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Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Our writers read!

"I'll calm down when you tell me where I can get the latest Paul Muldoon title!"

Welcome to 'Our writers read', where we throw out a question related to poetry and ask readers to jump up and catch it. Got a question you'd like answered? Drop it in the comments section for use in the near future.

We asked New Poetries VI contributors, "Which book of poetry published in the last decade is most often on your bedside table?"

Joey Connolly: Ooga Booga by Frederick Seidel is probably the most persistent offender. In several senses. But if I'm allowed to equivocate then I wouldn't rule out Jen Hadfield's Nigh-no-place or Timothy Donnelly's The Cloud Corporation either.

Adam Crothers: There have been some hefty and valuable Collecteds published in the last decade, and I suspect that Ciaran Carsons and Frederick Seidels have spent more time in my unruly stack (on my bedside table) than any slim volume. But Im interpreting the question as referring to discrete books of new poems by single authors, and so the correct answer is likely to be Paul Muldoons Horse Latitudes (Faber and Faber, 2006). I started reading him sometime after the 2002 publication of Moy Sand and Gravel, making Horse Latitudes the first new Muldoon I bought. And its publication coincided with the beginning of a doctoral dissertation in which he would feature prominently. So, even if one disagrees (as one should) with the occasional suggestion that my poems are overly indebted to this wonderful writer, it may not be surprising that Ive spent a long time with this book. The image on the Faber hardcovers dust jacket  George Stubbss Mares and Foals without a Background, c.1762  is the image I most strongly associate with Muldoons poetry and indeed with my efforts to say interesting things about it. Its far from an easy collection, and looking at it now for the first time in a while makes it clear that we need to become reacquainted: everything, one poem says of Bob Dylan but could say as accurately of its author, seems to fall within his range, and as such Horse Latitudes is not a book to be thrown overboard. I doubt Ill outlive its usefulness.

Caoilinn Hughes: Don Paterson's Rain

J. Kates: Poetry published in the last decade is very seldom on my bedside table, where I prefer classics — right now (I know it’s boring, but true) reading through Shakespeare once again —  but books of contemporary poetry are always beside my seat in the Little Room, where right now Robert Gray’s Cumulus holds pride of place.

Nyla Matuk: Maureen McLane’s This Blue, Don Coles’ Where We Might Have Been, Lavinia Greenlaw’s 2003 book, Minsk, and Annie Freud’s The Mirabelles.

Lesley Saunders: I've two books that have become pretty much indispensable and they're like mirror images of each other. Anne Carson's Decreation (2006) and Medbh McGuckian's My Love Has Fared Inland (2008) are constant reminders for me of what can be accomplished with and through and in language. McGuckian plays with grammar and semantics, twists meanings and sense, in the service of psychological / spiritual clarity — her poems are like persons with whom she is having an intense dialogue; whilst Carson deploys an apparently straightforward quasi-colloquial register, mouthed by a series of ironic personae, to express difficult and often very dark emotions / experiences.  Whenever I feel my own language is becoming clagged or clichéd, I turn to them.

Claudine Toutoungi: The Old Woman, the Tulip and the Dog by Alicia Ostriker.

Rebecca Watts: If I may extend the decade just a little: Jacob Polley's The Brink (2003).

Friday, 7 August 2015

Adam Crothers on Eric Langley's "Glanced"

Glanced by Eric Langley


You lovely looker on and by and by and. 
One-eyed Cupid, locked, cocks, and shot

Zeno’s arrow at Zeuxis’ grapes. 
Shaft straight. The pointed

parabola arced its homeward hoops on its 
wondering way through loop and loop

towards my eye’s apple; its
projectory now arches down to heel to hit

or miss, may kiss the head or glance off 
on bow bend or twisted thread.

My flighted hope: that bird cracks glass, and tumblers 
beakers breaks on painted grapes

on picture plane or bounce back 
deflected, as mote on float

no overlook, from then to now, as now 
and tip touches now, and now, and when

reflected. Map the rebound cause 
I am sore astound and all amazed,

while flecks dart and seeds quiver
quiver while the heavy freighted interim

by half by half by half. 

Split hairs or ends or seconds now sub-divide 
by half and half, as hare’s breath

on tortoise’s collar falls and arrow 
tip elbows each atom aside

to side or sneaks contracted 
kiss, a peak, a contact passing

charge in the charge in the change 
from Z to thee kinetic.


Keep lovely looking on and over 
looking keep looking till

your lead tip punctures what, back then, was 
walnut, poppy, hemp, pine and olive; then

a resinous gloss, of Paris Green, 
of arsenic, of mercuric sulphide;

then, later, oglio cotto, honied 
lead oxide; then beeswax;

now, bladder-pod, ironweed, calendula, 
sandmat, in slow drying strata

of alpha-linolenic, brittle as it brakes,
of crisp linoleic, of still wet oleic acid, still wet. 

Then warp canvas warped. 
Then wall.


So keep on lovely looking on,
no overlook, from then to now, as now 

the paste-board splits
dry eye and true to touch 

and peck hits home and
and each grape breaks and

tortoise tumbles down hap with hare
and tip touches now, and now, and when 

and then just so, soothed through 
freeze frame and bending glass,

each hot pigment shot and then and then, 
keep lovely looking till.

So glancing blown by, 
so palpably hit away, so

keep so lovely looking still 
keep lovely looking till

until each hungry bird 
has flown and had his fill.
from New Poetries VI © Eric Langley

How often, when reading anothers work, does a poet think: I wish Id written that’? Im surprised at how rarely I do. There's plenty of wishing to have the Others general abstracted skill, wit, intelligence, authority; and often a specific image or rhyme will be so triumphantly new and right that I feel some professional envy at that individual deal having been so decisively closed by somebody who was not and is not me. But these responses are, I think, essentially readerly responses experienced via writerly self-regard: being impressed by the poem, first, and then wanting (a very close second) to be similarly impressive.

Reading Eric Langley, however, provokes in me what feels like a writerly response, one poised between those two. The word craft is complicatedly freighted: many poems have died for lack of it, and yet to identify it in a poets work can be to accuse that poet of mere box-checking competence. Yet in Langleys poems craft is a verb, crafting the identifiable phenomenon. To feel that one is witnessing in detail a compositional process, a series of moments clicking together into a triumph, is to feel tantalisingly close to being the composer; the consequent sense of falling short, I suggest, gives rise to the desire to have authored the poem, to have had the satisfaction of that full experience.

Satisfaction is the aim and the subject of Langleys Glanced. Its core image is of a projectile launched at a painting, but not just any painting, or indeed any projectile. One-eyed Cupid, locked, cocks, and shot || Zenos arrow at Zeuxis grapes. The arrow that will never reach its target because it must travel an infinity of ever-smaller distances along the way; the two-dimensional painted grapes convincing enough to fool hungry birds of course Cupid would come to mind. In the first section, the arrow is fired; in the third, it thrillingly, impossibly, hits, and yet is hit away, glances off, another volley apparently required.

The middle section sees Langley catalogue the raw material of the target, the painting: bladder-pod, ironweed, calendula, | sandmat’… Ingredient and procedure are much on his mind, and this may be what prompts me to think along similar lines in my response to this poem. To engage in a full reading would be a pleasure, but a lengthy one; it will have to suffice here to speak of the constant fizz and zap of repetition and tiny variation, the poem embodying the phenomena it identifies: while flecks dart and seeds quiver | quiver; charge in the charge in the change; tip touches now, and now, and when || and then just so. Logic, acoustics, erotics: love poems, of which this is a jealous one, know that these are not discrete fields of study.

We are aware that through parody of reasoning the arrow cannot reach the grapes, cannot cover the space between the poems beginning and end or even the space between couplets; and we know that even if it did, those flat and artificial grapes would give no wine. Ceci nest pas un grain de raisin. Nor indeed would the painting give up each hot pigment as a separate part: but Langleys slowing and assessing of time and tone allows the reader to entertain the possibilities, to see that the set and frozen moment or colour is, when angled correctly, anything but. When MacNeice writes Everything wrong has been proved in Autumn Journal, he is movingly speaking in defiance of proof; Langley, just as movingly, speaks in its favour, persuading the reader that, in a manner of speaking, something commonsensically wrong can be shown as aesthetically right, emotionally accurate. Perhaps the notion that Cupids arrow might never satisfactorily hit its mark, and that the mark is anyway not as it seems, is as true as the notion that a painting is made of mere pigments, a poem of mere syllables; and perhaps this is all okay, or better than, with no need to pretend that matters are otherwise.

Many great poems seem more than the apparent sum of their parts. I find Eric Langley exciting because his poems as wholes are precisely made up of their visible or audible pieces, and because theres pride in every cog and switch and pin, every stress and rhyme and repetition boldly displayed. (The marvel at mechanism in Vaucansons Duck is itself a marvel.) Its like watching Penn and Teller or Derren Brown explain a magic trick: I believe Ive seen exactly how it's done, but I still don't know how they managed it, and I wish I'd done it because then maybe I'd understand. As it lies, I am sore astound and all amazed.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Our readers write

George Herbert's meat-tasting face

Welcome to 'Our readers write', where we throw out a question related to poetry and ask readers to jump up and catch it. Got a question you'd like answered? Drop it in the comments section for use in the near future.

We asked New Poetries VI contributors to fill in the blanks:
If ________ were alive today, he/she'd be outraged/entertained by _________. 

Adam CrothersIf George Herbert were alive today, he'd be outraged by the suggestion that in order to innovate properly he should abandon, not redouble, his pursuit of metre and rhyme.

Nyla MatukI would introduce William Carlos Williams to the artist Tracey Emin’s installation, “My Bed.” He might appreciate it as a thing-in-itself.

Lesley SaundersIf Sappho were alive today, she'd be entertained (and probably delighted) by how much her poetry is still being read and enjoyed, especially considering how little of it survives. According to the Daily Telegraph (January 2014), a newly-discovered fragment of her poetry was 'even more exciting than a new album by David Bowie'. And you can even listen to a reconstruction of how the only complete extant poem of hers sounded

David TroupesIf Emily Dickinson were alive today, she'd be all about anonymous blogging.

Rebecca WattsIf Wordsworth were alive today, he'd be outraged by how out of tune we are with reality. In a well-known sonnet he laments the widespread inattentiveness to Nature (his capital) among a recently industrialised populace fixated on the 'worldly' actions of 'getting and spending'. Ironically, what he called 'nature' we might call 'the world', which today (at least in those parts lucky enough to be free from attention-demanding natural disasters) is generally ignored in favour of a virtual realm, where screens, headphones and social media platforms deliver on demand the proxy sensory and emotional experiences that so convincingly resemble meaningful interactions. While I don't believe collective human experience would be improved by us all spending our days rambling in the Lake District, exclaiming whenever we happened upon a nice flower, might there be some fruitful middle ground between Wordsworth's privileged position and iPhone-induced oblivion? No doubt if Philip Larkin were alive today he'd offer up some sensible suggestions.

Monday, 3 August 2015

John Clegg on Alex Wong's "The Landowner"

The Landowner by Alex Wong

Rambler, direct your care 
     To this magnificent gift.
Dare, rambler, to make durable those views.

     ——More trust, more debit.—— 
Lest the day come to see all trust is up, 
Learn to speak newly over nature; build 
Fresh castles for your chances to enjoy.
    Make chiffchaffs pay to find a way 
Within, from a world not edified since Eden.

Hear in the song not only expressive bird,
But a history in your tongue, to beat the bounds. 
As a child skims the ways of ideal gardens, 
     So can you then,      so have you those
Adventures to go on with, grounds
Possible to their keepers;—outworks, follies. 
from New Poetries VI © Alex Wong

One of the most substantial postwar changes to the English landscape was surely the passing of the majority of country houses from private hands: and this change has, I think, been slow to register in English poetry. Perhaps the difficulty has been the same as that which affects the casual visitor to these properties: the ambivalence between what was best and worst of the old system, how these estates are simultaneously a temple to conspicuous consumption and an English vision of prelapsarian order. (However far removed the latter concept is from our conscious sympathies, it must be part of what we imaginatively access when we appreciate, say, Austen.)  

This ambivalence is what animates Alex Wong’s ‘The Landowner’. The poem’s key word, ‘trust’, is freighted with it; the National Trust, of course, is the titular ‘landowner’ (as we know from ‘magnificent gift’, the language of brochures and panegyrics), and the financial sense of ‘trust’ is constantly foregrounded (‘magnificent gift’, ‘more debit’, ‘pay to find a way’). But at the same time, we are being shown Eden – another ‘ideal garden’ held in trust by a distant yet omnipresent landowner, in which we must ‘speak newly over nature’. The chiffchaff, I think, is emblematic of Eden because of its onomatopoeic designation: Eden being for Wong, as for other poets, the place where every object receives its single correct name. And Eden is, also, the Platonic image of the poem possible in language, towards which our duties are those of a caretaker’s or visitor’s towards a great house: ‘to beat the bounds’ (of language, of the estate), ‘to make durable’, ‘to direct [our] care’.

The pun on ‘grounds’ – both the reasons and the land in which a poem must be rooted – is beautifully handled, and in ‘keepers’ there is, perhaps, an echo of another Bible story, Tyndale’s translation of Cain’s question to God. The Eden invoked by the poem is treacherous and unstable (the ‘fresh castles’ are, surely, castles in the air); the resulting poem may turn out to be a ‘folly’, an unwisely nostalgic recreation of something already ruined; or alternatively an ‘outwork’, a working-out. ‘The Landowner’, I think, is the sort of poem that works something out, a poem which, remarkably, listens to its own advice.