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Index: Notes & Comment

Travel as it was — and as it can be.

Anthony Howell; ‘By embracing “a resolute digressiveness,” the texts often amount to something we are accustomed to find in French literature, and perhaps in the German of Jean Paul Richter, but less commonly in English – the prose poem. And so the writing, as much as the vista, may at times carry us away, and while some see being carried away as dubious, others embrace it and revel in the liberation…’

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Anthony Rudolf’s literary Wunderkammer.

Harry Guest: ‘The important thing is that silent conversations is a gloriously entertaining and a most rewarding publication. To share the reading experiences of such a poet-scholar-translator-editor-critic is a rare privilege and this book is worthy to be spoken of in company with Montaigne’s Essays, Evelyn’s Diary and Stendhal’s Vie de Henry Brulard.’

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The year-end bedside reading table

Anthony Howell: ‘What makes a poet readable? There cannot be a formulaic answer. This is the problem with the standard model so lauded by our Oxbridge elite – as anally compressed as Ian Hamilton, with a closed form, forever ruled by the dictates of significance and economy, and very tightly organised on the page. ‘

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Poetry of the second person.

Peter Riley: ‘I think Peter Robinson and John Welsh have quite a lot in common, but handle it differently. With Welch again the reader more-or-less inhabits the poet, and within that persona is led through a lot of streets, rooms, hospitals and cemeteries, always with a problem in mind, a melancholy or a lingering dissatisfaction, a need for resolution, suffering from an “enormous pointlessness”. But we are led further, into different places: an art gallery, the inside of a book, a performance of Hamlet aboard a ship off Sierra Leone in 1607, an Asian estate in East London… and sometimes nowhere in particular. So we do not always know where we are, and do not always need to because some poems are securely based in a conceptual focus, and sometimes we do know, except that bits of the poem escape from time to time into some unknown language laboratory, but this happens less and less these days.’

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Blogs, spurious and routine.

Merrit Moseley: ‘The three most common disciplines that go up to make successful method in Daily Rituals are: early rising (many of these people rose at dawn; Balzac got up at 1:00 a.m.; it isn’t clear when he woke up, but Mozart always had his hair done by 6:00 a.m.); napping—from Joan Miró’s difficult-to-imagine fifteen minute nap, through many one to two hour lie-downs, and even Jerzy Kosinski’s four-hour nap every afternoon; and—most important of all—walking. ‘

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Martin Harrison: ‘pastoral’ without shrubs.

Peter Riley: ‘Martin Harrison’s poems are brilliant and remarkable meditations on moments of perception (or clusters of such moments) most of which take place in the Australian countryside, presumably the “orchard and vine-growing area” in which an earlier blurb says he lives for half the year. The poems have starting-points which are experiences rather than scenes – being somewhere and looking at something, often in a stillness such as dawn, often with a sense of solitude.’

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Narrative poetry.

Peter Riley: ‘I suppose the writing of narrative poetry became a lost art around 1925-1935, last seen from such poets as Yeats, John Masefield, Lawrence Binyon, E.A. Robinson and Robinson Jeffers. That is, real narrative poetry in the tradition filtered down from Homer, and not including accounts of personal experience, transcended or symbolised or interior narratives, anecdotal verse such as Edgar Lee Masters and Osbert Sitwell wrote, or very long poems from Scotland saying what’s wrong with the world.’

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Letting down the élites.

Alana Shilling: ‘The NYCO’s production did nothing but render Offenbach’s operetta as a thoroughly pleasurable, madcap romp. So we return to the question of why that production inspired such rancor amongst audience members (and orchestra) despite critical acclaim? Why did La Périchole arouse such a resistance to enjoyment? It was not a simple case of latent Puritanism and the vestiges of anti-theatricality, though such prejudices did play a role. It was a matter of an unfortunate collision between inheriting one history too earnestly while rejecting the myths bequeathed by another.’

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Summer’s end 2013: brief notices.

Peter Riley: ‘To subject a book this size to a “brief mention” must be the most absurd or impertinent act I have performed for some time. There is 45 years of Michael Heller’s work here which I can hardly hope to characterise in a few words. But it is an open, vastly expansive enterprise, ranging widely over world and experience, formally free, working out painstakingly the implications for self and humanity of a mass of places, ideas, books, art and what-have-you.’

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Bonnefoy: Image and poiesis.

Alan Wall: ‘The first two poems in The Present Hour deal with old photographs, interrogating them and the memories they embody and evoke. It is the weird entrapments of the present in a photograph that snags Bonnefoy’s mind. Here appears a present that is now past, and yet a glimpse of the presentness of that long-gone instant remains, even if it is no more than a tatter blowing in chronology’s wind. There is still a truth to be found in it, however problematical and elliptical. We can only find it in the image itself through an exploration of that non-sensuous mimesis which is language. ‘

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Out of the past.

Alana Shilling: ‘Even the most creative of past productions do not sever ties with the values of the masque. One of the greatest innovations in the definitive 1970 Midsummer, is the aforementioned doubling of roles, which brings Titania/Hippolyta and Oberon/Theseus together. The inevitable emphasis on the parallels of the human and fairy lands that this pairing entails is a gesture not unlike the identification between allegorical fantasy and earthly reality so dear to courtly masques. Moreover, Brook aimed to capture the imagination by eroding the boundary between stage and audience. These are principles dear to the masque.’

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Curiouser and curiouser.

Anthony Howell: ‘Both fetishism and the carnivalesque have a bearing on the nature of curios. Familiar objects that are invested with more than their due share of interest may have become fetishised and as fetishes they may well feature in cabinets of curiosity. The carnivalesque, that fascination with the world turned upside down may also contribute to the curious – silver plate photographs of Popes and bishops staring into the heavens through the powerful lenses of telescopes in the Vatican observatory induce a vertiginous sense of the topsy–turvy.’

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The New York School.

Peter Riley: ‘There was obviously a pressure to innovate in the art/poetry context which for the poets meant a careful violation of what was considered the proper (weighty) substance of poetry, by intense, “abstract” configurations as much as by anti-poetical everyday banter. I find it impossible to know what the balance will finally be; between recognition of the remarkable, original, moving and sometimes profound poetry made possible in this unusual context, and a verdict which considers it as all little more than a set of aestheticist gestures, 1890s style, thrown up by a manipulated market.’

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The incredible Anthony Hecht.

Daniel Bosch: ‘Hecht’s attraction to certain kinds and formulations of words is too common to be insignificant, yet not frequent enough to constitute some sort of radical aesthetic challenge to institutional norms. Something bigger is going on when Hecht pulls out a doozy, or three doozies, something bigger than his urge to describe well or to tell a good story. These outbursts are about him, psychologically, and ultimately, such self-referentiality weakens not only each work individually but…Hecht’s work as a whole.’

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Coleridge and the ‘space of writing’.

Alan Wall: ‘There are no real people in poems; or rather, the reality of people in poems is not at all the same as the reality of people in biographies. If the realities were in truth cognate, then why should any poet bother writing the poem in the first place?’

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