Pessoa in English

A book of selected poems from Shearsman. Search, the second of two English language personas, seems to just write doggerel, but his auto-epitaph is interesting (the date is missing), especially in those terms: quoting from the 4th and 49th-51st lines from that 57 line poem

He filled with madness many a song…

But let him lie at peace for ever
Far from the eyes and mouths of men
And from what him from them did sever.


The phrasing is unusual, as in all these poems (Frazer mentions Pessoa’s Elizabethan early influences).

The later (1924-1933) poems included here seem like mature work, though it’s not immediately clear why. Perhaps he can express his curiosity more clearly.



maybe doggerel, like bad art in general, is habitual, a habitual way of e.g. expressing yourself, especially if peculiar to yourself, meaning a false individualisation, whatever alternatives there are in or outside e.g. poetry.


The sublime

I’ve read a little on the Sublime, not much! In time I may have read enough. In general, poetry is good, and not bad, when what it does is, which I think is close to the self – reader – empowerment of sublime art in Kant but politically motivated, until you face a post-modern annihilation (the order reversed for some reason). Dunno who says that.


‘The Indescribable Thrill of the Half-Volley’

Ok, I am not blogging any more Tim Allen, not after this. 97 poems of two couplets. I had the sense of impressionism to hermetic content, which was a surprise, if slightly mad. There are several humorous moments (“Thieves are operating in this area”; how do you sharply cut a sponge?), though the only criticism I can find is that these poems are perhaps a little too serious, and the humour is rarely imbedded in these tightly woven structures of thought (content). Slower reading doesn’t change much, but it may be worth copying out a poem at random, having already blogged ’89. Invisible mask’

38. Invisible group

Sunday afternoon in sunny long-ago spin
Chuck Berry’s No Particular Place to Go

No one had a car but we imagine the seat-belt
Walking radio weightless – fiddling with transistor

There may be a number of ways to think about how the last line (and it’s usually the last line where this lack of clarity occurs, except for a lack of punctuation anyway) makes the poem, but I suppose I’d read it with a diary drop (I am walking) and inversion (weightless radio), so that ‘weightless’ (its proto-germanic root, wihtiz, is apparently a pun, and it also means essence, being / creature, thing), “not affected by gravity”, is a metonymic figure for ‘holding’. Though the lack of determiners for everything but the imagined car and seat belt might make that look foolish, in a postmodern sort of way.

Unpacking it this way doesn’t change how I feel about the four lines at all. I very much like these poems, and their invisible (every poem is titled with two words, the first ‘Invisible’) structures make them seem quite beautiful, especially alongside their visually pleasing line length, which I was unable to replicate in the above quote.

If you wanted to strive for a more complete reading, I’d suggest working with more of an idea of traditional form; I think these lines usually approach accentual tetrameter and would be gently appealing read aloud. I’d call that sublimely so, but what do I know? I cannot kick a football.


no mad i c

Ruskin’s claims about the terrible and sportive grotesque are well known. The former lacks seriousness and expresses (a quick gloss) apathy; I am composed almost entirely of apathy, so I suppose that my poems may become more robustly proto-sublime if I can transfer that schizophrenic immobility into the past, content and so on (should we all?). Gratefully, it belongs there.


Socrates bleats,

the poverty of pollution

(all things are waged in hours):

flexible counters have a leaden

poisoned ballistic. Stride, 

have a total conviction in a 

day’s simplicity with her.


‘Very Rare Poems Upon The Earth’

Another book by Tim Allen. He keeps sending me them. Published this year (2023) by Aquifer Books. 128 “improvised” pages, “spells” according to the blurb, each of two paragraphs of 8 long lines, often with one or more large spaces in them (of about 5 to 12 letters). Though these spaces can often – not always – function as dividers (there is no punctuation) they don’t immediately suggest pauses, which means reading the poems inattentively is quite natural. But I get the general sense that Allen is trying to incite the reader’s curiosity into paying attention, and though I am lost how any two paragraphs fit together, these poems are only really fragmentary at that bored surface reading, when an occasional startling image (“a bee at sea”) and spacing (“a concept / squeezed into the imagination”) is all that breaks up the relative tedium of the flow of letters (there are a number of direct references to music, at least some of which are listed in the back, Shirley Bassey, Frank Zappa, etc., but I don’t think of these as especially musical as talk, which as such is perhaps invective and sinister).

My favourite poem (most meaningful?) is ‘Childhood’ (the titles are randomly selected from a list, but, as Allen claims in the notes, “once a connection is made between a title and poem it cannot be forgotten”), which seems more “weighed down” (the last poem seems to suggest the poet has to be) by his thinking, “a millisecond in which you forget the pain”. Figures – seemingly arranged chaotically – keep popping and flashing and reappearing, and they are to be enjoyed, “unbearable pain handwritten like a waltz”. e.g.: the “look in the eyes / of Devonport men electric knives open” (compares I think fresh meat to eyes – carving to blinking, both instinctive); “ouija skiffle / Orpheus endless supply of fuck offs… press gangs rats in red” (publishers will eat anything).

Aside from the above, which works to create a contemplative aesthetic tone, I struggle with their hermetic qualities and to construct them as meaningful wholes, as ordering content (“thought processes”). I don’t know if that is deliberate or if my reading suffices.


‘Brass’ again

I reckon this collection builds on disintegration of the image, by getting the music back into things (philosophy, poetics, emotion, satire, sense and sounds). If it’s sublime then its music, the living quality of the cadence in things, is the “object a”. So I suppose I see it as a hyper refined open form, one that cuts the conversation for a kind of mightiness and detachment. I don’t know enough poetry to even guess at what Prynne is doing here that is radically his own, but feel comfortable reading them as narrative songs. Great poems. e.g. ‘Thinking of You’ and “the old fat in the can” makes me think of Nietzsche’s discourse, neither shrill nor bossy, and I feel I don’t need much else beyond that to read a master at work.


open form

I was thinking of open form etc. as the torquing of the page and composition by background knowledge and belief. Tried that, and then edited as I previously was (so, to bring out what I feel repulsed from, etc.). I found to be a curious kind of inversion. The texture becomes quite euphonic, and it felt like that ordered the poem’s shape. I hope, maybe irrationally, that this works then like background music, setting the mood for the poem’s figures, so that the poem as a whole expresses the emotion latent in the metaphor.

If I was going to link that to my earlier statements about the grotesque, I would suggest that Olson’s anti-egoic “self” cannot make music taboo, suppress it into non-music, and that – in this incoherent non-poetic – the music reappears not, this time, as Wordsworthian non-poems, but a simple tunefulness. Here are three very short examples/experiments in this:


My breath’s candour as light 

puzzle to voice I shift a single 



Taxi door closed a

moment, having sun

grind the window,

I vouch we’d met.




words stolen

signal paired 

with earth


‘Postcards to Ma’

By Stannard. You can read a much better on-line review from Loydell. I only like the first and last postcards, except for the line beginning all but the first poem “Crack of dawn swam in / ” (which is then followed by “ocean Frolicked on sand Sent postcard to Ma”), and not in the last poem. Perhaps it raises expectations too high with its simplicity, as all but the first and last poem etc. seem composed of meaninglessness. The 11 pages of poetry are then followed by 5 empty pages and a picture of someone (not Stannard!) with a walking stick.

I find it difficult to stomach in places. Postcards remind me of mail art (though Stannard seems unconcerned with the poetry underground) and conceptual art works in general. I suppose it’s post language poetry, because I think he asserts that the poems mean only their words and what they say; there’s nothing else it could be about.

I suppose I would quite like to read it as post conceptual poetry (I just mean where we are after conceptual poetry), in which case it might be an slightly incoherent allegory on his kitsch precedents and subsequents (“Arrived safely… returning home to Ma”, starts and ends the chapbook), which I find satisfying – i.e. useful to how I felt – but doesn’t help me enjoy the rest of it. I have read next to nothing about that.

Alternatively, read it to enjoy the humour / seriousness of it.


‘The White Stones’

Published 1969.

As a whole, I have a sense that he, Prynne, wants to fall asleep and dream, to drift off, and see hope again, and to transform the energy of capitalist accumulation into a new community. So I have a sense of Prynne needing to return.

Via the line, his heart has gone out into the world, and he is trying to write it back in, but needs a new alternative to melopeia; the image is there, but he is dissolving it.

Instead, the poems seem most meaningfully composed of other people, especially a dichotomy of ‘loyalty’ and ‘hope’. But. while the writer is nomadic, no-one speaks (The nomad is perfect / but the pure motion which has no track is / utterly lost; even the Esquimaus look for sled / markings, though on meeting they may not speak): Prynne seems predominately to be writing about how “we / you / I” love. For me, the collection is oddly conversational (perhaps oddly, the last poem reminded me of Williams and ‘no ideas but in things’), and the line as a fragment constructs for each poem a unique chatty diction (e.g. ‘Lashed to the mast’ seems to me mock heroic). In turn, that worked out into a sense of gradually feeling closer to – but no more intimate with – someone, until this alienating dialogue meant I identified with an image. 

In that act of sympathetic identification, free of sensuality, I think there is a new sublime language (“The / mower works now, related to nothing but the hand and purpose…”) that shocks and dissolves the listener by asserting dynamic / destabalising change and reflects on the frustrated need to be at home and reconciled with nature outside human agency and domination.