Posts Tagged ‘John Stammers’

This article appears in THE HAPPY MOMENT: A CELEBRATION OF THE POETRY OF JOHN STAMMERS:
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In John Stammers’ first two books, Panaromic Lounge Bar (Picador, 2001; Stolen Love Behaviour, Picador, 2005) the runs of street-life images echo the work of mid Jeremy Reed at his mid-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 Jeremy 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’). Jeremy 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 John 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. Also, we have ‘…trinkling glass/ do nothing but vie with the C-sharp of Lambrettas/ that dopple off down the street to G.'(Furthermore the Avenue, ibid)

The main difference between these last two particular pieces is in the use of the ‘i’ sound. In Jeremy Reed the vowels moves towards a nervy high, like a suddenly fizzing coke can; in John 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.

slb

I think Jeremy 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). Compare with John Stammers’ ‘tiny crabs are spots of cochineal on saffron rice...’ (Further the Avenue, Stolen Love Behaviour.’, ‘your profile against the duck-egg blue sun blind… (ibid)

Jeremy Reed:

jr

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. John Stammers appeal to the larger vista: ‘... the stucco wedding cakes of Campden Hill...’ (Younger, Stolen Love Behaviour; ‘The air today is so brilliant you have to breath it in sunglasses,/ the clouds in their short-sleeved cotton shirts...’ (Flower Market Street, ibid). Larger vista, and different order and intent. He aims, and succeeds, to capture the event of the human response as part of the experience.

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 Jeremy 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).

John Stammers:

Stammers-John-260x260

So what do I imply when I say echo, and prototype, here? Is there any direct evidence John Stammers knows Jeremy Reed? Apart from both being born almost the same year? There is a minor sexually ambivalent charge to be found in Stammers, compared with the major sexually ambivalent tone of Jeremy Reed’s writing. In John 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 Jeremy Reed.

The valuing lies in the life-experience contained in the encounter: the writing of oneself, in true psychological practice. John 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 Jeremy 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. John Stammers inherits “language-games”; he engages with the experience on different levels. Jeremy 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 John 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 John Stammers and Jeremy 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 John Stammers and Mark Ford. That also is Frank O’Hara; Mark Ford edited and selected Frank O’Hara in 2009. But then we also have Mark Ford’s Soft Sift book of poetry from 2003, and Stammers’ selection of Gerard Manley Hopkins (2008), from whose ‘The Wreck of the Deautschland’ this is a quotation. It is becoming to seem that there is no degree at all.

See also: http://www.jeremyreed.co.uk/

 

 

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I am publishing The Happy Moment – An Appreciation of the Poetry of John Stammers as an e-book.

I have gathered all the John Stammers blogs back together and re-constructed them into book form.

Why, when they are freely available as blogs?
Because not only is the sum greater than the parts but the whole direction, the construction of the arguments, and yes the metanarrative of the book, are only evident in this the original form of the writing.
Without these the book would be just disjointed jottings.
That suits the format of the blog page. But it is not how the text has been constructed.

I am once more using Lulu to publish.
Lulu is relatively straightforward as a publishing tool, and you can get your ISBN for free.. The downloadable directions are clear and easy to follow. The whole procedure is relatively painless.

I wrote that Lulu is relatively straight-forward –
draw-backs are that pamphlet and book form is only for 60 pages and over. All else has to be ebook. Also book covers; it is possible to provide your own – I am not altogether sure how easy it is to upload. the most difficult part I have found is obtaining permission to use images. Some organisations work on a looong time line. Waiting for response can undermine your confidence and patience. The danger then is to plump for something that’s a not what you want but is better than nothing.
You cannot use an all-capital title, or name.

Lulu book covers tend to be one colour per book with an abstract swirl. I am not sure if variations on this basic design are available. It may be that for a fee other more complex/interesting designs are available.
Book cover design is an art in itself: too complex and you loose the interest of the browsing reader, too colourful and you mis-sell serious content.

Uploading a text is easy, and set up is painless. Once the process has been gone through: providing genre and key words, brief description, and Copy Write details then it can take up to 2 weeks for the book to be processed, that is for the e-publisher to trawl the ms, headings and chapter headings to make sure the content is processed correctly.
Once the text is uploaded the house formatter automatically provides a tagged Contents page. A copy of all this is available for review or re-editing.
In case of formatting errors a reformatted text is simply uploaded and the whole process gone through again. The previous attempt can simply be deleted from your site.

So in about 2 week’s time it should be up – and what is more – AVAILABLE!

In the earlier piece (On Nom de Plume, by John Stammers) I established fairly definitely that the structure of enquiry and overall layout of Non de Plume, was a close referral to a Michael Donaghy poem, Our Life Stories. The Stammers poem begins:

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

Well, here is another possible connection.

In 1999, Scottish poet Robert Crawford published an outstanding book, Spirit Machines, with Cape Poetry.

One early piece in the book is the poem Anstruther. It is written in typically Crawfordian witty, laconic and rumbustious manner; it begins:

Here the great Presbyterian minister
with his lifebelt and memorial lighthouse

sails with the captain of many clippers
towards the Salutation Bar.

We take it, then, that the minister in question is Anstruther-notable Dr Thomas Chalmers. We take it he sails off to take up a post in the Isles, overseas, or is it inward where sobriety is left high and dry, and the choppy firth of conscience and belief tests his mettle once again. Is this to be his new parish? In life he was co-founder of the Free Kirk, a break-away group which later became a dominant assembly. Along with his break-aways went many Gaelic-speakers, and Highlanders (hence my reference to the Isles).

The stanzas I have in mind are 5 to 8:

…we stand and stare up at the stars

 near the electrician’s. They look so close
they could be catching lobsters and called
not the Plough but Breadwinner 111,
Shearwater of Cellardyke, North Carr Lightship

 Morning Ray, Fisher of Men.
………………………….

First, a note about Anstruther itself. It is a largish town on the coast of north Firth of Forth, near St Andrews. It has a number of notable features – one is a seeming cricket pavilion just outside town. This is in fact the surface portal of a large underground nuclear bunker. It is reputedly large enough to house top military people from USA and Britain.

Another feature of the town was the Beggars’ Benison, a type of hell-fire club for the top people of the area. Its activities were… quite hilarious.

One notable personage from the town is Radio One dj Edith Bowman. Then we have our man, Dr Thomas Chalmers, as mentioned co-founder of the Scottish Free Kirk and renowned Presbyterian minister. Anstruther forms part of the constituency of MP Menzies Campbell. Small world. I wonder if he would have been up for the shenanigans of the Beggar’s Benison? The mind boggles at the prospect!

Further information on the Beggar’s Benison can be found in Robert Crawford’s book Robert Burns and Cutural Authority (Edinburgh University Press, 1997).

Oh, and Anstruther is pronounced Ainster in the Scots.

In Crawford’s poem names are identity: we have here, in the early days of partial devolution of the late nineties the continuing assertion of Scottishness, of the necessity of naming in order to establish legitimacy, independent identity and history, and self-sufficient nation-hood.

What connections can we establish with the Stammers poem? We know from interviews that Stammers has gained a wide and extensive knowledge of contemporary poetry from among other ways, browsing the Poetry Society bookshelves. Also we have the Don Paterson connection, as mentioned earlier. Don Paterson, W N Herbert and Robert Crawford are all part of a Scottish grouping strong on technical matters.

Internal evidence of the Stammers’ poem offers neither the Scots’ pronunciation of Anstruther, nor knowledge of the town or place. We only connect on the querulous naming strategy.

Crawford’s suggested naming of the stars and constellations in terms of local landmarks, economic practice, and religious heritage, differs in nature from the suggested fallibility of the Stammers’ approach.

With Crawford we cross time like a lobster boat on the Firth; we also take with us our contemporary knowledge and approaches when we do this. This is basic historicity, but potent nonetheless.

With Stammers the misnaming is, as said, a gesture of fallibility, that is, a recognition of fellowship; it also carries the contrary recognition of the cultural ambience of a select educational level in its referencing of Derridean techniques. And further, of course, the now select few who read modern poetry, and will note the Donaghy reference. Such ambivalence is evident in the Crawford piece, but has a different strategy, and explores a different intent. With Crawford there is always the up-to-date referencing of cultural and technological achievements, but not at the expense of the claims of history. Hence, throughout the poem is the ever-present use of the present tense. In Crawford there is always the co-existence of time scales. This is part of his legitimising of Scottish political and cultural identity.

Both poems are buzzing with the quotidian details that constitute the substrata of cultural lives.

And the electrician’s in the excerpt above, from Crawford’s poem? Is this a local-colour, authenticising detail too? Or is it a pawky contemporary reference to the energizer of life, the great Himself?

I am reminded here of an earlier Gaelic poem (Derick Thomson?) set in the Isles, where the locals (the Wee Frees who broke away with Chalmers, but refused the Episcopalian majority) believed the air was so clear they could see God at his dinner.

The point I am circling here is how both writers approach what in an earlier piece (Urban Writer) I summed up as, in quote, the ‘sociolects of power’. Both writers, consciously in Crawford, and subconsciously (the assumed centrality of the London cultural identity) in Stammers, portray in their writing the claims of nationhood.

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.

1
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?

2
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?’).

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.