The Becoming Sound


RE:
, Ahren Warner (24pp, 5, Donut Press)


In 'Epistle', Ahren Warner writes 'there are no signs of our times' (19), which, when paired with the epiphany in the second 'Dactylogram (Nietzsche)' poem, acquires a sense of self-reproachment ('we have killed him') in the wake of the notion of understanding, of being able to understand, having been wiped out (by WWII, in the case of the latter poem). The line also draws authority from its reference to Jacques Derrida's early essay, 'Force and Signification', in which the dream of reducing anything down to 'a sign of the times is to dream of violence'. The broad ontological and ethical/moral sweep of Warner's statement should, one might expect, be reflective of a renewed and vigorous engagement with the state of the world in light of the bloody modern history which precedes and characterises 'our' 21st Century, particularly in light of the learnedness Warner has projected in print thus far, and which is frequently evident in the text in question. Instead, Warner's debut release is in many ways standard lyric fare albeit with references to philosophers, presenting a young, intelligent, academic man in/of the world, in the cities of the world, Baudelaire-indebted, wide-eyedly enamoured with his intellectual reference points - in short, a sign of his times, a collection of personal lyrics. Perhaps I'm being too harsh. By standard lyric fare I do not mean this is an pamphlet of mediocre poetry; on the contrary, Warner is clearly a gifted poet, one I have been looking forward to reading for some time, and one who has the potential to produce lasting work, a potential his philosophical immersion can only support. So let me rephrase: from the evidence of Re:, Warner is one of the most interesting and enjoyable young British poets I've read (others, off the top of my head, would be Annie Katchinska, and Sam Riviere's recent 'Austerities' pieces); the problem is that his poetry, despite the novel (over here in the more mainstream circles, at least) philosophical dressing, ultimately suffers from many of the problems the average 'product' poem suffers from (see e.g. Nathan Hamilton's 'On Product and Process' in The Rialto #70). This is probably my major gripe with this short collection. Am I myself doing violence against the text by berating it for not doing things that it is not doing? Possibly, though I think it is a valid concern, and that there is more than enough banal lyric poetry in the UK, let alone the world, at the moment, 'self-expression' and recognition being the tiresome endpoint. Warner is different, in a way, in a good way; I guess I just expected something else. With this in mind, or out of mind, I will now attend to what is in the text.

'la brisure
' is probably the best poem in the book. It fuses the philosophic grounding Warner continuously refers to without the need for explicit, name-dropped reference. Drawing on Derrida's notion of la brisure (the hinge) but not contained by it, the poem forgoes the lyric self that is present throughout much of the rest of the poetry and attends to finding a clearing in which observation and representation can operate. There is no denoted speaker, only the sound of ringing bells:

     each toll sustains itself        as if expecting
     its own next sounding        or     another's

     to which it will defer
          (2)

Warner's distinctive form, conceived, he says, 'to try and express a kind of affective music, which has led me to make frequent use of spacing as something that can denote a more subtle variety of pause and punctuation' (Identity Parade
, p. 348), is here perfectly deployed, exactly dressing the poem's content. The spacing cranes towards the bells, reflecting the liminal experience of listening to them, the concealing and unconcealing of 'the becoming sound', as well as visually rendering the

     silence on which        each sound      hangs

It is an act of looking at the world from
the world, of imposing interpretation on a thing in search of truth, but never forgetting the position of the observer, in this case 'you', who must both try to make sense of the bells at the same time as knowing the impossibility of ever finally doing so:

     you listen          to the last toll      draining
     retained only     in the space    it becomes

     you're unsure             if you're still waiting
     or hearing                          what has come

I want to be able to read the poem as a manifesto, or rather a guide, to what Warner's poetry is doing throughout, but it is only here that Re:
reaches this level of shared intellectual and poetic force. Nonetheless, 'la brisure' is in a sense reading itself as it writes, itself an act of rendered reading, simultaneously a finished product and an unending, circular act of process.

Elsewhere, the craftsmanship and subtlety is lacking. When in the title poem he rhymes Spinoza with alētheia (written, however, in Ancient Greek), it is either smugly witty without any of the charm of the ironised smug witticism par excellence
of Luke Kennard, or a 'pubescent attempt at apprenticeship', as Warner depicts Cranach in the following poem (7), towards the likes of Pound. Again, I think it is great that the poet's engagement with art and philosophy are being integrated with his poetry, and that there are few, if any, young poets around at the moment stretching this fairly conventional lyric mode into a wider, more intelligent and transdiscourse mode; I just don't think Warner has here quite mastered it, and that his present time in which, presumably, he is engaged in the beginnings of an academic career, assimilating and formulating, is what is being signified most clearly, as opposed to the meticulous formal skill, precise depiction and epistemological clarity, and lack of dominating self evident in 'la brisure'.

Despite these complaints, the poetry is always a pleasure to read. In 'Hangin' Round', the lyric self Warner presents works flawlessly. There is no incessant name-dropping - name-dropping which seems to form the basis for the poem(s) instead of vice-versa - but a carefully controlled utilisation of the artwork to further the poem's lyric narrative. Its autobiographical aspect is compelling, not excluding as is sometimes the case elsewhere, basing the poet's conception of himself and where he is now via his past and learning, away from the 'Middle England city / barely / big enough to be a town' (14) in which he grew up. The Derrida quotation at the beginning is necessary in terms of characterisation, and as such does not jar and narrative development; likewise, the Lou Reed line from the song from which the poem takes its title is vital and charmingly used, reinforcing the expression instead of being it
. Alongside 'la brisure', the poem represents the other side of Warner, the lyric poet with a penchant for 20th Century French and German philosophy, at its best and most appealing. These two poems alone justify the poet's growing reputation, as well as the various routes his future work, let alone his forthcoming collection, may take. I look forward to seeing how his work develops, and recommend this small (and, I must add, beautifully designed) book as a perfect entry point.

     Joshua Jones 2011