Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino, and grappling with what’s difficult

gauguin_vision_sermon

When I meet a difficult text, it invariably makes me think of the Genesis story of Jacob and the Angel, or at least its depictions in art.  I like Jacob Epstein’s statue Jacob and the Angel (1940) in the Tate, but it is Gauguin’s Vision after the Sermon (1888) with women having just left church on Sunday, receiving a vision of Jacob wrestling with the angel that most often comes to mind. What does the angel want? Obedience? Submission? When Jacob prevails after a night of wrestling, he is freed with a wounded hip joint and he is given a new name: Israel.

* * *

Grappling all night with difficult texts can seem an ordeal too, especially if there is an exam at the end of it. As a student, I sometimes found unpicking all the references in say T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound tiresome. I still think of this stage of modernism as an exercise of cultural collage, or mosaic work: a tessera of Dante, a smidge of Wordsworth, a splash of Bhagavad Gita. Exemplified by The Waste Land, this juxtaposition of  pan-cultural resonances was undoubtedly exciting, and a leap ahead in poetry. As a student, the better read you became, the easier it became to nod with a certain smugness, for example, when you’d traced the origins.

In the mid eighties, I was given J.H.Prynne’s The Oval Window by my friend Michael, who is now a professor in the US. This was the best kind of grappling. Michael was a Prynne advocate, and we swapped letters (yes, in actual envelopes) for a few months about Prynne’s work. My first reaction to Prynne was hostile. I got that he used language in part to portray the difficulty of communicating, a familiar trope in twentieth century writing. But itseemed to me that Prynne took this to heroic levels of wilful obscurity. Grappling with the angel of Prynne frequently left me feeling angry and baffled. But it stretched me as a reader, and something else happened that I hadn’t bargained for: I became haunted by the images in his work. Here’s a section from one of the untitled (they are all untitled) poems in the book.

Given to allergic twitching, the frame
compounds for invertible counterpoint
and waits to see. A view is a window
on the real data, or a lower surplus in oil
and erratic items such as precious stones,
aircraft and the corpses of men, tigers
fish and pythons, “all in a confused tangle.”

This collection is full of points ‘of vantage, private and inert’, and these poems have been  a sphinx on my imaginative horizon ever since, and in the way that poems that yield their pleasures more easily simply have not. I’m still conflicted by Prynne. Do I find this language beautiful? Not really. Does it move me? Only in a weird way. Do I find myself picking up Prynne on a regular basis? Yes, damn it!

Since Prynne I have grappled with poets I find difficult, and even if I have to submit, bruised and baffled, I often feel I have at least encountered something mysterious, and that the struggle taught me something, even if only about my own limitations.

* * *

Most writers of poetry often encounter invitations to enter competitions. The majority of them exist to bolster the funds of poetry publishers, which is a perfectly good reason to support them. Sifting through hundreds of poems, those judges, however sincere and thorough, are more likely to respond to work that rapidly downloads its meaning and rewards. While these poems can be profound, my feeling is that only rarely do they provoke a lengthy engagement. The worst of them are like jokes, you read them once or twice, get the punchline and move on.

 * * *

I have lately been visiting the New York based site E·ratio, which is edited by Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino. E·ratio ‘publishes poetry in the postmodern idioms with an emphasis on the intransitive’. The intransitive being writing that draws attention to the act of writing itself, in a Prynne-like way, rather than pointing to something in the outside world. I loved this bracing precision, and there is bags of challenging work on the site. I was also delighted when Gregory published a rare sortie into this kind of postmodernism by me.

 * * *

I have been enjoying getting to grips with Gregory’s Vincent St. Thomasino’s selected writings, collected in the soon-to-be-released, The Wet Motorcycle. This work, which I have been lucky enough to see before publication, includes some absolutely pyrotechnic  poems, that burst off the page and whoosh over your head.  An early sequence is called Bolts. To me they are mysterious meteors of meaning. Take Bolt twenty which pinballs between tiny fragments of perhaps, Tristan and Iseult, and Petrach, and may be alluding to the  misfortune of having to dash your brain on the harsh business of grappling with words.

Bolt twenty
Por Deu
Omnipotent
Ce
Fu pechiez
dash my brain L’
Aspre vie
Words
New
Woe

The Wet Motorcycle is also remarkable, in that it provides the theoretical background to enable you to better understand the poet’s way of seeing. He offers a  Crash Course in Logoclastics,  which employs the term ‘logoclastics’ to suggest a break or dislocation in discourse. This break is where the reader steps in to bridge the gap with ‘their own logic, sense and meaning’. I think it may be possible to read this as encouraging a more engaged reading, where the reader is co-creating with the writer. Nothing to argue with here. While I have never thought of it this way, I always enjoy writing that has ambiguity, suggestion, and territories left for the reader to explore. Leaving space for the reader is essential in serious writing.

The theory continues with a description of the ‘pannarrative’ text.

The pannarrative text. If “text-collage” is the general term for such, then a “text collage” composed of fragments (word fragments, words, sentences, verses, elements [quotation]) of narrative (narrative as found / appropriation) “stitched” together. It is a sort of “list” or “roll call.”
The pannarrative poem begins by seeing all the world as one great narration — a narrative that is known in proportion to the degree of the relation of its parts.
As an instance of the pannarrative text (or, of, the collage text) I here do offer a text. And notice, please, the composition, the assemblage, is of things from the world writ large, from the world encircling me, and these are mixed with my own sensibilities, with my own emotions (and that my poem is the analogue to the expressionist depiction, and thus an ekphrasis of sorts).

This description of how the writer engages with the ‘one great narration’ to produce his work I find fascinating.

I have just embarked on Gregory Vincent St. Thomasino’s work. Sure it is difficult. But it has rewards and challenges. But one thing is for certain, this is a way of writing that is distinctly different to my own, and I enjoy it for precisely this reason. His is a serious and pioneering endeavour, which has poetry, flash fiction, novels and theory in its ambit. It is unlike any other I have read, so must be explored.

SaveSave

SaveSave

Posted in Poetry, Reading | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Antony Mair launches ‘Bestiary, and Other Animals’ at the Poetry Cafe

fullsizeoutput_15a2

Antony Mair, signing ‘Bestiary, and Other Animals’ 20 June 18 at the Poetry Cafe

To The Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden last night, where Antony Mair launched his first full collection, Bestiary, and Other Animals, published by Live Canon. The Poetry Cafe was more crowded than I have ever seen it. Introduced by Helen Eastman, director of Live Canon, the reading was in two halves, reflecting the two sections of the book. Antony read poems from Bestiary, a sequence of 26 animal poems from Aardvark to Zebra.  In the second half, two actors from live Live Canon read from the And Other Animals section, they brilliantly expressed the energy and emotions in the poems. It was an extremely enjoyable evening.

I haven’t had the book for a day hours yet, but from reading the poems this morning, and on the train home last night, Antony’s poems shine with warmth, acute observation and an understated but powerful originality. It’s a cracking collection. Buy your copy here you’d be mad not to.

 

Posted in Book Launch, Poetry | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Slow progress and wide heart lead

Seven items from the imaginary news desk at Kenny Towers.

  1. A nice, not to mention speedy, review of TRUTHS A Telltale Press Anthology in London Grip. If you’d like to buy a copy, simply get in touch with me through this site. In other poetry news, I have a poem called Commuted on the Amaryllis site,  and another War Diary in 1/72 scale accepted by Arachne Press anthology provisionally called An Outbreak of Peace.
  2. And talking of self-puffery, here’s a conversation I had with the multi-talented Louise Tondeur about marketing.
  3. Two books of poetry are currently lighting up my life. Eleni Vakalo, Before Lyricism, translated by Karen Emmerich, which drips with timeless vitality and sheer Greekness which I love. One day I must post more about the riches of Greek poetry since Cavafy.  And Janet Sutherland‘s Bone Monkey, which was recommended to me by my poet pal Charlotte — I have the sense in reading Janet’s poems that she sees the world a bit like I do, except she has words for what I’ve not been able to say, so for me her poems are revelatory. I am just about to order her other two books now. Some writers make you fall in love with reading all over again, and Vakalo and Sutherland are two of those.
  4. I think I have started a new play, but I don’t want to hex myself by saying more. It seems to want to be another black comedy.
  5. I have lost count of the number of agents I’ve approached with my children’s book. Not a glimmer so far, and the majority are so swamped they simply don’t reply. As the book has been read to actual schoolchildren who have lapped it up, clearly lateral thinking and persistence must now be deployed (after a brief spell of shaking my fist at the indifferent gods of publishing).
  6. In the other part of my double life as a creative, I found out a concept I’d done with my pals in the Paris agency, Life Animal Health, about the animal disease rinderpest, has won a prize in the French Empreintes awards.
  7. I have been learning how to make stained glass windows. My class on a short hiatus before restarting. The design part I find fairly easy, but the practical stuff I find a bit of a ‘pane’. Cutting different thicknesses and types of  lead (I love the name of one – ‘wide heart lead’), cutting glass, sometimes overlaying two lots of glass one on the other, grinding glass, soldering (I’d never done this before), and generally getting my finicky hands dirty, have all challenged me. I love it though. My design was quite complicated, so despite working on it for weeks every Friday morning, it is still not finished. The tutor, Ben Conti, a very patient and skilled man and has not let me compromise my vision. My fellow students all lovely. I’m planning a bench at home.

Below… A workbench snap a few weeks ago. Ben seems to think it will be done one day, but stained glass is, for me, a work of glacial progress…. But once the mammoths have thawed out, it could look nice all buffed up and completed.

fullsizeoutput_1331

Posted in a writer's life, Greece, Marketing, Peter Kenny The Writer Ltd., Publishing, Stained glass, Telltale Press, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Telltale Press finishes on a high

Robin Houghton and Sarah Barnsley and I co-edited TRUTHS: A Telltale Press Anthology,  and we had our big launch. All kinds of marvellous poets who were in the anthology came and read. Sarah, Robin and I introduced the night and also read. Our guests were amazing.

It was emotional, as we are wrapping up Telltale and wanted to do it in a celebratory way and on a high. Telltale now has lots of friends, and I have met some amazing people through it since Robin first approached me with the idea in 2014. I feel I’ve learned how to ‘be’ a poet again from my friends in Telltale, Robin, Sarah, Siegfried and Jess — and Catherine Smith our associate editor. We’ll all do stuff together at some point again, but the experience has been enriching in all kinds of ways.

Below is a photo my wife Lorraine took of the chaotic poet posse in Lewes on 25th April. Deep breath… l to R Louise Tondeur, Jeremy Page, Clare Best, Catherine Smith, me at the back, Sarah Barnsley (kneeling) Jess Mookherjee, Mike Bartholomew-Biggs, Abigail Parry (kneeling), Janet Sutherland, Abegail Morley (with Charlotte Gann hidden behind her d’oh), Stephen Bone, Marion Tracy, John McCullough, Robin Houghton, Judy Brown.

A night to remember.

fullsizeoutput_14b2.jpeg

 

SaveSave

Posted in Poetry, Readings, Telltale Press | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Launching Truths: A Telltale Press Anthology

7:30 Wednesday 25th April
Venue The John Harvey Tavern
Bear Yard (off Cliffe High Street),
Lewes BN7 2AN.

b5985f4b-45ad-4c36-9d1e-5d9ab79487aa

So just a quick note here about the launch of TRUTHS – A Telltale Press Anthology, edited by Sarah Barnsley, Robin Houghton, and myself.  Expect the anthology’s launch to contain readings, a few drinks and much optimism. Frankly this Anthology is far better than I had dared hoped — and it looks beautiful too, with cover art by Hannah Clare.

It is the fruition of conversations Sarah, Robin and I had last Summer about life in a post truth age. Ever since Plato banished poets from his Republic, poetry has had a complex relationship to truth. Poems often arise out of an honest attempt to explore and engage with the world and they express truths that are uncomfortable, because poets have always been in the business of confronting shallow thinking with far a deeper truth.

We have drawn on friends of Telltale to create an enviable list of contributors: Siegfried Baber / Sarah Barnsley / Michael Bartholomew-Biggs / Clare Best / Stephen Bone / Judy Brown / Rishi Dastidar / Helen Fletcher / Charlotte Gann / Robin Houghton / Peter Kenny / Martin Malone / John McCullough / Jessica Mookherjee / Abegail Morley / Katrina Naomi / E.E. Nobbs / Jeremy Page / Abigail Parry / Sue Rose / Catherine Smith / Janet Sutherland / Louise Tondeur / Marion Tracy / Rebecca Violet White.

For more, simply read the Telltale Press blog about it here.

I can’t wait. If you’re able to join us, please do.

Posted in Blowing my own trumpet, Book Launch, Poetry, Telltale Press | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Keeping Guernsey Legends vibrantly alive

Guernsey Legends by Jane Mosse & Frances Lemmon, Blue Ormer Publishing

jane-mosse-and-frances-lemmon

Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon

Screen Shot 2018-03-09 at 14.53.39The stories in the gorgeously-produced Guernsey Legends by Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon are not remote reconstructions from some antique past. One story, about an enormous spectre of a nanny goat, played a real part in my own island childhood. Le Coin de la Biche was a stone’s throw away from my family home on La Rue des Grons. My grandfather always accelerated past this corner at night. Although we used to laugh nervously about La Biche as we sped past, by night a fiery-eyed giant nanny goat leaping out of the hedges certainly seemed possible.

The book’s introduction also mentions Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon’s debt to the peerless Marie De Garis, the author of Folklore of Guernsey (1975).  But the text of Guernsey Legends, contains stories collected by Sir Edgar McCullough and Edith Carey, which were first published in 1903. These stories are then responded to in poetry, by Jane Mosse, and visually, by Frances Lemmon.

It is a huge relief to see we are in such safe hands. Writer Jane Mosse is well known on Guernsey not just as a fine poet, but for championing Guernsey literature, and the memory of G.B. Edwards and The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, the best book written about the island. In this collection Jane Mosse’s poems are typically playful, engaging and full of a folkloric darkness. The effect is often that we are reading rediscovered poems, and Jane Mosse’s conscious use of  anachronisms is particularly effective and sympathetic in rooting themselves into the soil of the original stories.

The Cuckoo is one of these examples, where the poem is almost like reading an old Guernsey spell.

The Cuckoo

When you hear the cuckoo call
Sew you then your wedding shawl.

Count the months before you wed
Head thee to thy marriage bed.

Wedding ring already worn?
Count the years to your first-born.

When you’re agèd list her cry,
Count the years before you die.

This poem about finding a witch caught up in thorns works its magic in the same way.

The Witch in the Hedge

Thorns
tore
at the silken skirt.
Fine tatters
fluttered in the furze,
as the juice of the sloes
leached into her bodice
staining the fragile lace of her shawl.

When old Nicolette
espied the gentlewoman
ensnared by blackthorn,
bleeding midst the brambles
her gentle hands reached
to pluck
barbed spines
from grazed flesh.

Pride wounded,
raven scoop askew,
the hag
spat
out her warning.

‘Hold though thy tongue
speak to no one
lest a single word
of this tale be heard.’

Frances Lemmon is the pre-eminent painter on Guernsey, who unfailingly manages to get to the symbolic heart of the island, with striking compositions that somehow mythologise features of the island. Her style is deceptively simple, employing planes of vibrant colour, and simplified depictions of people and animals. The book is worth its price alone for having collected Lemmon’s stunning and mysterious pictures.

Guernsey Legends is divided into five sections: animals, fairies, magic, rocks and stones, and festivals, and the subject matter is incredibly rich. We learn about an invasion of murderous fairies from the west, drunken (and untrustworthy) Jerseymen who tried to steal Guernsey by hitching a rope to it to, to shape-changing witches and shape-changing rocks and all manner of other matters.

This is a beautiful book. The original stories wonderfully enhanced by Jane Mosse and Frances Lemmon who have gone about teasing out new approaches to the legends with consummate skill. In their hands Guernsey Legends are vibrantly alive, and bring authentic Guernsey folklore to a new generation of readers. This is another timely and excellent publication from Blue Ormer.

Posted in Guernsey, Guernsey Literature, Painters,, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Between beauty and terror

Thus the blue hour comes by Tess Jolly, Indigo Dreams Publishing 

I love Tess Jolly’s poems, and I posted my look at her first collection Touchpapers here. Her latest, Thus the blue hour comes  from Indigo Pamphlets confirmed the promise of her first pamphlet with what is, in my view, a beautifully coherent and even stronger collection.

I saw the collection before it went to print, and was asked for a quote for the back cover. I still stand by what I said then, which was:  The mysterious, almost unnerving, quality of Tess Jolly’s poetry carries a cold fire into recesses of the imagination — and when we dare look with her, we glimpse treasures gleaming in the dark. For, as I noted with her first collection, Tess Jolly’s poetry contains magic. In her poems you will find yourself stumbling into wonder. Frequently too, you’ll encounter a mood of genuine gothic creepiness, where objects are supercharged with a magnetic significance.

4633415429_338x530

In this collection, Tess Jolly employs some traditional symbols, but in a way that makes your hair stained on end. The moon, a symbol freighted with associations and often traditionally associated with the feminine, fertility, and the subconscious mind, is here compared to bone.

                        Moon is no longer moon.
It is a spinal cord of light pulsing dark water

in which the counting sheep have drowned.

(The Night Light)

Bone-shadow, skelton moon,
echo of the beat breaking through me

she settles into the eiderdown –
a bird on its nest – opens
the ragged canopy of its wings.

(Thirteen)

The ‘She’ of the poems takes on many forms, she observes the act of vomiting,

Her favourite view
is of the back
of my head
as seen from above.
Something about the way
my long hair
parts at the neck
movs her
and the sounds I make
when bowed like this –
acidy, guttural –
mothlight catching
the dark little hairs
on my nape
which shines
like cut glass.

(The back of my head as seen from above)

She is intimately aware of changes in the body.

She strokes the bloom of hair on my back.
Praises the absence of blood.

(Little Gannet)

This accumulation of physical details and gaunt, skeletal imagery, strongly suggest that we are dealing with the experience of anorexia. The word anorexia never appears in the collection, however, and the poems achieve a kind of universality in their depiction of a battle for survival and control over a subtle enemy. For there are temptations of this gaunt other:

She throws me diamonds, pearls,
glittering scraps.
Teaches me the art

of make-believe

(Jewels)

The poem The Cliff Path, which I quote in full, is chillingly brilliant. The temptation to follow the path till the end is so evident.

The Cliff Path

She tells me it’s my turn.
I follow her down long corridors
past scapula, clavicle, pelvis, rib

woven into wreaths hanging
on every door, through the trees
onto the cliff path.

Shadows lengthen before us:
creatures disturbed in magic mirrors,
genies summoned from bottles.

I can see the house in the distance,
the ghosts lingering
like breath on its windows.

In my opinion Tess Jolly is one of the UK’s most exciting poets, writing in a way that is full of otherworldly beauty and terror. Her poems remind me of Rilke’s lines from the first of the Duino Elegies:

                                                   For Beauty’s nothing
but the beginning of Terror we’re still able to bear,
and why we adore it so is because it serenely
disdains to destroy us.

(Tr. J.B.Leishman and Steven Spender)

In my view, Tess Jolly walks the tightrope strung between beauty and terror with absolute bravura.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment