Saturday, June 26, 2010
Jallywow, Catacoustics, Picassoesque, Spume
What a pleasure to come across Valérie Rouzeau’s Cold Spring in Water, as rendered by Susan Wicks from the original Pas Revoir, and published in an en face text by Arc. Its subtle and insinuating neologisms, contractions, torsions and short-cuts:
Toi mourant man au telephone pernoctera pas voir papa.
Le train foncé sous la pluie dure pas mourir mon père oh steu plait tends-moi me dépêche d’arriver.
Pas mourantir désespérir père infinir lever courir –
You dying on the phone my mum he will not last the night nor see dad.
The train a dark rush under rain not last not die my father please oh please the get there soon.
Not deadying oh not desperish father everlast get up run fast –
I always thought it was important that Joyce laid off the baby talk as quickly as he does in A Portrait, but Rouzeau manages to keep up an affecting but unaffected soup of endearment (‘papa dire papa dear dada pire’) amidst the bitterer pills of grief. In one of her first poetry writer-in-residencies, Stephen Romer notes in the introduction, she reconstructed ‘what she called her “cabane”, literally a kind of hideaway, made of old car seats and bits of roof and sides’ (her father was a scrap metal dealer). And there is something of the hideaway or latibule (latibule!) about this book. But if the cliché about post-war French poetry is that it spirals off into unreadable abstraction, this book is a pleasing reminder that the French are human after all (their football team I pass over without comment), and reminds me too to look up that anthology of contemporary French poetry I saw reviewed in the TLS the other month...
Much to admire in Roy Fisher’s Standard Midland, crepuscular and valedictory though it can seem. Ken Smith awakes from a coma and asks, ‘Wearily: “What’s /the word for chair?”’ The terminal visions of ‘The Skyline in the Wall Mirror’, catching a glimpse of a faraway pasture, made of ‘clinker /cinders and slag: dense, dead /unstable. I always /had cinders ready. I have ashes.’ ‘Hole, Horse and Hellbox: The Tabernacle Poems’ is the text of Fisher’s collaboration with artist Ronald King, repelete with Domesday Bookish genealogies of beefy midlanders. The closing ‘Rattle a Cart’
Peeling the present off the past
the better to show the wiring
through soot-flecked lines of washing
horse comes loping like a dog
spat on by losers, ya great jallywow!
rattling a cart of knocked-up planks
its bottom littered with research papers
on land use in the Fertile Crescent,
pamphlets, a Herodotus:
news of the stolen world.
Look at this:
pp. xiv; xviii catacoustics (1991)
p. 15 they
p. 17 that morning
... and so on. This comes from a poem in Tom Raworth’s new book, Windmills in Flames: Old and New Poems called ‘Errata to Collected Poems (2003)’. How I love that Webernian plink-plonk disconnectedness he has going on. No, wait it’s an errata slip to his Collected Poems! No wait, it’s both. I might be writing about this book elsewhere so might shepherd my thoughts for now, but how amusing, too, to find the following in the acknowledgements: ‘Thanks to Pierre Joris for recovering “Intellectual Compost 6”, written on the flyleaf of his copy of Collected Poems’. Oh for a compost-recoverer-bibliographer.
I went through a phase of trying to write ultra-short poems, inspired I think by A.R. Ammons (those tiny poems in that big font on those small pages), and ended up deciding there was a difference between the micro-poem and the regular poem that stopped a bit sooner than usual. Before the awarding of its rosette, the micro-poem must make at least one gesture towards its own briefness or inadequacy to its occasion. Mark Granier’s fine ‘Night, Wind, Dead Leaves’, from Fade Street (just by Misery Hill...) certainly qualifies on that score:
rattle and hiss, the sound so high
it is almost a whistle,
their bodying sigh
the air of something more palpable
than passing by.
‘I go among the Fields and catch a glimpse of a Stoat or a fieldmouse peeping out of the withered grass-the creature hath a purpose and its eyes are bright with it’, Keats wrote to his brother and sister. Granier, in ‘Crest’, catches a glimpse of a stoat too, but lingers after the ‘fluidly gone’ thing itself for the following absence as ‘sky readjusts to sky, //grass to grass, /drystone to drystone’. Imagistic repletion (or depletion) vie with a more expansive narrative impulse, and in a poem such as ‘Bicycle Seat Bull’s Head Bull-Leap’ pull with enviable tautness in the two directions before settling for a knot of coiled energy, pondering the Picassoesque ‘problem no one posed’ of:
how to release the bull
from the bicycle
so handlebar horns offer
a leap, charged with laughter.
I’d like to find something to say about Miriam Gamble’s The Squirrels Are Dead, which I’ve been enjoying (and I note the addition to that tricky poetic sub-genre, poems with writers’ names in them, in this case ‘This New Michael’, though for Michael Palin read Michael Longley), except my attempts to formulate any thoughts keep on stalling on its opening poem, ‘Medusa’, which I think is just exceptional – uncanny, unsettling, a piece of mythpoeic flotsam washed up from all manner of fabulous elsewheres:
The waters spin you like a dirty jewel: flushed out
to crusty deaths on beaches
or retained in the darkest of her vaults, the sea
would have you seem a thing of nowheres; soft spume
of unconsidered thought, she is tarrying for time
with you, dabbling for ways to rein you in.
But the sun makes honeycombed your playground
and your body pirouettes through gold-splashed avenues
lazily surveying what is there, your slow limbs tickling
at the borderline between two worlds of sound...
Here is Perdita found, or at least ringing home briefly before hanging up again. Wonderful.
Photograph taken on Kampa Island in Prague.