Wednesday 29 July 2009

The Son, a new, forthcoming pamphlet

I am delighted to say that Oystercatcher Press is going to publish my pamphlet, The Son. If you've heard of Oystercatcher but can't place it, it's probably because they just won the Michael Marks Award for a poetry pamphlet publisher (Americans, for pamphlet read chapbook). 

I hadn't planned on publishing another pamphlet in the UK at the moment (I had a chapbook ms under consideration at a US press and pulled it once this came through--it'll have to wait for another day), but Peter Hughes, editor and publisher of Oystercatcher, asked me to "come aboard," as it were, and I was flattered and honored to accept. 

The Son draws on a book manuscript in progress, Imagined Sons; large selections of its prose poems first appeared in PN Review in 2007 and The Republic of Letters earlier this year. "Birthmother's Catechisms," which also appear in the manuscript and pamphlet, have appeared in New Welsh Review, Stand, and The Times Literary Supplement.

As soon as I have the prospective publication date, I'll happily update this post accordingly.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Basil Bunting's Complete Poems--The Books of Odes

from The First Book of Odes

I am agog for foam. Tumultuous come
with teeming sweetness to the bitter shore
tidelong unrinsed and midday parched and numb
with expectation. If the bright sky bore
with endless utterance of a single blue
unphrased, its restless immobility
infects the soul, which must decline into
an anguished and exact sterility
and waste away: then how much more the sea
trembling with alteration must perfect
our loneliness by its hostility.

opening lines of 3

Those impatient thighs will be bruised soon enough.

Sniff the sweet narcotic distilled by coupled


He will shrink, his manhood leave him, slough selfaware
the last skin of the flayed: despair.
He will nurse his terror carefully, uncertain
even of death's solace
impotent to outpace
dispersion of the soul, disruption of the brain.

last lines of "10: Chorus of Furies"

substance utters or time
stills and restrains
joins design and

supple measure deftly
as thought's intricate polyphonic
score dovetails with the tread
sensuous things
keep in our consciousness.

opening lines of 15

we have the sea to stare at,
its treason, capaciousness, tedium

last lines of 22

                  They say 'Adios!' shyly but look back
more than once, knowing our thoughts
                        and sharing our
                  desires and lack of faith in desire.

last lines of "30: The Orotava Road"

Days now
less bitter than
rind of wild gourd.
Cool breezes. Lips
moistened, there are words.

last lines of 33

from the Second Book of Odes

                                    Must [the girls]
also stop their ears to your tomcat
wailing, a promise your body cannot keep?


The breeze she wears
lifts and falls back.

. . .

giggles, ceramic
huddle of notes


Basil Bunting's Complete Poems is available from

Friday 24 July 2009

Basil Bunting's Complete Poems--Briggflatts

from I

In such soft air
they trudge and sing,
laying the tune frankly on the air

from II

Crew grunt and gasp. Nothing he sees
they see, but hate and serve. Unscarred ocean,
day's swerve, swell's poise, pursuit,
he blends, balances, drawing leagues under the keel
to raise cold cliffs where tides
knot fringes of weed.

from III

Heart slow, nerves numb and memory, he lay
on glistening moss by a spring;
as a woodman dazed by an adder's sting
barely within recall
tests the rebate tossed to him, so he
ascertained moss and bracken,
a cold squirm snaking his flank
and breath leaked to his ear:
I am neither snake nor lizard,
I am the slowworm.

Ripe wheat is my lodging. I polish
my side on pillars of its transept,
gleam in its occasional light.
Its swaying
copies my gait.


Sycamore seed twirling,
O, writhe to its measure!
Dust swirling trims pleasure.
Thorns prance in a gale.
In air snow flickers,
twigs tap,
elms drip.

Swaggering, shimmering fall,
drench and towel us all!

So he rose and led home silently through clean woodland
where every bough repeated the slowworm's song.

from IV

I hear Aneurin number the dead and rejoice,
being adult male of a merciless species.
Today's posts are piles to drive into the quaggy past
on which impermanent palaces balance.


Clear Cymric voices carry well this autumn night,
Aneurin and Taliesin, cruel owls
for whom it is never altogether dark, crying
before the rules made poetry a pedant's game. 


Applewood, hard to rive,
its knots smoulder all day.

from V

Drip--icicle's gone.
Slur, ratio, tone,
chime dilute what's done
as a flute clarifies song,
trembling phrase facing to pause
then glow. Solstice past,
years end crescendo.


Mist sets lace of frost
on rock for the tide to mangle.
Day is wreathed in what summer lost.


silence by silence sits,
and Then is diffused in Now.


Starlight is almost flesh.


Furthest, fairest things, stars, free of our humbug,
each his own, the longer known the more alone,
wrapt in emphatic fire roaring out to a black flue.
Each spark trills on a tone beyond chronological compass,
yet in a sextant's bubble present and firm
places a surveyor's stone or steadies a tiller.
Then is Now. The star you steer by is gone,
its tremulous thread spun in the hurricane
spider floss on my cheek; light from the zenith
spun when the slowworm lay in her lap
fifty years ago.


Starlight quivers. I had day enough.
For love uninterrupted night.

Bloodaxe's new edition of Briggflatts, including a CD of Bunting's reading of the poem and a DVD film of Bunting, can be purchased from

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Basil Bunting's Complete Poems--Sonatas

Briggflatts is part of the Sonatas but will have its own post.

My tongue is a curve in the ear. Vision is lies.


                                    our doom
is, to be sifted by the wind,

heaped up, smoothed down like silly sands.
We are less permanent than thought.


precision clarifying vagueness;
boundary to a wilderness
of detail; chisel voice
smoothing the flanks of noise;
catalytic making whisper and whisper
run together like two drops of quicksilver


Out of puff
noonhot in tweeds and gray felt,
tired of appearance and
warm obese frame limp with satiety;
slavishly circumspect at sixty;
he spreads over the ottoman
scanning the pictures and and table trinkets.

(That hand's dismissed shadow
moves through fastidiously selective consciousness,
rearranges pain.)


                        In the morning
clean streets welcomed light's renewal,
patient, passive to the weight of buses
thundering like cabinet ministers
over a lethargic populace.

"Attis: Or, Something Missing"
(the first passage is the opening of the poem)

But their determination to banish fools foundered
ultimately in the installation of absolute idiots.
Fear of being imputed
naive impeded thought.


Have you seen a falcon stoop
accurate, unforseen
and absolute, between
wind-ripples over harvest? Dread
of what's to be, is and has been--
were we not better dead?

His wings churn air
to flight.
Feathers alight
with sun, he rises where
dazzle rebuts our stare,
wonder our fright.

"The Spoils"

Basil Bunting's Complete Poems (Bloodaxe, 2000) is available at The Book Depository.

Monday 20 July 2009

Juliana Spahr's Response (Sun and Moon, 1996)

something encloses the impossible in a fable

an unreal world called real because it is so heavily metaphoric

we can't keep our fingers of connection out of it


while the end of lunacy in art was explicit in [name of major historical figure]'s rhetoric

while when the nation turns to art, art loses its divergence


some co-opt this language and paint a series of meticulous and beautifully colored monumental images of people imprisoned and alone at the edge of a tedious despair


rewritten, the goal of the artist is to prevent reality in a true and concrete manner


the poverty of image among the people of [name of nation]

the continual increase in the amount of image a viewer can tolerate


a voice stutters in the background of our waking mind

[generic possessive pronoun] stutter is our stutter

or is it the way we define our difference?

stutter is nation


NOTE This poem draws from an Oprah episode on the case of Ruth Finley, a woman who, because of "dissociative personality disorder," was stalked by a male persona of herself.


this is true
a woman calls her stalker The Poet

this is true
a woman describes a stalker in terms that describe herself

this is true
a woman stalked herself to kill herself

this is true
a woman is at times a man

"thrashing seems crazy"

this is about the role of testimony
the claims of truth in the age of cover-up and misinformation


attempts at comfort from those without the vocabulary of comfort


when terrible things happen they must be witnesses


how much self can be removed and the self remain?


the anger is to draw attention to the way anger is a just response to how they will be angry until just witness is begun


the futility of screaming at the assistant well represents the futile necessity of anger


Saturday 18 July 2009

The SoundEye Poetry Festival, Cork, 11 July 2009--Part 2 of 2

Saturday night's reading at the Eason Hill Community Centre I'd been looking forward to since I knew I'd be attending:
Peter Manson, Maggie O'Sullivan, and Tom Raworth. Some years ago I heard Raworth read at Birkbeck College to a packed, hot classroom--and I hung on his every word; but I'd never had the opportunity to hear Manson or O'Sullivan. 

Manson began with a booming rendition of a page of Adjunct, just republished by Barque. The mix of voices and registers impressed and overwhelmed. Next, at an easier pace, Manson read a new prose poem, "My Funeral," which is a single long paragraph giving intricate instructions for the speaker's funeral, to hilarious effect. One great moment was when Manson read, "Put the polished section of Madagascan ammonite I always carry with me into my left-hand front trouser pocket," and then, from the same pocket, drew out the ammonite to show the audience. The hilarity grew as the poem progressed to its unexpected, outlandish conclusion. I'm looking forward to sharing the piece with my Sudden Prose students next year. 

Manson concluded with a draft of a new long poem titled "The Baffle Stage" and with the delightful epigraph from The Fall's lead singer Mark E. Smith, "The fantastic is in league against me." The piece's relentless momentum and range of language give rise to a distinctive, analytical, intelligent contemporary sensibility. Here are a few passages I especially liked; nb, they don't appear continuously in the poem. Thanks to Manson for giving me his reading script, from which I've been able to confirm these are correct and their line breaks.

idiot guarantees of a back-story

no palindrome / but now you're worried

immersive dimplings of the carapace

pneumatic faith

the poem was acquiring language

 Maggie O'Sullivan began her reading with selections from Red Shifts and Waterfalls (both from Etruscan), which together constitute her project, her/story:eye. Her voice lent a musicality to the poems that enhanced their lyricism beautifully. Here are some choice lines (though there may be errors, sorry):

dead shine rook shrill

many a cascade

askew creased it it the echo

thousand feather

sometimes she cries        sometimes she is again

the song-flooded walls the saturated of red

easel wink marine ecstasy

The second part of the reading focused on two apparently uncollected poems, one using words from John Clare and one titled (I believe) "Jugular Parting Wild Horses." These lines are from the former work:

power hardens roughest wave

brokenly tremble how the land is returned

Tom Raworth informed us that he'd be reading 20 new short poems and "a page of old prose," the latter referring to his Equipage pamphlet, There Are Few People Who Put On Any Clothes (starring it). I enjoyed the reading, but found it too fast for my taste. Here are some choice passages:

supple mental flirtation may be behind you

inflexible in acknowledgment of doubt

the placebo send the placebo

wistful anger

80% prefer chips to poetry

bodies on the street I can't be everywhere

history portrayed by life-size working models

looks like we've got brain matter

I am the projection of my reflections

Afterwards we went to Trevor Joyce's home for conversation into the night. Part of what made SoundEye such a good experience was the camaraderie. I drifted from one conversation to another, everyone I spoke to engaged and friendly, no pretentiousness or preciousness.

Tom Raworth, Swantje Lichtenstein, yours truly, and Luke Roberts 
at Trevor Joyce's after the reading

Bring on SoundEye 2010!

Thanks to Tony Frazer for the photo

Tuesday 14 July 2009

The SoundEye Poetry Festival, Cork, 11 July 2009--Part 1 of 2

The first event I attended on Saturday was a show of sound poetry at St Fin Barre's Cathedral (great for the acoustics) with three performers, Christine Wertheim (Aus/US), Jerome Rothenberg (US), and Jaap Blonk (NI). Wertheim's sound poems worked through the use of different character voices, frequent sonic repetition, with pure sound (as opposed to words) only employed occasionally. The poems tended to circle back to their beginnings with little semantic content but a suggested emotional trajectory. 

Rothenberg began with sound poems by other writers, including Hugo Ball and Kurt Schwitters. In the first work, a short Dadaist piece, Rothenberg used a long piece of neon plastic tubing to create a high-pitched whirring sound when he spun it overhead. Between the device and his declamatory delivery, his performance was, for me, reminiscent of Ginsberg. 

Rothenberg's final piece was his own "translation"; here is his account of it: "In '17 Horse-Sons of Frank Mitchell'--from traditional sources in Navajo--I engaged for a number of years in what I was calling 'total translation,' going beyond the semantic level of the words to try to find equivalents for the non-lexical vocables in Navajo song & even one step further, for the music--the melodies--by which the words & sounds were carried. The resultant pieces when performed, for single voice or with multiple chanters/performers, created a new sound poetry both faithful to & totally divergent from its original source. The relation to soundings in our own time & place is also worth noting." In performance the "horse-songs" were nuanced and engaging.

Then came the pièce de résistance, Jaap Blonk, who gave an impressive selection of the range of his work. He began with a new translation of one of his Dutch sound poems into English, "Sound," a work of intelligent, jubilant play, a look of delight recurring on Blonk's expressive face. He followed this with a "phonetic etude" to the letter R, a continuous performance of its range of possible sounds or pronunciations. I couldn't help but smile and laugh in the pleasure and play of Blonk's inventiveness; he has a magisterial vocal flexibility that is impossible to imagine without hearing it for yourself.

Blonk's next three pieces were in an invented language he calls the language of the Underlands--a parallel, he says, to the language of the Netherlands, incorporating Dutch accents, dialects, and suggestions of particular social situations. Perhaps the most delightful was "The Underlands Drinking Song," during which Blonk stumbled this way and that down the centre aisle in the course of his performance; I was sorry when it came to an end. 

The sixth piece was another English translation, "Let's Go Out." As with the drinking song, the performance was not just of Blonk's face and vocal cords but his whole body. There were some lyrically inventive phrases and lines in the piece, including "ravenhorn," "thunder mole," "mist guide," and "was this quiet or was it just misquiet." The final two pieces were Hugo Ball's sound poem, "Lament for the Dead" (1916), and a "Dutch bebop tune," "Oblibumbop" (I'm guessing at the spelling!). If he hadn't ended by wandering off, making the end of the piece uncertain and thus dissipating the last of its energy, I'd have been on my feet in the applause. I can't imagine how it could have been any better: a perfect performance. 

Photo by Tony Frazer. Thanks too to Wurm im Apfel's Kit Fryatt and Dylan Harris for making the recording of Jaap Blonk's performance at their series in Dublin several days prior to Blonk's appearance in Cork.

Monday 13 July 2009

The SoundEye Poetry Festival, Cork, 9-10 July 2009

I spent the weekend at the SoundEye poetry festival in Cork and, having had a marvelous time, thought I'd review a few of its events here. For those of you unfamiliar with the festival, it's devoted to alternative poetries without advocating a single school, as the founder Trevor Joyce's history explains, and it's been running since 1997. 

I flew in on Thursday afternoon, missing the first day and a half of events but making it to the evening event, the SoundEye Cabaret, including poets, performance art, music, etc. Early on, a couple of individual performances were disappointingly poor (fortunately I don't know the criminals by name), but the quality picked up as the programme progressed. My favourite performance would have to be a performance art/poetry piece by the young Sam Forsyte, formerly of Cork and now resident in Frankfurt. Apparently it was videotaped, so as soon as I have a clip or a link, I'll post it here. I also enjoyed the performance group Boiled String, whose three readers performed John Goodby's cut up of Dylan Thomas's work as well as a Lynette Roberts poem, with a double bassist plucking away in the background. 

On Friday afternoon Kevin Perryman (Ire/Ger), publisher, translator, and poet, Michael Smith (Ire), poet and translator, Swantje Lichtenstein (Ger), poet, and Stephen Rodefer (US), poet and translator, read. Perryman's work bordered on and at times transgressed into a sentimentality reminiscent of southwest American spiritual poetry, with such lines as "the rain won't talk to the mountain" and "never again to hold your hand." Michael Smith divided his time between his translations from Spanish, beginning with several excellent poems by Vallejo, and his own work. He seemed more confident with the translations, as when he read his own poems he sped up to the point of losing some of the nuanced interpretive tones that marked his earlier reading. 

Swantje Lichtenstein proved a revelation. Assuming I can trust the translations, Lichtenstein is a compelling and original poet; I dearly hope a book of her work in English will appear soon. Rodefer ended the set with brusque, vigorous poems that vividly mixed registers, moving deftly amid hackneyed expressions, abstractions, images, etc. with frequent semantic and sonic wordplay. 

That night at Meade's Bar there was a packed open mic, with Mairead Byrne as an ideal emcee. Delights included Kit Fryatt's passionate performance of the original and her translation of an Anglo Saxon work, "Wulf": "It was easy to sunder / what was never together"; and what was the name of the piece Peter Manson delivered so commandingly? 

(Tomorrow I'll continue with reviews of some of Saturday's events.)

Friday 10 July 2009

"The Mole" by Ben Wilkinson

Ben Wilkinson's first pamphlet,
The Sparks, has been published as part of Tall Lighthouse Press's Pilot initiative for poets under 30. It can be ordered directly from Tall Lighthouse

The Mole

In the same way that the stone rolled back
from the cave and the grave-clothed
Lazarus emerged, the earth burst

into mounds on the garden, hunks of turf
disturbed by the seemingly dormant
deep-now-surface diggings of it,

boar or sow. Unmovable, unbiddable
by spade or shout: my father and I
watched from the window, dry-brown

heaps churning gently out; blinking,
aerating and tilling the mineral-dead layers
of blank soil, opening up to a sudden downpour. 

Ben Wilkinson

"The Mole" first appeared in The Times Literary Supplement.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Kristiina Ehin's The Drums of Silence (trans. Ilmar Lehtpere)

Translated from Estonian, The Drums of Silence won The Poetry Society's Corneliu M Popescu Prize for European Poetry Translation in 2007. The book can be purchased from Thanks to George Ttoouli for introducing me to Ehin's work.

you learn a foreign language
and chirp the dark sap of your feelings out
but the tall trees of my childhood
have rolled up their swings
and are fleeing for the sea

"Come what will"

the stars crackle
like fires on marsh islands
"your heart falls into my lap"

the moon is making a heavy rope
from the hair of a corpse
and is coming

"the moon howls"

a good man
puts a woman out to grow like woundwort


long so long are the years
life is fleeting

"woman of gold"

what are we to believe then
here in this land of tree worshippers
where the pulpits still flow with spilt blood
the tree gods were without

last stanza of "the afternoon sun..."

the time is at hand
when you dance your ungainly dance
rub your hips against your shadow


the time is at hand
when the iron door of your heart is open
earthen tiles will not burn
the handrail will not waver
you can see what mineral you're made of
what plain water
what rarefied air

"the time is at hand"

fidelity--rough as a man's cheek
raw meet that draws you close
a trail that remains
a trail that can't be abandoned

last stanza of "I smell you at the crossroads..."

our mouths close
innocence and death
tremble in my nostrils
innocence and death
vibrate in your fingers


two days later we were suddenly superfluous
our glances strayed along the muddy town
soaked through
we sat in the snack bar
and didn't see through each other's city faces

"on the way to Siberia"

magnanimous night
the gentle fever of sweet scent
in your hair

opening of "magnanimous night"

woods barren of berries and mercies

"it is a time you can see"

...thoughts those free elusive
fly hither and thither
looking for food from feelings

"to walk and to walk my own road"

the steep shores of sincerity

"down below the city growls"

I paid and went
in dream's muddy buses
no notion of waking
no fear of inspection

the last stanza of "in a dream"

the day lingers
and it's gone
suddenly even the maps are frozen solid

the last stanza of "fog appears imperceptibly"

icicles drip and
the hall door is open
so we can cry
our laughter out

spring came
over our feathered shoulders
and our hearts were kindled aflame like
cleansing spring fires

"man and bird"

dreams are like deer
shy and self-contained
I am a hunter on the foggy shore of dreams
a hunter who never takes aim
but never takes
her eyes off

first stanza of "dreams are like deer"

Sunday 5 July 2009

Roy Fisher's The Thing About Joe Sullivan: Poems 1971-1977

Into the purpose: or out.
There is only, without a tune.
timelessness of desire.


What's now only disproved
was once imagined.

first and last stanzas of "Timelessness of Desire"

The light is in the earth if anywhere. This is already the place where it was. We've hardly started, and I want to do it again.

last stanza of "At Once"

Beyond him
a dissolution of my darkness
into such forms
as live there in the space
beyond the clear image of an owl:

forms without image;
pointless to describe.


I saw what there was to write and I wrote it.
When it felt what I was doing, it lay down and died under me.


The kites are the best sort of gods,
mindless, but all style;

even their capriciousness,
however dominant,
not theirs at all.


The pilgrim disposition--

domestic to-ing and fro-ing
uncoiled and elongated 
in a dream of purpose.


Everything still along its level

except the middle zone, the harbour water,
turbulent with the sunlight
even in calm air.


Instead there is blankness
and there is grace:

the insistence of the essential,
the sublime made lyrical
at the loss of what's forgotten.

last two stanzas of "Some Loss"

On a ground remarkable for lack of character, sweeps of direction form.

first stanza of "A Poem Not a Picture"

                                      I can
compare what I like to the salts,
to the pot, if there's a pot,
to the winter if there's a winter.

The salts I can compare
to anything there is.

last two stanzas of "The Only Image"

If you're living
any decor
can make a wraith of you.

last stanza of "Corner"

                  --the turn
where here and there
change places, the moment
always a surprise: 

on an ordinary day a brief,
lightness, charm between realities;

on a good day, a break
life can flood in and fill.


Getting home--getting home somehow,
late, late and small.


The cemetery's a valley
of long grass set with marble,
separate as a sea.


the din compelling
but irrelevant
has the effect of a silence


Travesties of the world
come out of the fog
and rest on the boundary.

"Handsworth Liberties"

Whose is the body you
remember in yourself?


The light. The rain. The eye. The rainbow--
horizons form, random and inevitable as rainbows
over bright fields of change.

"Inscriptions for Bluebeard's Castle"

Horizons release skies. 


After a fair number of years the distasteful aspects of the whole business became inescapable. Our frustrations will die with us, their particular qualities unsuspected. Or we can make the concrete we're staring at start talking back.

"Rules and Ranges for Ian Tyson"

love's not often a poem.

"Of the Empirical Self and For Me"

It was still the same sunless afternoon,
no north or south anywhere in the sky.


                                    Some things
are lying in wait in the world, 
walking about in the world,
happening when touched, as they must.

"Staffordshire Red"