Ruminations & Odd Corners

A Balkan Exchange:
Eight Poets from Bulgaria and Britain,
edited by W N Herbert
[156pp, 10.99, Arc]

Oxford Poets 2007,
edited by David Constantine & Bernard O'Donoghue
[139pp, 12.95, Carcanet]

The Fossil-Box,
Richard Marggraf Turley
[80pp, 7.99, Cinnamon]

Souls of the Labadie Tract
, Susan Howe
[144pp, $16.95, New Directions]

Reading through these books, I started to think, so he's been there, she's done that, he's had that thought, she's remembered this, he's felt that, these responses of mine without much interest in the fact that what was there was a poem, nor indeed in what was being told. I have long known this isn't true of Miriam Obrey's poems (in the Oxford book); I happen to have had my own gaze for a while in the Forest of Dean and even more deeply along the mid-Wales coast (Richard Turley's places), but I wasn't taken back there by his poems.
What began to hold me as a clue, was that where there was person to person welcomed constraint and awkwardness, where there was an openness to others without a prevailing predisposition, something really interesting happens.
When poets from Bulgaria (Sofia) and the N.E.of England visited each other as a group, opening themselves to the Balkan Exchange, there was more likely to be found an alertness, a discovering and not merely a knowingness. The eight poets spent in forays four years at it. The Bulgarian poems are here unreadable without knowledge of that script, but happily readable here in translation; and original poems by the English poets are here, and passport-type photos and biographical notes and an introduction, no indulgence only hard work, pleasure, and the unexpected.

Susan Howe most of all (for me) exemplifies what being a quite other kind of poet means. Continuing on from previous ways and means, she is in the library, in the archives, she picks up fragments, is deep in the details of particular history. In one sense she is self-effacing - the book isn't about her - while in another sense she is utterly relishing doing her own thing. She is not concerned with self-expression, nor with how poems have been till now 'so let's do more of that'. Here is a book of documentation: prose telling, information, short squared texts (texts seems the right word, setting them aside, giving them space), and one page has all to itself a line new to me from Wallace Stevens, 'The wind had seized the tree and ha, and ha,' that could eclipse even her whole book, so wonderful is it. I shall go in search of more lines like that and ruminations and odd corners like hers.

                    David Hart 2008