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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.

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