Wednesday 14th March 2018, 6.30pm
In order to celebrate the launch of Issue four of Eborakon, we will be hosting a launch party at the Walmgate Alehouse. We are happy to announce that contributors to the issue, including Suzannah V. Evans, Kit Fan, Rahul Gupta, Ahmed Khaleel, and Martin Potter, will be reading from their work. Submissions for issue five will be opened at the launch.
Location: Walmgate Ale House and Bistro, 25 Walmgate, York, YO1 9TX.
‘Not Revie but/ Reverdy’: Martin Bell’s Gregory Fellowship in “The City of Dreadful Something”
A book launch of Martin Bell Translates Robert Desnos will take place on 6 December in the Alumni Room of the School of English at the University of Leeds. In anticipation of the launch, Karl O’Hanlon writes about this unusual and underrated poet.
‘There was something goliardic about him’, Anthony Burgess wrote in his memoir You’ve Had Your Time. His characterisation captures the contradictions of Martin Bell, a poet for whom that well-worn cliché ‘neglected’ is an inescapable fact of how his critical reputation has languished behind the achievement of his verse. Those contradictions may be the reason why he is relatively unheard of today, despite fond remembrances among students with whom he came into contact during his Gregory fellowship, 1967-1969,and while teaching Liberal Studies at Leeds Arts School, including George Szirtes and Barry Tebb. Perhaps perversely, these tensions are also at the heart of what makes Bell a significant and sui generis voice in post-war British poetry. His poetry is acidly satirical, yet suffused with an intelligent tenderness; it is politically-committed, yet undogmatic; he blends Jungian psychoanalysis, social satire, and unravelled aphorisms in a style that is flamboyantly macabre, and, like the Italian opera he loved, simultaneously earthy, plain-spoken, and extravagant. For all the saucy delight he takes in exploring different registers and voices (‘masks are striptease’, a line from a late poem, might serve as one coda to Bell’s style) and an equivalent breadth of forms and metres he employs, his poetry remains consistently governed by his musical ear and the just, memorable placing of words within the line: a poet for whom syntax and rhythm are the supreme end of the poet’s labour. Like the goliards of medieval France, Martin Bell was both lacerating iconoclast and an oblate to the unfashionable idea of the poet as the purifier of the dialect of the tribe.
The details of Martin Bell’s life and publication history have received the fullest treatment to date in his close friend Peter Porter’s introduction to Bell’s Complete Poems, published by Bloodaxe in 1988. What follows is a potted version focusing on those aspects of Bell’s life and work that have a direct bearing on his time as a Gregory fellow, and his translations of Surrealist verse undertaken in Leeds during the last decade of his life. Due to war service and personal circumstances, his Collected Poems published by Macmillan in 1968 was his first and last book, although he was included in the third volume of Penguin Modern Poets (alongside George Barker and Charles Causley), a series that has recently had a twenty-first century relaunch. (An aside: one of the touching details in Bell’s life was that shortly after meeting Peter Redgrove, who asked about Martin’s poetry collection, he spent the day filling a notebook with handwritten poems to give to Redgrove, titled ‘Unfriendly Flowers: Selected Verse of Martin Bell 1947-1956’). A student of the eminent translator of Rilke, J.B. Leishman, at University College, Southampton, his loyalties to the Communist Party forbade him to become a conscientious objector as he would have wished; determined to survive the war, he enlisted with the Royal Engineers to avoid being drafted as private in the infantry. As the horrors of Stalinism became increasingly apparent to the British left, Bell, along with many others, left the party; nevertheless, he remained (‘hélas!’ he would quip) a reluctant Marxist.
His other animating intellectual passions were Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis, undertaken after his demobilisation while working as a teacher in London (during which time he penned his grand, creaking charivari ‘The Enormous Comics’), before marrying and beginning to raise a family. Jung, in particular, seems to have been a decisive influence; a later poem imagines him being welcomed by Wallace Stevens into a heaven that is a kind of sumptuous ice-cream parlour. Bell’s interest in the Archetypes was extremely superstitious; he believed in all seriousness that his poem ‘Headmaster: Modern Style’, which takes aim at a hated principal, functioned as an actual hex. I will say little here of Bell’s political poetry such as his anti-war poem ‘Reasons for Refusal’, or his ‘Ode to Psychoanalysis’, but I flag them as recognisable strains of interest in his work, along with his keen observation of social transformation in post-war Britain, catching as early as 1961 a yuppyish backlash against the post-war consensus:
We didn’t want to say the way things went
Pissed on the hopes we entertained,
Naïve, of course, but vivid and still pissed on –
The old gang born again in young careerists –
(Christ, boy, they’re reading The Times now!)
Porter and Bell tussled strenuously, ultimately successfully get Peter Redgrove to vote Labour in 1959.
During the war, in addition to serving in Italy where began a lifelong passion for Italian opera, Bell ran a sawmill in Lebanon, improving his fluency in French. He translated Nerval’s ‘El Desdichado’, the sonnet immortalised by Eliot’s allusion at the end of The Waste Land. Bell’s rendering, which he subtitles ‘a gothicised version’, decompresses Nerval’s gnomic lines without creating slackness, and introducing a melancholy cadence that is all his own with the shrewd, haunting caesuras:
O, to console me, in my graveyard midnight,
Bring back Posillipo and Italy’s seas,
The flower that was my sad heart’s favourite,
And friends the rose and vine there, binding trellises.
From the mid-fifties, Bell functioned as an éminence griseto the Group, introduced by Peter Redgrove, who declared to Hobsbaum and the rest ‘I’ve just met a man who knows EVERYTHING’, after his first chance encounter with Bell in a Chiswick pub. Peter Porter describes Martin in the Group sessions, beginning:
[…] with a cough of emphatic intervention and immediately [he would] develop brilliant technical fantasies on the roneo’d text which left the rest of us labouring behind. He was also a fine delineator of versification and verbal troping. He loved the camaraderie of discussion, the sense that, like any of those involved in the peripateia of the past, we were pioneers of creativity and understanding.
Bell affectionately satirizes the Group in a 1956 poem ‘Mr Hobsbaum’s Monday Evening Meeting’:
[…] Below the ceiling, guardian of the Grail
The ghost of Dr Leavis floats.
A trim breeze stirs the fragile sails
Of Lucie-Smith’s expensive boats […]
Poems condemned must lose their bowels:
Knit brows acclaim the execution –
Expressive consonants, rich vowels
By ladies trained in elocution.
A slow breeze stirs a beard Lear-sized
(Edward not King) to stringent rage:
‘Not in the poem! It’s not realised!
An abstract statement on the page!’
As well as tinges of Augustan satirical quatrains and their most eminent modern handler, Auden, the poem presents the Group’s Leavisite principles of “realization”—the sublimation or transmogrification of content or statement by virtue of poetic craft and the poem’s materia.
In the early sixties, Bell formed and important friendship with Anthony Burgess, who secured him a job as opera critic for Queen magazine. 1965 was a significant year: at the Edinburgh Festival, Bell and Porter rubbed shoulders with Vernon Scannell, Hugh MacDiarmid, and Sydney Goodsir Smith, and Bell fell in love with Christine McCausland, the muse of numerous poems, often epistolary—completely devoid of sentimentality, fused with feeling.
In 1967 he was made a Gregory fellow at the University of Leeds for two years; he abandoned the unhappy career as a teacher he had laboured at for twenty years, and subsequently separated from his wife. Bell never returned to London, and that last decade in Leeds he lived for stretches in a bedsit on Burchett Grove ministered by a kindly Italian landlady who wore ankle-socks with high heel shoes. Before landing in the bedsit, Bell had been made redundant from Leeds Poly and was subsisting on invalidity benefit, and had previously been evicted from a Victorian terrace owned by the university while hospitalised. Bell describes with savage indignation his squalid conditions in a late poem addressed to Burgess: ‘this tiny room, this cabin, this monk’s cell, / Pantaloon decrepit scholar’s den’. On the walls of the bedsit, he hung an orange and green mandala copied by Christine from an unidentified book in the Polytechnic library’s art section, dubbing it ‘Tiresias', with the winking eye’. As his alcoholism became progressively worse, isolating him from friends and colleagues, Bell felt embittered, almost as though he were in exile.
In the abandoned long poem ‘The City of Dreadful Something’, its title purloined from James Thompson’s City of Dreadful Night, Bell castigated Leeds and all its works in a darkly-comic rhapsody:
They have perpetual winter here in Leeds,
So that they can talk about football all the year round.
So we have rain one day, snow the next, and sleet and fog the next day,
And wind all the time […]
Manager Don Revie says
‘The weather is OK but the boys were tired.’
Not Revie but
People one does not see
Grey sun shattered
Clutter the streets
Vowels cemented flat.
In another poem, he refers to Leeds as ‘this glaring dirty pseudo-Scandinavia’.
One cannot shake the sense reading this poem that, as with Eliot’s ‘unreal city’, the horror at modernity and sense of dislocation and anguish are subordinated to the opportunism of the poet’s feral ear, Bell’s interest in modulations of vowels and consonants spawning new words, as ephemeral as the sensations he depicts, an imagery enamoured with the glittering exuviae of urban life. Compare this to a solid poem ‘Municipal Moor (Leeds)’, which finds that among the statuary ‘The aldermen / Are more charming than / Queen Victoria’, and, honing in on ‘One white benefactor / With mutton-chop whiskers’: the Caucasian burghers of metropolitan, affluent Leeds, perhaps even a coded, resentful nod to Mssr. E.C. Gregory, the wealthy industrialist who bankrolled the artistic fellowships (the brainchild of T.S. Eliot, Herbert Read, Henry Moore, and Bonamy Dobrée). One feels with a sting of recognition the perennial issue of artistic precarity, reliant on the benefice of creative fellowships(especially vulnerable individuals such as Bell), in Peter Porter’s revelation that a Civil List Pension arrived shortly before his death, too late to alter fate or alleviate his dire straits.
Bell’s grimly humorous conclusion to ‘The City of Dreadful Something’, a sort of Loiner’s Divine Comedy, lists the various manifestations of Hell in extended prose poems: ‘Hell includes also the Merrion Centre with its special subways for mugging’; ‘Hell is a poetry reading packed in to the Albert Hall where you sit and know that sooner or later every single member of the audience, including X and Y and Z, is going to get up and read his or her poem, except when the Cup Final is being played in the Interval’:
Why, Leeds is Hell, nor am I out of it.
Why, I am Hell, nor is Leeds out of it.
This chiastic twisting in the last line is quietly plangent beneath the satire: Bell turns the bitter mockery on himself, his awareness that his antipathy is not really directed at his adopted city, rather the city itself struggles to escape his alcoholic self-loathing: A. Alvarez is on the money when he diagnoses in Bell ‘a radical dislike for both himself and pretty much everything else’, although one might quibble with the word order.
It is hard to argue with Peter Porter’s portrayal of Bell’s Leeds years as a protracted ‘personal decline’ in mental and physical health due to alcoholism and various crises exacerbated by the same. Porter concludes that ‘his period of office as Gregory Fellow was not a success’. However, various poems dating from these years evidence his artistic generosity in terms of poetic kinship, as well as his curiosity in the city’s life, which serves to complicate any image of Bell as isolated in self-pity. He addresses epistolary poems to fellow fellows of Gregory’s largess, for instance to Peter Redgrove (‘Dear Peter, I am very annoyed. / With some bank managers’), and a squib entitled ‘For Pearse Hutchinson’ which seems to poke fun at morning drinking: ‘People are hanged for many a crime. / I always wake up just at opening time.’ He also wrote poems to and for Jeff Nuttall and David Broomfield, colleagues at Leeds Poly, and such occasional poems as his elegy for Alex Henry, a post-graduate who committed suicide in Leeds by throwing himself from a building, a poem that draws a mesmerising analogy between tight-rope walkers and poets as performers of technique and tact, as well as repellent and contemptuous of their audience:
Tight and tense and taut as the rope, I. My feet know the way
Better than I do, the rest’s sense of balance. The spangled lights’ play
Transforms me iridescent, a shimmer-wing insect. The crowd gape in their places.
The best bit is when I stop in the middle and spit in their faces.
Anarchic music-hall wit characterises much of Bell’s verse, early to late; he titles a Marvell-like elegy for a cat killed on the road ‘Incidentally In Praise of Barbara Castle’, who as minister of transport introduced the maximum speed limit in 1967, the first year of Bell’s fellowship. His poems are endlessly fascinated with what A. Alvarez called ‘the gang-warfare’ of literary history:
This is how
Three poets talk:
“Touché! Touché! Touché!”
(Redgrove once drunkenly snapped Vernon Scannell’s umbrella in two, and was put out for the count by the former boxer, a bust-up that Bell recounts in one of his poems).
Bell had particular scorn for the International Poetry Incarnation event at the Albert Hall, 11 June 1965, featuring the high-priest of Beat poetry, Allen Ginsberg:
The Albert Hall was open
For Bollocks to be spoken.
The ghost of André Breton is beating at the door.
If the gadfly laceration of Alexander Pope was one of Bell’s most common modes, as a mentor and teacher he is remembered as gentle and kind. Barry Tebb speaks of his generosity, detailed comments on students’ poems, ‘hunched over his beer, chain-smoking, talking about poetry, always and most intensely talking about poetry.’ Tebb also recounts a reading at Leeds Civic Hall when Bell, with Geoffrey Hill and Ted Hughes in the audience, stood in for Ted Hughes, who had failed to show, inviting Silkin and Hill on stage to read also. George Szirtes has also payed homage to his teacher Bell, who introduced his student to the ‘secret and subversive pleasure’ of poetry; Szirtes describes Bell as a ‘Groucho Marxist’ (a nod to Bell’s ode to the greasepaint moustachioed Marx Brother), and the ‘knockabout and theatrical’ elements of opera buffa that reel throughout his work.
It was also during the first summer of his tenure as Gregory fellow that Bell visited Cyprus with the painter Stass Paraskos, meeting and coming under the spell of the charismatic priest-politician President Makarios. Bell had been commissioned to produce a travel book along the line of Auden and MacNeice; the result was an unpublished epistolary verse work Letters from Cyprus. The lurid, cauchemar streak of Bell’s work inherited from the Surrealists can be seen in some of these poems, including ‘To the Goddess’, a neurasthenic ode which remembers a ‘vile black snake’ striking a peacock in a café aviary. The last stanza of the poem is a study of the childlike operations of what Baudelaire describes when he says, ‘I have cultivated my hysteria with pleasure and terror’. Bell’s syntax apes the nervous system, and foreboding is not so much an affect, a nebulous mood, but a matter of lineation:
Frighten me again but
Not too much
Do not frighten me to death.
(Incidentally, Bell and Redgrove had a stand-up routine, raucously received by Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso at a reading in Bayswater, in which one old man lures and flatters another into accepting a part in a play that will culminate in his death).
Despite the alcoholic penury of the blighted last decade of Bell’s life, while his own verse production comprised modest gains, papers left after his death revealed that he had been meticulously, devotedly translating French Surrealist poetry. In clean fair copy, these included translations of Max Jacob’s Le Cornet à dés, André Breton and Phillipe Soupault’s Les Champs magnétiques, selections from Benjamin Péret’s Le Grand Jeu, much of Pierre Reverdy including Poèmes en prose and La balle au bond, and around seventy pages worth of selections from Artaud, Becker, Éluard, Hébert, Mesens, and Queneau. The Reverdy selections are the only translations by Bell to have yet appeared, published in a edition by Whiteknights Press in 1997 with a foreword by Porter. Appearing later this year for the first time, edited by Christine McCausland from among Bell’s papers, are his translations of Robert Desnos, chiefly A la mystérieuse and Les ténèbresfrom Corps et biens, the volume that Desnos’s own ‘Prière d’insérer’ defended as “le chef d’oeuvre, au sens propre, de la poésie surréaliste”.
With a mordant sense of pissing against the wind of the prevailing insularity of the Movement poetry of the post-war years, Bell advocated a more engaged and less inward-looking literary public: ‘Not Revie but / Reverdy/ For Leeds/ Fragmented.’ Translation, it should be obvious from our present circumstances, constitutes its own political act, and Martin Bell’s hidden labours in a decade inhospitable to it—these remarkable love poems only a fraction of his undertakings—should strike us as exemplary.
What Bell learned from the love poetry of the Surrealists, especially Desnos, was the power of repetition-as-tautology that is nevertheless kinetic and not stultifying (which is, itself, perhaps a terrible trope for the achievement of the poet who finds himself obsessively loving without being loved in return). This is the final stanza of Desnos’s ‘J’ai tant rêvé de toi’ in Bell’s translation:
I have dreamed so much of you, so often walked, talked, gone to
bed with your phantom that nothing more remains for me, perhaps and
nevertheless, than to be a phantom among phantoms, and a hundred
times more a shadow than the shadow that moves and will move joyously
on the sun-dial of your life.
Compare the lyricism of this with Bell’s ‘A New Leaf in a Diary: For C.’:
(love is the figure that makes a pattern a pattern,
Brushes the hair to a pattern.)
In a letter to Ted Hughes early 1978, Redgrove wrote, ‘Do you know that Martin Bell has died? A great stylist, a humourist, and a man with a better understanding of French surrealism than possibly anybody else on this side of the channel’. As Peter Porter noted, ‘the taste of the times has so far not been encouraging to a poet of Bell’s commitments’; perhaps we are uniquely poised to rediscover a poet like Bell, whose work, a flower absent from all bouquets (to paraphrase Mallarmé), is the product of a unique, tender intelligence.
Martin Bell Translates Robert Desnos, edited by Christine McCausland, is published by Art Translated and distributed by Silverhill Press, priced £9.99. To pre-order a copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Karl O'Hanlon is a former editor of Eborakon. His essays and poetry have appeared in PN Review, Poetry, and Stand.
On 31st May 1976, the US poet Robert Lowell received an honorary degree from Trinity College Dublin. On that occasion, two other Americans were also honored: the novelist Saul Bellow and the astronaut Neil Armstrong. Given his proximity to the major social and political happenings of post-war America, it is no surprise that Lowell should have had a moon-landings poem. The ‘beautiful, mist-drunken hunter’s moon’ of his sonnet ‘History’ may be better-remembered by his readers, but the various manifestations of his ‘Moon-Landings’ are no less striking, epitomizing the mythic, political, and personal strains that come together throughout his oeuvre. I don’t know if Armstrong ever read it, and if he did, whether he was able to recognize the site of his iconic step in Lowell’s figurations of ‘a strange white goddess imprisoned in her ash’, a ‘gadabout with heart of chalk’ or – reflecting Lowell’s struggle with mental illness throughout his life – a ‘lunatic’s pill with poisonous side-effects / … / ‘our hallucinator, the disenchantress’. But – even though Bellow might seem the likelier candidate to keep Lowell company – the poem seems to confirm the appropriateness of Lowell and Armstrong having their degrees conferred in the same ceremony.
It was also appropriate, then, that Trinity College Dublin should be the host of a symposium on Lowell and Ireland to commemorate the poet’s centenary. The three-day event, from 3rd-5th March, brought together international scholars and poets intent on further teasing out the connections to Ireland and Irish culture in Lowell’s life and art: commonalities with immediate Irish contemporaries (Louis MacNeice and Denis Devlin); political associations (his elegies for the Irish-American Robert Kennedy); the final year of his life, spent living in Ireland with Caroline Blackwood at Castletown House, Celbridge; and his reception in Northern Ireland (notably his influence on younger poets, with papers on Seamus Heaney and Leontia Flynn, along with a personal account of reading Lowell in Bangor, County Down, by Gerald Dawe). The symposium culminated in a poetry reading at Castletown House by Dawe, Paul Muldoon, Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Julie O’Callaghan (who read the transcript of Heaney’s introduction of Lowell at the Kilkenny Arts Festival, which she had recorded with Dennis O’Driscoll in 1975). Marie Heaney, who made contributions throughout the conference, spoke movingly of her and her husband’s friendship with Lowell to bring proceedings to a close.
While Lowell’s associations with Irishness gave the symposium its impetus, individual papers often picked up on elements of his style and interests that went far beyond this immediate context and that suggested ways of rehabilitating a poet who, to some extent, has fallen out of favour since his death. By pairing Lowell with MacNeice and Devlin, Calista McRae and Karl O’Hanlon each challenged the tendency only to read Lowell in relation to his immediate ‘middle generation’ contemporaries and through a now largely discredited paradigm of ‘confessionalism’. Through close attention to individual word choices, McRae justified her perhaps surprising pairing by deftly illustrating her poets’ shared interests in colour, scales (both musical and fishy), floating pronouns and Sunday mornings. O’Hanlon, meanwhile, argued for Allen Tate as the linchpin between early Lowell and Devlin, and for T. S. Eliot, ‘mediated by Tate’, as the figure most responsible for linking Irish modernism and mid-century American formal poetry. He suggested that there may be more work to do on Lowell’s intellectual adoption of Catholicism, which he had once dismissed as ‘the religion of serving girls’, particularly in relation to Devlin’s own explorations of Catholic thought.
The second panel examined Lowell’s Irish-American connections from a range of perspectives. Michael O’Loughlin gave an account of Lowell’s final days at Castletown House, describing his own work on a documentary commissioned by RTE that, in the end, never aired. Lucy Collins, meanwhile, described the archive of John L. (Jack) Sweeney and Máire MacNeill Sweeney, now housed at University College Dublin. Jack Sweeney had been the curator of Harvard Library’s Poetry Room; while no specific correspondence with Lowell features in the archive, he is mentioned with striking regularity by Sweeney’s other correspondents, suggesting his importance to a broad transatlantic network. Grzegorz Kosc rounded the panel off with an account of Lowell’s finances; taking his cue from Pound’s critiques of the relation of art to capital, Kosc cast new light on Lowell’s financial dependence – despite his aristocratic heritage – on his wives producing novels that sold and suggested that Lowell and Blackwood’s decision to move to Ireland may have been influenced by tax rates.
Stephen Gould Axelrod delivered the H. O. White Memorial Lecture 2017. Titled ‘Robert Lowell in a Dark Time’, Axelrod structured his talk around photos of Lowell from different stages of his life, drawing throughout on Lowell’s unpublished prose memoirs (which he is currently editing with Kosc). Central to Axelrod’s thesis was Lowell’s subversion of the binary between public and private, polis and oikia. The lecture gave prominence to Lowell’s ‘disabled psyche’ and his political engagements, praising Kay Redfield Jamison’s new biography Robert Lowell: Setting the River on Fire – A Study of Genius, Mania and Character, and highlighting Lowell’s political activism and then disillusionment following the assassination of Robert Kennedy – a death that prompted his rejection of the myth of political poetry. In the following day’s panel on Lowell and Kennedy, Alex Runchman and Diederik Oostdijk offered further readings of Lowell’s elegies to the New York Senator, Runchman looking at how the poems pick up on speeches given by Kennedy himself on the death of Martin Luther King, and Oostdijk examining affinities between them and speeches that Lowell himself gave after Kennedy’s death.
On the Saturday morning, Gerald Dawe spoke of his debt to Lowell and the intoxication of encountering his vocabulary and image-making as a young man in Belfast: the unexpectedness, for example, of Lowell’s describing the oilskins of two mounted cops as ‘yellow as forsythia’. Eve Cobain traced the allusions in Leontia Flynn’s double sonnet to Lowell, broadening her discussion to look at the importance of Catullus to Lowell, Flynn, and other contemporary Northern Irish poets. Stephen Grace also addressed Lowell as a sonneteer, outlining what Heaney may have learned from his enjambments and his habit of leaving single words hanging at the end of lines. Grace’s paper framed both poets in eco-critical terms, opening a further new perspective for Lowell studies. Michael Hinds, meanwhile, focused on a single History sonnet, ‘Identification in Belfast’, comparing Lowell’s poeticizing of a harrowing first-hand account favourably with Roger McGough’s more sentimental use of the same incident and arguing that Lowell’s revisions in the poem are more ethically scrupulous than Kenneth Goldsmith’s recent ‘uncreative’ appropriations of similar material (such as the autopsy report on Michael Brown, shot by police in Ferguson, St Louis, in August 2014).
The final panel opened the conversation up beyond the symposium’s Irish theme, with Ellen Dillon offering an analysis of how one critic, Charles Altieri, has read Lowell across his career, and concluding by noting how some of the theoretical questions raised by Altieri’s changing stances seem to find a trace in ‘the new materialsm’ of contemporary Irish poet Catherine Walsh. Finally, Frank Kearnful turned the focus to Germany, teasing out the nuances of Lowell’s ‘imitation’ of Rilke’s ‘Taube, die draußen blieb’, which he compared favourably to Stephen Mitchell’s (noting, along the way, the difficulty of knowing whether to translate ‘taube’ as ‘pigeon’ or ‘dove’).
Each of the papers suggested new ways of reading Lowell, while the Castletown poetry reading made clear that Lowell is still a live presence for practicing writers, not just for critics. Credit must go to Philip Coleman and his organizing committee for running the even so smoothly. With a further symposium on Lowell and Europe, organized by Thomas Austenfeld, (https://lettres.unifr.ch/fileadmin/Documentation/Instituts/Litterature_generale_et_comparee/A5_Robert_Lowell_Colloque_WEB.pdf) taking place a few weeks later, it seems that the Lowell revival is very much underway.
Alex Runchman is Lecturer with special interest in English for Academic Purposes at University College Dublin. His monograph, Delmore Schwartz: A Critical Reassessment, was published by Palgrave in 2014.
1. Robin Day Polyprop chair 1963
A polypropylene butterfly. Light
as a TV guide, strong as a delivery ramp.
With a seat in any colour of bold-blocks,
singularly moulded (optionally apertured),
secured to rod legs, it can be configured
in rows, spirals, rectilinear links, or dotted
about halls, canteens, and waiting rooms.
Its belly gum-barnacled. Its face biro-tagged
with love fusings or pop-band-blazons
or that vast, vatic, phallus implausible.
(It’s also stackable.)
Interview by Rebekah Cumpsty and Karl O’Hanlon
In A Secular Age, you take up Earl Wasserman’s concept of “a subtler language”, the way in which poetic language shifts during the “watershed” of the Romantic period to fulfil a creative rather than mimetic role: as you put it, the Romantic poets “make us aware of something in nature for which there are as yet no established words”. What historical and cultural factors make Romanticism such a turning point? Hasn’t this urge to ‘add to the stock of Available Reality’ (R. P. Blackmur) been a feature of poetry prior to Romanticism, for instance in the metamorphic power of Shakespeare?
No words to speak of,
so: fox thinks in music. Buzzy patterns,
sound stories in the present tense,
a solo instrumental or a symphony
incorporating what is noted, or is scent.
Reflections on the curious quest for sense.
On the morning of Good Friday 1916, Sir Roger Casement landed on the beaches of Banna Strand in County Kerry. He was suffering from a recurrence of malaria which he had contracted some time ago in the Congo and didn’t make it too far from the Irish shore. He was arrested by two officers from the Royal Irish Constabulary on charges of treason, sabotage and espionage against the Crown. In his coat pockets they found a German admiralty codebook and the ticket stub for a railway journey from Berlin to Wilhelmshaven, a U-boat port. The life of Roger Casement, whether rendered in the briefest of vignettes or the lengthiest of critical biographies, paints a portrait of a mysterious and often contradictory figure. His haunting presence, particularly in the centenary year of the Easter Rising, is the focus of a new exhibition in Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane (10 March–2 October).
Wendy Cope is known for being wry, perceptive and very, very witty. You would know this about her just from hearing the vocal reactions of the audience at this event in York as they laughed, murmured and sighed along with the cadences of the poems she read and anecdotes she told. Cope took centre stage after a short introduction, and spoke in a charming and engaging performance of some of her best-loved poems and new verses, too.
i.m. Christopher Middleton
Christopher Middleton, who died in Texas on the 30th of November 2015, was born in 1926. Not only did he live till almost 90, one of the last survivors of his generation, he was writing and publishing up to the last year of his life, having begun to publish his poetry in the 1940s – a record of longevity comparable with Thomas Hardy or W.B. Yeats. It’s worth dwelling for a moment on Middleton’s position relative to his generation, because doing so illustrates his consistent independence from groups and fashions. This has also shaped the critical response to his work, and we need to understand this if we are to take the measure of Middleton’s work, as it is surely high time we did.
Being born in the mid-1920s puts Middleton in the same generational bracket as Philip Larkin (1922-1985) and other poets associated with The Movement like Donald Davie (1922-1990) and Thom Gunn (1929–2003). The defining issue for this generation, as Thom Gunn put it, was the desire to avoid sounding like Dylan Thomas; in practice, this meant a return to normative language and a wry, unromantic outlook. Middleton’s early poetry, by contrast, is closer to that of the previous generation: those like John Heath-Stubbs (1918–2006) and W.S. Graham (1918–1986) who identified as romantic modernists. The mythic, Thomas-ish tone can be heard in poems such as ‘Male Torso’ from Torse 3:[i]
We are delighted to announce that we are now open for submissions for Issue 3, which will go to press in the summer. The best way to discover if your work is a fit for our magazine is to buy a copy or become a subscriber.
We're looking for poems, reviews, essays, or anything which falls under what we're calling "the unexpected": hybrid forms, odd character studies, outlandish art, words to music and libretti, collage, eldritch photography – anything outré and original, rooted in the imagination and innovative. For more information see our submission guidelines.
The deadline for all submissions is 25th February.
On a chilly January evening, poets and poetry lovers gathered in the Norman Rea Gallery at the University of York to celebrate the launch of issue II of Eborakon. Seven poets associated with or published in the journal presented readings of their work. This event was a real tribute to the way poetry can set an inspirational tone for a social occasion when read aloud to a live audience; the readings seemed to unite people and emphasise the power of language and thought. As the new co-editor of the journal, I’d like to thank everyone who came for making the event the success that it was. The lively and engaged listeners and the passion of the readers provided a great atmosphere.
To celebrate the launch of the second issue of Eborakon there will be a poetry reading and wine reception in the Norman Rea Gallery, University of York. We are delighted to announce that John Challis, Michael O'Neill, Karl O'Hanlon, Jack Thacker, and others will read from their work. The event will take place at 6.00pm on Thursday 14th January. We hope you will join us for a convivial evening of poetry and wine!
On 3rd June, Eborakon hosted a poetry reading with Melanie Challenger alongside University of York postgraduate student, Steven Roberts. Challenger also gave a talk, ‘“To sing instead of speaking”: the different demands of writing for the page or the stage’.
Below are (transcribed) excerpts from her provocative and intelligent discussion of poetry, artistic freedom, and writing for music. Challenger’s most recent collaboration with composer Mark Simpson, The Immortal, will premiere on the 4th July at the Manchester International Festival.
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We will no longer be accepting submissions for the second issue of Eborakon. Any submissions received after 30th April will not be read. Submissions will reopen in the autumn for Issue 3. In the meantime, please keep you eyes peeled for news regarding the upcoming instalment of Eborakon, which already boasts an exciting line-up of poetry, art, reviews, and more. Watch this space!
We are delighted to announce that we are now open for submissions for Issue 2, which will go to press in the summer. The best way to discover if your work is a fit for our magazine is to click here to buy a copy or become a subscriber.
We're looking for poems, reviews, essays, or anything which falls under the what we're calling "the unexpected": hybrid forms, odd character studies, outlandish art, words to music and libretti, collage, eldritch photography – anything outré and original, rooted in the imagination and innovative. For more information see our submission guidelines.
The deadline for all submissions is 30th April.
On the 28th November 2014, poets and poetry lovers alike descended on the University of York’s campus for the launch of the very first issue of Eborakon magazine. Over fifty people attended the event hosted by the Norman Rea Gallery, a student-run exhibition space located in Derwent College. Staff, students, poets and others gathered together to hear readings from a number of writers featured in the issue. After a welcoming address by co-editor Jack Thacker, the poets took to the microphone to read a selection of works from within and beyond the magazine. The readers were Roger Baxter, Steve Ely, Hugh Haughton, Kath McKay, Paul Mills, Stephen Roberts, David Troupes, JT Welsch and John Whale. It fell to Dr James Williams to provide the closing statements before the celebrations were continued at The Deramore Arms in nearby Heslington Village. The Eborakon team would like to extend their thanks to all of the poets who agreed to read their work at the event, to all of those who attended, and to everyone else who helped make the launch of Issue 1 such a success.
JT Welsch reading from Eborakon at the Launch Party in November