Thursday, July 23, 2020

Signings, Inscriptions, Augmented Texts

            by John Kinsella

In this time of pandemic, with much anguish in many places, and every signing-off a false signing-off because of ‘second waves’ and uncertainty about recurrence and persistence, the location of the book is a strange and disturbed one. Where does it sit as a tool of address, redress, scrutiny, respect, dialogue, certainty as record?

As I notice remaining ‘intact’ or persisting environment not only still being devastated, but often increasingly devastated or marked/’pegged’ for future exploitation under a blanket of lockdown and human-planetary crisis — via obfuscation through distraction, and the new economics of ‘recovery’— I think more and more about the site of the book: its conceptual liberations, its pragmatic costs of making (in so many ways), and its sanctuaries, too.

Going through many ‘physical object’ copies of books in recent times, I have been reading and thinking about ‘signed’ and ‘inscribed’ copies, and the notions of gifting and possessing, and the politics and ethics of personal and public ‘libraries’: of restraints of access, of ‘borrowing’, of ‘open access’, of versions created specifically for digital access.

And I’ve also been considering the issue of ‘older books’ scanned to recreate the (vicarious) experience of encounter with books made closer to their time of writing (books written with very different and differing views of how they were to be encountered over the centuries and locales of making), and maybe edging towards some notion of where the augmented text meets the earliest published version. And by ‘augmented text’ I mean: interventions by people reading, dialoguing, recording, highlighting as engagement or prompt to memory, or gifting the books — inscriptions, annotations, marks etc; and the authors themselves dedicating, signing, gifting, correcting annoying missed typos, arguing with their own printed or published texts... revising for reissue or resaving...

In processing all of this, I came across a few signings by Jacques Derrida, whom I liked and greatly admired, but find myself often (and in some ways increasingly) arguing with, which I am sure he would have expected. These books were gifts, and though the signings don’t ‘show’ that, the fact they were alters the nature of reading for me/us — the personal in the private realm of the page, the public in the act of doing something (signing) he had done many times before over his life.

Derrida was a poet’s philosopher and a philosopher of poetics in whom all textuality encountered a politicising matrix, all words and marks were signs that had and have consequence. He told me once that he had dreamt of John Donne not long before I spoke to him on the phone, and he could see handwritten poems, if I recall correctly. Were they in English or French?!

Below are scans from three books he gave me, or me and Tracy — of their covers and their signings. Signings that are small poems as significant to the recipients, maybe, as a Mallarmé’s fan stanzas. Names and dates, and maybe a place — yes, shaped, placed, the circumstances of writing (and reading)... that’s what makes poems. And consider their contexts... ‘What is Poetry’... and so on and on. From other Derrida signings I have seen, I note the familiar positioning and slant on the page, the dating, the sharpness of the moment of delivery. Quick as a flash. Done. But part of something flowing and continuous as well. Episodic, and yet points of repair [repère]. How many did he remember doing?

And vitally, which page to sign was chosen to sign? — a blank page, a half-title... the written text speaking with open field of the ‘blank’ or in dialogue with printed text, the nature of lettering, of calligraphy. The pen and the printing block. But each is a case itself, as well.

So, Genette’s paratext and something extra? Maybe, but each enactment in the book carries its own traces, and its own echoes, even consolations and maybe consequences. So let’s acknowledge:

'... the dedication, understood as trace, is necessarily linked to individual memory. The dedication has that demiurgic capacity that allows a memory to be reactivated upon each reading.'

(translated by Tracy Ryan — see here for the original French) 

The book is a concept that doesn’t need old-growth trees to die, to be turned into pulp — in fact, over thirty years ago a friend and I were trying to make paper in a large vat from straw-stubble and other materials, spread and rolled and so on in the sun, for a book of my poems... and I did a few things on wheatpaper in those days.

The burnt offerings of stubble that add absolutely unnecessarily to global warming have a future as poems and fans and books and places for both inscriptions and signings... for imprint pages, for front matter, for afterthoughts, for affections and questionings, for recording a moment, its temporality and spatiality.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Second poem from long ago, in memoriam Mhairi

By Tracy

Outside the glasshouse

I lose you for a moment and then catch sight:
crouched under twin camellias you approach
with the lens as one might
a timid animal,
allowing them soul.

I hold back: double pink, double red,
such richness best at a distance
or I am swamped
unless it’s instinct
tells me not to intrude

between you and the beauty
of your own response.
Starvation for months
and now this glut of colour
almost insulting in its abundance.

Not all at once
but bud by snub bud they unloose
their vivacity, raised cups
we’d slake our hurts at
if we could only trust

they’d last – longevity
and faithfulness, the books says
so you store an image
to paint them from
like tracing and retracing
a lover’s name.

                     — Tracy Ryan

All these photos were taken by Mhairi in the Cambridge Botanical Gardens, which gave me the central idea for the book Hothouse, from which the poems are themselves taken.

First poem from long ago, in memoriam Mhairi

By Tracy

These poems were not written "in memoriam" but during the course of the friendship, and were published in Hothouse (2002/2006). I never thought to be posting them so long after, and in such circumstances. I just learnt that Mhairi passed away in the UK last month. She was a gifted poet as well as pianist, a film buff, and a savvy winner at all board games.

She was also a fluent speaker and avid reader of French, and a half-dozen of the best French novels I have on my shelf here at Jam Tree Gully were gifts from her, because she loved to give presents.

The first poem takes a line from a beautiful DH Lawrence poem, which ends "in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past".


Small walls and the furniture
too large, as in a dolls’ house,
or a Dutch interior
the swollen disproportions
of a dream;

a baby grand and you playing
Bach and Satie
as my grandmother played the Polonaises
and my mother the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata

suddenly the hunger
to pick it up again, dropped stitch,
to let fingers go as they know because
it was trained into me
every morning

or because I was born to it
and let it go, wasted and taken for granted
like water; this our idiom
I’ve abstained from
out of some foolish notion

of imperfection, forgetting the pure pleasure
the insidious mastery of song
that makes the child’s heart beat faster
as I stand there
wordless but listening
with my arms around her
in the chill spring.

                                                   —Tracy Ryan

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Failure of Pastoral and Australian Mining Companies' Ongoing Rapacity

Eclogue of the Pastoral Where There Should be No Pastoral (Per Se)

‘Pastoral muse, offer help!’

            Miklós Radnóti, ‘Third Eclogue’ (trans. Emery George)

As the paternalistic miner tries to nip
‘native title’ in the bud — to reset to non-

exclusive, to make the buds recent if the iron
is ancient; while Rio Tinto blast and destroy

Juukan Gorge shelters as sacred a place on earth
as time has allowed as has been invested

with spirit — and the company has done so
with the Crown’s law on their side...  it’s

impossible to justify pastorals
in any form, even as countermands

to the ideas they carry to infiltrate
and contaminate. It’s impossible

to configure in any way that best
serves its plea, and makes context

of reading, of land scaped into contra-
productivity, cultivated against its spirit.

All such comparisons fail, some are odious,
but death is death and tyranny tyranny

and we who reach for the literary
language of far-away localities

bound into sheaves for emperors
and land owners, for ‘readers of taste’,

for things growing in the best possible
order even when crops fail and fauns

and satyrs OD on toxins and drop dead,
this is why in the end ‘pastoral’

can only be an idea of the market —
isn’t that so, isn’t that the scenario:

the spending splurge, the largesse,
ahead of a bountiful harvest, profits,
            giving with one hand?

            John Kinsella