Monday, 24 October 2011

Music for Diwali

  It's Diwali this week so here's some Indian-influenced sounds from the stable of the mighty Bill Laswell.This is one of the tracks on his City of Light project recorded in the Hindu holy city of Benares (or Varanasi, as it's now called) and taking its title from the fascinating book about the sacred geography and history of Benares by Diana L. Eck, which I read many years ago when spending time in the city.
   Augmenting Laswell's vivid tambura-heavy dubscapes are an intriguing roster of contributors including (on this tune) Coil and elsewhere the Japanese electronica-master Tetsu Inoue, Trilok Gurtu and (adding sleevenotes) Hakim Bey. No doubt this would sound even better after smoking a chillum of Himalayan charras, such as is legal and openly sold in a 'Government Shop' in this labyrinthine city sacred to Shiva. I must return there one day.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

New Wolf/Muriel Rukeyser

 The new Wolf is out, well up to scratch and full of substance. Good to see an old aquaintance from a poetry workshop, David Barnes, in there with both a poem and an essay: his Pound piece is enthralling and impressively researched, debunking quite a few shortsighted commonplaces about the inexhaustible yet woefully under-read Cantos.
    Niall McDevitt on Ashbery's Rimbaud versions also offers a pithy critique, especially good on foregrounding the London contexts of Illuminations - slight shame he had to posit a 'mystery woman' and turn the sequence into some kind of encrypted hetero-love-poem - a gauche literalisation which John Ashbery would surely not assent to.      
    Sandeep Parmar on Daljit Nagra I also loved - timely corrective to the uncritical and largely ethno-tokenistic praise DN has all too often garnered. As I think is the case with the hugely-overrated Salman Rushdie, priggish white reviewers seem to baulk at an honest appraisal for fear of being imputed un-PC or not down with multiculturalism.
    Marilyn Hacker, in the Wolf interview, has a few interesting things to say but (sorry to be pernickity) she's wrong to suggest that Muriel Rukeyser had nothing to do with the Objectivists- as Andrew AcAllister shows in his Intro to the Bloodaxe Anthology The Objectivists, Rukeyser was "on the fringes of Zukofsky's group, and it is clear now that (her) work stands alongside the core of Rakosi, Reznikoff, Zukofsky and Oppen".
   Rukeyser is a marvellous poet, unpindownable and ambitious but at a slant to the masculine "grand projects" of Modernism. Her parallel vocation as a political activist informs both the atypical form and searching content of the work. A quick trawl through Amazon suggests that there are no English editions of any of her books: scandalous. Here's a typically fierce and wonderful poem of Rukeyser's, its title a caustic challenge to the "time-poor" frivolousness of consumerism ( off the cuff I'm just wondering whether the phrase "mystery and fury" in the 2nd line could have been the source for Rene Char's  1948 volume-title Fureur et Mystere) :


The fear of poetry is the
fear     :      mystery and fury of a midnight street
of windows whose low voluptuous voice
issues, and after that there is not peace.

The round waiting moment in the 
theatre : curtain rises, dies into the ceiling
and here is played the scene with the mother
bandaging a revealed son's head. The bandage is torn off.
Curtain goes down.     And here is the moment of proof.

That climax when the brain acknowledges the world,
all values extended into the blood awake.
Moment of proof. And as they say Brancusi did,
building his bird to extend through soaring air,
as Kafka planned stories that draw to eternity
through time extended.     And the climax strikes.

Love touches so, that months after the look of
blue stare of love, the footbeat on the heart
is translated into the pure cry of birds
following air-cries, or poems, the new scene.
Moment of proof.     That strikes long after act.

They fear it.    They turn away, hand up, palm out
fending off moment of proof, the straight look, poem.
The prolonged wound-consciousness after the bullet's
The prolonged love after the look is dead,
the yellow joy after the song of the sun.

Monday, 17 October 2011

London Magazine and Sunken Temples

   Received the latest London Magazine this week and I'm pleased to see I have a poem published in this prestigiously historical journal which dates back to 1732 and has seen the likes of Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Hazlitt and - more recently - Auden, MacNeice, WS Graham, Hughes, Plath and Pinter within its pages.
   The current edition is an interestingly-rounded gathering of contemporary and older materials from pieces on Rousseau, Pepys and Yeats to articles on Adonis and Mahmoud Darwish, reviews of Houllebecq and Iain Sinclair and poems by Reid, Gross and Alvi. Well worth a look at.
   The poem I contributed derives from the travels I made in South-east Asia two autumns ago and is set in a Buddhist temple in Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand when it was Siam. You may have seen on the news that this remarkable, beautiful city is currently immersed in floodwater, causing who knows how much damage to its unparalleled array of temples and other holy sites.

Sunday, 16 October 2011


Hadn't listened to any new music for awhile so checked out 'Best Albums of the Year So Far' on The Quietus (www.thequietus.com) and found the beguilingly indefinable sound of Aethenor's En Form for Bla, fuelled by such as Stephen O'Malley of Sun O)))) and the renowned Improv drummer Steve Noble. Improvised ambient prog-drone, anyone? Bracing.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Attila Blues

My brief review of The Iron-Blue Vault: Selected Poems of Attila Jozsef (Bloodaxe) is up on the BookGeeks site :


To compare and contrast the quality of these Bloodaxe translations by Frederick Turner (often over-strict in metre, to my mind, and at times wonky in diction) I found an interesting e-book featuring around 20 versions I think from the 60s by diverse hands, including Michael Hamburger and Vernon Watkins - this selection also reprints Jozsef's fascinating autobiographical 'CV' from 1937, the same year he died:


Thursday, 6 October 2011

Then A Rising

Tomas Tranströmer has won the Nobel Prize for Literature today (oh hell, its National Poetry Day, but what's that got to do with real poetry?), a deserved accolade for one of the world's most compelling living poets, although in England at least - like John Ashbery, Czelaw Milosz, Adonis and Geoffrey Hill - he's perhaps a poet more lauded and debated than actually read.Tranströmer has also not always been best-served by his translators, but you can see how in the poem I'm posting here - even in this less than immaculately-crafted rendering by Robert Bly (eg. the awkwardness of "globe glows")- the characteristic timbre of dream-like resonance and destabilising eeriness of imagery glimmers hauntingly through, including two of the vividest, most unusual metaphors in all poetry:


They turn the light off, and its white globe glows
an instant and then dissolves, like a tablet
in a glass of darkness. Then a rising.
The hotel walls shoot up into heaven’s darkness.

Their movements have grown softer, and they sleep,
but their most secret thoughts begin to meet
like two colors that meet and run together
on the wet paper in a schoolboy’s painting.

It is dark and silent. The city however has come nearer
tonight. With its windows turned off. Houses have come.
They stand packed and waiting very near,
a mob of people with blank faces.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Cloud Corporation

  It's not that often I get excited about a contemporary volume but here comes Tim Donnelly's The Cloud Corporation (Picador) to replenish our sense of what's possible once again. It's a style I seem to have been waiting for for a long time: an American poet who's actually been able to utilise and build on the rich, distinctive resources inherent in the achievements of Wallace Stevens. There's a good deal of Stevens in Ashbery, of course; and Ashbery seems to be Donnelly's second major influence, though tellingly what he takes from Ashbery is less the disjunctive, skittish manner of The Tennis -Court Oath than the more sentence-lead, meditative poetry of Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.
   Stevens is immediately evident in the beautifully elaborate titles Donnelly gives many of his poems - 'Partial Inventory of Air-borne Debris', 'The Last Dream of Light Released from Seaports', 'Team of Fake Deities Arranged On An Orange Plate' - whereas 'The Malady That Took the Place of Thinking' is clearly a play on Stevens' 'The Poem That Took the Place of a Mountain' (with a possible further nod to the line "The malady of the quotidian..." from 'The Man Whose Pharynx Was Bad'). The sequence of poems which gives The Cloud Corporation its title seems intimately related to Stevens' great modulation-piece 'Sea-Surface Full of Clouds' in the way its three-line sections spiral off from a repeating phrase - "The clouds part revealing..." ( and to acknowledge this reference, in the final section we find " and warm, saturated air on the sea-surface rising".) Donnelly also frequently favours an "essential gaudiness" of diction and sound which - albeit more wryly deployed than in Stevens - works towards a playful undermining of the poetry's abstract leanings - rather like the "counter-eloquence" Montale spoke of aspiring to.
   There's also something very interesting in the way Donnelly handles syntax, as he straddles his long sentences over lines that seem too short to contain them, almost as though he's thinking in terms of the extended, groping, musing, tentacular "sentence-sounds" of a Whitman or CK Williams but wants to abut it against the formal restraint and shapeliness of a shorter line and stanzaic patternings. The effects can be - as you can see here - extremely beautiful:
   " To notice wind incite the branches to interact in a manner
      mistakable for happiness when happiness has stopped

     seeming so implausible.Just to see the gold bolt through air
     is explanation enough, a knowledge that opens itself up
     without ending, an end in itself without having to conclude.
     Just to breathe on purpose is an act of faith in this world."
                                                                   ('Explanation Of An Oriole')