Tuesday, 30 April 2019

New from MATERIALS: Books, Readings, Launches

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ANNE BOYER – MONEY CITY SICK AS FUCK
Available for Pre-Order
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Very pleased to announce that Anne Boyer’s Money City Sick as Fuck is available for pre-order. Selected from a sequence of 100 poems written on a long day in the summer of 2013, Money City imagines writing a poem "in a confederacy of exception [...] called 'wages for tenderness and nothing else'". Situated between Pompeii and Olympus, at "Texaco in ruins" or the amusement park, in a bar called Lethe, at &the saddest prom in history, taking "every odd route", these poems passionately survey and survive the streets and jails of the modern-day polis,"sunbathing in Atlantis", oracles IRL.

The peak consequence —
             this port
                        of pleasure —
                                  we will
                                or will not
                                  realize —

Reserve your copy at http://material-s.blogspot.com/

Also: MATERIALS Reading Series. Charlotte Thiessen, Marty Hiatt and Joel Scott will read at SET, 27A Dalston Lane, London E8 3DF, on Monday 27th May. Further details at: https://www.facebook.com/events/2271144293103838/

And: Double book launch for two new books from Bloomsbury's Critical Poetic series, A Black Arts Poetry Machine and Lyric Pedagogy and Marxist-Feminism at May Day Rooms, Fleet Street, London, on Saturday 11th May, 7pm. David Grundy and Sam Solomon will provide a brief overview of the books and will share discoveries for their research. The presentations will be followed by an open discussion. See: https://maydayrooms.org/whats-on/

Monday, 22 April 2019

Brandon Brown - The Four Seasons (Wonder, 2018)



Picked up from Brandon Brown himself in the Bay Area last summer, a month or so before his UK tour and wondrous readings in London and at the Sussex Poetry Festival, The Four Seasons is a book I've been living with for some time now. First things first, it's a lovely-looking edition (perfect bound, large-pocket sized) published by small (but perfectly formed) press Wonder – or, as the web address proclaims, Shit Wonder. And the particular brand of humour in that phrase, a kind of wide-open irony which manages to avoid either fatalistic bathos or recuperated sublime slipping in through the back-door, characterises the tone of the book as a whole. Written back in 2015-2016,  its title provides easy clue to its main thematic preoccupation: the organisation of daily lives into the broader temporal frame of seasons, which are "arbitrary in practice if not in legislation" (12). Not subscribing to the annual division from January to December, the book instead moves, in a manner arbitrary/not-arbitrary, from May Day to May Day: what Brown calls "my idiotic poetry calendar" (38). At one point, he calls seasons myths to live by (133); their balance between recurrence and passing, happiness and mourning giving the book its bittersweet airs.

The Four Seasons is a daybook, journal, diary, or sectional long-form piece of prose that doesn’t at first glance appear to be a ‘poem’ per se. It has the virtues of the more digressive and personal nature of the non-academic essay (and in that sense could be placed in a tradition of say, Romanticism – the period that perhaps most influences Brown, poetically, in terms of his reading). It can also be charmingly silly, rolling along on endearing stoner vibes (sample: "One day I got so stoned I thought I invented the word 'wow' "). But, on top of this, it's shot through with an understatedly meticulous attention to the roll and flow of language off the tongue -- which is ‘poetic’ insofar as it is vernacular and musical, conversational and artificial, citational and specific to the moment, sliding between the speaking and the written voice, a chatty and dialogic monologue, the result of a practice that nonetheless retains a keen sense of overall structure, and above all, timing.

When Brown reads the text out loud -- as he did at the Sussex Poetry Festival and for the Splinter Reading series in Lewisham during the heatwave last summer -- he leaves stand-up comedy pauses, extended beyond expected limits, looks around, starts again as if the lines he'd just read were improvised, that he'd just thought of them. (And after all, that balance between spontaneity and rehearsed routine is the drama of stand-up per se.) That movement mimics but is not equivalent to how it feels to track the work's pacing as you read. There’s this thing Brown does, particular in the first section, of alternating paragraphs, where one theme is held in suspension while another is introduced and then the other one is returned to, overlapping, interweaving, like balls moving through the air in the hands of skilled juggler. Is that too easy a metaphor? What I'm trying to talk about are the spaces / pauses between anecdotes / paragraphs, as observation succeeds observation, the original observation coming back in a few pages later, the thread picked up again. It’s very musical. Not pop song. Sonata form? Or canon? Or fugue? Recapitulation, modulation, development, repeating phrases cycling through a musical improvisation, or the variations on a theme: and weirdly, in terms of structure if not spirit, closer to jazz or sonata form than to the pop songs that drench Brown’s work (most notably the previous book-length Top 40, which cycles through the top 40 songs in the pop charts at one time as social index, record of the work routine and its opposites, what live alongside it).

The overall framing of seasonal order reversed, starts with summer through to spring: in Brown’s calendar, the connection to labour that the seasons encapsulate is central, with worker’s holidays present as respite but also with mendacious overlay, public festivities as at once repositories of social exclusion and nationalistic violence and of the carnivaleseque, the jubilee, the warmth of community.
The seasons for Brown are also ways of reckoning with mortality. The discourse here is not spiritual per se, though Brown uses the traditional framework of the voyage to the land of the dead in the book’s most extended and moving narrative passage, taking up much of the Winter section. Nonetheless, it is to do with those things that are the frequent terrain of spiritual / religious practices: memorialisation, mourning, and the reckoning with death and change: the relation to artistic peers, celebrity idols, and deceased friends, marked in rituals or temporal observances that are at once highly personal and collectively ritualistic. The journey to the land of the dead, which starts off destabilising-jokey, a kind of sideways stoner-slip into alternative mental realms on the way to the supermarket, and ends surprisingly moving, as Brown encounters deceased friends, poets, from Peter Culley to David Bowie. And throughout the book, a meditation on what it means for seasonal division to be the way we parcel up our lives – quoting David Brazil on the etymology of seasons, thinking about time and motion and space, what happens to the body placed in seasons, in the world.

Another recurring tic: "[insert author name] has a line like". There's a recurring joke, or trope, about a line of poetry that Brown might only have half-remembered, but won't go to the book and check-- "[insert author name] has a line like..." This is, of course, not laziness but a deliberate flipping round of our usual approach to citation / allusion, drawing attention to the way lines reverberate in memory and the way we, sometimes, make them something else, is important to the way the book works. This reaches its crescendo in the section where Brown tries to transcribe the entirety of Keat's 'Ode to Autumn' off the top of his head, leaving in the transcription with incorrectly- and partially-remembered lines, the morphed lines and the gaps of less memorable sections creating some strange new hybrid. Textual authority is (temporarily) subordinated to the practice of reading and remembering as intimate, personal, yet with a gesture towards common/communality that is central to the book's ethics.

This is what the seasons are for Brown, what they allow him to do: to index the personal relation to sweat and smell, the sweet leaking of flowers or the harsh bite of winter to index how those individual observations are shaped by and relate to literary figurations, and how these are all interwoven into the social fabric of the every day. In that sense, Autumn is Keats. And now, the seasons are Brandon Brown, forest fires or unexpected snow or early spring, wherever you are, whatever the climate.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

SPLINTER Issue 5



Just a brief announcement that issue No. 5 of SPLINTER magazine is out for the last day of February -- 68 pages of poems from the following poets: Quenton Baker, Elana Chavez, Iris Colomb, D.I., Ian Heames, Lisa Jeschke, Mendoza / MacPherson / Hardy, Montenegro Fisher, Reitha Pattison, Jèssica Pujol Duran, Verity Spott, Catherine Wagner, Emilia Weber. Plus news, reviews and pictures...(The mag includes my review of Quenton Baker's excellent This Glittering Republic.)

Available for £3 (UK), £4 (Europe) or £6 (Rest of World), from: http://splintermag.blogspot.com/


Thursday, 7 February 2019

A Black Arts Poetry Machine



















My book, A Black Arts Poetry Machine: Amiri Baraka and the Umbra Poets is out today from Bloomsbury today -- with many thanks to series editor Daniel Katz, and to the readers and peer reviewers who helped shape it into being. Here's the blurb:
“A vital hub of poetry readings, performance, publications and radical politics in 1960s New York, the Umbra Workshop was a cornerstone of the African American avant-garde. Bringing together new archival research and detailed close readings of poetry, A Black Arts Poetry Machine is a groundbreaking study of this important but neglected group of poets. David Grundy explores the work of such poets as Amiri Baraka, Lorenzo Thomas and Calvin Hernton and how their innovative poetic forms engaged with radical political responses to state violence and urban insurrection. Through this examination, the book highlights the continuing relevance of the work of the Umbra Workshop today and is essential reading for anyone interested in 20th-century American poetry.”
I guess that needs some background...The Umbra Poets Workshop was formed in the early 1960s in the atmosphere of artistic and political radicalism that saw African-American protestors disrupt the business-as-usual order of the UN building in New York in protest at the murder of Patrice Lumumba. One of the participating groups, the On Guard Committee for Freedom -- a political organisation -- essentially then coalesced into a more artistically-focused group, the Umbra Workshop. The group held regular meetings at Tom Dent's flat, in which they would get together to discuss each other's in-progress work, and were an active presence in the New York poetry scene of the time. Consisting of a fluctuating, but always large, membership, they aimed to form a publication, workshop and reading environment at a time when the poetry scenes around them were almost exclusively white. The group also started a magazine, of which two issues were produced during its most active period, with further issues appearing at periodic intervals later on, after the group had officially disbanded.





Copies of the magazine are rarer than hen's teeth these days -- there was talk of an Umbra reader coming out from CUNY's Lost and Found programme, but I haven't seen or heard any news of that for a while. Let's hope that something happens! But Umbra was always more than just a magazine. Calvin Hernton described the explosive impact Umbra Poets would make at readings within the predominantly white New York poetry scene of the time: sometimes appearing eight-to-ten at a time, they appeared, in his words, like "a dynamic, well-rehearsed black arts poetry machine". So while Baraka has often been essentially credited with 'founding' the Black Arts Movement, establishing the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School in Harlem after Malcolm X's death in 1965 -- an enterprise in which members of Umbra were involved -- Umbra should be understood as laying the ground -- and, perhaps, offering examples of roads not taken. Umbra are sometimes credited in histories of the period as precursors, but their work is almost never considered in depth. Hence this book! (I'm also played to say that another book, by Jean-Phillipe Marcoux, is in the works -- watch this space...)

Of course, the Black Arts Movement challenged easy divisions between the political and the aesthetic, and politics was also key to Umbra. The book's first chapter discusses the 1961 UN protest and the emergence of Umbra, along the way offering readings of poems that emerged from the protest and its environment by Ishmael Reed, Raymond R. Patterson, Askia Toure, Ray Durem and Lorenzo Thomas. Here's one of them:















I use this chapter to argue that, at this point in time, tradition of African-American internationalism was already in existence -- involving Baraka, to be sure, but alongside many other now-forgotten figures, not least the Umbra poets. Umbra itself was short-lived, but it set in motion a number of hugely important careers -- to list them partially, beginning with perhaps the most famous, that of Ishmael Reed, but also of Lorenzo Thomas -- later on, a Black Arts scholar, and throughout, for my money, one of the most unjustifiably-neglected poets in America of the second-half of the Twentieth Century (though thankfully a collected poems is forthcoming -- this is a bit of a boom-time for Umbra, it seems!); and of Tom Dent, 'New Orleans Griot' (likewise, an invaluable Dent Reader came out last year -- edited by Dent's friend and comrade Kalamu ya Salaam, you can get it here); of David Henderson, maybe best known as the first biographer of Jimi Hendrix, collaborator with Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman and others, poet of what he calls the 'third eye/world' of diasporic culture in America; of Calvin C. Hernton, author of the controversial Sex and Racism in America, attendee of R.D. Laing's Kingsley Hall and meetings of the Caribbean Artists Movement, novelist and poet; of N.H. Pritchard, whose experimental concrete poetry has recently been addressed by Fred Moten and in Anthony Reed's Freedom Time; Lloyd Addison, perhaps the most experimental of the Umbra poets, author of prodiguous, often self-published output, allusive, punning and singular; Askia Toure (then Rolland Snellings), today one of the eminent grises of the Black Arts Movement; Rashidah Ismaili, whose Autobiography of the Lower East Side has been getting some recent praise, and who should (as is the case with all these writers) be far better-known; Steve Cannon, still an active figure in New York artistic scenes; did I mention that Archie Shepp and Cecil Taylor were also involved?! -- and all that's just the half of it...

Within a single book, I wasn't able to write on every member of the workshop, so, after the ensemble first chapter on the Lumumba Protest, each subsequent chapter focuses on one principal writer. Though Amiri Baraka was never a member of the workshop, he knew a number of the Umbra poets and invited them to perform in the Black Arts Repertory Theatre / School. (Here's Clayton Riley's review of the event for Liberator, alongside some images from the feature on 'five young afro-american poets' in French left magazine Revolution, which sets Baraka alongside Umbra poets Lorenzo Thomas and Joe Johnson, as well as A.B. Spellman and a very young Sonia Sanchez.)



While Baraka's Black Arts work is too often taken in isolation, as if suddenly it emerged in an explosion of provocative militancy, setting it against the backdrop of Umbra helps us -- I hope! -- read it anew. So the book's second chapter turns to Baraka's response to urban insurrection and stereotypes of African-American militancy in the iconic mid-60s poems 'Black Dada Nihilismus', 'Black Art' and 'Black People!'.

Guerilla: Free Newspaper of the Streets, Vol.2, No.1, 1968. Broadside edited by Allen Van Newkirk of the group Black Mask.

The third chapter concentrates on David Henderson's poetry, charting the complexities of New York racial politics at the time -- as he writes, 'Harlem to Lower East Side, space of a nation' -- and in particular the 1964 Harlem Rebellion, from which emerged his poem 'Keep on Pushing'. We then get Calvin C. Hernton's writings on riots, in poetry and in an incendiary essay 'Dynamite Growing Out of their Skulls!', published in Baraka's and Larry Neal's anthology Black Fire; and another Hernton chapter, on his poem 'Medicine Man', read for its complex and tortured address to the American South.




Next up, a chapter on Tom Dent, which touches on his work with The Free Southern Theatre, who courageously toured the South, eventually settling in New Orleans, and thence his own poetry emerging from the city -- notably, the long poem 'Return to English Turn'. Finally, there's a chapter on Lorenzo Thomas's poem 'The Bathers', one of the great poems of the Black Arts Movement, and its (re)writing of the 1963 protests in Birmingham, Alabama. (I also touch here on Ishmael Reed's amazing early prose-poem 'The Ghost in Birmingham' -- subsequently the first item in his collected poems, it appeared in the magazine Liberator in the early 60s and is as good an indication as any of just how the good the writing coming out of Umbra could be.)




Anyhow...There's still so much more to be done on Umbra, and on this moment in African-American writing: let's hope that this is just the tip of the iceberg!

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Alice Notley Reading: King’s Place, London, June 2018

[Offered at the year's end, as one of its highlights.]



June 2018, Alice Notley reading at King’s Place, just down the road from King’s Cross station, glass and sculptures in the redevelopment haze rearing more and more every year – in the evening of the eventual summer heat, at the summer launch for the then-current (summer) issue of Poetry London, which has a black-and-white watercolour portrait of Notley’s floating head on the cover and includes a couple of recent Notley’s poems, one a sort of self-reflection on the composition of her epic Alma, or the Dead Women, and its relation to 9/11, which somehow manages to do self-reflexivity without ego (the poem’s called ‘Creating the Memory Collage’, and is available online here), the other a ‘Jimi Hendrix Anecdote’ from the 1960s, of which more below.

Notley’s set might have been twenty minutes, could have been two hours, time stopped even as the temporal rollercoaster in the shifting vortex of the last poem she read accelerated and decelerated with intense attention to rhythm, pacing, timing, all of that – the minutiae of their shifts within an intense sense of overall architecture, of knowing what and when to say but with an openness to exhilarating destabilisation at almost every turn, as a fundamental aspect of poetic method. (I’d say the reading was probably around twenty minutes by clock time.) Notley, the final reader, stepped on stage, hesitant up the stairs, stood at the lectern, said that if she did an intro, she wouldn’t stop talking and would use up her slot, is the microphone working, there’s a self-conscious but genuine and funny play with the conventions of the either overly-assertive or falsely self-deprecating mode of certain poetry self-intros, but when she reads, she’s possessed of such total assurance, she reads without looking at us, no placation, total devotion to poetry – as she writes somewhere, “poetry is my only value”, and while poetry isn’t exactly transcendental here, it almost is, for what it can say and do in relation to and in defiance of the mendacities of ‘the world’, of which it is very much a part.

I guess part of the problem in writing about this, conveying the experience, is that Notley invariably says it better than anyone else, whether in interviews, or, most often, in the quotably declarative statements that pepper her voluminous output (and especially voluminous recently, perhaps since her move from the United States to Paris, a prodigious outflowing that totally blows away the usual characterisations of what ‘late style’ is or the convention of resting on your laurels – she earns more and more laurels with each book.) Yeah, she’s a big deal, and it was surprising that there wasn’t more buzz around this, though the event was pretty well attended, and it was especially beautiful to see her interacting with Denise Riley after the reading. So she read three poems, a clearly carefully-planned set, no hesitation or on-the-spot decisions about order, but choreographed precisely. First, the afore-mentioned ‘Jimi Hendrix Anecdote’, more ‘New York School’ in style than the other work – the inevitable tag that comes up and which Notley herself has sought to evade, but which her own placement, along with Ted Berrigan, at the centre of a locus of poets in that city at a particular time, still conjures up (she spoke at a New York School conference in Birmingham a few weeks after the Poetry London reading, for example). The poem sees a lot of names dropped (in an in-joke about that kind of name-dropping); it’s about going to a Free Timothy Leary benefit in New York 1969 and seeing Hendrix perform shortly before his death. Maybe we can in part understand this poem as in line with and as a joke about the New York School and Notley’s placing with New York bohemian / literary scenes. O’Hara and others might write, often, about mythological figures or famous literary figures or about celebrities and celebrity iconography / identification (James Dean, Billie Holiday, et al), they’re probably most famous for writing about people you, the reader who isn’t a part of their friendship circle, don’t know, connected by first name at the bar or the party or on the phone: people who are only retrospectively famous as part of the canonisation that that way of writing about the coterie to some extent jokingly anticipates. But Notley’s poem is about someone who, even at the time, would have been familiar to everyone. So this is about the recuperation of that coterie style and we all know those people are famous now so it’s a kind of in-joke about in-jokes. And then again, isn’t Notley’s thing the rejection of ‘school’ altogether? – The creation of alternative ensembles which might encompass real poets, publications, ties of friendship and love – let’s avoid the word ‘networks’ here – as well as ensembles that only exist in poems (as in the dead women in Alma)? In this poem, a play within, or adjacent to, a style that gets named as a school, in any case – or just the form of the anecdote, if you like, owned by no one but its teller.

Beyond the ‘New York School’ then, the poem is called ‘Jimi Hendrix Anecdote’, and the twist is that there’s no real anecdote, just that she had a bad trip and felt there was a white thread inside her that needed to be clung to or she’d be annihilated – would that be possible, she muses later in recollecting how she recollected this incident to her sons and friends on her 60th birthday – and Hendrix looked at her in the crowd and seemed to be the only one who’d understood – he performed solo and died a few months later – ultimately the poem concluding “there is no anecdote”, ending with a parody of the narrative structure the anecdote assumes, the final lines “this thing that happened this is this thing that happened”. So the poem is clever, it’s about the anecdote structure in itself and like lots of her recent shorter poems that aren’t part of larger sequences or book projects, has this kind of digressive storytelling thing, often about the dead, and often concerned with dreams (her Lorenzo Thomas poems or the other poem in Poetry London, about 9/11 and the composition of Alma) – so in that sense the anecdote has something here to do with recall, with memorialising the dead as if they were still with us – the anecdote tends to be something told about the live person, but then it also has a structural role in posthumous tributes, documentaries and the like (think the talking heads in a Hendrix documentary, say). It’s about life and mourning and holding on to a thread against annihilation in a way that movingly belies the jokiness of its (non)anecdotal structure, and in that sense anticipates what Notley would do to a more extended extent in the last poem she read.

That was the warmup, anyway, then an earnest we the people poem from the 2006 collection Certain Magical Acts, revisiting her earlier “I the people” and more insistently meditating on what that collective pronoun might mean, its inclusions and exclusions, with the we both a cry for togetherness and an acknowledgment not forced, of what the pronoun we actually does in terms of identity as reinforcing exclusion – and here it’s a kind of planetary eco consciousness too, with plant and animal life – it was read with true seriousness and intent –

And then – but then! – the third poem (‘Malorum Sanatio’ – her own Latin coinage meaning “the healing of evil”), which is from a recent Canadian chapbook, Undo, published by Rob McLennan's Above/Ground Press with an A5 card cover but with the pages huge and expanding out beyond that cover (in that sense maybe reflecting its title). She prefaced the reading of this poem by saying, ‘this is going to be hard to read so I’m going to count to ten first’. Then she launched in, and it was amazing, like six voices at once[*], modulating tone and inflection within the space of phrases, words, lines, sometimes dialogues between characters, sometimes within one character, it’s got a humour but you never quite laugh, it’s never quite a joke, and a deep deep seriousness and personal integrity – lost in the words when she reads, authoritative and with audience in palm of hand but never playing to them – that trance state she says she writes in. Or as she puts it in an (even-more) recent poem: "Syntax of / The instantaneous I’m trying to write three or four flashes per line". (The Speak Angel Series, Book VI: Other Side of Fabric, published by The Equalizer, 2018))



So she read with skill and clearly prepared and rehearsed and she knows how to read it backwards (and sometimes it does feel like it’s being read from, or in fact is written from all angles at once, backwards and forwards and sidewise in slantwise purposeful linear motion, around the insistent motif of healing, but an aggressive healing, ending movingly with Notley positing this healing as a healing of the loss of loved ones (as ever in the recent work, Ted and Doug and Kate and her brother and father behind all this), the suffering of women, the exclusions and deprivations and depredations perpetuated on planet and people (a narrative of her as the traveller going to a different planet and aggressively pursuing this purpose of healing and not being understood), and if there’s a spirituality it’s that sometimes the dead do seem to still speak and to be with us, no cosmology, no goddess (that interview with CA Conrad where she goes “fuck Hecate!"), she reads this last poem fast, so many ideas and she just keeps going and going, but not in a way that feels exhausting or like coasting as it can do with some extra-prolific writers / musicians, but really just she has this mountain of ideas, like what Elvin Jones (if I'm remembering correctly) says about John Coltrane, that it was like he was sitting on a mountain of ideas and they would just flake off every few seconds. In a recent interview Notley says “I'm trying to destroy the line, or make the words and thoughts in it as simultaneous as possible, or make all the parts of the poem be simultaneous, yet still be voiced.” That makes sense when you hear her read, totally.

A few days later, looking back at the text of the poem, the setting seems to be a different planet – or maybe a different version of earth. Notley uses the ghost of the sci-fi framework the way sci-fi’s always been useful for, not only as vehicle for imagination but as a way to gain different perspective on the fundamental alien-ness of fucked-up structures on earth. Alien beings are speaking to the narrator, or speaking through them (Spicer’s Martians?):

we have a different year on Jupiter
These transgressions in their authentic beauty digress

The poem is partly concerned it seems with both the healing from toxic masculinity by those gendered female or non-normative at its expense and the healing of toxic masculinity from against itself – continuing the theme of Alma;, and of what we could say was the care work of women having to heal men, registered with sarcasm in the opening stanza:

I want to know if I’m healing
Him oh so talented dead man illiterate unlettered I say
In the dark club playing his unlettered guitar

The character / speaker in the poem knows they have to heal this figure but not how. We seem to have a meditation on how masculine framings of artistic genius are created, disentangling them from the ‘pasted’ and ‘pressed’ letters of their pasts:

I’m supposed to know why in order to heal you or him am I
Let’s not concentrate on what it means dead guys with
Past to be unpasted pressed over with letters who can
Read them

Later the speaker asks:

have I healed you yet I’ll continue to try
On the street corner behind broken ice whatever planet

They are not sure

If it’s a feeling I have to heal or if it’s a disease

These are affective boundaries, albeit ones which have real material effects. Language is key here – Notley again:

don’t
Come in here a voice said but I have brought back every dimen-
Sion that I am mentioning till I find the one in the pun you are
No one gets out of here unhealed

no one gets
Out of here unhealed battered by grief

Playing on terms of violence, aggression, destruction – Jim Morrison’s ‘no one gets out of here alive’ becomes ‘no one gets out of here unhealed’ – the language of masculinity is itself distorted, appropriated, reclaimed, as words break across lines (‘pla/net’) in dizzying shards and fragments, crystal-clear, rock-hard. The healing is a healing but also a living through of grief – if we read the grammar that way, so that to be healed (the converse of unhealed) is also to be battered by grief. The negative is reclaimed as the space of that which heals:

I claim everything as my abyss in order to heal you

This is a negative framing of what is also utopian and enormous, as we’ll see below, a project of huge memory of all that’s ever been spoken or thought. Language, as the historical residue of that, even in its particular, in the language associated with dominant imperial and patriarchal paradigms, is still this healing ground, for its also where toxic masculinity and imperial domination is reinforced and enacted. But forgiveness is a part of this healing, and the healing language sought is also associated with the mother’s lullaby, or more accurately, the song beyond the individual mother or gendered individual or even individual per se but of any song:

I don’t care what you did or have I search for the one lang-
Uage to heal in which infants recognize when anyone sings

The poem at once seems to manifest a character-speaker who is not sure of their purpose, or at least, of how to accomplish it, of whether the desire and necessity to heal comes from their self or some other collective or even cosmic agency – but at the same time, matching the disruptive, anarchic formal assurance, an absolute self-belief of the insistently-reiterated I that is Notley and her life, but is no lyric pose no decentred subject subjected -- yes inscripted, violently written on by language but with the mobilising captures of that language to speak individually of collective import, that the spiritual discourse of the work may be sci-fi may be fantasy, that the zone of the spirits of the dead and ensembles of dead women or excluded is physical and not physical, that

if I’m telling
A myth or truth only a point of origination you can’t break
Me

Here, the poet as leader, a role both wished for and wished for, turns on the pun on a word where sonic association itself dismembers and remembers the harm done in a language inflected and mobilised for patriarchal purpose:

I’m
Healing you leading you and healing almost the same word
Breaking open with something vulnerable to know
To memorize a motion a structure I am healing you
Inside the whiteness of your eyes

And in the final stanza that healing reaches a climax of personal and collective healing, every syllable of final line earned as it comes to resounding, concluding, unquiet clarion-calling rest. The desire to remember literally everything, to fall away in order to remember all words ever spoken, is utopian and impossible and enormous, it fits with alma’s project of remembering, to write a history adequate, but not commensurate or complicit with, the project of human life understood in terms of its violence, exclusions and framing definitions – perhaps too, beyond them.

All of us call come here and be healed of displeasure
Healed of extreme distress of disease imbalance and fit-
Fulness healed of every mark that hasn’t a source in your
Spirit healed of ruptures between substances these words
Are pure without cynical precedent or calculation
I obtain for you the blessing of others we heal and holding are you
Falling away so you can remember all words ever spo-
Ken in any language remember thoughts all thoughts
For you can in one instant be healed knowing everything
Remembering everyone and finally remembering who you are

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

"A Skeptic's Affirmation" - Notes on Some Recent Work by Alli Warren


Based in the Bay Area for years, a co-editor of the Poetic Labor Project, Alli Warren is also -- more importantly -- and for my money -- one of the best Anglophone lyric poets around. OK, yes, that's one of those blurbable statements that the business of evaluation and writing on contemporary work can tend towards, and what, anyway, is meant by lyric? Well one answer to that might be that we have to turn to poetry like Warren's to see how a term like lyric, at once vague and specific, might have a real purchase and a real purpose, and we have to turn to it to see how we can retain some faith in the real workings of real poetry without worrying about the other networks that structure its perception or reception. Which is just to say: her work is quietly singular; without fuss and with calm commitment, she has for the last few years been building up an achieved and purposive poetry, with none of the bravado or braggadocio that terms like ‘achieved’ build up in the bloated corpus of their own self-awareness, bestowing laurel wreaths in parades of categorising, crowning, dividing. It is particular work, attentive to particularity, but with plenty of space to breathe. Because of that it feels like it's in the air - it feels like Warren's poetry can sometimes get taken for granted -- and its specific details can get overlooked, it's such a great *ambiance* to be in -- but that closer look only serves to deepen a sense of (that word again!) its achievement. This that follows is a quick look at three recent pamphlets and books: Movable C, I love it Though, her second full-length, out from Nightboat, and (more briefly) Little Hill, the most recent, from the Elephants.

***



So Movable C, printed in an edition of 200 by Push Press a couple of years ago, is named after Ornette Coleman’s conception of the moveable central note (the 'middle C') as (non-)anchoring of the western pitch scale. As the closing citation from Coleman’s New York Times obituary puts it, Coleman retained “a lifelong suspicion of the rules of western harmony and musical notation”, formulating instead a conception in which, rather than subscribing to a universally-applicable centring of pitch, every person (and not just musician) has their own tonal centre. Coleman’s youthful misunderstanding of the difference between the C of his own instrument, the alto sax, and the C on the “concert key” of the piano (an A on the alto), has been used by even sympathetic critics such as Gunther Schuller to disparage his lack of awareness of conventional ‘western’ / European pitch scales, painting Coleman as a kind of outsider artist, a musical primitive whose unique musical conception arose out of happy accident. But for Warren, it’s instead a model for how the field of the poem – as of Coleman’s ‘harmolodic’ ensembles – might enfold the multiple within the singular, attentive to, but not mired in, the detail of locale and of the specific fractures and cruelties of this particular epoch, century twenty-one.

The shortish pamphlet unfolds in prose sentences, sometimes harsh and tough, yet lovingly aware of the “possible future in the tender measure", always alive to the positioning of the subject in racialised, gendered and economic incidents and systems of violence, yet nonetheless leaving room for that which is not entirely tagged, tarred, complicit. Tonally at least, the book doesn’t really feel like Coleman’s lushly melodic, tautly over-spilling ‘free jazz’, though the concept of Harmolodics and of the moveable C might still be a useful analogy for the way that individual sentences relate and construct a mosaic or fabric weave of stark or sarcastic social observation, citation, and little darts of lyric flight. Neither are Warren’s sentences, really anything like the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E ‘new sentence’; maybe closer to something like the unfolding of Lisa Robertson’s Cinema of the Present, at once disjunctive and smoothly following. As sentences, they are between statement, question, overheard remark or quotation, expression of desire or contradiction to what is – “To make of my breathing a fealty”, “You call it a god, I call it a menace” – and, despite the flashes of Robertson’s luxuriant tone, they are more biting than Robertson, manifesting a sarcasm that shines through and shapes Warren’s typical capacity for the gracious potentials of song – “his chin is all of history”, “J. Edgar Fuckface says ‘justice is merely incidental to law and order’.” Whereas, in Warren’s other work (which tends to be more verse-based, operating at the level of the line rather than the sentence), rhyme is what carries what’s often a series of discrete poems through, here it’s the relative absence of that sonic “buoyancy” – which can smooth over disjunction – that gives the work its shape.

The poem begins, “It is in entering the street that I enter into exchange”. The public and the social space that the poems negotiate and lightly occupy is one regulated by the flows and constraints of racialised capitalism – “It’s not that policy became any less racist, they just coded the rhetoric and called it colorblind”. Against this, the poem does not valourise a space of the private as ideal relation; when love appears it is both small and big, individual and as social as that individuality must always be, but it’s not the total locus of what the poem proposes as its way of moving through the day. This work can desire both “an expanded geography of pleasure” and realise what geography currently constitutes – “As if I get a warm feeling when he says ‘good ol’boys state’ – he thinks we share a world, and my horror to the extent that we do”. Asking whether the pastoral idyll or ideal is “innocent pleasure or the bloody history of the field”, and “who is permitted unhindered breath”, Warren picks a number of morphing objects and locales to breathe through this hindrance. The vocabulary is at once specific – cultural references to Maggie Nelson’s Argonauts, Kendrick Lamar’s ‘King Kunta’, or Kelis’ ‘My Milkshake brings the boys to the yard’– alert to the current conjunctures of late capital in America, and traverses past and present in the singular strength of what we call lyric: “study[ing] the past to denaturalize the present”, “the way out is across”. Warren writes “I’m nostalgic for what I’ve never seen in the world”, and the mood of this, as of much of Warren’s work, is a kind of chastened or sceptical utopianism, in which ‘hope’ is not some vague wish but a mode of active wishing, of desiring towards that seeks enactment rather than mere wish. As the book’s closing sentence has it, touching on Fred Moten: “I hope we can buoyant in the break, I hope we can be forked”.



Warren’s Little Hill, named after the neighbourhood in which she lives, El Cerrito, and the tree-covered, Twin Peaks-esque hill that overlooks it, is closer again to a kind of nature poetry, but not ecopoetics de-socialised. Rather, both ecology and the social: socius, a Latin noun meaning "comrade, friend, ally" and used to describe a bond or interaction between parties that are friendly, or at least civil; it has given rise to the word ‘society’; ecology, the study of the house, from oikos, the same root as economy (household management), and -logy, a type of language or discourse, a subject of study – the world as house, domesticated, or re-wilded, noting and reversing the mirrored and self-perpetuating notions of nature and culture, human and animal. Between those definitions, studying the past to denaturalize the present, as Warren puts it in Moveable C; Little Hill, written perhaps a series of exercises for / to tune one’s ear (Stephen Jonas!) or turn one’s hand in once again – Warren’s explanation for how these followed on from the book-length I Love It Though – the voice here is something like a bird (as birds are not cops, are not inscribed, in-scripted natural fallacies, but we still hear and sing the refracted idea of their outside sound). As Warren writes (flipping back to Moveable C), “An animal is equal to itself”. Warren doesn’t think that poetry can sing from beyond mediation – what is poetry but itself a form of mediation, no pure air gets through – but it can acknowledge mediation’s disguises and bring them out into the open which is also a space of possible futures we can sometimes glimpse and live within. Warren’s work has always been grounded -- begins from -- what is; but what is in the sense that appearance, (non-)essence, all of that, is itself shaped by the real abstractions of what capital shapes in our circumscribed field of vision; that break poetry inhabits and aims to sabotage. “You begin from economic fact”, a resonating line from her first collection, Here come the Warm Jets: this is where this work begins. But not only here.

*

The door bangs in today’s new wind, sun shines still shining hot through the glass. Reading Warren's work makes one attentive to one's own place -- of reading, of writing, of all the other imbricated things that interpellate, situate, place one -- even as it includes the space for elsewheres without which poetry seems to have little to say. Sitting with this perfect-bound pocket book that came out from Nightboat in 2016, Warren’s I Love it Though, your eyes can follow its garish, glittery road kill cover by Susi Brister and the road’s horizon to which that photo’s perspective leads, like a figure for what’s within those covers:

walking blind
out into the road
toward the end
of this world-system

(‘Out on the Wire’)



Brister’s photo (above) is from a series called ‘Fantastic Habitat’, in which pieces of fur or fabric are shaped into or cover animal- or rock-like forms within otherwise deserted landscapes. This particular picture from the series is entitled Hi-Lo Rabbit on Country Road, and when I first glimpsed the cover in a small online thumbnail, I thought it was an image of real roadkill, and that the grossness of that image ironised the title beyond the measure it actually offers. As it is, Brister’s image is a kind of deliberarely mal-functioning trompe l’oeil set up, where blood is read glitter, fur coat is sheep pelt or sprawled roadkill corpse (both as indicies of the subject of violence discarded, half on and half off the road—“one foot in the office the other / lolling about in the field”), pink streamers are guts spilling out – like a kind of fabulous brutality, a grotty glamour of the visual trick, which gets us thinking already of meditations, arrangements, shapes and materials – the poetic equivalent of which might be things like phraseology, sound, tone.

Brister says:

My previous work was about the form and less about the landscape. Now it’s about how those forms are interacting with the landscape, how they’re trying to adapt to a new environment as if it were its new natural habitat […] My desire is to bridge the gap between real and make-believe.

This serves as a good figure for where the poems in I Love it Though are: “one foot in the office the other / lolling about in the field” – where the speaker as office worker is placed and where they seek to escape, in the geographies of field and sea and coast, aware of the violence that shapes those spaces (one type of metonymy) but also for their virtual space within some realm of the nearly-symbolic, the breathing-space of the poem’s bounded / un-bounded territory (Robert Duncan’s meadow, say).

The book gets its title from the opening of Kanye West’s ‘Devil in a New Dress’, but what we get here is not the model we get in West’s song, the (sexualised) temptations of the forbidden placed in opposition to Christian belief; Warren seeks another kind of pleasure, though, like West’s it might mix with (a different kind of) guilt. (And West looks a bit different now than in 2017.) In West’s lyric the phrase 'I love it though' is a kind of apologia, veering between boasting, excusing and celebrating; love seems more an act of possession, which at the same time threatens self-possession, in Warren it might involve a refusal of possession, objectification, in whose hands the gleaming objects get to gleam.

Worth a pause here to consider the role of the recurring “inflated object”. In an apparent reverse riff on Stephen Still’s ‘Love the One you’re with’, Warren writes: “If you can’t win / with the one you love / love the inflated object”. As love object, the inflatable at the same time contains the possibility of deflation– at once reduced into a part of one’s self, the exterior interiorised while being mourned as exterior, and blown up out of whatever proportions the original encounter or desire was built. But that’s to understand solely as a kind of psychoanalytic reference point (like a version of a kind of Melanie Klein’s ‘internal objects’, say), pointed up no doubt by the reference to the object; might we understand it as well, say, politically, utopically, where the possibility of comradeship – not to win the one you love, but to win with the one you love – doesn’t bring about change, but the object of collective action, and the target (object!) of that collective action is still desired and loved, as a motor for continuance in the defeated present. As Warren puts it in an interview with Lauren Levin at the LA Review of Books, “After deflating, our little balloon retains an embodied memory of what it once did, what it once was, and that potential remains, no matter its current state. Possibility is what I’m after; it gives me hope and strength to go on”. Again in that interview, Warren says that she loves the inflatable and inflatability for their changeability, their impermanence, the fact that the inflatable contains both a solid boundary and the constant possibility of puncture and deflation. “I think of a pink balloon, a womb, a cock, a financial bubble”. So the inflated object (which is itself not singular) can be inflated within the self, incorporated and mourned (Levin tells a story about a little girl losing a spade at the beach, to which Warren replies – that’s the first object, next it’ll be a lover leaving her and her desire for their return) – but there’s possibility here, and the folding in of patriarchal ordering (fertility), financial crisis (the metaphor of the bubble), potential for expansion both as it registers mendacity and as it imparts a giving of value and a blossoming more traditional poetic figurations, for weightlessness and flight. This is characteristic of how Warren’s work works: it’s almost never one thing at once. Indeed, the Llein Trust’s website’s definition of internal objects has some serendipitous parallels here: “the content of phantasy but of phantasy that has real effects”, “no single definition can capture this concept”.

***

Lyn Hejinian’s blurb calls the working of Warren's book “a skeptic’s affirmation” – the ground is scepticism but this leads to the possibility of attention / love, not to its blockage. As in, I love it though. No comma. This mode, the mode of the skeptic’s affirmation, tends around the grammatical feature of the conditional ‘if’ -- short lines, sometimes a long swell of sheer joy in the sound play of an extended line, like when a musician seems to forget to breathe, carried on on the rush of ideas, toys with how long you can elongate a phrase. Discrete lyric stanzas or spiralling suspended grammar. “No death, no death”. Text my boss's boss, scrawl anti-state messages – there's always an agent, mediation, refraction, reacting to the state in the form of a conditional. Yet while the condition might seem to risk being a victim of circumstances, prey to fate, unable to direct in communal agency, it's also something like the Moten-esque break, the space of possibility. The poetry is a ‘beginning if’, seeks for ‘embedded thought’ is not ‘mere sentiment’. Despite the ubiquity of constant violent enforcement of racialised, classed and gendered division -- manifesting, say, in the figure of disgust that inheres in seeing cops on horses -- ‘I has / have a mouth’ -- an internal register of song, discrete but lined and open. One of Warren's conditional phrases is about the conditional itself: ‘If you cut a conditional / in half’ -- half-belief, half-fear, pictures of division whose stakes are bodies and future ‘rooting / for easy tender thing’, very well, ‘I repeat myself’, in the order not of cops but ‘clouds’.

As clouds morph, as shapes change and repeat, the poems plough forward in plentiful sound play on recurring words, ‘loan’, ‘landlord’, the language of financialisation, the crisis of 2008 and the now-decade after, fields literal or symbolic. Voices – the mocked voice of patriarchy – as in the mock courtroom justifications of ‘Protect me from what I want’, which is surely the book's stand-out single poem (like the opening and closing poems in Warm Jets, ‘Acting Out’ and ‘Personal Poem’ were that one’s clear highlights, hits – just excellent, stand-alone poems that are just there and clear, like that, what ‘Acting Out’ calls “tart talismans” you could carry around for luck or for an index of where things are at). The poem is a long list of things - actions, objects, metonymic, general, particular -- that “I did it for”. Just as the list of motivations is both broad and an index of the depravations of late capital in America, so the presumed 'I' includes a cast of bankers, rapists, war criminals, financiers.

I did it for the love of cash your honor […]
I did for the systematic recourse to subcontracting […]
I did it for the betterment of the brotherhood I did it for the
pauperization of the population
I did it for the woman I loved I did for the greatest
country the world has ever known I did it for their
flourishing
I did it for the same reason as you

This is the difficulty that Warren's work negotiates with such aplomb. I said at the start that this was lyric, work in that condition, but it never presumes the identification of poet and lyric I that we always know is both true and false whenever we talk about lyric -- Warren is a master of multiple voices, a ventriloquist par excellence, throwing that voice (as 'voice', at least in the best poetry, is a multiple, varied, flexible, adaptable thing) to see what comes to light under its singular shining strength. In this regard, Warren’s previous book, Here Come the Warm Jets, has as its cover art a photograph of a figure with a face erased by a puff of smoke (Lindsey White’s ‘The Disappearing Act’). It’s magic trick, stand-up comedy, White’s art playing on the gendered roles of artists and performers who traffic in illusion – in Warren’s poetry, ventriloquism, say, the switching of roles and the assumption of the entitled dude-ness of the patriarch, the Great White Father, the legislator, the racist, leads to a subject-position that is in no way the conventional model of lyric as either placed within a single subjectivity, easily identified with the identity of poet (as fixed thing), or else as a kind of filter for other voices that play around a whirling cast of characters, none of which quite cast purchase on where the poem is speaking from (and thus evacuate that crucial question). Warren’s poetry might appear at times to partake of both approaches, but it never falls into the easy pitfalls of either. Warren at times speaks as if from within that position of entitlement in order to prick its balloon of vanity and over-compensation from the inside. This may be an illusion, the puff of smoke erasing the face, and may speak to other modes of erasure, of lives and identities subordinated to the will of the patriarch, but it’s also what poetry traffics in, with a glamour and imagination to it that’s essential to what art might be doing for us, has done for us.



So this is lyric poetry. But lyric also relates, quite obviously, to the lyrics to songs. The titles to both Warren's full-length books reference pop lyrics: I Love it Though has Kanye, as we saw, Here Come the Warm Jets has Brian Eno -- very different artists, different songs, linked by different kinds of glam perhaps – there’s also a Gloria Gaynor epigraph here, which isn’t an epigraph per se but a reference to one (“The epigraph belongs to Gloria Gaynor / the green pervades, it’s a diamond, we all are” (‘A Yielding Hole for Light’). In the first poem of the book, we get to think about pop music after or before the crisis, there and elsewhere we get to have a common song of, say, folk lyric, say, work song, say, blues, we get it refracted through the culture industry and out the other side, in rhyme and rhythm which skirts and builds critique, in 1- or 3-page rolling bursts. In the best sweetly punchy way that you get in the best kind of avant-pop that always frays at the edges, or the more out-on-a-limb articulations of folk instrumental, avant-classical, free jazz, you always know exactly and are never quite sure where you are: certainty with the uncertainty of adjusting yourself to the proper scale, singing your measure, taking the world’s measure and not at its (whose?) word.

Warren’s measures of the ‘possible world’ are post-apocalyptic (‘after the end of the world’, ‘I did it for the terror of the totally plausible future’) and utopian. Sometimes at the same time. What does that mean? Well just think how, casually, three-quarters of a way through a poem titled sincerely-sarcastically for medical advice – ‘Take care of yourself and get plenty of rest’ -- we get a stanza which is basically the resplendently complicit and wonderful utopia of Frank O’Hara’s ‘Ode to Joy’ rendered in three lines -- which then (as ever in Warren's work) go somewhere else:

When I said I was going
to the bar I meant
no death, no death
free the big fish.

(‘The Last Great Heteronormative Hope’)

Reported speech, past recollection – “when I said”, what I said, what I should or shouldn’t have said – the skeptic reflects back on the adequacy or inadequacy of their own language in its social field. Warren talks in an interview about how the poetry community in "that exciting and mysterious concept, the Bay Area" is crucial to her work and how she can’t imagine this work existing outside, and her comrades within and outside that scene might, in part, be “those who persist in every break”. Those others might vanish to the solitary night watch, watching, listening, waiting, but even if alone, their voice and their ear might also contain another voice: “if there’s a chorus in my ear I’m not alone”. Often, these are poems about listening – Warren says at one point that she prefers the ear to thought, and then instructs: “ear, be an instrument for thought” – instrument here as in tool, musical instrument, playing and using and listening all in one, not a mode of interiority but of letting the exterior in. This isn’t the skeptic in the philosophical mode of one who distrusts the very existence of exterior objects, but rather, of the mediations of abstraction and reification which shape socialised perceptions; indeed, it’s the very desire to be open, to listen, that enables it to sing. Tonally -- and in a way that's very different, for example, to Movable C -- there’s a kind of song-like archaism here – “where buds like bulbs be strung”, “begloved” – which sometimes has the taste of such unexpected sources as Hopkins or John Clare, and then there’s a kind of contemporary vernacular archaism (“ole timey cats”).

Warren knows that, to “endure in the impossible” we need song, but that “there are certain chord progressions / one should avoid”. The 'we' in these two lines is a complex proposition: is it the smothering capitalist realist ban on the supposedly impossible, or is it a necessary caution, the skeptic’s suspicion of musical ease, “the legalistic ease of uninterrupted aesthetic progress” in the terrible western world (where property is insistence on the right to white life, and, via O'Hara once more, to love at all’s – perhaps – to be a politician)? Somewhere between those two positions is where Warren situates herself, refusing to discount possibility, while retaining a suspicion of aesthetic ease. “I could” and “I want” are recurring formulations here – I could, conditional, invariant, pigs on horseback, boss’s mandate for suffering. Against these, and cognisant, always, of imbricated suffering and drudge, pleasure is a must: to give and celebrate it, and want it better, and more – the luxury that negates productivity. If, as Kathi Weeks suggests in The Problem with Work, the tradition of the work ethic can reinforce the idea that productive labour alone -- whether from the position of capitalist exploitation, socialist mass productivity, the reinforcement of the dichtomy between the noble (masculinized) labourer vs the (feminised) shiftless, idle, lazy -- can redeem and fulfil human desire and potential, then its flipside, the embrace of decadent luxury, can easily tip over into the allowed luxury of pleasure enabled by class and race positionality. ( Warren knows this, and steers her way between them with absolute acuteness.

So that she knows exactly where she is and what she's doing, while allowing still for poetry's rational derangement, when leaning on a Whitmanesque "grassy pillow" in nature's "rude seat", these poems sit or walk, stumble or glide their way next to the sea: Oakland, as coastal location and the port and tech cities facing each other across the bay. Warren writes from the meadow, from the street, in the classic American mode of transport, stopping or speeding in cars -- a Mazda, a Saab, even a fictive 'Lambo'. These, like poems, are vehicles, transports, and if their connection is too often to a miltarised or mass culture thanatos -- violent death as normativity or as escape from normativity (James Dean?) -- they are not the only vehicles Warren's poems ride in. Maybe it might be the march towards the port of Oakland to shut it down, occupation and reclaiming of space, escape and advance, taking over and retreat by this body of water, where the 'local' or 'national' meets the international zone of trade and all its violence, haunted by slave ships, by cargo ships, port shut downs, by violence and resistance, reality and dream. Warren sits, drives there, marches or strolls there to make a list of pleasures as long as the displeasures that plague us, in a tree beyond the reach of bosses and captains -- a dream -- but what is poetry for but to cultivate, in the face of capitalist realism, a realist anti-capitalist realist dream? I put down the book, got up from the chair, went to the window then opened it, to let the air circulate the house, its cooling breath. These poems are like that, they like that, the air is toxic but also the trace of elsewhere, unheard music heard when it’s disappearing. The door handle squeaks when it’s turned, the hand turns the pages, song that searches for conditions of the open and rhyme’s ridiculous fixed continuance, supposed connections between things that the poem can make real, false connections it can reveal to be false, revealed knowledge. The links already that poetry’s charged language reveals, but always teetering on the brink of breech of the absurd – 'egret / regret' – there’s a kind of lush earthy dump of Hopkins or John Clare, the sod’, syllables like boulders rolling out the mouth, song against ‘the star parade and the park’. The late Peter Culley as an everyday Orpheus, for whom nature still performs, even as 'nature' is constructed and annihilated by second nature, and ‘debt swallows the moon’.

Once again, 'you begin from economic fact'. But it's where you go form there that is what's crucial to and about Warren's work. Hey, the heart is a stadium, a crowd / of carnival and competition. These poems sing from Peter Culley, or George Stanley, Gloria Gaynor or Ornette Coleman, but above all they sing from their own place, on a movable C of wavering bar lines, sweet-tough cadence, hymns or folk songs or pop ditties or classical melodies sung under the breath to propel momentum through the circumscribed day.