Monday, December 26, 2016


Introducing novelists Colin Talbot & Shane Maloney at Collected Works Bookshop recently, for the former's book launch on December 9th, '16, I described a potential customer's enquiry as to whether we stocked any "amusing travel books"… Jules Verne? I wondered to our audience. Joseph Conrad? Malcolm Lowry? B Traven? Traven Collins aka Colin Talbot?

Long captivated by the splicing of author & character(s) in novels, I'm led to ask the question What is "fiction"? --what is fiction for Colin Talbot, for example, who's first to confess that his form of detective fiction isn't concerned with serial killers! He'll say it's his vehicle for writing, writing per se. There'll be another opportunity to discuss Talbot's work, but since mentioning Lowry that night the latter has been in my mind, and only yesterday did I select Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place as my travelling companion to & fro' the sea on the 246 bus, & whose author was then quoted into my Christmas Day "Beach Report" largely written in situ (posted on F/book & the Poetry & Ideas blog).

Thinking about Malcolm Lowry and reading the collection's first couple of stories, The Bravest Boat & Through the Panama, moved to say that it's a writing laden with 'the art of'. Author's investment in novel as if mythology --concurrent levels of the revelatory fiction. Author here symbolist but not psycho-analyst whatever the volition of his time. He is artist projecting own system of significance but intuits there's no interpretation ahead of the experience which, for consummate writer, is doubly recollected --by & as intense memory & intense invention, & remembered again & again.

Imagine Lowry --poet, poetic intellectual, novelist in age of realism become more-or-less reportage --Bellow, for example, in the '40s, memorably exploiting one of Joyce's tricks without concomitant commitment to larger scheme or idea --story-telling entirely within rhythm of the colloquial, sounding out 'as we think & speak' which was called, when we were young, "contemporary", meaning, I think, post-literary --H E Bates for example, as present-time D H Lawrence one thought then, having cut to the vernacular chase, as earthy & corporeal as DHL but novelistically one-dimensional… Imagine Lowry seeking something else, perhaps as something-else's conduit… Doesn't he let it all slip there on p27 of the paperback collection (leapt when I read it)? "The further point is that the novel is about a character who becomes enmeshed in the plot of the novel he has written, as I did in Mexico. But now I am becoming enmeshed in the plot of a novel I have scarcely begun. Idea is not new, at least so far as enmeshment with characters is concerned. Goethe, Wilhelm von Scholz, 'The Race with a Shadow.' Pirandello, etc. But did these people ever have it happen to them?
Turn this into triumph : the furies into mercies.
-- The inenarrable inconceivably desolate sense of having no right to be where you are; the billows of inexhaustible anguish haunted by the insatiable albatross of self."

Philosophical complexity of 'having no right' allows practical translation at least as no ease with conventional relations, that is regarding definition of the story & story-telling, where elegance & efficacy congeal, & the edges refined, the bumps & whorls of perception's plenitude eliminated…


Sunday, December 25, 2016

THE BEACH REPORT, Christmas Day, 2016

Malcolm Lowry's Hemensley is no Old Man of the Sea --how could he be? so grounded (Lowry & Hemensley both) in --in his books -- so enfolded in ground, exactly like the longed-for earth after weeks at sea on one's sole working voyage --Perth wasn't it? maniacal drive with the Ship Shop's manager & deputy --Fremantle to Perth --is that possible? -- t'other end of which kicking a football around on the dewy lawn of house of Shop manager's Australian mate --one starlit night on the Earth in 1965 --& heaven on earth after the constant heave of ocean --yet that billowing, sometimes bellowing push & pull of sea is solid ground's eternal counterpoint  --and the rest of it, fierce wind, rain-like spray, errant waves, from which any Crew Only door's an escape but full roar & only man on deck's the opportunity usually experienced in books, best written when author's unhooked from feather-down suburbia -- bliss though in quiet room in quiet street, reading, writing…

"…in the park of the seaport…" our Lowry will write --understanding, like his Hemensley, that even the terrestrial accoutrement is suffused with sea --for example, that bunch of men in the parcels section of the Post Office, Southampton, Christmas '65 & again in 1970 --one of those forever available jobs, you'd simply turn up & apply, last years of the industrial age --a bunch of men in-between ships, best bets for unflagging labour, night shift --of course they were sailors but their camaraderie & gusto surely inspired the landlubber casuals, transformed the parcels room into ship's hold, the parcels into slithering fish, the parcel sacks into overflowing fishing nets--

"…in the park of the  seaport…" --first sight of Elwood's grassed & shrubbed foreshore, before the sand & the bay of blue sea, the entirely blue sky…

Thursday, December 8, 2016


A great pleasure to have met Mark Olival-Bartley over the last week. Could hardly not feel well-disposed to a man who makes the following observation, "Collected Works Bookshop, a literary haven and quite possibility the best antiquarian poetry bookshop in the world." I dont know about that; if it's anywhere near so then my world is reducing. English-speaking world one wld have to qualify.
From Hawaii & living in Munich ("presently reappraising the sonnets of E A Robinson for his dissertation at Amerika-Institut of Ludwing-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen"), Mark was poet-in-residence at the recent international Eco-Health Alliance conference in Melbourne.
First question he asked when he walked into the Shop was whether we had any Edgar Arlington Robinson. Turns out he might be our time's expert on Robinson! We did of course have Robinson in the Boydell series of Arthurian poets, also Yvor Winters' little guide and a 1st edition Robinson, Matthias at the Door. Proves that every book has its reader and obscurity a relative concept.
We've talked long & variously about poets & poetry, including the scene in Hawaii which I experienced in 1990 for a week when I was there as a guest of Kiki Davis & EWEB/University of Hawaii Press.
We bandy about the word 'form' in Melbourne, but chatting with Mark it's obvious we're largely on a different page. In my own case, the forms were available once free verse ceased to be the exciting adventure of my beginnings. Late 80s early 90s I was extricating from avant garde cul-de-sac. Not a formalist but happy to experiment with the forms. Sonnet sequences, for example, and latterly syllable counts. Not a formalist but happy as poet to restore to my reading what free verse had junked.
We spent a little while on Wednesday a/noon reading & discussing Mark's possibly favourite poem of all, Robinson's "Eros Turannos". It aroused a thought in my mind about the relationship of the form & the story --seemed to me, on the spur, that a couple of verses stood alone as beautiful constructions whereas the form felt a little strained as the story pushed through in the poem. I'll be rereading it of course. (Mark points us to Robert Pinsky's discussion of the poem available on the web in Harriet, the Poetry Foundation's blog.)
And thanks to the web we'll stay in touch!

[Melbourne, 8th December, '16]


Listening to the British Library's British Poets CD, which Robert Mitchell kindly gave me the other day because, disappointingly, it was a dud: his expectations of disc 3's WS Graham, Amis, Edwin Morgan, G. Mackay Brown et al, dashed upon the rock'n'roll of Ferlinghetti, Bukowski, Ginsberg, --the American disc slipped incorrectly into the British box-set. And it is a shock on the ear let alone sensibility; the speak easy vs the elocution lesson… The contrast's the greater because one's probably missing Whitman's introduction, from whence the long century of a determined modern cultivation, mostly all free one imagines, even as Ashbery's sestina or Sexton's parables, the colloquial messing up the old poetical.

On the 2nd English disc, Dylan Thomas follows George Barker, and it's his dramatic  diddledy-di which upsets the decorous continuum, as far as annunciation's concerned, from C Day-Lewis through John Betjeman (full of fun, a poetry that sticks in the ear, history recorded via nostalgia and as true as comedy allows), Spender, Auden. Sorley MacLean is different & not only due to the Gaelic (that is, the Gaelic's thoroughly not-Englishness); and R S Thomas in another way. But Dylan Thomas is something else, the strong & continuous flowing, the rhymes & rhythms, the repetitious or better said, the apparent circularity of image & rhyme; in the spirit of Hopkins & Yeats, accessible to their great spirits.

The British disc is an entire lesson, whether or not in the largely bypassed diction --a lesson in the old craft by its late practitioners, the mid 20th Century's sages & stars who were the main men on the shelf when I was beginning, hardly beginning, early '60s ℅ Southampton's public libraries. I got into my own stride by rejecting the lot of them. I was looking for W C Williams not Charles on the poetry shelf!

Listening to the American disc, I can imagine the converse surprise of the American poetry buff, the  horror listening to Larkin or Hughes instead of John Ashbery or Le Roi Jones… And I can hear how Adrienne Rich connects with Anne Sexton & I'm sure Sylvia Plath too. Incantation by which didactic is kept sweet to the lyric. Question : How remain individual (retain eccentric personality) in the vortex of the topical (perhaps the involuntary generality)? How save individual in the maelstrom of the everyday (one's 'particular narrowness' as per Celan)? How prevent the signature American poetry (the declasse vernacular to which all accents adhere, Walt's 'democratic idiom') convoluting to artless prose? My questions, only mine, never finally put away…

(December, 8th, '16)