Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Today's informal John Daniel chat at Peter Jeffery's house

Today was mid-week of the 2011 WA Spring Poetry Festival ... and part of the action was a gentle afternoon getting to know and listen to John Daniel, visiting UK poet.

Among other things discussed (Prynne, LANGUAGE poetry, the social fabric of London) John spoke of that English modernist poet, Barry MacSweeney. His allusion to "Pearl" set me thinking (not always an easy thing to do), so when I had a minute I went looking through that wonderful window called Google. Here's a little of what I found - I post it here mainly for those other people that were present - Ron Okeley, Chris Arnold, Janet Jackson, Ken Hudson, Neil Pattinsen, Gary de Piazzi, Sue Clennel, Jennifer Compton, Peter J himself, Anne Dyson and others I know by face but not by name (sorry).



MacSweeney’s ‘Pearl’ (“I am Pearl, queen of the dale”) confirms his credentials as a belated Romantic, mining the resources of the language to their full potential and mixing medieval anachronisms like the three-stressed alliterative line with post-modern pop-culture slang in jarring, dazzling poetry:

I leak truth like a wound, sore not seen to.
Call me a scab if you wish, I’m still plain Pearl.
Wild Knitting was named after me, I know you did, Bar.
Every day—I wake at four - tongue fever grasps me
and I am possessed: though
my screen is blank and charmless to the human core
I have an unbending desire to marry consonants and vowels
and mate them together
in what you call phrases and sentences
which can become—imagine it—books!

MacSweeney’s poetry in ‘Pearl’ is powerful, almost effortless in its ability to match its historical sweep with his characteristic honesty in pointing out the wrongs of the contemporary world—closer, perhaps, to Piers Plowman than Pearl. At the same time he manages to sustain an ironic, self-deprecating distance, recognising that words and worlds can never fully correspond, that nature poetry is never the poetry of nature:

. . . an engine revved before
daybreak, as the world, the permanent wound
I would never know in sentence construction, fled
away from my heather-crashing feet, splash happy
kneefalls among the tumblestones,
whip-winged plovers shattering the dew.


Here's what MacSweeney had to say about Pearl:

'Pearl was a mute girl who lived at the top of the lonnen (or loaning) who was also spellbindingly beautiful and the first girl I saw naked, swimming in the East Allen. She could not speak and was treated locally like an idiot. ... And I taught her to read and write, high on the law. She was fierce and majestic like the landscape - ...' (from Don't Ask Me What I mean: Poets in their own Words', Picador Poetry 2003) (I found it in a second hand bookshop once - a nice little collection of poets' introductions to their own collections)

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