A horse that runs to and fro

The amazon blurb says it is “neither homage nor criticism”, but it feels like both. Presumably the recurring figure of an escaped horse is in reference to Stevens’ claim that “Time is a horse that runs in the heart, a horse / Without a rider on a road at night. / The mind sits listening and hears it pass”. Near the close of this long poem, the authors say “there’s nothing abstract, miracle body of beauty, of power… the mind can barely think it; / it beats and beats deep inside all…”.

It feels like a lament, that time and Stevens’ poems take us away from the “heart” itself, a moral entity

The crux isn’t how I looked in the poem before last

but who I was and whether I still hold myself culpable…

The poem is unusual, wild, willful even, without being showy. Reznikoff seems to be a surprise foil, and Pound and Williams are mentioned in passing “to write about the normal in a normal way’s better”.

The meaning of the poem seems elusive but isn’t; its music – the sound of a horse bolting – the opposite.

What is it running to and fro over? Not the page, but something else open.



For the past three to four years, I’ve been – slowly – trying to find a way to combine L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, Projective, and Objective poetics, and then go beyond them, so as to work with something meaningful.

More recently, I though the ‘grotesque’ might be a theoretical hinge to do this, and specifically the idea that language should be restless, unlike Images, which collapse into meaninglessness, with no parallels to the “primary pigment”, when grotesque. I noticed that when using theories of the grotesque to begin to get away from what’s there, in shaping a poem, the whole (always fictional) seems to recede, and form is pulled out of focus, and that this makes names at the beginning of a line more meaningful – something that the poem can be shaped around, in place of the arbitrary constructions of language (I often felt unable to edit a poem constructively for so long as I had no focal point).

I intend now to write so that each moment in the poem is contained in the others (there is no narrative development) and its shape – the rest of its features – reflect that, so that there is the suggestion of additive content: the whole – created by devices that are coherent and shift the semantics of the poem but leave the whole unchanged – is formed from parts as parts only, is just their sum.

Then the narrative – each separate moment – does not shift our reading of the whole; so the form is just out of focus, as grotesqueries are; so the nouns “drip… basin… chime” are visually emphasized, and the pattern on the page – focused on those nouns as things – is meaningful.

There is a felt contact with experience beyond words, the text is open, does not enact narrative resolution (New Criticism), but not due to “gaps” to be filled by the reader’s ideology (Hejinian), nor coherence being limited to the combination of adjoining sentences (Silliman), but because the poem is inorganic, just the sum of content.

I think this means every device in the poem only exists with other devices, as effects, which are always a construction of a reader.

Form shows the whole is an illusion.


‘Psychedelic Meadow’

Jeremy Reed’s new collection, which I picked up after reading it in Tears in the Fence, where he sounded like he’d only part left the 60s poetry scene. On the surface the collection wheels spectacularly and with such fluency (Reed is obviously a creative type), but beneath that – and I think Silliman would call this the poems’ effect, how shifts in a poem can combine, there is anger. This took a while for me to realize, the language was so unusual, by the poem Fukt. Perhaps a dead friend whom he took acid with. The puzzle this collection asks is whether the psychedelic form he is using is alienated and alienating, fit to purpose, or parodic. A line in Fukt reads:

no connection between person and thing


‘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.



‘Brass’, ii

Smooth Landing (p191 in Poems)

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

I see this poem in Brass 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.


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.