J H Prynne's Sub Songs

The first thing to note is that this is a big book. It contains only 22 pages and 9 poems but it is the size of a coffee table book with a cover that looks as though it's been designed. This is in marked contrast with 'To Pollen' and 'Streak~~~Willing' which were small in size and defiant in their absence of design values. I have no idea whether this is significant or in any way relevant, I am merely stating the facts.

Barque Press said something about 'Sub Songs' marking a move a way from "stanzaic blocks" towards "more freely shaped individual lyrics" and this is certainly the case. There also seems to be a greater variation in tone between the individual poems and a wider range of difficulty ranging from the surprisingly accessible to the utterly baffling.

The first poem in this collection is 'As Mouth Blindness' which begins with:

Right now beyond the brunt yet afforded, gainsay now
for aspect close to residue, you'll see it there. Not full
scanned at damage so far, ridges debased fetch so plainly
or even gradual, nothing not due. Lay a hand over plus
to connote slant cutting life and knife, the road on offer
be level be sane be two for one. Her voice was ever low, nil
transfusion plot negative to hum under par in the race
to tint and show a true recoil, you are there from the shot,
the star flinched openly.

In comparison with 2009's 'Streak Willing Entourage Artesian', the first four lines are reasonably clear and expressed with a degree of urgency with the repeat of 'now' in the first line. One of the good things about Prynne is that he does make you think quite hard about words that are in general use. I'd like to start with 'brunt' and suggest that the general and everyday use is restricted to the worst of something. Then we turn to the OED and discover that there are many subtly different definitions- a sharp blow; an assault, charge, violent attack; pertaining to sickness, temptation, persecution etc; shock, violence, force (of an attack); the chief stress or violence; crisis; a sudden effort, strain or outburst; a 'fit', a 'spurt' .

Given that I'm of the view that 'As Mouth Blindness' is at least in part about the current recession, I think the various definitions of brunt help us to think about this event in a number of different ways- does 'beyond the brunt' refer to a chief stress which has now passed or to a critical period that is now subsiding or to the slaughter that can follow a violent attack or assault? I would argue that it probably relates to all of these and a few more that I have yet to uncover. My assertion about the recession is in part built on the 'ridges debased' in the third line as a subsidiary definition of ridge is "Gold; a gold coin. Also: any metal coin". I'm taking this to refer to currencies rather than coinage.

I won't go through all the possibilities for 'yet' in the first line but will point out that it can refer to a crisis that we haven't yet paid for or to one that we have paid for even though it was the fault of debt-happy financiers. Both of these seem to be in line with the main theme which appears to be that this was a crisis that was caused by free market ideology but that the major victims (as ever) will be the poorest members of society.

The rest of the above is more oblique and will take me a while to fully negotiate. I will however point out that of the many definitions of star there are two that may be intended: "In lists of stockholders, an asterisk prefixed or appended to a person's name when his holding exceeds a certain amount.In East India stock each vote to which a stockholder was entitled was denoted by a star; one star meant a holding of over 1,000 pounds, two stars over 3,000 pounds, three stars over 6,000 pounds, and four stars over 10,000 pounds" and "A person's fortune, rank, or destiny, disposition or temperament, viewed as determined by the stars".Flinch also has two main defintions- "to cut up or slice the fat from" and "to give way, draw back, yield ground in a combat".

'True recoil' and 'there from the shot' can both be read as references to firearms and these are echoed later in the poem-

".........................................Hateful repetition, fixed by
horror of its enclosing roulette chamber, echo of damage

In the initial version of this page I'd read the 'roulette chamber' as a reference to 'casino' capitalism, the charge that the free market system is fuelled primarily by speculation and betting on which way stocks and more exotic commodities will go. I'll stand by this observation but Luke McMullan has written to me with an additional hyppthesis:

The repetition of the singular or individual, its generalisation as a feature of reality is apparent, as in the rotation of a revolver's chamber in 'Russian roulette', the rotation becomes the chief feature of the individual's reality. Perhaps this is 'hateful repetition, 'repetition, fixed' either in that it is a repetitive structure whose determining points occur at single, 'fixed' points again and again (recession, or wars in the Middle East, or revolvers). The 'echo of damage / renewed' is most interesting because of the ambiguity about 'renewed -- whether it applies to 'damage' or 'echo of damage'. Echo itself is a renewal of sound, the retort of the six-shooter or the repetition of words about repetition in the poem (in these three lines: 'repetition', 'roulette chamber', 'echo', and 'renewed'). So if the 'echo of damage' is renewed we are invited to a repetition of a repetition, repetition squared, history accelerating and cycling like some horrible, unrelenting revolver. And if one reads other works of Prynne in general he seems very interested in the implications and operations of the 're-' prefix.

This sense carries a phonological reinforcement in the long 'o's connecting 'enclosing'and 'echo', and 'Hateful' and 'chamber'. Are we as practitioners caught in the echo chamber?

I'm incredibly grateful to Luke for this, primarily because he's right but aslo because this is a prime example of Prynne saying many things at once. As an aspiring poet, I've also got an interest in repetition and I've already noted Prynne's references to this in other works but here it seems to indicate something quite obsessive as some pain or hurt that has to be repeated over and over again and I wonder if that's an implication for the repetitive use of 'same' in 'Streak~~~Willing'.

Incidentally, mouth blindness refers to a condition where a person's sense of taste is impaired usually after chemotherapy which would fit with the damage inflicted by the current dismal attempts to cure the recession.

'Sub Songs' is available from Barque Press and I thoroughly recommend it.