Wednesday, August 11, 2004


We see where Salt publishing have a new ad in the Guardian featuring a representation of their ideal reader: a bloke in his mid-thirties, clearly off his meds and in the grip of some hellish meridian accidie - lying on his bed and staring at the ceiling and obviously in need of a bit of Drew Milne in his life. Sorry - did we say his single bed? Never mind, his Mum should be up with a cup of tea and a biscuit in a bit. And it can't be more than an hour or so till his afternoon wank.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004


Meanwhile, over on his blog Ron Silliman (June 30th post) quotes what is evidently a moving tribute to Cuttlefish by one Michael Basinski, recently appointed curator of the poetry collection at University at Buffalo State Universities. Ready?

Closed Circulation of Cephalopods
rez Iv noir boloom
lamellaei bon bonfires
elloglasticla years
oov cockles and bells
vertebrake encirculation
a pyramid shaped block of rubber like protein
wen the hurt pumps
a spider sat down besider
bivalve hinge protein abduction

We must confess, we wept openly, our salt tears blending with the great ocean about us.

Incidentally, Martin Blyth mistakenly reports on his website that Cuttlefish is the weblog of one Andrew Gilbert . Mr Gilbert is kind enough to act as our liason to the web community, occasionally handling our e-mail, but we are most assuredly not Andrew Gilbert and we share few of his opinions regarding poetry.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004


Here's a bit of advice to poets everywhere. Tattoo this backwards on your foreheads so you can read it in the mirror every morning: if you get a bad review,

Male poets are especially prone to macho bluster in the wake of a bad notice. It's understandable. It must be excruciating to be an alpha male in the omega world of poetry and find yourself toppled from even that low pedestal. A painful case in point comes from a recent issue of the neo-conservative New Criterion. Pulitzer Prize winning American poet Franz Wright suffered a pasting at the hands of rotweiller critic William Logan and thought he'd put on his [cough] tough guy voice. But Logan has the last word. “I'll let you read it yourselves:” Sadness, sadness.

Friday, June 25, 2004


“But how, you may ask, can we identify this elite who know what they are talking about? Well, it can only be said of them that they are self-appointed and self-perpetuating, and that they will compel you to accept their authority...The implied position of the people who know about literature (as is also the case in every other art) is simply that they know what they know, and that they are determined to impose their opinions by main force of eloquence or assertion on the people who do not know”

-- Edmund Wilson ‘The Historical Interpretation Of Literature’ 1940

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


The Clerkenwell Literature Festival is fast approaching - This year it's curated by the shamelessly talented Clare Pollard, who has excellent taste. It runs from the 8th to the 14th of July, and includes free lunchtime poetry events featuring Antony Dunn, Crisis, Stacey Makishi, Tim Wells, Nick Laird, Matthew Hollis, Joe Asser and Rebecca O'Connor. There's also a travel night with Ma Jian, William Darymple and Owen Sheers. And one off events featuring Alex James, Patrick Keiller, Salina Saliva, Will Self, Iain Sinclair, Hari Kunzru, Tony White, Ekow Eshun, Robert Newman and Keith Allen, a bloody mary competition, historical walks, DJs, the launch of Steven Armstrong's Ibiza book 'White Island,' and a big party. More information and tickets can be got at their cool website

Sunday, June 20, 2004


Every now and then, Mad Marge Perloff squints up from her duties as America’s Foremost Poetry Critic to take a pot shot at metrical verse, despite the fact that she wouldn’t recognise it if it were screamed in her ear through a bullhorn.

In “The Oulipo Factor: The Procedural Poetics of Christian Bök and Caroline Bergvall” , her contribution to the latest issue of Jacket, she trots out that hackneyed trick of second rate reviewers everywhere, de-lineating free verse poems to reveal them as “chopped-up-prose” Here the victims are Yusef Komunyakaa, James Fenton, Jorie Graham, Rita Dove, Thylias Moss, Cathy Song, and Henri Cole.

How many times, in how many newspapers, have we seen this hack’s gambit? Of course the line breaks make a difference in these poems, even if it’s a purely visual difference, even if it’s a weak difference (and it so often is). So here you might reasonably expect a demonstration of the weakness of the lineation. That’s what a serious critic would do. But no. Here, according to the script, is where the hack reviewer stands aside and merely gestures smugly. OK, so there are good images here, she concedes,

But since fiction can — and does — foreground these same devices, the same ‘sensitive,’ [note the scare quotes] closely observed wonders if ‘poetry’ [scared again] at the turn of the twenty-first century isn’t perhaps expendable. Do we really need it? Or is ‘real’ [scarier still] poetry to be found, as some people now argue, in Hi-Hop [sic] culture or at the Poetry Slam?  Or perhaps in New Formalist attempts to restore the iambic pentameter or tetrameter to its former position?

Bitchin! Is Margie about to sign to Puff Daddy’s label? Or is she a closet New Formalist? Has she been lurking at West Chester disguised beneath a sun hat and dark glasses? Is she about to “come out” as a champion of the double dactyl? Not bloody likely:

Whatever our position on the New Formalism, close reading of its exemplars suggests that, like the clothing or furniture of earlier centuries, the verse forms of, say, the Romantic period cannot, in fact, be replicated except as museum curiosities.

And just how is this - note once again the awkward passive voice - "suggested"? Why by cloth-eared close reading, of course! Her speciality. So she now turns approvingly to the opening of Wordsworth’s ‘Tintern Abbey’:

Five years have past: five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! And again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur. — Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.

A whole essay could be written on the subtle ways these lines enact the ‘connect[ion]’ of ‘the landscape with the quiet of the sky.’ The assonance of ‘quiet’, ‘sky,’ the internal rhyme of ‘steep’ and ‘deep’,  ‘soft’ and ‘loft-y’...

Etc, etc.... Sounds like Perloff wrote just such an essay as an undergraduate and is reproducing an extract here. Why is she doing this? To set up Dana Gioia. She quotes from his poem ‘Rough Country’:

not half a mile from the nearest road,
a spot so hard to reach that no one comes–
a hiding place, a shrine for dragonflies
and nesting jays, a sign that there is still
one piece of property that won’t be owned.

Leaving aside the absurd injustice of comparing Gioia to Wordsworth, what are we to make of Perloff’s close reading? Does she notice, for example, the assonance of ‘hiding’ ‘shrine’ ‘dragonflies’ and ‘sign’? Or of ‘won’t’ and ‘owned’? Nope: “Here the dutiful elaboration of the iambic pentameter does little to relate meaningful units: consider the monotony of ‘and NESTing JAYS, a SIGN that THERE is STILL.’ Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The word ‘There’ is relatively unstressed if you speak the line naturally (instead of chanting it). Either Perloff is deafened by her prejudices or she really has no idea whatsoever how metre works with speech rhythm.

Again, word and rhythm seem to have no necessary connection: if the first line read ‘not half a mile from the nearest highway’ and the second, ‘a spot so tough to reach that no one comes,’ I doubt anyone would notice.

Another hack’s gambit - and, of course, it backfires, because if the Wordsworth passage weren’t so well known, no one would notice if she’d misquoted it as

Nine years have gone: nine seasons, with the stretch
Of nine long autumns

But she ploughs ahead, oblivious:

It is not just that Gioia is untalented; even poets of much greater talent have found that... the recycling of a verse form that had a raison d’être at a particular moment in history at a particular place cannot be accomplished.

[note, once again, the clumsy, imperious passive voice] Why is it, then, that this “cannot be accomplished”? Because “Specific sound patterns change in response to their time and culture” But how, professor? Because they fall out of fashion? She seems to have fashion on the brain. Recall that earlier she likened the verse forms of the Romantic period to “the clothing or furniture of earlier centuries which can’t be replicated except as museum curiosities” Who dictates fashion, then? I guess the president of the MLA does.

In the next section, she thumbs through the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics for us and discovers that (eureka!) the poetry of ancient and non Western cultures is highly formal. So “Procedural poetry, in this scheme of things, marks a return to tradition — but not quite the Englit tradition the New Formalists long to recreate”

Hold it right there, Marge, I’m confused. So literary tradition is now A Good Thing. But not, for some still undemonstrated reason, if it’s an English tradition. That would be just so much “Englit”.

Meanwhile, over on his blog, Mike Snider links to Perloff’s
home page and her review of Cary Nelson's Anthology of Modern American Poetry, wherein she dismisses as trite a passage from 1918 by the African-American poet
Georgia Douglas Johnson

The heart of a woman goes forth with the dawn
As a lone bird, soft winging, so restlessly on;
Afar o‚er life‚s turrets and vales does it roam
In the wake of those echoes the heart calls home.
The heart of a woman falls back with the night,
And enters some alien cage in its plight,
And tires to forget it has dreamed of the stars
While it breaks, breaks, breaks, on the sheltering bars

Tuts Marge,"These chug-chug iambic pentameter stanzas rhyming aabb remind one of a Hallmark card" Oh-oh. America’s Foremost Poetry Critic can’t tell iambic pentameter from dactylic or anapaestic tetrameter! Elsewhere, in an essay on Yeats, she quotes “A Deep-sworn Vow.”

Others because you did not keep
That deep-sworn vow have been friends of mine;
Yet always when I look death in the face,
When I clamber to the heights of sleep,
Or when I grow excited with wine,
Suddenly I meet your face.

She notes "..the two rhymes...are perfectly conventional as is Yeats’s basic stanza, 6 lines of iambic tetrameter" Stop, Doc, you’re killing me! [thanks to R.S. Gwynn and Michael Donaghy for these examples] And it’s not just Perloff, of course. Snider tells us that in "Poetics of the Americas," Charles Bernstein calls this Claude McKay line pentameter: "Just to view de homeland England, in de streets of London walk"

It may be some kind of neurological dysfunction. No, honestly. Among the diagnostic criteria for Asperger's Syndrome are a fascination with ‘difficult words’ (so that children with this form of functional autism are often referred to as 'little professors' ) incomprehension of emotion (the kind of incomprehension that might lead one to place scare quotes around a word like ‘sensitive’), and according to the website, ‘an inability to hear prosody’.

Saturday, June 19, 2004


Londoners who like their poetry live have an exciting week ahead. On Wednesday, 23 June at 7.30pm, at the UCL Bloomsbury Box Office 0207 388 8822, presents an unusual evening of readings. Representing the mainstream of the marginal is underground stereotype Ian Sinclair, followed, bizarrely by the extremely funny John Hegley (!) followed by the excellent Zena Edwards and criminally underrated Sarah Maguire and the über-craftsman himself, Michael Donaghy. Weird grouping. I mean, I'd go anywhere to hear Donaghy’s elegant and moving inventions, and I wouldn't miss an opportunity to get a healthy laugh from Hegley. It's just strange to find these very different kinds of poet on the same bill.

Then, the very next night, Thursday 24 June, at 7:00 pm, Don Paterson will be reading at the London Review Bookshop, 14 Bury Place, London, WC1A 2JL (t) 020 7269 9030. He'll be reading from Landing Light, his excellent multi-prize winning collection. Paterson is a true independent autodidact, a non-or-anti-academic, so his elegant mastery of form, powerful imagination, and emotional candour come in at unexpected angles. I suppose he owed a stylistic debt to Paul Muldoon early on, like so many other British poets of the past decade, but in Landing Light he's his own man. The introduction to his New British Poetry - co-edited with Charles Simic - is bound to ruffle a few feathers, if not pluck a few fowl naked, with its well aimed anti-postmodern rant. Tickets available: £3.00 each.

Sunday, June 13, 2004


The "NextGen poets" are in the news, to the consternation of unrecognised geniuses everywhere! Admittedly, it's a slapdash assemblage, and obviously the result of some fierce horse trading among a very mixed crop of selectors (the judges included a radio announcer, the bass player from Radiohead, the poet laureate, and a "normal" who just happens to be a member of the Poetry Book Society) But I say good luck to them. I must be the only blogger on the internet to wish them well. Ron Silliman has called the Guardian selection "the worst collection of poetry [he] has ever read". More sanely, Todd Swift "a Canadian poet/critic/activist/screenwriter/editor/performance artist" (whew) has written an article for "Bookninja: The Next Generation Poets: Resistance is Futile". Another disgruntled tirade, but most of his points are well aimed. He notes, for example, that "several major contemporary poets are absurdly absent, such as Roddy Lumsden, Kate Clanchy and John Stammers" (to which I would add the underrated Greta Stoddart, A. B. Jackson, Julian Turner, Polly Clark, and Chris Greenhalgh) Swift concludes, "These twenty will travel the length and breadth of the land....while their peers, who form the majority, will be forced to stew their bitterness into grace and humility."

Not much of that bitterness has cooked down to anything resembling grace yet, however. Who in the name of God, for example, is "Adrian Slatcher"
? Surely this is a parody of Swiftian proportions. His priceless blog reads like the secret literary diary of Adrian Mole, a professional loser's catalogue of rejection slips and the ensuing tantrums: "I sent out a number of things in January" he typically opines, "But neither the Barcelona Review or the Reader were convinced. The responses were as gnomic as ever" I guess "No" passes for gnomic if you think about it long enough. Slatcher is, of course, a wry send-up of the disgruntled Poetry Failure. But who is he, really? Well, consider his grumpy response to the NextGen poets promotion. He moans about the inclusion of "Amanda Dalton" because "I was actually [sic] beaten by the latter for a poetry commission a few years ago. I'm not sure she's a poet so much as a voiced-dramatist or some such thing." Yes, it's particularly damaging to the reputation of British Poetry that Adrian was not selected as a NextGen poet.
He then attacks one of the few excellent poets on the list. "Paul Farley's" poem, he says, is "embarrassingly bad" and then he quotes some rather self evidently fine clever lines. "Am I missing something?" asks the Slatch [An ear? Wit? Irony?] Then it struck me. Slatcher IS Paul Farley, the cheeky devil, up to a little sly self promotion.

Thursday, June 10, 2004


Elsewhere on the web, Ron Silliman is very pleased with himself for coining the term "School of Quietude" (SOQ) to describe all poetry not written by graduates of poetics programmes. Cuttlefish are indebted to Silliman for giving his own name to SOS, the "School of Silliness".