Tuesday, 15 April 2014

a final p.o.w. : perrone, melville, vas dias, herxheimer, jenkins, goussey, fowler & mayer



poster for p.o.w. series four

The fourth and final series of p.o.w. broadsides has landed. The project is complete. 26 letters in the alphabet, 26 works. The series also mirrors the original futura series of the 1960s and brings the lives of the legendary and fledging series into one parallel path through the inclusion of work by the editor and creator of futura, Hansjorg Mayer. Fittingly the note to number 26, Mayer's entropy, reads: "The p.o.w. series is inspired by and dedicated to him".

The p.o.w. project doesn't just look backwards but also showcases the strong current state of experimental poetry. Antonio Carvalho has created a series that poets and editors will no doubt look back on as being one of  the most exciting publishing ventures in poetry of the decade. The broadsides have now been complied into a boxed edition and as such reads as a kind of new anthology of all that's possible in the language arts.

The first broadside in the new series is Charles A. Perrone's halves and have nots which includes six lines of poetry which might also work as six distinct images - that is, if they weren't bound by the falling repetition of three end-rhymes in the ABC / ABC pattern. Within an impressive use of tight rhythm (there are four stresses to each line) the poem explores the Cartesian limits of thinking in relation to the body. There is an echo of the brilliant Robert Creeley here, particularly Creeley's later poems in which he returned to Herrick for inspiration. This split of the self is suggested in the title of the poem: that we are halved by our desires and  as we plunder through the "alphabet soup" of language we are destined to fall short of what it is we think we really want:

charles a. perrone halves and have nots

p.o.w. 20 is by nick-e melville and is called me. Before opening the broadside  I wonder if this is a confessional moment in the series, an opportunity for the poet to take the large-scale canvas as an opportunity to do what poets are good at: pushing around their emotions and experiences in full-view of the reader? The answer is No. The 'me' of the title is taken from the word 'meme' and cleverly suggests how any notion of the self we have inheres within the cultural genes that are passed on to us. melville begins with a close-up of the letters 'm' and 'e' in 'me' and then uses each panel to slowly reduce the size of the letters until all that is left is a black square. The opening statement of the self - that individual 'me' - is reduced to a black dot amongst many black dots: a bowler hat amongst the swarming crowds of a Mass Observation photograph:

nick-e melville me
The next in the series pushes the reader from the ontological realm of p.o.w. 19 and 20 and into the realm of political language. This is Robert Vas Dias' stalker and it is an incredibly powerful piece. The poem works through repetition of the colloquial word "say" - "say I'm", "say you're", "say we" - in the context of a kind of menage-a-trois between two people and the government. In the context of the poem the stalking of the individuals by the government is looked at from different perspectives until we seem to be caught inside a vortex of paranoia. The text is slowly reduced in size suggesting the impossibility of a personal relationship under the constraints of government surveillance:

say we ask the government again to put a stop to this

          say the government puts a stop to us

robert vas dias stalker
The development of concrete poetry through sound - shown in Bob Cobbing's1967 chamber music - is explored through Sophie Herxheimer's funny and moving london. The poem is in the form of a dramatic monologue capturing the voice of the poet's German grandmother on first arriving in London. Herxheimer has a real skill for phonetic language. On first impression the lines appear to be in a pidgin european language but quickly reveals itself to be colloquial English spoken through a strong Germanic accent. Nouns are capitalised and consonants reinforced with Zs and Ks. The poet knows her character well and doesn't overly layer - or leave us short - of the full satisfaction of the reading experience. I have watched people opening and reading this broadside and it has been wonderful to see their faces change from a state of mild perplexity to one of delight as their concentration on pronunciation gives way to comprehension and they find that they're already on the bus journey with the narrator as the conductor smiles and says "Fanks Luv!". The poem is a sonnet containing experimental language that brilliantly captures the internationalism of London and as such it fits perfectly within the tradition of futura. This poem is part of a longer series written in the same idiom and publishers should be lining themselves up to snap this from Herxheimer.

sophie herxheimer london

p.o.w. 23 is called flagstall in blue yonder and is by Philip Jenkins. The poem takes us into the realm of the extended personal lyric. There are some tremendous lines of poetry here, including:

    better you explain in another language

    one accessing shipping forecasts

The poem recalls Perrone's exploration of identity and - fittingly for this series - transforms the poet himself into a piece of mailart: "seventeen / separate parcels delivered by post". Jenkins' biography on the broadside cryptically talks of being a child and  being given "a small flag" to wave at a passing car containing the Queen and Prince Phillip. His broadside is no small flag and might be read as exploring the poet's true self in response to state occasions - a self in which he "stole / almost every book [he] could".

phillip jenkins flagstall in blue yonder
Roel Goussey's p.o.w. makes the boldest statement in the series. Known as a visual artist Goussey's broadside is called tombeau :  white square / horizon / bars / resting head / sunset. I have spent a lot of time in cemeteries recently and reading the work of the dead for my book In the Catacombs and I'm fascinated to find that a tombeau was a musical form in the 16th Century that was used to commemorate the dead of a notable individual. One way of reading the piece is as a kind of anonymous death mask for someone, the "resting head" that the subtitle alludes to. Goussey, however, keeps his subject open - the idea of a black sun also intrigues - and I find myself thinking of the black ovaloid shape in relation to language: a filled and compressed O, an 'i' that's lost its stem, a squashed fullstop.



roel goussey tombeau


The penultimate p.o.w. takes us directly into the heart of visual language and does so through a challenging emotive language. vikings by s.j. fowler is an anachronistic Anglo-Saxon poem spelt out through runic images. Fowler uses his biographical note to tell us that "he is of viking heritage, and his middle name is Bjorn, which means bear". The poems drives through an end-of-the-world landscape describing a violent love encounter with a woman called Erika. The poet captures the savagery of the viking death desire, as if language is the container in which all the offshoots of their hand-to-mouth struggles was captured in. This landscape of movement, uncertainty, lust and danger is propelled forwards through the compounded, a-syntactic language and the shifts in font type and size. The poem, it could be argued, represents a fierce and honest struggle with the self, although it concludes quite beautifully : "I shine only for you, dove / it's / time to introduce / my distant pres- / ent past into / the pres- / ent".

s.j. fowler vikings
And finally to Hansjorg Mayer and his appositely named entropy (is the measure of disorder in a system). This, to me, captures the crux of the concrete poet's approach to their work: the need to limber up enough to pursue free association with particles of language along with the need to reduce their connections between form and content to the absolute distilled nub of an idea. It is wonderful to find that Mayer's tumbling freefall of letters invites poets and artists to continue making, to see patterns of meaning wherever they can and pursue these links into new work. The typewriter letters here suggest the first wave of concrete, yet is is the future artists and poets who will be drawing inspiration from Mayer's and Carvalho's achievements in creating the futura and p.o.w. series. These series define concrete and visual poetry from the mid-1960s to 2014.


hansjorg mayer entropy


p.o.w. complete series

close-up of a selection of p.o.w. broadsides

all 26 p.o.w. broadsides

Review of p.o.w. series one on Poems for Sale here
Review of p.o.w. series two on Poems for Sale here
review of p.o.w. series three on Poems for Sale here

p.o.w. series 4 are available for £5 each p+p or £30 for the set of eight. The whole series of 26 broadsides + 4 posters is available as a limited edition boxed edition for £75. To buy email: poetry@unit4art.com or contact: studiobookshop@btconnect.com

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