Friday, July 18, 2014

literary trivia

I'm following Tom Clark's daily posts about the Gaza war on children. I don't want to, but I am.

I read D.S. Marriott's Dogma last night. This is a Barque pamphlet whose contents would have subsequently ended up in one of the more recent Shearsman collections, but I do like a pamphlet.

Marriott's poems are consciously impure, they develop an image of someone who cannot be other than a thrown-together mixture of drowned ghosts and western imagery. The latter, of course, pre-eminently includes the Cambridge influence that continues to sound in these poems even though it's so obvious how different these poems are from Prynne or Milne or Brady or Sutherland.

The poems are impure not because they think it's thrilling to be impure, as per the Montevidayan swamplands (bit of reductive stereotyping there, but you'll know what I mean); these poems are impure because they can't help being impure. Because the conditions of life don't allow it. Specifically black life, according to Marriott's desolately unillusioned analysis.

Andrew Duncan has mentioned Eliot in the same sentence as Marriott, which I interpreted as an attack, but it isn't so. Duncan actually wrote a brilliant and informative piece about Dogma here:

But anyway, Eliot did cross my mind while reading the Dogma poems.

The Barque people also sent me Monika Rinck (trans. Alistair Noon), which I don't remember ordering but am glad to have, and Streak_Willing_Artesian_Forgotten which I haven't read but which surprises me by being so beautiful to look at.  I'm talking about when you open it up and look at the poem - the beauty comes from the book as a whole product.  The jacket on its own is just functional (and a shade of green that reminds me of something put together in a classroom, which it probably was).

I am still finishing my second read-through of Scott's The Black Dwarf.  I'm also about a third of the way through Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave, an extraordinary book (and obviously, there's a lot of fruitful synergy with Marriott's writings here). I'm over half-way through Fielding's Tom Jones, one of those books that strikes me as having fallen hugely in repute since the days of my youth; at present the characters are in Worcestershire, more or less. I'm just in to Act 3 of Henry VI Part II: the noble factions are seeking to eliminate Humphrey of Gloucester so they can fly at each other's throats.


I got deeply immersed in the Maggie O'Sullivan selections of her own poetry in Out of Everywhere. Her work seems to contact me at an unsconscious level. A week or two later I found myself, without conscious intent, reading Waterfalls - the reprint that Reality Street published in 2012; it had previously appeared in etruscan books (2009) - but the half-dozen poems were written in the mid-1990s, I think.

Here's a page from "that bread should be". O'Sullivan's poems aren't really type-out-able.  Even when they don't contain things like diagonally sloping print there are always subtle visual features that can't be reproduced, but I'll do my best:

few scrapes of the shovel ————
          searching in our soils    /     the lot of long silent letters  /
                        searching     /    searching  ——

                                peeling it off the rended spine    —

                   laid bare the narrative i SINGING

One reason why O'Sullivan's is one of the most instantly appealing of post-avant writers is that she usually work with a fairly undisguised nexus of themes. This poem isn't about the "narrative i" in isolation, but about the Irish potato famine, about the home of O'Sullivan's ancestors in Skibbereen (Co. Cork), about diaspora and dislocation, the impossibility of restoring the past, the failure of language in confronting this... Waterfalls is an openly personal book and that's true of a lot of her other writing too.

But while this perhaps accounts for the instant bond that forms when we read her, it doesn't account for the kind of deep engagement at the unconscious level that I mentioned earlier. To explain that, you'd have to study the hard-won artistry that O'Sullivan developed both alone and in collaboration with Writers Forum.

If you want to do the studying then the first place to go is probably Lawrence Upton's long essay of 1998, which you can read here:

Upton's writing has a readable surface, but that doesn't mean that the inner depths of his thinking are easily accessed. An essay like this needs quite a lot of commitment and you might not have the time. So for the moment I'll just define the artistry by its outcome, which is the ability to be simple, casual and profoundly searching all at the same time. As evinced, in the passage above, by the nonce-word "rended".


The next poem is  "winter ceremony".

This is a poem that reports a narrative , though the details mayn't be clear, but musically it has a shape, with the slow fall of the opening developing into an unsettled tense middle section before a briefer return to the tranquility of the opening. Is that shape the enactment of the ceremony?

The poem is characterized by a narrow band  running down the middle of the page (two vertical lines close together). This naturally suggests waterfall. Also something seasonal, something about the necessary downtime of winter. Perhaps too, it recalls (ling YI)

Maybe it's significant that, when the poem gets more frantic this vertical band disappears.

Or, maybe verticality is the natural shape of ceremony (the ordinary and secular being represented by the horizontal).

These childhood memories are concerned with identity. The repeated MAGPIE seems to be a child's rending of her own name MAGGIE with one letter the wrong way round. Elsewhere SUIL (eye) is the first element in Súileabháin (Sullivan) which might mean the little dark-eyed one - or maybe one-eyed, or hawk-eyed. In the poem SUIL is associated with the sun. Naturally a winter ceremony tends to be solstitial.


It's a marvellous thing that you can read nine of O'Sullivan's pamphlets in their entirety on the Eclipse site. The links are here:


My previous awareness of Skibbereen was limited to the Johnny Cash song "Forty Shades of Green", a late addition to the long line of sentimental Irish standards that were composed by Americans.

I close my eyes and picture the emerald of the sea
from the fishin boats at Dingle to the shores at Dunehea
I miss the River Shannon and the folks at Skibbereen
the moorlands and the meadows and their Forty Shades of Green

Not a typical Cash song, but typifying the lack of self-imposed generic boundaries in his work, which led to Jon Langford's well-known remark about Cash being "the philosopher-prince of American country music".

[Someone had the fun idea of publishing a whole book of Cash essays by philosophers. Admittedly this does not seem quite so telling when it turns out that the publishers have also done it for the Grateful Dead and U2. I can sort of understand that U2, in their earliest phase, might be quite good material; "I will follow", for instance, blends together a number of Christian ideas with long traditions in medieval philosophy. Still I don't really think of U2 as philosophy in the way that Prefab Sprout's Swoon was.]

My carrying-around books are Shakespeare's Rape of Lucrece and Tim Allen's Eight + Six. Ha ha, only joking (and forgotten the real name).    [It's Default Soul.]

Still in a Tim Allen groove, it finally crossed my mind (bit slow on the uptake) that The Carousing Duck might be some sort of paratext of his earlier volume The Cruising Duct.

Hardly any reading took place in Sweden  (light is never good in a tent) but I'm left with a complex memory of roses and sedges all mixed up with Evert Taube.

Also from Reality Street: over half-way through David Miller's anthology of prose, The Alchemist's Mind. I keep reading more of Andrea Brady's Cut from the Rushes, I must have read most of it now.

Meanwhile, on the internet, I flick through a couple of essays by Peter Larkin (get hold of  this stuff by signing up to One of them is about a US poet called Susan Stewart who I never heard of before, so I go and read some of her poems, which I like and envy.

Here is "The Forest" (the poem that Peter Larkin was mainly writing about):

Now I remember that the piece I read last night in The Alchemist's Mind was by David Rattray. It was called the "Spirit of St Louis"; it was one of those show-off-your-learning descriptive pieces without any obvious direction and (can you gather) I didn't think it was such a massive deal, but I did wonder who the author was He was lots of interesting things; translator, contributing editor for Reader's Digest, experimental poet; he died in 1993. This enquiry took me to Bomb Magazine (he was a contributing editor there too), and here I found three delicious new poems by Gale Nelson from, apparently, a second tranche of his This is What Happens when Talk Ends project.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger