p.o.w. series 2 : de campos, gooding, johnstone, price, lucie-smith & williams

p.o.w. series two poster

Antonio is still the quickest man in poetry publishing, last time we met he was painting naked artists then I hear that the second series of the p.o.w. broadsides can be expected any day from Brazil. The postal service is a little slower than Antonio and the days drag into a week, I check with the post this end, Antonio with the post at his (no strike) until the jiffybag arrives, paper-slab heavy, BRASIL, R$ 22.65.

The second series is no let down and, if anything, declares its homage to the original futura series of the 1960s with even more conviction. I will be editing the third series over the Autumn and Antonio has declared a signature style of editing and production for these publications that will require plenty of thinking through to do justice to the impressive body of work he has built up through the first twelve publications. Already the p.o.w. series seems like a short anthology of the global variety in poetry in the spirit of Jerome Rothenberg's Poems for the Millenium volumes. The advantage with this series is that they can be hung on a wall to offer a backlit textual presence to any room.

The first in this new series is by Brazilian concrete poetry legend - arguably joint-godfather of the initial movement (with Eugen Gomringer) in the 1950s - Augusto de Campos. Reading expoems is like meeting one of your heros in the fear that the mystique might be ruined only to find that they are - and their work is -  even better than you thought. de Campos, along with his brother Haroldo and Décio Pignatari, was a co-founder of the Noigrandes Group, co-writing the "pilot plan for concrete poetry" in 1958 - which had such an influence on the UK movement, particularly Ian Hamilton Finlay and Dom Sylvester Houédard. What is fascinating with expoems here is that where Augusto's early work was concerned with sexuality and the body - such as the text-made-body poem "here are the lovers" (1953) - the poems here take on the spirit of his brother Haroldo's work (who died in 2003 and wrote the acerbically political transient servitude about hunger in Brazil, back in 1961) in its full-on attack of economic injustice and the place of poetry to address this:

augusto de campos from expoems

Mel Gooding is an art critic, writer and exhibition organiser and here the poet of sextet: improvisations (a garland for a painter of modern life). Given the roots of the initial futura series in the interzone between the visual and textual (including artists / poets such as Dieter Roth and Bob Cobbing) it is perfectly fitting to find Gooding's contribution to this series. If concrete poetry can be seen as an explosive third wave of literary Modernism Gooding's focus here is on the line of writers from Blake and Rimbaud that made that explosion possible. This series captures the flaneurial urgency of Breton and Benjamin, the stifling exultation of being alive in the newly modernised cities, trapped within glass domes that simultaenously allowed them to see whilst offering a new corporate reminder of mortality:

Grand central stations, concrete platforms and terrazo concourses; boulevards and avenues, vistas, great streets, little streets named for great men, passages, pavements, alleys; les grands magasins, arcades of iron and glass; cathedrals, churches;
                                                               (Mel Gooding, A. Breton)

A few generations along the line and the great Scottish contribution to modern poetry of Ian Hamilton Finlay and Edwin Morgan  is very much alive in the work of Julie Johnstone (p.o.w. 9) and Richard Price (p.o.w. 10). Julie Johnstone is the editor of the concrete-focussed essence press and has published Thomas A. Clarke and Eugen Gomringer. She is a poet who knows how to make the space surrounding words (and letters), and the force of each syllable, work much harder than hundreds of poets who flog the long line as if they've got a tenna eachway on their own poem to hit the end with something close to impressiveness. Her wonderful poems here, in seeing, remind me of Olson's quote (paraphrasing Pound) that what we really love in great poetry is the play of the mind:


(Julie Johnstone from seeing)

Richard Price is, for my money, one of the best poets of his generation. He has a casually powerful way of allowing the undersaid, the overheard, the understated, the half-finished to limber musically across the massive themes of love and communication. His use of language is never less than supple and believable. He has worked with bookmaker Ron King on collaborative poetry/artbooks and is completely at ease with the possiblitlies of the p.o.w. format:

richard price from taku

Price's new book Small World will be published by Carcanet in November and promises to be one of the poetry highlights of the year. 

p.o.w. 11 by Edward Lucie-Smith is a powerfully intense series of poems about the Srebrenica massacre which took place in Bosnia in 1995. It acts as a reminder of the title for this series of broadsides that p.o.w is the acronym for: poetry / oppose / war:

Buried, reburied, unburied,
Stacked up,
Two thousand
Of the nameless,
Waiting for their stolen
Names to be returned to them
                     (Edward Lucie-Smith, 6. Bodies at Tuzla)

Chrissy Williams is one of the few poets who've emerged over the past few years who gives me that static-suspense of wondering what she'll come up with next. Her pamphlet The Jam Trap appeared earlier this year and includes 24 familarly domestic but skewered-out-of-kilter vignettes each of which  has been illustrated by a different comics artist. Suspense is the only word to describe p.o.w. 12, murder she wrote, as the panels unfold 6 images of Angela Lansbury are waiting to look at you, in a friendly if slightly over-inquisitive way:

chrissy williams angela

Williams has a gift of layering the serious and preposterous which leaves you unsure if you should be dancing with the Muppets or calling for the undertaker. Her gift is in making what might be just preposterous in other poets's work seem inevitable in hers - why hasn't anyone written a violent love poem to Angela Lansbury before? This is a resounding end to p.o.w. series 2, melding poetry that is precisely tuned and mysterious with the visual in a way that it would be hard to imagine the world without:


p.o.w. series 2 are available for £5 each p+p or £25 for the set of six. To but email: poetry@unit4art.com or contact: studiobookshop@btconnect.com.


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