Wednesday, May 20, 2009


JOHN BLOOMBERG-RISSMAN Reviews (however briefly)

The Reality Street Book of Sonnets, Ed. Jeff Hilson
(Reality Street, 2008)

The Lion Man & Others by Bill Griffiths
(Veer Books, 2008)

Baudelaire in English by Sean Bonney
(Veer Books, 2008)

DCLP (District & Central Line Project) by Estaphin (Stephen Mooney)
(Veer Books, 2008)

Not Everything Remotely by Alan Halsey
(Salt Publishing, 2006)

The Text of Shelley’s Death by Alan Halsey
(West House Books, 2001)

It Means Nothing To Me by Geraldine Monk & David Annwn
(West House Books, 2007)

Ghost & Other Sonnets by Geraldine Monk
(Salt Publishing, 2008)

Mesostic Herbarium, Ed. Alec Finlay
(morning star, platform projects, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, PACE, Creative Partnerships (Durham Sunderland), 2004)

in defense of quiet by Thomas A Clark
(Centre for Stewardship, Falkland, 2008)

The Threadbare Coat by Thomas A Clark
(Moschatel Press, 2008)

In Praise of Walking & On Looking at the Sea by Thomas A Clark
(Dysart Artworks, 2007)

The Mountains of Holland by Thomas A Clark
(Parnassus Press, Eindhoven, 1999)

Lemon Red by Cralan Kelder
(Coracle, n.d.)

A Tasting Menu: Some Goodies From the 08 London Small Publishers Fair

I may be entirely wrong, but my impression is that USAmericans don’t read as much contemporary UK Anglophone poetry as we might. Maybe it’s that two cultures separated by a common language thing. Maybe -- more probably -- it’s simply logistics. Distribution networks, collegial networks, reading venues, next-door-neighbor-ships, that big ol’ ocean … It’s certainly not the poetry. Which is as full of wonders and marvels as any produced anywhere at present.

A number of artists, writers, publishers, etc gather each fall for the London Small Publishers Fair. I was lucky enough to spend two days at the 08 edition. I didn’t have a whole lotta luggage room, or cash, so I was pretty sadly selective. But I managed to come away with some great stuff. I’m going to publicize my take-home stack here. Please assume all normal positive-reviewerish comments. I mean, if I hadn’t liked these poets, I wouldn’t have bought their stuff. What I’m bringing you here is less than half-review, more than half-anthology.

My first stop was the Reality Street / Veer Books table. To a certain extent, the reason I wanted to attend the fair was to pick up two brand new releases, The Reality Street Book of Sonnets (ed. Jeff Hilson) and Bill Griffiths’ The Lion Man & Others. I’d read a great review of the sonnet anthology at Ron Silliman’s blog, and Griffiths is a long-time hero.

Jeff Hilson has put together the first sonnet anthology I’ve ever found interesting. It shows the form is even more alive and well than anyone could have imagined. Gathered here are the works of what Hilson calls “linguistically innovative poets”. I’d add that the contributors are also really good. Here’s the list: Robert Adamson, Jeremy Adler, Tim Atkins, Ted Berrigan, Jen Bervin, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Christian Bök, Sean Bonney, Ebbe Borregaard, Jonathan Brannen, Pam Brown, Laynie Browne, Thomas A Clark, Adrian Clarke, John Clarke, Bob Cobbing, Clark Coolidge, Kelvin Corcoran, Beverly Dahlen, Ian Davidson, Edwin Denby, Laurie Duggan, Paul Dutton, Ken Edwards, Michael Farrell, Allen Fisher, Kathleen Fraser, William Fuller, John Gibbens, Harry Gilonis, Giles Goodland, Bill Griffiths, Alan Halsey, Robert Hampson, Jeff Hilson, Anselm Hollo, Lyn Hejinian, Piers Hugill, Peter Jaeger, Elizabeth James, Lisa Jarnot, Keith Jebb, Justin Katko, John Kinsella, Philip Kuhn, Michelle Leggott, Tony Lopez, Chris McCabe, Steve McCaffery, Jackson Mac Low, Richard Makin, Peter Manson, Brian Marley, Bernadette Mayer, Jay Millar, David Miller, Peter Minter, Geraldine Monk, Harryette Mullen, Philip Nikolayev, Alice Notley, Abigail Oborne, Ron Padgett, Bern Porter, Frances Presley, John A Scott, Tom Raworth, Peter Riley, Sophie Robinson, Stephen Rodefer, Maurice Scully, Gavin Selerie, Robert Sheppard, Aaron Shurin, Eléni Sikélianòs, Simon Smith, Mary Ellen Solt, Juliana Spahr, Lawrence Upton, Carol Watts, Ian Wedde, John Welch, Johan de Wit, Geoffrey Young.

‘Nuff said.

I don’t remember when I first heard of Bill Griffiths, or in what context. He led one hell of a life. Not many poets were bikers at 15 (he “rode with the Harrow Roadrats”), did time in Brixton prison, and had a PhD in Old English, which he put to good use, publishing a number of very scholarly translations and texts. And, if that weren’t enough, he settled in a deprived working-class community on the north-east coast, and did important work on the local dialect. Best of all, as far as I am concerned, there was room in his poetry for the whole range of his experiences. I use the past tense because Griffiths died in 2007. According to the publisher, The Lion Man & Others “is his own eclectic selection of individualistic and definitive work, collected here in revised and edited form.” Here’s a taste, the first bit of “Quad”:
morning is an ache.
I dunno why
(me / them / things)
are thick ‘n deliberate.

incidental sounds of metal
do me donate music

too fuzzy for tea

too dizzy to queue ‘n pee

flashes of malice
the silent struggle / tug
no talking

there is no sense in it
are samples ‘n boxing
bits in the eye of the art-keeper,

waltzing at it

things that don’t partake of purpose

ritual / unnatural light
last thing unlike a jest

the lesson of providing
and taking

as it’s the helpless hour

I picked up some other good stuff from Veer: Jerome Rothenberg’s Second Book of Concealment, Alice Notley’s Above the Leaders, Sean Bonney’s Baudelaire in English, and Estaphin (Stephen Mooney’s) DCLP (District & Central Line Project). The Rothenbergs and the Notley are up to snuff. I’ll quote the publishers on the other two. Re: the Bonney, “Charles Baudelaire explodes with raw noise and pulsating typography into the contemporary metropolis” (they’re right; you gotta see this); re: the Estaphin, “A subversive journey through London's District and Central lines, where sexual territory, surveillance, and other invasive totalitarian tendencies of contemporary government meet. Truly investigative poetry” (they’re right again; E has been there).

My next stop was West House Books, home to two inimitables, Alan Halsey and Geraldine Monk. I was lucky enough to get to meet them, and to have time to chat. I bought Halsey’s Not Everything Remotely and The Text of Shelley’s Death. The former is a sort-of shorter poems selected, 1980-2005. A number of his longer works are gathered in the must-have Marginalien. The Text of Shelley’s Death is a long work for some reason (space?) not collected therein, which begins “Everybody knows the text of Shelley's death”. It then proceeds to describe events in the words of witnesses -- Mary Shelley, Trelawney, Byron, the Tuscan authorities -- constructing a meta-text that makes clear that nobody will ever, in fact, know what happened.

While excerpting “Aura”, above, I knew I wasn’t doing Griffiths’ range justice. It’s the same when it comes to Halsey. Nevertheless, here’s how “At Sixes & Sevens” (from Not Everything Remotely) begins:
I knew spring would be late
when December went missing
and now I can’t sit still
for favour minutes. Did you
see that rhyme fly right past
my head? Rapidly as figures
fingers may write so time
me sometime – draw a map of
any city with your
eyes tight shut or else sleep by
proxy. Some valuable
things are available
but not all available
things are etc.

I only bought one book by Monk, because my friend Alan Baker had just given me a copy of the Monk/David Annwn collaboration, It Means Nothing to Me. It Means Nothing … is a chapbook-length poem, unparaphrasable of course, and fearless. It begins:

full gift
           loved one
far-far expire

locations redeemable

evenings quietly
                      being am
           midways up blitz

you foxglove globe

recipes of hoot
bad souvenirs
lake fire

O cutting scissors

it means nothing to me

I did buy Monk’s Ghost & Others: Sonnets. You will have noted that she has sonnets in the Reality Street anthology; yes, they are from this book. But it’s good to have the whole sequence. Since I’m sharing beginnings, here’s sonnet I:
It started with a tryst and twist of
Lupine lovely arms along a rural railroad
Bank. Winter ronse up summer’s rise.
Throes of profound bafflement.
Vague was the impression of fossil
Teeth across the false breast
Yearning for a straight line in
Nature digging the what that lies
Oblong and lewd in the tube of
Afterlife lingerings.
Unsourced scent so strong it
Overpowered sense and narrative.

Disturbed earth grew stripes.
A stalk broke too far.

These read well on the page, but consider yourself lucky indeed if you ever get to watch and hear her perform in person.

My next move was to meet Alec Finlay. I bought two books from him, Wind Blown Clouds, which (I believe) is one of two books released so far of samples from The Archive of Wind Blown Clouds. The archive consists of photos from around the world of … wind-blown clouds. I’m not going to review it here because I gave it to my brother. Don’t tell him, but I gave it grudgingly, and only because I knew he’d love it as much as I did.

The other book I bought from Finlay I did keep. It’s another something he edited, called Mesostic Herbarium. It’s “a phytological anthology by various amateurs of botany being a partial heterodox collection of mesostic poems on the names of flora arranged according to habitat.” A few of the poems are actually engraved on plaques and attached to the types of trees they represent. They are represented by photographs. Here’s (what else?) the first one:

Fraxinus excelsior

The rest of the poems are printed in white ink on black paper. Which leads me to tell you something I love about my copy. Finlay autographed it: black paper, and on it, black ink!

Thomas A Clark’s table was next. I wanted to eat up all the rocks and trees. I wanted to buy everything. I did buy three little chapbooks. In Praise of Walking is probably the most well-known. It’s been reprinted over and over since its first publication in 1987. The Threadbare Coat and in defense of quiet are just as good. But I’m not going to quote any of them, because I’m going to quote the whole of The Mountains of Holland instead (bought at another table, can’t recall whose …):
The Alps, the Andes, the Himalayas, the Cairngorms, what are these compared with the mountains of Holland, whose height and range can never be measured? Wrapped in their own weather, invisible to the eye, they constantly recede before the traveler who begins to imagine they are only a rumour. Yet in the small hours, or in the evening, one who walks pensively in a solemn extent of water-meadows may sometimes feel the implication of their weight.

It’ll take a paraphrase of Basil Bunting to discuss this:
           There are the mountains of Holland. What is there to say about them?
They don't make sense. Fatal glaciers, crags cranks climb,
jumbled boulder and weed, pasture and boulder, scree,
et l’on entend, maybe, le refrain joyeux et leger.
Who knows what the ice will have scraped on the rock it is smoothing?

There they are, you will have to go a long way round
if you want to avoid them.
It takes some getting used to. There are the mountains of Holland,
fools! Sit down and wait for them to crumble!

By this point, as you can imagine, I was low on funds. So all I could do was whimper when I got to the Coracle table. What beautiful books! I did pick up one thing, Cralan Kelder’s Lemon Red. I don’t think Kelder’s a UK poet; he works out of Amsterdam. Nevertheless:
On Using the Word ‘Important’ to Describe Poetry

I found some good poems,
faxed them right over
to a colleague of mine.
The boss came in and asked me,
“What are these?”
“They’re poems,” I explained
“I thought they were very
important Sir
and that as many people
as possible should see them.”

To help explain where the rest of the money went: I did pick up a few other things, from a couple “guest” US presses. I got Jerome Rothenberg’s A Book of Concealments and Steve McCaffery’s Slightly Left of Thinking from Charles Alexander’s CHAX; I also bought a copy of his near or random acts. Kyle Schlesinger and his Cuneiform Press also had a table; I bought Ted Greenwald’s 3, Ron Silliman’s Woundwood, and ON: Contemporary Practice (eds. Michael Cross, Thom Donovan, and Kyle S). I had nice visits with both publishers.

The 09 Fair will be 14-15 November. I’ll be back, this time staffing a table. I’m not too worried about running out of book money this time; staffing a table means I’ll have stuff to trade.


John Bloomberg-Rissman is the author of a number of chapbooks, most recently World Zero and A Spectrum of Other Instances. He is also the author of the full-length No Sounds of My Own Making, the editor of 1000 Views of ‘Girl Singing’. His work has appeared in numerous journals and in several anthologies. His current project is Flux, Clot & Froth, which will probably top out at 700+ pages, and for which he hopes to find one reader, please. He is part of the team (title: editor or something) at Leafe Press. His ongoing efforts can be seen at Zeitgeist Spam.

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