Third Factory/Notes to Poetry

art is autonomous

Attention Span – Peter Quartermain

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Robin Blaser | The Holy Forest: Collected Poems, Revised and Expanded Edition | California | 2006

Won (as it should) the Griffin Prize for Poetry. Meticulously edited and with a useful introduction by Miriam Nichols. This book confirms Blaser’s strong claim for recognition as a major poet of his generation, and tells us how and why, from almost the very beginning, he was such a generative power in the San Francisco Renaissance. The poetry, a brilliant welding of philosophical, political and personal threads, demands of the reader the same alert wit and attention that Blaser himself brings to it. The management of sound is, bluntly, magisterial. Now available in paperback, and not to be missed.

Colin Browne | The Shovel | Talonbooks | 2007

Witty, sometimes hilarious, but passionate, troubled and deeply moving as well. An extraordinarily inventive poet of great patience and discipline. Overall a haunted book–even under the concocted absurd and comic adventures with the likes of Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida there’s that dark grim world of the early third millennium, so puzzled in its rueful unsettled relations with its past. As the blurb reminds us, this is a book “composed in wartime” – and note that pun in “composed.” A book whose disquiets strangely exhilarate. I find myself coming back to it again and again.

Gerald L. Bruns | On The Anarchy of Poetry and Philosophy: A Guide for the Unruly | Fordham | 2006

“There comes a time in the history of a discipline,” this book begins, “when it must start its history all over again, even if from scratch”–a familiar enough trope, I guess, but tellingly deployed as working principle throughout these thoughtful, learned, imaginative essays—Bruns has a terrific eye for detail, a memory which deploys them tellingly, and a mind which I’d swear never goes to sleep.

Christopher Coredon with Ann Williams | A Dictionary of Medieval Terms & Phrases | D. S. Brewer | 2004

If you like words, then this is a fun book—lots of nifty words I didn’t know, lots of more or less useless information, like “overslop” (a cassock or gown is how that started out), little essays on things like “Ordeal, trial by” (which is pretty horrific) and “ Cocaktrice” (a heraldic monster “with fatal halitosis”—its breath would kill—which came from a cockerel’s egg hatched by a serpent; became a term for whore). Abundant cross references, but also lots of connections as you browse.

Michael Duncan and Kristine McKenna | Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle | DAP / Santa Monica Museum of Art | 2005

Clothbound exhibition calatogue, nearly 400 pages of illustrations and biographical mini-essays on familiar and not so familiar names: Bruce Conner, Robert Duncan, Michael McClure; Toni Basil, Ben Talbert, Zack Walsh. Annotated inventory of Semina’s individual components; Essays, chronology, letters, and a fairly thorough index. Terrific.

Daphne Marlatt | The Given | McClelland & Stewart | 2008

The publisher calls this a “haunting and multi-layered long poem”; Marlatt says it is the final volume of her novel-trilogy, Ana Historic and Taken. It’s actually both: brilliant, condensed writing, clear though mostly implied narrative, an utterly astonishing meditation on memory, family, the past, the place and role of women, the debts and presences we carry in us. Moving, memorable, writing (and reading) driven by attentive love.

Meredith Quartermain | Matter | BookThug | 2008

I’d plug this book even if it was by somebody else because I love the basic conception, and I love even more its accomplishment. In 1852 Peter Mark Roget, secretary of the Royal Society, published his taxonomy of the English language in his Thesaurus—the species and genera of “ideas”—abstract relations, space, matter, intellect, volition, affections. The poems here explore the relations of inner and outer, world and mind, human and animal. Mind’s matter; matter’s mind. “Knowledge stands on belove” says one sentence in the excursus which closes the book and asks “How can humans mean? Next to birds, trees.”

Maurice Scully | Several Dances | Private | 2007

Scully every so often prints off several dozen (or more) copies of his latest work and send it off to various folk—Meredith and I happen to be two of them—so I’m not sure I should list this 73-page book here at all, at least, not until it finds a trade or even little publisher from whom you can buy it. But Scully really is one of the few really outstanding current Irish poets not in the over-worked Yeats tradition (along with poets like Randolph Healy, Trevor Joyce, Billy Mills, Geoffrey Squire and Catherine Walsh) and he’s someone to look for. No quotation can do justice to this spare language in diverse forms, but here’s a little bit


this is a day.
this is a moment
in a day. this
is the point of

intersection of
a moment in a day

but the stanza (and sentence) doesn’t end there. A persistent mind, snagging on details of words, thought, language, behaviour, with delight in the writing even when the world lived in is as wrong-headed and wrong-hearted as it is. Someone to be reckoned with, he has several books from such as Etruscan, Reality Street, and Wild Honey.

Keith Waldrop |The Real Subject: Queries and Conjectures of Jacob Delafon with sample poems | Omnidawn | 2004

This is a sad but funy book, and I love it. Jacob Delafon, Waldrop’s invention, is unusually inconsequential in his relations with a pointless world, inert even, a tourist of idle possibilities. Thus he “finds in Partridge’s dictionary, // shit! mother, I can’t dance // which, according to Partridge means nothing at all, being simply what one says ‘just for something to say.’” The cumulative effect is mad hilarity. And sometimes real beauty.

Patrick Wright | Iron Curtain: From Stage to Cold War | Oxford | 2007

A fascinating, slightly gossipy and anecdotal history of the career of the iron curtain from its introduction as a Safety Curtain in theatres in the 1790s to its deployment as metaphor by Winston Churchill in 1945 and since the demolition of the Berlin Wall as reflective of a way of thinking about the world. As one might expect from Wright’s earlier books—such as On Living in an Old Country: The National Past in Contemporary Britain (1985), The Village that Died for England (1995), and Tank: The Progress of a Monstrous War Machine (2000)—this is really good (and unconventional) cultural / social history by a literate and witty writer / thinker. I learned a lot, and not just via such byways as peptide research on both sides of the iron curtain. Much like good conversation with someone who knows a hell of a lot more than you do.

John Yau | The Passionate Spectator: Essays on Art and Poetry | Michigan | 2006

If I were still teaching undergraduate English courses I’d put this book at the top of the Recommended Reading list: passionate and lucid essays which teach you (and me) how to read and how to think about poetry and art, without once talking down to the reader. And jam-packed with information you didn’t know you needed. The opening essay, on Frank O’Hara’s art criticism, is worth the price of the book. The other essays don’t disappoint either. Such a collection of Yau’s essays is long long overdue.

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  1. […] Peter Quartermain here. His Attention Span for 2008, 2006. Back to […]

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