Saturday 23 February 2019

Philip Pacey

Philip Pacey

This is a note on Philip Pacey (b. 1946). I have seen three of Pacey's books :  Charged  Landscapes  (Enitharmon, 1978), In the Elements Free (Galloping Dog, 1983, 30 pp.) and Earth's Eye (Taxus, 1988, 82 pp.). I never managed to write about Pacey, so this is partly an apology. There is a fourth book, If Man, which I haven't seen. There is also a kind of pamphlet with the concrete poem Goods Train (1971?) – the poem is in the shape of a goods train, so long and thin. This is a lot of fun. 2nd Aeon said : >>its a great book altogether - the complete book-as-movie ie the book works a good deal more for itself than a regular book would. a concrete poem that works on all levels, all counts. a 2nd aeon must. << so who am I to argue. Apart from that, In the Elements Free is the one that really spoke to me. Pacey mainly writes about landscape and the much freer, open texture of these poems works much better in evoking the greater than human scale of space than the more narrowly focused fabric of Charged Landscapes.  The 1978 book got a rave review in PN Review from Jeremy Hooker, which is what set me onto Pacey. (I mean, I dug the back issues up 40 years later, it's what I do.) Earth's Eye is a retrospective which goes back 15 years to gather poems which had not been properly seen before; I liked “James L Maxim and the paved causeway over Blackstone Edge': why there is a stone passage at the worst incline of Blackstone Edge; the route is no longer used, abandoned for one with a gentler gradient.

As to the trough
assembled theories of its use
and origin:


by pedestrians and packhorses, also by thousands of sheep and cattle which from time to time were driven over the Edge;

by the marching of soldiers in single file (Col. Sharrat);

by sliding tail pieces of ordnance;

by the skidding of chariot wheels (Dr. H.C. March)

by the use of three-wheeled vehicles (W.T. Watkin)

by the use of trolleys and bogies (H. Fishwick, J.H. Stanning, J. Hirst, J.Currie)

by chains and cables used in a winding mechanism at the top of the incline (C.C. Smith);

by sledges used to haul the baggage of Roman soldiers (each soldier had baggage weighing up to 60 lb);
by the Danes transporting boats over the Edge;
by “Baiting's Bull”. The tradition about the use of this bull in hauling vehicles up the old Packhorse Road and also as a drag on them on the steep down grade was well authenticated by old inhabitants in this locality;
the haulage of stone for the local quarry;

by water, the hollow acting as a drain;

or made
as guiding-line
in dark or fog

to fill with turf
that horses' feet
could bite
to hold descending vehicles
(that, being hard, might otherwise

this is more documentary than the others and takes more in. This takes in the age of the landscape, the fact that it visibly contains features which have been growing, or being eroded, over thousands of years; the poem is capacious and so beyond the line of sight of a single human at a single moment in time. You can’t write landscape poetry which marches in single file. Almost all the text is a direct quote from James L. Maxim, I think. I also liked “The Axe-Masters”, about trade networks for stone axes (Neolithic?) as revealed by modern finds, a poem more about geography than just landscape:

pale grey-green or blue-grey
fine-grained volcanic ash, ground
granite-hard between the millstones
of moving mountains.

to Pike o'Stickle, Mart Crag
Great End, Glaramara

where wind-
lashed waves of trees
lapped at hill-tops;
to a rash of
shivered, shredded
rock ice had left.

Hooker's Soliloquies of a Chalk Giant is also really good. I have just finished writing a book about Seventies poetry, which led me to read some lesser-known works, but unfortunately was so jammed with material that I couldn't include Hooker. Hooker undoubtedly saw a confirmation of his own path in Pacey, and perhaps they do belong together as landscape poets, sharply distinct from the other landscape schools, for example from the English Intelligencer poets and their interest in archaeology and geography. Hilton's landmark anthology of "landscape poets" in 1974 (published as Joe DiMaggio issue 11) did not include them – there were so many strands to clasp at. It is worth reflecting on the 'alliance situation' of Pacey and Hooker, that other geography – they don't appear in the anthologies, but that just gives us a critical insight into the anthologies. Editors have a view of the world, it's bound to be limited, there are bound to be other poets who are just out of their sight. There can't be a point from which you can see everything. I just want to observe that these two poets are part of the scene, not great poets but they are rewarding. It's not rational to recover the seriously Underground, alternative, poets and glory in their "alternative DNA" and ancestor status, and just bypass all the poets who weren't rebels.
(I apologise for font problems in an earlier version - the blog software austerely refuses to accept changes so I had to delete the whole thing.)