Please note all the links open in a fresh window/tab.
The poet, editor and critic David Caddy is placing on his blog a series of well-written and well thought out essays (with podcasts available). He has considered a number of contemporary poets, with clear explications of his interest in their work, starting with Bill Griffiths, as one of the many obituaries for this poet, much-loved by those who knew him, and since then also Thomas A Clark, Allen Fisher, Basil Bunting, Tom Raworth, John Kinsella, J H Prynne, Andrew Crozier, John Riley and David Gascoyne. These are invaluable little essays on these poets, often relating them to older and more traditional poets. This is a very major resource. The first three blogs are quoted from in turn here:
Bill's poetry has a difficult, edgy surface that is oppositional. It employs an array of languages, often in the same poem or set of poems. Colloquial or spoken English, Anglo-Saxon, local dialects collide with Latin, French and Standard English, the written language of power. It his work on the procedures of law and bureaucracy, on prison; his commitment to a locality and its linguistic culture as a base for poetry; his use of ordinary people's lived experience through a musical ear and cut-up disjunctions; his efforts to write polyphonically and to remove the obfuscation of Victorian language over archaic poetries and his continual movement to offset the structures of power with citizenship and the dialect of poetic language that will survive. Bill Griffiths I miss your stubbornness and cussedness already.
Multifaceted long poems such as Place are rare and challenging. They are not elitist per se as time and scholarship wear them down to manageable tenancies. They are adult and awake, moving forward. There are many ways in and out of their ingenuity. Parts of Place Book One echo the connections between the psychogeography of Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem and sexuality. There is a sense of fully exploring the relations between the narrator's body and the body of Lambeth. Place also contributed to the popularisation of pyschogeography in Britain through its emphasis on walking London and its connection with the large body of work produced by Iain Sinclair. One could also examine the way individual poems mark the extent, through fragmentation, to which the narrative self interjects within certain discourses. Place implicitly encourages moral and political thinking, of the need to break out of confined dogmas, peer groups and idioms. It shines as a beacon to show possible ways forward in that endless movement from the natural landscape to the cultural and back again. It makes you consider citizenship, moral responsibility and what it is to live in a place. It makes you think about the limits and thresholds of place, speech, identity and audience.
This deceptively simple poem interjects into an expansive realm of discursive poetics that has been the main path of English poetry and dissent since the nineteenth century. Clark, in common, with J.H. Prynne, Peter Riley, Geraldine Monk and others, has begun to move beyond the Wordsworthian rupture with the pastoral into new territory. Following the poem then we note that the world is reached by setting out, again implying ordering, and is there to be discovered, suggesting our knowledge of the world is partial or incomplete and implying an action and a process. The use of 'we' suggests that it is possible for us all to discover the world. The 'least possible baggage' suggests that closure of thought and emotional response hinders discovery of the world. Discovery, here, implies making connections as we walk and possibly reconnecting with the physical world and human life before or outside of mechanisation.
In 2006 Edmund Hardy, main mover behind the excellent Intercapillary Space site, interviewed (live & by email) Giles Goodland, Peter Larkin, Frances Presley, John Seed and Robert Sheppard. These are exemplary interviews, with constant focus on the poets' writing procedures that is always enlightening. Also Chris Goode interviewed by Lawrence Upton.
Collections of essays on and responses to a particular poet's work. Invaluable.
Elisabeth Bletsoe, Vahni Capildeo, Alan Halsey, Lee Harwood, Anthony Joseph, Chris McCabe, Frances Presley, Richard Price, Denise Riley and Peter Riley are included in the United Kingdom section of this worldwide Internet poetry anthology and resource, with brief but informed introductory essays (plus poems and bibliographies).Plus many other poets, of course.
Andrew Duncan's exhaustive, wide-ranging and highly catholic listing of significant British poets. Part 2 is most directly relevant. No links, but a whole host of names (up until people emergent after 2000).
Yep. I know. It's flawed, unreliable and hated by academics, who warn you against it. Doesn't that make you warm to it? There are better quality areas on Wikipedia than the contemporary British pages, but the root of the matter is there. The flaws are largely in the form of sketchiness of information and lacunae, as I can see, and even the weakest of the pages I would recommend as usable (with care! – but then I hope all your reading, online and from paper, is careful and critical of your sources) will possess some useful facts and links, and often quite good bibliographies. That a couple of pages on poets are self-penned only I think adds to their charm. Most pages link to British Poetry Revival , an article originated by the Irish poet Billy Mills and really quite excellent. Or you can use the following list:
The Shearsman publisher Tony Frazer's Recommendations pages on the Shearsman website cover a wide range of contemporary poets, as does his catalogue, but generously (and typically) goes beyond that to effectively cover the field of contemporary British and Irish (and way beyond!). He provides brief comments on poets, plus details of their main publications (with links).
Sophie Mayer's blog of reviews (title refers to Neil Gaiman's wonderful Sandman world) is a useful place to encounter a strong, clear and informed response to a range of poets (not all British!), eg Abi Curtis, Claire Crowther, Carrie Etter all on homepage at time of listing.
SJ Fowler's vast series of very informative interviews carried by 3:AM Magazine concentrate on European poets, but include a few UK poets: Tom Jenks, Sam Riviere, Annie Katchinska, Holly Pester. First and last of these should compel your interest! Poems by the interviewees also on site. No handy index to find things, alas!
J H Prynne, Geoffrey Hill, Paul Celan, John Ashbery, Charles Olson, Keston Sutherland, John Matthias, David Jones, Geraldine Kim and Wallace Stevens are individual poets discussed. John Armstrong's site referred to in more detail on Let's Take Some Actual Poets and Their Poems.
This is a good introduction, from a Jacket feature on Richard Berengarten on this highly original and independent poet:
By turns visionary, sardonic, elegiac and – when the dead speak – hallucinatory, his work exhibits a strong kinship with that of Blake; ... Moreover, Berengarten appears to have considerably closer affinities with Yeats and Pessoa than with most of his English contemporaries, goes the piece, after having started by invoking Peter Sellers.
This collection of pieces by and about Bergvall on the excellent website How 2 provides some introduction to her work, crucial in the development of "performance writing".
Language is also the arena of cultural, social and political expectation and such expectations are the subject of institutional, community and individual differences. To speak is to articulate an often highly subtle and occasionally more brutalizing sense and nonsense of boundaries. To speak is to position.
She foregrounds, and she is far from alone in doing so since it is a very contemporary attention, desiring pathways that a reading eye navigates in its passages across, through and around the spatial field of a mapped page. She uses differing font sizes, some of which are small enough to necessitate close inspection, and employs multiple margins that challenge the simplest conventions of reading order. All are techniques associated with enquiries into those very conversations "between" text and performance that she had previously seen herself avoiding. These texts begin to foreground readerly as well as writerly performativity.
— to quote chris cheek on Bergvall — position literally, as in the precisest physicality of the page and of the/a reading experience.
From The Literateur, email interview by Kit Toda, Dan Eltringham and Annie McDermott. Intelligent questions and very considered and honest responses make this a very clear account by Sean Bonney of the contexts of his poetry (and of contemporary British innopvative poetry).
To answer your question, I don't think of poetry, 'difficult' or otherwise, as elitist at all. Poetry is a very marginal artform, it's true, and for all sorts of reasons – a lot of people don't like it, and I'm certainly not one of those people who goes on about increasing its readership, and so on. But elitism – I'm not sure whether it's something that's restricted to the anglophone world, but in Britain at least there's historically an anti-intellectualism that calls anything that's complex, or a little difficult to understand on first hearing, elitism. In the Blair era, 'elitism' basically became a synonym for 'criticising the government'. It's so obviously repressive, that way of thinking, and ultimately very right wing. I read an article in a performance poetry magazine a few years back, where somebody or other was going on about how the simplistic crap they were writing was stuff that the 'working class could understand'. That's the same logic as The Sun newspaper, all the consumerist media really – clever, educated people talking down to people – they think proles are thick, basically, and they want to keep it that way. It's stupid – especially when you think about how so many of the really important avant-garde artists Britain has produced, Tom Raworth and Derek Bailey, for example, have been from the working class.
But it's true there is a very real resistance to complex poetry, and it's strange because people don't have the same problems with music, or the visual arts, or film or whateve. . . Poetry, or at least the areas of it that I'm interested in, is always going to difficult because it's consciously focussing on language as the medium people exist within and understand the world through – a medium that's usually only used for information, instructions, commands and so on. It's probably the most alienating of the artforms. Great. I'm happy with that.
This is a very detailed reading (and hearing) of Bonney's poetry, from the academic ezine Readings. It concentrates on the (heavily disrupted) details of the text:
Bonney's poetics is one of refusal channelled through processes of resistance and disruption. The voice of resistance is largely implicit but is occasionally direct, intelligible. The intelligibility within the unintelligible allows an ideological or political stance to penetrate the work, giving direction to the indirect political references. The disruption is manifested on various levels: semantics, linearity, internal echoes and foregrounding, shape and the processing — grinding — of recognized or recognizable language. The shape of the poem fluctuates, at times condensing, at times stretching, with varied use of blank space and repeated dashes to unsettle reading and create openness. The prologue to 'Filth Screed' reads: "Language is conservative. Its conservatism issues [. . . ] from its utilitarian purpose". The 'entirety of speech' is used, the semantic indeterminacy creating possibilities for phrases from protest voices or heroes to be subject to the same violation as 'conservative' or randomly sourced phrases. If language is conservative and utilitarian (or totalitarian), then for it to be repeatedly pulverized into distinctive, incomplete esoteric phrases — the semantic fragments — is an invitation to readers to circumvent the conventional signifying axes of reader/text/meaning.
a review of Bonney's Salt book from a while ago. Chicago Review turned it down (too mimetic in its approach apparently). It's not perfect (ignore the stuff about Zukofsky at the end) but has its moments. . .. A good introduction to ways of reading Bonney's strong and enticing poetry.
This is a very rewarding interview from The Argotist Online, in which Brady discusses the very information-rich poetry that is a major mode in contenporary innovative British poetry:
information has become a new category of the sublime: apprehensible by the imagination but occasionally terrifying in its extent, it veers over the workstation and distracts every waking hour of the day with episodes in a quest narrative. If poetry is one mode of information management, I could say that in my work, it operates in two ways.
First, my poems retrieve historical and linguistic information with specific and programmatic intentions for the present. These "activist poems", like the recently-completed poem Wildfire, seek to stimulate resistance through a re-invigoration of complex historical phenomena; or they synthesis [sic — PP] disparate narratives in an attempt to shade in some aspect of the totality of relations, to replace contemporary events in the systems of power, money and motion which breed them. These poems are intended to be seductive as well as demystifying. They invite contemplation of complexes of meaning and subversion, and reward that contemplation with the novelty of the phrase.
Second, there are poems which place a person, or people in intimate relations, within a cloud of information, in order to transport them secretly and safely to a vantage where they can observe and be observed. Readers of such poems are required to decide what is true, what is useless, and what obscurity means in relation to the drama of closeness which is being enacted. Are there forms of communication which are not driven by the rhythms of information retrieval? How can my communication of the experience of the particulars of happiness, love, disappointment and so on acquire value for others? Especially now, when there is no reason to believe in humanism, and when the conversion of the self into a node in a network merely pins us fluttering to a bigger wall.
Richard Owens' review of chris cheek's book Part: Short Life Housing (The Gig, 2009) is an interesting introduction to this pioneer performance poet, discussing his work as transcription of the oral:
Text as the reconfigured residual traces of a walking and talking.
cheek's poems are messy — muddied by contingency and the material fragments of history and historical necessity that gather themselves in the missing.
this which I find most useful in the work: the unrelenting attention in the work to the determining conditions of its own production. commenting on the range of technologies that came together to make the work possible.
Robin Purves in Black Box Manifold Online Poetry Magazine writes a subtle and detailed essay on Crozier's sequence, moving through and beyond a romantic delight in the world:
Crozier's poetics, therefore, and, I would argue, "The Veil Poem" itself, can be described as work which eschews the mere and grudging apprehension of things in the world for a vision which aims at a synthesis of active relations, of perceptions and of theories of perception, by adept experimentation with formal properties inherited largely from Objectivism and other kindred poetries. This synthesis, when successful, seeks to provide readers with the opportunity to engage with ideas and by that provision to reward the trust of those willing to forego the reassuring experience of dealing with the persona of the poet through the largely dispensable screen of his or her words on the page.
Interviewed by Adam Fieled on his Poetry blog, and talking about his poetry:
Every new line has to add something. All the time you're supplying information, the picture gets closer and closer to being finished, and if you want to go on you have to create new information. A basic need is to preserve uncertainty in the text. If the poem is built about an I-figure, and that I-figure is affectively unstable, that builds in uncertainty; a lens fluctuating through the colour cycle. This high level of uncertainty is the engine that drives the poems – the pulse, the drum.
Brother Paul, on his excellent Culture Court website, has a very clear reading and response to Ken Edwards' prose text, Nostalgia for Unknown Cities, which discusses many of the allusive and concatenatory precedures of contemporary writing:
Nostalgia, of course, is literally (from the Gk) a "home-pain" – but where's home? Maybe it's only on the home-page. And we're the lost ratty pigeons of post-modernism. . . Or vampires sleeping in doorways. In a lost city of black light. No direction home, boys. . . .
Such are typical neuro-linguistic activities /image-chains generated by the texts of Ken Edward's new book Nostalgia for Unknown Cities, which appears not long after the re-emergence of Iain Sinclair's anthology City of Disappearances. For this could be fractal fiction, in which a sentence – take a sentence, any sentence, they're all good – triggers complex patterns of association, whorl-holes of ambiguities in which a narrative (perhaps even a narrator) might be hiding. Negotiate the narratisations of Ken Edwards, construe the constructions of his consciousness, his cunning kennings. As they used to say in the old variety shows: now yer see 'im, now yer don't.
The Gig hosts this rich and informative listing by Allen Fisher of critical comments, some extended, on his work. A favourite, from City Limits:
. . . a perfect example of the contemporary British Poetry which sends critics into a froth. Seen in a fine art context, constructing and manipulating images, there is nothing inaccessible about this work. 'The Art of Flight' is reminiscent of Marinetti's assertion that the new poet would describe the movement of electrons. Focus moves from the image itself to the details of its perception. Sound and rhythm give shape to an exercise in colour and form. Some stanzas seem to expand endlessly, as in 'Developing Immanence': 'reflections from night walls rowing light superimposition made/without layer form in silence of sleeping morning cortex'. Like the finest painters, Fisher takes us through a different way of seeing the world, the medium of poetry holding sway over time as well as space.
From St Thomasino's ezine e.ratio is Halsey discussing how he works, both in terms of his graphic production and his poetry. All very clear and enjoyable, eg
The Adlestrop Syndrome is an affliction of readers rather than poets. Here's an example: Joan Bakewell recently chose 'Adlestrop' when asked to nominate 'the best poem by a living [sic] poet'. She commented that it 'is quintessentially English. It catches the peculiar air of an English summer, blowy with seeds and dust. I can't stop at an English station without thinking of it. It makes me love England the more.' This is to regard poetry as much the same thing as holiday photos. And sadly it's what many people do expect from poetry: a measure of reassurance, a ready fix on some normative emotion. But what use is poetry—and what else can be meant by 'emotion'—unless it disturbs?
The poet and university teacher David Annwn gives a good introduction, on the web journal Readings, and with some perceptive close reading, to Alan Halsey.
A key question that he returns to is one framed in 'From a Diary of Reading Clark Coolidge':
The question with writing is always what's needed to make writing possible. There's no doubt whatever about that.
As if in answer to this, Halsey's poetry forms at the interfaces wherever people make speech and words: coffee-shops, reading newspapers, barbershops, table-talk, touristic jargon, in conversation in pubs and over cards. A 'media magpie', he has an unnerving habit of snapping up phrases from review copy concerning his writing, seeing ambiguities other than intended therein, stretching these as far they'll go and re-working them into his ongoing projects. On this level, his work is very companionable: this kind of companionability in words can, of course, words, be a type of concealment. Yet on a public level too, he is companionable, enjoying debate, verbal play and asides. He seems very much at home in innovative pluralism and communities of his peer writers. Yet, as we might expect, there are other levels.
His forté is in trekking and tracing language through the zones of its formation and re-constitution, especially noting, in passing, the many sites of its resistance, the places it won't go, where it colludes and slips, where the syllables distort and warp and fall back into that which we think of as its inherited, lexical orders, into its illusions and totalitarian syntax.
In an enthusiastic Guardian review of Lee Harwood's Collected Poems (such a review as is now banned from their pages — just because you're paranoid etc. . . .), Ford singles out both Harwood's qualities as an avant-garde poet, and as a writer of a poetry that is truly mainstream:
While Larkin, in his famous "Sad Steps", cannot resist sneering at himself for being tempted to be moved by a sudden glimpse of the moon ("Lozenge of love! Medallion of art! / O wolves of memory! Immensements! No, // One shivers slightly, looking up there. . ."), Harwood is wholly unembarrassed about being inspired by it to a moment of high romantic rapture.
He makes use of avant-garde poetic techniques not to dramatise a radical scepticism about language or meaning, but in order to recover for poetry the kinds of "directness" or expressive energy postmodernism has taught us to distrust. And if his loose, airy structures, his occasional use of ideograms and his fractured syntax suggest that his oeuvre will be undertaking some acute investigation of uncertainty or anxiety, its overall impact is in fact just the opposite: his best work is fresh, vivid and confident, infused with a buoyancy and optimism and delight in the world that is both winning and sustaining.
My account of my response to Paul Holman's Memoirs of the Drift:
it's the worlds of magick and of Late Modernism, apparently diverse, yet both system-dependent operations. What brings them together is that also both employ the language of speech-acts — spells or rules — language that effects the world. Or can. Both sets of actions, magic and art-making, derive from the obsessive rituals we need in a fragmented world to hold it (or don't I mean ourselves?) together. The fragmentation is integral to Holman's project — a wonderful variety of forms, of fluid voices and characters. (I value poets who are heterogeneous over those who merely work at a single scriptorial mechanism, a predictable voice doing predictable things to predictable content.) The world we inhabit in reading The Memory of the Drift is a very unstable and frightening place. It knows this, and often foregrounds the defence activities we make against the threatening chaos
An excellent clear and enthusiastic introduction to John James's work.
The reader is kept in a state of energised suspense, floating over a constantly shifting series of lines, glimpsing possible narratives, possible events, before being whisked away in another surprising direction
American online magazine Flashpoint has as its current issue a magnificent collection of material on the poet David Jones, who, both modernist and romantic traditionalist, of huge artistic ambition in both graphic and written work, was one of the figures sidelined by mainstream poetry and criticism. Make him your hero! As profound a First World War poet as Wilfred Owen.
A very fine but brief review of Joyce's What's in Store: Poems 2000-2007 (New Writers' Press & The Gig, 2007), which has some excellent discussion of his techniques (and thus ways of reading the poems):
The effect is to drive home a point about the indeterminacy of language, a point that is made more effectively through the experience of this both bizarre and comic tract, rather than being simply stated.
Elsewhere Joyce again lets the action of language drive his poetry, in the aptly-named "Action Sequence." In this case, though, he relies on the more familiar poetic devices of alliteration, assonance, rhyme and rhythm:
Great gals gone west
into millions of sunsets,
my presence is,
strangeness my grace,
as whackers and knackers,
sad slackers, court packers,
sundry vatic pragmatics
are with axes and tumbril. . . .
Once more, the meaning is somewhat indeterminate, but this is really about sound and movement. Indeterminacy is, again, the point here, as it is throughout much of Joyce's work. Just as he will not be pigeonholed or restricted in style, neither can he subscribe to a philosophical outlook predicated on certainty. The numerous folk songs and poems that he translates in this volume attest to this.
This is an excellent review and discussion of Richard Makin's serial prose works on Great Works, from the Intercapillary/Space blogzine.
Serial publication is an invitation to read; Makin's work is an experimental prose that connects, at its extremes, with both the novel and the installation — I would call it, in our present state of incompetence, partially readable. In some of his earlier work that meant reading a few words here and there. The work I'm writing about here accommodates — yes, invites, — a reading-through somewhat as a book of reflective essays or even a novel, but it does not resolve into characters, action or locale, and in fact it's impossible to hold the non-sequential material sufficiently in the mind to perform the mental exercise that we normally think of as reading.
I have heard Makin's work described as "non-generic prose" and I like that description, which emphasizes the freedom of the reader, the potential for pioneering into land that neither author nor reader may recognize. But I know it's not so easy as all that to be truly non-generic. Makin knows it too. Programmatically self-referential, the text constantly implies descriptions of itself, as an essay ("Let's start with some basics"), lecture ("whether you might be persuaded to say a few words"), novel ("no story although a great many things happen"), automatic writing ("This is an underthread"), travelogue ("we're heading off to the opening sea"), anthology ("A selection is given"), residue ("charred leaves go up the flume"), apology ("He's reduced to justification"). Those are all in the first section of St Leonards. In the second, there's others; a trunk in the attic ("This is where I put things I reject but wish to keep"), and a crime fiction ("They believe his motive was revenge. . ."). That last one keeps nagging at us: coroner's reports and post mortems, archaeological pathology, provide a sinister undercurrent. Without fixed characters or locations it's going to be a tough case to crack.
From the interesting site Verse Palace http://versepalace.wordpress.com/, Geraldine Monk talks about the writing of her (somewhat untypical as she explains) book Ghost & Other Sonnet, (Salt Publishing, 2008), enabling some interesting observations on her relationship with concepts of traditional form.
on Intercapillary Space has a range of responses, largely by other poets on the poetry and prose of Doug Oliver.
The critic Robert Potts' piece from The Guardian is a very good general introduction to J H Prynne's poetry:
The obstacles to understanding are not simply the disruption of linear order and conventional syntax. After all, these approaches are decades-old, traditionally modernist, and should not alarm readers in a world of cinematic jump-cuts, internet hyperlinks, and quantum physics. . . .
But Prynne's poetry also employs a breadth of vocabulary that takes the reader across the OED and down into its historical layers of accrued meanings, not to mention the specialised jargons and lexicons of disciplines as different as microbiology, finance, astronomy, optics, medicine, neurophysiology, genetics and agriculture. It is work informed by a vast amount of reading and its range and pitch are concomitantly daunting.
The amount of scientific material in the poems would not have seemed so strange even a few decades ago: most of the canonised poets engaged with the scientific activities of their time, including Wordsworth and Shelley.
From The Times Literary Supplement, November 3, 2010. Potts uses the Cambridge Literary Review (notoriously sneered at elsewhere in the TLS on its first appearance), and discussions of Prynne's work in Glossator (see below!) and ed Ian Brinton, A Manner of Utterance — The Poetry of J.H. Prynne (Shearsman, 2009) to provide another clear and informed approach to this poet's work. Very useful.
his practice as a poet: Prynne constantly juxtaposes different framing viewpoints, or runs them together, until each operates dynamically on the others; the result is complex, with elements in each poem relating to each other by a variety of means – metaphor, concept, pun, music, etcetera.
A brief guide to ways of beginning to make sense of the otherwise potentially off-putting work and reputation of J H Prynne, an heroic and exemplary figure to many of the writers of the British avant-garde. Both writers are academics and poets.
A detailed analysis of the importance to the turn in Prynne's poetry into its distinctive intensity of Adrian Stokes', and beyond him Ruskin's, emphases on close, ethical vision.
Any hope of bringing into focus an awareness of the self's relation to the other will depend upon 'a stern purpose' which combines not only the seriousness of the attempt but the guiding hand on the rudder so that the perceiver may see in the words of Adrian Stokes 'a Whole made up of Ones each as single as the Whole'..
"It were never meant to be easy" was the catchphrase of a memorable ex-boss. He was referring to the testings given us by a rather primitive deity; with Prynne and writing about Prynne the situation is more interesting:
The language used in Wound Response is an amalgamation of narrative, reflection, scientific data, counter-talk, and Druid symbology, all of which resists linguistic continuity.
For Prynne, the meaning of any given text is defined through examination and reflection by the reader on his or her relation to the world. It is not the physical form, but the relation the author establishes with the external world which formally situates the subjective, and defines the text. Early on, Prynne defined this intent: "It has been my own aspiration, for example, to establish relations not personally with the reader, but with the world and its layers of shifted but recognisable usages; and thereby with the reader's own position within this world".
You can get the sense of this in Hall's analysis of how meaning is produced in Prynne's first majorly puzzling book, Wound Response, on TPF: The Poetic Front, an academic poetics e-journal.
Ryan Dobran edited this issue of the online journal dedicated to the "Practice and Theory of the Commentary". The various writers literally give detailed commentaries on individual poems (or portions of these), teasing out the full range of connotations from word and reference, usually within the context of the poem's original publication. No, not easy reading — academic heavy engineering, with no prisoners taken.. The poetry is, of course, worthy, indeed, much larger than the endeavour:
Brass is a prophecy at the threshold, a genuine "anticipatory movement in the superstructure" if ever there was one in British poetry since the elongated death of John Keats. In the forty years since its publication, no poetry in English has managed to fully assimilate Brass or altogether get over it, no criticism has taken its measure, and no step change in the theatre of literary theoretical operations has come near to neutralising its insurgent "lacerating whimsicalities".
to quote Keston Sutherland. Good starting places might be Ryan Dobran's "Introduction", Thomas Roebuck and Matthew Sperling, "'The Glacial Question, Unsolved: A Specimen Commentary on Lines 1-31", or Robin Purves, "A Commentary on J. H. Prynne's 'Thoughts on the Esterházy Court Uniform'", beginning thus:
"Thoughts on the Esterházy Court Uniform" (Poems 99–100) as it appeared in Peter Manson's copy of Tim Longville and Andrew Crozier's anthology, A Various Art, was the first poem by J.H. Prynne that I frequently reread. The exact nature of the connection I felt to the poem is difficult to recall since I came across it in 1995 but I believe that I began to appreciate in going back to it repeatedly an obscurely registered but intimate apprehension of a perfected accord between its verbal music and the quality of its thought, without at the time being able to express the distinction of either. Prynne's poem seems both to have seduced me and communicated something, since I recall rereading it in order to deliver myself from certain kinds of mood or to enter the particular frame of mind the poem was adept at provoking.
Steven Waling provides a very good brief and clear outline of the value and attractions of this poet, who has been writing since the 1960s:
But it's not always the memorability of her lines that grab the attention: it's their attentiveness. By that, I mean the way that the poems focus themselves on the object of their concern without any attempt to drag the writer into the picture. Many contemporary poems seem to be not about the subject, but about the writer's feelings about the subject, or about the writer's clever and witty way of drawing our attention to the subject. In Randell's poems the writer is often absent, or only a part of the landscape; or seemingly so, because, of course, to take up a position of discretion is still to take up a position.
makes an excellent job of approaching Peter Riley, with a variety of responses by other poets to his poetry.
Thorpe's Jacket interview with Peter Riley, conducted both face-to-face and by email, is a very rewarding introduction to many of his fundamental concerns, especially the poem as walk.
This Jacket review of Gavin Selerie's two most recent original books, typically for him long sequences, is extremely clear in discussing his poetry, well-researched, information-rich,
a masterclass in formal inventiveness and an exemplary performance of contemporary poetic forms.
This consists of three interviews, between November 2011 and January 2013, split into five blogposts, as Shearsman Review Intervews on the Shearsman Books website.:
The sequence of interviews begins with questions about specific poems, and returns to this very detailed level, after a lengthy digression around Selerie's encounters with various aspects of the British poetry universe in the 60s and the 70s, and also links back to the 40s.
The London scene is like a bus station, open on all sides. People blow in and out the whole time. So several hundred people could claim to be members of it. I found that most people offering wares there pretty much had a cardboard sign round their necks saying SCHMUCK. So identifying with all of them was unthinkable. Being there is quite different from identifying. Which is Duncan not Selerie, whose judgements are far less abrasive, but based on a very wide range of contacts and influences across the British Poetry revival in its largest sense. Informative about the period, and about the breadth and depth of Selerie's poetic universe — multiverse rather.
In radically autobiographical poetry, the self is the prison of the poem. The voice of the poet gives the text a deep comforting layer of personality, swaddled in layers of trust, familiarity, witness. But the problem of putting everything in the first person is that in our life we don't experience everything as a first person, we are also able to hear other people's voices, intuit their experiences, and even lock into a whole cosmos of non-human processes and sounds. If all my poems mean the same thing, in fact mean Me, then they are much less diverse than the world. In order to reach the state of a camera, with its at least passive capacity to take on infinite diversity, the poem has to go through depersonalisation. This may be the point of a poem like this one
The soul of a poem is in its breath pattern, the division of sense coinciding with movements of someone's sensibility.
Iain Sinclair's poetry is very intelligently and usefully discussed in this wide-ranging (Adorno, Wyndham Lewis, post-punk and sound systems all play their role) essay. In a way that so often happens in the writing of London
— it is precisely the extreme contemporaneity of this poetry, its grounding in everyday perception and lived historical profanities, which paradoxically generates fervent spiritual qualities and concerns: such as avid hope for the future, a militant obscurity, or a rapt attention to personal singularity.
from Litter magazine, a collection of reviews and short essay, plus long interview and bibliography, edited by Alan Baker. Stannard's poetry balances play (intensely felt & intelligent play) with a responsiveness to the texture of lived life in a way that is exemplary, enjoyable and accessible. The pieces here will I hope win you over to such a point of view.
Not an easy read, but a useful one in terms of demonstrating how fierce and astringent Veronica Forrest Thompson's poetic practice was. She wrote an absolute poetry, that still presents huge challenges to any contemporary writer.
This essay discusses the relations between love, lyric, and real human beings in Veronica Forrest-Thomson's poetry, considering the ways by which Forrest-Thomson gets her poems into the contradictions of lyric's second-guess: performing knowledge of lyric's ironic prevention, as a condition of the lyric's truth. The essay forms part of Veronica Forrest-Thomson: A Retrospective, a gathering together by the Kenyon Review of some of her poems with some heavily academic discussion of her poetry.
This is a very good introduction, by the Australian poet Laurie Duggan, to Gael Turnbull, but also to the range of his poetic practices, many of which you will find in subsequent innovative British poetry:
From a relatively early date Turnbull was also making use of forms that would ultimately desert the conventional book page. His use of the column in some of these pieces carries an awareness of the shifts in concentration, the synapses, that permeate our consciousness.
Within the space of each 'pause or hesitation' change occurs as a kind of synaptic leap. What was to be said, or what is to be said is said in exchange for something not said. These poems have a permanence about them that belies their fragility. Some of them even approach that supposed impossibility: the tautology that contains knowledge.
These were issued as A4 "tasting notes" at the Diverse Deeds poetry and music performances towards the end of 2009. They give my hints to an audience as to what to expect from the poets reading, and ways to make sense of this if they were unused to the poetry, plus where they could encounter their work, especially online. These pages are virtually verbatim from the paper copies.
To these are added similar sheets given to attendees at Stoirt Poetry Group readings arranged 2012-2013.