Monday, 27 February 2012

Mming In the Undertow: Burnside Marginated

As an experiment in downloading books onto my smartphone, I recently tried a sample of John Burnside's Selected Poems but the poem I received came in a strangely mislineated,truncated version that nevertheless threw up quite a few bizarre felicities:

ke me, you sometimes waken
rly in the dark
inking you have driven miles
rough inward country,

eling around you still
e streaming trees and startled
nd summered cattle
winging through your headlamps.

metimes you linger days
on a word,
single, uncontaminated drop
 sound; for days

trembles, liquid to the mind,
en falls:
ere denotation,
mming in the undertow of language. 

 It's like the subtlest of Burroughsian cut-ups or linguistic remixes, maintaining most of the original text but subverting it into something more disjunctive and wrongfooting than Burnside's rather predictable manner (beautiful in its way but predictable all the same) allows. Perhaps this could be extended into a kind of Oulipan procedure; it could be very easily done by drawing a line with a ruler down through a poem at a given point, rather like an invasive margin... a margination? A clipogram?

Friday, 17 February 2012

A Rare Privilege

  Just back from a restorative half-term break in Finland visiting friends, where the intense weather made England’s recent cold snap seem negligible. Despite the chilliness, to be surrounded by depths of powdery new-settled snow blanketing the whole countryside made for some starkly beautiful landscapes, the ideal window-view for the writer who wants to clear his/her mind of urban clutter and try to return to what Stevens calls ‘a mind of Winter’ – ‘nothing himself, beholds/Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is’. It also made me think of the somehow amusing image of monks on a pilgrimage plunged over their heads beneath snow-drifts in the Prynne poem ‘Frost and Snow Falling’ – ‘That /sounds to me a rare privilege, watching/ the descent down over the rim’.

   My friends took me to visit the house of Finland’s national poet JL Runeberg (1804-77), as far as I can gather a sort of Tennyson figure who wrote lots of long heroic epics and narratives about rural hardship. He’s certainly respected in his home-town of Porvoo, where the cafes even sell a rather tasty ‘Runeberg cake’ around the time of his anniversary.(For more information on Runeberg see the link to a very interesting post by Michael Peverett in Comments)

  I've also been trying to engage with more contemporary Finnish poetry through the fascinating anthology How to Address the Fog: XXV Finnish Poems 1978-2002 (Scottish Poetry Library/Carcanet). In most of these poems the unique quality of the Finnish language - with its bristling dots, long compound words and apparently (due to its structure of inflections) a kind of modular connectivity that lends itself to neologism and wordplay - is married to a dark, off-kilter pensiveness that is certainly more akin to Transtromer's work in Swedish or to East European poets like Holub or Popa than to anyone writing in English. No doubt you need a philosophical outlook to get you through such harsh winters: as Sikka Turkka puts it, "I also want to add that snow is a great delight, though I do not understand why so much of it is needed".

Thursday, 2 February 2012

szymborska obit


Long Poem Update

  Pleased to receive Long Poem Magazine 7 in the post this week, a handsome and elegant publication I was proud to find my longish piece 'The Night-Keeper' in. One might wonder at the spate of sonnet-sequences the editors have included, somewhat stretching the definition of what constitutes a long poem (and surely yet another version of Sonnets to Orpheus joins a now overcrowded market). But like Blackbox Manifold, the interest in more expansive forms than the 20-line personal-lyric 'epiphanies' which the majority of magazines and ezines trade exclusively in can only be welcomed, gesturing towards an ambitiousness, substance and prolonged attention-span we definitely need more of.