Tuesday, November 3, 2009



Serendipity, then, in lieu of claiming it for the dream it all seems to be (even synchronicity, which depends upon the perceiver & perception's right place & time), that Vera Di Campli San Vito should place in my hands, at the Bookshop, copies of Poetry Review (London), amongst which pile were vol. 92, #2,Summer'02, containing Michael Haslam's statement on poetry (his reply, alongside Kathleen Jamie's & Kenneth Koch's, to the question, "Which poet, or poets, provide the measure against which you judge your writing?"), & vol.92, #4, Winter '02/3 his 10 page sequence, THE HIGH ROAD BROWN and The Soft Dethroned, --serendipitous because he was reoccurring to me just then as significant to the discussion I'd mooted in my review of American Hybrid (ed Swensen & St John, Norton, '09), viz, "how does British sing-song inheritance come through to the contemporary, & the postmodern contemporary at that?" : triggered by reading Martin Corless-Smith who'd brought to mind Nicholas Johnson & a tweet of Douglas Oliver --but Mike Haslam, unmentioned, was momentously adjacent! : -- "Witness, how a being's thought is like his being thought / arising slowly as an heron from the heron shaw - / arose, a marvel not unusual, aloft." (Like an Ivor Hitchens painting, where expression & depiction perform each other's tricks at no cost to beauty or sincerity...)
And a chap asked, as they do, innocent at the broad shelf, What do you think of Shakespeare (meaning I think, what's a poet of today's take on him given readers are all at sea with modern poetry?) Surprised him, I think, with my terse reply : Shakespeare is the language, isnt he? Of course there's the Anglo-Saxon, Chaucer et al, but for me, as a poet, it was Shakespeare : my writing issued from that language, and out of everything so derived...
All this been & gone and my head down again in the quiet of the room when I flicked through the magazine and found the questionnaire. Astonishingly, Michael Haslam's response was like an extension of the conversation in the Shop. Straightaway : "Shakespeare, in As You Like It, has Audrey ask Touchstone what poetical is, "is it honest in deed and word, is it a true thing?" Touchstone replies, "No, truly : for the truest poetry is the most feigning." And this I'd take for my measure : a technique of feigning, as much as the poet in person, in regard to poetical truth (....) Let me cut my own guff, then, and name my measure : Shakespeare."
Haslam, the gentle dialectician, confesses, "I've seen myself suffer the megalomaniac delusion that I'm, almost singlehandedly, charged with the conservation and transmission of an essential technique of English poetry, but it takes a Fool to compare himself to Shakespeare, and I had to laugh out loud (...)Imagine my (fairly incompetent) Genius told me : Look up Touchstone, and the feigning thing -- The Clown is your personal measure, but he's just one aspect -- Remember Jacques, remember Rosalind, remember Everything --"
Aside (dramatist's permission) : 'remember' means 'know', and no difference between knowing & imagining. This 'self', the doting 'I' (dotty, but follow me) is attracted to subject as well as imposing upon it --that is, it's found in subject without necessarily articulating intention and recalls it as what was always owned.
Patently there's a connection between sound & place, and this plays out as anxiety for me in recent years (ironically, the years I returned, happily, to poetry after the avant garde cul-de-sac) : the sound of the poem amplifies the precariousness of the expat ('where am i?')...
Haslam's place is where he does his wondering/wandering. He goes against Pound/Olson political geography --that is, poem as map which contains maps, a world which contains the world. Not that he isnt referential or associative --he is, but his poetry's fundamentally phenomenological not epistemological. Like Hopkins, the place is experienced in its music (the sound of the words). So too WS Graham, Dylan Thomas, Bunting, Yeats, all the way to Shakespeare : song, song, "continual song"...
Thus Michael Haslam's major work, after the Welsh Triad he explains, which says "there were three places in Britain where monks, time out of mind, took shifts to sing praise for Creation, round the clock (at Bangor-Is-Coed, Caer Caradoc, and Glastonbury). In a notion of that spirit, I had tried to make my book continual, by supposing the book could be read round in circles (...) Poetry is music, but, at its most musical, cannot be sounded. I can write, but can't sound, a chord of three meanings, three tones of voice at once. I can only imagine spirit ditties, polysemous pipes in multiple forms, of alchemy, and alcohol, and alkathene. I'll worship Dick or Gob, and drink and think in peace how Life is Good." [Haslam's website, www.continualesong.com]
According to Michael Haslam's website, he's attempting to assemble his life's works but not sure he has any more to write. Selfishly, I hope the opposite occurs.
Michael Haslam (b. 1947)'s major books are CONTINUAL SONG (Open Township, West Yorks, Uk, 1986), A WHOLE BAUBLE : Collected Poems, 1977-1994 (Carcanet,UK, 1995), MID LIFE, Poetry 1980-2000 (Shearsman, UK, 2007).

Kris Hemensley,
November 1st/3rd, 2009
-finished Melbourne Cup Day-

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