Sunday, June 25, 2006

4. Peter Dent

The fourth in this series.

I had read a little of Peter Dent’s work before and had found it strange and intriguing, but when I saw that the first of two poems in this anthology was a response to the work of Louis Zukofsky, I felt daunted, partly because I know hardly any of Zukofsky’s poetry, and because what I have read by him has been impenetrable. Also, I know he is an idol of many poets who operate outside the mainstream, and commenting on a response to an idol, without knowing the idol’s work, could be a treacherous business.

Bearing that in mind, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed Peter Dent’s Naming Nothing, a poem in sixteen sections, each section consisting of 8 short lines, split into two stanzas of 4. Many of the lines have only one word, the longest has four words, most have two or three. Dent slows the pace right down, as though he wants his readers to give each line its weight before moving onto the next.

Often the two stanzas in a section offer a contrast one with another, but not in the sense that they are opposing ideas. Dent relies on the familiar poetic technique of juxtaposing two concepts or images and inviting the reader to make connections between them. However, the concepts and images are chosen so that subtle connections are possible without bypassing all sense. The effect is almost haiku-like, although Dent’s poems are quite different from haiku:

Falling now
the cry
but the gull
is gone

High cliff
of the mind
to hold
the song

These verses deserve to be approached in a spirit of meditation. They are not spiritual in an overtly religious sense (although I guess Buddhism is never far away), but they need a bit of time and space to be appreciated fully. Dent always goes beyond the obvious elements of connection. His words require pondering over. He combines abstract concepts with images of clarity to send the mind into overdrive:

from the hour,
the pebbles fall

of the tide
the tide

This is just a really good poem. All sixteen sections have something to offer, and continue to offer something more with every read.

The second poem, an excerpt from a long poem, Place to Place, is a tougher read. The lines are again short. Again there are 8 lines in each section, although this time, a section is made up of 4 stanzas of 2 lines, with 6 sections in total. There is no punctuation and normal syntax is often abandoned.

The poem contains a journey at night-time in the open-air. There is a forest of elms. There are pine cones falling. There is a glorious night sky and a “world that pulls”. It’s all very mysterious. There’s no linear narrative. In fact, there may be no narrative at all exactly – more a haunting atmosphere that does get inside the skin.

The poem starts with the pine cones “falling/ out of night”, and a couple of stanzas later we have the “light failing”, and then “Nights/ And leaves and knowing/ Who we are that fall”. So pine cones become “we”.
And there is a fluidity in each scene. In one stanza, a home appears in the forest with a staircase to the stars. It seems to emerge naturally from the elm wood, from the “forest air/ We breathe”. Things like that happen in these stanzas, a surrealism that works well.

In the final stanza, “the old” tell “How time was stilled/ With darkness”. It’s familiar territory for the poets in this anthology so far – darkness and light are concepts they love to play around with. There’s plenty of scope in darkness and light, but I do have a nagging feeling that it can sometimes be a convenient way of avoiding more earthy human emotions. If your poetry is on a darkness/light plane, you can ignore the human heart effectively if you do it well. To his credit, Peter Dent does do it well, and comes up with a memorable, if rather odd, image to finish off:

Lifted stones A circle
Words would never leave

Alone make
Light their dance

So words, stones, and a flickering dance move in the still darkness of time –something like that?

In the first stanza, Peter Dent made use of a word that comes up with some frequency in the anthology. At least, I think it must do, because I’ve started to notice it. The word is “geometry”. The cones fall out of night, and Dent then continues:

The fine geometry
Of thoughts

We think askew

David Chaloner used it too a couple of times. I’m not sure about the other two reviewed so far, but I’ve seen “geometry” in poems later in the book. Now why should a word like “geometry” come up with regularity in a poetry anthology? The poems aren’t about mathematics and geometry isn’t a word that comes up much in casual conversation.

Peter Dent looks worth investigating further. I enjoyed his poems. Next up is another name I recognise – Andrew Duncan. And then three poets who have become almost well-known, even in mainstream UK publications – Roy Fisher, Harry Guest, and Lee Harwood – although their work isn’t mainstream.


Crafty Green Poet said...

Peter Dent says some wonderful things in his poetry and his way of writing is intriguing. I love the meditative nature of his writing but sometimes wish it wasn't so much hard work.

Rob Mackenzie said...

"...but sometimes wish it wasn't so much hard work."

That's what I feel about most of the poets in this anthology so far. They are all really hard work. Some poems have been worth the effort, others haven't. As you say, Peter Dent has a lot to recommend him. But only with a good supply of headache pills.

Rob Mackenzie said...

crafty green poet:

Nice to find your blog, by the way. I'll add it to my list.

Did you read at the Shore Poets open night a couple of months ago, or was that someone else? It was really good stuff, whoever it was!

Crafty Green Poet said...

HI Rob,
Yes it was me at Shore Poets - Glad you liked the poems! It just shows there's no use trying to hide behind the semi anonymity of a blogger identity! Thanks for the link too!