Colin Lee Marshall on Ian Heames

Review of Ian Heames, Arrays (Face Press, 2015)
Colin Lee Marshall

In the preface to his Four Lectures, Stephen Rodefer famously wrote: “Today we have painted cities, painted conveyances, painted apartments, painted roads, painted people, even painted food. Is it not time for painted poetry as well?” This question has found a highly receptive addressee in Ian Heames, a poet who has published a set of extensive annotations to Rodefer’s poem, and one whose own poetry might itself be thought to evoke or suggest the art of painting. Heames’ ‘painted poetry’ is often prefigured by the production values of his self-released Face Press chapbooks, the artwork to which typically seems to aspire towards a similarly extrinsic condition to that of the poetry. Stated more specifically, even though Heames’ book designs don’t actually incorporate traditional paintings, they are nonetheless highly ekphrastic nods to the form (vide the floral intaglio of Out of Villon, the abstract digital pointillism of Arrays, or the Rothko-ized photography of Banners Over Terminal Highway). As regards the poetry itself, Heames’ style of ‘painting’ has already passed through several iterations, from the euphonious impasto of his earlier work, to the variegated motif-stippling of his ongoing Sonnets series. The 2015 chapbook Arrays – which collects the releases Array One (Critical Documents, 2012), To (Iodine, 2013), and A.I In Daylight (Materials, 2014) – is an especially interesting juncture of Heames’ painterly development, and one that is worthy of a close reading on its own terms.

Each of Arrays’ three sections comprises twenty-seven poems, all of which are titled with double decimal numbers (‘1.1.1’, ‘1.1.2’, 1.1.3’, etc.). If this structural skeleton seems to promise the kind of propositional boldness and (alleged) clarity that we might associate with Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, it also immediately reneges on that promise, flourishing out a world that confounds the usual methods of haptic and optic purchase. Rodefer, who asseverates in Four Lectures that “The modern world began with the first contiguity disorder”, deserves quoting here at more length:

A poetry painted with every jarring color and juxtaposition, every simultaneous order and disorder, every deliberate working, every movement toward one thing deformed into another. Painted with every erosion and scraping away, every blurring, every showing through, every wiping out and every replacement, with every dismemberment of the figure and assault on creation, every menace and response, every transformation of the color and reforming of the parts, necessary to express the world.

For Rodefer, as for Heames, poetic painting aims not at a neat, skillful prosopopeia, but rather at a series of effacements and refasionings, with the aim of allowing all pentimenti to peer out from behind the redacted text. Indeed, “jarring color and juxtaposition” perhaps doesn’t go far enough in Heames’ case; for in Arrays, what we more often see is impossible colour and juxtaposition: “the night turns one quarter green / incarnadine”. One could perhaps write an entire essay on this string of text alone. Striking us at first as a mere tremor, a local wavelet of protean colour, “green / incarnadine” can turn, if we allow it to, into a whelm of poetry so oppressive that it threatens to arrest the hermeneutic urge. Knowing that we cannot arrive at the wavelength “green / incarnadine” through the dictionary, the Pantone Matching system, or any other readily available reference work, we may prefer to dispense with any attempt to arrive at it at all—to which end we might be thankful for the line break, see it as a welcome bulwark against so oppressive an incongruity. However, this requires that we overlook its lacerative suggestion, its subtle nod to the sanguinary associations that have attended the word “incarnadine” ever since its appearance in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Such suggestiveness is also, by extension, a reminder that Shakespeare (or his readers) had already taken a scalpel to the entailed flesh of the word’s etymology long before its appearance in Arrays, irrevocably staining the word just as Macbeth would stain the “multitudinous seas”. We are thus confronted with a mysterious new wound atop an old one—mysterious because it precedes the cutaneous integration that it severs. Given that there has never been any ‘greenincarnadine’ to speak of, Heames’ amputation acts as a displaced emotional stimulus, triggering in the reader an urge to mourn something that has never been cathected. The discomforting vagueness of this violence is further complicated by the fact that, before its severance, “green / incarnadine” had already been chromatically quartered (more blood, perhaps), and was thus already an etiolated version of its Platonic form. Any attempt here to “storm the exactest shade”, to restore a pure ‘greenincarnadine’, would thus occur outside the frame of textual signification.

One could certainly write at far greater length about the swirling Ishihara plate of colours in Arrays; however, there are also other striking impossibilities in the text that are equally worthy of our attention. Nowhere, perhaps, are such impossibilities more apparent than in the monsters of Arrays. Heames’ teratology is extreme, transcending more familiar zoomorphic configurations, and extending even to the moment of utterance itself, so that not only do the referents become monstrous, but the signifying apparatus does, too (e.g. “Swans into theatregoer in floods”; “that visibly pet moth”; “Cherry-pick workplace murex vernix Euler tour / then evolved into prey”). Most notable, perhaps, is the progressive interlocking of several wildly different taxonomies. In one prominent example, the lepidopterous and the cetaceous drift into an improbable congress, out of which emerges a “moth dolphin” (elsewhere a “beached moth”). But this impossible miscegenation is not nearly impossible enough, given that the site of its unfolding is purely biological. What Arrays seems ultimately to strive for is a monstrosity that implies more than merely organic impossibility, a monstrosity that sublates chemistry, warfare, art, and myriad systems of knowledge or inscription. Thus, we also encounter a “metalloid cartouche butterfly” and a “military dolphin”. Heames elaborates on the latter thus: “A military dolphin is a dolphin / Trained for military uses / / One in three warplanes / Learn cuneiform”. Given the proximity of “dolphin” to “warplanes”, I’m inclined to read beyond the text here, and to posit “moths that desire fins” as being almost fungible with an extra-textual ‘dolphins that desire wings’. If such fast-and-loose reading seems dubious, I hope that the point extractable from it – namely, that a desire for wings doesn’t necessarily, or even likely imply biological alation (far less romantic or poetic elation) – is nonetheless relevant to the broader concerns of Arrays.  What we see in the “metalloid cartouche butterfly”, as in the [cetacean?] “warplanes that learn cuneiform”, is a startling triad of nature, techne, and inscription—that is to say, a gesture towards mastery and deployment (with all of the various connotations that those two words might be thought to evoke).

This bores right into the etymology of the title. In its oldest attestations, ‘array’ is a martial word (the OED defines the verb thus: “To set or place in order of readiness, to marshall. esp. To draw up prepared for battle”; and the noun thus: “Arrangement in line or ranks, esp. martial order”). Over time, the word has bled into various other disciplines – mathematics, statistics, computing, law, etc. – on top of being co-opted for the inevitable figurative usages. This ‘bleeding’ is essential to Arrays, is part of the book’s linguistic and philosophical ‘sfumato’ (a term Heames actually uses once in the collection: “in sfumato limelight”).  If the general use of sfumato might sometimes achieve the expected shades (“Borders with no guard left”) it is also often a technique of willful obnubilation, of a kind that might invite charges of vagueness or misdirection (“please cloud / my judgement”). What Heames often chooses to deploy is perhaps precisely the kind of material that he might be expected by some to elide. Consider the use of trees, for example. If Brecht’s claim that “talking about trees is almost a crime / because it avoids speaking about so many brutalities” might still be thought relevant for contemporary poetry, it is one to which Heames is demonstrably unable to subscribe:  “trees like the trees of another world”; “some tree lined Valhalla of the crestfallen”; “trees locks / seas curls”; “moth tree to moth”. That which, for Brecht, is almost impossible for committed poetry, is, for Heames, clearly not impossible enough. Whether this makes the deployment of trees in his work more, or less worthy of censure is uncertain. But either way, far from being merely the pretty staffage of a painted poetry, these trees are – like most phenomena in Arrays – worked into important discursive and hypertextual knots. The first quote (enriched by the ambiguity of the word “like”) compresses poetry, ecology, psychology, gender, cosmology, politics, sociology, and social media into its few words. This perhaps seems a bold claim at face value. But at the very least, we must recognize that it is difficult to discern any ‘simple’ tree in Arrays. The word ‘tree’ is too historically charged, too laden with associations (poetic staple/bauble; life-giver; phallus; etc.) that are not – or are not necessarily – compatible with each other. As a further rebuttal to this simplicity, the trees of Arrays also act like synapses that effect pro- and analeptic communication with other, intratextual phenomena. Thus, “some tree lined Valhalla of the crestfallen” refers us forward (if we are willing to shoehorn in a contraband etymology) to “trees locks / seas curls”, which in turn refers us forward to “locks greener [parenthetically, a hypertextual link to all of the various ‘greens’ of Arrays] and more weeping”, which in turn refers us back to “use iris to melt locks”, which – on top of becoming reciprocally (and recursively) referential with “locks greener” – seems to radiate out towards all of the impossible colours of Arrays. The horrendously pleached syntax generated by the parentheses in the above sentence should go some way to conveying the dense, proliferative effects of Heames’ text. One could just as easily abstract the words “world”, “lined”, “seas”, or “moth” from the above quotes, and go off on other tangents.

Thus we are confronted not only with a kind of hyper-economy or- compression (a desire, in other words, to deploy individual words with a largesse that maximally confounds the notion of simple conveyance), but also with proliferating in-text matrices that both deepen and complicate this economy. Consider, for example, the line: “Autumn Psyche Nightingale Indolence Autumn”. Divorced from the context of literary history, these words would be, at best, merely rich; but realizing that the words need not – in any definitional or categorical sense – concatenate naturally with each other, we might have pause thereby to be startled by the very specific associative power that they exact. If we ‘know’ what Heames has done – namely, that he has compressed Keats’ classic odes by the simple juxtaposition of their titular keywords – we also know that such knowledge is not intrinsic to the words themselves (a fact that holds true even as they are deployed alongside each other). It’s an impressive card trick; and yet, however arresting it might be in the moment, Heames’ uploading of a secret, exformational cache of entire poems (via a simple list of nouns, no less) is ultimately unsatisfying. What appears at first to be a type of hyper-compression soon becomes a verbal cincture that must be unloosened. It is not enough that these nouns refer only to Keats odes. The storm that passes through Arrays (and by storm, I refer both to an actual, narrative storm, and to an unremitting and oragious attack on language) ensures that almost any given word in the book isn’t quite what it is. Writes Heames: “the shakeup could proceed / as early as this autumn”. This sentence, which, like so many in Arrays, reads like found language, becomes more than what it appears, is ionized by the context of its placement, so that “this autumn” is also that “Autumn”—i.e. Keats’ Autumn, shaken up or out by the storm.

But lest these cross-textual mappings belie the more afferent or self-contained effects of the poetry, it is perhaps worth pausing for a close reading of a single poem. The poem ‘1.1.3’ from ‘A.I. In Daylight’ is reproduced in its entirety below.

crab panther Dis regent emanation clown
flame troubadour tsar manta

sort of floats

in on the receding undertow
cadre made halcyon phoenix of my ovation

as though a mesh were
without its border sign

it is listed as vulnerable and looks pleasing

doubt is a sad playlist
said the pretend leader
when it came to rest

the sky now is peach as the tree is willow
it would be easier to hold games

Notwithstanding the pageant of monsters already encountered in Arrays, the rapid-fire stacking of “crab panther Dis regent emanation clown / flame troubadour tsar manta” seems almost too excessive, larded beyond leitmotif to the point of poetic infarction. The initial urge is to treat this monster as reflexive hyper-parody, and thus to dismiss its constituent words as a kind of protruding surplusage—i.e. as noticeable, but unimportant beyond the moment of lurid self-flagellation. But there is something going on in this weird mess of words that allows the monster to reclaim its troubled corpus beyond the parody, to feel itself as the site of its own conflict. This conflict is felt not only in the fraught conjunction of the body’s social, biological, and physical constituents, but also in the stratification that these can imply, in their historical or futural status as signifiers of power or pathos, and in the flickering grammar by which they vie to be read substantively. The crab panther is thus simultaneously a hideous monster and a conspicuously monstrous body politic.

The monster is also a harbinger of the fraught syntagms that will follow. In the second (micro-) stanza, we encounter “sort of floats”, a phrase almost calligramic in the buoyancy of its placement above the third stanza. That which “sort of floats / in on the receding undertow” also doesn’t do so, denies the water as facilitative body, hardens into a complicit noun that is “in on” the whole thing, or which simply hovers above, safely static (however tantalizing), before giving way to, or becoming subsumed in another monster: “cadre made halcyon phoenix of my ovation”. Rather than immediately dovetailing with “[…] receding undertow”, this line reads as a kind of Frankensteinian suture, a grammatical oddment that requires a certain level of readerly pressure – etymological, phonological, and morphological – before the various operations of the juxtaposition become less opaque. Most obviously, perhaps, “halcyon” at least lends the aquatic buoyancy the context of myth—although the avian surfeit of “phoenix” cancels (nixes) this elemental mooring with its associative fire. Both “halcycon” and “phoenix” are also suggestively chromatic, the former orthographically evoking ‘cyan’, the latter derived etymologically from “purple-red, crimson”. By the time we reach “ovation” – a brilliantly germane choice of word – the line has become almost untenable in its multiparous generosity, flailing around to keep hold of its offspring. “Ovation” is almost ‘aviation’, evoking by this similarity halcyon/phoenician flight and generation, tinged all the while (via “cadre”) with the suggestion of soldiers and warplanes.  Soldiers – or their sublimation as athletes – are of course themselves entailed by the word “ovation”. Thus, the halcyon that would build its nest atop calm waters is threatened, trapped inside a syntagm that seems designed to thwart the simple nesting instinct, and to promote instead a kind of oviparous surfeit. 

In truth, though, “syntagm” doesn’t seem quite accurate; for the matrix out of which meaning is (however dubiously) ‘held’, feels less linear, more densely patinaed than whatever might be possible purely at the level of the sentence. The word “cadre”, for example, can be linked (via its etymological roots as “four-sided thing, square”) to “mesh”. Both “cadre” and “mesh” entail, in various ways, “border” and “list”, and all four words variously imply capture or containment. But this lunge to containment is always compromised by border spillage. The word “list”, in particular, yields copious etymological spoils. That which is “listed as vulnerable” is the building that ‘leans’, ‘inclines’, or (in light of the already established oceanic setting) ‘careens’. It is ‘bordered’, or ‘taken pleasure in’. But it is also ‘listened to’. Such definitional richness affects the lines in strange ways. The phrase “looks pleasing” begins to seem almost uncannily tautologous in the context of listly ‘pleasure’, while “sad playlist”, given a super-aural definition, reveals itself as the false cognate we probably never knew existed.

It is doubtful whether any of this ‘comes to rest’ in hermeneutic fixity or inertia. The penultimate stanza parlays the dubiety, so that the “doubt” proffered by a “pretend leader” is amplified by the de-humanizing pronoun “it”. We have one more stanza to try to draw out further associations, and might perhaps start by positing “peach” and “willow” as problem colours generically similar to “halcyon” and “phoenix”. But when it comes to arriving at a definitive answer, “it would be easier to hold games” (Olympic, video, or language). That is to say, it would and it wouldn’t be easier, depending on which kind of prehensility we are taking about at any given moment of reading—if indeed we can hold anything for long enough to know exactly what it is we are talking about.

And yet, for all of this, there are rare occasions elsewhere in the book when Heames chisels out a seemingly crystalline apophthegm. “Love is an abuse of love” echoes a similar line in Rodefer’s Four Lectures—“Ordinary human love can RUIN a being for the experience of real love”. Regardless of any homage that may or may not be at play in Heames’ line, its sentiment is as succinct a crystallization of a particularly prevalent tenor of avant-garde poetic ‘love’ as any I have encountered in contemporary British poetry. Vigilant yet fragile, it cannot quite sustain itself (or can do so only vexedly under the weight of its paradox). Another string of text makes similarly tantalizing apophthegmatic demands: “love, as in politics / before the city / gets made there”. The grammar here appears tensile and generative, but is in fact isotropically weak. There can be no restitution – for love, for politics, or for the city – however vividly the nouns might emerge from the lines, or however ardently they might suggest that they are imbricated, temporally moored, made/decided/perfected/instantiated. The words thus run a kind of gamut of semantic clarity and nonsense, comprising at first a trenchant apophthegm, which then fractures under scrutiny into rich equivocation, and finally resolves into a carefully crafted series of conjunctive repeals.

This is a poetry, then, not only of what gets included (trees, for example), but also of what gets excluded or denied. Specifically, it is a poetry that seems to wonder at the viability of certain strands of ‘left’ thought in contemporary avant-garde poetics. The final couplet of the collection reads: “Left poetry to lift weights / Air between wings again”. Here, Heames’ fondness for puns (prevalent throughout Arrays) can be seen at its most strikingly polysemic. “Left poetry to lift weights” works simultaneously as a defection, a commitment, an admonishment, a promise, and an arrogation, while “Air between wings again” is both a re-subliming into a now long-embargoed poetic flight, and an attempt to purify the stagnant – or perhaps even the noxious – odour that has built up under the complacency of certain contemporary pretensions. Brilliant work, we might think, and hardly open to castigation simply because it works an array of volte-faces into its more dutiful moments. And yet, at a time when a great number of the poets in Heames’ broader milieu often invoke direct targets and rhetorics – and do so in ways that suggest figurative mobilization, deployment, and attack – Heames stands out in his preference for a more iridescent, or better yet, a more spectral semantic palette. Granted, there are tissues of what might be called a more direct poetic idiolect in Arrays (“teens woke from a heavily policed summer”; “caught up in the rhetoric of the Games”; etc.), but the book never comes close to positioning Heames alongside the more brazen of his contemporaries. Indeed, his question “Why should I even mention / These politicians” might almost seem incendiary, an unwelcome fit of malcontent. But certainly, it provides an invigorating challenge to the notion that any committed poetics must treat certain material as essential, just as it treats other material as verboten. If not a directly political text, Arrays is nonetheless a fascinating and challenging wunderkammer, a collection of monsters from the imagined intersections of politics, technology, war, video games, the internet, social media, dreams, and nature, and one that arouses in us a suspicion that simply reading these words (or simply reading these words [or simply reading these words]) will risk eliding too much. We are thus kindled with a desire to read also what has been painted over or scratched out. An apparent piece of found language (which we might do well to imagine as having been both deployed verbatim and painted over) brings us quickly to the point: “Some names have been changed”. Indeed they have.

 Colin Lee Marshall

Diary of reading Carol Watts

by Michael Peverett

16th May 2016

This pamphlet When blue light falls  (published by Peter Hughes' Oystercatcher Press in 2008) is the first tranche of a longer sequence. 

What is here is sixteen poems. The first eight (even-numbered, 2 - 16) are like a very slow meditation on blue light, particularly the blue of the sky. The second eight (odd-numbered, 1 - 15) are formally different, the words arranged in very short couplets; the vocabulary and images become less spare ("Ukrainian", "cottonwoods", "lias") and the topics proliferate. But behind this second half, and connecting it in some way to the concerns of the first, there's a distinct diurnal sequence from early morning through to night. 

This second part is sometimes agitated, in fact it's the seriousness of the thought that compels attention throughout. From the splintered vocabulary come ideas of glass-blowing and television. Some idea of extinction too, as in this poem, from the first half of the sequence: 


yet it is uncertain

if there is this habitat of blue

to speak of

turning its bleak constancy

to what might shine

at my lived

                     and fortunate


a grip loosened into it

might fall or



a word

23rd May 2016

It's a basic rule of experimental poetry that you don't write about birds. When this rule is ignored, as in Allen Fisher's chapbook Birds, it causes furrowed brows. The resultant poetry tends to be neglected. And on the whole I've neglected Occasionals (Reality Street, 2011), a whole generous book of poetry about mainly quotidian nature, including plenty of bird action among other things. But increasing interest in When Blue Light Falls  made me pick this off the shelves (out of a cardboard box, in fact) and begin to think about it again. In this bigger book too I find a commitment that stops me in my tracks. I don't quite know what the commitment is to. I don't even know if the poet does, altogether. She has sort of dived without measuring the depth.


Only superficials today. The poems are dated like a diary of a year, so here's some appropriately May/June-dated extracts. The parenthesized titles are mine.

(Gushing water:)

Tell me it returns, the soughing. Of
deliberate rivulets, the construction
of sluices . Sinking, the heaviest stones,
rolling. The change of prospecting a.
Gold rush, do they glint. In deposits,
rolling, slower at the base. A small girl
trips along, her mind would be elsewhere.
The drains are overcome, the hill washes.
Where culverts might once, now it is.
Matter. For survival, the overcoming
of life wells from. Below....


Flight, is brown. Heaviness rising, as
much commotion as gesture....
                     .... Fledging is
however. The point where the brink. Is.
Teetering, with much beating. Of wings,
clinging on with delicate. Claws, to any
available nest. It beetles over quite
vertiginously. Will it fall. Has turned into
a swallow, such luck. She said, and not
that heavier. Deal, rib cage consternation.

(Children playing in sand dunes:)

sharpness of. Green whipgrass, cuts.
A possibility, and children charge.
Up, piling down local mesas, limbs
combusting thoughtlessly, flung
faster. Than the sand allows, they
find themselves abrupt. As matter is.
Cooling, in the darkness of. Dug down.
Out of the wind, the cliff is matted.
Heat, the breeze has not caught on.


8th July 2016

Charles Alexander's useful review of Occasionals:

Today is the 8th of July. Consultation of Occasionals shows that it has two poems for this day, like a Brahms pairing.


The first poem (springcuts XIII)is preoccupied with darkness on a bright day. Some are out in the sun, gardening ("Took off his shirt to grow a bed.").

Yet. "When voices are dark from open windows"... "the dull kick of resignation".

Coming into focus:

All you have to say to me. A woman
is speaking, where pain is. Domestic
it comes in shades of eavesdropped.
Lack, of light.


The second poem (springcuts XIV) isn't without pain, either. In the first half, we circulate memories of things lost, maybe only imagined. (Hopkins' "Binsey Poplars" in the offing.)

In the second half, the poem focusses on a childhood memory. Of the gang throwing stones at an unpopular girl. The poet comments:

Loyalties, I was silent but. This was virtue,
to stick by in a stoning.

And she notices that the cruel girl seemed brave when stoned, with a scar on her lips.

18th November, 2016

Young elm, 15th November 2016


Something of an evacuation of light. Persists,
it knows the ending of day. Approaches, it turns
towards heat as love might. Deep in the earth,
rotting gently, sweat. Of leaves, skin's sudden
exposure. Plane trees, in intentional mottling
effect, sun spots. Ruching....

....  Trees cascade, rust hoards, are coin.

....  It is the way woodsmoke brings
life forward, strong as leather, the way yesterday
always joins. With. Scenting tomorrow, its yellow
haunting.  ....

These are extracts from one of the two poems for October 31st.  All of the poems in Occasionals are 28 lines long.  The thought in each poem is fantastically interlaced, so that quoting a few favourite lines, like here, feels like a disjointing: what's quoted is good, yet  I'm aware the meaning of the goodness is largely lost.

That poem was, somewhat, about leaf-fall, but also about love, injustice, SAD, and its contrary... There's also rain in the air, and the watery element musters in larger forces in the  next poem, XVII (24th November - the last poem in autumncuts). Indeed, now it's beginning to flood.

    .... Looking at his feet, they already push.
Through the flow, the child stamps.

And it's getting dark, no sun but "possible light". Earlier in the poem,

                  .... Before an Atlantic
storm, with hours of quiet rising. Weakness,
in light, lays down to rest. The falling out
of purpose.

Later remembered in the resting birds' "fatigue of alarm", this weakness, being necessary and to come, is nevertheless the season's potential. From a certain point of view this weakness is, will be, strength. But that's rather a drastic reconfiguration of values. How do we, or the complaining cat outside the window, negotiate it?



Yet light reverses sameness, the word. Latte is a witness-board
around the cardboard hedge, the corrugated leaf. And not.
To drink deeply, but. The cone is acquisition, yet equation.
For the rain soaks also along, and can wade on pegs.
To sup laterally, the going down of. These golden fish,
for the heron to stick at. Because Nationwide they say baulked
at the hydrant, or the tap stuck, shallowing
the serrate dorsals. But more rain overnight.
To clear this suspicion of a dwelling. On the
motions of the, several traffics, following
each other out. As rinsed of old use. How she said as we
cleared, they say in the footings to the
medical centre, and rehearsals from it.
A bus-shelter draws. A flare of sun
in the plastic windows comes down. The street, as if.
So they do. The leaves wink and in the afternoon, morning,
for noon never steeples. The naked imaginings of
summer hill-forts, move in the occluded
more freely perhaps. There is a Morkerseende.
Whose space we frolic. And the large windows
open as for fitness, should a child stray in it
buoyed by reassurance. Or the continuance of home eggs.
As if the timetables came to know upon the coops.
Mostly, it is. But how do we know where to go without.
These elders, turning with a light upon the stairs. Into
a space so surrounding. Out into, as we say, the closing
of home behind, whose waiting was known so long
it's still experienced lost. Not known as a base camp.

Elm leaves, 15th November 2016

[I'm no expert on elms but if I had to make a guess I'd say this is one of the Ulmus minor x glabra hybrids, perhaps a Huntingdon Elm: a lattice pattern on the bark (below) is said to distinguish Huntingdon Elm from Dutch Elm. At any rate, it definitely isn't U. procera (English Elm) or U. glabra (Wych-elm).]

Elm bark

14th March 2017

On seaweed:

cockle shell   black-limbed   slacks off
gelatinous              red ghosts    gouted
by the tide      are sealed      the salt air

mending     [...]

                       there must be a key
in the writing of barnacles   where fibonacci
makes sense of  the spread of  bladderwrack

at the height of spring tide   blackened
even in meagre sun   wrack taken as a word
in a wider universe   not portent

but principle of  addition   or in a briny manual
discovered   A Dreadful Alarm upon the Clouds
of  Heaven, Mix'd with Love    shared

with crows   whipgrass    the barking of gulls
the busying sands and fingering waters
readying to come again   to keep oraginous order

(from Wrack, poem 1)

On seashells:


the shell in your palm   a child's milk tooth

abandoning infancy to the bulls and bears
a nocturnal calculus   not yet established
in the fold of what is inanimate and lasting

in us   but found in a line on the sand
fetched up by the night tide   I shall treasure it

always   tracking a parallel economy
shells etched with lines   frequencies lit
like the bloom of flesh   ringed and grained  [...]

(from Wrack, poem 4)


Coming to this book from Occasionals (2011) , I might have anticipated this brilliance of nature writing and this flow of new discoveries connecting nature, economy and identity. 

But Wrack (2007) is not just about wandering along the shoreline. It's also a salty smuggling, merchandising and wrecking book based on an actual Devon wreck of 1772 and a single woman passenger.

Which makes it a marvellous companion to the other book I'm in the middle of right now, J. Meade Falkner's 1898 adventure yarn Moonfleet, set in Dorset in 1757-ish.  (Both books being, besides the related subject-matter, very inventive bits of language ...)

And as Carol's book co-opts a touch of the boy's-book excitement of the seafaring yarn in order to pursue a meditation about women's experience in the western urban capitalist world of today, well there's a bit of a parallel there with another poem I've spent a lot of time with in the past year, Lisa Samuels' south sea island adventure Tomorrowland (2009)...


OK, that's the second mention of whipgrass, time to look it up. Apparently it's a local name, not very well attested on the internet, for a dune grass, maybe Sand Couch or Marram or Lyme Grass or all three.


Cormorant (Phalcrocorax carbo)

[Image source:]

When I was a landlocked child in Kent, I thought of the cormorant as a rather exotic creature confined to seafaring yarns, or perhaps seen just once, on that caravan holiday to cream-tea country.

In those days Phalocrocorax carbo bred on western coasts in the spring. Outside of the breeding season they sometimes ventured inland, for example they could be seen in winter in parts of the west midlands and northern Ireland. But not elsewhere.

Things have changed. Fifty years later, the whole of the British Isles (apart from high Scottish mountains) play host to the winter cormorants.  For example here in Swindon, a long way from any coast. Whether it's because our inland waterways are so much cleaner and they once more "teem with fish" (Bede's description of England) ; or because we've now ruined the sea-fishing ; or because inland winters are now as mild as coastal ones used to be ; I don't know - but I suspect it's the first reason, given the similarly dramatic increase in herons and egrets over the same period.  Cormorants being superb fishers, this has rattled the angling community, who want the freshwater fish stocks all to themselves.

The cormorants fly around in small flocks of half-a-dozen birds, and they spend a lot of time perching companionably but clumsily in the bare crowns of trees above the water -- I mistook them for crows or rooks until I looked more closely. (Webbed feet are not really much good for perching.)

Last Sunday I watched a cormorant fishing on a calm stretch of the River Avon in Bath. (I've also noticed them at Midford, south of Bath.) Its body sat very low in the water, reminding me of the great northern divers that I used to watch in Sweden. And now the cormorant seemed graceful, not clumsy. The long snaky head and bill were extremely impressive. So were the long dives. I held my own breath, wondering that it could stay down so long. Then I saw it again, twenty yards away.

Tom Raworth


now the pink stripes, the books, the clothes you wear
in the eaves of houses I ask whose land it is

an orange the size of a melon rolling slowly across the field
where I sit at the centre in an upright coffin of five panes of

there is no air            the sun shines
and under me you've planted a quick growing cactus

(Tom Raworth, who died on 8 February, 2017.)

Tom Clark

Laurie Duggan

S. J. Fowler

John Harvey

Pierre Joris

Jacques Roubaudà-tom-raworth-par-jacques-roubaud.html

Robert Sheppard

The PennSound treasury of Raworth readings and recordings:

Recommended: Amazon's Look Inside! the As When Carcanet Selection chosen by Miles Champion; includes most of a biographical introduction and some of the well-known early poems:

Recommended: Marjorie Perloff, Charles Bernstein, and Michael S. Hennessey talk with Al Filreis about Tom Raworth's poem "Errory"

Collage by Tom Raworth

[Image source: . It's in the William Fuller Collection, Chicago.]


Rupert Loydell


Door behind the chair

coat behind the door

Fiery smoke obscures

a single burning object

Parched flowers and

embroidered stitches

Neither lives long

without the other

Stationary ceiling fan

Foolish obligations

Pansy Maurer-Alvarez


Edge into the winter room
The room is sharpening its
Fracture zone open to the sky
Comb straight the slipping paths
The private seed belongs

Plum cherry pear and turquoise
Missing stem      leave leaf black
Buildings prompt the weather
Ignite span tunnels      rub space
Soaring mortal inaudible cracks

The unremembered body
The corpse’s pale water fingers


Ride afraid this surface
Over grass and glass
Boat awake straightening
The pond faster tightening
Infection grabbing blue
At this stage gestures
Push wondering rural dreams

Skin covered in pain
Once fire and firewall
Yellow foliage conversations
Hooked the environment
Hissing public signals blank
Window afraid of sliding sticking
Cracking proud the lines of time


Dusty      in between      losing
Clean guidelines that shape
Inverted tie-ups
And contorted hostility
The powerful human collapse
In the waiting room
Hard and suffocating
On weekends unnatural
Chests alive and open-palmed
Arrested and clapped
Behind binoculars
This phantom red dress
This underwater sleeplessness
On cue      locate crowds      the ship


Crimes against the path
We are above all everything
Unknown to governments
Pearly electric states
Don’t call yourself that
Take your stones and your shoes
Your distant village
Arriving desolate      accompany
The dancers      Senegal’s nerves
Faithful      unsettling ribs


A quiet      born in      displacement
A wealth of names      of threads
Of printed history
Children vanish step by hinge
Liquid threshold      front
Lines shifting      haggle
Amid buzz      afternoon crack
Determining an edge
Ribbed with vainly meager lip
Stains shouldering the weight
Hunched appeal broken
Smoke loose and contagious
Will trade a near shelter
For stars      lost parents      recognize

Ralph Hawkins - Sonnet #6

This is the final sonnet in a sequence - numbers 1 to 3 appeared in Stride Magazine and numbers 4 and 5 in Botch.

America is a fun country...

Franz Kline, Mahoning (1956)

[Image source: The painting is in the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York]

America is a fun country. Still, there are aspects of it which I would prefer not to think about. I am sure, for instance, that the large "chain" stores with their big friendly ads and so-called "discount" prices actually charge higher prices so as to force smaller competitors out of business. This sort of thing has been going on for at least 200 years and is one of the cornerstones on which our mercantile American society is constructed, like it or not. What with all our pious expostulations and public declarations of concern for the poor and the elderly, this is a lot of bunk and our own president plays it right into the lap of big business and uses every opportunity he can to fuck the consumer and the little guy. We might as well face up to the fact that this is and always has been a part of our so-called American way of life.  ... 

(From John Ashbery, The Vermont Notebook , 1975)

The president in 1975 was the unelected Gerald Ford, who took over after Nixon's resignation in 1974.

Still, Ashbery's poem seems an eminently fitting welcome to the new era of Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson.

Reading this today, it seems clear enough that the "higher prices" (where we might have expected "lower prices") are the price paid for indifferent environmental destruction. America is one of the most polluting countries on earth. In gross volume of pollutants, it is second only to China. But in per capita pollution, it's way ahead of China, and right up there with Australia and Saudi Arabia, the dirtiest nations on earth. (2011 figures from the Union of Concerned Scientists.)

Somewhat paradoxically, all three nations - USA, Australia and Saudi Arabia - have surprisingly high poverty rates; compared, for example, to European nations. Paradoxical, because it costs money to be a polluter. The main polluters are rich nations. But maybe there's also something about massive social inequalities that links with the unfettered burning of fossil fuels.

Child Poverty Rates in the USA:


Ashbery's diatribe is not, of course, quite what it seems to be. Ashbery is having a lot of parodic fun with slipshod phrases like "so-called" and "cornerstones". Something is being performed here: it's an almost typical rant, contemptuous of "pious expostulations" and sentimental for "the little guy".

In The Vermont Notebook as a whole, Ashbery's country-bus rides lead to a direct critique of lazy distinctions between the rural/natural and the urban/artificial, along lines we might now associate with queer theory.

Christopher Schmidt writes of Ashbery's career preoccupation "to misrepresent the line between the natural and the artificial, and to recuperate what is normally deemed waste..."

(Christopher Schmidt, "The Queer Nature of Waste in John Ashbery's The Vermont Notebook", Arizona Quarterly, Vol 68 No. 3 (Autumn 2012), pp. 71 - 102.) )

And the theme of waste in The Vermont Notebook is picked up again here:

Brian Glavey: The Wallflower Avant-Garde: Modernism, Sexuality and Queer Ekphrasis (Oxford University Press, 2016)


Reading Ashbery as an environmentally-concerned poet might seem rather ridiculous. But I expect we'll get used to it. As it becomes clearer that hard capitalism wants a trial of strength about the environment, we'll perhaps start to read a lot of things differently. We'll see that Ashbery's work, for instance, is linked in manifold ways, some rather obvious and some less so, with the things that are being wrested from all of us.

Douglas Crase and John Ashbery at Niagara
 in 1975

[Image source:]

The story of Lisa Samuels' Tomorrowland

by Michael Peverett

Cover of the printed book

"And lying soft enclosures gently died and overdied with story" (Landed gently, p. 63)

"Collected stories joined inside her body
At night she sweated language on her sheets" (All the buildings made of voices, p. 72)

"told each stories to make the time" (Circumference, p. 97)

It's customary to begin by saying that other readings are of course possible. In this case I might go a lot further. The present effort is more systematic than just a personal reading and can arguably be termed a wilful misreading, since it focusses on narrative and progressive aspects of a poem whose narrative progress, if any, is very much in question.

This reading takes its principal structural bearings from the eleven titled parts (I'll call them chapters) into which Tomorrowland (Shearsman, 2009) is divided:

1. The Argument. (TA)
2. It's all good. (IAG)
3. Treasure Island. (TI)
4. Sirens. (S)
5. Neptune's open mouth. (NOM)
6. Bulwarks. (B)
7. Landed gently. (LG)
8. A little history. (ALH)
9. All the buildings made of voices. (ATBMOV)
10. The body's charge. (TBC)
11. Circumference. (C)

I think it was exposure to the audio version of the poem that provoked my interest in the story of Tomorrowland. The transforming vocabulary, syntax and punctuation of Lisa Samuels' "new sentences" (to borrow Ron Silliman's term, originally applied to Bay Area prose poems) necessarily transforms story into quite a different thing from what it is in, let's say, a Conrad tale. Nevertheless, listening to these superb readings-with-soundscapes brought out what I was inclined to call a long-range narrative sweep. Here I want to pay tribute to that startling impression and I also want to encourage new readers to discover this amazing poem for themselves.

Cover of the double CD version of Tomorrowland

The audio version was first made available as a double CD in 2012 (you could try contacting the author if you want one). It's also available online at Penn Sound:

It's arguable that the reading offered here leans far too much on the distinctness and progressiveness of the eleven chapters, while some other significant (though inaudible) formal features are for the most part ignored. Two in particular: the subdivision, marked by asterisks, of each chapter into up to five sections; and the fairly regular alternation of paragraphs with and without line-capitalization.

It treats the first chapter as preludial and the eleventh as postludial. It assumes that the sequence of chapters develops in a progressive and quasi-narrative manner.

As a consequence of its focus on narrative, it takes an interest in the four named characters, while acknowledging the fairly numerous other figures in the poem who are not named. To this predilection it may be objected that what we have here is not so much four characters as four structural principles, or even four multi-functional instruments that can only be grasped heuristically.

My main regret is that this approach rather neglects the close details of verse and text, because I believe it's at that close focal range that Samuels' poetry is most easily appreciated as the essential thing it is. However, I've already said plenty about that in two earlier pieces:

Review of Paradise for Everyone  (2005)

Review of  The Invention of Culture (2008)

In compensation, and also to avoid the tedium of a poetry essay that doesn't contain any actual poetry, I've included a couple of extended quotations in their proper places.


1. The Argument.

The second difficulty is the sphere itself
As I plunk on an inclined plane

These are the opening lines (p.11).

They hint at the illustration on the book-jacket, Camille Martin's "Hieroglyphic Night". At least, that seems to show a figure plunking on an inclined plane, while in the distance we observe the rather troubled sphere of a moon.

Subsequently, the word "sphere" will make a number of what seem like quite important appearances in the poem.

"we need a bluet sphere" (IAG, p. 19)
"You see our love desire laughter whom / I recognize most thoroughly ensphered" (NOM, p. 38); "in flat spheres" (NOM, p. 42).
"as Jack unspheres on Fasti with a tender disregard" (TBC, p. 91)

Reading The Argument as a whole it's apparent that the "plane" of line 2 is also an airplane, e.g. "when the four bumps hit the ground" (p.12).

"Who have hanged peripheries so many years" (p. 11). The word "hang", throughout the poem, tends to suggest Jack, though he is not actually named until the third chapter, Treasure Island.

"We land to divination..." (p. 12). The primary narrative fact, especially in the first half of the book, is arrival. See also: "Well, initial" (IAG, p. 13),  "The crackling / Of fires will announce you found arrival" (TI, p. 28), "Arrival's song" (NOM, p. 38), "though it / thunderously keeps arriving" (B, p. 55), "Well it's been a week" (LG, p. 57).

With arrival comes the mild euphoria of those sensors switching on to a new terrain. "silly with excited premonitions" (IAG, p. 21). And especially in TI: "everyone was lovely over there"... "A curious newness in their eyes in love with acquiescent / Barriers"... "people are so perfect"... (TI, p.23).

"handmade try ... crux ..." (p.12).  Reappears as "a crux of handmade try" in IAG (p. 20).

It's noticeable that the last part of one chapter often preludes the next, and that's the case here. In this last part the surroundings become recognizably urban, and here we get our first glimpse of Eula:

"With Eula mobilizing narratives in a café" (p.13)

(WhatsApp-ing her friends, maybe)

[Eula] Eula is the most pervasive of the four named characters, appearing in every chapter but two (TIC), but not the easiest  to get your head around. (The other characters will be discussed when they first appear.) The name, in software licensing, can mean End-User License Agreement. Eula often tends to suggest to me power, technology and intellect. Perhaps "where we've come from" : Europe, LA. Perhaps us : the poem's author and readers. Yet Eula can also be associated with Maori face-marking (ALH, p. 65) and with the small-scale warfare said to be typical of tribal society (LG, p. 59). Eula is a real name, commonest in Spanish-speaking countries, short for Eulalia - "sweetly spoken" (Greek eu + laleo ).


2. It's all good.

This first full-length chapter is distinctly "metropolitan-inflected" (p. 15). "Thus both about the city we did stroll" (p.15).

Eula is the only character named in this chapter. But it's important not to limit the narrative to those four names. Tomorrowland is liberally strewn with pronouns (I, we, you, he, she) and these are considerably less random than in many experimental texts. Sometimes these unnamed characters are consistent enough to develop little quasi-narratives about themselves.  For example the "he" of  IAG p. 16, or the "man" of S pp.30-31.

But wait, could we have some help here? The book version of Tomorrowland (though not the audio version) contains some,  in the form of the epigraphs and, particularly, the page headed "Further Reading" - e.g. Marco Polo, Robinson CrusoeComus, and modern studies of cosmopolitanism and social space (the latter evidently relevant to IAG). Argentine author Julio Cortazar. Sylvia Ashton-Warner's book about teaching Maori children (B, LG, ALH). New Zealand author Janet Frame's only poetry book The Pocket Mirror. (Lisa Samuels' own emigration from USA to NZ around the time of writing Tomorrowland is a relevant background.) Rev. John Butler's Journals - New Zealand's first clergyman, he arrived there in 1818. Michel de Certeau - tactics (of subjugated individuals) in navigating everyday life. Henri Lefebvre - Critique of Everyday Life , the underdeveloped sector colonized by capitalism. William Henry Hunt (actually Burt) and Philip Grossenheider -  A field guide to the mammals. Consulting these books, or some of them anyway, would shed a flood of light on Tomorrowland; I'm sorry to say I haven't done so.

According to the back cover of the printed book, "Tomorrowland is a book-length poem of bodily transit and colonial forgetting". Inasmuch as this means the experience of arriving and settling in a new world, it makes complete sense; but of course the term "colonial" comes freighted with all sorts of serious political ramifications, and openly provokes a group of questions that every reader will have to tussle with. To what extent does Tomorrowland delimit its scope to the experience of the colonist - the explorer, trader, preacher, teacher, emigrant, tourist - and exclude the experience of the colonized?  For a poet who has grown up within western culture, is transcending that limit even possible? Would attempting to transcend it lead inevitably to something analogous to blackface? Does failure to transcend it constrain one's sense of what the poem, for all its marvellous ambition, can amount to?

This may also be the moment to say, what I keep forgetting to say, that there's a great deal of comedy in the early chapters of the poem. We're not a million miles from The Ambassadors here.

[Cracks] "The garden faces by a crack uneasily in its palm" (p. 16). "Crack" is a word that comes up quite a lot, possibly in connection with the poem's interest in building-works:  "To mortar acts and build". At any rate built texture is an important theme of IAG.  Cf. "a subterranean crack" (p.21), "This would be historical enactment / Seen from the position of a crack" (NOM, p. 42), "where the cracks peeked through a glint of green" (B, p. 45), "oh laud that cracked-up paper" (B, p. 52), "my amanuensis following the crack over the rocks" (B, p. 52)

[Ships] "he builds the little ship we fly up..." (p. 16).  The dedication of Tomorrowland is "for honest dealing, and for ship goers". Ships are named and alluded to frequently throughout the poem. E.g. ""having landed their domesticated ships / with aches and prejudice intact." (TI, p. 26);  "a whole set  / life modelled after vacant ships whose keels lie / down in soft sand partly filtering..." (S, p. 29); "ship-arriving hollerer .... how does it feel / To own so many ships..." (NOM, p. 41); "when the boat comes in" (B, p. 48); "The ships piled in with separate rain, / Some from the sea and some from sky..." (B, p. 49); "disinherit the never merely boat again (LG, p. 61); "stave the boat" (LG, p. 62); "the midnight ship" (ALH, p. 67); "The boats are moralistic now" (ALH, p. 68). Nevertheless, the locales of the poem seem to me nearly always land-based, though coastal; we have almost no sense of being on a ship, but rather of having arrived from a ship.

[Birds and feathers] "Ohmygosh trees, flagrant birds..." (p. 18). Birds and feathers are frequent motifs in Tomorrowland.  E.g. "Big Bird... chorus of silent flitterings..." (p. 19); NOM, p. 42; B, p. 52; ATBMOV pp. 74-75; C, p. 97. For feathers cf B, p. 56; ALH, p. 65 (twice).

"we need a bluet sphere" (p. 19)

The bluets (Houstonia species) are small but pretty milky-blue N. American wild flowers, somewhat resembling old-world forget-me-nots or speedwells from the ornamental point of view.


[Image source:]

"Our Eula" (p. 20) matches the first appearance, in the following chapter, of "our Manda" (p. 24).

By the end of "It's All Good" we've reached a space that may not be quite so uncomplicatedly "all good", and are looking back and out to wilderness, a suitable introduction to the next chapter.


3. Treasure Island.

It begins with the "island gurney". Sounds like an animal or bird, but the only definition for "gurney" that I have encountered is a stretcher-trolley.

"Treasure Island" begins with the most sustained bit of island paradise in Tomorrowland. (Along with a crescendo of the traveller's euphoria that I mentioned earlier.)

This nature poetry is, of course, not left unproblematized; to an extent it arrogates what it doesn't own.

          While he takes his myth and puts it out there
          In the literal sense, over again incorporating oysters
          And their total inability to resist. (p.25)

[Manda] "our Manda sees inside the cells" (p. 24). The first appearance of Manda.  Manda is short for Magdalena in Croatian/Serbian, or short for Amanda in English. The character is maybe somewhat associated with childlike perception (as here) and domestic activity. According to Wes Tank's  radio talk about plans for a Tomorrowland movie (, Manda is the trans-historical female and Fasti is the trans-historical male; he may have been told this by Lisa Samuels herself but I'm not sure.

On p. 26 "I fell in love with time's indisputable eraser..." begins a passage of a dozen lines or so that's closely shadowed, sometimes word for word, in (p. 49, beginning "I fell in love / With the moon's disputable mirror...").

[Jack] "Thus coastal disproportionate form is hanging Jack / Poorly for his unplanned sup while we watch..." (p. 26).  The first named appearance of Jack, who "plays death", according to the back cover of the printed book. Certainly Jack is associated with death and violence ("escalation's fury Jack" (ALH, p. 68)). It's Jack who is presumably referred to in "he hanged himself that's what he done" near the end of TBC (p. 93). The word or idea of hanging, passim,  tends to suggest Jack. Perhaps a jack tar. Or a flag. Origin: the old world: Protestant northern mist.

"If it weren't for Shakespeare we'd never have Jane Austen if not" (p. 27). Compare "If it weren't for whales we'd never have fishes if" (LG, p. 60).

The final part of TI focusses on ants.


4. Sirens.

"the atolls / (Neptune's mouths)..." (p. 31) Usefully glossing the title of the next chapter.


          (A hundred years ago) the nerves of Fasti's feet
          Agree a doorlatch patiently apart
          My patrimony truly far from home in a necessary
          Curse... (p. 33)

The first appearance of the fourth named character. Like the others Fasti is a real name, though obscure (old Scandinavian). Perhaps more relevant, "fasti" are chronological lists of official and religious events (Roman, as in Ovid's Fasti). Generally he seems to me priestly. He's associated at various points with logs (in the sense of records, I think) and with astronomy. The "founding Fasti" suggests a pioneer patriarch. There's a relatively long quasi-narrative about him and his mother in the middle of ATBMOV.

[Latch] "Latch" (as in the lines above), is a word that becomes more prominent: in the second half of Tomorrowland (LG, p. 63; TBC, p. 85, 90; C, p. 96).


5. Neptune's Open Mouth.

The preceding chapter, Sirens, links to this one via its final line ("you dip your legs into your class just testing").  [Apart from its modern-cityscape and newly-discovered-tropical-island type locales, there is also quite a lot of educational loci in Tomorrowland ; such as this "class" (in one of its meanings), in which "you" is either a teacher or a student. Cf "warm and gentle schools" earlier on the same page.]

NOM is, unsurprisingly, watery. Water is associated with sex, birth and death. (The coupling of land animals involves a temporary, damp, private re-creation of the watery environment in which our far-distant ancestors lived out the whole of their lives.)

          Under the tide my legs are musical
          display on moonlit net  ... (Opening lines of NOM, p. 36)

Both the opening and closing parts of NOM are vaginal. Hibiscus and sea-anemone, shell and fold.

Within, the following set-pieces stand out:

5.1. A semi-emergent lyric called "Arrival's Song". That is, I should say at once, a dubious interpretation. The title words appear bracketed, as if introducing an embedded lyric, but the text that follows it isn't clearly demarcated or distinct from the rest of NOM.

It might strike the reader that "Arrival's Song" arrives a little belatedly. After all, we're five chapters in, aren't we? Isn't it a bit late for a spontaneous effusion?  That sense of a willed, even heel-dragging, performance is latent here.

And could there be the complicating hint of "A Rival's Song"? The pun seeming to be authorized by "a plea / a look a rival" (B, p. 54)

(Parallel to the Shakespeare sonnets about the rival poet, e..g Sonnet 86.)  In both an alienation effect, because lyric poetry is no longer associated with this activity that we're sharing now, but with that other person's activity (an unwelcome one, to boot).

5.2. A group of stories of a mythical or ritual type. These include a Metamorphoses-style account of a yearning lover turned into a tree, and a relatively long account of water ritual in the days immediately following a child's drowning and before the child's spirit is fully at rest.

5.3. The curiously impressive apparition of a woman, near the end of the chapter, "with hair the colour of microphones".

This is Ovidian-in-reverse. The woman appears to metamorphose out of a bird standing "gradually" on the beach*, moving its "mouth" side to side and casting off feathers. At the same time the statement that "the woman stepped out shining" suggests a bather emerging from the sea.

[* The stuttering standing of a bird, always ruffled by the startle instinct and apt to hop about a bit. Gradual:  gradually calming down, becoming less flittery. But also gradus = a step: still moving about.]

She has a shadowy audience of men, to whom the words "deferential" and "cautious" are attached.

The side-to-side head movement of the bird/woman is reminiscent of the robotic Eula in the closing lines of ATBMOV .  And this final section of NOM names Eula several times  (the only one of the four to be named in NOM).  So is this emergent woman Eula? That seems far too definite an identification. But the impression that Eula has a cybernetic aspect, part technical and part bird maybe, is pervasive.

"like Roosevelt or the moon..." (p. 40)  - probably has nothing at all to do with the notorious massacre of Moro people in the Philippines in 1906 ("President Theodore Roosevelt sent Wood a congratulatory cablegram..."). Here's the link anyway.


6. Bulwarks.

A bulwark is a defensive fortification or rampart.

          We built the wall with stone by stone interiors
          Admiring fashion's fit with iron's wear
          And where the cracks peeked through a glint of green
          We stuffed it with the faces of our enemies... (pp. 45-46).

This defensive construction might be necessary, but there's paranoia and panic in blocking up those glints of green jungle with our nightmares.

This is the central and longest chapter, about double the typical length. With Bulwarks the poem becomes less innocent. A steadier preoccupation with colonialism begins here and continues through LG and ALH.

[Implements, in general] "diminished sovereignty / In the crude bath and plan raids .... does not hold its own / tradition bath nor subterfuge / umbrella as it falls..." (p. 44) This isn't exactly a motif, but there's a number of references in the poem to simple, old-fashioned implements, such as a primitive colony might value. Umbrella again, p. 52. The umbrella and parasol of TBC, p. 90. Knife, p. 49 and p. 53. Also the shovel (ATBMOV, pp. 80-81). The adze. (e.g. ALH, p. 65 "she took her tat / and adzed it through the rockface / of the boat she knew she'd go on"; ATBMOV, p. 82 "The world collects itself for you / an adze and scarf waft"). Ancient tool. There survive prehistoric Maori adzes that were used for woodcarving. "The pounding of the adze" (TBC, p. 89)  (unexpected use of an adze).

          Come come let us be hither let us not pretend we are not
          What we wot is the hintermost mortality can muster... (p. 46)

A call to order for the colonists, the double negative summoning "the not of widom" against the scarier "not" of the Other, "the night of savage-not-to-be". A call to national identity and apartheid.

"Hither": i.e. not "hither AND thither". No promiscuity of cultures here! (Compare "come thither" ALH p. 58, and "gone hither" p. 59)

"Hintermost": the context implying a sense of achieved superiority, the term itself implying essentialism and isolationism.

Though Manda resists this coercion the feeling of defeat, of personal identity being helplessly dependent on domesticity, on a bulwark preserving national identity, throws up its hands (p. 48). Patriarchal Fasti appears to inspire his colonist society and to hold it in check (pp. 49, 50, 51, 52, 53).

Manda's interjections, the "protesting soul",  instead proposes a rhapsodic inclusivity (p.47); these creative hungers are suppressed in the official culture, "because satiety / is its authorized appearance" (p. 48).

Peace is superficially restored ("Again, we are holding hands by the shore...") but the opposed elements jostle, gall, and attempt to co-opt each other, a conflict underlying the communal experience of the next few pages.

"That's the moon crept through the kauri tired". Agathis australis, a North Island conifer of great ecological and cultural significance. Once much exploited for its excellent timber (cf. "grand houses out of kauri", ALH, p.66).

Giant kauri at Waipoua Forest

[Image source:]

"I fell in love / with the moon's disputable mirror..." (p.49) begins a passage echoing TI p. 26.

"Fasti's quotient" (p. 53). The expression reappears in ALH, p. 69.

The last section of Bulwarks (pp. 55 - 56) tells a story about Manda teaching unruly children, colonial in character, and about a somewhat chaotic growth of urbanization. Children's education remains a preoccupation through LG and ALH.

Francis Towne (final line, p. 56): English watercolourist, d. 1816. Long neglected, now admired. Refers back to the educational project of p.55: "books with articles about watercoloring".


7. Landed gently.

"Landed gently". This was the name of a book by Alan Hunter (1957), featuring his character Inspector Gently. Hunter in turn may have intended a pun on "landed gentry". So might this chapter ("disinherit", "heir apparent", "inheritance"...). But more important, probably, is the recurrent appearance of "gently", e.g. in the the passage quoted below.

The themes of children and education continue from B. Colonialism too. Considerable energy on the theme of civil restitution for colonial wrongs. And blood, and the natural. At one point (p. 62), four lyrical paragraphs begin with the word "Naturally"...

"war-torn ways" (p. 58); cf. "the war-torn country" (p. 59). Possibly referring to the permanent state of small-scale warfare said to be typical of tribal societies.

"Admonishment's a windy task that someone / takes eventually rectangular in buildings and a tithe..." (p. 59). In ALH this is more drastically developed as "Society's a way of having to be cleared / we very soon gave way all admonition / to the punt..." (p. 67).

The "Naturally" lyric, part of which follows, reflects on the network of past generations, sex and reproduction, comrades lost in shipwrecks, among other things.

           Naturally we no longer hear that sound even when our
           radios are far up into space with limbs triumphant in
           the voice of the woman is the care she cedes to no-one
           naturally climbing the next within the eggs she lays and
           hatches in each other this structure is an ornamental
           seizure for the Fasti caught in hatches own allure, his
           hard and clement fissures never so certain as

           Naturally what is lost is what we'd have to yield our
           names and call sister brother mother father child, sea-
           tender, mind-brooder, sand-counter, bird-leader, herd-
           endurer, leaf-gatherer, whale-shooter, immigrant youth,
           sober sustainer, free baby, world-renouncing dreamer,
           cloud-watching post-successive non-accreting brain-
           inveigling doom-calm yeay-say sad-eyed so-it-is-one

           Naturally such matters move in waves, and the bodies
           of those heaped through the water bump gently, sad
           if you say so, your broken heart is latched to their
           interiors, sad if you know so, the lands are moving
          slowly toward away each other tending arguments
          against the gentle trees that stir in books we hold with
          winds upon our faces from the buildings sway

(LG, pp. 62-63)

[The audio version of Landed Gently is also on the companion CD to Emily Critchley, ed. out of everywhere 2: linguistically innovative poetry by women in north america & the uk (Reality Street, 2015).]


8. A little history.

The theme of history had been forecast in the previous chapter (p. 60).

"the leopard island" (p. 65). Three more references on pp. 65 - 66. This is almost a narrative, featuring Eula.

[Meter] "The primary formal note is the interrupted iambic", announces the back cover straight-facedly, and that's perfectly true of Tomorrowland as a whole. But ALH, more than any previous chapter, is progressively invaded by a more insistent and stricter rhythm: the pulse of tetrameter, pointed up by lots of rhyme and near-rhyme. And this becomes a feature of the later chapters, for example at the end of ATBMOV and  in parts of TBC. In general my impression is that these stricter metrical incursions signify a crisis or breakdown.  They substitute for, yet do not conceal, chasms in human discourse.

"and bridge of anger to Hokianga" (last line, p. 71):  Hokianga harbour, with its giant kauri trees, celebrated as the birthplace of the Maori nation, is 3 hours' drive north of Aukland.


9. All the buildings made of voices.

          One never sees so much as through a shutter

(opening line of ATBMOV, p. 72)

Talking about the view through a window, and hence recalling the opening of LG. With a glance, too, at photography.

"At night she sweated language on her sheets" (p. 72). Recurrent themes of ATBMOV  include sweat, buildings, construction and languages. The themes are inter-connected, with literature and building intermixed, e.g. "This sort of narrative city is what it's all about" (p. 74).

"hark the tui rises with perfume" (p. 73). (Perfume, and stench, will become insistent features in TBC, the chapter that follows this one.) The tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) is a passerine bird endemic to New Zealand, a member of the honeyeater family. "..a tui sang his three notes and laughed and sang them again" (Katherine Mansfield, "Prelude").


[Image source: Photo by Cheryl Marriner.]

Unexpectedly but appropriately, the second section of this highly-built chapter (pp. 74-78) breaks forth into extended narrative, or the nearest that Tomorrowland ever gets to it.  The story concerns Fasti, his attempts to orient himself, what he is "supposed to know", limits on what he can see, his mother's grave and his sense of isolation from her, a persistent failed quest that becomes a deportment and cannot be sustained indefinitely  ("But Fasti would be young only so long ...")

[Tā moko] The tattooed facial designs of Maori culture turn up in the poem as the woman "with blueprints on her face" (ATBMOV, p. 75) and as "our blue-stained faces revealing us as / planful admonitions" (TBC, p. 91). Less certainly, "the family carved its ink along its flesh to remember" (S, p. 30); "Then Eula took to etching ink into the hide as well" (NOM, p. 41); "Eula is a caring carving ... she took her tat and adzed it through the rockface..." (ALH, p. 65).

There's a perceptible quickening of tempo in the later chapters.... a sense of urgency, haste, multiple actions spinning out of control.  As in the first word of the passage below.

          Meantime at the mast camp Manda stirred
          the bones sighed for country
          the rearranged consent was on a paper
          bottled carefully for the occasion and extracted
          from the ground on which she fled
          seine or wood, feigned for the burial

          Such marching is as adamant as your life
          sewed stitched arrayed, loaded with wrong ideas
          stove in your head, warrantless possessions
          following each other heel on keel
          as you dance amidst the rainsocked plot
          your muddy mind could grow on
          while you gorgeously palaver all the mindsets
          close and closer to your own -- come hither hard imagined
          hard to say in this life, the blank stuff of 'knowing'
          no closer than anyone is likely to accede --
          bland parleys, blind missives, stoked defences
          piled one on one until (we reach the pinnacle
          fair minded nation state whose every desire's to
          please those waiting selves who stroved
          and borrowed just to be asked ...

(ATBMOV, pp. 79-80)


10. The body's charge.

This is the last of the main chapters (excluding the preludial TA and postludial C). That finality is announced with the opening words, distantly recalling the first line of TA.

          The second volume planned to make a method
          Of her spells and be someone entirely different collapsed
          (though she rankled trees) the fragile jeopardy stripes
          Were all along reverse of what she wrote
          She found the stripes grow down her back she reached
          Over her shoulder held the skin and pulled and
          it would not release, not go at all

The theme of an abandoned plan continues and the body is the blocker of such projections.

The poem (typically evoking Manda at this point) now enters a body-centred, helpless, sensation-centred, field.

Rest, sex, love, washing, swimming, dissolution, death, mouldering. Somehow all held together in the single word "pulcherous". (p. 86)

All this is in marked contrast to the civilizing efforts to build in time and space that concerned the previous chapter ATBMOV, typified by its calendrical stargazing and pyramid roof-terrace.

"The body's charge" -  the charge is 1. an electrical energy, a potential energy / actual cavalry  2. an indictment, accusation. (especially on p. 88)  3. A freight, responsibility, maybe an unborn child. ("Manda's swell" p. 89).

The sudden return of Jack:

            We'll lift it up and bury us as
          orange and woody sprites become recycled selves
          in bricks and troves, in scarves and trousers
          lollipop specters nuzzling each other as the decades
          pass entranced -- the shade compels the body to follow it
          as Jack unspheres on Fasti with a tender disregard
          for the dictates of his person, ....

The burial follows swiftly.


11. Circumference.

This epilogue begins playfully but is soon conflicted, fragmentary and defensive, the opposite of triumphal anyway.  None of the four named characters make an appearance. The pronoun "I" is insistent.

                                                    I don't think
          you really want the end you're diving for... (p. 95)

Circumference's iterations of sweeping, singing and ringing sound like a lyric that fails to reassure and is jangled by an alarm-bell. Only in the last couple of lines does some sort of stability ensue.

          tested -- every ringing was the next we -- told each stories to make
          the time -- it was so fine, under the conditions and -- we were all we
          were there right -- each other trembling, our clothes symbolic travesty
          underneath our tremble chest were waves --

(pp. 97-98)

underneath our tremble chest were waves --


Zoë Skoulding wrote about Lisa Samuels' Tomorrowland and Gender City in her 2013 book, Contemporary Women's Poetry and Urban Space: Experimental Cities.  In the Introduction she writes:

"Acts of looking have been a recurrent interest in my discussion, particularly in relation to the panoptic overviews of mapping and surveillance. Notley, Samuels and Carol Watts, particularly, engage with various forms of resistance to vision as a form of control, asserting the poem as site of perceptual and embodied disobedience." 

That seems a useful corrective to the various acts of mapping attempted here. Tomorrowland is in many respects unmappable by design.

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