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...We have seen
blood and cuts cruelly quoted,
the pink neon sign

flashing 'sexy' in the dining room,
the labeling of the clock on Sunday,
an icy proposal to get ready.

Towards the end of this section there's a piece called 'Notices', which takes this interleaving a step further. The tone is still even, but each line seems disconnected, in terms of sense and meaning, from the others, while at the same time affecting the lines before and after it, somewhat in the manner of Raworth's 'Eternal Sections'. Yet these are quiet verses, in keeping with the rest of 'Rearrangements':

around the corner a pang
half wanted that street crawl
but cut to hoisting red
the first packet of nerves
kingly and hesitant beside
the culled horse a mask
further catered so far
a graft shape so fabulous
gatherer of signs

This starts with suggestion - of kerb-crawling, the streets at night, opening a packet of cigarettes - then moves via an almost-surrealism to something more abstract, drawn from the subconscious.

Another theme that runs though these poems is that of identity and selfhood. The whole collection is headed by a quote from Kenneth Patchen:

It's funny when you become aware of your heart it's as though you can feel it beating in the sky and in nearly everything except yourself really.

That sense of an almost-Buddhist loss of self, where even one’s heartbeat might be part of the broader processes of the world at large seems to be an important part of what these poems are trying to express with their incomplete and fragmentary nature. Two of the later prose poems ‘borrow and mix phrases’ from Pierre Reverdy. I don’t know Reverdy’s poetry too well, but from the work that I do know, there are similarities between his poetry and Seed’s, and he’s clearly an important influence. Reverdy was closely associated with Cubism, and in his introduction to Reverdy’s Selected Poems, Kenneth Rexroth asks ‘What is Cubism in poetry?’, continuing:

It is the conscious, deliberate dissociation and recombination of elements into a new artistic entity made self-sufficient by its rigorous architecture.

That seems like a possible description of what these poems, and the prose poems in the rest of this book are attempting to do, though the phrase ‘rigorous architecture’ doesn’t quite describe the poetry; they are more ‘carefully crafted’ than rigorous.

In the second section, 'Voices', the prose poems continue the atmosphere and imagery of the first; they're more coherent in sense, yet their narratives are incomplete. Here's an example, in full:

CONSEQUENCES

A stone dislodged, running through grey light, the clatter of an unseen train to our left. We stop at the edge of the forest. I can still see us, strolling down the main thoroughfare of the pink town by the sea, latticed sunlight across our faces, winter forgotten. Such kids then, spirited out of the business up north, as if a promise were for a lifetime. Now afraid to negotiate beyond the sound of our own breathing in the dark.

This suggests a dream or a remembered landscape, a feeling of being lost. Snatches of things we'll never pin down for certain - 'spirited out of the business up north' - and a faint sense of menace, which is echoed in other poems:

The office was another place altogether, murder just on the other side of his smile. Even the girl singing in the toilet couldn't be trusted.

When I first read the third section, 'Shadows', I thought the poems seemed less tightly-constructed than in 'Voices'. But re-reading, I think it's rather a change of tone, with more abstraction certainly, and a change of emphasis. Rather than the ‘I/We’ of 'Voices', the dominant pronoun is 'you'; this gives the poems a more distant feel:

A nonsense defined you. In different cities, you followed her up never-ending stairways, later to emerge no wiser, but older and changed.

In fact, the three sections of this collection build on and complement the other two. I keep returning to this text, and I feel that these are poems I'll live with over time, which is a good recommendation for any book. Some of the combinations of tone and imagery are just right, as in this last poem in 'Rearrangements':

FROM A LONG WAY

Sometimes I asked: how do I reach
the truth? Each time I was surprised
by the pictures they painted of you
as if day or night could be framed.

So I stepped out and journeyed
not to learn your secrets but to see you
tying your shoe laces beside the path
which cuts into the mountain as it climbs.

Litterbug


Anonymous Intruder by Ian Seed. Pub. Shearsman Books, 80pp, £8.95 / $15. ISBN 978-1-84861-028-6

Ian Seed has lived on mainland Europe and worked as a translator, and the effect of European poetry is apparent in his work, quite apart from the acknowledged debt to Pierre Reverdy. Disembodied voices and unanchored narratives float through this evenly-paced and quiet verse, in which there's a hint of surrealism; glimpses of rooms, landscapes, and people are woven in and out of the poems. The theme of the first section, 'Rearrangements', is exile and separation, invoked through suggestion and atmosphere. Seed writes open poetry that avoids neat summings-up and obvious statement; but while there's instability and shifting perspectives, there's none of the disjunction of a poet like Robert Sheppard, more of a measured calm.

The book is divided into three sections; the first being in verse, the second and third consisting of prose poems. In the first section, 'Rearrangements', snatches of realism are interleaved with dream and the subconscious, and there's an Eastern European feel to some of the pieces: