See By So (Prynne)

Highly fragmentary work (I used most of its punctuation as dividers) which I couldn’t find a unitary meaning of except perhaps for the motif of hypocrisy.

(I spent a fair time trying to parse things into a manageable set of repeating settings, and the closest I got included an argument about falling over: “foot path step overseen / declaim, abjure by foresworn…”).

It could be just what I wanted to see, but feel that, in different ways, each fragment (“up sticks effective”; helping swallows nest; ‘time off’, etc.) expresses middle class hypocrisy. The satirical punchline on that might then be in the last phrase “in later willing spooned”: I would suppose that our willingness (literally, to agree to do something that can’t be expected as a matter of course) is ironic, stating the normality of it, though I can’t place the sense of ‘spooned’ (it could be used figuratively – perhaps for Englishness and cricket – ‘a possible pun on one page mentions ‘wet wicket’ – and be about the language that preceded it).

If a viable reading, its conclusion is both reassuring and forcefully reached; another interesting short collection.


Lopez, False memory

The poems here are a lot easier to crave up when you stay focused on the people that inhabit them. E.g. the start of Blue Shift:

You can tell by the landscaping we’re off the route.

Two Sundays a month except for film shoots

And special picnics…

This is something that comes up in The New Sentence, how coherence is limited to repeating protagonists. If you do, you can make out landscapes, approaching something like Surrealism: clashing goals anchored in the reader’s will for community.

I’ve also been reading some early Levertov poems today, and wondering how and why her subjects appear and disappear, at turns a diarist or more engaged, as if she were pacing herself. I have a collection of her essays, and maybe there’s some overlap with Hopkins there: diction a slave to perception, or artifice. Difficult to know what her better poems are here, but I have a preference for the ones that reminds me of Moore.

Lopez’s is obviously an open poem, both in its difficult coherence and in its “gaps” (arguably well thought in terms of ‘belonging’). I wonder, is Levertov’s process (meant in the general sense)?



The problem with ideology is not the belief that we get it, and not, by extension, a sense that there is nothing we can do about it; that is a simplification. Rather, it is a bad faith, so that our ideology offers no room in our role for our opposition to anything we encounter (in the everyday?).

Art attempts a closure of art.

So if I am not drunk on the poems of some friend, I am dissolving the modernist manifesto; make it multiple!

And evermore inclusive…



If the innovations of modernism were truly radical but we deny any social or artistic autonomy to their development, then we are fetishizing art


‘Duets Infer Duty’ (Prynne)

A long poem in ten parts, each titled Deck 1 to 10. Like ‘Of Better Scrap’ these sound like lyric instructions, which raises the question of what the lyric subject is actually doing (let alone what the symbolism is). The first word of the first poem is ‘Sycamore’, and by Deck 4 I was fairly sure he was pruning a tree:

coppice afforded flight manifest once only sent satiric offended child-light yours inclined: –

With that, each line can perhaps be unpacked. E.g. being unsure that the local birds aren’t as if mocked by the pruning. Though, even if this is reasonable, there are still asides:

principal aeon nothing ventured same to win, den skillful dwell ready parable agreed condition: –

Here, does the subject contemplate the age and its passivity?

We may wonder what tree is being cut back. The last line reads:

catch as can swim toil swung deputed carbine plum far drove limit eastern upswept on.

Which suggests, if not a sycamore maple (other plants or trees are mentioned, spurges, wattles), then perhaps – fitting with the poem and the sweetness of its diction as a whole – then Prunus mume, the Chinese plum tree, especially with its rich history in poetry (and it was someone else’s plum tree).



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 arbitrary constructions (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 language does not shift our reading of the whole: so the form is just out of focus, as grotesqueries are:

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.


‘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.