Christopher Cornwell: Introduction to Issue 7 (Poetry)

‘According to Aristotle, poetic language must appear strange and wonderful; and, in fact, it is often actually foreign: the Sumerian used by the Assyrians, the Latin of Europe during the Middle Ages, the Arabisms of the Persians, the Old Bulgarian of Russian literature, or the elevated, almost literary language of folk songs. The common archaisms of poetic language, the intricacy of the sweet new style, the obscure style of the language of Arnaut Daniel with the “roughened” [harte] forms which make pronunciation difficult … the repetition of identical sounds. The language of, poetry is, then, a difficult, roughened, impeded language.’

Viktor Shklovsky, ‘Art as Technique’, 1925

So wrote Viktor Shklovsky in his famous essay, ‘Art as Technique’ in which he outlines Ostranenie or defamiliarisation, the central concern of which is that language must remain in a state of perceptibility, which only comes about by underlining the incongruities in customary usage and creating art which differs, both aesthetically and systematically, from normative language, so inducing active interpretation from the reader. If poetry relies on simple mainstream shorthand language, it withers and diminishes, unnourished by anything but a narrow band of orthodox constructions which eventually ossify into clichés and lose all expressive value. The categorisations and definitions which facilitate linear, logical, programmatic orthodoxies of definition, usage, connotation and reading are evolved to articulate normalcy alone and so, to express ideas or experience outside of the pool of recirculated constructions mandated as ‘normal’, language must become non-normative, become extraordinary. This is the birth of poetry.

To represent the excluded zones of society, where one will find not only the most fascinating, idiosyncratic and often brilliant people—in fact brilliance is a category of exclusion as much as any other abnormality­­—poets must turn to excluded zones of language to present versions of our tongue which defamiliarise the common language itself, utilising the uncommon words, techniques, styles, registers and tropes of outcast sociolects. Poets and readers of poetry are themselves excluded people and the nature of poetry reflects this; it is a complex form of language, both physical and conceptual, which promotes new, challenging and unique thinking; expressions of the exceptional; performances of hypernormativity and intricate reticulations of references and allusions.

Too often mainstream poetry publishing regurgitates the same normalised hallmarks of centricity that defamiliarisation militates against, with the largest and most ‘well-respected’ stables of writers still producing largely unrevolutionary poetry, the lazy lyricism of which still harvests the majority of prizes. Meanwhile the small, boutique elements of the publishing universe cultivate magazines, chapbooks and journals of real quality and sincere artistic ambition & visionary innovation, even avant-garde experimentalism. As with all editors I am in debt to the quality of the submissions we have enjoyed but I can say with confidence that this selection of work exhibits all the virtues mentioned above and I am proud to be able to endorse it and present it to you.

The four poems from John Goodby are taken from his upcoming chapbook, The No Breath, to be published by Red Ceilings Press later this year. This is the work of a liberated language gland, it is radical linguistic music which can unlock our conscience to so many dimensions of meaning & expression. The phrasing and arrangement of the sampled material is realised with all the depth of acumen, éclat, wit and invention that followers of Goodby’s poetry will recognise and now expect. He interrogates the categories of ‘author’ ‘sense’ ‘representation’ through precise yet playful innovations of poetical techniques both received and new. These poems ask their reader to engage in the process of creating meaning and remind us the mode artistic creation has always been dialectic rather than miraculous, despite the ramblings of the genius cult. An ongoing reconstruction of ‘sense’ is performed through the startling images & beautiful words of these poems, which collage & mingle like the many fragrances of an evocative, half-forgotten scent.

It’s a joy too, to advocate the talents of poets such as Joseph Minden, a young yet substantially emerged poet with wider celebration still certainly to come. A writer of structural astuteness & intellect, his artful & meticulously calculated work exerts a sensuous, rigorous craft on a remarkable breadth of themes. Here we see three of his poems exploring and recalling mythic, overgrown, bygone traditions that form the palimpsests of places. His technical, poised, in-rhyming lines; thematic recurrence and collocative/connotative echo, potently evoke fallen giants; spent journeys; inheritance; the interplay of place/space; quantum movements and temporal repetitions.

Elisabeth Bletsoe is a name familiar to many, many readers already and to be able to present four instalments of her ongoing haibun cycle ‘Birds of the Sherborne Missal’ is also a true honour. Rightly admired for her ingenious lexical device, she is skilled at blending dialectical vernacular with specialised terminologies from the natural sciences, historiography, folklore and taxonomy. These poems take for their topical launch pad the avian illuminations found in the marginalia of the mediaeval manuscript, The Sherborne Missal (which can be viewed in stunning detail online via the British Library’s wonderful Turning the Pages digitisation project.) Her synthesis of heterogeneous glossaries lends a deeply nuanced interplay between laminate aesthetics in the bricolage, unlocking a range of associated impressions at the foundation of these resonant meditations.

There is no time or need to curate the entire contents, suffice to say I have collated poems which differ in style and technique but are united by their ability to command inquisitiveness in the reader, and further, to inspire engaged responses. Other inclusions comprise new work from both familiar and newly found talents, including masterful open field compositions, some authoritative political commentary and touching personal revelations. I am confident that the material herein showcases some of the best in modern poetry; an eclectic mix of voices and ideas which demand a dialectical relationship with their audience and provide opportunities to perceive language anew in sharp focus.

Christopher Cornwell lives, studies and works in Swansea, his poetry has been featured in New Welsh Review, The Lampeter Review, The Lonely Crowd and Wales Arts Review for whom he also contributes criticism. He was the featured poet in issue 6 of The Crunch multimedia poetry magazine and is the current head editor of The Gull online magazine. The Lonely Press will release his debut collection Ergasy later this year.

© Christopher Cornwell, 2017. Image © Patrica Costa, 2017.