Mov­ing En­er­gies

The London Magazine - - NEWS - Ian Brin­ton

Rak­ing Light, Eric Lan­g­ley, Car­canet, April 2017, pp. 136, £9.99(hard­cover) Caval­canty, Peter Hughes, Car­canet, May 2017, pp.72, £9.99 (pa­per­back) Farm by the Shore, Thomas A. Clarke, Car­canet, Au­gust 2017, pp.104, £9.99, (pa­per­back)

A sense of light crack­les across the pages of th­ese three new Car­canet publi­ca­tions and one might be for­given for think­ing that each of the po­ets had been read­ing the work of the Me­dieval philoso­pher Robert Gros­seteste whose words in De Luce (‘On Light’) em­pha­sised a light which ‘of its very na­ture dif­fuses it­self in every di­rec­tion in such a way that a point of light will pro­duce in­stan­ta­neously a sphere of light of any size what­so­ever, un­less some opaque ob­ject stands in the way.’ The po­etic lan­guage which snakes its way across the pages of th­ese books ap­pears to be in­formed by light and seems to par­tic­i­pate in the world in­voked and de­lin­eated by that il­lu­mi­na­tion.

Eric Lan­g­ley’s début col­lec­tion of po­ems, Rak­ing Light, casts a foren­sic eye over the world of et­y­molo­gies. The ti­tle is taken from the tech­nique used in art-con­ser­va­tion where an oblique beam is thrown across the sur­face of a pic­ture in or­der to ex­pose its tex­tures and over­lays. Un­der such raked light, se­crets ap­pear from their hid­ing places as paint re­veals its dam­age and de­te­ri­o­ra­tion, its craque­lure and can­vas warp. The reader of a paint­ing, like that of a poem, is con­fronted with a back­story of aban­doned in­ten­tions: lost mean­ings and buried con­tra­dic­tions in lan­guage. Lan­g­ley presents the reader with a world of aban­doned sig­nif­i­cances:

Once, there was life here – resid­ual and er­rant –

hushed since, shucked un­der the thick skin, the tough slough.

A past master lies licked in his dust. Yoked be­hind slaked lime, Flake-white and lin­seed, hid be­hind The chalk­ing, quick lick-and-prom­ise.

Mem­o­ries are tucked away and, through con­tem­pla­tion of a world of deriva­tions, can rise to the sur­face clear and true. The myth of Or­pheus and Eury­dice is placed within a Lon­don con­text and Proser­pina (whose very name is de­rived from the Latin pros­er­pere, to creep forth), con­sort of Pluto in Hades, ‘per­mits a soft re­quick’ning’ as Eury­dice’s ‘re­cent ghost’ is re-weaved for some mo­ments out of light and words. Looked at by Or­pheus too in­tru­sively and too di­rectly she will re­turn to the shades of the buried mean­ings and in ‘Eury­dice in Eus­ton Square’ the ele­giac tone of the griev­ing singer faces a lost past:

I don’t know when

I looked to lose

you, or heard you spi­ralled off on spindrift.

Eury­dice re­turns ‘…right on edge / of the bright­est world’ be­fore ‘you slipped / off on their at­mos­phere” and Or­pheus is left by her “dimly fall­ing’:

Why did you go

when I’m still call­ing out for full recall?

One can al­most hear the eerie rep­e­ti­tion of lines from Thomas Hardy’s ele­giac stan­zas to his dead wife in the 1912-13 poem ‘The Voice’ as he is left ‘fal­ter­ing for­ward’ with ‘leaves around me fall­ing’:

Wind ooz­ing thin through the thorn from nor­ward, And the woman call­ing.

The word which seems most ap­pro­pri­ate to Eric Lan­g­ley’s po­ems might be glimpses, mem­o­ries tucked un­der the hedge, frag­mented light.

Peter Hughes’s trans­la­tions of Pe­trarch’s com­plete son­nets were pub­lished by Re­al­ity Street in 2015 un­der the ti­tle Quite Frankly and it seems en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate that he should now have turned his in­di­vid­ual and en­er­getic at­ten­tion to the work of the thir­teenth-cen­tury Tus­can poet Caval­canti. It was 1910 when Ezra Pound sug­gested some ma­jor dif­fer­ences be­tween the two Ital­ian po­ets by sug­gest­ing that Pe­trarch’s art was that of or­na­ment (‘the pret­ti­est or­na­ment he could find’) whereas in re­fer­ring to Caval­canti he voiced one of the ma­jor state­ments which has been linked to the ori­gins of Mod­ernism:

We ap­pear to have lost the ra­di­ant world where one thought cuts through an­other with clean edge, a world of mov­ing en­er­gies ‘ mezzo os­curo rade’, ‘ risplende in sè per­pet­uale ef­fecto’, mag­netisms that take form, that are seen, or that bor­der the vis­i­ble, the mat­ter of Dante’s par­adiso, the glass un­der wa­ter, the form that seems a form seen in a mir­ror, th­ese re­al­i­ties per­cep­ti­ble to the sense…

A shim­mer­ing en­ergy in Hughes’s po­ems re­flects off the pages of this new trans­la­tion of Caval­canti, Caval­canty. When Pound wrote about the Tus­can poet he had sug­gested that the fa­mous can­zone, Donna mi Prega, ‘may have ap­peared about as sooth­ing to the Floren­tine of A.D. 1290 as con­ver­sa­tion about Tom Paine, Marx, Lenin and Bucharin would to-day in a Methodist bankers’ board meet­ing in Mem­phis, Tenn.’ Turn­ing to the very up-to-date ver­sion of ‘ Donna me prega – per ch’eo voglio dire’ in Hughes’s new trans­la­tion we can see what might halt today’s equiv­a­lent of that bankers’ board meet­ing in Mem­phis in its tracks:

now the lady makes me think about love’s pit-bull at­tacks on the soul’s soft tis­sues

& those fa­tal core-re­ac­tor melt­downs & deep im­mu­nity to metaphor

The im­me­di­acy of th­ese lines gives off a heat which con­fronts us with a so­cial and po­lit­i­cal sense of con­fronta­tion and that ‘deep im­mu­nity to metaphor’ en­sures that any pre­vail­ing world of so­cially po­lite po­etry is left com­pletely be­hind in the dusty cup­board of dead po­etry an­tholo­gies. This is a world of Love which is com­posed of ‘over­ac­tive el­bows’ barg­ing its way ‘to the front of any queue or crowd’. This sen­su­al­ity of love is made

of noth­ing yet feels like mar­ble knuck­les knead­ing your most vul­ner­a­ble hol­lows ar­ti­cles & raw pro­tu­ber­ances.

The fo­cus of at­ten­tion on a child­hood’s game of mar­bles (no feel­ing of but­ter­flies here!) merges with the pun on knead/need and the empty cries from empty places within. It is un­com­pro­mis­ingly vivid.

Per­haps what dis­tin­guishes po­etry from other forms of writ­ing is the em­pha­sis it gives to each word, a weight, space and lus­tral im­me­di­acy. Farm by the Shore is a col­lec­tion of just over two hun­dred short po­ems. The short­est con­tain only one line and ap­pear on the page a lit­tle like proverbs re­mind­ing one of Wil­liam Blake’s The Mar­riage of Heaven and Hell: mys­te­ri­ous lines of­fer­ing a thought con­tained in the sim­plic­ity of black print on a white page:

open the door and star­tle a deer

The po­ems are in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the land­scape and cul­ture of the Scot­tish high­lands and is­lands and, as the note on the back of this at­trac­tively pro­duced vol­ume in­forms us:

Thomas A. Clark’s brief no­ta­tions and frag­ments em­body the pre­car­i­ous bal­ance be­tween sea and land, wilder­ness and civil­i­sa­tion, while ev­ery­thing is played out in a con­text of weather.

This pre­car­i­ous bal­ance is held still for a mo­ment in a world of light:

noth­ing is love­lier than the grey line that ap­proaches and de­parts from pre­ci­sion

As light shifts so does the fo­cus of at­ten­tion that Clark brings to bear upon the mo­ment. How­ever, at­ten­tive­ness, like light is in­di­vis­i­ble and thir­teen po­ems af­ter this mo­ment we read:

be­tween stim­u­lus and re­sponse the grey lag

The noun ‘lag’ may re­fer to a long strip of marshy meadow, one that might ap­pear in ‘the grey line’, but it also can re­fer to the halt­ing move­ment of time as re­flected in shift­ing light. The spa­ces be­tween the in­di­vid­ual po­ems are pauses for thought:

…in­di­ca­tions of time or dis­tance, or graphs of the va­garies of at­ten­tion. In such a cli­mate, to farm, or walk, or write, is to per­sist. You come to one thing and then an­other.

In the terse and ex­act lan­guage of Thomas A. Clark words track down thoughts:

noun in­tend­ing its ob­ject stoat chas­ing a rab­bit

and lan­guage tries to hold a mo­ment still, to ex­tract a sig­nif­i­cance from what is al­ready chang­ing in the shift­ing light. It is as though Clark holds in mind Wal­ter Ben­jamin’s phrase ‘the dia­lec­tics of hap­pi­ness’. In 1977 Clark was in­ter­viewed by Glyn Purs­glove and he re­ferred to that Ben­jamin quo­ta­tion:

He talks of there be­ing two modes within the dia­lec­tic; a hym­nic mode and an ele­giac mode. That means for me a Par­adise Lost, be­ing the ele­giac, and a Par­adise Re­gained or Glimpsed be­ing the hym­nic.

The two modes are of course in­sep­a­ra­ble and in Farm by the Shore Clark of­fers us bright glimpses which are al­ready mov­ing into shadow.

In Canto 93 from Sec­tion: Rock-Drill Pound quoted from Dante’s Con­vivio about how the union of love per­mits us to know what is in­side the mind by see­ing out­side the thing it loves. He then pro­ceeded with the sin­gle word ‘ Risplende’, stand­ing shin­ing in a line of its own and em­pha­sised the cen­tral­ity of pres­ence by as­sert­ing words which have be­come totemic for Mod­ernism: ‘Man­i­fest and not ab­stract’. It was Pound’s es­say of 1910 which sug­gested that Caval­canti may well have read Gros­seteste on the sub­stance of light and his own ren­der­ing of the Can­zone ‘Donna me prega’ took that into ac­count. Gros­seteste had con­sid­ered light to be ‘a very sub­tle cor­po­real sub­stance, whose ex­ceed­ing thin­ness and rar­ity ap­proaches the in­cor­po­real, and which of its own na­ture perpetually gen­er­ates it­self and is at once spher­i­cally dif­fused around a given point.’ In the com­bat­ive and as­sertive words of Peter Hughes’s Caval­canty we flow into fresh con­fig­u­ra­tions ‘in re­sponse to love’s ac­com­mo­da­tions’ and Eric Lan­g­ley’s eye rakes the can­vas ‘soothed through / freeze frame and bend­ing glass’. Mean­ing is dis­cov­ered be­tween spa­ces, si­lences heard be­tween sounds, in the work of all three of th­ese vi­tally alert po­ets.

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