Tag Archives: the undersong

Jonty Tiplady and Sooty

I’ve been stung into this, which I’ve been intending to do for weeks, by Joe Luna’s recent blog piece on Jonty’s poetry. For those of you who haven’t yet read ‘Better than Language’ of the Claudius App, Joe and Jonty are two of the brightest talents that we have and both are building a formidable body of work.

I bought Jonty’s ‘Zam, Bonk, Dip’ but it didn’t make much sense to me until I read something about it on all over the grid which encouraged me to go back to the poems and now I’m one of those over-zealous converts.

Since writing the above three sentences, there is now a really quite distressing conversation going on on the All Over the Grid blog about the merits or otherwise of Project Tiplady. It’s distressing because it’s counter-productive, because I’m having to justify the unjustifiable to correspondents who (rightly) don’t comprehend this stuff and because it isn’t really a debate about the work but about the Cunning Plan that informs the work. I was about to strike the well-known bebrowed ecumenical pose (let’s all try to be excellent to each because there aren’t very many of us) and then realised that I’ve done my fair share of slagging off during the lifetime of this blog and have accused leading poets of childishness (Sutherland) ineptitude (Hill), ideological folly (Jarvis, Sutherland, Prynne), chronic self-indulgence (Hill) but I would argue that these are poets that I admire and I have to register my disappointment when they disappoint me. I don’t / try not to write about poets that I don’t like and / or see the point of. There is one borderline case that I need to confess to, I once wrote something unduly negative about Sean Bonney that I shouldn’t have posted but that is the only ‘sin’ that comes to mind during the last three years. There are many, many poets of the Cambridge/late modern/innovative/avant garde ilk that I find dismal in both scope and content, in fact some of these repel me more than Dan Paterson but not quite as much as Larkin.
What distresses me about the Tiplady debate is that it isn’t going to change anyone’s mind as most of us know what we think anyway and it is a huge and embarrassing waste of effort. In the bad old days when I was a secondary instrument of class oppression I would often find myself in a room with a group of burglars from Middlesbrough and a group of car thieves from British West Hartlepool who were intent on doing serious harm to each other. One of my jobs was to put myself between these two groups, affect to be bored and point out the inherent futility of such a course of action…….. Life really is too short and there aren’t enough of us to make a difference anyway.

Before this ‘debate’, I was going to observe that Joe’s piece has too many words and too many extended sentences for my small brain to absorb and what needs to be said is that Jonty might just represent the future of English poetry and might also be more capable than anything else of giving the world the slightest of sideways shoves. This isn’t to denigrate or demean work done elsewhere but is to suggest that the ‘voice’ and the rationale behind the voice are one step removed from the crowd in a way that is probably significant.

This isn’t to say that the Tiplady project is a universal success because there are poems that aren’t very good but it is to point to the deadly serious playfulness of his best work as a startling and enervating antidote to the way that we live our lives.

I do have some evidence for these unreasonable claims and both are in the second issue of the Claudis App. The first of these is ‘Illimitable Drag City’ and the second is Amy De’Ath’s reading of Jonty’s ‘The Undersong’.

‘Illimitable’ needs to be read at speed and then it needs to be read aloud at speed and this second reading should be done in public so that you surprise yourself and those around on the bus or those walking by in the street. You should then learn the good bits off by heart and discuss these with your friends and colleagues and the worl will be a better place. We will all have different ideas of what the really good bits are (and there are many) but I would like to draw your attention to:

It's about how what is worth living is worth
by saying right now what can't be said
that it is worth living. It is about saying that
and then don't look at this present. It's about
how that which is worth saying, right, is all worth saying
right, and the electrocardiograph
to come. I want to be inside with you
in a life which is,

signed out in the book of Necessity. It's about
boom goes yes right we got the room and did it
to be able.

This kind of stuff is really easy to do very badly, indeed English verse has been littered with variations on the Ginsbergian list for at least fifty years but this is carefully constructed and put together so that it appears to be free-flowing but isn’t and I think that there’s both a degree of (for the want of a better phrase) conceptual fluency and lyrical aptitude that seems to be missing from much of the Cambridge / late modern vein. I’m particularly fond of the electrocardiograph to come and the book of Necessity but the whole poem is full of great lines and ideas.

Now we come to Sooty and the voice of Amy De’Ath. The first point to be made is that Sooty and Sweep are a part of my childhood and occupy a reasonably unique place in English popular culture. The second point to be made is that Amy’s reading is absolutely brilliant and shows how properly recorded readings can enhance what a poem might be saying. There is also a bit of an issue with the fact that the print copy that I have on my hard drive has a different title and some of the words are different. What follows is primarily based on the print version:

Everything I did, I did with Sweep. Everything I did I did while I was in Sooty
For Example Walking on my hands with my hands in my pockets, admiring the
sweeping view. I want to move in (really fucking intense and beautiful like a screaming
rainbow

This anthem to glove puppets is also a poem ‘about’ Wall Street and it’s a serious poem about both but it’s got this intense humanity that it radiates on every line. It’s intelligent, stops me in my tracks and is at least one remove from the rest of what’s currently any good. I know that I’ve ranted in the past about poetry not having special access to the truth but this is giving me cause to think again. Which is why, like it or not, Jonty Tiplady might just be the future.

Amy De’Ath and the determined tulips on The Claudius App (2)

I have been intending to write about Amy De’Ath for some time and the inclusion of four of her poems on the latest issue of The Claudius App and her remarkable reading of Jonty Tiplady’s ‘The Undersong’ in the same issue has prodded me further in this direction.

In Chris Goode’s introduction to the ‘Better than Language’ anthology he concedes that several of the important younger poets have been admitted and rightly points out that readers will have a list of those who should also have been included. My personal and highly subjective list has Emily Critchley, Luke Roberts and Amy De’ath competing for first place but for entirely different reasons apart from the fact that they are all very very good.

These four poems indicates a degree of control that’s more advanced than most of De’Ath’s peers. I get a very strong sense of poems that are in charge of themselves and know where they are going, there’s also an enviable degree of skill with language. In order to show what I mean I want to focus on ‘Heaven’ and ‘You Win’ because they’re both long enough to show how this control is sustained.

On the first and second readings of ‘Heaven’, I had a problem with the road signs, the melon factory, the vole and the tulips because these appeared to be selected for their oddness alone. However I’m now beginning to see the point because heaven in this sense refers to a separate dream-like world more than it does to a perfect one although the poem seems to assume that we aspire to the ideal too.

The inclusion of the tulips does however throw up a number of questions:

  1. What are the tulips determined to do?
  2. How does a tulip show that it is determined?
  3. If the tulip’s have emerged from ‘heaven’s side door’ then which planet is it that they are marching to the figurative edge of?
  4. Are we meant to assume that the planet is our own?
  5. Why did only some of the tulips leap of the edge of the planet
  6. What did the others lean into or against?
  7. Were the tulips, like bad angels, expelled from heaven or did they leave of their own accord?
  8. How does a tulip (determined or not) get to be in heaven?

None of these queries are intended as part of a quest for deeper understanding but it does illustrate the kind of processes that this material can initiate. The same sorts of questions can be asked about the appetite of roads signs and the slewing of melon juice but I want to try to concentrate on the effect of the poem as a whole. We start with the poet setting off to heaven but the last line of the in initial paragraph suggests that this may have been a dream. The keeping of stollen for emergencies whilst burning up is excellent as is the love that thrusts and yelps. We’re also given indications that mistakes will be made with the language (spirituals/forest, revolving faithful).

The personification of heaven as male and the idea that writing artlessly is a ‘measure of his talent’ is intriguing as the writing here does at times affect to be artless. Anyone who’s tried to write in this way will know that it does require a lot of talent to get it right. The next line is gloriously complex and manages to deliver an enormous amount of ambiguity (temper, grace) without appearing to try

I like the way the poem gradually loses the dream/surreal/subconscious affect and moves into something more concrete and urgent and the ‘you’ introduced and addressed. The arbitrary is apparently rejected but the last few lines talk about a booming moon and refer to a robbery which isn’t previously mentioned.

‘You Win’ has one of the best endings that I’ve read in ages. The references to other family members are more Ronnie Laing than Sigmund Freud but there’s generally less of the subconscious on display, unless you count Havel’s clam juice. I would question the wisdom of the Swindon / Wigan device in the first stanza but this is more than made up for by the pace of the rest and the shining genius of the the third and fourth. The notions of the ‘cryless sock’ and the ateing heart have kept me smiling for days now- I’m particularly impressed by the apparent lack of effort and the refusal to show off.

Poetic control comes in many shapes and sizes, there’s control over the formal elements, over word choice, over subject matter, over cadence etc etc. I think the kind of control here is about a considered inventiveness and by this I mean a quite startling originality in terms of both voice and subject that is tempered and given direction instead of being left to fend for itself. Tis is a rare and precious gift that sets De’Ath off from her (very talented) peers.