Friday, 1 July 2016

Catalogue of this site
Catalogue of blogs on this site, or catablog

This is a sort of 'contents list' of the texts on this blog site, which may make the material easier to use. The entries are in the order in which the articles appear on screen. Only items connected to the 'Affluence' project are listed.
“Affluence” is my 7-volume work on British poetry 1960-97. The extra material is either sections which had to be left out of the published books (ran out of space) or was written afterwards to fill in gaps. I am going to issue a warning about how disparate these pieces are, and how they are lurking round the edges of the material in the books.

Click on the title to be instantly transported to the text of your wishes. at least where I have been able to find an address to copy.

76, Paul Brown

discussion of the career of this 70s avant-garde poet
The below is by way of an apology for not treating Hill systematically within my 7-volume work on British poetry 1996-97.
Review of an unbelievably bad 1989 survey of modern British poetry which simply left everyone out. Effect was that I spent 15 years putting everyone fabulous back in.
Sandeep Parmar (editorial in issue 31 of The Wolf, 2014) has just published an essay about ethnic minorities in poetry where she says that people are unwilling to talk about the subject. This seems to irritate people so I think it’s beneficial to do some such talking. This is not going to end up giving everyone gold stars. "
72, "Prynne's runic poem"
Translation of Prynne's runic poem.
This is a book about poetry 1990-2010 which I swore not to write but which began in 2011 and published in 2015. A largely unmapped landscape … about which I don’t know enough.
An essay on a poet largely missed out of ‘Affluence’, based on his 2004 selected poems.
After completing a work on British poetry 1960-97 I was concerned at the small number of women poets described in it and began, slowly, to read some forgotten women poets of mid-century. I thought it might be possible to recuperate some of them. Essay on a mid-century poet who is largely forgotten but who wrote poems unlike anyone else.

Commentary on  Sabine Coelsch-Foisner's 3-volume work on mid-century British women poets. Revisit to a blog I wrote about 4 years ago, Then, I regretted its stylistic qualities while being glad to have a list of women poets one could go off and work on.

Although partly about the Referendum this also has material on poets Edwin Muir and George Mackay Brown.

When I was in Germany in 2011 someone asked me about the poet Michael Hamburger, who died in 2007. I had a firm idea that his poetry wasn’t very good  but was aware I hadn’t read very much of his work.

note. this was published in the Cambridge Review as an introduction to the first publication of a Charles Madge poem from 1950. The poem is of interest partly because it is a sound from a silenced moment of history, the mid-century death. At that time the scene repressed the most ambitious poetry and hid it from view - something which went on until the 1990s, roughly.

Andrew Duncan interviewed Gavin Selerie for Angel Exhaust between November 2011 and January 2013.

Part of a project published in Angel Exhaust 14 and now expanded. The project dealt with Left poetry in each decade.

This is a “find list” which shows where individual poets are discussed across the various volumes of ‘Affluence’. hundreds of them. it goes on for ever.

This is a re-visit to a book composed circa 1993-5 and published in 2003, in case my views had moved so far in the intervening years that I had to denounce or un-say parts of FCon. I revisited some key concepts in ‘The Long 1950s’. This note is probably of zero interest unless you have read both the books already.

This is all related to British poetry 1960-97 but it is miscellaneous. I have to point out again that the systematic work is in the seven books in the series and that the blog postings are unsystematic and round the edges. The numbers raise questions about how the poets I choose to write about (150 or so) were selected.

58 The Long Poem of the 1970s 
After the political upsurge of 1968 poets ventured into a new complexity, where long poems played a particular role of building autonomy for the poetic text by constructing large-scale complexes of meaning, freeing the parts by means of the whole. The decline of the long poem was an index of pessimism about the new cultural possibilities.

57 remarks on gay sensibility in poetry
As I completely failed to discuss the distinctive gay sensibility in poetry, these are emails from someone (Daniel Andersson) explaining it to me. Pretty useful. How many more huge holes in my work are there. Ulp. 

56 More on Anthony Thwaite
More info about the poetry of Anthony Thwaite from a travel book of his which I found in a library sale. 

notes around or under the book which I published in 2012, and which is an attempt to write a history of the mainstream. Or moments from such a history. Could we say a catenary, a diadem...a stutter.  Affluence could not be complete without a volume about the mainstream. It talks almost exclusively about brilliant and exciting mainstream poets because it wouldn’t be interesting otherwise.
There was an annual which listed all the works of poetry published in a given year. It only lasted 3 years as poets arent so interested in other poets. It didnt sell. Anyway if you look through a volume of this, and you happen to recognise most of the names, due to a life spent hanging out on the poetry scene, it is very evocative. The theme is again all the stuff that I didnt ever write about. Because it wasnt very good.  Given that not all 770 books published in this year (June to June) (and plus 88 anthologies) were desperately necessary, how does under-representation connect to over-publishing?
Victor Carroon is a character in a 1953 TV serial by Nigel Kneale. This blog explores iconographic links between Nigel Kneale and Eric Mottram. So it does involve poetry somewhere.

52 Poetry numbers again
Drops aesthetic appreciation to look at the overall dimensions of poetry publishing. This might give us some insight into 'under-representation'. The articulate write more & the better educated tend to be more articulate. Sigh. As if we didn't all know that at the age of 15. All those people you wish would articulate their feelings and all those other people you wish would stop articulating, please. That was absolutely masses. Now? yes now.

51 London School yadayada yada
Describes some of the problems with the whole slew of 'London School' to explain why everyone ignores them and points to the classic status of some of the London poets.

A close look at a single issue of Poetry Review for 1978 which shows an early but critical stage of the developing mainstream hatred of the innovative sector. The insults to drive people away may be the origin of a border which keeps separate tribes apart. The development of a language to embody opinions which reject modernity without knowing what it is - the laying down of a pseudo-knowledge in a pseudo-description. A neo-conservative coup.
Chapter circa 2002 deleted from 'Affluence'.
This is an update of a list that was printed in 'Failure of Conservatism'. Benefiting from further reading, it has an extra 30 or so titles. It still runs from 1960 to 1997. Does this mean the first version was horribly incomplete? Er.

47 More on Council of Heresy 
notes around or under the book 'Council of Heresy' (2009), which is about the heresy of writing off poets without understanding them but also a bit about poets not writing comprehensibly. The book sets out to explain how to read modern poetry. Wow! not a bad idea! When you set the edges of a book, there are always bits that don’t fit inside them. But these could be visible in a blog.

46. Mid-century poets
Very brief                       comments on poets active 1930-60. tries to get at all significant poets in that period.


45    Handlist of  late 20th century poets (part 1) 

Brief notes on poets of the late-20th century
No notes on poets since 1990 because these are in a book called “Poetry Boom”.

                    44 Handlist of late 20th century poets (part 2)
                                       Summary of work on poetry 1960-97 in the form of a handlist, part 2.

      42 Psychoceramics again: ley lines etc.
                             Further light shed on a few passages of Allen Fisher’s “Place” by looking at sources on ley-lines and geopathology.

41 poems missing from the record
Notes on unpublished or un-republished poems and on doctoring the published record

 40 Mid-century women’s poetry
Discussion of the general absence of women poets from the mid-century scene in Britain and the opposition between “femininity” and “feminism”. Comments on a phase when the share of women poets in new publication was maybe 12% - the 'valley bottom' from which it grew to 50%.

 39 Sexuality and the body as phantoms terrorising poetry; from Anglican Mass to performance artists
Essay of circa 2000 which discusses changes in the way sexuality is discussed in poetry. 
One of the big changes of the 1960s was the ability to present sexual behaviour in art and the opportunity to talk about the central relationship of people’s lives in a serious way. This offered particular problems for poetry, where the level and complexity of people’s inhibitions were taken as the qualification for them using high language in a legitimate way.

38 Self-adornment in sixties poetry
Interpretation of the new aspects of poetry in the 1960s through decoration and self-display. discusses the art of the 1960s in terms of its exaltation of the person of the artist and the assimilation of verbal art to self-adornment. As if the excessive amount of information flying around demanded a stronger projection of a coherent and personal message, a stronger beam. Elements in 'educated' art were also criticising the artist and trying to diminish the personality of any artist, but this enrolment of entire parts of the world in the task of self-adornment was happening too. 

37. In Furthest Ferengistan
we ask the question 'can a poet have a foreign policy without also having gunboats, regiments of dragoons, investment banks, and so on?' 

36. The Unlearned and the Unlearning 
part of a project to deal with the entire cultural field by recovering the history of genres. This gets away from individuals altogether because they offer too much information. This piece deals with the idea of ‘naive’ poetry and related concepts such as myth, folk poetry, the naively grandiose, etc. It discusses outsider poetry and the role of the naive, the folk, the non-academic, in a poetic universe which withdraws from instrumental reason. The question of whether the professionals are the best poets or even whether they are disequipped for poetry by being educated. 

35 Film as the skin of imaginary organs; or, chichi 
an exploration of film and the work of John Wieners. Evaluates Doris Day and Jennifer Jones as the legitimate subjects of poetry in the modern era. 

34. The history of the temporary: oral poetry
again tries to find the overall shape of poetry by defining one of its genres at the frontier with other media. Makes significant generalisations about oral poetry while claiming that you can’t write a history of something which is evanescent and happening in a hundred places every Friday might. So why am I writing analytical prose about it. Evokes Martin Booth’s enthusiastic book about the boom in readings circa 1964-74 while still finding that he only picks up the events he goes to and still doesn’t recover the whole history. Not even sure he captures what he saw. 

33. Obscure and conventional poets; or, Bodgers 
In which we take a step away from the sunlit heights of talent to look at an anthology of low attainment. Surely a feature of the scene is that most poets stringing poems together aren’t actually very gifted. Does this give us insight into a few thousand ineffective writers and their shed in the culture industry? does the state of not being conscious bring us consciousness? 

32 Was there a School of London? 
This recounts a nostalgic anecdote from the anarchist 70s in order to illustrate the ‘ideoles’ idea. 

31 review of 'Departures' by David Wevill 
the selected poems of one of the most significant poets to emerge in the 1960s

30 Equivocation 2
Attempts to use some incomplete figures to recover large-scale background changes in the scene over the past 50 years. 

29. My errors and some numbers too 
Ingeniously slides off from accusations of partiality by doing some burrowing and developing figures which might show that 6000 poets were publishing in this period so my partiality is utterly forgivable. Luminous honesty, or what? 

28. Cohesion, or parataxis and hypotaxis 
Continues the programme of ‘a primer of the avant garde’ by analysing the distinction between parataxis and subordinating syntactic patterns, and pointing to this distinction as a key innovation in the ‘new poetry’ in the 1960s.

27. What is shitgaze?
This discusses the lack of accurate terms for discussing modern poetry and wistfully pointed to the precision of rock vocabulary. Also includes a definition of 'mainstream'.
 In the cause of better mutual understanding we explore some classificatory terms, and especially the word 'mainstream'. Argues that rock criticism has terms specific to its subject matter and the criticism of modern poetry does not.

26. stephen-spender-and- the eternal-present
considers the special theory of time by which the individual is locked in ‘the cube of now’ where they can genuinely make decisions and so be truly conscious and so be authentic. Interprets some Spender poems as versions of Nikolai Berdyaev and his theology by which everything since the Crucifixion is an apocalyptic ‘end time’ where the social order is in disintegration and the individual must reveal themselves. Considers this attitude of ‘Christian existentialism’ as an imperative to value ‘personal style’ in poetry. 

25. Equivocation, 1: The impossibility of comparison
We consider the project of comparing poets and ask whether it is possible to talk about historical change without accepting that various poets of the 1950s (let’s say) are ‘equivalent’ to various poets of the 1970s or 1990s. Is it possible to recover any story apart from the life curves of vocal individuals, for example by studying genres?

24. Legitimacy, impersonality, and role-detachment
a talk about ‘the society of the poem’ which connects means within poetry to the meaning of linguistic styles in the society outside poetry. In which we take on sociology in order to disengage certain class-related patterns in speech as recurring in poetic language.

23. The delivery of intimacy
Offers another interpretation of the whole era by positing that there is a ‘modern’ family pattern in which the education of the child is a central thing, and also with a high affective investment in the child. Further, that the poet has slipped into the role of the ‘favourite child’ subject to doting affection by the readers as quasi parents, and whose intellectual development is the realm within which the poem unfolds. Further that the ‘action’ in the poetic world has to do with struggles to occupy these roles, which by their nature most people must lose most of the time. Should poetry be either egocentric or autobiographical? why does personal style matter?

22 Robert Conquest and Charles Williams 
an approach to the English 'central ideology' of empiricism via a forgotten episode from 1957

21. Carcanet and Some Contemporary Poets
In pursuit of a 'destruction of inhibitions' in which mainstream editors began accepting poetry with less of the conventional limits, and a 'new mainstream' emerged to exploit that, we look at the ideological origins of Carcanet and at a puzzling 1983 anthology. This is very detailed and connects to the 'ideoles' concept, getting away from a schematic history of ideology to look at concrete individuals making concrete decisions.

20. Time engulfed by subjectivity: historicism
follows the 'cube of now' by discussing the special view of history which holds that everything is obsolete except a tiny strip whose location is known only to the avant garde elite. Not surprisingly, this view is divisive and in fact may offer one of the key lines of division within the poetic field. looks at the ‘ideology of dominance’ of modernisation, the myth of legitimacy. 

19 Sub-prime: the idea of the cliché
points out that poetry is everywhere on the edge of a big centre of material which it can’t use. This material has become worn out because it is attractive, by definition. tries to inject consciousness back into your unconscious realms. Could this be a mistake? 

18. Privatisation and eccentricity
As an overall interpretation of the role of poets within the cultural field, we consider the notion of the eccentric, the outsider, the person who is free because they do not spend all day going through conventional patterns of consciousness.

17. Coherence and Exceptionalism
Tries to set up an explanation of distinctive features of the whole era by positing the disruption of perceptual expectations by larger real-world shapes as a satire on bureaucratic social models and their expectations. The anomaly as liberation. Literary convention as a form of bureaucracy that asks to be overthrown. 

16. Rivals of poetry 
tries to find the overall shape by reaching the edges of the poetic field, in this case by discussing its borders with adjacent genres and media whose extent limits the extent of poetry, whose failings open the borders of poetry. This is the topography. Yet poetry is parasitic on every other medium, because it can suck up information from everywhere and is ‘downstream’ of information flows rather than something primary. 

15.Marginalia to Affluence
another collection of ideas which overflowed the project, or which didn't fit, or which I never worked out properly. This one partly about the Gaelic language.

14 Dunstan Thompson 
another journey back into the forgotten 1940s, scripted as a film noir mystery 

13. deleted by accident The Long Poem of the 1970s . see item 58 
12. Allotria and Allegros (Allott) 
A lot of the work I did is about anthologies, because they are a mid-level between the individual and the entire scene, and because they show the external career of a poet as well as part of the internal one. One I spent a lot of time on was Kenneth Allott’s anthology of poetry 1918-60. I didn’t put this in the book because finally it wasn’t a very good anthology, it was a description of what was there before 1960 and my study began in 1960. This essay is mainly about the limits of individual choice, it starts with Allott and then turns the same criticisms on me.

11. Ideoli
asks whether there is any big story that can be composed from a million everyday transactions in the poetic world, and tries to locate a 'middle tier' of events around poetry which is not completely superficial but yet not abstract and unreal. Posits a tier of ‘ideoles’, smaller and more menial than ideas, as the routines of practical intelligence which we need to capture in order to explain what actually happened.

10. personal statement on 'Affluence, Welfare, and Fine Words'
partly a response to critics 

9. map of 7-volume work on modern British poetry 
Since the work is scattered over seven volumes you might want a map of the whole. lists the poets discussed. you have to buy the books to get them.

8. Death Cult and Dog Star 
talk on Richard Aldington's 1935 poem, 'Life Force' and its iconographic links with Iain Sinclair. this is an approach to 'long poems of the 70s' by asking where English poets began to be interested in archaeology and anthropology. 

7. Metakaluptical notes on the 1940s: the shared 40s project; or, The neo-Romantic Agony. 
Notes on a large number of writers involved in the Neo-Romantic movement. Supplement to the work on the 1940s in 'Origins of the Underground'.

6. Eric Mottram, 'Peace Projects 4' 
commentary on a poem by Eric Mottram, to follow up discussion on his interest in Henry Corbin, which I expounded as a connection between him and the ‘anti-modern‘ poet Kathleen Raine. ’PP4’ incorporates a prose narrative by Sohravardi as discussed by Corbin. 

5. Accident Adventure, or: shopping list - the sequel... 
I published a 'shopping list' of good books of British poetry published around 1960 to 1997. This is a follow-up which adds information I didn't have then. 350 titles? who could ask for more.

4. Affluence project: central ethos 
description of 'Affluence Welfare and Fine Words', a 7-volume project on British poetry 1960-97. 

3. Council of heresy (2) 
extra material on ‘The Council of Heresy’, a book on poetry 

2. Origins of the Underground 
bibliographical essay explaining the background to Origins of the Underground, a book on poetry and the links between the 1940s and the 1960s

1. 'The council of heresy' 
essay on sources for this 2009 book

Missing shadows reported to the police: Paul Brown


 view of the 70s poet Paul Brown (b.1949)

The release (in 2012) of Paul Brown’s A Cabin in the Mountains (work which “spans [his] poetry from the 1980s to the early 1990s”, so written some 20-30 years earlier) faced us with some problems. First, why hadn’t we chronicled Brown’s work and placed it in a pantheon many years earlier. Secondly, what in fact was its place in that landscape and how could we describe its peculiar excellence without obvious distortions and assumptive overlays. The work includes Meetings and Pursuits (63 pp.), Masker (80 pp.), and now Cabin (105 pp.). The first poem in Meetings and Pursuits (1978) is ‘Memorandum to all field-staff’ and runs:


At the near-point painted interiors

sometimes gardens representing

a corner of a room


Sometimes the prospect of distant

telescopic hills

an invitation to a single glance


The incompleteness is seductive. Careful handling and objective detail do not disguise what is surely a longing for a world captured in an image - a vista of endless time. The “near-point” is I suppose the point at which a flat picture comes closest to the spectator outside it. The picture is described as if it were merely a picture, but it is surely a state of longing. The idea of a garden representing a corner of a room is genuinely original - a deft inversion of a room, perhaps in Pompeii, where the corner of a room includes a painting of a garden. Typical of Roman domestic wall-painting, we think. The idea of plants imitating a building is intriguing, but nature is full of mimicry. The question is, still: why are some lines selected, not others.

One poem from Masker(1982) is called ’May 22nd’ and goes:


                A tribe of ancient bridges span

the rivers source

the estuary



                This congress

         interests me

two nouns in the workers control

that makes its nest in you

                                                like a duck

on the deck of

a row-boat or

                                an ear between the eyes

the world screamed when to


No more crap about a coming or a going


                the vanity of an Iron Age


                                rivetted to a land

shifting under

                as verb

                                for its predicate


We have the impression of a postcard from a world which is stealing silently away and is only retained in a few verbal traces. The idea of a greater whole does not mean that something is missing - the poem is in fact complete.

Another way of starting is with a visual piece published in The Second Aeon, 12, of 1970. It is constructed as a grid, like a page from a comic. The first frame is clipped from such a comic, and shows a haggard figure in a raincoat with collar turned up saying “I am the mysterious traveler! In the main, my role is that of the silent witness watching wondrous events motionlessly from the shadows! But there are times when I am empowered to Intervene!” The next frames are a street map of what seems to be High Barnet and Hadley Wood, on the Great North Road. In the middle, a blacked-out frame with some blood-curdling words spilling across it. The last frame has the Traveler telling us to “come closer” - a tale is about to start.


It is fairly obvious that the allover and yet depthless quality of this ‘pop art’ piece resembles the strange completeness and lack of documentation of the ‘May 22nd’ piece we have already quoted. It is as if the visual pieces represented a breach with the discursive world and the later verbal poems continued on from the visual pieces, never declining back into discursivity - or moral accountability, as the Cold War critics demanded of every writer. The groups of poems which Brown favours could be like the frames in the grid of the comic-book page. The title page of Cabin cites only two earlier books by Brown - the booklets of concrete and visual poetry with which he began have been dropped from the record. While I don’t think the reprographic quality was very good, it is irrational to just throw out those early stages.

Information I withheld is that there is an epigraph to "May 22nd ”: ‘Depend upon it, there is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace” - Arthur Conan Doyle; and, a biro note in my copy (from the author, I hope) says that the sequence ‘Log of The Rose’ which includes ‘May 22nd’ is “a week in the 1871 Paris Commune”. So the bridges are ones over the Seine. Expand: ‘span the river’s source/ or is it the estuary/ an academic point’. The part about nesting may be about a mind being colonised by language - the dream of a spiral into our present economic and psychological state and a slit leading to a spiral path out. The idea that two nouns are now in the workers’ control is something which would excite many Seventies poets. The “congress” is literally where the bridges come together with the river (and roads with the bridges) but may also be the congress of a political party, communists perhaps. The “vanity of an Iron Age” is the arrogance of 19th century civilisation, of the Second Empire indeed, with its pomposity, punctured by a revolutionary communist regime, Paris in the summer of 1871. The bridge is iron but it is attached (riveted) to a land which is shifting. The title “Log of The Rose” implies a late 19th century story based on a mysterious ship called The Rose. We are back with the Mysterious Traveler. The novel (novelette?) of that title is not present, it is just a notion on which the poem floats. The bit about ‘this crap about coming and going’ echoes the idea that the difference between source and estuary is “academic“. Brown is saying that there is a directionless flux. This leaves no place for the ego. The ego as duck on the water’s back. Max’s beasts were all canards.


The cover of that Second Aeon has a graphic which actually resembles Brown’s ‘visual poem’ in significant aspects - notably in including a figure from a Marvel comic strip and in using an urban landscape as the main image. The cover has an impressively thewed super-heroine diving in man-powered flight over a vast cityscape. The branches of a giant clover-leaf interchange radiate out at the same angle as the flyer’s legs, relative to her body. Second Aeon 12 has prices still in shillings, so it is safe to say that Brown’s visual piece in this is a very early work. Yet the same issue announces a booklet, “The Reason for Leaving Black Daniel”, price 2/-, “prosepoem dada explosions”. Masker picks up one of these early pamphlets, “It ain’t no Sin to Take off Your Skin”. (Opposite the “Work Areas” poem in Second Aeon 12 is a poem by Derek Telling which runs in part “razzmatazz red hot jazz/ come throw off your clothes/ strip right down to your bones,/ dance ‘til it hurts”.) ‘Skin’ was published by X-Press, one of the completely legendary small presses of the era which was impossibly well informed and had an impossibly high strike-rate. Brown was publisher of Transgravity Press and Actual Size. Quite what the difference was I don’t know.


 In the early 60s, Lee Harwood travelled to Paris to meet the original Dadaists, who were still there at that time. He edited a magazine called ‘tzarad’. He was presumably the best-known Dada-influenced poet in around 1970. The practice of most interest for Brown is Max Ernst’s collage narratives, of the 1920s onwards, such as “Une semaine de bonté” (1934). By decontextualising the source material, typically prints of realist engravings of the late Victorian era, Ernst released the most opulent and insanely detailed aspects of the originals. Removing realism made the visual objects incomprehensible and miraculous. Also, by superimposing parts of different organisms, Ernst created monster beings, susceptible of the most wondrous adventures. Ernst’s collages have a preference for composites where a bird’s head sits on a human body - or an insect‘s. Since humans find it obvious that different species have the same limbs, reorganised and re-connected, anatomy provides a basis for narrative, as a dissolute practice of substitution and connection. Why cling to those archaic species boundaries? The narratives were there to pass the time - the fundamental need. Ernst was re-creating narrative rather than abolishing it. Those collage-novels seem basic to Brown’s work. He did a folder of collages called le donne di colore. His visual or psychological sensibility is very different from Harwood’s.

Perhaps it is fair to quote a prose piece from Second Aeon 12, not picked up in the books:




Reasons for leaving Black Daniel

“we ate each other and spat it out in a pool on the sand”


Ice Cool Warp

“the light is fading lights, will have to be turned on and missing shadows reported to the police.

The sky only exists in the breaks between the branches

and the leaves, and it is white”


Thank you My Lady in White, East Finchley

“like a necklace of wind, the white lady in the long silver grey tube. Clutching the blueprint of an engineer he entered the cabin”


Estsanatlehi & Ushas

“the woman who changes, and the opening of the gates of the sky leading together the white horse of the sun; a scream torn from the broken jaw before the guillotine”



“later he picked up a dead newspaper from the gutter of the last century, and began to read.”


Bitter Dolls

“eating earth under the motion of the moon. Can you hear me, Tristam? Listen. Listen. the world is full of dead meat”


Miranda’s ghost

“deep, below the crystal city i looked in a mirror and was afraid i saw the reality of dreams in every page of water turning in upon itself and in every motion of the hand that is the movement of fear”


“everyway I turn, the world is my shadow”


Tristam is, and is not, Tzara. Ushas (genitive Ushasas) appears in the Rg-Veda and is goddess of the dawn (cognate with Aurora, for those 19th century scholars). A few words in that stanza may well be taken from the Rg-Veda. “Estsanatlehi is a Navaho goddess from the Arizona area” (according to Witchipedia) and is “the woman who changes“. I really like this piece and its structure is quite likely to shed light on how the later work is made. It is the attenuation to which I would draw attention. Speed is crucial and yet the selection of a single frame means that everything is immobilised. Recovering the technique, however, is quite different from defining what the final poems are like. The technique is a kind of “nozzle” or lens which could take anything on. Moreover, if we looked at a dozen other poets (more or less) demonstrably using montage, found materials, decontextualising, their work is extremely different from Brown’s.


It looks as if Brown found Second Aeon, the Cardiff magazine, a sympathetic outlet. Matthew Jarvis’ talk “Visual Poetics in Wales: A Note on Previous Engagementsexcitingly recovered a burst of visual poetry in Wales in five years around 1970, linked quite probably to Second Aeon and to Peter Finch’s enthusiasm. Second Aeon Inc put out two booklets by Brown (Reasons for Leaving Black Daniel, 1971, and Venus in Black Light, 1973) and also Midnight on the Diamond Air by Will Parfitt, one of the visualists whom Jarvis recovered for us (at an event in Hay on Wye). Jarvis even found Parfitt, 45 years on. Quite apart from the brilliance of the visual poems (some of which I had to re-create for a Welsh retrospective), that was a moment which expressed a distrust of the taught system for recording speech and its rigidity in relation to speech (and para-speech). The split from the legacy was a moment which radically affected the way people wrote - even when they stuck to the alphabet. Brown may have redefined his work in terms of three volumes which don’t include any visual work, but all the same he belongs to a whole class of “post visual” poets. The relationship between foreground and background was one of the things which shifted. Generally, Brown seems to imagine the poem in terms of a plane, so of overall relations, rather than as a sequence of unique moments, each one present briefly, moving forward (with a ‘before’ and ’after). This is more like pictorial organisation than like a passage of speech. Because the foreground had involved the speaker of the poem, a disruption of the foreground also means a shift of the ego - a different limb design, perhaps the wing of a bat. The difficulties of description arise partly because the firmest plane is the most inexplicit and the evocative quality is revealed in manipulating the undifferentiated level of dream or drug trance. These novels cannot finish and yet they freeze on movement. Finding plane edges allows the narrative to hover on a wispy surface between disappearance and revelation. A strip you only find by luck and retain by a curious predatory immobility.


The surviving words are like flakes floating on a sea. Just as the flakes are flimsy so the underlying plane must be firm - a gestalt. We could look at the deletions rather than the surviving text. The implicit is different from the deleted.


Brown’s poem is a sparse surface but the underlying pattern is not necessarily sparse. The breaking down of the foreground allows the background to become more dominant even though it is not verbal. It is a fertile fragmentation, animated fragments. The plane could in fact be the source narrative from which the scraps of language emerge the holograph log of The Rose, or The 39 Steps. The poem arrives from the destruction of the original narrative but not of the “canvas” on which it was painted. The unifying plane is not in fact the original. It is genuinely the undifferentiated, all-containing. “By the Miskatonic River”, a nostalgic slice of a Lovecraft story, is closest to a straight re-enactment, but surrounded by poems which are anything but. The poems based on The 39 Steps (‘False Denouements’) are not regressing back to 39 Steps but driving on through. The Navajo quote in ‘Work Areas’ has non-integrity: the wisp about a goddess is not leading back to a documentary about the Navajo, it is pointing to a gestalt that isn’t there yet. This is why it was split out. This is very clear in ‘Work Areas’ but it may persist in the very different structures of Meetings.


 This description of the background plane is subjective. The vocabulary for this area is undeveloped. All the same figuring out the context of a poem, or a TV programme, or a film, is something we have had a lot of practice at doing. That is, it is a highly developed skill. To go on, describing a poem as minimal or pared down is unproductive- we want to know how the whole spatial frame of which the poem is a fragment is being manipulated. The term minimal is not a good classifier. The ‘Mysterious traveler’ thing is minimal. Changing the subject, At a certain point in my childhood, Marvel changed its corporate name to Marvel Pop Art productions. How do we get from bold immediate pop art to sparse cryptic Underground weird? I am not sure the poetry changed all that much it was more the framing. Underground methods are populist because they are spontaneous and anti-authoritarian. It is only by great effort that the world pretends they arent populist. Peter Finch actually is populist and Brown was frequently published in Finchs magazine. Just possibly the framing sheds light on the context manipulation which is basic to Browns poems. As in, I cant actually demonstrate either one. Did poetry become difficult as part of exploring its boundless new realm, or was it that the departure of the editors of the two large-circulation modern magazines (Second Aeon and Poetry Review) in a three-year period withdrew it from the marketplace and nothing else advanced to bring it back? I am unclear about this. Its not a subjective question but the facts are not easy to recover.


 The method of acquiring external material allows a modality of greedy and even manic accumulation, in which the poet stacks up assets like some Pharaoh assembling status objects in the chambers of a Pyramid. Brown has a much quieter, even melancholic, approach. The acquisition is somehow to do with a small, vulnerable, ego rather than with a royal size one. It is as if there were a negative eye, which sheds images just as the receptive eye acquires them. His behaviour towards this found material is austere even if fascinated. Non-documentary, non egoistic: we are in open waters.


Masker includes several photographs of people wearing masks and sitting in a café alongside people who are not dressed up and just look like rather tired people grabbing some food. Was this part of a performance piece? I don’t know. To be literal, one of the faces is wearing stylised mask-like make-up (rather like Marcel Marceau) and not a mask. Maskers is a word for mummers, in some parts of the country. The word mask occurs in a poem, in the sequence ‘Oyster Bay’ -


The earth was young then - focus on that

still no lightning but always hope to wake up

hell to think the pump should ever stop

(first it's a playground, then it's a cage -out)

So much for so little she said and set the sparrow trap

a chestnut bay cantered in on the wind

lime lay on the field gently digesting

i had thought all this but a temporary disorder

an afternoon in early April if you like that kind of thing

At the lake I witnessed only myself shot through

with light and facing the new mask with the barest

of smiles he stepped in - and in no time at all

was up to my image - and beyond


This is a good moment to point out how unconvincing any description of a poem like this is. A good paraphrase for “At the lake I witnessed only myself shot through/with light “ would be “This line actually means that at the lake I witnessed only myself shot through with light”. The ‘myself’ is presumably reflected in the lake which the other person steps into. The last four lines contain a compressed story - about the exchange of identity. This may possibly explain why masker was a book title. It also offers a possibility that each poem is there as a mask which a reader puts on to enter a role - the phrases of the poem are minimal but robust props to enclose the imagination in its role. Or even - as poster for a film which was never made. You can spend time gazing at the poster. This is not a universal formula it works for some of the poems. We still wonder, why were some tags selected and others not. It is not a satirical principle more one of aesthetic preference. Brown is not being sarcastic about Richard Hannay.


Brown’s work is minimal and inexplicit; is there any reason to think I can give a description of the poems which is visibly correct and also makes them recognisable, as resembling the descriptions? Or: what is the value of inserting something into a cultural context when the fabric of which it is made is decontextualising? This issue is especially cogent with Meetings and Pursuits, where the fabric is utterly minimal and the implied narrative strange and unrecoverable. The melody is of profound dissociation but in terms of breaking out into dream, into the infinity of narratives which surrealism wanted to dissolve the barriers of, that dissociation may be effective.


It is tempting to connect Brown with poets, such as Ulli Freer, Phil Jenkins, Paul Gogarty, Peter Finch, Ralph Hawkins, who are roughly of the same generation and who had some of the same values. But the problem is that there were so many poets in the “70s generation” that the phenomenon of “crowd-out” had affected everything and in fact placing Brown within, partly behind, a crowd of poets was the reason why his work is not celebrated at this date. The publishing of Cabin makes life better and allows a feeling of ease, on the lines of “we have now got the Seventies taped and in only another 30 years we will have the Eighties taped as well”. It coincided with better information becoming available about Paul Evans and Paul Green - surely signs of progress even if, arguably, not quite the end of “getting with“ the Seventies. Anyway, Paul Brown’s work is evidently significant and composes a world in itself.