i.m. Ian Robinson

The first booklet I saw by Ian Robinson didn't come from his own Oasis Books but from Cory Harding's wonderful little X Press. Blown Footage (1980) was an A5 mimeo production printed on one side of each page and contained some of most engaging and intriguing writing I'd ever read. It made me want to find out who the author was. So began 20 odd years of reading his prose, poems, letters and things that avoided classification.

What attracted me initially, and still does, was the cinematic quality of the writing and his way of highlighting seemingly insignificant details, both personal and more general, in order to construct something that offered fresh perspectives. Between the most unlikely connections moments of revelation occurred.

Characteristically, his method uses lists, collage, notes and other data that may appear to be random but when brought together create something different from the  source material. Precise details of time and location surface again and again in his work linking past and present, hinting at events, relationships or simply states of mind. 

Sometimes a set of texts are united by a clearly significant though unspecified experience that permeates the whole, as in Maida Vale Elegies (S-Editions. 1983). Here the 'I' observes and occasionally comments on a series of happenings, frozen instants and, in some cases, moments of inaction. The sequence, at times, becomes claustrophobic and though, by the end, the narrator is ready to 'move on' the writing is full of inertia, as though standing and reflecting on the quotidian is the only possible occupation left.

In Delayed Frames
(Oasis Books. 1985) the 14 'blocks' of prose utilise a cut-up technique intertwining a series of narratives that can either be unpicked or left as abrupt, sometimes startling, juxtapositions which suggest other stories in themselves. A few years later in Journal (Interim Press. 1987) Robinson offers 37 prose poems that suggest both the notations of the title and some continuation of that cinematic approach demonstrated elsewhere. Images move into the foreground, are focussed on minutely, then fade again, while in some sections he pieces together strands of memory and settles them next to glimpses of the present. The overall effect is one of the observer, again, showing us the strangeness of what is there to be perceived though we don't always notice and sometimes deliberately disregard it.

There are other works, booklets that similarly inhabit realms of partial narrative, sometimes inconclusive but always alluring. And then there are those distinctive black and white illustrations, accompanying his own writing or that of others in magazines and pamphlets. They are well worth seeking out though I don't know how easy it is to find some of them.

If I didn't have Robinson's own oeuvre to return to and enjoy there would still be the wide range of writing he published as editor of Oasis Books. When we first corresponded he sent me Paul Evans'Manual For The Perfect Organisation Of Tourneys
, one of the most enduring collections I have ever read, capturing wit and seriousness in a range of different poetic forms. It is a book I treasure and one I suspect has found too few readers.

From there on Oasis enriched my reading by presenting translations of European writing from Reverdy, Werner Aspenstrom, Tomas Transtromer and Vladimir Holan, whose A Night With Hamlet
is a superbly sustained chronicle of humanity's endurance of it's 'condition and unhappy lot'. Alongside these Oasis brought out work from English and American writers such as George Evans, Andrea Moorhead, Richard Caddel and Robert Sheppard. Sometimes these were joint ventures with Shearsman Books, as in the case of Gustaf Sobin's Nile and Roy Fisher's The Cut Pages.

And I'll always be indebted to Oasis for my initiation into John AshÕs poetic universe through his Casino
(1978), an extravagant 'homage to Symbolism and the Decadence' which one reviewer praised as 'a long and delicately-executed bow to European roots'. Ash probably hates it now but it is an apposite reminder of how a writer can become immersed in and absorb certain voices before he or she moves on towards the formation of their own particular style of expression.

Obviously, I don't know if Oasis will continue to publish but what has already been made available is a monumental contribution to the world of small press publishing. And I realise that I've only touched on a few, personal selections from Ian and his press. I havenÕt even mentioned the 'house' magazine that surfaced from time to time, or his work on the magazines Telegram
and Ninth Decade. But these few items will have to suffice as a flavour of what he introduced me to. I'm sure others will feel the same way and hold up other examples. He was an inspirational writer, publisher and encourager who opened new territories for me in poetry and prose. Something I will always be extremely grateful for.

     © Paul Donnelly 2004