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,
matter to shrink the
down. To signals, so that
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
And here, entering into mid- 'News of Warring Clans' (1977):
And so, no more grab
auctions at this altitude,
bidding on clip by
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
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