What with J. away in Phoenix for a drama conference, I'm one day into a four-day stint of single parenting, & am thus far just plain exhausted. Not necessarily in a bad way – some of the day's events have been very pleasant indeed, & the weather at least is cooperating by not being godawfully hot (which in South Florida is still more than possible in mid-November).
Among the great stacks of unsifted mail I find the latest Chicago Review (53:2/3), which I'd opened and briefly glanced at. Too briefly, it turns out, for I find to my delight that this issue publishes the hitherto unpublished Book V of Ronald Johnson's Radi os, as edited by Johnson's executor the estimable Peter O'Leary. I can't wait to read it – but it'll have to wait till tomorrow, when I'm a bit less bleary.
Tonight in the graduate poetry workshop I pretend to lead (moderate? ride herd on?) a student did a stunning presentation on JH Prynne's Furtherance, turning up all sorts of riches that I hadn't yet uncovered in my own readings of the book. That in itself was delightful, especially in contrast to what I'd been reading lately myself (in addition to the big Bloodaxe Prynne Poems), NH Reeve & Richard Kerridge's Nearly Too Much: The Poetry of JH Prynne (Liverpool UP, 1995).
This, I will admit, is my 3rd assault on the book – the 3rd time I've started to read it; the previous two attempts have petered out somewhere in the second chapter. It's by no means a stupid book – quite the contrary – nor is it poorly written: indeed, it's marked by a refreshing lucidity. But once again I'm reminded of why I've started and abandoned the book twice now, & am unsure whether I'll get thru it this time. R&K, that is, pay far too little attention to the phenomenology of reading Prynne; while they give an obligatory nod to the notion that JHP is notoriously "difficult," they entirely ignore the reaction that the average reader – & even the average reader of modernist & late modernist poetry – has to work of such obduracy: a reaction, that is, of boredom, of resentment, of grudging labor, ultimately perhaps of abandonment. In short, they spend precisely no time exploring or discussing what sorts of pleasure Prynne's poetry might offer.
I for one value Prynne's work very highly indeed. While I came to it relatively late – I think I bought my first Prynne book, a little second-hand copy of High Pink on Chrome, around 1992 or so – I've always taken a particular pleasure (perhaps in part masochistic) in the dense & shifting textures of his poetry. And I know a lot of people who do likewise.
But Reeve & Kerridge, in their intelligent but profoundly dispassionate analysis of Prynne, fail utterly to present any reasons, apart from the intellectual unpacking of the verse*, why anyone who isn't already committed to the poet would want to read JHP's work. It's true, one doesn't have to make such an argument for Pound, or Joyce, or perhaps even Zukofsky – at least not now – but in the first book devoted to a "notoriously difficult" writer, the failure to make any sort of partisan appeal to pleasure strikes me as a significant misstep. Maybe that appeal's just yet to come, somewhere in chapter 3 or 4. But that'll be too late for non-Prynnites, I'm afraid.
*R & K's actual readings of Prynne's poems, so far as I've read, too rarely go beyond the "let's see what kind of sense can be made of these lines" move – ie, let's see how we can try to translate them into something resembling a coherent line of discourse. Sorry, gentlemen, but I can do that sort of work on my own – & end up liking my naturalizations better than yours.