Speaking to You: Contemporary Poetry and Public Address

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Why is modern poetry difficult? Talk by Professor Geoff Ward

Subscriber sign in. Forgot password? Don't have an account? Sign in via your Institution. Sign in with your library card. Search within Abstract and Keywords After J. It is words in a certain order, good or bad by the significance of its addition to life and not to be judged by any other value put upon it by imagining how or why or by what kind of man it was made. In preparation for the final draught [ sic ] of his poem, he liked to compile long lists of words; these were taken from dictionaries and thesauruses or from memory: they were usually typed out, one word below another.

Edited by Peter Robinson

These lists of words were the bricks from which the finished work was constructed. He continues:. Perhaps this method could be related to Surrealism, an artistic movement much in the air in England in the forties. Frame here places Graham at the crux of two competing artistic movements and, we will see, competing impulses in his verse : surrealism and constructivism. In other words, his reflections on medium specificity arise out of a long engagement with artists working in a very different medium, and take place simultaneously through attending to points both of convergence and of mutual incommensurability.

How are we to gauge such points of convergence and incommensurability?

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Graham spent most of his later life in Cornwall, among a community of artists who, beginning as figurative painters, gradually moved towards abstraction without necessarily, in all cases, wholeheartedly or permanently embracing it. Graham , Peter Maber also attempts to identify such analogues, although in relation to Bryan Wynter rather than Hilton:.

Complexity and directness engage in an ongoing debate, one sometimes leading to the other, while at another moment seeming mutually exclusive terms. When abstraction is displaced from painting to poetry, it abstracts away from the visual as such, adopting, and adapting, post-cubist treatments of perspective onto poetry's own verbal-plastic medium.

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Yet there is also a metonymic slippage at work, as the problematics of pictorial perspective and depth are refigured around the perspectives and depths of verbal art. The merest scratch of a line on a white surface induces sensations of recession—of an imagined form advancing out of or falling back through the place where the marked white surface stands. Heron saw this as the point at which he and his peers in St Ives were in disagreement with the Abstract Expressionists.


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Yet within his argument they are internally consistent: what is at issue, precisely, is a problematic of the phenomenality of depth, grasped through a matrix of questions concerning not just abstraction and figuration, but also of the coexistence of different modalities of space and of referentiality.

For Graham too, the intersecting problematics of space and referentiality provide a backdrop for two of the central terms in his conceptual-poetic vocabulary: construction and abstract.

Graham too put together an installation of constructions for a reading he gave at Newlyn Art Gallery in The problematic of landscape versus abstraction is thus absorbed into a wider conceptualization of painting as a primarily spatial medium. A notebook sent to Wynter in November contains the reminder:. I remember that always somewhere under the live and speaking idiom of the Voice in poetry there is the count, the beats you can count on your fingers. Nightfisherman, Abstract formality and the very human gesture.

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The gesture of speech often exists, moving seemingly counter to the abstract structure it is in. This implies a fissuring, in painting, of the visual from the plastic—that Graham adopts plasticity at the expense of the visual. What kind of ekphrasis is this? Of weed with yellow follicles lean with the moon. Skelton dates these drafts to circa This evokes. Gigantic microcosm. Speckled colliding nebulae. The little shocks in the labyrinths of the silent areas. An even more extended description survives in a letter to Roger Hilton which, although undated, is estimated by the editors of The Nightfisherman to have been written in late or early This poem starts:.

As the sketches accumulate, we see Graham circling round the same motifs and gestures, revising and reworking, searching for alternative points of entry, or ways of incorporating the visual ideas into a broader poem. Throughout, he employs a logic of figuration—and in three senses. Yellow-follicled weeds. However, the visualization is not restricted to the individual figures; Graham also attempts to place them within a recognizable scene. And here we find a second logic of figuration. The development of the motifs across these different sketches indicates a third kind of figural logic at work: that of contiguity.

The drafts thus translate abstractions into figures, thereby charting the emergence of these images into the visual register of description; in so doing, they also perform the emergence of a field of linguistic sounding. Again, this shifts from a visual register into the plasticity of verbal sound: simultaneously, and reciprocally, material and mutable. In his ekphrasis, Graham does not simply behold and describe the picture, but sets up a matrix of beholding. This third creature.

The opening stanza runs:. But such complications are at work at a local as well as a structural level. Such slippages elide not simply the identities of beholders and beheld, but also the different levels of beholding, and indeed the very distinction of what is interior and exterior to the picture. Earlier drafts demonstrate that this instability was hard won. To frame the picture, he describes its frame. In this early draft, the physical decay of the picture fixes it in place as an object; in the final version, by contrast, it gives off an opacity that interrupts our fixing it in place.

A plastic medium is characterized at once by its materiality and its mutability; a plastic medium would encompass the verbal material, the technical repertoires available, and the milieus and modalities of communication. As they reflect on and disturb their medium, the poems become studies of the vehicles of and obstacles to communication; they chart the emergence of the sites of communication, but also to embody such sites. In this, he comes to stand as a crucial, albeit as yet underappreciated, figure in the history of the radical rethinking of medium that was integral to the advances of modernist painting and sculpture, but which is no less one of the major achievements of modernist poetry.

Graham, ed. Michael and Margaret Snow Manchester: Carcanet, , Graham, New Collected Poems, ed. Matthew Francis London: Faber and Faber, , — Graham Fonds, University of Victoria, File The W. Skelton had been a friend of Graham's since the late s, and emigrated to Canada to take up a post at the University of Victoria in In the late s he was tasked with developing an archive of British literature at the University of Victoria, and arranged for Graham to send him all draft materials from this period, in exchange for a monthly stipend.

This arrangement ran from June until Graham obtained a civil list pension in see Lopez, 6.

a variable measure for the fixed

This was Graham's first stable income for almost twenty years, and whereas before he largely discarded drafts and sketches, he now preserved them. As a result, the University of Victoria collection is the most detailed archive of Graham's work, although it is largely focused on an eight-year period — Graham Fonds, University of Victoria, Notebook 3. Graham: Speaking Towards You, ed. Lanyon, ], Patrick Heron: Selected Writings, ed. Mel Gooding London: Tate Publishing, , Pollock was first shown at the ICA in One whom some were certainly following was one who was charming. One whom some were following was one who was completely charming.

Ulla E.