Essay by Joe Luna


Harmless Unnecessary Cat

But, untranslatable,
Love remains
A future in brains.


Introit

Every time I write a paper or give a talk about poetry or a poem it gets more difficult to do so.[1] Why is this the case? It does not get more difficult to read poems; and although poems do not stay still, and although the poems that I do read demand all of me and all of my attention when I do read them, I do not feel like I have a comprehensively different relation to poetry to the one I had when I wrote the last paper I delivered on the subject. There is something confusing to me about the law of poetry’s genre that is essential to poetry. This much seems obvious. That it remain confusing is probably important, though that doesn’t help much. The poetry that I have always admired most is the kind of poetry whose possibilities seem endless. This makes the poetry that I love extremely difficult to talk about with any concision or precision. I suppose it is a utopian notion, because endlessness under current conditions does not make much sense as an emancipatory or especially contradictory or antagonistic or anti-capitalistic principle.

Pre-Thesis

The difficulty of talking about poetry is utopian when it is the difficulty of an attempt to name that which the poem is incapable of naming as a future which we do not own.

In 1951, Theodor Adorno named this utopian notion, described in the phrase his English translator renders as “the standpoint of redemption.” The last aphorism of Minima Moralia, ‘Finale,’ describes “The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised in the face of despair,” which Adorno firmly believed was the only face worth looking at, in the following terms:

Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light. [...] It is the simplest of all things, because the situation calls imperatively for such knowledge, indeed because consummate negativity, once squarely faced, delineates the mirror-image of its opposite. But it is also the utterly impossible thing, because it presupposes a standpoint removed, even though by a hair’s breadth, from the scope of existence, whereas we well know that any possible knowledge must not only be first wrested from what is, if it shall hold good, but is also marked, for this very reason, by the same distortion and indigence which it seeks to escape.

I would like to suggest that the gap which Adorno describes, that between the scope of existence and a standpoint removed, even by a hair’s breadth, from that existence, can consist in the difficulty of talking about poems.

Poetry opens this gap, which swallows the particular into the normatively universal even as it emerges from the consideration of the particular as the only responsible task in the face of despair. It is the simplest of all things, not only because that hair’s breadth can be expressed in, or by, a line-break or a rhyme, but also because talking about poetry is generally embedded in the language of dissent and dissensus that demands a better world; yet it is also the utterly impossible thing, because that demand becomes aggressively presumptuous to the point of reckless utopianism as soon as the consideration of poetry reposes within the very framework of establishing itself as a naturally emancipatory model.

Example 1

In 1956 Brecht wrote the following poem:

Und ich dachte immer die allereinfachsten Worte
Müssen genügen. Wenn ich sage, was ist
Muß jedem das Herz zerfleischt sein.
Daß du untergehst, wenn du dich nicht wehrst
Das wirst du doch einsehen.

[And I always thought: the very simplest words
Must be enough. When I say what things are like
Everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds.
That you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself
Surely you see that.]

That Brecht wrote this poem when he did, at the end of his life and in the middle of the century, speaks volumes about the kind of simplicity that must be enough. In Brecht’s poem, the simplest of all things is the crushing weight of demystification demystified, wrought into a new simplicity: “When I say what things are like / Everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds.” Surely it goes without saying that “enough” is a lodestone of ironic counterpoint that dissevers the effort required to achieve anything like it from any intimation of the opposite to, or even a situation a hair’s breadth removed from, “what things are like”? Must be enough for what, or for whom? To tear people’s hearts to shreds; or to be able to say that? Is Brecht’s poem just a sarcastic admission of the paucity of critical representation? Is it a joke?

Yes and no: the bluntness of the tone in this poem, as in much of Brecht, is both the vehicle and the object of its satire. It is never enough. In the face of despair, that it “Must” be enough is not incredulous that it can’t, but is rather the constant re-application of the pressure of a revolutionary imperative that makes the poem beat with such eloquent insistence in the first place. Barely five years after Adorno’s mock-heroic sign-off in Minima Moralia, Brecht’s poem reads as a paean to the simple impossibility, or rather, the impossible simplicity, of fashioning perspectives that require nothing less than “Everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds.” It is as if Adorno’s speculative standpoint is extenuated across the length and breadth of these lines in the time of their reading, shunting back and forth across the infinitesimal infinity between “the very simplest words” and “Must be enough,” constantly flaring up as the subtextual backdraft of the almost agonizingly sardonic “Everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds.” Today it is difficult to keep this demand, loaded as it is, from sliding into a kind of critical tagline for the arrangement of bourgeois liberal philanthropy: the shock of the recognition of alienation become the bleeding heart perpetually pumping out the kind of saccharine pity that maintains the charitable liberal in a relation of delayed disgust with his or her pitiable objects. That difficulty is more inescapable the more the simplicity of the poem’s affect is taken to be the uncomplicated Ideologiekritik of its message. But I think that, rather than estranging the world and revealing it to be, Brecht’s poem endlessly re-capitulates the dialectic of resistance to despair that entails the recognition of the difficulty of making simple what is more and more difficult to maintain: the possibility of a future. Brecht’s poem resists being made into an emblem of resistance by the sheer endlessness of its commitment to the lived time of political and affective differentiation. What “Must be enough” is never enough, forever; nearly too much / is, well, nowhere near enough.

Perfunctory dissent

At this point I take issue with the suggestion, which feels implicit in much contemporary discussion of radical, experimental or avant-garde poetry, and which was stated explicitly in the brief which prefaced the symposium for which this talk was originally written, that “poetry provides resistance.”[2] This seems too easy to me; resistance has to be harder than that; it cannot be provided; it must be made from scratch. To name that provision (resistance”) too soon, to name it as the universal characteristic of dissent which criticism assumes its object bears and is bearing, that it is the dissent with which poetry is uncritically invested, that it operates in the world as a short-cut to the standpoint of redemption; all this is to name precisely that by which poetry is divested of its powers of endless criticality and subsumed back into the world which so easily accommodates our resistance to it. If poetry resists anything, it resists the easy ascription of itself to a static model of resistance that it supposedly proceeds to exemplify. Before it resists anything, poetry resists being made into Poetry. I think Brecht knew this only too well, which is why his poem closes with the incredulity that its imperative had thus far resisted: “That you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself / Surely you see that,” provides an icon of the segue into individualistic caprice that would betray the commitment to opposing the truth of “what things are like” by subjugating it to the precarity of personal survival. By ending his poem in this way, Brecht allows its central dialectic, epitomised in the hair’s breadth between “When I say what things are like,” and “Everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds” to persist uninterrupted, for as long as the poem is read.

Rampant speculation

The British poet J.H. Prynne recently described, in an interview with Nicholas Royle at the University of Sussex, the futurity inherent in poetical composition. As soon as you have even 10 or 12 words, suggested Prynne, you open up a space for their arrangement into a formation which has never before been present in the history of the language. Prynne described this constant possibility as one of the greatest and most extraordinary privileges of poetical composition. The first lines of the first poem in Prynne’s 2005 collected poems, ‘The Numbers,’ read: “The whole thing it is, the difficult / matter: to shrink the confines / down” (the poem was published in 1968). Poets repeatedly shrink the confines down in order to be able to deal with the historical trauma of their inheritance. If they did not, they would not be standing up for themselves, let alone anybody else. Philosophers do this, too, when they talk about “poetry,” when what they really mean is ‘Un Coup de Dés,’ or Hölderlin. But this condition of simplicity, of shrinking the confines down, of poetry’s radical economy of means, of the simple act of breaking a line in the first place; this condition is part of what makes the time of reading verse so intrinsically paradoxical, so irresistibly propulsive and yet so endlessly repetitive: prosody is a tool for making a future that is impossible to articulate otherwise. That is not to say that prosody is redemptive, but that it presupposes and fleetingly inhabits standpoints unthought in linguistic expression before the poem gets written. Another British poet, Douglas Oliver, a contemporary and dear friend of Prynne’s, believed that the stresses in lines of poetry were the actual sites of fleetingly lived intersubjective encounters between poet-author and reader. This seems positively magical to me; and yet there is an extremity to Oliver’s thinking about prosody, which by attention to the microscopic articulations of spoken language presents an example of relationality unthinkable outside the radically discrete confines of written verse. Such a thesis speaks to a community of readers as part of the pre-conditions and the energies of composition, a community repeatedly activated and brought into being by the scene of reading and writing.

Thesis

Poetry is intrinsically futural: it delineates a relationship to the future that is both simple and impossible. It makes a future by refusing to relinquish its possibilities of commitment and thoughtful pressure to the critical idiom of the spectacle of resistance. I think that the “demand [...] placed on thought” by the attempt to fashion the impossible perspectives that Adorno describes could help to formulate a criticism that would define poems not as loci of resistance, serene in their localised discretion, but as the echoes of the future from which resistance gains its energies, tactics and emotional intelligence of possibility.[3] Perhaps this would help us to think about poetry as the historical expression of presently ineradicable social contradictions, rather than, as it sometimes feels with the resistance model, as the cauterization or suppression of those contradictions in the service of defending the authentic remnants of a life already given over to its pre-, post- or sub-aesthetic abolition. I wonder if this might either intersect with, or entirely bypass, Jacques Rancière’s polemical distinction between the pretentious uselessness of critical art conceived as such on the one hand, and the critical attention to the dogma of the equality of the intelligence on the other, by which lights his theory re-interprets entire swathes of 20th century art as the historical hangover of the failures of didactic methodology and of the misguided ontological compartmentalisation of art and life.

Rancière’s theory is designed to effect a radical sea-change not just in the designations of critical art theory, but in the production of works of art committed to an anti-capitalist critique; it suggests a re-organisation of that critique on the basis that the equality of the intelligence is best served by attention to the “‘being together’ in ‘being apart’” which constitutes, for Rancière, if I understand him correctly, the possibility of community building in artistic practice along non-sovereign, anti-capitalist lines. What if the disregard for the critical commonplace of poetry as resistance per se helped to further the composition of poetry whose quality and register of attention took nothing for granted except the futurity inherent in its practice as the impossible simplicity of its movement out of this world? Might this condition of impossibility be a fruitful one, in which the possibilities for affective re-distribution and intensities of feeling, of subjective re-organisation and of the articulation of the limits of class fantasies, remain profoundly endless? Or would it simply strip from poetry any distance or distinction from the world in which it gets written, rendering it the surest mirror-image of the face of despair at which it winks back knowingly from the glass?

Example 2

Here is a poem, published in 2012, by the American poet William Fuller:

I’ve been enjoying these moments of unconscious travel, touched by
death-hints or impressions of an alien wilderness—first heat, then
rain, then paradox—but there’s a trace of something else that slips in
and is felt along my shoulders. Last week I became more aware of it.
Whose thoughts do I hear now and what is happening inside them?
They concoct what I’d call a musical thesis and it’s unusual to
encounter it taking place near so many trees. How did I not see, and
in the midst of this not carefully take note of—not its reluctance to
make itself known—that was fairly clear—but that—and how—it
wove itself into every substantive articulation, motivated them in
fact, heightened all their elements almost to glistening, even the
spectacle of its own disappearance along the perimeter it defined?
And though everyone keeps talking, the sun burns right through
them, and all I see is a spot on the pavement, which reverberates.

The difficulty of talking about this poem is that its beauty is predicated on a kind of luxurious aesthetic cannibalism, which I now attempt to follow.

Fuller’s work often feels moved by some unseen, unconscious “trace” that weaves its way through the poem, never quite revealing itself but nonetheless intimating that “it,” this “something else,” underpins the possibility of the production of any scene or scenario the poem might concoct, and it is in this sense that the “musical thesis” herein is agent and saboteur alike of “every substantive articulation” to such an extent that it incorporates itself into the “thoughts” that belong to some anonymous individual, “even the / spectacle of its own disappearance along the perimeter it defined.” That is, the disappearance of the “musical thesis,” what happens inside a cognition (access to which is predicated on its distinction, its independence from one’s own) takes place at the limits of that thought’s concoction, a disappearance that is experienced as a “spectacle,” as if the products of thought are witnessed disappearing through the optic of a mediated social relationship born of their very concoction by the image which the poem expresses and which is the poem.

This obscenely compressed description of the oxymoronic spectacle of disappearance traces just one of the poem’s innumerable moments of internal reverberation, disconnect and contradiction that are the propulsive organs of its curiously restless futurity. Grammar in the poem is the operative mechanism of impossible continuity, repeatedly folding the cumulative sense of the lines back upon its previous objects so that reading becomes a practice of syntactical cartography; the poem unfolds concentrically, since you hold the “musical thesis” in your mind as it winds its way through the various accommodations of more and more complex associations and relations of the pronoun “it” with its various objects and environments, until “it,” fat with retrospective syntactical inheritance, expands and extenuates into the flat-line linearity of its own disappearance, the militarized “perimeter” into which “it” is subsumed and which is a product of “its” own definition. The poem proliferates more intimate complexities of sense and relation between its objects than its pronomial relations can possibly fulfil in a single reading; as such, it renders the most complete realisation of its potentialities inaccessible by dint of the formal expression of each of its possibilities in the first place. The distance from this world which the poem opens through a nod to the speaker’s dream-like “unconscious travel” is bound by this proliferation, syntactically, imagistically and spectacularly, to the “thoughts” whose concoctions define their own boundaries over the course of their materialisation.

But these thoughts belong to a person who is not the speaker of this poem.

Envoi

Fuller’s poem is beautiful because the sleight of thought that produces the illusion of captivated rumination is at the same time the self-destruction of its attachment to an endless negation. It is beautiful to watch that thought go, and it is beautiful to find it clinging to the underside of the möbius strip of the world for which it is too responsible to abandon. But what has responsibility got to do with it? The impossible simplicity of the poem’s closing couplet “burns right through” the scowl of precious contractual obligation to the language of futures both temporal and financial, as it does through the sound of “everyone [...] talking,” if we can imagine what that would sound like. Its final, humble object is a “spot on the pavement, which reverberates,” closing the poem with a public scene of intractable, persistent movement, the speaker turned directly towards a point of common orientation and universal sustenance. The tone is quietly ecstatic. The face of despair is a desperately bourgeois ruse.







[1] This talk was written for the third in a series of interdisciplinary symposia at the Kunsthalle, Zürich, which took place on the 26th April, 2014, at the invitation of Ed Atkins and Julia Moritz. The original delivery can be recovered here: http://vimeo.com/94422611. Many thanks to Lisa Jeschke for her generous attention to this work, and for our conversation about it.

[2] The original passage of the symposium’s brief was as follows: “In the context of Un-like, POETRY is an interpolation. As will be discussed in the two prior sessions, LOVE and DEATH are intertwined in their mutual discretion, their situation one of near-impossible representability – their conditions such that their very apprehension threatens epistemological possibility as well as any kind [of] unanimity. Poetry epitomizes Un-like’s attempt to interrupt and understand. One of the foundations of the symposium is a certain kind of belief in the irrecuperable in experience; the inability of culture to fully represent or redeem the loss of experience, the loss of lived life. We are left with Love and Death, with their blinding deficit; more than anything else, we are left with those vast, echoing words. Poetry, then, might offer the possibility of approaching experience as a witness, as permitter; advocacy without possession or reparation. This permissiveness, in the context of artworks and in relation to implications of the digital, the virtual and the deferred […] can be understood as a rejection of immortality. The vital, parenthetically embraced by love and death, is allowed – celebrated. Within this configuration, poetry provides resistance.”

[3] An alternative divergence from the line of instances of resistance is expressed in Danny Hayward’s recent writings, and especially in the essays ‘Perfect Capitalism’ and ‘The Essential Standpoint of Man: An Autopsy, in Three Parts.’ Inhabiting the toxicities of language whose predilections we might initially feel should be “resisted” is part of this argument, as in, for instance: “How do we know social possibility and the class fantasies which police it? We might begin, I suggest, by living out those fantasies with the most thickly malevolent cupidity [...]” because “[t]he ‘possibility’ for the individual alienation of social contradiction is abolished only in the vision of the effort to realise it, and what I’ve called the dissolution of a class can be nothing besides the asphyxiation of its possibilities—it can (can it?), to some extent, be an inside job.” See http://www.worldpicturejournal.com/WP_6/PDFs/Hayward.pdf. I propose another (more depressive) alternative in a presently incomplete account of ‘Poetry and the Fantasy of Totality,’ that is, the reading of lyric poetry in which domination is experienced as specifically capitalistic and as a scene of disproportion, in order to describe “an experience [...] which the poem produces and which is the poem, [and which] occurs at the site of the most complete incommensurability of the promise of a better world and the possibility of its realisation.” See http://fallopianyoutube.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/poetry-and-fantasy-of-totality.html.







Ken Edwards, Seven pieces from a book with no name







Equivalence



Things we thought are not connected can in fact be converted to each other. For example matter is equivalent to energy. And energy can be reduced to the material objects that we desire. Human desire defaults to human error. And error is transformed into an orrery of intricate design. But the orangery that we wander through in delight soon decays to an abandoned lot. And the abandoned place emerges through a series of tunnels and wormholes to become multi-dimensional manifolds. Many of these morph into human shapes shuddering. Those shadowy apes turn into the apex of the heart. And a heartbeat changes subtly to the tapping of a drum through a complex of long corridors. But the corridors lead nowhere they metamorphose into cosmic strings left over from the early universe. Then strings give way to brass that sings aloud. The song is rendered as a series of complex and imaginary numbers. A number substitutes for a name. Your name is called but you do not recognise it and eventually it evolves into random syllables. The phonemes shift to a series of vibrations. This fibrous mass regenerates as the pages of a book. The book has no name and its text which appears to be meaningless transmutes into iconic characters. Cartoon characters hover above a precipice and are transfigured into abstract coloured shapes that dance. The dance is remade as an image woven into a rug. The pattern resolves to a face you recognise. And the face of your loved one takes the nature of an abandoned vessel somewhere on a high ocean.








Text



Somebody is reading this text. Therefore it exists.








Thing



Well there’s a thing. There’s something to think about. Did you ever imagine such a thing? There’s a whole thing here. What a thing to see. Would you credit it? That really is something. It’s something to behold. There’s something in it. Something you could never have imagined. But did you imagine it? Perhaps you did perhaps it was something in your imagination. Did this thing exist? Did it really exist? The thing is it was there and now it isn’t. It was there and now it’s gone. The thing is there was something there and it was really something but it’s not there any more.








History of a thought



What is the history of thought? This is too hard a question. Try again. What is the history of a thought? Even more difficult. A thought is elusive. We know that much. Where did it come from? Unknown. A thought cannot be grasped. Its progress cannot be tracked with any certainty. Its genesis is therefore even less certain than its present status. What was there before the thought? If there was nothing how then did the thought originate? How could it originate? And what thereafter? How does the thought persist? Who is doing the thinking? How can we address this question? There is a narrative to a thought but it is too hard to capture. It mutates too quickly. It moves at the speed of thought. Tracking it is tricky even when it maintains its coherence. But what if it lost coherence? What if it went elsewhere? What if it became distorted and therefore entered the realm of dream or even nightmare? And what if it were then taken up and acted upon? That doesn’t bear thinking about. But everything must run its course. Let us suppose therefore that before too long the thought is gone. It has vanished. Does the thinker then persist? Who is it who thought and then ceased thinking and does the thinker continue to exist after the thought has run its course? But has the thought really finished? Is it complete has it reached its terminus its estuary its final horizon? What has become of it? And if on the other hand still incomplete if without resolution then does the thought have a future and who will think it through? What is its future? We don’t know. So we are no wiser. We don’t even know that. This requires further thought. It’s time to think again.








Be



That’s it. What it is. That’s what it is what it can be it is. What is it? That’s what it is. What it is to be. What it is is to be. It is a name. It is to be a name. What can it be? Is what it is. And to be that. But there is no name. There is no name for it. No name for that. No name. That is if you need a name. That is if you need but what need is there? Is there and that’s it. Is there. There is no need. You are there. You are there where it is. Just where it is. Where it is and what. Where is it? There it is. That’s where it is. That’s where you are. You are where it is where it all is. What it is what it all is is where you are. This is it. This is what it is. This is what you are. You are where you are and what you are. That is where it is and what it is. It’s the same thing. Where it all is and what it all is that is where you are and all you are. Where it all can be and what it all can be that is all you can be. But just to be. That is all. Just to be that is all. To be and what it can be. What it can be to be. That’s all it is. That’s all there is to it. All that you can be is what it is. That’s all. It is to be. Is that all? Is that all there is? To be it. To be. That’s all there is. All there is. All there is is there. Is that it? Don’t be frightened.








Breathe



Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. And breathe out. Take it in. And let it out. Take it in. And let it out. Take it in take care. And let it all out. Take it in just take it in and take a break. And let it all come out just let it let it all come out. Take it all just take it take it all just take it all in. And let it out let it all out let it all come out. Take care take it in just take it all in just take it in and take a break. And let it out let it all come out it has to come out let it out. Take it in just take it all in just take care to take it all in just take it all just take it just take it all in then take a break. And let it out let it all out let it all come out it has to come out it’s in there and it has to come out it has to come out somehow so just let it. Take care now just take care to just take it take care to take it in take care to just take it all in now this is the moment and take a break this is the moment. And gently start to let it out to let it out gently let it out with plenty of time the time is now to let it all out it’s all in there and it’s going to come out. Now this is the moment to take it in this is the right moment to take it in and take it all in and this is what happens in the moment in the right moment. And it’s going to come out now it is now that it’s out there it’s out there out in the world now out in the world now out of this world and the time is now. So this is the right time to make a move and to move and to move to take everything in so everything comes in at the right moment with the right momentum. And out in the world the world moves it’s moving now you can see how it is how it is now the clouds on the horizon how they are moving outwards how they are moving. So it moves in and in as the time is right and in and in and in time so everything moves in and it all moves in with the right momentum but there is no other. And back it goes with movement it has movement now the clouds on the horizon and the shadows of the clouds on the horizon as they move and move out of this world and move back and across the landscape moving out and back in the movement they have. There it is now it comes in when the time is right when they have plenty of time when they are sat on the lawn they are taking it all in the music is coming in from afar the music the sounds are coming into their ears and the time is right. And this gives it shape it takes the shape of the landscape that moves under the clouds you can see the landscape in motion now it has momentum it has no other shape but the shape its momentum gives it it is the momentum that gives it shape. Because the time is right there is no other time and it is right they are right to sit on the lawn in a circle and they are taking it all in and they find inspiration in it for that’s what it is it’s like a circle it is a circle. And the shape is the momentum the shape gives momentum and the momentum gives shape in the landscape under the clouds it takes shape the landscape in this moment that occurs. Because they are sitting in a circle or a half circle in the late sun in the waning sunshine they are taking it all in the music is coming in to their ears the music is a circle and they are half listening to the music which is an inspiration. And the landscape is a moment that occurs it takes shape it is gone it shapes and is gone its shape is a moment in time it is and was it was and is no more it responds and respires. It’s like a circle it is a circle the music is a circle that is open they listen in the open they open their ears in a circle it’s like a circle the music is inspiring it’s like a circle it is an open book. And in a moment it’s gone the moment has gone it takes shape and respires and the flame creeps in in the waning sun as it goes down the flame takes shape and it flares. It is a circle it’s an open circle the music is a circle it is an open book you can go all round it and the circle surrounds it it is a circle of fire. And it respires and catches the flame catches in a moment it is a process of respiration it catches fire and takes and takes shape and takes and takes back. Then the fire takes hold the music is burning the books are burning in a circle of flame an open circle an open book in the fire that surrounds it. And takes and takes takes it back into the back where the shapes are where the human shapes are shuddering and they catch fire the bodies catch fire the human bodies are moving as they catch fire. So the fire moves into the open where the music the bodies the books are where they move and catch where they catch fire in a heartbeat two heartbeats three heartbeats four heartbeats. And so they are consumed the human shapes that shudder and move in the middle of four heartbeats they shout out loud in fear and joy. Then fear and joy consume them their bodies go up and down they shout in the midst of burning as the heartbeats race they shout the names of those they love. And love consumes them in the midst of it all all that burning they are burning creatures they are creatures of habit they are consumed by love as they burn so they burn so they do. Then fear and joy and bodies burning they are burning they shout the names. And burning creatures burn they are burning away and so they do. All the bodies will burn away and shout the names as they burn away. And so they do they burn and burn until there is nothing left and it comes to an end. They do it again and again once in every four heartbeats again and again they shout the names a million times two million times three million times four million. And soon it will come to an end even now it’s coming to an end. The names they shout the names and soon the names are all that is left. And soon it will all be done and everything begins again. The names they call and soon the names they burn. And that’s it you’re nearly done. The names the burning names. And holding and burning and nearly done. Five hundred million times six hundred million. And soon and holding. Shouting the name of love. And holding and you’re done that’s it you’re done. Do it seven hundred million times and you’re done. And that’s it you’re done.








Love story



He saw something. It was something and it was in her. In her there was a little smile. It was sudden and then it went. She danced and she smiled. There it went. There was dancing. She danced and he danced and she saw him. He was dancing too. Suddenly she saw him. He was running because it was late. He jumped the barrier and she saw him jumping. There was laughter. He saw her laughing. She laughed as he jumped. Then he laughed. There was something in it. There was recognition that was all. It was accomplished. It didn’t take long. He saw something and she saw something it was something in her and something in him and it was the same thing. Many years passed. He still saw something in her and she in him. It was the same thing.










Shearsman Books will publish a book with no name by Ken Edwards in October 2016

A poem by Iain Rowley


download as a pdf:

'Birth From Above'

a problem / how small is the matter / harm shares / the solid is not all that / an I for what is / pragmatic fleeing / from the major projects / towards worm castings / at mouth / undergone without pre-text / beat urge to light of light / through conjoint action / rhizobium push / nodule on root / folate richness / residual benefits / sweet peanuts / sweet peanuts //

[...]

Poetry by Linda Kemp


download as a pdf:

from 'Lease Prise Redux'

Divested of evidence ensures high insurance &
business rates. S·he looks so hollow in
generation. Rates are so high
taking out massive recently vacated. If s·he tells
pay the borrowed
in the longing of appearance
originality
quietly agreed. The equanimity of
expansion in the private rental sector
goodness
regulating what s·he sees
leaning on the never
supply guarantee

[...]

New poem by Steven Waling


Download the poem as a pdf:

I Go Through The Door

In the black of the limousine
I go through the door to her flat

[...]

Six notes about Lee Harwood (while reading Penguin Modern Poets 19)

by Michael Peverett


1. The English Channel

Paul Nash, painting of Dymchurch sea-wall



[Image source: from Cathy Lomax's pretty wonderful blog: http://cathylomax.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/paul-nash-and-dymchurch.html]



Lee’s poems had about them a remarkable tone. They were ‘quiet’ compared to the work of the Americans I was reading, but they were also surreal. It was a surrealism of everyday things. I often felt that surrealism arrived in Britain as flotsam; objects that floated across the Channel and sat displaced on a beach in southern England. It’s something you can see in the paintings of Paul Nash.


(From Laurie Duggan's in memoriam post about Lee Harwood:

http://graveneymarsh.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/remembering-lee-harwood.html)


I wonder if Tim Allen (who grew up on the Isle of Portland) would recognize that particular psychogeographical configuration?

Thinking back to my Hastings days, maybe even (in early childhood)  my Eastbourne days, I'd say that I always had a vague sense of it.

A sense confirmed when, much later, I discovered Montale's poem "Eastbourne" (not that Montale was a Surrealist, but...) , and by the Channel-Islander Jeremy Reed's translations of Montale in The Coastguard's House, generously and rightly praised by Michael Hoffman in the LRB;  still surely one of Reed's most stunning achievements.

Maybe it's something about any town that sharply abuts the sea. The sudden, enormous sea-blankness always intrudes a kind of questioning commentary, a kind of provisionality, into the life of the land.

But maybe, too,  it's particularly something unique about the English Channel. Already when I was quite young, the experience here was not just of enormous sea-blankness but of a pressing awareness that, not very far beyond the blankness, though invisible to us, lay a populous, clamorous and totally different world; different languages, different history, different art, different thinking.

Plus it was a fact that continental visitors, like Montale, were a lot more likely to show up in South Coast towns than in, say, Derbyshire.

It always seemed to me quite natural that my own grandmother, an Eastbourne resident long estranged from her husband, should have nourished her imaginative and emotional life with visits to Paris and Austria. She even made me call her by a German name (Mutti). I never really thought of her as English.

Though I couldn't see across the English Channel myself, it was obvious that Mutti could.


[I've been here before.

In an essay I wrote in 2010 about Elizabeth Bletsoe's collection Landscape from a Dream (named after a Paul Nash painting), I felt concerned that taking an interest in Nash's South Coast localities might mean "an unsurrealization of Surrealism". I'm still not sure if it's true or not.]






2. Lee Harwood


Most subsequent poetry, at least the kind of poetry I care for, has been about trying to assess the cost and the damage of those delirious, irresponsible love-poems of the first New York school. Like, the complicities in this glad acceptance of the world. Wanting to share it. Should I share it?

chandeliers tinkling in the silence as the winds batter the gardens
outside             formal lakes shuddering at the sight
of two lone walkers
                                    Of course this exaggerates
small groups of tourists appear and disappear
in an irregular rhythm of flowerbeds

("As Your Eyes Are Blue...")


It's a world that's still recognizably ours, when we are leisured. The lovers wrapped up in their own impressions, which seem to interact with them and them alone; yet also a democratic world in which similar experiences affect all the tourists and tourist couples that stroll through it. The comedy, the high camp, yet the beauty, yet the sense of being absolutely clear-eyed, which asserts a moral power. By making no judgments or claims it maintains an integrity, as if the poem might, though it says nothing definite, have all the political awareness you'd personally wish it to have and a whole lot more that you don't have yourself.

The perfect grace and flexibility of Harwood's lines, his pacing, the layout, the use of spaces instead of punctuation: he can say anything, and it's all poetry. I'm still beguiled.



3. Lee Harwood again


Central Park Zoo, 1967 (photo by Garry Winogrand)

[Image source: http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/photographs/garry-winogrand-central-park-zoo-new-york-5600340-details.aspx]


I've been reading Robert Sheppard's pieces on Lee Harwood's poetry, and as a result have a bit more context for the early poems I'm reading in Penguin Poets 19.

Review of the earlier part of the Collected:
http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2005/12/robert-sheppard-review-of-harwoods.html
Review of the later part of the Collected:
http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2006/01/robert-sheppard-review-of-harwoods.html
Three sequences in Morning Light (1998):
http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/robert-sheppard-on-three-sequences-by.html
Review of The Orchid Boat:
http://www.stridemagazine.co.uk/Stride%20mag%202014/december2014/The%20Orchid%20Boat.htm
A reflection on the above:
http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/robert-sheppard-review-of-lee-harwoods.html
Poem dedicated to Lee Harwood:
http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/robert-sheppard-for-lee-harwood-burnt.html
A laugh with Lee Harwood:
http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/robert-sheppard-laugh-with-lee-harwood.html
In Memoriam:
http://robertsheppard.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/lee-harwood-1939-2015-in-memoriam.html

The "Three sequences" piece ends with this, part of a list of features that may be said to characterize the world of Harwood's poetry:

a bit of camp (or the occasional kitsch ‘bad’ line) thrown in to unsettle the certainties of received discriminations in life and in the art

That's something that can be abundantly illustrated from "The Doomed Fleet".

This 'exciting narrative poem' (Harwoodian quotes) begins:

The entire palace was deserted, just as was
the city, and all the villages.... 

Not "the palace" but "the entire palace" (gosh) ... and that conversational but slipshod "just as was"... these are little opening hints of what's to come.

By the start of section 3 we're in full-on helpless-author mode.

Grey waves slapped against the sides of
the iron grey battleships. Seabirds screeched
above the wind; they don't sing.
Even the ships appeared deserted, except
for the occasional dark figures that would
hurry along a deck and then disappear
through a hatch-way as abruptly as when they first
appeared. 

The grand if somewhat hackneyed description is never quite in control of itself. In the first sentence, an ill-advised choice of plurality spoils a clear image; then the seabirds are improbably located "above" the wind; now comes the deliciously wrong but somehow comprehensible "Even"; and finally the clause about the dark figures, which gets itself in a tangle so that, in the end, the figures disappear at the very moment they appear. Even the decision to hyphenate, or not, seems chaotic.

The syntax is trying so hard! - too hard - but it's constantly undone by time and precedence and geography and multiple entities: it's all too much. You begin to understand "The Doomed Fleet" as a writing assignment.

Harwood, like Ashbery ("It was raining in the capital"), saw the possibilities of disastrous writing. Because, isn't all writing disastrous, really?

And a funny thing is, that as I was sitting here and teasing out these various stylistic infelicities, the attention made me focus on the image: the dark figures leapt to their syntactically improper life -

hurry along a deck and then disappear

- leapt, in a way they certainly never would have done if the grammar had been in order.

Though it did occur to me that what I was vividly imagining, and probably what Harwood imagined too, seemed a hell of a lot more like the multiple decks of a well-lit passenger ferry than a  gloomy single-deck battleship.



USS Alabama, in service from 1943

[Image source: http://www.navy.mil/navydata/nav_legacy.asp?id=128]

*

With David Bowie's death (yesterday) there's some hive-thinking about bisexual artists going on. I'm a bit taken aback by the intensity of people's love. I discover (as it were for the first time) that, passionate 70s music fan as I was,  he was someone I never really followed, and that if he meant a great deal to me it was only for a very short time, when I was 13. I think the only records of his that I ever bought were three successive 45s: "Jean Genie" (backed with Ziggy Stardust),  "Drive-In Saturday" and the reissued "Life on Mars?". Yet I did know the Ziggy and Aladdin albums quite well. I must have long-loaned them from school-friends, Anthony Aloof maybe, or John Vincent Scott. (Thereafter, David Bowie perhaps seemed a too predictable music pigeon-hole for the likes of me: so I gravitated to the harsh obscure (Can, Beefheart, Hammill) and to other people's mainstreams (Beach Boys, Dolly Parton, Al Green).

I don't really know if Lee Harwood should be labelled bisexual or not. Maybe that's part of what bisexuality is all about. But I associate Lee's hypothetical bisexuality with his binary focus, the effect that Sheppard quotes him as calling cavalier vs puritan.

Sheppard again:

An erotic liaison with John Ashbery (whom he had met in Paris in 1965), and a more general literary engagement with the New York poetry scene at its height, engendered some deeply felt love poetry, including one of the finest meditations upon clandestine gayness, erotic obsession and separation, ‘As your eyes are blue’, which Jeremy Reed has described as ‘a love poem as important to its time as Shakespeare’s androgynously sexed sonnets were to his.’ In those days homosexuality was still illegal.

(Reed said this in 2005, but I haven't found out where because Sheppard's The Salt Companion to Lee Harwood is only searchable in snippet view.)

It's tempting  (volley of sexuality-stereotypes coming right up...) to associate the gay side of these poems with the urbane, with art, museums, New York; the het side with Harwood the rock-climber, and the frequently adventurous scenery of his poems, the recurrent three horsemen, etc. Or, as in this case, the iron grey battleships.

But the poems tend to regard such Boy's-Book scenes (the Argentine, the wild tribesmen of the hills, etc) as ridiculous. Even so, it won't leave them alone.

Rupert Bear is a fighter ace.

Harwood takes the voice of Mrs Skewton and liberates it; for him, being "all heart" is a serious proposition.



4. John Ashbery's eyes


.... are indeed blue, but a greyish type of blue.

Lee Harwood's "As Your Eyes Are Blue. . ." and  "For John in the Mountains" are closely related poems, both recalling the same flowery and meadowy trip to the mountains. (I would assume, in France or Switzerland.)

In the latter poem, he writes:

                        a dark snow
darker than your eyes'
dark snow

Ashbery's eye-colour compared to the blueish-grey colour of snow in shadow. To spell it out.



John Ashbery and Lee Harwood, Paris 1965 (photo by Pierre Martory)


[Image source: http://jacketmagazine.com/16/ah-harw.html, where it was reproduced courtesy of Lee Harwood (I've blown up the small JPG, which is why it looks blurred)]


*

Kenneth Koch's much-quoted 1965 conversation with John Ashbery.
http://thisrecording.com/today/2011/1/20/in-which-john-ashbery-and-kenneth-koch-start-making-sense.html


Essay by Andrew Field about the early Ashbery and pragmatism:
https://andrewfield81.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/the-imminence-of-a-revelation-not-yet-produced-ashbery-and-the-pragmatist-sublime/   (with particular reference to the opening line of Some Trees, "We see us as we truly behave:")


Essay by Bob Archambeau about Ashbery's art world at the end of 1940s:
http://samizdatblog.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/john-ashbery-and-poetics-of-art-world.html


5. The museum






[Image source (above and below): http://www.rugbooks.com/advSearchResults.php?action=search&orderBy=relevance&category_id=0&keywordsField=afghanistan]




These fragments I have shored against my ruins  


Somehow, modernism was in favour of museums. It was also anguished by them, by catastrophic history and a distasteful present, so the characteristic mode was irony.

By the time of the New York school, history seemed more catastrophic still. The poets begin to see the museum's contents in a different way. The details of the history you are supposed to be interested in became ridiculous. Irony died. A strong feeling of healthy irresponsibility blew through the room. It became apparent that the museum and its spaces and the items on display are crucially about now and here.

                                     whether it's the form of
Some creator who has momentarily turned away,
Marrying detachment with respect, so that the pieces
Are seen as part of a spectrum, independent
Yet symbolic of their spaced-out times of arrival;
Whether on the other hand all of it is to be
Seen as no luck.

(from John Ashbery's "Clepsydra", in Rivers and Mountains 1966. The first couple of pages of "Clepsydra", which include the above extract, are online here)

The third poet in Penguin Modern Poets 19, Tom Raworth, perceives the modernity too:

looking at the etruscan statues in the louvre there is a green
       patina on my hands my expression has taken its final
       shape
everything becomes modern inside these cases there is
       nothing without touching

children crawl under the glass      things are reflected several
       times

(from "Six Days", in The Relation Ship (1966))

Ashbery's idea of the "spectrum" becomes a "prism" in Lee Harwood's "The 'Utopia'" (Landscapes, 1967).

The table is very old and made of fine mahogany
polished by generations of servants.
And through the windows the summer blue skies
and white clouds spelling a puffy word.
And on the table the books and examples
of embroidery of the wild hill tribesmen
and many large and small objects - all of which
could not help but rouse a curiosity.

-----

At times it is hard to believe
what is before one's eyes -
there is no answer to this except the room itself,
and maybe the white clouds seen though the window.

------

*

ISIS destroys triumphal arches in Palmyra

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/06/world/middleeast/isis-syria-arch-triumph-palmyra.html?_r=0

As has often been pointed out, Daesh is philosophically just as western as it is eastern; indeed, the example of Daesh reveals such distinctions as inadequate to account for moves within a globalized world (though, of course, much remains in the stereotypes to be deftly exploited).

Daesh's intention to make a bonfire of both the nation-state and accumulated cultural riches is something that many of us will uncomfortably recognize as our own deep aspirations put into hideous practice.


*

"embroidery of the wild hill tribesmen".

Khamak and other Afghan embroideries are of course the art and labour of women. But owned and displayed by men, at least until they end up, - as a result of what transaction? - on this so-polished table...



*

Interview with Lee Harwood by Andy Brown in The Argotist Online - no date is given, but I should think it was around 2008.

http://www.argotistonline.co.uk/Harwood%20interview.htm

Recent short (but helpful) take on Ashbery's "Clepsydra", by John Koethe.

http://atlengthmag.com/poetry/short-takes-on-long-poems-volume-2/






6. Lee Harwood, "Questions of Geography"




"Question of Geography" has a three-part structure. The structure trembles a little, it's alive - "I can't remember... the details obscured..." - but for the purposes of now we'll stick with those three parts. Each describes a landscape experienced by Harwood at some time in his young life: call them "once", and "another time", and "now". This analysis makes the three seem more disentanglable than they really are. Really, the poem's discovery is a continuous argument. Nevertheless, here's the middle bit.

Ridge in the distance       everything the same
as before                  it must be
The moors edged with pine woods
in the south-west province     a repetition
but the cathedral town unchanged
It makes no difference who was there
all inevitably reduced to the question of
geography or memory


The text operates not with particularity but with the suggestion of particularity.  The landscapes are all different, that's the point of them, yet they must, we feel, have a lot in common with each other. (The repeated idea of a ridge-line confirms this.)

In this middle part of the poem the particularity of what is seen becomes momentarily clearer ("moors edged with pine woods"), just when the particularities of time are at their vaguest: we could easily suppose this was a scene being glimpsed in the present, until mention of the third scene dispels that idea. When, then? Unlike the two outer scenes, it isn't connected with a time of year.

Ashbery and Harwood are both very fond of the phrases "a question of" or "a matter of". They use the phrases in a gorgeous myriad of ways. But to generalize, these phrases assert a fixed point (e.g. geography, in this case) but not a proposition, only a preoccupation.

Never more subtly than here, when the postscript "or memory" immediately undercuts the apparent definiteness of the title phrase, and instead seems to shimmer with all of the earlier elements that were not geographic. I'll come back to that.

At the end, the poem gestures at drawing together its threads and making manifest its discovery, at least about how the two remembered landscapes underlie the present scene.

the others seeming somehow irrelevant in the present excitement
but still real like a very sure background
- you paint over the picture and start on
the new one      but all the same it's still there
beneath the fresh plains of colour

That last line resonates with hidden energies. It makes us pause for a long moment.

But the poem is not in fact purely about landscapes. All around its edges, reticently undefined, are other people. "our garden".. "house" ... "months gone by"... "a repetition" ... "It makes no difference who was there". These very faint footfalls, the experience and the thoughts inflected by other people, become amplified after reading other Harwood poems from the same era.

It matters because it changes the subject of the poem. The poem is not only about change of landscapes but about a lifestyle of impermanence, a lifestyle without "marriage" or "family" or "home", but with changing lovers and changing places. If there's even a certain briskness in that "you paint over the picture", then you might wish to call it a poem about ending relationships. Further, it's a poem about viewing the permanent, "the cathedral town unchanged", from the perspective of impermanence: already with a tint of the ridiculous about it, or at best experienced as "the present excitement".  It's one of the quietest, but one of the defining, British poems of the 1960s.

*

NOTE  "the south-west province".  Harwood uses the expression several times in poems of this era. It momentarily unsettles location by calling up some Waleyan translation of Li Po; maybe it's Harwood's light-touch joke. But there's no real disguise: you don't get cathedrals in Sichuan. In Harwood's poetry, generally, it isn't about reserve (far from it), it's all about reticence. Which makes so much possible in these poems.

That is, if the distinction between "reserve" and "reticence" can really be maintained. That's one of the questions we need to be asking about Harwood today.


Harwood reading the poem (very beautifully, too)

The full text of "Question of Geography" isn't available on-line.

But here's some poems that are:

"Soft White", "The Final Painting", "The 'Utopia'", "The Words"

"Forestry work no. 1", "Love in the organ loft", "The nine death ships", "Boston Notebook: December 1972", "Massachusetts or On visiting Walden Pond, 1st January 1973", "Portraits 1-4", "The destruction of South Station, Boston", "Nineteenth Century Poem", "Boston Spring", "Old Bosham Bird Watch", "Portraits from my life", "London to Brighton"

"Claret label", "A poem for writers", "Bath-time", "Text for two posters by Ian Brown", "O, O, O,... Northern California", "Coat of arms on wall in ancient city", "Hand from an Exeter cloud", "Summer Solstice", "The artful", "Waunfawr and after", "Cwm Uchaf", "On the ledge", "For Paul/ Coming out of winter"

Mark Ford in the Guardian, celebrating the Collected Poems, and quoting "Rain journal: London: June 65"

Lee Harwood (photo by Elsa Dorfman)

[Image source: http://archive.elsadorfman.com/housebook/flagg-street-III.html]


This Intercapillary Space piece assembles various posts from http://michaelpeverett.blogspot.co.uk, September 2015 - February 2016. 



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