Monday, 29 October 2007

'Slowly in October / Rain the transient structures the'

At the Small Press Fair this year (12/13 Oct.), from Reality Street clearance stock / backlist: John Seed, Interior in the Open Air, with images by Bronwyn Borrow (1993, when the imprint was Reality Studios). Designed bespoke as ever by Ken Edwards (presumably), the book is unusually wide (200 x 153 mm.) to allow that Seed's work 'at times utilises the shape of abstract structure' as Ralph Hawkins remarks in the blurb, as well as for Borrow's soft fluttery things -- birds? fish? 'Snow Flurries'? litter scraps ('Rust edges // Already flaking' or 'Torn into new forms // England's derelict / Archive 1990') in the 'Chaos small' of an urban wind vortex, 'Almost in spirals the blown dust'? -- swirling from far to near, or dancing with their reflections, light or shadow.

In this book Seed starts each new line with a capital letter, which looks very odd in modern free verse. Is it (for instance) a debunking of that 'free', poetry being subject as everything else to habitual regulation? Contrary to floaty parataxis it fragments harshly: 'Between stones in an empty square the // Connectedness of things'. Or a manifest continuity with history of/in English poetry? I was at a study day last week at which (among much else) I learned that it was Hazlitt (1818) who first made the polemical (and perhaps not entirely accurate) connection between political and typographical 'levelling', in respect specifically of capitalisation within sentences (other than for proper names) (it having been established by canonical typographer Moxon in 1683 that capitals 'lend dignity'). The speaker (Gavin Edwards, U. of Glamorgan) proposes that Edmund Burke did not give the French Revolution its capital 'R'.

Adorno, from whom Seed takes his epigraph (and I think at least one other allusion) is fantastic on the writer's 'predicament' of punctuation and orthography:
The writer cannot trust in the rules which are often rigid and crude; nor can he ignore them without indulging in a kind of eccentricity ... But if, on the other hand, he is serious, he may not sacrifice any part of his aim to a universal, for no writer today can completely identify with anything universal; he does so only at the price of affecting the archaic. The conflict must be endured each time, and one needs either a lot of strength or a lot of stupidity not to lose heart.
Seed does allow some play within the line, away from the margin, which looks then like a protected aesthetic 'interior', but then it too can be invaded by the dominant order:

    Approaching the dreamless the
Roots reach down

against the whiteness the mirror the
smouldering ground

unrealities of human speech

what is it?
Unwrites these places Words
Blown away like mist
-- and there's yet another image to which Bronwen Borrow's delicate decorations respond. (I falsify though: this passage is interrupted by a page turn. Also it's not in fixed font. See snap.) Amid scattering, toppling, blur, drifting, flickering, 'Fading and shifting', one stands, potentially, 'Sharp, clear-edged'.