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BRITISH-IRISH-POETS  1999

BRITISH-IRISH-POETS 1999

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"svp" <[log in to unmask]>

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svp

Date:

Wed, 17 Feb 1999 23:26:33 -0000

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Here is the text of Harry Gilonis' intro to Trevor Joyce in 29th Jan 1999.
There will be an html version posted at the svp website by the weekend after
next
-------------------------------------

Introduction to the reading by Trevor Joyce at Sub Voicive Poetry 29th
January 1999

It would be perfectly possible to justify our interest in Trevor Joyce
without once mentioning his own poetry. As co-founder - with Michael and
Irene Smith - of the New Writers' Press, he has a place in history for that
alone. (And what a story: converting his 21st-birthday gifts into cash to
help buy an Adana, setting type wearing gloves in an unheated kitchen, going
on to publish Ingeborg Bachmann, Asa Benveniste, Borges, Coffey, Spicer,
Trakl, Vallejo....) But what is perhaps more important is that Trevor Joyce
has the rare ability to let history be history. Perhaps this has something
to do with his, and the New Writers' Press's, long association with Brian
Coffey, whose longevity gave a direct link - a hands-on apostolic
succession - from Joyce (James), Beckett and the Generation of the 30s. It
wasn't necessary to invent, or squabble over, pedigrees. Perhaps Trevor
Joyce also benefited from Coffey's example; he was working with his
customary energy and form, of warm and cool. Syzygy is one of those curious
words like "cleave" that have antonymic meanings; and Joyce's work conjoins
and opposes warmth and coolness, form and energy. 1972's Pentahedron (New
Writers' Press, Dublin), his first full-length collection, for all the
"perfect pitch" Jim Mays praised it for, might be said - and as Trevor has
himself, why not? - to mark a poetry of expression. Joyce has previously
highlighted an opposition between that and a poetry that is constructed, and
also delineated some of the problems with the former. (The terminology
derives from Kandinsky, and the problem is discussed at length in Joyce's
paper "The point of innovation in poetry" in For the birds**). Pentahedron's
combination of formal intricacy and more direct expressiveness gives way to
an approach which heightens both in his next book, the poems of SWEENY
Peregrine (New Writers' Press, Dublin) begun around 1967 but not published
until 1976. The book is a split verse and prose take on an early Irish epic,
utilised earlier by Flann O'Brien and somewhat later by Seamus Heaney. I
discuss the work in an essay in a forthcoming Angel Exhaust; so here I just
want to remark on the craftsmanship, the sensibility, that can take a text
that's 800 to a thousand years old and rework it without banalising it
(Seamus Heaney's approach) or losing its qualities entirely (also Seamus
Heaney's approach). Stasis and movement continue to oppose / reflect one
another in Joyce's subsequent work - I'm thinking here in particular of an
otherwise uncollected poem of the late 70s that links mirrors, windows and
light in Velasquez:

For such enlightened scenes we shun
the menstruant whose searching gaze
strips of the mirror its validity
(so brilliant Paracelsus says);
its silver and austere control being lost,
the glass once more perspicuous,
carved wood frames only chaos,
and all slenderness and grace are gone.

(published in Lace Curtain in 1978; collected in hellbox, Form Books,
London, 1998). Motion and immobility, then, and the places where they meet;
unstable areas, like turloughs, seasonal lakes in limestone country not
found on any map. The stasis of stone meets the flow of floods: stone floods
(New Writers' Press, Dublin, 1995), Joyce's first book for nearly two
decades, commixes, cleaves to, these two themes. A world of liminality, of
boundaries, where messages, messengers, begin to fail just as they reach us.
The 1990s work in hellbox also shows us this world, poised and flickering:

when the travellers
were refused bread
leaving they left a rock

poised on each sill
and at daybreak
the whole house was found

sunk a full
three feet
in the flickering earth

Trevor Joyce has pertinently cited Cage's preference for the processes of
beauty rather than its image; again, for poetry that is constructed,
processual, rather than fixedly expressive. Syzygy from 1998 (Wild Honey
Press, Éire; available from Peter Riley Books, 27 Sturton Street, Cambridge
CB2 2QG) could hardly be more process-based, depending on computer
spreadsheets to remap debris scattered as if by flood, whirling it through a
combinatory vortex that might well permute and re-generate indefinitely.
Work continues apace on a richer variant, Obex; but we have an interim
report on progress, on process, again from Wild Honey Press - Without
Asylum. It returns us in passing briefly, magically, to the world of "mad
Sweeney":

shelter from the fall
asylum from the edge
a luminous domain
unbounded

(Literally: "A house where rain does not pour, / a place one needn't fear
spears; / bright as if in a garden, / and unenclosed by fences".)

I hope that more readers will come to share my unbounded enthusiasm for the
work of Trevor Joyce.

Harry Gilonis (c) 1999


** Proceedings of the First (1997) University College Cork Conference on New
and Experimental Irish Poetry, edited by Harry Gilonis and published by
Mainstream (Lawrence Upton: 32 Downside Road, Sutton, Surrey) in the UK
[with hardPressed Poetry (Billy Mills, Catherine Walsh, 37 Grosvenor Court,
Templeville Road, Templeogue, Dublin 6W, Éire)]





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