Friday, May 24, 2019

just writing

I want to believe that some blogs achieve more than ephemerality,  and here's one that I'm still reading, though it came to an end in 2010, Jenny Allan's Intermittent Voices. This was the post for 7th September 2008.

juggernauts at dawn

probability discusses the case, pinning hopes on the background in accordance with genuine conditions, shell-shocked and heedless of foresight she ushers in piffle emanating from the wrong end of the stick – the backroom word is: hold your tongue, for the grapevine enlightens the grindstone at all turns

in defence of halcyon days she winds up finishing off the golden touches, leaving only their indents to smell the roses into pacification – peace talks in the flower beds, the rookie thorn dead set on a duel

midpoint handicap, the difference between being thrown off balance and compensating, it’s a short fall of untrimmed habit, patching up each rung of the stairway, going halves on equal opportunities, agreeing on another time for nowadays, it’s a preview of ‘on the spot’ that dates back to a posthumous eve

unruly light, when will it be dawning again? or is this the terminal knot no-one counts on as we proceed slavishly recurring, the sun’s groupies, in the making of, or hand in hand with, the majority, all pending the next instant to robotically be tricked by drill, permeated becomes addicted becomes tamed and our own winning ways docilely impress the rut

tramlines of behaviour, she too can head, is heading for disorder

lying on her back and watching the juggernaut sweep everyone up into play, the future is close at hand, make a distinction


There are so many kinds of experimental writing, but I do have a soft spot for what isn't pre-programmed or explained. Jenny's writing is social and witty, but through its endless constructions of spatial architecture out of clichéd idioms it arrives at an alienation from its own crowded corridors: it produces a feeling of human isolation. (I seem to remember she admires Maurice Blanchot.)

The romantic, the quixotic, the unexplained. I enjoy the intensity of my attention as I read. For it's a fact that the world, too, doesn't explain itself, and always means more than what you can say about it.

I find this quality too in Richard Makin's writing. It is not very communal or correct, not apparently very concerned with politics or society. It's willing to inhabit a dream space without preconceptions of what may come from all this. It's difficult to choose a page to quote from the enormous Dwelling (2011); one is uneasily aware of the promises of the facing page. But here is some of p. 518.


   It lay in wait. I was much younger. Reading is impossible. These tricks drive me mad. I fixed the time and the place, all recognizable events (incendiarism, the poison cup). I paid dearly. A flap of mucous membrane was stretched taut across the orifice.

   Still, it's a beautiful island. Who was declared petroleuse for the day? We had our own duty machine and a book of shares. He offers no comment. We three make quite a team. I ask him what is going on in the background. He refuses to say. An antique bone handle and potsherds were found.

   The domestic tort. One of the most squalid pieces of light and shade imaginable. Far off, the keen of a foghorn -- bury me standing et cetera. At the apex there are ruins. Some paragraphs demonstrate abrupt changes of style.
   Trout hovering in light-stained water. Assassin.

   Tracing the history of the other senses will prove more difficult. Nerves are unsheathed and put to the torch. A pool spread out from under the container. The carpet was yellow. One surface is no longer in contact. I am inside. Words are becoming less and less necessary. Everything happens at once, at once.

   Hermit cell. Familiar tightness bursting in chest. The ligament between the valves has snapped. Having two separate singularities, a vacuum can survive outside of itself.

   A bittersweet little morsel.
   The glass box touched the bottom of the sea. Some had axes, some had saws, some had hammers. I'm understood. A thin sheet of skin separates us from the surrounding spaces. The question is not what you looked like. A bunsen flame was applied, beneath.

   Wide-where, dazzling white light. A trustworthy oration. At last the end, surcease. Where.

   Somebody once fashioned an unreal. Anyway, there is the after, where more human happens. He says our relationship to objects has declined. (There never was nor can be et cetera.) This one has been labelled. I am delivering. The crime of wilfully infecting a body has been waived.


How are such texts constructed? I've written before about how there's no such thing as "making things up", but I think Jenny built primarily from her own invention and linguistic resources: that requires incredible tenacity. For Richard's stupendous epic you can suppose he's mined texts from science, geography, archaeology, anatomy, navigation... It approaches an encyclopaedia, a wikipedia by one person (though, as it frequently and sardonically acknowledges, it contains no information whatsoever).

The appeal of the texts isn't principally in the enigma of their production. It's possible to have a much more explicit methodology and yet the artefact remains as mysterious as ever.  A chance to quote another favourite experimentalist, Gale Nelson:


Prodded oolong tea in debt but veils long
secret lists of verdict's ending on lusted
trembling calls. Shadow dooms dull patter, doubt doubles
song's floated past sand's aria. Preach long our best
gang's soothing steed, coin the sod here
or drown tea at every dock's fast keel.
The sea races, are you that fast? Trust that old
pale iced wing on which all doubt and prior
redoubts hone in. Orb sings then loses me
on fretted seas, then spots tea that seems red but
foils as green. Long sea dash speaks above
these crashes, bubbles down this throaty song in
lunging wreck. Unlauded green essence,
land at sea's last bid. Oolong iced,
oolong under all the thirst stalls. Brood ice --
shred those blood-red doubts and shout best
yelps along precise cloven seas. Tread
their folded red boots in tea, then burst
all avid feet, bring frozen cup of stale
green bitter spills -- lick up this feud and fend
it. Calm battered voids or shout back these last
youth-addled causes. Trade that ice,
guard the tea's smooth entry. Bring faster seas
then quit song's bend. You know those four
oaken tree stumps strung there in
damaged husks? Grace enacts loss, entices grave
falls. Proof refracts the oolong
suds. Now it seems lost. Net shamed oaks: lost but that
lacks much easing, endures loss. The housing of
dignity is beyond the ire. Larks bend and soft songs burst
that trembled islet long dead in alcove's
frigid ease. This use must stall by
last lone sea's ebb. Oak's ill roots flow, but no
sea is gone. It sails on, fills on
each shire's ledge.

This poem comes from This Is What Happens When Talk Ends (2011), a book in which, it's explained, the poems follow the vowel-sequence from various famous Shakespeare passages (this poem follows the "To be or not to be" speech in Hamlet). Part of the fun is admiring how the poem circles specific topics (such as iced tea), all the time within the tyrannous constraints of the poet's methodology. But iced tea is a small part of the strange imaginary world that we readers enter here, and likewise in the other two pieces I've quoted.

You may have noticed that all of these were published at least eight years ago. To an extent that reflects changes in my own economic circumstances and literary preoccupations (I don't, alas, now buy many books of new poetry), but I find myself wondering, too, whether it reflects a change in the culture of western nations since 2010: the growing sense of crisis and the increasingly embattled and politicized discourses in which so many of us now feel involved. Whether our civilisations no longer seem to afford the space for such free explorations as those I've quoted.

Jenny Allan simply disappeared from view as an author. Richard Makin produced the much briefer Mourning in 2015 (a mere 250 pages) and was heavily involved in the Arca Project (2017), an art/text exhibition paying tribute to W.G. Sebald's book The Rings of Saturn (1992). A fairly short prose piece, Insane Leonards, was published in Hastings Online Times in 2014. Gale Nelson is an active academic at Brown University (Providence, RI). He is surely writing but I'm not aware of any more recent publications.

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