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Volume 1 Number 1 September 2009 ISSN 1758-2733

http://www.gylphi.co.uk/poetry

Journal of British and Irish

CONTENTS 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 Mandy Bloomfield democratic consensus in J. H. Prynne’s ‘refuse Collection’ Ian Davidson Veronica Forrest-thomson’s ‘Cordelia’, tradition and the ‘triumph of artifice’ Gareth Farmer ‘Expectant contexts’: Corporeal and desiring spaces in denise riley’s poetry Christine Kennedy and David Kennedy
Book rEViEwS

11 37

55

79

tony lopez, Meaning Performance reviewed by robert Sheppard John wilkinson, The Lyric Touch reviewed by Scott thurston

103 108

Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry © Gylphi Limited, Canterbury, UK ISSN 1758-2733 | 01_01 | 2009 | http://www.gylphi.co.uk/poetry

Journal of British and Irish

Volume 1, Number 1

EDITORIAL

Editorial
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, nonmainstream, 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 appears 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 competitiveness, 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 literary 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) | http://www.gylphi.co.uk/poetry

Journal of British and Irish

Volume 1, Number 1

ARTICLE

‘dragging at the haemorrhage of uns –’
Maggie o’Sullivan’s excavations of irish history
MaNdy BlooMfiEld
university of Southampton, uK aBStract

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.
KEywordS

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 introduction to o’Sullivan’s collection Body of Work, Charles Bernstein (2006: 9) remarks that the poet’s work performs a ‘cross-sectional borJournal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry © Gylphi Limited, Canterbury, UK ISSN 1758–2733 | 01_01 | 2009 (11–36) | http://www.gylphi.co.uk/poetry

Journal of British and Irish

Volume 1, Number 1

ARTICLE

democratic consensus in J. h. Prynne’s ‘refuse collection’
iaN daVidSoN
university of Bangor, uK aBStract

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.
KEywordS

Abu Ghraib • democracy • experimental • Iraq • poetry • politics • Prynne

Poems can, although imperfectly, contain varieties of competing perspectives 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 occupation 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 matter. it exercises a responsibility to the multiple possibilities of human presence and experience, and by extension critiques democratic decisionmaking and consensus. the coincidental and simultaneous relevance of the work to a number of specific contexts that contain within them multiple 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) | http://www.gylphi.co.uk/poetry

Journal of British and Irish

Volume 1, Number 1

ARTICLE

Veronica forrest-thomson’s ‘cordelia’, tradition and the ‘triumph of artifice’
GarEth farMEr
Sussex university, uK aBStract

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 Forrestthomson 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.
KEywordS

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. (Forrestthomson, 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: 124)

in 1974, Veronica Forrest-thomson published a chapbook of nine poems entitled Cordelia: Or, ‘ Poem should not Mean but Be’. the collection was A named after its longest poem, ‘Cordelia’, which was subsequently collected 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) | http://www.gylphi.co.uk/poetry

Journal of British and Irish

Volume 1, Number 1

ARTICLE

‘Expectant contexts’
chriStiNE KENNEdy
leeds trinity & all Saints, uK

corporeal and desiring spaces in denise riley’s poetry

daVid KENNEdy
university of hull, uK aBStract

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?
KEywordS

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 defiant 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. However 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) | http://www.gylphi.co.uk/poetry

Journal of British and Irish

Volume 1, Number 1

BOOK REVIEW

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 unifying 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 indeed, 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 defensive, and some of lopez’s occasions demand the repetition of contextual information (although not enough to wish the author had recast the entire 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) | http://www.gylphi.co.uk/poetry

Journal of British and Irish

Volume 1, Number 1

BOOK REVIEW

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 significant book for British writing in helping to make visible the poetics of innovative poetry, alongside other recent publications in Salt’s reconstruction 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 intense 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 characteristically 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) | http://www.gylphi.co.uk/poetry