‘Personal Archaeology’ by Ric Hool (Red Squirrel Press, 2020): ‘Tamám’ by Simon Everett (Litmus Publishing, 2020): ‘Isolated in Aber Cuawg’ by Harry Gilonis (Oystercatcher Press, 2020)
Reviewed by Ian Brinton
J.H. Prynne’s article, ‘Huts’, was published in 2008 by Textual Practice and it opened with a quotation from William Collins’s 1746 poem ‘Ode to Evening’:
Or if chill blustring Winds, or driving Rain,
Prevent my willing Feet, be mine the Hut,
That from the Mountain’s Side,
Views Wilds, and swelling Floods,
And Hamlets brown, and dim-discover’d Spires,
And hears their simple Bell, and marks o’er all
The Dewy Fingers draw
The gradual dusky Veil.
In the essay one of Prynne’s foremost comments upon these lines was direct and personal:
I have lived with this delicate and deeply judged invocation for many years, and the chosen vantage of the upland hut, as finally where the
poet will draw together his view and his thoughts, marks an unexpected decision to opt for so temporary and insubstantial a resting-place as
Ric Hool’s recent collection from Red Squirrel Press constitutes a Personal Archaeology of seven sections and it includes a reprint of ‘Hut’, a short sequence of poems that had originally appeared as a Woodenhead Press Pamphlet in 2016. As if in response to Prynne’s focus on the insubstantial nature of a particular resting-place the first of these poems opens with a brief and clear assertion:
Hut is mind
by which man lives
within & outside himself.
The three lines might almost stand as an engraved sign above the portal which welcomes the reader into the worlds of these three new publications: Simon Everett’s pursuit of the shifting identity of the Somerton Man in Tamám, the lament of the diseased outcast in Isolated in Aber Cuawg by Harry Gilonis and Hool’s own journey through language in which ‘The act of surfacing shudders newness / across an unsuspecting world’.
Tamám is a beautifully produced new publication from Litmus Publishing in which the note on the back cover gives us some important background information. On December 1st 1948 the body of an unidentifiable man had been discovered on Somerton beach, Adelaide, South Australia and in his pocket there was a shred of paper on which the words ‘Tamám Shud’ were printed. Detective work uncovered the words to have been torn from a copy of Edward FitzGerald’s original publication of his translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám and they constituted a letter-based code that has remained undeciphered: ‘…the man’s identity remains a mystery.’ Simon Everett’s 101 quatrains present us with a long poem beneath the surface of which there lurks previous printing, hand-written comments and a numbering system which differs from the final product. The result is palimpsestic as we recognise a parchment that has been written upon more than once, an original writing that has been only partially erased to make place for a second and more. As Ric Hool had confronted us in ‘Hut 5’ with a fast-disappearing footprint in the sand as seen by the early eighteenth-century isolate, Robinson Crusoe, Simon Everett re-creates a picture of a refugee world where ‘spent runners’ fall ‘close to the wire’ and ‘all along the Word divided / manifests Click Yes 4 Brexit / data falls ash wipes / quickly scorched earth tactics.’ Beneath the surface of these words or faintly placed alongside them we are given ‘No leads to follow’ and ‘escarpments of refugees sit & fish soles / out of the sea’. The haunting intensity of Everett’s language echoes what Thomas de Quincey had written about palimpsests in his 1845 series of essays, Suspira de Profundis, where he referred to the children’s game of throwing flat stones across a surface of a river so that they can be seen skimming the breast of the water ‘now diving below the water, now grazing its surface, sinking heavily into darkness, rising buoyantly into light, through a long vista of alternations.’ The twenty-sixth quatrain seems to offer a clear printed assertion of one version of reality:
In this promised land
stainless avenues of procedure
broken dreams divided lovers
the cursed & clinically patient
Yet next to it on the page is a torn scrap of paper which offers a variant perspective:
I don’t know what to do
now you are blown
borne on that wave of air
to never never
And below the scrap there is a pencilled comment, some of the words of which have been crossed out whilst leaving a remaining thought ‘salted white to a crust’.
Harry Gilonis’s recent version of an anonymous 9th century Welsh poem, ‘Claf Abercuawg’ is a deeply moving monologue written by a social outcast who was presumed to be suffering from leprosy. The opening lines offer us a sense of isolated poetic need:
My mind’s requirement, to be sat atop a hill –
yet that cannot move me:
short is my road, desolate my circumstance.
In the substantial ‘Afterword’ that Gilonis has added to his rendering of this poem (or sequence of poems) he makes it very clear that, rather than being concerned with the supposedly medical background of leprosy, his focus is on the early Welsh legal response to people-seen-as-lepers, ‘which was enforced social isolation with a loss of civil rights.’ The leper’s mind ‘is raw’ as disease ‘wastes me away’ but within the quietness of seclusion there is a powerful quality of stillness:
Cattle within the shed, a bowl holds the mead.
A fortunate man doesn’t seek out adversity.
Patience is a rich ornament to understanding.
‘Revista Rudiments’, the ‘Northumberland sketches’ that Ric Hool published in Issue Thirteen of Long Poem Magazine (Spring 2015), were written to be ‘specific but not parochial’. In the Preface that appeared alongside the original publication and which now appears as an Afterword in Personal Archaeology Hool tells us that his intention is ‘to present an international notion that might be negotiable anywhere in the world’ and it is highly appropriate that this delving below the surface into his own Cullercoats past should now stand near the opening of this powerful reconstruction of a world that is not gone. Standing just before the ‘Revista Rudiments’ Hool’s ‘First Words’ conclude with
arrives again and again
Charles Olson’s ‘A Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn’ (January 1955) gave the young Black Mountain student some very pertinent advice about uncovering the past:
PRIMARY DOCUMENTS. And to hook on here is a lifetime of assiduity. Best thing to do is to dig one thing or place or man until you yourself know more abt that than is possible to any other man.
As if hearkening back to that voice from sixty-five years ago Hool’s ‘Ty Unnos and Antonia’, constructs a ‘castle / for a homeless king’ and from what Prynne called the ‘vantage of the upland hut’, a memory of the world of Cullercoats in Northumberland where the poet’s childhood was spent is to be found in the fourth of his ‘Huts’ ‘leaning into darkness.’