runs, high-quality typesetting performed on the kitchen table or anywhere,
and good design means that, once again, publishing has become a true cottage
industry. An unstaunchable flow of poetry books is happening, and Shearsman
Books is contributing to the flood. But where does this press stand,
ideologically-speaking, in the poetry landscape today? Well, a year or two
ago, one would have said it was 'alternative', 'out of the mainstream' etc.
And this may still be true as far as the ordinary poetry reader is concerned.
Not so in most of the new academia - ie.
some universities, especially the younger, plus countless higher
education/cutting-edge institutions like, for example, Dartington College - which is committedly post-modern. Indeed, there
is an interesting poem (part 4 of 'The Wars in Heaven' section) in Philpott's
book which begins with Pound and Williams then fast forwards us through
Stein, Zukovsky, Olson, Spicer and O'Hara to tell us our poet 'draw(s) on
them as from an inner sea'. It's just as though poetry began with Pound and
Williams, thus providing a kind of foreshortened intellectual view. But that
at least relieves the critic of any Leavisite attempt at measuring the
quality of the work by accumulated criteria evolved from earlier traditions.
Textual Possessions is made up of three lengthy sequences,
each of which contains many parts. The range of approach destroys the
possibility of a single monitoring authorial voice, for the styles are many.
Take this vigorous, breathtaking piece that immediately follows on the
author's credentials' section just referred to:
of an ocean unbounded
an entire crystal eye
at the purity of God.
now of this tortuous sea margin
round into a fractal infinity
each turn a fresh life bursting out
interface a page
which I throw my accusations
the Eternal Throne
imprisons within this narrow limit
the ambitions of engendering and decay.
ringed with all this field of life
at itself and God.
'Of the Wars in Heaven'
from 'An Encounter Upon
the Beach at Minehead
the Prince of this World')
Then compare that with the mixture of the chiselled and the onomatopoeic of:
of old wood, plastic, flowers
Though I said I wouldn't go further back than Pound, yet here we have
something like unrhymed Skeltonics that have met up with Robert Creeley.
What I take to be the earliest of the three works entitled 'In the Present
Historic Tense ('Sense' in the Contents): A Serial Poem of the West' (it
is also the longest at 60 pages), the poems tend to be fairly formally-shaped
bus promised Hardy country
and dirty, faintly melancholy
the abandoned air of all public things
Also, early on, there is the credo of the aesthete simply making beauty out
of words; viz:
love the infinite sheens of surfaces
you need for reflection
stop it or understand
yet, in the very next stanza:
So that this is a questing, philosophical sort of poetry that can be very
Small creatures also live in this place
Their bodies glowing jewels that unlike us
Are not just smelling of the decay of our flesh
Which falls from us in strips and tatters
moistened by mucus swells blindly. They
at us with hatred, amazement and occasional love
fear, for they know how desperate and unpredictable
can be when we realise who
what we are now
While later in the section 'An Encounter Upon the Beach at Minehead With the
Prince of this World', we are into a sort of antinomian, non-Christian
was once part of the Eternal when
decreed his rights as absolutes
from all their independent life.
No, I said
declare myself against this arrogance ...
Yet this other 'he' - the
Prince of this World -
seeks to redeem into perfection
slow descent into the divine.
A mixture of Meister Eckhardt's man becoming god and the Pelagian
Interesting like so much in this book but hard to get a handle on as with a
lot of postmodern writing. Best, therefore, to quote:
The noise of the little birds
Flitting in to bond and gossip
These swarm up in whirling clouds
And then the dead, those we love and hate
Who cannot be shaken off, they hold to
What we desire to say until each word
'An Attempt at Some Final Poems'
'On Being Voiced: High Steps Breeding
(a Broadcast of Radio
Beautiful, again, like so much in this book; and even where I canÕt follow
it, beautiful still. Let others see what they make of Textual Possessions;
I'd like to hear their views.
William Oxley 2004