April 4


Carrier of the Seed by Jeffrey Side

Review by Andrew Duncan

In radically autobiographical poetry, the self is the prison of the poem. The voice of the poet gives the text a deep comforting layer of personality, swaddled in layers of trust, familiarity, witness. But the problem of putting everything in the first person is that in our life we don't experience everything as a first person, we are also able to hear other people’s voices, intuit their experiences, and even lock into a whole cosmos of non-human processes and sounds. If all my poems mean the same thing, in fact mean Me, then they are much less diverse than the world. In order to reach the state of a camera, with its at least passive capacity to take on infinite diversity, the poem has to go through depersonalisation. This may be the point of a poem like this one:

we might
keep the altitude
in view by
the stream near
Vancouver yet the
exploratory research points
to functional monitored
contingencies and the
upgraded model now
offers responsive logistical
innovation while at
the same time
no place seems
lowest to these
my kindred

The soul of a poem is in its breath pattern, the division of sense coinciding with movements of someone’s sensibility. It may be alienating if someone depersonalises the flow of the text. This negates a whole repertoire of well-loved effects and also demands the reader to switch off their routine response and find a new way of reacting to the text. Carrier, presented as one long continuous strip, has a straightforward phonetic organisation: every line is three words long. This disconnects the line break from the flow of sense of the text. The telltales which show someone's emotional state, which make it possible to slip into the rhythm of a text and a situation, are effaced. The text thus breaks free from the limits of a soul and could for example be the voices of several different people, standing at different points of a situation. It ceases to be owned by a personality, which we could try to reconstruct in order to identify with it and share what it owns. Take this passage:

I hear a
voice shell-encased
turtledove similar to
Tripoli where she
met me her
singularity showing itself
in the way
she descended mirrored
accordingly to come
hither consistently but
it isn't an
illness there’s a
chemical element that
takes place at
a certain point
though nothing’s been
proven yet come
off it you
have a stable
mind so hang
on this is
one of the
voices calling through
you were forced
to closely release
faculty with these
who will be
familiar among the
admired melting into
nature resented constructions
against the glutted

The "I hear a voice" probably belongs to the previous tirade, but for all that may belong to this one as well. The passage may end before the end of the quote I have extracted. This passage refers to chemicals and to voices coming through you so is probably about schizophrenia in some way. We might consider this as a theme of the work as a whole. Voices keep coming through a membrane which is very permeable. The central function in the ego which represses other voices has been stood down in Carrier.  The story may involve a real romantic encounter between the poet (or some character?) and a girl, maybe even in Tripoli in Libya. The turtle dove is a symbol of amorousness. Its enclosure in a shell (possibly also a symbol of Venus, depicted with a shell, a comb and a mirror which also crops up) is poetic and strange. ‘release faculty’ could refer to some halfway house where someone stays after a bout of illness, but could also be a definition of art as self-expression. I’m not sure how the singularity relates to mirrored, although it could simply be a mirrored staircase. That combination of virtual images and a shifting point of view offers difficulties to an insecure sense of reality. resented constructions could be a feeling of someone who feels oppressed by an over-complex social order, as if melting into nature were an option. I think instead of a chilled beer tap: the absence of heat makes water from the air condense on the metal, and so the absence of warmth in a poem makes the invisible appear. Transient and undefined things emerge into plain sight.

It is hard to read Carrier without thinking of Tom Raworth and Adrian Clarke. Tom Raworth moved, in the early seventies, into a depersonalised voice. After a great deal of argument, people actually reading the poems detected a personal sensibility re-integrating the finely differentiated data. In some of his great works, the integrating urge was applied to a variety of texts covering the range of voices you can hear from different niches of our society, and reminded me (at least) of a sculpture by Tony Cragg in which a vast range of found materials - old bottle tops, plastic toys, bicycle parts, a debris-line like the foreshore of the Thames at low tide - are integrated to form a Union Jack. The artist disappears behind the debris and the debris disappears beneath the artist’s transforming design. Both Cragg and Raworth are recognised as modern classics. Mechanising the line-break so as to get away from a voice in 2007 is not the same gesture that it was in 1970. I don’t think it can have the same revolutionary effect, but all the same it shouldn’t be hard to assimilate. 

The language which emerges from beneath a known voice and fixed social relations is deeply ambiguous and yet free to roll off in all directions.

from his long
dog from Manatai
aura of civility
complete pattern of
when I was
deep underground or
widespread and she
couldn’t see the
point of closing
next to me
looking like a
crystal stretched in
water she was
a mistress to
all the world

It’s hard to tell where it’s going. While I can locate a breach in the wall through which this language has exited, I cannot give an account of what it did next. Absorption and naturalising of the linguistic material is going to have to follow after an unknown interval. I couldn't figure out what is the carrier of the seed or what the seed is. We all carry seeds of human beings, but the word can be applied to material from other species whose means of mobility is to hitch a ride on a larger organism. The relationship between two tiers suggests, for me, the relationship between form and meaning in a stretch of language. But then, it could mean being a bus for a flu virus to ride on.

("Carrier of the Seed" is available as an e-book for free download from Blazevox)



April 5


2 poems by Glenn Frantz



The body is favorable to the quality of physical knowledge.  This condition is the fact that an individual should be clumsy and a strength will result.

Brain is money, which imposes the burden on the cliff-filled skull of fifteen hours per day of deficiency in the senses.  "You must take the body to the future" is the keyboard age for you.  The work is good to those who have a nearly uniform correlation of entertainments to circumstances. .

Strict genius wins conditions more rapidly used up, the crimes being versatility, as of mediocre ability, etc. in other directions.  This costume is the enjoyment that an individual should be clumsy and a music will result. .

Brain dominates over body in the light of great ability in making a botch of everything they undertake.  The books are balanced, but the shelf falls over. .

The brain enjoys the United States.  The body would enjoy the United States if Congress granted immunity to whooping cough.  If diseases can be amiable, other diseases may be awakened, but not within reason.  The world is reasonable to those who have a very well-preserved thinness of introduction to amiability. .

The most atrocious lessons are good collectors, and conversely.  The great business value of obliquity in the character is that you may remain undisturbed.  I owe you five dollars...


You have asked me if I know the name of the sitting-room,
if I know the body of the stair.
You needn't look startled.
In solving a teaspoonful of this grim epithet, without a word,
I set my want of course,
but I put it down to the common means of singers.
The richest wines of occultation,
being without feelers and with only the air,
comprise a snow-capped and lofty retribution,
and the rustling hotels and surmises crowd into it.

Oh, do not imagine that my sympathies do not know a bait.
I'm on the brink of the grave, and I am extremely lazy.
I like the green dining-room so much for its swift-falling city-sounds,
while the wet tiles like little glints of light
fall turning backward to the empty sea.
The deepest pond is a bright sanded floor,
a polished fish paddling in a wash-bowl.

Some of you live, are singularly rich, and tremble mice much for that.
There lived an emperor in prison,
who had a remarkably beautiful sound, all made of shell-fish.
He was more secret than a belt of commodities,
while his own party, who were commonly clothed,
far from any toil, purely native brass, observed:
If we join together we can rule all the reflections in the treetops.
You see the circlet of this aneurysm of intelligence?
He appears to have useless facts elbowing out the great supposition.
The poetic can easily be falsehood developed,
as birds universally sing when they are so engaged.
That all united should like to strike the old spoke
in any case is hardly silence.

The grass flames, the package of sharp lake, dears --
in a clang, it seemed as large as your head, green and bright.
The morning air smells sweet with semblances,
on the needles there a wicker rabbit
spreads out to black and foam-flecked winds.
And it was cunning, and teaches one where to limp
and what to answer for!


© Glenn R. Frantz, 2008



April 6


Paul Evans: February (Fulcrum Press, 1971)

Essay by Nathan Thompson

Perhaps you’ve not come across this one.  On the other hand, maybe you have.  If you have I may well be preaching to the converted, so: sorry.  Leave now - go elsewhere, but quietly please, and amuse yourself. Maybe watch a Z-Cars video or sharpen your favourite pencil.  Above all don’t leave any nasty comments about Grandmothers and eggs.  If you haven’t read it, pour yourself a nice drink and pull up a chair.  I’ll try not to do an ancient mariner on you.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this book a lot.  I wanted to write something intelligent and maybe even witty to put it in context.  But it’s quite hard to write about.  I really like it.  It’s interesting and funny, beautifully observed and tender, and flawed and vulnerable too.  I like it.  I hope you might.  Maybe that’s why I’m finding this difficult.  Bear with me.  I’ll try to explain. Here’s a snippet from ‘Horoscopes’ to start you off:

Someone is tapping on the sea with two small hammers
and the tune rises above the sound of the traffic;
down below a salesman is persuading a policeman
to pay now towards his imminent funeral; there are
starfish, and six rotten oranges in the street. 

I think we should be revisiting this.  Why has Paul Evans been largely forgotten?  It would be easy under the circumstances to go on about poetry wars or politics but I don’t want to.  Well, yes, OK, I know it’s probably mostly all to do with that poetry wars and politics yah-di-yah and I guess that’s a reason to discuss it.  But, do I have to?  Do we have to go through this every time?  Please, please, please can we move on now?  If you feel that you need to know more about the shenanigans that led certain members of the poetry-speaking world in the ‘70s to sit in different corners of the playground and huffily gurn (admittedly often with some justification) ‘don’t like you’ please read Peter Barry’s brilliantly infuriating Poetry Wars (that’s a plug for Salt Publishing Mr Salt, if you’re reading).  OK, the politics of the ‘70s is interesting and has done more than it should have to shape the ‘mainstream’ (a.k.a. ‘available in some larger branches of chain bookshops’) but let’s leave it at that and look at some poetry.  This sounds more hectoring than it’s meant to.  And I said a few words back that I wouldn’t talk about it. I’ll stop now.  I’m probably compounding the problem and I didn’t mean to offend anyone.

So: Paul Evans.  Another reason his poetry isn’t widely known may be because he died tragically in a mountaineering accident in 1991 on Crib-y-ddysgl, Snowdon while climbing with Lee Harwood.  So he didn’t get to see the era when contemporaries such as Roy Fisher, Harry Guest, and Harwood himself were given big Collected Poems and finally gained some of the recognition they deserved outside of the (exciting but low-impact if all you had access to was W H Smith and the local library) world of small and smallish presses.   And indeed, his work is often likened to that of Lee Harwood.  There’s some mileage in this approach: both Evans’ relaxed delivery and his quirky vantage points are reminiscent of Harwood.  Take the openings of the sections of ‘Four ways of looking at an English Landscape’:

‘While waiting for help to arrive
we had the leisure to admire
the golden foliage of the oaks...’

‘Your breath is easily taken away
by the lovely Peckforton Hills
in the last week in November...’

‘The nests were many and various
as islands in an archipelago
where oak is the dominant tree...’

‘We broke down on a drive
east to west across Cheshire.
Being for the most part city-folk,
the social habits of the birds
escaped us...’

The humour is touching, the tone faux-naive and laconic, and, by virtue of its surface-simplicity, the writing has that Harwood knack of instant empathy whatever the subject matter.  It’s this quality, reminiscent of the endearing ephemera of good conversation, that allows apparent flights into absurdism , and a dream-like cut-and-paste approach to syntax, to cohere as emotionally consistent narrative.  Here’s  ‘1st Imaginary Love Poem’:

Your hair a nest of colours a tree
the sky hung from you constantly
amaze me new dialects and everything
the white clouds drifting in your eyes

“I like poetry as much as sleeping” you said
and the guards lined up outside the tower
the crocodiles were all on form that day
wiping your face in the sun

how could I fail to love you for what you did?
bending to pick up the message
my hours of waiting destroyed “Meet me
by the equestrian statue at 2 o’clock”
it was an English sunset the bells
in my sleep reminding me of home
I shall be there fully-dressed and awake
their jaws snapping and the water turning red

If Evans has an over-riding poetic concern I’d guess it’s to ‘make it now’.  His poems inhabit a fluxing moment (maybe that should have had some Evans-Harwood quotations, ‘inhabiting a fluxing moment’) and, by engaging with the ephemeral, flicker with immediacy.  And it’s not always the raconteur-ish immediacy of the Frank O’Hara ‘I did this; I did that’ poem (though it probably couldn’t have happened without it); it more often than not gets inside the process of action/reaction without naming the intent or cause and therefore, to my mind, weathers the passage of time better - unconcerned as it is with some of the external stuff that can cause more self-consciously trendy in-the-now poems to date quickly  (I’m getting carried away again aren’t I...  I guess I’d better give an example or quote something - try and rein things in).  The erotic ‘We are the Instruments of the Adoration’ almost sets out a manifesto, albeit in the past tense, but thankfully pulls back from the brink:

I wanted to abolish Time,
writing a poem in which
only scale mattered –

It could sound like a pretty big declaration were it not immediately undercut by  a long dash and a stanza break (indicative of ‘but...’), and a suggestion of the unfinished-ness of the past as it feels its way into a kind of plurality of the potential-present:

the moth dying in the candle flame,
alight with love; my daughter
waking in the morning, when light
from under the door calls her;
the sun itself embracing the earth,
creating ripples in the turmoil
radiating out and down
to the very breeze on my cheek
in the window this morning –
so that all the times I approached this poem
are one, the life of it...

And I don’t think it’s damning by comparison to suggest that he handles the multiple-possibilities-of the-present thing as dextrously as Lee Harwood, who I’ve always felt to be the master of it.  But I think I’d intended not discussing Lee Harwood too much.  It’s difficult as I’ve been reading the Salt Companion to Lee Harwood, which is just great (that’s another plug Mr Salt, if you’re still reading. That makes two plugs:  you owe me).  I’m getting all enthused again aren’t I.

Hmmm...  I’m not sure I’m doing the best job of staying focused, but reading this book makes me feel life’s boring if you just focus on one thing. It’s a sort of butterfly-minded (‘studied idiocy of flight’ (did I really just quote Robert Graves?)) poetry of piled suggestions that allows you to supply your own narrative and so feel something different through it every time you read it.  I’m going to close with number 5 from the ‘Taldir Poems’ because it kind of sums things up:

in the game of endless table-tennis
the ball
falls among china, rattling
like the rain
for 3 days now
on the millions of leaves
in this valley
it falls into 

P.S. If you liked any of this, or have read Paul Evans before, you’ll be pleased to hear that the wonderful Shearsman Books has got together with the wonderful Robert Sheppard and they’ll be putting out a Selected wonderful Paul Evans in the near future.

© Nathan Thompson, 2008



April 7



A poem by Peter Hughes


after immeasurably
short distances downstream
you can’t tell which is
the oldest water in the river
the tributaries  rain & 
seepage are all lost      
in the sense of found
as the river approaches its name
headstreams sometimes merge
or at least run briefly parallel
but many strike out in
opposite directions
even though they start
a spit apart
rivers wear away
carry & let slip
their odour changes like your own
it’s rarely home cooking
the water changes & makes
& changes the land
America is being lowered
a yard every 30,000 years
by every style of surface water
but it is also being raised
by other kinds of bullshit
some of which are known as
isostatic compensation
eventually everywhere
becomes a peneplain
which is like a level
playing field only bumpy
& level only in theoretical models
but never seen
except in certain
Hampshire camp sites
steepness varies alarmingly
& rejuvenation may occur
at any time
depending on where
the monkey-gland man
torches his van
polycyclic relief
is the shape of
everyone’s profile
who has ever
dipped a finger
into water
I knew an interfluve
who could stand up
for no more than two hours
at a time
I now know this is true
of everyone
except certain sentries
who are mainly Hirst installations
which distract attention
from the purpose
of the building in the background
it is important
not to irritate academics
when you talk
or write about rivers
& the water heading that way
covers all the land
it patters into heather
& on rock
& sheep & your cagoule
the bus shelter
Mazdas & corgis
snug blazers
loose hoods
loose molls & wardens
bridges         piazzas
railway tracks
service stations    buds
tree branches
fallen leaves
extensions        sheds
outhouses         pubs
water butts
well-rotted organic
matter in allotments
municipal borders
ferry terminals
ponds          runways
sports fields   
building sites
window boxes
on its way
to the river
before tethering your goat
for long periods
like that long weekend
in Barcelona
from November to March
or before attaching
a mill wheel
to your caravan
check seasonal variations
in the flow of your river
& while a spring
may seem delightfully
bear in mind
springs slowly
their site & eat
backwards into bone

© Peter Hughes, 2008



April 8


Orpheus by Don Paterson (Faber, £12.99)

Review by Luke Thompson

A tree rose from the earth. O pure transcendence -
Orpheus sings: O tall oak in the ear!'


We’d only read the first page when Al stopped and said, ‘Did Orpheus have such big ears?’ Al’s my landlord.
My girlfriend said, ‘Well you know what they say about big ears.’
We didn’t.
‘You know, “Big ears, big…”’
‘Maybe it was a bonsai,’ I interrupted.
‘Still don’t reckon I could get one in mine.’
We read on.
‘Jesus, he’s got a bed in there too!’
‘And a person.’
‘This is absurd.’
‘Maybe he was like that Ethiopian tribe with the plates in their lips – you start small, with a five pence piece or a bottle-top, and work up.’

So we flicked to the back, see what he could get in by the end.

Here, where we expected to find Orpheus jamming a space shuttle and a herd of cattle down his ears, we got Paterson’s ‘Afterword’ on the cycle and some repetitive notes on how tricky writing a ‘version’ is. He tells us he intends for the poems to stand in English on their own, independent of the German, doing ‘as much as I dared in the presentation of this version to distance it from the original.’ But while he was busy distancing himself – altering a rhyme scheme here and there, giving each sonnet its very own title, and refusing the parallel German text – Paterson has sneaked closer than ever to Rilke’s own intention, the games with metaphors, the crispness of language, the complexity of mood, and… well, look:

Breath, you invisible poem –
pure exchange, sister to silence,
being and its counterbalance,
rhythm wherein I become,

ocean I accumulate
by stealth, by the same slow wave;
thriftiest of seas… Thief
of the whole cosmos! What estates,

what vast spaces have already poured
through my lungs? The four winds
are like daughters to me.
So do you know me, air, that once sailed
through me?
You, that were once the leaf and rind
of my every word?

Here a breath is an exchange with the world, a link between the earth, the body, and the poem or song praising it all, and the poem itself is posed as something unific, something that recognizes the all-too-human condition of contradiction and self-estrangement, does not shy away from the ever-presence of death, and remains somehow joyful, light affirmative.

Now look at this:

But you… You whom I knew like a flower
whose name I don’t know: I’ll summon once more
to show them, show how you were taken away,
O beautiful friend of the infinite cry.

But dancer first, who – with what sweet hesitance –
paused, as if casting her girlhood in bronze,
in mourning, in listening – until from some great height
music fell into her altered heart.

Sickness now stalked her, her blood overflowing
with shadows – and yet, caught by only a fleeting
suspicion, rushed into her natural Spring.

But again dark and gravity poisoned its source
till it gleamed of the earth; then, wildly beating,
it roared through the steadily widening doors.

Three years earlier (the same length of time between the final death of Eurydice and Orpheus’s own song-cycle in Ovid) the dancer Vera Ouckama Knoop died of leukaemia at the age of nineteen. Vera was Rilke’s own Eurydice for this work, his inspiration, the condition of his great act of praising, he says. Now, it should be possible to read the objective claims of these sonnets without any prior knowledge of Rilke or Orpheus, but it is important to Rilke’s method of coming to praise the world that one has one’s own means of approaching the truth, using one’s experience to approach what is universal.

So, if we are to understand the way Rilke approached the universal, it helps to know a little Ovid and to be familiar with the Duino Elegies, also with Rilke’s life, to quietly note the year it was written (1922) and the conditions. And it helps to reread: the sonnets refer to one another constantly, each a part of a unified whole, adding pressure to a previous metaphor, reemploying a phrase in a new context. It’s impressive that Paterson has kept control of all this and still managed to make Rilke’s complex work of consolation and praise a clean, brilliant read. It would take months to read the thousand translations of these sonnets, and I don’t believe that having done so one would be any closer to the poet’s intentions than if one had only this. We read it all in an evening, the three of us. There was a long silence when we finished. Al said, ‘I got a light bulb stuck in my mouth once.’

© Luke Thompson, 2008



April 9

AND SO .....

I’ve for a long time based what passes as my philosophy of life on the teachings or casual remarks of three people. First, there is Graeme Edge, the drummer/poet of The Moody Blues. He's really underrated, I think:

to fly to the Sun without burning a wing
to lay in a meadow and hear the grass sing

Great stuff. I wish I could write like that. I wish I could think like that.

Second, there is Constance Morgan. Constance is not a household name like Mr. Edge, and Constance Morgan is also not her real name. I promised her years ago that if ever I had cause to talk about her in public I’d change her name to conceal her identity. Constance was always a great calming influence upon my sometimes agitated, palpitating, restless heart. I can’t explain how she taught me to find inner peace when it wasn’t really there. I can’t explain what I’m talking about. She also taught me that a man (or a woman, come to that) should always strive to be where they belong. She lives in Leatherhead.

Third is Emma Peel, the Avenger (pictured below) who gave this wandering soul an anchor in a sea (nay, an ocean) of watery flow, as it were.


Some people have said to me that any philosophy based upon the mumblings of a fictional character, however delicious, has to be fundamentally flawed, but it’s them what's flawed, because Emma Peel is no fiction. I saw her once in a Safeway supermarket in West London, so that proves it. She even spoke to me. She said “Excuse me, please.” I was blocking her way to the frozen peas.

But anyway, I remember in one avenging adventure she was in a particularly tricky spot and she looked Steed square in the neck and said “Steed, sometimes in life you can’t do what you want to do.” You don’t forget wisdom of that calibre, no matter what the distractions.

Later, when things had sorted themselves out and the world was again a safe place to live, she looked at Steed (in the eyes this time) and said “Steed, you know, sometimes you can stop doing something you don’t want to do and go and do something you do want to do.” You can’t buy this kind of advice. Well, you can buy this kind of advice but it's easier if you just get it for free off the TV.

Anyway, all this is just a lead up to say that "Exultations and Difficulties" stops here. It's been fun, but I'm kind of done with it and feel like stopping. It's as simple as that. Later in the year I'm going back to China to work, but that's not why this is stopping. It's stopping because I don't feel like doing it any more.

Thank you for being here. I hope you've enjoyed it.