Thursday, 14 December 2017

Fluid Jewels: James Kirkup 1918-2009 

Anecdote. In 1976, Kirkup published a poem in Gay News which referred to the sexuality of Christ and led to a successful prosecution of the editor for blasphemy. I was a student, and a fellow-student reported that his father could remember playing rugby with Kirkup, around 1940 possibly, and was indignant that someone gay had infiltrated the scrum. We all thought this was funny. Whether the courts should have been poring over this poem is another question. We don’t have figures about how many people in that scrum were gay.

In a previous piece I wrote: “Allott anthologised a poem of Kirkup which was a documentary: he was asked to watch a heart operation and to describe it. It is a good poem, he was accurate like a draughtsman. He could write about many different subjects but did not show a central sensibility, conceptual or linguistic. His poems remain enigmatic because they do not leave much trace. It may be that James Kirkup’s nimbleness and stylistic inconsistency were connected with his status as a homosexual, as a gay chameleon. This possibly indicates why heterosexuality is signalled by dullness and self-repetition: to show gravitas and fitness to hold power. This would give us a link between personality and style. In fact, Kirkup may qualify as a genuine outsider: that was his situation, although his poems conform in every other way to the norms of poets writing in the 1950s and 1960s.”
That leaves out his 40s poetry, and the obvious fact that his chameleon powers made him very prolific. Even in 1943, Wrey Gardiner’s firm (GWP) brought out a volume of his, a shared one with John Bayliss and J. Ormond Thomas. “The Glass Fable” was published in Poetry Quarterly in 1943 – I happen to have that issue. If he was born in 1923, then he wrote this poem when he was 20: however, all the newspaper obituaries give the date as 1918. Allott’s Penguin anthology gives 1923, which was surely supplied by the poet. Fable is said to be part of a longer poem about myth, which was published in a 1947 volume shared with Ross Nichols, future head of the Druid Order. It is influenced by Edith Sitwell. The number of male poets influenced by women is fairly low – this was a direction British poetry failed to go in. Fable reads like a ballet libretto, is full of descriptions of precious stones, has a landscape which is an emanation of subjective states, raises individuals to the level of myth, has subtle phonetic effects. This is what Sitwell was doing. “The Glass Fable” was published in 1943. Cultural controls were down in wartime, and this is closer to being an explicitly homoerotic poem than the work of poets who came before or after. The theme is of a prince and a shepherd (the staging is like a ballet or a pantomime) who have a dream about each other which leads them to meet. The shepherd boy gets over-excited

His arms are stretched, and twist
like sheets of mist
the trees at anchor swim
his chrysalis of smoke contains
his heart, shaped like a moth
or the velvet arches of his mouth.
His fingers are outsprayed, distinct
aesthetic feelers, and his antlered senses
radiate alarm
along the sinews of his waving form.

The date is in a palace made entirely of precious stones. “The crystal floors are deep, and spring/ from wells of molten glass”: so the solid level of glass that you can walk on is linked to a reservoir where the glass is still liquid. I think we are looking at precious bodily fluids here, at least something which is precious and a fluid. These lines explain the title. We seem to have a problem with adornment here, not that the jewellery is fake but that the person wearing them is not genuinely female. The liquid phase of the glass seems to take over; the palace collapses around their heads. The poem says:

I am the question
only you can answer.

He rises, slowly, in a long,
slow trance
ritual, receptive
an iridescent manuscript
is buried in the tomb of his loins

This is reasonably close to gay erotica. It can be linked to Symbolisme, obviously, but can also be seen as the pole of poetry closest to opera and ballet, and furthest from documentary. Kirkup’s characters in Fable do not get dialogue, but the scenery is wholly expressive. Why classical music should have pursued specific conventions is too large a theme to open – of course dance followed all kinds of other directions after 1945 – but in 1943 there was a specific sensibility prevailing and you knew what kind of evening you were going to have if you visited the opera or the ballet. The link with gay life is well-known, even if most of the steady audience weren’t gay. Writing about precious stones at length is probably not something a heterosexual man would have done at that time. I bring this up (briefly) in order to clarify what Kirkup was about: there was an Apocalyptic style which many poets were using at that time, especially poets born between 1910 and 1920, but you can’t fit Kirkup into it. If you saw the great New Romantic exhibition at the Barbican in 1987, you may well have seen Leslie Hurry’s painted backdrop for Robert Helpmann’s production of Hamlet (the play) as the most exciting thing in the whole building. There was a style of subjective and poetic theatre at that time, summed up in Hurry’s imaginative costume and backdrop designs, which was just as much an artistic centre as the Apocalyptics, and which Kirkup fitted into. The “iridescent manuscript” looks meaningless and a lot of images in 1943 were low on meaning. Iris is rainbow, a thing which shines and has bright colours, so we could draw this back to “illuminated”, a word which does go with “manuscript”. Mediaeval manuscripts were made of skin, as loins are. Manuscripts are written by hand, and the contact of hand, eyes, and loins may be significant here. The “tomb” bit is not obvious but could refer to the repressed, hidden, etc. The passage is unclear, but at times the less integrated an image is the more motivated it is.

Kirkup became eminent, and got his Oxford UP deal, by writing documentary poems. The one Allott picked up for his standard anthology is about a heart operation, which Kirkup was present at (around 1953?) with the aim of recording it. Kirkup’s facility at making real events into credible verse was astounding. Poems like “The Observatory” have an on-the-spot feel, a cosiness, a commentary tone, which are strongly reminiscent of television. This was a new tone for poetry, back in 1955. Kirkup showed adaptability but that could also mean shedding ambitions. He wrote two poems to Queen Elizabeth, (for her birthday in 1953) and her coronation (also in 1953). The coronation was the event which made British TV. The commentator was the educated voice which was acceptable in every household. Kirkup’s willingness to achieve popularity, and to write fluently and superficially, was extreme. The coronation poem is one of the most revealing. His interest in frocks and jewels was not feigned. Personally, he seems to have started with poetry which was over-wrought and much too emotional (The Last Man, The Sleeper in the Earth) and migrated to poetry which was decorative and had far too little emotional commitment. Documentary was a key issue of the Sixties and Seventies, seen as a means of opening up parts of national life which an official view had firmly kept invisible. It was an area of excitement. But he had no interest in social issues. As documentary became more and more exciting and politically charged, he gave it up. He had no interest in sociology and was much better at visual details than at human relations. He lacked ambition after 1960.

The cover of the 1996 Salzburg UP book I have is by James Dickey and says “One is bothered as much as delighted by the cleverness of the poems, and by seeing many promising themes dissolve into conventionally pretty descriptions. You feel, not really the painful search to know and to grasp something, but that, for the bright and witty, everything is already known. These poems don’t develop well, either, they stand still and elaborate[.]” This was written in 1968, so late enough for JK’s work to be in plain sight. “Dependably and even remarkably brilliant”, Dickey says. I am amazed that the publisher put the core defects of the poetry in the cover text, but this is very good criticism. I think that JK lost interest in around 1963, and that being so fluent was not good because it led him to write very numerous poems which were almost indistinguishable from hundreds of other poems being written by published academic poets in the same year. The change may connect to being dropped by Oxford University Press, or to maturity. Perhaps he stopped writing autobiographical poems because, after 40, his biography wasn’t all that interesting. So, in the Forties the theme was romantic myth and Kirkup wrote such poems, in the Fifties empiricism was the doctrine and Kirkup wrote long documentary poems. You could see this as conformism or simply as the result of being sensitive to other people’s wishes and feelings. Either way, Kirkup gave up trying to write personal myth. His poetry made a transition to being shallow and disengaged, travel poetry which suffered from the problems of tourism. Was this part of the Sixties? It was an era of convenience, tourism for example was meant to be casual, undemanding, assured, smooth. Kirkup was writing convenience poetry, light and reliable like a modern camera. Arguably he was again reproducing the feel of an era. Salzburg University Press brought out a “selected” poems in four volumes, about 900 pages. What we need to know about centres on the long poems of the 40s and 50s, such as ‘The Glass Fable”, “The Last Man”, and “The Observatory”. In the potholing poem he writes:

Here too hang from the walls high terraced gardens
Of starry crystals, arcades, tapestries and grilles
Of candied petals, leaves and branches,
Calcite shawls, veils, laces, curtains, trophies and swags
Of stalactite, translucent fold-on-fold of mineral draperies,
Crowns, auroras and sepulchres of stony snow,
And looped lucent sheets that sound,
Drummed with the fingers, like an orchestra of tympani
In deep sub-dominant and dominant accord.
All spectral, glittering, vast and still,
Far below, the torrent, that has sought
A deeper bed, goes plundering, thundering soundlessly
Down, may be to the earth’s hot centre, there
To be ardently converted into
Fountains of boiling ash, or gulfs of steam.
(from the 24-page poem “Descent into the Cave”, printed in a 1962 volume but probably written around 1958)

This shows how good his documentary writing was. I chose this passage because it is so close to parts of “The Glass Fable”. The jewelled landscapes of that poem are visibly dependent on the Book of Revelations – Kirkup had no interest in the ideas of the apocalyptics, but did go back to Revelations. The “sea of glass” of Revelations does appear in “The Glass Fable”. Jewels do have an importance – they start out as the walls of heaven, become intensely emotional symbols speaking quite basic desires, become part of documentary scenery in a cave in Somerset, and then become decorative and shiny and unresponsive.

Kirkup gave a statement to the St James Press reference work on Contemporary Poets, in which he says that one of his themes was solitude. CP is a wonderful book, with hundreds of statements from poets in the whole English-speaking world, and of course the editors aren’t responsible for what the poets choose to say. I think Kirkup could make fluent statements of things he didn’t believe, and had spent years learning how to make gracious conversation without giving away his real feelings. (He also mentions UFOs as a theme.) Solitude is the main theme of some of his poetry but it is hardly the real story. He declined military service in the war, but took the alternative of working for the non-combatant Pioneer Corps. Derek Stanford’s memoirs describe his career as an officer in the Pioneers, where he seems to have met a large number of artists and poets. I don’t have any specific evidence on this, but in the atmosphere of the 1950s being either gay or a pacifist/ conscientious objector was likely to cause outrage and rejection. Kirkup did become very conformist in the Fifties and his Coronation poem can be juxtaposed with declining to serve His Majesty with rifle in hand. He did avoid prison on both scores. The New Romantic poets generally were anarchists and pacifists.

Kirkup wrote a Nativity play which was performed at Bristol cathedral and was, according to the jacket text, broadcast on radio and television (in 1961). He reached a mass audience with this. The link with the Coronation and birthday poems is depressing – so many English poets sought refuge with Church and Crown, the traditional patrons. Poets who stuck with the idea of the personality deserve credit for their obstinacy. As the Empire collapsed, it looks as if at least some poets sought refuge in institutions that had been around since before the Empire  – Church and Crown, returning psychologically to the mid-sixteenth century. Old money in perplexing times. Kirkup wrote a historical pageant about Peterborough cathedral. Stray biographical notes show Kirkup and Robin Skelton, around 1950, organising poetry events and short-run publishing in Leeds. This is a nascent "Leeds scene", anticipating provincial poetry scenes in the 1950s. It doesn't confirm the "solitude" thesis. There may have been a shared feeling which allowed both Kirkup and Skelton to continue the mythological preoccupations of the war period – possibly. But certainly they suggested to Leeds undergraduates that poetry was still being written and had not died out in the nineteenth century.

On reflection, I think that The Last Man and The Sleeper in the Earth are mainly influenced by Baudelaire. This gives us a match – the poems about grandiose and accursed Romantic heroes come from the “maudit” part of Symbolisme and the ones set in unrealistic and balletic landscapes come from another strand of Symbolisme. This tells us what Kirkup was reading before he got going. The problem with the poems about doom is the lack of explanation in them, which makes identification incomplete or impossible. This noticeable silence is related to the problem of talking about emotions stemming either from relations between homosexual men or from solitary feelings of frustration, resentment, sadness, etc. strongly related to being homosexual. These poems are the opposite of confessional, because the psychological core has been reduced to silence. The first twenty years of his work are not "part of the history of gay consciousness" but "omit vital omissions which are part of what was suppressed and can't be recovered". Despite the silence, I am sure that anti-gay prejudice affected Kirkup’s freedom of speech and probably compromised his career. I can’t name an individual who did damage, or a concrete moment when this pressure was exerted, but I have no doubt that he was culturally victimised. This has to be made clear as part of collective self-knowledge. Because the silent rules have changed so much, we can at least say that there are silent rules and that poets are the victims of these rules. Does that mean others benefit from them? That is harder to answer. Reading Kirkup’s poetry is problematic because of what was silenced, which may be damaged again as we voice it. It is reasonable to think, both that he could not say what he needed to, and that he developed into new realms of symbolism and ambiguity in order to say it nonetheless. There are quite urgent questions about where the silent rules come from and how we can change them. The wish to hurt other people and make them shut up is not exactly mysterious. Culture expresses it, like other wishes.

Extended Breath includes two poems on flower arranging. It is reasonable to say that writing about numerous small decorative objects, capable of containing good taste and remembered affection, can be a mode of gay taste – and in fact, that Kirkup’s later poetry has a gay voice, even if without the hopes and despairs of younger years. 'Ten Pure Sonnets’ is from the 1963 volume A Refusal to Conform and has more commitment than what is around it. The labelling of the Salzburg books means you can’t work out the date of anything, but if the poems are in order you can make rough assessments.
(Extended Breath is one of two Salzburg books labelled as "Long poems", although most of the poems in it are not long.)

After a few days involved with the Kirkup case, I am not eager to read all four volumes of his
Selected. So, did I enjoy what I read? We have to leave out the question of whether he could not write clearly, in his most emotional moments, because the biographical material came from gay relationships (or gay solitude) and the society of the Forties and Fifties was not open to that. The social issue is of great interest, but you can’t rewrite the poems even if they were wrecked by silent political pressures. ‘Fable’ doesn’t work out. ‘The Last Man’ is too overwrought, it is insistent rather than having a curve of development. But ‘Descent into the Cave” and ‘The Observatory’ certainly work. He avoids psychological depths by dealing with immediate sensory data, but the poems do have a psychology – the poet’s instant, cutaneous reactions. Basically, his volumes of the 1950s (and as far as the 1962 Descent into the Cave) are the good ones. The four Selected volumes include a lot of weak material.
The jacket of A Refusal to Conform announces that he is giving up poetry. Although he issued quite a few books after that, it may well be that he slowed down a great deal and that his output from 1963 to 2009 was much slower and less committed.  My project has to do with British poetry 1960 to 1997 and Kirkup’s artistic achievement after 1960 is marginal.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Hue, sodality, eremite: Jack Beeching 1922-2001

Mordant on retina as acid smoke,
Hot dreams of eremite, or prisoner,
Degrade the vigil with a Judas kiss.
Only a lover’s bodily embrace
Tattoos a never-fading cicatrice.
(from “Words and Deeds”)

–The vocabulary choice is very precise but also exotic and striking. The theme is “words and deeds”, in this stanza fantasy and real experience. The “vigil” is staying awake late, evidently due to erotic arousal. This is treacherous (Judas-like) because it promises and then lets you down. It is made of smoke. The erotic vision bites into the eye mordantly, like a tattoo, but is impermanent. Real lovers, though, make a mark on your skin (or ego) which is a scar and never fades. (Tattoos often record the loved one.) The word choice is bizarre but the idea is not original. This is part of a section of 11 stanzas within a long poem (“Long Poem in Progress” as at 1970). Earlier–

Heron and owl defy
The piety of law
And in their precinct ply
Impaling beak and class

Then, the swan–
With white companion sharing
A holy sodality,
In hue and stance declaring
Natural legality.

The lesser fowl, flown hence,
Live nervously as minions,
Wanting a swan’s immense
Limb-breaking pinions.
(from ‘Allegory”, published 1952)

This is very good. Beeching produced at least four hundred pages of poetry, over sixty years. The question is, how good is it? I had difficulty evaluating Beeching’s poetry. There was the factor of invisibility – I had the 38-page selection from a 1970 Penguin Modern Poets (#16) but apart from a couple of pamphlets in the 1950s he put no books out until 1996. I located, on the shelves of the Poetry Library, pamphlets from 1950, 1959, and 1979. PMP 16 is a terrific book, a real door onto the unknown.  The Collected (Poems 1940-2000) followed in 2001 (which I don’t have). But there was also the factor of elusiveness – I just wasn’t sure how to describe this poetry. The pinion/minion rhyme is impossible to qualify – definitive, perfect, yet slightly archaic. Who talks of “minions”? The same applies to “hue” and “sodality”. The poem is “Allegory of Peace and War” and the theme that the strong can be independent but not the weak. Is this based on a real allegorical painting, or is it an imaginary painting? (Pinion appears 3 times in the 1950 pamphlet, so I guess he liked this word. I think the inherent dual meaning, wing/chain, appealed to him.)

I started with this blank feeling and have been looking for the aesthetic in the poems. The reason I didn’t have an emotional memory about the poems was that they were more technically brilliant than emotionally communicative. My other impression was that he was an extremely skilled writer. There was this feeling that he had spent years of writing all day and every day, learning how to turn 400 words into 100; the concision and clarity of his poems was just unique, it was almost intimidating for me as a writer. There are 3 poems of his in the 1952 PEN Anthology New Poems, which was silently an anthology of Left poetry. The biographical note there says that he spent his time writing Westerns – this would explain the unusual facility and self-control with words. It also connects, I think, with his expatriate status. It seems he lived abroad from 1956 until 2001 – having a steady but limited income (from writing pulp fiction, perhaps) would go well with living in an economy where exchange rates made pounds sterling go a long way. The information in two helpful essays in the on-line magazine Jacket says that he was a Catholic. So, he was in Catholic countries, and his book on the Battle of Lepanto could connect with a crusading spirit – this was a Catholic coalition fleet defeating a Turkish fleet and halting the spread of Islam to southern Europe. He wrote a history of Christian missions 1515-1914. The pattern of his history books (which were a major enterprise) is about imperialism, the overseas spread of Europeans after 1515. He edited a selection from Hakluyt for Penguin. He must have known a lot about naval affairs and voyages. It is obvious that these books are not conventional works of Marxist anti-colonialism.

There is an important text by Beeching in PN Review, issue 9, 1979, where he recalls his friendship with Edgell Rickword and says that the “critical voice” in his head when he wrote poems was Rickword’s. The text shows him as working at Poetry and the People in 1939 – when he was 17. So, “I was a teenage communist”. He moved on to Our Time, another Red magazine, edited by Rickword. I don’t want to play the McCarthyite tune, but I mention this connection because it is so important for Beeching’s early life and so unlike the rest of English literary life. He recalls his friends with tenderness and we would do well to accept that they did inspire admiration face to face, and that probably Beeching did too. He had a pamphlet out with Key Poets, who were owned by the Communist Party; Aspects of Love, 1950.

The 1952 anthology includes a poem about paintings, evidently of the 1650s or thereabouts, of Roundheads and Cavaliers. Its point is that today we have war propaganda, which is bad, whereas the paintings are realistic and unexciting. In PMP 16 we have a poem about a painting, evidently 16th century, Flemish, and by a Protestant, about a woman pinned to a wheel. It may be the cadaver of a woman. This is a display punishment. It suggests to me that Beeching likes to work from a picture, and that this gives a static quality to his poems, even though it allows for distantiation, and for the impressive level of control and precision which his poems consistently show. In the poem, there is a movement from detail to generalisation. There is not a tracking of a process in history, of history as involving process and change. There is another element here – a Catholic sensibility should use static visual images as basic to spiritual (and aesthetic) process, and would also be fascinated by the great Catholic art of the Mediterranean countries, produced by an ancient belief in “visual instruction” (for a largely illiterate flock) but then of course feeding the visual basis of those artistically favoured countries.

Two poems impressed me especially about Beeching. The second is “Weathermen in Hiding Play Jazz”, in which fugitive members of the illegal American revolutionary organisation meet to play jazz (“Their mythified explosion blew up the pathos cry/ Of all who stood nearby. They abhor a private tower/ For its long green perspective”). The first is in Truth is a Naked Lady and is about forty murdered Jewish writers. Undoubtedly this refers to the night of August 12, 1952, when thirteen ex-members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee were shot in one night, on Stalin’s orders. Five of them were writers so I am unsure about the figure forty. More work is needed on this. But in any case, this is a devastating attack on Beeching’s former Communist Party colleagues and on the facts they so often wrote out of history. It is part of a series of anti-Stalinist poems grouped together in that 1959 pamphlet – the next one is about tanks and very clearly refers to the “fraternal intervention” in Budapest in 1956. Even in the Cold War, you can say that it was courageous of Beeching, given who his friends were, to draw up the arraignment against Stalin and the Communist Party of Great Britain.

The poems very noticeably bypass the expected aesthetic patterns of the time, I mean the 1940s and 1950s. This is another aspect of Beeching’s sophistication. He certainly does not fit in as a Catholic poet, and although he was a man of the Left . There is an element which links him to many poets born in the 1920s, that is he belongs to the “Formalism” so well described by Eric Homberger (in Art of the Real) as dominant between 1947 and 1957 (when the young but visible poets were, certainly, born in the 1920s). His poems are precisely rhymed and metrically regular. They conduct an argument, which is probably connected to the Metaphysical poets. The Metaphysicals were favoured at universities in the 1950s and recognisably a model for the Formalist verse being written by academics at that time. My belief is that this is just a form, rather than an aesthetic. That style could be used for poetry of very diverse artistic contents and moods. It does not give us the answers about Beeching. It does not need to be said that he did not follow the aesthetic of modernism. I think Roy Fuller could be a comparison – both were clearly Leftists working inside the Formalist idiom. This does not seize Beeching but it highlights a contrast – he was much less animated by dramas of doubt than Fuller, and his vocabulary was much more recondite. This is a start, anyway. Beeching was much less worried about the problem of commitment, and in fact wrote much less about being political. It is almost as if the drama is in the vocabulary choice. We learn from Beeching that some of the poets who did not become visible, in the decades up to 1990, were writing in the conventional and admired manner.

He used the word love in two book titles, as well as a Naked Lady in another one (truth is a naked lady).  But these are not love poems nor personal, autobiographical poems. The subject area is moral interpretation of human behaviour, individual or social, often with character as the focal point and the thing which is being tested and judged. Evidently these statements would hold for the majority of poets using the Formalist style. This leaves as a puzzle why he did not get published more in the period, say 1950 to 1980, when people committed to this style were in charge and many books were being published which were judicious rather than lyrical and wise rather than subjective. I do not know the answer. I do not find links to the 20th C Catholic poetry I am familiar with, but on reflection his Metaphysical poetry could also be called Baroque, and he may have been reading 17th C Catholic poets, such as Crashaw. Francis Thompson and George Barker were attached to these sources, and there may be a hint of them in some of Beeching’s poems – not much, though. (‘Myth of Myself’, the later title for 'Long Poem in Progress', could have a hint of ‘The Hound of Heaven’?)

The poems often have a biographical subject. A human appears as an object of thought, and rather than external action much of the length is taken up by turning over judgements on the human. The amount of time given to the subject’s own thoughts is limited. They are reduced to theological objects much as the allegorical swan is reduced to a painted object. These are familiar structures in Formalist poem designs.  The classroom analysis of the poem may be going through steps similar to those which the poet is putting the (third-person) human subject through. It is unkind to say so. If people found the classroom interesting, they should find the poem interesting too. But the payload is less artistic pleasure than a sense of being wise and judicious.

'Myth of Myself’ is partly a negative apocalypse (society is going to hell in a handcart) but also has an autobiographical element. ‘Words and Deeds’ pours scorn on the writer for using words but not deeds, but later in the poem the theme becomes the Word, the gospel saving souls. The first part is set in what must be an Orthodox church, though we do not find out which country it is in. A boy has a strange moment when he is in love with the Virgin, in a painting in the church. The poet is also present and as he turns his head the church spins – an apparent motion. The version in PMP is 175 lines long (the version in Collected Poems is 40 lines shorter.).

Gold particles, in spectral saraband,
Throb an erotic motion all day long,
Dust in the sun, this flesh like gossamer.
Add word to word, since words, perhaps, are deeds,
As, knelt in dust, another planted seeds.

We are made of “dust”, which in erotic charge shines, as real dust shines in the sun like gold. The flesh is transient (like cobwebs, archaically called gossamer). The dust is light and dances (a saraband) in slight currents of air. The section opens with a line (actually line 6) “Word was a deed, but all the doing’s done”, in a noticeably 17th century and Metaphysical tenor. The line appears to mean that a declaration of love is an action, but is now inactive: the rest of the stanza describe the disappointment of lovers. This section portrays a series of perverse and disastrous states of love, brought about in ways that are far from clear.  The situations are heightened, in the manner of anxiety visions, to a state like characters in some Jacobean tragedy; 'Is that the chilling face his lovers saw,/ An English mask, its every lust held tight?’ Just before the end we hear that by love “Annihilation may be nullified”, another paradoxical and metaphysical phrase. Salvation brings about redemption. George Herbert could have written this. His social criticism is closer to Christian poetry than to the Left.

Jim Keery didn’t like Aspects of Love. It is difficult to evaluate Beeching’s work across time – my impression is that the majority of the poems date from after 1970 (based on the count of pages after the poems which we can date to 1970, in the Collected) but I am not clear how his style changed. I am enthusiastic. The poems are in a conventional style but as if to counter that are refined and stretched so that they are both hard to follow and pleasurable.

As Jim Keery has pointed out, the Key Poets pamphlets are very good. The editor (Jack Lindsay) really understood the scene, the poets in the series were where it’s at for 1950. But Cold War was followed by destalinisation in the Soviet Union, the Korean War saw communists as the enemy fighting British soldiers, the Party was in trouble and the market of sympathisers was insecure and dispersed by events. This group was not short of talent, with Jack Lindsay, Edgell Rickword, and so on, but they never caught a wave. His problems with publication were linked to his having a group of friends who did not keep control of publishing and other resources. Beeching sharply criticised the Party (in astonishing poems in his 1959 pamphlet) and broke away, even as the Party was losing its energy and even the ex-communist market was confused and in dissidence. Beeching has a poem in The New Reasoner (Autumn, 1957), a collector for ex-Stalinists. The ex-Party group involved thousands of people and was rich in talent, but did not cohere as a market. Anyway its loudest members distrusted poetry. The history of that group, say 1956 to 1980, is very important to the history of English (and Scottish?) poetry, although the course it followed is not obvious. It was an area of opinion rather than a group, I suppose.

The unused title for the poems in PMP 16 was The Polythene Maidenhead. This is a terrible title. I am obliged to Robert Hewison for quoting a tag from Richard Hoggart: ‘sex in bright packages’. The shift from packaging to polythene is quite easy, I think. What Hoggart was talking about was objects of popular culture which he regarded as degrading it. (These could be the covers of paperbacks, magazines, advertisements, or even films.) This could be used to locate Beeching’s later poetry: as in favour of emotional authenticity, so anti-capitalist but socially conservative.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Summit Meeting 2004

Candy Talking: Cambridge Poetry Summit, 9th-11th January 2004

An event in Cambridge on January 9th-11th assembled a large number of young (officially, "youngish") English and American poets for an exchange of ideas. The ish English poets reading were:
Tim Morris
Keston Sutherland
Marianne Morris
Chris Goode
DS Marriott (replaced on the day by Rob Holloway)
Mark Mendoza
Leo Mellor
Helen Macdonald
Dell Olsen
Jeff Hilson
Sean Bonney
Stu Calton
Tom Jones

The 'summit' phrase is a sardonic reference to the Blair-Bush summits, and not some kind of flag-planting in ice-goggles. The goggles of the weekend showed a new generation. The background to this is the inherent bias of print culture towards the past, inclined even more by the excellence of radical poetry produced in the 1970s. The classic pose for a poetry fan is to have very strongly internalised norms based on the classics – for example Adorno, for example Prynne – within which they are very happy, where things are very clear, they have a lot of memories of being happy, there is a great richness of data, they can have shared conversations with their friends. This is a benign situation, but it tends to build over the empty space where new poetry, new names, new cognitive norms, would be visible. It is healthy to speed up the assimilation slightly by insisting that poets under 40 exist. Not always to the total rapture of poets over 40.

This was a collection of poets who have complex inhibitions and are looking for innovative solutions to them. The poetry seems to be animated by a generalised sense of apprehension, tending to assume a form like George W Bush. Which could be a projection of the hostility shown by the immediate social group, of Cambridge literati, to anything which shows signs of weakness.
By entering world politics the poem increases vastly in scale. An attempt to seize objectivity, likely to draw the poem towards the discourse of corporations and government departments, a gravitational acceleration deftly paralleling the path followed by everyone else who is intelligent and who uses their intelligence for objective business matters. It is an odd calculation, whose result is that small-scale interpersonal feelings are perplexing and insoluble, while the problems of world politics are simple, straightforward, and emotionally unifying.
The ability to make every line unpredictable is impressive, and can be adapted to depicting situations full of non sequiturs. It reminds me of 70s Cambridge poetry, as in magazines like Perfect Bound and Blueprint.

come fly there is room for your ghost with us two in the bunker
there is and fly putting down chips as kind against the operation
reliable wood money can't shoot when everyone is watching the green
light blue on the deep blue here come down with lead in your floats
there is no bar to the magnanimity of rounds or imaging tiny souls
when they've been scratched and hunker round an oil drum gambling

Each subtle request brings out the most important
facts at the birth of Universal Man Organus Cadellium
strong waves break over the headland we request
leave of absence to fulfil the lofty heights of science
fiction the invincible 'we' moreover several writings later
each ingot slides out the furnace ready by Fort Knox
the insufferable aliens have developed this ray which
others have reached the interior
chamber ensembles bring each meeting to a close

Which one comes from 1974 and which from 2004? Adorno still seems to be the local deity – has anything changed? This is an era of cheap data, and in the face of the circular spectacular glut poets seem to have abandoned the elder tasks of putting the visible into words in favour of attitudinal variation: the tilt of the head, the quality of partial rejection and disbelief of it all. This tilt seems not to be recorded in the text, and working out what it is – the point of the whole poem – is perplexing and difficult. This is not simply cerebral; if someone cuts up a Blair speech about the moral benefits of the 2nd Iraq war, the act of cutting is certainly very emotional, indeed these attitudinal scans are highly personal and subjective.

Many of the readers use an inexpressive tone of voice, without any obvious speech melody or expressive inflection at all. Perhaps the point of departure is to eliminate the legacy signals carried by these little tunes, admittedly Stone Age in date – the ripples of human sensibility, if you like. A variant is to read fast and loud, but inexpressively, or to inject expressive pitch patterns which are unrelated to the words and are a form of blank logic. Locally, people are eager to attack feelings and unwilling to attack lack of feeling. Another interpretation is that such poets are nervous about reading, and inexperienced. The melody will emerge in the end. Just possibly, the same is true about the way they write.
Admiration for detachment and objectivity, for discourse which lacks reassuring emotional signals, belongs with a certain sector of the population, the most educated sector. Identifying with other people is a general human quality, while a specific tier need to unlearn it in order to run complex organisations. Removing poetry from the realm of expressivity – into that of government or philosophy – begs the question of why poetry has a discourse separate from government or philosophy. If I work for the government all day, maybe I want a differently rich language in my leisure hours.
The weekend was a crowded one, but it would be incorrect not to mention other poets of this generation who weren’t on the programme. Nic Laight, Nick Macias, and Niall Quinn, the authors of However Introduced to the Soles, spring to mind. Writers Forum poets like Scott Thurston, Douglas Jones, Peter Manson, Wayne Clements, also. Although some of the poets have established reputations (in my household, at least), most of them are unfamiliar. This might be a new equipe edging onto the stage. What's up? You can form your own opinion by reading the book of the spectacle – Sam Ladkin collected poems by the participants and put them in a book, Some Evidence (from Barque Press, at This, along with Cul de Qui (magazine), is a pivotal moment, a haul to be pored and argued over many times. Critics out of prehistory may prefer to wait for the crossover hit – the one that talks to someone from outside the group. Which has a tune, in fact. As for the cognoscenti, Sam Ladkin writes "I'm working out all your statistics for a collection of poetry Top Trumps based on the usual five categories: Density of Syntax, Density of Thought, Left Lean, Enunciation, and Glamour/Hygiene."

I spent most of the weekend engaged in detailed contextual research, in the pub. At one point, someone said “Adorno said that we shouldn’t give in to the mass-consumption leisure industry” and I heard this as “Madonna says that…”. Go back to London, fool! The weekend was about the arrival of a new generation, but no-one talked about new sounds and styles being launched, or about a change of direction from the older generation (of intellectual poets). My dominant impression of the 3 days is of benevolence. No factions. Everyone keen to listen to each other. Benign language washing around everywhere.
Ben Watson gave a brilliant paper about the evasiveness of poets who ignore time and the dialectic, starting with a description of how a poem by Ric Caddel asks you to gaze at Caddel’s noble soul across a depopulated & timeless universe, but is really smug and malign. Afterwards, an American poet approached him and said how moved he had been by honouring the late Caddel, what a fine poet he was, etc. The paper was only 20 minutes long but he hadn’t stayed focussed for more than 2 or 3 minutes. Cambridge really is the home of listening skills, and these skills really do give you a chance of understanding the world which mass-media numbness doesn’t. Maybe attention has other functions than simply the solemn & honorific exchange of prestige.
My other impression of the weekend is that Jeff Hilson, Sean Bonney, Helen Macdonald, and Marianne Morris gave wonderful readings. This is what I was expecting before I went – fulfilment being almost a disappointment, in this case. No revelations, but a happy feeling. Go home on the train with a lot of other happy poetry-binge people. And so to bed.

Top Tips
Things not to say;
“Fwor! I don’t half fancy that young poet who just read!”
“I read Jargon of Authenticity in 1976 and thought it was witty but exaggerated and not wholly serious.”
“I think the Essex School has been seriously underrated.”
“What on earth does this poem mean?”

Things OK to say:
“I know this café which is open on Sunday morning and does proper breakfasts.”
“Of course, he has no idea how to frame a proper philosophical inquiry, specially not in syllabics.”
“Meet me in the Bun Shop.”
“There is an essential distinction between naïve ironic avant-garde pastoralism and philosophically grounded ironic avant-garde pastoralism.”
“Olson was interested in Situationism.”
“There are two kinds of vulture. The American kind is descended from birds of prey and the European kind is descended from pigeons.”

Note 2017. This was written for Angel Exhaust but got cut. It stands for feelings of crushing nostalgia. You had the whole Underground in one room at that event. I haven’t been to a gathering like that since 2004. I’m sorry that stuff stopped happening. I don’t meet people and they don’t meet me.

Monday, 30 October 2017

The madness of Tristan: Eric Mottram, Local Movement (1973)

The text is 54 pages long, plus some graphics that look like mistakes made by a photocopier. “Resources” are listed at the end, which actually means “sources”. It is an A4 typescript photocopied or mimeographed and stapled. Some words at the end of lines (e.g. pages 38 and 40) have been lost, as the reproduced page does not include all of the original typescript. The initial title is from Santayana: “The human heart is local and finite, it has roots and if the intellect radiates from it, according to its strength, to greater and greater distances, the reports, if they are to be gathered at all, must be gathered at the centre”. The text offers these poem titles: 'Local Movement' at pages 1-20, 'Towards the Heart' , an untitled poem about Tristan (27-8), 'Turning Point' 'A Homage to Hugh MacDiarmid' 'William Harvey' 'Homage to Denis Saurat' 'Flight' 'The Condensation' 'Transfigured Night' 'Chance' 'Art News' 'what he saw then he never saw again', untitled poem with a quote from Wagner, 'For Max Knoll' 'The City as an Image of Man' 'Tristan Comes: A conclusion' 'Definition' and 'The Galen Tradition Unbroken'.
The title poem starts:

the i is dot although it may be at an unconventional
distance the hand performs is basis and pattern
all movement muscles work in hands spirit in muscles
the soul works in its body to his end in perfection
muscles in which not one tiny fibre of sinewy material
of eyes tongue larynx

A description of planting lilies. A passage about a beautiful garden. The dead around, unmoved unmoving. Creatures flee what is desirable and avoid what is harmful. Creatures are animated by flamen, [breath, roughly] a vital force. A revolving movement in heliotrope, hensbill, sponges. Flying, swimming, walking. The activity of semen. Eleven stanzas of disconnected utterances: “I myself an enemy/ makes torrents/ dance lone dance/ of outward/ without a // mirror”. Then “through fibrous creepers to a clearing” where there is no word for snow and they eat maggots from under bark; this seems to be about a tribe somewhere, contacted by an anthropologist. Burnt flesh at your point of production. Where it says this poem it should say a clearing taken by eastward ships. Dawn over flooded fields. Everything moves, new roads let disease travel faster. The Great Herbal of Shen Lang, 3000 BC.
At this point we have reached the fifth page (numbered -7-) and can pause to find orientation. The title seems to be based on a chance resemblance between Santayana talking about the local movement of the heart (in the initial quote) and the title of a 17th C work by the medical researcher William Harvey, a treatise (worked on from 1627 on) called De motu locali animalium, discovered in 1957 and never printed before then. Harvey is famous for his 1627 account of the circulation of the blood and how the heart works. The subject of his unpublished work is the locomotion of animals (so locus, motus), and its title could also be translated as the local movement of animals, so taking us back, however weakly, to the Santayana quote. The treatise is also about sensation. So where the poem talks about movement it is probably a description of attraction – movement as a consequence of appetite and is probably a “treatment” of Harvey’s work on locomotion. The original is undoubtedly organised in a very local way, complex Latin sentences conducting an argument flowing through multiple points, and Mottram has almost certainly produced the poem by wiping out all the logical structure and leaving tags. These are either essential Imagist high points or tatters, depending on your point of view. We are on page 5, out of 20, and already we have too many extra themes to count. Pages 7 and 8 are clearly about the history of medicine: the plague moves from Central Asia to Italy with the Huns, surgery, medical progress stultified by religious blocks, pulmonary circulation described in Arabic in 1270 but not translated into Latin until 1553, the school at Salerno. In the middle, we have a reference to “the god enters dreams/ on the temple floor”, the practice of autopsy, where the sick person sleeps on a temple floor and expects to see the god in a dream who will explain a cure to him. I know about this because it comes in a poem by Iain Sinclair (and I read Reitzenstein to research something else).
A reference to “a theatre of equal temperament” probably means the starring of glass in the light source for surgery, to avoid highlights, something also used in early cinema studios. The poem is maybe 530 lines long and shoots through possibly 100 themes in that time. On the junction of 8 and 9 we have a description of the dexterity of a musician and the ability of a plant which shuns the sunlight, to move – clearly examples of movement and probably from Harvey’s work, therefore.
Page 9 includes text about Tristan and Isolde (from Beroul’s Tristan, we are told). What about Tristan? how does this link to a poem about the heart? It is affairs of the heart. Tristan and Isolde are the great love story. Their story is also an example of desire as a basic feature of human behaviour, and as the origin of movements. Page 10 is about animals’ movement again. Page 11 is the start of part 2 and this seems to be about sexuality. So we get a compressed or crushed “treatment” of a 12th C Welsh poem about a lovely woman, what may be a robot woman invented by Edison, what may be a silent film diva as “flawless future Eve”, artificial aids to sexual gratification, and then more material about excitement as it affects movement. The “resource” is Cohen’s Human Robots in Myth and Science. Pages 12-13 take us back to Tristan and Isolde, and refers to 'Tantris', an anagram of Tristan, who got close to Isolde disguised as a sick minstrel named “Tantris”. The line to do with robots, featuring possibly as an illustration of the mechanistic view of physiology, what is left when the vitalistic theory of biology has been dispersed. Pages 13-14 are more material from Harvey.
Part 3 moves on to Duchamp, as the poet explains: “’delay in glass’, a title in Marcel Duchamp’s work, begins a number of derivations from his notes for The Bride Stripped Bare[.]”. The themes of desire and movement are still the basis of the pattern, but the imagery has moved on. pages 15-20 are a development from Marcel Duchamp's glass panel work “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even”. One can ask how this could connect to Harvey, and while it is certainly an elaborate extension of the theme it follows logically from the Tristan and Isolde story – because the double panel work is certainly about sexual attraction. Duchamp made 93 sheets of notes in the meaning of the work, which were published in 1934. If we see “sieves of dust-glasses” this refers to the dust which had gathered on metal forms set for inclusion in the glass, which Duchamp left in when the panels were actually made. The work shows forms which clearly include a bride in the upper panel and 9 bachelors or suitors in the lower panel. The subtitle is “delay in glass”, and the delay is the delay between desire and fulfilment – a gap crucial in the plot of “Tristan”, which is after all completely about separation and longing. The forms are nothing like human, they look like machine parts, and they stand for drives of humans which impel them towards the opposite sex. This continues an earlier passage about robots, which showed sexual compulsion and reaction, detached from conscious control and the personality. but we get back to the Tristan story at the top of page 17 and again for most of age 19. I believe that the last page, 20, records free additions to the bride story rather than paraphrases of Duchamp's Notes. These 5 pages would be incomprehensible without knowledge of Duchamp's work (which we are at least pointed towards by the Resources) but the verbal material is at least unified, you can get an impression of what it is about. Thus the section starts:

sun of this ship
iron in equilibrium
compass to lodestone
muscles in automata
delay in glass

 is obviously about attraction.
Pages 21 to 26 give us another poem about Harvey, with more material about Tristan. This one has information about Harvey’s biography, drawn from Aubrey’s Brief Lives. Pages 34 to 36 give us another poem about Harvey. Page 39 sees the physician Robert Fludd, a friend of Harvey who was also a Rosicrucian and involved in the kind of occultism which Bruno promulgated. Max Knoll was a researcher into electricity, and co-inventor of the electron microscope. He also lectured regularly at the Eranos gathering, a sort of summer outing for fringe science, in Ascona. The Knoll poem involves the sun and the heart and so fits into the main pattern. Presumably the interest is in periodicity, and the electrical basis for the rate at which the heart beats. Mottram is linking the idea of the heart as a pump, following the laws of physics, to the mechanisation of the world-picture – with organs behaving like machines, within the physical world.
The Resources show us an excerpt from the Gorhoffedd (here 'Delight’) of Hywel ap Owain Gwynedd on p.10 (actually page 11), a poem also translated by John James as one of the 'Welsh Poems'. (The date is quite close to that of the earliest Tristan poems.)

In bright lands of the North
a foam-coloured girl in river meadows
white seagulls and its lovely women
its fastness little clover wilderness
her heather-coloured gown her gift
her choice her voice silence her gentle words

We can compare this with Anthony Conran's 1967 version:

I love, today, England's hatred – open ground
of the North and edging the Lliw, thick woods.
I love [...]
The meads of its waters, and the valleys,
its white gulls and lovely women.
I love its field, their wealth of small clover,
where honour could for sure rejoice.
My choosing, a lovely girl, graceful and slender,
white and tall in her cloak, the colour of heather;
and my chosen wisdom, to wonder at her womanly,
when she barely but speaks the grace of her mind;

The poem appears as one long piece in the manuscript but has now been separated into two poems. Hywel was killed by some of his half-brothers in 1170. Mottram's version is accelerated. It takes about 5% as long as the original. This is like sampling, which didn't exist in 1973. It has been made peculiarly de-authenticated. The insertion into a new context severs the lines of attention and presence which in the great 12th C original gave us a sense of place and presence. This is a key to the texture of Mottram's poem in general – radically de-authentic and accelerated. There is no stability in the poem, no contained time. Mottram was celebrated for his bibliographies, reading lists for eager students; his poems are also like bibliographies, insanely speeded up and stylised. The splicing together of texts degrades both texts, both are miniaturised and the new text seems only to exhibit clashes and echoes and not to be about real things happening to human beings. Mottram seems to have limited interest in his material, and the substance is left in the original texts, which the poem is only a skein of references to. The question of what the point of Mottram's snippet is, beside Hywel ap Owain's original, is fundamental to the question of what Local Movement is for and what it does.

On p. 39 we get another Harvey. This one was a rabbit six foot tall who haunted the alcoholic character played by James Stewart in the film “Harvey”. We never see Harvey but we do see his shadow. He is referred to as a “pookah”, a kind of Irish goblin: “hare form of/ the god pooka friendly Harvey friend of the star”. We started with William Harvey, who was a friend of Robert Fludd, then the Protestant publishers in the Palatinate of the Rhine which printed Fludd’s works (and the Rosicrucian tracts), then a book on America which they also published, then an American rabbit god. Then Harvey the rabbit.
The Harvey material dominates the book and we get many variants on the heart and on stimuli, movement, and appetite. But is the whole book, 54 pages long, part of one extended poem named Local Movement? 'Turning Point' is made entirely of imagery from Malaysia. Mottram was a professor in Malaysia for a few years around 1960. My conclusion is that half these 19 poems belong to a grouping about the history of medicine, and the other half are unrelated (although similar in the paratactic style and the way they are assembled). The labelling is not clear and the effort of trying to find links between all of these poems would really be a headache. The definition of where the boundary of meaning runs is left up to the reader and is one of the things we have to establish. This opens the question of how clear the intention is, or whether we are seeing a manic accumulation of material in which multiple incomplete snips of meaning make many linkages possible but the poet is strewing them around rather than having links in mind. A state before logical argument. It is possible that this expresses a view of the past in which things do not connect intelligibly and instead there is a warehouse of material which mostly does not form any logical order. Whereas the accepted view is made of points that all support each other, the suppressed past is excessive, overflowing, unpatterned. The waste material does not bond to itself.
‘Transformed Night’ is a straightforward and beautiful poem. “Resource” is “source” but has an implication of “recycling” and ecological soundness – re-use not refuse. At p.42 “The Condensation” is another poem about Tristan and Isolde. It starts with the love potion, the ship on which they travelled, the drawn sword in the bed, the killing of the giant Morholt, and has then spiralled off into something unrecognisable. It finishes

emerge in moonlight masked gnomes
a white snake hardens by frozen ripples
blanched shells salt grains stung to his forehead
by invalid copyist endless themes breathing their first

I can’t gloss this or stanza six. The poem has advanced beyond where there are paths. A performance on stage is definitely involved so this may be about Wagner’s opera on the same theme. Maybe this includes gnomes. The title may refer to Ezra Pound’s wrong etymology “dichten = condensare” (making poetry =condensing). By this yardstick, Mottram would be a better poet than Beroul.
At pages 53-4 we have “Tristan comes”, but after nine lines about Tristan that line stops and we get material about American politics in the 1970s. I have no idea how this links to Tristan or the circulation of the blood. The nine lines seem to treat Tristan as a kind of human-deer hybrid rather than a chivalrous hero.
'Homage to Denis Saurat' is actually about Giordano Bruno, the Neoplatonist occultist, and presents his idea of the sun as the center of the universe and source of occult influxes, as analogous to the heart as the center of the body. We get 150 lines about Bruno but his name is never mentioned. We get a lot of material about Bruno getting burnt by the Church, though we are not told what his crime was. I think that the link between Bruno and the circulation of the blood is that Bruno saw the universe as heliocentric. This was part of the Neoplatonist occultist doctrine that the cosmos was a chamber where forms radiated and dominated matter, and the sun was the source of the forms. So this forms a parallel of some kind to the heart as the centre of the body. I could not find any part of the poem which was about local affections so as to bear out the quote on the title page. The detection of the parallel is a high point in the course of reading and is presumably designed to be that by Mottram. Its hidden site is key to its emotional value. It is secondary that the match is arbitrary or at least not very strong. Finding the link is a moment of joy, an aha moment. This is discrete from the weakness of the link. Also, there may be an analogy between the movement of the celestial bodies, i.e. the thing which Galileo was trying to explain, and the movement of animals – these things are not really similar but can be joined by a literary figure. 'The City as an Image of Man' is a quote from Bruno and is part of Neoplatonist thought, actually the idea of a magical city in which various shape lenses channelled benign influences from the cosmos. It is curious to compare Local Movement with the works of Frances Yates, so Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (1964), which cover the same material but were very popular and widely admired. One wonders if these complex ideas are suited to presentation in verse, especially in a style where the connectives have been thoroughly deleted so that no logic is apparent. Why not mention the name of the thinker, so that the reader has some chance of grasping what the poem is all about? It is as if the moment of normalisation were a moment of fear, where the poet loses control of the situation as the conventional truths re-assert themselves.
I am pausing the description there, although obviously the variety of themes is a dimension of the artistic design and there is a case for cataloguing every single theme to capture the impetus of the work, the axis along which the text has advanced towards its purpose. Making an inventory of all the themes in LM would really be a problem. In a sense this is richness of fabric. To some extent the work is unparaphrasable. It is a cloud of fragments, dabs of text which are either moments that shock you into awareness like a dash of cold water or incomplete, cut too quickly, and irretrievable. The speed is wrong. There are no thematic labels, and because it is all paratactic the connections have to be supplied with effort. Every passage is based on sources, complex originals; it is as if the poet were lecturing on images which he has in front of him but which we can’t see. I suspect that I can get the meaning only because I have read Yates and similar works and more or less know the context. Does the book have a thesis? To some extent the multiplicity of directions abolishes that possibility – the multiplicity is the theme.
The artistic syntax reminds me of Life Quest, high points disconnected by sharp cuts but forming a higher argument. Aldington’s poem is calmer, it allows more stability to its moments before the camera moves on to the next high point. You can pinpoint the problem with Aldington simultaneously buying the Imagist idea and being interested in Greek and Romance poetry, the complexity of the past. How do you mix Imagism and complexity? Then the Great War politicises everything and makes cultural criticism the centre of endeavours. He tries to combine panoramas of the contemporary world and radical politics and Imagism and Romance lyrics. Montage comes on stage. So Mottram’s problems go back to the 1920s.
It is hard to imagine how the work could have been released in this state, which seems inaccessible and inarticulate. I feel that what it resembles is brilliant and uninhibited conversation, in which someone extraordinarily erudite and prone to great leaps of association rambles through an assortment of tempting and lost ideas to entertain a company and while an evening away. Mottram’s enthusiasm is the key. He is maximising what he sees as the good stuff and themes we already know about are instantly thrown away.
The point of departure for Mottram is possibly a line of conventional poems where the poet seizes on a moment from history as a way of opening the page out, away from the poet shopping and reading the newspapers. But the problems of describing context are too great and the poet chooses a story which is totally familiar. It is instantly understandable because we already know all about it. It has no impetus left. The mainstream poet fears originality. The riposte is to hunt out something unfamiliar – William Harvey and Giordano Bruno fit the bill. But, to catch that richness of unshared background, the richness of the lost past, you have to field the information somehow. How can you get the richness on stage unless you include 300 pages of technical prose? Eric thinks you can win by delivering at speed. But I find the poem almost wholly obscure. Anyway, if you get the impulse to maximise the wealth of lost ideas PLUS maximise the speed of delivery PLUS maximise the wild leaps of association, you get where Eric is coming from.
The graphics must be the worst ever released. Aha they are by the publisher. This explains a lot.
Note. This is part of a project on long poems of the 70s which I wrote up in about 2003 and returned to in 2016. The main project will be published but I took this one out. (The original project is on this website but may be removed as a step towards book publication.) With more digging and delving I got up to 100 long poems. Eric also wrote a thing called 'Elegies', a series of maybe 70 poems about culturally admired individuals, so maybe not a single long poem. 'Elegies' is probably even more exhausting than 'local movement'. I took LM out because its quality is problematic. I have never read 'Elegies' at least not entire, and I don't have a copy. The genre of Seventies long poems went deeply into the intricate, the original, and the imaginative, but some poems went too far and became obscure and exclusive.

Sunday, 30 July 2017


I had read that Indo-Europeanists knew that Hittites had come to Anatolia from outside. I was unimpressed by this. How could the shape of a language record a past migration?
I was rereading Benjamin Fortson’s masterly short sketch of the Anatolian languages recently and the penny dropped. Indo-European undoubtedly has initial r- and Hittite does not. However, a whole range of early languages of Anatolia are missing initial r-. This is highly compatible with Hittite having arrived from outside with a wave of immigrants who mixed biologically – familiarly, with the locals to give a massively bilingual community which re-normalized the old language with certain features of the local language – such a “negative rule” banning r- in certain positions. Since we know that the language ancestral to Hittite had initial r-, in the REX/RICH word for example, that would make Hittite an immigrant language which had come from outside.
The Net, again, reveals that 3000 tablets were found at the Hittite palace-complex of Sapinuwa (Ortaköy). The dig began in 1990 but apparently only 3 tablets have been published. Something has gone seriously wrong here. The find is quite close to the main tablet archive at Boghazköy and from the same time-span, so we do not have the hope of a variant dialect and information of a new kind. However, the new tablets should complete our information and strengthen the state of several hypotheses. They include bilingual vocabulary lists, surely a treasure.
Anatolia is a big place. However, the range of evidence for languages related to Hittite in the so-named Anatolian group covers a vast area, and it would seem that unlikely that the jump off point for the Hittite language was elsewhere in Anatolia and the journey was from, let’s say, Cilicia to the north-central area around Ankara. We have hieroglyphic Luwian from the Syrian border area (Carchemish) and Lidyan from the Aegean coast. It would appear that this branch of Indo-European immigrated into the region from outside.
Robert Beekes points out that there are only 700 legacy IE words in Hittite. We could hope that wider source material, such as the Sapinuwa archive, would bring a few more. For comparison, Welsh has 800 Latin loan-words dating from the Roman Empire. Anatolian is the first IE family to be recorded (maybe in 1800 BC), but had by then moved farther from the ancestral model than almost any other. We could reconstruct rather little of IE if we only had Hittite and Luwian to work from. This marginal status is hard to combine with a theorised central or source position.
The info on the Net indicates that 600 of the Sapinuwa tablets are in other languages, i.e. non-Hittite. That would include Hurrian, widely used by the Hittite polity in rituals.

As Fortson points out, Greek has no (original) initial r. Rhota only occurs, at the start of words, as aspirated. This goes back to an older s- which was reduced to a breathing. Thus the form rhei “it flows” (as panta rhei) goes back to the sr- root (English stream, Irish sruth). In older Greek there was no initial r-, just sr-. There is a word for darkness, in the Norse Ragnarök, twilight of the gods (ragna “of the gods”, rök “darkness”). This matches Greek Erebos (a dark place), Armenian erek ‘evening’. In each case the older initial r has been covered up by a kind of glide vowel. This is complementary to the Hittite evidence and gives us further knowledge of the geography of this sound-shift. Evidently, Armenian has spent most of its history in the Anatolian area, and it should be Anatolian in areal characteristics. Greek is historically, adjacent to the Anatolian languages. It belongs in the same “south central” square of the Indo-European map. The loss of initial R parallels Hittite/Luwian and would perhaps indicate that the Greeks crossed the Aegean from the east or that the peoples who lived on the Aegean before the Greeks had the same phonology as the people of Anatolia, so the Hurrians, Urartians, and so on. All this has a bearing on a well-known theory whereby IE was found in Anatolia – maybe even the Konya Plain – 7000 years ago and spread through Europe with the first Neolithic farmers, being carried in fact by the same humans, who gradually spread out taking farming skills with them. This does not fit very well with the Anatolian IE languages having come into the region from outside, evidently from the Balkans and probably originally from north of the Black Sea. Nor does it fit with the Anatolian group having the most degraded (! or most evolved/ innovated, works either way) version of the original language – which is preserved so faithfully in Lithuanian and Vedic. The “Neolithic = Indo-European” theory is in deep trouble.
Beekes (again) rejects this theory, pointing out that the slow expansion model would imply a long shared distinctive development of Celtic and Germanic, as adjacent language groups in Western Europe. In fact they have no shared history that we know of. The pattern of the IE families is compatible with a “yeast bubbles in bread” pattern, where pastoral groups spread rapidly and opportunistically through a densely populated peasant landscape, settling mainly where the inhabitants were few or the terrain was very suited to pastoralism. They leapfrogged opposition. So the success of the IE speakers as mobile invaders was also the catastrophe of the IE speech community, which broke up into widely separated enclaves, covering a huge diameter but also parted from each other by the peasant regions which had been bypassed and not swamped.
Renfrew’s theory emphasises slow pace, steadiness, continuity, even tranquillity. This process would have given a dialect continuum within Europe and Anatolia, but since we have gaping gaps between the language families we need rather to explain the discontinuities. India may offer a dialect continuum and may have been Aryanised through a different process. The shatter lines between the “families” may reflect the gaps between the original patches of intrusive steppe pastoralists in the early and mid-3rd millennium BC. Some areas are more suited to herding than others. What we seem to see is the farmer languages disappearing to leave an IE sea. This process is unexplored – those languages disappeared and have no history at all. We know about large “islands” of unrelated speech – Basque, Iberian, Etruscan.
The first written Indo-European language is found where writing already was and so where there was a dense farming population, rich enough to support a state superstructure and a profession of clerks. So it was fore-ordained that the first records of IE would capture a language which had not replaced the local population, numerous and thriving, but been absorbed by them in massive bilingualism, and so damaged. Its original structures had been extensively remodelled, metabolised, broken down. Hittite is a not a good source for the archaic stage of Indo-European. We don’t have a sociology of how Hittite died out, or indeed how Luwian, a related language which seems to have replaced it, died out itself. There was a social dynamic in Anatolia, as in Europe.
I would like to know more details about the fate of the legacy r- words. Did they acquire glide vowels? Were they replaced by local words? Or by near-synonyms? What is the replacement pattern? The scholars were right to say that Hittite came from outside. I just hadn’t known the reasons.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Angel Exhaust legacy issues

Ever worried that you have missed an issue of Angel Exhaust? This is a sheaf of fliers for issues of Angel Exhaust still available for sale.


In issue 23 we run poems by Iain Sinclair, John Hartley Williams, Colin Simms, Kevin Nolan, Anthony Mellors, Ken Fox, AND Luke Roberts.
As the eerie carmine light of burning shopping malls revealed a new subjective landscape, John Hartley Williams was so transfixed by the uprising of 2011 that he translated the Illuminations of Rimbaud in a post-modern and thoroughly convulsive manner, turning the paint splashes into a labyrinthine clarity which we present here in its entirety. We include the whole of Paintsplashes. The poet has said this was a response to the riots and disaffections of summer 2011, which followed the police shooting of a man named Mark Duggan. “In London, where I was at the time, a mob was destroying the quartier a few streets east of where I sat. By chance I had come across a new 'translation' of this very work and contemplated it with scorn.” it was an illuminated moment:

The little deaths were taking place behind the rose bushes. Pregnant mothers had climbed on top of the clowns. The cheated cradles wept over the sand. A devilish fraternity of voyeurs, growling like brass bands, had crouched down in an oily field. We buried the elderly upright in memory of their gloves.

Elsewhere in an urban scenography corroded by money and metaphors, Iain Sinclair was moved to recover three unpublished books of his great work Suicide Bridge, of which we present two at their full extent. The original scheme, of presenting the new adventures of all twelve of the Sons of Albion, emerges now in its full infamy. Was Blake writing like HP Lovecraft or was Lovecraft writing like Blake?
We have a long essay by Simon Jenner on John Goodby, an interview with Gavin Selerie and some poems to celebrate his selected poems (‘Music's Duel'). Also reviews of 'Certain Prose of the English Intelligencer', of 'Blake in Cambridge' by Out To Lunch, and of forgotten jazz poet's Pete Brown's memoirs. An editorial on naive poetry & naive art identifies the strand of primitivism and naive subjectivity in the 'modern' wing of poetry.
The reforgotten return in altered form, and the 40-year career of Paul Green can now emerge into the daylight via James Keerys rich synthesis of science, cabbala, and theology, in disengaging the precious minerals of Communicator. Is this Peterboroughs laconic counterpole to Alan Moores glyconic prevalence in Northampton?
Hardly less heroically, Angel Exhaust hurls itself into the Somerset-like flood plain of 7 anthologies of young poets, containing at least literally the call-sign of 194 names. A slow camera picking out basic features of a new landscape. What is the nature of the new era? Have another ten years of history surfaced from the silty waters like a gleaming causeway? Has the old guard met its Dien Bien Phu? Has anyone under 40 even heard of the Underground? Do we know whats going on? Surfs up, everybody!
Plus the usual forays into Gaelic folklore and Egyptology.

200 pages
Price £6. Orders to 165 Coppice Road, Nottingham, Notts NG5 7GX. cheques payable to Andrew Duncan, please.

Angel Exhaust 22

The false, heroic head he once lifted above more or less the same crowd as that to which Captain Fuller and the anarchist Aldred proclaimed the new aeon has become cumbersome, monstrous. In the dim stale light it resembles nothing so much as the skull of a horse, but is sealed, lacking all seven apertures.

At length he becomes too irked by my pursuit to ignore it further and makes as if to summon me, but no power resides in him now, and when he swivels to claw at my shirt, the effect is merely comic. So he turns and brushes his fingers against the hedge wall afresh, flustered.

AE is overwhelmed by the wealth of material in this issue. First, we print book V of ‘The Memory of the Drift’ in its entirety. Next, a David Chaloner memorial. By singular good fortune AE has been given access to the archive of his letters. We chose a time of dialogue with John Hall. David's poems take place in a 'permanent present' and these remarkable letters are meant to recover a 'deep present', the Now in which the poems were written. This feature presents a moment of time preserved like a crystal, a formative moment for poetry. It is 1969 and: & just abt to begin Jeremy Prynne's book The White Stones have you seen that at all What have you been doing since our last letter & where are your poems appearing I've not seen any for such a long time Did you see the last copy of collection &  the last resuscitator I thought you'd've been there

Then, we open the window on a new generation with an anthology of Ninerrors poems. This field is so new that it can't be described. The concept  is ‘Twin Peaks': two moments, one of around 1969 and one of 2010. There is a 'continuity of the unknown' and the course of brilliant innovation which David was embarking on resembles the course of the poets around Freaklung.

as the freedom of information act failed to demand a
   supposed ‘transparency of normal speech’, it turns upon
   us to decolonize rhetoric & the wider sphere of language,
   syllable-by-syllable. we are to start with ‘radical’, ‘fairness’,
   ‘social’ & it’s derivatives, ‘rhetoric’, ‘free’ & words used in
   justifying a notion;
there is now animal fat in the extinguishers; we have begun to
   bribe refuse collections;
we have deduced the frequencies of sound that enact violence
   on private property, we
are counting heads

Maybe the comparison allows us a sense of deep time, the experience at levels beneath consciousness of a ‘group identity’, always dissolving in time but sustained by the linguistic or symbolic net of shared poems.
The third strand is what magazines are signed up for, a display of new poems and some information.
Poems by: Colin Simms, Rhys Trimble, Paul Holman, John Powell Ward, Graham Hartill, David Barnett, Harry Godwin, Nat Raha, Alan Hay, RTA Parker, SJ Fowler, Linus Slug, Gareth Durasow, Stephen Emmerson, Owain Lee, James Harvey, Michael Zand.

When we subtract the certain and the possible, there is the new poetry. What will they think of the poetry of the recent past?

160 pp., cost £7.00 including postage. cheques payable to Andrew Duncan. at 165 Coppice Road, Nottingham, Notts NG5 7GX.

Angel Exhaust 20 ‘You just rang Anne Widecombe?’– out now

material whose polished
surface becomes you
its character and interpretation
an exact technology
of tribal celebration
nut-brown warp thread
gold and indigo weave

you speak a tongue made
fluent by its origin
sensitised to the composition
of tectonic plates
(David Chaloner, from Void Heaven)

Awesome new poetry by John Kinsella, Kelvin Corcoran, Jeff Hilson, DS Marriott, John Goodby,  David Chaloner, Jesse Glass, Rita Dahl, Jason Wilkinson, Michael Haslam, Charles Bainbridge, Chris Brownsword, Colin Simms, Out To Lunch, Carrie Etter. 144 pp.

PLUS the results of a survey where contemporary poets explain what’s wrong with the poetry scene. A fearless analytical exposé of the moral gutter where the sleaze flows night and day. We toss those bastards into the big wok of repentance. We rake the muck and rack the mopes. It’s twilight for the deep pigs.

Q So are you going to put an end to all this nonsense in poetry? To abstract ideas, subjectivity, experiment, modernity, complicated technique, radical politics, all those up in the air things which the ordinary housewife doesn’t understand?
A Essentially, no.

In an intense options auction conducted by satellite, Charles Bainbridge and Andrew Duncan won control of the “Charles Bainbridge” and “Andrew Duncan” contracts and so Angel Exhaust is still being run by the original editors applying the same artistic policy based on beauty and tranquillity. The only magazine which has used three five-year silences to improve the structure of the literary field. Buy Angel Exhaust and say goodbye to those sub-prime cultural investments.

Price: £7.00 including postage. Address: 165 Coppice Road, Nottingham, Notts NG5 7GX. Cheques payable to ‘Andrew Duncan’ please.

This issue is being published late as a tribute to Britney Spears. The missing years “are part of the magnitude of what I’ve become.”


*pronounce: devastate your Aunt Jeremy

available now

poetry by:

Joseph Macleod Adrian Clarke   Alison Croggon
Kevin Nolan            Peter Philpott   Peter Manson  
Chris Brownsword Paul Holman Jesse Glass 
Kelvin Corcoran Philip Jenkins Brian Hardie  
David Chaloner Wayne Clements John Muckle 
Giles Goodland Ralph Hawkins 
Colin Simms Harry Gilonis
Andrew Duncan   Marianne Morris   Elizabeth James

Editors: Charles Bainbridge  Andrew Duncan

Methan Beerlight, postmodern viral marketing consultant, talks to Manly Bannister, Angel Exhaust's Head of Ideology, about product conformance issues for AE 19.
Methan: So why is there no blurb?
Manly: We favour calm and serenity. Our contributors look on public image as like having a 13-year old version of yourself following you around talking egocentric nonsense. 
Methan: Why did the last issue take 6 years to produce?
Manly: We had trouble finding a cafe to meet in.
Methan: Why is it called Invest in your arch-enemy?
Manly: We believe the unity of the poetry world is more important than quarrels about fine points of verse regulation. If you can't kill your neighbours, you have to intermarry with them.
Methan: Did you call for the government to withdraw grants from magazines which published reviews not totally favourable to the poets you publish?
Manly: No, that was someone else.
Methan: Why is it called Devastate your Aunt Jeremy?
Manly: It was a misunderstanding between the two editors.
Methan: Could we just describe the individual poets?
Manly: Let me go as far as I can. Corcoran is like Corcoran. Glass is like Glass. Holman is like Holman. Holman is more like Holman than like Morris. Poets like Philpott and Nolan are too overwhelming and intricate to be described in a few words.
Methan: I've never heard of them.
Manly: Maybe you should read Angel Exhaust.

ANGEL EXHAUST 19 available for £7 from 165 Coppice Road, Nottingham, NG5 7GX 
Cheques payable to "Andrew Duncan", please

think these issues were 2005 to 2015 roughly
The magazine started in 1977 and was founded by Adrian Clarke and Steven Pereira. The title refers to a shop near The Angel, Islington, which sold exhaust pipes. The goal of the magazine is an England where there are more poetry bookshops than tattoo parlours.
Perimeter Thralls are the raised shelf around the edge of the cellar of the traditional Nottingham pub, for holding barrels.