Thursday, February 11, 2016

Lee Harwood / Intercapillary Space / Anne Stevenson

My plan's worked. I've tricked myself into churning out an essay (of sorts, anyhow) without too much painful or protracted introspection.

The trick was to dash off a whole lot of separate posts (loosely about early poems of Lee Harwood)  and then jam them all together. The final outcome is now up on Intercapillary Space.

The effect is colourful, at any rate. I suppose this type of approach wouldn't work for a lot of poets. But for Harwood it seemed to. It was as near as I could get to emulating Harwood's own lightness of touch.

I'll leave the original posts up, for now, because they still belong. But at some point I might take them away and leave the Intercapillary sculpture teetering alone in space, without scaffolding.

One upshot of this hasty publication is that I don't feel I've really finished thinking about Harwood, not even for now.

Here's a sample of later Harwood. It re-orients things, but I didn't want that in the essay, I'd have got overwhelmed.

I want nowhere else
but to he here,
whether crouching in a stone windbreak
on a cloud bound summit,
or coming off the slopes battered and soaked
into a dark soft tunnel of forest.
(A strange form of pleasure you may say.)

But just to be here in this place.
The deserted remote valleys
dotted with ruined farms,
hawthorn and rowan growing in their hearths.
Climbing higher to the empty cwm
with its small slashed black lake.
And on up the slopes to the bare rock ridge
and the summits again.
Nowhere else.
It’s that simple, almost.

(Lee Harwood, from "Waunfawr and after")

Waunfawr is on the southern edge of Snowdonia. Mynydd Mawr is nearby.

Mynydd Mawr from Foel Rûdd

[Image source:]

Harwood was not a doctrinaire alternative poet. In the intro to his Selected Poems he thanked Anne Stevenson and he also dedicated at least one poem to her.

Anne Stevenson, I must explain for non-poet readers, is emphatically a name that belongs to the other side. Which means that I don't know her poetry at all well.

Googling brought me to a 2010 volume of Voyages over Voices: Critical Essays on Anne Stevenson, ed. Angela Leighton.

Everything is so different in the mainstream! I don't mean the poetry itself, that's a given, but the way people talk about it. They quote Frost, Yeats, Stevens and Bishop as authorities.

I get taken aback by John Lucas ripping in to Rosemary Tonks' poetry. Then there's John Redmond being savage about Anne Stevenson's own poetry.

You never really get this in alternative circles. It's idle to pretend we all like each other's poetry, but we sure don't see much point in saying so. If there's a body of work that does nothing for me, I just don't mention it. I'm waiting to see if I get to like it. For a lifetime, if necessary.

When we alt-poetry types are savage, (and privately, we sometimes are: we don't always keep a united front) then it's always about politics. For me it's axiomatic that if you criticize a poem, you criticize its author and the basis is, in a broad sense, political disagreement. For Lucas and Redmond, however, the situation seems to be quite different. They have a clear but apparently apolitical idea of "major" poetry. Of course it is a value-laden idea, full of great moral discriminations. But the way they use it affects me, nevertheless, as ultimately judgments of deportment : whether a given poem knows how to behave. For Lucas, Tonks, passim, does not. For Redmond, Stevenson too often tries to fake uncertainties that she doesn't really feel; I'm not quite sure if the worst offence is staging self-doubt or, perhaps, being so lacking in self-doubt that you need to fake it.  I'm the more taken aback, I suppose, because in both these rather random cases it's men criticizing poems by women. It probably is an unfair impression. I would probably have to walk through the door and join the mainstream poetry community before I could think fair thoughts about mainstream poetry debates. That isn't likely. I hope it's useful, at any rate, sometimes to mention the view from the corridor.

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