Reading John Godfrey’s poem ‘Soothe’ it’s hard not to hear a feint echo at the back of your ear: “soothe” (“sooth”). An almost imperceptible difference. And it seems to be a poem which depends upon such delicacies of sound and sense.
Here it is:
The inside of my thigh
slides down from
I lift you
in front of me
so you bend over my hair
I exhaust you
I soothe by getting small
There’s no greater
than from you to
I’m struck by the possibilities contained within “soothe”. The abrasive ‘s’ against the soft ‘th’ and the stretch and ease of the long ‘oo’ vowel sound. The word itself enacts a caress.
Is the title the first word of the poem? Perhaps. And that seems appropriate in a poem concerned with permeable boundaries, skin, intimacy and distance - “the sun/through ceilings”. So, it’s an instruction or an invitation?
Divided into three verses, the poem is a deceptive and deceiving read – something I notice with many Godfrey poems. Just as you think with Peggy Lee ‘is that all there is?’ a line delivers a jolt and you have to start all over again.
Here, in verse one, exactly what is going on? “The inside of my thigh/slides” – yes? The verb relates to my thigh? How then to reconcile this with the following two and a half lines – “down from/ the sun/ through ceilings”. Does this – can this – make sense? “Down from” and “through” allow for grammatical sense but it’s hard to envisage the scene, the events. Should “slides” be read as a plural noun? A momentary image of kabbalistic solar rays flashes in the mind like an engraving by Robert Fludd.
And while we’re on verse one, what about the skewed phrase “inside of my thigh”. Wouldn’t that be “inside leg” to your average tailor? Or some lover’s intimate whisper and encouragement? It’s definitely sexy.
Sexy, too, the “down” in line two, which hovers between adverb and noun (oh so fine hairs).
In fact, I would argue that the reading of the poem so far is sexily seductive – for what is being intimated (that’s a useful phrase) as against spelt out. There seems to be a lot going on between the lines and Godfrey’s line spacing suggests as much. Each line has just enough air around it to hold its own ground and the indented lines in verses two and three create further possibilities.
The effect is like a drop out in the tape, a skip in the DVD, a moment of inattention. ‘What was that? Did I miss something?’.
Yet gluing the words together is the spittle and breath of the sounds.
Let’s take ‘th’ – the ‘th’ present in the title word “soothe”, on to the opening word “the” to the last word of line one “thigh”. I’m no phonologist, but I can feel the difference here: the first instance is smoothed by the preceding “soo-“; the second is the most emphatic and voiced; the third, a flimsy thing, breathed, ghostlike. Lines three and four echo with a repeated “the” and then the beautifully apt “through” which in its ‘th’ + ‘oo’ sounds reflects and softens “soothe”. Then, in contrast, listen to the rasping ‘s’ & ‘z’ sounds at work in “slides”, “sun” and “ceilings”.
What to say about this? As so often, it seems to risk dulling the effect to try to articulate such subtleties. Or to imply that they require the assistance of paraphrase. Yet I’m tempted to say the effect is similar to a finger tracing a little path on the skin, responding to little spasms. Hard then soft. Ear and tongue in close collaboration.
In verse two, the crucial moments – the ‘jolts’ – are in lines four and five. What seems a fairly safe erotic scenario veers into something more disturbing: “exhaust you” (who?) by “listening” (how)? As indeed the sounds disturb – the crush of abrasive ‘x’ and ‘z’ and ‘st’ and ‘s’ sounds coming so soon after “so you” (line 3) had revived “soothe” in our minds and the number of either vowel or soft consonant end syllables.
Is Godfrey suggesting the an analogy between a relationship and the act of reading? The dangers of too close attention? (Imagine the problem pages of Cosmo: “I wish my partner didn’t listen to me ...”). Or – taking the poem out of the bedroom – the dangers if you place too much insistence upon language, read the small print, weigh words – think politics, the office, business, the supermarket. So what you’re really saying is .... .
Back to the poem and is it silly to sense the anti-climax, impotence, phallic failure in “I soothe by getting small”? Equally, it could be read as a moving away, withdrawal from the relationship. But who’s doing the soothing? I soothe someone? Or can one soothe oneself (as in licking your wounds with words)?. The poem as an act of self-consolation.
Certainly, a phrase from the first poem in the collection seems of relevance here:
“I have traced all this to my body Everything beautiful, and everything that ever goes wrong”
To my ears, line two in verse three invites the cliched “love than” rather than the brutal “distance”. And maybe that’s deliberate. And deliberate, too, the compression of sounds – the “s” established earlier and the “n” which has been at work since verse one - “inside”, “down”, “sun”, ceilings” - and on into verse two. There’s also a little sound logic to three important words: “ceilings” to “listening” to “distance”.
The pay off – the climax, if you like – is suitably deflationary:
than from you to
and the orphaned
The tmesis of “tonight” is the verbal equivalent of a wince. Embittered. The luxuriant ‘oo’ sounds (evoking the reassurance of “soothe”) are cut by the clinically clear ‘i’ and blade-like ‘t’. Lines one and two of verse one also return in the ear (“inside” ... “thigh” ... “slides”) like mocking echoes.
Yet the poem avoids too neat an assimilation into a New York romantic film – he wanders the street alone, the music plays, a tearful she is above in her apartment, THE END, we leave the cinema refreshingly depressed.
“From you to night”? That’s another dimension entirely. We’re back to the quandary of verse one where thighs and sun slide through (usually) secure ceilings.
The “you” is now placed against some black vastness ripping the poem out of any reassuring – why not say it, soothing – read.
A post on John Godfrey's 'Soothe' was scheduled for this morning. However, with typical perversity, I find myself lying on the bed surrounded by copies of Kit Robinson's poems. Ron S's post is to blame.
What is it about reading - how a year or so ago these poems just didn't gel for me & now I'm greedy for more?
This volume - The Champagne of Concrete - is packed with good things. I love the 'open field' style poems such as 'Lip Service' and the prose sequence entitled 'Rushes The Sun Parts Daily'. The feel is of the notebook, the daily journal, citations from office e-mails, snatches of talk in the coffee room (I notice "sips" is a recurrent word), the jibberish of managerial talk. Yet it's what he does with it all that astonishes.
And I really like these paragraphs from the Afterword* to The Crave volume:
"It might be possible to explicate every such detail, if only memory served, but it wouldn't do any good, because the meaning of these poems does not lie in any specific referents, but in the relational spaces between and among them.
Against the specificities of a place, a kind of metaphysical fascination seizes the objects of thought and feeling, separates them and sets them down on the page in the form of words. The pleasure of this act of placement, for me, is unlike any other. It makes of itself a place, to return to, paradoxically, as if for the first time."
* Incidentally, where Robinson explains 'Line 56' mentioned in Ron's post
"By that, I mean ‘0 to 9: The Complete Magazine’ is a book only in the sense that a book serves as portal. No, it would be more accurate to call it a point, a foci to move from – someway to mark a horizon outwards. The book as compass."
This coming from the Blog 'For The Birds' (http://imforthebirds.blogspot.com/2009/02/0-to-9-complete-magazine-1967-1969.html).
That chimes well with what I'm thinking about at the moment in terms of the status of the actual text, what a volume of poems is - or could be.
A movement through, a point of access, a bringing together with a view to sending the reader away ...
And is this - to go back to an old theme - what marks a key difference between poetries (U.S./U.K., experimental/traditional, etc.) . in other words how the very book is conceived? I'm thinking about Robert Duncan's and Jack Spicer's individual volumes, early Raworths, Iain Sinclairs ... . And that the shift into official publishing is - as such - a betrayal, a dilution? (And I see how the LRB are running an offer on a deluxe edition of the new Sinclair - there's an irony here?).
I'm trying to find something on Spicer's refusal of normal publication but can't put my finger on it.
Later I'll try to put up a post on a John Godfrey poem 'Soothe'.
So far this morning I'm just pottering about. Nothing wrong in that.
Google 'Mistresses' and you'll see it described as "Part drama, part thriller ... a sexy, sophisticated and bold take on the lives of four women and their involvement in an array of illicit and ... "(text runs out).
I must have been watching something else.
Honestly, it is dross. I loathed 'Friends' (its smugness, fake camaraderie, exaggerated acting, signaled humour, etc.) and 'Sex In The City' was off my radar but 'Mistresses' ...
Who are the BBC kidding? "Sophisticated"? "Bold"? "Sexy" even?
I suppose in BBC script meetings, "sophisticated" means involving lawyers, surgeons and people-who-do-things-with-money. "Bold" means story lines that are shocking mainly for their utter predictability. As for "sexy", that seems to be glimpses of body parts. I'd go for "vacuous", "cliched" and "prurient". Hard-core pornography is healthier and more honest in its intentions.
Above all, the characters are so utterly, utterly boring - the dialogue seems to have been lifted from Cosmopolitan problem pages. So there's plenty of fondling, talking-about-it, talking-about-not-getting-it, talking-about-him/her-getting-or-not-getting it, and a steady supply of wine (red, I noticed, Chardonnay must be so 'out' these days).
God, it's awful. The sort of thing that made D.H. Lawrence leave England, I suppose.
An interview conducted between belgianwaffle and The Carpenter. The interview took place on both sides of the mirror.*
bw: So why the sudden collagiste urge?
The C: Boredom. Lassitude. Frustration. Incompetence.
The C: A constellation of events: Aida Kazarian’s one night show; the afternoon spent upstairs in Posada; discovering Luc Fierens’ work (and thereby a whole network of Belgian mailart-Fluxus-DIY exponents and conspirators); the ‘Artists Write’ exhibition in Ixelles we went to see some Saturdays ago. Then getting Rodfer’s Call It Thought just before Christmas and seeing texts such as Oriflamme Day for the first time ...
... a poetry painted with every jarring color and juxtaposition, every simultaneous order and disorder, every deliberate working, every movement toward one thing deformed into another. Painted with every erosion and scraping away, every blurring, every showing through, every wiping out and every replacement, with every dismemberment of the figure and assault on creation ... (Rodefer, ‘Preface’)
... teaching Blake and looking at his prints thinking what method he might seize on today, now, in the XXIst Century, what would home DIY technology allow?
Enough? Or too much?
bw: The devil is in the detail! One at a time please.
The C: Aida Kazarian. I love the work although it veers – at times – a little too much towards ‘beaux livreism’. I’d prefer a grittier approach. The tomes she works in are perhaps too handsome. That said, I like her mark making – a literal impress of finger and thumb. A tactile language bypassing grammar and rational syntax. Also, her inventiveness – a seemingly narrow range of options and yet an astonishing variety. Her ‘annotations’ to a copy of Dante were wonderful: finger prints suggestive of sun, moon and planets waxing and waning. Love it! Besides the books being laid out in the room. A space to open, peruse, touch, inhale ... it reinvigorated what I thought a book could be, could do ... a new way of looking (just when everyone seems to think that the Book is Dead). Deadwood for Kindling TM?
bw: Posada? Luc Fierens?
The C: In amongst the more MOMA bookshop deluxe productions my eye alighted upon Luc F.’s tiny stapled books – this was what I was looking for! Evidently spur-of-the-moment productions, offerings to the god Xerox, found materials, a garbage aesthetic. Recycled art. Clumsy in places – perhaps deliberately so. Refuse any glossy finish to cut through the stifling weight of Artist Monographs stacked to the ceiling. Thames & Hudson respectability. Taschen lip 'n gloss. Each of Luc's books said: DO IT YOURSELF. A goad to transform your life. Engage! Make! Get off your arse! Cut it out!
bw: The Ixelles exhibition?
The C: Some surprising work: Victor Hugo watercolours, cartoons by Rimbaud, above all a Schwitters (postcard size) which eclipsed everything else. That you can work on such a format and produce something so beautifully judged and composed - and with so little. What an example! Essentially the exhibition suggested to me that it was possible to work with both hands at once. Why separate the activities? Oddly enough the Burroughs piece seemed low voltage – lacking the nasty paranoiac quality of Journal pages I’ve seen before.
bw: Enough bio-bibliography. Where now?
The C: Looking at them and seeing what they suggest. Alan Halsey – I think – has said that the images and the poems speak to each other in ways he discovers afterwards. I’m interested in how the scraps now juxtaposed start to resonate in different ways. Alphabet forms blend into 3-D space or flatten to the surface and fragment. Then to ‘write off’ the images creating a visual-poetic economy of sorts. Avoiding, I hope, one being illustrational of the other.
bw: And the method?
The C: Like blackberry picking, beachcombing, vagrant behaviour. I rip off torn and fragmented bits of posters I find in the streets – mostly on the way to, from, or at the University Mediatheque. Concert ads, night clubs, For Sale signs, etc.. Whatever is ripe for picking. Stuff them in my pocket and then wait for the moment to start working. Often it’s in the evening, everyone else upstairs, the radio on. A little space in the day. It’s a half-(arsed?) articulated aesthetics of street and scavenger art, parodying recycling in the name of moral well-meaning civic responsibility. And it’s good to have your palette dictated by what you’ve found. It focuses the mind and hand wonderfully.
bw: And then?
The C: Work in series – 3s, 4s, 6s – and simultaneously. If one fragment won’t fit one card then it might work with another where something invites it. Glue and paste. What’s lovely is where the poster has a transparent film which has become stained or taken on impressions from previous billings. Also – a little ‘discovery’ – using sellotape to do rip-offs: the adhesive takes some lettering and you end up with a transferrable strip. The show through is great – just enough. Also, images and colours which are too bright can be quickly muted and degraded. Dubstep meets poetry?
“Burial instinctively knew that dubbing is about veiling the song, about reducing it to a tantalising tissue of traces, a virtual object all the more beguiling because of its partial desubstantialisation. The drizzly crackle that has become one of his sonic signatures is part of the veiling process ...” (‘Downcast Angel’, Burial in The Wire, December 2007)
And I’d trace similar tendencies through the kind of ‘extended translation’ being done by Tim Atkins in his Horace – palimpsestic writing, layered transparencies, the ancient of dailiness, breaking news coming from the past.
The C: Standing in the doorknob shop a couple of weekends ago I was looking at the display racks with slim volumes in different formats which were (disappointingly) simply trade brochures. Imagine, though, a bookshop like that: chapbooks, one-offs, sleeves containing cards, books that open to unfold tip-ins, tracing paper layerings. Ta biblia.
It's always been difficult for me to make tunes. i'd just sit or walk waiting for night to fall hoping i'd make something i liked ... The tunes just lulled me, and you need a vocal to do that, and a certain type of sound to echo and circle and sway into a pattern. The moodiness made the tunes, not me. Now when I listen to them, they're ramshackle, DIY and rolling but I know there is a thing trapped in them so that when I look back on them, even if its dry, I know when it was made, I know what was going on that day, it’s like stapling real life to the side of the tune. (Burial, interview) ___
The heart, felt in the very beat of the verse, expressed in the insistent figure of alternating ebb and flow, consecration and affirmation, “hot noon-sun” and “the grey / opalescent winter-dawn”, appears in the foreground of the design as a jar carried by the Mage Kaspar to a new Master over Love (over the heart then). And Life appears as genius, an odor of myrrh, where the seal of the jar or heart was unbroken, that comes from the Christ-Child as if from one’s own heart. Life is the Presence, “spectrum-blue,/ ultimate blue ray,”
some kind of flu ghost ... lacking energy, off the food, just the thought of swimming gives me the shivers ... yet not the sort of thing you can spend the day in bed with & batten down the hatches. It lingers ... malingers ... . I wish it would go away.
... this is the first bit of work I've felt like doing in three days.