Monday, June 12, 2006

As if We Were Not Surrounded: Irish Matters

Many, many are the ignominious humiliations. There are, in fact, two points of ignominy for me to acknowledge. Firstly, it is my sad duty to report that the Philadelphia Traveling Team trounced the Chicago and North Shore Croquet Association, sweeping us in this weekend's tournament, despite our home-field advantage. Let sackcloth and ashes be my fate this day.

Also, Mike Begnal writes in from Ireland to point out that my open letter to Stephen Burt on British experimental poetry seems to imply that Begnal has perpetuated the myth that there is no Irish experiemtal poetry. What I'd hoped to do, in citing an article by Begnal, was to show how Begnal was one of a very few critics willing to break the news about Ireland's experimental poetry. Back in the 90s, almost no one wrote about poets like Trevor Joyce, Billy Mills, Randolph Healy, Catherine Walsh, and Geoffrey Squires. Things have started to change, and Begnal's had something to do with it. Begnal's got an interesting piece on this up on his blog, B’Fhiú an Braon Fola.

In other Irish experimental poetry news, Geoffrey Squires has a new book, Lines, out from Shearsman. In a gesture of great generosity and practicality (given the difficulties in getting small press books across the Atlantic), Shearsman has made it available as a free download. Lines is of a piece with Squires' earlier work, which means it is lean, abstract, informed by phenomenology, and that it sounds a lot like Beckett's sparer writing.

Squires gives you only a few words per page, and the experience of moving slowly, page to page, looking at all that white space, is important because much of Squires' work is about the large proportion of our being that isn't conscious or verbal -- the white spaces surrounding our verbal, conscious core. My favorite moments in his poetry are those in which we suddenly sense that there has, all along, been more going on around us than we have noticed -- when we understand, retrospectively, what we've been unconsciously registering all along. In Lines, for example, we proceed along with some Becketting stammering, never quite making a full statement, until we turn the page and come to the following line:"as if we were not surrounded." It sits there alone on the page, just radiating a kind of unheimlich sensation. All of our introverted Beckettian brooding over the previous pages, we feel, has been going on while we didn't notice the forces gathering around us.