JiscMail Logo
Email discussion lists for the UK Education and Research communities

Help for BRITISH-IRISH-POETS Archives


BRITISH-IRISH-POETS Archives

BRITISH-IRISH-POETS Archives


BRITISH-IRISH-POETS@JISCMAIL.AC.UK


View:

Message:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Topic:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Author:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

Font:

Monospaced Font

LISTSERV Archives

LISTSERV Archives

BRITISH-IRISH-POETS Home

BRITISH-IRISH-POETS Home

BRITISH-IRISH-POETS  1998

BRITISH-IRISH-POETS 1998

Options

Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Log In

Log In

Get Password

Get Password

Subject:

Re: JHP: Too Many Answers

From:

John Wilkinson <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

John Wilkinson <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 03 Jun 1998 10:26:33 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (167 lines)

I have been waiting in an unusually cautious way for some response to
Peter's posting which I think is courageous in its willingness to essay
an overall account of Not-You and to express it in a manner which is a
fully poetic response. I'm don't know that I agree entirely, but the
arising of the transcendent/religious in Prynne's later writing does
need addressing frankly I think - although I'm not volunteering.

But what I wanted to say is something about Peter's point about a
characteristic of end-of-century verse in 'referring to something as if
the reader already knows about it', because I think this is to conflate
some very different kinds of writing with very different assumptions -
indeed, in describing how some poets withhold in order immediately to
provide, Peter acknowledges implicitly not only that the referring can
happen in different ways formally and in time, but that the motivation
may be extremely various. Even if you assent to the proposition in the
first place. Here's an anecdote which may illustrate some of the
considerations.

A day or two ago I sat on the bus home in front of three black teenage
girls who talked between themselves the whole way. I was amused to hear
three distinct accents - a rather posh received English style, a marked
Leicester accent and a strong Jamaican accent carrying a seasoning of
patois. It took me a while to realize these accents were not
attributable to individuals but were being swopped to and fro as shared
personalities - the Jamaican accent was the formidable West Indian aunt
(recently discovered by the advertising industry).

But sorting out the personalities did not make the exchanges transparent
to a middle-aged white man, even one whose daily life is
'multi-cultural'. The talk of any group of fifteen-year old girls would
have patches of obscurity for me, and the difficulties here were quite
considerable. I came to recognize that the girls must be sisters (by
upbringing) and that I was overhearing a set of routines - for instance,
our slow progress in traffic meant the progress of a woman on a bicycle
yo-yoed with the bus and every time she passed they chorused RED HAIR!

I was mesmerized by the swiftness of exchange and as I tuned in I began
to realize the girls were negotiating the white world using the
personalities available - so the Jamaican voice would proclaim 'Remember
you're better than that, Girl!' and the RE voice would call the more
boisterous voices to order (including checking 'herself'). And they
talked of boys and teachers but in this dazzling multiple-perspective
way.

It was a language exuberant with play which arrested my attention, but
of course the play has its necessity in an all too serious world. A
sociological description of what the girls were talking about would have
been something to register and file. My half-comprehension was important
to my being detained so as to prevent that registering.

Peter is right about the assumption of knowledge by poets, but
eavesdropping is characteristic of contemporary life where knowledge is
so specialized (but not necessarily compartmentalised). If I pick up a
copy of a style magazine I'll be eavesdropping on a discourse whose
assumptions of a readership 'in the know' are probably more extensive
than most poets'.

But also the anecdote tends to show something- and here I lumber onto a
hobby horse - of how comprehension emerges. I don't know about other
readers but the emergence of comprehension of a poem of any interest is
like the picking out of a possible constellation for one without a
knowledge of the night sky. I do tend to rely on what is produced quite
locally although other work by the poet, the poet's associates and a
range of external reference help in shaping the constellation.

This brings me back to Prynne. The 'range of reference' and of
specialized languages is a truism of Prynne readings. But on first
reading of Red D Gypsum, recently arrived from Keston's Barque press, it
occurs to me than actually Prynne's specialized languages are mainly
three: money/high finance, plant biology/human physiology and geology.
There is also some specialized discourse around the material production
of the text (the D Plate in the new text, High Pink on Chrome as the
name of the stock card wrappers of that book etc.). By this time to read
a new poem by Prynne is like an emblematic or idiogrammatic practice - a
reference to eating for instance conjures up a range of references in
the corpus which I have the uneasy feeling constitute a discussion. This
is something Robin has been directing list members to in an apt
challenge.

In other words I feel myself to have been grubbing along with highly
localized ant-constellations when the texts urgently demand to be read
for what they are SAYING. And even while Peter denies Keston's
contention that the texts will become more readable, he presents an
over-all reading of Not-You. I think I agree with Keston on this; I have
a gut sense that far from refusing reduction to a set of meanings,
Prynne's poems are setting forth a social critique quite consistently.
It is the consistency and authority which are so striking and, I hazard,
would not be felt through writing whose chief impulse is the tendentious
refusal of meaning. Actually this takes us back to Peter's provocative
use of the term 'priestly' which may be apt in an inverted kind of way -
I think the work is anti-priestly and that Prynne may be seen more as a
twentieth-century Juvenal excoriating the manners and the fashionable
beliefs of the day. (His assaults on ecological sentimentality eg are
beginning to be echoed elsewhere.) This gut feeling is what motivated my
wild hymn to Prynnian ethics at the end of an otherwise sober account of
Not-You, and which Robin has correctly identified as gratuitous in the
context. I think it needs a different essay before it and I don't have
the intelligence.

But to return to Peter's point, I think Prynne's recent writing does
indeed make assumptions of the reader's knowledge - chiefly of Prynne's
earlier work. That the new Collected will again be called Poems seems to
me to insist that what what are presented with is a single endeavour, to
be read as such - not necessarily 'a unity' but webbed with internal
connections which constitute not only a universe but a critical account
of that universe. I think this does require exposition and the adducing
of relevant knowledge - so I would defend Reeve and Kerridge while
believing that they've only disturbed a bit of the surface.

Since Peter aimed a mild dig me-wards in his posting I'll just say that
I think my practice is rather different from this. I don't assume a
specialized knowledge outside the books - or if I do, that's a set of
unconscious (and therefore perhaps unwarrantable) assumptions. I think
in terms of distributed objects; poems and their books are indeed
intricately webbed but the process is one of parts seeking their
completion. Information fills in, or should (rather as some computer
packages generate 3-D objects before one's eyes from a set of points). I
know this can be annoying and demanding and that it raises again the
question of why we invest time in any particular text. But I'm just
cautioning against the notion that 'difficulty' has a single
significance (and also defending myself against the charge of
tendentious obscurity - I'm an over-emotional lyricist who gets confused
from time to time).

Even in this parish difficulty is so various. In my briefcase I'm
carrying two obscure, glamorous and tantalising books - Drew Milne's
Bench Marks and Kevin Nolan's The Charges. With the Nolan collection I
anticipate a poem will fall into place once a key external reference or
a main internal thread is identified, while with Milne some background
might tell the reader where the poem is coming from, but the
productivity of the poem is something we witness in real time. This is
to caricature, but Nolan is a new metaphysical in terms of difficulty,
while Milne is more - to use Peter's allusion - Blakean.

I suspect Peter likes RF Langley so much because the writing eventually
comforts - not to deny its other joys - and is referable to a familiar,
settled milieu and cast of mind. And why not. I also enjoy writing that
gestures to the enigmatic and transcendent. The third book is my case is
WG Seabald's The Emigrants, and it would be hard to find prose more
lucid, grave, considered and beautiful. But in Langley's recent verse I
find the gestures to be a bit over-familiar, and prefer the earlier
poems' greater initial resistance (back to the bus anecdote).

Yes, back to the bus. Was I gulled, dazzled or dazed erotically by what
from one perspective was only girl talk? But to say that is to manage
and identify through too radical a subtraction. Colour systems are
additive or subtractive; both have advantages and disadvantages and just
so work the poets. Too much free-floating and unresolved information can
produce a muddy and dispiriting brown rather than the strong black, as
surely all of know from our daily lives. As writers others too perhaps
feel oppressed by So Much and then the necessity to subtract in order to
effect anything. When a thousand balls are in the air and moving, the
constellation can become just a miasma and compass-less both writer and
reader lose interest.

Then chop the worms and re-grow the twitching remnants. Which remember
each other. So the series. So the book.

Thistledown.

What an excursion! I hope there some sense in it somewhere. This is the
result of lumbar pain keeping me at home for a day.



%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

Top of Message | Previous Page | Permalink

JiscMail Tools


RSS Feeds and Sharing


Advanced Options


Archives

April 2020
March 2020
February 2020
January 2020
December 2019
November 2019
October 2019
September 2019
August 2019
July 2019
June 2019
May 2019
April 2019
March 2019
February 2019
January 2019
December 2018
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
2006
2005
2004
2003
2002
2001
2000
1999
1998
1997


JiscMail is a Jisc service.

View our service policies at https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/policyandsecurity/ and Jisc's privacy policy at https://www.jisc.ac.uk/website/privacy-notice

Secured by F-Secure Anti-Virus CataList Email List Search Powered by the LISTSERV Email List Manager