Archive for September, 2011

Would you rephrase the question?

Posted: September 29, 2011 in Chat
Tags: , ,

I got into one of those interminable discussions about the failings of political parties, today at work.

This was followed by a long delay in busing home, so had more time to think than was probably healthy for me.
When the bus did eventually arrive we were passing through a wealthy district to get to our shanties (what it felt like!) and a group of rich kids looked stunned as the bus went by, with actual people on board. Then the chant came: Bus Wankers! Bus Wankers!
Sheesh, some kids have just no idea, do they!

I wonder, do these kids ever wonder just where and how their present level of wealth came into being? Most probably some previous generation’s forefather worked himself into an early grave to provide well for his family, and family’s family. Excellent, if you are that sort of personality. It is worthwhile to look at the lives of these people, entrepeneurs, pioneers of a kind; at family lives, sacrifices, business toughness: to unwrap these phrases, and read what they mean in human terms. See them, not as ‘tycoons’, ‘millionaires’, but as versions of those kids we knew down the street. People.
Like politicians: those same kids down the street grown up. People; but people who for some reason feel they have a reason for doing what they are doing. It may look rather dodgy to the rest of us, but within the framework of politics it allows them a mobility perhaps nowhere else could.
That’s all good; what I am unsure about is whether that is sufficient cause for them to rule, in whatever fashion: to make decisions for us, and expect us to accept.
We vote for them, yes, but what options do we really have? Who would you Really vote for? I would bet they are not on that register of electees.

And I got to thinking. And what I thought was All our Political Parties seem to be letting us all down. All the time. What if what we are looking for is not a political solution. Politics, after all, just deals with everything in a political way. Not everything can be.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that at this moment, less of our lives is political, or should be a political issue, than it actually is. Health, Welfare, Education, Jobs should Not be political footballs.
Perhaps what we are looking for are social answers, that we need to redefine our lives, expectations, and realisable futures, through social commitment.

I don’t know where this is going, and I am very wary of it cos at my back I always here the whisper of ‘Danger! Danger! Ignore them at your peril! Turn away once and before you know it some extreme faction will be shoving everybody into holes, with hammers.’
Alas, it is probably so.
We have to keep an eye on our politicians, but without getting drawn in.

Ned: I want adventure. I want romance.
Bill: Ned, there is no such thing as adventure. There’s no such thing as romance. There’s only trouble and desire.
Ned: Trouble and desire.
Bill: That’s right. And the funny thing is, when you desire something you immediately get into trouble. And when you’re in trouble you don’t desire anything at all.
Ned: I see.
Bill: It’s impossible.
Ned: It’s ironic.
Bill: It’s a fucking tragedy is what it is, Ned.
(from Simple Men, 1991)

Scenes in Hartley’s films act as condensates of emotional reasoning, parabolas of the whole. We are given bytes of the life of the piece, its honesty to form and intention. They are epigrammatic; Hartley expertly manipulates the lead-up and the punch line.

Some scenes are very self consciously stagey, assertions of power, or depict obvious transferences of power between characters. Craft, and the mechanics of craft are very much to the fore; his pact with his audiences is based on savvy, knowledge.
‘“Distributors always wonder, Who’s going to see this movie?” says Hartley. “Earlier in my career I used to think, Well, people who are sort of like me. Probably college-educated people, who like art.”(Logan Hill). But since 1997’s Henry Fool the connect seems to have fallen away. A later film, The Girl From Monday, was reviewed as ‘…a barely contained rant…’. He thought it might bring back audiences: “When we were shooting, we thought People are going to love this. This is hip and cool. And when we finished… we looked at it and thought, This is really dense. We have a serious art house film here.”
Audiences didn’t take to it; nor was it taken as a serious art house film. Could it be he could no longer define the audience in his own image?

Let’s not forget beauty. One commentator says: “He marries stylish aestheticism and beauty with fringe and art.” His sense of beauty is both filmic and textual. And stylish! The early Surviving Desire (1991) references Audrey Hepburn in the gamine look-a-like Rebecca Nelson, in Funny Face (complete with dance sequence). In this short we also find James Stewart’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Modish style points in cinematic history. The film opens with a scene-take out of the other classic The Blackboard Jungle.

One important ingredient of his films is setting, environment. Simple Men is very much the product of its Long Island setting. “Long Island is a terminal moraine.” we keep hearing, “it is the dirt left over from a glacier.” We find this short stop from New York is also another world: the pastel colours, the empty spaces, the potato fields, woods. Even the characters are idiosyncratic: Kate the café owner as a recent divorcee is living in this limbo, as she expects her divorced husbands’ return; the sheriff is tangled and tormented in an emotional turmoil of his own. It is almost a Dantean vision. Which of the two brothers, the philosophy tutor or the petty crook, is Virgil? Each takes it in turn.
Moments of prescience: the brother’s seventy year old father, ex baseball player and now professional anarchist, is asked if he did bomb the Pentagon in’68. No, he says. Then why has been in hiding since? Because he’s good at it, he says.

Explaining his working method on Flirt he says: “…I let the characters of… cities and… cultures inform how I … interpret it.” The film uses stories from New York, Berlin, Japan: “…three different places… told in three different themes…”

We need to mention the intellectual games. That opening quotation from Simple Men is a direct reference to Schopenhauer; Jude’s friend in Surviving Desire quotes from the Bible and classics, making them sound contemporary, relevant; Jude himself obsesses on a passage from Dostoyevsky. It encapsulates everything for him; so much so he cannot move on. Here Hartley dialectically reverses the opening scene from The Blackboard Jungle so that the dysfunctional tutor is forced by his students into educating them.

In Simple Men the issue of Ned’s taking on the law is contrasted with their father’s taking on the government: the legitimacy of a government made by law, of law subject to government, is tossed around like a hot potato. But nobody eats it. ‘Knowledge Is Not Enough”, Jude scrawls on the board at the end of Surviving Desire. “There is nothing more I can say.” he says.
His characters are intellectual drifters; Bob McCabe Says: “… a few years ago they may well have… become yuppies, but… they have nowhere left to go.”

Are these middle class slackers, as he suggests, direct descendents of “James Dean-led angst-ridden youthful rebels of 1950’s cinema”?
The short, aphoristic scenes comment on our states of knowledge, how we acquire, utilise and in the end dispense with what we know: knowledge is not enough, not in isolation.

Hartley is not concerned with finding answers, so much as finding better questions.

Every so often English tv comes up with something amazing. 1985 was a real coup: a full televised performance by the Pina Bausch company.
It’s not dance, not theatre; how could you describe it? Try this: “…speech, song, circus tricks, gymnastics, brilliant visual images, and monumental sets.” Exuberance. Or would you prefer: “…the pornography of pain.”?
What could arouse such strong emotions?

Interesting, the first quote is from the Sydney Morning Herald (2000), and the last from Stamford University, USA. Interesting also the Stamford’s last comments: “In the fifteen years since Bausch’s last appearance in Los Angeles, American dance has found its way into the territory of pain…”

The territory of pain.

The tv performance, like most of Pina’s work was long, discursive, digressive, yes even uncomfortable at times. A bridging motif between pieces had the performers form into a long snaking line all enacting the same rigorous, obsessive body-manipulations as they wound around the audience. Wound and wound around, up to the edge of discomfort, until the novelty became an affront, then picking up on the audience mood the performers took it back up onto stage and used it for the tone of the following piece.

In some performances the performers chat to the audience, ask intimate questions: “Are you here on your own? Do you like me? Do you want come round the back?”
Challenge, confrontation, but also movements of great lyrical beauty, emotional intensity. Huge ensemble pieces constructed from the performer’s own experiences:
Copy someone else’s tic
Do something you are ashamed of
Write your name with a movement
What would you do with a corpse?
Move your favourite body part
How do you behave when you have lost something?

Pina (Phillipine) Bausch was born in Solingen, Germany in 1940. At 14 she was already studying with Jooss, the German top choreographer. (“I loved to dance because I was scared to speak.”). She studied in America under such people as Jose Limon, Paul Taylor, Antony Tudor. In 1973 she was made director of Wuppertal Dance Theatre.
She died in 2009.

Why choose Wuppertal? An industrialized urban area in the Ruhr valley, its one characteristic a century-old overhead monorail system.
For its ordinariness.

She changed the Dance Theatre utterly.
She loved forms, materials. Her sets could be breathtaking: a sea of flowers for Nelken, a stage of heaped leaves for Bluebird, a water-flooded stage for Arien.

She used dress to send sexual messages to the audience; women can be vampy, or dressed in girly clothes, stilettos, or evening gowns.
She also loved romantic pop songs, the ritual of the cigarette, social dance. She may fool around with sex and sexual forms, but she always took romantic love seriously.

In 1982’s Nelken male performers in ill-fitting frocks frolicked in a sea of flowers whilst, separating them from the audience were guards with guard dogs. Real ones. The dogs were going frantic as the men ‘fooled around’; the guards struggling to hold them. The audience were scared, horrified. Then officials came onto the stage checking passports. Politics: gender politics, Cold War politics. But a performance for Pina Bausch is always many things: simple statements, positions, belief systems are starting points only: all is filtered through the personal lives of the performers; they all bring to the piece something of their personal lives. Such political statements may be a beginning but the piece soon moves away into the vastness of the human arena.

“In the work of Pina Bausch repetition often evokes an overwhelming image of pain and imprisonment.” We are presented with a take on our own lives: is this how we really seem? Do you recognise something of yourself there?

Is this the story of our time?
It may well be. Who was the psychologist said the way the pessimist sees the world is probably nearest the truth?
Performance though, engagement, are their own rewards.
A love affair falls apart: it is not that pain, distress, collapse of the self, but the wonder that was there. Not the easy relapse, but the straining, striving for the topmost apple.

Pornography of pain? America now knows it has relearned pain.
Perhaps I do Pina Bausch a disservice: like all works of wonder the edge of threat is always present. But it is still a work of wonder.

The elaboration of the themes of Stammers’ first book, Panoramic Lounge Bar, 2001, are to be found in ‘Testimony’, (the Dublin-and-Derrida poem). Here we find an exploration of some basic concepts from the writing of French thinker Jacques Derrida. And so, we find in ‘Testimony’, the classic Derrida query as stated by the woman in the poem: ‘What is it, after all, that is authorized?….’. Despite his disclaimer in that poem, Stammers did pay attention to what she was saying; this, of course, is a standard misdirection technique. What are we being misdirected from? From Stammers’ obvious knowledge of the concepts, ideas, being put forward. Or are we being misdirected from the degree of intimacy the relationship with the woman entails?

Are we being misdirected from seeing all these as the trappings of an entirely fictitious event? Obviously by now, by this stage in the book of poems, read in sequence, we are already deep in fictitious-author-land. There is direct-address, third-person reportage, commentaries on commentaries…. The opening poem of the book, Nom de Plume, illustrates amongst other things the effect of the Derridean concept of ‘differance’, of the dislocation-effect that deliberate misuse of language can produce on the reader.
At the end of ‘Testimony’, after Derrida is quoted, Dublin tasted: the Post Office with the bullet holes: ‘just standing there with the paths the bullets had taken/ passing right through me…’, the Stammers persona takes pains to present a gift of collected poems, as if to respond in gesture, saying: this, is what is authorized. It is as if the poem can bridge the divisions that have always been there, but newly exposed.

Is this, his Irish poem, a political poem? Is Stammers’ inner message here that poetry can indeed bridge cultures, politics… history? How serious is Stammers on these matters? In ‘Testimony’ he uses the partly pejorative term ‘Paddy’s Day’ for St Patrick’s Day. In effect he separates, demarcates, recognises a difference and border. He goes on to write, ‘So it was that I saw two sides of an antinomy take hold/ and go to undo me like a zip./ And I saw that it was writ/ that we should be the critics of our own juxtaposition….’: Church-law/ holy writ, and reason (it is obvious by this point in the poem that Stammers knows his Joyce well enough to know how Jesuitical this mix is; and also, by having the Irish woman quote Derrida to him, how Joyce’s Ireland is mirrored, as it was and continues to be, culturally (and now, economically) linked to Europe). Stammers not only uses the languages of the time and place, but avails himself of modes of thought both current and recondite. To one whose medium is language the whole of language’s document file is open, access-enabled, available. This reads as though he is here attempting to bridge the dialectics of cultural histories, religions, not through achieving a kind of culture-mix synthesis (which, historically, usually translates as being absorbed into the stronger ‘solution’) but through the medium of poetry.

And let us not forget the extension that O’Hara gives us here. Stammers is an admitted and committed romantic in his writing: he is, he has said “… trying to use irony as a lamp, which helps illuminate romantic motifs for the modern sensibility…”. This also fits in with Frank O’Hara’s practice as alluded to in his send-up Personism manifesto: “… to address itself” (the poem) “to one person… thus evoking overtones of love without destroying love’s life-giving vulgarity…”.

The poem as act or expression of love between the writer and reader. Ok. Not to everyone’s taste. And not always so seemly; hence the “…vulgarity…”.; in effect, are we being asked to bridge…by love? No matter how unseemly.

Is it so, then, that Stammers resorts to the old belief in the autonomous I, that the individual unit of self has point (‘the myth of a unified selfhood’)? It is not for nothing that Stammers is often referred to as a latter-day Romantic poet (capital R). How autonomous are the poems? Do they depend upon the biographical details for elucidation? The use of rhetorical techniques, of irony, must always assume there is an authority whose value-judgments structure the contrasts, the ‘persuasions’. Is Stammers a Romantic poet? If so, in what way? In that he so values the experience of romantic love (lower R) as a valid part of our common experience/inheritance; or that the continued calling on Keats (‘John Keats Walks Home…’, Stolen Love Behaviour; ‘A Dramatic Monologue’, Interior Night) to play, is an invocation of comparative Kantian certainty, with still the faint whiff of revolution remaining? Kant, of course, was one of the sources from which Derrida worked out the possibilities of differance, dislocation. Would this make Stammers a retrograde thinker? Or is this the ‘new old’? I hate choices like this though; I suspect many others do also; I also suspect some poets love them. I suspect many actually choose not to choose, and that Stammers is one of these. Why miss out?

One of the criticisms of the writing in his latest book, Interior Night, is one of language use; the lack of precision in word choice; the relaxed use of form and rhythm. This presupposes an extant precision of word-meaning relationship in the previous books. Throughout his books, Stammers use of language, even where the imagery lifts the poem, or word use changes the poem’s tone, direction, range of meaning, has always been associative in nature; for Stammers the word is a piece of the jigsaw, relativistic, and never a complete unit. Language for Stammers does not have the precision of the lapidarist, of the picture-language advocate; the metric is based on the line. Marvin Minsky, in his exploration of the discoveries and implications of Artificial Intelligence research, writes (: Dennet, 1996): ‘Whatever we may want to say, we probably won’t say exactly that.’ that is, the ability of the mind to express a thought exactly, to communicate fully, is not a possibility we are functionally capable of. The lapidarist produces a refined, long considered writing, honing and honing to get closer to the ‘exactly that’; for a writer like Stammers the refining is concentrated on the flow of language, which has a spoken language quality; the ‘exactly that’ is not the word-to-thought match, but the whole of the piece; he is, one might say, a holistic writer, one for whom the whole of the experience is to be communicated; and, as usual, it can only be done by suggestion. This, of course, means that holistic writing is to a degree a combined experience, where reader fills in, as much as writer suggests (‘What is it, after all, that is authorized?’).

Twenty Poets of Argentina
ed D Samoilovich and A Graham-Yool, Redbeck Press 2004

This is best kind of book; the Introduction not only gives us a thorough background to modern Argentinean poetry, but also invaluable notes on the poetics used, so often missed in translations.

The poets are chosen by having published two plus books by the time of translation; and so, as this book took four years up to publication, it is by necessity a book about history.
In Latin America this has significance.
It was necessary to give a background period of forty years to contextualise the writing. The period begins with three military coups: Brazil 1964, Dominican Republic 1965, and Argentina 1966, and gets worse thereon.

This is where the Introduction really comes into its own: where can the individual stand in a political and politicised environment?
The response of writers was to find different modes of expression:
– Early on we detect a neo-romantic tone, which emphasised an individualist, rebellious, non-modernist attitude.
– This, however, locked her/him into too much of a role, and so a neo-baroque tone came to the fore, using the full resources of language, its ambiguities as well as multiple meanings.
– Against this an objectivism appeared, distrusting meaningful discourse, generalisations.

We could warp this into a kind of dialectic, whose synthesis is where the particular, that is, the individual, once more becomes centre-stage, but seen through a post-modern filter.
Each of the twenty writers in this book has a take on this basic premise. We have notes on each writer’s birth place, publications, and biographical details.

Many of these writers are published in translation for the first time here.
Sergio Raimondi (born 1968, Rosario) works in the Museum of the Port of Ingeniero White, in the register of oral history. His poems blend, for instance, a history of fishing with economics:

The sweep of a net dragged the length of the bed,
maximum allowed mesh, seven hundred thousand litres
of diesel in the tank………..

from: ‘What The Sea Is’

In ‘URGA’ (from Union of Grain Handlers of Argentinean Republic) we get an idea of the complex weave we handles:

The student was shot in the hall at University
in front of everybody, that was in nineteen seventy
five, and, no, nor is it an archetype sickle that is to be painted
on the wall, unless it serves to recall the event
in relation to grain from on high down a shoot at the dock
falling to the hold or over there in a dust cloud where the
tester sinks
once, twice, in the belly of the sack, thrice the sampler up to
grip and in his palm sees the goodness of grain but rules
the load to devalue. The main authority is the State
and the practice dates to nineteen thirty: a mechanism
of constant regulations usually enforced by only
one main head, reproduced in vague and empty offices.
and as the union mediates in the disorder, so does the
it is wheat that lies around the fallen body, the dead insects,
acarus. Over there a new tester sampler point in hand.
The belt brings him another sack, and another and another
and another.

And all in strict hexameters.
Argentinean poetry allows so many delightful changes of manner, tone: Laura Wittner (Buenos Aires, 1967) writes:

I had told you of the park
where I kept a small memory
a mystery of prevalence
installed, along with some duck feathers
and green twigs drying on the ground,
and in that scene of action
I am sitting swinging
in a wooden seat with arm rests
which closed with a small chain,
my mother is pushing,
makes me laugh, we both laugh
at the adventure that is pushing and flying.

from: ‘My Life on the Swings’

The exhilaration of a pure moment! But also the chilling shadow of the inquisitor’s chair. The poem is too long to quote but goes through many tonal changes: how swings initiate the children,/ in a parenthesis,/ in the melancholy,/ the uselessness of effort/ to be different… to end on a measured but whole note.
By contrast is the ‘mysterious urgency of the present…’ as ‘ungraspable as recollection’, of the integrity of the body, of Gabriela Saccone:

I know of poets who dream
about the time I spend in the bath.
If I could, if I had that!
they say, secure in the will and wisdom,
disguising reproach with compassion
if they could possess (Chromos)… before a window
where the tops of the plane trees touch
in a green and dry toast

from: ‘I Know of Poets’ (from ‘Half a Birthday’)

: sheer playfulness under-themed with darker tones.

Canadian film maker Guy Maddin won the Telluride Medal for Life Time Achievement in 1995.

He was 39.

In 2000 his 6 minute short The Heart of the WorldTwas best film, short and feature classes, at the Toronto International Film Festival, and Special Award winner with the National School of Film Critics; it also won Golden Gate Award from San Francisco Film Festival.

Many film makers concentrate on narrative, storyline, character-sketching; setting and atmosphere often seem an afterthought.
“Most films are basically illustrated novels, they have the structure of a novel…” (Isabella Rosellini, interviewed by Andrea Meyer).

Guy Maddin reverses this structure; with him we smell time, the mustiness of age. It started by accident. His first short The Dead Father (1986) would not come right until he set it in the past; then everything became possible. From dabbling cine-man, to film maker.

Although his concerns are very contemporary it seems he can best address them through an offsetting filter. Emotion, for Guy Madden, is a Canadian thing, that is, it is suppressed, yet apparent in everything.

He has a long fascination with 1920’s Silent Cinema, magic shows, fables, above all, with melodrama. His keyword is, yes, Atmosphere, and that deconstructs into, above all else mystery, drama, high play.
“I always see myself going back along the road of film history and picking up all these great and abandoned technologies and film vocabularies…”
High play allows flexibility: boom shadows, film equipment in back shots, all signs of the out-and-out amateur, he incorporates, makes use of. This could become all so very postmodern, but his work has charm, a fascination, an earnestness that takes the chill off. And the finished product is always polished and professional.
He first became known through the misted and pastel colours, and ‘mountain fever,’ of his 1992 classic Careful. His 3rd feature, Careful is “a moral tale”, “a tragedy told as if it was an absurdist comedy.” (Roberto Curti).

For Derek Hill it is “an operatic satire of characters so tightly wound by their repressed desires that even the thought of stepping outside… will set off (an) avalanche.”
This is the main conceit of the film: Careful is set high in avalanche country, where even a sneeze, we are told, could be disastrous; we glimpse cattle with voice-boxes removed, tied as if for cartoon toothache with neckerchiefs around their necks,
Some see strong autobiographical elements in his work. He plays openly with Freudian symbols: the recurring image of the one-eyed father (whether blinded by a brooch pin in childhood, like his own father), who could easily become on one level an emasculated Odin figure. The key phrase is Play: he plays with his past, fictionalised images, as much as our present-day images: one-eyed cameraman, eye glued to viewfinder; the half-seen world we only allow ourselves to see….

His Icelandic mother ran a hairdressing salon; he was ensconced there often as a child: how we fictionalise our lives.
He also has the enviable ability to attract the most stunning women actors, not only Isabella Rosellini as Lady Port-Huntly in Saddest Music of the World, but also the lovely Gosnia Dobrowolska, as Zenaida, in Careful.
He throws this away as “accent”, that is, inbuilt atmosphere, bringing an intriguing visual element to the mix. It works wonderfully.

The film that really broke his name was 2003’s Saddest Music in the World.
Chatting to film goers who “just didn’t get it”, he asked:
Did you understand there was a music contest?
… two brothers competing with each other?
… a wife sleeping with one who should be with the other?
Then you got it!
Disingenuous. Pure chance of course that one brother (Chester) was representing America, the other (Roderick), by adoption, Serbia. Both Canadian by birth. Already we have a satire on Canada’s inability to keep its talent at home. But also in the rapacious Chester, America’s economic and political foreign policies; on one level we have Europe (old world values and cultural legacies) pitted against brash young America. To complicate matters Canadian Lady Port-Huntly, brewery magnate, is just as rapacious and corrupting as Chester.

Set in Prohibition times, alcohol-dry American tvs show the Canadian competition, funded by a wealthy brewery to increase sales: all losers slide into a huge vat of beer.
Visually lapidary; legless Lady Port-Huntly is wooed and won by the brothers’ glassmaker father, with a gift of glass legs.
They are shapely, and filled with the light amber beer from her own brewery, complete with light fizz.

She wears them in triumph; the effect is stunning.

The Red Element by Catherine Graham
The Debaucher by Jason Camlot

Insomniac Press, Toronto, Ontario, CANADA

The two poets reviewed complement each other in strange ways. Both books are the author’s third collections, and both are part of the education faculties of Canadian Universities.

Insomniac Press, based in Toronto, is a glorious publishing venture. The books are wonderfully presented, lovingly made and very attractively produced. Catherine Graham has gone for a simplified design of three-quarter length illustration, an evocative painting by Caryl Williamson, in rusty reds and worn-slate blues above simple, pared-back title and name.
Jason Camlot’s cover is very rich, a highly decorative border and scroll work in gold over a black background. The central image is very striking and wryly humorous: The Debaucher is exemplified by a clip from a painting: a hearty dose of cold water over a naked man crouched in a sauna setting.

The Red Element is a very pared-back book; all the poems are stripped to their essentials of subject matter and structure. So much so that some poems are a mere four lines in length; and yet they all work wonderfully.
Throughout the book we discern childhood and growth into womanhood, complete with responsibilities of parenthood, and its reflections back and forth to one’s own parents and onto one’s own children.
The poems on young girlhood are intricate yet robust vignettes. What especially strikes is how the stripped-back approach allows the writer to handle unsexualised, prepubertal experience: the little girl as a little girl: ‘The pigtailed girl plays in the middle of her long front yard,/ pale legs stilt under the cotton stickiness of her dress./She turns from her asphalt shadow and pulls the red ball/ from her pocket and peels the white price tag like a scab//Drop and catch/drop and catch.//Suddenly the ball rabbits up the slope./ It rolls back like a trick to the edge of the crescent./ She runs to the edge of the neck-high hedge/that she’s been told never to pass, and stops.//I want to be good at this/I want to be good.’ (Drop and Catch)

This is a very difficult achievement, and perhaps only possible by stripping back and stripping back so that the images ring clear as a bell.
The stilt legs and dress become: ‘Spaghetti straps hook my bare white shoulders./ Crinoline lace scratches my naked thighs…’.(Vintage). A much more sexualised image; the imagery of this piece also reflects a more teenage awareness, and of one’s place in the family and world. The adult world in turn is a lived-in place: ‘I see that elf. The doodle you were doing/the summer your dad and I split up.// the eyes, the red crosses. With eyes/ like that, how could she see anything?’ (Doodle).

Some commentators find modern women’s writing lacking in abstract thought, concentrating on the body, the immediate. I would suggest they look to the implicit approach of the poems. As here, the thought goes into the approach and choice of subject matter and treatment. So that in the latter part of the book we perhaps get the impression it is the theory that is now addressing us: ‘I often dream of terrible ponds,/ frogs the size of Jack Russells……………and when my eyes//look back at me, deeper pupils pulse/like passing sails, strips of mist/ clouding the bars in the water. Mother/ I’m here, Mother. Mother, I’m here now.’ (The Terrible Pond).

The Debaucher is a device, like a spirit of misrule, for allowing the writer to shift frames of reference: ‘The debaucher is not necessarily/ a person. It can be a memory,/ or the absence of compelling/ memory, or deliberately selective/ memory. It can be fear/ because fear keeps us from choosing…….’. (The Debaucher part 3). In part 5 we are more implicitly in Debaucher territory: Maybe he’s with me, but how can I know?/ If, when you are forty years old,/ attempting to finish/ a poem about being led astray,/ and you get a call from your childhood friend/ who’s ditching work………’
What follows is very a much slacker poem. The writing is much more open-armed, explicit in its concerns, whereas the previous writing was implicit in its concerns, and to a certain extent exclusive in its range.

Jason Camlot has a wonderful way with formal structures; nearly half the book is taken up with the sonnet form: the ADIOS SONNETS. He also has a gift for ballad: ‘When my soul flies east down the Metropolitan/ Towards those of Leonard Cohen and Oscar Peterson,/ Aldo Nova and Corey Hart/ Get my corpse a seat at the back of the 80 bus/ (use the transfer attached herein for that purpose),/ Send it down L’avenue Du Parc’. (Petition to Be Entombed at St. Viatuer Bagel – to the tune of “Supplique por etre enterre sur une plage de Sete” by George Brassens.)
He has crazy takes on poems by Lamartine, Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, Verlaine as well as The Song of Roland, and even this as a Peanuts cartoon.

Whereas Catherine Graham is a poet of the intimate voice, the treasured, internalised experience, Jason Camlot is delightfully wayward; he is an intelligent writer, and at times overly prolix, but ultimately enjoyable. A Jewish background, and Francophile awareness, adds an edge to the mix.

Stephen Burt writes: “We know that a talented 21st century English poet (Paul Farley, say) can render the 21st century in quick, ironic, breezy sketches. And we know that an extraordinarily talented 21st century London poet (… Mark Ford) can pursue the opacities of modern sociolects along with the bafflements of adult life… Can the same London poet do both? In cityscapes, domestic interiors and briskly-ironised variations on inherited language-games, John Stammers… largely succeeds.” John Stammers’ writing is at home with the constant noise, bustle, jostle and distractions of the city, the continual input. He is also, and this is the important bit, experienced at prioritising his response to that continual input. In an urban environment one’s mind must constantly, continually, juggle many levels of information; the urban dweller’s experience is complex, multi-layered; incessant. Expression depends upon judging and adjusting to the required levels of complexity; as well as reading stimuli to within definite limits. Aficionados can stray outside the parameters of their peer’s knowledge, language-systems, and ranges of reference; to be able to converse on a level with as many areas, sections of society as possible, is considered the acme of cool. “I speak,’ he has said, ‘as most of us do, in the ironic, Americanised, pastiched mode of that culture’s diction (adolescent sarcasm being the most primitive form)”: the Wolf Magazine interview. 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.

It is no secret that the Beat poets employed conversation-cadences in their poetry, and influenced the poetry, writing practice, and ambience of lifestyle of Frank O’Hara. What is less well known is that O’Hara is frequently referenced in the London urban styles of John Stammers and Mark Ford. There is one degree of separation between Stammers and Mark Ford. That also is O’Hara; Ford edited and selected O’Hara in 2009. But then we also have Ford’s Soft Sift book of poetry from 2003, and Stammers’ selection of Gerard Manley Hopkins (2008), from whose ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’ this is a quotation. It is becoming to seem that there is no degree at all.

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 an ‘emphatically’ urban writer. By that I mean he is a London writer; he writes from immersion in the sociolects of power. He writes from where decisions are made, policies formed, disputes become national news. Psycho-geography walks point out which buildings house decision-making bodies; which areas of the city are most steeped in legislative, and/or executive decisions. As a writer he does not need to reference these things, they are the daily life, the common knowledge; his writing can and does explore the quotidian effects of power. His concern is with these sociolects. He can reference Camden Hill, Holborn, and mark its London pronunciation, and Bank Station, Finsbury, Cripplegate, London Bridge, the Millennium Bridge; the list is longer in allusion. We are to read these as part of a general knowledge; popular culture, tv, a London-centric news structure asserts this slant to our knowledge of the world. What may pass as a reference to a peripheral, local matter elsewhere, in London writing gains a special weighting. ‘The Day Flies off Without Me’ (Stolen Love Behaviour) exemplifies this field of subsumed attitudes well: ‘…London recedes in all directions, and beyond:/the world with its teeming hearts.// I am still, you move, I am a point of reference on a map;/I am at zero meridian as you consume the longitudes…’.

In a writer like Stammers, London-centred means also to be alert and welcoming, to European and American cultures and influences; it is also to be aware, though, that London is the first introduction anyone entering has to the UK, and that his particular cultural patois is the one with impact. It is this sense, of the increasing degrees of influence placing London within the UK, the UK within Europe, the American dimension, that asserts his particular use of ascendance and deference through irony.

Ok, I thought. let’s see what all the fuss is about.

And, do you know, I am really enjoying it. It’s such a warmly written book; the main character is so (goofy?) likeable and ordinary. There are no melodramatics.

And the setting is so unusual, too. This is Twin Peaks country, a few miles from the Canadian Border; Twin Peaks country but without David Lynch on a sugar-jag.

And then the whole story goes comic-book.
A kind of dual-weighted storyline, which I am not sure fits too well.
Bella’s story works best within the school/home context because they prevent the over-the-top emphasis on personal emotions, which is what we teeter into just as the Cullens’ story kicks in.

Don’t think I could read another.

Loved the first half… the second: I think the problem is – the first half Bella is admirably objective, sassy to an extent, independent – the second part she throws all that away, becomes emotionally grasping, needy, she even almost Begs ‘E’ to stay with her; all the warning bells ring. She tries to trade it all in for a v dubious future ie dead. At 17.

The first person narrative makes us cross the line in order to make the last part work: we are required to empathise with a crazily desperate situation that we would have run away from, because we are given no more options. And no, it’s not really a ‘life sucks’ thing, even the ‘a vampire’s life sucks’ thing doesn’t really cover it; it’s the lack of options of kids alone in kid-focused world, who just have no idea there is a bigger picture, never mind can’t see it.

Did see the dvd, and it’s not very impact-full, is it? The setting makes it.
Is it me or does anyone else think Kristen Stewart, (Bella) who was v good, looks rather like Emma Watson (Hermione Grainger – esp in Half Blood Prince)? No, ok; on second thoughts, you’re right.

And what happened to the ‘sparkly skin’ effect? Kind of ‘no show’?
You can now buy a shimmery effect body butter. How cool’s that!

(taken from my Goodreads review)

In John Stammers’ first two books, Panoramic Lounge Bar (Picador, 2001; Stolen Love Behaviour, Picador, 2005) the runs of street-life images echo the work of mid Jeremy Reed at his best. In Panoramic Lounge Bar, we have ‘House on the Beach’: ‘The shadows mediated by the black slats of the venetian blind/ stripe the silk finish ceiling; / I am reminded of the sheen on the ocean….’. In Reed’s Red-Haired Android (1992) we find perhaps an earlier prototype: ‘The louvers of the venetian blinds snap shut,/ phasing out a beach scene, a turquoise sea…’ (‘Love in the Afternoon’). Reed’s love of colour (‘A Coke can’s red paint peeled to a glitter…’: ‘Things That Stay’, Red-Haired Android, 1992), and intricate sound modulation, do find echoes in Stammers’ first two books, taking the form of an obsession with light itself: ‘The mackerel sky elides lackadaisically across.’ (‘Spine’, Panoramic Lounge Bar), where image and sound, the emphasised ‘a’ and emergent ‘i’ sounds, set up a lightness of tone, a concordant sound-to-image relationship. The main difference between these last two particular pieces is in the use of the ‘i’ sound. In Reed the vowels moves towards a nervy high, like a suddenly fizzing coke can; in Stammers the high becomes a stretched out level that is modulated by the insistent ‘a’ sound. Both carry an onomatopoeic charge. Stolen Love Behaviour is indeed very much a summer book, it is lit up with images of glorious skies, with hot days, sunshine and cloud shapes.

I think Reed wins out with his attention to detail: ‘Indoors, indispensible utilities, / the glint of car-keys, a bracelet of change…’: ‘In and Out’ (Nero, 1985), or; ‘Wristwatch off, silk shirts, head slanting back/ beneath a regulated eye-dropper – /your bathroom scene, mirrors frosted with steam,/ a cologne bottle minus its stopper;..’: ‘Bathroom Scene’ (Nineties, 1990). But then : ‘…the shadows mediated by the black slats of venetian blind/ stripe the silk finish ceiling’ (: ‘House on the Beach’), must come very close behind.
They both share this fascination with colour, and the effects of light; they seek out contrasts, sometimes configured by Japanese people, as if seeking out the exotica of the everyday: ‘Two Japanese girls at Bank Station provide an instance/ of ultra-black with their hair, their acidity/ all expressed in the citrus colours of their clothes…’: ‘Two Japanese Girls at Bank Station’, (Stolen Love Behaviour, 2005) and Reed’s, ‘Your dresses spilled across a hotel bed/ were like a hectic dispersal of flame….Your Japanese lover’s black kimono…’: ‘Blue Lagoon’, (Engaging Form, 1988); ‘Mostly it’s the accidental attracts/ a Japanese girl bending to a rose…: ‘Kodak’ (ibid), and ‘The lilac ash cone on a black cheroot,/the Japanese girl flicks it on her boot,//and purses her mouth to a strawberry’: ‘Nineties Shade’ (Nineties, 1990).

So what do I imply when I say echo, and prototype, here? Is there any direct evidence Stammers knows Reed? There is a minor sexually ambivalent charge to be found in Stammers, compared with the major sexually ambivalent tone of Reed’s writing. In Stammer’s ‘The Tell’ (Panoramic Lounge Bar, 2001): the photos of a same-sex kiss are kept and valued. It could be argued that the poem charts more the time period, the sexually experimental nineteen-seventies, than any commitment to sexual ambiguity, as in Reed. The valuing lies in the life-experience contained in the encounter: the writing of oneself, in true psychological practice. Stammers is charting his points in time, the cultural high moments of time and place. Hence we have ‘Out to Lunch Poem’ whose details capture the yuppie phenomena of the nineteen-eighties boom years. The admirable poem ‘Younger’ is the market-stall poem of Stolen Love Behaviour, and the younger self/selves the main theme of the book. All we can say for certain is that there are similarities of approach, detailing, choice of subject. For Reed, as his introduction to Black Sugar makes plain, the intent is to write from within the experience, and not as the alienated outsider, the position inherited from previous generations. Stammers inherits “language-games”; he engages with the experience on different levels. Reed asserts a source of poetry within an experience, that the writing is the poetic aspect of the experience, a responsive aspect that falls within a paradigmatic role and dynamic. For Stammers the poetry inhabits the experience in a different way; the focus of the paradigm is towards the recognition of a shared dynamic. His use of language is always expressive of identifying markers: “I speak, as most of us do, in the ironic, Americanised, pastiched mode of that culture’s diction (adolescent sarcasm being the most primitive form)”: the Wolf Magazine interview. Even such a poem as XEMAE (Stolen Love Behaviour), utilizes a recognizable and accessible pattern; the terminology and referencing may be obscure, generally unknown, but the sense of the poem is easily retrievable.

There is one degree of separation between Stammers and Reed; it their appeal to the writing of Frank O’Hara and the New York School; this also expresses itself in an openness to the poetry of Baudelaire. There is also one degree between Stammers and Mark Ford. That also is O’Hara; Ford edited and selected O’Hara in 2009. But then we also have Ford’s Soft Sift book of poetry from 2003, and Stammers’ selection of Gerard Manley Hopkins (2008), from whose ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’ this is a quotation. It is becoming to seem that there is no degree at all.