‘Of Better Scrap’

I have not read much Shakespeare. The title page quotes from Loves Labours Lost “They have been at a great feast of Language, and stolen the scraps”.

I am at a loss with most of the poems, but they may be focused on photography – my edition has a photo of lightning glued to the cover – and the first poem ends emphatically “final perfect storm”, with its etymological overtones of an assault or attack. The pull out poem mentions a pair of lapwings, and the unusual diction throughout, shrill but short, reminds me of its song. I’ll quote the – uncharacteristic – last poem in full (LAND FLOWN SO FEW).

Not known nor new, one mend or mind attune

how so for more to do, where land and saw

by law in sound, to fend or done where found,

to send in pair and bond, low or snow-bound,

land flown so few, as near in kind or there

and bind, appear by care in fund. Or end.

Independent of its heavy tone, which is unusual, there is strong emphasis on the line end, from the first line, which – in turn – seems to emphasize the end rhymes at the middle.

Could a “pair” of lapwings be not just an opportunity to rhyme (lapwing is related to the Old English for wink, as well as lap – fold – and wing) but also symbolic for language sounds, the “fund” of language. One imagines that an interest in rhyme, especially end rhymes, is quite defensive in contemporary poetry.

I am left groping for meaning and structure in most of the poems. But there is consistency to something here, not just prolixity. A lot of the phrases seem like lyric instructions, probably due to the absence of pronouns, ones that seem – rather than sound – horrified.




‘Not Bondi Beach’

The longest poem in this short collection, A LULL, is centered on homelessness. The most startling phrase was “among the boots & nets / a child’s cry / tangled in the bows”, which – as well as drawing on Homer – is surprisingly realist, despite not dropping the tune, which was earlier remarked on: “hear it ask for forgiveness / plead insanity”. An unusual misreading ordered my first take on A LULL: “a pub garden / on a June evening / seem a sea calmed”; I read ‘calmed’ as ‘cold’.

In light of my recent post on Brass, the “The shifting stair”, in COLD p16 of poems 2000-2010, seems to refer to ‘The Winding Stair’ romance novel by AEW Mason, and Yeats’ collection after ‘The Tower’ – including its interest in death, with its “wild”, strange, meaning. I’m primarily interested in whether there is a deliberate doubling of high – Yeats – and kitsch – Mason – art, given I also read the low art substitution of a “stairway to heaven” there.

As that would be an exact mirror image of my analysis of – perhaps all the poems in Brass – which I think folds ‘art’ and ‘culture’ into ‘kitsch’. Perhaps why a child struggling to ride a boat – with its sentimental – if here authentic value – was so striking.

I cannot say if these poems are a success. Fisher lurks. The line is suitable, and the collection has a lot of heart, whether Baker is writing on a woman, a friend, a worker.



‘Poems’, ii

Smooth Landing (p191 in Poems)

“There is a lie of the immortal […] he boils his egg”

I see this poem as in effect maintaining and developing the tension between avant garde and art, and thereby, kitsch and low brow.

The first phrase – DEFINITELY – seems pseudo kitsch, in Greenberg’s sense of using art “values” exclusive of ‘expression’. It’s hackneyed sentiment, however formally coherent. Content is made less relevant, by the structure (making sense) of the rest of the poem (“peace with honour”: a repudiation)

The second phrase – clearly to me – is low brow, but in a different sense (is it a post modern collage?). It makes the poem, but so robustly that – given content – it’s slightly absurd, as if a parody of closure; even as there are links with the ‘cataract’ in the penultimate line, a doubling that mirrors the dynamic of the kitschy introduction – from ease / speed, to old age / blindness (or perhaps vice versa).

The poem reads like an avant garde work that erases all that is said in so much as it collapses into a meaningful whole, when the poet aligns the importance of his avant garde erasure with the indeterminate figuration. Yet the ‘whole’ does not – for me – suggest either metonymic reading is preferable; which is puzzling.

So, perhaps the work is a success if it is not a “lie”, if interior to the poem “the immortal” has “honour”. If so, that is a matter of form


Ed Dorn’s ‘The North Atlantic Turbine’

Quoting from an early poem:

“there came on Lexden road / a long, high hearse / with a sloping back like a / medium hill. / a man in funereal garments / rode shotgun / his face under the black / top hat / a grinning / memento mori”

These poems remind me of how form – shape – is historically mediated content that has, via the artistic impulse, become irrelevant to form. Ed Dorn wont sit still, content seems incidental to what is said. The philosopher Josh Robinson claims on a phrase of Adorno’s:

“Sedimentation refers here to a process whereby the content of what come to be artworks […] ceases to be relevant (or even exist), while the objects continue to be made with the same or similar features.”

Could one see Prynne’s poetic career as the extension of that?


‘In Darkest Capital’ i


Whatever the problem

we’ve developed the answer.

The result is a range that takes

caring for your hair seriously –

because we know you do.

(from READY-MADES IN VOGUE: a student’s guide to capitalist poetry)

Lurking in the slogans – is a “language forcing itself through content”, and it shocks, horrifying the ready made daily routine: ‘problem’ solved (‘loosened’) not just answered.

These seem the most accessible poems in the collection.

A poem from ‘Brass’

Reproduced as best as possible, without permission

I want to read this, straightforwardly, as taking a photograph and returning home, being warmed there and the image of “wheels / muffled in sheep- / skin”, a reference to smuggling amber in Austria, and – for me – commentary on the symbol of kitsch car accessories.

I suppose I tend to need to anchor a poem in some – any – experience the poet has had, however trivial, for coherence. That problem seems the inverse of the bodily experience of pressure when writing, which suggests that it might be an equation – tacitly – of free verse to speech.

But what is an alternative mode of coherence: beyond trivia and self?

Starting with meaning in melopoeia – music.

The Nightfishing

Sixteen page neo-romantic poem, accompanied by ‘Seven Letters’ apparently written to both an absent lover and a fellow nightfisher. Written 1955, the same as Larkin’s ‘The Less Deceived’.

A recurring theme of “sea as a metaphor of the sea”, seems to center on the writer perishing, on-board – to a woman – just as he does writing his letters. For me, it’s only in those letters that the reference to “Time’s grace” in the main poem seems to be borne out: “this moment” allows Graham to write, as well as erase himself from the sea.

And some of the writing is effective, if oddly dramatic in address. I don’t think the meter distracts from that especially.

It is us at last sailed into the chance

Of a good take. For there is water gone

Lit black and wrought like iron into the look

That’s right for herring. We dropped to the single motor. (Collected poems, 109).

The poem swallows its author – WS Graham – but leaves this reader unsatisfied and a little bored.

Ickerbrow Trig

Haslam’s blurb calls it a “pun”, among other assorted attributes. An Icker is a small piece of grain, so it’s probably about ‘middlebrow’.

The fist poem begins:

Snow fell from heaven while Aneurin Bevin

thought to spawn the NHS. Mother had drunk

her Guinness bottles on prescription nonetheless.

It’s certainly not doggerel, and the language – I’m unsure if it’s truly epic in scope, or just a joke about the romantics – pushes hard against serious content. Yes, poetry is “life or death”. Or is the NHS?

These poems don’t think for you, they just pretend to show off. My concern is that it’s not well suited to ‘moments’, for which I have a preference to over ‘place’.

But perhaps a deceptively visual poetry.

McLane’s ‘This Blue’

Why Dante in summertime?

When most of our modern poets confine themselves to what they had perceived, they produce for us, usually, only odds and ends of still life and stage properties; that does not imply so much that the method of Dante is obsolete, but that our vision is perhaps comparatively restricted (Eliot, The Sacred Wood).

McLane’s latest collection I found musically well weighted. Perhaps a little obviously so, but she seemed in control of any lack of subtlety.

However, I was disappointed with the collection as a whole, which dawned on me for the penultimate section to the book, and its reference to Wordsworth

When we had given our bodies to the wind

we found bones in earth and not in sky.

We found arrowheads in the earth and not in the sky though

they flown through the air before grounding (p65).

There is no loss of language, and nor do I have a sense of resignation to content; but I am puzzled by her equations on love and death.