Sunday, 22 October 2017

Simon Turner - Birmingham Jazz Incarnation DVD Extras (1)


Eurotrip

Having a sense of low light conditions
without access to a library,
the poem goes on under the right arm.
Tap water & bleach-blondes are high fashion today:
a light blue fabric, clear & flowery, appears in the structure.
This ancient city has never been made of such dirty wood.
In addition, the Jazz Band designs the Sally Army.
The sector’s money clips embrace but do not improve the darkness
(& it is black: black jacket – cut to the knee –
black gloves & black shading, with coils on the shoes).
A saxophone in his mouth, spirits in the air, flowers,
& trees, of course, crazy handles of the storm,
the only open mouth with an instrument.
I mean, is that the Lord and Creator,
the city itself (free newspapers, a number of
fountains, statues, bus stations, &c)?
This is not just a product of his music.
We wait for the end of the song.
The absolute path is difficult.

=====

This variation was the product of online translation software, combined with a time-consuming - some might even be tempted to say 'obsessive' - constraint revolving around the official languages of the European Union. 

Friday, 20 October 2017

Simon Turner's Birmingham Jazz Incarnation is here...


No, of course, not 'here' in a literal sense, but it has been published, and met its public for the first time at what I can only describe as an epoch-redefining event at the Birmingham Literature Festival on October 14th, where I read alongside Julia Bird and Jan Carson, two brilliant co-authors with the equally brilliant Emma Press, who have taken it upon themselves to publish my crazed Oulipian scribblings.
 
"And what is Birmingham Jazz Incarnation?" I hear you ask.  No, of course, not 'hear' in a literal sense, it's a figure of speech, but I can sense nonetheless through the digital ether that you're interested.  Birmingham Jazz Incarnation is a pamphlet, lavishly illustrated by Mark Andrew Webber, in which one of my poems is un- and remade through a variety of constraints, forms and procedures: one moment it's a sonnet, the next it's the contents page for an imaginary fictional tome from the 18th century; at other times it's a skipping rhyme, whilst in extremis it's reduced to little more than an alphabetical catalogue of its own constituent atoms.       
 
Over the next few days, to whet the appetites of those of you who didn't immediately leap to their Paypal accounts to bulk-buy this genuinely gorgeous artefact after reading that scintillating description, I will be posting some variations that didn't quite make the cut: DVD extras, if you will.  In the meantime, here's a video of Kojack, singing the praises of the industrial heartland which inspired me:
 
 

        

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Editors Converse - Reading Lists (4/4)

S:

I didn’t know about the Tin House neglecterino list, no, but it sounds like a useful resource. It’s not a publication I’ve turned my attention to enough, so this might be a good time to start. Yes, you’re right about the inclusion of Lessing being a little odd - I don’t think Nobel laureates need to be rescued from the ash-heap of public forgetfulness, do they? - but Green (H.) makes a lot more sense: outside of the UK, I don’t know how popularly read he is (he may even be a primarily academic pursuit, even here: a writer’s writer, right?), and Dodie Smith falls into that category of a writer who’s known for one popular work but whose other output tends to get left by the wayside, a little unfairly.

(Speaking of the ‘Joycean moment’ Rochelle and I are about to do the most middle class thing in the world: no, not ‘vote Labour’, ha ha!, but do a joint reading of Ulysses, the results of which, if they have concrete form, may be coming to a blog near you, if you don’t behave yourself.)

Your list I like, and I’m sure there’s a whole host of work I could add to it, though most of it would fall in the bracket of work by authors who themselves are wildly non-neglected, but some of whose writing gets overshadowed massively by their celebrated output: so, Kerouac’s Doctor Sax and Old Angel Midnight come to mind straight off the bat - dense, post-Joycean engagements with language and landscape that come as a hell of a shock to the system for any reader who’s only encountered On the Road and The Dharma Bums before (and, again, like many of your examples, not perfect, but certainly interesting, and with flashes of brilliance: the flood of the Merrimac in Doctor Sax is among the best things Kerouac wrote). I could probably trawl my brains for more esoteric examples, but that’d be silly, and distracting. Just keep reading.

I think you may have mentioned Motorman before, and it was suitably intriguing then, although I’ve fallen away to a certain extent from that kind of genre / post-genre writing, at least for the time being (although, if you’ve not read it, I can recommend John Crowley’s Engine Summer, which, although narratively more conventional from the sounds of things, contains some genuinely astonishing writing, and moves at a pace which, at times, can be described as glacial: it’s the kind of post-apocalyptic novel to which only, say, Studio Ghibli could do justice in adaptation).

Otherwise, I’m just ploughing through old-school poetry proper: none of this dabbling in cross-genre intertextuality. Get hence, I tell thee, get hence! New stuff and old: there’s so much, in fact, hiding on my shelf I’ve not given proper due to that I don’t really need to engage in anything new for some months (not that that’ll happen, by the way). I’ve been re-engaging with Alan Baker’s Variations on Painting a Room, his chunky ‘collected pamphlets’ from 2010, which is great: it’s really interesting watching him move from a broadly realist, Objectivist-tinged mode to more open, collagist forms that deploy repetition and fugue structures. His newer work’s really good, too: a KFS pamphlet came today, comprising two short sequences which have an antic, Peter Hughes-y vibe to them, but still very much Alan’s own voice (slightly more melancholic and caffeine-fuelled than PH, definitely). Revisiting O’Hara, too, because frankly - ha! - I’ve only really scratched the surface of that particular treasure-hoard. I guess it’s easy to take the greats for granted, but that’s a silly excuse, as why take for granted something that’s still more vital and exuberant than 90% of everything else on the shelf, even half a century after he died?

G:

The whole depth/breadth thing has always bothered me. I know it’s a gross generalisation, but you like that kind of thing, so here goes: writers often get known for books, which, while worthy for their day, begin to lump together in a mass of familiar prose and plot arcs and aspirations.

I finally finished the Mueller novel I’ve been stalling over for months, The Appointment. Elsewhere I think you made a point about the ‘worthiness’ of a certain kind of writing in ‘Nobel’ terms; problems of history, accountability and guilt, how to deal with war, genocide and recovery. As if there’s only the binary of WW2 and post-WW2 for laureates to fit into. Yes, there’s a type there, and the same feels true of the kind of work that breaks through in other terms.

Do you remember we once had an argument about compassion fatigue? You (belligerent bastard that you are) accused me of a failure of empathy for arguing how Perec’s W, or the Memory of Childhood, had given me greater emotional access to the Nazi genocide than reading Eli Wiesel’s Night. And yet both books stand in my memory as powerful and vital accounts of a history I can never have direct access to.

Ultimately, there’s no real breadth of vicarious experience from that kind of writing. If you read every contemporary prize winner, every year, it’d be like reading the same novel over and over, with the names changed. This isn’t an argument in favour of Booker’s Basic Plots (BBPs), but an attack on the inability of most writers to make a reader feel like there are other possibilities in the world, other structures or habits. What I feel we’re talking about is finding the kind of books whereby you can’t just squint and feel like you’re staring at another vanilla-magnolia pastiche.

For now I’m continuing with breadth. There’s too much out there for me to dive into oeuvres right now; I’m trying to rebuild my love of/faith in books, writing, the ambitious wildness of the world’s libraries. Trying to find titles which don’t fit comfortably into BBPs; I guess I’m looking for a literature of anomalies. Engine Summer’s on the list.

I’ve three titles with me at the moment. Just finished Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet, which is so mischievous and brilliant and falls apart into rushed chaos at the end, but without dissipating its energy. Currently on Burroughs’ Junky, which is awful and weird. As Ballard recourses to physical disability, cars and erotica, so Burroughs, even in this early book, repeatedly associates to insects, centipedes. After that, I’ve Aldiss’ Galaxies likes Grains of Sand, for which I have a relatively blank slate of expectations.

So, a closing salvo: books with introductions by other authors, such a roulette wheel. Ali Smith’s intro to Carrington drips with hyperbole and adjectival juice-bites for the jacket. Allen Ginsberg’s introduction to Junky is gripping and wonderful, but also stylish. I liked the prose. The Aldiss edition has some kind of hybrid fronting the book: a next-level geekery extemporising about Aldiss’ career, which swings into a fairly brutal take-down of publishers’ fears of fake-publishing short story collections as novels-in-parts.

Anyway, I figured it’s better to open more worm cans at the end of these dialogues than pretend they should be cleanly and clearly rounded off. It’s a living conversation, non? Maybe we should just start posting it up, one letter per day, and just let it grow. We’ve already got a sub-conversation going on email.


===

This ought to be the last part of this conversation, but maybe we lied. Maybe there'll be a part 5/4 tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow already happened and you're reading this in another version of time. We don't actually have any answers. We're only the Editors. You, dear Reader, curate the world yourself.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Editors Converse - Reading Lists (3/4)

S:

I’ve not read Bluets, but The Argonauts did feel like a game-changer, partly because of its subject matter, and partly because it brought to light a tendency in recent non-fiction writing to ignore generic and formal boundaries, producing something that feels entirely new in the process (I’ve covered this ground pretty comprehensively in my stalled exchange with James, so won’t go over the same material here). Not sure how relevant it is, but there’s an excellent titbit about compositional methods from the Wave collection, where Maggie Nelson explains to Wayne Kostenbaum about how she writes poems on scraps of paper and napkins, and then carries the collated material around with her wherever she goes. It’s a fractured method of writing - something she contrasts with the more conventional procedures she applies to prose - which I can appreciate, and it’s precisely these little nuggets of writerly practice that make interviews with poets and their ilk so useful - it’s so much more valuable than the pseudo-scholarly gossip that often underpins literary biographies.

Claudia Rankine, too, has been a key part of my reading: both she and Nelson seem to have found a way to reinvigorate socially engaged writing in a way that combines the personal and the political, and feels immediately accessible for a general reader without sacrificing either formal invention or their innate radicalism. But they also feel strangely unrepeatable: both The Argonauts and Citizen will undoubtedly be incredibly influential, though not necessarily in terms of form or even theme, but rather as goads for the rest of us, on either side of the pond, to radically up our collective game. (Another nugget from the What is Poetry: Ted Greenwald - who’s in the reading jumble, too - bemoaning the decline in *creative* competition in poetry, the sense that we might be driven to greater compositional heights by the output of our peers and friends: jealousy as the great begetter. Think of Brian Wilson making Pet Sounds after hearing Revolver, and McCartney returning the complement with Sgt Pepper. I’m sure there are more literary examples I could have leant towards, but that’s always the analogy that’s at the forefront of my brain.)

Gratifyingly, Michael O’Brien’s work turned out to be as exciting as I’d hoped. Not sure why the hell I’ve not been reading him for years, to be honest; it feels like an irredeemable oversight on my part. Still, I’m glad to have discovered his work now, even if it is a little late in the day. I feel like he’s just the tip of an iceberg of poets with long and respected careers who’ve somehow, for whatever reason, managed to slip through the cracks of critical attention (or mine, at least). My mission for the next few months is to try and plug a few of those gaps: the world is absolutely stuffed with exciting work, both old and new; you just have to keep reading without jaded eyes.

In an entirely unrelated note, tell me about Motorman.

G:

Well now, I wholeheartedly second everything you say about Nelson and Rankine, and glad for the extra bits I didn’t know about Maggie’s process. I’ll let that rest and move on because I’ve been thinking about anti-novels lately, or anti-narratives. And your query about Motorman sparks a few thoughts.

Do you know about Tin House magazine’s ‘Lost and Found’ section? The list is, fortunately, online, although the articles themselves are subscription-only. (And at time of writing their store is undergoing maintenance so I can’t see much more.) Anyway, I very much like the outcome of a ‘reclaimed from the heaps’ reading list, although the principle itself is somewhat, I dunno, distressing/frustrating? It’s obviously subjective: I’d hardly put Lessing and Henry Green, or Dodi Smith on those lists, but you can’t tell when these pieces were written from the list. There’s certainly some interesting stuff on there, regardless - it looks like a better ‘hit’ than ‘miss’ approach for me. (It is, I should add, exclusively prose, to the best of my knowledge).

At the same time, it leans toward American and ‘literary’ more than my tastes in recent years. If I had to draw up my own list of lost and founds, it might read with a mix of difficult and delightful, but all, to me, perspective game-changers in terms of what a novel can do (yes, OK, if I were being blunt they’re books that accept the whole ‘Joycean moment’):

David Ohle Motorman (originally loaned, then gifted, by Andrew Bailey, total legend that he is)
Ann Quin Berg
JG Ballard The Atrocity Exhibition
Kenneth Gangemi Olt
David Thomas The White Hotel
Renee Gladman The Activist
Robin Blaser The Holy Forest
Ursula Le Guin The Dispossessed
Flann O’Brien The Third Policeman
Boris Vian Heartsnatcher

I’m sure there are others I’ve forgotten for now and would need to hunt through shelves to recover. I can’t describe any of these as ‘perfect’ books but they definitely stuck with me in ways that other books haven’t. And by ‘stuck’ I mean they left an emotional smear across my otherwise numb and vacuous heart/soul echo chamber, like the remains of a vampire’s supper entrailed across a crypt floor.

Against these there’s a stack of less successful experimental novels:

Frederick Rolfe Hadrian VII
Juan Filloy Op Oloop

And what am I doing? I actually was on the verge of trawling through shelves to remind myself of all the bad writing out there and then I thought: list-making is a mug’s game. Some books work better than others, but this division into ‘successful/unsuccessful’ or ‘good/bad’ is kind of pointless. I’ve been spending too much time on the internet. Bump those two up into the top category and add the proviso there are dozens more. Yes, your point is spot on: “the world is absolutely stuffed with exciting work”.

So, I’ll do what I was semi-avoiding and offer up a quick precis of why Ohle’s Motorman moved me so much: I can’t honestly say what it is ‘about’ but it is laced with a passion for life and survival in ways few books seem capable of celebrating. The protagonist, whose name I’ve forgotten, has several minor hearts and a few major hearts. He sounds semi-robotic. He drives about, escapes the State, seems to be some kind of retarded expression of a free-wheelin’ sixties independent spirit operating in an early Thatcherite/Reagan-esque or even McCarthyan, ‘This World has Moved On’ authoritarian regime, which expresses itself benignly through doctors and malignantly through a kind of militarised police force.

And our hero has to basically chase down his old mentor - who was a state doctor type, possibly, but has since gone rogue - before too many of his hearts pack up and cause his main heart(s) to go into arrest. Or something like that. It’s urgent, you care for him. It’s written in bursts of poetic prose, almost like diary entries, each one barely contingent on those around to start with, but the narrative grows through fragments into a coherent dissonance.

You follow his urge to write love letters to a woman you’re never quite sure exists, but he’s madly in love with. You follow his quest through various deranged biomes and territories, his encounters with madnesses in the swamps and mists, weird episodes which seem hostile at first, turn into safety, etc. It’s that movement between safety and danger, and the continuous urgency of having to keep moving, chasing, to survive, wrapped up in the bizarre love story underwriting it, which may or may not be a false hallucination/implanted memory. I mean, I’m cobbling it all together, it was so weird I had to half-guess what was going on with it.

At the same time, it’s so joyfully written, so open-minded and clean to read. And funny and emotive: the prose is a beating heart, it bleeds energy and feeling. I haven’t read another book like like that, which also managed to catch me on the first page.

A lot of gushing and I’ve done all that without even checking the contents of the book again. The memory of reading it sits like a hazy-shaped ball of happygoo inside me somewhere. That’s the stuff I crave these days.

And to be honest, I haven’t had that feeling from poetry for quite a while. Maybe I had a slight tang/buzz off Cathy Park Hong’s Dance Dance Revolution and maybe I’m forgetting other stuff...

But yes: quite, quite too long. Any recommendations along those somewhat indefinite lines?

===

The short answer: no, never. The nails in the coffin - Part 4 - tomorrow.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Editors Converse - Reading Lists (2/4)

S:

Lot’s to chew on there, but before I carry on, two points of note: one, your mention of the E.T. Atari game - which is rightly notorious - reminded me of a wonderful thing I stumbled across a while back, a vintage-style game based on The Shining, which is a thing of beauty and a joy forever; and two, I’m very tempted to put the word ‘foray’ in the foregoing into scare-quotes, just to get the rumour mill grinding away.

But these are passing fancies. Back to the poetry. It feels like, however disconnected you might be feeling, you’re still a little more plugged in to proceedings than I’ve been. The work that’s most exciting me at the moment, pretty much across the board, has been translation, often of poetry with a well-established vintage. Peter Hughes’ Cavalcanty is foremost in this list - his versions of Petrarch are one of the primary reasons to keep reading in the 21st century, and Cavalcanty is on a par, though it’s a shorter collection. I’ve not read the whole caboodle yet, but it already includes one of my favourite stanzas in history (both human and geological):

      the worst thing about being a dalek
      is how remote you feel from tender flesh
      & how every sexual position
      makes you feel more like a fucking bollard

I could probably babble on about Hughes’ control of the line (there’s a musical play of line endings against run on sentences, with syntactic units seeming to end with the line, only to continue and throw the reader into a momentary tailspin), his employment of competing registers and vocabularies, and the sheer vigour of his ear, but all of that would be rather academic and pointless: what matters is that the poetry’s never boring, the biggest sin. Every line’s an event, which you could unpick and unpick, but there’s a motive force to the music that keeps driving you on: a lot of this is probably due to the ‘voice’ (old-fashioned concept, I know, but it suits) that Hughes creates here, and in the Petrarch.

Who else? NRYB have just reissued Paul Blackburn’s Proensa, a translation of Provencal troubadours, and a precursor in terms of its technique to Hughes’ own work (they’re both offspring of Poundian and Buntingesque notions of translation). It’s arguably not as immediate as Hughes, but then I think Blackburn’s intention was more ‘trad’ in that he was creating workable translations rather than versions or new poems in their own right. But any translation’s a new poem in its own right, right?, and PB’s troubadours have a lot of energy and music. The versions of Bertran de Born, in particular, are exceptional (Pound turned his hand to BdB, too, in some of his earlier poems).

I’m sure there’s plenty else that’s been on my radar, but that can wait until further into the conversation. Excitingly, a copy of Michael O’Brien’s Sills has just touched down in the front hall, so that’s the rest of the day accounted for. Also, as a final thought: what’s more authentically punk than a book that’s been dipped in black gunk?

G:

Well now, ‘foray’ sounds a little more polite than, say, ‘fray’ or ‘fracas’ but let’s not throw petrol on that fire just yet. (*nudge nudge*)

I’ll stick to the poetry because I realise I do have a backlog of reading in my head. I could blab about a couple of other things I picked up second hand

Joseph Moncure March’s The Wild Party is fun, but dated by the spate of scatalogical open mic doggerel proliferating around and about. You also have to think yourself into the age, and that’s a difficult job when you’re trying to squeeze your way past the somewhat male-fantasy drawings in the illustrated-by-Art Spiegelman edition; and I’m trying to re-read Astrid Alben’s Ai! Ai! Pianissimo, which, a bit like AK Blakemore’s book reads like it’s had a little bit too much of the energy edited out of it, but really only a couple of names stand out from the last year or two: Maggie Nelson and Claudia Rankine.

I guess it’s the form that attracts me most. A kind of prose-poetry series of stanzas/blocks. Where Christian Bok’s Eunoia (and some of Susan Howe’s collections) shapes the ‘paragraphs’/‘word-squares’ very rigidly, Nelson’s poetry and Rankine’s Citizen feel completely organic, open, instinctive. The form drove me through their work like teenage joyriders on methamphetamines, but this despite the absolutely serious, intellectual backbones.

Rankine you probably know all about already. Citizen weighs a hundred times more than the paper it’s printed on. I feel like it deserves more than a couple of throwaway sentences here, but it has been reviewed and acclaimed extensively. My main interest is that it’s an essay-poem, which is a tradition, and as with a lot of these sensationalised texts, there’s not much discussion of that form: Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, Charles Bernstein being two of the more recent exponents I’m aware of, but the tradition is French (and, a quick online search suggests, commonly French Canadian) with exponents in Victor Hugo, Montaigne and others. The form needs more attention, as it serves a very strange purpose.

Especially in Nelson’s work. I was lucky (I think) to read bluets before The Argonauts. They’re both great, but they’re also pretty much a set; bluets (I have no idea why I’m spelling it lower case, it just feels right) pretends to be an essay about the colour blue, but extrapolates into autobiography, gender, social commentary, identity politics, liberalism, depression, difficult relationships, asides about the state of academia, all that stuff. It’s brilliant, though maybe a little bit too intellectual in places, but those heightened moments of thinking are off-set by the other extreme - some incredibly difficult, honest moments of emotional exposure. The stuff on blue, also, made me happy someone had set out to challenge William Gass’ On Being Blue, which, despite some sharp insights and a wealth of intelligent magpie-ing, left me thinking it was an unredeemably creepy book.

The Argonauts feels a little more self-conscious by comparison: perhaps knowing people are watching makes for language that’s a little more, I don’t know... Intentional? A few moments felt as if they were intended to be read by certain people, statements that needed to be made, but they didn’t weave smoothly into the rest of the essay. It is, however, a much more positive book than bluets, with childbirth, family, finding feet, etc. One of the funnier moments, from my perspective, is her moments of liberal doubt about naming their child something they later found out suggests a Native American identity, and oh hashtag cultural appropriation what?

Nelson’s work has a way of using prose-block fragmentation that made me wonder if it’s still a valid form. I tried re-reading Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk, and it struck me as heavy-handed masturbation. And then I’m tilting over into those little square till-books, with aphorisms and random life advice, which function in similar ways. I can’t help feeling there’s a very rich range in the ‘book-of-paragraphs’ genre which Nelson has steered away from by going more toward ‘essay-poem’.

But, like you said, that kind of categorisation starts to sound like academic wrangling over imaginary horses. So I’ll stop with one of the quotes that jumped out at me from Nelson:
once something is no longer illicit, punishable, pathologized, or used as a lawful basis for raw discrimination or acts of violence, that phenomenon will no longer be able to represent or deliver on subversion, the subcultural, the underground, the fringe, in the same way (The Argonauts)

===

Does it get better? Does it ever get better? Find out tomorrow with Part 3!

Monday, 16 October 2017

The Editors Converse - Reading Lists (1/4)

Simon Turner and George Ttoouli caught up in the e-ther to discuss recent reading, like intellectual rats hooked to literary electrodes, to see if there's any charged writing around to get their pleasure muscles jumping.

===============

S:

So, I was thinking over what you’d said the other day during your jaunt to sunny Leamington, about how you’ve been feeling a little removed from the various poetry scenes in the UK. I have to admit, and did at the time, that I’m feeling similarly removed from proceedings, due to a combination of age and contrarianism. That said, there are plenty of individual poets out there whose work we admire; it’s just perhaps that we’ve allowed context - poetics, infighting, aesthetic battles, the scurf riding in the wake of the Poetry Wars - to fall by the wayside. Which might not be such a bad thing, all told.

One of the things I’ve been reading lately is a collection of interviews from the Poetry Project that Wave Books has just published, and even though I’ve only just begun dipping into it - it’s a treasure-trove in so many ways - one theme that’s come up with a degree of regularity is the notion that, ultimately, scenes, movements, poetics, aesthetics, don’t really matter: what matters is, as a reader, finding out work you admire; and, perhaps more importantly, as a working poet, finding like-minded people you can become friends with, and with whom you can share your work and enthusiasms. Everything else is just politics.

So, partly because it’s fun to discuss one’s reading in a general sense, and partly because I wanted to get back on the G&P pony, what say you to an improvised textual discussion of our recent reading? What have we loved, what have we hated? Which neglected voices do we want to crow from the rooftops? Which over-rated prize-winners would we choose to bury beneath impenetrable layers of feculent landfill? Thoughts?

G:

I’m fairly sure it should be ‘faeculent’ just because it was too close to fecund for my tastes. That said, it does remind of a story I heard recently about people mining landfill for rare earth metals and along the way, someone somehow managed to dig up the worst Atari game ever made, something related to E.T.

But that’s a long way off topic. I’ll admit, I’m not actually that long into reading for pleasure again. I’ve been trying to compile a list of titles to revisit, acquired over the past few years or so, with the intention of (re-)reading with a little more attention. Looking over my shelves, my tastes have changed a lot.

But, that said, this is improv, so I’m going to dive in with what’s been on my mind. I mentioned, during our foray in the park, Rupert Loydell’s new book arrived in the post - Dear Mary (Shearsman). I actually wrote a review of it, and it may even be live before this conversation is ended [insert link here if so].

Another one that has been on my mind: AK Blakemore’s Humbert Summer (Eyewear). I met ‘AK’ several years ago when I was working a London job and she was winning awards. I was struck by the poems’ images back then and when I glanced through the copy in my local Waterstones, was struck again, although there was a sharper edge to the syntax, a little more punk to the language. I didn’t buy that copy because someone had smeared it with black gunk and it was the only shop copy (don’t even know what it was doing there, frankly), but ordered from the publisher. I dipped into it, ran out of time, dipped back in... The usual story. But it’s still interesting enough, has enough difference in language to conventional stuff to mean I’m going back to it.

Which reminds me: the images were the reason I got into Nathan Thompson’s work, though really his schtick turned out to be voice. I never did pick up his last Shearsman. Might be time to start dishing out the spondulix again. Sad to have lost touch with him. I’m fairly sure I had a parcel lined up to send him, then lost track of his email and postal addresses.

But community: that was actually a conversation I started to have with Theo in January. I feel like our ‘community of like-minds’ is spread all over the place: from Birmingham to Athens, Australia to Cornwall to Singapore. It would be nice to have the money to visit them regularly, though that might drive me mad. Still, I feel like the Midlands has a big red band of no around it, driving all the like-minds away. Something akin to Baker’s description of how birds reacted to his human shape.


===

This was originally called 'Recent Reading', but the conversation happened so long ago, the hot dust of zeitgeist is now the frozen sheen of yesteryear. Part 2 tomorrow.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Three Drafts of the Same Poem by Sarah Cave

Draft 1: Lyrical Notes for a Performance Piece II
Follow Alice into
Google Streetview: an imagined Sunday afternoon at Yasnaya Polyana
                  [listening to Library Tapes on my headphones]
Alice passes David Wenngren playing

View from a Train in fragments

at the Grand piano in the Dining Room
take the right hand arrow
Alice strolls through a curtain of light
and on the porch leaves me

                                                in the sun with Natasha

yellow pegman
wearing her
yellow dress
shellac lips

                   ‘but you’ll melt’

yellow dress

                   time passes

yellow dress

                   Alice sees her shadow at the corner of the turn towards the lake

yellow dress

All I am to you, love, love, love [music skip], is
                                                                      expired celluloid                                     yellow/dress                                                  and light leaks

       spilling across an echo of analogue
All my mother taught me to be to you, love, was                              white

                                                                                                          yellow

                                                                                                          read the red
                                                                 a yellow dress
                                                                           an acetate love letter to Tolstoy                                                                  a yellow dress

                                                            Curtain.



***



Draft 2: The archaeologist watches

                                    Lenin’s embalmed hands

full of grace, again, again, again.        cut with        Yasnaya Polyana in lemon
                                                                                        July, 1865
                                                      Natasha in yellow
                                                 a triangle of green

     Watch Alice move into
     Google Streetview: imagine Sunday afternoon at Yasnaya Polyana
                              [listening to Library Tapes on headphones]

     Alice passes a Swedish Pianist playing

                                                                [View from a Train
                                                                    // Kreutzer Sonata split into fragments
                                                                                                             white noise]

     at the Grand piano in the Dining Room.
     Take the right hand arrow

     bookcases, a gramophone, old magazines

                                                  Alice follows pre-programmed paths
                                                  through walls and furniture
                                                  The door is photographed as though
     L
     y
     r
     i
     c
     a
     l

     N
     o
     t
     e
     s

                                                  curtained by light and Alice passes through
                                                  and leaves me on the porch

                                                       in the sun with Natasha

            a yellow pegman
     wearing her
                                                            yellow dress
                                                            shellac lips

                                for a Performance
              yellow dress

                    time passes

     painted red

                    Alice sees her shadow at the turn towards the lake
     and Natasha’s

              yellow dress

                              All I am love is expired celluloid is
                                                                          expired celluloid
                                               yellow/dress                                    light leaks

            spilling an echo across an acre of analogue
     All my mother taught me to be to you love white/yellow/red, was      white
                                                                                                                yellow
                                                                                                                read the red

                                                                   a yellow dress
                                                                                an acetate love letter to Tolstoy
                                                                   a yellow dress                                                                                suffering the picturesque

                                                          Curtain.



***



Draft 3: The archaeologist watches

                                    Lenin’s embalmed hands

full of grace, again, again, again.        cut with        Yasnaya Polyana in lemon
                                                                                        July, 1865
                                                      Natasha in yellow
                                                 a triangle of green

     Watch Alice move into
     Google Streetview: imagine Sunday afternoon at Yasnaya Polyana
                              [listening to Library Tapes on headphones]

     Alice passes a Swedish Pianist playing

                                                                [View from a Train
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––// Kreutzer Sonata split into fragments
                                                                                                             white noise]

                                                                                                   red
     at the Grand piano in the Dining Room.
     Take the right hand arrow

     bookcases, a gramophone, old magazines

                                                  Alice follows pre-programmed paths
                                                  through walls and furniture
                                                  The door is photographed as though
     L
     y
     r
     i
     c
     a
     l

     N
     o
     t
     e
     s

                                                  curtained by light and Alice passes through
                                                  and leaves me on the porch

                                                       in the sun with Natasha

            a yellow pegman
     wearing her
                                                            yellow dress
                                                            shellac lips

                                for a Performance
              yellow  dress

                    time passes

     painted  red

                    Alice sees her shadow at the turn towards the lake
     and Natasha’s

              yellow  dress

                              All I am love is expired celluloid is
                                                                          expired celluloid
                                               yellow /dress                                    light leaks

            spilling an echo across an acre of analogue
     All my mother taught me to be to you love white/yellow/red, was      white
                                                                                                        yellow
                                                                                                           read the red

                                                                   a yellow dress
                                                                                an acetate love letter to Tolstoy
                                                                   a yellow dress                                                                                suffering the picturesque

                                                          Curtain.







Friday, 6 October 2017

Shotgun Review #5: Loydell's Annunciations

George Ttoouli reviews Rupert Loydell's Dear Mary (Shearsman 2017)


Poetry book - available from Shearsman

Time taken to read: This was my toilet book for a few weeks while I was meeting a deadline. For a week I kept getting stuck on the preface. Then I switched to dipping in randomly, reading a few short pieces in a row or one long piece, to get a sense of the mood, tone, etc. Finally, I read the whole book (exc. preface) in one sitting while listening to ‘Dear Mary’ on repeat – about 52min. I still haven’t finished the preface, not for any fault of the writing, just, well, it’s not poetry.

Time taken to review: 1hr (+ some editing)

Where found: Sent by Shearsman. Possibly for review. It’s hard to tell with Rupert, he’s been sending me things in the post for over a decade. I didn't even give him my new address.[1]

Transparency: Rupert has been a long-standing affiliate for G&P. We’ve published his solo work, some of his collaborations, various bits and pieces. Also that aggressive interview, which is still the most successful in the series, despite being the first attempt. Rupert has also published some of my work at Stride Magazine and smallminded books and also the other one which published the thing he did with Sarah Cave, which they've been talking about on G&P this week. Some might say I’m too close to him, but this is a poetry-only love affair, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think we’ve met face to face since, oh, about 2002, when he told me over a busy restaurant table that I was trying to be ‘too clever’ in my poetry. I’ve always appreciated that honesty and respect him enough to serve the same back.

Time started: 13:15-14:15 to draft + editing

Review:

Anyone wondering where Luke Kennard gets his schtick from could save themselves the bother of digging around and read Rupert Loydell's poetry.[2] Particularly this new book, Dear Mary, just out from Shearsman (April 2017). The hallmarks are all there: the strangely inviting personal voice, the diaristic sense of someone's idiosyncratic life being recorded, a headlong confrontation with religion (tho with less of LK's trademark doubt and self-castigation), and, of course, the wry humour. But where Kennard's humour is the dominant note for a lot of his work - a bass line from which he deviates, much to the disappointment of his audiences, no doubt (stop trying to show range!) - Loydell's poetry carries a less-than-obvious central emotional tone, from which he can go many places. The work isn't pigeonhole-able in the same way.

As a result, it's easier to start with the complexity underwriting this book: the multiply-threaded frame, the sense of a lived experience undigested or filtered for 'meaning.' One of the pieces that most brilliantly encapsulates Dear Mary's range arrives early on, dedicated to David Miller. Starting as if it wants to be a prose review mixed with diary, it shifts to a slim column of images, before returning to a summative prose:

The poet's book has served me well, and has sat literally and conceptually alongside a short book on colour, a re-read novel of occult training and enlightenment, and a fictional exploration of moments when the celestial and human met or even touched.
('"A Process of Discovery"' - the title has quotation marks to denote its origin as a title from Miller).

I didn't check the notes before reading and assumed the book on colour was Wittgenstein's Remarks on Colour (which serves as the title of one of Dear Mary's later poems). The notes tell me otherwise - it's not entirely significant however. What's obvious is how well Loydell weaves these aesthetic and personal elements through the book, using journal styles and minimalism and a range of other modes, somehow held together by a deft complexity of tone and emotion.

Colour is the strongest, early feature-of-significance to the poems. Part of the book might be taken as a discourse on painting, on sensory visuals, on the meaning of colour preferences. An early poem ('Lost in Colour') notes, presumably, Loydell's artistic training and how to others he seemed "seduced by colour" - a criticism he wears proudly. (The moment is reminiscent, to me at least, of Robin Blaser sharing Charles Olson's accusation, that Blaser's supposedly rubbish with syntax, in a collection called Syntax.) Of course, the play with voices elsewhere suggests I'm just making a rookie mistake, associating the training with the author's biography, but that's the mode at the beginning: lyrical memoir.

Yet this colour-conversation is where the book's 'realism' or 'interpretability' begins to break down for me. Ostensibly, we're led in the first half of the collection through Loydell's love affair with Italian Renaissance paintings of Mary and the Annunciation, while on holiday in Tuscany. He paints, he swims, he mucks about with colours, he drags his family on long drives to see his favourite paintings in remote churches, only to find the churches closed and no one around to let them in... If you ask me, Loydell must be an insufferable person to go on holiday with.

But this is a projection, a reconstruction. By the mid-point in the book I found myself thinking Loydell's never been to Italy in his life. The whole thing is a set up. All the artists and poets and critics referenced are actually twentieth century or more recent: Francis Bacon, Deborah Turbeville, David Hart, David Toop, David Batchelor (a lot of Davids) - the 'Fra Angelico' is Diane Cole Ahl's, not some 16thC maestro.

The 'aha!' moment for me is in a piece called 'The Pictures Started to Instruct Me': "I wanted all the colours to be present at once. / ... How difficult it becomes when one / tries to get very close to the facts". This is not real representation, but an interrogation of how difficult it is to turn the real world into art. The danger then is that you start to believe these unreal representations more than the world itself.

Moments of real experience in the first half of the collection contribute to a sense of the ridiculousness of artistic living. At the end of the poem for David Miller, the painter-poet gives up for a bit, decides to go for a swim: "A startled lizard runs from the sudden splash." The juxtaposition is somewhat ridiculous because the poem has barely made an attempt to locate the poet spatially in Tuscany. Is he in the sea? A lake? A pool? Where the hell is the lizard and how has the painter-poet even noticed it, if he's jumping into the water? The perspective is all shot through: that's the point: this isn't trying to represent reality. It's interrogating the ease at which we are 'seduced by colour' when we read, or view art.

Which then leads me to the second thread: "a fictional moment when the celestial and the human met or even touched". The 'Mary' of the title is, unobviously, a composite. The notes here reveal the lyrics of Steve Miller's 'Dear Mary' are themselves collaged from the lyrics of several other musicians' songs.[3] So too this Mary, filtering multiple Marys into a composite; they're not really about Mary herself, most of the time, but about the process of hunting down what Mary means, building that picture from multiple sources, making idiosyncratic connections and compiling them into something that seems believable enough to be real, but in fact, like the worlds built in each painting, is just another subjective version of the world, a new world, a world-in-itself.

This sense establishes itself and then, having prepped you through a kind of uncanny accrual of not-quite-right glitches in the matrix, we're offered the first proper discomfort provided by a number of long pieces: 'Shadow Triptych' after Francis Bacon. The three parts are not numbered, and the columns are, in turn, located to the left hand side of the page, the centre and the right, each in straight-edged columns, like the panels of a triptych. The series is in fact a kind of essay, or series of essays. And it's here (and in the later long pieces, particularly 'My Paper Aunt') where the collection's occult influences seem most prevalent.

The essay combines all the threads I've emphasised, but the tone shifts to something unnerving: the tones of Bacon's paintings, the fleshy torture, the sense of darkness inside those faceless jumbles of tendon and muscle. The notes to the poem are a long list of influences, including Bacon's paintings, of course, but also, surprisingly Haruki Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase' and, unsurprisingly, E.M. Cioran's The Trouble with Being Born. I wouldn't be surprised to learn the entire 'Shadow Triptych' is a cento, but then, that's the beauty of the whole collection: it never lets you shake off the createdness of its 'world,' and that its 'world' is nothing more than the subjective experiences of just one person, nexused through many other subjectivities. (Nothing more! Hah!)

That said, there's more here than merely listening to someone else's heartbeat-in-language. That's not the point. I started with a comparison to Kennard at the beginning (my association, deployed in expectation (some of) our reader(s) might be familiar), I'll deviate back there now. There are a few poems here that I almost took as sacriligeous. In one, Mary goes online dating while Joseph's out. An angel shows up and "When he disrobed, it was a bit of a shock to see what he'd kept hidden" ('Online Dating Annunciation').

Later, there's 'Alien Annunciation': "according to Mary her pet's barking continued to get louder and louder throughout the visitation." If these had been part of a novella by, say, Colm Toibin, there'd probably have been a witch hunt. Instead, located here, there's a gentility and a kindness - a making senseness to how they form part of the picture of someone trying to make sense of a celestial encounter with the human, the real. The need to make sense, even where it transcends understanding.

These parts are perhaps closest to the aforementioned Kennardian absurdism. Tonally, however, they range out of easy laughter. There's a batch of poems in the second half of the book where humour seems to be the dominant mode, but in context of what's gone before, particular the doomy triptych, it's hard to take them as release or relief.

Or perhaps they're a temporary relief. A bit like the process-driven pieces. A few poems smack of googlisms, lists heavy with repetition and wild juxtaposition, where the ego shines out from the cracks between curated pieces, rather than glowing in the voice-driven language. The more deceptive pieces, the ones where the voice does a very good job of sounding familiar, are the places where I found myself least secure. The process-driven stuff - flarf, Oulipo, those conscious moments of trying to get outside of representational, first person lyric conventions - feels, to me, like it has had its day, especially here, with Dear Mary's unstable eye/I. Those diary pieces, so deceptively inviting, stretch the lyric mode into strange places, finding room to manoeuvre a personal personality within the constraints of very poetry-looking poetry.

Actually, if I had to give you an accurate sense of this book, I'd say, it's a bit like wearing a Rupert-suit for an hour. Yes, really; this is poetry as a record of experience, through and through: lived moments coupled to the reflections on, the long-running tracks of thought to which one person idiosyncratically returns, time and again, coupled to a private journalism, curated through a totalising subjectivity, but one which is always overstretching the rigidity of those boundaries with new perspectives, alternative subjectivities entering through, melding with the pluralist eye/I.

The poems in Dear Mary are knitted from the real experience of a person, filtered through the alembic known as Rupert Loydell and passed on, partial, imperfect, formed into meanings and moments, against which you'll find a flicker of what it means to be not-yourself, for just a moment. If that sounds a little bit Buffalo Bill, well, maybe that's fair enough: it's just the wrong side of understandable to leave me with an uncanny feeling of having been dropped into something too familiar to be knowable.

===

[1] This is a lie, of course, and I should also add, I've had some delightful things in the post from Rupert, including a dozen or more issues from small-minded books.

[2] The fact check elves (OK, read: Rupert) notes that Kennard and Nathan Thompson and Rupert were all associated around Exeter at some point, along with people like Andy Brown (still there) and Alasdair Paterson (not sure if he's still there), latter of whom used to run a reading event, where perhaps they fraternised. The influence is speculation on my part. Also, I've slightly edited the passive aggressive, 'I miss you, Luke' out of the first sentence of the review, for reasons just stated.

[3] My rush job missed the fact that it isn't Steve Miller's song that's collaged, but Rupert's poem of the same title.