Just published: Tim Allen's Peasant Tower

by Michael Peverett

Disengagement Books is delighted to announce the publication of Peasant Tower, Tim Allen's latest poetry book.

Peasant Tower is a book-length poem that ranges by public transport across chequerboard city centres. The aesthetics of Aragon, Queneau and X-Ray Spex collide to pierce stratiform mundanity with shafts of disorienting light. 

Peasant Tower by Tim Allen.
Published: 2021.
Pages: 50.
Price: £8.50 (UK) $12.10 (US) €10.00 (Europe) $15.40 (Australia) $14.60 (Canada)

Buy Peasant Tower here

Sample extract:

eggshell dates frock shop walk-in wrecking ball
passenger absently watches mid-air fuel change

unbaptised bee tumbles in through fire door
filing system has feelings just as the dirty peanut does

brown wine with a head wins plain grey pennant 
he does penance for coveting her pittance

what happened to him hasn’t happened in her notebook
on first name terms with happy history teachers

patriot larger than a country is smaller than this city
ceremonial matchstick archly complaining

film director stands out in swarm of snappers
litter on radar skittles behind vehicle

skis clutter up left luggage 
get your tongue around the yawn of an afternoon prayer

bums and faces but no overheads
stories in which young men’s wallets are cuckoo clocks

incinerator in church cellar
a bird with eleven feet gets accepted by the establishment

messing around with an extraction fan
emasculated by a dowsing stick

subeditor crosses out coincidences in crossword 
e.g. bus shelter in cathedral crypt

gull on its tod on refuse tip reads scorched love letter
vintage carnival route empty of the peanut

she stands back-to-front before a lost child
motorcycle sidecar carrying a demolished block of flats

(c) Tim Allen, 2021.

Steve Spence's review in Litter:


Disengagement Books enquiries: please email michaelpeverett AT live DOT co DOT uk

immesurable divisions? (Jennifer K. Dick)

by Michael Peverett

Anemone nemorosa. Frome, 19 March 2021.

When we poetry readers move between different poems, there's a kind of leakage across our readings, they're not insulated. I came from thinking about Sir John Davies' 1599 poem Nosce Teipsum, a philosophical account of the soul, and my questions about the distinctness of personal identity seemed to proceed uninterrupted into the dramatically modern turbulence of what I picked up next:  

Place :
                Is a
                    in the means of

                A singlular
               locale [isn't/it?]

                                                    Are numbers of years spent
                                                    to account for :
               [opt out
               or into :]
                                                        divisions ?
That which is rent from one

In this movement

a cultural-linguistic
                                                   name     home
                                                   plane     schlept car
                                                   shipped to walk
                                                                                      --and then
locate the "exile" in "reconciliation"
of frontiers and calculable numbers
of words available in each of her tongues
un-cross-stitched from what one was / is          

the average
               stamp thumped on a block of papers
               declares her                        Hearing
                                                                          is in
                                           a quieter tone:       this
place of all echoes
                                           the palimpsestic

This is the beginning of the first of a group of five poems by Jennifer K. Dick in the anthology women: poetry: migration ed. Jane Joritz-Nakagawa (theenk Books, 2017). My thoughts still ran on Sir John Davies' soul: is it both single and singular, or does it only appear single by being singular ("singlular")? Or single by virtue of appearing to be only in one place; but are places meaningfully distinct from the soul's perspective? 

But tonight I read the poem more as about migration, about humans in different places. (Jennifer K. Dick was born in Iowa and lives in Mulhouse (France).)

But still, there's a questioning of singleness and demarcation that's deeply ingrained in this text. Words aren't just words, they are activated words. They are constantly being marked as quotations, italicized, capitalized, parenthesized, question-marked, energetically spaced across the line, creatively misspelled, multilingual, and conversing with each other by meaning (meant, means), rhyming (meant, spent, rent) or partial repetition (schlept, shipped; exile, reconcile). Stop jogging my elbow while I'm trying to read! That's what I imagine a traditional reader protesting (and I still have that traditional reader buried inside somewhere). This writing interrupts the flow, it asks us how the word reached us, about intention and control. It says that words conceal as well as reveal. That, after all, reality is outside the words, we might need to look past them and not just through them. 

The quotations are from a book by Erín Mouré, so Jennifer's poems are building on a practice that´s already inclined to multivocality and multilingualism. Like when we build two towers of bricks and then try to put one on top of the other. It courts a collapse of what separates one from another or inside from outside. Which is a recurrent image in her poems. As here in the fourth poem,  

the lost, regurgitated sandstorm
grit on windowless windowsill

a poem that considers ruined buildings and Alzheimers and "wherein our particulars vanish..". 


Sure, you left the newspaper articles, fragments of
windows to be replaced, the beige sawdust coating the blackened
broken cement, the shattered café front.

from What holds the body, in a section that considers explosions as well as balancing on a tightrope (Sourced from here: http://www.dcpoetry.com/anthology/25 ).

Some say that the first fundamental of primitive life was the cell wall. Only when there's separation can life exist, evolve, create. And that's how most of us think, most of the time. To write a poem you start with a new page or empty screen, you paint on a blank canvas, you make dinner when you've wiped down the sides, you begin to build a home by laying down a clean foundation. This is poetry that wonders what's at stake in these ideas of infection and apartheid, and whether we can think it differently. 

There's a good amount of Jennifer's poetry available online, and a good list on her website. Or rather, two lists:

Poems in English:
Poems in French: 


I'm currently reading the long extract from Enclosure here:

I'm not sure if it's part of ENCLOSURES (2007), or part of Lilith: a novel in fragments (2019), or neither. It's grounded on Ovid's Echo and Narcissus: echoes and reflections and eyes. Here are two extracts:

She is within her                       a repetition,                       a mirror, silvered-over

                             surfacing,                       mirage

leaden,                                     lead,                                     to be leading

                                               Some part or point of
voice bleeding                          over,                                     into paper
                             scratches                against,                     she scrapes

This is like a gasp
                             she says
                                                She wants to say
                                                                                            to be saying


A sleight for stored eyes        a staff to unsever her deprived by thankless Athens
In her mind's lyre            in the wind's mire opposed to the twilight of her trial        perceptive
Rail        immediate        redolent        mind her eye or vigilance kept contagion
if this were catching     she should advise he keep a sharp        look heed ahead out the
mischievous signs "o mine tie, thine..." tapered to, knotted        were she but one-sighed or
willowlike a cypress-Cyclops mounting with aramisapians—if time should prove to be
so sure as seeking with half a fly-on-the-wall      peek though the needle      spin
her waifish body suddenly perceived heavily-handed         as a camel's two-thump inability
to pass through eyeing the spire of the storm         screen-hurricane periphery
casting a sheep's, a glad, an open   


aramisapians -- transforming Arimaspians, a legendary one-eyed tribe of northern Scythia. 


Two poems by Jennifer K. Dick on Jerome Rothenberg's Poems and Poetics blog. "Boundary" and "Timber Hitch" are from an in-progress project called Shelf Break that uses a lot of nautical terms. (Somewhat ironically for an Iowan, as she notes.)


Here's section 2 of "Timber Hitch": 

median of misconceptions
mesopelagic tropical
amoebic dysentery
diatribe or troubled
spindly motors,
mortar, cracks,
fissures, figments
glint atop the gangway
gate or plate
schlepped up on
deck the
chained the
hauled the
cratered cargo
ruinporn ornamentation
a lapsus
“next to baroque mermaids”                                DA, 58

["DA, 58" references a quote from a translation of Demosthenes Agrafiotis.]


But now those mermaids and the troubled Mmms of that opening are drifting this post and me off to another kind of mermaid, another melting of separation, the half-shark half-human Girl of Lisa Samuels' Tender Girl (Dusie, 2015). This current debate about definition and singleness has many aspects and many contributors.  

In the following extract Girl has found some books/barques.

Having decided, Girl moved there. She was clawed in time with barque masks. She collects herself for a while, herself several damp examples leaning on the pulpit by the end of the rented hall, and she would give them up next time she felt herself leaving town. But the hall was comforting, it was renewable and unlikely, her slapping feet from one end to the next. 

The hot wine drunk down her throat. To be alone and yet populated with exemplars was an aim she was learning to adopt alongside books with lists of names, one anchored to the next and the next, one heaving according to time, another according to license or locale, another simple alphabetic comforting. She had these by her strange eating, piece by piece, piled thin. The sniffing of the skins of the books taught her how to think and speak here. 

(Tender Girl, p. 46)

Anemone nemorosa. Frome, 19 March 2021.

Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa, Sw: Vitsippa). Throughout most of the British Isles (our only native Anemone). Throughout southern half of Sweden and more sporadically up to Jämtland. It also grows a long way up the Norwegian coast, about as far as Bodø. Anemone = windflower. Nemorosa = of the woods, shady places. 

The Swedish name Vitsippa means White Sippa. "Sippa" is a Swedish flower-name given to various attractive Anemone/Hepatica/Pulsatilla species in the Ranunculaceae, and also to the unrelated Dryas octopetala ("Fjällsippa") in the Rosaceae. The others are: 

Blåsippa (Blue Sippa): Hepatica or Liverleaf, Hepatica nobilis. Beloved early spring flower in most of Sweden. Not in British Isles except as garden escape. 
Gulsippa (Yellow Sippa): Yellow Anemone, Anemone ranunculoides. Uncommon from Skåne to Jämtland. Not in British Isles except as rare garden escape.
Tovsippa: (Tuft Sippa) Anemone sylvestris. Big white flowers, rare on Gotland and Öland. Not in British Isles.
Nipsippa: (River-erosion-sandbank Sippa) Pulsatilla patens. Rare in Gotland and Ångermanland. Not in British Isles. It occurs across Russia to Kamschatka and also in NW America (ssp. multifida).
Mosippa (Sand-heath Sippa): Pale Pasqueflower, Pulsatilla vernalis. Uncommon from Skåne to Jämtland. Not in British Isles.
Fältsippa (Field Sippa): Pulsatilla pratensis. Rare in S. and E. Sweden to Uppland. Not in British Isles.
Backsippa (Hill Sippa): Pasqueflower, Pulsatilla vulgaris. Uncommon from Skåne to Uppland, formerly more common. Uncommon in S. England, mostly Cotswolds/Chilterns.
Fjällsippa (Mountain Sippa): Mountain Avens, Dryas octopetala. Local in the fells, Jämtland and north. Very local in northern British Isles (e.g. the Burren, N. Wales, Scotland). 

permanent temporariness (Donna Stonecipher's Model City)

 by Michael Peverett

Finally tidying seven years of emails, I came across a forgotten Amazon token for £10 (I must have done a survey or something), and since it was about to expire, I hastily spent it on the first modern poetry book that came to mind. Well, not quite the first -- the first two or three turned out to be not available or too expensive -- but then I struck lucky with Donna Stonecipher's Model City (2015), so that's the gleaming new addition to my bookcase, and I'm very pleased with it. I can even forgive the square format, though it inconveniently sticks out of the shelf, stealing precious footprint from a room not over-blest with it. 

I'm a bit over half-way through reading it, and it certainly is a poetry book that I think most people would want to read in that straight-through just like a novel way -- not that the order of the poems necessarily matters, but there's just no obvious reason for doing anything else, because all the poems look very alike.  

Last time I wrote about Donna Stonecipher I quoted Model City [1] :


Today I wanted to quote another poem in full, so I looked about on the internet for one that was already out there, and came up with this: 

Model City [17]

It was like watching the city slowly powdered over with snow from your bedroom window, the molecular makeup of the city slowly altered through powdery intimations of ossification.


It was like watching the snow slowly powder over the construction site across the street, which will one day be a hotel, the snow filling in the space temporarily where one day there will be permanent temporariness.


It was like slowly coming to think of the snow as permanent, the construction site as permanent, the grand opening of the hotel permanently postponed, the spring postponed, the grand opening of the crocuses.


It was like feeling powdered over with snow oneself, as one is part of the city; apart from it, watching it from the window, to be sure; but a part of it, a powdered-over temporary part. 


The only time I was in Berlin, it was April and the city was snowy, not a powder but a soft wet snow that fell continually, and melted at nearly the same rate. 

The city in Model City is mainly Berlin, often recognizably Berlin, but that begs the question. These poems are about the city only in an indirect sense; what they are directly about is the imagined city, the conceived city, the contemplated city. It's a city seen from a musing, moony distance. As far as I've read, the contemplated city hasn't much traffic (though a delivery truck just turned up in Model City [42] ), or working life, or family life, or energy infrastructure or economics or laundry or day-care or markets. The poetry contemplates a stillness. It's drawn to empty real estate, blank billboards, clean sea-shells, historic bullet holes, snow-powdered construction sites in which no-one is doing any constructing. 

And yet for all the stillness in the poetry the city has its teeming crowds, its crowds busy and moving, as on escalators in a silent movie, inferred but unquestionably there. There's an inaudible buzz of chatter.

It was like standing in the midst of a city park with a friend who shows you that if you stare too long at the artificial waterfall, then look away, the waterfall will suddenly start to rush not down, but up. 

(from Model City [24])

It was like trying to find a café that was not a Starbucks or Balzac or Einstein in an unknown city known for its coffeehouses, and finally giving up and ordering a tall skinny latte with the familiar chaste mermaid on the cup.

(from Model City [30])

I wanted to illustrate this post with a photo from that time I visited Berlin (it was 2013, my stepdaughter Kyli was living there), but I couldn't track down those photos in my storage and began to wonder if I'd lost them all, those snowy Berlin buildings and just before that the loud fireworks in Valencia. 

It was like the start of a poem in the manner of a poet you've been immersed in for long enough to start expressing what you believe are your own thoughts in the manner of that poet. 

sinople eye (Sarah Howe's Loop of Jade)

by Michael Peverett 

Dame's Violet (Hesperis matronalis). Frome, 6 June 2021.

[A mainland European species grown in gardens for its flowers and fragrance. Often naturalized in the British Isles and in southern Sweden (Sw: Aftonviol, Trädgårdsnattviol).]

I've been reading Sarah Howe's 2015 poetry collection Loop of Jade. And, what seems to be incurred by that, doing a lot of reading round it too. These poems tend to point away from themselves, in many directions.

It's made me spend even longer than usual on Wikipedia, mugging up on e.g. vernier calipers ("Chinoiserie"), Pythagoras ("Pythagoras's Curtain"), Guandong ("Crossing from Guandong"), the Three Gorges Dam ("Yangtze"), junipers ("Night in Arizona"), exogamy and the Polanski movie Chinatown ("(h) the present classification").

Sometimes I ran across the very expression that is cast up in the poem: "neo-noir" for Polanski's film, and Pythagoras's akousmata illuminating the poem's strange word "acousmatic". Well, no surprise, Sarah Howe is an enthusiastic delver into Wikipedia herself. 


                                                        . . . I read
how the groom's family by Chinese tradition
should gift to her kinsmen a piglet, milk-fed . . .

when quite satisfied the bride's still intact.
I imagine your mother cranking the spit.
Crackling's coy, brittle russet then succulent fat --
that atavistic aroma make me salivate,

you physically sick. So as pet names go, Shikse's
not a bad fit. (I did play your Circean temptress . . .)
Wikipedia says it comes down from Leviticus,
how your God labelled creatures unclean to ingest . . .

This is most of the sonnet "(d) Sucking pigs"; I'd like to have quoted it all, but it's not online yet.  

I was OK on Circe and her swine because it was a story that drove a number of the Renaissance masques I wrote about recently
But I needed Menachem Kaiser's in-depth article "Is 'shiksa' an insult?", originally published in the L.A. Review of Books:
And I also needed Xu Bing's account of the performance piece that's mentioned towards the end of the poem:

The sonnet meditates on Sarah Howe's own marriage; her Chinese background, her husband's Jewish background. 

The information about the sucking pig is decontextualized; whatever the truth of this old custom (who did it, when), it's treated here more as a fancy than a fact. The poem plays with these gobbets of "information", combining them, allowing them to be symbolic and "speak volumes",  applying them like people trying on outfits. 

And yet the effect isn't playful. Our ethnic/national self-identities are constructed by us of precisely this kind of internalized stuff, sucked gobbets welcomed as prejudicial guides to life in ways they really aren't. 

A lot of the poems in Loop of Jade grow out of a painfully diligent search for connection with an elusive heritage (Sarah grew up in Hong Kong until she was eight; her mother was Chinese but being adopted had no family). 

But in this fretting sonnet there's a disgusted glimmering of recognition about how meaningless and divisive and harmful it all is. An insight that's too reductive, an insight on which no-one can finally rest. But an insight all the same. 


No less so is the poem "(l) Others", at least in its final tittering. 

our future children's skeins, carded. 

"Carded" implies a homogenization, a straightening out, of the at-least-four ethnic yarns in the future children's mix. But it's also a new beginning: the poem quotes Darwin, registering the wonderment of genesis or genetics: have been, and are being, evolved. There's a defiant celebration, too, in "They wouldn't escape by the Mischlinge Laws". 

And yet this poem registers a continuing hostility, too. There are always tyrannies around. If it's not our "blood" or our "race" or our "caste", is it the determinism inherent in science's impositions, is it the tribal and public control we seem unable to outgrow? 


A poetic so driven by the play of information must run up against questions of truth. Back in 2013 Sarah Howe discussed this in connection with false memories she had imported into a draft poem, "Loop of Jade" (in the published version, some are changed, some half-changed, some unchanged).

In another poem here, "(e) Sirens", she discusses with the same frankness her misinterpretation of Theordore Roethke's line in "Elegy for Jane"her sidelong pickerel smile. She had always thought of "pickerel" as a fish; now she "discovers" it must have meant a wading bird all along. 

As it happens I'm perfectly sure she was right the first time. "Pickerel" as a wading bird is, as far as I can see, a purely Scottish usage that Roethke wouldn't have known or considered for a moment. The enlightened Sarah's desperate attempt to make a meaningful smile out of a dunlin's "stretched beak" is an imaginative chimera (which, not coincidentally, is the topic of the poem that follows). [That Roethke's poem mentions several other birds is neither here nor there -- yes, it could suggest that "pickerel" is also a bird, but the observation works just as well as an argument against "pickerel" meaning yet another bird.]

But anyway, Sarah's poem has already laughed off its author's pubby "research", confesses it doesn't know whether Roethke's word is fish or fowl. It's not exactly a laughing poem though. A clutch of themes about the elusiveness of truth and meaning run like a central core through the collection. The discourse of the world, its endless glibness and filtering; its information that isn't; the way that, even when we're not being lied to, we still contrive to deceive ourselves. And the temptation to silence that comes from being over-sensitized to the falsity of discourse. Well, what good is silence? 

Greater Stitchwort (Rabelera holostea). Frome, 5 June 2021.

[The above scientific name was proposed in 2019, following some phylogenetic work. Up to then Greater Stitchwort had always been Stellaria holostea. Throughout British Isles. In Sweden it's quite common in the far south, but rare elsewhere (Sw: Buskstjärnblomma).]

It thuds into my chest, this pendent
ring of milky jade --
I wear it strung on an old watch chain --

meant for a baby's bracelet. Into its
smooth circlet
I can -- just -- fit a quincunx of five

fingertips. Cool on my palm it rests --
the sinople eye
on a butterfly's wing. When I was born

she took it across to Wong Tai Sin,
my mother's mother,
to have it blessed. I saw that place --

its joss-stick incensed mist, the fortune-
casting herd,
their fluttering, tree-tied pleas -- only later

as a tourist.

(from "Loop of Jade". You can see a longer extract here.)

This extract comes from towards the end of the poem. The poet's delivery is suddenly afflicted by a striking hesitancy that recalls something it talked about earlier, her mother's hesitations. As if we've finally reached a point loquacity can't touch, where little is reliable. 

Like Roethke's "pickerel", "sinople" is a word with contradictory definitions. It's a colour word but, like the word "livid", can refer to several very different colours. The OED examples for "sinople" are about equally split between green and rusty red. Actually, that kind of works here. The loop of jade itself is I suppose green, and within its circle the shadowed palm of the hand could be a sort of ferruginous shade. For after all, it's the combination of the two that resembles the eye on a butterfly's wing: both the demarcating ring, and the contrasting colour that fills it. (E.g. a Peacock butterfly or a Mountain Apollo.)

But if you think "sinople" might also have attracted the poet by its sino- prefix I think you'd be right. (Sinopoly is in fact the name of a couple of Chinese technical companies.) Sound plays quite an important role in these poems, in their awareness of and participation in semantic leakage. Think of the sequence sick-shikse-Wikipedia in the lines I quoted earlier. 

Perhaps "quincunx" is another example of this questing looseness. It ought to mean the pattern exemplified by the five on a dice: a central spot and four corner-spots. Try as I may, I don't see that you would shape your fingertips into a quincunx pattern to fit them into a ring. The fingertips are bound to be arranged more like five petals, I reckon. 

Saxifrage, garden cultivar. Frome, 5 June 2021.

[A cultivar of hybrid origin, I imagine. The leaves and tufted habit generally resemble Tufted Saxifrage (Saxifraga cespitosa), but it has more flowers on each stem than the wild plants -- comparable in that respect to Meadow Saxifrage (Saxifraga granulata).] 

Dave Coates, in his useful post  on Loop of Jade, directed me to Sarah Howe's 2013 series of five meditative travel articles titled "To China" on the BestAmericanPoetry website; well worth reading for their own sake, and they are also (I thought) an indispensable companion to the poetry collection that followed. They're all listed here:


Martyn Crucefix on Loop of Jade:
Naomi on Loop of Jade:

Tim Allen: Three Phobias


I always take Ramipril on purpose hourly or between indecent ateliers. 

Blow up the bridges. Block the lane. Barricade the stairs. In the poky suntrap of an office that welcomes guests to the mansion teaching 60’s secretaries to type the gothic tales of cub-journalists Bob Dylan sits suffering chronic telephobia. He cannot change the tune but he can amend the lyrics which theoretically could go on forever in a never-ending tour of God’s waiting rooms. When the phone rings he picks up nervously and says hello this is the wild Rowans and buffeted bays of Connacht speaking.   

Blow up the bridges. Block the lane. Barricade the stairs. A horse drawn gig approaches in the valley and will soon climb the hill getting closer and closer so blow up the birds with the kiss of death and block the badgers with the medicines of moths and barricade the bats in the cellar with the final performances of George Melly and Mark. E. Smith but be sure to be long-gone by the time the physician comes in snorting and sweating more than his horse as he hands his hat to the maid and bounds up the stairs three at a time clutching his 


This bag is toxic silence but without the solace of leeches.
This bag is a Pandora’s box but without the nuclear deterrent. 
This bag is stuffed with Jack the Ripper magazines but without Gottfried Benn poems.

On arriving in the sickroom the Gladstone takes a deep breath then settles down on the deathbed with a self-satisfied sigh. It stays shut but a miniature portrait of the patient shakes inside its closed brass clasp. The Gladstone is tough inside and out. It’s tougher than you sick dead person. Steel lining lies snug around its compartments where nothing is left lagging in the cladding of rambling shrubbery except a decoy duck with shingles. The doc’s cough is bottled to preserve the room’s brambling bourgeois incoherencies without having to wait in triage picking at a jar of aspic entombing Renfield’s flies that preamble the rebirth of lanes trooping across humped bridges looking for the stairs during ambling country miles of extreme unction or to put it another way to cut open a long story in order to shorten a different one the bag does indeed burst with short stories cut from much longer ones.


I caught herring to harvest your oily pancake here on boat’s insidious altarpiece.

This would be a good morning to cheat the gods. A cold clear day in sun’s sharp shadow. The morning invites images it has no room for which is an omen of good fortune for as long as the gods are looking the other way towards the Jacobin plotters with their weekend flea market scholarships. An image not given elbow room is casual trade selling water features with a bit of foreign brio. Yea this stuff is complicated… as Pam Ayres said: I wish I’d looked after me hard parts.

The invitation is itself the rejection – symbiosis is horror.

The quayside is straight out of a novel. The boats are straight out of the night. After a hair-of-the-dog breakfast the glamour-puss and rough handsome fisherman curve in from the world of therapeutic visualisation to meet a little breathless on the harbour wall. This is the opportune moment for imagining that the day ahead will provide not just for need but for neediness. Some for example need Raymond Queneau. Others need Jacques Cousteau and crave conversation with the drowned witches who live in the row of cottages called Pen-Pal Street, a place where the term pebble dashed means what it says. The fact that the seawall has now become a drawbridge should not be a drawback any more than the scuttled shoes handbags and teeth decorating the aquarium are there for your own amusement, not for palaeontology. 

It’s alright being spare with the details but not positively mean with them. 

When I was small those cottages were worth a bag of chips. Now they equal a beached whale breaching dreams of Britany. Not Britain. And what if they were so-called literary dreams? A Catholic lad’s cultural allowance includes nicking poetic inventories to carry down the ladders and audited levels of pre-Cambrian language whirlwinded by puns through subterranean latitudes into an ecosphere of shrewd philosophical diversion, disabused washrooms and rusty nickelodeons, re-cranked. When dream becomes reality the realisation that the limits of each are the infinity of the other is a real blow so roll with it, bounce up into an uncommon market where the old writing skills can find a job filleting mythological creatures on a great communal slab of granite where generation after generation of toilers had seen out their days. 

There is no such thing as self-sacrifice.


In southern orbits peptides terrorise every red orchid pruned hoarded or built inside attachment.

The cemetery is narrow with just enough space for a path and a row of top-to-toe heaps. You enter by one gate and leave by the gate at the far end. That’s why I never caught you up. On every plot there is a blank headstone and to the left of the path a man-high hedge but I am not man-sized so could not see over but I didn’t need to because I knew what was there, the unnerving land of the living and the lots of the crawling wood eaters. On the right behind the graves is another wall but I had no idea what lay beyond it. I did guess though - allotments in which abandoned church organs provided shelter for various little animals through the day and the terminally ill through the night but now I know different. Now that my longed-for celebrity status has caught up with my life I’ve been taken on a tour.

In my first year at Teacher’s Training College in 1970 I lived on-site in a building named after Siegfried Sassoon who recognised me as a fellow poetic talent as did a cool chisel-faced lad called Paul. He dressed in rocker denims and said he had been in The Paramounts, the nascent Procol Harum. He liked me but was very unpopular with the others in the block who never spoke to him because he was an arrogant loner who didn’t give a fuck what they thought. Anyway, he pops-up here because he wrote a really interesting poem about a city in which the mindless and conforming population behave like a colony of ants. I’m not sure what Siegfried’s opinion was of Paul or his poem as he was years ahead of us both and Paul was two years ahead of me as well so I never caught up him with him either.

I returned from the tour with a renewed regard for the land of the living and found myself wearing their trainers. Their city is the largest psychiatric hospital on the planet and every term spent there is a mighty pillar of municipal vim crisscrossed with shafts and corridors and arrows pointing as only arrows can to the total care of the hospital canteen where zest is ground into the most inaccessibly tiny corner of every cake. Somebody has to make the advert for pest control so it might as well be Tony Blair soaked in citric acid and Keira Knightly. Blair’s minions have set-up a marquee as a makeshift chapel of scientology.

Peter Philpott, Telling the Beads (2020)

by Michael Peverett

After Yule

where is there to go?
everything full
utterly green
lie on the lawn
watch the swifts
yip, yip, yip

(Opening of head poem to After Lithe (July), from Peter Philpott's Telling the Beads (2020))

I'm of course a fully-signed up fan... See e.g. this piece about Peter Philpott's previous collection Wound Scar Memories (2017): http://intercapillaryspace.blogspot.com/2018/03/in-and-around-peter-philpotts-wound.html .

But my obsession with Telling the Beads (2020) didn't kick in at once. It is, at first sight, a complicated sort of book. Peter supplies an engaging introduction that guides us through the various ingredients and formal features. Obscure Dark Age history, Brecht, the seasons, modern Stortford, modern poetry...  It was all a bit too much to take in, so what happened was, I tried to read a bit, developed some questions, went back to the introduction, sighed, read a bit more, had new questions. . . 

But gradually these short dips became longer and happier, I didn't need to consult the introduction any more, I felt habituated. And then the real reading began, and the real questions, the things the introduction can't answer. 

Telling the Beads is a calendrical structure, beginning and ending in summer. Its contents are variously seasonal, contemporary, lyrical, autobiographical, philosophical; but there's also an underlying Dark-Age story about Unwin and his war-party. The book has illustrations sourced from Victorian popular histories. It proposes a kind of undogmatic polytheism in place of both theism and atheism (e.g. with reference to the goddesses in some of Bede's month-names). 

Unwin's story has an ending, like Colin Clout's story in The Shepheardes Calendar, but in each case the poem is more than the story, and for its readers the invitation is patent, to just keep going round and round. (cf. Carol Watts' 2011 book Occasionals , another summer-to-summer poem.)  I reckon I've walked the whole course of Telling the Beads three or four times now, and I'm not done yet. I'd like to run it. 

The book is organized by months, the traditional Anglo-Saxon months reported by Bede. (There are extra intercalary days at Yule and Lithe (=midsummer).)  Another input is Bertolt Brecht's 1927 poetry collection Die Hauspostille , whence comes the idea of a manual of piety that's hostile to orthodox religion. Telling the Beads plays with the idea of being a devotional book, and it really is a devotional book. Its subtitle is A Spiritual Year Book for Our Times after Bede & Brecht. (In other respects I don't see much Brecht here, but others may.)

Each month begins with a strophic head poem, with a coda (an intriguing "oracular sentence", and a skittish open-field poem). Then come the holy days for the month, a mix of poems and prose. These holy days mostly turn out to be ordinary days, which are extraordinary days. They are titled, e.g. "A Day for a Pleasant Walk in Gentle Rain" or (its predecessor) "A Day to Think on the Oppressions Caused by Organised Religions". 

But apparently this arrangement still wasn't quite intricate enough for Peter's purposes. So, for instance, the third holy day in each month references Tove Jansson's illustrations to The Hobbit, as seen on his calendar in the kitchen. The number of holy days increases each month until Yule (from 3 to 8), then decreases to midsummer (8 back to 3). 

What Peter doesn't fully disclose is the fixed pattern of the holy day sections, which are suffixed a to h. At its full extent (in Before Yule (6) and After Yule (7)):  a is verse, b is prose (sometimes with diagrams), c is prose (the Tove Jansson one), d is verse, e is prose-verse-prose, f is epigraph-prose-verse-prose, g is prose, and h is a twelve-point list. 

Nor does he disclose that things start to change, especially in the second half of the book. The a poems stop following the strophic form of their own head poem and instead begin echoing the forms of earlier months, running backwards: i.e. 7a has the strophic form of 6, 8a has the strophic form of 5, etc. This carries on until 12a, which you would expect to match 1 but actually matches 2, the same as 11a did. (Meanwhile 8f fails to contain any inset verse; "Unwin did not make song on this theme", it tells us.) 

Something else, too. In the poems of the first three months the stanzas (or strophes) are elaborately matched line for line, by morphed vocabulary and meaning, an aspect of Peter's poetry that I've previously termed "phrase transformation". It's half an echo, half a dialogue.  As an example, here's the head poem for Holy Month (3):

look! another time to start
this year has nothing but, so
look at what it gives us
summer again (all brief)
and a chance to dig in
harvesting slow to make
due sacrifice to all the powers
manifold & circumambient
last brightness in the air

it starts with us all together
you can say we begin with nothing
except what the world now gives us
insects again & all small life
thronging where we dig
harvesting in the middle of decay
preparing what is due to live
many folded around us
lost in the brightness of the air

Let's just hold it together
begin again with nothing
open to what the world gives
life innumerable & delicate
bursting out where we dig
harvest triumphs over decay
preparing some brief escape
our lives are folded in this world
lost within its final brief air

This resonance is still discernible in months 4 to 7, but only just. Then it's gone until Aretha Month (9) when we suddenly catch its elusive presence between two poems. In 11a it's there but restricted to the last line of each stanza. Finally (head poem of 12) it returns in something like its full effect.

In short, there's literally no end to discovering features if you want to, but you don't have to. It's like the book of nature. 


Reading this poetry means experiencing a paradox, or rather many paradoxes. 

The poems are both silly and wise, both simple and complex, both committed and uncommitted, both casual and engaged, both mundane and grand, both throwaway and crafted, both reverent and irreverent.

When I wrote about Wound Scar Memories I talked about this as the expression of the poet's character, the "Peter of the poems". But in Telling the Beads what seems more prominent is that these paradoxes are a way of staying true to a particular vision of life,  a vision purged of idealism and authority but humble, credible and warm-hearted.


You can imagine that the word "now" might feature largely in poems so linked to specific times of year, and so it proves. Along with "this" and "here", it chimes through the book. But the word is less prominent in midsummer and almost absent in winter. Does this prove anything? I suppose not. But I feel that it's attentive to our common experience; that "now" correlates with times of the year when we're keenly aware of change: the earlier nightfall in August, the approach of winter in November, proper spring in April. And it's less prominent at those times of year when our main sense is of each day being much like the next. 

Occurrences of "now" in Telling the Beads (I've ignored the prose. hp = head poem)

After Lithe (Jul) 1hp0. 1a1. total 1.
Weed Month (Aug) 2hp5. 2a2. 2d4. total 11.
Holy Month (Sep) 3hp2. 3a1. 3d1. 3e1. total 5.
Winter Full (Oct) 4hp0. 4a1. 4d1. total 2.
Blood Month (Nov) 5hp2. 5a2. 5d2. total 6.
Before Yule (Dec) 6hp3. 6a0. 6d0. 6e2. total 5.
Yule. Days 1,2,3,5,6,8,9,10,11,12: 0. total 0.
After Yule (Jan) 7hp0. 7a1. 7d0. total 1.
Mud Cake Month (Feb) 8hp0. 8a0. 8d0. total 0.
Aretha Month (Mar) 9hp0. 9a0. 9d0. 9e1. 9f1. total 2.
Easter Month (Apr) 10hp2. 10a1. 10d2. 10e1. total 6.
Three Milks Month (May) 11hp0. 11a0. 11d1. total 1.
Before Lithe (Jun) 12hp1. 12a0. total 1.
Lithe (midsummer) Day 1: 0. Day 3: 2. total 2.

Now, this, here .... it's a poetry that conveys rather than describes. It deploys a quite sparse set of facts: green, sunlight, insects, greyness, birds, wind, the swifts and lime trees that book-end the sequence. We hear the "yips" of those returning swifts before we catch sight of them. The focus isn't on something we see, it's on something we're in. Mostly we don't see much in the way of detail, yet we definitely know we're here and this is now. 
All the diffuse & varying things
the somewhere & the arbitrary constraints
what is the use?
                                not subtle
not some controlling grammar, no
just the inheritance again from arbitrary power
that won't outlast our deaths there
-fore shouldn't outlast our lives
even though the weather breeds submission
this life can be amended
made of flower, eggs, milk & fruit
small knots of resurrected sunlight
crunching against our teeth
                                                     no one
needs that dying worthlessness
this month is short as the sun returns

(from 8d, "The Day to Realise How Short the Month Is")

Mud Cake Month

Billy Mills on Telling the Beads:


Billy's post gives a better sense than mine of the succession of different materials, and it persuaded me to listen out for the individual character of the poems, though I dare say that's not very apparent.

Peter Riley has a brief notice on Telling the Beads here:


Two other posts about Telling the Beads:



Shira Dentz: Beads / swarm then -- shingling,

              The Penmanship of Trees

To take these lines, however flimsy,
hurl them at the white shrouded sky.
Animal musk absent
from the pelts of boughs

                                                                                   the white
                                                                                   a gluten-
                                                                                   Nodules that line my throat

Enter the white
amnesiac hive,
not honeycomb- or yolk-
yellow. Beads
swarm, then—shingling,
a migration of pine needles

To cool the number of damp beads in this morning’s wind, smell the leaves and
woodstuff it edged around and bore into all night; no one saw. A stalk of tree branches
rocks behind the porch.

(Poem by Shira Dentz, from how do i net thee (Salmon Poetry, 2018). I'm hoping it's OK to quote it in full, since it's already available on Salmon Poetry's own site.)

"The Penmanship of Trees" isn't quite as peaceful as its title. There's a violence to "hurl" and "penetrate"; a moral trouble in a word like "amnesiac". It's a nature poem but not in a sense that excludes human concerns. The words "my" and "no one saw" are peopled. Of course it makes sense that the incessant overnight scribbling and scattering of the trees were unseen by any humans, it's a thought that can provoke a gentle meditative wonder. And yet the italics seem to say that this isn't just calm meditation, we want to ask: What 'no one'? -- as if we sense an unstated someone.

Shira Dentz is an author who willingly courts the term "hybrid". She began as a graphic designer working in the music industry, and you can see that background in the remarkable care given to the presentation of how do i net thee; its jacket, title page, the intricate typesetting and visual layouts. Some of her other books, such as door of thin skins (2013, about psychological abuse) and Sisyphusina (2020, about women's aging and beauty) intermix a lot of documentary and fictional prose. These books admit content in a way that much experimental poetry doesn't; in other words, the kind of content we're inclined to call "straightforward", though the books themselves show how "straightforward" isn't an adequate description.

"The Penmanship of Trees" is indisputably a poem, but even here you can see the careful hybridity; the switch to prose at the end, starting again from the same word "To", is a change of tempo and a change in the mode of thinking, but what strikes us is more the development of the poem's statement than its cancellation. A confidence that multiple modes is the only way to get to what she needs to say.

Considering it's just 11 years since her first published book, there's already a mass of online writing about Shira Dentz' work. I've only read a small fraction of it, but here's some things I found particularly interesting:

Hanna Andrews' Omniverse review of how do i net thee:

Pepper Luboff's interview with Shira Dentz, mostly about door of thin skins (2013). (PL was also the creator of the brilliant jacket of how do i net thee, shown above.)

Two reviews of door of thin skins on Galatea Resurrects:
1. by Sima Rabinowitz:
2. by Eileen Tabios:

Shira Dentz' new book Sisyphusina has just been published (April 2020). An extract was published as FLOUNDERS in 2016, and this is available online:
Koh Xin Tian's interview with Shira Dentz about the technicalities of producing FLOUNDERS:

My previous glance at how do i net thee:

Shira Dentz

[Image source: http://jstheater.blogspot.com/2018/04/poems-shira-dentz-robert-hayden.html .]

Ten Bayatis

Rocks lay out around Tebriz,
Its golden earth blows fresh breeze.
    Tebriz is no more in peace,
Dare not to disturb Tebriz.

Təbriz üstü daşlıdı,
Torpağı zər qaşlıdı.
    Dindirməyin Təbrizi,
Gözləri qan yaşlıdı.

Gence is further than here,
Its lawns padded with flowers.
    Love’s death is an act of god,
Parting from love is torture.

Burdan uzaq Gəncədir,
Güllər pəncə-pəncədir.
    Ölüm tanrı işidir,
Ayrılıq içkəncədir.

Now, Araz ‘was’ partitioned,
But allowed to be silted.
    No way, I would part from you,
This bitter parting was forced.

Arazı ayırdılar,
Qum ilə doyurdular.
    Mən səndən ayrılmazdım,
Zülm ilə ayırdılar.

Yowl and howl echo outcries,
Twinkles of stars sound outcries.
    A sole bud cheers the meadow,
Out of thirst, that too cries out.

Haraylar hay haraylar,
Hər ulduzlar haraylar.
    Çiməndə bir gül bitib,
Susuzundan haraylar.

The moon rose but sank in pools,
Your face looks like just a moon.
    My youth days sank one by one,
Without you, my sky has no moon!

Ay doğdu düşdü çaya,
Camalın bənzər aya.
    Cavan ömrüm cürüdü,
Günləri saya-saya.

The moon rose, when the sun set,
At their gap, lovers were blessed.
    My keepsake for my sweetheart,
Was shared there, at our closest.

Ay doğdu batan yerdə,
Can-cana qatan yerdə.
    Dosta yadigar verdim,
Yaxından ötən yerdə.

My love lives by, life goes on,
Sad or cheerful, time goes on.
    Upon hearing of lone nights,
Tears appear in my love’s eyes.

Yar gələr yaşa dolar,
Ya ağlar, ya şad olar.
    Hicran sözün eşitcək,
Gözləri yaşa dolar.

Hope you favour me and me,
Fill the cup, also for me.
    Life is spent, our days are gone,
Youth days lost for you and me.

Əzizinəm bir də mən,
Doldur içim bir də mən.
    Ömür keçdi, gün keçdi,
Cavan olmam bir də mən.

O my love, it is high times,
This moonrise is on high times.
    I can swear to what you wish,
Your heart lifts my heart’s high times.

Əzizim qəlbiləndi,
ay doğdu qəlbiləndi.
    Nəyə desən and içim,
Bu qəlb o qəlbləndir.

O my love, let a rose bud,
Nightingales cheer by rose-buds.
    I miss you with all my heart,
Gloom, no more, but buds and buds.

Əziziyəm, oyan gül,
Oyan, bülbül! Oyan, gül!
    Könül fəqan eyləyir,
Nə yatmısan oyan gül?


Translator's notes:

Tebriz: The capital of historic Azerbaijan and now the capital of South Azerbaijan (outside the Republic of Azerbaijan).
Gence: Second largest city in the Republic of Azerbaijan (North Azerbaijan).
Araz: A river that rises in Turkey and flows to the Caspian Sea, cutting through the heart of Azerbaijan (South and North).
Bayati #4: A lament for the fate of South Azerbaijan in modern times.


Bayatis are a form of Azerbaijani folk-poetry. Over 10,000 have been written down but most never are. A bayati has four lines, each of seven syllables. Rhyming is on lines 1,2 and 4. The first two lines set the scene and the next two deliver the message. Bayatis express desire, wishes, anxieties, longings and other fundamental human emotions. Both anonymous and named poet composers seek simplicity of expression as well as intricate word-play.

These translations are by Yashar Toghay, pen-name of the hydrological engineer Rahman Khatibi.

One word more

… about giving instruction as to what the world ought to be. Philosophy in any case always comes on the scene too late to give it. As the thought of the world, it appears only when actuality has completed its process of formation and attained its finished state. The teaching of the concept, which is also history’s inescapable lesson, is that it is only when actuality is mature that the ideal first appears over against the real and that the ideal grasps this same real world in its substance and builds it up for itself into the shape of an intellectual realm. When philosophy paints its grey in grey, then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy’s grey in grey it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood. The owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the falling of dusk.
G. W. F. Hegel, Outlines of the Philosophy of Right, translated by T. M. Knox, revised, edited, and introduced by Stephen Houlgate, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p.16
But surely you paint “on” not “in”? Perhaps: ‘When philosophy paints its grey on grey, then has a form of life grown old. By philosophy’s grey on grey … it cannot be revived but only understood.’

And surely it is night that falls, not dusk?

‘The owl of Minerva takes flight only as night falls.’

‘The owl of Minerva only takes flight at nightfall.’

‘The owl of Minerva takes flight only into the dusk.’

‘Only at twilight does the owl of Minerva begin its flight.’

So, according to Hegel, our task can never be to change the world, telling it what it should be. There are complicated arguments here: about how the ideal and the intellectual sphere are only possible at a certain – late – stage of development; about the temporal disjunction between the ideal and the real, between the thought of the world and the world. But the key point is, surely, that the world can never be bent to the will of the “should” because thought is always a step or two behind. Our intervention is always too late. The present moment has already gone.

And here it is difficult not to think of Gatsby – as tragic Hegelian hero. For his whole tragedy is to think that he can recreate a moment from the past and regain the love of Daisy. His problem is that she cannot hold to that singular moment in the past and recreate it again in the present. That Daisy, and her love for the young Gatsby, is lost in the flow of time. She only remembers.

Nick Carraway is the philosopher, a minor part of the action, mostly an observer. At several points he states his sense of being old before his time, outside of his world, looking back into it: ‘a form of life grown old.’ For him the present is always out of reach. But he has the role of philosopher and, despite his taste for nostalgia, at least can understand and give a truthful account of what happened. And so, The Great Gatsby concludes with Carraway’s Hegelian reflections on the tragedy of history that Gatsby embodies.
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night…
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
But what then is the foundation of Gatsby’s relentless dream? What is his intense commitment to that singular moment in the past?

John Seed 

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