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.

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