Saturday, 30 September 2006

First books: C

Lord, three weeks since last time. I'm really not cut out for a blogger ...
Carol Watts had an auspicious start this year, with a first collection published by Equipage and launched with a reading at the Runnymede Festival (at Royal Holloway College, Egham), on, I think, 23 April, 615 years to the day after the death of Elyenore Corp, a young woman whose memorial brass in a Devon church inspired the fifteen beautiful 14-line poems in Carol’s book.
The title alone, brass, running, quickly suggests a whole series of transformative levels, within and beyond language, matter and spirit. I can’t but think of the whole Hildegard of Bingen thing, that a few of us have messed with in verse, plus modern addresses to other medieval spiritual/mystic women, such as Jane Draycott’s and Lesley Saunders’s semi-documentary collaboration on Christina the Astonishing, who could fly (a lovely book, published by Peter Hay’s Two Rivers Press, with his illustrations, in 1998) or Alison Croggon on the endlessly weeping Margery Kempe, and others, in 'Specula’
. In Watts’s sequence, associations of the sea, ‘gulls / tacking before the wind’, ‘light / and its qualities’, the molten history of a brass, plus the reference to ‘the anchorage of one year’ suggests that Elyenore may have lived some kind of specifically spiritual rule; however I don't think it really matters. What here ‘brings breath to metal / as if the wind lifts her’ is an attainable if fugitive human joy in the sensational world and the body, channelled in the imaginary by the poet. I find it delicately and yet robustly achieved, the writing very rich but remaining fluid, turning from one thing to another, including some fragments of contemporary text and apparently particular historical references, always thinking and composing as well as riding a flow of impressions:

... think of the sound of light as
a guttering of limbs its rush a hunger
to sustain the evidence of breathing snatched
from other open mouths the denial
of burning is not harmless she is not here
is something inflammatory baptism: light
and water implicated in the frenzy of cities
(from ‘IX’)

Carol Watts, brass running (Cambridge: Equipage, c/o Rod Mengham, Jesus College, Cambridge CB5 8BL,.2006). £3 post free.

Monday, 4 September 2006

First books: B (overdue post ...)

Rosemary Stretch is not Betsy Fagin’s first chapbook, but I think her first since coming to England from the US. It’s ten small numbered poems, arranged in a variety of stanzaic and visual groupings; tonally calm and abstract they seem delicate, veiled reflections on identity and a life, gathered and dispersed, rigid and fluid, linked and alien (‘venusian’) -- every relation seems fissured with ambivalence expressed in profound (yet remarkably unobtrusive) linguistic ambiguities. Documentation and sensation are among disturbing reassurances of one’s particular existence. There is also a wider world of the broken, despised, downtrodden, inflicted, of devastation and contempt, in which the self is implicated (‘everybody / regimes oppressive from time to time’) and I don’t know why these large complications don’t overbalance the poetry’s subtle poise but they don’t.
This is lovely work and impossible to excerpt, but happily it is on the web: the book is part of the Dusie kollektiv project, a poetry publishing project that embraces web distribution while retaining the potential for the book as a material medium, that often characterised small press poetry. This one is cleanly and carefully designed by the poet for its modest production niche, with a sweet cover image (for which, and the title, I don’t have a reading). I like it that a stapled A5 pamphlet adopts the Japanese format (i.e. the fold is at the fore-edge) which gives body and opacity without needing special paper. I think that there’s a small (numbered) print edition, and otherwise it’s PYO, to read on- or off-line, in print or not, as you like, for free.
Available at

Word Into Art (timely post for Jeff)

Made it to the British Museum today for the last day of the exhibition, ‘Word Into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East’ (in the upper level of the old BM Reading Room of blessed memory). 80 artists from all over the Middle East (or whose parents were), also Islamic North Africa and even Japan and China, each represented by one or two works in a very manageable show in 4 overlapping sections: ‘Sacred Script’, modern instantiations of the tradition of Islamic Arabic inscription in several distinct styles; ‘Literature and Art’, where the tradition opens to secular content; ‘Deconstructing the Word’, where since the 1940s forms of writing appear as elements of abstraction or association in the visual arts, and the rather different ‘Identity, History and Politics’, where writing shows as pervasive, rather than central, to the view of the modern world explored by engaged contemporary artists in painting, print and mixed media / collage. The show is full of fabulous things and gives rise to lots of ideas about text/image, which if I try to ponder now, this won’t get posted (how does Ron Silliman do it??) ... There's a batch of large sculptures by the Iranian Parviz Tanavoli, all versions of a Persian word ('heech' = nothing'), and throughout, play of scale is striking: juxtapositions of large and small, even micrographic. One intriguing and to me unexpected component is magic: amulets, magic squares .... One of the most exciting things was slightly at a tangent to the rest, the only instance of electronic media, a miniaturised video projection by the Israeli / American Michal Rovner, that created, from film of people moving to and fro, rows and columns of textlike forms creepy-crawling on the pages of a notebook.
There’s a web version of the exhibition at and also a lovely catalogue (pbk only £12) (with a staesmanlike preface by the BM’s impressive director, Neil Macgregor).