Wordless by Kevin Reid and George Szirtes: A Review

wordlessWordless by Kevin Reid and George Szirtes, The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-909443-25-9. £7.00 Sterling.

A black bowler hat and a white plaster mask, photographed in a number of more or less incrimination positions, sometimes alone, never really together. The photos are black and white, and for each one a short accompanying text sits opposite; centre aligned prose poems of two to four lines, white font on a black, framed ground. Sardonic captions in the form of silent cinema intertitles.

The hat is generally ‘he’ and is identified with death; the mask generally ‘she’ and  represents life as best she can, given her striking resemblance of a death mask. At the end, in the last poem, they sit and wonder “Who are we waiting for?”. The bones of an echo.

This odd pair inhabits a world of everyday objects: a car that serves as a bed, a toilet open-mouthed, an actual bed, a rotary clothesline, a bench in a railway station, a telephone kiosk, a pram, the vague detritus of urban living. We see them caught at (in)significant moments in their progress through life’s stages; infancy, young love, marriage. It is a quotidian universe tilted askew by the presence of our odd protagonists. “Sometimes it’s too much. What is?” Well, everything, really.

And yet we are warned form the beginning not to read to much into these objects:

There was never a doubt. There was only ever the absolute.
The hat in itself was neither surreal nor mundane.
It was a hat for God’s sake!

The photographs were originally taken, one per day, by Reid as a project for National Poetry Writing Month, with Szirtes adding the text later, the conjunction being published online before appearing in this handsome, A5 landscape booklet. The result of their collaboration is a gentle, very British surrealism, in the tradition of Philip O’Connor and Hugh Sykes Davies, that dances on the margins of tweeness only to be rescued by a twin seriousness of purpose.

On the one hand, Wordless is a study in the rebalancing of those ordinary binaries, life/death, male/female, alone/together, darkness/light, that weave their way through our ordinary lives. Hat and mask are each other’s Other, dancing a wary two-hander, distinct but interdependent.

I could not tell her, nor could she tell me.
We were drowning in sheets.
We had nothing to go on, so we slept,
or pretended to be sleeping.

On the other, it asks us to look anew at each other and the world we move through, to see that world with fresh eyes. Reid’s apparently random but quite careful visual conjunctions and Szirtes’ crosshatched commentaries are designed to literally open our eyes.

That the book achieves both ambitions so well with such deliberately limited means is a testimony to the acuity of both authors. This may not be the most substantial book of poetry published this year, but it is one of the more enjoyable ones that you’ll read, if you like your pleasures complexly simple.

Ellen Forrester: Irish Woman Poet

Born Ellen Magennis in Clones in c 1828, she moved to Liverpool as a child and then lived in Manchester. She married a stone mason, Michael Forrester and they had five children, three of whom, Arthur, Fanny and Mary Magdalene, also published poetry. The Merry March Wind is taken from the 1869 collection Songs of the Rising Nation, and Other Poems, which she wrote with Arthur. She died in 1883.

 

 THE MERRY MARCH WIND.

 
Air— All Among the Barley.
 

OLD winter grim has left us,
Nor left behind a trace;
He saw the spring approaching,
And hid his wrinkled face.
Bright falls the pleasant sunshine.
On cottage wall and floor,
And the merry, merry March wind
Is whistling at the door.
Rattling at the window, whistling at the door
Oh, the merry, merry March wind
Is whistling at the door!

 
A youthful giant March is,
A giddy boy and gay,
As striding through the forest.
He shakes the trees in play.
He sweeps around the hill-top.
And scuds across the moor,
And whirling round the corner.
He whistles at the door.
Rattling at the window, whistling at the door-
Oh, the merry, merry March wind
Is whistling at the door!
 

He meets us in our rambles,
And such rude tricks be plays,
That bashful maidens fear him,
With his wild and wicked ways.
He bounds along the highway,
And drives the dust before.
He dances thro’ the chimney tops,
And whistles at the door.
Rattling at the window, whistling at the door-
Ob, the merry, merry March wind
Is whistling at the door!

Logical Fallacies: Press Release

Béal presents

Logical Fallacies

a song-cycle by David Bremner 

on poetry by Billy Mills

11 Nov, 8pm, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Pre-concert talk – 7.30pm

Tickets – €10/8

Soprano: Elizabeth Hilliard

Viola: Andreea Banciu

 Tomorrow, innovative music/text company Béal present the Dublin premiere of a newly-written song-cycle for soprano and viola, Logical Fallacies. The work was was commissioned by Limerick City of Culture 2014 and was created through a collaboration between poet Billy Mills, and Béal co-director and composer, David Bremner. It will be performed by soprano Elizabeth Hilliard and violist Andreea Banciu. The work will consist of settings of existing and new work by Mills, and will juxtapose sung and spoken text, and projections by Mills.

Logical Fallacies is an original new contribution to the song-cycle genre, in a sparse, minimal and thought-provoking idiom; it features a heightened sensitivity to the potential resonances and sonic qualities of each word, so that, in Mills’ words

each

word

works

Its key preoccupation is the relationship between art and the real world explored via the relationship between singing and speaking.

Watch a short video about Logical Fallacies, with extracts from the first performance:

Elizabeth Hilliard is a soprano from Dublin. She brings a dramatic quality and emotional intensity to her performance of solo, chamber and vocal ensemble music. A member of Chamber Choir Ireland and Resurgam, she has toured nationally and internationally: including to China, the US, and Austria.

Andreea Banciu is a member of ConTempo String Quartet. Andreea has toured the world extensively, performing over 1000 concerts at many major venues and International Festivals in Europe, Asia and North America both as a soloist and a chamber music player at venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York and Wigmore Hall.

ALSO: Read a review of Béal’s just-released album of music for organ and uilleann pipes, l’air du temps | the spirit of the times, over on today’s Tradconnect: 

http://tradconnect.com/profiles/blogs/talking-to-david-bremner-about-the-spirit-of-the-times-a-startlin

Contact:

Anna Murray | anna.m.murray@gmail.com | 0860816677

Logical Fallacies: Dublin Performance

cropped-logical-fallacies2.pngSoprano: Elizabeth Hilliard
Viola: Andreea Banciu

Words: Billy Mills
Music: David Bremner

Pre-concert talk – 7.30pm
Tickets – €10/8

Innovative music/text company Béal present the Dublin premiere of a newly-written song-cycle for soprano and viola, Logical Fallacies. The work was was commissioned by Limerick City of Culture 2014 and was created through a collaboration between poet Billy Mills, and Béal co-director and composer, David Bremner. It will be performed by soprano Elizabeth Hilliard and violist Andreea Banciu. The work will consist of settings of existing and new work by Mills, and will juxtapose sung and spoken text, and projections by Mills.

Logical Fallacies is an original new contribution to the song-cycle genre, in a sparse, minimal and thought-provoking idiom; it features a heightened sensitivity to the potential resonances and sonic qualities of each word, so that, in Mills’ words

each

word

works

Its key preoccupation is the relationship between art and the real world explored via the relationship between singing and speaking.

Elizabeth Hilliard is a soprano from Dublin. She brings a dramatic quality and emotional intensity to her performance of solo, chamber and vocal ensemble music. A member of Chamber Choir Ireland and Resurgam, she has toured nationally and internationally: including to China, the US, and Austria.

Andreea Banciu is a member of ConTempo String Quartet. Andreea has toured the world extensively, performing over 1000 concerts at many major venues and International Festivals in Europe, Asia and North America both as a soloist and a chamber music player at venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York and Wigmore Hall.

The Ascent of Kinder Scout by Peter Riley: A Review

The Ascent of Kinder Scout by Peter Riley, Longbarrow Press, 2014. £5.00 Sterling.

ascent-of-kinderKinder Scout is a high moorland plateau in the English Peak District. It was, in April 1932, the scene of a mass trespass by around 400 walkers who were protesting against its enclosure for grouse shooting by the Duke of Devonshire. On their return, a number of the leaders were arrested and tried for unlawful assembly and breach of the peace. That wasn’t, however, the end of the story; the legacy of the trespass was the founding of the Rambler’s Association and the passing of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act in 1949.

Peter Riley’s The Ascent of Kinder Scout is, on one level, a record of a walk made in the footsteps of the original trespassers in the company of others unnamed, perhaps as part of the 2012 80th anniversary celebrations. It’s a poem in 39 paragraphs, primarily prose but with a five-paragraph excursus in verse quite early on.

The trespass is one link in a long chain of acts of resistance to land enclosure that illuminate British history, from the 12th Century peasant resistance to their newly-established Norman overlords through the Levellers movement during the English Civil War and the writings of the anti-Corn Law campaigner William Cobbett. In a country not much given to revolution, this is a key thread of radicalism running through British history.

The Kinder protest must also be seen in the context of early 1930s British politics, and especially the rise in popularity of Socialism which came in the wake of the Great Depression. These events inevitably impacted on poetry, with the emergence of those poets associated with the magazine New Verse, a heady mix of Marx and Freud, Mass Observation and Surrealism, the latter leading to the emergence in the following decade of the New Apocalypse poets, Including Nicholas Moore who Riley has championed.

These radicals, both working class activists and middle-class poets, had lived through one World War and its aftermath and were about to see a second. As the first generation to benefit from the 1918 Education Act, they had the tools needed to engage in a process of learning about power and its implications. As Riley writes early in this work, ‘The foundation of the state is not violence but education.’ This statement, apparently straightforward on first reading, gains in complexity as Riley questions the role and value of the state a few paragraphs later, concluding that it ‘makes everything possible, and makes strangers of us all.’

He also calls into question the value of education, specifically literacy:

They taught us to read and we thought we were so grand as to join heaven and earth. But all we did was wallpaper over the crack between myth and science and lose our homes. The farmer’s wife sang a truer song, told a sweeter story, of hope and despair hand in hand walking back into society.

This last word forming an integrative counterbalance to the divisive state. It is no coincidence that the verse excursus, which echoes the song Goodnight Irene, follows on immediately after the prose paragraph from which I have just quoted. This interlude sits in the twin shadows of war and emigration, of ‘promise betrayed’ and ‘all the bathos of the modern state’.

In an article called Poetic Description and Mass Observation in a later issue of New Verse, Charles Madge wrote:

MASS-OBSERVATION is a technique for obtaining objective statements about human behaviour. The primary use of these statements is to the other observers: an interchange of observations being the foundation of social consciousness. The statements are useful also to scientists who can each utilize them in his own way. The number of scientific interpretations of a given body of material is only limited by the number of scientific interpreters. Poetically, the statements are also useful. They produce a poetry which is not, as at present, restricted to a handful of esoteric performers.

The immediate effect of MASS-OBSERVATION is to de-value considerably the status of the “poet.” It makes the term “poet” apply, not to his performance, but to his profession, like ” footballer.”

This technical description seems to me to illuminate Riley’s approach to prose poetry, if only at a slant. He eschews the overtly poetic and relates his observations, both visual and mental, to contemporary post-Thatcherite Britain; the town of Hayfield, from where the trespassers set out, for instance, ‘could all be wiped out at any moment by a falling aeroplane or a Tory axe’.

Riley observes the physical environment with the same keenness, not infrequently shot through with a sense of the surreal nature of reality:

In it now I reach Kinder Downfall, the pool catching the sun half way down the slope below, the line of water tossed in the wind in an arena of broken strata. And walk on ever barer ground to pause at the summit trig point, denuded even of peat, a grey desert of gravel and scattered boulders.

While the social and political contexts of the original trespass offer one way into Riley’s poem, there are other equally valid avenues of approach. As always in his work, the act of walking is a means of self-discovery. In this, The Ascent is close to his wonderful long poem Alstonfield; in both poems the walk, though grounded in specific geographical and social realities, provides a framework in which the objective and subjective can interweave.

It is telling, for instance, that the ghosts the poet/walker encounters early on the ascent are not those of the protesters but rather of figures of his own early youth. There are memories of his parents, who ‘died into this, in the long brick terraces of the Manufacturing Districts’ while the poet escaped and ‘built [himself] a parenthesis’ in which the ascent is being made, the poem written.

If the radicalism of the 1930s led to the foundation of a more just and inclusive Britain after the War, things have now changed. As Riley finished the descent he turns back and observes:

On the horizon Kinder Scout is a shadow lost in the black sky, an enormous gravestone in memory of the welfare state.

Which is immediately followed by a ‘but’, an assertion that the legacy of the Kinder trespassers was the establishment of a promise which may have been broken but which still endures, a promise based on ‘an achieved purpose’. The poem ends not with defeat but with a quiet celebration of that achievement and the qualities that form its permanent bequest to the here and now: ‘Persistence, optimism, grace.’

***

A note on production:

The Ascent of Kinder Scout is a handsomely produced little book, as readers of Longbarrow publications might expect. The good quality paper, clear, crisp printing and A5 landscape format work together to make it a pleasurable object in the hand and to the eye, and the cover paintings by Paul Evans enhance the book greatly.