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Volume 1 Number 1 September 2009

ISSN 1758-2733
Journal of British and Irish

ISSN 1758-2733

Volume 1, Number 1, September 2009

Editorial 3

‘Dragging at the haemorrhage of uns –’: Maggie

O’Sullivan’s excavations of Irish history 11
Mandy Bloomfield

Democratic consensus in J. H. Prynne’s ‘Refuse Collection’ 37

Ian Davidson

Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s ‘Cordelia’, tradition and

the ‘Triumph of Artifice’ 55
Gareth Farmer

‘Expectant contexts’: Corporeal and desiring spaces in

Denise Riley’s poetry 79
Christine Kennedy and David Kennedy

Book Reviews

Tony Lopez, Meaning Performance 103

Reviewed by Robert Sheppard

John Wilkinson, The Lyric Touch 108

Reviewed by Scott Thurston

Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry © Gylphi Limited, Canterbury, UK

ISSN 1758-2733 | 01_01 | 2009 |
Journal of British and Irish

Volume 1, Number 1

The moment for this journal, we believe, has arrived. It is focused upon
the poetic writings that have been produced in Britain and Ireland which
appear under various names, whether that be: avant-garde, experimental,
formally innovative, linguistically innovative, neo-modernist, non-
mainstream, post-avant, postmodernist, the British Poetry Revival,
the parallel tradition, or even, that venerable survival from the 1960s,
underground poetry (to put these terms in neutral alphabetical order).
Particular areas of these fields have been known as the Cambridge
School, the London School, concrete poetry, and performance writing.
All of these terms are contestable, of course, but we have chosen a name
for the journal that at least has the advantage of using a term that ap-
pears twice on our list. It is one we have used in our critical writings, but
we are not attempting to delimit the area of investigation or to privilege
‘innovation’, with its rather shiny connotations of corporate competitive-
ness, as a term. The poetry that falls within the purview of these pages
has lacked an academic journal hitherto; those scholars and practitioners
within this area have lacked an outlet, subject to the academic protocols
that confirm legitimacy on its discourse, to collect their researches, work
that might otherwise appear in less formal circumstances or scattered
across the pages of little magazines or on blogs, or – and this is the big
worry – not attempted at all. The journal aims to answer this lack in the
academic world, by providing a home for critical articles on the history,
context, close reading and poetics of this work, and to carry reviews of
the stream of monographs and edited volumes in this area, which have
at least made up for the lack of such a journal, along with occasional
opinion pieces and reports (and announcements) of conferences. We also
hope to commission, starting with one on the poetry of the first decade
of this century, in 2011. We actively seek suitable contributions in all
these areas.
Outside of the growing circle of critics and scholars within this field,
we expect to build up a readership for the journal within the very liter-
ary community that is being described, an opportunity which suggests

Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry © Gylphi Limited, Canterbury, UK

ISSN 1758-2733 | 01_01 | 2009 (3–9) |
Journal of British and Irish

Volume 1, Number 1

‘Dragging at the haemorrhage of uns –’

Maggie O’Sullivan’s excavations of Irish history

Mandy Bloomfield
University of Southampton, UK

Maggie O’Sullivan’s persistent interest in investigating voicelessness
and marginalization in her poetry is informed by the diasporic history
and cultural legacies of her Irish heritage. Drawing on Brian McHale’s
notion of ‘archaeological poetry’ and especially his remarks concerning
recent ‘material poetry’, I examine O’Sullivan’s ‘excavation’ of this
history via the material dimensions of the poetic page. I trace her
engagement with Irish history in her poem that bread should be, and its
echoes in another of her works A Natural History in 3 incomplete Parts.
Focusing on her use of the visual aspects of the printed page and their
connections to the oral / aural and to performance, I propose that her
poems physically enact a sense of traumatic history as embodied, and
passed down corporeally. I argue that the material page is a primary
means by which O’Sullivan engages with the problem of giving form
and shape to inarticulate, suppressed and negatively-defined presences.
cultural memory • Irish history • Maggie O’Sullivan • material page •
visual poetics • voicelessness

A material poetics
Maggie O’Sullivan has frequently described her own practice as a form
of ‘excavation’.1 As this term might suggest, in its mining of language’s
multiple strata of meanings, in its retrieval of archaic vocabularies,
and in its investigations of ‘unofficial’ aspects of history and culture, a​
persistent archaeological impulse runs through her poetry. In his in-
troduction to O’Sullivan’s collection Body of Work, Charles Bernstein
(2006: 9) remarks that the poet’s work performs a ‘cross-sectional bor-

Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry © Gylphi Limited, Canterbury, UK

ISSN 1758–2733 | 01_01 | 2009 (11–36) |
Journal of British and Irish

Volume 1, Number 1

Democratic consensus in J. H. Prynne’s ‘Refuse Col-

Ian Davidson
University of Bangor, UK

J. H. Prynne’s poem ‘Refuse Collection’ explores ideas of democracy
and consensus in the context of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It uses
the incident of the photographs of torture in Abu Ghraib prison,
taken by guards and circulated via the Internet, to comment on ideas
of democratic consensus that gives permission for such incidents to
happen. The article argues for the effectiveness of experimental poetic
practices as social and political critique, and demonstrates that the poem
contains not only a variety of competing perspectives, but also critiques
of those perspectives.
Abu Ghraib • democracy • experimental • Iraq • poetry • politics •

Poems can, although imperfectly, contain varieties of competing perspec-

tives and critiques of those perspectives. I want to show, through a close
reading of ‘Refuse Collection’ by J. H. Prynne,1 one example of the ways
in which this can occur, and the reasons for it. The poem explores ideas
of consensus and democracy in the context of the invasion and occupa-
tion of Iraq by British and American forces, using the specific instance
of the alleged torture at Abu Ghraib as an example.2 Prynne’s poem is of
a complexity that reflects the difficulty of its approach to its subject mat-
ter. It exercises a responsibility to the multiple possibilities of human
presence and experience, and by extension critiques democratic decision-
making and consensus. The coincidental and simultaneous relevance of
the work to a number of specific contexts that contain within them mul-
tiple perspectives becomes the very reason that it might be resistant to
a reading that tries to enclose its meaning in ‘recognizable’ culturally

Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry © Gylphi Limited, Canterbury, UK

ISSN 1758-2733 | 01_01 | 2009 (37–53) |
Journal of British and Irish

Volume 1, Number 1

Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s ‘Cordelia’, tradition and

the ‘Triumph of Artifice’
Gareth Farmer
Sussex University, UK

Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s poem ‘Cordelia: Or, “A Poem Should
not Mean but Be’’’ is a concerted distillation of the poet’s theoretical
concerns and the most sustained negotiation of literary history and
form in her oeuvre. The poem, it is argued, embodies what Forrest-
Thomson calls the ‘triumph of artifice’, an achievement she herself
discerns in the work of John Ashbery and J. H. Prynne. The poem’s
‘triumph’ is a consequence of a formal mastery motivated by a parodic
treatment of traditional forms and themes in the hope to ‘transform a
reader’s expectations’ of the function of the poet and of what poetry
can achieve.
artifice • Forrest-Thomson • parody • poetics • poetry

[A]ny poet in this century is a mind on the outskirts of civilisation; he

must be so in order to perform his canonical function of mediator between
his tribe and society … [T]hinking poets realise that this requires a new
and shocking revaluation of all that poetic language has been. (Forrest-
Thomson, 1978: 154)
[C]reative innovation must take place by disrupting social ideas of ‘poetry’
and recapturing the old levels of Artifice. (Forrest-Thomson, 1978: 154)
It is the sense, it is the sense, controls,
Landing every poem like a fish.
Unhuman forms must not assert their roles. (Forrest-Thomson, 2008:

In 1974, Veronica Forrest-Thomson published a chapbook of nine poems

entitled Cordelia: Or, ‘A Poem should not Mean but Be’. The collection was
named after its longest poem, ‘Cordelia’, which was subsequently collect-
ed in the 1990 edition, Collected Poems and Translations, edited by Anthony
Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry © Gylphi Limited, Canterbury, UK
ISSN 1758-2733 | 01_01 | 2009 (55–77) |
Journal of British and Irish

Volume 1, Number 1

‘Expectant contexts’
Corporeal and desiring spaces in Denise Riley’s poetry

Christine Kennedy
Leeds Trinity & All Saints, UK

David Kennedy
University of Hull, UK

The poetry of Denise Riley presents the critic with some formidable
challenges. First, all reading practices rely to some extent on the pulling
out of statements that are read as exemplary or revelatory. But Riley’s
poetry expresses anxiety over the making of statements and, having
made one, over how to live with it. Second, Riley’s engagement with
lyric opens questions of authenticity and honesty. Each reader has to
decide how honest the poetry is being in its dwelling on the fantasy life
of the subject and in its presentation of obsession, rage and frustration,
and whether this presentation amounts to a valorization. This article
uses Chrisopher Bollas’s reconceptualisation of hysteria and Julia
Kristeva’s conception of ‘women’s time’, and focuses on two of Riley’s
longer poems, ‘The Castalian Spring’ and ‘Laibach Lyrik’, to argue that
Riley’s poetry is a continuing exploration of the question: what is the
corporeal and desiring space available for women?
body • Bollas • Denise Riley • desire • lyric • women’s time

In Act IV Scene ii of John Webster’s play The Duchess of Malfi (1614)

the eponymous heroine asserts, just before her execution, ‘I am Duchess
of Malfi still’. There has been much debate about whether this is a defi-
ant statement of independence or an expression of the self defined by
external roles and others’ expectations. The Duchess’s assertion remains
ambiguous because, as Frank Whigham (1996: 223) argues, the play
dramatizes ‘the shaping of the social self in the abrasive zone between
emergent and residual social formations’ of the Jacobean world. How-
ever we choose to read her words, they are certainly not a disruption.
Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry © Gylphi Limited, Canterbury, UK
ISSN 1758-2733 | 01_01 | 2009 (79–101) |
Journal of British and Irish

Volume 1, Number 1

Tony Lopez, Meaning Performance (Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2006).

This critical miscellany was assembled from talks, lectures, papers and
essays written over a number of years and, understandably, lacks a unify-
ing motif. Often there is a relaxed, informal, style, derived from speech,
almost in deliberate resistance to academic protocols, but never enough
to detract from the intellectual content. When looking at literary works
these days, we pay some attention to the contexts of performance (as in-
deed, some of Lopez’s essays do), but it is rare to pay too much attention
to the context of delivery of academic papers, even though it is important
who is scowling in the front row and what the assembled bodies imagine
they are expert in. To speak to conferences of Pound scholars about what
this journal has chosen to dub ‘innovative’ poetry is already to be defen-
sive, and some of Lopez’s occasions demand the repetition of contextual
information (although not enough to wish the author had recast the en-
tire book into a unity); more positively, it demands accurate, sensitive and
ponderous (in the best sense) close readings of difficult poems, which is
where this volume excels, particularly where the methods of Andrew
Crozier or Allen Fisher are shown at work. Meaning Performance is also
notable for the arc of its development, visible in the reverse chronology
of the book, which charts Lopez’s focus from that of a pure literary critic
to that of presenter of what we now call practice-led research, and in
a couple of cases the contributions are performances themselves, both
on and off the page. As in the work of many creative writers, criticism
cannot avoid shading into poetics, the speculative discourse about how
poetry – in this case – is to be made. Like some language poets he takes
the role of poet-critic as axiomatic, but his tempering of theory in favour
of close reading is exemplary. Hovering over a number of the essays is
the reiterated but undeveloped thought that culture has not yet dealt
with the crisis of the Second World War, although this is barely a theme,
even in the earliest essays which deal with writers working through that
catastrophe, such as W. S. Graham or Ezra Pound.
Lopez was the first critic to write a monograph on Graham’s poetry
and three essays here are extended footnotes to that pioneering work. We

Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry © Gylphi Limited, Canterbury, UK

ISSN 1758-2733 | 01_01 | 2009 (103–107) |
Journal of British and Irish

Volume 1, Number 1

John Wilkinson, The Lyric Touch (Great Wilbraham: Salt Publishing, 2007)
309 pp.

The Lyric Touch is a selection of John Wilkinson’s prose writing since the
late 1980s under the headings of British Poetry, Poetics and American
Poetry. However, it is the way in which Wilkinson’s critical writing acts,
self-declaredly, as a means to pursue his creative concerns that makes the
whole project readable as a sustained poetics. This is therefore a signifi-
cant book for British writing in helping to make visible the poetics of
innovative poetry, alongside other recent publications in Salt’s Recon-
struction series, such as Tony Lopez’s Meaning Performance (also reviewed
in this issue) or Drew Milne’s Agoraphobic Poetics (forthcoming) and the
book of interviews with British poets published as Don’t Start Me Talking
(ed. Tim Allen and Andrew Duncan).
In his introduction Wilkinson – only recently arrived in the (North
American) academy after a long career in mental health services in the
UK – acknowledges that he regrets ‘the tendency to separate literary
studies from “creative writing”’ in the university. Seeing himself as a
rather ‘partial’ critic he acknowledges that this bias arises from ‘an in-
tense need to argue, for myself as well as for others, the value of poets
scarcely heard of ’, an activity he feels that the academy should ‘better
appreciate and promote’. While the job-description of ‘poet-critic’ is a
common one in the USA, Wilkinson’s remarks reflect some reservations
about this double role. This creates some problems in The Lyric Touch, as
I will try to illustrate, but ones that can be tempered by a recognition of
the work’s primary status as poetics.
The collection opens with three pieces on J. H. Prynne’s work, the first
being ‘Counterfactual Prynne: An Approach to Not-You’ (first published
in the superb double issue, Parataxis 8/9, in 1996) in which Wilkinson
applies the British Kleinian psychoanalyst Wilfred R. Bion’s analytic tool
‘the Grid’ in reading Prynne’s poem. This is one of Wilkinson’s char-
acteristically original contributions, his ability to bring terms from his
professional training in psychoanalysis to bear on literary issues, a move
he has made elsewhere in material on Denise Riley (collected here) and

Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry © Gylphi Limited, Canterbury, UK

ISSN 1758-2733 | 01_01 | 2009 (108–112) |