Friday, 27 April 2007

Poems by James Brookes

A Vision of Sussex as Heligoland

Heligoland is shrinking. Perhaps it was wise
that Britain tried to blow up the entirety
of the German island in 1946
(they had traded it to them for Zanzibar
back in 1909). Now it’s a tax-haven.

Past sundown you had us worried, the long hours
of the sky gathering its spilt watery yoke
through fingers of cloud as we waited for word
timidly, as the odds and the shadows lengthened.
Sheep chorused their disapproval of the flashlights.
And of course, dangling from the barn’s new low-beamed roof,
your twin brother caught you, his own greyed reflection
that would turn at the switch to a damp straw yellow
then later, beneath steady white light, would clear
and be colourless. Your grandfather buried you.

Sussex, it seems, is shrinking. Your farm is a place
where snow is as temperate and reasonable
as changes of seasons expected. Forever
is merely a dimension of its remoteness,
like hypotenuse. Our bureaucrat language saves
embarrassment to the extent that we know thaw
when we see it, as fairly distinct from our tears.
Sussex, our Heligoland, snow-like, delicate
meadow-space, or whatever - at least for a while -
closes, thumbprint to filtrum; the pressure of dust.


Gave mere graft, myrrh,
more roads, grist and rage.

Grey moats the sky, greets
migrants. Mist goads
glared mirth. Myths and graves.
Moors; the sleet mints groats.

God grant us meet minds,
manner grief. Give. Save.

Coventry Cathedral

Demolish the feigned; it becomes believable.
Some call to say England, refined by the landscape
artistry of a Junkers JU 88;
the concreting of a trademark dissolution.
The roof-beams fall together to brace each other.
Faith re-knitting in the smoke-gauze above St Paul’s
to dissipate through a montage of coloured glass —
here is the shrapnelled love in the living flesh,
the iridescent tracer of communion.
Why else fast-forwards this pillar, this fallback point?
As witnesses, as voyeurs, as peopled ruins.
Compatible places for such covenants where
redeemable, human, souls might sit down to feast;
light becoming intimate with the horizon.

The First Cuckold

Who does practical things,
like making the buckles for Hermes’ sandals.
Who in the leisure of his talent
pokes about in the cinders
to kill time. Who frets,
who works by job-lot, who clock-
watches ‘til going-home time to
her tears and remonstrance, her soft
vulvic eyelids. Their moistness.
Who mopes; who sullenly forgives.
Who knows, probably, her night
breathing in his ear’s blast furnace
is coked with the salts of other men’s
palates. Who lives for this.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

It's been a long time...

Apologies for the paucity of posts in recent weeks, which has mainly been due to an absence of material from the editors. A number of book reviews are in the pipeline, including - if either of us can get hold of a copy - Lee Harwood's latest, Gifts Received, which, if it's of the same standard as his work invariably is, should be well worth a gander. If any kind reader knows where the editors might be able to procure a copy, we would be grateful if you could let us know.

In lieu of any full reviews, here's a short list of recent recommendations, based entirely on personal prejudice:

RF Langley, The Face of It (some startling material here, reminiscent of Prynne at times, and, more readily, the work of Michael Haslam)

Thomas A Clark, The Path to the Sea (a new-ish Arc collection from the former concrete- now, what?, landscape-poet. Wonderful stuff; shows Kathleen Jamie how Scottish nature writing really aught to be done. Unlike anything else, really, unless you go all the way back to Basho)

CD Wright, Like Something Flying Backwards (a surprise, as I've not come her work before. Rewarding: earlier material betrays an influence, to my mind at least, of James Wright [no relation], later work moving towards more complicated structures built around linguistic permutation, clearly in debt to the Language-school and Ron Silliman's theories of the 'new sentence', but doing something very different with it, rooting it in a Southern rural landscape and language, for one thing. One to explore further, methinks)

All will be reviewed in the fullness of time.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Simon Turner - Some thoughts on the 'mainstream'

Paul Farley, in September 2006, penned an article in the Guardian Review entitled 'Lines of Resistance', which professed to be a defence of 'mainstream' poetics. Like many such defences, it was actually a thinly disguised attack, and is in a tradition of similar sideswipes, which seem to be making something of a comeback at the moment. The gist of Farley's 'argument' (and it has this in common with other comparable diatribes) is this: 'mainstream' has become a dirty word within poetry circles; the experimentalists have taken hold of the academy, and are preaching a virulent combination of formless poetics and covert Stalinist politics; that 'the modernist century' somehow engendered a 'break between poetry and its readers' (this in spite of the fact that modernism in its most difficult forms is hardly a mass art, so how this could have inculcated a mass exodus of readers is beyond me - the alienation of the 'common reader' from poetry began a long time before modernism. Surely this was a vital component of their discourse on readership and poetry production? Aaaanyway. . .); and so on.

What's interesting, and troubling, about the article - and this is something that Geraldine Monk also noted in her response letter published the following week - is the way it evades the fact that the 'mainstream' is so called because it is the dominant current within modern poetry; it is what most readers read - whether this is because mainstream poetry is more readily available than experimental work is another matter. One might also want to ask where mainstream is a dirty word? On university creative writing courses, perhaps? Not really: St Andrews University, foe example, numbers John Burnside and Kathleen Jamie amongst its teaching staff; Sheffield Hallam's had Sean O'Brien on its payroll, another mainstream attack dog; and Andrew Motion's taught at a number of institutions.

Okay then, the press: except here too the mainstream has much of the control, and where it has occasionally lost power (during the Potts-Herd years at the Poetry Review and Guardian poetry pages) it has, with almost Stalinist ferocity, wrested control back from the enemy. The TLS, the LRB, the de-clawed Poetry Review and Guardian Review, are all distinctly mainstream in their coverage.

Oh, in that case it must be the prizes; the Cambridge collective must have the Forward sewn up. Except, of course, the opposite is the case once again, Neil Astley having pointed towards a Picador-centric bias in the judging system some time ago.

I apologise for this rather heavy-handed irony, but I feel that it's necessary in order to unpick the essentially fraudulent terms of Farley's analysis. Upon even the most perfunctory inspection, the key accusation made in the article - that mainstream poetics are a dying art, and need to be defended against the imagined 'post-modernist' barbarians - is proven to be a lot of hot air. There is, of course, an entirely different agenda at play here, one which Farley attempts to keep behind the curtain; but, sadly, we can still see the shoes. This alleged defence of mainstream values (which seem to be in rude health in spite of Farley's assistance) is in short a bullish assault on 'experimental' poetics (or, rather, experimental poetics as defined by the mainstream, a definition so ill informed that it sees no difference between the popular public poetry of Ginsberg, and the far more rarefied work springing up in the wake of the innovations of the Black Mountain school, the 'British Poetry Revival', and the 'language-centred' poetics of Ron Silliman and co, which to my mind at least represent the dominant inheritances of 'experimentalism' or 'post-avant' poetics on both sides of the Atlantic. Ginsberg's influence, if it persists, can be seen more readily in slam and performance poetries).

Which brings me back to an earlier point: that 'mainstream' when applied to aesthetics is effectively meaningless, as the term only has valency in relation to matters of economic and historical contingency - who is in charge of the big presses, which reviewing organs have the biggest circulation, the class, ethnic and gender make-up of the readership at any given time, etc. The aesthetics of the mainstream will shift according to these dictates; the formula cannot be reversed. That is to say that an aesthetic - whatever that aesthetic is - cannot be mainstream once it has ceased to be the dominant mode of discourse and production. The binary constructed by the mainstream - 'mainstream' vs 'avant garde' is, then, based upon a confusion of categories. The 'avant garde' can lay claim to an aesthetics - one equally dependent upon historical, economic and social contingency, but an aesthetic nonetheless - but the mainstream cannot, or, more correctly, their conflation of aesthetics and economics (of poetry production, and poetry consumption) is deeply misleading. In short, I guess what I'm saying is that when Farley and his mainstream brethren are no longer on top, so to speak, then they will have cause for complaint; but, when that happens, they'll no longer be mainstream, and the terms of the debate will no longer be in their control.