Simon Collings

The Confetti Trees

I’ve been re-reading Barbara Guest’s collection of cinema inspired prose pieces, The Confetti Trees. It’s a work I’ve revisited a number of times, though not recently, and I had forgotten just how good these prose poems are – full of invention, quirkiness and humor. Five sections from the book appeared in Jacket 10. Here’s one of them:

Color

He believed if the woman on the right moved over to the left he could place her into the frame where a meadow lay beyond her. But it did not work out that way. The moon came up too early. The glow the moon cast lit up the shadow behind the wheelbarrow. No one could advance in the shattering moonlight. The film begins to take the shape of a milk bottle with the heavy cream on top.

He blamed everything on the use of color. The heavy woman who played the woodcutter’s wife wanted to lay some emeralds on her bosom. They are the color of trees, she says. The skin of the leading actor was the color of ferns which do not blend with the pastel process that turns the clouds to pastel. The girl’s knee is supposed to be grey when she bends it, not the color of blood. The voice coming from the elderberries is colorless, indicating melancholy. He remembers the alluring depths in film without color when tears were dark as drops falling from a raven’s mouth. Once again his efforts have been emptied of meaning.

The Confetti Trees, Sun and Moon Press, 1999.

(Note: Jacket miss out the title of ‘Color’, running the text on from the end of ‘Trousers for Extras’ which is just one paragraph.)

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Labyrinths

I have a couple of new poems on Stride – the most recent, Labyrinths, posted today. This poem is part of a sequence which will be published as a chapbook by Red Ceilings in the Spring. It’s a kind of sonnet – ‘well it has 14 lines’ as Bernadette Mayer once said when asked to explain how one of her poems could be called a ‘sonnet’.

 

A poem for the New Year

Charles Olson was born at the time of the winter solstice and each year, as his birthday approached, he worried that he would not see another year. The beginning of January, therefore, had a particular significance for him. On 9 January 1966,  aged 55 and alone in his apartment in Gloucester, he wrote:

The whole thing has run so fast away it breaks my heart
Winter’s brilliance with the sun new-made from living south
I also re-arisen another numbered year from December’s
threat. Love all new within me ready too to go abroad. Ice
snow my car as hidden as a hut beneath it children pass-
ing without even notice, every house so likewise in-
teresting because of snow upon each roof. Lamps, and day,
nothing not new and equally forever upon this earth. All
but me, damned as each man in death itself the evil
which throws a dart of dirt and shadow on my soul and on
this Sunday when in the light, and on this point, no
conceivable hindrance would seem imaginable to darken
or in fact any difficulty of any sort except to keep
my eyes out of the sun-blaze on the sea and careful also
not to notice too directly the street, frozen and slippery
as the light.

From The Maximus Poems, Vol. 3.

 

 

Ginsberg and the Dalai Lama

In 1962, the American poet Joanne Kyger and her then husband Gary Snyder, traveled to India where they met up with Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky. The 11 April entry in Kyger’s journal is a copy of a letter she’d just sent to a friend describing her traveling companions:

Peter Orlovsky locks himself in the bathroom all night and smokes opium and then vomits all the next morning so we travel slowly.

We met the Dalai Lama last week right after he had been talking with the King of Sikkim, the one who is going to marry an American college girl. The Dal is 27 and lounged on a velvet couch like a gawky adolescent in red robes. I was trying very hard to say witty things to him, but Allen Ginsberg kept hogging the conversation by describing his experiments on drugs and asking the Dalai Lama if he would like to take some magic mushroom pills and were his drug experiences of a religious nature, until Gary said really Allen the inside of your mind is just as boring and just the same as everyone elses is it necessary to go on; and that little trauma was eased over by Gary and the Dalai talking guru to guru like about which positions to take when doing meditation and how to breath and what to do with your hands, yes yes that’s right says the Dalai Lama. And then Allen Ginsberg says to him how many hours do you meditate a day, and he says me? Why I never meditate, I don’t have to. Then Ginsberg is very happy because he wants to get instantly enlightened and can’t stand sitting down or discipline of the body. He always gobbles down his food before anyone else has started. He came to India to find a spiritual teacher. But I think he actually believes he knows it all, but just wishes he Felt better about it.

Joanne Kyger, The Japan and India Journals, 1960-1964, Nightboat Books, NY.

Launch of chapbook

I will be launching a small book of prose poems called Out West on Friday 1 December at Albion Beatnik Bookshop in Oxford. The event starts at 7.30pm and includes a guest reading by wonderful Luke Kennard, who very kindly contributed an Introduction to my chapbook. Also reading will be Ray Keenoy whose book Last of the Yiddish Poets is being published by Albion Beatnik at the same time as my work. It should be a fun evening. If you’re in the area please come along.

Interview with Allen Fisher

The latest issue of the Journal of Poetics Research includes an interview I conducted with the British poet Allen Fisher. The interview focuses on Fisher’s magnum opus, Gravity as a consequence of shape, which he composed between 1982 and 2007. It was finally published as a single volume  at the end of 2016 by Reality Street. Fisher is to me one of the most interesting poets at work in Britain today. The breadth of his reading is prodigious and an interview can only give some pointers as to how a reader might engage with this text. But if a few more people are prompted to explore Fisher’s work, I will have achieved something useful.

To the outside observer

‘How imagine other people’s lives, when our own seems scarcely conceivable? We meet someone, we see them plunged into an impenetrable and unjustifiable world, in mass of desires and convictions superimposed on reality like a morbid structure. Having made a system of mistakes for himself, he suffers for reasons whose nullity alarms the mind and surrenders himself to values whose absurdity leaps to the eye. What are his undertakings but trifles, and is the feverish symmetry of his concerns any better built than an architecture of twaddle? To the outside observer, the absolute of each life looks interchangeable, and every fate, however fixed in its essence, arbitrary. When our convictions seem the fruit of a frivolous lunacy, how tolerate other people’s passions for themselves and for their own multiplication in each day’s utopia?  By what necessity does this man shut himself up in a particular world of predilections, and that man in another?’

                                                                         E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay

The poet as translator

‘All poetry is in the end translation, says Novalis. It translates natural language into the language of art (Kunstsprache). In this process it elevates ordinary language to the state of mystery…

For Edmund Jabes, too, the writer is a translator…But he reverses the direction. Jabes starts out from the infinite, which is the ultimate goal of poetry in German Romantic theory. He bypasses the issue of “ordinary”, or “natural” language. Or rather he has altogether rather more respect for it than Novalis…

So instead of elevating natural language into “the language of the gods”, with Jabes we translate the “language of the gods”…into our more limited actual idiom. Writing/translating does not exalt, it narrows as any passage from the potential to the actual must…our narrowing of it is fatal, the finite by definition kills the infinite.’

Rosmarie Waldrop, Lavish Absence: recalling and rereading Edmund Jabes, pp.60-61.

 

‘The poem I dream has no flaws until I try to realise it. We find this recorded in the myth of Jesus. God, becoming man, cannot help but end in martyrdom. The supreme dreamer has the supreme martyr as a son.’

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, p. 272.

 

The landscape of memory

Another poem published in Stride today – Memory Landscape. These pieces by Ian Seed, also recently published on Stride, are very good.

Can the UK achieve it’s carbon targets?

In order to help contain global warming to within 1.5-2 degree Celsius, Britain needs to achieve a big increase in low carbon electricity supply. Is this feasible? Andrew Crossland’s website MyGridGB says that it is – and demonstrates this by comparing the actual performance of the UK electricity grid with an an alternative model.

The real-time information on MyGridGB on where our electricity comes from hour by hour, day by day, is intriguing.  The site also provides data on recent records for low carbon generation from solar and wind.

The alternative model simulation draws on actual demand and weather data to show what would have happened if the UK had more solar, biomass, nuclear, and wind, supported by a modest amount more storage capacity. These show low carbon targets being met.

Details of the model are set out in a manifesto available on the site. The costs associated with this model are not yet available  – but Crossland promises this in a forthcoming second manifesto.