Tag Archives: Van der Waals forces

Prynne Week: Kazoo Dreamboats and Reference Cues.

Regular readers will know that since last summer I’ve been collaborating with John Matthias on an online annotated edition of his Trigons. As part of this process we’re putting together a list of sources for each sequence to give some of the background and related context.

Having given this some thought since last July, I think it would be good if more poets, where it was appropriate, provided this kind of background and because the list itself acts a signpost to works that I might want to read. In this instance, I’m incredibly grateful to have been pointed at Michael Ayrton, George Seferis and Anna Akhmatova.

Today I want to pay some attention to Kazoo Dreamboats and to the list of ‘Reference Cues’ that he provides at the end of the poem:

  • V. Adrian Parsegian,Van der Waals Forces: A Handbook for Biologists, Chemists, Engineers, and Physicists (Cambridge 2006).
  • Alexander Atland and Ben Simons, Condensed Matter Field Theory (2nd ed., Cambridge 2010).
  • Andreas Kayser, Mark Knackstedt, Murtaza Ziauddib, ‘A closer look at pore geometry’, Oilfield Review, 16 (2004), 44-61.
  • Leucippus (5th cent. BC), as reported by Diog. Laert,. Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Bk IX, trans. Hicks.
  • Parmenides of Elea, On Nature (c. 490-475 BC), trans. Burnet.
  • Melissos of Samos (follower of Parmenides), On nature (fragments), trans. Fairbanks.
  • Aristotle (384-322 BC), Physics Bk 1, trans. Fairbanks.
  • Kung-sun Lung (d. 252 BC) Pai-ma lun (‘On the White Horse’), trans. (entire) by A.C. Graham in his Disputers of the Tao (La Salle. III., i989), pp.85-90.
  • Richard Bradley, ‘The Land, the Sky and the Scottish Stone Circle’ in Chris Scarne (ed.), Monuments and Landscape in Early Modern Europe; Perception and Society during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age (London, 2002).
  • Mao Zedong, ‘On Contradiction’ (August, 1937).
  • William Langland, Piers Plowman (c.1360-87), B-Text, ed. Schmidt, C-Text ed. Pearsall.
  • Simonides of Ceos (c 556-469 BC), Frag 453, ‘Lament of Danaë’, sung version by Ed Sanders, ‘Danaë in a box upon the sea’ on DOCD 5073 A 05 (1990): Tiziano Vecelli (Titian), Danae
    (1554-6, Museo Nazionale, Naples).
  • Sir Philip Sidney, The Old Arcadia (1590), The Fourth Ecologues.
  • Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy, Trns. I.T. (1609).
  • William Shakespeare, Sonnets 1609, &c.
  • William Worsworth, ‘Tintern Abbey’ (1798), &c.
  • P.B. Shelley, ‘Mont Blanc’ (1817), &c.
  • Alban Berg, Lecture concerning his opera Wozzeck (1929).
  • Tadeusz Borowski ‘The Man with the Package’ in his This Way to the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen (London, 1976).
  • Cui Jian, ‘Yi Wu Suoyou’ (1986); http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeL_CZFI&t8.
  • Christian Wolff, Early Piano Music (1951-1961), played by John Tilbury and others, inlay note to MRCD51 by Michael Parsons (2002).
  • Kevin Davies, Lateral Argument (New York, 2003).

Given that this is the first time in a while that Prynne has provided this kind of material, it is tempting to think of these cues as a self-deprecating joke. This would be entirely feasible were it not for the presence in the text of eight indented paragraphs that appear to be lifted verbatim from work in the above list. John Matthias uses quotes from other texts but these are brief, a few short lines at most and nothing like as impenetrable as these.

I’m more than a little scared by this, I don’t know what Van der Waals forces are, I don’t understand how pore geometry might work and haven’t a single clue about condensed matter field theory. I’ve also never heard of Leucippus, Melissos or Simonides. The link to the Cui Juan song is broken (don’t people know that these have a v short life?) but I’ve managed to find a film of this rock star singing the above live. Kevin Davies, I’ve discovered, is an American poet and I’ve found part of his “Lateral Argument”.

Thanks to the wonders of the interweb, I have pdfs of the science and archaeology texts but have to report that I don’t understand what might be the explanations, apart from the Bradley essay which is much closer to my interests and not that scientific.

So, I’m both intrigued by what the text might hold but resentful that I’m not likely to be able to grasp what some of these entry points may be about. This is slightly lightened by Christopher Middleton’s 2009 essay on Science in Poetry which cites Red Gypsum as an example of working with: “scientific allusion by simulating the hypertrophy of a scientific rhetoric in the biological sciences where words accrete prefixes or suffixes like barnacles, and neologistic truncations and acronyms help produce terse propositional statements”. Which, together with the rest of his analysis, dispels some but not all of the bafflement.

Kazoo Dreamboats is entirely in prose with some proper sentences and punctuation and is a vision or dream poem or textsimilar in form (paragraphs opening with ‘I saw’) to Piers Plowman which is one of the few works that I’m familiar with. It occurs to me that a ‘cue’ in drama marks the point of entry for an actor of the beginning of a speech. It may therefore be that this wide ranging selection of texts and music serve as ways for the reader to find ways into a fairly dense and resistant text. In order to test this out I’m going to look at the different ways in which extracts from the cues are deployed in the poem. The first is direct insertion:


                                          Not but circumspect
preview divested but, reset in surface zero to its crystallic
marker interest:

     Under given conditions it is possible to derive the elec-
     tromagnetic interaction between any two materials across
     a gap filled with a third substance by use of mode sum-
     mation ... The zero point fluctuation is an immediate 
     consequence of the uncertainty principle. Observed for a
     time inverse to its frequency, an electromagnetic mode or
     degree of freedom has an uncertainty in its corresponding 
     energy, an uncertainty proportional to the time of obser-
     vation ... The language must be able to talk about real
     materials in which electric fields or charge fluctuations
     occur, oscillate with natural frequencies of the substance,
     and die away over time.

OK imagine slicing into left or right, one hand wish-wash the other,
both so caressed against convergence to unity, saying it is the same
and it rests in the self-same placement, barn abiding in itself,
self-confuted by evidence in profile white contra white:

    In case only whites are considered, while meaning one
    thing, none the less there are many whites and not one;
    since neither in the succession of things nor in the ar-
    gument will whiteness be one. For what is predicated of the 
    object which is white, and nothing except white will be
    separated from the object; since there is no other ground
    of separation except the fact that the white is different
    from the object in which the white exists.

Yet for not tell is possible as cannot be in a world by sero
frequency across bounded separation its fringe charge return con-
tour, biplane rotation never breviate over its own pitch, or
'there is no place void of being, for the void is nothing; but
that which is nothing could not exist; so then being is not moved;
it is impossible for it to go anywhere, if there is no void.'....

OK (prynnian term), some of this begins to make more sense than a brief read-through gives. The first quote is from the Van der Waals book, the second is part of Aristotles refutation of both Parmenides and Melissos which is far too dense a piece of logic for my v small brain and the third quote is from Melissos. The Van der Waals is three separate sentences, as the dots indicate and the last of these sounds like it would catch Prynne’s attention. His interceding paragraph uses the same hand washing the other image which crops up in

Biting the Air which I speculated about last week.

I have thought about these ‘signposts and have decided that life really is too short to follow them up. With regard to the others, I’ve read Mao’s ‘Contradiction’ piece, am languidly working my way through Langlands ‘C’ text and intend to re-read Boethius and have a closer look at Kevin Davies. With regard to Kazoo Dreamboats, after reading Middleton, I feel able to approach the text with a bit more confidence. So, the cues here may be a Good Thing but I don’t know whether they’d be better as footnotes. More than enough to think about….

This marks the end of Prynne week, tomorrow I’ll start on Jones week with the rest of the recordings and some attention paid to the Sleeping Lord collection.

Reading Kazoo Dreamboats

Mimi and the Girls- Sarah Small

One of the things that arduity tries to do is to encourage people to read poetry that is considered to be difficult. Most of the time this isn’t difficult because I find that I’m quite good at writing about complex stuff in a clearish manner and can usually deploy my puppy dog enthusiasm to good effect. I like to think that I’ve managed to do this with ‘The Anathemata’, ‘The Maximus Poems’, ‘Todtnauberg’ and others that deserve a wider audience.

The other main function that arduity has is to make people feel more confident about reading this stuff and not to feel intimidated by many of the more off-putting features of lateish modernism. This usually consists of writing about something that I’ve found to be foreboding or things that I know have deterred my friends and suggesting techniques for a more successful reading.

So, all of this is fairly straightforward, I’m currently in the middle of trying to say something useful about the poetry of Simon Jarvis and this is both enjoyable and rewarding. Then I come across ‘Kazoo Dreamboats’ which presents a new set of challenges to the above because it seems to exist outside both Prynne’s work and anything else that I can think of- although this may be due to a lack of imagination.

I have attempted to describe some of the poem’s basic features so I won’t repeat myself here but further attempts at reading /paying attention have thrown more issues into doubt which make writing for the first-time reader quite daunting. This is compounded by the fact that I don’t think ‘Kazoo Daydreams’ can be read without reference to Prynne’s output since 1971 if only to differentiate and indicate how much of a change this represents.

I’ll try and give some examples-

  • we haven’t had a reading list before, unless we count ‘A note on metal’ which is included in the Bloodaxe ‘Poems’ but isn’t a poem;
  • blocks of text have not been obviously inserted straight into other works;
  • this is the first prose poem, if that’s what it is or this is the first poem that looks (mostly) like a prose poem;
  • the phrases are more ‘accessible’ than anything since ‘Triodes’ but the ‘sense’ feels disrupted, I’ll try and give some examples below;
  • as well as the blockquotes, some quotes are indicated by inverted commas within the body of the text some others aren’t;
  • there’s a higher than usual level of playfulness going on;
  • the parrot, the hot pies, chicken in a basket, love potion number nine, alive alive-o, Bill Bailey, the old folks at home (etc).

There are some continuities, the use of repetition, the intensity of thought, the ongoing angry sarcasm with regard to all aspects of capitalism, the use of ‘Prynne’ words (foramen, saccadic), the occasional address to the reader, but this does feel like a completely different way to collide with the ‘unwitty circus’.

The reference cues present a different kind of challenge because most attentive readers will try and dig out the unfmiliar works in order to get some idea of what they’re about. The problem arises because the first three of these are (to my non-scientific brain) fairly difficult to grasp- I’m still working on Van der Waals forces even though the quote is the from the first paragraph in the book and haven’t yet progressed to condensed matter field theory and have only skimmed the surface of pore geometry. My point is that none of these are inviting or amenable to the non-specialist. Then there’s the troubling use of Mao Zedong on contradiction from 1937.

I’m not entirely sure what I mean by disrupted sense but I have tried to read this attentively and can begin to follow sentences and phrases that are much clearer than the recent poetry but then something gets thrown in that sets off another train of thought altogether. This is one of the clearer examples-

The dream very true, in truth a dream of human kind come back, go forward a shadow drops like stone. Water on all sides, the life of men. In the morning milk delivery up to the very door clink clink I heard it on the step, it was Andrew, our regular. My mouth should twitch beyond sufferance in its knowledge rebate, anyone could weep for no less, day by day. There is no unity in mind its line in stolen property its fainting breath absurd: a property of the void itself.

So, we move from water surrounding our lives to the arrival of milk (delivered by Andrew) to twitching mouths, knowledge rebates and the weeping anyone can do to the fragmentary nature of ‘mind’ with reference to what it steals and the absurdity of its existence which is said to be a property of the void ‘itself’. There is a lot of sense that can be made from this which is either enhanced or disrupted by the arrival of the milk which may be an indication or example of the fragmented nature of consciousness but doesn’t really account for the identification of Andrew as the Prynne’s regular milkman. Of course it could be argued that the presence of the identified Andrew is justified by the poem’s wider context or by an element that I have thus far overlooked but what the initial reaction is that the clinking arrival of the milk is so startling that it undermines the sense of what is being said. This may. of course, be the point because there is a degree of playfulness at work here which serves to interrogate the texts that are used and also to introduce a much lighter tone.

So, do I introduce ‘Kazoo Daydreams’ to new readers in terms of its difference to what’s gone before or do I talk about it in terms of itself? This isn’t an argument about quality in the way that I’d advise readers new to Hill to stay well clear of ‘Oraclau’. This dliemma is the worry that any kind of reasonably accurate introduction might put people off- “It isn’t entirely clear what it might be about, it might be a prose poem, it contains verbatim chunks of appropriated prose on quite complex subjects, it appears to be intent on undermining itself and contradicts some of what Prynne has said about poetry making in the very recent past, there moments of lyrical intensity, experiments with repetition and (all in all) it is immensely involving, compelling and (probably) brilliant.”

The ‘Reading Kazoo Deramboats’ page may need to wait for futher reflection but at the moment I’m thinking of emphasis on the startling and the odd as the most user-friendly point of entry, even if that doesn’t do justice to what might be going on.