Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Over-reading List

  The new edition of The Wolf arrived last week and as ever it's full of unusual and arresting stuff - only skimmed through as yet but immediate standouts seem the Aeschylus version by Anne Carson, the Aime Cesaire translations and the long appreciations of Cavafy (by Evan Jones) and (a poet I particularly admire) George Oppen (by Michael Kindellan).
   James Byrne in his editorial mentions that The Wolf has now lost its Art Council grant, but wisely refuses to let this dampen his resolve to keep going with this important venture. Let's hope the bloodbath of cutbacks planned by the Coalition and sure to affect poetry-publishing in the near future will be met everywhere by a similar strength of purpose.
   I also received PN Review 193 last week, the May-June edition. Again I haven't had time to read much of it. The Les Murray poems are disappointingly tame in comparison to his earlier work - I'm currently working my way through his Collected Poems and may well write about it in here. I preferred Julith Jedamus' subtly-orchestrated pieces and Will Eaves' fantastically bizarre poem 'Any Impediment'.
    From this PNR, I also discovered another excellent poetry e-zine The Bow Wow Shop, edited by Michael Glover, which like Jacket has a dizzying array of interesting stuff, including a welcome slice of parodic humour.
    Too much to read - and then there's all the books!

Saturday, 26 June 2010

poetry's coming home

Forget England's dismal showing in the World Cup, at least poetry's coming home this year in the form of Geoffrey Hill's recent election to the role of Oxford Professor of Poetry. We see his influence of densely-wrought multivalence coming through in many of the younger poets in Identity Parade and Voice Recognition - more about GH in later posts, as I'm due to write a review of the Yale Selected Poems for The Wolf.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

oto gig of note

    Interesting night of improvised music coming up on Monday 28th June at Cafe Oto, Dalston organised by my friend Jamie Coleman, a musician closely involved with the prestigious workshop run by Eddie Prevost from whose membership the players in this performance are drawn.
     Jamie gets a positive if slightly bizarre mention in the editorial to the new issue of The Wire magazine for his 'deeply sensual' playing at a recent 'Freedom of the City' performance. This was clearly a placatory gesture to the Improv community after a review from David Keenan in the previous Wire which brashly accused the genre of being sexless, unadventurous and basically nerdy.
   The fact that Jamie is about to get married in August might explain his brazenly-phallic, Keenan-bashing trumpeteering, although rumours that he plans to spike all his guests' drinks with Viagra at the Oto gig just to ensure it's the sexiest Improv night ever might well be unfounded.
   Fascinating interview with Kevin Martin in this new Wire - creator of two of the vividest albums of the last few years: London Zoo by The Bug and Waiting for You by King Midas Sound -  although until reading this I didnt realise Martin  had also edited some of my favourite compilations from the 90's such as MacroDub Infection, Jazz Satellites and Isolationalism.


Thursday, 17 June 2010

Identity Parade 2

Returning to my reflections on Identity Parade, I wanted to briefly expand on the sense of generally high quality of poetry-writing around today I gained from the book. This for me is characterised by several phenomena which have invariably been wanting in all but the anomalous best of post-war poetry.
   Firstly, what I can only distinguish as a rediscovery of confidence in the possibilities of poetry in English, the overcoming (at last!) of what A. Alvarez in the Introduction to his original New Poetry anthology (1962/66) called "the Gentility Principle", the "elaborate defence mechanism" which has involved a longterm entrenched anti-Modernism, a generalised resistance to foreign influence and a retrograde conservatism epitomised in the disproportionate lionisation of Philip Larkin. In a recent post on Eyewear Todd Swift suggested that the main influences on younger British poets remained "Larkin, Hughes and Plath" and that left-of-field tendencies had been overstated: "they remain charming, lyrical and conservative" (which sounds like trying to cram dozens of poets into one Todd-shaped mould). I fail to detect any Larkinesque influence in Identity Parade (Hughes and Plath in places, yes): the progression away from tight stanzaic forms and polite bicycle-clipped ironies is very apparent. It's clear that a canon of much more inventive, challenging poets has become important: Mahon, Muldoon, Prynne, Harsent, Michael Donaghy to name but a few, as well as figures from the previous generation such as Sean O'Brien, John Burnside and Kathleen Jamie.
   Secondly and allied to this is a new openness to poetries from abroad, which seem to many of the poets as formative as UK sources. The impact of American work, in particular, is gratifying to see: for a writer who died in 1966 the belatedly widespread influence of Frank O'Hara comes as a wonderful surprise. Ashbery and the other New York Poets also seem very current, as do other poets as diverse as Elizabeth Bishop, Jorie Graham and Charles Simic. But the work of presses like Bloodaxe and Carcanet (and magazines like Modern Poetry in Translation and The Wolf) in widening the net of available translations has meant an ever richer array of multicultural poetry coming through to us and this seems to have filtered into quite a few of these poems.
   Thirdly (and again a related point) is the breakdown of the hackneyed opposition between mainstream and experimental/avant garde poetries that previously hampered so much dialogue and innovation (and which even as intelligent a critic as Ron Silliman still perpetuates with his own School of Quietude/Post Avant division). A good many of the poets in Identity Parade seem to base their practice on models from both camps; or rather, they decline to limit themselves to one set of procedures and prefer to utilise all the models and strategies available to them, which to me seems to be the only course of action to follow if a poet wants to remain vitally alive to their own thought-processes, craft and intuitions.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Music of Chance

 Serendipity is one of the core motivations of art. As much as conscious craftsmanship and complex thought-patternings shape our efforts, chance-elements must also be acknowledged and heeded, as with John Cage's use of the I-Ching to determine aspects of certain of his compositions, or indeed the entire lineage of improvised music from Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler onwards.   
   In terms of contemporary auditory experience, the shuffle function on an MP3-player can at times, based on aleatory orderings, produce aesthetic conjunctions which a more rational 'playlisting' might not achieve.
    I experienced this last weekend on a remarkably tedious train-journey from London to Sussex, where my tiny device shuffled out a selection that perfectly aligned with my sleepy ennui, staring out at the summery urban-suburban-rural landscape. They are all long drifting pieces that coalesce together beautifully - quite by chance, that's what I mean:

      Pharoah Sanders: Harvest Time
      King Crimson: I Talk to the Wind
      Sun Ra:  Door to the Cosmos
      Oren Ambarchi: Fever, A Warm Poison
      William Basinski: 92982.3


Couldnt find a link for the Pharoah Sanders, which is breathtakingly awesome so you have to download it yourself - but this Basinski is blissful too ...

Happy Bloomsday

'Woodshadows floated silently by through the morning peace from the stairhead seaward where he gazed. Inshore and farther out the mirror of water whitened, spurned by lightshod hurrying feet. White breast of the dim sea. The twining stresses, two by two. A hand plucking the harpstrings, merging their twining chords. Wavewhite wedded words shimmering on the dim tide.'

'A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, wholly, shadowing the bay in deeper green. It lay beneath him, a bowl of bitter waters. Fergus’ song: I sang it alone in the house, holding down the long dark chords. Her door was open: she wanted to hear my music. Silent with awe and pity I went to her bedside. She was crying in her wretched bed. For those words, Stephen: love’s bitter mystery.'

Where now?'

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

After the Storm: Identity Parade

 Now the dust has settled a little on what journalists call the "storm of controversy" its publication was met with, perhaps a more measured appraisal of Roddie Lumsden's recent anthology Identity Parade can be attempted. Unfortunately it seemed that most of the book's assailants had personal axes to grind: Todd Swift's online spat with Lumsden in his blog Eyewear- initially a valid discussion about issues of inclusion - soon turned remarkably ugly and vitriolic in a way that did favours to neither party. However, the fact that a generational anthology of this kind managed to provoke such fervent debate (don't recall Andy Motion getting into any cussing-matches over his notoriously dull 80s anthology) attests to both its importance and to the feather-ruffling boldness of Lumsden's editorship.
   Having spent years concentrating on older and overseas poetry and harbouring a vaguely-founded assumption that the majority of contemporary UK stuff was chatty, middlebrow, anecdotal and twee, I've been consistently impressed at the overall quality and range of the work Lumsden includes in Identity Parade, alerting me to how many really interesting poets are writing here now and what a diversity of styles and registers they encompass. With 85 poets on show, the anthology covers a lot of ground and inevitably one likes some poets more and some less - with each permitted only about 5 poems apiece, however, there is seldom a really tedious stretch and one's interest is always re-piqued by newness.
    I'm forced to revise my former prejudices, although in retrospect, based on the contemporary scenes of 15 or 20 years ago (when I first started getting into current poetry) I don't think they were unjustified. Looking back to the last overview-type anthology of this kind, 1993's The New Poetry (ed. Hulse, Kennedy and Morley), we find another varied, lively compilation of poems with a sense of positive ferment about it, but the development between that book and Identity Parade seems to me dramatic. The promise evinced by the earlier Bloodaxe selection feels like it has come to fruition in the new one and the general standard is considerably higher, born out of the healthier and more vibrant poetry-culture we are lucky enough to find ourselves in today.
    A further difference is in how the editors of The New Poetry, in their lengthy introduction, attempted to make elaborate intellectual and political claims for their generation of poets as a whole, whereas I think Lumsden is right to consciously avoid this approach and merely emphasise the "plurality" of the various individuals he has chosen. A major strength of Identity Parade is indeed its inclusiveness in giving latitude to voices beyond the traditional white/middle-class/male bastions of poetry: it is certainly the first anthology of this kind to feature a higher proportion of females to males, and with no sense whatsoever of mere "positive discrimination".
    A student from Porlock is forcing me to truncate this but I will continue it later.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

My Favourite: Jacket

The new edition of the extraordinary e-zine Jacket 40 is out already, although labelled 'July 2010' - crammed with fascinating stuff as ever by the looks of it. In fact I'm still on Jacket 39, really getting into the Features on Ron Silliman and Bob Perelman, two Language poets about whom I've never come across any criticism before: especially interesting is this essay on Silliman and this interview with Perelman about his poem 'Flat Motion'. These Features on individual poets amount to whole collections of critical perspectives on his or her work and are perhaps the most brilliant and instructive aspect of all about Jacket. In fact there's another excellent one in 39 on Nathaniel Tarn, another undervalued figure.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Coping with the Machine

Sorry strayed from poetry here but check out Julian Cope at Head Heritage on early Soft Machine - his prose is incisive and spot on. And check out this fantastic psychedelic video of one of the most compelling British groups ever...

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Deludedness and Control: Hofmann's Acrimony

 My memory jogged by a post on the invariably-interesting blog Deconstructive Wasteland, I recently revisited Michael Hofmann's volume Acrimony (1986). As I think Ben Wilkinson suggests, the reconnection seems timely in the current climate of economic downturn and now (partial) Tory re-election. Acrimony seems to me to contain the defining poetry of the Thatcherite era, where (as now) the veneer of affluence brought about by rapid-gain, 'boom-and-bust' policies and enjoyed in reality by very few belied a radically-divided, morally-bankrupt society with a cultural vacuum at its centre.
   Without ever venturing into actual political invective, Hofman captures this corrosive sense of disaffection and disempowerment through a narrative-voice so jaundiced and appalled that it has more in common with Baudelaire or Catullus than with other contemporary poets, although the spleen and phlegm of the early Martin Amis might provide a point of comparison. The first section's brilliantly-sketched scenarios of shabby bedsits in unfashionable boroughs, failed flings with incompatible partners and the thwarted inactivity resulting from soft drugs and too many cigarettes will be familiar to any young would-be writer at odds with his or her environment.
     What's different about Hofmann's acidic vignettes is their eschewal of diaristic self-immersion and their observational acumen in translating the ill-fitting, alienating features of 80's London into (another old Eliot vagary!) 'objective correlatives' for states of exasperation and disillusion. Where the poems really excel and excite, furthermore, is in the careful assemblages of startling, often disconcerting imagery this observational instinct comes parcelled in. "The thunderflies that came in and died on my books/Like bits of misplaced newsprint"; "Halfway down the street,/A sign struggles to its feet and says Brent"; "The window is opaque, a white mirror affirming/life goes on in this damp lung of a room".
    Another formal aspect which characterises both their originality and their subsequent influence is the poems' rejection of neat conclusive endings - certainly a feature of the Larkinesque, post-Movement model which decrees that a poetic text should always move towards a simplistic couplet or line which summarises or rounds-off the meaning or "moral" of the poem. The poems in Acrimony invariably just peter out or trail off without any attempt at drawing threads together or providing a heart-warming resolution: the effect is to leave the reader hovering, none the wiser, perhaps as baffled or disappointed as the narrative-voice.
     But amid so much anomie,by the final poem in Part One we are left in little doubt about the depth of Hofmann's resentment against the baleful political climate he finds himself adrift in, with what I take to be the best image for Margaret Thatcher ever committed to poetry:

      "The fiction of an all-white Albion, deludedness
        and control, like my landlady's white-haired old bitch,
        who confuses home with the world, pees just inside the door,
        and shits trivially in a bend in the corridor"