. Conversely, the low points have been my disappointment in Kazoo Dreamboats. These lows aren’t the reason for my uncertainty, I’m probably more disappointed by Hill’s Day Books Than anything that Prynne’s ever done.</

Regular readers will know that I’m of the view that serious poetry rewards the serious attention that a reader may give to it and that poetry that can be fully grasped in a single reading usually isn’t very rewarding at all. So, if my problem with Prynne isn’t the amount of time and brow furrowed puzzling required, what then might it be?

The easy answer is that the work promises more than it delivers. The harder answer is that doesn’t make me re-think my beliefs and opinions. The others provide much more food for thought and, in the process, challenge my well developed and even better defended opinions and prejudices. Prynne delivers a kind of euro-lefty polemic that just seems quaint. It’s not that I have any major objections to this but it is a set of beliefs and ‘positions’ that were outdated in 1975. For me the response to the ‘message’ is to sigh and shrug because these rules no longer apply, if they ever did.

Hill on the other hand had a set of political and theological tenets that I could never share, as did Jones and Spenser but they make me reconsider, at least, my views on being English, on God and the church and (this is important) on the way I relate to other people.

My introduction to Prynne on arduity has this;

You’re either up for these kind of skirmishes or you’re not. I find that I am and my admiration for Prynne has grown as I have gone further in. If you choose to participate you are likely to find that engagement with this body of work will force you to question not only language but also the way in which you experience the world. You will also begin to find that the vast majority of contemporary poetry is intensely mundane and ordinary. If you write poetry then you may find that your voice will be radically altered, this is a good thing providing it’s not just a pale imitation of the man himself.

Re-reading the others still forces me to reconsider how I experience the world but Prynne doesn’t. Streak Willing…. had that effect and still draws me in but it no longer pulls me out of my cognitive and ideological comfort zone in the way that Mercian Hymns or Celan’s Atemwende collection or Jones’ Middle-Sea and Lear-Sea do. This is a personal disappointment mainly because I expected to be equally absorbed and affected by most of the rest of Prynne’s body of work and I’m not.

I’ll try and give a couple of examples, over the past few years I’ve attended reasonably closely to the Biting the Air sequence (2003) and to the Al-Dente collection (2014). From the latter, I’ve attended at some length to infusion, a poem that I provisionally and tentatively identified as having to do with the Grexit crisis:


This mercy will replace to them near first
exactly, as taken from clear at new payment
tacit doesn't reduce the few. Natural as due
not meaning to align song even reverted by
fixity, grant is yours.

                       Is description as
assert this brand get into advancement offer
agree to credit, must agree even so offset
along the close margin, is yours.

                                    Watching
is the site when agreed to break outward pass
claimed in front by either filter, in promise
adept cede a pledged condition willing to
give prominence flat-long fall. Walk over
quickly is yours.

                    However and so far, as or
will accept without presume limit, or foremost
latitude, will discover to steady if brilliant
sky gets easily by admit from iron former melted
intermit. Will line for, is yours.

                                         Does this
scrape or grate whenever veering to harbour
a fusion incline yet to feel redress faction,
in link acceptance, grant is yours.

                                         Be given
is yours, grant for this, is so quickly to be
is too and for, is yours.

For the arduity piece, as can be seen, I paid a lot of attention to the first stanza in order to:

  • demonstrate that is was about Grexit;
  • provide detailed examples of Prynne’s use of ambiguity;
  • demonstrate that his later work isn’t all that impenetrable after all.

Like most of us, I have my own views on this particularly vicious farce and they’re not either changed or challenged by the above. Europe is not yet a federal state and therefore Greece and Ireland and Portugal are all sovereign states. The ECB and the IMF, pushed by the German government, have spent most of this decade walking all over Greek sovereignty and forcing pernicious ‘reforms’ on a population that had no choice but to accept them. I’m aware that my views on this and other EU matters are inconsistent (for a federal Europe but against the current economic and social regimes) but the above doesn’t provoke me enough to think again.

The bebrowed method with Prynne is to think laterally, take note of the commas, look our for puns and spend much time with the OED. The fourth stanza above, for example, only begins to yield sense if I take into account subsidiary definitions for ‘foremost’,’former’ and ‘intermit’ as well as the regional meanings of melt as a verb. Doing this is intellectually satisfying but a bit mechanical. This isn’t because it’s insufficiently poetic or lyrical, I’m moved and challenged by the some of the conceptual work of Vanessa Place, even though it’s ‘simply’ repurposed prose without any kind of personal voice or interjection. With Prynne, I care about his subject matter(s) but he doesn’t reach me the way that others do.

Whilst the above may seem unduly negative, I must emphasise that I still take pleasure from the work. I can well recall the delight I felt when I realised that ‘foreland’ in the second Streak~Willing poem referred to the Irish provinces rather than a piece of coastline. I still get a kick from working this kind of stuff out and some of the verbal dexterity involved is technically brilliant. I still rate the work very, very highly because of its originality and the audacity of its challenge to our dismal mainstream. In the future however I’ll read him for the mental tussle rather than any likely impact on my thoughts and feelings.

In conclusion, it’s always been important for me to feel that I’m in a relationship with a body of work. I expect it to give me the same respect that I give it and I try to be open to genuine encounters (in the Celanian sense) with individual poems. I don’t have that with Prynne, sadly.

People come genuinely but mistakenly

This is a plea for feedback on this audio file which is the last attempt to do something useful with the Bloody Sunday / Saville project. I’m asking for feedback because it seems to ‘work’ in the way that I want it to but I’d be interested in the response of others especially in terms of coherence.

” People come genuinely but mistakenly to believe that they had witnessed something”

the marking of the letter k

Jonty Tiplady blog (3)

December 9th 2011 up to 6.40pm

jonty tiplady blog 3
bebrowed 2
tl61p 2
shibboleth derrida 1
crucified evidence 1
obscure poem 1
anarchical plutocracy geoffrey hill 1
clavics 1
emily dorman montefiore 1
upon appleton house 1
find f(2), f(3) , f(4) ,and f(5) if f is defined recursively by f(0) = -1 , f(1) = 2 and for n = 1 , 2 ,…… 1
andrew marvell upon appleton house 1
the philosophy of estar wings by herbart 1
very good thing’s dionysus did 1
keston sutherland stressnposition 1
easter wings poem’s shape mimic 1
anarchical plutocracy 1
geoffrey hill 1
geoffrey hill anarchic plutocracy 1
obscure good poems 1
the importance of poetry 1
geoffrey hill clavics 1
lyrical rhymes 1
geoffrey hill economist 1
jonty tiplady 1
geoffrey hill allen tate 1

The Things Crossed Out

During the evening of April 26th 1986 a young engineer at the Chernobyl power plant was on the phone to one of his superiors who was at home. This was in the hours prior to the explosion, the young man at the control desk was puzzled because the manual had lines that were crossed out and other bits added in biro. His boss told him to ‘do the things that are crossed out’. What follows is a sequence of poems crafted in honour of that moment. The sequence is chronological and I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the material.

San Francisco


Grants Pass


Eugene


Portland


Seattle


Vancouver


Olympia


Missoula


Bozeman


St Paul


Madison


Chicago


Royal Oak


Toronto


Newport


Bethesda


Raleigh


Winston-Salem


Asheville


Asheville corrected


Atlanta


New Orleans


Birmingham


Huntsville


Athens


Athens corrected

Daniel McGowan identified this person as himself

Entrance 
to
Glenfada
Park
North
 Shops
under
canopy
Southern
end of
Block 1
of the
Rossville
Flats
   Gap
between
Blocks
2 and 3
Joseph Place
alleyway
Fahan Street
steps
CAR PARK
(redacted)
  
  first house is
Joe McColgan
b-in-law.
LORRY FORMING
PLATFORM FOR
CIVIL RIGHTS
MEETING AFTER
MARCH
Walks up to alley heads
for town
CROWD HERE
small
rubble barricade
illegible soldier(?)
WRECKED CARS
hears first
shots
STEEP GRASS VERGE
shot just before
getting to illegible
looks over to
phone box
TELEPHONE
BOX
illegible soldiers (?)
ROSSVILLE ST
SMALL
RUBBLE BARRICADE
Daniel McGowan
identified this
person as himself
Bullet
Hole
I left the window after this
none of the men I saw had anything
in their hands
photographer
came from here
windows
FAHAN STREET
ALLEYWAY
   Man
ran from
here and
he was shot
1st man shot here
(he was dragged away)
2nd man shot - dragged
himself towards the alley.
ROSSVILLE STREET
D
E
1
2
F
G
Maisonettes ALLEY Maisonettes
Rosville Flats
Flats
4
Flats
  LANE
Car Park
S
T
E
P
S
  1
3
2
1 & 2: The men shot running into the lane
3: The man shot while crawling for cover
4: The woman who shouted from the flats
Chamberlain
Street
Gap between
Blocks 1 and 2
Patrick Doherty
LOW    WALL
rifle fire
CAR PARK
rifle fire
CONCRETE
LEGEND: "join
local IRA
x Doherty
x McGuigan
ROSSVILLE STREET
  Posititon of
Patrick Doherty
when
photographed by
Gilles Peress and
Fulvio Grimaldi
Arc in which the
firer must have
been located
Joseph Place
  alleyway
Fahan Street steps
Joseph Place
  alleyway
Fahan Street steps
Joseph Place
  alleyway
Fahan Street steps
 Bernard
McGuigan
 Body of
Bernard
McGuigan
Position of
Bernard
Mcguigan's
body
Southern
end of
eastern
block of
Glenfada
Park
North
    Body of
Bernard McGuigan
Nevertheless he felt able to mark with the letter K the
appropriate position of the man on the map attached
to his written statement to this Inquiry
(verbatim, the casualties in sector 5)

Keston Sutherland’s Stress Position

I was going to write this in the manner (style?) of the prose section of this poem but then I realised that this would only make any kind of sense to those who had read it and that only I would be amused.
Let me start by saying that Stress Position is a major piece of work that makes a significant contribution to current debates about language and its relationship to the ‘real’, compromised world. Bits of it are also very funny with extraordinary images.
The poem is ‘set’ in Baghdad and features the poet, a number of historical and fictional characters and Black Beauty. Rumsfeld and Cheney also get a name check and the sky makes several appearances.
If Keston was bipolar (which he isn’t), I’d be gently telling him to increase the lithium because the poem manages to hover on the bridge between mania and psychosis but is probably an attempt to express dialectical consciousness and produce poetry that is “as impossible as reality”.
So, the poem would appear to be a radical critique of American imperialism particularly with regard to torture but it also sets up a particular ‘metric’ (a term much used by Prynne) between aspects of the external world and the inside of Sutherland’s head. This is incredibly successful in that it takes the reader on an exhilarating ride through dystopia and manages to throw out a broad range of ideas at the same time.
I have a personal rule when reading poetry which is to count the lines that I wished I’d written. Stress Position is full of these so I should be overcome with envy but I’m not because Sutherland has thrown down the gauntlet to those of us who aspire to write poetry and change the world (not always at the same time).
Sutherland doesn’t have a good time in Stress Position, he gets gang raped in a toilet cubicle in McDonald’s and loses a leg but the overall tone is rhapsodic rather than brutal. A gastro yacht is also featured along with references to number of dishes- the significance of this escapes me but I’m working on it.
Sutherland has made a distinction between ‘readers’ and ‘consumers’ of poetry and made a passing swipe at mainstream poetry in the process. He was using Prynne as an example of a poet who demands very close attention and scorning those poets whose work can be read and fully understood in one go. With regard to Stress Position, the poem does demand attention but it’s of a different order to that demanded by Prynne, there’s no need for a word-by-word examination nor is their as much ambiguity but there’s still work to be done. The “anagrammatic” Diotima makes an appearance, certain words and phrases are italicised, a lot of compound words are used and I’m not at all sure about the presence of Black Beauty nor the presence of Sutherland’s mother before he gets gang raped. So the attention is more about the poetic structure rather than what the words may mean. Some words are printed in block capitals with numbers attached and I will need to work out what that’s about. There’s also bits of French and German that will require my attention.
The poem is also immensely quotable I’ll just give three lines as an example-

That means that he that the dots are all joined up in a skeleton already

and that skeleton is publically wanked off, into the open darkness

and the darkness spits its wet dust on a sticky mirrorball.

The other thing that the reader gradually realises is that the poem is tightly structured. Sutherland spent a long time thinking about this before putting pen to paper and it has paid off because we stay with the various threads rather than reading the various episodes as random and chaotic.

Ideologically, Sutherland and I are miles apart. I don’t share his Marxist/Hegelian slant on things nor do I have much faith in the dialectic but I do share his outrage at American foreign policy and the forces of late capital. I also share his concerns about the way that language gets appropriated by the impossible world. I don’t read poems to agree with them, I read them to be challenged and to steal ideas and Stress Position more than meets those criteria.

There is a bitchy dig at Derrida that is overly simplistic. If you are going to take on Grammatology then you need to be very clear what you are taking on and why.

Sutherland will hate this but I think the whole world should read Stress Position – it’s available from Barque Press for £6.