Tuesday, 25 May 2010

A Hole Punched in Reality

I had a revelatory reading of Rabbit, Run by John Updike the other day, a book I've long meant to get round to. It's glorious to come upon a novel that's a "page-turner" as much for the nuanced inventiveness of its prose as for its narrative-propulsion. Updike's quickfire subtlety in marking the moment-to-moment textures of experience are quite possibly second here only to Ulysses (which is clearly an influence) - yet there's an imaginative lyricism entwined with this that even Joyce doesn't often attain, a sort of synoptic insight played out on the level of sentence and image which almost makes one think of Eliot's old vagary about a thought to Donne being an experience and modifying his sensibility - with Updike it's almost the other way round and in his prose he's immediately able to feel the sensuous transiences of everyday experience in terms of a richly-compelling thought-process.
     When Rabbit and Ruth walk uphill on the pavement, Updike registers a metaphorically-suggestive undertow: " The slope of cement is a buried assertion, an unexpected echo, of the terrain that had been here before the city". When Rabbit peeps out of Ruth's bedroom window, we get: "Lights behind (the church's) rose-window are left burning, and this circle of red and purple and gold seems in the city night a hole punched in reality to show the abstract brilliance burning beneath." This is a micocosm of Updike's prose, presenting both the complex reality of 20th Century life and, punching a hole in it, a fascinating luminosity of "abstract brilliance" beneath.
     It made me think how near this comes to the effects and impacts of the best modern and contemporary poetry and how much in turn poets could learn from this. Ford Madox Ford wrote of how a good prose-style should be a "succession of small shocks and surprises", precisely what one finds in Rabbit, Run - isn't this what constitutes good poetry too?

Thursday, 20 May 2010


'I visit a lot of US blogs that are engaged in a wide-ranging debate about poetry and poetics and culture. E.g. R Silliman, M Scroggins, P Lu, S de Deo, B Watten, L Jarnot, K S Mohammad, G Huth, E Tabios, JP Kervinen to name a few good ones. And their focus is naturally US poetry though the philosophy might be more international. Now the question is, do you know of any UK Blogs with a focus on UK poetry that are operating anything like this kind of wide-ranging but detailed debate? I expect there must be some around, but I don't happen to know them - the good ones I know are mostly quite unambitiously anecdotal (great book, terrible news, what's on my hifi).'
 This is Michael Peverett, from as far back as 2006. I'm not sure whether the situation has changed very much in the intervening years( although I make no claims to being an authority on the blogosphere.) Despite notable anomalies like Gists and Piths and one or two others, it is still to US blogs like Silliman's that one turns for "wide-ranging but detailed debate" about contemporary poetry; "unambitiously anecdotal" ones still seem to predominate over here.
  I flag this up less as a statement of my own ambitions in starting a poetry blog - which are at present both  modest and tentative - than as an indication of the kind of thing I want to avoid. The focus will be much more on poems, poetry-volumes and poetic theory than on myself as a poet: if this has any value as a shared forum it is as a provisional working-through of reflections and ideas on reading and composition that might have some interest or resonance for external viewers.
   As the title 'Ictus' implies, I'm particularly concerned with formal and prosodic issues, though again the challenge is not to lapse into the eye-wateringly tiresome nerdiness that often accompanies such writing. This was in fact why the polysemous word 'ictus' seemed so apt: the stress of the poem can perhaps be as vital as the pulsing of blood or as disconcerting as the convulsive movements of a seizure.
   I'm also interested in lots of other things as well as poetry - literature in general, music, art, culture, politics, language - and I'm sure elements of all of them will seep into these posts also.
   I already feel myself lurching towards the self-indulgent and this is above all what I want to fight shy of. There are already too many blogs out there that seem to recall Frank O'Hara's Autobiographia Literaria:

And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!