Teasing Pricks

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Teasels tease the foreground, yet ravenous for water
you’d think they would be down below with roots in
the blue sea on a clear November day. But there’s the
icy cold, then the salt – and a partiality for the treat of
insects makes them land-bound carnivores. So what
are they good for, apart from invading the USA where
walls are still not built? The seeds feed birds in the
winter, and for years the prickly pods were used to raise
nap on wool – a cultivated comb to clean and align,
not shape a hairstyle in the weave of a golden throw.
This year too many pricks have been thrust forwards,
their sharp barbs poisonous and self-serving rather
than giving. There’s no joshing with such mad dipsacus,
snaring as they do all for themselves and nothing for us.

[Photo by artist and photographer Nick Dormand]

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Pete Brown – Let ‘em Roll Kafka

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I wrote briefly about Pete Brown as lyricist and poet here, and mentioned that I had ordered his 1969 poetry book Let ‘em Roll Kafka. I received this yesterday and have enjoyed reading this collection of its time, poetry made popular by its simplicities, its nonsense, its irreverence, its protest, its experimenting, and its lyricism.

I’m going to share two here, both sadly about death, the first Sad is the Man [poignant, perhaps, the day after it was announced an inmate commits suicide every three days in our prisons now], and the second Goodbye/The Mad May Dawn. The first seems to me reminiscent of the song lyricist in Brown, obviously the rhyming and the rhythms and the immediate transfer of emotion, and the second demonstrates some of the playing with form in ‘modern’ poetry at the time, though this is hardly original or radical. Is there an echo of Samuel Beckett in this?

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Peter Reading Lighter

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No other poet is going to sensibly compare with the distinctive writing of Peter Reading, who passed five years ago this month, but seeing the American poet David Baker recently and hearing as well as going on to read some of his current poetry I was struck by a similarity in the love of mixing up and amalgamating differing written resources within his own. Reading’s work was most often complex and acerbic, and Baker’s certainly contains elements of the first characteristic, but Reading could be lighter on his poetic feet, and humour was always a fundamental part of his poetry, even when tearing the world to shreds.

The following poems are from the appropriately titled Ob. published in 1999 – a title typically and darkly humorous by a writer who documented general and specific decline in our world with his characteristic candour – sometimes caustic, sometimes comic – and the challenging complexity of love for esoteric language and metrical forms.

I am presenting the following poems because they are accessible, funny and biting. They are about writing and about others writing, and I suspect refer to a writing tour in America and reading to and working with aspiring poets. They are indignant as well as rude: a potent mix.

[With apologies that I still cannot format text in WordPress, even transferring it first to Notepad]

Workshop

You say you love words?
Hmmm, let me see: ‘Sweet zephyr…’;
keep up the good work.

Flyer

…poetry reading…rare opportunity…
one of the leading…whose reputation is…
recent collections: Foibles, Frog’s Breath
gained international…lyric beauty…

At the Reading

The sham-coy simper,
the complacency,
the frisson titters,
the sycophancy.

In the SCR

The puerile academic quips,
the smugly learned repartee
withstanding little scrutiny.

Catullan

Possibly I may find some time to peruse your
puerile outpourings
(I don’t remember your name);
more likely, though, I shall not.

[Untitled]

Unfortunately
an A in Histrionics
doesn’t count for much.

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Stones on Steps at Jacob’s Ladder

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Stones are creeping up the steps but they’ll
never make it all the way – no tidal ducks and
drakes can propel pebbles beyond the sand and
water of their belonging. Even metaphors climb
just so far before real hands and shovels come to
scoop them back, not like but totally as the rock
they are. It is the same in that way earth is never
linked to a heaven no matter how people dream
and however their babel tries to confuse and
persuade. Take a stone and put it in your hand and
feel the cold but rounded reality. After millions of
years and the crashing of waves these will be the
dust of the earth, stuff that comes and goes but is
not walking out of water to ascend these stairs.

[Photo by artist and photographer Nick Dormand]

For a previous collaboration, see Head here.

Arlo Guthrie’s Thanksgiving Tale

This wonderful satirical story from Arlo Guthrie isn’t being presented as an example of a literary lyric. It is a musical narrative mocking the world of the day, and doing so on Thanksgiving Day, both in the storytelling and for this posting.

So, Happy Thanksgiving to all reading.

It is apt for today as a holiday reminiscence as well as, sadly, the reality of how a song nearly 50 years old still ridicules behaviour and attitudes prominent in the world now, especially post-Trump.

Perhaps the saddest aspect would be how that hope for change sung in protest songs of the day would appear to have been a waste of idealised time. Well, we did have Obama for eight years, and that wouldn’t have seemed conceivable then,

If you want to end war and stuff you got to sing loud.
I’ve been singing this song now for twenty five minutes. I could sing it
for another twenty five minutes. I’m not proud… or tired.

Arlo continues to perform this crowd favourite live, sometimes contemporising the lyrics, and such versions can also be found on YouTube and elsewhere, for example a 2005 Farm Aid performances.

The following original recording is about 19 minutes long and that is a proper sit-down experience. I actually have the lyrics printed and was going to post along with the video – but that seems superfluous. You can always find this yourself easily enough online if you want to read as you listen:

David Baker – American Poet and the Lyricism of Politics

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Reading at the English Department, University of Exeter, 22nd November, 2016

I went to see the American poet David Baker reading in the English Department at the University of Exeter yesterday. On a dark and wet early evening, Baker was as uplifting in reading aloud so expressively – and physically with a bird-like movement of his arm and hand – as he was poignant in being compelled to express his despair at the election of Trump in America. Poetry and politics are inherently linked, but Baker did question with honest personal angst how poetry could possibly account for the artistic and intellectual [and much more] disruptions reflected by that election result.

Reassuring then to be warmly soothed by the lyrical depth of much that he read, as well as the scholarly and experimental intensity of his current writing, reading as he did from a poem in progress that weaves elements of John Clare’s life into its narrative. This included what I’ll call poetic redactions to represent the limits and/or obfuscations of language, these imitating the coded vowel-less words John Clare used when writing letters from High Beach, the asylum where he was kept. The following example is taken from a hand-out [how wonderful!] Baker distributed before reading this poem – I like that engagement with the audience: teacherly in such a communal way,

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David Baker lives in Ohio, teaches widely as a Professor of English and Creative Writing, is the poetry editor of The Kenyon Review, and is most often referred to as a Midwestern poet who writes predominantly about the poetry of place. Last night’s reading included poems from his latest book Scavenger Loop which seemed to always involve birds, and thus my mentioning of his physical movement in reading – these were comforting to hear in their lyricism and the rhythmic way Baker reads and often recites.

The expressions of frustration and dismay about current political and social events in America were spontaneous and heartfelt. Baker claimed not to be a political poet, and I presume he really meant by regular inclination, but in the circumstances he did read a poem from his Treatise on Touch: Selected Poems which he said was twenty years old and about one of the ‘Bush boys’. This next poem is one I want to share as it does reflect, despite what he says, his powerful ‘political’ take on and portrayal of aspects of American life and society. It is titled Patriotics,

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[From Like Thunder: Poets Respond to Violence in America, edited by Virgil Suárez and Ryan G. Van Cleave, published by the University of Iowa Press. Copyright © 2002 by Virgil Suárez and Ryan G. Van Cleave. All rights reserved]

His book Scavenger Loop has been out for a year in America and was released yesterday as a paperback here in the UK, a significant event in the life and popularity of a poetry book and its author. From what I read in some detail from lengthy extracts online, this is a complex work, incorporating many external resources experimentally and playfully into his own lyrical narratives.

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I did not know about David Baker and his work before yesterday, but I am so glad I do now. I look forward to receiving and reading my copy of Scavenger Loop [how amazing that David was simply reading and sharing yesterday, and not promoting/selling his book] and will review this at a later date.