05 July 2007

Long Buckby, Cambridge, Equipage, Elizabeth Willis, Tony Lopez, Caroline Bergvall, Carol Watts, London, David Miller, & Home

We ended our time away from Tucson with three nights in England. First we took the Eurostar from Paris. After a delay of a little less than an hour, the Eurostar people were very apologetic and even told us to keep our tickets and they would be good for one one-way trip free for a year, from London to Paris or vice-versa, or, I think, on one of the other Eurostar routes if we so choose. So we have to return within a year!

British customs found it very amusing that we were going to Northampton, and not on business. "Northampton . . . pleasure?" one of them quipped, and when informed that there is an International Shoe Museum in Northampton, he asked his fellow customs officer if he had "caught that one." The other office had not. When we said we were coming to London for a day after two in Northampton, he joked, "Ah, a little calm in London after the excitement of Northampton."









The photos above are of Clare and Rhod's house, Cynthia by the pond in the front garden, me by the pond in the front garden, and Clare and Rhod in their cozy conversation room.

Truly, we weren't going to Northampton, but to a small village not far away, Long Buckby, a village of a few thousand, with a lot of thatched-roof homes and buildings. We were there for friends, Clare & Rhod & Rob & Diane & Dave & Heather, who we met a couple of years ago when a group of artists in Tucson that includes Cynthia had an exchange exhibition with artists from Northamptonshire. Clare & Rhod live in a marvelous 300-plus year old home in Long Buckby, with terrific flower & vegetable gardens, and they were truly great hosts. I hope we keep finding ways to spend time with them. While there, we visited a country pub ten minutes or so away, were fabulously feasted at a dinner party prepared by Clare & including all of those friends named above.

We also were taken to spend about a half-day in Cambridge, an hour away.

Here is a Cambridge street view.

Here I found, in a local bookshop, the terrific chapbooks from Equipage, a small press in Cambridge directed by Rod Mengham. The four I found were by Elizabeth Willis, Tony Lopez, Caroline Bergvall, and Carol Watts. These are all superbly designed chapbooks in which design plays a key role, and in which the poetry, most often of repeated regular structures, lends itself to such design. While I've only seen these four so far (I hope there are others), they make it clear that there is a consistent vision behind this press, a preference for the invention of forms, or the adaptation of forms, in experimental or innovative ways. This consistent vision, combined with high chapbook production values and fine design, make for a press I find entirely memorable, and for specific books that are serious, playful, and moving.

Elizabeth Willis's the great egg of night is a collection of 16 prose poems, or poetic paragraphs, of roughly equivalent length. They could be examples of the "new sentence," particularly related to Carla Harryman's early work in prose (Property & other books). But the persistent I makes the poems tease more toward narrative, a teasing that is rewarded by the tease, i.e. we are kept perpetually on our toes while reading this work, rather than led to some conclusion that would drop the tension. Here's the first three sentences of the first piece, "On the Resemblance of Some Flowers to Insects."
A smoky vessel drifts east like a slippery elixir. By simple rotation night collapses with its head in the dirt, though from the heights it appears more like cubist swagger. Suddenly curtains. What lives in a room takes on the spirit of the room. This true even of television. Imagine deciding the gulley a life will follow as if choosing breakfast over diligent labor. I don't remember my first brush with pollen yet I've watched words flower sideways across your moth.
Isn't that what is happening here, i.e. words flowering sideways, while the work continues forward at a steady pace. The structure, in other words, of work, sentence, poem, provides an energetically moving frame on which thoughts (words, phrases, sentences) cohere as form and ask to perceive a coherence in subject, which happens only as a tight balancing act. Yet the act is successful, and we read ahead, engrossed.

There is humor here, too, though it is the absurd humor of modern life, where "We all live under the rule of Pepsi, by the sanctified waters of an in-ground pond." Our process in reading the poem may be a good deal like Willis's process in writing it, if we can trust her last sentence.
I read the picture and did what it told me, ducking through the brush with my tablet and pen, following some star.
Tony Lopez's Equal Signs is perhaps less of a following along a path, and more of a constructivist performance, a making of path, even of a perfectly laid series of cobblestone steps. It consists of two complete works, "Equal Signs" and "Sequel Lines" that are related in terms of their structure. The first seems to balance the form of the work with ideas of migration, excess, the "larger field," and a notion that the forces are against us, with implied questions of the possible within such a world. What we encounter may freak us out, but we need to think about what might "free this girl" when "the welfare state" is "a veil of allegory." Or, as Lopez has it in the second of thirty stanzas, each with fifteen lines:
beyond these isles
he gets freaked out
by sheer diversity
a larger field
at the moment when
economic logic
with berries in it
can free this girl
symbolic capital
is full of noises
subtle and profound
in which any item
is a pathway into
the welfare state
a veil of allegory
I love the possibility of an economic logic with berries in it. I think that even in this snippet you can see the sheer joy of this work mixed with a serious cultural critique.

"Sequel Lines," a work with exactly the same 30-stanza form, covers similar territory but is amazingly composed entirely of lines and phrases found in papers delivered at the 19th International Ezra Pound Conference in 2001 in Paris. Yet the same call for inventive play amid a smothering social cage (much like "Equal Signs") informs the work.
met at the salon
invented new genres
of human relations
more orderly than
the name of beauty
to be entangled
in what exists
voices and events
after Gunslinger
the ice cream social
did not focus
a grammar of presence
as it emerges
lingering uncertainty
released from the cage
Tony Lopez at his best, and that is a very good thing indeed.

Caroline Bergvall's & raided the type drawers (or, in these days, the computer font files) to come up with 16 different versions of the ampersand (counting the front cover) plus one figure 8, the title of the book being 8 figs. Each individual poem then begins as a commentary on the figure of the particular ampersand, with two different ampersands preceding each of the poems in the book other than the first, which is preceded by the cover ampersand, the title page figure 8, and a single ampersand page. The ampersands are on pages all to themselves, large figures in black centered in a field of white. The poems take up an entire page each, from the very top to the very bottom, with little room for top/bottom margins. In a sense the book has no outside, as I take the first ampersand to be part of what we are intended to read, and the last poem is literally on the outside back cover of the book. This all sounds rather mechanistic, and the type font chosen for the poems looks rather mechanistic to me at first, although a bit more playful the more I look at it. The poems, though, are about shape, color, emotions, love, intimacy, and the world. And even the figs (which we think on the title page to be figures) turn out to be more, to be figs, as a person may be a fig. I hope I can be forgiven for quoting the entire final poem, and I think I might since it's on the back cover, open to the world, opening for the world.
fig8 is a pattern.
Loud and brash
uneven and exacting
carries colour from colour
into the open skull
shifts bones about, illuminates the heart.
She settles in as she starts to speak.
Courage moves red into the blue.
The call is patient
having sat long enough to stand by it.
Acts of poetry
as offshoots of writing.
Engaged when calm
engaged when in-shape.
What is being proposed.
Any count exceeds its own measure.
Cleaning up my
Act so that today mattes for love.
Declaring conviction beyond the first count
of the first brazen song
queries the demarcations
of intimacy.
Any trace of certainty
conceals a panoply of methods.
The conditions of love that condition poetry.
What is inherited
of what is found
needs testament, not archaeology.
Here in the sense of being
To have my fig
be a fig in the world
and all that moves accordingly.
So that finally the figures of language are the figures of thought are the figures of motion in the world are love and the conditions of love and are poetry. Because of the relationsip of the shape of 8 to the shape of the ampersand, there had to be just eight sections or poems in this book. I would gladly have read many more.

As I think about each of the chapbooks cited above, there is an inclusion of both the world as formidable structure (the machine, the cage, the conditions and methods) and the breath of life within it (flowering, berries, love and the fig), so it may come as no surprise that the final Equipage chapbook I purchased at that Cambridge bookshop, brass, running, by Carol Watts, begins
what is it that brings breath to metal

Watts is the only one of the authors whose work I didn't already know, and it comes as a revelation. These "fifteen poems for Elyenore Corp" who we are told died 23 April 1391, are all sonnets (in their own inimitable innovative sense of what a sonnet might be) in which the imagination soars over and within the circumstances of imagined history. This fifteen sonnet sequence presents a lyricism for our time, invoking all time, working with time. Listen.
V

her gaze without ocupancy is green glass
blown where the curl of a wave reveals
fields and cultivars touched by none but
the operation of water or the stumbling
of submarine limbs caught and netted giddy
at the leagues they have travelled blind
where vacancy turns vitreous she views
heven from her pedestal as the brass
records her she sees it among salt acres
headress rippling lungs gasping at the gale
she runs waiting for her name to fall fallow
yet it emains a small parcel of earth
worked over in the cool of the morning where
her slight back sways time like a windrow
The sounds (gaze green glass, echoed later by giddy, just to bring in one example) are astounding from line to line, but astounding only in retrospect; in the act of first reading they are merely captivating. Then one looks again and finds, at the beginning of subsequent lines, "heaven," "records her," "headdress rippling," and "she runs," where the small parts of the poem echo the overall movement yet are small wonders of poetic sound on their own. Indeed if anything "sways time" in this poem, language does. The poem does. Carol Watts does. This is some of the best poetry I have read in ages.

All of these books together, even if there were nothing else (and there is much else), make Equipage one of my favorite current presses. Bravo, Rod Mengham, who I don't know but wish I did. Please keep them coming.

I'm really mixing book sights with other sites in this trip, literary work with simple journeying, visiting frirends, seeing sites/sights. The other highlight of the trip to Cambridge was a visit to Kettle's Yard, one of the great museums I have had the pleasure to visit. Or not a museum at all, but a home, with art throughout. Once Jim Ede's home, and home to work from artists he knew and befriended, as well as to works left in the studio of Gaudier-Brzeska after he died at the age of 26 during the first World War. Works by David Jones, Ben Nicolson, Barbara Hepworth, Marjorie Nicolson, Alfred Wallis, Constantin Brancusi, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Henry Moore, and many more. The amount of art is worthy of a museum, but this is art as I hope we might all want to see and think about it, that is, as works to live among. This is worthy of being a destination visit for any trip to the area. A real Cambridge highlight!

After Cambridge, a return to Clare & Rhod's house, a beautiful dinner with friends,



a night in the third floor guest room looking over the pond and garden, waking to an English breakfast (eggs fresh from the chickens out back), a ride to Northampton with Rhod, then train to London, hauling bags to our hotel (the only hotel night of our 15-day trip away), a walk to the Tate Britain (Turner everwhere, magnificent!, an exhibition in part chosen by David Hockney), boat on the Thames to the Tate Modern (now one of my favorite museums of modern art anywhere, maybe the favorite), a walk to St. Paul's and a tube to SOHO where we went for glorious Indian food at Masala Zone on Marshall just a block from Carnaby St. David Miller met us there and gave me his new book of poems, In The Shop of Nothing, which I am now devouring for the second time and plan to write about.


Here are David and I (fairly tired by this time) at Masala Zone.

And the next day, goodbye England and Europe, hello New York, & hello Tucson after a very long day of sitting on airplanes (Air India & Jet Blue) & hello to our daughters who it is so very good to see, & to home & dog & cat & fish & bed & jet lag & thinking about & continuing to think about two amazing weeks away.

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4 Comments:

At 4:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the E. Willis is one poet I can't get enough of, and your word "tease" as in the illusion of narrative is just right.....

lester shue

 
At 11:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, mustn't grumble!

Tim Risher

 
At 12:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Charles,

This is a great blog. I work for the western office of Poets & Writers, Inc. We're in the process of expanding our Readings/Workshops grant program for literary events to several new cities--Tucson is one of the ones we're considering.

P&W's managing director, Jen Benka, spoke highly of Chax Press and recommended getting in touch with you to learn more about the literary community in Tucson. If you want to email me, I'd love to set up a time to talk. My email address is cklein[at]pw[dot]org.

Thanks!

~Cheryl Klein

Poets & Writers, Inc.

 
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