More than we deserve


Poems
, J.H.Prynne, (688p, 25, Bloodaxe)


Jeremy Prynne's poems remind me that language is a made thing, has parts, has endless possibilities of which our cultural everyday usage is narrowed often now to clichéd, superficial meaning. While also, in this balancing act, his language of poems is not essentially that of everyday talk. A poem is a poem.

While also what a delight when such poem talk is artful. My imagined Prynne - on such evidence as one picks up - is of a quiet, private man who delights in language (in life therefore?) and is not averse to his private poem-writing surfacing in the public domain.

Entering almost any other poet's book I have often wondered whether Prynne has had any influence, whether his influence is super-subtle in its presence, and whether poetry 'out there' one day will catch up with his.
Are there parallels in twentieth century music, visual art, film?

This book is all of his work (work it is, I believe so, work and delight)
to date, both new and interspersed additions from earlier years. In a brief review a summary impossible, and even if I could write at length, a proper survey would escape me. But - call it development, call it hops and trips, call it broadly experiment, call it by ear - there is continual change.

Here is the opening of the first poem, 'The Numbers' (1968):

   The whole thing it is, the difficult
   matter to shrink the confines
   down. To signals, so that I come
   back to this, we are
                      small / in the rain,
                      open or without it,
                      the ligjht in de-
   light, as with pleasure amongst not merely
   the word, one amonsgt them; but the
   skin over the points, of the bone.

And here, entering into mid- 'News of Warring Clans' (1977):

   And so, no more grab auctions at this altitude,
   bidding on clip by descending half-tones
   of shaken foil in the tree. Take what you get,
   go anywhere, strictly come back nothing.

A sprightlier pace? And surely a recall of Manley Hopkins. And so what other debts, less obvious, in these nearly 700 pages? I mean, where does he place himself (as we all do, consciously or not, somewhere?)?

Towards the end of the book, from 2011, 'KAZOO DREAMBOATS or, On What There I', must we name this prose, prose poem, poetry paragraphs or what? Or simply go with the dream:

   Along the corridor of near frequency I saw willing and discrete
   the season not yet for sorrow advanced, nearby bot yet even so
   inference to claim. On the plate in soft season to rise hungry semi-
   apt for supplement will to set affirm this wit at will for passion
   reflex acutely. I saw it amount in plenteous access burning by folly
   markers right to the crest.

This continues for several pages, with as if paragraph line spaces and with some passages indented.

Where is he
in his writing? What are we learning about Prynne the man? Where, for heaven's sake, is his ego?!

I suspect that much of what turns readers away - why he hasn't popularly 'caught on' -  is precisely this matter of 'ego', of  'self'. Not infrequently, reading new poets, or new books by well-published poets, I have asked myself, if this personal experience, this emotional stuff, this life-talk, were in prose - that's to say, if it was being 'told straight', would it be worth a book? This poetry form, I have found myself thinking, is more or less form-less and the chat: am I interested?

It's a big generalisation but is worth hazarding because Jeremy Prynne is a rare artist with verbal language; he has a life, of course, something is said, and when all the wider cultural poem-chat is forgotten, this book will come through as a marker more than we deserve of this culturally shaky age.

       David Hart 2015