93. It’s All About Speech1

(Costa Coffee, Potter St, Bishops Stortford, September 10 & 12, 2012)

Filthy after we put our tent up
                                – oh
here we are
            singing squeakily
                              – not disordered
glittering I’d say rather
                          not
                              no not
                              some blurry mess
undelicious
            folk songs
            & the way I was sitting
            I just woke up one morning
            I can see you’re laughing now
                                          Sarah
                                          do you know the website
                      never miss the carnival
                      the laughter, too
                                        is changing
                                        this time
                                        preserving
                                        all possibilities
                                        everything
                                        on my back
– take it as a warning
                       please

 
And then I see
               they’re still doing that
                                        in the car park
                                        – you know
                                          another time
I bought it there
             they know it’s naughty
                                    but all at once
                                    huge & flaming
                                    I think it says
oh mongrel joy
               we do need you
                              any way
we will
        protect the wildlife
                             I get the cynicism
                                                no one
that’s why we’re doing things
                              take it as a warning
                              it won’t last long
                              in the end
                                         all fuckd up
this world
           I’m sorry
                     only photocopies now
                                          ripped & torn
that’s why created collage
                           heteroclite fragments
                                                 – oh we are!

 
It’ll take time to bind them up
                                all she sd
stands on the quay
                   come down from the fells at last
another person in front
                        finally we’ve moved on as well
just typical
             this young world
[pounding beats
                – easy, easy
                  several
                  minutes at will
                  the colleges
                               have got to understand
                               call off their choirs
                               yeah, yeah
                               let’s enjoy this now
slap of the water
                  the little lake
                                  where we stopped one day
suddenly
         what holds this together
                    familiar faces
                                   – Sarah
                                     you’re not eating bêche-de-mer
                                                                    again?
                    buns for the weekend
                    simple things
                    usable & valued now
                                        what they are
                                        we are too
                                        what we are
                                        familiar to you then and
                                                                 [fade

 

 

1 Two Keston Sutherland quotes from Hix Eros 4: On the Late Poetry of J.H. Prynne (2014) on the relationship between speech & poetry:

“Poetic thought,’ in Prynne’s sense, is located at what he has called the ‘borders and edges’ of language, that is, at the vastest and most nearly untraversable distance from the material corruptions of workaday language, which Prynne in 1986 called ‘the false & corrupted idiom of residual, vernacular commonalty as almost pure cant.’” Keston Sutherland, “Introduction: ‘Prynne’s late work?’”, p 10

“Poetic thought is not self-consciousness, but the truth of things, and poetry in its radical truth is not what humans speak, but the shining of the lexis in its priority to the subject.” Keston Sutherland, “Sub Songs versus the subject: Critical variations on a distinction between Prynne and Hegel”, p 132

Prynne’s argument is as follows (simplifying somewhat):

“the French keep this connection between singing and the edge, as in English chant and cant: offset or cut back at the leading rim, the sing-song of beggars demeans the word by giving it street-life and media hype”

“English chant and cant (=tilt, border) are not related in origin, any more than French chant and chant which must be separate words which ‘happen’ to have converged in the same form. But English chant and cant (= obscure argot) are related, and historically it seems that the (to lay folk) unintelligible Latin ritualism of liturgical performance may have triggered a resentful sense of an exclusive dialect, thence parodied by the socially rejected who then imitated the speech-tunes while inventing their own reserved formulations. Cant thus early descends into the underworld, seeming to the confidently rational a threat to the comprehensibility of open, lucid speech. It is demeaned not so much by its dark side, however, as by the ingratiating face offered to its masters and pastors, its solicitation of a false sympathy exploited for gain. … this would leave a false & corrupted idiom of residual, vernacular commonalty as almost pure cant: the daily diet of television, say, or the higher newspapers.”

from J.H. Prynne, “Extracts from Letters to Anthony Barnett” dated 5th January & 22nd January, 1986, pp 162 & 164-5, Michael Grant (editor), The Poetry of Anthony Barnett (Allardyce Book, 1993). I’m not deeply convinced by any etymological arguments (oh dear!); and even less convinced by Sutherland’s more general application of Prynne’s phrase. Not one to haggle or even heggle, I’m more for cant, whether thieves’, beggars’ or professional, than Kant. No absolute in language beyond our use of it; no origins beyond the factuality of what we are & speak.

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