Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The Editors Converse - Reading Lists (2/4)

S:

Lot’s to chew on there, but before I carry on, two points of note: one, your mention of the E.T. Atari game - which is rightly notorious - reminded me of a wonderful thing I stumbled across a while back, a vintage-style game based on The Shining, which is a thing of beauty and a joy forever; and two, I’m very tempted to put the word ‘foray’ in the foregoing into scare-quotes, just to get the rumour mill grinding away.

But these are passing fancies. Back to the poetry. It feels like, however disconnected you might be feeling, you’re still a little more plugged in to proceedings than I’ve been. The work that’s most exciting me at the moment, pretty much across the board, has been translation, often of poetry with a well-established vintage. Peter Hughes’ Cavalcanty is foremost in this list - his versions of Petrarch are one of the primary reasons to keep reading in the 21st century, and Cavalcanty is on a par, though it’s a shorter collection. I’ve not read the whole caboodle yet, but it already includes one of my favourite stanzas in history (both human and geological):

      the worst thing about being a dalek
      is how remote you feel from tender flesh
      & how every sexual position
      makes you feel more like a fucking bollard

I could probably babble on about Hughes’ control of the line (there’s a musical play of line endings against run on sentences, with syntactic units seeming to end with the line, only to continue and throw the reader into a momentary tailspin), his employment of competing registers and vocabularies, and the sheer vigour of his ear, but all of that would be rather academic and pointless: what matters is that the poetry’s never boring, the biggest sin. Every line’s an event, which you could unpick and unpick, but there’s a motive force to the music that keeps driving you on: a lot of this is probably due to the ‘voice’ (old-fashioned concept, I know, but it suits) that Hughes creates here, and in the Petrarch.

Who else? NRYB have just reissued Paul Blackburn’s Proensa, a translation of Provencal troubadours, and a precursor in terms of its technique to Hughes’ own work (they’re both offspring of Poundian and Buntingesque notions of translation). It’s arguably not as immediate as Hughes, but then I think Blackburn’s intention was more ‘trad’ in that he was creating workable translations rather than versions or new poems in their own right. But any translation’s a new poem in its own right, right?, and PB’s troubadours have a lot of energy and music. The versions of Bertran de Born, in particular, are exceptional (Pound turned his hand to BdB, too, in some of his earlier poems).

I’m sure there’s plenty else that’s been on my radar, but that can wait until further into the conversation. Excitingly, a copy of Michael O’Brien’s Sills has just touched down in the front hall, so that’s the rest of the day accounted for. Also, as a final thought: what’s more authentically punk than a book that’s been dipped in black gunk?

G:

Well now, ‘foray’ sounds a little more polite than, say, ‘fray’ or ‘fracas’ but let’s not throw petrol on that fire just yet. (*nudge nudge*)

I’ll stick to the poetry because I realise I do have a backlog of reading in my head. I could blab about a couple of other things I picked up second hand

Joseph Moncure March’s The Wild Party is fun, but dated by the spate of scatalogical open mic doggerel proliferating around and about. You also have to think yourself into the age, and that’s a difficult job when you’re trying to squeeze your way past the somewhat male-fantasy drawings in the illustrated-by-Art Spiegelman edition; and I’m trying to re-read Astrid Alben’s Ai! Ai! Pianissimo, which, a bit like AK Blakemore’s book reads like it’s had a little bit too much of the energy edited out of it, but really only a couple of names stand out from the last year or two: Maggie Nelson and Claudia Rankine.

I guess it’s the form that attracts me most. A kind of prose-poetry series of stanzas/blocks. Where Christian Bok’s Eunoia (and some of Susan Howe’s collections) shapes the ‘paragraphs’/‘word-squares’ very rigidly, Nelson’s poetry and Rankine’s Citizen feel completely organic, open, instinctive. The form drove me through their work like teenage joyriders on methamphetamines, but this despite the absolutely serious, intellectual backbones.

Rankine you probably know all about already. Citizen weighs a hundred times more than the paper it’s printed on. I feel like it deserves more than a couple of throwaway sentences here, but it has been reviewed and acclaimed extensively. My main interest is that it’s an essay-poem, which is a tradition, and as with a lot of these sensationalised texts, there’s not much discussion of that form: Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, Charles Bernstein being two of the more recent exponents I’m aware of, but the tradition is French (and, a quick online search suggests, commonly French Canadian) with exponents in Victor Hugo, Montaigne and others. The form needs more attention, as it serves a very strange purpose.

Especially in Nelson’s work. I was lucky (I think) to read bluets before The Argonauts. They’re both great, but they’re also pretty much a set; bluets (I have no idea why I’m spelling it lower case, it just feels right) pretends to be an essay about the colour blue, but extrapolates into autobiography, gender, social commentary, identity politics, liberalism, depression, difficult relationships, asides about the state of academia, all that stuff. It’s brilliant, though maybe a little bit too intellectual in places, but those heightened moments of thinking are off-set by the other extreme - some incredibly difficult, honest moments of emotional exposure. The stuff on blue, also, made me happy someone had set out to challenge William Gass’ On Being Blue, which, despite some sharp insights and a wealth of intelligent magpie-ing, left me thinking it was an unredeemably creepy book.

The Argonauts feels a little more self-conscious by comparison: perhaps knowing people are watching makes for language that’s a little more, I don’t know... Intentional? A few moments felt as if they were intended to be read by certain people, statements that needed to be made, but they didn’t weave smoothly into the rest of the essay. It is, however, a much more positive book than bluets, with childbirth, family, finding feet, etc. One of the funnier moments, from my perspective, is her moments of liberal doubt about naming their child something they later found out suggests a Native American identity, and oh hashtag cultural appropriation what?

Nelson’s work has a way of using prose-block fragmentation that made me wonder if it’s still a valid form. I tried re-reading Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk, and it struck me as heavy-handed masturbation. And then I’m tilting over into those little square till-books, with aphorisms and random life advice, which function in similar ways. I can’t help feeling there’s a very rich range in the ‘book-of-paragraphs’ genre which Nelson has steered away from by going more toward ‘essay-poem’.

But, like you said, that kind of categorisation starts to sound like academic wrangling over imaginary horses. So I’ll stop with one of the quotes that jumped out at me from Nelson:
once something is no longer illicit, punishable, pathologized, or used as a lawful basis for raw discrimination or acts of violence, that phenomenon will no longer be able to represent or deliver on subversion, the subcultural, the underground, the fringe, in the same way (The Argonauts)

===

Does it get better? Does it ever get better? Find out tomorrow with Part 3!

Monday, 16 October 2017

The Editors Converse - Reading Lists (1/4)

Simon Turner and George Ttoouli caught up in the e-ther to discuss recent reading, like intellectual rats hooked to literary electrodes, to see if there's any charged writing around to get their pleasure muscles jumping.

===============

S:

So, I was thinking over what you’d said the other day during your jaunt to sunny Leamington, about how you’ve been feeling a little removed from the various poetry scenes in the UK. I have to admit, and did at the time, that I’m feeling similarly removed from proceedings, due to a combination of age and contrarianism. That said, there are plenty of individual poets out there whose work we admire; it’s just perhaps that we’ve allowed context - poetics, infighting, aesthetic battles, the scurf riding in the wake of the Poetry Wars - to fall by the wayside. Which might not be such a bad thing, all told.

One of the things I’ve been reading lately is a collection of interviews from the Poetry Project that Wave Books has just published, and even though I’ve only just begun dipping into it - it’s a treasure-trove in so many ways - one theme that’s come up with a degree of regularity is the notion that, ultimately, scenes, movements, poetics, aesthetics, don’t really matter: what matters is, as a reader, finding out work you admire; and, perhaps more importantly, as a working poet, finding like-minded people you can become friends with, and with whom you can share your work and enthusiasms. Everything else is just politics.

So, partly because it’s fun to discuss one’s reading in a general sense, and partly because I wanted to get back on the G&P pony, what say you to an improvised textual discussion of our recent reading? What have we loved, what have we hated? Which neglected voices do we want to crow from the rooftops? Which over-rated prize-winners would we choose to bury beneath impenetrable layers of feculent landfill? Thoughts?

G:

I’m fairly sure it should be ‘faeculent’ just because it was too close to fecund for my tastes. That said, it does remind of a story I heard recently about people mining landfill for rare earth metals and along the way, someone somehow managed to dig up the worst Atari game ever made, something related to E.T.

But that’s a long way off topic. I’ll admit, I’m not actually that long into reading for pleasure again. I’ve been trying to compile a list of titles to revisit, acquired over the past few years or so, with the intention of (re-)reading with a little more attention. Looking over my shelves, my tastes have changed a lot.

But, that said, this is improv, so I’m going to dive in with what’s been on my mind. I mentioned, during our foray in the park, Rupert Loydell’s new book arrived in the post - Dear Mary (Shearsman). I actually wrote a review of it, and it may even be live before this conversation is ended [insert link here if so].

Another one that has been on my mind: AK Blakemore’s Humbert Summer (Eyewear). I met ‘AK’ several years ago when I was working a London job and she was winning awards. I was struck by the poems’ images back then and when I glanced through the copy in my local Waterstones, was struck again, although there was a sharper edge to the syntax, a little more punk to the language. I didn’t buy that copy because someone had smeared it with black gunk and it was the only shop copy (don’t even know what it was doing there, frankly), but ordered from the publisher. I dipped into it, ran out of time, dipped back in... The usual story. But it’s still interesting enough, has enough difference in language to conventional stuff to mean I’m going back to it.

Which reminds me: the images were the reason I got into Nathan Thompson’s work, though really his schtick turned out to be voice. I never did pick up his last Shearsman. Might be time to start dishing out the spondulix again. Sad to have lost touch with him. I’m fairly sure I had a parcel lined up to send him, then lost track of his email and postal addresses.

But community: that was actually a conversation I started to have with Theo in January. I feel like our ‘community of like-minds’ is spread all over the place: from Birmingham to Athens, Australia to Cornwall to Singapore. It would be nice to have the money to visit them regularly, though that might drive me mad. Still, I feel like the Midlands has a big red band of no around it, driving all the like-minds away. Something akin to Baker’s description of how birds reacted to his human shape.


===

This was originally called 'Recent Reading', but the conversation happened so long ago, the hot dust of zeitgeist is now the frozen sheen of yesteryear. Part 2 tomorrow.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Three Drafts of the Same Poem by Sarah Cave

Draft 1: Lyrical Notes for a Performance Piece II
Follow Alice into
Google Streetview: an imagined Sunday afternoon at Yasnaya Polyana
                  [listening to Library Tapes on my headphones]
Alice passes David Wenngren playing

View from a Train in fragments

at the Grand piano in the Dining Room
take the right hand arrow
Alice strolls through a curtain of light
and on the porch leaves me

                                                in the sun with Natasha

yellow pegman
wearing her
yellow dress
shellac lips

                   ‘but you’ll melt’

yellow dress

                   time passes

yellow dress

                   Alice sees her shadow at the corner of the turn towards the lake

yellow dress

All I am to you, love, love, love [music skip], is
                                                                      expired celluloid                                     yellow/dress                                                  and light leaks

       spilling across an echo of analogue
All my mother taught me to be to you, love, was                              white

                                                                                                          yellow

                                                                                                          read the red
                                                                 a yellow dress
                                                                           an acetate love letter to Tolstoy                                                                  a yellow dress

                                                            Curtain.



***



Draft 2: The archaeologist watches

                                    Lenin’s embalmed hands

full of grace, again, again, again.        cut with        Yasnaya Polyana in lemon
                                                                                        July, 1865
                                                      Natasha in yellow
                                                 a triangle of green

     Watch Alice move into
     Google Streetview: imagine Sunday afternoon at Yasnaya Polyana
                              [listening to Library Tapes on headphones]

     Alice passes a Swedish Pianist playing

                                                                [View from a Train
                                                                    // Kreutzer Sonata split into fragments
                                                                                                             white noise]

     at the Grand piano in the Dining Room.
     Take the right hand arrow

     bookcases, a gramophone, old magazines

                                                  Alice follows pre-programmed paths
                                                  through walls and furniture
                                                  The door is photographed as though
     L
     y
     r
     i
     c
     a
     l

     N
     o
     t
     e
     s

                                                  curtained by light and Alice passes through
                                                  and leaves me on the porch

                                                       in the sun with Natasha

            a yellow pegman
     wearing her
                                                            yellow dress
                                                            shellac lips

                                for a Performance
              yellow dress

                    time passes

     painted red

                    Alice sees her shadow at the turn towards the lake
     and Natasha’s

              yellow dress

                              All I am love is expired celluloid is
                                                                          expired celluloid
                                               yellow/dress                                    light leaks

            spilling an echo across an acre of analogue
     All my mother taught me to be to you love white/yellow/red, was      white
                                                                                                                yellow
                                                                                                                read the red

                                                                   a yellow dress
                                                                                an acetate love letter to Tolstoy
                                                                   a yellow dress                                                                                suffering the picturesque

                                                          Curtain.



***



Draft 3: The archaeologist watches

                                    Lenin’s embalmed hands

full of grace, again, again, again.        cut with        Yasnaya Polyana in lemon
                                                                                        July, 1865
                                                      Natasha in yellow
                                                 a triangle of green

     Watch Alice move into
     Google Streetview: imagine Sunday afternoon at Yasnaya Polyana
                              [listening to Library Tapes on headphones]

     Alice passes a Swedish Pianist playing

                                                                [View from a Train
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––// Kreutzer Sonata split into fragments
                                                                                                             white noise]

                                                                                                   red
     at the Grand piano in the Dining Room.
     Take the right hand arrow

     bookcases, a gramophone, old magazines

                                                  Alice follows pre-programmed paths
                                                  through walls and furniture
                                                  The door is photographed as though
     L
     y
     r
     i
     c
     a
     l

     N
     o
     t
     e
     s

                                                  curtained by light and Alice passes through
                                                  and leaves me on the porch

                                                       in the sun with Natasha

            a yellow pegman
     wearing her
                                                            yellow dress
                                                            shellac lips

                                for a Performance
              yellow  dress

                    time passes

     painted  red

                    Alice sees her shadow at the turn towards the lake
     and Natasha’s

              yellow  dress

                              All I am love is expired celluloid is
                                                                          expired celluloid
                                               yellow /dress                                    light leaks

            spilling an echo across an acre of analogue
     All my mother taught me to be to you love white/yellow/red, was      white
                                                                                                        yellow
                                                                                                           read the red

                                                                   a yellow dress
                                                                                an acetate love letter to Tolstoy
                                                                   a yellow dress                                                                                suffering the picturesque

                                                          Curtain.







Friday, 6 October 2017

Shotgun Review #5: Loydell's Annunciations

George Ttoouli reviews Rupert Loydell's Dear Mary (Shearsman 2017)


Poetry book - available from Shearsman

Time taken to read: This was my toilet book for a few weeks while I was meeting a deadline. For a week I kept getting stuck on the preface. Then I switched to dipping in randomly, reading a few short pieces in a row or one long piece, to get a sense of the mood, tone, etc. Finally, I read the whole book (exc. preface) in one sitting while listening to ‘Dear Mary’ on repeat – about 52min. I still haven’t finished the preface, not for any fault of the writing, just, well, it’s not poetry.

Time taken to review: 1hr (+ some editing)

Where found: Sent by Shearsman. Possibly for review. It’s hard to tell with Rupert, he’s been sending me things in the post for over a decade. I didn't even give him my new address.[1]

Transparency: Rupert has been a long-standing affiliate for G&P. We’ve published his solo work, some of his collaborations, various bits and pieces. Also that aggressive interview, which is still the most successful in the series, despite being the first attempt. Rupert has also published some of my work at Stride Magazine and smallminded books and also the other one which published the thing he did with Sarah Cave, which they've been talking about on G&P this week. Some might say I’m too close to him, but this is a poetry-only love affair, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think we’ve met face to face since, oh, about 2002, when he told me over a busy restaurant table that I was trying to be ‘too clever’ in my poetry. I’ve always appreciated that honesty and respect him enough to serve the same back.

Time started: 13:15-14:15 to draft + editing

Review:

Anyone wondering where Luke Kennard gets his schtick from could save themselves the bother of digging around and read Rupert Loydell's poetry.[2] Particularly this new book, Dear Mary, just out from Shearsman (April 2017). The hallmarks are all there: the strangely inviting personal voice, the diaristic sense of someone's idiosyncratic life being recorded, a headlong confrontation with religion (tho with less of LK's trademark doubt and self-castigation), and, of course, the wry humour. But where Kennard's humour is the dominant note for a lot of his work - a bass line from which he deviates, much to the disappointment of his audiences, no doubt (stop trying to show range!) - Loydell's poetry carries a less-than-obvious central emotional tone, from which he can go many places. The work isn't pigeonhole-able in the same way.

As a result, it's easier to start with the complexity underwriting this book: the multiply-threaded frame, the sense of a lived experience undigested or filtered for 'meaning.' One of the pieces that most brilliantly encapsulates Dear Mary's range arrives early on, dedicated to David Miller. Starting as if it wants to be a prose review mixed with diary, it shifts to a slim column of images, before returning to a summative prose:

The poet's book has served me well, and has sat literally and conceptually alongside a short book on colour, a re-read novel of occult training and enlightenment, and a fictional exploration of moments when the celestial and human met or even touched.
('"A Process of Discovery"' - the title has quotation marks to denote its origin as a title from Miller).

I didn't check the notes before reading and assumed the book on colour was Wittgenstein's Remarks on Colour (which serves as the title of one of Dear Mary's later poems). The notes tell me otherwise - it's not entirely significant however. What's obvious is how well Loydell weaves these aesthetic and personal elements through the book, using journal styles and minimalism and a range of other modes, somehow held together by a deft complexity of tone and emotion.

Colour is the strongest, early feature-of-significance to the poems. Part of the book might be taken as a discourse on painting, on sensory visuals, on the meaning of colour preferences. An early poem ('Lost in Colour') notes, presumably, Loydell's artistic training and how to others he seemed "seduced by colour" - a criticism he wears proudly. (The moment is reminiscent, to me at least, of Robin Blaser sharing Charles Olson's accusation, that Blaser's supposedly rubbish with syntax, in a collection called Syntax.) Of course, the play with voices elsewhere suggests I'm just making a rookie mistake, associating the training with the author's biography, but that's the mode at the beginning: lyrical memoir.

Yet this colour-conversation is where the book's 'realism' or 'interpretability' begins to break down for me. Ostensibly, we're led in the first half of the collection through Loydell's love affair with Italian Renaissance paintings of Mary and the Annunciation, while on holiday in Tuscany. He paints, he swims, he mucks about with colours, he drags his family on long drives to see his favourite paintings in remote churches, only to find the churches closed and no one around to let them in... If you ask me, Loydell must be an insufferable person to go on holiday with.

But this is a projection, a reconstruction. By the mid-point in the book I found myself thinking Loydell's never been to Italy in his life. The whole thing is a set up. All the artists and poets and critics referenced are actually twentieth century or more recent: Francis Bacon, Deborah Turbeville, David Hart, David Toop, David Batchelor (a lot of Davids) - the 'Fra Angelico' is Diane Cole Ahl's, not some 16thC maestro.

The 'aha!' moment for me is in a piece called 'The Pictures Started to Instruct Me': "I wanted all the colours to be present at once. / ... How difficult it becomes when one / tries to get very close to the facts". This is not real representation, but an interrogation of how difficult it is to turn the real world into art. The danger then is that you start to believe these unreal representations more than the world itself.

Moments of real experience in the first half of the collection contribute to a sense of the ridiculousness of artistic living. At the end of the poem for David Miller, the painter-poet gives up for a bit, decides to go for a swim: "A startled lizard runs from the sudden splash." The juxtaposition is somewhat ridiculous because the poem has barely made an attempt to locate the poet spatially in Tuscany. Is he in the sea? A lake? A pool? Where the hell is the lizard and how has the painter-poet even noticed it, if he's jumping into the water? The perspective is all shot through: that's the point: this isn't trying to represent reality. It's interrogating the ease at which we are 'seduced by colour' when we read, or view art.

Which then leads me to the second thread: "a fictional moment when the celestial and the human met or even touched". The 'Mary' of the title is, unobviously, a composite. The notes here reveal the lyrics of Steve Miller's 'Dear Mary' are themselves collaged from the lyrics of several other musicians' songs.[3] So too this Mary, filtering multiple Marys into a composite; they're not really about Mary herself, most of the time, but about the process of hunting down what Mary means, building that picture from multiple sources, making idiosyncratic connections and compiling them into something that seems believable enough to be real, but in fact, like the worlds built in each painting, is just another subjective version of the world, a new world, a world-in-itself.

This sense establishes itself and then, having prepped you through a kind of uncanny accrual of not-quite-right glitches in the matrix, we're offered the first proper discomfort provided by a number of long pieces: 'Shadow Triptych' after Francis Bacon. The three parts are not numbered, and the columns are, in turn, located to the left hand side of the page, the centre and the right, each in straight-edged columns, like the panels of a triptych. The series is in fact a kind of essay, or series of essays. And it's here (and in the later long pieces, particularly 'My Paper Aunt') where the collection's occult influences seem most prevalent.

The essay combines all the threads I've emphasised, but the tone shifts to something unnerving: the tones of Bacon's paintings, the fleshy torture, the sense of darkness inside those faceless jumbles of tendon and muscle. The notes to the poem are a long list of influences, including Bacon's paintings, of course, but also, surprisingly Haruki Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase' and, unsurprisingly, E.M. Cioran's The Trouble with Being Born. I wouldn't be surprised to learn the entire 'Shadow Triptych' is a cento, but then, that's the beauty of the whole collection: it never lets you shake off the createdness of its 'world,' and that its 'world' is nothing more than the subjective experiences of just one person, nexused through many other subjectivities. (Nothing more! Hah!)

That said, there's more here than merely listening to someone else's heartbeat-in-language. That's not the point. I started with a comparison to Kennard at the beginning (my association, deployed in expectation (some of) our reader(s) might be familiar), I'll deviate back there now. There are a few poems here that I almost took as sacriligeous. In one, Mary goes online dating while Joseph's out. An angel shows up and "When he disrobed, it was a bit of a shock to see what he'd kept hidden" ('Online Dating Annunciation').

Later, there's 'Alien Annunciation': "according to Mary her pet's barking continued to get louder and louder throughout the visitation." If these had been part of a novella by, say, Colm Toibin, there'd probably have been a witch hunt. Instead, located here, there's a gentility and a kindness - a making senseness to how they form part of the picture of someone trying to make sense of a celestial encounter with the human, the real. The need to make sense, even where it transcends understanding.

These parts are perhaps closest to the aforementioned Kennardian absurdism. Tonally, however, they range out of easy laughter. There's a batch of poems in the second half of the book where humour seems to be the dominant mode, but in context of what's gone before, particular the doomy triptych, it's hard to take them as release or relief.

Or perhaps they're a temporary relief. A bit like the process-driven pieces. A few poems smack of googlisms, lists heavy with repetition and wild juxtaposition, where the ego shines out from the cracks between curated pieces, rather than glowing in the voice-driven language. The more deceptive pieces, the ones where the voice does a very good job of sounding familiar, are the places where I found myself least secure. The process-driven stuff - flarf, Oulipo, those conscious moments of trying to get outside of representational, first person lyric conventions - feels, to me, like it has had its day, especially here, with Dear Mary's unstable eye/I. Those diary pieces, so deceptively inviting, stretch the lyric mode into strange places, finding room to manoeuvre a personal personality within the constraints of very poetry-looking poetry.

Actually, if I had to give you an accurate sense of this book, I'd say, it's a bit like wearing a Rupert-suit for an hour. Yes, really; this is poetry as a record of experience, through and through: lived moments coupled to the reflections on, the long-running tracks of thought to which one person idiosyncratically returns, time and again, coupled to a private journalism, curated through a totalising subjectivity, but one which is always overstretching the rigidity of those boundaries with new perspectives, alternative subjectivities entering through, melding with the pluralist eye/I.

The poems in Dear Mary are knitted from the real experience of a person, filtered through the alembic known as Rupert Loydell and passed on, partial, imperfect, formed into meanings and moments, against which you'll find a flicker of what it means to be not-yourself, for just a moment. If that sounds a little bit Buffalo Bill, well, maybe that's fair enough: it's just the wrong side of understandable to leave me with an uncanny feeling of having been dropped into something too familiar to be knowable.

===

[1] This is a lie, of course, and I should also add, I've had some delightful things in the post from Rupert, including a dozen or more issues from small-minded books.

[2] The fact check elves (OK, read: Rupert) notes that Kennard and Nathan Thompson and Rupert were all associated around Exeter at some point, along with people like Andy Brown (still there) and Alasdair Paterson (not sure if he's still there), latter of whom used to run a reading event, where perhaps they fraternised. The influence is speculation on my part. Also, I've slightly edited the passive aggressive, 'I miss you, Luke' out of the first sentence of the review, for reasons just stated.

[3] My rush job missed the fact that it isn't Steve Miller's song that's collaged, but Rupert's poem of the same title.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Sarah Cave and Rupert Loydell in Conversation (4/4)

"Fizzy-cola bottles with their light and dark theology and fearsome sugary tang of doubt."

SC:

Not questioning is a problem. I hope I use poetry as an enquiry, or perhaps an interrogation, of philosophy, theology and language.

Sometimes you write poems that are about yourself, your friends, your family which could be read as memoir. Do you think it’s more difficult for women to do this and remain, to the reader, detached as men can? I use characterisation in my poems, partly to avoid this, and so that any details appropriated from my own life are allowed to exist outside of the context me.

So for example, we both talk about faith (or lack/doubt) in our poetry. Do you find that you are asked personal questions about religion?

And, while we’re adopting this serious tone, what’s your favourite pick ’n mix sweet? Mine’s fizzy-cola bottles with their light and dark theology and fearsome sugary tang of doubt.

RML:

I don't know if I have ever done pick'n'mix! I used to like Kola Cubes when I was a kid. And white chocolate mice. Those sherbet flying saucer things too, with cardboard shells that stuck to the top of your mouth.

I was talking – well emailing – Clark Allison earlier about this whole idea of us being present in our poems. He quite rightly said we can only write about what we experience, but I was adamant that I want my poems to move away from confession. They obviously are about things that interest or concern me, but it doesn't mean the narrators are me, or that everything said in the poem is me speaking, or that what happens in them happened to me.

I have no idea if it's more difficult for women to be as detached. I don't see why it should be, and there are plenty of experimental women writers who choose not to write autobiographically or confessionally. It's also quite clear that even the likes of Lowell and Plath construct their own poetic personas. Everything is mediated!

So yes, characterisation, disruptive syntax, parataxis, jump cuts, collage, multiple voices etc are all useful tools to disabuse readers that it's me opening my heart up.

I do sometimes get asked about the content of my poems, yes. It's sometimes interesting to talk about the sources of ideas, but it depends who is asking. Despite our 'postmodernist loss of metanarratives' it's amazing how many universal ideas and stories do still exist, and the idea of the spiritual (or religious) is definitely one of them.

SC:

I think you’re ignoring the epiphanic nature of the pick‘n’mix counter.


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© Sarah Cave & Rupert Loydell 2017





YES RUPERT, STOP IGNORING THE EPIPHANIC NATURE OF THE PICK'N'MIX COUNTER. - GT.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Sarah Cave and Rupert Loydell in Conversation (3/4)

"Russian protest occasionally reappears in some of the later poems in the guise of a rubber duck."

RML:

Well, I look forward to the new ten poems... Yes, the male presence is interesting, something I've played with in Dear Mary, though more as a possible erotic presence or sexy male hunk than menacing presence.

I love Robert Lax's work, but it's so bare and minimal that I don't often find that it leaves room for associative texts, variations or responses, whereas the annunciation is already part of a complex web of ideas, images, theology, belief systems and associative stuff that one can go on forever responding and reinventing. I mean just that jump from angel to devil to snake to Jim Morrison of the Doors is easy. I can't do that with Lax! (He might have been relieved.)

What I do like is the sense that both Lax and Merton were in many ways recluses who lived apart from the world yet were able to intelligently observe and comment on it. I feel too awash in information, images, texts and music to get that kind of perspective. Though I wouldn't mind being a hermit in Tuscany for a while – as long as I could fly to New York or London every so often. And before you laugh, remember Thomas Merton was the kind of solitary person who sometimes jumped over the monastery wall to drink whisky with his friends and publisher. A civilized way to live, I feel.

SC:

Perhaps. Merton scores very low in Hermit Top Trumps though.

RML:

Possibly, although I think he has high spiritual superpowers which sometimes win out.

Anyway, what about this idea of themes and specifics within a web of stuff rather than on its own. Did you feel the Fra Angelico was outside your subject areas? How did you get from that painting to the ideas you used?

SC:

I didn’t. As you mentioned earlier, the annunciation has a complex web of associative images, texts and references in popular culture, so I came to it through different means. I don’t think I looked at the painting until we were several poems in. I’d written a few poems about Mary previously concerned with the bodily reality of giving birth. At the time of writing the Snow Angel Annunciation poem, I was mostly inspired by Pål Moddi’s version of Pussy Riot’s Punk Prayer, the music video of which features the Norwegian folk-singer sitting on the steps of a church near the Norwegian/Russian border in sub-zero temperatures, the church having decided that it was too politically risky allowing him to play inside the church. That sense of faith being silenced and being forced to exist in the margins is present in that poem. Russian protest occasionally reappears in some of the later poems in the guise of a rubber duck.

I imagine when I look more closely at Fra Angelico I will be more interested in him. I like monks and nuns… not in a 1970s Nunsploitation kind of way though.

I have this web of ideas developed over thirty years of varying degrees of religious education, misinformation and re-constructed fragments in which to piece together my annunciation poems. Sunday school, Catholic friends at university, Jesus cartoons, religious music, a research interest in mysticism and the Robert Powell movie Jesus of Nazareth left plenty of material to build my new annunciation nest with.

Can you think of any more hermits for Hermit Top Trumps?

RML:

I guess Thoreau has to go straight in the set. Perhaps Saint Francis and some of the Desert Fathers. After that I kind of run out of steam. I don't think hermits is a specialist area of mine at all! If I thought harder it would be rather heavy on Christian mystics and recluses though, despite my shelves full of poets.

Marginalized belief is interesting... Sydney Carter, the poet and songwriter ('Lord of the Dance' is his most famous) writes well about spiritual doubt, and the tension with faith, which of course is much more interesting than people who are sure about everything. My friend A.C. Evans always talks about the 'leap of doubt', with a nod to existentialism and gnosticism, as well as a cynical take on occult and conspiracy theories. My own mix of Sunday school, church and reading liberal and postmodern theology, along with the death-of-god and humanist strands, not to mention fiction by the likes of Charles Williams and Tim Winton has produced my own peculiar take on it all, which as I put in 'Sudden Impact':

      We must look at what
      we see, make up our minds, pay attention
      to surfaces and the different ways they
      catch the light through religious smoke.

This religious smoke, along with new age smoke, and fundamentalist smoke, seems to me to cloud everything.

It's not so much faith being silenced, as doubt being silenced; we are asked not to question at all. And if we don't engage with thinking and questioning we seem to end up with pick'n'mix anything-goes woolly new-age nonsense.


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© Sarah Cave & Rupert Loydell 2017

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Sarah Cave and Rupert Loydell in Conversation (2/4)

"Poets can be like the people who open jars for you after you’ve done most of the work yourself"


SC:


I don’t think these annunciation poems would have happened for me if you’d just emailed me a copy of the Fra Angelico painting one rainy Sunday.

Poets can be like the people who open jars for you after you’ve done most of the work yourself. They come along and unlock the mechanism and you think, ‘well, I was almost there’ but, in the end, they did open the jar for you because, before they came along with their jar-opening words, you were just looking at some jam (maybe Marmite if we’re talking contemporary art) through glass, scraping away the label or reading the contents list trying to imagine how all that might come together…

Sad. No toast for you and along comes this poet and out come the jam-words and everyone can have toast.

Slava was the result of me trying to open two jars at once and making a mess all over the floor. The first was the poet Robert Lax whose ekphrastic blue/black poem continues to fixate me. It really isn’t much more than, as you say, mimesis and yet something lives in the words that doesn’t in the Reinhardt painting it mirrors.

Perhaps it’s the poet himself, or, perhaps, something that the poet brought to the painting that I couldn’t.

The second jar was the polyarnik Vyascheslav Korotkin who appeared in the
Guardian as photographed by Evgenia Arbugaeva. He’s the real Slava. I don’t know if I imagined a whole new life for him. I didn’t want to get too personal. Nevertheless, his life fascinated me. Turning him into a monk allowed me to work at the two emerging ideas at once. I’ve never met Lax or Korotkin but both unlocked problems I needed to work through and I had to find a way to enjoy toast with them.

I guess I did something similar in my re-imaginings of the annunciation. I wanted to re-introduce elements such as the difficult family dynamics, secrets and unreliable male figures that are erased from the gospel version of the story and work out how those erasures were problematic for me. Whilst also, hopefully, entertaining with my brand of heretical religiosity.
RML:

So, I guess like me, though perhaps with different concerns, you are weaving stories (in poetry) around and from paintings or stories or other poems? I think the idea of layers is one that I found myself peeling away when I started to think about why the Fra Angelico annunciation in San Giovanni Valdarno appeals to me so much. It's not just the image itself, it's the fact it's the least known and regarded of his annunciation paintings, the fact it used to be in a small room behind the church altar which you had to squeeze in to, and then all the symbols and motifs I had to read about to understand. Lilies, porticos, blue dress, abstract floors, not to mention early ideas of perspective; and then the centuries of annunciation paintings everywhere in Western Europe, not least of course in every tiny Italian church you care to enter.
And of course I am fascinated by this asexual, often muscular being, with glorious wings, in conversation with this placid and devotional, slightly bewildered virgin woman, who even as it happens seems to have ideas of 'Queen of Heaven' dumped on her. Where's Joseph in all this? Why are so many of the angels so prettified and resplendent? There's a magical moment being painted here, basically a kind of alien encounter – things from another world arriving in the human world. I somehow wanted to write about all that, hence the variations and retellings of the annunciation story, imaginary paintings by those, like Francis Bacon, who never did and probably never would, paint an annunciation, and a wider set of poems about Italy, colour, abstraction, and contemporary art. The series still seems to be spiralling away from the completed Dear Mary book into new areas, hence our collaboration.
Did something like this happen between Lax and Korotkin for you? I mean Lax does come with various baggage attached: ideas of being a hermit, his murky past in America, his friendship with Thomas Merton and Ad Reinhardt, the very cult nature of his work: elusive in language and style, but also in its availability! You suggested that sending you a Fra Angelico jpeg wouldn't have done anything, presumably just a Lax book wouldn't have either? It's associative and contextual stuff, plus the personal links we bring as individuals to a subject, yes?
SC:

Yes. I guess so. My nest of words. Your nest of words. The nest of words around certain iconic images. We’re all throwing bits of nest at each other as we interact and consequently making new nests or maybe adding extensions to the roost. Everything from the nest gets used and re-used and you can see the architecture of my brain-nest in my poems. To quote Vahni Capildeo, ‘language is my home’ and I think I can more easily understand the Lax poetry and the accounts of Korotkin’s life and build nest-images with that than I can with the Fra Angelico painting. Although, to contradict myself, I also found Evgenia Arbugaeva’s images a necessary handle on Korotkin’s life and Lax’s poetry is often concretely imagistic.
In some of my annunciation poems, I’ve changed the story completely. I was fixated, for a time, with the idea of a menacingly male angelic presence. The bluebeard figure of Leonard Cohen and the androgynous David Bowie are both symbolic of more complex, contemporary ideas of female sexuality. Both are just as problematic as the original.

It’s a strange scene, something of a monolith, that if looked at closer unravels like a green field, which you can either decide is just a green field and get on with your life or you can lie down and listen to how it’s an infinite number of other things.

You know I think I’ve just thought up ten new annunciation poems whilst writing this. Second book?


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© Sarah Cave & Rupert Loydell 2017