Saturday, October 18, 2008

Alan Halsey: Not Everything Remotely

Not Everything Remotely: Selected Poems 1978-2005, Alan Halsey (Salt, 2006)


One I confess I've been lingering over for a long time, reading slowly & recursively, dipping in & about, alternately fascinated, baffled, seized with hilarity, always delighted. Stevens: "poetry is the scholar's art"; Coleridge's figure of himself (taken up by Susan Howe) as a "library-cormorant." Halsey, "specialist bookseller," deep scholar of the Romantics, editor of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, revises the terms: poetry is the bookman's art. Not Everything Remotely is a core sample (coeur simple?) of 27 years' worth of little and big collections from one of the 5 or 6 poets whose work I'll buy immediately on sight, no questions asked, without bothering to open the book or read the blurbs. Halsey's poems – & they come in such variety, from very straightforward, personal-voice addresses to the most recondite word salads – are like a dense portable anthology from a rich & complex literary canon that simultaneous overlaps with but is fundamentally shifted or twisted from the recognizable "canon" – from Linear B to JH Prynne. A marvelous "fake book" – fake errata sheets, fake pre-Sokratic fragments, fake emblems, fake dictionary entries – all at once wryly high-spirited, revelling in in-jokes & outrageous japes, & serious as a heart attack (a hart, a tack). The bones of English culture sea-changed into "something [Bridget Jones writes] v. v. rich, v. v. strange."And of course the unavoidable, undeniable question: "Who doesn't sometimes / need an hour when there's no / evading Swinburne?"

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