Friday, October 14, 2005

Prynne and Dandy

I keep sneaking the odd look at JH Prynne, and wondering why I don't find him in the least bit conducive. I'm reasonably open to a lot of modernist and post-modernist poetry; but I can't warm to his poetry. Maybe if I have a really good go at, give him space, etc etc... But, while I sometimes find bits and pieces uncannily beautiful, I'm not sure I really want to engage at a really deep level with him.

Which is probably terrible; how can I just dismiss him like that? I can read, and love, Tom Raworth's equally difficult poetry. I love the work of Geraldine Monk, and a lot of other so-called post-avants. If anything I prefer to read the post-avants or poets influenced by them to poets of the School of Quietude. I'm probably not thinking hard enough for Prynne. Well, so be it.

I read a comment recently about poets who just write lots of poetry and never sit down and write criticism and reviews and such. It was a remark made by someone form the Philly Free School blog. They were saying it's not a good thing; except I know a lot of people who are like that. They don't write reviews and they don't write critique, sometimes because they aren't confident of their own views, sometimes because they don't want to be unduly influenced by someone else.

The second objection can be easily dealt with. Writers should be unduly influenced. They should be obsessed by poetry - maybe not to the extent that Ron Silliman is, recieving as he does hundreds of books a year - and they should be widely read and interested in things outside of their own artform too. Whether this be the news, or visual art, or music, or philosophy, or the language of conversation, there should be things going on in their heads beyond the details of their personal lives.

Louis MacNeice said something to that effect when he said that poets should be readers of newspapers. They don't have to be drily intellectual, or to be experts in this or that, just interested. Open to influence. Open, in fact, to the world. Otherwise, what are you going to write about except yourself? And after a while, that just gets boring. In fact, you get bored with yourself.

I've got sidetracked from Prynne, I guess. Which is what happens when I read him, so that's OK.


Scalljah said...

I too didn't go a bundle on Prynne, but Monk and Alan Halsey I did. I sense that these were "genuine" voices, in that there work didn't read as deeply impenetrable and po faced. It is easy for duffers to allign themselves to the avant-garde, and then con themselves that the writing they come up with is not the disjointed nonsense their critics could suggest, but highly complex poetry. And the more educated the freaky form poetaster the more boring and tedious their defence; like a poor wo/mans Yeats or Graves, juggling the million pieces of their grand poetic theory, forming a pattern non one but they and their similarly talented colleagues in the pomo game profess to understand.

I was lucky becuase having Robert Sheppard as my poetry tutor, meant I was close up to the avant form, and the most important piece of learning I took from the experience was to trust your own judgement. I remember having a Phd student teach us in the second year, just as the tyrue light of learning had been switched on. We started that year's poetry class with the Gary Snyder poem "what you should know to be a poet", with the crucial lines being

"fuck all the celestial hags....ride the devils horny cock"

which, outside the context of being in a Snyder poem, is just what the avaerage person would label as filth talk. Looking back I can see that we were being taught throughout the three years in a heavy lingo-innivative environment; there was no-one in the normal cannons, which was probably the best way I could have gone, as my natural voice is more alligned to yielding up simple poems that affirm my belief in the goodness of the world. Sacred poetry I suppose would be the ultimate end thought of where I could come to rest if left in a boxed world with no outside influences. When I asked the Phd guy about meter, a look of fear came over his face and he blathered some nonsense, basically trying to palm off his ignorance of meter into a justification of it bearing no relevance in contemporary poetry, which only served as the spur I needed to set me on the road to acquiring metrical compositional ability.

However I also tried to keep an open mind on the stuff we were exposed to, which would have been the top end stuff of the avant garde. I couldn't absorb most of it, and wondred if this was a sign of my thickness or, as my instinct was saying, a sign that what I was reading was not acheiving, what Heaney would call, "boyuancy"; dead words on a page which appear in a book and fox the gullible into accepting it as art.

The first avant poet who hit it for me was Mayakovsky, long dead compared to most of the other moderns, but his work had a quality that all the original stuff in avant mode has, it was highly readable even though it didn't follow the narrative norm. What I was seeing was language laid on the page by instinctual creative processes unconcerned with fitting in a "recognisable" mould of poetry. Next up was Baraka and a few others; Bernstein and one or two more. I saw that they the problem the "straight" readers of poetry have with lingo-innovative is not seeing the few good bright voices in among the wealth of dross; and whilst this word may be considered a bit strong, I use it knowing that I have conquered and acquired the langpo compositional method.

I put my stuff in this genre out on the As/Is blog, and during my time there have honed my skills to a point of being one of the two best depositing there.

I know I am blowing my own trumpet, but what I say is true. Writing in this genre is a worthwhile activity and I would advocate all poets try their hand at it.

The problem with avant poetic theory (and wider general poetic theory) is that everyone wants a grand theory, and equate complexity of thought with nearness to truth, whereas I would go the other way. I remeber meeting a guy in a coffee shop in Holborn and we were having a deep discussion about the meaning of life. He said something that stayed with me, as that encounter was two strangers meeting in a bar and, on my part at least, being completely honest with each other in a refreshing way that one cannot be with those close to them.

He said

"If your instinct feels its not right, then it probably isn't"

This was before I was educated and since getting my brain engaged this is a sentiment that has deepened almost to an article of faith. Yeats had his vision and Graves his White Godess book, two texts of such complexity that it would take any one tweo days just to crank their mind up top holding all the pieces of information, written as their life's central poetic argument of why what they say is so. But there texts are like someone juggling a million jigsaw pieces in the air and trying to to convince us that

"if this and this and this and this happen, then this and this, but not that with blah blah blah."

It is just too difficult to comprehend, and my instinct sniffs bullshit, even though the authors may hold believe they are genuine.

I have recently found a 7C text attributed to Amergin, which has a far more accessible central poetic, and bearing in mind this text originates from the middle of the bardic school period when generations of poets had gone through a now dissapeared poetic landscape, steeped in the real thing, it is far more logical to put store in that than all the new age hipsters giving it the big one about why XY and C will turn to AB and C when such a thing and this and that occur. The Amergin text is appears in a 12 C grammatical text on the Irish labguage, which some speculate was a stable in the bardic schools. It is called Auraicept Na N-eces: The Scholars' Primer and was translated by George Calder in 1917.

In the course of the text Amergins poem "The Cauldron of Posey" appears and, when broken down makes perfect sense. This poem says that not everyone is born with the poetic gift, even if your father was an oollamh, this means jack squat, as the poetic gift is only in every other person. The poem says we all have 3 cauldrons in us, and the cauldron of poetry is on its lips in every other person, eg upside down, so it can't contain any of the creative spirit. So 50% of all people are capable of becoming good poets.

In those who have the gift the cauldron is born tilted and in order to reach the level where you acquire the "greatest streams" of poetry, the cauldron has to be moved from slanted, say 45 degrees, to upright. What tips the cauldron upright is exposure to great joy, and great sorrow, so the wider life you lead the more your cauldron tips upright and you are able to express the higher flights.

This is well worth a look at and here is the link to a translation of it.

Steven Waling said...

Apart from wondering what a "genuine voice"* is I like a lot of what you say here. I'll look up Amergin when I find the time.

* cf Ron Padgett's Voice: "I want to remain a phony all my life."