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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Index to Pages: May 2005

(Just click onto the appropriate month under Archive on the right; an index for that month will appear at the top of each)

May 2005

468: Adrian Clarke: from MUZZLE
467: Marianne Morris: from Easter Poems
466: Robert Sheppard: Looking Back at Place and Open Field Poetics
465: Robert Sheppard: A History of the Other: Part four
464: Ken Edwards: from BARDO

April 2005

463: Robert Sheppard: TEXTintoTEXT
462: Robert Sheppard: A History of the Other: Part three
461: Neon Highway Interview with Robert Sheppard
460: Alice Lenkiewicz: Poems from Maxine

March 2005

459: Robert Sheppard: Cobbing: Two Sequences
458: Robert Sheppard: Bob Cobbing and Concrete Poetry
457: Bob Cobbing: Exhibition, Performances and Links
456: Robert Sheppard: You Need Hands: Iain Sinclair’s Dining on Stones
455: Tony Trehy: Coprophilia
454: Ian Davidson: Too Long
453: Robert Sheppard: A History of the Other: Part two.

February 2005

446: Robert Sheppard: Editorial to the Third Series/Afterword to Pages, the Second Series (moved out of sequence)
452: John Seed: from Pictures from Mayhew
451: Dee McMahon: Three Poems
450: Robert Sheppard: New Memories: Allen Fisher’s Gravity as a Consequence of Shape
449: Allen Fisher: Mezz Merround
448 Rupert Loydell: ‘Entangled’ (for Allen Fisher)
447: Robert Sheppard: A History of the Other: Part one.

© the authors, 2005

Monday, May 30, 2005

Adrian Clarke: from Muzzle

cries rise
imbricate cyphers

properties god-sent;
electric silhouettes'
inverted framework

this zone strung out
tactics translate stars exchange

cattle trick
Christmas remix

neighbours too many
inner shrines

roister allotment double-booked pastoral
trite siren

risers heard the cry
Lexical hide her;
lame fingers index
descending order


grey bay
light flake migrant

iron-rust frigid
surveillance twisted
change line at ice tank
nails it

subzero pre
-dawn terminal
-aligned smoke
-logged tableaux erupt


insulate Latino market range

panoramic solar rental

kudos unreal
lunate plaza

knelt entering
culture specific cinema prescript

import apart
adobe dusted

torpid disadvantage
fictive version

server class

congruent monochrome

long shot
exotic deferral

errata degree

call it loaded

Adrian Clarke is one of the most important poets around. Most of his books have been published by Writers Forum, and he and I edited the anthology Floating Capital. See a poem of his, 'Possession: snapshots from the war on terror' on Great Works. And watch out for my Poetry of Saying which has a chapter on his work.
Page 468

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Marianne Morris: from Easter Poems


It is a position from which to write. To right the undone. To take apart the unwritten.


The limp prance arranged the wires,
to cross. He was then
crowned. Then he made a
crowing sound. Then, drowned. Bonus, now
super-bonus work
to be wakened, lifting from
peasantry along the open road of no
pathos; swivelling the merchant wildness with its
finger in its
tax computation. Welds flesh to kiss up to the lightness
of likeness, to up it
breeze off. I clamp between the two; spark plug, not
as good as the lights over Fallujah when they wrought
into democracy bodies
plummy as jam and the splinter vocation.
A grand welcome to
what you’ve done again, clap on you. Bitter
lamped body-parts clutching themselves, poring
the wounds bright ‘solidarity’ the demeaned ethic the
demeaned ethic. You pine and beckon for and can
only react to you. A way of articulating
a private bitterness, murky with infected
rhythms, the first the most natural is to
shot at. Love opening the spoon for her throat jammed
in. The mechanics are sultry
body parts; forgotten those
jammy fireworks, have you already. Well, love
got you bad. Throw your back up. His fissure was
limited by the account boundaries,
preventing overspill. Worse
still flirting with militia in pillboxes who hone
in on the aura we’ve lit upon, pool
out to recover the serene of green
smoke or park. Park where
no one lives. Park the medic’s toy for textures in
the things we spend on the stretch of
back she upturns. How to speak
of the urinary tract in its chord of feminine
mystique but the circus wire some
one is taking balance
sheets. They are
flattered by your switched attentions
as you sprawl into elegies of state
you can’t pin to. You can’t
make a spool
of feathers but you can make
a plastic septum. Wake the fuck up.

Crow’s beak had always been open to sex, beak beak, it was the sheer regularity of its openness that threw. We have not taken him seriously enough, have not considered possibilities they have been hidden from us. As waking from belittling dreams the veil lifts only slowly; in pieces you merge with the past and those quiet, haunting images, you remain haunted. You are the dreamer. Position: to dream. As in you are allowed and entitled fully to your role. In the call overhead, which varies not from continent one to continent two – past 2 I can not really verify, it would be on no grounds, I had not the ears to listen – the veil lifts only slowly. Don’t be quick to judge it; it has been cantankerously present in history thus far, which however you look at it can’t be gotten away from. In some way it is all that some of us have. His face, altered from the only bone – it is not only bone, but a violence in its nearness to your dreaming eye. Now jelly comes to mean more to you. It would mean more were it true, plucked and stabbed into one fat, glib mess of a former eye. But this crow is not going to say this and has never said it, nor does this crow think it. Only that blackened presence. I can see nothing but the pinprick of one black eye, which the light has caught. I believe it is moon light, because it is not bright white, and he is muted at the all. And if I wake from this, the veil is slow to lift. What must it do with death. There is in that a responsibility to uphold. To have traveled both light and heavy through scenes beyond your control, the dreamer. They are yours and beyond your control. And yet the vast chance of them is diminished by you, either in desperation for the sleep that forgets or the wakefulness that does not wait to hear them back from beyond. No, not until you are dizzy with it. Remaining pressed to that sweat. The eye is evil – another word been dragged through relentless shit, but what else is left? That history contains shit and cannot be denied. Evil it goes. Will have no other. Will be poisonous; also kept in the home. Sweet delicious rot it enjoys. By the word here I might retain for the benefit of the language an unwanted pressure, you discern this in the word, an unwanted pressure that cannot be easily got away from, except by a shutting-down of the mind to its full nature, which you may partly be capable of intuiting, depending on your love of shit; of the word. This is really all I mean; please believe me. That dark envelope has given up its option to unfold, and I find, from what I see, that I am inside, I am flat, papered in but being no more than paper unstable in the course of escaping.


I’ll swing it in from far. Textual
admissions in purple fish light.
Soft blue accordion, winter’s
shy. Today but in all the day’s
blanched to talk about you in
violence removed from the pith
of slow waltzing through traffic
to be less stunned about injustice.
Pink stickiness comes off the watch
word, someone’s been busy
paying for shit. Eloping with a big
mac into the tiny rat’s anus of
that saw-edge, loose hunger of
a full day of no exception. Bulge
and swollen mouthfuls, the metal
hallway swallows. Tiny little
skeletons of birds made of discarded
syringes. Who’s got the time.


If then swaying
along the passion bluntly, charge to survive the ether-swing. Its
cool title blocks the balm of slippage, on the dusky lap of mother,
who burned you in submission. That your open, to be again another,
it’s calm. It cries now for its past action only minutes prior to the
arrangement of objects at the right moment, the right place. It
can be either impulsive or measured, the two are not one right. Sickness
of injuries that the self tries to inflict. That’s a try. He has ballooned
from the back to the front. Snug under the ivory down the western
line is that which makes up the east, eventually. Get on your map and
ride. I am more like fish than you, I found
in the bath a pleasance which pleats along the stunned vibe of mentions
in the press or office, which are both the same irritated sameness they
clue up, and wanting you, to believe, in butter. Your mystery truly
is a stop-valve gapped to save fume, and your face feeds outwards into
angry cement. The cold balms its right to stiffen and go on. The language
plays itself into strings, over the absence of something to record it with.
The ellipses are stunning in their drive to repeat. Nothing counts. I still
try with numbers. The home is weekly infested with t he slat of appointment
allocated allotment slotted in, large pinned through the body of you where
soft you are rekindled into youth, pleasure and promise. Though that
wasn’t so, or just.

You eloped in
a hurry is the fashion. Mudded through her fact of not minding about
the scabs, or the drive past the reticence that keeps us there, on that
button. Pride in that let-gap, falling right and tidy away the mention,
earlier. Still there on that button, the glass zipped in to make eyes, still
visions of impressions of connections that need making, as much as
wine. It’s water you need up faster and lucid. Brine enough for two be
that sullen and snowed under when he hots up the way with thick morals,
hot burns your throat from the outside, threaded in black sticks
of loose wire your own skin to fry up. After all, there’s nothing better
to do than be studded all over
with your own remaining tissue, hardening against the fact of your
fixation. There is a better world, over there, on the slab rolled up into
metallics for you, polish me properly with the this way the that way and
slackening grasp against wind into violence, brewing against me and
through the covering. Jobs up her losses into banknotes for handingthe fuck over. Have prepared the following speech:


Blubberous attitude of the wrist in stops
stops to pause. Merges blondely
with cartels. Elopes perfectly. The
ruse is randy. Fuse looms. Pittance in
flesh envelope. Now bend to dis
cover. Mural of paint wash
mural to up. Mush up. Trash
nuance of noise on the off. Plush
tarmac to meet you in the face,
bicycle. And circular sectors of
ring. Say bone there. Trot up.
The beautiful illumination of
aluminium, luminous. Breaks for a
record. Nice pustule of wicker, long.
Get objects on inwards. With the
utmost of pleasure yrs sincerely.

Marianne Morris’ work includes Fetish Poems (Bad Press (?), 2005 (?)), Cocteau Turquoise Turning (Bad Press, 2004, 2005), Gathered Tongue (Bad Press, 2004). Other work may be may be found on her friend’s journal, Firefly. Her own website should also be consulted.

I first noticed her critical work, and excellent account of Barry MacSweeney in

Page 467

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Robert Sheppard: Looking Back at Place and Open Field Poetics

Looking back at Allen Fisher’s Place, now published in full by Reality Street (and my copy received today, as I’m extracting these notes) it exemplifies, formally speaking, a method of connecting and juxtaposing materials that almost became a privileged style of the British Poetry Revival of the 1970s: the field of patterned energies, with nodes, or notes, of facts disposed upon the page in a primarily spatial disposition (the resultant white space being often performed as silence), a mode loosely derived from the work of Charles Olson, and from a face-value reading of his poetics essay ‘Projective Verse’ (1950), as well as nodding towards the ideogrammic method of juxtaposition of Ezra Pound’s Cantos. As I’ve partly outlined in ‘A History of the Other: Part four, Page 465, Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat (1975) and Lee Harwood’s The Long Black Veil (1970-2) ­– which both have the added heteroglossic dimension of prose discourses - Barry MacSweeney’s more or less suppressed volume Black Torch (1977), or Eric Mottram’s Elegies (1981) are typical of this. The Olsonian proselytising of Mottram himself, a crucially important figure for Fisher in many ways is essential here. Mottram’s densely allusive exposition, ‘Open Field Poetry’, published in the magazine Poetry Information, probably influenced many writers to adopt this style, approach, or assimilative improvisational activity - ‘the poem could now use whatever material in whatever form that comes into the process of composition’ - but also to follow Olson, in exploring the petites histories of geography (as Fisher did). (Mottram 1977a, p. 6) For example, Mottram’s keynote paper for the Polytechnic of Central London conference, ‘Inheritance Landscape Location: Data for British Poetry 1977’ was premised upon the primacy of the otherwise obvious statement that ‘a poet works at the intersection of his time and his place’, and a plethora of British Poetry Revival poets are read in this light. (Mottram 1977b, p. 85) The dominance of a poetic mode placing itself at the centre of a supposed Pound-Olson tradition, and the privileging of the investigation of ‘place’, led Adrian Clarke and I, writing in 1991, to question ‘a concern with alternative “traditions” and “bodies of knowledge” – the most deadening being a 70s obsession with “place”’. (Clarke and Sheppard, 1991, p. 122; I confess to being the reckless author of that last phrase.) The oracular dramatic monologues of Unpolished Mirrors, which were published monthly as a serial from Spanner, (they were fun to receive through the post) suggest that Fisher, too, was trying to find a new way to articulate his interest in the matter of London in this last part of Place, separate from the presentation of factual quotations and lyrical caveats in paratactic utterances on the spatialised page. When one of his characters, Christopher Wren, remarks, ‘I have been the historian too long/immersed in wreckage hurled at my feet’, he might also be speaking for Fisher. (Fisher 1985c, p. 57)

The final Spanner instalment of Unpolished Mirrors, serial H, not collected in the 1985 Reality Studios volume of the same title, nor in the splendid new collected from Reality Street, presents a number of ‘map(s) of approaches’ to the Place project, along with a prospective diagram of it, dated 1971 and clearly indicating 1980 as the year of its abandonment/completion. (Fisher 1981, pp. 92-4; 99-101) The proffered reading strategies demonstrate that the role of the reader, facing the resistance and interference of various ‘cut-ins’, and of a variety of ‘mirroring’ texts that demand to be read against one another, favours a non-linear passage through the one hundred page parts of the project’s five main books. (Only one ‘approach’ is ‘considered void’: a chronological reading of these published books. (Fisher 1981, p. 99)) This global structural complexity does much to offset the accusations of inertness and spatial flatness in Place at a localized reading level; we are being instructed not to dwell on any single part. Fisher’s contention that in the act of reading any passage one is positioned as ‘the loci of a point on a moving sphere’ with relation to the entire project, is found handwritten onto the 1971 diagram. (Fisher 1981, p. 101) This is almost an affirmative answer to the self-doubt he reveals in ‘a map of approaches: six’: ‘readers have asked … whether an arbitrary page selection would offer sufficient readability’. (Fisher 1981, p. 100) Readers need to navigate and keep moving across the territory of the text, armed with these ‘maps’, wherever they begin. The problem for the reader is that the extrinsic motivators to move through the text are not matched well by intrinsic motivators to move across the page. The eye is in danger of slipping from word cluster to word cluster. If the page is spatialised, and particularly if grammar is relaxed too much, it arguably lessens the temporal aspects of syntactic or rhythmic flow in favour of white space silences. Derek Attridge writes that the ‘distinctiveness of poetry’ demands that ‘the verbal singularity that is performed by the reader includes a sense of its real-time unfolding’. (Attridge 2004, p. 71)

However, the real problem with open field poetics was not rhythmic, since there exist vital non-linear and visual poetries, but the paucity of content, as poems trail off into ‘notes’, or exist in a field clogged with factual data. Fisher often avoids both. Indeed, the most generous way to conceive of the Place work, and one which introduces a readerly dimension into the process (a dimension that will prove crucial to Gravity as a Consequence of Shape) is to follow Peter Barry and rationalise Place as a ‘content-specific’ work. He argues, with some conviction, that readers

"need to reactivate a body of reading in order to enter the poem. It is important to realise, though, that doing this isn’t just a preliminary to the reading of the poem: a reciprocal process takes place in which we read the sources in the light of the poem and the poem in the light of the sources…. So the text is … readerly in two senses: firstly, it is about reading, and secondly, it demands the reader’s sustained participatory engagement with its materials as well as with ‘the words on the page’. The kind of reading required is thus an active … process like study. "(Barry, 1993, pp. 199-200)

This reminds us that Place was itself a conceptual response to readings about place, rather than of improvised field-notes or site-specific spontaneous jottings, but some of the most effective passages of the project are where the past and present are juxtaposed, as in the amusing and instructive contrast of ‘1583 When we went our perambulation at Vicar’s Oke in Rogation Week £0.2.6d’ with: ‘1973 Bus fare back from search for Vicar’s Oak £0.60p’. (Fisher 1976, n.p.) Developed in the poetry, fiction, and later documentary, of Fisher’s acknowledged contemporary, Iain Sinclair, and filtered through the novels of Peter Ackroyd, narrative modes of this ironic temporal juxtaposition would define a literary sub-genre in the 1980s and 90s. Where Fisher is at his most original is where he intuits the psychosomatic condition of the present city-dweller in terms of pollution and influences that are geographical, historical, economic and political. Even though Alfred Watkins, the ‘discoverer’ of ley lines is listed in the resources to the 1976 Place, there are no Sinclair-like forces at play, no malign lines of influence between (arbitrarily selected) sites. Fisher prefers to divine, the lost (but real) rivers of London, vanished tributaries that he uses both as ‘a metaphor for thought’ and as the presentation of the physical causes of present-day impediment and ill-health. (Barry, 1993, p. 201) One page reads entire (though I cannot, it seems, reproduce the disposition of the words upon the page) :

our health is failing

already the potions of Epsom & sea salts
at Balham Hill and Brixton Causeway wells
through a bed of oysters
is stagnant

feeding our bodies with the stench of its yawn

from the beds of sexless oysters
our fingers retract
smelling of cigar smoke (Fisher 1976, n.p.)

The sudden lyrical outburst about the ‘yawn’ of fatigue gripping ‘us’ – the text is emphatically civic in its concerns – and the image of both polluted fingers and contaminated oyster beds (sexless beds suggest an associated human infertility) are neatly poised against a history of Epsom’s famously restorative salts, yet it does not require contextualising ‘information’ as recommended by Mottram and partly validated by Barry, although it may be possible to read afresh the ‘sources’ in the light of the poem. And now, thanks to Reality Street, we can all re-read the entire project, and read every part in the light of its mirroring, shading, others. There will be some who will say how sad it is to see the whole, what a loss there is in not being able to experience the irregular formats and printing methods of the original volumes. I have testified to the fun of receiving the monthly serials of Unpolished Mirrors. But there is something confirmatory about the bulk of this book that, now I’ve received it, sends me back to re-consider those open field days about which I remain ambivalent, and to let Allen Fisher’s work (along with Harwood’s The Long Black Veil) stand out as the best.

But did I tell you what it was like to hear Fisher read from Gravity as a Consequence of Shape for the first time? No? Stay tuned. (Or check out Page 450: Robert Sheppard: New Memories: Allen Fisher’s Gravity as a Consequence of Shape, archived under February 2005.)

Page 466

Friday, May 13, 2005

Robert Sheppard: A History of the Other, Part four

The 1970s (Continued): Poetry of Place/Poetry of Autonomy

Charles Olson provided a theory and practice that was influential upon a wide range of British Poetry Revival poets. His theories of projective verse emphasized a kinetics and improvisatory way of writing that appealed to Tom Raworth and others. Treating the page as a compositional open field has been widely practised. However, writers as different as JH Prynne, Allen Fisher and Iain Sinclair seemed drawn to Olson’s Maximus Poems for the way they articulate rich information and documentary sources concerning geography and history. The poem is focused upon Gloucester, Massachusetts, a site important in early North American settlement history, but which, by the 1940s, was a run-down fishing port. Olson took the pre-Socratic Heraclitus’ maxim, ‘Man is estranged from that with which he is most familiar’ as axiomatic and named Whitehead's process philosophy as his guide.

Such work appealed to poets during the withdrawal from the oppositional politics of the 1960s, in that it could be used as a model for a re-articulation of Britain from less immediately political perspectives. The poetry of place, after the particularities of Roy Fisher’s City and Harwood’s ‘Cable St’, seemed to offer a local univeralism. Olson’s fellow Black Mountain poet, Edward Dorn, resident in England, advised young British poets in ‘Oxford’ in The North Atlantic Turbine, published by Fulcrum in 1967, to define themselves against geographical structures ‘naming themselves and the rocks’ as a way both larger and intimate than concerns with nationality, and this was taken up by JH Prynne in The White Stones, published by Cape Goliard in 1969, in various attempts to avoid humanistic and accepted socio-historical representations of Britain. In ‘The Glacial Question, Unsolved’, he uses a variety of cited geological and archeological sources to ask, to open, the question whether the Pleistocene Epoch is over. On such an enormous timescale, Prynne works through his persistent verbs of knowing and being, to hyphocize about the effect of the Epoch’s process upon ‘us’, how ‘we’ are its sentient residues:

We know where the north
is, the ice is an evening whiteness.
We know this, we are what it leaves:
the Pleistocene is our current sense, and
what in sentiment we are, we
are, the coast, a line or sequence, the
cut back down, to the shore.

Allen Fisher’s Place, a project undertaken between 1971 and 1979, was published in four volumes of approximately 100 pages each. (As I post, the re-publication of the entire project by Reality Street arrived this morning! I’ve recently written a piece of fiction in which I receive a copy through a space-time wormhole, but in reality I’d not seen it. I have now. It’s a substantial, proud, book. I will also review it separately, though the paragraphs following also may be also thought of as one. {See also Page 450: Robert Sheppard: New Memories: Allen Fisher’s Gravity as a Consequence of Shape and Page 449: Allen Fisher: Mezz Merround, both archived in February 2005}.) They are the Olsonesque and notational Place (1974), the more polemical and analytical Stane (1977), the lyrical Becoming (1978) and Unpolished Mirrors, a series of Blakean monologues, published in 1985. (They are all in the new book.) Early on in Place, Fisher identifies with, and dissociates himself from, Olson’s persona: ‘I, not Maximus, but a citizen of Lambeth’. Fisher’s commitment to procedure and system distinguishes his work from Olson’s theory of kinetic process, and draws him nearer to the chance procedures of Jackson MacLow, although the writing in Place often shares Olson’s notational urgency and his use of juxtaposition. The project’s central concern is Fisher’s own reading about, experience of, locality and history, particularly focusing upon London. Its considerable resources – it has been called a ‘content-specific’ work by Peter Barry – are not offered as evidence of a single argument, a thesis on place, but are parts of the work’s ‘shading’, Fisher’s term to describe correspondences and contradictions that can be traced between the intricately numbered sections of its open system. The work constitutes not a totality but an expansive presentation of various meanings and perspectives.

Fisher acknowledges the influence of Raoul Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life upon his thinking, and of the Situationists, who were influential both upon the underground movements of 1968 and, more lastingly, upon the European avant-garde. They suggested a politics or a re-location of politics, within everyday experience, one again suited to a post 1968 failure. The Situationists engaged in work ‘where the exploration of the city reveals the psycho-geography created by the physical and mental conditions of twentieth-century society’.

In ‘Place 48’, from Stane, Fisher goes further than the Situationists and presents interconnected instances of cosmic, ecological, biological and political forces to acknowledge the complexity of ‘everyday life’. It shares an impulse, in its borrowings from Olson and Whitehead, but not a language, with Crozier’s The Veil Poem. Fisher’s language is more akin to Bill Griffiths’, in that its linguistic re-orderings of experience work through juxtaposition and collage: ‘The fly on its food route’, for example, displays its ‘thrust & parry of energy’ while the self intervenes in the food chain, by small-scale gestures, suitably notated in an utterance as incomplete as the apprehension of this process.

I break the web silks
the fly escapes
lands on food in kitchen
its legs coated with

Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat (1975) is another book which charts a palimpsest London, one which Fisher goes so far as to acknowledge within his own project as part of its reading, in Stane, in a note entitled ‘To Iain Sinclair, on the publication of his book Lud Heat in 1975’. Fisher registers both Lud Heat’s similarities to, and differences from, Place, but points to an essential shared recognition that ‘there are subtle mechanisms at work subjugating our psyches, trying to keep ... our senses, awareness at a lower level than they need be’.

Lud Heat mixes open form poetry and tightly written prose that combines scholarly discourse with the style of the New Journalism (along with line drawings and Sinclair’s own photographs). Its initial premise is that Hawksmoor’s London churches emanate psychic energies which affect the population’s actions. (This thesis is used in Peter Ackroyd’s novel Hawksmoor, for which he has been satirized in later books by Sinclair; the tedious evidence for this will be charted in my forthcoming monograph on Sinclair. See also page 256 (March) for my review of Sinclair’s latest.) Fisher is quick to sense the subjective element of this pattern-making: ‘Lud Heat assumed the kind of symbolic value particular architectural forms possess: what associations they are capable of evoking in individuals .... It is from these buildings that the energies of the area are – I was going to say ‘generated’’. Fisher baulks at the very term that Sinclair uses, and in which he believes, and this marks the difference between them. However sceptical Sinclair can sound – like Yeats with his strategic mysticism – one takes Sinclair’s work less than seriously if one rejects outright the structures and meanings of his pattern-making. As in Place, theory is grounded in the everyday; Sinclair charts his own life as a council grass cutter, working between the talismanic churches, in journals and poems. He also bears witness to the autopic films of Stan Brakage and the sculpture of his friend the poet (and later performance artist) Brian Catling as artists making similar patternings, and superimposing them upon his own concerns. Whereas Fisher uses theory and his reading to create a divergent, contradictory patterning of self and place, Sinclair is drawn to converging combinations of esoteric wisdom and mysticism, which makes his text more monologic than Fisher’s, and more certain of its allegiance to materials: ‘the scientific approach a bitter farce/unless it is shot through with high occulting’. The danger is that the totalizing fiction that develops will amount to a paranoiac sense of interconnectedness, something Sinclair recognizes. Although the conspiracy theory seems cosmological, Sinclair does share with Fisher an apprehension of the psychosomatic resonances of place. In Sinclair’s case, this is particular and oracular, as he presents hay-fever and sunstroke as solar viruses in prose which is as startling in its comparisons as the poetry is in its spare juxtapositions:

‘As the ego breaks I am host to another being, who pushes through and not with the pink tenderness of new skin – but with old flesh, hard as wood’.

This abandonment of the human perspective might seem open to charges of fascist mysticism, but this is refuted by noting not only that Sinclair often weaves his pattern-making into the fabric of everyday life but, like Fisher, he can recognize the darkest possible contemporary attachments to place beneath the social democratic surface:

here: Hackney South & Shoreditch where
Mr Robin May polled the National Front’s
best result 2,544 votes.119

As in Fisher , the ballot box is both dangerous and a diversion from real, complex energies.

The presence of Blake as a guiding spirit in both Fisher’s and Sinclair’s work is not just a fashionable hangover from the sixties’ children of Albion. Blake, another ‘citizen of Lambeth’, developed, in his similarly self-published ‘Prophetic Books’, a mythology to articulate his ambivalence towards an earlier radicalism, in a way not dissimilar to the 1970s withdrawal from social radicalism.

Prynne, Fisher and Sinclair were not alone in developing what has become known as a poetry of place. A whole issue of Joe Dimaggio magazine in 1975 was dedicated to the theme. The Polytechnic of Central London British Poetry Conference 1977 featured 21 poets constellated around the notions of ‘Inheritance Landscape Location’, the title of the accompanying essay by Eric Mottram, who clearly marshals theories of place as delineators of a special knowledge and perception, ‘both local and international’, operating in opposition to ‘official British culture’ which Mottram represents as having shrunk ‘in response to the pressures of British economic and political decline from the raving days of Empire and Influence’. Far from simply withdrawing from politics, after the collapse of the literary underground examined in earlier parts of this History, the poetry of place enabled poets to expand the notion of politics beyond both parliamentary and purely personal articulations of it.


JH Prynne’s work of the 1970s, published in eight books or pamphlets and collected in 1982 in Poems (and again in an expanded edition of 1999, and again in 2005), is a by-word for difficulty and enigma. Prynne had abandoned the Olsonian human universe for a writing that encouraged the invasion of the poetic text by non-poetic discourses – usually identifiable ones – and a textual compactness that is all the more complex for the survival of traditional lyric and rhetorical effects.

Peter Ackroyd – better known as a novelist, as I’ve mentioned, and as a biographer – published a provocative cultural history, Notes for a New Culture, in 1976. Ackroyd attempts to demonstrate that language has become the only content of literature. The resultant formal autonomy of the text, a kind of windowless monad, marks its final victory over the attempted annexations by aesthetics, the self and humanism. For Ackroyd, Prynne’s work is important both for having admitted non-poetic discourses and for having expunged the poetic voice, leaving only ‘written surface’.

Prynne uses technical discourses and changes their function by inserting them into a poem, and, as Ackroyd points out, the utterances seem coldly anonymous, rather than double. The readers are ‘not asked to participate in the lucidity and harmony of the poetry, we can only recognize its exterior signs’.

Ackroyd senses a tension between the poem as an historically determined entity and its invasion by language in its rich varieties; so that pastoral and chemistry assist the text’s linguistic complexity, amounting not to a thematic resolution but to the affirmation of its very autonomy, its ultimate non-utility.

This absolutist argument is supported by a precocious use of post-structuralist theory – applications of the work of Lacan and Derrida, for example – which is peculiarly out of step with its later uses in Britain as an element of a radical critique. Neither does autonomy operate as a critique as it does in the thinking of Adorno. He claims Prynne’s poetry in the name of an essentially conservative formulation of autonomy which sees this difficult work as a deliberate and necessary withdrawal from the ‘dispirited nation’ to which Ackroyd refers, and from the ‘call for personal “liberation” which became fashionable in the sixties’ as well as the ‘humanistic kitsch’ of its popular poetry. History and politics are thus denied a role, reduced simply to serving autonomy as pure discourses on a poem’s surface: an aestheticism without aesthetics.

Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s Poetic Artifice has been vital to the theoretical argument of this study; her notion of suspended naturalization, her concept of artifice, and the relation between the two, have been crucial to my thinking (in this history and elsewhere; see Page 463). However, it also possible to historicize this attempt to develop an ambitious theory of twentieth century poetry, one which would account for the poetic devices which create the autonomy that Ackroyd values. Like Ackroyd, she had absorbed French theory, yet so thoroughly that it does not surface in her text, for which the guiding spirit is William Empson. Published in 1978, her theory in Poetic Artifice was arguably influenced by, and had some influence upon, the Cambridge poets; her work is published alongside theirs in A Various Art. Her theory elevates artifice over poetry’s referential function but offers a model of reading that presents naturalization – the reading of a text as a statement about the external world – as a process that is best suspended to encourage concentration upon the poem’s artifice, which she itemizes as levels of conventional, phonological/visual, syntactic and semantic devices. Most readers of poetry ignore this exacting route, preferring to move rapidly from text to paraphrase. She is scathing of ‘the general dreariness of English verse’ in the Movement mode, which works in complicity with bad naturalization, which does not dwell upon the levels of artifice. Prynne’s work may not be read via this short cut. Its ‘tendentious obscurity’ makes this necessarily impossible; for Forrest-Thomson, Prynne’s work represents the supreme exemplar of the theory: it recaptures ‘the levels of Artifice, of restoring language to its primary beauty as craft by refusing to allow its social comprehension’.

Forrest-Thomson rejects the absolutism of Ackroyd. ‘It is only through artifice that poetry can challenge our ordinary linguistic orderings of the world, make us question the way in which we make sense of things, and induce us to consider its alternative linguistic orders as a new way of seeing the world.’ Naturalization may be suspended to enable this challenge, but eventually the poem must have sense made of it by an active reader. Good naturalization is a reading that accounts for poetic devices, that wades through the thickness of artifice until it is absorbed before extracting itself and daring to say what a poem simply ‘means’. It was a theory influential in the 1970s, but arguably of greater influence since. (See Alison Mark’s Veronica Forrest-Thomson and Language Poetry for an account of her theory, her own poetry and translations and its subsequent influence.)

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Next month we reach the 1980s.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Ken Edwards: from BARDO

1 And I am very tired

The first person said: “And I am very tired. My achilles tendons can barely support me.”

The second person: “But now it’s peaceful here, as we sit in our living room, barely furnished, the sky darkening over the West Hill outside the window and the occasional scream of a seagull drifting in. This was the closest I’d felt to tears, since … when?”

And the third: “Suppose we were not really here?”

It may be that that person was not, in fact, present. How do we know these things actually happen? You wake up to the light, and the images. The light coming back off the sea, which is out of sight. There was a bit of business phoning and emailing, and racing around in blind fear stuffing last minute things into last minute containers as the men marched in rapid rotation carrying cardboard and everything became glorious. The seagulls stood regally on the roofs, and music was introduced. It says in this book that there will be a sudden understanding. A contract was concluded. The colour is white.

2 Talking to the dogs

The sea glittered. They went from Christmas to about the middle of April, trawling. You shouted at me, and I was filled with remorse for my behaviour. On the Stade then, wandering among the beached fishing boats, abandoned tackle and rusting tractors, only a short distance from the bustle of crowds on the seafront. Then you cleaned the boats out, because you had about 300 shovelfuls of ballast in them when they had no nets in – they were empty, you had to put some ballast in to trim them. The breeze was very stiff near to the waves. You took me to the clifftop, where the cloudscape was magnificent. Jackdaws strutted in the grass.

They returned via woodland path and twitten. That the transit of Venus had occurred – you took it on trust. White clouds vanishing fast, renewed breeze via the stairs, past gorse and bracken. I blew my top at the guy on the premium rate support line. The two big dogs. They didn’t seem so alienating when we got to speak to them.

3 The house

The first person and the second person lived in a house near the sea. Like a great teenager, it stood awkwardly tall between the other buildings, weatherboarding on the gable end, its late 17th century ribs fashioned from ship’s timbers.* Its glass doors were darkened, so that it was a surprise to open them and come out into brilliant sunshine that fit the space perfectly. The house was filled with flourishing things: plants on a long windowsill, with the weeping fig right by the entrance, a great, black, crooked beam crossing the space, nestling alcoves, an apple mobile and a wooden parrot hung where they got a share of the light on the landing, a winding flight covered in oatmeal, kindlier spotlights installed in troughs by the white party wall. To the left of the piano, on the wall facing the front door, two of their tall bookcases had been placed, and these were quickly stocked. Lemon trees lined the patio.

The second person: “That business about ‘your life flashing before you’. It’s about making sense of it, making a structure of it before it’s too late. But if you look at it that way, it’s always too late. Just as you realise, ‘Ah, that’s what it was …’”

The first person replied with a few impromptu words. I can’t remember what they were.
The third person smiled, but said nothing – perhaps sipping reflectively from a wineglass. Semillon Chardonnay.

* There is in fact no evidence for this.

4 The sea

At the edge, the sea’s margin; the sea, and the things and beings in it. Their type, location and quantity, which vary dramatically according to the season of the year and the weather.

The themes were sea, fishing; margins, edges, boundaries; the boundary that defines; the passage from one to the other. “But we are all dying.”

Dover sole and plaice, and other flat fish such as dabs, flounders, lemon soles, brills, turbots, cod and the various types of dogfish. All can be taken by by trawling or trammelling.

Hard to keep your footing in the wind whipping in as you watched a group of surfers nestling and waiting under the harbour arm, or was it the eastern groyne, in the huge brown, grey & white waves that rolled in relentlessly from a long way off under a brightening sky. Choosing the wave to go with. Repeatedly, the gulls hovered over the waves, using the wind to remain motionless, hoping to pick up the odd stray fish flung up by the rough water. They waited, and then they took the opportunity. Skimming on the surface, and what’s under it. Breakfast, lunch and tea. Rushing of the shingle.

Large shoals of mackerel, herring, sprats, lobsters, shrimps and whelks.

5 Day after day

Yesterday, and the day before, and tomorrow, which is always another day, which begins and ends, never to be retrieved, which is always dawning and dusking for the first and last time, you will find the first person, lacking a broadband connection; the second person, doing practice. Crushed and fragmented boxes, heavy duty holes drilled in the brick of the chimney. Fairly fruitless activity, s/he said (the third person), but perhaps socially useful. It’s about space, going the distance, and keeping tight at the back, only to succumb to two goals in injury time. Or did they say it’s time for brandies in the garden at the back? Three cats inhabit it; you also get a good view of the herring gulls, which fly about constantly making a fearful noise and spotting the decking with their guano. “You’re such a chimp!” you said (the second person). I (the first person) was encumbered with a pair of heavy speaker stands. Five-finger exercises, it’ll come. They get up to a great hysterical kerfuffle in the early hours of the morning. I hate this computer, its touchpad is too touchy. This morning, to my horror, I lost it for a while, but got it back. In Courthouse Street, another stood in the middle of the road looking bemused, not flinching when the first person passed. The alcove is superb, and suddenly that L-shaped room looks homely.

6 The house (2)

The first house was the progenitor of the second house. Like a phantom on the far side of the mirror, it stood beyond the first, creaking in the weather, late in another century.

Its interior space was darkened, so that it could not be fathomed. The second house was filled with things that were dying, sentimental songs, cacti, the evil mother, a Mynah bird, ghosts of trees, the early hours of a morning.

Under the high eaves, between the rafters that spanned that unfathomable space, rich piano chords had been placed, and these quickly modulated. Reverberations limned the co-ordinates. They revealed the decay of time that we call the future. The house would not be made sense of, you’d fall asleep long before you could.

But look at it, and it goes away. Just as you realise, “It wasn’t that …” The second house was the dream of the first house. You can’t remember where you saw it. The second house was the mind of the first. Semi-transparent, charged with electricity.

7 In space

Under the high eaves, the darkness, and above the eaves, the light. And above that, more light. The weather is banded; there is self-similarity. There are no verbs or nouns in it. The house is a vast process, or series of processes, in which we (its inhabitants) play a small part, appearing and disappearing in it as characters do in a story; but, just as it grew and changed for centuries before our first arrival, so it will continue after we have gone, its timbers slowly decaying, until at some point in the future it, too, will fail. The space it encloses will no longer be enclosed. We drift in the sun, we drift in the lights of the moon. Drifting, long-lining, seining, trammelling, trawling.



The first person entered into a journal: “After we had visited the caves, pale sunshine started to come through while we walked down to the old town through the twittens.” The first person was as dissatisfied with this sentence as s/he (I) had been with any other. Always s/he had wanted to capture that illusion of interiority, the idea that there is someone or some entity in there. But the words s/he entered into the laptop captured nothing, and perhaps could never capture anything, not even white space.

Ken Edwards is the author of the sequence of 14 liners 8 + 6 from his own press Reality Street. He lives in Hastings where it is good to see that he's picked up good old Sussex words like 'twitten'.

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