Tag Archives: blanchot

Slow poetry part three

The work of mourning

In the work of mourning it is not grief that works, grief keeps watch
In the work of mourning it is not grief that works, grief keeps watch
In the work of mourning it is not grief that works, grief keeps watch

In the work of morning it is not grief that functions, grief keeps watch
In the work of morning it is not grief that functions, grief keeps watch
In the work of morning it is not grief that functions, grief keeps watch

In the toil of mourning, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps watch
In the toil of mourning, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps watch
In the toil of mourning, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps watch

In the toil of mourning, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps vigil
In the toil of mourning, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps vigil
In the toil of mourning, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps vigil

In the toil of deep regret, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps vigil
In the toil of deep regret, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps vigil
In the toil of deep regret, it is not grief that functions, grief keeps vigil

In the toil of deep regret, it is not grief that operates, grief keeps vigil
In the toil of deep regret, it is not grief that operates, grief keeps vigil
In the toil of deep regret, it is not grief that operates, grief keeps vigil

In the abject drudgery of deep regret it is not grief that operates, grief keeps vigil
In the abject drudgery of deep regret it is not grief that operates, grief keeps vigil
In the abject drudgery of deep regret it is not grief that operates, grief keeps vigil

In the abject drudgery of deep regret it is not grief that operates, grief stays awake
In the abject drudgery of deep regret it is not grief that operates, grief stays awake
In the abject drudgery of deep regret it is not grief that operates, grief stays awake

i.m. Patrick Doherty

We never did find the bullet that entered Patsy’s right buttock
We didn’t really look for  the bullet that entered Patsy’s right buttock
We may have hidden the bullet that entered Patsy’s right buttock

We searched high and low for the bullet that penetrated Patsy’s right ilio-sacral joint
It was never in our interests to find  the bullet that penetrated Patsy’s right ilio-sacral joint
We may have disposed of  the bullet that penetrated Patsy’s right ilio-sacral joint

We all went to look for the bullet  that entered Patsy’s abdominal cavity
We scoured the ground in our search for  the bullet  that entered Patsy’s abdominal cavity
The bullet  that entered Patsy’s abdominal cavity will never come to light

We never did come across the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s aorta
We didn’t really search for the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s aorta
We may have secreted away the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s aorta

We never did find the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s inferior vena cava
We didn’t really look for the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s inferior vena cava
We may have hidden the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s inferior vena cava

We searched high and low for the high velocity round that lacerated the two main blood vessels in Patsy’s abdomen
It was never in our interests to find the high velocity round that lacerated the two main blood vessels in Patsy’s abdomen
We may have disposed of the high velocity round that lacerated the two main blood vessels in Patsy’s abdomen

We weren’t that bothered about the high velocity round that tore through Patsy’s bowel and colon attachments
We never did find the high velocity round that tore through Patsy’s bowel and colon attachments
We searched high and low for the high velocity round that tore through Patsy’s bowel and colon attachments

We may have found and the disposed of the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s diaphragm
It was never in our interests to find and retain the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s diaphragm
We searched high and low for the bullet that lacerated Patsy’s diaphragm

We never located the bullet that entered Patsy’s left chest cavity
We may have hidden or otherwise discarded the bullet that entered Patsy’s left chest cavity
We don’t have the bullet that entered Patsy’s left chest cavity

We searched high and low for the high velocity round that lacerated the lower outer part of Patsy’s left lung
It was never in our interests to produce to this Inquiry the high velocity round that lacerated the lower outer part of Patsy’s left lung
We left no stone unturned in our search for the high velocity round that lacerated the lower outer part of Patsy’s left lung

We never did find the bullet that fractured Patsy’s eighth left rib
We don’t have the bullet that fractured Patsy’s eighth left rib
We may once have had what was left of the bullet that fractured Patsy’s eighth left rib

We searched high and low for the bullet that fractured Patsy’s ninth left rib
We may have hidden or otherwise discarded for the bullet that fractured Patsy’s ninth left rib
It was never in our interests to produce to this or any other Inquiry for the bullet that fractured Patsy’s ninth left rib

We never did locate the bullet that left Patsy’s body through the left side of the chest, well below and somewhat in front of the armpit.
We never really tried to find  the bullet that left Patsy’s body through the left side of the chest, well below and somewhat in front of the armpit.
We searched high and low for  the bullet that left Patsy’s body through the left side of the chest, well below and somewhat in front of the armpit.

Because I still like him

Because I still like him, I can foresee the disappointment of the bad reader
Because I still like him, I can foresee the disappointment of the bad reader
Because I still like him, I can foresee the disappointment of the bad reader
Because I still like him, I can foresee the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still like him, I can foresee the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still like him, I can foresee the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can foresee the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can foresee the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can foresee the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the exasperation of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of the bad reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of the poor reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of the poor reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of the poor reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I still need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I can anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t anticipate the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t value the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t value the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t value the impatience of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t value the anger of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t value the anger of  my poor reader
Because I must need  him, I don’t value the anger of  my poor reader
Because I may love him, I don’t value the anger of  my poor reader
Because I may love him, I don’t value the anger of  my poor reader
Because I may love him, I don’t value the anger of  my poor reader
Because I may love him, I don’t diminish the anger of  my poor reader
Because I may love him, I don’t diminish the anger of  my poor reader
Because I must love him, I don’t diminish the anger of  my poor reader
Because I must love him, I don’t diminish the anger of  my wrong reader
Because I still love him, I don’t ignore the rage of my wrong reader
Because there is love and anger  between us, we don’t read as we should.

 

Slow poetry: a manifesto

Whilst trying to earn some money this week, I’ve also been thinking about the poem that I published here a few days ago and wondering whether this particular vein should be pursued. Positive feedback from Jim Kleinhenz and my daughter makes me think that it might be worthwhile but as working with repetition and small changes is new to me, I thought I’d put a few thoughts down before I progress any further with the material.

This started when I was listening to Laurence Crane on Radio 3 last week.  He was being interviewed as a way of introducing each piece. In the introduction to ‘Ethiopian Middle Distance Runners’ he said that he was interested in repetition and the effect of small changes and also in the way that these changes can still carry something of the original. My immediate response was to groan inwardly because I’m not usually fond of this level of austere abstraction.

The piece was then broadcast and I listened whilst trying (again) to write something interesting about Bloody Sunday. about two or three minutes into the piece I found I was listening intently to the repetition  and waiting for the change to occur. The pen was then put down and I gave the rest of the piece my full attention.

Things then began to fall into place quite quickly, I recdognised that repetition and small changes could be used in verse to produce similar effects. I’d had a line running through my head- ‘we don’t die enough’ that I’d absorbed and adapted from Blanchot and started to make a few notes. I have to say that I was pleased with the result because it provided a ‘use’ for the line and also pointed to other possibilities. I then tried to be a bit more ambitious with a description of a wound taken from the original Bloody Sunday pathology reports and developed that using less repetition and more complex changes to the line. I found this satisfying to do primarily because I was working with language in a different way and because the ‘technique’ seemed quite straightforward.

I then read the two pieces aloud and had a bit of a panic as to whether they should only be read aloud or printed on the page as well. I then found that I had a need to put these initial efforts on this blog- something I haven’t done for many months and that this need wasn’t so much about getting a reaction but more about display for it’s own sake- I still haven’t made sense of this impulse.

That’s by way of a longish introduction to a manifesto on what I’ve decided to call ‘slow poetry’. I think that this has two main strands-

  1. the use of repetition to encourage greater attention and to provide emphasis- a kind of incantation;
  2. the use of small changes to demonstrate (indicate) the complex relationship between the words and ‘sense’

There are a couple of other provisos, the first is that the initial line has to be quite strong, by this I mean that it has to gain and hold the reader’s interest and that it has to hold the potential for development. The second proviso is that things when modified shouldn’t become too complex or busy. The third is that the piece needs to end properly and that the last line requires as much thought as the first.

These have all come to light since I’ve started to see what repetition can do. I’ve also discovered the joys of appropriation, in working out ‘strong’ first lines I’ve found that it is feasible/reasonable to plunder bits of philosophy and to subject these to repetition and modification. I’ve done something with a line (which is almost an aside) from Derrida’s ‘La carte postale’ which has led me to think quite hard about this line in particular and what Rorty says  that Derrida’s doing with this  tome.  The good thing about slow poetry is that I’ve been able to work through very very gradually what might be going on. I’ve also discovered that appropriation is misnamed, it is much more about selection than theft.

There is also the documentary aspect, I have on my hard drive many of the witness statements provided to the Saville Inquiry and twenty or so of these describe one particular event in many different ways. I’ve been using some of these differences to experiment with what language does to sense described above. This has been immensely rewarding because I’ve spent 18 months using the ‘superabundant’ approach  to achieve the same effect and this minimal approach seems so much cleaner and more disciplined.

Bloody Sunday is important to me for several reasons and one of the things that it shows is how complicated and fragile the witness / knowledge / proof / judgement  process actually is and that this fragility undermines our notions of knowledge and ‘truth’. What slow poetry gives me is an opportunity to demonstrate this in a reasonably compelling way.

I’m very encouraged by Jim’s response primarily because he’s a very accomplished poet who gives a great deal of thought to what he writes. Both Jim and my daughter throw up ways of thinking about this stuff that I haven’t considered and will need to incorporate in the near future. I’m also intrigued to see Jim’s use of repetition on his blog this week.

The other thing that comes to mind is that I’ve spent this week thinking more about language (in all its forms) and less about poetry……. I also feel the need to post more of this stuff.

Prynne, Unanswering Rational Shore, and Paul Celan

The previous post went on a bit with regard to my new-found enthusiasm for the above poem (URS) and took issue with Michael Grant for making things more complex than they actually are. This is going to be an illustration of where complexity may be appropriate. I’ve recently amended the arduity page on ambiguity with regard to what Celan said about “ambiguity without a mask” and this has led me to consider whether there are closer similarities between Prynne and Celan than I’d previously recognised.
I want to start with a couple of quotes from Prynne’s “Difficulties in the translation of “Difficult” Poetry” because these seem to set out a view with regard to ambiguity:

A reader can move slowly through dense compositions of this kind, and pauses at moments of choice can enrich the activity of reading; it’s not necessary all the time to make precise decisions, because uncertainty may be intrinsic, to the text and its internal connections to its method of thought.

and-

But in a larger context within a poem a less “probable” may also open a semantic possibility that can give the overall meaning a richer sense, even (or especially) by irony or contradiction, so that often a very wide range of different senses can be found to be active and having an effect, maybe on different levels or discoverable in different stages of the poem’s development.

I think I’ve probably written about these passages before but now I want to add Celan into the mix. Before I do this I have to say that I recognise that it’s important for me to identify similarities between these two poets and I’m trying hard to avoid any wishful thinking but sometimes affinities hit me in the face and can’t be ignored.
Earlier this week I was doing Eliot and Jarvis avoidance behaviour and picked up an essay on Celan’s ‘Solve’ and ‘Coagula’ by Anders Olsson which spends a lot of time describing the ‘Rosa’ ambiguities in Coagula. In the course of this description Olsson quotes Celan in conversation with Hugo Huppert:

And as regards my alleged encodings, I would rather say: ambiguity without a mask, is expresses precisely my feeling for cutting across ideas, an overlapping of relationships. You are of course familiar with the manifestation of interference, coherent waves meeting and relating to one another. You know of dialectic conversions and reversals – transitions into something akin, something succeeding, even something contradictory. That is what my ambiguity (only at certain turning-points, certain axes of rotation present) is about. It stands in consideration to the fact that we can observe several facets in one thing, showing it from various angles, “breaks” and “divisions” which are by no means only illusory. I try to recapitulate in language at least fractions of this spectral analysis of things: related, succeeding, contradictory. Because, unfortunately, I am unable to show these things from a comprehensive angle.

I would argue that these two positions aren’t miles apart and that both Celan are interested displaying “several facets in one thing” and in setting up contradictions and ruptures within the verse in an attempt to show things “as they are”. One of the first things that I noticed about Prynne is the way he uses words to mean two (or three) things at once but I hadn’t (in forty years of reading) drawn the same conclusion about Celan – I’d joined in the spirited debate of what certain phrases may allude to but hadn’t considered that ‘Todtnauberg’ may be deliberately ambivalent or that ‘temple pincers’ could mean three things at the same time.
This does not mean that each poem is an open text and we are free to read whatever we want into it. Both Prynne and Celan seem to be setting up a variety of possibilities and inviting us to consider (at quite a deep level) the relationships between them.
Before proceeding to Prynne, I’d like to go into the ‘Rosa’ problem in more detail. Olsson offers four different identities for Rosa;
1. A figure from early Christian mysticism;
2. Rosa Luxemburg;
3. Rosa Leibovici;
4. The maid from Kafka’s ‘Country Doctor’
Pier Joris translates the poem as:

Your wound
too, Rosa

And the hornslight of your
Romanian buffaloes
in star’s stead above the
sandbed, in the
talking, red-
ember-mighty
alembic.

I’ll skip over the fact that I have four completely different translations of the last two lines and point out that the first and the fourth Rosas listed above seem a bit tenuous and that the two ‘real’ women do fit better with the Romanian buffaloes, especially as there doesn’t seem any other good reason for having these particular beasts in the poem. Luxemburg wrote a letter to a friend from prison which describes how these animals were abused as beasts of burden by the Germans. The second “real” Rosa had a short affair with Celan in 1940 and she came from Moldavia, the home of the buffaloes. The other two could of course be intended, as facets of the same thing, but we’d need to be more confident about the subject matter of both poems before that ‘thing’ could be identified, taking into account the Jewish mysticism alluded to in “Solve”.
Now, in contrast, here’s one of the more complex bits of “URS”:

Before this the custom of granite replicates
trademark parry for money, feel the stirring
of an earthly emotion on a fling. Hold still over,
time to strut and fret, you the debonair chicks
grabbing a tartlet, on a fashion spree. Licit
banter for an ardency to file acrostic intermission
as thousands would, the cynosure up to snuff

making steps on a hot station. Thereat hitherto both
under the chassis, checking off the empty cockpit
or the milk run see how, see where on balance
the main chance is blank and chancred so truly
in the hard morning light. Take a flutter it’s
about time vacant on either side, embroidered over
with excused panels advising early redemption.

Let me say at the outset that I have not one clue as to what this might be about but that doesn’t matter too much because all I want to do is point out the various ambiguities and how they might relate to each other.
The first problem is to identify which phrases/words are intended to be ambiguous and which aren’t. Fairly obvious candidates for intentional ambiguity are:
file acrostic intermission
the milk run
custom of granite
a hot station
it’s about time
a fashion spree
excused panels.
The candidates for being read ‘straight’ are:
parry for money
strut and fret
debonair chicks
an ardency
the hard morning light.
With the rest somewhere in between. As well as ambiguity there’s also what might be a number of allusions- does “time vacant on either side” refer to ‘Plant Time Manifold’ and to Whitehead? Is “the hard morning light” a nod towards Blanchot’s “unchanging morning light”? I suggest this because I’m still being mesmerised by most things Blanchot and because the previous poem in the sequence contains the word ‘demise’ which is a Blanchot word – as in “demise writing”.
There’s several other things of interest going on. Nobody uses either “debonair” or “chicks” in everyday speech any more (do they?) so I take it that the tone of the phrase is meant to be either ironic or sarcastic. “tartlet” is a bit odd unless he’s quoting, aren’t tartlets a Victorian confection? Or, is tartlet being used in a more pejorative sense? “Fashion spree” completely eludes me, it sounds as if it should make sense until I try to explain it to myself although there seems to be a bit of a fit with “strut and fret” in the previous line.
The search for ambiguity (and contradiction) is further compounded by the use of demotic speech and by whatever “thereat hitherto both” may allude to.
The next step will involve working through the above ambiguities in conjunction with reading the rest of the sequence in greater detail to get more of an idea of what Prynne refers to as “context”.
I also need to say that paying this kind of attention is immensely pleasurable and rewarding especially when reading Prynne and Celan.

Prynne, “Unanswering Rational Shore” and Blanchot

Before I dive too far into what I need to say, there’s a precursor to try and demonstrate some method to this apparent leap. Some weeks ago I started reading Blanchot’s “The Writing of Disaster” primarily because of my abiding creative interest in Bad Things that happen. I then found my self both staggered and mesmerised by the first twenty five pages to such an extent that I’ve now re-read the first forty pages on about 8 occasions whilst resisting the opportunity to copy out (or learn by heart) every single word. The last time this kind of thing occurred was with Foucault in 1985 but this is much more intense and personal.
Because I’m really enjoying this process, I’ve resisted reading anything else by or about Blanchot except for one interview given by Levinas.
I’m also distracting myself from writing about Eliot for arduity (see the previous post) and I find Prynne, Celan and Sutherland to be the best way to fill up my head. The normal Prynne route is to re-read “Streak~~~Willing~~~Entourage~~~Artesian” but on this occasion I decided to have another look at “Unanswering Rational Shore” and surprised myself with how instantly good it is for reasons that I’ll attempt to explain below. I then did the Google thing and came across Ben Watson’s piece which was written as part of his “Art and Madness Circus” in 2001 and Michaels Grant’s blog on the poem which was written in 2008. Grant, among other things, quotes extensively from Blanchot to contextualise what Prynne might be about and then throws in Celan and Olson for good measure. I’ve never come across Grant before but it’s fairly clear that we share at least some of the same interests so I’ll need to catch up.
So, this is a blog that’s about not being able to get away from Blanchot and whether his views on poetry are helpful in getting to grips with Prynne. I’ll start with the obvious, “Unanswering Rational Shore” (henceforth “URS”) appears to be two sequences of seven poems divided by a single blank page. Each poem contains two seven-line stanzas. We are therefore led to infer that each sequence has a separate ‘theme’ (or that the blank page may be a blank page without significance at all).

I’ll get on to Grant and Blanchot shortly but I’d like to give one example of why I thinks “URS” is utterly wonderful. This is the sixth poem from the first sequence in its entirety:

On the track the news radiates like a planet auction,

for the best rates hard to chew. If it seems too good,
sucker, the pap is surely toxic, unless the glad
hand goes your way, soft as velvet. The strokes
of the palm not even touched, a waft of livid air
gives the take its donation, sexual preening overtly
lavish in symmetry: your flicker goes to mine and

locks into warranty, well why not. Over lush fields
a rising sun pitches out its sulky damp shadow, in
reminder of cost levels in the benefit stream. Oh
fight this fight or sleep when others wake, the
maze of a shining path leads on without a break:
count the steps in retrospect, burnt umber places
engrossed forever in dumb-struck dropped reward.

(There shouldn’t be a gap between the first and second lines but WordPress is being oddly difficult).

I find this to be everything a great poem should be, it’s beautifully phrased, has lines that I would kill to have written, is oblique without being obscure and is incredibly clever without any sign of pomposity. It also makes me smile.

I’m not going to make too many guesses as to ‘meaning’ but there’s fairly clearly references to corruption that’s inherent to capitalism. The “unless the glad / hand goes your way.” is a brilliant compression of our complicity in these tawdry practices and a fine example of what Prynne does better than anyone else. The “or sleep when others wake” takes some thinking about but is nevertheless sharp and to the point. The “well why not” embodies that degree of world-weary cynicism that pervades corporate life and I love/am staggered by “a rising sun pitches out its sulky damp shadow. The last line is a supreme example of how to end a serious poem, summing up how we live our lives in the current economic order. Or (of course) it could be ‘about’ something else entirely.

What I’d like to draw attention to most of all is the exuberant use of language, this is the work of someone who knows exactly what he’s doing and is revelling in his skill. Milton does this and it’s an indication of true value that we need to be able to recognise and celebrate. “URS” is also a powerful rebuttal to those who persist in maintaining an image of Prynne as “fearsome” and “impenetrable” (TLS 2010).

Whether the sequence(s) require what Keston Sutherland calls “the work of interpretation” in the same way that “Streak~~~Willing” does remains to be seen but I’m certainly looking forward to alternating between the two.

“Unanswering Rational Shore” is in the 2005 Bloodaxe and should be read by everyone immediately.

I now turn to Michael Grant and Maurice Blanchot. Grant deploys Blanchot’s “The Space of Literature” to provide an explanation of what Prynne may be aiming for. The piece is full of inspiring ideas and embodies an attentive reading but is (probably) wrong.

I’d like to start with this:

Whereas discourse expressive of truth typically takes the form of propositions, whose structure can be fixed in advance, this is writing that would have us see it as errant and excessive. It is a poetry of exile, of wandering, and ‘where the wanderer is, the conditions of a definitive here are lacking’. The wanderer’s country, the dwelling-place of the nomad, is not a place of truth, but the abandonment of place altogether: such a figure ‘remains outside, on the hither side, apart’ [The Space of Literature, p. 238]. While reading Prynne’s book, one is made aware of language as though one were this side of it, this side of the process of its being uttered. Rather than passing through it to what is said or meant, one is struck by the visibility and fleshliness of it, as the event of it occurs in the here and now, in the singularity of the one, unique, repeatable, and unrepeatable, moment of it.

I quote this at length because I want to give one phrase it’s full context before looking at it more carefully. I’ve read and re-read the section of “The Space of Literature” that Grant refers to throughout his piece and I’ve reconsidered what I know of Prynne and I think Grant is incorrect on two counts. The first is the assertion that there’s an intention to make the reader aware of language “this side of its process of being uttered”. This sounds great and is conceptually intriguing but I think it’s wrong in this particular context and only serves to further mystify and complicate what is reasonably straightforward. I do think think Prynne has an interest in primary unmediated perception and expression and there is an “oh” in the poem above but I don’t think he’s aiming for some kind of primal language prior to it making “sense”. Such a project would seem at variance with Prynne’s repeated intended to say things “how they are”. The Blanchot quote isn’t given in full because, I suspect, it doesn’t say what Grant wants it to say. The last bit of the sentence reads “which is by no means a beyond, rather the
contrary.” which is typical Blanchot but also puts the excluded poet back in the middle of things.

Grant also makes use of Levinas, Celan and Olson in his reading and quotes more from URS than I have to support his thesis which is that the work has a double nature which is illuminated by Blanchot’s observation that the poem is ” the point from which words begin to become their appearance, and the elemental depth upon which this appearance is opened while at the same time it closes”, to which the obvious response is “no it isn’t”.