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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.
Me reading with Melissa'a piece visible behind

Robert's set (see his website here)


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 as part of a performance of Loy's 'Collision' the evening before; so did Joanne: see her photo here). It's one 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 Unpublished.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; see here)
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4 'Leeds' (unpublished exploration of modernism)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 (see here)
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.



                        Whenever

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)

ADHESIVE HYMNS: CREATIVE LINKAGE IN THE RECENT WORK OF 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:


praxis

strong as a pulse embedded in random

noise

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

Blvd.

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!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Robert Sheppard: new pamphlet The Drop published by Oystercatcher Press



The Drop is published by Peter Hughes' Oystercatcher Press, and may be ordered here. Thanks, Peter, for publishing it.
The first poem ‘Standing By’, also appeared on Pages, in my father's memory, but is also for him, as though he had yet again succeeded in his ‘foxtrot with death, trying not to tread on her toes’, as I put it in an earlier poem for him, ‘Schräge Musik’, from The Flashlight Sonata (Twentieth Century Blues 6). Here's one section of 'The Drop' the second, long poem:


And pumas on the sheet
Of night cats

Padding down sloped shed roofs
Funeral

Scheduled across
Cupped palms between

Tasks against sloping willows
Swooning

Surfeit of joy at the sticky
Sap nothing

Brings this is to obscurity thought
Drops into darkness bats a whole


Here's the blurb:

A brilliant and vivid elegy that suspends the last breath (‘Oh!’) of a father in mid-air. Orphic yet compact and bursting with what Blanchot called the ‘patience of pure impatience’, Sheppard approaches his subject—the death of his own father—with linguistic dare so as to ‘transmute the nothing said / Into the nothing that could’. Death is woken up, transfigured, reactivated through language. The Drop is relentlessly tense and intensely affecting. Reading it is like eavesdropping between the worlds of the living and the dead.

                                                                        —James Byrne

Read Ian Brinton's 'hot off the press' review here.
And Alan Baker's new review here.
My prose eulogy to my father, Claude H. Sheppard (1924-2013), may be read on Pages here.

See news of the Oystercatcher launch in Leicester on 12th March 2016 here.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Robert Sheppard: Far Language: Tune Me Gold (Maggie O'Sullivan)


TUNE ME GOLD: NOTES ON THE TOTAL TECHNIQUE OF MAGGIE O’SULLIVAN

 

Maggie O’Sullivan: In the House of the Shaman, Reality Street.

 

Joseph Beuys was interested in the transformative aspects of shamanism, and, like Maggie O’Sullivan, brought this practice, as metaphor, into the heart of a transformative twentieth century art.  ‘The nature of my sculpture is … change.’  Beuys provides O’Sullivan with one of the epigraphs for this work.  Sign posts.

Marks on the page; tracks across the snow that the shaman follows.  Linguistic proliferation is the nearest you’ll get to the processes of nature.

First, precision: ‘Great brilliancy and projection: the eye seemed to fall perpendicular from level to level along our trees, the nearer and further Park; all things hitting the sense with double but direct instress.’  (Hopkins, Journal, 1870)  Then, exuberance: ‘Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, wherever an elm arches, / Shivelights and shadowtackle in long lashes lace, lance, and part.’  (Hopkins)

But why exuberance as sound?  Certainly ‘The whole landscape flushes on a sudden at a stir.’  But this would be to admit that sound is simply a matter of imitation.  The only way to make language shift like a lump of lard in different temperatures is to sculpt with instability inside the linguistic sign.

‘Naming’ is a poem with an apparent riddle structure.  It ends:

this is called /

 

fish

 
The oblique and the space hold the noun, the naming word, isolate, exposed, and insufficient.  It is uselessly general though ‘tench’ is named in the thick of the poem.

Mixed Pulses etched

Finningly, brilliant corners decapitate
 

The creation of adverbial neologisms is a favoured technique.  ‘Finningly’ emphasises the function of the very small, independent fins in the larger movement, ‘pulses’ that are therefore ‘mixed’.  But etching and decapitation suggest both a cutting movement of fish through water and the violence of the river itself: a martial violence. 

Beast’s

coat Loading

battlegivens:

 
echoes Anglo-Saxon (and possibly Bill Griffiths) with its compounds:

 
                        wound

Livery

laid into rivers

 
has the alliterative weight of Bunting.  Fish as wounded soldier.  Maggie O’Sullivan names by naming anew.  Such ‘description’ is a displacement of its object.  What remains is a transformed language.

This work must be performed, a consequence of its exuberance.  ‘She reads unhurriedly letting the measured syllables relate to establish their rhythms in an appropriate time’ (Adrian Clarke).  There needs to be a published tape.  What happens during this performance?  I believe we may experience language in a state of becoming; it always is becoming - both in individuals and society - but never in the concentrated way O’Sullivan handles it.  A becoming in which movement and scent, for example, are ‘Uppies! Downies! Jumpies! / Fire-Sinuses!’.  An ideolect becoming dialect as an audience listens.

Maggie O’Sullivan’s poetry, then, is the very creation of meaning.  Derek Attridge, writing of lexical onomatopoeia in Peculiar Language, deals with this single form of linguistic exuberance in a way I believe is relevant to all the devices and techniques in O’Sullivan’s work.  Onomatopoeia is one example of neologism. 

 
All speech involves muscular movements …; and the particular aspects of this complex physical process which function in a given example of onomatopoeia depend less on the specific configurations of the phonetic sequence in question than on the meaning of the passage.  The result is a diversion of attention away from the referent in itself to the activity of referring carried out by language …  .  And it is that focus of attention on the materiality of language as it does its work of bringing meaning into being that has so often been interpreted as mimetic or iconic representation, because the experience is unquestionably one of increased vividness or intensity of signification. (pp 153-4)

 
The epigraph from Pound for the poem ‘Of Mutability’ announces an alchemical ‘seeking a word to make change’.  This astonishing text goes beyond neologism, beyond precision, description.  The creative exuberance produces its own linguistic transformations.  You can hear ‘groundsel’ in ‘ground all’, ‘bird in the hand’ in ‘bids in the fist’ (perhaps ‘buds’ too, appropriately bucolic to this collection, if you submit to this language’s processes).  ‘Flecks / flux / flues’ snapshots the processes like a Muybridge; flux indeed.  But the lines

 
flew trees / few truths /

                        fish-

                                        in-

        frog

 
equate the kinds of linguistic slippage in the first line here, with natural metamorphoses hinted at in the three single words.  The result is that, for O’Sullivan, in the final words of this poem, ‘GOLD / Is Recovered’.  This is not the twittering of Yeats’ gold bird of artifice and fixed eternity.  The gold, that which is produced by transformation, is the artifice.  (For O’Sullivan this is also in nature.)

A doubleness.  Reference and autonomy, for want of better words.  A tension between precision and transformation.  William Carlos Williams wrote in Spring and All of this doubleness:  

The word is not liberated, therefore able to communicate release from the fixities which destroy it until it is accurately tuned to the fact which giving it reality, by its own reality establishes its own freedom from the necessity of a word, thus freeing it and dynamizing it at the same time. 

Perhaps Williams had Gertrude Stein in mind.  Stein is present also in In the House of the Shaman in an epigraph which declares that writers, far from expressing themselves, ‘express what the world is doing’ (which is transforming, which is what the language is doing, etc.…)

The effects (I’ve outlined only a few) are thick in the material texture of O’Sullivan’s language.  The technique is total because it is so exhaustive and to describe small effects is to create a lexicon of devices which would bear as much resemblance (on the page and, particularly, as sound) as a sex manual to the experience of orgasm.  It demands an engagement with language that is unusual in activating possible responses on so many levels at once.  It has to be experienced at length before description is possible.

‘Yonderly’, a repeated coinage.  To speak of ‘yonderly’ things you must speak from ‘here’ and know the difference between the two, as a shaman does.  The real shamanism of this extraordinary language is that it is double; it belongs to the world and yet passes beyond it.

 August 1994                                                                     First Offense 10, Winter 1996

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


 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Robert Sheppard: Far Language: Collosal Fragments (Adrian Clarke)


COLLOSAL FRAGMENTS: THE WORK OF ADRIAN CLARKE


Tuneless Numbers

The roots of an alternative formalism in William Carlos Williams?  Possibly only Zukofsky noticed, to carry forward into his own practice.  ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’, the classroom exhibit of objectivist minimalism, is structured in verselets of 3 words and 1 word per line.  I wonder how many people have noticed this patterning, but considered it an accident, an embarrassing caprice.  Certainly not a significant form.

Free verse as one rejection of metrics.  Measure.

Word-count as another measure, as Zukofsky demonstrated in A 14, 19, 22, 23.  All the more contentious and combative for lacking the kind of antecedents free verse could find in the prose poem and in cadence.  The next step on from syllabics and one step beyond ‘poetic form’.

And yet as usable as a sonnet and as brazenly foregrounded.

Homemade homologies.  Not homemade worlds.

Constraints: Oulipo (particularly Jacques Roubaud, counting his measures; like Zukofsky, mathematically using and abusing the sonnet).

Adrian Clarke, his defensive humour: ‘I found my Virgil in the number 4’.

Ghost Measures (1987): 4 words a line, 16 lines a poem (= 64 words); 64 poems in 4 parts (12 months in the writing).

Sorts of sonnet, numbers borrowed from the I Ching.

Adding up to The Ghost Trio, with part 2 Spectral Investments (1991) and part 3 Obscure Disasters (1993).

Ghost structures.

‘The Ghost Trio - which would be a tetralogy were the sixth stage of the multiplication that also generated Gerhard Richter’s 1024 Colours completed.  Let the missing part stand as a phantom limb.’

A choice of antecedents, Richter, the finest contemporary painter. 

And not, like Stockhausen or Silliman, seduced by the naturalism of the Fibonacci Sequence.

Motivating the arbitrary.

Word-count as a numerico-formal order that totals to a mock-totality, rational without reason or content.



Countless Spaces

The open field poetry of the 1970s was an outpost of free verse, a map-like network, so often literally mapping ‘place’.  The sparse page, its isolated phrases and words, its asthmatic notations of self.  Bodies of knowledge littering the page.  While this caricature does no justice to the true range of poetry in the 1970s, it explains why Clarke was toying with the formalism of the Pindaric Ode.  How different a notion, or notation, of ‘place’ in his ‘The Angel, Islington’: ‘Your post-imperial potman / rides the flood succumbing Euston Road’s / sinistral streams’; and yet only a short step to the new formalism of Ghost Measures, side-stepping the open field.  Something survives though: the abstract Latinate diction, the pivotal pun, ‘sinistral’.





Homages and Homologies 1986/7

Allen Fisher’s Brixton Fractals (1985 - though heard at readings before this) closed the open field.  Syntactic and paratactic linking, narrative energies with necessary interferences.  Forward-thrusting discursive arrangements of fragments.  A polyphonic assemblage.  (Very few formal constraints.)

There are two homages to Fisher in Ghost Measures which refunction Fisher’s materials, his words, into an appreciation of his method:


unclassified signals glow from

the walkway creates what

happens next by spins

where the culture breaks


Creation and breaking.  Complexity in irregularity; precisely fractal. 

Rosmarie Waldrop, an American poet associated with, but pre-dating, the Language Poets, receives a single homage.  (Her critial book Against Language? is a compendium of formal techniques.)  Her The Road is Everywhere or Stop this Body (1978) is a collection of lyrics, in four parts which reflect the calendar year of composition, like Ghost Measures.  Waldrop’s syntactic play, lines often only linking with contiguous lines or phrases, both atomises and dynamises the discourse at once.  The poems ‘barriers / and obstacles of sense’ derive from ‘this effort towards syntax’ as Clarke puts it (GM 64).  This syntactic shifting, a kind of discursive punning, is selectively adopted by Clarke.

The celerity of Tom Raworth’s long sequences, and his performance of them, combine linearity with disruptions of the processual to produce a vertigenous effect in the reader and listener.  ‘The race of thoughts spins’ as Clarke writes in his homage to Raworth. 

Yet this phrase describes equally the effects of Waldrop’s experiment, and recalls the ‘spinning’ and ‘swerving’ Clarke notes of the fractal progression of Fisher’s sequences.

Order in discontinuity.

The energy of these three writers, arguably harnessed in the greater tension of a strict form.  Entropy.



And that Problem is Politics

Theoretical positions and creative dispositions are confirmed by Lyotard’s The Differend: Phrases in Dispute.  Fragmentary resistance to the Total Society.  Fragmentary guerilla operations within language.  The discourse of the State (statement) is rejected for the phrase.  Lyotard’s words, perhaps by squinting at them, curiously offer a description of what Clarke’s work is already doing, and Clarke was quick to adapt this material in his paper ‘Listening to the Differences’:


The way in which Lyotard attempts to subvert such totalising concepts is by resort to the phrase, in a sense - wider than that of the grammatical unit - that is contextually defined, but the strategic significance of which is as a linguistic instance that cuts across genres and categories as it evade closure.  With phrases we are set adrift from narrative and logic to struggle with what they present without hope of return to safe ground: ‘for a phrase to be the last phrase, another phrase is necessary to declare this, and thus it is not the last one’.  Further, ‘That there not be a phrase is impossible.  It is rather And a phrase is necessary. It is necessary to link.’  ‘The linkage of one phrase with another is problematic, and this problem is politics.’ - Lyotard’s approach attempts at once to undermine all totalising political philosophies and a radical extension of politics into the smallest linguistic transations. 


Clarke’s last quotation from Lyotard above is also the epigraph to ‘Obscure Disasters 15’, which opens with what reads like a disarmingly personal note:


something unusual about this

for a first draft

language in pieces grasps

particulars as spectral hues


A fragment seems not to focus ‘contemporary particulars’ as ‘Obscure Disasters 2’ puts it in homage to Zukofsky, but to refract them into a fading spectrum.  The persistent ghost metaphor in the Trio (spectre, geist, shade, etc) suggests that this conceptual diffusion is at the expense of a self which has no permanent substance (‘language found myself collapsed’; GM 24) and a mass-mediated hyperreality that turns message to mirage: ‘overlapped phantoms narrative revives / our simulcra’  (GM 25).

And a phrase.  Re-read:


language in pieces grasps

particulars as spectral hues

stake out a fundamental

site diminishing traffic suburbanised


‘Spectral hues’ is now pivotal, turning on ‘as’.  Becoming a noun phrase to link with the unlikely physicality of the verb to ‘stake out’, with its suggestion that the hyper-reality has an old fashioned notion of boundaries, even as it dissolves into the dullest of realities.  As an earlier poem says, resistance is where ‘lacunae body forth’ (GM 11), embodied emptiness (ghosts) undermines totality (itself spectral).

Yet the larger public events that pass through The Ghost Trio, such as the Gulf War, are not simply images (as my allusions to Baudrillard might imply).  The Gulf War’s anti-language of premeditated adjustment offers not ghosts but dead bodies: ‘a refusal of language speaking corpses straight / in his prepared text’ (OD 1).

Straight talking.  The issue is linkage, not slippage.  The dance of the intellect among phrases.  Phrasal phasing.

A swerved reading: reading is linking (listening to the differences).



Spectral Investments: in a double meaning where the subject gets lost

Section 2 of Spectral Investments is a brilliant narrative, except there is no narrative, only the brilliant story of narrativity, whose devices, according to Lyotard and others, structure so much of our knowledge.  Which the phrasal aims to undermine.

Calvino games, metafictionality; ‘begins CHAPTER 1 with / a pattern of flowers’ is neither a description of flowers nor is it at the beginning.  A relentless foregrounding of commentary on a fiction that has ‘a content to be / described’ but which isn’t: ‘named characters elaborately set up to / conclude in words’.  The resulting partial details seem indexical but empty, as in these (recurrently) noirish images: ‘a cigarette denotes / an agony of choice’ and ‘a damp cigarette indicative of the expository code’.  No wonder this is a world ‘begging / to be described in total’ (that’s what Grand Narratives are for, of course) but it remains incomprehensible, ‘beggaring / description’ as ‘the words fragment themselves a constellation fictional or / parasyntactic in the turn of events’, and in the turn of phrases.

Both fiction and grammar (not to mention phenomenology and politics) contain ‘subjects’ and the text opens with what could have been its title: ‘in which the subject gets lost’.  Characters and sentences break down in this discourse under the pressure of the indeterminacies which structure it, ‘in a double meaning where the subject gets lost’.  To take one example only from this complex text, the slogan ‘NO REPRESENTATION / WITHOUT REPRESENTATION addressing her image’ asserts a double meaning that articulates the problem of, and the interdependence of, the politics of mediation and the mediation of politics.

The reader (another subject) is lost, left ‘to struggle … without hope of return to (the) safe ground’ of familiar narrative; my summary above only hints at the experience of reading this remarkable tour de force.  The reader’s loss is continual; but so is his or her discovery.  The text offers either ‘a duplicate reality’ or ‘an alternative universe’.  Language, in the last phrase of the section, proliferates its narratives, ‘imitations that go forth and multiply’.  This is both a prophecy of the spread of totality and of its breaking down into resistant double and multiple meanings.

After four dense pages don’t expect the satisfaction of univocal conclusion.



Obscure Disasters: the catastrophe where we put our hats

Obscure Disasters.  Hommages et Tombeaux.

From Mallarmé’s ‘Calme bloc ici-bas chu du’un désastre obscur’; for Poe.

Tributes and addresses to fellow writers who also fall from disasters (and the opening Gulf War ‘epinicion’ reminds them of one such disaster).

(Not a call to ‘purify the dialect of the tribe’, in Eliot’s appropriation, nor an endorsement of the ‘copyright protected lips’ of ‘defunctive authority’ satirised in ‘Obscure Disaster 5’,

Eg ‘Ô soeur’ Maggie O’Sullivan.

Eg Clarke ambivalently addresses Lawrence Upton


in the common

sense utopia where we

all swop notes

                        (OD 7)


Which also demonstrates one of the techniques of this book.  This ending is transformed into the ending of the poem which, for reasons of clarity and distance, I wish to concentrate on, ‘Obscure Disaster 12’, for Salman Rushdie.


the enemy of images

faded a little picture

from the catastrophe where

we put our hats


The ‘common / sense utopia’ has transformed into Mallarmé’s ‘catastrophe’ (out of which appropriate ‘noirs vols du BlashÀme’ will blow).  The place ‘we put our hats’ is home, a dangerous place for Rushdie; the phrase also has an affirmative note, an echo, perhaps, of putting our money where our mouths are.  It is a statement of solidarity with Rushdie’s catastrophe/home.  The ‘enemy of images’ who is responsible for this is, of course, Khomeni (of a million faded images), but the phrase is Rushdie’s own to describe the homeless exiled paranoiac Imam of The Satanic Verses (see pp 205-9, The Consortium edition).  ‘The Fellow Upstairs / skims phantasmal scripts’, a partial reading of the Koran which amounts to an ‘authorised grand narrative’, should be ranged an oppositional ‘petite histoire’.  One example of this ‘implicit cultural script’ is Clarke’s view of absurd authoritarianism, which echoes Rushdie:


bullet

proofed delectibubbles the sacred

frames in an inflated

era


Inflated claims.  Inflated ‘currency recycled’, in a world haunted by the ‘commerce wraith’ (itself a transformation of ‘spectral investments’) of world capital.

The epigraph from George Herbert may seem out of place.  But Herbert’s Christian version of ‘plain fashion’, as Clarke ironically puts it, balances an attack on what might otherwise be seen as solely one on the Islamic fundamentalist fatwa (and on cowardly world opinion).  Herbert’s rhetorical questions, ‘Who says that fictions only and false hair / Become a verse?  Is there in truth no beauty?’ are refunctioned in the text.  The second becomes the poem’s epigraph (where the ‘in truth’ becomes ambiguous).  The first is woven into the poem’s opening phrase: ‘houses that fictions only / wigged become averse to circulate’ - the houses being possibly the publishing houses which refused to circulate The Satanic Verses, except in disguise as The Consortium.


mutabilities SHAKE


in the consistent rigour of this formalism

in the exemplary phrasal diffusion of these materials

in the vertigenous tension between the two



March 1994                                                                           Pages 219-238, April 1994

Link to new 'Introduction' and links to all contents of Far Language here. And read an extract from Adrian's 'Muzzle' here. My more recent piece on Clarke's poetics can be read here.