Sunday, 11 May 2008

Form, Ego and the Avant Garde

Here's an article I wrote for the Internet journal of poetry and poetics, the Shit Creek Review:

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Sound Advice

Ezra Pound somewhere says that he has gone through the sonnets of Cavalcanti and subjected them to detailed auditory analysis. In another place, he says that it's 'probably' true that many poems return to a certain vowel sound as their 'base note'. Bunting and Kleinzahler are two obvious examples, and kind and focussed Alistair Noon is their contemporary heir. The great danger with such melopoeia is that it declines into 'mere' expereience, and offers few pleasures for the civilized intellect. But the danger is coplanar with the attraction, to the poet, of the almost self-authenticating nature of rhythm and sound. I have often been pressed into forcing out the words at the behest of some pattern of rhythm, or some strucuture of vocalizaton. I know, or from within me is born an understanding of, how the words must sound before I know precisely what they mean. This is the appeal of Homer's surging dactylics, and the attraction to poets of imagery of wind, wave and engine. When one has found one's groove, the poem writes itslef.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

State of the (internet poetry) Nation

Great Works (ISSUE 10)

This site is run by that stalwart of the poetry scene, Peter Philipott. Pleasingly eclectic, and designedly so, it nonetheless registers a distinct preference for writing that has learned the lessons of the more experimental forms of poetry written in the 1960s and 1970s, and a general opposition to statement. The layout of the site is lo-fi and simple, and fairly easy to navigate one's way around, though perhpas the format adopted discourages discourages browsing a little.

The most recent issue contains much good writings. My favourite piece was the sustained elaboration of Andrew Jordan long poem, 'The Mermaid':

Her cunt is a cunt of manie cunts and each leads into the stem
which is a stout & hollow conduit for sap, smooth above
and hairie below where the lobes are downie and lush, wedge-
shaped and thicke where they secrete a sweete stickie nectare.
Her heart is deep in the earth, I heare it beatinge in my house.

Maurice Scully's "Artist and Model: Polka" was a playful movement through experiential spaces and languages, though it could have done with a fair amoung of aggressive editing, especially after the earlier more taut half of the piece; Such editing would have allowed its central mystery (as I read it) of the simultaneity of event and perspective to shine through better. I found Nick Wayte's political poem 'Remembering Peasant Breughel' very, though the phrase 'American Christians on the web' rather brought down what was otherwise a finely judged poem. Four poems of Patricia Farrell emphasize the difficulties of representation and there is, especially in the appealing 'Mr Spinach, Formerly a Greengrocer' a successful balance between being weighed down by the sense of this difficulty, but still managing to say something fresh, with the delicatest hint of a warm, humane streak in the 'Mr Spinach' poem- although I had a hard time in the other poems understanding what sense of form she was working with, neither intellectual nor experiential nor rhythmic, and it was hard to make out why these poems should end where they did. There has been a marked tendency for avant-garde-ish writing over the last forty years to allign itself with various movements in the visual arts, and it is noteworthy that the dense image progression has become (along with the intellectual undercutting of visual conventions) something of an expected mode in such writing. This works very well in William Garvin's poem "Orly - Narita", a swift comment on a the experience of the global world, with the consequence lost hopes of a modernist edifice to make sense of it. Philip Hamial's 'Bride to Be' starts very strongly with the wonderful line 'Sick with cough and counter-cough/ how rise from this bed to feel' but then dissipates into flatness, one index of which is the loss of any sense of rhythm. This is a consistent (or emphasis) in the Great Works site. The innovative 'language operations' are adept at one of poetry's key tasks: keeping language fresh; where there has been less attention is to the internal energies (however variegated) of rhythm and of sound-patterns. Certainly, one recognizes the interdependence of syntax patterns and rhythm and there is accordingly always a case for noting that a failure to recognize faint unusual prosodies is purely a result of a given reader's over-dependence on clicheed language patterns. An over-confident rhythmic development can suggest too strongly the authoritarian imprint of the comforting ego with its speaking voice; but even rhythmical deflation requires some sense of rhythmic energy, however faintly or oppositionally gestured toward. It is hard, however, to write truly great poetry of any length, by which I mean poetry that leaves one with a very definite sense of experiential journey, when one has simply opted out of the resources of rhythm. Rhythm is after all one of the great, though not the only, markers of sustainedness and continuity. I wonder what I mean by this. I suspect, despite all my sympathy with the requirement to identify the value of poetry with its truth to the freshness of experience and the 'enlargement' of sensibility, I have an archaic fondness for the idea of an almost consistent coherent world, a world made rule through a personal struggle with style, a world created by an immense act of love and generosity. There is no necessary connection between this world and a more 'conservative' tradition, though Derek Walcott's Omeros surely is the obvious instance to bring up in that context. Peter Larkin's work and that of D. S. Marriott in more 'NeoModernist' traditions can do it.