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DAVID KENNEDY - SUMMER 2002 FEATURE  

The Cortland Review

FEATURE

Sharon Olds
Best American Poetry on the Air: An interview and reading with American Poet Sharon Olds. David Lehman hosts this special audio program.

Dick Allen
A Day in the Life of Dick Allen: Lines, images, rhythms, and cross outs.

David Kennedy
Voiceprints (Part 2) - Poetry on CD and Cassette: David Kennedy continues to explore the magical relationship between poetry and voice.

John Kinsella
Extracts from Letters London to Perth-June/July 1993: Sobriety, logic, unbridled passion and lust, all in the latest chapter of John Kinsella's autobiographical series.

David Kennedy

David Kennedy was born in Leicester, England, in 1959. He co-edited The New Poetry (Bloodaxe Books, 1993) and is the author of New Relations: The Refashioning Of British Poetry 1980-1994 (Seren, 1996). A selection of translations from Max Jacob's surrealist classic, Le Cornet à Dés (The Dice Cup), in collaboration with Christopher Pilling, was published by Atlas in January, 2001. Cornell: A Circuition Around His Circumambulation is forthcoming from West House Books. David lives in Sheffield and is a contributing editor to The Cortland Review.
David Kennedy - Voiceprints (Part II)

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Voiceprints - Poetry on CD and Cassette
Part II

(continued from Part I, published in our Spring 2002 Feature)


Bloodaxe's Poetry Quartets may be rather mixed but their double cassette of Basil Bunting reading "Briggflatts" and other poems deserves unreserved praise. Bunting (1900-85) is now acknowledged as one of the most important twentieth-century British poets. He was regarded as a major poet by figures such as Pound and Zukofsy but then largely disappeared from view until the mid-1960's when the publication of "Briggflatts" brought him wide recognition. The poem has five sections and a coda and generally follows the order of the seasons. It begins in the poet's native Northumbria with a portrayal of young love, details the protagonist's wanderings in London and Europe, and then returns to the poet's native land via Persian myth and Northumbrian history. The coda works through a series of questions which seem to gesture simultaneously towards the smallness of human experience and its vast incomprehensibility. "Briggflatts" is quite unlike anything else in twentieth-century British poetry:

Rain rinses the road,
the bull streams and laments.
Sour rye porridge from the hob
with cream and black tea,
meat, crust and crumb.
Her parents in bed
the children dry their clothes.
He has untied the tape
of her striped flannel drawers
before the range. Naked
on the pricked rag mat
his fingers comb
thatch of his manhood's home.

The Bloodaxe recording is the best way to meet Bunting for the first time. To hear him read is to understand the full force of his phrasing and rhythms and to encounter something that is at once English and something else entirely. This, one feels, is perhaps how the Gawain poet might have sounded. American readers new to Bunting are also directed to a useful account of "Briggflatts" in Keith Tuma's Fishing By Obstinate Isles: Modern and Postmodern British Poetry and American Readers (Northwestern University Press,1998).

Poetry that is at once English and something else entirely is also to be found on the CD The Jewel Box / The Treisur Kist / Seudan: Contemporary Scottish Poems. The Scottish poet and critic Robert Crawford has observed that "In Scotland we live between and across languages. Anyone who stays here and is interested in the spoken or the written word is constantly aware of being on the edge of another tongue [...] Few Scottish people are totally monolingual". The Jewel Box features thirty-eight poets working in English, Scots, Gaelic and Shetland dialect and comes with a booklet which prints all the poems—with translations where appropriate—and gives brief biographies of the poets. The CD covers traditional and non-mainstream work: everything from love lyrics to sound poetry, from senior figures like Iain Crichton Smith (1928-1998), Gael Turnbull (b.1928) and Tessa Ransford (b.1938), and the younger generation (born c.1957-1966), like Richard Price and Kathleen Jamie. I'm not sure it was a good idea to have so many poets represented by a single poem, but The Jewel Box is a pleasant way to discover the variety of contemporary Scottish poetry and is an excellent value at £8.99.

I'll conclude with some individual voices. Jim Bennett's CD Down in Liverpool comprises twenty-seven poems and four songs. The poems are generally of the type called 'performance,' i.e. they rhyme, are energetic and often very funny as in "Loss, Age-ing and Hair Loss" with its refrain, "you can't be a hippie when your hair falls out". However, this track also highlights the fact that although it was published last year, the CD is a very self-conscious attempt to recreate the 1960's. The style of the poems, their subjects and their presentation inevitably evoke the famous Liverpool Poets—Roger McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri —as well as other less memorable British attempts to copy the Beats and Allen Ginsberg. Down in Liverpool is perfectly pleasant and amusing, but it's difficult to imagine its target audience. Those who were young in the 1960's will prefer the real thing and have their own memories, while those born after that decade will not have much grasp of what it was all about. Down in Liverpool perhaps reminds us that apparently historical types of poetry and song never really go away and are still available for those who want them.

Mouthpuller is a CD which features Irish poets Maurice Scully and Randolph Healy who belong to what the critic Alex Davis has called the "neo-avant-garde tendency in recent Irish poetry". Other poets in this so-called "tendency" include Trevor Joyce, Catherine Walsh and Billy Mills. These writers may generally be said to take their bearings from a cosmopolitan, "experimental" strain in Irish literature which perhaps begins with Joyce and Beckett but includes more neglected figures such as Brian Coffey, Thomas MacGreevey and Denis Devlin. To put this another way, this is poetry that is not self-consciously Irish or even Oirish. The term "neo-avant-garde" is not especially useful, but I think that Davis just means to describe a body of work which is innovative and experimental, but not to the point of being impenetrable: innovation, in other words, that does not take its eye off the reader. Mouthpuller includes generous selections from both poets. Healy is particularly well-represented by the sequence "Scales", which is also available from his own Wild Honey Press as a beautifully produced chapbook. Keith Tuma has spoken of Healy's poetry as having an "overt investment in a discourse of potentiality", and this is manifest in the way "Scales" collages fragments of philosophy, puns, mishearings, snatches of lyric, and even lengthy quotations from an embalming manual. If, as the Scottish poet Don Paterson has remarked, a poem is "a little machine for remembering itself", then what "Scales" remembers is that it is all too easy to find oneself, in the words of section I, "noticing the noticing but not the means". "Noticing the means" brings an awareness that no one form of language—lyric poetry for example—can offer unique insights into the world and our place in it. Maurice Scully's work I have found less engaging on the page, but his reading here really brings it alive. Scully once wrote that "A poem is beautiful to the degree it records an apt humility in the face of the complexity it sees but fails to transmit, doubting its presumption to exist in the light of that". What this means in practice is that Scully's poetry is a mix of lyric tunings, concrete-like riffs and patterns and plain observation of the rural and the urban which is made intriguing and compelling by his detached but insistent reading style. The subject of this poetry is perhaps a powerful sense of the world's patterns—as in references here to crystals and branch tangles—and the faithful recording of the fact that perception is always being interrupted by perception itself. Anyone who wants to know what is happening in Irish poetry should buy this CD.

Neither the One nor the Other, by Frances Presley and Elizabeth James, results from a "collaboration [...] conducted by e-mail, during the financial year 1998-1999". The recording is accompanied and interspersed with piano music from Williams Morris. The CD begins with a kind of skirmish between two distinct voices—James, amused and amusing always looking for the next pun, and Presley, more measured and meditative, using a recognisable "poetic" discourse—but quickly modulates into an explorative dance. There are threads derived from cultural objects such as Angela Carter's book The Sadeian Woman and the recent film about Queen Victoria, Mrs. Brown, as well as variations on phrases and sentences and a return to ideas of the maternal. These are serious concerns, but they are presented here in a playful and often exuberant manner. Neither the One... is a fine example of poetry as a way of behaving in language and in the world.

Finally, a couple of rather unusual items: Interpoesia is a CD-ROM featuring the work of two Brazilian poets, Philadelpho Menezes and Wilton Azevedo. "Interpoesia" or "interpoetry" is a term invented to describe both the fact that the work on the CD is interactive and that it exemplifies an exploration of what Menezes and Azevedo call the "intersign", i.e. work that crosses and combines genres. Interpoesia contains manifestoes, graphics, video clips and soundfiles. It is a kind of environment to wander around in. I'm not sure it's poetry exactly, but it does suggest one way in which art may be made in the new century.

Thomas Lovell Beddoes: Poems & Songs features Alan Halsey and Geraldine Monk reading from an almost-forgotten, early nineteenth-century poet who can be said to represent the third and final stage of English Romanticism. Beddoes was the author of an enormous, unperformed Gothic tragedy called "Death's Jest-Book", a revenge tragedy whose central event is the raising of a body from the grave. Beddoes's interest for the modern reader is located in his emphasis on sound and rhythm and his mix of the extremes of melancholy and humour. Like Schubert's last symphony, "Death's Jest-Book" was never finished. The comparison is instructive because Beddoes's poetry, like Schubert's musical language, is pushing beyond the limits of its age and developing a new idiom without realising it. It's not surprising, therefore, to find Beddoes mentioned in Pound's "Cantos" or to learn that he has influenced John Ashbery:

Lady, was it fair of thee
To seem so passing fair to me?
    Not every star to every eye
        Is fair; and why
Art thou another's share?
    Did thine eyes shed brighter glances,
Thine unkissed bosom heave more fair,
    To his than to my fancies?


In conclusion, I was surprised by the sheer range of poetry available on CD and cassette and also disappointed by how invisible most of it is. With the exception of the Bloodaxe cassettes, everything reviewed here was brought to my attention by excited listeners or by the poets themselves contacting me. The invisibility of recorded poetry is disappointing because, in the case of Our Souls Have Grown Deep Like The Rivers, for example, a wide audience is being denied access to a wonderful archive and resource. In the case of Mouthpuller or Neither The One Nor The Other, the sheer quality and originality of the work merit wide attention. I hope this selective survey will set you off in search of new sounds and new voices. We are finally living in the future when everyone can have a poet or two in their own home.

 


CDs and cassettes in this article:
[Note that where no running time is shown none is given on the recording]

Going Down Swinging: PO Box 24, Clifton Hill, Victoria, AUSTRALIA 3068 and gds@vicnet.net.au. AUS$25 for two issues.

Seeing Voices: New Zealand Poets Reading. Auckland University Press / Atoll Ltd. Running Time: 73 minutes. NZ$20.00. Available from: Atoll Ltd, PO Box 99309, Newmarket, Auckland 5, New Zealand and atoll@atoll.co.nz. UK readers should contact Harold Moores, Covent Garden, London and http://www.hmrecords.co.uk

Blackfellas Whitefellas Wetlands. AUS$15.00 plus postage and packing. Order from: wetlands@nudgeebheec.qld.edu.au.

Our Souls Have Grown Deep Like The Rivers: Black Poets Read Their Work. Rhino WordBeat R2 78012. Distributed by Warner Music. RRP US$29.98. USA distribution only or order via Amazon.

Poetry Quartet 6: Moniza Alvi, Michael Donaghy, Anne Stevenson, George Szirtes. Bloodaxe Books. ISBN 1 85224 5190. Running Time: 109 minutes. £11.75.

Poetry Quartet 7: John Burnside, W.N. Herbert, Liz Lochhead, Don Paterson. Bloodaxe Books. ISBN 1 85224 5204. Running Time: 114 minutes. £11.75

Basil Bunting. Briggflatts & other poems. Bloodaxe Books. ISBN 1 85224 528 X. Running Time: 121 minutes. £9.95.

The Jewel Box: Contemporary Scottish Poems. The Scottish Poetry Library. ISBN 0 9532235 1 5. Running Time: 48 minutes. £8.99. Available from bookshops or via The Scottish Poetry Library at http://www.spl.org.uk

Jim Bennett: Down in Liverpool
. Long Neck Media COMD2083. Available from the author at: jim@bennett11.freeserve.co.uk. Alternatively, the whole CD may be accessed and purchased by visiting http://www.mp3fm.co.uk. £8.99

Maurice Scully and Randolph Healy: Mouthpuller. Coelacanth/Wild Honey Press. ISBN 1 903090 23 7. Available direct from: Randolph Healy, Wild Honey Press, 16a Ballyman Road, Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland. £10 + £1.50 p&p, although Randolph tells me this is highly negotiable. So, to negotiate mail Randolph at suantrai@iol.ie.

Readers interested in the 'neo-avant-garde tendency in recent Irish poetry' should note that Wild Honey Press publishes beautifully produced chapbooks by many of the Irish writers mentioned in this article. A useful critical introduction can be found in several essays in The Journal no 2 available from: Billy Mills, hardPressed Poetry, Shanbally Road, Annacotty, Co. Limerick, Ireland.

Frances Presley and Elizabeth James: Neither the One nor the Other. Available from: Form Books, c/o Harry Gilonis, 86c Corbel Street, London SW11 3NY, UK or harry@192.168.21.20. Costs inc p&p are £3.00 for the book or £5.00 for the book and CD. Cheques payable to Harry Gilonis.

Interpoesia is currently out of print but will soon be republished. Details may be had from Jorge Luiz Antonio at: jlantonio@uol.com.br.

Thomas Lovell Beddoes: Poems & Songs can be purchased from Alan Halsey at: alan@nethedge.demon.co.uk or 40 Crescent Road, Nether Edge, Sheffield S7 1HN, UK. £5.00 plus p&p.
 

 

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© 2002 The Cortland Review