Poems by J. H. Prynne, Bloodaxe Books Ltd. 2015 trade paper edition, 671 pages plus index of titles, expanded edition of 2005 publication plus several newer collections.
I know poetry isn’t for everyone, by my love of poetry began when I was very young and my parents read it to me, and it has remained unabated since. Though I don’t read poetry every day, I do usually read some each week, sometimes favorites, sometimes less known either to me or generally.
In a recent issue of Slightly Foxed, the quarterly literary magazine to which I subscribe, there was an essay on J. H. Prynne, whose name was new to me. He is considered Britain’s leading late Modernist poet.
From the publisher:
“Prynne’s austere yet playful poetry challenges our sense of the world, not by any direct address to the reader but by showing everything in a different light, enacting slips and changes of meaning through shifting language. Not since the late work of Ezra Pound and the Maximus series of Charles Olson have the possibilities of poetry been so fundamentally questioned and extended as they are in the life work of J.H. Prynne. When his Poems was first published in 1999, it was immediately acclaimed as a landmark in modern poetry. Four further collections were added to the second edition of Poems in 2005. This expanded third edition of Poems (2015) includes the complete texts of his later work: Refuse Collection (2004), To Pollen (2006), Streak~~~Willing~~~Entourage /Artesian (2009), Sub Songs (2010), Kazoo Dreamboats; or, On What There Is (2011), and Al-Dente (2014), all previously available only in limited editions, as well as a group of uncollected poems.”
And there is this, from Robert Potts of The Guardian:
‘The longer I have stayed with these pieces, the more they have moved and haunted me; the more I have felt altered by having experienced them…Prynne is hard-going, off-putting, and much disliked by many more traditional writers; he is also, when one gets into him, so good that he changes the way you think and feel.’
I’ll be dipping into this as it sits out on the side table for some time to come.
Bob asked for a sample, so: Down where changed (1979), a title that itself seems to offer some expectation of fissure:
If the day glow is mean
and spoiled by recognition
as a battery hen, you must know
how the voice sways out of time
into double image, neither one true
a way not seen and not unseen
within its bent retort
we feed on flattery of the absent
its epic fear of indifference
all over again and then
that’s it, the whole procession
reshuffles into line.