Radio Days: Ken Edwards (III)

A radio broadcast is a kind of public-private radial concentric texture like a vast cloister of waves. So anyway, in 1986 Ken Edwards published Intensive Care, "Poems from The Radio Years 1982-85". To the radio, a human body is "an interference source". A page of prose which forms the second piece in the collection starts off with a standard account of Marconi, then quotes Asimov, then zooms in on "South East London, early spring", and a surveillance future of impending disaster, fore-echoing the opening of the Edwards novel to come, Futures.

'Their Daily Island Life' is the poem from which the title, No Public Language, comes ("No public language that is / fit for such a time":

No public language
That is fit

There was a country
buckled by heat & rain, corroded
near the shore
A country where a languge is "fit" - "It was always behind the wire." There's a discernible strain of Eliotic lyric throughout, heard even if the line is just "It is time". The effect is quite abrasive, in that Eliot's late tones, in their social aspect, might seem so anathema to the politics of rejection elsewhere present (though certainly not the only political contents), the "time" being the height of the new right's electoral success and the concomitant remaking of the British state (Britain PLC, the banner), one element of that being the descaling of the clogging "fur of socialism" (as it was thought of by this revolutionary group). But those Eliot patterns carry so much else, too,

Why want to make time stand still?
Between lightbulb & the idea of lightbulb
Falls the shadow
That this comes from 'Five Nocturnes, After Derek Jarman', suggests how those English rich textures might get political ("De - um majorettes"). Flicking through the wavelengths: a fugue for Allen Fisher; south London's class and river riven history addressed to David Jones; a poem to Zukofsky, "not melodious but with the effect / of melody", and "not That" - what song from what voices in this time: "it's like // a video of the Dungeness hum".

Edmund Hardy

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