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Index: Poetry Notes

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‘The lyricism of desperation…’

Peter Riley: ‘It is difficult to speak of groups among contemporary poets. All sorts of assumptions flow in concerning shared and mutual influences, common agendas, internecine conflicts and the group gets spoken of as if it were an independent creature with its own digestive system. How you read any one of them becomes infected with how you might read any other. John James and Barry MacSweeney were “associated” together — that should be enough.’

The Wide Summer Shelf, 2018 III.

Peter Riley: ‘Steve Ely pursues atrocity. Bloody, proud… holds five of his projects, all well blood-stained, one of which, “Werewolf” (formerly a Calder Valley Poetry pamphlet) has notes in which we can possibly locate a belief structure for his enterprise.’

The Wide Summer Shelf, 2018 II.

Peter Riley: ‘To disagree with the blurbs, she is not a shaman and does not “restore to us abandoned mythologies” (the tales are just not on that scale). John Burnside’s very serious statement, “…right dwelling is not just a theoretical or ideological concern; it must also be rooted in the gravity that structures everything, rich in the old pagan knowledge…” is impressive but rather pre-emptive and box-ticking. ‘

The Wide Summer Shelf, 2018 I.

Peter Riley: ‘We begin with a run of women poets from the richest use of centrality to way out over yonder. After that poets are clustered according to quite vague notions of subject and style.’

The Wide Summer Shelf 2018 — the introduction to a three-part series of reviews.

Peter Riley: ‘A lot of the comment on new books below hopes to show that while the centre maintains a certain stability in a continuity with ancestral poetry, it can also be unstable, and offers a great variety of possibilities to the practitioner, and there is no wall round it. In fact its edge is permeable.’

Translation, Expanded Translation, Version, Mess.

Peter Riley: ‘The argument about expanded translation depends, since all of it is fervently dedicated to modernisation, on what version of the modern world you are moving the poem into, and in what terms the modern world is claimed as an improvement on the classical world, and what is its language. There always is a more or less proud gaining of the present, even in the heaviest complaint about it.’

The poetry of Autumn.

Peter Riley [on Simon Jarvis]: ‘It is a pleasure to witness the skills involved, to recognise that the discourse is complex, highly figured, serious, learned, philosophical/ religious/fanciful/anecdotal and what-have-you, and emerges as exactly what the author needs to say, indeed as a true thing, and yet by some literary sleight-of-hand the rhymes and the metrics all fall into place just where they should (or almost). ‘

Anthony Mellors, Peter Philpott, and the poetry of rebellion.

Peter Riley: ‘I think that quite a few people will still remember Seamus Heaney’s appearance at the Cambridge Poetry Festival in 1977, in which he read to a large audience as the last of three poets, preceded by Allen Fisher and Lee Harwood. He mounted the podium and began by announcing, “Now we’ll get back to the true tradition of British poetry.” At this distance it is impossible to be sure of the exact wording, whether he said “true” or “real”, “British” or “English”. I don’t cite Heaney here as a criticism of his poetry, which is not relevant. But since some of the commentary now goes so far beyond the literary as to elevate him to the status of some kind of saint, this example of gross bad manners in insulting both a fellow-reader and the organisers at a large-scale public event, and the evident smug self-satisfaction with which it was conducted (I was there at the time) could be borne in mind where appropriate. He went on to read some Wordsworth.

Pierre Reverdy’s ‘non-novel’.

Peter Riley: ‘The uncertainty between poetry and prose in the early works makes sense when you realise that the fully poetical writing he first reached, principally in The Thief… itself, is basically in prose. That is to say that however much disjuncture there may be among the little separate pieces of language which float around the page, each piece is itself written in perfectly normal syntax, in sentences or parts thereof, in which the parts of speech maintain their proper functions. ‘

The ‘watery business’ of Matthew Clegg and Fay Musselwhite.

Peter Riley: ‘We remain knowing where we are and what is happening while the linguistic medium twists and treks through a fairground of figures and glosses and verbal diversions which may derive from the story directly as metaphors, or indirectly as ornaments, or sometimes apparently not at all.’

Angela Leighton and Geraldine Monk.

Peter Riley: ‘This is a stodgy review of a book interested in language as sparkling, sturdy, personal-political, risk-taking, modern-ancestral, shouting and whispering, essentially a function of the human voice raised against wrong but freely theatrical. It has on occasion something in common with the tradition of northern stand-up comedy. The title-sequence works well, mainly by the intervention through the various apertures of intriguingly inexplicable spell-like episodes, especially in the shanties.’

Karl O’Hanlon and Daragh Breen.

Peter Riley: ‘In Breen, “it is not the hard objectivity by which some poets (such as Karl O’Hanlon) seek to drive the power of self from the poem by ever new twists and faults of language, in search of accuracy.”‘

Denise Riley and the ‘awkward lyric’.

Peter Riley: ‘Denise Riley’s songs, sung on the most serious and heavy of occasions, offer the brightness of the singing voice worked into extended thoughtfulness as much as into the Fool’s mockery of received versions of existence.’

Lorenzo Calogero and other poets in translation.

Peter Riley: ‘By 1945 Calogero had got himself into a fairly dreadful state of hopelessness and was comforted only by his distance from the demands and rewards of urban centrality, in a pastoral location which to him was more real than the university or the state.’

Ilhan Berk.

Peter Riley: ‘It seems that in his later years Berk cultivated an extreme version of what some poets would call “risk-taking” which mainly casts the task of cohering back on the reader. I like to think of this name (of a loved person) somehow represented as one leaf’s contribution to the large symphonic rustling of a tree, and this person having been singled out of a whole population to receive special regard. I feel that it is I who have done this rather than Berk.’