I recently went to Prague for a holiday, and have so far written 4 poems as a result. It was interesting, then to read Geraldine Monk's poems in Noctavigations, a wonderful book from West House Books. She mentions some of the things that I saw and experienced and others I didn't - though I saw Hotel Europa I never went in, for instance. She gets the dark atmosphere of the place down really well, and manages to incorporate the history of it in a way I haven't:
Darkly clever jokes fill darker
pubs at weedle-ends glace cherryful eyes
stain-cults of fine bohemian isinglass
intensely lumes from nooks
older than digged up roman teeth.
- it wasn't a million years ago miners used fishskins
for light in tin mines in-ingland -
but if Chamberlain sold them down
a more beautiful
hard to be sold down
But the next part of the sequence I have a problem with. It's just as good as the rest; but it's called (Golem Watch) - and I think hmmm, bit obvious that. It's a bit like going to Blackpool and saying Oh look, it has a tower! There's two things I've avoided writing about in Prague: the Golem and Kafka, both of which are so representative of the city that they've become part of the tourist trail. It's that thing that sometimes happens when you go somewhere and want to write about it; you end up writing tourist poems. This is an exceptionally good tourist poem, written using very linguistically innovative methods derived from Olson et al; but it doesn't really add to anything we didn't know about Prague.
This is the only reservation I have too with Iain Sinclair's White Chappel Scarlet Tracings: he goes to the East End and lo and behold, the ghost of Jack the Ripper pops up his head. Not that you shouldn't write about these things; but I suspect that the reason Olson wrote about Gloucester and Williams wrote about Patterson was because they were not well-known places with lots of familiar stories told about them. The poems bring forth something new about places not something that's been written over thousands of times.
In both cases (Sinclair's and Monk's) the writings themselves overcome my reservations, and there's plenty of other good stuff in Noctavigations; such as a poem with Jeremy Paxman interviewing Faustus. There's a lot of invention in the book; she mixes dialect with standard English, neologises and deconstructs language with abandon. I recommend it.
THE MOTHER OF ALL WEEKS
4 days ago