Skip to content

Cluster index: Nigel Wheale

Two poems: ‘Inbound’ and one untitled about Ziggy.

Nigel Wheale: ‘You demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make
You whose pastime
Is to make midnight mushrooms’

The significance and frailty of Raymond Crump.

Nigel Wheale: ‘I must have puzzled over Crump’s poems when I first saw copies of The English Intelligencer in 1968. My teacher, Roger Langley, was intensively coaching me, post-A level, for the Cambridge Entry exams. I was sent a few gratis numbers, having tried to join that tightly corresponding, mimeographed circle, but had been politely declined membership, by Andrew Crozier — I was just a callow sixth-former, after all.’

Nigel Wheale: ‘Now it is time for the silence, two minutes that seem unending. Leaves fall onto the mass of people, the only movement. I shiver, not from the cold. A boy tugs at his mother’s sleeve, imploring. Across one hundred years, precisely, a final silence. ‘

Permanently Uncanonical.

Nigel Wheale: ‘Schwabsky describes Denise Riley as ‘one of the finest writers of the English language; along with the late Anna Medelssohn [“Grace Lake”] (like Riley born in 1948)’. He relates her to the group of poets that followed on from ‘the remarkable generation born in the later 1930s, of whom Lee Harwood, J.H. Prynne and Tom Raworth may be the other most salient names’.’

Doing silly on the equinox.

Nigel Wheale: ‘The Faction’s Dream is a dream, because each element is as compelling as another. But there is an angle. Tamarin McGinley’s Hippolyta gives ‘I was with Hercules and Cadmus once’ with a winky glance to audience. ‘

Shakespeare’s ‘Islamic’ poem, part II.

Nigel Wheale: ‘”Let the bird of loudest lay” is a far/near song, no song, which suggests so very much. The absolute concision, the perfection of these lines make any attempt to ‘expand’ or ‘unpick’ them seem infinitely lame; they are, in a real sense, unapproachable…The utter strangeness of Shakespeare’s poem in English literary convention is revealed by comparisons, and connections, with texts from older, more exotic traditions – Indian, Persian, Arabic, Berber Numidian, which have resonances with these verses from the English Midlands, around 1601.’

Shakespeare’s ‘Islamic’ poem.

Nigel Wheale: ‘Salusbury the dedicatee has rarely been considered or even recalled as a context for understanding ‘the most mysterious poem in English’. What he or his family, his literary and musical acquaintances, might have made of ‘Let the bird of loudest lay’ is beyond recovery. But from a brief review of his biography and family circumstances, we can surely be confident that these were committed readers and writers of poetry, amongst whom Shakespeare’s poem circulated, and we can imagine, stirred interest. ‘

Quixote on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Nigel Wheale: ‘”10:04″ is an advance on “Leaving the Atocha Station”, you might say, even though the first novel was already brilliantly original, smart in the same vein as its successor; the interposed graphic moments seem more nuanced, less blatant kinds of intervention, in the second book. I admire these novels so much because they seem to be making a new kind of factual fiction, poetic narrative, but as always, they are a part of some larger wave.’

Scottish independence — as seen from Orkney.

Nigel Wheale: ‘The contours of the debate change from day to day—I read new contributions yesterday, and nearly changed my mind. On 19 September, the conversation will not stop, it has only just begun. A reformation is needed, and urgently; the Scottish referendum argument has opened up so many possibilities for a properly democratic, federalist, responsive future – for everyone. Borders once invented and imposed so confidently are now contested, erased, become meaningless, through the aggressions and oppositions that they created in the first place. Populations move across the Sykes/Picot line in the sand, because it has become just precisely that.’

The Omega Point.

Nigel Wheale: ‘Does an appetite for what’s ‘real’ ‘confirm the death of postmodernist irony, the infinite play of all that knowingly evasive reference? As in Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend in a Coma (1998), Adam Gordon ultimately chooses to renounce the conventions by which he was created. Can we read Lerner and Coupland (DeLillo got there first) as voices for the new New movement, the post-ironic, a decisive move beyond the crumbling stockade of the post-, but toward what? Resurgence of a new Naturalism, the return of Realism, even? There is, after all, plenty enough these days to be getting real about.’

How’s the Mood-Board?

Nigel Wheale: ‘Is it best understood as labouring to give birth to the current stage, of global cultural exchange courtesy of the internet, which accelerates and intensifies so much of what was being described as ‘postmodern’, but to the point where there is no point in trying to categorize the infinity of data and the potential that it offers? This will be the mode for the foreseeable future, with ever more integrated transactions between technology and flesh, babes wi-fi-readied, USB implants tucked discretely behind each ear.’

‘Tallys’ and the postmodern sublime.

Nigel Wheale: ‘How much did any of the rapt audience [at the Cloisters] know of the debates over the origin of ‘Spem in alium’, or its place in the development of European polyphony, of the vexed complexities of liturgical revision, or the turbulent politics of the royal court? Some of the audience were certainly choristers themselves, may even have performed the motet, in which case they would be well versed in its structure, perhaps also some of the history. I knew very little indeed, even though I have loved and taught the literary renaissance for decades, have heard Tallis’s motet many times, in live and, more often, recorded performances, generally appreciating the music as a sustaining forest of song, sometimes transfixing, sometimes no more than a matte of voices that pleasingly resolves. And I’m no wiser now as to the precise date, circumstances and allegiance of ‘Spem in alium’, and its enigmatic origins.

Reframing ‘Guernica’.

Nigel Wheale: ‘Almost everyone involved in organising the five exhibitions of Guernica during these critical months, and many of those who visited them, must have been aware that Franco’s Nationalists were at that moment remorselessly destroying all hope of a Republican victory; on 2 November an armed Nationalist merchantman had even sunk a Republican steamer carrying food seven miles off the Norfolk coast near Cromer. While Guernica was on its progress through England, Republican lines were collapsing, the front destroyed; Catalonia was overrun during January, half a million fleeing north from Barcelona in the last days of the month.’