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Monday, December 22, 2014

Robert Sheppard: On Three Sequences by Lee Harwood

I have always wanted to write at some length about the three extraordinary sequences that Lee Harwood published in his book Morning Light 1998, and, of course, collected again in Collected Poems (from which book, as I opened it to check details, a postcard from Lee, featuring an Atget photograph of a Corsetiere, fell; what can he have been trying to tell me?). So here goes. It builds on the briefer descriptions of this trio posted here. It follows on from my review of the 2014 book The Orchid Boat here, itself part of prefatory work for an article provisionally entitled '"Now Put it Together": Lee Harwood and the Gentle Art of Collage'.



Lee Harwood dreaming of Armenia


 
‘Dreams of Armenia’ presents the history of a near-forgotten genocide. Lyric interludes are truncated by ‘information(s)’. For me, the most resonant lines in the whole of Harwood’s oeuvre are the tender but chilling: ‘They would do this to you, my love,/ and to our son,’ (Harwood 2004, 444), compounding horror across the line-break; the lines rest alongside grim enumerations of ‘Massacres, shootings, bayoneting, hacking….’ (Harwood 2004, 444) Harwood has commented on the poem: ‘that poem is more a praise of Armenia and the Armenia I imagine,’ but – as ever – history keeps breaking in, literally, with more dates and bald grim facts than you find in a Reznikoff or John Seed poem. (Harwood and Corcoran 2008, 94) And the ‘Armenian song that tears your heart’ (441) or the lovemaking ‘in the hot night lying together’ cannot altogether obviate the terror, but then that is the point of the juxtapositions. (443) The changing ‘frames’ are like the mythical (and not so mythical) knock on the door in the middle of the night: ‘a silence. a door bangs in the wind./ not a dream.’ (444) These lines are ambiguous (given that the poem promises ‘dreams’ of Armenia as a positive); the poem’s delights are poised on the edge of terror. ‘“Who remembers the Armenians?” said Hitler years later as he set on the Jews.’ (444) He didn’t ‘say’; he asked. And one unscheduled answer to his rhetorical question is: Lee Harwood, and through Harwood, you (and me). Us. We remember. The poem is, in fact, a love poem, as contextualized by fact and ‘information’ in its way as the magnificent as ‘The Long Black Veil’ of the 1970s. These lovers are no longer young; they, too, have ‘history’: ‘Your long black hair, an occasional grey hair,/ your deep brown eyes that churn my heart.’ (442)

‘The Songs for Those Who Are On The Sea of Glass’ features fragmented accounts of a very literal assault upon the heart, a heart attack, which ends with the startling sonic patterning of: ‘sat up in bed in bizarre pyjamas’, (Harwood 2004: 449) which signals the narrator’s sudden release from the glass sea ‘of being dead and being brought back into what suddenly seemed like an amazing world’, in Harwood’s later commentary (he admits to being ‘happy’ with that marvellous last line too). (Harwood and Corcoran 2008, 94) Between sections which register the quality of light in the ward and the ‘The ice window’ of death – ‘(that’s a metaphor)’ (447) a typical parenthesis reminds us, Harwood remains ever-suspicious of language, even as in another mood (which corresponds to another section) he quotes Mandelstam’s depiction of the human universe as ‘the happy heaven’. (446) But the intrusions of involuntary memory whether of ‘Jamaican cigars long ago’ (446) or of a trip across the literal ice of Esbjerg erupt with hopeful imaginings: ‘Inland a fox trotted nervously/ across snow-covered fields and streams’, we read, a scenario that, with titles like Crossing the Frozen River and HMS Little Fox in Harwood’s back catalogue, let alone all the positive references to the solitary migratory habits of the fox (contrast that with the wolves we find in Barry MacSweeney!), suggests a validation of transitory movement from one ‘frame’ to another (to use William Rowe’s phrase for Harwood’s shiftology). (I stole that word from a book Patricia is reading; it seems apposite.) ‘“The monster! The monster!” fleeing villagers yell/ in black and white Transylvania’ is Harwood’s comic way of mediating ‘a body stitched and wired together’, (448) a reference to the early (and now unconvincing) Frankenstein films, and as ever the deflationary kitsch deflection unsettles the tone, as does his ‘To walk at ease with the ghosts/ (not a club member yet)’, (449) a late instance of what Geoffrey Ward recognised in early Harwood as ‘an importation into experience of a tonal innocence which is recognized as true to life, but which in the new setting of the page must henceforth wear invisible quotation marks’, though in this poem we are guided by the parentheses. (Ward 2007: 37) As Harwood remarks somewhere, the cliché is only too true. Too true. One section reads simply: ‘Talking in code?’ the question mark deflecting again absolute judgement. Clichés and metaphors, sections and poems, even fragmented and multifaceted ones, may be yet speaking in a cipher, and this is a characteristic poetic questioning of the medium of poetry, on Harwood’s part.  

                   The 50 short sections of ‘Days and Nights’ (some of them single lines, like the self-interrogative one in ‘The Songs’) reflect Harwood’s brief employment as a museum attendant (they were ‘written’ in Harwood’s head). They range from single word entries, such as ‘(space)’ (Harwood 2004:  421), which attempts to look outwards, and ‘sullen’ (Harwood 2004: 422) which looks inwards, to meditations on their own development; one explains Harwood’s frequent preference for gerund forms throughout his work: they leave the utterance ‘always in the present    ing   ing’. (Harwood 2004: 421) There is nothing quite as minimal as this in Harwood’s work, although he refers to Raworth’s serial composition ‘Stag Skull Mounted’ (1970), from which it quotes, commenting on its own failure of method, or failure as method: ‘As Tom once wrote “this trick doesn’t work”.’ (Harwood 2004: 422) ‘The line that says nothing. A chair creaks,’ in fact says quite a lot about how ‘one thought fills immensity’ as Blake puts it, (419) though ‘stuck in the fact of absence’ doesn’t quite suggest the zen-like calm of meditation. Structurally, ‘Days and Nights’ testifies to the continuing influences of Ashbery’s ‘Europe’, and to the miniature box-sculptures of Joseph Cornell, to whom the piece is dedicated, the constructor of his own ‘poetic enactments’ as Dore Ashton calls his famous boxes. (Ashton 1974: 1) We are left, as it were, peering into the miniature but expansive interiors of his assemblages in the final ‘accidental sighting’, as these texts are subtitled: ‘The white box contains a landscape.’ (423) The smaller we go: the more the find. Cornell was first excited by the ‘splice of life of collage’ as Waldrop calls it – he was untrained and could not draw – when he saw Max Ernst’s work, but it was later with his friend Marcel Duchamp that he ‘shared … a love for sudden juxtapositions, of perfectly ordinary and even vulgar objects. But seashells, pressed flowers, and butterflies were in the final analysis closer to Cornell’s vision than were Duchamp’s ironies’, as Ashton explains. (Ashton 1974: 77). Cornell preferred what she calls the bric-a-brac of ‘Victoriana or Americana’ of which Cornell was an obsessive collector. (Ashton 1974: 74) Harwood’s attitude to literary collage is similar to this cabinet of curiosities approach, closer to the juxtapositions of the Victorian commonplace book than to those of William Burroughs or Dada-period Tzara.

 

A final thought (after, or rather, during, a late afternoon walk down the Allerton Road where I bought a novel, The Director’s Cut,  by Nicholas Royle, which was priced £1 and which the charity shop wanted to charge me 29p for – and I refused, giving them the pound that was already a markdown, but it was an appropriate find, since Lee is a walk-on character in Nick’s latest novel, First Novel): amid the syntactic and rhythmical restlessness of Harwood’s work, between the shifting ‘scenes’ of the clusters of fragments in the narrative, there is a singular voice (that is not to be confused with its variable ‘tone’, as some commentators have noted), a set of concerns and a way of saying them that is – whatever the formal or narrative guise – immediately recognisable as ‘Harwood’, and quite unique. It is an undamaged fragility, a quiet determination to uphold eros and agape against the forces of destruction and negativity, a polyphony to undermine the stomping boots of the military marching song, a bit of camp (or the occasional kitsch ‘bad’ line) thrown in to unsettle the certainties of received discriminations in life and in the arts.

 

One reference of use:

Ashton, Dore. A Joseph Cornell Album. New York: The Viking Press, 1974. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Robert Sheppard: review of Lee Harwood's The Orchid Boat on Stride (and a strange thought)



Read my review of Lee Harwood's The Orchid Boat on Stride here. Here are his hands reading:





And here and here are parts one and two of a review of his Collected Poems. Perhaps best read before the Stride review. See Enitharmon's announcement of, and extract from, my review here.
 
I had a strange thought working on Lee Harwood's work: during the time I write about him, I kind of feel that I am in communication with the man himself. I mean this literally. In periods of work I don't feel the necessity to phone him or write to him, and it's a surprise to find that I haven't, because I feel it's already happening. Perhaps it's a personal by-product of an effect William Rowe describes in his Three Lyric Poets: 'When Harwood explores intimacies of feeling almost too delicate for the voice to sustain, he deploys the hesitancies and gaps of everyday speech, the places where meaning breaks down into the sheer lapse of lived time.’ (Rowe 2009: 7)

 There is an interview with Kelvin Corcoran here about the book (though I only found it after reviewing it).

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Wolf 31 Published/Robert Sheppard on Christopher Middleton

TheWolf 31 (December 2014) is now available

Edited by James Byrne and Sandeep Parmar

Included in this issue: An exclusive interview with Jerome Rothenberg by Ariel Resnikoff. Reviews of Geoffrey Hill, Carol Watts and D.S. Marriott. Poems from Chris McCabe, Manoel de Barros, John James, Jana Bodnárová, Alvin Pang and much more. See here.

 
Christopher Middleton

This issue also contains my piece ‘Artifice and Artificers: The Meaning of Form in the work of Christopher Middleton’, formerly an excerpt from my book The Meaning of Form (for which I have a firm publisher), and now an outtake, or more practically, a separate essay of its own and, I hope, a useful account of the work of this major writer. Read the whole essay here.

An introduction to The Meaning of Form and links to its formative pieces see here.

A Wolf interview with me, conducted by Chris Madden may be read here. I'm thinking of including this in my selected poems, History or Sleep.

Friday, December 12, 2014

25 Edge Hill Poets: Joanne Ashcroft

 





from What the Tree Said

sweet green my worlds seemed as buds

sense-locked by me & laid

carved in hearts

along my trunk

 

words stirred

 

cordless my leaves began a breathing

beyond my arms unfurling

 

charmed in transport

 

their core (or mine) tendrilled

some over-green

some straining peaks

all sun-trailing

in hues bluntly

absorbing

in small red scales

ripening were its tongues

with nutshellings scratched in

digestions gone rogue sounds escaping

captions

 

Having successfully completed a BA (Hons) Creative Writing and English at Edge Hill, I continued on to study the MA Creative Writing with a focus on poetry. I chose to continue at Edge Hill to further the study of innovative poetries, and poetics, which I had begun to explore, both from a literary critical and to drive my writing practice, during the BA. During my MA, I was joint winner of the inaugural Rhiannon Evans Poetry Scholarship 2010. From Parts Becoming Whole (The Knives Forks Spoons Press, 2011) is my first collection of poetry and came directly out of the poetry written during the MA. Towards the end of my MA I became a member of the Poetry and Poetics Research Group at Edge Hill. I went on to be winner of Poetry Wales Purple Moose Prize 2012, my pamphlet Maps and Love Songs for Mina Loy is published Seren.

Working with the poet Philip Davenport (as ‘Arthur and Martha’) introduced me to using experimental poetry and visual art in community projects. I have led a series of ‘poetry as reminiscence’ workshops in the community which involved using experimental poetry writing techniques with older people. I have had my poetry and reviews published in various magazines and journals and have presented papers on my work at conferences. I am currently undertaking creative writing practice-led research at Edge Hill University investigating the idea of ‘multi-voice lyric’ in contemporary innovative poetry. Alongside this I have taught undergraduate 1st and 3rd year poetry (and fiction) modules at Edge Hill. I have continued to read my work most recently at the Blue Bus reading series in London with Robert Hampson and Elaine Randell, at Storm and Sky with Rhys Trimble in Liverpool and at Peter Barlow’s Cigarette in Manchester with Lucy Burnett, Nathan Thompson and Steve Spence.

Poetics
I am drawn to poetry in which sound manifests as the dominant textual register. Modernist poetry and innovative or experimental modern poetries are where my passions and inspirations are fired.
My own poetry explores how sound aspects of language are intrinsic in poetic compositional processes and how this shapes the resultant poem. My poetics are a work in progress, especially at this point when I am developing that alongside experimenting in my creative work. As part of my current research I am experimenting in writing poetry which explores possibilities for polyphony and rhythms of identities. For this I am using Bakhtin’s ideas about dialogisms applied to poetry and drawing on Julia Kristeva’s ideas, in particular about language and the maternal body in exploring possibilities for dialogisms between speech and the female body. This writing is entering the arena of complex dialogic relations between variously endophonic and exophonic assemblages of sound sequences.

To me, poetry embodies an openness to otherness, is an active seeking after the unknown for the experience (and pleasure) of journeying (in words) rather than for the closure of arriving at an end point. It is open to possibilities and doesn’t use language to silence the other, rather, because it is not afraid of difference or not knowing, it encourages interactions and proliferations which serve only to extend and enrich the work. Poetry is painting with words, is mapping sounds into rhythms on the pages in endless combinations. Writing poetry allays my own fears of being unanswered. Poetry enables me to see (versions of) myself. Writing poetry is a release for some of the psychic energy which otherwise has me blowing light bulbs!
 




Video (more of What the Tree Said): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijTLks3mrys

Details of the Edge Hill Creative Writing MA here.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Robert Sheppard's Warrant Error: unredacted report from the War on Terror

The US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report (read here) confirmed what many suspected. To 'commemorate' that event, by ordinary rendition, here are some poems from Warrant Error (see more here about this book of mine). 


Dissensus-uncensored citizens their post-fluidarity
Jams the geodesic sepulchres of GCHQ

The ballet of chatter threatens the iron triangle
A-theism in-corporates the earth’s blown powder
But resistance to existential terror within
Microquakes at neo-feudal controls
Quivers flesh contra the Universal Event

Military ground aches with mediatized Odes
While secular fatwas begin the law of rules
Territorialized apostrophes in the dead mouths of victors

We are in love with Eros and you with a suitcase
Dirty device crafted by cells O! new
Selves unresolved on a new war footing
Self-made utopias              draped in black



Self-othering hood Klans one’s unbecoming
the obsolete body art of choreographed excess
a video diary that couldn’t care more or less

Floating on flesh-hooks in betweenness aloft
who licks the blinding gusset of combat knickers

kicks a pile of fleshly rags shovelled by rubber-
necking rednecks? Instead of thumbprints
they press sweat-stains into the dustiest corners.
A body regime splintered by such loving
inhabits what it shall never possess

A barbed obscenity haunts for an extra ear
the parasitic cyborg whose hearts and minds
surrender to the body’s self-absorption.
Under the hood maggots nest like emotion
 
 
 
Black night stiffens the resolve of the window.
Wipe-out rain, a bad sound effect of rain, white-
noises your voices out, rustles up a simpler sound
of God’s brass neck talking through His hat
 
Your ruffled reflection raises the ethical question
as you paste words like ‘author’ and ‘authority’
on the board beyond this screen of your becoming
 
Wind, though outside, sheers your breath away.
On a traffic island in Hardman St., a kneeler torches the night
in Guantánamo orange, grizzled by a protestant cloud.
Police rush on in yellow. Fleshing blue lights on cars
parked as barriers breed darkness in the dark
 
Smack a lip or two, ruddied up, roughed up for a smile.
Tonight, Condoleezza Rice is being entertained

 
 
The foreign secretary, spotting bare-headed top brass,
swipes the tin hat from his head as he follows
down the steps to Iraq’s soft tarmac the secretary of state’s smile
 
that’s clammed to her face like a category mistake
that dropped down one floor in the lift and emerged
a changeling into the roar of a canvas wind.
Celebrity murderess heads off to a fresh beheading.
Elegant heels lift slender ankles, where he follows
 
Yawning policewomen guard the spaces in Liverpool
she leaves, a line of orange cones elisions in her diary
 
Her brain barks orders like a sea captain during desertion.
Abu Ghraib grey ocean lips sharp-toothed cliffs brushed by sun.
The mutineers have taken the dormitory.
As their voices fall asleep, they murmur against her
 
 
 
A tall man came to their door an
Instance of polite rendition
 
She was in a loose dressing gown he
Could see a strap it was
The wrong hotel between the killings
 
Kaleidoscope reassembled history
Moved ‘inevitably’ towards
Warrantless wiretaps and zap the road
To Damascus was shelled every day
 
He stuck his fingers in a bag of salt
Zawahiri had them shot filmed it
Following a script
Provided by their enemies they dropped
Leaflets on fields of perfumed martyred corpses
 
 
 
Self-protection was self-consumption scared
Or sacred it’s eased into the holiest story
A sonnetized account with the biggest screen test
 
Local colour was masked by raw
Overheads and the heresy was mere hearsay
When evidently witless their mouths agape they rose
At bungled bugle-blasts jamming Agape and Eros
 
In the ballad of the blade she bites him
Obliged attack he shoots mightily back in
Terror or error she tries to send the message
From compassion back to passion
She writes releases for rouged regimes
 
When she’s finished she pulls the plug
And he spills the viscous liquid for her
 
Read Alan Baker's review of Warrant Error here. And more of these 'sonnets' here.
 


 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

i.m. Dinesh Allirajah

It with great sadness that I'm announcing that Dinesh Allirajah, creative writing associate tutor at Edge Hill, died yesterday from complications following surgery.

Dinesh was a well-known writer in the North West (but particularly in Liverpool) having published many short stories, anthologies and poetry, some it jazz poetry. He worked with us at Edge Hill and also at UClan.

He'd worked for some years at Edge Hill and is much loved by his students and colleagues alike. Dinesh leaves behind two sons, 10 and 12, their mother and his partner Vicky.
 
I had just linked this blog to his, where he was wittily blogging about hospitalisation but also about 'Real Time Stories'.
 
More here. And here. And a video clip here. See his published work here.

As I blog this I am listening to a compilation of live Miles Davis tracks. A great jazz fan, and jazz poet, Dinesh might have liked that. Only Miles could make a track called 'What's New?' sound so appropriately sad. And bleak.

Pages (this blog) home page here.

Latest information:

Dinesh's funeral will take place on Monday 22 December at Springwood Crematorium, Springwood Avenue, Garston, Liverpool L25 7UN. It will start at 3.30pm. Please arrive by 3.20pm.
No flowers - the family are discussing something suitable for people to donate to.