Saturday, May 12, 2007

Coming back like herpes

Nearly a year! Really I suppose I should do some kind of re-launch thing where I choose a new template, and sort out the fact that my browser still won't support the blogger html editor which means having to code links manually which is the equivalent of making your own mayonnaise as far as I'm concerned. I should switch to firefox. I should do a lot of things. I should sort out my squeaky boots, put some shelves up, finish Hugh Kenner's The Pound Era, clear out all the tiny bags of left over pasta in the food cupboard and give Jus & Ruth a call and arrange to see them. Ho hum.

Anyway, in the last year I've been reading loads and I've built up a huge backlog of things to write about. The main thing I suppose is a quite exciting load of new British poetry. The constellated gang orbiting barque press and depending from Redell Olsen, Jow Lindsay, etc. Marianne Morris, loads and loads. Specially good is...

Andrea Brady.
She co-runs Barque with Keston Sutherland. She also runs Archive of the now which is a fantastic resource and deserves a post all of its own. The two things of hers I've really enjoyed are her sequence Liberties and a really interesting sequence called Wildfire, of which there is a very cool and elegant hypertext version at Liberties is a sequence in two parts, one of 13 and one of 28 poems, the longest of which is 32 lines, they're mostly shorter. Although I don't think any actually are, they sort of hover around the sonnet form. The poems in first section, called Liberties, The White Wish mostly are split up into stanzas of various sizes; the second section, Liberties, the City adorned like a Bride are not. There's an epigraph from Milton's Aeropagitica which was a long show-offy essay about censorship. Its argument (and here I paraphrase violently) was that banning books from publication was wrong - that books should be published, judged and then, if necessary, prosecuted. It's sometimes adduced as evidence in anti-censorship debates although as I understand it, it's more about how exactly the mechanisms of censorship (the Index, the Inquisition) should map onto the structures of the English Revolution. Brady's chosen bit reads;

'That vertue which is but a youngling in the contemplation of but a blank vertue...her whiteness is but an excrementall whiteness.' (my ellipsis)

Which is to say, it's easy to be good if you never look at nasty. Interestingly it applies the notion of coming-of-age in 'youngling', and it doesn't take Brady long to spot the cum stain on that girl's frock. Excremental whiteness indeed.
The first set of poems take a whole bunch of different runs-up at a set of images and ideas to do with risk, pathology, personal history and sexual identity, religion, the status and meaning of ritual and liturgy (Brady's research interest is 17th century funerary poetry), and a fascinating entanglement with landscape. The landscape thing particularly impressed me. It's interesting to think about a new pastoral tradition that takes its cue from Clare, back to Langland, forward to Bunting and on into Barry Macsweeney. Brady's poems occupy a range of shifting topographies that share a lot with Macsweeney's "hellhounds horning in the rapefields", a landscape of margins, ditches, built banks and pylons with the appropriation of Clare's enclosed commons still more delimited and acting now as the repository for abducted and mutilated womens' bodies. In poem 4 of the series I hear the echo of a terrible story from my own place. Here's the whole poem:

Peace where her wound is, flapping like a fried egg.
It puckers toxic bubbles whose odour leaks
spreading a memory over hyper-yellow spikes of ambition. it
makes nothing of her, nor of the face frozen in wood.

Because we relish process, washing her inbuilt concept
box she must pace through process. Her wish
to seep patiently into that burst flesh be remedy
to its skittish sickness, she does not.

Instead, saw grass sucked through hopes
of earning a changed virtue by loyalty. To vanish
into it laboriously - an incessancy that seems
different, a clip to limp the gold flow.

To fake testing as alibi for lust. Where suns blaze
they boil cells holding the bud open, beautify
a toilsome wound. Peace which drew her to its
bright flesh pulps and pulses with no entry.

We've already heard, in previous poems, of poisons spreading in the 'hazard field' (echoing macsweeneys pulped 'Tempers of Hazard'), of a woman grabbed where 'mud freezes the empty ankle tracks', and of some sexual transgression's desublimation 'pooling at a ha-ha before that bank of weeds'. As this poem's images of wounding, poison, putrefaction mount and alarm, the woman watching with fascinated detachment as lymph ebbs away and she discovers a difference in the quality of her virtue which was untested and meaningless but as she remains loyal to the visible body's peacefully toiling death, her fluids draining into the undergrowth, serrated grasses and Rapeseed (hyper-yellow spikes), finally in the drowse of shock the hum of traffic from the nearby sliproad, the red no entry sign with its bloodless white mouth. The phrase which most shocks me though is 'To fake testing as an alibi for lust.'

Colin Pitchfork, a baker who lived in Littlethorpe in Leicester, but who'd lived previously in my village of Newbold Verdon, was convicted in 1987 of the rape and murder of two 15 year-old girls; Dawn Ashworth in 1983 and Lynda Mann in 1986. Both were killed and left in the Leicestershire countryside near main roads in the Narborough area. Pitchfork (who was a volunteer in the local Cub Scouts - friends of mine went camping with him) was the first person convicted due to DNA profiling. He was actually caught because he persuaded a local man to give blood on his behalf in the mass testing of local males that followed the second murder.

Whether Brady specifically knew of Pitchfork's fake testing in an attempt to produce an alibi for his lust or not, what this says to me is that she has tapped at this membrane and felt the shape beneath it, and that seeing awful sexual death in the hedgerows is as much a part of contemporary radical pastoral as Clare's mind-wringing dislocation and anger at enclosure were for him. She's onto something here and I for one am seriously impressed. Check her out. Order Vacation of a lifetime from Salt .

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