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BRITISH-IRISH-POETS  2000

BRITISH-IRISH-POETS 2000

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Subject:

A new issue

From:

"Nate and Jane Dorward" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Nate and Jane Dorward

Date:

Fri, 10 Nov 2000 16:48:03 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Just received issue #6 of _Quid_; I'd briefly reported here on issue #5
before & thought I'd do the same again.  As always: an unpretentious stapled
sheaf of paper which grabs the attention more than many more polished (&
pricy) productions (the magazine costs, true to its name, one pound).  The
eye is first caught by JH Prynne's dissection of Handke's dictum that "the
first victim of war is language" ("We live, as always we have, in an
historic glasshouse of language; we can see out but only through the glass
and it is not easy to cast a well-aimed stone that will not smash up more
than was intended."; "Human language...is not some innocent civilian victim
too defenceless not to fall at the first waves of warlike assault somewhere
within the system, when the handy concordat of moral reason starts to
shatter; it sits at the tables where war is planned and social consciousness
manipulated and it services the justification of war aims and the
rescheduled debt provisions of just, patriotic, necessary and humanitarian
terms of engagement.  Not one word of any language ever known to man has
ever been innocent of these things; just as no human body has ever submitted
to be expressively at the complete disposal of the mind that inhabits it or
the meanings which that mind claims to deploy.").  Listmembers will
recognize the two letters concerning "totality" & contemporary poetry by
Peter Riley from an earlier exchange in this forum; they are still worth
reading, as a serious & considered attempt to protest what Riley sees as the
harm & arrogance of a particular poetic ideology.  Drew Milne contributes a
review of the early writings of Althusser.  Sprouting from the cracks
between the prose offerings are poems by Tom Jones, Jennifer Moxley, Tim
Morris, Ben Friedlander & Keston Sutherland--the latter, "Thursday and
Forever", is a poem written in
response to the fall of Milosevic that first appeared on this list also.

I thought I'd also enclose a review by Pete Smith I published in _The Gig_
#6, of Keston Sutherland's most recent volume, _[Bar Zero]_.  Both _[Bar
Zero]_ & _Quid_ are obtainable from Keston (email: [log in to unmask] --
web: www.barquepress.com).  It's an enterprise I think worth supporting.

all best --N

Nate & Jane Dorward
[log in to unmask]
THE GIG magazine: http://www.geocities.com/ndorward/
109 Hounslow Ave., Willowdale, ON, M2N 2B1, Canada
ph: (416) 221 6865

----

On! On! Incomprehensibility

Keston Sutherland, Bar Zero.  Cambridge: Barque Press (c/o Keston Sutherland
& Andrea Brady, Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge CB2 1TA, UK; web:
<http://www.barquepress.com>), 2000.  30pp.  3.  1-903488-09-5.

In the early '60s Dr Who, in his William Hartnell incarnation, confided to
me in a pre-mail that even the old Tardis had more zip "when young Keston
will be on board."  Destination: mid-C18th England & Germany; mission: to
trace Romanticism through a late-modernist/post-punk sensibility by means of
the cipher zero.  That is not all _Bar Zero_ is, but it's a way
in--signposted by the epigraph from Schlegel, the nod to P. Bysshe in
"Remark to The West Wind," and other Odes otherwise encoded.

My Langenscheidt & instincts render the Schlegel as: "Many tender spirits
are needed / around the fire to feed its blaze."  If "spirit" contains
"ghost," this sentence gains poignancy with knowledge that the poem "Zeroes
Galore" was written for and, in _Quid_ 4, dedicated to Douglas Oliver
(before his untimely death, to honour his intelligent tenderness and his
fearlessness in the face of all levels of tyrannic behaviour).  I see that
poem framed in the opening & closing stanzas by echoes of Prynne & Ted
Berrigan respectively--

The zeroes count, much more than you think
you don't think and say fuck it.
        (cf. close of _Down where changed_)

one death for everyone, finally you
might end, and our requiems then starts reversible and
lovely and the hope won't also end, I never shall.
        (cf. "Red Shift")

--which is nicely appropriate since Oliver held these two writers in high
regard (Oliver in "Trink" calls Berrigan "my stout heart").

While _Bar Zero_ is not as stylistically cohesive as earlier works like
_Mincemeat Seesaw_ or _At the Motel Partial Opportunity_ the themes
announced in title & epigraph thread the poems.  Zero as hero (surely
another fire-tending spirit in MacSweeney?  "Bar" he was in _Pearl_ & "Zero
Hero" in a _Demons_ extract: the intensity of language in political
critique, too, is at a similar pitch); as a nobody, then; as that concept
without which mathematics would have been paddling in the doldrums--no
multiplication, no algebra, no calculus; as the rear sights on a gun and the
verb fired from that barrel, "to zero in," lately familiar from the TV war
of the Gulf (cultural event sponsored by Shell etc); the nadir.   Bar--to
exclude, forbid; as noun, impediment to progress; a plea that destroys a
case in law; a system of courts.  "Bar-code," to bring these themes into the
world of commerce.  Fires abound and their effects & opposites: blazes &
ice; revolutionary fires whose shadows flatten, contort & distort your
personal stand; and the verb--to lay off workers, to take deadly aim.  Hope,
justice and tenderness in several guises also appear.  This, then, is
ethically driving and driven work; but also work at great play, hence worth
rereading.

The verse is mostly taut, some contained in quatrains, some shaped like
Horatian odes: pattern seems to interest Sutherland, as a means, one
suspects, of unleashing power, improving aim.  Sentences trawl across pages,
especially in "A Pow Ode" and "The Code for Ice," and, as "disordered /
asyndeton blowing over" ("Remark to The West Wind") hints, conjunctions are
mostly skipped.  As well as the key words found throughout the book,
Sutherland threads certain words through individual poems: e.g., "riot"
occurs in each stanza of "Refuted Eros," and similarly "beneficent" in "To
the Last Ansaphone," "zero/es" in "Zeroes Galore."  There is a fit between
Schlegel's remarks on Romantic poetry in his 116th Atheneum Fragment and
some effects achieved by Sutherland's verse.  "Romantic poetry is a
progressive, universal poetry....  It alone can become...a mirror of the
whole circumambient world, an image of the age....  [I]ts real essence: that
it should forever be becoming and never be perfected"--these phrases seem
apt for Sutherland's ambitions.  Schlegel's essay "On Incomprehensibility"
also seems pertinent for some of the pamphlet's preoccupations.  It gives us
the epigraph, but also some maxims and mischiefs the poet plays with in
behind-the-scenes ideas or, in specific glances, in the poems: "Why should I
provide misunderstandings when no one wants to take them up?"; "A classical
text must never be entirely comprehensible"; "Irony is the form of paradox";
"We haven't gotten far enough in giving offense"; "What gods will rescue us
from all these ironies?  The only solution is to find an irony that might be
able to swallow up all these big and little ironies and leave no trace of
them at all....  But even this would only be a short-term solution.  I fear
that...soon there will arise a new generation of little ironies: for truly
the stars augur the fantastic."  Space as run down now as time: suffice to
note a little of how paradox works in "The Code for Ice": "free is itself a
code"; "reek of freedom outcodes / basic ice"; "freedom is not the code."

There is care at the level of prosody which may be missed in the general
speed of much of this work.   Desire to go beyond the joining-the-dots
technique of much verse is stated blatantly: following two similes, the
first fitting to a theme, the second arresting in its ludicrousness--"things
are hotting / up like the fuse in a fridge plug; / the heart gripped like
spam by batter"--we read:

likeness was a trick we clapped for
                   eye snare, spoon
fed freestyle  (21)

Having & eating the cake: more then than pablum.  Commas also do more work
than usual in some poems (e.g. "get the / hell out I once, more say, say
what / ever you feel can..."); by these feints of punctuation in the
pamphlet's last sentence--

                    across the celestial equator,
    Venus breaks, the resolve and
you are bound, to recast down a faultless star  (30)

--you, reader/listener, are bound up in your resolve while chance and the
world (evening star) go merrily on around you.  Earlier in this poem,
"Atonement," fire asks "can you go on?" in the face of collective memory of
trauma:

                            Shines in the mind
crispy, a shiver of faces throws
            upon you shadow, bright urban lattice
adrift among glances like drapery, can you go
                        on fire says.  There is no adequate
remorse or adequate reason why
            there is none.

For this reader that last sentence fills the awful gap in "Remark to The
West Wind" between the last word of the second stanza and first of the
third--

          camp

concentration touching your
invisible acumen

_Bar Zero_, where everything but nothing is allowed.  The poet has threaded
silk through his three-piece suit, but the fly is still undone.

Pete Smith





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