Thursday, October 29, 2009


I've been thinking about Scott's review of my chapbook the last couple of days. While it is mostly positive (and more than fair - I am very greatful for his generous reading), There is one thing that bothers me a bit, aside from the Swinburne comment and general (negative) characterization of Victorian excesses (which is relativly standard, but, i think based on masculinist value judgements privileging the (Allen) Curnow-Brasch brand of muscular, austere modernism. Though I must qualify this by saying this is a general comment, Scott does not (wholly) prescribe to this viewpoint, though there is, I think, a subtle indictment in his description of "the flowery, pre-modernist style of unfashionable female writers like Eileen Duggan and Ursula Bethell").

What I found disarming though was his characterisation of my influences being "exotic overseas poets" (my emphasis). I find this strange. Not only does it imply some novelty value, but also, through the ecological connotations of the word (not neccessarily intended, but nevertheless there), that I am involved somehow in bringing "outside influence" - coded (somewhat) negatively - into the pristine enviroment of NZ lit (which, rather than pristine, i would characterise as somewhat stifling, aside from a few notable exceptions).

Firstly I wonder how the importing of, or identifying with, US/Canadian/Continental precidents/influences (which, as Scott notes with regard to Michele Leggott, I am most definately not the first to do. There was those writers grouped around FREED magazine in the late sixties and early seventies, see Murray Edmond and Michele Leggott's anthology Big Smoke. Many of these writers drew from the US, where the recent developments had been documented in Donald Allen's New American Poetry. Later came the influence of Langpo, poststructuralism and fluxus, reflected here in the work most notably of Wystan Curnow and Tony Green, both of whom are active across artistic disciplines, alongside Alan Loney (who straddles both generations) and Michele Leggott.

Secondly, I wonder how this (especially in light of the precidents cited above), is any different from the earlier generation of Curnow, Glover, Brasch et al. Here I quote Curnow (quoted in Alan Loney, "Entitled / Unentitled: New Zealand Poetry" in Reading, Saying, Making: Selected Essays, p 83): "we all began reading Pound and Eliot, [and] shared our modernity with Auden, MacNeice, Day Lewis or Spender”. These NZ writers were hell-bent on creating a distictly 'New Zealand' literature, yet were still modelling there work on old-world (or older-than-us-world, in the case of the Americans mentioned) influences.

Furthermore, in this information age the ability to share influence, theory, thoughts and practice internationally at near instantaneous speed is, i think, something that should be grasped with both hands. No longer is it (particularly) difficult to read diversely. Though most of the shop shelves are dominated my NZ poetry (most of which is published by Victoria or Auckland University Press), that is not all, or even most, of what we have access to. We can read more, and more widely. I find it surprising that more people don't do this - especially when those who read novels tend to read precious little NZ work, and we have such a strong tradition of the novel here.


Richard said...

Ross - this area you are going into is or could perhaps require just about a PhD in itself (I agree with a lot you are saying here) just about Scott [but also poetics itself and philosophy, politics and so on], and there's the whole history his "Scott and maybe also Hamish's" rebel and fugitive poetry mag 'SALT' and so on - Scott, my, Hamish, Micheal Arnold and others development from say 1994...not to mention Jack Ross and others.and my "discovery"of Brett Cross of Titus!! (When I sold him some Asimovs and a Philip K. Dick.)

You need to get up (or down!) here and thrash it all out with Scott, Jack Ross, myself, Hamish and so is very complex!

Ask Scott about what happened when he read Marjorie Perloff's book "Wittgenstein's Ladder" (ask by email) and also ..well there is much else. He was the one who "introduced me" to David Antin's talk poems [but David Antin and Mrs Perloff were, well, they said some disquieting (and sometimes paradoxical) things after 9/11 (as I did myself!)]...Scott has a huge knowledge of and enthusiasm for modern poetry (and poetry in general) and he hasn't always been into politics or sociology as (much as) he is now...

He directs similar critiques, if less veiled perhaps, towards others such as Micheal Steven - who is a great Americanist! Or is a lot...

But if Scott is positive to any degree about your work, that means he is definitely taking your writing seriously.

More anon!

Unknown said...


you haven't finished the first sentence/paragraph i.e. what is aside from 'the Swinburne comment' etc is never mentioned and the first parenthesis is never closed, so I'm unable to situate fairly the rest of your argument.

However, it is pleasantly surprising to see Brasch recast as muscular and austre, two qualities for which I have much time,and not only in men.



Ross Brighton said...

Richard -
The post isn't meant to be critical of Scott, per se. THough I did hit him up about certain comments in his review of Michael's Centreville Springs - that's how we first come into contact.

I remember first reading Perloff - it was Radical Artifice in my case, and being blown away, however since then I've moved further from her ideological/critical stance, and more toward people like Jed Rasula and Steve McCaffery. SOme of Perloff's readings now either seem more than a little contrived, or cursory, to me now.
I am planning on coming up - hopefully next year. Money is tight, but that's the plan as it stands.
Robert -
taken care of that, I hope - very convoluted paragraph. Austerity I don't really see as a positive or negative trait - It can go either way. However "muscular" writing ... I use the term more as a ventriliquising of the critics of the time than my own judgement, because how do you define such?

Unknown said...


yup; after three post-graduations, I'm so utterly relativised that I'd never determine anything, especially that a text (particularly writing 'about' writing) or this or that critical term was positive or negative, let alone good or bad (I'd be surprised if I've done so to you, in person or writing); if going beyond description, I would only hint at the likely consequences, admitting everyone's unforeseeabilities. Whether a party regards outcome X or Y or Z as desirable (to get libidinal - as one does)is, I suppose, up to them. I just like the idea of you coupling Charles B. and muscles.

By the way, I couldn't detect any typos in the McLure.



Ross Brighton said...

Yeah, I agree re: Brasch and muscles - and Sargeson for that matter, but those would be more in the vein (pun intended) of Iggy Pop, what with his gerontophilia. I'd quite like to read John Newton's material on cultural nationalism - Patrick cites it heavily in his book, and it sounds very interesting (a very large amount of the chapter he devotes to Allen and co. seems to rely almost solely on John's work).
In my mind though austerity, muscularity, a lot of the markers of "craft", seem to be tied to some idea of repression, which makes me uncomfortable. But then again a large amount of my practice probably seems somewhat cavalier to you.
And McLure - what can I say? Maybe he missed out a couple of "o"s in "ghoooor".

Ross Brighton said...

Richard - have you read Alan's essays? I've got them in pdf - I can email them to you They cover most ground up until he stopped editing Brief.

Richard said...

I have all his essays - or at least I have a book of them and I read his essays as they came out when he was the Editor of A Brief Description of the Whole World.

I have most of his books.

He was writer in Residence when I was an (adult) student at Auckland Uni in 1992. I liked Allan and his work very much, but he got off side with Jack Ross when the latter took over Brief and he is - quite honestly a very difficult person to deal with. I said something about him on a Poetic Group and he took it to heart and I am persona non grata with him now!! (At the time I was firing off a lot of crazy emails to people as I thought the US were going to invade Iran... and I abused a few Professors in NY (Bernstein's lot - a lot of them are nut cases in any case - and basically banned myself from the Poetics Group!)

As if people didn't always say things about each other every day... very childish he is I think.

But didn't ever have a lot to do with him - he was writing long before I started writing again in about 1989. Although a story of mine (originally that was just a description of the Freezing Works where I worked a few seasons) was published in Mate in about 1970 and his poem "No Chips Today" was in it. He remembered that as so did I years later.

He worked as a printer publisher and he was at the Tamaki Campus once working on the Holloway Press.

He has done some great books and his own books are excellent - he is a very significant NZ writer.

But it is good he has endorsed your book.

maps said...

Hi Ross,

I certainly didn't mean the word 'exotic' in a negative way. Many of my favourite writers come from exotic locales, as the various lists of favourite long poems and favourite novels which show up on Reading the Maps occasionally indicate.

My major criticism of the chapbook, which is out in a (hopefully) veiled way in the review, is that the 'pre-modernist' imagery, vocabulary, and sound arrangements - the word 'pre-modernist' doesn't matter too much, you can substitute another for it, as long as you understand what I'm identifying - aren't juxtaposed with any other types of imagery, voculabular, and sound arrangements.

When Leggot and Howe use old-fashioned, lush images and sounds, they juxtapose them with other effects. The cool neutral language of bureaucracy or the brutally truncated dialect of war burst into Howe's poems, for instance, disrupting and qualifying the poeticisms. That gives her work a compexity, a multi-dimensionality, which I don't find in your chapbook.

I didn't want to make this point too explicit, because I think it is unfair to expect a poet to meet every expectation in a small debut gathering of poems. I think it is important to applaud your wide reading and your willngness to experiment, and to look forward to what you publish in future.

Ross Brighton said...

Thanks Scott-
I wasn't meaning to criticise you, or the review. I just (as I said in the post) found your use of the word interesting - especially the politics involved.
I agree there is a certain naivete to (some of) the poems - especially pieces like "Fauning" and the treated-text "the Garden Party". There's meant to be an "unreality" to the pieces, a kind of delerium, a reprocessing of self-conciously "poetic" language and tropes.
I was hoping that this would expose the kind of "pre-modernity" that you describe as unreachable, unreal - too much.
Of course its not my job to judge the success or failure of that. If i've failed, then next time i'll "fail better".

maps said...

I wouldn't say you've failed at all, and I am sure there will be many more books.

Ross Brighton said...

thanks again.
And failure isn't always a bad thing, either.

Catalyst said...

"If I've failed, then next time I'll 'fail better'."


Ross Brighton said...

Hey, you know I'm a sucker for Beckett.