Hre's a snatch of email conversation between John Bloomberg-Rissman and myself.
Re: Prynne, I’m not sure if he writes “pure” poetry, if by that you mean entirely non-referential poetry. I think, rather, that his stuff is referential, but that the references change mid-sentence, sometimes mid-phrase. It recalls my experience of Finnegans Wake, if only in the sense that when I read the Wake, each time I said aha, firm ground, that ground turned out to be cloud and shifted right out from under me.
Prynne’s definitely hermetic, not in the sense of hermetically sealed, but in the sense of “obscure”. But it never feels like nothing’s going on; it feels rather like the opposite.
Your comments are spot-on. Is it possible to write "entirely non-referential poetry"? I doubt it. And your comment that "the references change mid-sentence, sometimes mid-phrase" is exactly right, and that's why it's the opposite of nothing going on. Prynne's book on Wordsworth bears this out - it opens out Wordsworth's poem, broadens its reference, or rather points out that it's reference is "the world" in which it was written and exists. The way he expands on a single word, writing mini-essays on the connections to bonded labour, enclosure, the perception of music in the early 19thC, etc, is analogous to the way his own poems change reference, or maybe add new layers of reference, almost from one word to the next.