Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Ken Edwards' book of sonnets

An ideal poetry book for the backpack

A question that arises with some of Ken Edwards' other books too --- what are we going to call it?

eight + six was published in 2003 (by Ken's own Reality Street Editions). It's a small format paperback, an ideal form for carrying around in a backpack or back pocket for all-through-the-day dipping. Each page has a sonnet on it.

It strikes me as somewhat strange that the "plus sign" doesn't slope when you're in an italic font. Why is that?

Anyway, Amazon.co.uk calls the book "Eight and Six", which to people of my vintage sounds like a price ....  [ the price of a much heavier paperback than this one:  an illustrated King Penguin or something of that sort. ]

So personally I prefer to call it "eight plus six", but even this isn't really satisfactory because it prompts me to a sort of kneejerk addition sum.

So far as the sonnet formats are concerned, the division into 8 and 6 is normal but it isn't quite invariable. For example, "Shifts Genre Often" has no division and "Perturbations (2)" is divided 3-4-4-3. Nice! 

More relevantly, very few of these sonnets have a traditional sonnet feel to them.  But occasionally, one of them does. You end up thinking about the form... working it out. What's the feel here? What does it sound like?

The formal energy of these poems is important. I think it's to do with the author being a bass guitarist. The distinctive feel, look, and sound of each poem is a big part of its meaning. But only a part.

[That's even more evident in his recent a book with no name.  You could say that the pieces in this book are to poetry as the groove is to music. In other words, within each piece there's a lot of repetition and a clearly established identity of...   {timbre, approach, manner, activity} .... that's fairly consistent from one end to the other.  What's surprising is how content-rich these pieces are. You'd think they'd be just patterns, but it's not that way at all: they've got a great deal to say.]

Here's one of the sonnets:


You have a great wide window Chris through which
sunbeams flash, reverberate on four
white walls a dark stained floor -- it's a good
window for a good & useful space
Now we're tuned up -- but I just want to say
The Art of Fugue's not something to be hacked through
as one might chainsaw a viola in half
by some careless mischance (finding oneself
with the wrong implement for the occasion)
what is this piece of wood doing in my hands?
where am I? You mean the city's turned &
summer's coming through?
                                                            Welcome to
Planet Earth --
home of Johann Sebastian Bach

* For Chris Shurety, on his 50th birthday.

[my additional notes:

Chris Shurety, composer and director of COMA (Contemporary Music for All).



A few poems in eight + six , it occurs to me, might have inspired Peter Hughes when he was writing Quite Frankly: After Petrarch's Sonnets.  Here --- sometimes -- is love poetry, demotic settings and idioms, the hint of a rap-like comic delivery: the Hughes sonnet starts to come into focus.

But then, always, we veer off. Like this one, another fiftieth birthday poem:


As though astonished
Through the rubric of
"The transformation of love"†

In the room
In the rain
How have you been
Many times this way O boy

I don't know if I can
On the door it says

Use other door
You go through it (the
Turn) and

* For Michael Finnissy, on his 50th birthday, July 1996.
† The phrase is from Rilke's letters.

[my additional notes:

"Absconsion" is the rare noun from "abscond"; it means flight, refuge or self-concealment from authority. Ken's spelling perhaps develops this action into a habitual state of consciousness.

Michael Finnissy is a composer and pianist: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Finnissy

Good to see the dagger (aka obelisk) footnote symbol, insufficiently used in most modern texts!



Excellent review by James Wilkes:




Post a comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger