Sunday, August 31, 2008

Not the Full Story - six interviews with Lee Harwood

I've been slowly working my way through this book, with Harwood's Collected to hand to look up the poems he talks about. The interviews, conducted by Kelvin Corcoran, discuss the work in chronological order, with a times, a certain reticence, or unwillingness to be drawn on Harwood's part, which leads to some amusing exchanges:

KC: ...'Desert Phone'... begins "my heart melts at the sound of your voice, the sight of your words", that's a very striking beginning.

LH: I don't think so.

KC: You're wrong.

LH: I see it as a literal series of events.

KC: But that's why it's striking...

This book has given me quite an insight into Lee's work, especially in relation to the early poetry, to his university days and to the early period in Soho and Brighton. He also discusses the influence of an F.T. Prince, who was a mentor during this period. It's fascinating to hear him discussing the poem, 'Summer', which he can't now remember writing, quite objectively as if it were someone else's poem; which in a sense, it is, as no-one in their sixties is the same person they were in their twenties.

Friday, August 22, 2008

from The Book of Random Access


Sanitise your shoes here! Lightweight scooters to fit in the boot of your car. You'll love our Halloween trick-or-treat bag. [modern] folkloric evidence [may not] reflect how the holiday might have changed; these rituals may not be "authentic" or "timeless" examples of pre-industrial times. Halloween was perceived as the night during which the division between the world of the living and the otherworld was blurred, so spirits of the dead and inhabitants from the underworld were able to walk free on the earth. The tang of coffee, the cold, bright morning air, makes you feel alive. Dazzling sun on car windows on the A52. I feel good, I knew that I would now. James Brown is dead. The A52 is gridlocked. Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they've all come to look for America. They've come to sanitise their shoes, to buy new scooters, to look for England. I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes. Resonant rumour of sun, impulse of summer. The tang of coffee, the bright morning air, and I'm dreaming that the lost children walk again in the sun, as close as pain, unreachable as those in pain, as all-pervasive as waters rising over the crumbling shores of the eastern counties; fields under water after centuries, the contours of the land made strange. And yet some say that time is like a small harbour on the Atlantic coast, a sea breeze tugging the sails. Let's go, and look for the living; longitude and magnitude, master mariners all.


Outside, it's well below freezing but the coffee in here tastes good. SMS: Hi, hope u r feeling OK. Looking forward to seeing u 2morrow. Love Dadx. Everyone I know leads a life that has no time in it. Not literally, of course, that would be impossible. But a three hour journey down the motorway, a meeting, catch up on some emails, then head to the hotel and prepare a presentation for tomorrow? The Christmas trees in the car park and faery lights on the bushes have voices like female TV presenters; low and musical, authoritative, but ultimately insincere. I know it all. I'm learning to leave my history at the door and to think uncontrollably at the most inconvenient times of the world my enemy, my friend, my teacher. It's a state of mind, home. From my hotel window I watch a car with dark windows take the corner very fast, almost losing control, then screech off into the night. The position and the velocity of an object cannot both be measured exactly, at the same time, even in theory. The very concepts of exact position and exact velocity together, in fact, have no meaning in nature. Ordinary experience provides no clue of this principle. My enemy, my friend, my teacher. It's her I'm thinking of. Without her I'd be nothing. A speck in the infinite. Of course, the behaviour of matter and radiation on the atomic scale often seems peculiar, and the consequences of quantum theory are accordingly difficult to understand and to believe.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


(This sentence was written in an email to me from John Bloomberg-Rissman, 15th Aug '08)

Friday, August 15, 2008


Suddenly the firewall has come down (!) & at last I can peruse Litterbug in my lunch-hour. Doing so, I found myself being drawn in to the thread of debate/discussion about J H Prynne. In particular I was intrigued by the excerpt from ‘Field Notes’. Now, you know me, Alan, I’m not against the complex; in fact I’m a regular enthusiast. But I have to say the Prynnean disquisition on the word ‘Behold’ takes the proverbial biscuit (if not the piss). It strikes me all Prynne is actually saying here is that Wordsworth is using the word ‘Behold’ when he can’t, in fact, behold the ‘solitary Highland Lass’, because she isn’t physically there anymore. Wow! Wot a revelation. For my five cents Wordsworth probably wrote ‘Behold’ because it was a contemporary exhortation to mentally picture something. (In other words he’s saying ‘Look!’) And there’s also a bit of alliteration at play in ‘Behold her’.

And this business about how being a writer ‘is to be authorised to compose by backwards displacement into the site where what is to be now composed had then its germinal origin.’ Doesn’t this simply mean writers write about things they can remember? I think it does, you know.

In a later post you pose the question (rhetorically, I appreciate): to what does ‘Fissile drag under gang profile’ refer? I’d hazard – nothing at all. It’s deploys absolutely standard Prynne tropes: appropriated technical language set so as to emphasise its musicality (‘the ‘ile’ of ‘fissile’ to rhyme with the ‘ile’ of ‘profile’ – enclosing the short hard ‘a’s of ‘drag & ‘gang’). It puts me in mind a bit of what Pound’s always up to in the Cantos – that is, cutting & pasting from a set of standard components. In the Cantos these are palaces, terraces, columns, clouds, green seas, rocks, the sea under the rocks, the rocks under the sea, more columns, more clouds etc etc. Sometimes this produces exceedingly haunting & beautiful things; but mostly it doesn’t.

It’s all very confusing, isn’t it? Especially for those of us with jobs who only get the chance to think about such things in our lunch-hours.

Like you, I’m rather taken (in?) by the early Prynne. My head gets sort of turned by the modernist dash & swagger of it. The later stuff gives me a headache.

C. J. Allen