Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Get this!

Just spent the past 27 minutes listening to 'Right Off' from Miles' 'A Tribute to Jack Johnson' album. It is utterly - but u-t-t-e-r-l-y - stunning. So, no matter where you are, get your shoes 'n socks on people and run down to your nearest mediatheque or CD outlet and climb through the letterbox if necessary and purloin yourself a copy.

Granite, gypsum, felspar and marble - you got it, this ROCKS!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Saturday afternoon

We all got in the car and went to see a Kaffe Fassett exhibition in Hasselt - about an hour from Brussels going east. As I walked around the Modemuseum I was thinking: repetition, minimal patterns repeated to create complexity, deliberate juxtapositions of colour & motif, Morton Feldman (his fascination for rugs), Howard Hodgkin (India), Klee (those watercolours creating shimmering patterned surfaces).

Certainly worth having a look.

Sayings of Emma (II)

"Showers for everyone?"

(In the bathroom this morning, listening to the BBC weather forecast - or yet another example of the Blairite Nanny State?)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Back in Brussels & bile

Yes - and already various gripes: i) why can't I just use my old Blog account - it was perfectly acceptable? ii) why am I being charged by Citibank Visa for their error with the statements? iii) why doesn't Stonemanor (Waterloo) stock Oatibix?


The train between Farnborough and Waterloo (London) brought back unpleasant memories of a year commuting in the 1980s. No doubt, some of my fellow passengers this week were doing the journey back then - and maybe some ten to twenty years before that. A life of dark mornings, fetid carriages, crumpled suits and newspapers, delays at Clapham junction waiting for a platform ... and now the obligatory cell phone bores ("Yeah, Colin, yeah, say we'll go with that, what?, yeah, 20 K, yeah, OK?, and tell Trina in Accounts, yeah, OK mate, see you in half an hour, Ciao"), the iPods (tsh-tsh-tsh-tsh-tsh), the 'alternative' ties in migraine-inducing shiney colours ... Grab the emergency cord! Jump! There has to be more to life than this. (There is).


New books: 'Body of Work' by Maggie O'Sullivan with 'A Natural History in 3 Incomplete Parts', Stravinsky lectures, a knock-down copy of W.S. Graham's Collected Poems, and 'Minimalism' ed. Meyer.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sunday, February 11, 2007

noise of a ring sliding onto a finger

Watching the way the members of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop went about cutting and splicing somehow made me think of Tom Raworth and his 1960’s volume ‘The Relation Ship’. That snipping apart of “relationship” is already symptomatic of the procedures and stance of this text.

I’d coveted this book – as well as the later ‘the big green day’ and ‘Logbook’ – ever since seeing it in the South Bank Poetry Library. No longer being a UK taxpayer meant I was disallowed borrowing rights and so all I could do was steal furtive readings until that astonishing December day when I found all three (plus more gems besides) going for a song (pretty much) in a secondhand bookshop in Brussels. Who’d have thought it?

I still love the book – the slightly worn cover with the 4-part dismembered rather dodgy image, the brown card fly leaves, the quotation from “piero heliczer” (sic) (“babies grow filling out a shape without having been dropped in a mould”), the poems set out on the page with plenty of room to breathe each with its own capitalized title, then – every so many pages – a collage/image by Barry Hall, and, finally, a back cover photo of Raworth (smiling?), eyes downcast, 13s. (65p) net u.k. only. Yes, I know it’s a reprint – but who cares? It reeks of what I like in poetry – a delicious odour utterly lost in the Carcanet ‘Collected Poems’ nice though that is in its own way.

I’ve been looking again at ‘Waiting’ the first poem in the book and beginning to realise quite how disconcerting it was then (and, for that matter, now). I think it is easy to misread Raworth – or, rather, to take the poems at face value, quickly jotted ‘moments’ with a quirky surreal after taste. The use of lower case and abbreviations and eccentric spacing act as a nod at U.S. poets such as Olson and Dorn – or simply a trying to be different (a literary two fingers to Larkin and Ted Hughes).

What I am more aware of now is how Raworth is using his page. Rather than the poem depending upon a captured ‘real’ moment (poem as anecdote) or a simultaneity of writing-reading (poem as record of abstract expressionist-style gestures) the poem becomes a ‘site’ – a ‘space’ – of multiple times. I’ll try to explain.

First, the left hand margin – the ‘convention’ of Western poetry – is given added force by Raworth’s phrase editing and spacing. Thus the opening two lines:

she made it a

The temptation is to either fill in the first line phrase – it is so obviously broken off – or to ‘normalise’ it by lifting the one-word second line up to it:

she made it a noise

Ignoring the objection that this, in itself, doesn’t really make conventional sense, what’s evident is the way that “noise” takes on a real value both in terms of potential referential meaning and as a word in itself. There it is – on the page. It is and is not subsumed into syntactical sense. (Extend this reading to line 5 “a cigarette” and 6 “smoke &” and 15 “versed ...” and 17 “favourable ... ”). Each time the word beginning the line has an added impact, enhanced – oddly enough – by being uncapitalized. Raworth, it seems to me, deliberately plays off poetic habits of reading whereby the new line becomes predictable either as a continuation (enjambment) or new beginning. Furthermore, he wants to exploit words for their referential possibilities while insisting on them as words.*

Having mentioned enjambment, a second – and related – feature is that of line turns. Which lines, in actual fact, return? Common sense does and does not suggest that lines 1 and 2 are part of the same phrase. Look also at lines 11 and 12:

small she
spoke he

Taken out of context they work but might as easily work in terms of their previous and subsequent lines:

he wrote small/she spoke/he cut a pack of tarot cards ...

Ten years ago I wasn’t happy with this kind of writing – why was he doing this? Now, I’d suggest it is a deliberate questioning or opening up of the possibilities within poetic language and – as, if not more important - everyday language and experience.

How does Raworth write? How did Raworth write this? I don’t know, he knows, other people might know. I don’t think it comes straight out onto the page. I am much more convinced of the lines being derived from notebooks or quick jottings done during the day (see ‘A Letter to Martin Stannard’ in ‘Removed for Further Study’ where Raworth talks the reader through his compositional processes for one poem). These are, in turn, worked upon – a process of editing, collaging, resequencing – why, I suppose, the Radiophonic programme connects.

So what? You could leave it at that and find Raworth mildly interesting. I think he's much better than that.

That the phrases are incomplete and – in ‘Waiting’ – uncapitalized and unpunctuated, the implication is that of a continuity of language and experience which writing both allows and frustrates. What is and is not potentially to be said? What happens to a lived moment the NOW – once it is trapped into language? Write one line – a jotted down record of a remark – or re-write it on a sheet of paper as a draft of a poem – and multiple possibility enters in. ** Lines 6, 7 and 8 (which will be wrecked by the Blog programme – I am resorting to brackets to suggest the white space of the original page):

smoke &
(..............) blue
he was too (......................) sound

The smoke was blue? Or he was (feeling) blue, too? Or a glimpse of blue (sky, wallpaper, cigarette packet ...) ? It’s not a case of justifying the poem by an anecdotal fact – “yes, I was sitting smoking feeling rather sad when ...”). It is what is being opened up by the poem on the page. A simultaneity.

Third. Spacing. As in the example above, how “blue” and “sound” are pushed away from the main phrase or hard left margin. It is quite difficult to articulate the effect. The words seem to ‘hang’, freed by the extra space on the page from the normalizing glue of syntax. There’s also a physiological effect – the eye dances across – thus the process of reading is being insisted upon and how the eye threads sense across and through the line. Comparisons to music suggest themselves – rhythmic like a syncopation between drums and cymbal (tuh-tuh tuh-tuh tish) or chordal (think of Monk hitting a high chord against the main melodic line).*** I’m embarrassed at my lack of musical knowledge but there is no doubt of the effect – you feel it and it is part of the ‘meaning’. As, indeed, “grey” and “blue” and “sound” start to acquire their own little set of correspondences through placement – the eye zig-zags to connect them as they float off to the right.

It would be too easy to bring in Olson’s much-quoted injunctions about Projective Verse and energy. I don’t want to seem to dilute what’s going on in the poem by recourse to Higher Authority. (“all these americans here writing about america it’s time to give something back, after all” as Raworth writes in ‘I Mean’, suggesting a sense of English Poetic defiance). However, it is clear that Raworth’s poetry here is going way beyond meretricious effects.

Fourth. Things. You could go through this poem – the whole volume – making a list of things Raworth puts into his poems. Cigarettes – lots of those. Plenty of stuff, certainly. And this again can seem like a desire to drag the poems back into a ‘Real’, the poet celebrating his surroundings, little everyday epiphanies of reading a milk bottle label. Instead, I think Raworth does want to put in whatever is going on precisely to question the idea of the single ‘moment’- privileged or not.

What is a ‘thing’? Can “cigarette” be placed in the same category as “smoke” or “children”? What is “a/noise” ? Or “sound” ? That one? This one? When? Then? Raworth sets tangible objects or beings in amongst ephemeral states or phenomena. **** Then, further down the page “prodigality/dissipation liberality un/favourable news”. More nouns but abstract moral categories. How easily we slip across the boundaries yet (I think) this is part of what Raworth is after. How language homogenizes what is so disparate and fleeting and extraordinary – and which is around us every instant.

Fifth. Simultaneity. That title – ‘Waiting’. For waiting implies relative states – I am doing this, now, in relation to that-which-is-to-happen. The dentist. A baby. The post. Godot. Bus. ... Yet this is to simplify time and being-in-time. A linear model is imposed rather than cyclical or all-happening-at-once. Furthermore, it implies a dulling of experience - as Godard complained of people feeling they were only on holiday when they 'arrived'.

of (shall we go she said) pentacles re

The parenthesis is a written device to suggest the simultaneity of living experience. In writing words have to behave and stand in line like little children at school. Related to my earlier comments on Raworth’s use (or not) of enjambment, so his use of parenthesis. What – as such – is not parenthetic? Consciousness prioritizes, that’s all. (Or rather, that’s only a part of it). It is possible to imagine a scheme for the poem as:

Raworth smoking
she enters
the door makes a noise
the smoke from the cigarette curls in the air
children are playing outside
he jots in a notebook
he turns a tarot card
she asks if they’re going

which is only to admit that a) it might be nothing like that, b) you cannot write the simultaneous events without placing one after another, c) these ‘events’ themselves are partial – what else could/was going on?, d) and that to raise this question is to hit yourself against the poem – for it is the words which are the ‘now’ and the meaning is changing as we read.

You don’t believe me? Raworth does not write “reversed” . It is:

versed meaning prodigality

And, indeed, poetry does reverse and re-verse. As the eye returns to the margin so the word slips its sense. Writing is prodigal, leaves to return as the parable tells us and is“given to extravagant expenditure; recklessly wasteful” (SOED).

Poetry gambles/gambols and spills/spells its meaning in a game of winning and losing –

“unfavourable” news becomes “favourable” through the turn of verse. Poetry’s throw. No coincidence, I suppose, that Raworth places a tarot reading in the poem – the turned card read for its truth to this moment. Which moment?

Now – then ...


* I could go even further and suggest Raworth questioning what a word is – decomposing it into its constituent letters: the w-o-r-d as typed/printed. From ‘You Were Wearing Blue’ – “when i was eight they taught me real (italicized in the original)/ writing/to join up the letters”. Thus literacy and educational competence involves a deliberate blinding (repression) not to see what is actually there on the page. Note the lower case “i”, by the way.

** Not very clearly expressed. What I’m imagining is Raworth scouring notebook pages for phrases which are then excerpted and manipulated. What occurs sequentially in the poem might be derived from different occasions but acquires a relation-in-time on the page. Any given phrase – when cut – will inevitably yield unforeseen meanings and/or simply depriving a phrase of its context frees it from its intended sense. In this I’m not suggesting Raworth is unique – by definition, how could he be? However, I am taking as read that Raworth works from text – thus the act of writing is a material one of arrangement. I may be very wrong in this! And there is a further possibility of improvising there and then from what the fragments suggest.

*** I don’t want to be too obvious by dragging in jazz – it’s another way to potentially dull what’s exciting in the writing. Nevertheless, I’m reminded of Creeley claiming to have learned so much from Charlie Parker’s records. And surely the act of typing comes in too – the keyboard (typewriter) and keyboard (piano) suggest similar manual gestures and rhythms. Hitting the space key is itself a physical rhythmic and aural pleasure for the writer.

**** The many tiny moments in Raworth – “noise of a ring sliding onto a finger” being a good example. Yet again I find myself wondering how far this a deliberate testing of language: it makes sense but can you – really – hear that? It exists in the sentence. Language allows other ‘reals’. You can link this with his ear for overheard remarks, banalities, malapropism – linguistic moments of uncertainty (“did he/she really mean what they said?”).

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Watched the BBC 4 documentary on the BBC Radiophonic Workshop last night. Fascinating stuff: John Baker, Delia Derbyshire, the Doctor Who signature tune, atmospheres for the Hitchhiker's Guide, and a room given over to the deformation and recomposition of sound (real hands-on cutting and splicing and rewinding and fast-forwarding). Was it the advent of synthesizers that put paid to the Workshop? Or John Birt's new policies of financial accountability? Or ... ?

Pogle Genius Oliver Postgate doing the commentary was the icing on the cake. Just occasionally television gets it so right.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Gertrude is 133 today

February second this second.
February third Ulysses. Who Ulysses. Who Ulysses. Who Ulysses.
February third. February third heard word purred shirred heard. Heard word. Who.

(from 'A Birthday Book', quoted in 'Gertrude Stein: The Language That Rises' by Ulla E. Dydo)

Happy Birthday James Joyce (yesterday), Happy Birthday Gertrude Stein (today), Happy Birthday Belgian Waffle (tomorrow).

. Driving into work the other morning with 'Village of the Sun' playing & humming & drumming along  & think...