Instance to Instance

Uncertain Measures, Aidan Semmens (90pp, Shearsman)
The Dances of Albion, A Poetic Topograph
y, John Milbank,
    (90pp, Shearsman)
Breathing Again, A Journal
, Stephen Bett, (132 pp, $23, Ekstasis Editions)

As 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 semi-occluded way:

   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 contain
   literary experiments
        [The opening lines of 'Rhapsody']

John 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 headland,
   coating with miraculous exactitude
   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 culture
   to its essence of prophecy.
   The closed shops, meagre produce,
   cold faŤades
   and slurry-dumps at the edge of villages.
   A comfotrtless succumbing to ressentiment

   and mad hopes for a reconquered Britain.

Stephen 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
   my heart.

   A day of errands,
   'shaping' (A-

You have to want to travel with him, in the wake of his days.

          © David Hart 2015