Many thanks are due to the editors
of the following publications, where
some of these poems first appeared in print,
like derelict gulls atop monuments:
His Master’s Gaping Overcoat; Cloud Jazz;
Brass Tarpaulin; Bleach; Visible Cities;
Instruments of Twilight; Absolute Bus;
& Spruce Cascade: Poems for Mouths and Lips.
Thanks, too, to the tireless Sally Figment,
the mistress & maker of Strangler’s Books,
“a sax amid an army of trombones”,
where I read these crowded, musty poems
to the public for the very first time,
gloved in twilight & with visible knees.
Thursday, 26 October 2017
Tuesday, 24 October 2017
Bring Him a Magus With a Carnal Sheen
Wart apples leaning atop stupid autumn. Must you?
Do I lie to a bosky au pair, a withered girl? Selection
of poultry: a junta’s a year’s harm, an androgynous mackerel.
In truth, able leeches belong in brazier heaps, or I’ll lower my fedora.
Killer billows coiled in quiche tufts. Appalling
nukes allowed sand to blot the moon, a very busy bauble. Tarry
these dire, tiled seats. His knees flocked in osprey soup,
he vends a surly cummerbund to Luke, who’s shtupped
inverse heads at High King Thistle, where Trumbo hones
butternut ass-juice deep as a Theremin. But look!
Andy Riley, me & Amber, lacking balaclavas,
caught ruing Anne Hathaway’s Dantooine sneeze.
But look! Booze baulks at Hades, & Andy’s triangular suckers love
a strident guppy. These treats wither Saskia’s teasel hips
below wings of slutty interns, the rabble assumes.
Casks of dingoes froth with treason, crates of fistulae
inured in sodden wine. The witch canoodles lonely, half-suffering,
for the Myth Egg aping Mount Hovis is an instant ruminant.
A hymen schnitzel keys the mastermind’s mawkish
ova (they see it as if it were lingual: so thick & rowdy).
Thieves found anal steam on the ornaments. The burst hoops
allowed for tin oaths; & gunboats, I figured, meant office mosaics.
These eyes leaned sweating in the wind of hyssop’s gong.
Why, I’d damn her ASBO lute as a reek of drainage overgrowth.
This one's a simple matter of sonic extrapolation, filtered through an imagination that's unhealthily fixated on Star Wars, scatological humour, and soup.
Sunday, 22 October 2017
Having a sense of low light conditions
without access to a library,
the poem goes on under the right arm.
Tap water & bleach-blondes are high fashion today:
a light blue fabric, clear & flowery, appears in the structure.
This ancient city has never been made of such dirty wood.
In addition, the Jazz Band designs the Sally Army.
The sector’s money clips embrace but do not improve the darkness
(& it is black: black jacket – cut to the knee –
black gloves & black shading, with coils on the shoes).
A saxophone in his mouth, spirits in the air, flowers,
& trees, of course, crazy handles of the storm,
the only open mouth with an instrument.
I mean, is that the Lord and Creator,
the city itself (free newspapers, a number of
fountains, statues, bus stations, &c)?
This is not just a product of his music.
We wait for the end of the song.
The absolute path is difficult.
This variation was the product of online translation software, combined with a time-consuming - some might even be tempted to say 'obsessive' - constraint revolving around the official languages of the European Union.
Friday, 20 October 2017
No, of course, not 'here' in a literal sense, but it has been published, and met its public for the first time at what I can only describe as an epoch-redefining event at the Birmingham Literature Festival on October 14th, where I read alongside Julia Bird and Jan Carson, two brilliant co-authors with the equally brilliant Emma Press, who have taken it upon themselves to publish my crazed Oulipian scribblings.
"And what is Birmingham Jazz Incarnation?" I hear you ask. No, of course, not 'hear' in a literal sense, it's a figure of speech, but I can sense nonetheless through the digital ether that you're interested. Birmingham Jazz Incarnation is a pamphlet, lavishly illustrated by Mark Andrew Webber, in which one of my poems is un- and remade through a variety of constraints, forms and procedures: one moment it's a sonnet, the next it's the contents page for an imaginary fictional tome from the 18th century; at other times it's a skipping rhyme, whilst in extremis it's reduced to little more than an alphabetical catalogue of its own constituent atoms.
Over the next few days, to whet the appetites of those of you who didn't immediately leap to their Paypal accounts to bulk-buy this genuinely gorgeous artefact after reading that scintillating description, I will be posting some variations that didn't quite make the cut: DVD extras, if you will. In the meantime, here's a video of Kojack, singing the praises of the industrial heartland which inspired me:
Thursday, 19 October 2017
I didn’t know about the Tin House neglecterino list, no, but it sounds like a useful resource. It’s not a publication I’ve turned my attention to enough, so this might be a good time to start. Yes, you’re right about the inclusion of Lessing being a little odd - I don’t think Nobel laureates need to be rescued from the ash-heap of public forgetfulness, do they? - but Green (H.) makes a lot more sense: outside of the UK, I don’t know how popularly read he is (he may even be a primarily academic pursuit, even here: a writer’s writer, right?), and Dodie Smith falls into that category of a writer who’s known for one popular work but whose other output tends to get left by the wayside, a little unfairly.
(Speaking of the ‘Joycean moment’ Rochelle and I are about to do the most middle class thing in the world: no, not ‘vote Labour’, ha ha!, but do a joint reading of Ulysses, the results of which, if they have concrete form, may be coming to a blog near you, if you don’t behave yourself.)
Your list I like, and I’m sure there’s a whole host of work I could add to it, though most of it would fall in the bracket of work by authors who themselves are wildly non-neglected, but some of whose writing gets overshadowed massively by their celebrated output: so, Kerouac’s Doctor Sax and Old Angel Midnight come to mind straight off the bat - dense, post-Joycean engagements with language and landscape that come as a hell of a shock to the system for any reader who’s only encountered On the Road and The Dharma Bums before (and, again, like many of your examples, not perfect, but certainly interesting, and with flashes of brilliance: the flood of the Merrimac in Doctor Sax is among the best things Kerouac wrote). I could probably trawl my brains for more esoteric examples, but that’d be silly, and distracting. Just keep reading.
I think you may have mentioned Motorman before, and it was suitably intriguing then, although I’ve fallen away to a certain extent from that kind of genre / post-genre writing, at least for the time being (although, if you’ve not read it, I can recommend John Crowley’s Engine Summer, which, although narratively more conventional from the sounds of things, contains some genuinely astonishing writing, and moves at a pace which, at times, can be described as glacial: it’s the kind of post-apocalyptic novel to which only, say, Studio Ghibli could do justice in adaptation).
Otherwise, I’m just ploughing through old-school poetry proper: none of this dabbling in cross-genre intertextuality. Get hence, I tell thee, get hence! New stuff and old: there’s so much, in fact, hiding on my shelf I’ve not given proper due to that I don’t really need to engage in anything new for some months (not that that’ll happen, by the way). I’ve been re-engaging with Alan Baker’s Variations on Painting a Room, his chunky ‘collected pamphlets’ from 2010, which is great: it’s really interesting watching him move from a broadly realist, Objectivist-tinged mode to more open, collagist forms that deploy repetition and fugue structures. His newer work’s really good, too: a KFS pamphlet came today, comprising two short sequences which have an antic, Peter Hughes-y vibe to them, but still very much Alan’s own voice (slightly more melancholic and caffeine-fuelled than PH, definitely). Revisiting O’Hara, too, because frankly - ha! - I’ve only really scratched the surface of that particular treasure-hoard. I guess it’s easy to take the greats for granted, but that’s a silly excuse, as why take for granted something that’s still more vital and exuberant than 90% of everything else on the shelf, even half a century after he died?
The whole depth/breadth thing has always bothered me. I know it’s a gross generalisation, but you like that kind of thing, so here goes: writers often get known for books, which, while worthy for their day, begin to lump together in a mass of familiar prose and plot arcs and aspirations.
I finally finished the Mueller novel I’ve been stalling over for months, The Appointment. Elsewhere I think you made a point about the ‘worthiness’ of a certain kind of writing in ‘Nobel’ terms; problems of history, accountability and guilt, how to deal with war, genocide and recovery. As if there’s only the binary of WW2 and post-WW2 for laureates to fit into. Yes, there’s a type there, and the same feels true of the kind of work that breaks through in other terms.
Do you remember we once had an argument about compassion fatigue? You (belligerent bastard that you are) accused me of a failure of empathy for arguing how Perec’s W, or the Memory of Childhood, had given me greater emotional access to the Nazi genocide than reading Eli Wiesel’s Night. And yet both books stand in my memory as powerful and vital accounts of a history I can never have direct access to.
Ultimately, there’s no real breadth of vicarious experience from that kind of writing. If you read every contemporary prize winner, every year, it’d be like reading the same novel over and over, with the names changed. This isn’t an argument in favour of Booker’s Basic Plots (BBPs), but an attack on the inability of most writers to make a reader feel like there are other possibilities in the world, other structures or habits. What I feel we’re talking about is finding the kind of books whereby you can’t just squint and feel like you’re staring at another vanilla-magnolia pastiche.
For now I’m continuing with breadth. There’s too much out there for me to dive into oeuvres right now; I’m trying to rebuild my love of/faith in books, writing, the ambitious wildness of the world’s libraries. Trying to find titles which don’t fit comfortably into BBPs; I guess I’m looking for a literature of anomalies. Engine Summer’s on the list.
I’ve three titles with me at the moment. Just finished Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet, which is so mischievous and brilliant and falls apart into rushed chaos at the end, but without dissipating its energy. Currently on Burroughs’ Junky, which is awful and weird. As Ballard recourses to physical disability, cars and erotica, so Burroughs, even in this early book, repeatedly associates to insects, centipedes. After that, I’ve Aldiss’ Galaxies likes Grains of Sand, for which I have a relatively blank slate of expectations.
So, a closing salvo: books with introductions by other authors, such a roulette wheel. Ali Smith’s intro to Carrington drips with hyperbole and adjectival juice-bites for the jacket. Allen Ginsberg’s introduction to Junky is gripping and wonderful, but also stylish. I liked the prose. The Aldiss edition has some kind of hybrid fronting the book: a next-level geekery extemporising about Aldiss’ career, which swings into a fairly brutal take-down of publishers’ fears of fake-publishing short story collections as novels-in-parts.
Anyway, I figured it’s better to open more worm cans at the end of these dialogues than pretend they should be cleanly and clearly rounded off. It’s a living conversation, non? Maybe we should just start posting it up, one letter per day, and just let it grow. We’ve already got a sub-conversation going on email.
This ought to be the last part of this conversation, but maybe we lied. Maybe there'll be a part 5/4 tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow already happened and you're reading this in another version of time. We don't actually have any answers. We're only the Editors. You, dear Reader, curate the world yourself.
Wednesday, 18 October 2017
I’ve not read Bluets, but The Argonauts did feel like a game-changer, partly because of its subject matter, and partly because it brought to light a tendency in recent non-fiction writing to ignore generic and formal boundaries, producing something that feels entirely new in the process (I’ve covered this ground pretty comprehensively in my stalled exchange with James, so won’t go over the same material here). Not sure how relevant it is, but there’s an excellent titbit about compositional methods from the Wave collection, where Maggie Nelson explains to Wayne Kostenbaum about how she writes poems on scraps of paper and napkins, and then carries the collated material around with her wherever she goes. It’s a fractured method of writing - something she contrasts with the more conventional procedures she applies to prose - which I can appreciate, and it’s precisely these little nuggets of writerly practice that make interviews with poets and their ilk so useful - it’s so much more valuable than the pseudo-scholarly gossip that often underpins literary biographies.
Claudia Rankine, too, has been a key part of my reading: both she and Nelson seem to have found a way to reinvigorate socially engaged writing in a way that combines the personal and the political, and feels immediately accessible for a general reader without sacrificing either formal invention or their innate radicalism. But they also feel strangely unrepeatable: both The Argonauts and Citizen will undoubtedly be incredibly influential, though not necessarily in terms of form or even theme, but rather as goads for the rest of us, on either side of the pond, to radically up our collective game. (Another nugget from the What is Poetry: Ted Greenwald - who’s in the reading jumble, too - bemoaning the decline in *creative* competition in poetry, the sense that we might be driven to greater compositional heights by the output of our peers and friends: jealousy as the great begetter. Think of Brian Wilson making Pet Sounds after hearing Revolver, and McCartney returning the complement with Sgt Pepper. I’m sure there are more literary examples I could have leant towards, but that’s always the analogy that’s at the forefront of my brain.)
Gratifyingly, Michael O’Brien’s work turned out to be as exciting as I’d hoped. Not sure why the hell I’ve not been reading him for years, to be honest; it feels like an irredeemable oversight on my part. Still, I’m glad to have discovered his work now, even if it is a little late in the day. I feel like he’s just the tip of an iceberg of poets with long and respected careers who’ve somehow, for whatever reason, managed to slip through the cracks of critical attention (or mine, at least). My mission for the next few months is to try and plug a few of those gaps: the world is absolutely stuffed with exciting work, both old and new; you just have to keep reading without jaded eyes.
In an entirely unrelated note, tell me about Motorman.
Well now, I wholeheartedly second everything you say about Nelson and Rankine, and glad for the extra bits I didn’t know about Maggie’s process. I’ll let that rest and move on because I’ve been thinking about anti-novels lately, or anti-narratives. And your query about Motorman sparks a few thoughts.
Do you know about Tin House magazine’s ‘Lost and Found’ section? The list is, fortunately, online, although the articles themselves are subscription-only. (And at time of writing their store is undergoing maintenance so I can’t see much more.) Anyway, I very much like the outcome of a ‘reclaimed from the heaps’ reading list, although the principle itself is somewhat, I dunno, distressing/frustrating? It’s obviously subjective: I’d hardly put Lessing and Henry Green, or Dodi Smith on those lists, but you can’t tell when these pieces were written from the list. There’s certainly some interesting stuff on there, regardless - it looks like a better ‘hit’ than ‘miss’ approach for me. (It is, I should add, exclusively prose, to the best of my knowledge).
At the same time, it leans toward American and ‘literary’ more than my tastes in recent years. If I had to draw up my own list of lost and founds, it might read with a mix of difficult and delightful, but all, to me, perspective game-changers in terms of what a novel can do (yes, OK, if I were being blunt they’re books that accept the whole ‘Joycean moment’):
David Ohle Motorman (originally loaned, then gifted, by Andrew Bailey, total legend that he is)
Ann Quin Berg
JG Ballard The Atrocity Exhibition
Kenneth Gangemi Olt
David Thomas The White Hotel
Renee Gladman The Activist
Robin Blaser The Holy Forest
Ursula Le Guin The Dispossessed
Flann O’Brien The Third Policeman
Boris Vian Heartsnatcher
I’m sure there are others I’ve forgotten for now and would need to hunt through shelves to recover. I can’t describe any of these as ‘perfect’ books but they definitely stuck with me in ways that other books haven’t. And by ‘stuck’ I mean they left an emotional smear across my otherwise numb and vacuous heart/soul echo chamber, like the remains of a vampire’s supper entrailed across a crypt floor.
Against these there’s a stack of less successful experimental novels:
Frederick Rolfe Hadrian VII
Juan Filloy Op Oloop
And what am I doing? I actually was on the verge of trawling through shelves to remind myself of all the bad writing out there and then I thought: list-making is a mug’s game. Some books work better than others, but this division into ‘successful/unsuccessful’ or ‘good/bad’ is kind of pointless. I’ve been spending too much time on the internet. Bump those two up into the top category and add the proviso there are dozens more. Yes, your point is spot on: “the world is absolutely stuffed with exciting work”.
So, I’ll do what I was semi-avoiding and offer up a quick precis of why Ohle’s Motorman moved me so much: I can’t honestly say what it is ‘about’ but it is laced with a passion for life and survival in ways few books seem capable of celebrating. The protagonist, whose name I’ve forgotten, has several minor hearts and a few major hearts. He sounds semi-robotic. He drives about, escapes the State, seems to be some kind of retarded expression of a free-wheelin’ sixties independent spirit operating in an early Thatcherite/Reagan-esque or even McCarthyan, ‘This World has Moved On’ authoritarian regime, which expresses itself benignly through doctors and malignantly through a kind of militarised police force.
And our hero has to basically chase down his old mentor - who was a state doctor type, possibly, but has since gone rogue - before too many of his hearts pack up and cause his main heart(s) to go into arrest. Or something like that. It’s urgent, you care for him. It’s written in bursts of poetic prose, almost like diary entries, each one barely contingent on those around to start with, but the narrative grows through fragments into a coherent dissonance.
You follow his urge to write love letters to a woman you’re never quite sure exists, but he’s madly in love with. You follow his quest through various deranged biomes and territories, his encounters with madnesses in the swamps and mists, weird episodes which seem hostile at first, turn into safety, etc. It’s that movement between safety and danger, and the continuous urgency of having to keep moving, chasing, to survive, wrapped up in the bizarre love story underwriting it, which may or may not be a false hallucination/implanted memory. I mean, I’m cobbling it all together, it was so weird I had to half-guess what was going on with it.
At the same time, it’s so joyfully written, so open-minded and clean to read. And funny and emotive: the prose is a beating heart, it bleeds energy and feeling. I haven’t read another book like like that, which also managed to catch me on the first page.
A lot of gushing and I’ve done all that without even checking the contents of the book again. The memory of reading it sits like a hazy-shaped ball of happygoo inside me somewhere. That’s the stuff I crave these days.
And to be honest, I haven’t had that feeling from poetry for quite a while. Maybe I had a slight tang/buzz off Cathy Park Hong’s Dance Dance Revolution and maybe I’m forgetting other stuff...
But yes: quite, quite too long. Any recommendations along those somewhat indefinite lines?
The short answer: no, never. The nails in the coffin - Part 4 - tomorrow.