20 DECEMBER 1975, Page 17

Verse, and worse?

Peter Ackroyd

Striking The Pavilions of Zero John James (Ian McKelvie Editions, £1.50) The Mountain in The Sea John Fuller (Secker and Warburg £2.40) High Pink On Chrome J. H. Prynne (Ferry Press £1.20) Pleats Andrew Crozier (Great Works Editions £1.50) There is a great divide in English poetry, not that you would notice it if you read the literary weeklies and the intellectual monthlies. Here, to begin with, are two books: John James's Striking the Pavilions of Zero — a somewhat odd and abstract title, perhaps — and John Fuller's The Mountain and The Sea which has a more familiar and a more 'poetic' sound to it. Mr James's book is published by a small press; its design and its typography are unfamiliar, and it has a colourful print on its cover. Mr Fuller's book is produced by a tlarge London firm of Publishers, and its cover is the simple and standard one they use for their poetical Products — the point being, no doubt, that no one could possibly buy one by accident. Mr James's book has a note: "Some of these poems first appeared in The Anona Wynn, Collection, The Curiously Strong, The Park, One, Second Aeon and Sesheta." Mr Fuller's acknowledge

ments are: " . some of these poems first aPPeared in The Cellar Press, Encounter, The Listener, the New Review, the Observer, Outposts and the Times Literary Supplement."

And there you have it: the great divide. On the one side, magazines which are not the staple diet of the 'reading public' and poems Which are not read or discussed by our poetry

Critics', whoever they may be nowadays. On the other side, the familiar parts of the literary

soft machine. John Fuller's poems have become a standard feature of the cultural prints, and You will generally find them tucked away at the bottom of a column (where an article by John Carey or Jonathan Raban has just stopped, ,alas, a little too soon). You would find it much harder to come across the collections of John James, or of Andrew Crozier, or of Jeremy PrYnne but all the fuss about Poetry not being read (even the literary editor of the Times has

been raising his voice for the proper distribution of Poetry) is not about these poets at all; it Is only about the John Fullers, the Douglas I:4111ns and the Vernon Scannells: in other

Words, Poetry in its familiar and domestic guise, that English voice — that tone — we have come to know and love. John James has, quite deliberately, moved

°ut of this context. Striking The Pavilions of Zero, in other words, breaks up the conven tional, formal limits of 'the poem', it attends Instead to the discrete line of the verse — that !Ingle, specific instance' and its possible naririonies. John Fuller, in The Mountain and The Sea, adheres strictly to small forms in inch the lines are, characteristically a vehicle for gnomic 'thoughts' and wry 'feeling'. But to Pre

ss poetry into the service of reflection and

ciuservation is to make it, I think, inexpressive:

Here warmth is transmitted.

Your idle hand reaches And grasps a myriad boulders Of impossible size. And it is this monotone which characterises the volume. James's freer use and more open development of the language allow for a much greater range of effects, whether it be the cocky insouciance of his English manner: & if there did happen to be a bullet amonst us it would never find anywhere to..go (and how refreshing It is to come across a hard Englishness in a poetry untouched by grandfather Larkin and the rest of the gang), or the soupiness of his lyricism. Mr Fuller's poetry, where every word is heavy with the weight of implied reference, cannot quite manage this variety of tones. It is significant that the best poems in his book — like 'Wild Raspberries', for instance — are attractive simply because they have a momentum which breaks free of syntax and small form: A roofless ruin, luminous under sprays

Like faery casques or the dulled red of lanterns ,

Where the flame is low and the wax runs into the paper ...

I could put it another way by noting that, ordinarily, Mr Fuller employs the same syntax and the same range of voices as the current social novel in England; the problem with the now sacrosanct division of prose/Poetry is that it reduces the difference between them to the level of simple content and treats only in passing the language which is actually being used. Where the novel concerns itself with the romance of individual life, Mr Fuller concerns himself with the romance of pre-individual life: the mountain, the sea, ancient settlements and the other poetical emblems of early twentieth century verse. John James, meanwhile, is using the language in ways that disorder its familiar patterns; his is a poetry of abstract statement, moody description, polemic and satire, all taking their place within the free fall of his verse.The idea of a poem's movement is therefore much more important to him than it is to Fuller, since it suggests those qualities of change and fluency which are at the centre of his design: It's only a game but oh so steadfast we keep on passing the brink of an elegant nothing though sometimes something in us makes everything tremble & then the world doesn't exist anymore or else we're mistaken & it merely makes a different sound Mr Prynne's latest volume, High Pink on Chrome, is 'difficult', which is simply to say that he is using a vocabulary and a poetic method which have still to be learned by those who read poetry and those who profess to read poetry. In this new book, a series of phrases (not, emphatically not, a series of 'images' or a number of thoughts) are pressed into tightly constructed forms by the power of an imagina tion which changes the surface of language: And yes, substance has no contrary among things that are: what we must is the dream of a sharper cold, and she knows that also. As all things pass to and fro in the world, from one hand to another, belayed.

The form here is not engineered by its content, as it is in the poetry of Mr Fuller, but by the proper limits of expression; in this volume, notations of physical collapse, and presentations of the English landscape and its seasons, are transformed by Prynne's dazzling and authoritative uses of the language. The poem becomes an emblem, attracting and dispersing several variants of poetic writing within a small space. This concision sometimes makes for harmony and for 'romance': And take her softly, in fear for sanity at the open window, light slanting in through the limes but the romance is continually being undercut by irony: Over the rosy hedges the passions in their circuit feel for the safe edge of the hoop, their votive antiphon ...

It is rather as the metaphysicals did it, and Prynne has the same intensity of reference and that same heat in the language. By refusing to become a readily accessible and intelligible writer, he has ensured that poetry can no longer be treated as a deoderised museum of fine thoughts and fine feelings; he is creating instead, a complete and a coherent language.

Of all the poets here under review, Andrew Crozier is the most theoretical in his approach to the language of poetry; he is not an 'experimentalist', thank God, and the avantgarde has been dead for some years now. In fact, his latest volume, Pleats, is on the face of it a detailed and somewhat mundane transcription of the facts of daily life:

Prudently I retired for the time being like a dotted line leading to bed.

Small facts and apparently trivial events (going to sleep, getting up, going shopping) are presented within a direct and unembarrassedprose which puts to shame those self-conscious practitioners of Marxist or 'oral' poetry who try to write a common language and end up by. spinning a particularly offensive rhetoric. Mr Crosier is not of that company, since he has a Very clear notion of the language, and of the way in which poetry can mediate between the word and the world.

The objects of the world find their. proper place in Mr Crozier's calm and collected lines, and they are not wrenched out of shape by the poet's preoccupation with some external 'meaning' or with some ideal order into which both poetry and the world might fit. Crozier's poetry has no internal momentum which imposes itself upon the objects within it; it moves rather by a process of accumulation and constant reinvention: together again while you and I set off around the pond talking about ducks and the volume of foliage on a summer branch which dips toward the water to be reflected in Words that condense like the image of each leaf shifting over the others Mr Crozier is a 'mystical' poet in the sense that it is only language which can interpret and irradiate the world — not by substituting itself for it, but by dwelling within it. Language thus broadly expressed, precedes form, content and meaning.