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  • Billy Mills 14:19 on 20/04/2021 Permalink | Reply

    Ravenna Diagram III by Henry Gould: A Review 

    Ravenna Diagram III, Henry Gould, Dos Madres, 2020, ISBN 978-1-948017-90-9, $30.00

    And so we reach paradise, or do we? Gould’s epic of American history reaches its final leg, with the Hobo Henry navigating a diagram comprised of multiple binary pairs that are, for the most part, familiar from the two earlier volumes (reviewed here and here. In this review I will refer to but not spell out formal and thematic aspects of Ravenna Diagram already covered in those reviews, so it might be helpful to skim them first): Roger Williams/Cautantowwit; Pound/Apollinaire; Providence/Minnesota; Pilgrims/Native Americans and so on. As ever, the poem’s trajectory is to find a dynamic balance between these opposites; this is Gould’s Eden.

    But what is love’s binary? The answer comes early:

    Eleven years later (1862)

    starved, dispossessed

    the scar broke open (led

    by blue, reluctant Little Crow).


    Extermination of the buffalo

    echoed the reservation

    camp.  To build a nation

    all these savages must go.

    Followed a few pages later by a poem that commemorates Martin Luther King on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. These reminders that the Shining City on a Hill was built on the back of genocide and slavery, that Roger Williams’s vision of justice tempered by love ran into the hard , cold reality of dehumanisation, is the measure of the work the poem has to do to achieve some kind of paradisiacal vision. Watching the news reports from Minneapolis as I read this book makes me think it’s a near-impossible task.

    A further complication is that this volume was composed during the racist-encouraging Trump presidency, a circumstance that finds its way into the poem:

    the fatal, dominant thug belongs


    to us.  Chief executive,

    or executioner?

    Headsman (for our

    gentler Republic)?  How can we live


    in a democracy, ruled by despot?

    We cannot.  Our choice

    is clear, as once we faced

    when Lincoln gave it voice – the violet

    is trodden underfoot by hate.

    Meanwhile, Hobo Henry trails around the States in search of glimpses of paradise:

    The iconoclast in his canoe

    oars his poetry

    (defying gravity)

    upstream.  I’m following you,


    he murmurs, to the light

    behind his back.  One


    senses waves out of her tight


    spring, jetting toward the Delta.

    The canoe echoing Dante’s ‘piccioletta barca’ becomes, a few pages later is further conflated with the Isis guiding the sun-boat:

    Hobo sleeps in his Isis-canoe.

    On the ridge, Henry

    drove toward glory –

    the poet’s reward.  Onward he flew.

    Which inevitably leads to the conflation of Hobo and Osiris, the sacrificed fertility god whose story prefigures much of the Christian mythos:

    Henry’s buried north of Pig’s Eye

    inside an Erica-tree.

    Come back for you & me,

    someday.  Maybe.  I don’t know why.


    He’s Osiris, in a hoary

    Hobo boot.  Isis

    is us.  She’s

    barely there (yesterday’s story).

    This interweaving of poetic and mythic is typical of Gould’s method and shows, again, his debt to Pound. The vision of justice tempered by love is to be approached by all and every route available to the poet, and is to be inclusive, not exclusive.

    Another key element in Gould’s approach in this final volume is the introduction of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, a pair of doors for the Baptistry of the Duomo in Dante’s native Florence. One key factor here is that Ghiberti’s narrative in the ten panels of the doors is framed by two exemplars of justice; at the beginning he places the story of Adam and Eve and at the end the testing of the wisdom of King Solomon by Queen Sheba. In between, in one of the other panels Ghiberti illustrates the story of Jacob and Esau, a tale that has particular relevance for the betrayal of trust inflicted by the European settlers on the native inhabitants of the Americas. And this golden gate folds into another with personal resonance for the poet:

    The turning year brings its anniversaries.

    Sunken ships in the harbor.

    My fleeting image of an arbor

    green on the slope at Golden Gate – Julie’s


    last day (her father Jim’s birthday).

    Today the sun glistens

    as if through Temple linens;

    pearl beyond pricemerciful Gateway

    I think it’s also relevant that that the doors were not originally calls the Gates of Paradise, but this name was given to them by Michelangelo, not because of what they depict but on account of their beauty.

    The distinct end of poetry is beauty.

    & beauty is wholenessradiance

    & harmony, per Stephen Dedalus

    – out of Aquinas (Aristotle too, maybe).


    Beauty, rounding on itself… dimensional

    & resonant.  Unlike the trodden

    thoroughfare of explanation,

    abstraction (utilitarian, impersonal)


    & then Truth stands there, facing you –

    smiling, breathing!

    And as we move deeper into volume III, beauty moves more and more to the foreground, specifically the linguistic beauty of verse. Gould’s wordplay as discussed in my earlier reviews intensifies so that his writing approaches ever nearer to the condition of music:

    A fresh breeze brings the May-month in.

    The sisters ring their double wreath.

    The young hawthorn on Fisher St.

    is blooming pink.  The almond


    in her dark eyes glows, her smile

    of Sheba-Shekinah… the lady

    of the Song of Songs (spry

    tree of Galilee, in Rhody Isle).

    It’s a tight, fugal music where local detail plays out the major themes that run through all three volumes of the poem, the binary themes interweaving as the sisters weave their wreath. This short passage, from the final poem, the approach to the end, exemplifies Gould’s method. The alliteration of ‘breeze brings the May-month’ is the obvious note, but other patterns play against it, for instance the alternation of short and long vowels in that first line, the repeated ‘in’ sound and eye rhymes (‘in’, ‘ring’, ‘pink’, ‘in’, ‘Shekinah’, ‘in’) disrupted by the near rhymes of ‘Song of Songs’. These twinned and twined sounds enact the juxtapositions of, say, the virginal almond, the sign of Cousin Juliet, with the knowing Sheba, who in turn is contrasted with Shekinah, the divine against the profane, while Galilee and Rhode Island are conflated explicitly. And the whole passage is infused with images of fertility, from the Fisher King to the spry tree. The writing does not describe the necessary process of balance, it enacts it.

    Which leads to the point of Gould’s paradise, which is that it’s not elsewhere. The journey ends, fittingly, on May Day, saturated in images of new life, with, at its centre, the child in her domestic, American basilica, pointing to the one person who can make the dream a reality:

    Everything spins in the green matrix.

    Liberty & justice, equity

    & equilibrium… an origami

    fold of love & intellect – deep Genetrix


    a whirl of fiery faery feet – Elohim

    twirling on galactic rim

    with ocarina Jonah-hum,

    to glaze the grail-stone with her hymn.


    Sophie was making rivers on the patio,

    & found a black-brown woolly bear –

    small furry embryonic caterpillar

    searching for a leaf to call ground zero.


    Henry was looking for an oak-bole too.

    At end of May, at Pentecost,

    on Dante’s birthday, JFK’s… lost

    Restoration RI zone?  Hagia Sophia? – YOU.

    Ravenna Diagram is a unique achievement, an essential addition to the canon of the American Epic. You’re not going to read anything else quite like it, not this year, not next, not ever.

  • Billy Mills 12:56 on 13/04/2021 Permalink | Reply  

    The Classic Anthology Defined by Confucius 

  • Billy Mills 11:49 on 07/04/2021 Permalink | Reply

    A Test of Poetry by Louis Zukofsky 

  • Billy Mills 11:20 on 06/04/2021 Permalink | Reply  

    Passages from the Letters of John Butler Yeats, Selected by Ezra Pound, The Cuala Press, 1917 

  • Billy Mills 08:50 on 29/03/2021 Permalink | Reply

    Recent Reading: March 2021 

    Brother Adam, Tom Moore, Well Review Editions, 2020, €12.99

    The Day Laid Bare, Kiwao Nomura (trans. Eric Selland), Isobar Press, 2020, ISBN 978-4-907359-32-4, no price given

    Ballroom Etiquette, Maria Brito and Bruno Neiva, Team Trident Press, 2020, £0.00

    This is Hunting, Laura Elliott, Distance No Object, 2019, £5.00 (UK)

    Resonance Field, David Annwn, Aquifer, Dec. 2020, ISBN: 9781999836795, £10.00

    Since, I suppose, the rising impact of science on public discourse and the increasing flow of scientific books intended for the general reader post WWII, poets have been attempting, with mixed success, to use scientific language in their work. Think of Allen Fisher or the rising tide of ‘ecopoets’, for instance. Tom Moore is a geneticist based in University College Cork, and this handsome Well Review pamphlet is his first collection of poetry, although he seems to have been writing since at least 2012. Given his background, it’s hardly surprising that he handles the vocabulary of science with a confidence and playfulness that comes from understanding his material:

    Schmeckpeper’s only son

    is gone to Detroit to retrofit

    the velociraptor genome to the egg of a midwife toad.

    Something more zealous than squeezed light must have come through here.

    Something must have scooped out this terrain.

    Somewhere, there’s a mountain.

    [from ‘Canyon’]

    It would, however, be a mistake to label Moore as a ‘science poet’, he is, rather, a poet who views the world and language through an eye that benefits from a specific kind of training, one that combines an attention to detail with an ability to bring those details together in meaningful conjunctions. This is as true in the poem ‘Lascaux’, dealing with events from his father-in-law’s eventful lie (‘He clears Golden Beach/alive. Rommel swallows his bitter sword and dies’) as it in the shift from the macro sphere of star gazing to the micro sphere of the garden that is the arc of ‘Meteorites’:

    I should point out the broken chute

    where sparrows nest year in, year out,

    and the snails streaking across the wall,

    intent on their own galaxy.

    The writing is assured, composed and coherent in a way that is unusual in Irish poetry, despite the very occasional awkwardness (an analogy that has a fly’s ribs ‘rising and falling like the stock market’ jarred). This quality is perhaps most evident in the longish prose-poem ‘A Beautiful Non’ which recounts an episode from childhood without any of the usual sentimental trappings; it is more Harwood than Heaney, and the better for it.

    The various strands come together in the final, title poem, an extended meditation on the life and work of Karl Kehrle, Brother Adam, monk and beekeeper extraordinaire, ‘one of nature’s silent workers’. The poem’s opening line, ‘The past is a foreign country. So is its synonym, Germany.’ places us firmly in the context of 20th century history, a turbulence against which the quiet certainty of the beekeeper plays a necessary counterpoint:

    A worker has space, but no time, no time, no time.

    A worker is her own landing craft and centripetal spoke,

    homing her cargo to the vortex of the hive.

    How to woo a honeybee? With veils and gloves and smoke.

    And so the booklet ends with a reminder that both poet and scientist depend on tools and technique to achieve their various ends. It’s a fitting closure to a set of poems that show both in abundance.

    As well as being Moore’s debut, Brother Adam is the Well Review’s first foray into pamphlet publishing and the result is a handsome, well designed object cleanly printed on high-quality paper. It’s a delight to see poetry been given such careful treatment.

    There’s a certain unique set of challenges around reading, never mind reviewing, translations of poetry from a language you can’t read, primarily circling around the all-too-obvious fact that you’re reading and reviewing the translations, not the originals. In the case of Eric Selland’s translation of Kiwao Nomura’s The Day Laid Bare, a further layer is added by the fact that Nomura is a name I was not familiar with at all before reading this book. As a kind of way in, in his introduction Selland is at pains to highlight Nomura’s European influences, specifically French surrealism and more specifically René Char. There is much here that does echo Char: the mix of prose and verse, often aphoristic, and Char’s later life anti-nuclear campaigning is also relevant, given the fact that the 2011 earthquage and subsequent Fukushima nuclear power-plant failure occurred while the book was being written.

    Structurally, The Day Laid Bare is not unlike a double helix, with alternating numbered ‘Roadblock and ‘Parade sections (‘Roadblock 1’, ‘Parade 1’, Roadblock 2’, and so on 13 of each). Each parade is an enumeration of the fleshes, from the 1st to the 101st Flesh, and they read like figures from a Hieronymus Bosch painting. The phrase that gives the book its title recurs, with variations, and various building blocks of DNA are repeated across these sections. This highlighting of the genetic imperative, reflected in the double helix form of the book, is central to how Nomura knits together the various strands in his surgical examination of the human. The parades are ‘all human life’ stripped to the bone, relentless and without hope:

    FORTY-FOURTH FLESH is myself.

    Monitored, scanned.

    ‘Received passionate love letters from Miyuki, and e-mails expressing sweet nothings … how was I to know it was a trap, that it meant death? I was taken for all I had.’

    [from ‘Parade 8’]

    There is a sense that the flesh here echoes the Buddhist ambivalence about the body as being both essential to the individual and a source of unwanted sensual temptation. There is certainly a strong thread of Buddhist thought running through the book’s revolted fascination, but this is balanced against the idea that, laid bare, we are vehicles for our DNA to replicate itself.

    The ‘Roadblock’ sections interrupt and comment, however obliquely, on this passing flesh parade. These sections tent to be quieter, more reflective meditations on the existential crisis, the question of what it is to be human, that the Parade poems foreground. Frequently, this becomes a kind of meditation on perception and its role in identity formation:



    Moving toward it


    We stop naming things

    After all, if you touch them

    They become exactly

    What they are – a leaf

    Or a stem, etc. etc.

    [from ‘Roadblock 6 (Unknown Skin)’]

    The book reaches a climax of sorts in ‘Roadblock 11 (Separation)’:


    Space is the question

    The in-between

    The interval



    Twittering of birds which transcends birds

    The (extremely helpful) notes at the back of the book explain that the various terms for separation here derive from the traditional artistic concept of ‘Ma’ or ‘negative space’ which is familiar to students of the Noh. It seems that in the 20th century, Ma became intertwined with Bergson’s duration as Japanese philosophy focused on being and space. It a sense here, this space becomes a way out of the trap of the parade, and the poem ends on a note of acceptance bordering on hope:

    And with this HUNDRED-AND-FIRST FLESH makes its entry – it’s a parade …

    Go, follow – give chase

    [from ‘Parade 13’]

    This is an endlessly fascinating book, opening up a door into a body of Japanese poetry that was new to me, and I suspect will be new to many western readers. Both Selland and Isobar are to be thanked for bringing out this very interesting translation.

    Ballroom Etiquette is a collaborative work that mashes up a Victorian manual, True Politeness: A Hand-book of Etiquette for Ladies and Kill or get Killed a 1970s combat instruction manual for the military and police, text from the former with facing page illustrations from the latter. In both cases, the elements are decontextualised, a set of floating rules for behaviour and a blurry, possibly because of photocopying, images.

    The uniting factor is, clearly, that both text and images are concerned with constraint, a set of rules or actions that seek to limit ‘socially unacceptable’ behaviours, in both cases in highly stylised forms. While stylisation and conjunction often results in humour, there’s no question that Maria Brito and Bruno Neiva are deadly serious in intent here. This tiny, pocket sized booklet, reminiscent in some respects of a 1970s Situationist International tract, and with similar political intent, invites us to question the relationship between representation and repression in interesting ways.

    When a gentleman who has been properly introduced requests the honour of dancing with you, you will not refuse unless you have a previous engagement.

    A world of gilded bars mirrors a world of police violence, two kinds of social control laid side by side to illuminate each other.

    Laura Elliott’s This is Hinting is another neat pocket-sized saddle stitched pamphlet, this one consisting of a sequence of short untitled sections. Elliot opens with two quotations, one from Sylvia Plath’s ‘Burning the Letters’ (Warm rain greases my hair, extinguishes nothing./My veins glow like trees./The dogs are tearing a fox. This is what it is like) and the other from Daphne Moon, a character in the US sitcom Frasier (I feel embarrassed saying it now…it’s sort of like you’re my pet!). These quotations provide the twin poles around which Elliott’s poems are woven. The dogs are literally hunting, but the fox come to represent female sexual pleasure:

    the fox fucked me

    sideways I mean

    streamways lain

    out dreamplay

    the fox rows into

    me deep sleep-


    On the other pole, Daphne Moon brings together Daphne and Diana, the moon, from Greek myth, they are the hunted and the hunter, but in this pairing the hunted escapes the fate of the fox. The Frasier quote shows Daphne as a kind of doinatrix, in control, ironic, distant. There is an implication that this control derives from the withholding of sex, that the hunter is denied because the female ‘prey’ moves beyond their reach:

    dear daphne

    listen to

    yourself speak


    your own logic

    they do not

    like the idea

    of you sleeping


    The exertion of power over one’s own sexuality is seen as part of self-actualisation:

    taste more

    like yourself

    chicken powder

    peanut butter

    the sex was

    good the rain

    was better

    This last triad offers a neat example of Elliott’s verbal music. The assonance of ‘sex’ and ‘better’ straddles the single long vowel in ‘rain’, emphasising that word as core to the image. This is accentuated further by the first line break that disrupts the iambic flow:

    the SEX was

    GOOD the RAIN

    The further variation that derives from the final unstressed syllable, moving from iambic to amphibrach brings the poem to an understated resolution. a fine example of a true poet’s ear in action, quiet, unshowy and effective. The power of the tiny pamphlet remains undiminished.

    It’s apparent from the opening lines of David Annwn’s Resonance Field that a different kind of music is at play, a polyvocal resonance across the fields of art, literature, science and the local:

    piecing the fabric

    field fields

                                    a pattern:

    cunning greave from coneys

    brushwood, broom

    Banky Fields

                            and Fol Hollow

    [from ‘Fugue’]

    The primary mode here is ekphrastic, with texts responding to and/or interacting with paintings, poems, photographs and film. Time is telescoped, with a poem concerned with the Surrealists in Marseilles designing tarot cards while waiting for the Nazis to arrive echoed in another that brings the poet’s father who served as a WWII ship’s gunner into the field of the Old Welsh ‘Preiddeu Annwn’ (one of the earliest Arthurian texts, title translatable as ‘the spoils of hell’), which, inevitably, brings us back to the poet’s taken name. This swirl of resonances echoing across myth and history, the personal and the public, is typical of the book.

    Like Tom Moore, Annwn draws on the language of science, but as a lay reader not an expert. Nevertheless, Annwn is acutely aware of the potency of science as a way of looking at the world:

    a flourish

    in air which itself

    is molecules through atoms

    excited electrons

    forgetting themselves


    [from ‘Microcosmos Stir’]

    A fundamental aspect of the book is the importance of the collaborative process, with paintings, calligraphy and video stills fully incorporated into the work. For instance, the poem about the surrealist tarot is celebrating a kind of collaborative effort while itself forming part of a poem/film collaboration between Annwn and Howard Munson previously linked to on this blog. It is fitting, then, that the final poem in the book should be called ‘Palimpsest’, and  celebrates Angelo Mai’s discovery of Cicero’s De republica buried under some psalms. The poem is printed twice, once in ‘plain text’ and then is a set of beautiful full-colour calligraphic plates by Thomas Ingmire, where it in turn appears in palimpsest emerging from Latin texts, apparently a psalm.

    The whole book is alive with this sense of interlocking collaboration, with Annwn creating a resonance field in which multiple voices interweave to create a work of singular interest in which, as the final line says, ‘it is time to recover’. To recover ourselves and our shared heritage. I’ll leave the final word to Annwn, from his Ezra Pound tribute ‘Going up to Sun Terrace’:


    all about everything

    some melody

    Even with a fine old brush –

    and the hand to wield it –

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