Aidan Semmens (90pp, Shearsman)
The Dances of Albion, A Poetic Topography, John Milbank,
Breathing Again, A Journal, Stephen Bett, (132 pp, $23, Ekstasis Editions)
conveyed by his poems, Aidan Semmens seems always adrift in an uncertain
world, but it becomes a question, as a reader, was he there, was this
personal? Not least, I recall no poet who so demonstrated why poetry gets to
politics, while not talking politics per se, gets into crisis while not talking
crisis per se. He
demonstrates that a poet can get in there, can stand back, can wonder, in a
way rare for any matter's specialists.
But was he there? 'Corrupt Text' begins 'all along the tracks/ we saw the
soldiers/ and the war machines'. Did he witness 'a statue of Lenin brought
down to size'? On television perhaps? Poems are news that stay news (was that
Adrian Mitchell?), or perhaps, or some do. I wonder whether this poet was
present at 'A Listening Station', and could say therefore, 'you now enter /
the not-for-profit sector/cannot contain good news for the Turks and North
Africa/ compete to sell me/ "the Red Army" hats and signs.
And lines quoted short of the whole poem end in the air, the poems are
unpunctuated, moving from view to view, instance to instance. Is this
intended to have itself a political purpose, a sensuous or philosophical
conveyance? The book begs big questions and is strong enough to stand its
ground: let the reader wait. The language is unusually alive, in this
how can I kiss your dust?
I am your dust
for every new song
you can find an old tune
almost never does a diary
[The opening lines of 'Rhapsody']
Milbank's The Dances of Albion is, by contrast, a set of reports or
contributions, as it were, to a travel guide book. His theology, as I recall,
was not such an easy read. His 'I' is prominent, the 'I was there', in Dorset
and then in Pembrokeshire and elsewhere at some length, and in every poem
there is a developing or anyway continuing 'being there'.
There is such pleasure in shared walking and conversation, I became aware of
his solo voice as unshared: no response, no voices working off each other.
Alternatively one might be pleased to listen in. And, to be fair,
conversation does not arise from such words, which are essentially
meditations; the opening of 'The Concealments of Buchan':
The sea swims with green
and swarms with silver.
The sun casts its vast
irregular petals over the
shoulders and leas of the
coating with miraculous
every bump and dip.
I'm not sure what this adds up to, whether much surfaces that is not already
surface. History comes in, theology does, but is there more than a loose,
sentimental travel guide, easy description with nods in his specialist
directions? Towards the end of 'The Pembrokeshire Cosmology',
Walking to the post box
over the iron plateau,
I survey the reduction of
to its essence of
The closed shops, meagre
and slurry-dumps at the
edge of villages.
A comfotrtless succumbing
and mad hopes for a
Blatt's Breathing Arizona is a journal of snatchlets, to coin a visual, and needs
no list of titles because there is only the one: the book is continuous. This
is his fifteenth book of poems, of poem. He lives in Vancouver.
There are tiny asterisks: some separation as the voice moves on. For instance
here is one - perhaps day - into the next:
Nite Katie, love. A
couple more pages,
plans for dinner
w/John A. texting
u gorgeous son.
But mostly, thinking
I don't ever want
to live again w/out
the joy u bring into
A day of errands,
You have to want to travel with him, in the wake of his days.