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In poetopography, one is always looking for signs, ciphers, codes, clues as to the interface between poetry and topography. Placenames, roadsigns, even the names on the sides of passing commercial vans take on an unnatural significance.
Recently I saw a familiar face on the side of a lamp-post. It was none other than Ezra Pound, as envisaged in a design – all hair, sideburn, moustache and beard, eyes closed in concentration – by fellow modernist Wyndham Lewis. What’s Ezra doing there? I wondered. Such a sign is not for everyone, but a poetopographer must be expected to respond to the stimulus, and decipher.
Three words added to the illumination, which was at the junction of Portobello Road and Raddngton Road (the eastward continuation of Oxford Gardens): THE VORTEX LONDINIUM. Black and white spirals and recurring red consonants V, R, T and X added a formal reinforcement of the content. What was the meaning of this fusion of Roman London and modernist London?
When I googled THE VORTEX LONDINIUM, an unpleasant surprise was waiting. The organisation is a London chapter of the Italian Neo-fascist movement called CASA POUND. They were last spotted black-clad at an Italian festival in Clerkenwell ‘distributing their literature.’ http://uaf.org.uk/2018/07/italian-neo-fascists-distribute-leaflet-at-london-religious-festival/
Not wishing to ignite a boring debate about Ezra Pound’s goodnesses and wickednesses, I will sign off with excepts from his early poem ‘Commission’ – which serve to illustrate everything he himself later threw away when he fell under the spell of Mussolini and became dependent on Il Duce’s payola for his existence:
Go, my songs, to the lonely and the unsatisfied,
Go also to the nerve-racked, go to the enslaved-by-convention,
Bear to them my contempt for their oppressors.
Go as a great wave of cool water,
Bear my contempt of oppressors.
Speak against unconscious oppression,
Speak against the tyranny of the unimaginative,
Speak against bonds.
Go in a friendly manner,
Go with an open speech.
Be eager to find new evils and new good,
Be against all forms of oppression.
Ragged Lion Journal // Number One is a new literary journal edited and printed by the indefatigable e.a.d. sellors.
One must resist the assumption that it’s already a collector’s item to be filed away on a shelf of literary valuables. One must take it one’s paws and peruse.
The opening article sees the brilliant countercultural poet Jeremy Reed returning to his intellectual roots, writing in perceptive and engaging prose – as he has done in poems – about the suicide of Hart Crane. An American backstory and Mexican backdrop are provided, and then we’re with Hart on his final ill-fated voyage on the SS Orizaba. Reed has a deep fascination with the lives of poets, one which I understand and share. The great stories are arias he sings, as vividly as this.
The next contribution is from no less a practitioner than Jerome Rothenberg, two poems entitled ‘Two Codas From The President of Desolation’. Here is a poet not playing it for laughs but sincerely lamenting the current situation in the US, this coming after his recent Dantesque sequence Inferno, and sharing the same urgent disquietude of tone. Necessary stuff, a relief to read.
That renaissance man of Warhol’s Factory fame, Gerard Malanga, is featured as poet tenderly eulogising Lee Harwood in what is a finely crafted quasi-letter to his deceased friend. A more upbeat companion-piece snapshots Lawrence of Arabia as writer-adventurer losing a mss. in a hansom cab in London. The ‘Cape’ here is cleverly deployed because the reader naturally thinks of it first as some exotic piece of geography that the great T.E. has conquered, and only secondly as the publishing house where he was supposed to be delivering his memoir. It’s an uplifting comic parable.
Steve Finbow’s contribution is a highly philosophical poem, The Meaning of 32 Words which is beautifully laid out in prose stanzas, mostly quatrains and quintets.
Derek Adams’ poetry seems to be on the trail of Surrealists in Egypt, with Lee Miller, Roland Penrose, Francis Picabia and Yves Tanguy namechecked in its lyrical tercets.
D.R. Wagner also contributes two poems, intimate, observant, meditative lyrics set in a cosmic natural realm.
The precocious Audrey Szasz here offers a sequence of prose vignettes, ‘Paracosmic Immersion and Temporal Distortion’. The effect is hilarious. Ballardian satire but oh so faux-innocently feminised. Skilful use of the en dash allows for a poetic build-up of bizarre detail: ‘she’s so fragile – like a president’s ego’.
My own two poems ‘isms 2’ and ‘isms 3’ are from a sequence ‘In the Realm of the Isms’ . (‘isms 1’ is published in The Idler 71 March-April 2020 issue.)
Greek poet Yannis Lividas has two moving lyrics from 2007, ‘Kelifus’ and ‘Husk #19’.
Louise Landes Levi broadens the scope of the journal with a versified introduction to legendary poet-painter Henri Michaux – whom Levi knew personally as ‘A modest man, a tender man & a friend’. Then she translates three of his poems, two verse, one prose.
The final written contribution is Stephen Barber’s timely heavyweight essay on – and for me introduction to – the French writer Pierre Guyotat, author of Eden, Eden, Eden who died on February 7 2020.
There are also a series of fine etchings of strange scenes from avian life, ‘Pecking Order’ by Kim Tong and a drawing ‘Foetus in Utero’ by Alexandra Unger.
e.a.d. sellors is an aficionado of independent and alternative publishing techniques and is putting his skills to use by embarking on a new regular journal which will come out with alarming frequency. Number Two is already out and Number Three is almost ready. It is possible the first three issues will have been released in April MMXX.
What I find great about issue one is that it is so readable. This certainly owes much to the superb layouts/fonts/columns etc. and is also helped by the culturally nutritious but unacademic contents.
Please help this amazing project by a getting copy of the magazine:
You can even buy a twelve issue subscription:
In a history poem I wrote for Flat Time House’s exhibition THE BARD, I used the loaded word ‘expulsions’.
The subject of the poem is the psychopathic Plantagenet king Edward I, notorious for conquering Wales and hammering Scotland. No friend to the Celts, he is known worldwide as ‘the Braveheart bad guy’ because he was the English king who presided over the hanging, drawing and quartering of Mel Gibson in a kilt.
Even if you agree with Edward I’s Celticidal tendencies – and sadly many today still do – there is another atrocity in his CV that very few could condone.
From Wikipedia: “The Edict of Expulsion was a royal decree issued on 18 July 1290 expelling all Jews from the Kingdom of England. Edward advised the sheriffs of all counties he wanted all Jews expelled by no later than All Saints Day (1st November) that year. The expulsion edict remained in force for the rest of the Middle Ages’. It was a very ugly business which included confiscation of all wealth and property.
The edict was the culmination of decades’ of harassment of England’s 2000-strong Jewish community. Badged, taxed to the hilt, propagandised against, the Jews fell foul of pogroms in 1190 and later in the 1260s. In 1275 Edward I then passed the Statute of the Jewry which outlawed usury. Jewish moneylenders were expected to reinvent themselves in a society from which they were excluded. In 1287, Edward expelled all Jews from Gascony, a practice run.
My use of the word ‘expulsions’ in a short historical poem thus serves as an evocation of the horrors of the past; but it is also a recognition that Brexit – with its boasts of ‘hostile environment’ – has ushered in a new era of expulsions, though the operative word is now ‘deportations’.
Anyone attempting historical writing probably looks for concurrences. The final phrase in the poem ‘royal ordnance’ seems invested with the necessary archaism of the poem’s vocabulary but was actually a 20C name used by the military-industrial multinational company better known today as BAE Systems.
I noticed a little gem when re-reading Richard III. Richard’s hapless brother George, Duke of Clarence, is recounting his nightmare in the tower in a speech from Act 1 Sc 4.
It is a mesmeric description of a classical hell:
With that, methoughts, a legion of foul fiends
Environ’d me about, and howled in mine ears
Such hideous cries, that with the very noise
I trembling waked, and for a season after
Could not believe but that I was in hell,
Such terrible impression made the dream.
I have highlighted the four-word gem I wish to draw your attention to. The description of being surrounded by demons, and of the belief that one is temporarily in hell, is highly evocative of Rimbaud’s prose poem anyway. But to find the two halves of the English title in two succeeding lines is even more striking.
The original French title is the exactly equivalented Une Saison en enfer. It is an unproblematic translation. The word count is the same. The meaning of the words is the same. The word order is the same. No English translator I’m aware of has ever taken the liberty of translating it as anything other than A Season in Hell.
Annoyingly, the major 19C translation of Richard III by Francois Guizot in 1863, a prose translation, excludes the ‘a season’.
A ces mots, il m’a semblé qu’une légion de démons hideux m’environnait, hurlant à mes oreilles des cris si affreux qu’à ce bruit je me suis éveillé tremblant, et longtemps après je ne pouvais me persuader que je ne fusse pas en enfer, tant ce songe m’avait laissé une impression terrible!
Instead, the translator refashions it to ‘longtemps’ i.e a long while. This is a good example of losing poetry in translation. We can see how Guizot makes changes: Shakespeare’s ‘With that’ becomes Guizot’s ‘A ces mots’ (‘At these words’)
It means it is less likely that Rimbaud encountered the phrases ‘un saison’ and ‘en enfer’ in a French translation unless there was another version available to French schoolchildren in the 1860s, one which translated ‘a season’ faithfully.
Rimbaud did however read Shakespeare in English when he began living in London in 1872. His prose poem ‘Bottom’ with title in English corroborates this. It’s possible he may have read Richard III in English and somehow that passage – and somehow those four magic words – stayed in his mind.
But we must surely applaud Shakespeare for dreaming up – at least before Rimbaud – the notion of being in hell for a season.
I’m honoured to be featured in Blackwell’s Poetry No 1 alongside poets whose work I much admire and under such a distinguished imprint.
Editor A.R. Thompson elucidates:
“Last year, I was very lucky to have been asked by Blackwell’s to edit and publish a poetry pamphlet to celebrate the company’s 140th. Now I can proudly present Blackwell’s Poetry no.1, featuring the work of Ishion Hutchinson, Damian le Bas, Catherine Coldstream, MacGillivray, Chris McCabe, Mbizo Chirasha, Niall McDevitt, Toby Martinez de la Rivas, Geraldine Monk and Sherwin Bitsui. This marks the first time Blackwell’s has done anything like this since Basil Blackwell published W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender and J.R.R. Tolkien’s early collections.”
Re-reading Henry V I found myself enjoying the form of the final chorus in Act V. Whereas the previous choruses at the beginning of each act are written in blank verse, the final chorus is an epilogue in rhyme and is much shorter than the others.
Counting the lines I saw that there were fourteen. Examining the lines I saw they made up a perfect Shakespearean sonnet i.e. ABAB/CDCD/EFEF/GG.
We hear the unmistakable Shakespeare voice and – guess what? – he’s talking about himself. Shakespeare the poet is talking about Shakespeare the playwright:
“Our bending author hath pursued the story”.
He deploys his typical charming gambit of confident self-deprecation. Who would possibly agree with Shakespeare that his pen is “rough and all-unable”?
The third line is also remarkable for echoing Christopher Marlowe. “Infinite riches in a little room” is from The Jew of Malta. It is well documented that Shakespeare has alluded to that line in As You Like It when he has Touchstone say: “When a man’s verses cannot be understood, nor a man’s good wit seconded with the forward child understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room.” The allusion to the line of Marlowe’s brilliantly doubles up as an allusion to the official account of Marlowe’s death.
Shakespeare’s “In little room confining mighty men” follows the tone of all the choruses in seemingly apologising to the audience for the theatre’s inadequacy; but it is undoubtedly a second variation on the famous line by Marlowe.
However, there is another poet and another variant. John Donne’s beautiful 21 line lyric ‘The Good Morrow’ has the well-known line:
“And makes one little room an everywhere”.
Interestingly, this is regarded as one of the earliest of Donne’s poems and was written while he was studying at Lincolns Inn from 1592. Marlowe’s play was written two or three years earlier. It seems highly likely that Donne would have seen The Jew of Malta and was therefore alluding to the popular Marlowe in his earliest work. It also seems he’d have written his variant before Shakespeare wrote either of his.
All the lines by Marlowe, Donne and Shakespeare compare and contrast “a little room” with something much greater.
“Small time” in Shakespeare’s chorus has a double meaning implying the short duration of a play compared to the longer duration of the subject matter but also the short lifespan of Henry V himself. In a way the poem is like modern cinema in that a true life story is followed by a few sentences explaining what happened to the characters afterwards. The sextet aptly introduces ‘Henry the Sixth’ and how the mismanagement of his infantile reign lost the gains made by his father. Shakespeare reminds his audience in the phrase “Which oft our stage has shown” of his earlier sequence of history plays about Henry VI – which New Oxford Shakespeare claim was co-written with Marlowe.
This is not an emotionally charged sonnet but an occasional sonnet, a discursive exercise and an entertainment. But it is a well-crafted and fast-moving sonnet which might have been addressed to the Globe thousands as well as the court hundreds.
Thus far, with rough and all-unable pen,
Our bending author hath pursued the story,
In little room confining mighty men,
Mangling by starts the full course of their glory.
Small time, but in that small most greatly lived
This star of England: Fortune made his sword;
By which the world’s best garden he achieved,
And of it left his son imperial lord.
Henry the Sixth, in infant bands crown’d King
Of France and England, did this king succeed;
Whose state so many had the managing,
That they lost France and made his England bleed:
Which oft our stage hath shown; and, for their sake,
In your fair minds let this acceptance take.
“Infinite riches in a little room”
“And makes one little room an everywhere”
“a great reckoning in a little room”
“In little room confining mighty men”
One can imagine the London-based culture the poets were immersed in, all probably living in little rooms themselves. The Marlowe line must have made them all feel possessed of infinite riches when working in their Elizabethan garrets. Their aristocratic patrons had townhouses and country castles but were not so well endowed intellectually. This would surely have been a talking point in the taverns.
Finally it’s worth pointing out that that word ‘mighty’ has serious Marlovian connotations. This is because of Ben Jonson’s admiration for what he called “Marlowe’s mighty line”.
|Opens this Wednesday 6–8.30pm
AT FLAT TIME HOUSE
Opening Wedesday 29 January 6–8.30pm
with a reading from William Blake’s Jersualem by poet Chris McCabe
Exhibition continues 30 January–8 March
Open Thursday–Sunday 12–6pm
With contributions from Keith Jarrett, Chris McCabe, Niall McDevitt, Robert Montgomery, Karen Sandhu, Iain Sinclair and Tamar Yoseloff
Curated by Chris McCabe in partnership with Flat Time House and Magnus Rena of the Sir Denis Mahon Foundation
This exhibition gives a unique opportunity to view Blake’s work in the domestic environment of Latham’s home – the ‘living sculpture’ of Flat Time House and embodiment of Latham’s worldview. The show is also an opportunity to bring Blake back to Peckham, at a site close to the Rye where, as a young boy, he had his vision of “a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars.”
The two series of works by Blake, from a private collection, generously lent for this exhibition by The Sir Denis Mahon Foundation, are prints by Blake in which he illustrated two poems by Thomas Gray, ‘The Bard’ and ‘The Fatal Sisters’. They were commissioned in 1797 by Blake’s friend, the sculptor John Flaxman and produced over the following year. Blake mounted Gray’s poems to windows cut into large sheets of paper, then drawing and colouring his designs to surround the text. The full series is regarded amongst Blake’s major achievements as an illustrator. Throughout the series Blake emphasises the importance of imagination at work in the world through inspired acts of reading, writing, and performing music.
Thomas Grey’s poem, The Bard, was itself a potent influence on future generations of poets and painters, seen by many as the first creative work of the Celtic Revival and as lying at the root of the Romantic movement in Britain. Blake’s Gray works were pretty much unknown until 1919 and the twentieth century reprint as hand-coloured collotypes are significant in playing an important part of the process in making the piece more widely known.
Alongside these works, poets, writers and artists using language, have been commissioned to reflect on the contemporary relevance of Blake and Latham’s work. Blake and Latham each created complex, esoteric and all-encompassing cosmologies, which examined the nature and structure of the universe from within the constraints of daily life. The poetic responses to their ideas are presented alongside the artwork and written word by Blake, within the context of Latham’s home and in Peckham, a spiritual home for Blake.
Image: Title-page of The Bard illustrated by William Blake, c. 1798, one of a set of 14 sheets, collotype and hand-colouring on wove paper with separately printed paper (unbound). Part of William Blake watercolour designs for the Poems of Thomas Gray, published by Trianon Press for the William Blake Trust, London 1972
|POETS IN RESPONSE TO BLAKE
Wednesday 19 February
Free. Doors 6.30pm Readings 7pm
CHRIS MCCABE, NIALL MCDEVITT, KAREN SANDHU + IAIN SINCLAIR
Wednesday 26 February
Free. Doors 6.30pm Readings 7pm
KEITH JARRETT, CHRIS MCCABE, ROBERT MONTGOMERY + TAMAR YOSELOFF
Come along to hear from some of the UK’s most dynamic poets as they present new work in response to Flat Time House’s exhibition, The Bard. Over 250 years after the young William Blake saw a vision of an angel in a tree on Peckham Rye, Flat Time House has commissioned six poets to bring their words and visions to Peckham. Each of the poets has been commissioned to write in response to the life and work of William Blake and/or in response to that other creator of cosmologies, John Latham. You will have time to see how the poet’s words have been installed on the walls of Flat Time House as part of the exhibition, as well as hearing the new work written in response to two artists (Blake and Latham) who felt they ‘must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s’ (Jerusalem).
Image: Detail from The Fatal Sisters illustrated by William Blake, c. 1798, one of a set of 11 sheets, collotype and hand-colouring on wove paper with separately printed paper (unbound). Part of William Blake watercolour designs for the Poems of Thomas Gray, published by Trianon Press for the William Blake Trust, London 1972
|BLAKE WALK of PECKHAM
Sunday 23 February 1–3pm
Walk begins at 1pm, exhibition open from 12pm
Join poets and psychogeographers Chris McCabe and Niall McDevitt on a Blake-inspired walk through Peckham. Drawing on The Bard exhibition at Flat Time House, McCabe and McDevitt will lead you through this area of London associated with Blake’s ramblings.
Beginning at Flat Time House, the walk will visit the Goose Green mural which depicts Blake’s boyhood vision of an angel on Peckham Rye. The walk will then go to the Rye itself in search for the tree that Blake saw his angel in, and then on diversion along the River Peck, one of many rivers that Blake was drawn to in his lifetime. The walk will end at Nunhead Cemetery, known as Nunhead Hill in Blake’s day, where Blake’s words will be read out loud to the urban dead. This walk is participatory and will invite thoughts and readings from Blake’s poems from everyone on the walk who would like to contribute.
Image: Detail from The Bard illustrated by William Blake, c. 1798, one of a set of 14 sheets, collotype and hand-colouring on wove paper with separately printed paper (unbound). Part of William Blake watercolour designs for the Poems of Thomas Gray, published by Trianon Press for the William Blake Trust, London 1972
|CONSERVATION WORK TO FTHO’S FACE SCULPTURE
Seventeen years to the day since the Flat Time House’s famous Face sculpture was completed, the work has been de-installed for extensive conservation work.
Fabricated from Fibreglass and Jesmonite with an aluminium and stainless steel support, significant weathering has caused the outside parts of the book to become fragile and distorted. Conservation work by art fabricators, Arteffects, will ensure the book is safe to remain on the front of Flat Time House for, at least, another 17 years. The window will be vacant for the current exhibition, The Bard: William Blake at Flat Time House, but the Face sculpture will return within a few months.
When commissioned by Southwark Council to produce a sculpture for the regeneration of his street in Peckham, John Latham chose not to produce a traditional public sculpture, but rather designate his house itself an artwork. For the passer-by, the most apparent manifestation of his intention is this book sculpture that pierces the front of the house. Held by the glass pane of the front window of the house, it hovers suspended half in the public realm and half inside. The title on the spine of the book reads ‘HOW THE UNIVOICE IS STILL UNHEARD’, referring to Latham’s unifying cosmology, Flat Time. Latham renamed the house FLAT TIME I-IO, (usually referred to as Flat Time House).
Latham had lived on Bellenden Road since 1983 but the process of commissioning and production in the early 2000s led to him reconsidering the nature of the building he lived and worked in. At the point of the book sculpture’s completion in 2003 he had come to think of it as an organism, describing it as a living sculpture. The front of the house is known as the Face, the sculpture intersecting the front window acting a signifier for all the activity, continuing to this day, that takes place within.
We would like to thank Steve Haines and the rest of the Arteffects team for their dedicated work and the Henry Moore Foundation and the John Latham Foundation for their generous support of this important conservation project.
|NOIT — 5
BODIES AS IN BUILDINGS
Price £17.50 + Postage
NOIT — 5: bodies as in buildings is a collection of essays, short stories, and images exploring what happens when the domestic, the home, and the body are alienated from their most basic associations and given new ones. In these works, the threshold between house and street, the distinction between the public and private, becomes porous and inexhaustibly complex. NOIT — 5 features works by students from the MA Writing Programme at the Royal College of Art and an afterword by Brian Dillon.
NOIT is a creative journal published by Flat Time House. Comprising new writing and visual contributions, NOIT explores the theoretical concerns and artwork of John Latham (1921–2006), and their continued relevance.
|Flat Time House
210 Bellenden Road
London SE15 4BW
+44 (0)20 7207 4845
Flat Time House is a few minutes walk from Peckham Rye and East Dulwich British Rail stations. There are regular, fast trains from London Bridge & Victoria. Buses to Peckham Library or Rye Lane.
The John Latham Foundation