Antony Rowland

Posted: November 10, 2012 in Chat
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Antony Rowland won the 2012 Manchester Poetry Prize.

The competition called for up to between three to five pieces, that is up to one hundred and twenty lines, of unpublished work. The judges were Ian Duhig and Frances Leviston, under the chairship of Adam O’Riordan.

Why am I so interested? I also entered. I had written some strong pieces (those who write know how this is not often the case); had a tutorial with a long-established writer which was very, very positive; and had the pieces vetted by others (another first for me). Thought I stood a damned good chance. I was not even shortlisted.

Competitions are a world by themselves. Carol Ann Duffy (an ex-tutor) once said something to the effect of one duff line in a good poem could scupper it in favour of a ‘less good’ poem without any duff lines, no matter how original the former was. That was not so in this case.

Ian Duhig has a slant way of seeing language and hard reality that is invigorating and highly humorous. Frances Leviston’s work I am hugely fond of; she writes beyond the gendered world-view of most women writers. I have been hoping to see this for some time now. Her use of language makes indeterminate the supposedly known world, she can be protean and plastic, with her little is as we take it to be. She does lack humour though – a little.

And… Antony Rowland won.

He is a professor of English at a local university. He has had two books published: The Land of Green Ginger, and now I Am a Magenta Stick (both by Salt Press); he has published academic books and articles.

He won ten thousand pounds.

Ok, everyone needs ten thousand pounds – but he’s got a reasonably paid job! Others, (ahem) haven’t.

So, what’s this pip-squeak all about, then?

First of all, I have been complaining – for years – that English poets have all the resources of that language available to them, yet restrict themselves to an ever decreasing portion of it!

And then here comes Antony Rowland, and he uses that resource wonderfully! His medium is language, language that is word-as-object – his language is rich and redolent, it is fully-textured with all the modes and sociolects of the language’s history. It is sensual, and sensory, and rich.

The only other writer with a similar ‘ear’ must be Geoffrey Hill, especially the earlier Hill, of King Log, Tenebrae.

Rowlands does not shy away from the immediate effects of language: he has a good ear for the sound of words, word clusters, for consonantal and mouth textures. He has a good ear for rhythm to keep it all together, and bucketing forward.

And he is an optimistic, roistering writer; he has verve and energy on tap. It is invigorating.

From The Land of Green Ginger

Pie

Singing herb singe roast vapours Fray: Saturday

pie-floater in Rawson market; waxy island

gelatin-coated pink flush before the comic stall….

from A History of the Beard

There’s blood in my window, yes. Forget it. Let me cover you with the suds of a laver,

curleth you with a Crisping Iron and (on the side) cutteth you with a Knife

so the Blood spitteth. You say you only came in for a mullet,

not phlebotomy? Sit still. Prepare to be flounst with irons….

 

The first excerpt verges on the nostalgic, before traversing a range of tones and modes. The latter begins with the fields of reference and tonal cues well established. I cannot help likening the effect of these poems to atonal music; not serialism, note: that was when atonality became defined, theorized. The language games and investigations of contemporary  poetry are all here; one reviewer wrote that Rowland’s writing occupies a mid-way point between mainstream writing and the avant-garde.

Words for me are aides de memoires, rather than objects in themselves: meaning is paramount, rather than the saying.

Communication, I have learned painfully, has had to be predominant: so many have not ‘got’ what I was doing that I have had to compromise, simplify, keep a through-line available.

Michael Alexander, in his Introduction to the Penguin, The Earliest English Poems, wrote: ‘All language is, of course, metaphoric in origin (we can only speak of what we do not know in terms of what we know)…’.

Peter Abelard (yes, that Abelard) wrote that ( in translation of a translation from Huizinga’s Men and Ideas) ‘For words do not operate in the substance of things, but evoke as much as is understood by means of them. And so their task, for which they are instituted, is to signify, that is to say, to establish understanding…’. We can maybe see the shadow of Roland Barthes in this.

But not for Antony Rowlands, oh no. He is very much an extension of the English Language-philosophy school: word is paramount.

There is work I have had to discard because I cannot get anyone to take the trouble to try and read – but not Antony Rowlands, oh no, he just goes ahead: Let them run to catch up!

Drat that man!

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