Wishing for More

The Parthian Stations, John Ash [106pp, 9.95, Carcanet ]
The Optics of Evening, J.P. Green [101pp, $12.00, Yesternow & Company, P.O. Box 471, Walnut Creek, CA 94597, USA.

I don't usually do this on reading a book of poems. Not knowing the previously praised works of the well-travelled (he has lived in Manchester, New York and, latterly in Istanbul) John Ash beforehand, I thought it blameless to note how many poems in his latest collection, The Parthian Stations, I liked. Of the c.87 poems in the book, I liked ten, all of them short. It reminded me of when I was young and used to mark the number of great poems I found in the works of great poets. A very high score was six, with two or three more likely figures. So, on that basis, Mr Ash isn't doing too badly. Except that none of the ten poems of his I liked are 'great' poems. Nor do I suspect, from the generally life-weary, Cafavyesque, Manchester-in-the-rain tone of his personal statements, would Mr Ash claim that for them, either.
I was about to demonstrate the routineness, etc of the c77 poems I didn't credit with too much to them, but it's probably much more helpful to quote the one poem ('Refusal') I liked from beginning to end - in all its shortness:
     Now it is time
     for other characters to speak out -
     I have surely said enough by now -
     to let me list their names.
     No, I will not. It would take too long,
     and it is not certain that they
     would appreciate the gesture. I mean,
     would you want to be in a poem like this?
     It is a shambles. It has puked in its shoes.

One certainly wishes J.P. Greene no harm; indeed, any neutral should wish his The Optics of Evening God's speed on its voyage of discovery. The fact that his chosen path is poetry, however, seems to me to complicate rather than elucidate matters. Even Greene himself feels the need not to claim to be a 'professional poet'. Sensible man, if he means a greetings card versifier. But Greene has higher motives. In a 21-page preface to the poems, he suggests that the multiplicity of poetries available today actually 'constricts vision and biases judgement' while asking plaintively 'have they any surprises left?'. This would seem to be an answer carefully disguised as a question. Well, if it is, it has proved difficult for this reader, for one, to grasp what new surprises the author had in mind for us. As I say, one wishes him no harm, especially as he has chosen an obviously less than easy, verbally dense and/or elusive way forward, which, nevertheless, strives for achievement, as in Part XV of 'Hologram Variations':
     imagine (now)
     this page,
     that was blank
     before you could only consider it what it is,
     but not that, that blank, bearing in mind
     what it is. Now then whether
     that blank had to be
     this or any page's way of imagining
     subject turned object, perhaps
     its time imagined as a blankness at all
     blanks all
     not yet and even
     imagining - worse, even
     imagining wanting -
     anything but what it owes
     its blankness to.
Quite so and enough said, I think, for the time being of J.P. Green's current sense of the future until, perhaps, it becomes the next, more rewarding, time (if you get my - surprising - drift),

        Geoffrey Godbert 2007