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About the Author
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An Andrew Crozier Reader
By Ian Brinton
Carcanet Press LtdCopyright © 2012 Ian Brinton
All rights reserved.
CAMBRIDGE AND NEW YORK
In an interview with Peter Ryan titled 'From Missile Crisis to English Intelligencer', published in Don't Start Me Talking (2006), Andrew Crozier talked about his early reading of modern poetry in his last two years at Dulwich College, before he left in July 1961 to read English at Christ's College, Cambridge. He referred to work by Norman MacCaig and Christopher Logue, as well as the American John Crowe Ransom, but it was not until his final year at Cambridge that he became deeply involved with the world of American modernism that was to influence his own work extensively over the following years.
During my last two or three years at school [1958–61] I began reading modern poetry; the first modern British poet I read seriously, borrowing the books from the public library, was Norman MacCaig. (The other one I remember reading in the same way was Christopher Logue.) So I can remember reading A Common Grace by Norman MacCaig when it was published and also Christopher Logue's translations of Pablo Neruda, and a volume of Logue's own poems published by Villiers Press. My reason for writing poems I think had to do with, perhaps I read a lot of poetry at the time, but up till the summer of 1963 I did not consider that writing poems might be a serious business, in other words it was a talent or a competence that people possessed at which I essayed my own abilities. I think that when I first tried to write poems I was interested first of all in what my contemporaries did, which impressed me considerably by its competence because they actually produced a finished text. I refer to undergraduate poets in my own years at Cambridge, people who were writing poems then and publishing them in university magazines, who no longer write poems and whose names need no longer be remembered. The second influence had to do with poems I was then reading, and my understanding of poetry as it was undertaken in England at that time was partial. I might be aware of Christopher Logue and Norman MacCaig, for example, but I couldn't put them onto any kind of map together. I also read American poets and I can remember being interested while I was still at school by John Crowe Ransom. That should be seen in the context in which I read, say, Yeats and also Hopkins as modern poets, but there were no co-ordinates by which to relate Ransom or MacCaig, or for that matter Logue, to those other poets I was led to read by teachers at school. At the same time, in my first two years at university I was more directly involved in activities not concerned with poetry. I was concerned with film societies and I considered the possibility of making films after I left Cambridge. I was fairly closely involved in the anti-nuclear protest movement at the time. I certainly felt that the envisageable future in 1961–62 was not a very distant place: I had a very short-term view of the future because I think that I imagined that there would be destruction of the world in which I lived by nuclear war. What brought that frame of mind to an end was the Cuban crisis in 1962. There was no Armageddon and things resolved themselves in terms of power politics, which was an explanation of the world which up till then my politics had not led me to expect. And so I withdrew fairly consciously from political activity, from serious involvement in looking at and writing about films, and in a certain kind of hiatus in my life at that point, associated with an illness during which I read Charles Olson and Robert Duncan and William Carlos Williams, I brought myself to the point at which, by the end of my second year at university, I was interested in nothing other than poetry, and so I would date my intentional involvement with poetry from the summer of 1963 and my earliest retained, published poems from that summer.
Later in the same interview Crozier referred to being aware of:
an antagonism in the poetic world, in England especially, between the advocates of a formal prosody and their adversaries, less clearly defined, who would be the then contemporary inheritors of the technical aspects of early 20th century modernism. So that, to pin this down more precisely, I read very carefully the second New Lines anthology edited by Robert Conquest, which had a long introductory essay by Conquest which made a number of quite prescriptive comments about the formal organisation of poems, including an argument that there was no reason not to write in metrical forms because any restricted prosodic form nevertheless offered if not an infinite variety, certainly a very high order of variety because of the possibility of variation within a set form. My recollection is that I was not particularly convinced by his arguments, although I did not altogether understand why they did not convince me. As against the New Lines mode I was looking more to the example of American writers whom I had been reading since my first term at Cambridge, and the Donald Allen anthology, The New American Poetry, 1945–60, gave access to more recent American poets, principally Charles Olson, although I was also very much impressed by John Wieners and Edward Dorn who also published in that anthology.
These ideas were more formally laid out in a review Crozier published in the October 1963 issue of Granta, in which he looked closely at both Robert Conquest's New Lines 2 and the Faber edition of Five American Poets which had been compiled by Ted Hughes and Thom Gunn. In the review he suggested that the poets included in Conquest's anthology 'are our orthodoxy, not our rebels' and noted that the work of most of Conquest's poets showed a total separation of form and content: 'Maybe by ignoring form (in fact just accepting iambics, rhyme and periodic stanza patterns) they think they can pay attention to their content; but, their content is trivial.' Crozier went on to quote from section two of Charles Olson's 'Projective Verse', the whole of which had appeared in the sixth section of Donald Allen's anthology:
It comes to this: the use of a man, by himself and thus by others, lies in how he convinces his relation to nature, that force to which he owes his somewhat small existence. If he sprawl, he shall find little to sing but himself, and shall sing, nature has such paradoxical ways, by way of artificial forms outside himself. But if he stays inside himself, if he is contained within his nature as he is participant in the larger force, he will be able to listen, and his hearing through himself will give him secrets objects share. And by an inverse law his shapes will make their own way ... For a man's problem, the moment he takes speech up in all its seriousness, is to give his work his seriousness, a seriousness sufficient to cause the thing he makes to try to take its place alongside the things of nature.
The point is this: by the adherence to an iambic line, their use of rhyme, and their use of stanzaic patterns that impose an arbitrary pattern on the poem once the first stanza has been composed (even supposing that it has not been taken ready made from a source other than what the poet might have to say) the 'New Lines' poets have closed their poetry to most experience; they have little to say to us. What they give us in place of their experience is a dilute poeticism, so many words slotted into a pattern, a pursuit of metaphor and simile as interesting in themselves.
In these poems from New Lines 2, in which objects were always defining something or other rather than being allowed to exist in their own right, Crozier saw 'a disabling force which predisposes the poet to a thinness of presented experience, and a lack of humility in his approach (as poet) to the external world'. In contrast to this 'disabling force' Crozier's review directed the reader to some of William Stafford's work from the Faber selection of American poets:
William Stafford exists within that community of American poetry from William Carlos Williams on; he makes use of the ends of his lines. His poems have all a sense of place, a sense of specific activity, in time ... details exist as colouring, admittedly; but it is the quality of William Stafford's colour that is important, the little quotidian things he uses, and with respect.
In a letter to me dated 18 February 2006 Crozier noted, 'It sometimes seems to me that my ideas have hardly moved on from the review....' The pursuit of his interest in Donald Allen's anthology was prompted by his meeting with J.H. Prynne in the Lent Term of 1963, when Crozier was studying at Christ's College and his Director of Studies, John Rathmell, sent him to see Prynne 'as to an oracle on such matters' (letter to the present editor, 12 September 2006). In either late 1963 or early 1964 Crozier showed some of his early poems to Prynne, including 'Drill Poem' and 'Getting ready to come back here', both of which were later to be published in Prospect 6,a Cambridge magazine of which Prynne was editor at the time. Prynne's response to 'Drill Poem', in a letter from January 1964, had been encouraging:
My feeling is that there is an accuracy of placement to be found, that the smallest shifts of metric are crucial to it, that these 'random' fragments are a clandestine beginning. 'Drill Poem' is a success with the possible exception of 'wavers' which I think is the wrong word. Wrong shape and the sound against the working grain.
This 'clandestine beginning' soon became a part of Crozier's first volume of poems, Train Rides, Poems from '63 & '64. Published in 1968, it contained an afterword of explanation:
I have called these poems Train Rides which come from a period of my life when whatever I was feeling could not be attached to a particular place. This may be a belated recognition, but it was no coincidence that most of these poems were written on the train when I, eluding the uncertainty of location in any one place, could recognise where I had come from in the prospect of somewhere to go to. Which implied other people and selves also. It is equally no coincidence that they were the same two poems which, in each instance, avoided these conditions.
These are the poems that remain from 1963 and the early months of 1964 when I first wrote with any measure of intention. Some of them have been published in the Evergreen Review, Granta, Prospect, Snow, and Tlaloc. I wish to dedicate them all to my brother Philip.
1 Name & Nature
Man's energies have such bounds
he turns in
shores up his force
looking out must see return
before he venture
the receptivity and going out
of itself of one
and the embrace and possession by the other
the mingling of these two together
has its analogies
the cost is reckoned and restrains
though unaccustom breeds its own limits,
and the gift conditional, part of
The world is outside
cannot be recovered
and though strength might lie in confidence
to think of resources discourages
gesturing outwards to
-wards another, to embrace
encircling receive and
take into possession
has its analogies with
breeding in nature and
marriage among human kind.
2 Drill Poem
Nearly my arm's length
its grey mass heavy in my hand
feels good working on the ceiling
held vertical the bit spins
level with my eyes and
head jammed against concrete
pull the trigger, press the catch, ram
the bit against the mark wavers
then a fine spray of dust falls
in my face, sweat
runs through my brow
my arms shake
3 Getting Ready To Come Back Here
More to be learnt
looking from the window of the train
riding through north London into the fields
than from prolonged scrutiny of the
others in the buffet car
its instant glimpse of man
suspended in his action
:the fat railwayman creased over his uniform
:the linesman blowing on his horn
or the Gérard Philippe character? smiles
extended index touch-
touching eyebrow lip and cheek
after you, and I
take it to bed with me
to me across this
is as nothing.
toward the window
head bent & cupped in your palm
you hide behind
or are hidden
It's dark outside, the train
moves through the rain
two splashes darken
your green sleeve
6 Early Morning, Night Sorting Shift
How we left
the tea break
not returning to work but to go
walking across Parker's Piece
and through town, down
to the Mill
crossing the Piece again
how the water sounded
in the dark
It gets louder
as you get nearer the mill race
when you cross
to the other parapet
the water churning beneath the bridge
beneath you to see
across the pond
Young men from old poets should learn
comes not of itself
but of love and
the old men sing
* * *
across the Atlantic
8 The Lunatic
I used to look at the moon, sweetheart, when you
to see if she were full
but tonight, 12.30
I walk home lit . the sky is bright
my hand on your breast
was dark as
you looked up, saying
looking at dark on light
how the moon is in
the sky behind
All across this country standing
water in the fields
after the sudden snow
this March has brought inland these
birds – peewits and gulls
and a floppy, large
brown bird I don't know
in the water wading
it gets worse
every day something more
to speak of
though does one speak
and of what, or where
to pinpoint discourse
what are we to do what
A note on the train, January 1966
A ploughed field, on a slope; I would only write what feelings they arouse into a notebook. The revealed formation, a rich brown Hertfordshire dirt is the enduring feature of the landscape. Otherwise there are scrubby fields, golf links; towns like Stevenage and Welwyn; Elm trees, cabbages.
Winter discloses the surface articulation of the Earth. There are dashes of chalk across the dark ploughland, and the trees, with branches that attenuate to a careful twigginess, occur in groups in random-looking dispersion.
The slopes become predominantly chalky, and among the bare fields are strips of woodland in which the Beech and the Birch mix with the Elm. The landscape opens and the fields are larger with hedges inbetween, as the train gathers speed.
* * *
In March 1964 Crozier went on to edit an American Supplement to Granta. Unlike Charles Tomlinson's anthology which had appeared in the Review that January, this short collection of work by Denise Levertov, Robert Duncan, Ed Dorn, Fielding Dawson, Larry Eigner, Douglas Woolf, Robert Kelly, John Wieners, Robert Creeley and Ron Loewinsohn was not intended as a Black Mountain feature as such and was largely based on the Donald Allen anthology. The supplement opens with a letter from Charles Olson to George Butterick in which he uses the phrase 'to freshen our sense of the language we do have'. Crozier's own introductory note reiterates the importance of this:
I don't see any point in writing a formal intro. to this collection. The cohesion is there, and if you don't see it, go back to Olson's letter: 'freshen our sense of the language we do have', he says. And read again. Then let these notes help you read more.
The importance of Charles Olson for Crozier was to do with conviction, a belief in the central importance of being a poet. He expanded on this in the interview with Peter Ryan, 'From Missile Crisis to English Intelligencer':
I think that my interest in becoming a poet had to do with finding a mode for making sense of and placing together a complete or a self-completing scheme of being alive. In other words ... it became an appropriate project to be a poet at the time when my knowledge of poetry began to seem to hold out some fairly complete image in world experience. In my case that had to do particularly with reading Charles Olson. I read the essay 'Human Universe' probably a month or so after my turnaround following the Cuban crisis, and it made a very immediate kind of sense to my rather political mental set, which at the same time was depoliticised because it was not preoccupied with action or political involvement in any way. I'm not attempting to say why I might now suggest that Olson is important if I were talking about him to one of my students. I'm talking about the rather occluded sense of myself in the world that I feel I was equipped with in the early Sixties, within which reading Olson occurred as some kind of light, because it was associated both with the failure or the cessation of one series of life interests, life experiences, and the possible burgeoning of another ... It's not the case that I read the Americans and felt that here was an example to be imitated ... They were examples of the poetic existence ... I don't think that I would have thought about being a poet as opposed to occasionally writing pieces of verse had I not thought about the possibility of being a poet as all-consuming preoccupation, and the Americans suggested, through the very narrow representation of their work that was afforded to me in London and Cambridge at that time, that being a poet was in some way a full-time serious activity.
Excerpted from An Andrew Crozier Reader by Ian Brinton. Copyright © 2012 Ian Brinton. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
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Table of Contents
A Note on the Text,
I Cambridge and New York,
II Essex and Keele,
III Printed Circuit to The Veil Poem,
IV Pleats to Were There,
V All Where Each Is,
VI On Objectivism,
VII On British Poetry,
VIII 'Free Running Bitch',
IX Resting on Laurels,
Index of Poem Titles,
Index of Poem First Lines,
Index of Names,
About the Author,