Third Factory/Notes to Poetry

art is autonomous

Attention Span 2009 – Scott Thurston

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Karen Mac Cormack | Implexures (Complete Edition) | Chax Press and West House Books | 2008

I’d read extracts from this project first in The Gig back in 2004, then got hold of the beautiful Chax / West House edition of the first nineteen parts published in 2003. Mac Cormack has written what she calls a ‘polybiography’, responding to a family history written by her great- aunt Susan Hicks Beach and letters to and from her own grandparents and parents, whilst traversing an extraordinary array of other discourses from post-structuralist theory to cultural history and etymology. At its launch in London in June 2008, Alan Halsey summed it up when he said it’s both not a big book and it is a big book because there’s a lot in it. This is a very rich text indeed.

Jennifer Moxley | Clampdown | Flood | 2009

I was first presented with this book by its author on a visit to Maine at Easter 2009 and my re-reading of it is even now bound up with that locale. Moxley continues her project of revivifying the lyric, and all that entails, in a collection of reflective poems on the possibilities that being both presents and denies us. Some of the poems here come on in a similar mode to Moxley’s autobiography The Middle Room in the way they handle experience and memory, and all the pieces have an understated technical assurance that constantly reminds one of the possibilities of language itself. I shall be re-reading these pieces for a long time to come: a phrase which stays with me is ‘my accuracy is unstable’.

Caroline Bergvall | Cropper | Torque Press | 2008

In common with the two previous titles, Bergvall’s book explores the autobiographical mode and is a story of her relationships with language(s) (French, Norwegian and English) and desire, and a demand that the body be heard in-between. The piece unsettles the English it is written in with orthographical, phonological and cross-linguistic play and also incorporates lines in Norwegian (the piece was a response to write a text in Norwegian, only partly met). However, it is also one of Bergvall’s most candid pieces to date – deepening my understanding of how the complex range of formal practices in her work all stem from the way in which she experiences herself as on the border of languages.

Andrea Brady | Wildfire: A Verse Essay on Obscurity and Illumination | Dispatx | 2006

This text has been online for some time and this indeed is its natural habitat as it was designed with a tapestry of hyperlinks woven in to indicate source materials, which are legion. As a way of revealing the compositional approach of the author, these links are very generous. That said, I found my encounter with the piece only really took off when I painstakingly cut and paste sections together to form a printable copy (I have admitted this to the author!). In this work Brady explores the history of Greek Fire as an analogue of the use of White Phosphorous in the attack on Fallujah in 2004. Thought through a trail of damages that includes the horrific treatment of phosphorous workers at a match factory in London’s East End, this is a highly political poem that is full of memorable and disquieting images. Still available online at dispatx.com.

Robert Musil, trans. Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike | The Man Without Qualities | Picador | 1997

I’m still only about half way through this massive, unfinished novel, that I’ve been digesting in slow intense chunks over a six month period. This is a book often compared to Proust’s In Search of Lost Time or Joyce’s Ulysses, but to me it also illuminates and complements the works of two great C20th Polish novelists: Stanislaw Witkiewicz (Nienasycenie – Insatiability) and Witold Gombrowicz (several novels and the infamous Dziennik – Diary). Musil’s observational writing is superb but it is the way he handles the theme of cultural change which is totally fascinating and which makes the book seem fresh and relevant to our current predicaments. As Karen Mac Cormack has pointed out, at times it reads like a philosophical treatise.

James Lovelock | The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning | Allen Lane | 2009

The creator of the Gaia hypothesis, a theory of the Earth as a physiological system, and inventor of the electron capture detector, Lovelock’s scientific credentials are second to none, which makes the impact of this book about as gloomy as can be imagined. Lovelock essentially argues that we need a shift in emphasis in green thinking from sustainability to managed retreat in the face of inevitable global climate change. This book cuts through much received thought about green issues, for example Lovelock is a strong advocate of nuclear power, and though doubtless raising as many problems as it ‘solves’ for the scientific community, to the lay reader this is urgent and important information.

Gil Ott | traffic | Chax Press | 2001

I first fell in love with Ott’s work when I read an extract from his Zasterle Press book The Whole Note on Silliman’s Blog. That was about as perfect a book I could imagine at the time and perhaps still is, though traffic is also remarkable. Complete with a generous preface (in content rather than length), this is a long slow burner that I seem to favour reading on trains at present. Each page has a short verse or verses then a space then a short prose paragraph at the bottom. Endlessly fascinating, meticulous and rewarding poetry: ‘this poem, the notebook open on the bed where you might find it. One is one alone, is one among others’.

Kevin Davies | Comp. | Edge Books | 2000

Miles Champion told me years ago I should read this, but I had to actually go to the United States to secure a copy (thanks Steve!). I’ve since learned that Davies has only published one book since so at least I’m not too far behind as this was a real wake-up call even nine years after its first publication. A review by Brian Kim Stefans noted Jeff Derksen’s use of the term ‘rearticulatory’ which seems to me the way to go in keeping a post-Language political critique alive and kicking. And this book definitely is. And hilarious: ‘Entropy is built into the chicken’!

Maggie O’Sullivan | Waterfalls | Etruscan Books | 2009-08-13

A handsome cloth-bound edition of pieces which I’d only previously read in photocopied pamphlet form. O’Sullivan’s stunning poems really benefit from resetting and the addition of colour to her images but they are as tantalisingly incantatory as ever, poems to spell with, to do ritual by: ‘DID YOU KNOW THE AIR – THE WASH OF HAZEL / MAPPED ON THE SWING OF HER SIGHT?’ Parts of the work are responses to the Irish Famine of 1845-52 and explore O’Sullivan’s own Irish roots.

Nicholas Johnson | SHOW | Etruscan Books | 2001

This book shows English verse music working to its full height and depth in long-lined long lyric poems which make the everyday world full of rich, almost mythic, potential. There are also voices here, heavily accented, speaking in dialect in a way which reminds me of the late, great Bill Griffiths, whose last book Johnson published with his own Etruscan press. The book closes with ‘The Margarete-Sulamith Cycles of Anselm Kiefer’ which responds to Celan’s ‘Todesfuge’ and is practically a sound poem.

Jacques Rancière, trans. Gabriel Rockhill | The Politics of Aesthetics | Continuum | 2008

I tend to read theory as poetics, for what can inform practice, and this was a productive encounter for me. I don’t know other works by Rancière although at times he seemed to be simply going over the commonplaces of postmodern theory, including ideas associated with Lyotard in particular, without acknowledgement. However, it is his notion of the ‘distribution of the sensible’ (le partage du sensible), a law that produces a system of self-evident facts of perception, that enables his assertion of the aesthetic dimension as inherent in any radical emancipatory politics, by ‘undoing the relations between the visible, the sayable and the thinkable.’

More Scott Thurston here.

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