centre of Rob Stanton's The Method (yet another attractive and finely produced volume
from Tom Chivers' Penned in the Margins), and spanning nearly half of this
debut collection, is the long and highly rewarding sonnet sequence 'The Tuymans
Sonnets'. Splicing between the elliptical and the discursive, the ekphrastic
and the idiosyncratic, these sonnets linger long after the last. They are
their own world. Relics remain, asking, somehow, for a response, or maybe
just a listening.
Tuyman is a more than appropriate model for Stanton's method. Like Tuyman's
art, Stanton's poetry makes much of the distance between representation and
life lived, word and thing. Speaking of the seeming banality of many of
Tuyman's paintings, one commentator has remarked how 'Tuymans's paintings
consciously fall desperately short of the iconic, becoming vestiges posed as
counterfeit emblems for that which cannot be conveyed.' The same, I think,
holds for Stanton's poetry. Stanton's poems are distant, detached, but they
are also insistent and demanding. Much of what matters lies in these sites of
It's a theme which, perhaps unsurprisingly, runs throughout the collection,
from the austere but alluring minimalism of the opening poem, 'The Account'
to the closing 'The Wait', which is both an end and an ellipsis. It is also a
theme which finds its visual echo in Henry Simmonds's fine cover of washed
This is all appropriate enough. As Gilles Deleuze knew so well, 'When a
language is so strained that
it starts to stutter, or to murmur or stammer ... then language in its
entirety reaches the limit
that marks its outside and makes it confront silence. When a language is
strained in this way, language in its entirety is submitted to a pressure
that makes it fall silent.' But even in this silence there is always
something that misses, that fails fathom, and that has always already: 'there
was something like a word that could not be pronounced, even when one
succeeded in saying it and perhaps because one had, at every instant, and as
if there were not enough instants for the purpose, to say it, to think it'
Read this book. Rae Armountrout is right: Stanton is a poet to watch. He is
also a poet to follow. All advocates of the method will, I'm sure, lead long
and illumined lives. For my own part, I shall endeavour to practice the method
for thirty minutes each morning after breakfast, weekday or sabbath, for some
time to come.
by those fine diners at The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, From Parts
is another debut collection, this time by Joanne Ashcroft. By her own
admission Ashcroft is interested in procedural poetics, using 'procedures to
systematically pick words out of a text' which are then used to create poems.
'I love the creative process of this technique,' Ashcroft comments, 'it's
fascinating to see how the character of the original text comes through in
the new piece.'
And From Parts Becoming Whole
certainly does make you look at language differently. In Ashcroft's hands,
language here is stretched, manipulated, tied, cut, and left to fall where it
will. As Rosmarie Waldrop knows so well, it's the edges that give off sparks.
My problem, I think, is that I wasn't always entirely sure how to read
Ashcroft's collection, in what regard, and with what focus. From the title,
there's the sense that the collection wants to fashion a whole out its
various parts. But that seems a curiously conservative aim for a poetry that
exhibits at every turn a keen working interest in the techniques collage,
juxtaposition and discontinuity and Ashcroft's poetry seems too smart for
that kind of summary.
Perhaps the problem is me. It's crass, I know, but I think I would have liked
some kind of key, some kind of supplement: a measure of scale, even if false,
makeshift, inadequate. I never have been able to set off exploring without
map, compass, and Nordic poles as prop and accompaniment, no matter how
spontaneous and in the moment I have declared myself to be. Or maybe I just
would have liked to have known more about the source texts, to have been able
to retrace the steps of composition. I want to see a poem's form. I want to
see what makes it. I'm less interested in the whole than I am in the parts.
I'm probably a bad reader.
I prefer the language games in Part II, 'Ear', to the cut-up poems of the
first part, 'Heart'. This, I think, is where the collection really comes
alive. And it's also the section of the volume that comes closest to
Ashcroft's statement that she's most 'interested in words for the way they
sound rather than their meaning.' 'The Abs' is a good example of what
Ashcroft is after:
abstriction of abulia
abvolt to abzyme
As with Gertrude Stein, Tom Raworth, Raymond Queneau, Lyn Hejinian, Jeremy
Over and Emily Critchley, here prepositions seem tasked to do just as much
work as anything else in the poem, even that of the repeated prefix and, in
its starting and stopping, language sticks and sounds in interesting ways.
I think, for me, the problem is simply that the least successful poems in
this collection feel too much like exercises: they're technically
interesting, informed, accomplished and so on, but across the volume as a
whole the range becomes too broad, too full of variations on a theme. I'd
have liked to see poems such as the excellent 'January 2. 1820' or 'From a
Sequence of Letters' pushed further, both technically and conceptually. On
the evidence here, Ashcroft is more than capable of this but in the future
Ashcroft's sights might, I think, be more ambitiously set.
And yet, for all that, there's something oddly haunting about Ashcroft's
collection, there's something about its parts that remains long after the
whole has past, like all the most interesting poetry should. And I can't
quite locate where it is that Ashcroft's poetry sticks and what about it
there is that strikes: its halting assurance, its tone that trammels,
variously, either side of the line between tender and torn? It lodges, and as
it does so, something falls loose. Despite everything, I like it. Somehow,
the days are different because of this.