Saturday, July 25, 2009

I've started reading Tony Lopez's book of prose poems, 'Darwin'. The book itself doesn't attribute any quotes, but I assume it's made entirely of quotations. I recognized a quotation from Charles Darwin early on, then one or two others, as well as other passages that look certain to be from him. There are news reports, including some on another Darwin, the "back-from-the-dead" canoeist John Darwin, who faked his own death at sea in 2002 but walked into a London police station more than five years later. I also spotted a quote from J.H. Prynne's recent book on Wordwsorth. So we have Darwin's writings framing other found language and contemporary references. As you read, you spot repetitions, and the self-referentiality this creates gives you, as reader, a framework to latch on to; so the pleasure (which it is) comes from the language-world that the writing creates. It's a collage that has the effect of placing human activity into the larger framework of evolution and of physical natural processes. For example:

"Something so far unexplained is cutting off the whales' food supply in the Arctic circle, where the ice is retreating at an unprecedented rate. Appollinaire proposed the abolition of syntax, the adjective, punctuation, typographic harmony, the tenses and persons of verbs, and verses and stanzas in poems. The collapse was in the perception of artificial intelligence by government agencies and investors. We went on, the car wandering all over the muddy road, and Gertrude Stein sticking to the wheel."


I thought initially, that this work was similar to Lopez's 'False Memory', but re-reading some of those sonnets, I realised the effect is very different. The method of constructing the pieces out of quotations tends to foreground the form. The sonnets are quicker, with more twists and turns, and also I'd say, more lyrical. The prose-poems in 'Darwin' are good examples of that form; with a slower, cumulative build-up and a more expansive tone.

Friday, July 24, 2009

À propos the previous post, it's an interesting thought that children of around that age have no pre-conceived ideas about poetry, because they don't know any. Unlike previous generations of British schoolchildren who were made to memorize poems, and introduced to classics early on (I remember learning Jonson's 'drink to me only' aged 8), by the age of 12 most children have read virtually no poetry - so if you're asked to produce a sonnet, why not cobble it together from snatches of proverbs, song titles (that's another one she did) or whatever, rather than imitating a classic sonnet, which is what schoolchildren from another era may have done

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A chip off the old block

Here is a sonnet that will make you wise
This verse is not as difficult as a book
Without A Doubt A Blessing In Disguise
Well honestly with this your off the Hook

When Drastic Times Do Call For Drastic Measures
The Ball Is In Your Court and you have fought
The world is full of wonderous treasures
From Rags To Riches you have earnt and caught

If it Takes Two To Tango - me and you
To Get Up on The Wrong Side Of The Bed
The Icing On The Cake your dreams come true
The Best of Both Worlds it can spin your head

To Make A Long Story Somewhat Short
You must remember all that you are taught

This fine piece of work is by my daughter, aged 12. It was written as an assigment for school ('write a sonnet'). I think it's fab, but I am biased. It's interesting though, that she came up with idea of constructing it from proverbs (her own idea) - found language and constructed text in fact. Eat your heart out Tony Lopez!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Footnotes to Algebra

For various boring work-related reasons I haven't been able to post much lately. I hope to resume normal service soon. In the meantime, here's a shot of Eileen Tabios's latest book, featuring john Bloomberg-Rissman's impressive tattoo. The Book is FOOTNOTES TO ALGEBRA: Uncollected Poems 1995-2009, from Marsh Hawk Press.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Had a very civilized day on Saturday: we went to a garden party at Bromley House, an eighteenth century house in the centre of Nottingham, which was Nottingham's first subscripton library. My daughter works there part-time, as does one of our neighbours, which is how we got an invite. The library has some spectacular manuscripts dating back to the seventeenth century, and does a good job of preserving them.

After that, I met up with poets Adrian Buckner, Clive Allen and Julia Gaze, for one of our regular gatherings - not really a workshop; we just meet and discuss examples of our own and other people's work. We're not exactly like-minded. To give you an idea of the range, the samples we brought along to discuss were a short poem by 17C poet Thomas Bastard, a translation of a first-century AD Chinese poem by by Kenneth Rexroth, 'Man and Wife' by Robert Lowell (a poet I have an aversion to, though I can't deny the power of some his stuff), and one of Ted Berrigan's sonnets. Adrian and I have radically different notions of what constitutes poetry, but I'm very grateful for the discussions I have with him, which at least knock me out of the rut which I'm always in danger of getting into.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Tony Lopez's book of sonnets, "False Memory" is one of my favourite examples of poetry constructed from found language, in this case from the realms of commerce, business and technology. There's no narrative, and no cohesive sense to the poems, and yet they're a pleasurable read, deriving their strength, and - dare I say it, beauty - from the juxtaposition of seemingly unconnected phrases. I wondered how Lopez could come up with something as readable as this, when it would be easy to create a rather dull 'word salad'. So it was interesting to read, in 'Meaning Performance' an account of his working method:

"Performativity judged by reading the work aloud for me is the most important structuring device in composition. A collage of existing materials gets copied and re-copied , and reading aloud is the check for emotional, grammatical and rhythmical continuity."

So the process of creating a constructed text like this isn't that different to the way one might create more conventional work; by attention to the spoken word, to rhythms and cadences, where word and phrase can be re-worked and re-used. This latter is something most practising poets would recognise, even when their end-product appears to be the result of inspiration or impulse. And Lopez describes something else most poets would recognise, though I'd guess most, like me, are still trying to work out how to consistently achieve it; speaking of how he connects performance and writing, he says:

"The most significant aspect is the surrender of complete control in making something new."

So it may be that the process whereby good poetry is created is essentially the same, whether that poetry be modernist collage or conventional lyric; it's just that exponents of the former are likely to be more open about the procedures they use.