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Daytrain (Rob Holloway)

Paired with ‘Flesh Rays’ in a (print on demand) publication by if p then q, ‘Daytrain’ is a fairly short collection of prose poems of around 10-20 lines, which seems quite a conventional length in conetmporary poetry; the last poem is the shortest, at 7 lines. It is more difficult than ‘Flesh Rays’, which I could happily read without understanding: ‘Daytrain’ is horrible if you’re not here for meaning. Which is pretty instructive about how we construct poems: they work very well if and only if you can put the effort in. Perhaps that is because the language is neither fresh nor tired, how Holloway does not seem to care, at all, about novelty etc., more about fitting as many smart observations as possible into each poem.

E.g., the fifth poem, Iron Fills, begins “Film catching fire in summer, water bringing in the rain, the effort to assimilate is overtaking the precision of the capture these afternoons spent tightening air”. As with each sentence, I am forced into working out which words shouldn’t be read literally. Given the title, one might go with ‘bringing in’, rather than either noun in the phrase, in order to paraphrase it as: ‘filming fire, but wanting rain, the film, like the air, is unfocused’, making for something reaching toward a lush expansiveness (Holloway often seems to be writing on writing, in a broadly speaking Steinian way). Clearly, ‘air as film’ creates a semantic nexus, probably centred on ‘water bringing in the rain’ and a sense of uncomfortable humidity. I don’t have the skill necessary to add much to that, though ‘fills’ reminds me of musical talent, and, if I were to research what exactly was going on, I’d start with the steel industry; steel contains both iron and carbon. So the first sentence reads like an honest expression of powerlessness. The next sentence is about painting (and is not in need of figurative interpretation) and ‘light’, and rewards my analysis with a dynamism, before the third short sentence (the new sentence uses sentence length as torque): “In London some are extremely well”. There is a clear allusion to Ed Dorn’s turbine in the first poem, so it seems safe to claim that Holloway is drawing in many of his political issues into the poem.

My problem with this series is just how heavy it is and in need of work, cf something like The White Stones by Prynne.

These blocks of prose text are formally unapologetic, and a part of me wishes for line-breaks.

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uncanny cant

When music orders poetry analysis adds something to, does not explain away, the experience of the poem. But in these poems:

  • quotation only is nomadic;
  • rhyme is tonally out of focus;
  • cadence is forgettable;
  • etymological analysis changes nothing;
  • line breaks are unobtrusive;
  • narrative does not develop;
  • diction seems settled;
  • shape is natural;
  • expression is undermined;

analysis adds nothing, 

A The poem’s music is a “non-thing”, grotesque1, and the reader suppresses the experience, the non-thing, so making it “taboo”2, when they analyse the poem. The reader may ignore poetic analysis and reasons – the need for radical art to begin again, that is too large for form3 – and consider it a “debased grotesque”3, unpack the poem’s meaning as something separate from its experience, creating some kitsch paraphrase. 

B. Or they may try to think the taboo music with “the entire energy of the soul”4, when what was grotesque becomes “sublime”4. As taboo, the poems we suppress are “egotistically sublime”, Wordsowrthian non-poems.

C. When repression of that egotistical sublime fails, when we can’t avoid their Wordsworthian parallels, the poems will return as a second text undermining their impulse toward a new poetry: they are then experienced as “the psychological grotesque”5.

D. But, in so far as and for as long as the reader is still then searching for the “whole”, still reading, that will be “the reign of the senses”6.

Due to the poems’ non-music (A), under analysis (B) sensuous content seems grotesque (D) and opposed to language and new poetry (C).

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KERNELS IN VERNAL SILENCE

Another short Prynne collection (I bought a set). Should probably stop blogging about them.

I can identify a few themes, and I guess that there is something of a ‘lullaby’ to that. The word, its root the imitation of “la la la”, is never used, I think. It reads a bit like a “I did this I did that” poem by someone housebound.

The sensation is of a heartfelt dedication to someone else, absent, not least due to lines like “the clouds I care for, reminded me of you”.

At first I was appalled with the collection, as it did seem trivial, not even nonsense. But I stuck with it, and was rewarded by the sense of the author pausing for a moment, as if too cross to keep on.

It is formally interesting. Though I didn’t unpack every quatrain (the poem is composed of a series of them, each preceded by a colon), I suspect that is achievable, and I was often looking up words, which was uniformly interesting despite not really revealing anything hidden from sight (nothing new).

Ultimately I found the collection quite joyful, rather than say satisfying or cathartic; perhaps a good thing. It seems allusive, both to poets and his own previous work (if that’s reasonable)

The following stanza made it for me, partly due to the loveliness of its start, partly due to the obvious yet smart figure of a hot room with hot water (the last word in the series is ‘wet’, though that probably shows nothing), and then the shift followed by rhyming ‘apace’ (a strange word from French a pas: step by step, slowly; quickly; and ultimately from the latin for spread and dried: it took my head off!)

no orchids no sundew yet all simmer mild
at angle blandish, damp course replace
to align the ensemble now so even clear
before the window pane, drones apace

Which is all fairly self explanatory if you ignore ‘drone’: a kettle?

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Averno I

I picked this up in a small uninteresting bookstore: the book won the Nobel prize 2020, though confusingly it is first published 2006. Technically it is good. There are I think psychological (“the soul is divided / ego, superego id”) strong points, e.g. “the tale of Peresphone / which should be read / as an argument between the mother and the lover – / the daughter is just meat”, but Gluck’s wit (“Longing, what is that? Desire, what is that?”) cannot I think mitigate for the narcissistically matter-of-fact tone in places.

The sequence seems to seek closure.

At times it seems ordered by her take on confession. There is a point of violence in ‘Fugue’ which seemed to pick things up

11.

Then I was wounded. The bow

was now a Harp, its string cutting

deep into my palm. In the dream,

it both makes the wound and seals the wound.

But the sequence is soon over, enacting its attempt at closure, which is surely by definition a success, by introducing the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

The problem I have with Gluck here is that she seems to lack empathy, which is reflected in the smallness of scale to her interest in place, despite the language, which does keep things fairly novel, avoiding focus / concision presumably for the benefit of line break torque.

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The meaning of form in contemporary innovative poetry

A fun selection of topics detailing who to read and who is reading whom, completely addled by the introduction’s insistence that:

“To regard cognition as having independent existence outside the brain, inherent in things in general (or in an artistic form in particular) is not a metaphorical or mystical formulation.”

Of course, that is absurd if taken literally, which Shepppard certainly does seem to do, quoting approvingly Leighton’s ‘form as a way of knowing, not as an object of knowledge’. He later differentiates ‘form’ (both of individual poems and of e.g. the sonnet) from ‘forming’, but it seems muddled at best.

Surely forms do not think on their own, and say nothing without being read: cognition itself cannot “enter” or exist in a real world except when interacting with it, which is not at all the same as actions creating independent physical artefacts.

I liked the chapter on Forrest-Thompson, but felt e.g. the tonal shift of “and they love us so” says something “irrelevant” to form, just not the poem’s meaning (that the shift is being excluded, for the inattentive reader, a sort of doubling up of its formal absence), which Sheppard seemed to miss the possibility of (even-though it changes nothing but the usefulness of her theory of “relevance”). So, it seems much safer for me to think of ‘form’ as how to read the poem. The book showcases how erudition can overwhelm a reading for content only, but not how to read (especially if content is what we already knew). While leaving ‘forming’ as something apt for cynical co-option under ‘innovation’.

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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.

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Cane (Jean Toomer)

Long, 100 page, poem in three main parts. Each consists of a mixture of prose narrative (the first two parts have subtitles, often but not always naming women that appear in them) and lineated poems. The first part is set in the – rural – south, to the music of work songs, the second in the – urban – north with a more upbeat jazzy feel, and the third part (‘Kabnis’, named after a character that Toomer identified as himself) returns to the south with a more immediately harder and authoritative form, perhaps derived from increased concision.

It was published in 1923, and was an important part of the “Harlem Renaissance”. One noteworthy quality of the prose was – I felt – the way that the first section treats its women with puzzlement (Louisa thinks “Where were they, these people? She’d sing, and perhaps they’d come out and join her. Perhaps Tom Burwell would come”, as Tom is being murdered by a mob for jealousy killing another of her lovers), whereas in the second the desire of men is more opaque, and the women are called “Dicties”, slang “referring to educated, middle class Afro-Americans who behave… snobbish”. Perhaps the lineated poems can seen as a commentary on these sex roles.

The last section definitely seems to enact narrative and symbolic closure, as the repeating use of ‘song’ becomes ‘soul’ and a peripheral character claims that ‘sin’ is the “lies. O… th white folks… when they made th Bible lie”. It closes with an image of the sun rising for sexual love and consummation.

There is still the indeterminacy of whether “Jesus” is a lie or lied about. Part of the first section titled ‘Esther’ ends with a man, Barlo, whom Esther has spent much of her life obsessed with, recognizing her from a religious fit or trance he underwent when she was a child; at this point Esther suddenly finds Barlo repulsive, and she leaves him and her pursuit of him ,”steps out. There is no air, no street, and the town has completely disappeared”.

It’s shape / music is not immediately appealing, and its closure frustrated what was a sense of importance for the just mentioned scene and its universality.

However, there are moments to enjoy independent of those narrative tensions, such as the gradually more self conscious use of rich diction, the poetic / universal feel to some of the later lineated poems, and the sense of impermanent / threatened beauty in lives and ways of life (which his letters remarked on), especially the interplay of characters coming to terms with racism: “I came back to tell you, brother, that white faces are the petals of roses. That dark faces are petals of dusk. That I am going out to gather petals” (Bona and Paul).

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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.

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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)?

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Fetishes

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