Comment on Ralph Hawkins' piece--

Peter Riley

I feel very grateful for this assiduousness. I wonder what difference Ralph thinks the later adventures of the Diagram Poems made? Around 1980 Doug did a lot of readings, almost on tour sometimes, taking with him the diagrams on a huge pad of paper, which he would drape over a chair and flip back the pages from one diagram to the next as he read the poems, with interpolated explanations and comments, mostly on the diagrams -- the poems were read straight. Although much of this was after the Ferry Press publication of 1979 the work was obviously still in process of development, in detail anyway. He says in the Author's Note in Kind (1987) (p.8) "...when performing these in public I have often reverted to my original notion of the text" and that the diagrams have returned to their "more primitive states" before David Chaloner' tidied them.

But in the version in Kind, and more so in Selected Poems (1996) there is a lot more text, a lot more labelling in the diagrams, in fact the amount of labelling increases steadily through the Ochre + 1979 + 1987 + 1996 versions. I take this also to be a result of his performances before an audience, and a wish to reduce the enigmatic, puzzling or inexplicable elements in the diagrams and relate them more evidently to the poems, to reduce the difficulties. For Douglas did believe in clarity as a poetical virtue, clarity of sense and clarity of image, though he often had a struggle to achieve it because of various and conflicting notions of the functioning of poetry which he wanted to assimilate. The diagrams having been meditational sources for elements of the text remain there as indicators of this process, but I don't think Doug wanted them to become visual "works of art" whose semantic inarticulateness spread unnecessary doubts and problems into the ensemble. He may also have been worried about a too meccano-like way of creating poems by taking material from the diagrams into text. The cancelled poem "Do not now always revolve..." (A Meeting for Douglas Oliver p.52) is much more closely related to the diagram than "Fire" which replaced it.

In about 1980 I put on a reading for Doug in a bookshop in Cromford, Derbyshire, at which he did the Diagram Poems. His impromptu comments there went way beyond the occasion. I recorded him on a little cassette-recorder and he later later transcribed this and extended it until it became "The Three Lilies" (1982). In the discussion I suggested to him that The Diagram Poems first really "come alive" in the fourth poem, "Central", when Tom's voice appears, interrupting the news broadcasting and creating a newly dramatic construct. Doug agreed with this, and said he thought it was a structural fault in the book.

Seems to me that Tom also interrupts the diagrams, interrupts the diagrammatic construction of the text and interrupts everything with what Doug in 3 Lilies called vivid emotion. "...vivid emotion conducts us into the gliding instant and a succession of such gliding instants slow down time for us... Poems... give us a presentiment of the gliding and of the visions." So at the point where the book 'comes alive' the movement of the spirit is in the other direction, from text (speech) towards the visual as an arrest of the linear flux. The poem makes its own diagram. I can't help wondering whether that particular diagram (to "Central"), particularly the lower part of it, isn't derived from the poem rather than preceding it.

This slowing or sequential arrest of time in the achieved poem is a weapon against what Doug called "swift harm".

Peter Riley

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