Archive for October, 2011

The main focus of attention of Stammers’ poetry in the first book is on the experience of the act of writing; his poems attempt to chart their own existence in space; that of their subject matter is maybe secondary to this. The experience of the act of writing is the source of the exuberance that is one of the most noticeable factors of the poems; it is also part of the experiencing of the self through the act of expression. And as we observe the process of the poems, which is what happens when we read them, then, as in quantum physics, we realize we are a part of what we observe; our enacting of the experience of the poem becomes part of our own myth as identifiable beings. So, with the event of writing the writing experience, is it possible that the two areas we interface are in fact further conjoined by our awareness of them in the act of writing?

I have no wish to put forward an entirely solipsistic slant to Stammers’ achievement here in his poems.

When we approach Interior Night we cannot help but notice a change in mood, in language-use. In terms of light and colour tones we encounter darker, more sombre colours. On reading Nightsweats in the Afternoon, we cannot but read it as another take, a darker, flipped, take on the earlier delightful House on the Beach of Panoramic Lounge Bar. In this latter book the role of language is undermined, the imagery and quotations that allow the elaborations, rhetorical flights, are questioned.

The poem The University recreates a self-enclosed, locked-in nightmare scenario; it is a world of seemingly real objects, but where the persona is only part-sensible: it is a dream landscape; these are all the qualities of the lucid dream. There is the seeming riddle of the subject of the poem that plays itself out twice (what Freud calls ‘repetition compulsion’), the constantly changing perspective, the changing uphill and downhill of the street to the shop; the colour schemes that tone down from brown to black. The poem has all the hallmark qualities of the half-awake dream state that enacts an unstated, unexplained complex event. It is a psychological memory that carries its own gestalt.

The earlier poem Ondine, opens with a take on a much-admired Pablo Neruda poem; the mannered style to the writing suggests to a certain extent the translatorese of the-poem-in-translation. Stammers constantly draws our attention to modes of verbal expression in this book, and how it perhaps has a conditioning effect on how we perceive the world. The subject matter, in this case alluding to a ballet, is of a water nymph whose song lures men to their death, and another classic Freudian concept. What Stammers does with the myth is investigate it from within, in this particular instance he takes up the central vehicle of the myth, the musical dimension: song, music, dance; he creates a typically Stammersian persona, and sees where it goes within the self- prison of its own existence.

In an early interview (Wolf Magazine), John Stammers commented that one the best pieces of luck in his writing career was to have Don Patterson for an editor, because he ‘doesn’t let him get away with anything’. Indeed, Patterson has joined that group of contemporary Scots poets whose commitment to poetics is strong and redoubtable: W N Herbert and Robert Crawford. This would imply that Stammer’s own use of poetics has thereby gone under close scrutiny. It is of a different order. Furthermore the Avenue (Stolen Love Behaviour) is a poem intent on sound. To read it aloud, read it for its patterns, is to trip the wire that sets it chiming; each metric foot has its own ring tone:  Platters of sea bass, gambas and trinkling glass/do nothing but vie with the C-sharp of Lambrettas/ that dopple off down the street to G.’ Each ‘a’ sound of those first two lines, although linking in the mind’s ear with assonantal patterns, to the actual ear each has its own weight and inflection. The London voice weighs vowels differently. The stand-out onomatopoeic word ‘trinkling’ with its ‘r’ and high ‘i’s revs into the memory of the high warbling sound of a Lambretta; its ‘r’ specifically introduced by the preceding sharp pull-up sound of ‘C-sharp’. The long sound of ‘C’ continues the other sound strand through these lines, the sibilance. It is amusing how Stammers modulates high C to the key of G here by way of the pulled-back rhythmic stress in ‘Lambrettas’.

In Black Dog the Freudian arena is further explored. Black Dog is the classic image of depression (see Churchill), and depression in Freudian terms is the symptom of a suppressed complex. We have a mannered use of language: … the shadows commence a faint unnerving undulation… where coolness and distance could almost characterize it as a quotation from a clinician’s notes of a patient’s (analysand’s) dream record. This in turn contrasts with the later easy, relaxed, chatty tone of: … sciency new conditioner….. But it must be remembered that this is a description of the … awful sheen… the shadows wear. It is as if both of these types of language-use are ways of approaching the same suppressed gestalt of the subject matter. As we follow the poem we see it act itself out, we see the narrator and the experience become one.  Similarly, in The House Sale, the persona is so very distinctly different from the Stammers of earlier poems; what is being enacted in this poem is an exploration of a dangerous, entrenched, state of mind. As this is an illustration rather than explanation of a state of mind/being, we readily accept the exaggerated aspects, attitudes, the reductive reasoning for what they are. Dead Alsatian… uses Martian distancing techniques, with their Hughesian undertones, for observing the concrete, the Real. Only, the real subject matter here is death; we have what is in effect a memento mori in miniature.

The Shrine of Proteus has a revealing prosody; the subject matter echoes Freud’s deep interest in classical myth, and its implications that play out in our daily lives. That is all very well, but it is what Stammers does with his subject matter is important, it is how it is written gives it its relevance. Structurally it is very interesting. The poem consists of nine stanzas, the first two of which have fifteen lines each, followed by a seven, an eleven, and then the last five of ten lines each. Metrically these lines pattern out roughly at eight iambics per line; but this is not the Stammers way: the line is the proper Stammers measure. Each line has its strong yet subtle internal audial patternings, whether by assonance or alliteration; it is usually a combination of both. It is tempting to say the line here is a breath-measure, but I don’t think it is so. The stanzas are built around polysyllabic patterns; the first stanza begins easily with a pocketful of small-change words, a jingling of copper and silver words, before we hit the larger denominations, the ‘barbarous’, ‘metaphysical’, ‘significance’, and ‘parodical’ before settling down again. Each stanza has its own variation. From line to line the pattern plays a variation on a basic sound-range. What this shifting does to the way we read the lines is important; this is particularly relevant in the last four lines of stanza nine, where the shift in level, tone, betokens a shift in perspective: we suddenly move from a fictionalised memory-tale, into something more sinister, psychological… Freudian. The form and range of perspectives, meanings, within the poem change; it is, in effect, protean.

Is it possible that, having said all this, in the volume Interior Night Stammers is attempting the Greek thing: catharsis? It is possible that by approaching the particular range of subject matter of the poems in this book, in this particular way, that Stammers is hoping to help us expose our underlying, suppressed, knowledge of the nature of the world around us: death, drugs, lust, fear… and so, to help us bring it out, see the world for what it is? What we do with that knowledge, is also of course, conditioned by the nature of the intent of that exposure.

I have name-checked quite a number of modern French writers in these pieces; can we go on and look for Irigary, Cixous, Kristeva? I have as yet not been able to locate any references. A previous reviewer of Stolen Love Behaviour commented to the effect that ‘Stammers says he is writing about love, passion. He can’t.’ At first I dismissed this as, ‘Well, when you look for only one (or two) definitions, or personal experiences, and then not find them… you know…! Well, need I say more!’ It was the dogmatic denial I reacted against. I think that maybe the mismatch here lies in that Stammers keeps strictly to an original-source Freudianism plus immediate interpreters for his life’s science, whilst the further French writers have produced critiques of Freud that at times dismantle both the efficacy of psycho-analysis, and of the Freudian conceptual framework. This then, is perhaps one other boundary of Stammers’ world.

When we consider modern Danish poetry three names come uppermost: Henrik Nordbrandt, Inger Christensen and Pia Tafdrup.
Why these three in particular? It is probably because their work has met with the best response from European readers.

They also define three main directions of modern Danish poetry.
The late Inger Christensen worked within the wide field of textual experimentation. This field is, in many ways, the most challenging; it calls into question, through its reassessments of concrete language the meaning and value of the self, of society, ideas of progress, the intrinsic possibility of reform, change, improvement etc. Her use of structure is very original, employing rationales and bases from outside the literary field.

With Pia Tafdrup we meet a writer very much a part of a feminist exploration of the world. Hers is a sensuous and taboo-breaking poetry. Her European best seller Spring Tide (1983) explored an erotic, sensuous awareness of the body in and through nature.
Her prize-winning Queens Gate (2001) further explored the author’s myth-making nature, while with her later long single poem Ark, written for a Nordic Prize occasion, she breaks out of the short lines and breathless rhythms, into a much longer line and more extended cyclic structure.

Christensen and Tafdrup both look to France for ideas: Christensen to writers like Mallarme, Valery, for their focus on the text, and further, to the writings of Barthes and the Semiotic movement. Her name is often connected with the French Oulipo group (Queneau, Perec, Calvino etc) of text experiments.
Tafdrup can be seen to respond to the feminist body-consciousness and language ideas of Cixous and Kristeva. Nordbrandt, on the other hand, shares some of the awareness of the musical possibilities of language inherent in Mallarme and Valery, that Christensen also applied to her own work.

What is of particular interest is that Écriture feminine places “experience before language…” (Showalter).
This is also one of the great appeals of Inger Christensen’s writing method, her part in the ‘systematic poetry’ movement: where Tafdrup takes the pressure from the solely textual concept of writing and focuses it on the intent, the ‘desire’ of language: not so much Barthes, more Derrida, Christensen mediates language through the interpolation of artificial forms. The poetry of both is enabled by the use of non-poetic structures, whether of thought/theory, or of form. For Nordbrandt the non-poetic enabler is the objective life, in effect, his peripatetic lifestyle.

With Henrik Nordbrandt we have a finely tuned classicism, a classicism against which other experiments in poetry measure themselves. His is a gay, slightly exotic presence, reporting back from Istanbul, Greece, the Mediterranean, to the northern, and by necessity of geography, and climatology, buttoned-up sensibility.
With a number of his Danish contemporaries still tangling with the strictures of Christian belief, Nordbrandt must represent something slightly pantheistic.
He has been greatly influenced by the mood and temperament of Cavafy in Alexandria, and like him writes an exquisite line, full of snatched joys and melancholy.

Robin Fulton as admirably translated Nordbrandt for Dedalus Press.
Nordbrandt’s China Observed Through Greek Rain in Turkish Coffee – the title itself, with its digressive clauses, is as much a précis of his poetic style as it is an example of his characteristic wit – is on one level a poem concerned with the resourcefulness of the imagination, how it can bend time and space, and through the image of the semi-willow pattern figure within the cup, take us further from the humdrum into the possibility of hope:

…the Chinaman
sees the sun appear through a green leaf
which has fallen into the cup

the cup whose contents
are now completely clear.

The cup can be said to symbolise the insularity of the self, a self reliance – which in itself is a commentary on a state of emotional poise, a pause between the pull of desire, and the fall of loss, that brief state of self possession.
A Greek rain falls into the cup, displacing the contents, revealing the Chinese figure: this encapsulates Kantian ideas of the self and the world each in their separate sphere, as well as demonstrating the classical objective correlative of Eliot, but taken on, made Nordbrandt’s own.

In another reading, this is a poem ultimately of loss, using the standard pathetic fallacy of rain as tears. Again, he takes it further: the rain overflows the poised cup of the self, self possession becomes the loss of the possession of the other. Just as the narrator’s self is absent as a persona from the poem, so, by extension, is ‘the other’ absent as a presence.
The old man in the cup, with long white beard and eyes either burned to cinders or self absorbed, reflects a possible future as a survivor of desire, an ascetic in his self sufficiency. (Odd how many who claim to have sublimated desire are of an age when desire tends to die down naturally.)

Fullness and emptiness are two of the possible readings, and map out Nordbrandt’s particular developing metaphysic, as elaborated upon by Lars Arndel:
“…double consciousness… on the one hand actual presence is a constant point of reference. The other presence becomes most conspicuous and authentic when it is withdrawn…”
Gerald Rosch notes: “ (Nordbrandt)… conjures up a world where loss and fulfilment occur simultaneously. Presence, arrival and possession cannot erase absence, departure and loss… man is on the move without knowing where to”. We can see this clearly in the very fine poem below:

After having loved we lie close together
and at the same time with distance between us
like two sailing ships that enjoy so intensely
their own lines in the dark water they divide
that their hulls

But there are other nights, where we drift
like two brightly illuminated luxury liners
lying side by side
And the sea is full of old tired ships
which we have sunk in our attempt to reach each

: Sailing

Nordbrandt has developed an experiential system of values; the active imagination is capable of bridging memory and time. This is the motif behind his award-winning book Dream Bridges, which won him the Nordic Literary Prize in 2000. Memory cannot be trusted, any more than time itself, to record and hold human values.

The summer is over.
It was like the other summers
as much as they were like each other
and were different

and as the Easter Island statues
opened their eyes
the moment one turned one’s back on them.

And each summer
remembered more than what happened.

: Portrait Of The Heroine, Far Out At Sea
(Off-Shore Wind, 2001)

One reference point is the Swedish writer Gunnar Ekelof. We can see Ekelof’s influence in the epigrammatical concrete form capturing a metaphysical content:

No matter where we go, we always arrive too
to experience what we left to find.
and in whatever cities we stay
it is the houses where it is too late to return
the gardens where it’s too late to spend a
moonlit night

that disturbs us with their intangible presence.

: No Matter Where We Go

This is especially prominent in the later poetry:

The light stands flickering in its column, that
bears nothing.
I asked for water and you gave me sour wine.
I drank from a corroded cup beneath dark icons
I asked to die, you gave me gold to stay.
I asked for a story, you gave me my own.
Each day here costs us a century in the kingdom of
: Near Lephkas

Nordbrandt and Tafdrup look to the language of desire, a predicated use of language.

Inger Christensen’s book-length poem Alphabet was published in Denmark 1981; it was an instant hit. It was published by Bloodaxe Books in England in 2000, translated by Susanna Nied.
Susanna Nied’s prize-winning translations of the works of Christensen have been duly recognised as the best in their field.
Christensen has long had a large and loyal German readership; they put her forward for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Inger Christensen died in 2009.

Excerpts from Alphabet have become the main source of large displays of public art in Denmark.

There are many more types of poetic expression than the personal lyric. The lyric has become predominant at the present time because of political and ideological factors: we look to the self as the source and sole repository of values; we value personal experience as the only trustable source of knowledge of the world.

The idea and ideal of community has been tugged from beneath us; likewise the ideal of a sense of futurity, of progress, to be replaced by an all-encompassing political climate where our lives seem wholly regulated by bodies of authority. Lecturer Peter Middleton quotes Julia Kristeva to effect here: “… capitalism has isolated us, in ‘islands of discourse’.” (i.e. from John Donne’s “No man (one) is an island” to the Thatcherite statement that there is no such thing as society. We may hate it as it is, but we do have to deal with it).
And who knows how to deal with David’s Cameron’s Big Society notion, at one point broken – a toy? a piece of machinery? – at another, the country as a private business in need of saving (- from everyone else?).

Christensen mostly used the playful, highly mathematical writing experiments of the French experimental OuLiPo group.
Although not a signed-up member, it can be seen that she uses many of their techniques. The most decisive are the use of strict mathematical superstructures, and insistence upon quality of sound. OuLiPo was a movement originally based around the writer Raymond Queneau, and incorporated George Perec (Life: A User’s Manual, and A Void, a novel that, when written in French only used words that do not contain the letter ‘e’). Queneau was a mathematician, and so the group tended to use highly complex mathematical structures for their writing.

One of the many listed OuLiPo experiments is that of using multiple perspectives to explore a given situation. One published example of this is B S Johnson’s novel, House Mother Normal (1971), which offers a perspective per chapter from each of the members of a nursing home, in explaining (or not) the event of the story. You cannot but wonder about Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book (1860), where the members of a court case each give their evidence, full of conflicting events, asides, and all the riches of the personalities involved. OuLiPo does acknowledge predecessors, designating them “anticipatory plagiarists” (: Mind Performance Hacks). One OuLiPo virtue is a mischievous sense of humour.

Christensen’s Watersteps (2001) takes us through five Roman piazzas, each with a fountain, and the same red car. There are eight similar ‘classes’ each with five ‘sections’, one for each piazza; and each ‘class’ has five components. This is a rigorous math.

Seamus Heaney’s Seeing Things sequence of four lots of twelve poems, each of twelve lines in length, also points to a possible OuLiPo construction. Why twelve? Is twelve an expression of completion? We have to ask these things, because they have an intended significance.
Most recently we now have poems created upon use of the mathematical concept of pi called Pilish – or “piems” – where the number of letters of successive words is determined by pi.

The Fibonacci mathematical system was ideal for OuLiPo purposes. The Fibonacci sequence runs: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…. where each number is the sum of the two previous numbers. The implications of this system, first devised by a Cardinal soon to be Pope, are astounding, both for mathematics, and physics.

In Alphabet the repeated phrase of paragraph 1:
apricot trees exist, apricot trees exist
mirrors the first two numbers of Fibonacci – 1 and 1. The system begins with 1 repeated, and so here the phrase is
similarly repeated. It is also a numerical device of implication; where 1 is a prime number; it is also the main focus of a network of negative and positive numerical sequences, of decimals and fractions: 1 is never 1, it is the consequence of its positioning, and it is that that is evoked here. The reiteration of the clause emphases 1’s position in the matrix of math. As in the Fibonacci sequence we do not begin with 1 but with 0, in effect on the blank page preceding.

We are also required to read here that apricot stones carry a poisonous pit. As we begin with the beginning: A, and a new myth of creation, we are also required to read here that within the first creation is the means of its end. Or maybe not so equivalent: maybe, just that a degree of toxicity is necessary for life. And also, that, like the mark of Cain, is a part of creation from the very beginning.

By combining number with alphabet, Christensen is taking us back to the earliest use of languages, Sumerian, Attic Greek, but with a more modern twist.

With paragraph 2 we have:
bracken exists; and blackberries,blackberries;
bromine exists; and hydrogen, hydrogen.

Already on a linguistic level we have an incantatory pattern forming. On the chemical level we now have bromine and hydrogen. Bromine, like hydrogen, is potentially lethal. As, indeed, are the seeds of bracken. This new pastoral suggestion now allows us a reading that suggests an early, a volatile, Precambrian period in our scientific creation myth. We now have three levels of reading: of the text, of chemistry, and botany. If we accept the time scale, four levels: botany, chemistry, textual, and time.

As a reviewer notes: “The useless abundance of bracken, succulent berries — and corrosive bromide: the unbalanced mix all around us. Hydrogen seems, here, almost safe, but the “bomb” suffix is not long in coming.”
Alphabet was written during the 1970s, a period that lived under and reacted to, above all else, the possibility of immanent nuclear war, the hydrogen bomb.

With 3/C we get:
cicadas exist; chicory, chromium,
citrus trees; cicadas exist;
cicadas, cedars, cypresses, the cerebellum

The levels expand: arboriculture, botany, chemistry, entomology, physiology: from basic classifications, to subclassifications. We move from Platonic forms, through Aristotelian classification, to our modern forms of knowledge. And zeroing in from the macrocosm to the microcosm, from the external world to the brain’s inner world, as source and site of knowledge, intelligence: self consciousness as the self’s consciousness.

Following the Fibonacci/alphabetical systems through the book we arrive at N, with six hundred and ten lines. Mathematically ‘n’ can be any number.

So far in the poem sequence, we have moved from basic forms to gradually emerge into a world of killing, the hydrogen bomb, pain. It must be remembered that mathematics is the vehicle of proof for the sciences. And the sciences, as amply illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci’s Renaissance work on armaments, capable of application to many and varied fields of human activity both peaceful and not.

With 5-E (eight lines) we also get, delightfully (I am sure I don’t need to point out here that in the Danish the predominant consonant is E, which also ushers in a dominant alliterating pattern):

early fall exists; aftertaste, afterthought;
seclusion and angels exist;
widows and elk exist; every detail exists; memory, memory’s light;
afterglow exists; oaks, elms, junipers, soreness, loneliness
eider ducks; spiders, and vinegar
exist, and the future, the future.

With 13-M and 14-N we arrive at actual times, with dates:
morning June twentieth……..evening June
sixteenth….morning June twenty-sixth.

To get here we travel through excerpts from lives, suggestions of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, and:

in mid-November, a season
when all human dreams are the same,
a uniform, blotted out history
like that of a sun-dried stone

a couple of mute parents stand there,
a dog, and some children run around,
an arrival they try to imagine
as water that’s raised to my mouth

I lay sleeping inside my hotel room;
:from ‘12/L’

These are the stories we have inside ourselves we cannot always make sense of, but continue to pick over in our isolated moments.

‘13/M’ begins with:

metal, the ore in the mountains, exists
and then explores the hidden or covered things:
darkness in mine shafts, milk not let down
from mothers’ breasts, an ingrown dread where

whisperings exist, whisperings exist
the cells’ oldest, fondest collusion

consider this market, consider this import
and export of fathers, half bullies
half tortured soldiers, consider…..


layered light, as if behind
layers in a fresco the snow
on the mountains, its shapes……..

13 also replicates the Fibonacci numbering in stanza lengths. We have five, eight, then thirteen line stanzas, and then followed by new sets. The interweaving of themes and items from earlier sections tie-in here; we once again come across bromine, but applied differently, and apricot trees: their applications multiply and evoke moments from a life, from an ideal of living. The fabric grows wonderfully rich and rewarding, full of complex patternings.

Where the lyric concentrates images, their reverberations, networks of associations, within as small a compass as possible, Christensen, especially in her earlier work It – of which Alphabet is in some ways an admitted response – schematises rather than concentrates. Structurally it is very strictly arranged into three sections whose line count is, in the original, very tightly controlled: each line of Prologos has sixty-six characters in the original; Prologos has eight sections.

The body of the book, Logos, consists of three sections: Stage, Action, Text each of which has eight sub-sections: symmetries/ transitivities/ continuities/ connectivities/ variabilities/ extensions/ integrities/ universalities.

These subsections “attempt to analyse and categorise the words that language’s use to show relationship… as applying to the network of relationships… writing builds up as it goes along “ ( Ann Carson, from Introduction). All this in no way lessens the effectiveness of expression, but allows the playout of implications to be fully explicit. The intent of It is to be a ‘philosophical and political exploration of the nature of language, perception, and reality.’

If there is a reference in this work to The Book of the It, a precursor to Freudian psychoanalytical explorations, by George Groddeck, I suspect it has been subsumed and overridden early on.

It must be noted that the Fibonacci system deals also with the proof of the Golden Mean.
Christensen exhibited a growing concern with ecological matters, as evident in her Butterfly Valley: Requiem. This sequence is a series of conventional sonnets, the last line acting as the opening line of the following sonnet in traditional style. The last sonnet of the sequence, sonnet fifteen, consists of all opening/closing lines. This sequence perhaps represents her approach to that Golden Mean.

Charles Lock and Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen, in their Guardian obituary notice, noted of Butterfly Valley: Requiem ‘the division of… 14 lines having been recognised in the Renaissance as akin to “the golden ratio”.

Can we read Christensen’s major works as working towards this great ideal, this universal; of the possibility of the concept of ultimate meaning in all the apparent randomness of the world?

Are the images Christensen uses purely random? And do we mean by that ‘mathematically random’? Is it random in the way that creation appears to be random? Is there such a thing as random? All these questions are implied by the system she uses. She requires a response from the reader: for her writing is part of a two-way process.

We may have lost all sense of security, safety; Inger Christensen here posits the possibility of a higher sense of stability, of a grand working towards/unravelling of, a nontheistic scheme of things of which we are all a part of; in effect, where we are perhaps the instruments of the process.

‘Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest’ Poems B H Fairchild W W Norton and Co 2003

B H Fairchild has been hailed as an exemplar of the ‘plain style’. His acknowledged predecessors are James Wright, Richard Hugo, and especially Philip Levine.
He made a big splash with his previous collection The Art of the Lathe; this new collection has added to and cemented his reputation.
He was a finalist in the National Book Critics Circle Award, and winner of the Kingsley Tufts and William Carlos Williams Awards amongst others.

We must distinguish between ‘plain style’ and the ‘ornery’. Fairchild’s themes are of the Southern States blue-collar worker’s experience; but there is no caricature in his work.
We encounter narratives, but they are by no means Frost’s Calvinist legacies:

After the year of troubles – the family business drowning
in red, the broken plates, black words, slammed doors,
my mother and father in separate rooms, the terrible silence
that grows like a clutch of weeds choking the little house –

from: The Big Bands: Liberal, Kansas, Summer of 1955, Pt1

So, anecdotal then? No, this excerpt is an interlude in a narrative, a yarn that roams the Kansas plains and records:

a pipe seal somewhere making a sobbing sound……….
He can rhapsodise:

The green Packard I have just washed dries by the curb,
and the evening makes a bronze plunder
of brick streets. Cottonwood grown too low
loom and whisper………….

(ibid Pt2)

A loose, freewheeling of memory, then? Well, no, not that either; his poems centre on very real events, times, places, but they also explore what it is about them that makes them memorable. And a very assured use of rhythm, metrics; knowing just where to place that caesura for maximum effect in catching the tone of those places, those times.

‘Holy Rollers, Snyder, Texas, 1951’ begins:

Shades of brown: rust of the dirt road in
and the gulleys deepening to umber,
the taupe of winter grass along the shoulder,
the walls of the One True Gospel Church, dun,
with a plywood cross nailed above the door.


And the details redolent of authenticity:

Nightmare fades to memory: the grey-brown hair
of Mrs Hill pasted to her neck, the cracked
porcelain of her hands……………
We encounter Mrs Hill again:

on our front door shouting…..
………oh I’m so sorry, so sorry
so sorry……………
………………..He said
he was going to shoot me. He had a shotgun

from: Mrs Hill
This becomes:

In the kitchen now Mrs Hill is playing
gin rummy with my mother and laughing
in those long shrieks that women have
that make you think they are dying.
while her husband:

my father………………………
… his shadow envelops Mr Hill
……… bows his head and sobs into his hands….

It is not straight narrative; I have missed out the sections that plumb the child’s responses. The laughter-shrieks and dying-women association is very much a writer’s connection; the shifts of grammar between present infinitive and immediate modulate our understanding: this not just a poem about marital crisis, but about the relationships between husbands and wives, of family and lack of family.

Similarly, in The Welder, Visited by the Angel of Mercy, the narrative of a truck wrecked by a blown tyre at speed, takes on a greater significance:

The red dust of the city at night. Roy Garcia,
a man in a landscape, tries to weld his truck and his life
back together, but forgetting to drop his mask back down
he touches rod to iron, and the arc’s flash hammers
his eyes as he stumbles, blind, among the fruit of the earth

We are set up by the title to pick up on a secular Saul, blinded by what he cannot see, but is readily apparent. It is the contextual detail that renders this accessible to us.

And when Fairchild rides we cannot help but go with him over those Kansas plains:

Rumbling over caliche with a busted muffler,
radio blaring Buddy Holly over Baptist wheat fields,

…………………………………………………………. Boredom
grows thick as maize in Kansas, heavy as a drill pipe…….

from: Rave On
In that long, strung-out first sentence we travel a long way: from the hot head of youth, to a more muted, reflective age; from the self-absorbed tone to a more abstract tone; from the mid fifties, to the present day.

The book is divided into five parts, which map out wider and wider circles of knowing, from the immediate vicinity where one grew up to Paris, London, Nuremburg… but at the centre always the same sensibility:

…………….. he gazes deep into the Seine,
the face of a glassworker’s son stares back,
and the river that runs through Paris runs
through Ohio past Jimmy Leonard’s shack,
the Shreve High Football Stadium, and Kenyon,

from: A Wall Map of Paris

Like Mrs Hill’s hands transfigured into a (secular) saint’s hands, Roy Garcia, stoned truck-driver, transfigured into a Saint Paul figure, Fairchild acknowledges how memory changes what is remembered. But also, by acknowledging and re-identifying with the Southern Baptist religious background, Fairchild avoids the modernist dilemma of alienation from one’s background through the nature of one’s awareness, and revivifies a sense of oneself within one’s past, and the past of one’s community.

So where does he stand politically? What of his social awareness? Southern State politics are strange, there are no obvious distinctions: a Republican can display strange Libertarian tendencies, and vice versa. Fairchild’s long ‘narratives’ acknowledge, record, these blended affiliations but refrain from comment.

The poem uses the long line to great effect. It has a narrative structure, but with the added incentive of playfully exploring the experience behind the writing of Keats’ poem ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’. The poem tells of Keats’ meeting with Coleridge when out walking on Hampstead Heath (how times change!). It is a relatively well-known story: compare with Keats’ dining-with-Wordsworth story (‘We must not speak when Mr Wordsworth is talking’ said Dorothy). So why this particular story? It allows Stammers to apply his scabrous wit: ‘So of course, think about it, it’s Coleridge who does all the talking’; and what does he talk about, this skilled raconteur? ‘Nightingales, Poetry – Metaphysics – A dream related – /Nightmare – the difference explained between will and Volition/ – a dream accompanied by a sense of touch – single and double/touch – Mermaids… a Ghost story.’ I resist the temptation to refer this to a comparative subject-contents list for Stammers’ books. The poem ends by Coleridge saying of Keats’ handshake: ‘There was death in that hand.’ Once again in this book Thanatos raises its banner; ‘Interior Night’ is a book where predominantly Freudian themes are played out.

The language of ‘Dramatic Monologue’ draws attention to itself; we find chat, notes, pastiche, but mostly the tone is that of the raconteur of fables, stories decked out with sufficient factual detail to hook the listener’s/reader’s own suspension of disbelief. It is, the title states, a monologue, but it allows itself to attempt period dialogue: ‘May I present Mr John Keats? -/ John Keats? The poet? Well found. How do you do, sir?’ What we see at work here, what we are supposed to see at work here, is the ability of language used in certain ways to inveigle and occlude the reason and judgement: ‘What d’ya know, a few nights later, for that suffersome throat/ Keats takes a small opium and has a little dream. Sound familiar?/ ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ comes tripping out.’ This pairing of ‘small opium’ with ‘little dream’, this colloquial tone and circumscribed range of lexical usage, suggests an ‘after-drinks’ extemporisation. We see here the raconteur before his audience foregrounding the actual content; the poem superimposes persona upon persona upon persona.

I would argue that one of Stammers’ major contributions here and throughout his writing, is his taking on of our almost sacrosanct respect for language use, and displaying its unreliability, its imprecision, its less than worthy credentials for acting as our instrument for understanding, and survival. As is usual with anyone trying to look forward, it is usually accomplished, as here, by looking back.

It is tempting to ask whether, in Stolen Love Behaviour in particular, Stammers was exploring the contemporary possibilities of Keats’ dichotomy, Truth=Beauty. Many images in this book can be read as quite in the influence of a sense of beauty; the central poem ‘Closure’, explores the Truth aspect of this: truth to oneself, truth to one’s writing beyond all else. Can we extend this to ‘Pulp Fiction’, the film; is there a sense in which the separate episodes of that film explore personal integrity-issues? That the form of the poem and of the film reflect each other is, of course, obvious. This tie-ing in tight between the two may be an indication of the author’s conception of the forces at work in modern life, the place of the individual within a very complex play of social factors. If we look at ‘Impression’ from Panoramic Lounge Bar, we can see Stammers approach by antithetical means the classic Greek Nike image (itself a wholly classical form of argument), in this case perhaps in the form of the famous part-sculpture of Artemis tying her sandal. It is now very much a synecdoche for classical beauty per se. And the Greek classical image was for Keats the measure of beauty.

Interior Night, if we accept the ultimately Freudian intent of the book, can be said to be a further pursuit of Truth. Beauty, though, has been left behind. Vague and baggy as these abstract concepts may be, they still pull some weight in the zone of the psyche. The Truths Stammers deals with can be summarized; Stolen Love Behaviour investigates emotional truth: the consequences, and self discoveries, of emotional engagements. Interior Night seems to be predominantly concerned with psychoanalytical truth. Which leaves Panoramic Lounge Bar; ‘Certain Sundry Matters’, although suggesting an engagement with emotional truth, also engages with a panorama of possibly authentic details; these are both cultural, and linguistic. Panoramic Lounge Bar is true to a commitment to language: the easy, conversational, and yet heightened tone, the wide range of its referencing, the rhythms that persuade of an attitude to life, that is both brisk and enhancing.