“We remain apprentice robots. I certainly hope that you have not become robots, but on the contrary that you have become very humanised. That’s my hope.”
The Lonely Crowd Issue 12 is published today and I’m delighted to have three poems in it – ‘Found Poem for Philip Glass’, ‘David, Again’ and ‘Music of the Woods’. At 325 pages it’s a whopper of an issue, with prose, essays and interviews as well as poems, and it’s a smart-looking thing, too.
Thanks to editor John Lavin, for putting it all together and featuring some of my writing. A real pleasure to be included.
So into December we go. A really gloomy day here in the wilds of north Essex today. But that’s only right for this time of year, yeah?
It feels like a blink since we were publishing Pomes Flixus six months ago. Yet how bright and green the late days of May seem now.
Did you get hold of a copy of the book yourself? Did you mean to? Well, if you order one from Dunlin Press any time before the end of the year I’ll personally throw in something extra for Christmas. Think of it as an advent calendar surprise.
Here’s a poem from the collection:
‘Here’s That Rainy Day’
As we look out to a little street
all the parked commuter cars
the houses there beyond the river
the feeling that summer never quite got going
but here with a view after all
of our occasional need for ease and quiet
content in a kind of neutral mid-tempo
but also finding reason
in a quickness unfolding around us
where the drains fill with a thirst of ages
the hydrangeas by the corner
almost insanely thankful
the birds instantly much quieter
heading for the birches and false acacias
things that know best how to handle these moments
all round the ringed roads of the estate
like coaxial thoughts that desired being straightened
or vertical like rain
forgetting that rain has its inflections
or that sometimes there’s little
between rain and drenched air
all deep-wet for something
that needs us without regret
and feels effortless
as a soft voice falling in a shower of notes.
Okay then. Want to see a bit more? Go here. Want to make an oldish writer smile by placing an order? Go here.
Stay safe everyone.
Here’s an hour’s watch on the New York School of poets, featuring John Ashbery, Charles Bernstein, Jordan Davis, Jane Freilicher, Hettie Jones, Kenneth Koch, David Lehman, Alfred Leslie, Bill Morgan and Larry Rivers. Yep, this 2001 documentary film by Lars Movin, Niels Plenge and Thomas Thurah has only 362 views at the time of writing – and very good value it is too.
Does something wonderful happen? Well, what’s wonderful?
“Of course you wouldn’t start from here”First line of ‘Itiner-y of a Pilgrimage’, the first poem in Pomes Flixus.
So where should we start? Where do we expect to start? From the beginning? The beginning of what? From whose point of view?
Disorientation is a key feature of many of the poems that interest me. Writing that only perhaps tries to find its focus, but always recognises that focus is temporal and subjective. Who is pointing the camera? With whose vocabulary is the thing in question to be described?
To start with certainty is problematic for many writers. Certainty comes from privilege, status, class… and all the rest. We know what we’re talking of here. Let’s look.
How do we see? We approach, we look, we ask questions but don’t always get answers, or get the answers some might have hoped for. Then we move on beyond the ‘thing’, whether by a surefooted sense of progress, or by an inevitable disturbance, and the ‘thing’ recedes into the past, from where we reflect upon it subjectively.
Temporal subjectivity is all there is. The rest is a construction through which power and individual agency are asserted. All of us know very little.
As we pass, to see that we can’t seeFrom ‘Itiner-y of a Pilgrimage’
a view, periodically, so consummately here
with all the notebooks being undone
The first section of Pomes Flixus is titled Encounters. In it are poems about landscape and nature but in all of them thoughts about landscape and nature are subverted in some way. And they’re probably not really about landscape and nature either, because I stopped writing straightforwardly about those things some time ago. Just look at the bookshops. There’s sooo much writing about hills, forests, rivers, meadows, moths, trees. It’s a land-grab. I’m sure many have there merit, but many only seek to describe ‘accurately’ (ACCURATELY!!) the thing at the centre of the gaze. I’m not sure my writing ever achieves that, or would want to.
A question about the nature of nature that doesn’t want to holdFrom ‘A Lime Hawk-Moth, Briefly Considered’
us creatures that avoid certain climates or social circles,
the nervous movements that lead to creative disappearances
My poem ‘A Lime Hawk-Moth, Briefly Considered’ came into being after I saw a lime hawk-moth at the back of our tiny garden. But the poem is not about a moth, obviously, surely.
What are these encounters with, then? They are an encounter between the self and the world. What happens in these moments is that we look, we try to see. But how do we look? What are we trying to see?
The other sections of Pomes Flixus are titled Voices, Names and Propositions. Because they aren’t set in the language of geographic ‘territory’, it might seem that the theme of ‘looking’ has been discarded. I don’t think so. Really, they consider the language of looking, vocabularies of looking, the voice of looking, and alternate means/processes of looking.
The easiest part of the problem to correctFrom ‘The Division Bells’
is the vowels. Such hard sounds get lost on audiences
Is that David? It looks like David.From ‘David, Out of Nowhere’
How many years is it?
The comparative rolesFrom ‘The Other Humanities’
of canons and averages
that simplify the field.
The quiet transformations
and assumptions made
without explicit debate.
There are collage and aleatory poems here, and found (but mediated) poems that are formed from below-the-line (BTL) comments on internet sites, YouTube, etc. ‘You Can Edit Your Responses After Submitting’ is a collocation of news and press release headlines that gives us
the gatekeepers still on payroll, but
now citing foxes, the young, refugees,
a new bottom line for start-up talent,
clickbait death spiral, save and close.
The poems flick between points of uncertain view – they remain in flux. And one of the ideas was to make them ‘democratic’. By that, I mean that an ‘authorial voice’ is only one available voice, and this would always be foregrounded. Using found words in BTL comments isn’t a clever device or a comment on our contemporary ‘always on’ digital experience of the world. Rather, it’s just one way we talk about the things we talk about. So the poems vary in the choice and styles of language, but they’re all on a level. No voice can be the right voice, or wrong one, better one, more untrustworthy one. They’re all just THERE. HERE.
Language is how we explain the world we experience. Your language is not better than mine. This knowledge is the basis of everything. What does it mean when someone says, “they use language well”? Who’s judging? Who has the right to say that? Of course language can be put to good use, or succeed in conveying something, but there is no ‘right’ way to do it – as if it’s some kind of level that we all need to attain. Because that’s just some power trip that reinstates historic inequalities.
But hang on, weren’t we talking about looking? Of course. But we’re talking about poetry, about writing. And language betrays the way the writer is looking, how they look, and what they want to see. And when language is fixed, certain, non-various, standard English, traditional etc etc, it approaches its subject as fixed, certain, non-various, standard English, traditional etc etc. This means what is sought comes from the viewpoint/standpoint of a culture that is regarded as fixed, certain, non-various, standard English, traditional etc etc. Who could hold such a view?
There are some writers who, when they decide to describe ‘a tree’, seem only to want to assert their own knowledge of the tree, and to establish their relation to it. To me this seems to be a position of privilege. To hold steady that view of the world, and know that your place in the picture is unquestioned and secure.
For writers like me who are from working class (and other marginalised, subjugated, oppressed, sidelined, hitherto-unlistened-to, thought-of-as-lesser, ‘non-standard’, other-than-hetero-normative, ‘foreign’ etc etc etc) cultures, such an unquestioned and secure viewpoint is unavailable.
When we look and write about things, we are making a political point. To think that we are not, demonstrates privilege. Nothing more.
I wanted to return to Pomes Flixus and considered ways of opening the book (again). This is one response to the question, which I realise I haven’t yet proposed… From 1970 or thereabouts, Maurice Lemaître’s Toujours à l’avant garde de l’avant garde jusqu’au paradis et au delà.
Where to start.
Maybe with an ending.
My first collection, Scarecrow, went out into the world and then there was a space. I had nothing to say, or felt that way. I had used too many words.
Maybe with a beginning.
I am listening to Charles Ives’s Holidays Symphony. Between strings and brass, wind, the Jew’s harp. Or jaw harp, mouth harp, gewgaw, guimbard, khomus, trump, Ozark harp, Galician harp, or murchunga. A lamellophone instrument (the internet tells me). And my second collection is pretty much done.
How did it get from there to here? Scarecrow was a personal thing, full of real thoughts buried into personas (sometimes). It was a bit folky, gothic, baroque. There was the sun and the rain, and the railways that took you from the city to the sea. Fields.
And then what?
Then there were just words, and wondering which words were mine. The sense that I hadn’t started to tackle the foremost question, that of language itself. My language felt borrowed. But we do borrow all our language, don’t we? And so there are implications.
Scarecrow also concerned time and distance. Fair enough. But I began to feel it didn’t really get in amongst them. A fleeting vision is a thing, a fact, but it also means something. Every word is a disturbance. To paint a picture is not to paint the thing you see. It’s more to do with how you see. Etc.
All of the land, poets pacing purposefully, making notes and listening carefully to what others say. Which others? Then writing everything up. A methodical pursuit. Understandable in this information age, to want to curate, to pinpoint, to cut through the noise, to (literally) find a path through the mud and come to rest, focus, on something solid. The desire for certainty.
(As we discussed earlier today: the unnerving need for the Bake Off, the Victoria sponge).
The meadow. The blizzard of moths gone. The river. The ancient woodland. The word plain and simple. Everything easily understood.
In times of inundation it (no doubt) feels apt to plot and map, to stake a claim, to say… at least this, this, this. We are good people, honestly, and despite our behaviours feel very connected to trees, especially at this time of climate crisis. I walked eight miles at the weekend, here is the route.
But what of Ives’s (again) Fourth Symphony and its ‘collapse section’? What of ‘Daffy Duck in Hollywood’? What of Warhol’s repeated bottles of Coke? Ah, what even of my old song Gordon ‘Dodger’ Pattinson with its middle eight of white noise (a detuned radio)?
What say you, leaf? Wem sagst du das!
And so I wanted to bear witness to uncertainty and ambiguity, to the augmentations, transpositions, diminutions, inversions. I wanted words that didn’t claim what wasn’t theirs to claim. I wanted something almost involuntary. Found words, words from differing lexicons/vocabularies. Heteroglossia. Dialogisms. The whole multieffingfariousness of it all.
What was the encounter? Who met with what? What can you tell of it, truly? What were the voices you heard? In which voice will you speak next? What names do you trust? How can you know? What are you proposing? Is the proposal a good one? Are you sure?
These questions, the faltering fruits of an enquiry.
And this is what I set out to write.