Archive for August, 2011

In Panoramic Lounge Bar and Stolen Love Behaviour we have poems that, as it were, take flight from a given encounter with a phrase, an observation, a bon mot. This ‘flight’ usually takes the form of, in Panoramic Lounge Bar, an exuberant exploration of a state of mind (‘So what did you do on your week off?’, ‘Que Pasa?’, the reader can supply others), in Stolen Love Behaviour, of an emotional experience, or, a struggle for or celebration of emotional equilibrium. We move, perhaps, from Derrida’s emphasis on the question of textual autonomy, to Deleuze (and Gattari)’s imaging of the libidinal in text (even if such text also needs a ‘desire-liberating reader’).

Interior Night can be seen as an extension of both these, in that the poems there also chart an exploration of emotional states and experiences. Whereas the fragile equilibrium of Stolen Love Behaviour allowed Stammers some truly memorable poems, in Interior Night the equilibrium is tipped and we hang, as it were, to the underside over the darkness of the Id of the poet, and by implication, of his particular time and place: we approach an identity just as fluid as before, but exploring less positive elements. The superstructure of Freudian psychiatry, and of psychoanalysis, does seem to correspond to the concept of a metanarrative, which arcs the writing of this book. As Verena Andermatt Conley wrote (on Cixous) there is a strong psychoanalytical strain in Derrida’s writing, as there is a strong Freudian strain in Deleuze. Stammers has commented elsewhere on his continued commitment to Freud, and Freudian psychoanalysis; and acted as a Freudian therapist at one point. Stammers’ early, award winning ‘The Wolf Man’ from Panoramic Lounge Bar, and the later ‘Midnight in the Realm of the Psychopomp’ from Stolen Love Behaviour, introduce Freudian terminology and concepts to the reader.

What happens in this use of varied modes of language can be best described as a decentering of language. This Stammers has been engaged with throughout his published books; it is a central postmodern device: “… playful, self-reflexive and self-parodying.” Borges is put forward as a master at this, whose, “… writings parallel … poststructuralist verbal exuberance…” (‘Contemporary Literary Theory’, ed Seldon, Widdowson, Brooker). We often now think of postmodernist, especially poststructuralist, writing as rather cold, academic, and unapproachable; that Stammers has produced warm, approachable, even lovable poems is his achievement. He has this verbal exuberance; it is his most admired trait.

In ‘Aspects of Kees’ (Panoramic Lounge Bar) the rhyme and rhythm are exact, a tour-de-force of wit, punning and topical reference: ‘Kees slamming the type writer keys,/ Kees x-ing out words, cursing at his absurd,/ purposeless verbs; zips out the dead sheet/ from the roller. Kees mumbling, blocked,/ failing once again to budge the tumblers in that seized lock,/ turn the key. Kees fumbling/ with the caps lock, humbled/ by the just-typed sheet that says:/ Kees, you’re no Keats, you couldn’t write a line/ if your life depended on it. Kees wondering.’ The overall structure of this excerpt is revealing; we have an accumulating build up of short statements, hard sounds, stopped rhythms, and then a release into a prose line: a buildup, and release, whose issue is a sense of failure, a humbling, a sense of lack and loss, of inadequacy. Plainly the outcome was to be poetry, and we are referenced to expect poetry of a Keatsian character, for which we may read an over-rich, arch-archaic perception of writing. The actual outcome, the flat prose recrimination is further flattened by this expectation. ‘Aspects of Kees’ is an extended piece; we are perhaps tempted to read its rich structure and exploration of American noir culture as a personal refection of the writer’s range of interests, and therefore of the personality of the writer: is this sense of failure, so well acknowledged, part of the writer’s experience, that is, every writer’s experience? Where is the borderline; how far can we read, and how far only see textual play?

Above I have used the phrases ‘take flight’, and ‘exuberance’ for Stammers’ way of writing; this I connected with a definition of the characteristics of poststructuralist writing. What is this ‘flight’, ‘exuberance’? Do I mean here a highly rhetorical use of language? T S Eliot, in the Clark lectures (: Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry) has written, ‘…I could not admit any antithesis between the “rhetorical” and “conversational”.’ and ‘Rhetoric may be merely a development of conversation.’ If we leave aside Derrida on the issue of speech and written language, we can see here a definite reference back to the earlier connection with the approach to language-use of Frank O’Hara, his background of the Beat poets, and foreground of the apparently open structures of the New York school. ‘Any literary mode is a development of speech’: Eliot again. Also again, Derrida questioning the tenets of the underlying statements to this, that speech and the written word are in a hierarchical relationship, in Of Grammatology.

Where do we locate Stammers’ rhetoric? In Panoramic Lounge Bar, if we look at ‘Que Sera?’: ‘Lavish rays of the flagrant sun cascade on the esplanade/ or coruscate the way H2SO4 does, spilt on a lab floor,’ we see a reliance on standard adjectival effects conjoined with the nonstandard sight-reference to chemical tablature. There is a reliance on sound/assonantal effects, open ‘a’s that give sense of space, light, and how they modulate to heighten the sense of what is described. The rhyming of ‘4’/four and ‘floor’ shows an interesting displacement between what is seen and what is read. In ‘There Are Some Places Beyond’: ‘ There are some places beyond where we are,/ places we have been together in other pasts/ down other different possible differences.’ there is a major play on sound used differently, as subtly placed clues; these are alliterative markers. There is also abstraction, repetition, and a delayed syntactical completion; these barely anchor the sense of the piece in reality. It is only later in the piece we hit Vienna, and the tactile details flood in. It is as though the opening section moves through tone registers; it is suggestive of the experimental music of the Vienna circle of musicians grouped with Schoenberg, Berg, Webern. This is an invigorating opening, inviting and sufficiently assertive for the reader to agree to, as Donald Davie has it, the contract between writer and reader.

Stolen Love Behaviour offers rhetorical examples of a different order. Where Barthes’ would have called the previous excerpts as examples of ‘lisable’ writing, with Stolen Love Behaviour we move at times towards a far more ‘scritpible’ writing. ‘Rosegarden’ opens, ‘There’s bound to be rain after all this. The unholy heavens/ are black bouquets laid out along a mantelpiece.’ There is an immediacy in that short opening sentence, the everyday, throwaway phrase about the weather. We then enter the cultural portal the language opens for us, as the writing becomes majorly meta: both meta-physical and meta-phorical. It continues: ‘Interrupted from being who we are for a moment,/ we turn and look through the big bay-window/ to the rosegarden and the red, red roses.’ We do not ‘take flight’ as such here as open into ourselves, discover that the ordinary everyday we know also has an ability for perception that surprises us into a sense of a larger self. This is probably as close as we come to an example of Barthes’ ideas of Textual writing, ‘verticality’, in Stammers. In ‘Furthermore the Avenue’ we have ‘Furthermore the avenue recedes,/ all the tables set out for le dejeuner,/ tiny crabs are spots of cochineal on saffron rice…’ where the ordinary and extraordinary are conjoined within standard metaphorical usage. Use of colour words, offsetting straight observation, persuades us we are entering a heightened state of expression. The opening phoneme continues, as it were, an ongoing engagement with the reader; we are subtly, immediately inducted.

Interior Night demarcates the metaphorical referentiality even more strictly; ‘Mr Punch in Soho’: ‘You would recognise the hook nose anywhere,/ his hump and paunch, the shiny pink erection of his chin…’; the immediate address to the reader leaves no option: we are corralled, we have to listen. Throughout the books there can be seen to be a successive tightening up of usage: here the language is matter of fact, the only release we are allowed from the hammering syntax is through that slightly queasy image with its Freudian overtones. A poem like ‘Existential’ has ‘… when a person passes/ they become a void precisely equivalent to themselves.’ The language does not let us off the hook for one minute; it asserts. By use of rhythmic placement of polysyllables we enact a development of argument as we read, that has standard form and expression. It allows us no alternative, or way out, other than through acceptance of what the sense avers.

The line is Stammers’ measure; in his application it is supple and subtle. A line in Stammers can take us anywhere, and raise many questions as to the nature of an experience, of the manner of our apprehension of an experience, of the nature of such as language. It is not possible to pin him down on any one position, because he moves protean-like through them; his is the realm of language where it meets the world. Stolen Love Behaviour, in particular, does open the possibility of a comparative composition style to Coleridge’s conversational poem style. Coleridge, Robert Koelzer writes, employs the ‘…middle register of speech (using) idiomatic language that is capable of being construed as un-symbolic and un-musical… lets itself be taken as ‘merely talk’’. He traces the use of this style in Whitman, Wallace Stevens, Auden; that is, a predominantly American usage (he does not specify which period of Auden he particularly refers to here). Jerome McGann (The Poetics of Sensibility, 2006) writes, ‘…modernism draws upon romanticism in fundamental ways.’ Allen Ginsburg, of the Beat poets who influenced O’Hara, and through him the London urban styles of Stammers, Mark Ford, employed conversation-cadences as well as a developed form of romanticism in his most famous pieces; he also developed a form of confessional writing. Most of these elements can be detected in Stammers work; O’Hara was not a confessional writer, his first-person and intimate address do not enact the same role as the confessional. But he did attempt a Coleridgean form: ‘To Jane; and in Imitation of Coleridge.’ Echoic uses of a Wallace Stevens prosodic style have also been detected in his writing. And yet poems of the order of ‘Certain Sundry Matters’, ‘Rosegarden’, ‘Flower Market Street’, are not ‘effusions’ in the Coleridgean manner; these poems have particular tones, buried structures, even developments in common and which separate them off from the others; in Stammers the conversation style is developed partly through the medium of the Michael Donaghy narrative form; this is a form that utilises voice tones, and places a persona central to the narrative. The main characteristics of this form are an immediate sense of contemporarity, and immersion in time and place. Stammers is aware of, open to, contemporary experimental writing as can be evinced in his many interviews with a wide range of poets, including Caroline Bergvall; this also holds true to his own use of referential inclusiveness in his writing, in name-checking cultural and domestic motifs. It is also in the structure of his poetry; his emphasis could be said to be for the voice, attempting to capture specific tones of phrase, even more than to the eye and its silent reading. His readings are performances; the correct weighting of intonation of phrase, deployment of tone of voice, are all essential to the comprehension of his work. The categorizations of NLP practitioners in identifying a person’s particular mode or modes of perception, may have a part to play in understanding this also.

Alexander Del Mar, in his book, Money and Civilisation (Burt Franklin, 1969), makes the suggestion that in the reign of King Edward 1 of England, the state of the coinage was so bad that he had to resort at one point to issuing leather money. The debasement of the currency prior to this was due to the inheritance of the bad practices and abuses of coin under the previous monarch, Henry 111. Coin-clipping was rife, and consequently many coins were found to be lower in value per weight of precious metals than their actual value in cash.

The leather money probably took the form of lozenges of cured leather, stamped or branded with the royal insignia. This was suggested to be the chief form of payment for the labourers who built the Welsh castles in the 1290s: Caernarfon, Conwy and Beaumaris.

I have this vision of cattle from the Welsh Marches driven to London markets, and their hides returned to Wales as money.

Why this huge castle-building programme, in a period of already rocky finances? Following the prolonged disturbances and shifting alliances of the last Welsh princes, and particularly the rebellion of Llywelyn the Great, these castles were strategic to the suppression of the North Welsh stronghold of supporters. Immediately prior to this were the extensive campaigns in Ireland under the previous monarch to further establish an English hegemony; and later on were the Scottish campaigns against William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. All the participants were played off against each: Wales was used as a base for English expeditions into Ireland; and Welsh interests were exploited to weaken support for Scottish independence. These long campaigns were, of course, enormously expensive.

And then, in 1290, he finally expelled the Jewish population from England. This followed over a century of sporadic but intensifying hostility. The Jewish people were only allowed to work in the fields of money lending and finance schemes; although Crown Princes and Kings used their expertise. And then Edward banned them from that, and tried to force them to work only as traders, artisans, farmers. Ten years later they were forbidden to work as merchants.

Moneylending, along with interest payments: usury, was considered a highly unchristian occupation (Jesus ejecting the money-lenders from the temple etc) and so only suitable for non Christians. In later years banks, for instance the Medici Bank, manipulated accounts through foreign exchanges in highly complex schemes, in order to gain the best rates. These schemes were used knowingly on the accounts of archbishops and even a Pope. It was all to avoid being labelled as ‘usurers’. The end product was virtually the same, of course.

By expelling the Jewish citizens Edward 1 hoped to recoup more cash by seizing their assets. In effect he further crippled the economy. And the tight reins he held on import and export licenses prevented expansion of markets; it held Britain in stagnation.
Nice one, Edward One!

The use of leather money was a practice borrowed initially from Russia; it was also known in China, India, Venice, and even France in later centuries.

Immigrants in Our Own Land & Selected Early Poems
Martin & Meditations on the South Valley
Black Mesa Poems
(all published by New Directions paperbacks)
Healing Earthquakes (Grove Press)

Let’s hear it for Jimmy Santiago Baca!
He put the chicano into American literature; he put the bare-foot street kid into the American Library; he put the ex-con into the Academy.

It started like this: FBI drugs bust, and he in the middle; for once, as the usual story goes, not involved. Ok, a first. No matter, it put him in Maximum Security prison for six and a half years.

By the age of twenty he started to teach himself to read and write. By the time of his Parole Board hearing he had a hand-made attaché case full of poems accepted by magazines to show. Denise Levertov had a hand in this.

From ‘Immigrants in Our Own Land…’


The cell doors racked open, time for work
field crews on the athletic field……….

Inside the walls, main-yard crews
gather up shrivelled leaves, crumbling flowers, scrape
cracked bits of twigs, white powder on their brogan boots

Chain gangs line up, load themselves into the white trucks
The fields we pass along the road
frothy with pungent odours, juices in roots and leaves
evaporate in shimmering heat waves

Cloudy Day

It is windy today. A wall of wind crashing against,
in empty spaces of the cell block.

Immediate; loud; atmospheric; deeply sensual. The hard consonants evoking the dry, hard sounds of New Mexico; the aridity; the timelessness; the detail that nails the scene.

In the same book we come across deeper layers, nocturnal soul-scapes:

I Ask Myself, Should I Cry? Or Laugh?

I am a glossy green leaf, sticking out
in midnight moon, waxy drum-skin the moon pounds with wind….
Guilt itches my heart, as though a grasshopper,
chewing half, or a thick lazy caterpillar spinning silk nets,
hanging blue raindrops, baskets that invisible rocks,
that crack their stomachs, making wings of my eyelids.

I ask you to particularly note the last stanza’s strung-out clauses, reaching out further and further. Do they conclude? Is the sense: ‘Guilt itches my heart, like a grasshopper…’, or is it: ‘Guilt itches my heart…’ and the clauses, that cannot close?

The self is consumed by outside agencies; yet they are natural agencies, transforming the self into like: ‘making wings of my eyelids’. Shamanistic.

This losing of the self is one of Baca’s main themes, to break from the destructiveness of the built-up social, racial, cultural roles one must change the self. In a prison environment there is only the self; four years in solitary for not conforming. He says, “I finally destroyed myself in this huge cemetery called the prisons of America.”

One of the many remarkable things about these poems is their restraint. Born out of extreme adversity, their rancour is subsumed by the need to identify specific Chicano legacies in the lived out lives of the people. It is in the language. Later he incorporates more and more Hispanic phraseology, especially in places of heightened emotion.

The need is to remake the self in an image outside of the one of “oppression and… racism and… indifference and… ignorance and anger that we’ve traditionally been treated with…”

And so he set up youth group projects for dealing with violence. There is a poem in the 1989 book ‘Black Mesa Poems’, called ‘From Violence to Peace’ that illustrates this. It is a poem based around a narrative. He bought a young bull calf, raised it. Then had to have it butchered:

‘Perfecto shot it.
Rasping on a black rope of blood
round its neck,
it gave a tremendous groan, tremendous groan
and I turned and said aloud to myself,
“That’s the moon’s voice.”

“That’s the moon’s voice.”

Full of self-hate for his betrayal, he gets fighting drunk, harasses a neighbour, who shoots him in self defence. Convalescing, he nurses the feud before realising it’s peace he needs, ‘to dismantle the bloody wheel of violence/ I had ridden since childhood.’ This poem to pay the cost of the bull’s death.

‘Interested groups’ had wanted to turn the Black Mesa into a national monument, with fences, rights of way. “No”, Jimmy said: “(it is) a dormant volcano…all the people… before me and lived their lives…have lived in reverence to this volcano…I think…of Rito who was murdered there by the sheriffs, how his blood fell onto the stones and how it…became the minerals of that stone.”

“All the sacrificial victims who gave their blood to the sun, the sun is now giving us back….We are now taking light back to the people.”

He doesn’t just mean the Chicano people; primarily yes, but also all victims, all people.

Riots in London

Posted: August 9, 2011 in Chat
Tags: , , ,


But then, hey, doesn’t that sound… familiar?

Didn’t Dickens write ‘Barnaby Rudge’ about riots in London?

Didn’t William Blake, then even earlier, Ben Jonson, Shakespeare write about the volatile London mobs?

Weren’t the Apprentice Boys regularly getting blind drunk, and rioting?

Didn’t the Medieval Guilds regularly riot, burn and argue?

And the answer to all these is Yes.

Normally I am the first to say: whoa there! You cannot add all these wholly different events together to make a sum of convenience!

There is something about the London urban experience, though, that marks it out as … what can you say: ‘peculiar’?

Thinking about it: since the Poll Tax riots of 1981, to now , must have been one of the quietest periods in London for many, many decades.

A serious injustice, however, to forget the G8 Summit protests of 2010, which introduced the term ‘kettling’ into the melee of jargon and dubious practices.

So then let us look at Crowd Psychology
Policing Techniques
Economic forecasts
Social expectation levels

let us look at the constant barrage of lifestyle adverts wherever we look or read, and at the levels of society these are aimed at and who have not got a chance in hell of ever, ever, acceding to that social requirement – the sign (label) that says ‘You Are Here!’

Let us look at the (what was the last estimate?) 14 years of crap sporadic jobs ahead of us; and the constant hassling and harassing and labelling by Benefit staff (been there: see it every day), newspapers, organs of the media.

Rosy, isn’t it?

Nom de Plume (from Panoramic Lounge Bar, 2001)

The bunch of flowers in the vase, what are they called?
I’ll call them Anstruthers for no other reason

Many have read this poem as a charmingly disarming, though enigmatic, expression of our fellow vulnerabilities (see, perhaps, Annie Freud?). This is, after all, Stammers’ display stall, the first poem in the book; this is what is to be found herein. The opening of the poem echoes the opening of Michael Donaghy’s ‘Our Life Stories’, (Conjure, 2000): ‘What did they call that ball in Citizen Kane?/ That crystal blizzardball recalling his past?/ Surely I know the name.’ Here we have the questioning/questing form, and the internal rhyming; it is the form of the poem that Stammers echoes, as if by way of acknowledgement. Stammers’ poem, though, does something different, other: it is as good an encapsulation of the possibilities of Derrida’s “differance” as any we have; it enacts the blurring of boundaries, in the way ‘the powder and near-navy blues leak one into another….’ It captures Derrida’s dislocation-effect well, with the deliberate mis-naming of the flowers, the bleeding of boundaries. It opens, rather than limits, its fields of reference.

This approach to the poem references the oft-quoted Mallarmé-argument: “My dear Degas, poems are not made out of ideas. They’re made out of words.” What I can say in response to this is that to me this, by now over-used, dictum, has all the tones of a riposte, and as such an entrenched ideology is being expressed, rather than a broad, conclusive commentary; I also suspect he, as with most poets, was really talking about his own poetry – even, how he wished to write, and not necessarily how he did write. We cannot take what one person says of writing, as necessarily applying to all writing; especially with a prescriptive intent.

If we take that title, for instance: Nom de Plume; then bring in the elaboration of the themes of that volume, that are to be found in ‘Testimony’, (the Dublin-and-Derrida poem), we find: ‘What is it, after all, that is authorized?….’. Despite his disclaimer in that poem, Stammers did pay attention to what she was saying. ‘Nom de Plume’ captures the mind-frame of playful authorizing that is going on in this book: Slimboy Fat, of course an obvious take on Fatboy Slim, whose real name is…. It does not do to underestimate just how playful Stammers can be; there are many notes on that keyboard, and Stammers can play them all, including sarcastic and downright laddish.
And Weldon Kees. Of course: Kees is the prime example of persona-blurring, who’s fictitious Robinson has caught many in his spell. Perhaps here we meet one of the boundaries of Stammers’ world of literary references: the most persona-rich of modern poets was surely Pessoa. Where is Pessoa? Could we also stretch the definition to Carol Ann Duffy’s book, The World’s Wife? Perhaps we begin to encroach here on the field of implied range of reference, on contextual meaning.

‘Nom de Plume’ gives us the clue to the reading of these first two books. From that first poem we enter the no-man’s-land of language itself; it is the interface between one’s experience of the world, and the subjective response to that experience; it is the realm of expression. This is a way of saying that Stammers’ focus for his poems in these first two books is the textual actuality of writing itself. It is a no-man’s-land in that although the language for expression perhaps begins with borrowing from the naming of external objects, it is the phenomenology of the self that utilises that language; and this self is not an identifiable whole, but a collision of associated states of being.

What happens in this use of varied modes of language can be best described as a decentering of language. This Stammers has been engaged with throughout his published books; it is a central postmodern device: “… playful, self-reflexive and self-parodying.” Borges is put forward as a master at this, whose, “… writings parallel … poststructuralist verbal exuberance…” (‘Contemporary Literary Theory’, ed Seldon, Widdowson, Brooker). We often now think of postmodernist, especially poststructuralist, writing as rather cold, academic, and unapproachable; that Stammers has produced warm, approachable, even lovable poems is his achievement. He has this verbal exuberance; it is his most admired trait.
Stammer’s decentering includes his use of the variable I, of an undefined narrator: Nom de Plume can sneak into any party and act the idiot savant (‘The Party’, Panoramic Lounge Bar; ‘The Truth in a Position’, Stolen Love Behaviour). As Lacan wrote in his critique of Freudianism (‘Lacan for Beginners’): ‘… the myth of a unified selfhood depends upon (the) ability to identify with objects in the world…’. He goes on to state: ‘Neither the imaginary or the symbolic can fully comprehend the Real…’; that is, neither the mind’s intellect, nor the use of language can comprehend the objective world ‘out there’.
In Interior Night Stammers writes, ‘The ego is a bodily ego… the self an organic self: that temporary organization is being imposed upon its constituents and his name that isolated one object amid the tumult and disorder.’: ‘Paris Anywhere’ (ibid).
The Real, the ‘out there’, is perhaps what Stammers went to find on his American road-trip poems in Stolen Love Behaviour and elsewhere (as Paul Simon had it, circa 1968, “They have all gone to look for America’; and this is a source that falls well within Stammers’ field of reference) only to find, as here, everything is a blend of perception, the perceived, the assumed, and the unknowable. It is enlightening to see just how closely the ‘he’ of ‘Paris Anywhere’ (presumably, ‘Texas’ included) echoes Roland Barthes in this above quotation (and so, hence, the Paris of ‘Paris’): ‘we write in part to the dictation of our bodies… ‘body’ (is used to) describe the source of… vital and characteristic determinants of a writer’s language …’. (John Sturrock, Structuralism and Since).

As stated earlier, Stammers’ writing is an exploration of a self, identity, persona that is locatable solely in the event of the writing. In The Pleasure of the Text, Barthes notes that ‘the relationship between writer, Text, and reader is an erotic one. And so, in Interior Night, Srammers reaches out: ‘Thank heaven for you at least, Alison Goldfrapp…’ because ‘All things die, and when you die you’re dead. End of.’ Eros and Thanatos; they polarise our existence; all else is, as it were, magnetised by and along the lines that run between these points.

In ‘Funeral’ we begin: ‘I too know it, the charm of funerals in the rain/ the ferocity of the veil in daylight’; here ‘ferocity’ associates ironically with the tone of the quotation-source (‘I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle…’: ‘Poetry’, Marianne Moore), with its measured, cultured tone; it also engages with the Stammers’ poem’s very real experience and stance towards grief. The ‘fiddle’ that is implied, suppressed, and thereby a subconscious force, could be read as the particular language-use in poetry of Moore’s period; and the un-important, only further emphasises our own contemporary and continued denial of the reality of death around (and within) us, and thereby creating what can be described as a ‘furious’ vortex, imaged as the dark veil in daylight; a feedback between competing modes of awareness.

Marianne Moore’s denial of the efficacy of poetry is the jumping-off point for Stammers: “Writing poems is horrifyingly important to me”, he commented in his earlier Wolf Magazine interview. ‘Funeral’ is the market stall poem for this book; and its wares, the psychological realms of Id, Ego and Super Ego. We are perhaps here stepping into that dangerous territory of Alan Jenkins’ Harm, in this book; but armed with a map (Freud), and a known landscape (psychoanalysed). The poem takes on the role of questioning the role of language (: “all this fiddle” i.e. the dubious ability to express anything clearly through language) in our understanding of ourselves, and our relations with the world. In this first poem we also encounter classic Freudian symbols: a wreath, and a cigarillo/swelling nose; and here, in the first-person address, we perhaps encounter Freud on his home ground – is the character yer man Freud personified? These were his smoking preference. But then, ‘Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.’ But this is a cigarillo, and so we have here a diminution: ‘a little man’, as they might say in the phallic lingua franca; here we are alerted to use of irony, of a strategic gendered deference.

That line, ‘disremembered rituals of the tribe.’ is very much in the character of Freud’s essays (I have not, as yet, found a direct quotable source for this in the Essays); and the use of the term ‘disremembered’, itself, a pointer to the classic Freudian exposé of the functions of lies, deliberate, and apparently incidental. Is there perhaps an Eliot-quality to that line from Eliot’s Mallarmé-phase (how was it, ‘To purify the dialect of the tribe’?) and language-use, particularly the use of language connected with and surrounding the rites of death, is the prime source of ritual in a culture. The overall sardonic tone to the poem also echoes early Eliot.

The last line: ‘Are you with me, yourselves, at the rendezvous?’ is such a splendidly ambiguous line, implying both the real event of each our own future deaths/ funerals, as well as the possibility of a resurrected, or maybe not so much that as a survival of spirit. The deliberate confusion of tenses destabilises; this is, as it were, the last push of a poem that destabilises the sense of self throughout its course. The ability of language to suggest, insinuate, lay traps for the reader, can be unsettling: ‘that abstraction/ known as giving up the ghost.’ is both suggestive of a metaphysical inference, as well as a defiantly physical one: we have here, as in ‘The grey twist of smoke’, both spirit, and cremation smoke. The ‘grey twist of smoke’ also betokens Freud’s own death through cancer, whose cause is accepted to be long exposure to smoking.

That last line of the poem displays, in its ambiguity, how language can inveigle us, persuade us, of different realities, posit alternative endings. As we work through its suggestions of possible survival, the sacred, we come to the profane, the cold douch of the final reality which is each our own inevitable physical death.

‘The Encounter of M’ has puzzled some readers; but if we read it as a take on Alain Resnais’ avant-garde masterpiece of French cinema, Last Year in Marienbad, then it comes somewhat more accessible. The ‘… geometric topiaries/ that seem to throw no shadow. I see that you and I/ cast long dark shadows’, is a direct reference to the classic iconic poster of the film; and there are the film’s long tracking-shots of the endless, involuted and claustrophobic corridors to consider when we think about the structure of this poem. This is made concrete in Robbe-Grillet’s text for the film, in particularly the long and continually looping monologue behind the opening tracking shots.

Does Stammers have enough film-nous to know that the actual character’s shadows in the film poster were painted onto the pathway, that they were false-shadows? Interview-comments and textual references seem to suggest his film-repertoire is quite extensive. The ‘large topiary pyramids’ are exact. The woman in the poem-encounter replies: ‘I find it tiresome practically to the point of death/ to be approached by a stranger in dinner-dress.’ Here we explore one of the suggested meanings of the film, that it is the after-death experience of the characters; this is part of the film aficionado’s many discussion topics. The poem is not written as a poetic attempt at cinematic writing, as one critic seems to suggest; it uses the film as a jumping off point for its own investigation into a recurring complex of relationships; it is suggestive, associational; the narration loops back on itself. As the above excerpt also shows through its rhythm, the piece has its tongue firmly in its cheek. The assonantal rhyme further underlines the quality of the poem’s tone: the slightly wobbly frisson of balance between threat and parody. Stammers here has the Orson Welles cloak about him; his manner is knowledgeable, as well as seriously playful. This poem could be a depiction of an obsessive haunting, but the writing balances the content and expression expertly.

The form of the poem is that of a continuous overflow of conversation between the two characters. There is the equivalent of a standard iambic line; it is open enough to allow catalexis and hyperlexis. The conversation often overlaps, but what can be discerned as we work through the circling, remembering, is a change in the power dynamics between the two. In the film it is the male character who persuades the woman of past intimacy, who railroads her into a future action; the woman slowly wakes from the torpor and we almost voyeuristically become aware of the relationship web she is a part of: the partner/husband she is with, the ‘other man’, her own self. The partner/husband displays certain diabolic tendencies. It is said that one should never play cards with the devil; in this film he wins every game that is set up; his power over the woman seems particularly diabolical. What Stammers does with this in the poem is present a more gender-friendly relationship, more balanced. The poem ends as it begins.

When considering the simulacra of Baudrillard, this artifact of a poem based upon a wholly fictitious film-event, that is, in an historical sense wholly unreal, would be an interesting candidate: as the characters and their shadows are unreal, false-shadows, so the film is a false-shadow of reality and a real event; the hotel featured in the film is anonymous, unnamed (Marienbad, after all, was last year) and as such the film inhabits a space out of place and time; and the poem here, a take on an emphatic fiction, an even further abstraction. The ‘real’ event of the film, and hence the poem, exists only in hyperreality.

2004 should have been the year of Germany’s industrial music pioneers Einsturzende Neubauten.
It was the year their trailblazing album Perpetuum Mobile was released. So what went wrong?

History got in the way. Or rather, their history.

Their history stakes their claim on dissonance, on stadium stage-wrecking concerts using road drills, industrial machinery and off cuts, on clanging, banging, headache sounds.
But anyone who heard 1980’s STAHLVERSION, a live recording of rhythmic beats and drumming on the metal casing of an autobahn overpass, will attest to greater things to come.

Ok, it took a long time to come: things had to be done first. But in 2004 the fruits of those earlier plantings bloomed, and bloomed wonderfully. This was a classic album, in every sense of the word.
And not so unprepared for: the earlier two albums, Ende Neu of 2001, and Silence Is Sexy of 2003, lay out new, more generally accessible areas of harmonics and melodies to be explored.
Perpetuum Mobile is at some levels a collaboration between the band and fans: pieces were put out on net pages for dedicated fans to respond to, suggest what worked, what could happen next.
This resulted in a still industry-heavy sound, but one capable of greater subtlety and harmony.

The title-piece an extended exploration of our continually more mobile lifestyle, and its changes and effects on the ways we live and view the world. Still utilising industrial machinery: air compressors, plastic tubes, amplified steel wire, also coming to the fore is greater use of electronic loops, standard guitar and organ.
The piece goes through a number of dramatic tonal shifts, sustained by the same driving rhythm throughout.
Boreas is an ethereally breathy piece, evocative of the strange brittle brilliance of the aurora. Surprised? Oh, yes: greater subtlety, see?

And the more accessible Dead Friends (Around the corner), although no doubt alienating some of the band’s older fans, could not have done better to win more mainstream airplay.
The overall tone is experiment tempered by maturity: industry and melody. And it works.


Posted: August 2, 2011 in Parameters
Tags: , , ,

The Tango (from PARAMETERS, 2010)

The Tango is a passion, a way of life.

Tango was born on the Rio De La Plata delta, when Buenos Aires was a child: holes in pockets, scuffed shoes, a tattered bandanna called Monserrat.

The dance tales a story: In the long struggle between the power of the Rancheros and the centralised State, the Pampas felt the hand of man.
The economy is a snake, it twists and turns, at times it devours its own children. In the 1850s it twisted again. Rural workers made their way to the city, they fetched up in Monserrat.

With them came the old dances, music; the milonga was danced on the street of Corrientes. The music of European immigrants trickled through alleyways; the German religious accordion, the Bandoneon, was prominent. Lutheran austerity met Catholic poverty. Pride was in the mastery of its 71 buttons, in elaboration upon a frugal base. The withheld gesture, syncopation: all the arts of drawing from a 4:4 structure the utmost gestures.

The Tango, the Condorel, the Fandango grew up in the barrio, fostered by uncertainty, fed by hunger, and the bitter herbal tea, Mate, a substitute for coffee. For all the coffee was exported.

As the snake lay glutted in the country’s Golden Age, the Tango grew into its youth: everyone was young again, the future possible. Everyone danced to ‘La Cumparista’s marching tune, tweaked and as polished as patent leather shoes.

Songs added an extra sound. So when a world at war no longer found safe footing, they listened to songs of loss: of pride and confidence, and loss.
The singers held them with a sob in the voice, as the world reeled.

Nothing was the same; the snake turned, and columns shook and crumbled. Argentina became a backward look, a lost glory, the plaster falling from the cornice of the fashionable street, never to be replaced.

The long, troubled look into the dark of La Plata at night; only warships churned, some never to return. Later, the Belgrano, sunk like the fortunes of Presidents, before and after.

To remember the songs. Tango is a passion. At times it shows a light across the delta, a boat perhaps, where fishermen can still make a living.
Tango lives on in the wilderness, far from home. It establishes cult centres: Paris, New Orleans, even Helsinki, Tokyo.

Lately the Paris based performers, dancers, musicians, singers joined in a dance-based beat and rhythm to become ‘The Gotan Project.’

But it always returns home: Buenos Aires, its’ columns and chipped marble, the peeling paint. The passion as strong as ever. Whenever the blood is taxed in its artery, the economy lays its stifling torpid weight on all, bodies can still transport the soul, dance it out into the brag, and the ultimate sacrifice of self, that Tango enacts.

Out of the head of the snake a bird flies, from its body the blood beat and rhythm; its poised draw-back places precisely the footstep of new rhythms.

From SUR (South) 1948, lyrics Homero Manzi:
Ancient San Juan and Boeda street corner, the whole sky,
Pompeya and farther down, the floods
Your loose hair of a bride in my memory
And your name floating in the farewell.
The blacksmith’s corner, mud and pampa,
Our house, our sidewalk, and the ditch
And a scent of weeds and alfalfa
That fills the heart all over again.

Or the accumulation of urban details: witnesses: A MEDIA LUZ (In Half Light), 1925. Lyrics: Carlos Cesar Lenzi

Corrientes three-four-eight
Second floor, elevator.
There are no doorman, nor neighbours.
Inside, cocktail and love.
Loft furnished by Maple:
Piano, rug and nightlamp,
A telephone that answers,
A phonograph that cries
Old tangos of my flower,
And a porcelain cat.

The mystery of: CHARLMOS (Let’s Chat) 1942. Lyrics: Luis Rubinstein

Belgrano 6-0-1-1?
I would like to speak to Renee…
She doesn’t live there?… No, don’t hang up…
Could I talk with you?

Don’t hang up…the afternoon is gloomy.
I feel sentimental.
I know Renee does not exist…
Let’s chat…
…life is so short…
let’s dream, in the grey
rainy afternoon…

From the same period the highly impressionistic, almost surreal: TINTA ROJA (Red Ink) 1942. Lyrics: Catulo Castillo

Thick wall,
Red ink in the
Gray of yesterday…
Your emotion
Of brick, happy
Over my alley.
And a blotch
Painted the corner,
And the cop
That in the wide of the night
Placed to the end of the beat
As a clasp…

And then suddenly, possibly a future: PRELUDIO PARA EL ANO 3001. (Prelude for the year 3001) Lyrics: Horacio Ferrer, and music by the modern master Astor Piazollo.

I’ll be reborn in Buenos Aires in another June afternoon
With a tremendous desire to love and to live.
I’ll be reborn fatally, it will be the year 3001
And there will be an Autumn Sunday at san Martin square
Little stray dogs will bark at my shadow
With my modest baggage I’ll arrive from the beyond
And kneeling down on my dirty and pretty River Plate
I’ll knead me another tireless heart of mud and salt
And three shoe shiners, three clowns and three
Sorcerers will come, my immortal accomplices…..