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Is Prynne 'Impenetrable'?

In November 2010 the Times Literary Supplement published a piece by Robert Potts on Prynne's more recent work. Whilst most of what Potts says makes sense, he did describe 'Streak~~~Willing~~~Entourage~~~Artesian' as "impenetrable". I have a number of problems with this- the use of this particular adjective implies that the work is so difficult that it can never be penetrated at any level and thus deters those new to Prynne from considering this particular sequence. Elsewhere on these pages I have tried to show how it is possible to read 'Streak' and gain some sense (albeit partial) of what it might be about. In response to Potts, I would now like to demonstrate how some understanding may be further developed.

Set out below is the fourth poem in the 'Streak' sequence.

Same terrace same fuse at delinquent if mass
coherent grange pasture, epic on street-plan
will re-use its passive wrap. New all the same
to radiant flat premise. Ascending to linear

Coating mint ascorbic do present look over
to hold near yet seen near gain for split claim
elatior what is, can you say. Over this eye
fold little hook disturb now severe hunger

Out of and over descending to heartbeat,
foster self-same in a whirr be saccadic score
to our here massif. To coax who will grated
censure intensive callow found, swallow inter

Lines of a prism. Reach trucial planar twin
hold to took pliancy hours motionless, seam
same more link. More of same melt sleep loss
invoice step belong. They so full starved still

Flee graven no other, where identical so sat
tight to be, be assumed. Live shined in mercy
how is. Ledge fold durable ripen your sleeve,
gradual to plead for. Defect breathe manner

Labiate tender greed for station, partial need
same time after can you, throat dry all along
diminishment. Orbit be learn, fly other to fall
out of some world shall from hunger substitute.

I'm the first to accept that there are aspects of this that are very difficult indeed and require more than a little readerly attention but I also think there are ways in to at least a provisional understanding. I remain of the view that the main focus of 'Streak' is on the recent civil war in Ulster that we call the 'Troubles' and intend to show how this particular poem may have important things to say about that conflict.

The history of the British in Ireland can be seen as an unfolding tragedy that continues to this day. The various inept attempts by successive regimes to exert control over the Irish people have led to immense loss of life and ruinous disaster. I don't say this because of any sympathy for the Provisional IRA, indeed I find Gerry Adams' description of himself as a freedom fighter more than a little hard to take, but I do recognise that British involvement in Ireland has always been disastrous.

I initially arrived at what 'Streak' might be about by noticing he references to hunger and to words relating to bombs. I took the hunger references to relate to the hunger strikes of the early eighties but reading the above has caused me to consider other elements. When internment was first introduced in 1971, what became known as the five techniques were used against some of the interned. These were a combination of:

It would therefore seem that 'throat dry all along", "so full starved", "hours motionless", "sleep loss" and "severe hunger" may refer to these techniques. Prynne has written about torture before, most notably in 'Refuse Collection' which is a response to events at Abu Ghraib.

Prynne has a strong interest in paradox and contradiction. Reading this, one immmediate paradox springs to mind is that in 1971 republican prisoners were deprived of food by their captors yet ten years later republicans starved themselves to death as a protest at not being granted political status whilst in prison. I think if we read 'station' as 'status' then this becomes a bit clearer.

One of the less oblique phrases in the poem is "lived shined in mercy / how is" which I'm provisionally taking as a reference to the role of the Catholic faith in providing tacit support to the Provisional IRA and more specifically the way that Catholicism promotes martyrdom as a good thing. Those of us who were politically active on the British mainland at the time could never get our brains around why people would want to starve themselves to death as a means of protest and why the Catholic community should be so avidly supportive. I'm a little clearer now on this but it's still more than a little disturbing.

As far as I can make out 'saccadic score' relates to eye movement and this fits in with Prynne's interest in perception. I've discovered the saccadic distractibility score but I'll need to read more about it to make full sense of the reference.

I read 'hook disturb now servere hunger' as the contrast between British troops pulling suspected republicans off the streets in 1971 at the start of internment and the hunger strikes ten years later. The introduction of internment did have the efect of further radicalising the catholic community and led to many 'disturbances' (including Bloody Sunday).

At this point things become less clear, I don't understand the 'lines of a prism' reference and I'm trying hard to avoid thinking about the repeated use of 'same' which occurs throughout the sequence. I am sufficiently interested to contiue the 'work of interpretation' that Prynne demands and I hope that I've shown that the 'Streak' sequence is not by any means impenetrable.