Prynne and "Prynne"

Posted by Ken Edwards on Sunday, March 15, 2009 Under: writing
I have been taken to task by one or two subscribers to the UK Poetry discussion list for - well, I'm not sure what for, advocating closing down of discussion about poetry, I guess. To explain: UK Poetry, numbering some couple of hundred subscribers, is hosted by Miami University, Ohio, and dedicated to discourse around contemporary innovative British/Irish poetry. It is a great source of information and, sometimes, intellectual stimulation (though I'm ambivalent about the increasing academicisation of innovative/parallel tradition poetry, but more of that in another post). As an invitation-only list, it's relatively protected from the tedious flaming that infects virtually the whole of the internet, though only up to a point.

Anyway, the issue here is that someone eagerly posted a complex exegesis of a "new JH Prynne book". As the text was not named, I was a little uncertain what they were talking about, until I recalled a packet had just arrived in the post which indeed contained, not a book, but a slim green pamphlet titled Streak-Willing-Entourage Artesian. It bore the imprint of the inestimable Barque Press but had been sent with the author's compliments.

To cut a long story short, it's not really published yet: no doubt Barque will have it available for sale soon, and if you're at all interested in new poetry, and in Prynne in particular, you should look out for it. It appears that it was typeset and taken to the printers by the author himself, and mailed out in advance of publication. The point I was trying to make in the discussion was that it seemed, in view of this, a little premature to rush in with heavyweight theoretical frameworking (the original poster was followed by others) for a text few people had actually seen or had the opportunity of seeing.

Why was I so particularly narked by this? After all, the point about book reviewing, of which this was an informal example, is that most of the readership has not yet seen the book in question and the reviewer is performing a service in giving an opinion as to whether and why the book is worth reading. I suppose my annoyance had something to do with the idea of "Prynne" as a cultural signifier. Ever since a couple of years ago, when Iain Sinclair mentioned JHP on the Today programme, a new meme (to use Dawkins' term) has entered the public arena: the British media's assumption that "contemporary poetry" spanned a restricted gamut with the Poet Laureate at one end and Pam Ayres at the other (with the ghosts of Larkin, Hughes and Plath hovering somewhere) has been modified to include also the existence of a weird enclave of "experimental" poets, consisting of a handful of acolytes who believe the "reclusive Cambridge don" Prynne is the greatest poet ever. Now, everybody who knows anything about it knows this is a complete travesty; and yet the rush to solemn exegesis even before a new pamphlet has hit the marketplace does seem unwittingly to shore up this myth. OK, what the discussion list respondents defended as enthusiasm I had read as undue solemnity. Even the title was subjected to close analysis; I realise I've reproduced it incorrectly above, it should be:


The triple tilde-style-dashes between the first three words were offered for speculation ("speculacion", incidentally, is the key word in the 15th century French lyric that forms the poem's epigraph). I think Prynne just found this character on his computer keyboard (I have never really understood its function) and decided it would make a decorative break between the words of his title, but there you are, I may be wrong. I think I also annoyed one or two people by opining that it was a terrible title.

The poem consists of 12 pages, each with six tight quatrains. The words of the poem are not recherché; you will not often need the dictionary. Most are of one or two syllables only. The word "same" recurs often. The words are grouped into sentences, but the grammar is not normative. The effect is as though myriad texts have been smashed to smithereens and fitted together into an intricate mosaic. It's quite hysterical, actually. But enough, I have said too much! As I mentioned, it will be available to the world soon, one hopes.

To those on the UK Poetry list (and anyone reading here) who were offended by my grumpiness, my apologies. I'd like to conclude by saying that, while I identify with the parallel tradition in British (world) poetry, I am not a "Prynne" acolyte. I have only met Jeremy Prynne on a couple of occasions, though we have corresponded. He has always been courteous to me, and on one occasion wrote a densely illuminating evaluation of my writing (not, as it happens, my poetry, but a novel of mine). At risk of intruding on his reticence, I would add that he has been generously supportive of Reality Street. And he's a pretty damn good poet.

In : writing 

Tags: poetry prynne 
blog comments powered by Disqus

About ...

Ken Edwards This blog is written by Ken Edwards, co-founder and editor/publisher of Reality Street, and it's mainly about the press. Ken's personal blog can now be found at