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Index: Poetry Notes

The French pastoral enterprise.

Peter Riley: Modern French pastoral poets ‘represent a turning away from the unsettled atmosphere of Paris and in their lives and work there is a sense of creating a space aside from a lot of the harsher and more public events in the world, of being free to pursue personal and landscape meditations in peace. This is not to say that the poetry is placid or complacent, but the violence and anguish it reaches come from within, or if from the world indirectly, mediated by immediate individual perception, and the vocabulary rarely extends far beyond landscape, art, and general ponderings.’

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Poetry south of the Antilles.

Peter Riley: ‘Loretta Collins Klobah is a highly accomplished poet. The poems in The Twelve-Foot Neon Woman are almost all based in Puerto Rico, where she lives, and narrate its life in a richly figured poetry with “a masterful co-ordination of sound” as Miller describes it. What this means is that you are told “what it’s like here” in a way which exceeds the telling without departing into symbolic distances; the details remain actual but the lyrical resourcefulness gathers a reverberation round them which echoes into anyone’s imaginative theatre, and sometimes, as in the title poem, a dominant figure exceeds any naturalistic identity to become an iconic entity who speaks in chants, but is still inalienably local. “What it’s like here” is a matter of everyday make-do survival in an exotic setting: going to the laundromat, etc., but also police brutality, repressed homosexuality, drug trade murder, the wake of a child killed by a “stray bullet” and a lot of storms. Everything touched on remains what it is and is orchestrated into an exemplary wholeness which is poetry. It is an enhanced telling which I think many talented “mainstream” poets of the West could be doing if only they knew how, or could escape from the current epidemic of interiorisation, or maybe had the living occasion before them.’

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Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s supra-theoretical poetry.

Peter Riley: ‘It is hardly necessary to know when faced with Veronica Forrest-Thompson’s poetry what her theory is; it is enough to know that there is a thesis which to a greater or lesser extent determines the course of the poem and that the poems were conceived in accordance with the thesis and in some cases as a demonstration of it. Faced with the strangely contorted saying of her poems it is either a comfort or an irritation to know that there is a reason for it, even if you don’t know what the reason is. But it is also a relief to find that at least sometimes the poem gathers its own strength together to the extent that all thought of a thesis is dismissed.’

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The God of Robert Duncan.

Peter Riley: How should I, or Duncan, or anyone, know whether all of creation is one act, or whether Osiris “is” Christ or Christ “is” H.D.? I think it has to be recognised that Duncan was carving out a quite narrow path for himself, but doing it with such ambition and fervour that it took on the trappings of an entire world catalogue, while periodically insisting himself that they were trappings and that the heart of the matter was the poet “making things up”.

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Lyric, anti-lyric, and political poetry.

Peter Riley: ‘Being influenced responsibly by Prynne means at least two things, and the principal one is that you are made to think seriously and critically about the cultural condition you inhabit, which you probably reject as entirely corrupt and derelict. [Anthony] Mellors sometimes takes on even the lesser details of the polemic, such as the idea that to seek to get anything at a bargain price is reprehensible, which has always baffled me, perhaps because I do it all the time. ‘

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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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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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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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Zip.

Peter Riley: ‘All of the blurbs on these books include the word “funny”. My own preferred word would be “zippy”.’

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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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Peter Robinson: Six new poems.

Peter Riley: ‘Peter engages us with moments and passages of his life, quite ordinary ones for the most part, calmly retailed in a language which can carry extensive implications. He does other things too, but I think these six poems particularly demonstrate his qualities as a poet of domesticity, and how much more than that he becomes as the poems pursue their courses.’

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The youth tactic.

Peter Riley: ‘Could there not be a modern poetry which is as complex and difficult as you like, and as fiercely and specifically directed towards the world’s ills, while inciting emotions of consolation, exhilaration, pride, and so forth, positive emotions, rather than being restricted to pricking the reader with the sharp points of homiletic contradictions? Well indeed there are such, and some of them are in this anthology, among a great deal of studious and sophisticated writing unable to escape from an oppositional despair – a great deal, in fact, of puritanical writing.’

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The relentless fury of Ed Dorn 2.

Peter Riley: ‘Statements in “Thesis” may not be justifiable from a rationalist point of view, but they are wrapped in royal robes of rich figuration and rhetorical gestures. Now the poems broadcast the author’s opinions unconcealed, and all the more starkly in the modes of irony and sarcasm he adopts. They are largely bare too of all sense of place as landscape with or without human figures — all we have is mockery in a desert. His extremist or hyperbolic statements now stand exposed to anybody’s questioning, especially “Is this actually true?” The wit and the deftness of script discourage us from asking the question, but it cannot be kept at bay for ever.’

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The relentless fury of Ed Dorn 1.

Peter Riley: ‘n undetached calm is the signal feature of his poetry in the first half of the 1960s, as he carefully learns to hold language and syntax in his own terms, and the instances and concerns of the provincial and unprofessional life he lives are more and more projected outwards towards reader and world as linguistic vectors. He is clearly moving, in no rush but determinedly, towards a version of the local which remains local but of greater reach. He remained local for ever; even on the other side of the earth thirty years later…’

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