Language Was Slipping: Ken Edwards (IV)

There are three 'autobiographical' Edwards works next to each other in No Public Language. In 1984, he published 'A4 Portrait', and then in 1988 turned the paper sideways for 'A4 Landscape'. Edwards notes, "The original premise of 'A4 Portrait' was that the writing should be generated spontaneously on a daily basis, with erasure being the only permitted editorial function." The result is a series of short strip-lines in columns, each one dated like a diary for the middle of 1983; 'A4 Landscape' presents longer lines, longer poems, and longer titles – places and journeys in 1984/5. If Portrait's jottings are consciousness humming, or a hum whirred up consciously, then Landscape purports to gesture at the network of intent that perceives things out, within:

28 April 84
5 pigeons on roof, 2 on parapet
Male strut (courtship) green neck puffed tip
12.07: 2 more join the group ranged on raked slates
5 fly in the air a short distance settle again after a moment
12.09: Now 11 in total all on the roof
4 of lighter body with dark barred wings, 2 self groom
13.01: No pigeons

Pigeons appear several times, the slight iridescence of the city. There are lots of things heard, quotes sourced and free, in particular the shipping forecast, surely slipping slightly:

Cromarty Forth southerly 6 perhaps increasing gale 8 later
Fair, moderate or good
Blonde, sanguine, in clinch with Irishman in bow tie
German Bight: locally 4 easterly 5 in south

There are many such slippages of placement – the "Eight wardrobes full of pineapples" on 27 April 84. Has someone written specifically about the shipping forecast in British poetry? This sea-based weather-shifting outline? The Landscapes seem preoccupied by attempts to define – personality, country – which lap and overlap around, in and through the poet's point. I must also mention an acute piece of neoclassical video-game criticism: "Pac-man reels in Ariadne's thread".

The hum of Portrait is in the insistent rhythms of these pieces:

25. ix. 83
Where is the loved one going
Sugar on a glass table
Splits the light
The quiet suddenly broken
The curve
She's much happier there
She won't talk about it
Triangulation of the 5 corners
I wish you hadn't come
Get up move slowly
Across the room, a coffee cup
No coherence to it
No way of analysing
The play
A knock on the door
And everything changes again
Without warning

Contracted to the mundane, sugar and a coffee cup, attention deflected onto the next line, bumped to the next. A daily stack of antennae?

In 1993 Edwards then published 3,600 Weekends, which is subtitled "An Autobiography in Several Modes'. It appears to be a kind of alphabetical circumfession, from 'Abstractedly' to Zoetrope, an autobiography which, in the best tradition, never begins. It begins:

That I walked alone in the dark city midst
That a melody stated in background decay
Became tone values deftly hot but unknown
That the sun went down thereon
Smoked into a bass line        all of this

It can read as 26 disjointed arguments extended from each title. . . 'Kinetically', 'Lexically', 'Materially'. . . the diversity of parts which Lucretius lists, "everything is formed out of connections, densities, shocks, encounters, concurrences, and motions" (De Rerum Natura, 1:633).


The last section in this Selected is 'from Glissando Curve', which is a previously unpublished book (it was going to be a Sun & Moon in the mid Nineties but wasn't for some reason. Another part of this phantom book forms last year's Spectacular Diseases pamphlet 'Bird Migration in the 21st Century' - to be reviewed here very soon.) Sliding notes – poems from 'Sizewell Ghazal' to 'Alborada of Late Capitalism', death and rhyme schemes – of several kinds, Edwards' innovative ghazals. The first Gulf War brings news of torture and low-flying aircraft; there is a visit to Bartók's house which occasions the title's glissando curve away from silence and back (Bartók perhaps shares with Berg a great attraction to the arch). Newspaper reports of events in the Balkans form 'Wave Ghazal' which I'll quote in full:

Wave Ghazal

This boy is in love with Maria
He wears a wedding ring on the wrong finger

Satellite dishes scan the troposphere
For voices warm with promise

When he finishes the fighting
he is going to Belgrade to marry her

The industrial palaces are crumbling
Voices die mutate their rays

Of dark intentionality flicker resonate
In blood bone muscle in the cathedrals

On the floor of his truck
His Kalashnikov points into the trees

Too many voices call mutate the duende
In the quantum void

The convoy's trucks clatter through the forest
On a mountain road he hears

The duende's long bow wave
On the receiving station

And somewhere there's a house
Made of blond wood filmed with dust

The spirit in that house the
Spiral in the dust

Edmund Hardy

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