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Index: Poetry Notes


On the brink of Winter 2019.

Peter Riley: ‘In his new book, Kei Miller realizes out of poetry and hard fact an entire elsewhere, a zone which lies beyond familiarity and order, beyond ownership, a dangerous zone, a fear-zone, a zone of licence and crime where “our deaths blossom like roses in the dark garden behind the house.” All his notations of this territory embrace contradiction.’

Summer 2019: New Poetry.

Peter Riley: ‘The big show-biz style promotions do often enough bestow their blessings on good poets and one of these poets did take that course. But they cannot be relied on, and the applause echoing round the Royal Festival Hall means no more than that at some pub open-mike series in the far counties.’

The ‘Discovery’ of W.S Graham.

Peter Riley: ‘As the “discovery” of Graham is conducted as a crescendo of praise, his achievement is represented as an active and positive series of acts on his part, a triumph of creativity or a “mastery” over his materials. This fails to notice what has been called the “near helplessness” in his confrontation with the independent powers of language, which runs through his career but is especially evident in the fall into utter simplicity when faced with the deaths of his friends and the singularity of love.’

Cards and notes from home and abroad.

Peter Riley: ‘I’m fascinated tangentially by what I’d call an ”American pastoral” version of England and Europe. Not to do with sheep but with an isolation of moments of perception and participation in a given cultural assembly.’

Another note on the prose poem.

Peter Riley: ‘Lineation actually helps a great deal in reaching the kind of linguistic condition I’m talking about, where the poem is no longer exactly speaking straight at you, but is overheard in the air and retained. If it’s possible to recognise something like this definition, then it is should be possible to recognise a piece which does it in prose and is certainly a prose-poem, with no more differentiation needed than technicalities of address and pace, with the possible corollary that in a poetry context prose poetry may hearken back to its informative and descriptive function, sometimes as an aside, a need to wake up and check the alarm clock.’

Opposing forces.

Peter Riley: ‘Among these poets any consideration of large-sale concern, such as war, or politics, or migration, or the earth, or economics, has to be approached obliquely through personal or inter-personal experience, landscape (rural), the impedimenta of daily existence, company, ancestry… etc. small-scale fates, little universes. Many of them are Irish or Northern Irish poets who (including Himself) have for a long time been granted the privilege of being accounted serious poets of war and politics by oblique or subsumed reference to the Troubles—the Troubles on my doorstep or in next-door’s field, without analysis or any impassioned appeal, everything restrained and particular (think of the distance between them and Whitman).’

First-person ‘identity’ poetry.

Peter Riley: ‘A first-person poetry it will always represent the poet’s quest for a personal identity in conditions of society and language which make that especially difficult through cultural dominance. It may even go so far as to define the poetry in this way whether the poet likes it or not: whatever he writes will agree to these readings not because of what he writes so much as of what he is…’

‘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.