Thursday, 25 October 2007

George Ttoouli - Come on Guys, Give it a Rest (response) (response) (response)

This reminds me of a discussion I had with David Hart about whether (and how) poetry, or any creative writing, could be 'taught'. After batting the ball back and forth a few times, he 'closed' the conversation by responding with a poem. The nerve.

But yes, "directionless breeds demagoguery". At the same time, I'm starting to see the benefits of manifestos, perhaps because of your poem. In a way, you write that poem to the agenda, 'Manifestos are False'. And, as Infernokrusherism also shows, manifestos can be a source of creative output, just as any kind of form can be a release on the imagination.

What I'm getting at here, I think, is that there are good manifesto groups and bad ones. Some are hollow, like the ones that attack, deconstruct other poetries and return only with "we are better, we are the best" without defining why. Meanwhile the poetry produced is not fresh - it relies on a conservative approach to taste. Whereas a positive force - "we will do this" - constructs a new centre and uses the creative energy to produce new poetry. (That's possibly part of the reason centres move: as positive movements grow, they mutate, lose sight of their original focus - the doughnut theory of ideological spread.)

Tom's article celebrates the poetry world changing its marketing tack. Embracing Johhny Greenwood, the internet, modern celebrity. But let's not hope we end up with a thousand Luke Wright cut-outs (i.e. stand up comedians who rhyme). He also argues that "The traditional place of the established poet is academia". Actually, that's a fairly recent phenomenon. Poets go where the work is, traditionally, and recently (past thirty years) that means the exploding Creative Writing industries. Before that, libraries (those scummy insular places where nobody goes), banks (ditto), insurance sales (an insular profession if ever I saw one), medicine (all doctors are self-interested parasites), etc.

It winds me up that people think this is a tradition, when we've barely started to map the impact of having university departments chock with poets. In fact, in ten years time we could see a massive shift towards a reading public better able to decide for themselves what they like, reshaping bestseller lists to some other ends, non-Faber centres. It's still a lump, not a doughnut. Dana Gioia, who put this argument forward most eloquently (I'm being sarcastic) based his attack on a misreading of Virginia Woolf and traces things back to the modernists. Who he blames wholeheartedly for a lack of creative vision of his own.

The mainstream and avant gardist movements that are most established and get the most media coverage as a result have doughnutted (this possibly by default: they need to have been around for long enough that they start to spread from their corners and get noticed, so their centres are turning hollow). Look at Prynne's peers spreading about - John James, Andrew Crozier, Barry MacSweeney, the Pickards. And look also at the mainstream coterie - the New Generation poets of 1994, plus hangers on. They've splintered up, spread out; probably some aren't even on speaking terms by now. The more successful create new bases, or pericentres. The less continue to repeat, rant and hark back to halcyon days of artistic energy. (Or more likely, a mix of the two, depending on their mood.)

Aren't we really talking about the public displays of affection or hatred. The point where someone uses a slot in a journal, or other public space, to moan, bitch, denigrate, in order to secure their place and destablise others'. Tom's article points to "unfair but sometimes justified criticisms that poetry is elitist". Where do these accusations come from and where are they directed?

For example: Neil Astley's wild ranting about "the poetry police" in his spate of public appearances a few years ago (the 'Staying Alive' introduction, the introduction to the catchily titled 'Bloodaxe Poems of the Year: 2003: Celebrating the 25th Birthday of Bloodaxe Books', and his StanZa Festival 2005 lecture). Now, what side of the fence was (is?) Astley actually on?

He attacked shadowy cabals of poets around the country, but rarely named names. He was hardly attacking the avant garde - he, more than anyone, knows the damage his and Bloodaxe's credibility would suffer were he to start laying into poets like JH Prynne. (In fact, hasn't he just released an extended version of the 'Collected'? Maybe we can get a review copy. Or someone can write a review for us.)

Astley's rhetoric at the time was incredibly vehement, but really, didn't take any direct casualties. He indirectly implied that certain lists - Carcanet's, Potts and Herd's, etc. - may have lacked diversity, and favoured experimental, alienating poetry, but anyone with half a brain could do their own research and see that the accusations were distorted, or plain untrue, or too generic to be more than wild ranting at the world. Hence the lack of legal suits following what was essentially polemic.

But what Astley did do was adopt the rhetoric of mainstream and avant garde tribalism, laying into the poetry world's infrastructures, editorial lines/tastes and close-minded attitudes. What Astley did do was mimic the only thing that most largescale media channels tend to care about in poetry - the infighting and divisiveness that makes for a few column inches of scandals. It's like the East Coast/West Coast hiphop ruck. Something that the media latches onto because it's an easy angle to follow. But it's all very '70s, just like the "all poets are academics" line. The ideas are hollow today.

So, Neil Astley, doing what he does anyway: marketing. That's a creative mind at work if ever I saw one - media hijacking, in fact. Frozen lightning off the page. What this highlights for me is the sense that some arguments, some battles within the avant garde/mainstream debates and so on, are very hollow. Whereas others are charged, driven by a positive creative spirit. And a lot of the rhetoric boils down to marketing, because it appears in media spaces that are increasingly geared to PR or marketing. Which doesn't make for a healthy critical atmosphere.

But enough already. (And don't expect a bloody poem out of me either.)

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Simon Turner - Come on Guys, Give it a Rest (response) (response)

Nice comeback. And I think you're perfectly correct that the arguments pertaining to the "nature and meaning of poetry" tend to come to the fore at moments when one is least involved in the process of making, when one is least happy with one's own aesthetic choices. Directionlessness breeds demagoguery, in essence: the creation of a manifesto is so often the need to define a mode of writing - indeed, a mode of being - which does not yet exist. 'Vorticism', of course, never really took off. 'Modernism', a term which evolved organically and stuck, resolutely did take off, and continues sailing through the outer reaches of the galaxy, finding new planets with each curve of its trajectory.

Two addenda: Here you can read an excellent article at Culture Wars by Tom Chivers of pennedinthemargins, which covers much the same ground as my original post, though in a far less melancholic tone.

Below, meanwhile, is a shard of a mock manifesto I made by splicing and rejigging words I'd found from various sources. Make of it what you will:

Manifesto for the False Millennium
page 94

but the Marxists have reduced the poem to a paranoid geometry of suffering. How can we analyse the body in a discontinuous universe? Is the text nothing more than a spoof of nature, a chaos of sexual artifice? Yet still we must persist, recognising the underlying distortions of our readings. It’s time to expel the economy of meaning. Let’s build our writings on emotional concrete, though it seems futile. Let’s freeze lightning and call it a poem. Let the body write the universe as clusters of discontinuous texts. We’ll let the Marxists analyse the underlying “meaning” of our mathematics. Nature persists in its imperfections, its rough instructions. Our ideals reduce the artificial economy to a spoof of its own distortions; chaos is pleasant, after all, like random photographs of paranoid sex. (Observation: the poem, when it contacts us, is like a voice coming through a distorted phone line: rough, sexual, discontinuous.) Switch on the body and the text will write itself. “Meaning” is nothing but the recognition of an underlying emotional futility. There are no ideals in nature. So how might we expel this persistent paranoia? Moreover, how are we to read mathematics in the light of Marxist analysis?

George Ttoouli - Come on Guys, Give it a Rest (response)

Yes, yes, but where does all this posturing come from?

I'm thinking about Lynda Barry's cartoon strip, 'Two Questions', in which her cartoonist persona, hard at the creative act, reminisces fondly about how easy it used to be to create, to enter into the creative flow and enjoy it. And then two questions begin to take over: "Is this good?" and, "Does this suck?"

Barry can't answer these questions. They are unanswerable and eventually she gives up admitting she doesn't know. But this is the point: "To be able to stand not knowing long enough to let something alive take shape! Without the two questions, so much is possible. To all the kids who quit drawing... come back!"

Ideology is an adult club. It means: 'We believe we have the answer to what sucks and what's good." The two camps, by deduction, are full of people who have (temporarily?) forgotten the joy of creating poetry. When you've got it, you're doing it, but when you're hung up on the questions of what constitutes good or bad poetry, you're often flailing away in private, producing nothing of merit. The response of many to this is flailing about in public, representing principles of artistic value (not, I stress, 'worth', as the imposition of ideology on creativity is clearly a commodification of the unquantifiable[1]) that are indefensible, but give a sense of community through tribalism.

The hollowness of these values are what probably makes most people despair - readers and the more benign writers of poetry as well. Announcing an artistic manifesto - as the Vorticists prove - is a call to arms as well a way of raising the defenses around a tribe. The media, also, like a good ruck, so they will often latch on, in a minor fashion where poetry is concerned, favouring whichever side is willing to make a bigger fool of themselves in their pages. The extension of this kind of tribalism, through various modes, conceits and also stabilisation within mainstream [2]bastions, is probably worth investigating through the window of anthropological study, as I'm sure it comes in cycles which stack upon the correct traditional Hanoi towers with minor progressive inflections.

But ultimately, "an investigation of the nature and meaning of poetry" when it's based on analysing these self-appointed hierophants (they've been 'vaticinised' like in that godawful opening line of Sean O'Brien's 'Drains' poem), is going to end up biting its own tail because of the inherent emptiness of ideology.

What is interesting is that postmodernist experimentation has managed to parody these ideological movements in order to recapture the childish joy of creativity. For example, the 'Infernokrusher' movement, ("Explosion is the new transgression. Demolition is the new deconstruction") is a context for generating art, rather than a serious group, just as Oulipo isn't really a movement - it's a process for creating work.


[1] See Lewis Hyde's The Gift for more detail (yes, I'm a convert, it's a form of ideology for agnostics), or if you're lazy, the opening lines of Robert Graves' The White Goddess, where he describes poetry as having no yardstick by which it can be measured.

[2] When I say mainstream here, I mean ideologies that are accepted widely within marginalised groups as well - for example, the JH Prynne camp is a form of mainstream within the avant garde, despite having only a handful of acolytes within its boundaries and those being of greatly varying styles.

Simon Turner - Come on Guys, Give it a Rest

I was struck recently by a comment in David Jones' collection of prose writings, Epoch and Artist, in which he poured cold water on critical dismissals of abstract art, arguing - persuasively, I think - that abstraction, which Jones takes to be specifically formal in character, i.e. pertaining to questions of compositional balance, tonal characteristics, and so on, is a central component of all visual art, whether abstract or figurative. To reject abstraction out of hand, Jones goes on, is to mis-read, almost wilfully, the direction of modern artistic developments.

The argument in question is taken from a letter Jones wrote to the Listener in 1950, but the views expressed remain pertinent; and whilst the debates surrounding abstract art, and its figurative opposite number, have largely dissipated in recent years, occasionally resurfacing in the form of public spasms over the Young British Artists, or Turner-prize winners whose work involves sheds or animal dung [1], the same argumentative terms have remained a staple, though translated and mutated, within poetry circles. Mainstream commentators have a tendency to occasionally blow off steam about inevitably unnamed 'postmoderns', who are allegedly clogging the universities with dangerous radical ideas, and running 'subversive' literature classes where the entire Western canon is thrown in the rubbish chute in favour of the collected works of JH Prynne (boo, hiss!), which are, of course, treated with an almost god-like reverence [2]. The 'postmoderns' themselves have a tendency to react with quiet dignity, no doubt in private intercut with deep clefts of scorn, though their own polemical reactions to the mainstream are equally visible, in their aesthetic choices rather than their public statements: their places of publication, their shared discourses, their chosen forms and modes of address, all scream 'marginal' from the rooftops.

All this is merely background, however: the crux of the matter is that both ideological camps - and I do truly believe that ideology is at stake here: this is a ruck about the very nature and meaning of poetry in our current socio-economic epoch - seem to be communicating in entirely different languages. In some regards they are, but they share enough of a vocabulary - often revolving around the notion of the aesthetically and ethically correct (sometimes the two are conjoined) - to mean that communication is a possibility, that there might (just might) come a time when the squabbling could be put aside, and everyone could both write and read in an environment where such sectarian politics did not come in to the equation.

One might - more cynically - suggest that such a rapprochement is an impossibility by virtue of the fact that both parties need the mutual antagonism. The mainstreamers can only defend their position - post-Larkin, semi-interesting - if they can persistently raise the spectre of Olson-chewing, Deleuze-spewing barbarians mustering at the gate. The barbarians themselves, meanwhile, might equally be said to thrive upon a narrative in which they are the oppressed and subjugated indigenous populace of some far away land called Experimental Poetry, stomped upon at every turn by the oak-thewed hegemon of the Mainstream Marines. This seems like the most realistic scenario. First of all, both camps are effectively fighting over a ghost - a general poetry readership - which, if it ever existed (and really, there is no evidence to suggest it ever did) no longer does. Moreover, if we take the proliferation of media into account, it becomes impossible to talk about single ideological blocs in some bipartite power struggle. The mainstream is a chimera that we should, frankly, quit whining about all the bloody time: all the energy wasted ranting about the London poetry scene, and how Picador would never publish John James - would John James want to be published by Picador? - would be far better spent writing more and better poems that would blow the mainstream's own rather pedestrian output out of the water. By the same token, the mainstream's bug-bear - a sinister, Prynne-spearheaded cabal of postmodern eggheads lurking in every English department across the country - appears equally illusory: 'postmodernism' cannot be defined in such monolithic terms that it can be used so frequently as an umbrella noun covering a multitude of sins (or virtues, depending on how we read the situation).

The internet, in particular, has unveiled the sheer ridiculousness of the Sharks vs. Jets mentality that seems to dominate certain sectors of the poetry community, revealing as it does a total aesthetic democracy, where any number of styles of writing, from the gentle and Larkinesque to the balls-to-the-wall radicalism of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetics or flarf, can find a suitable home. Who edits Poetry Review in any given year is not the be all and end all of our definition of poetry's health; we have to stop using the centre ground as our yardstick. Aside from anything else, the poetry cake that we're all fighting for a share of is too small for such playground politics anyway. Can't we just stop all the fussin' and the feudin'?


[1] The Daily Mail, as in so many things, is particularly idiotic on this score. Every year they run an 'alternative' Turner prize, where they give an award to a purveyor of 'proper' art - their definition, of course - which is invariably a byword for landscape paintings or portraiture in a god-awful tradition of semi-literate realism, which examples invariably display the visual flair and compositional imagination of a beige turd.

[2] The terms that the mainstream bulldogs use are strangely similar to the aggressive insult 'tenured radicals' which was hurled at survivors of the counter culture on American campuses during the various 'culture wars' that rocked our cousins on the other side of the big drink in the 1990s.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Alex Pryce - Three Poems


Your name is a digit
because your parents were counting down
on their combined fingers.
You were a day early.

You are a single
undotted i. A prime number but
an unusual name.
You were always first

on the roll, last in exams.
You saw her figure, took her number
and soon were multiplying,
dividing at five kids.

You are again single,
undotted i. You are always first
in the personal adverts.
Searching for sequence.

Black Coffee


Black, she explains, because it’s quicker
to buy, quicker to make, quicker
to drink in a hurry. Just

She smells like a café on a Saturday,
four cups by half past ten.

She runs her hand through brown hair
and widens her eyes; thinking, I assume,
of the mugs she knows so well
still lukewarm and cradling in her lips.
The moment is spilt, passed and
the coffee is cold and stale on her desk.

Back in the staff room
she is thinking of her quarter past eleven

English Morning Breakfast

You tell me, picking up the list,
that there is something innately beautiful
about the vocabulary of coffee.

Spilling your Latte, Espresso, Americano,
spitting Mocha and dribbling Cappuccino.
You are pouring the menu over the table

between us; by the time you’ve reached
Café au Lait, I’m ordering tea
to silence you,

but you are still boiling, bubbling
over. My tea is Assam, Ceylon, Earl Grey
in this English Morning Breakfast.

Alex Pryce was born in Bangor, Northern Ireland in 1988. She is currently studying English at the University of Leicester. In 2006 she received a fellowship from the National Endowments for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA). In 2007 she received a bursary from the John Hewitt Society. Her poetry has appeared on the BBC Northern Ireland website, in Speech Therapy, and is forthcoming in other magazines. Alex is the creator and developer of PoetCasting (

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Simon Turner - What I See in Prunella Clough's Paintings (I)

"Works of art await use" - John Berger

Irregular swathes of turqouise set amid a flat field of white, jagged edges rimming the sea-coloured patches: peeling paint's gaping gnashers, or foam-jets roaring up the massive sides of cruising tankers. The whole effect is startlingly physical, the flat surface pushing at the bounds of two dimensional space, as if the embedded textures were somehow alive, straining to push through from behind the suface of the image and out into the 'real' world.

What I just wrote is a description of a particular wall in a partciular street in a particular town of the English Midlands, but could just as easily have served as an attempt to render into words one of Prunella Clough's canvases. Patrick Heron has already noted Clough's ability, in her art, to change the way we see, her painting's capacity to not only reflect, in an astonishing and idiosyncratic manner, the urban world around us, but also to challenge us to see that world in an entirely new capacity - as a series of textures and patterns waiting to be found and transformed into landscapes.

I first discovered Clough's work - in the form of her painting 'Vegetation' (1999) - during one of my regular visits to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. My method during these visits was usually one of aimless wandering - I rarely went there with an exhibition or a particular artwork in mind, though I always made a detour to see a priapic Picasso sculpture, a primitive Christ in varnished wood - hoping something would catch my eye each time. Sometimes it did, sometimes there was nothing, no shock of the new. In the case of 'Vegetation', I was immediately taken with its strangeness, the fact that it was something other than the (admittedly beautiful) Pre-Raphaelite superabundance for which Brum's art gallery is demi-famous to those in the know. No alabaster lunatics floating down river here, just an axpressive abstract arrangement of - well, pebbles, aren't they? Or is it a landscape seen from above, from a great height? One of my first thoughts - one of the images the painting deliberately suggests, I would now argue - was of the primitive cave paintings at Lascaux, buffalo etched in 'crude' but infinitely vivid terms on the sweating rock; and that chain of association led on next to crop circles and Mayan ground-sculptures and aerial photography. The painting seemed - seems - possessed of an almost limitless capacity for expressiveness. This is its power, the power of Clough's work considered in totality, in fact: the paintings are never wholly abstract, certainly, but neither do they (for the most part at least) go in for definitive signification. We are by no means in the realm of social realism or urban documentary when we are witness to Clough's canvasses, in spite of early gestures towards these modes. These earlier pieces, even, are characterised by a tension between, on the one hand, a tendency towards abstraction, and, on the other, a refusal to dismiss figuration outright. (Her grand canvas 'Lowestoft Harbour' (1951) is arguably the most achieved of these earlier works.) Later, the human body is gradually discarded as a subject, perhaps precisely because of its corporeality, its status as a grounded singular signifier, rather than a floating, potentially infinite suggestion of an image, or network of images. The body always means too much: it both reaches out to a world beyond the borders of the canvas, and back through previous representations of the human figure in art. It denies the polysemy that Clough's canvases are so clearly striving towards.

But Clough's later paintings are by no means dry exercises in academic abstraction, and viewing them can often be a highly sensual experience, the artist clearly taking delight in her compositional method, the interplay of colours, their feel, their energy. 'Waste-land' (1979), for example, has the ryhtmic vibrancy and fludity of a jazz quartet, jagged black lines like trumpet blasts blocked out over the tinselly rhythms of gravel, and the sinewy guitar lines of coiled rope. This abstract swings, and knows it. Yet it's real too, and not just jazzy interplay. I've noted the gravel, but note, too, the Allen key to the bottom right of the composition, and the bursts of colour scattered throughout the painting's largely monochrome surface like scraps of dayglo packaging. This both is and is not a real wasteland, realism and abstraction meeting and colliding, leaving charred metal and pellets of stone in the aftermath.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Some More Poems by James Brookes

after Catullus 5

Let's live and love,
and not have a penny's worth
of dreary old men's gossip.
Suns withdraw and recoup;
when our day's trade runs out,
we must sleep on
through one limitless recession.

Kiss me, a thousand kisses, a hundred kisses,
a thousand more, a hundred more, until
in hundreds and in thousands we lose count.
In love's ledger of so many alleged kisses

not even the audit of an evil eye
could put a price on such a quantity.

In Clitheroe Keep (I)

The point was still to hold the pass, control
the pack-horses' route over the Pennines
- thus, Clitheroe. Up on its hill-spur. Small
infringement, herald of a bad time
like the taxman's strongbox on arrival.
Households squabble, huddle into being
below. A hill-fort's Norman reversal.
Clitheroe as was, where no-one was building
Clitheroe. A rest-home, heroes in choky,
imprisoned beings et al, though never likely
owt to kindle hope, like flame from clinker
but what surmounts the walls, outstays the captive -

A bright wind-marching, east for Pendle hill;
a sinew beneath its heather-coat of mail.

The Ship of Fools in Flames

Bound as they are in oil
the damned
do not fear drowining.

And the jokes are easy and clever
and we're buoyed by mirth
and it's no trick
to draw wine from the river.

We're going somewhere,
it's out of our hands. . .

Only something like a memory
or a pen and ink sketch of this day
without distracting colour,
tinder-keeled and thin as touch-paper,

is phosphorous in water,
is caesium
under oil, is naphtha

or those souls like flames
testing their entropy against the waves.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Simon Turner - Marginal Notes (1)

Borges, in an essay on the Kabbalah in Seven Nights, notes how the concept of the sacred text is dependent upon the divine status of the words themselves. The words are not simply dictated by God (or Allah, or whosoever we might want to name the deity), but is “an attribute of God, like His rage, His pity, or His justice”. Karen Armstrong, expanding upon the theme in an essay accompanying the British Library’s recent exhibition of sacred texts, explains how sacred texts are built around the possibility of the immanence of the deity within the text:

“A hadith qudsi (holy tradition) has God say: ‘When someone recites or reads the Qur’an, that person is, as it were, entering into conversation with Me and I into conversation with him or her’. The Word is still speaking to men and women; the original revelation continues. Whenever a Muslim quotes from the Qur’an or suddenly recalls a Qur’anic phrase, he or she comes directly into the presence of God. When Muslims memorize the Qur’an, it is as though they take the divine Word into their very depths […]”

All poets strive after a similar textual immanence, hoping to recreate the conditions of the originating event – whether that event be an emotional state, a landscape, a vision, or simply an apology taped to a refrigerator door – using words alone, in such a way that they are not simply telling their reader something, but re-enacting it as far as is humanly possible, recognising, of course, the essential futility of the exercise. Borges again, from his short story ‘A Yellow Rose’:

“Then came the revelation. Marino saw the rose as Adam might have seen it in Paradise. And he sensed that it existed in its eternity and not in his words, and that we may make mention or allusion of a thing but never express it at all; and that the tall proud tomes that cast a golden penumbra in an angle of the drawing-room were not – as he had dreamed in his vanity – a mirror of the world, but simply one more thing added to the universe.”


Self-censorship: How many poems have I edited out of my own life? It’s a strange experience to deliberately – or even unconsciously – erase one of your own poems. It’s the equivalent of cutting off a finger or a toe. This is especially true earlier on, when the poet has not yet learned how to separate themselves from their work to a degree commensurate to long-term survival as a writer. Possibly some writers never reach this point of maturity, which explains why so many of them get so snippy when their writing is criticised. I know I had not learned that lesson in my early twenties, when two friends, independently, tore one of my poems to shreds, critically. Believing they were right, utterly – and still believing it, more so than ever – I destroyed every copy I had of the poem in question. A couple of years later, at a poetry reading, it was mentioned – not to my face, I might add – that one of the poems I read allegedly displayed a contempt for the poor. Worried at this misreading – it had certainly never been my intention to give the impression that I hated the poor – I simply stopped reading it in public, although in this instance I did not take the drastic action of destroying every copy. Maybe I am waiting for a time in my life when I feel contempt for the poor in actuality and not just in my poems, and I can read the piece in public again with a clear conscience.


Nietzsche once wrote that to improve one’s style means to improve one’s ideas. He’s absolutely right: language circumscribes what we do, how we think; it defines our capacities as living beings. What we say, moreover, is intimately bound up with how we say it. Think of onomatopoeic words (splash, boom, crack): they are short and sharp, specifically designed to return us to the originating reality behind them – a frog jumping into a pond, a cannon firing from a warship, or a branch breaking in an empty wood. Conversely, words designed to describe or explain philosophical abstractions or states of being which go beyond everyday human experience, tend in themselves to be far more diffuse and elongated, as if the terms had no grounding in factual experience. Transubstantiation, for example, with its portmanteau status and Latinate roots, represents an imposition upon reality. The concept of ‘transubstantiation’ is dependent upon the existence of the word: the signifier and the signified are a unity, equally fictitious, equally alienating.


An irony of poetry is that the emotional states or experiences with which it is so often concerned invariably go beyond, or exist below or behind, language’s capacity for logical explication. A poem, at heart, wants to convey pure being, and words get in the way of this project, imposing their own alien meaning, which is never, finally, what the poet had intended to say. The poet, in fact, never intended to say anything. Every time I set pen to paper, I wish instead that I could compose a piece of music, or paint an abstract: anything to escape the tyranny of logic, of signification. Just this morning, standing on the back step with a pair of muddy workman’s gloves on – I’d been taming the overgrown hops shrub by tying it back against the trellis with string – I was watching the birds come to the feeders in the garden. I stood absolutely still, absolutely silent, but the silence and stillness were only external. Inside, a manic lexicon roared into life, naming everything in site like some demented Adam, wandering a world still damp from the egg – finch­, said the lexicon, and blackbird, coal tit, goosegrass, rain-clouds, alleyway. The poem is always interrupting at the moment of its own conception.