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Friday, February 05, 2016

Robert Sheppard: Far Language: Bob Cobbing: Sightings and Soundings

in honour of his 75th birthday

This page (written 1995) was read at the Bob Cobbing Symposium in May 2015 as part of my talk 'Bobliography' (see here), breaking off at the end of the page, and moving on to other writings on (and with ) Cobbing:

1          Two Lessons

I visited Bob Cobbing, and thus met my first poet, on November 3 1973.  I was still at school, keen to put on an exhibition of concrete poetry.  I recognised this as the wilder edge of the new British poetry I had discovered through Horovitz’ anthology Children of Albion and Bill Butler’s Brighton bookshop.  In the school library there was, unaccountably, Emmett Williams’ An Anthology of Concrete Poetry.  Bob was in it.

When I arrived at Randolph Avenue to collect some hansj√∂rg mayer posters, Bob was already talking to a student who was writing a thesis on language in visual art.  I listened as they talked and sounded some of the Shakespeare Kaku.  I remained mute, uncertain.  Bob played a tape of himself and Peter Finch performing e colony from the Five Vowels, a then incomplete project.  He showed us the work in progress.  I stayed for six hours literally learning the life of a poet.

Two lessons, one immediate, the other lasting:

  There was a world of poetry which did not hypostacise the Poem as a closed structure.  (I left burdened with booklets and off-prints from Cobbing’s own work and excerpts from Lee Harwood.)

  The importance of radical consistency for an artist: to refuse to mark out an aesthetic territory which is then colonised, but to move confidently on, to create structures, large and small, for continued experiment.


2          Selected Sightings and Jottings 1978 - 1994

Bob Cobbing, Bill Griffiths and Paul Burwell, May 10 1978: Public House Bookshop, Brighton.  ‘Two poets concerned with the discontinuity of language.  Yet even more concerned with the building up of the discontinuous, into new structures … the simplicity of Cobbing’s Alphabet of Fishes … it is what Cobbing does visually (typographically and otherwise) and vocally that gives a poem its complexity, its ‘art’ … bellowing like a walrus.’

King’s College, November 26 1981: ‘with Griffiths and Fencott.  He swigged from his own ‘secret supply’ and launched into an hour of completely new material’ to put a wedge into the bibliographic mentality that cannot distinguish between the ‘latest’ and the ‘last’.

Saturday, July 13 1985 (the rest of the world watching Live Aid):  Bob beneath a tree in Clerkenwell churchyard.  ‘SILLIWHIG’ he yelled, from the

The rest may be read

This is the last chapter of Far Language and the last to be posted or linked-to here.

Link now to the new 'Introduction' and links to the contents of the book here.

And here are the chapter links to the original publication.

The (original) 'Introduction': here.
'Reading Prynne and Others': here.
'Far Language' (MacSweeney) here.
'Irregular Actions' (Allen Fisher) here.
'Timeless Identities' (Roy Fisher) here.
'Utopia Revisited' (John Ash) here.
'Flashlight Propositions' (Robert Sheppard's 1987 poetics) here.
'Education of Desire' (pedadgogic poetics) here.
'Commitment to Openness' (Roy Fisher, Lee Harwood, Tom Raworth) here.
'Poetic Sequencing and the New: Twentieth Century Blues' (poetics) here.
'Buoyant Readings' (J.H. Prynne, Bruce Andrews, Ken Edwards, Aaron Williamson and Gilbert Adair) here.
'Collosal Fragments' (Adrian Clarke) here.
'Tune Me Gold' (Maggie O'Sullivan here.
'Linking the Unlinkable' (poetics of Twentieth Century Blues) here.
'Adhesive Hymns' (Ulli Freer) here.
'Bob Cobbing: Soundings and Sightings' here.


Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Alan Baker: Links and Interview about Whether (KFS, 2015)

Read an email interview with Alan Baker, conducted by the WRI 2010 (The Art of Poetry: Land and Landscape) group at Edge Hill University (2015-16), via Robert Sheppard, the tutor.

The interview is largely about the pamphlet they were studying, Whether, which is available from Knives Forks and Spoons here.

We were wondering about your overall book title Whether. What is the purpose of the pun on ‘weather’?

The pun on “weather” – an obvious one I know – is because the poems are “about” climate and weather, but not directly. I wanted to express the general unease we all feel about this subject but to do it by making word-objects in the form of spells. I also wanted to express a general feeling we often have of wanting to take control of our world, but being limited by our own physical resources. So the poems are related to climate and weather, but not exclusively about that. I like to think the pun in the title expresses this uncertainty.

This conditional mode expressed by “whether” also sets the tone for "Week to View"; in that sequence I wanted to express how our perception of the world is contingent and dependent on chance.

How did you structure the poems in ‘Week to View’ and how much was left to chance, or collage?

I can tell you that I wrote this sequence in a single sitting while waiting for a delayed plane at Amsterdam airport. I started writing in diary mode; I’d stayed in a hotel, attended powerpoint presentations, and so on, so they all got into the poems. At the airport, I consciously responded to the various stimuli - announcements, adverts, a Golden Age centre (still not quite sure what that is), and my own random thoughts which were affected by being in Holland. I also had a notebook of previous jottings from which I lifted phrases and passages (I didn't make it all up at the same time - some of those notebook entries were a year or two old). "Heart disease wears a skirt too" was a headline in a women's magazine. By including it at that point in the poem, I wanted to replicate the sudden switches in attention which contemporary life forces on us, sometimes in a shocking way (the switch from TV adverts to a news report of some violent event for example). As is probably obvious, the poem isn’t a true cut-up; but neither is it too consciously structured; it’s more of an improvisation. Whenever I found myself getting into a fluent passage, I’d switch focus, or add in an unrelated piece of text – whatever my eye alighted on at the time (so introducing a large element of chance); this seems to be how people keep diaries, or diary-style blogs, by writing short passages on things that occur to them; these poems try to take that to another level.

The poems (particularly in ‘Week to View’) seem multi-voiced. Are there overheard voices, media clips, found material, etc. in there? How much is your own voice?

The question "How much is your own voice" is a good one, and difficult to answer. I don't really know, in terms of poetry, what my own voice is. Even apparently personal statements are forms of address in a poetic text. At the same time, there is a personal element to these poems, both to the tone and the content, a result, I think, of the work of the subconscious. What I find when writing this collage-based poetry is that I'm often surprised at what comes out, and how pertinent to my own life it is. As if the use of apparently impersonal collaged materials frees your unconscious; themes emerge, and preoccupations become apparent. I suppose this is the equivalent of the traditional idea of ‘the muse’, or of Jack Spicer’s “poetry by dictation”.

The poems certainly contain found materials – from adverts, headlines in magazines, marketing materials, work-related emails and so on. What I've done in these poems, particularly in “Week To View”, is to collage materials from various sources, including my own notebooks. Are these latter "my own voice"? My writings probably have evolved a distinctive style, but it's not the same as my speaking voice, or my tone when writing emails at work; it's a style evolved to write in notebooks, and is certainly, to some degree, borrowed from the style of other poets.

In writing poem 5 of ‘Thirteen Spells’, how did you arrange its various parts? How was it written?

I work in an office overlooking the railway tracks at Derby station, and part of this poem was jotted down while at work there - just observations from looking round the office. The lines "traffic lights turn icicles red", "the river’s dangerous eddies that seem beautiful in the dark" and "Hyundai containers line the tracks" were from notebook jottings (I like Hyundai, as it's so un-English - starting a word with "hy"). Part of my technique is to assemble all these bits of text, and to yoke them together using a form, like pouring metal into a mould; the form here, of course, is the Spell or Charm, and it allowed me bring all of the pieces together; as I said earlier, somehow using the form freed the subconscious to make associations between them.

We noticed repeated imperatives in ‘Thirteen Spells’ and wondered why you’d used so many to create their rhetorical shape?

I used so many imperatives, because that’s the poetic form of the spell. Traditional spells and charms use imperatives, as they're demanding that something happens ("Shrink like coal in a bucket",  etc). Traditional spells also name things, as if the act of naming gave the speaker some kind of power. So the Nine Herbs Charm names herbs:

This herb is called Cress ...  This is named Nettle
The things they named were everyday, banal things to people at the time. In my spells, I name things like the office water cooler, Hyundai containers and hot desks.
The spell and the diary provide the forms in "Whether". The "talking to yourself" mode, which people use for diaries, provided the form of address in "Week to View", and that dictated the voice to some degree.

How seriously should we take the ancient spoken and written forms of spells or charms in reading these pieces? How strong is ‘against’ in the title?

I take the traditional spells very seriously; too seriously to want to reproduce them as museum pieces. So, the poems are partly parody, which is one way of paying homage to the originals. The idea is to "make them new", in the way that the poet Peter Hughes has done with Petrarch - his lively and irreverent versions are created by imagining how Petrarch might write today. How would you speak if you were casting a spell now? i.e. if you were addressing something over which you have little control, in language which might help you believe you were mitigating its effects. The word “against” is strong in the sense that I envisage these poems as contemporary spells which may give some comfort in the face of large, impersonal forces, but, of course, it’s also ironic in that none of us believe in the efficacy of spells in the way medieval people did.

We liked the way the poems move from the everyday to the cosmic. How does that work for you?

It's difficult to address the 'cosmic' (in both the literal and metaphorical sense) without becoming hopelessly abstract (which may work in French, but not so well in English). So it's necessary to undercut and contrast the cosmic things with the everyday. This is something which collagic composition and its sudden switches enable you to do. I think it's part of the human condition to be caught between two worlds of the day-to-day and the cosmic / spiritual and for each to interrupt each other at inconvenient times.

Alan Baker blogs here, and runs the  magazine: LITTER here.

Steve Spence on Alan Baker’s Whether may be read here. And Ian Brinton on Whether here.

Alan Baker's reivew of The Drop by Robert Sheppard may be read here.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

MINA LOY event/reading at the Bluecoat, Liverpool (Parmar, Skoulding, Sheppard, Crangle, Ashcroft, Gordon) set list

Christ on a Clothes Line

Myths of the Modern Woman Sat, 30 Jan 2016 4.00 PM - 6.00 PM

Bluecoat, School Lane, Liverpool

Myths of the Modern Woman - an afternoon of readings and discussion curated by Sandeep Parmar, academic, poet and author of The Reading Mina Loy's Autobiographies: Myth of the Modern Woman. The event featured contributions from poets Zoe Skoulding, Sara Crangle, Joanne Ashcroft, Robert Sheppard and artist Melissa Gordon. Read an interview with Sandeep Parmar on Loy here.

Parmar programmed Myths of the Modern Women in response to Loy's writing and to Melissa Gordon's enduring fascination with Loy's play 'Collision' (1916). Gordon's exhibition Fallible Space, an installation determined by the script of 'Collision', provided the backdrop for the afternoon.  The event was introduced by Sandeep Parmar followed by poetry readings by Skoulding, Crangle, Ashcroft and Sheppard. The readings were followed by a round table discussion. 

Mina Loy (1882-1966) is recognised today as one of the most innovative modernist poets and artists, numbering Gertrude Stein, Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Cornell, Djuna Barnes and T.S. Eliot amongst her admirers.

Everybody read special sets assembled (and written) for the afternoon, four carefully crafted performances. Melissa then joined the poets to talk about Loy, experts rubbing shoulders with enthusiasts.

My Set

I wrote a new poem for the event, referencing Loy, the previous Saturday, in the Performance Space, inside and around Melissa's installation (which we'd seen assembled in a performance of Loy's 'Collision' the night before). It's part of a series of poems in which I am trying to be anecdotal to some aesthetic effect. So I began with that:

1. 'Useless Landscape' Partly about the Tom Jobim I was listening to - 'its title floats free' - 'one of Loy's mad bums' spotted in Church Street, and the installation itself: 'A sharp shard in suspense'. Unpublished.
2. 'Only the Eyes are Left, for Mina Loy' (in Hymns to the God and History or Sleep)
3 'A Scapel of Light Slicing through a Smile, for Charlotte Saloman'. (from Hymns)
4 'Leeds' (unpublished exploration of modernism)
5 'Empty Diary 1920' (see below) from Empty Diaries and Twentieth Century Blues
6 'Empty Diary 2009: Hellstew Microblog' (unpublished, from 'Wiped Weblogs', a row of Song Nets)     

Empty Diary 1920

Grippe Espagnole

                        Split in a

mirror, gloves or fingers in

their meadow of scarf lines, with

its censure, like a man’s. I’ve

shelves of those Everyman books,

a chair in front of the fire.

Light up, read Goldman, bloomers

under the wet umbrella.


I’m photographed in front of

my portrait, self-vigilant,

a seismic oscillation

of bone, cruel beauty dances

for a field of fogged lenses.

Only a master could paint

the crumple of rich dresses;

                        my nest of

hair for marble eyes to steal

a home, crystal beads trembling

under those hot sick fans. Such

tyranny behind men’s masks

breeds: Poisons sprayed onto bus

seats, nestling between the hard

joints, sticky with the flu’s beads.

Image result for mina loy

Classic Loy - Man Ray 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Robert Sheppard: Far Language: Adhesive Hymns (Ulli Freer)


1          Polemic

In Ulli Freer’s long work of recent years, TM (of which the booklet Blvd.s is a part) the juxtaposition goes beyond the streams and jumps of earlier pieces, and amounts to an indissoluble compound of diction and discourses.  The texts, often printed large, centred on the page, have the thingness of monumental abstract canvases.  Norman Jope recently pleaded that he could not devote the possible ‘levels of time / attention (often of a crossword-solving nature) … in order to wrest some kind of personal effect’ from these enigmatic texts.  Those of us who have no desire to wrestle for reductive summary tend to be impatient of such strategies.  ‘Confronted with work as stunning as TM,’ remarks Adrian Clarke of Jope’s disquiet, ‘what are the stiff little pricks of English small press poetry to do?’ (See Responses 20 for the full exchange.) 

I believe TM (and its unpublished predecessor Rushlight) to be one of the most vigorous works of the last ten years. I believe the danger of the ‘prickish’ response to it will be the hiding of this work in Freer’s bottom drawer while he gets on with the next brilliant sequence.

Catch at least this Equipage Blvd.s (available from Rod Mengham, Jesus College, Cambridge).  There is a full Freer bibliography by Scott Thurston in Pages 239-259.

2          Analysis

Aspects of creative linkage in Blvd.s.  One complete section:

filling with waste land residuum

opium dialectic flushed up and down

in lift shaft

on gravity overdose

mulled blood oozes dormant

from this non-reflective river

whisper policy

from spindle flesh

(i)         points towards toxic waste (waste land residuum), drug addiction (opium … overdose), both chemical disintegrations in a landscape of urban decay (up and down the lift shaft), against governmental secrecy (whisper policy);

(ii)        odd adjective-noun combinations: opium dialectic, gravity overdose, mulled blood, spindle flesh - all of which involve changes in bodily states (spindle = needle);

(iii)       flushed suggests a cleansing (a word which re-appears, as do so many, paradigmatically, throughout the book) which seems uneasy in this waste, the poisoned blood, this dormant and murkily non-reflective river.  Far from flushing the text foregrounds, by opening with: filling with waste.  Spindle flesh suggests neither flushing nor filling, but an emptied, emaciated body.  Oozes dormant: oxymoronic viscous poisoning;

(iv)       Waste Land points the literary-minded to Eliot’s allegorical river, but even his, 1922, ‘sweats oil and tar’;

(v)        dialectic up and down like a lift in its shaft ODing on gravity: vacillating, frantic, never achieving stability or synthesis.  Opium dialectic could be a version of the addict’s algebra of need but also (I don’t write or in this context) an addiction to the gravity of dialectic, Western thought-mechanics, so ironically distant from the delirium of opiates.  The fix of reason may lead to the whisper policy (thought feebly or covertly enunciated and slenderly embodied in) spindle flesh;

(vi)       covert dealers playing out the same oppositions in their toxic territories.

This semantic commentary illuminates each facet of the crystal, as it were, without revealing the gem.  It is - to change metaphors - more of a compound than a mixture: I cannot simply isolate lines to bring out the juxtaposition.  Parts of Blvd.s are openly sceptical of the kinds of solution and paraphrase that Jope apparently seeks: ‘with a tv dinner take part in war / as though truth is narratively kissed’.  Even my notes above delimit the semantic compounds, turn the text, with the Judas-like kiss or narrative, to univocal simplicity.

Syntax, in the broadest sense of the word, must be taken into consideration (more of this later) but so must sound.  An alliterative linkage tenaciously declares that, away from the semantic level, these words belong together: lift / shaft; mulled blood; whisper policy; spindle flesh.  There is even visual punning: blood oozes.  It is partly this ancient device of stress-alliteration (as witnessed in Freer’s performance style) which enables the text to be both more disruptive than the arrangement commonly called juxtaposition, and also less disruptive.  It has a smoothness that blends the links in with the materials.  (Collage always seem to imply a torn quality, a violence.)  Notice how the alliterative pairs overlap with the list of above of adjective-noun combinations to confirm the doubleness.

3          Theories

In Deleuze and Guattari’s late What is Philosophy? they contrast the ‘mixtures’ of scientific thought with the ‘compounds’ of percepts and affects that create the bloc of sensation which they define as the work of art.  Percepts and affects are not the perceptions and emotions of the lived experience so beloved of empirical British literary culture.  They are what have been made of them: respectively, ‘the non-human landscapes of nature’ and ‘the non-human beings of man’.  ‘Man’ (sic) himself is only a compound, composed of percepts and affects, in the context of a work of art, fictionalised.

‘Should the heart / be redundant or floated / in juxtaposition’, asks Freer, less sure than Deleuze and Guattari of the role of the human, aware also of a different point: ‘that these juxtapositions / metronome ourselves’ seems at least an ambivalent process.  Metronomic juxtapositions may serve to regiment us (as in the indeterminacies of advertising), as much as the refrains (riornellos) that Deleuze and Guattari write of elsewhere, may help to liberate us.

The anxiety, a constituative anxiety, of ‘linguistically innovative poetry’ in this country has been clear even before Gilbert Adair provided some of us with this cumbersome term: that the discontinuities that form the surfaces of our work might prove metronomic (like advertising) and not provide ‘new continuities’ (as Adair himself demanded).  Or, in my borrowed metaphor, that the combinations might not be compounds but merely mixtures, that the linkage is not creative but simply communicative (or non-communicative). 

There is no litmus test for this.  As Deleuze and Guattari put it: ‘The only law of creation is that the compound must stand up on its own’.  The lores of creation, as I would prefer to say, are the differing means to constitute these compounds.  Indeed, for Deleuze and Guattari, ‘standing up’ can involve deformation as much as formation, and, if they offer 3 varieties of artistic compound, it is not as a strict categorisation but as a description of tendencies they have conceptualised.

The third of these varieties, ‘the opening or splitting, hollowing out sensation’ seems to approximate what I wish to call creative linkage in the work of Ulli Freer:

withdrawal, division, distension, (when … two sensations draw apart, release themselves, but so as now to be brought together by the light, the air, or the void that sinks between them or into them, like a wedge that is at once so dense and so light that it extends in every direction as the distance grows, ad forms a bloc that needs no support.

Deleuze and Guattari have sculpture as their model here (in music they associate this third variety with theme rather than the simple air or resonating motif), but I believe that the lineation, syntax, and sound in Blvd.s operate aurally as this dense-light wedge to compose a new bloc of sensation.

Andrew Duncan once developed a theory of the pulse (a word which appears throughout Blvd.s), partly in relation to Freer’s textual and performance practice.  ‘One should think of absolute stress, dominating an empty space.  You have to generate enough silence for your stress peaks to be heard.’  (See Fragmente 4)  This seems close to the Deleuzoguattarian concept, and accurate to the experience of witnessing Freer read.  Also, in the text:


strong as a pulse embedded in random


key in you spoke

The isolated ‘praxis’ holds its own against the similarly spaced ‘noise’, and is the model of (poetic and/or political) activity.  The ambiguous last line offers a turn on or a tuning in as much as a solution.  The key is not one for Jope to unlock the text.  It doesn’t unlock; it speaks.  We key in for praxis.

In an update of the influential ‘Minor Literature’ chapter of Kafka, Deleuze and Guattari comment specifically on literature.  ‘The writer uses words, but by creating a syntax that makes them pass into sensation that makes the standard language stammer, tremble, cry or even sing.’  This deforming passage into sensation is achived by undoing ‘the triple organisation of perceptions, affections and opinions, in order to substitute a monument composed of percepts, affects and blocs of sensation’.  The means for this seem to be syntax but, as Duncan observed not altogether uncritically of ‘pulse poetry’, ‘Syntax is replaced by juxtaposition’.  In Blvd.s juxtaposition is syntax.

4          Thematics


Such an odd abbreviation for an English eye (and its even odder plural: Blvd.s).  American or French?  A resonant word, politically: the blvds of Paris were designed by Haussmann to minimise the opportunities for insurrection, yet they have been the scenes of uprisings, the cobblestone happiness of 1968, for example.  Only one section relates to the title directly:

baited sidewalks blockades

ugh hugs tediously

wordless police cordoned off

enkindle hope from

alleviation sneers vaguely

dubbed to be free

elaborately stranded

dressed in spidery gabardines

rumble pulses

This is a passage of contrasts and of identity in difference, carried by the syntax of juxtaposition, or of creative linkage.  The ‘ugh’ of a (cinematic) punch eye-rhymes with the ‘hugs’ that are emotionally its opposite, however ‘tedious’.  ‘Baited … blockades … cordoned off … stranded’ suggest alienation and entrapment, rather than the object of the linkage, ‘alleviation’ and ‘hope’.  ‘Wordless police’ are ‘dubbed’, both speechless and spoken for, at once.  ‘Dubbed to be free’ sounds suspiciously like somebody else is rhetorically doing our talking for us, despite the subject matter.  (Remember, Thatcher crusaded to empower us.)  The ‘spidery gabardines’ (another unusual adjective-noun combination) connote surveillance and traps, again by that police (in ununiformed uniforms).  The Arachno-detectives.  The concluding ‘rumble pulses’ combination is oxymoronic: a rumble is a constant, a pulse is an interval, pulses a series of them.  Like the histories of the blvd.s of Paris (along which traffic both rumbles and pulses) the text links external control with the desire for liberation, the pulse of purposeful ‘praxis’ juxtaposed with purposeless interference: ‘pulse embedded in random/noise’. 

Pulses released from random noise (refrains, in Deleuze and Guattari’s terms) form monuments for the future.

Pulses as links in a chain, not of communication (the traditional opposite of noise) but of creation.

March 1995                                                                      Pages362-380, January 1996

Link to new 'Introduction' and links to all contents of Far Language here. And more on the history of Pages here.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Robert Sheppard: Shearsman Launch of History or Sleep: Selected Poems (set list)

At the Shearsman Launch Reading on Tuesday 12 January 2016 I read with Sascha Aurora Akhtar at the Swedenborg Hall, London, hosted by Tony Frazer, publisher of Shearsman Books.

I launched History or Sleep, my new selected poems, for the third time, and again, did not repeat any of the poems from the other readings.  

This selection draws on every book of my poetry since Returns of 1985 through to Words Out of Time of 2015, and is designed to sample in portable form both the recurring and developing themes of my work and their changing forms. See various posts on this blog Pages about the selection and de-selection of the poems here. And here. There is a new review of the book, by Steve Waling, here.

Details and purchase details here!

Patricia Farrell's 1993 portrait used for the cover

I read:

One for William Carlos Williams
Looking North 2
History or Sleep
Small Voice
from Warrant Error: Caught between wipers
Four Poems Against Death

and I finished with a recentish elegy for Lee Harwood, and a poem I wrote on the train, on the way to London for the gig, then called 'Ode to Life', now called '(Variation on) Ode to Life'. (It's a Don Pullen composition; listen up here, for the one I have on CD, and here for a live solo version. It's stunning.)

A great evening: great friends. Watch an earlier reading here.

Clark Allison's review of the book may be read on Stride here. 'The Advert of Itself: Some Notes on Robert Sheppard's History or Sleep'. A second review, by Ian Brinton here.  There is another review of the book, by Steve Waling, here.

Details of Sascha's book here.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Robert Sheppard: Far Language: Linking the Unlinkable (poetics)

Linking the Unlinkable: an answer to the question ‘Why Do You Do What You Do?

Such questions as ‘Why Do You Do What You Do?’ require one set of answers no individual writer can access about him or herself, in a personal history that is far from personal often, or in a genealogy of some profound but obscure disposition towards language or one of its substrata.
            Aesthetic allegiance, from this point of view, may be no more than a position for this disposition to be situated. By this time, this doing can no longer be questioned. It is so far from a why, so ingrained perhaps in the individual’s concsciousness, that it requires the jolt of history to shake this intensity free of its occasions.
            The question eventually becomes – or became for me – ‘why you continue writing’. The pre-disposition to write (for me) seeks a justification, in poetics, in the processes of a resistant practice, a negativity that balances the affirmation of the originating impulse. The project Twentieth Century Blues is a ‘net/(k)not-work’. One of its current aims is to link the unlinkable.

In ‘Discussions, or phrasing “after Auschwitz”’,   (The Lyotard Reader, 1989), Lyotard considers  this name that, for Adorno, risked overstamping all human endeavour, including, famously, and relevantly to my current purpose, poetry. For Lyotard, ‘Auschwitz’ is ‘a model for’ … ‘the incommensurability between the universe of prescriptive phrase (request) and the universes of the descriptive phrases which take it as their referent’.  The ‘agon of phrases is perpetual’. The just action can only be to effect ‘the linkage “that suits” in a particular case, without there being known what the rule of suitability is’. One can only ‘invent rules for the linkings of phrases’.
Derrida responded to Lyotard's lecture and revealed himself less interested in phrases, than in the processes of the essential linkage.
We have, he says, ‘to make links, historically, politically, and ethically with the name, with that which absolutely refuses linkage’. It is the ethical imperative that I find both profound and resonant in these remarks. He continues: ‘If there is today an ethical or political question and if there is somewhere a One must it must link up with a one must make links with Auschwitz.’ But this necessity could be broadened, both ethically and technically; for me, it demands a writing practice that must link the components of the daily catastrophe, along with all its ecstasies, that we live. ‘Perhaps Auschwitz prescribes – and the other proper names of analogous tragedies (in their irreducible dispersion) prescribe – that we make links.’ These remarks have haunted (indeed, have been linked in) my recent work The Lores, Twentieth Century Blues 30, to offset the Adornoesque negativity that also haunts it. It implies a practice: ‘It does not prescribe that we overcome the un-linkable, but rather: because it is unlinkable, we are enjoined to make links.’ Any apparent unlinkability, I would generalise, requires creative linkage for a writer, a kind of investigative experimentation.
The writing practice will determine that such linkages be articulated at times on a surface which is like the skin of delirium, with simultaneously more disruption that would be connoted by the term ‘juxtaposition’ – and also less, where the links are so melted into the materials that they disappear.
This derivation for Derrida is different, tough allied, to Adrian Clarke’s fortuitous blending of Lyotard’s poetics of the phrase with his own phrasal poetic practice to form the poetics of his Listening to the Differences talk. (RWC Extra, 1991) Clarke himself integrates the theory and his practice and demands ‘a subversive plurality that many of the rules available to link phrases may also be used to sustain, short-circuiting the connections that might combine to pronounce a sentence, but not necessarily those constituitive of a critical judgement whose force is less than absolute.’
The rules of this subversive linkage, I believe, have to be invented to counter absoluteness with plurality. The disruption of the authority of the sentence by the micro-judgements of the phrase is one way. There  may be others, as linguistically innovative writers momently create new ‘rules’ for linkage, for what suits the particular ‘case’: the disparate materials in need of procedural linkage. Lyotard has previously described the paradox of this process in The Postmodern Condition (1984): ‘The artist and the writer … are working without rules in order to formulate the rules of what will have been done.’ Indeed, ‘short-circuiting’ is an interesting analogy for a wholly unexpected and deregulated linkage. As Lyotard notes: ‘To link is necessary, but how to is not.’
Asking myself, again, the question ‘Why Do I Do What I Do?’ evokes the necessary response:
To link the unlinkable.

[January 1995]            Generator 7:2: Whydoyoudowhatyoudo?, December 1995
                        Pages 362-380, January 1996

Link to new 'Introduction' and links to all contents of Far Language here.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Robert Sheppard: History or Sleep: Selected Poems: a third online review by Steve Waling

book, by Steve Waling, here, from Literature Out Loud.

Clark Allison's review may be read on Stride here. It is called 'The Advert of Itself: Some Notes on Robert Sheppard's History or Sleep'.

And a second review, by Ian Brinton, on Tears In the Fence here.

Thanks for your attention, genteleman.

More on the book here!