Issue 29: Adam Piette

W.H. Auden, The Complete Works of W. H. Auden: Poems, Volume I: 1927–1939 & Volume II: 1940-1973, edited by Edward Mendelson (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2022)


Sharon Kivland, Abécédaire (Nottingham: Moist Books, 2022)


Jack Spicer, be brave to things: The Uncollected Poetry and Plays of Jack Spicer, edited by Daniel Katz (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2021)


A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, & Publishers, edited by Kyle Schlesinger (Brooklyn, NY: Cuneiform Press & Ugly Duckling Press, 2021)


The hybrid turn that has swept across poetic practice blends discourses; brings prose or prosaics close to poetry; embeds the composing artist within a web and weave of the work and words of others; splices or fuses together critical and creative modes of thinking; breaks down autobiographical and reading conventions into new textual forms; draws upon a host of disciplines and other arts to generate story; attends intensely to a mixed manner, whether it be generic, sexual and political, stylistic, cognitive, philosophical; supplements art as a representational power with psychoanalytic, radical and protean-scientific modes of knowledge; tempts the reader through intellectual and erotic seduction into its collective texts and worlds. This set of reviews tests the following hypotheses: that hybrid writing is (still) modernist in its experimental interfusions, that it is radical at core in its sexual and political consciousness, that it draws most on three arts, the art of book-making, avantgarde fine art, drama, that its mosaic other-oriented structure and fluid, changeable surface focusses attention on the verbal construct, and that it is collective in both practice and form (to quote Ágnes Lehóczky, it is 'where voices of the "I", the "you", the "we" are blended into a complex, palimpsestic strata of a polyphonic 'I', in which sense language becomes not "mine", but the language(s)/words of others.')[1]

Edward Mendelson's edition of W.H. Auden's complete poems for the extraordinary Princeton Complete Works has been a long time coming, and it is very welcome indeed. We've had to make do for so long with the Faber editions, the editions of the 1960s, Collected Shorter Poems 1927–1957 and  Collected Longer Poems, then the more rigorously Mendelson-edited Collected Poems of 1976 (revised in 1991 and 2007), The English Auden: Poems, Essays, and Dramatic Writings, 1927-1939 of 1977,  the host of editions of  the plays, libretti, juvenilia and prose, the series of Selecteds and individually packaged long poems (including Alan Jacobs' 2011 critical edition of The Age of Anxiety for Princeton). The Princeton Complete Works began in 1993 with the Libretti and dramatic writings (edited by Mendelson and Chester Kallman), then from 1997 turned to the prose works, with six volumes edited by Mendelson, published between 1997 and 2015. So that makes nearly fifty years after Auden's death before we can be assured of something like a stable set of poems. This is key since the mostly note-free Faber editions often left readers puzzling whether the poem they were reading was an original, medial or final version. That is a big question for Auden Studies, because, as most readers know, Auden was a notorious tinkerer with his poems, recasting them, overhauling them, abandoning them (there's a poignant section of these Princeton volumes entitled Abandoned Poems, Mendelson citing Auden in support of this view of poems cut from the oeuvre), twisting them from one genre to another (from play text to lyric or back), altering lines, from alternative tiny details to savage cuts, for every poem for any new edition it might appear in. This massive edition of the poems is partly so long because of Mendelson's meticulous recording of the variants, and complex textual history for each poem, long poem, collection, with often dizzying notes charting the metamorphoses.

            To teach an Auden poem with the Faber editions was inwardly to say, damn it, let's say this is the real thing, even though the most superficial research would reveal the extraordinary changes Auden would wreak on his texts, from the ethical abandonment of the Spanish Civil War poems (for their advocating necessary murder in the anti-fascist struggle) to the often baffling assault on poems for reasons difficult to discern. Even if you studied the extraordinary first collection, Poems (1930), and kept to the accepted edition to get a taste of the actual volume as read, you were mostly making a mistake. Auden for the 1930 edition was working with a privately printed volume Poems (1928) which Stephen Spender had published in the summer vacation when they were both at Oxford, and added poems he wrote in Berlin. Auden gathered together a new suite of poems to try and tempt Faber, but then dithered about cutting poems and possible substitutes with the manuscript he sent Eliot , writing to Frank Morley at Faber: 'I have considerable alterations that I wish to make in the poems you have, some corrections, omissions, and additions. I will send the revised manuscript as quickly as possible' (Textual Notes, vol. 1, p. 548). The biggest alteration was Auden persuading Faber to carry the charade Paid on Both Sides to open the collection. There was not only his own sense of his own poems that was on his mind: the collection was also designed to capture a collective consciousness of sorts. Mendelson notes that Auden, when he'd published Poems, wrote to Edward Upward, one of the key companions in his group of writer-friends, 'I shall never know how much in these poems is filched from you via Christopher [Isherwood]' (p. 548). He almost immediately regretted some of the poems in the collection when they were published ('I should cut out 2, 6, 9, 13, 23, 27, 25 and considerably shorten 16' [p. 549]); and he insisted on making big changes to the 2nd edition that came out in 1933, removing seven poems, bringing in nine pre-Orator poems, with, in his words, 'sundry alterations in the texts of others' (p. 550). Not all those changes were followed through with – but it is, in fact, the 1933 edition that we all read and teach, often not quite remembering that the texts we are looking at may not even have been there in 1930. The point of all this is both relief that we can have a confident sense of both the 1930 and 1933 editions with Mendelson's careful notes, and an increased realisation of the revisionary hunger Auden felt about all of his work as it left his private room and entered public space. The urge to chop and change grew with his fame and the sheer number of opportunities to republish old work that fame fostered: and Mendelson, rightly, simply records the variants and abandonments without speculating about the reasons why – most often, it seems, Auden needed time to realise what his poems were worth to him, but was also quite content to bang them about a bit, like a mechanic with a dodgy motor, perhaps because he both loved rewriting and because his tastes changed so quickly year on year.

            Auden in his later years reflected on the perils of composition, detailing in the 1956 inaugural lecture at Oxford, 'Making, Knowing and Judging', the struggle of the poet with the inner Censor (with a capital C). Every time the young poet writes a new poem, the same question 'occurs to him,' Auden writes: '"Will it ever happen again."' Twenty years into his career, 'he begins to hear his Censor saying: "It must never happen again"'. The Censor is insisting he writes as someone else, 'the command not to imitate himself' entailing in particular '[refraining]  from writing a poem which might turn out to be a good one, and even an admired one', because that means 'self-imitation'. The emphasis is on 'changing oneself', with a clear sense of direction and goal; it is almost true to say any goal will do as long as the self is changed; the poem too.[2] The intense contempt for self-imitation masks thus a much more powerful malleability of material form and content that is sought after not only in the actual compositional process (and Auden is always experimenting, exhausting forms, inventing anew), but in the ceaseless rewriting of the old work – in this resembling the elder Wordsworth or late Henry James, for whom revision was more necessary than fidelity to youthful creed or readership views.

            The complexity of the different texts generated by this passion for change can be seen with a quick example: there's a fine poem 'To throw away the key' that languishes in the Juvenilia section (Poems, vol. 1, p. 403) that was one of the poems of the 1928 mss Spender had published. Spender tried to print Poems (1928) at his parents' house in Hampstead, but his pathetic Adana home printing set broke and an Oxford printer took over. Spender later remembered the odd cavalier revisionary way Auden worked:


he was not shocked at the idea of tacking lines from a rejected poem into a new one – as though a poem were not a single experience but a mosaic held together by the consistency of an atmosphere, a rhythm or an idea common to all its parts.[3]


Isherwood agreed:


If he didn't like a poem, he threw it away and wrote another. If I liked a line, he would keep it and work it into a new poem. In this way whole poems were constructed which were simply anthologies of my favourite lines, entirely regardless of grammar and sense.[4]


As Joanna Leevers notes in her invaluable article on the 1928 edition, the book contains a poem that Auden never printed again, 'On the frontier at dawn getting down', but Auden kept that opening line and used it in The Orators. 'Only nine of the original twenty poems are reprinted in the 1930 Faber & Faber edition,' Leever notes, and these were mostly revised, the final four poems reworked into Paid on Both Sides, and for the 1933 edition five more were cut, only four of these poems surviving into the 1976 Collected Poems.[5] 'To throw away the key' was written in August 1928, Mendelson notes, at Spa in Belgium, adding that '[a] manuscript of a much longer version is in Auden's 1927-29 notebook' (p. 791). The 1928 version was revised and recycled as part of the second version of Paid on Both Sides, with very minor emendations in punctuation. So what was a poem becomes a choral speech in the play, the chorus uttering the lines between a dream sequence staging a trial, a mad Doctor, Father Christmas, the shooting of a Spy, and rather abruptly plotted scenes where the gallant militants fight out the feud or civil war taking place on the North Pennine moors. In its status as 1928 lyric, the poem reflects on the very act of alteration and change that was Auden's compositional practice, making the chop-logic of his way with cuts (' If he didn't like a poem, he threw it away') the theme. It opens (here the 1928 version):


To throw away the key and walk away

Not abrupt exile, the neighbour asking why

But following a line with left and right,

An altered gradient at another rate

Learns more than maps upon the whitewashed wall,

A hand put up to ask, and makes us well

Without confession of the ill. All pasts

Are single old past now although some posts

Are forwarded, held, looking on a new view. (403)


The lines describe the changeability of the writing practice as a process of necessary mobility, transforming lines written beforehand according to a trajectorial logic through a political and politicizing landscape ('following [...] left and right'), the alterations adapting to that landscape as a geopolitical environment that encourages whitewashing, special pleading ('well / Without confession'), and a monolithic revision of history to suit whatever stands as the current adopted direction and goal, the 'new view' made visible from shifting  'post'-war vantage-points. Setting this political lyric in the charade – with its unsettling staging of English political divisions as ultra-local family feud, batty myth-making, portentous tragedy played as farce – further politicizes the lines, the line followed being whatever the 'family' asks you to do within the warring faction.

            The complexity does not end there. There were two versions of the play, one written before Auden went to Berlin, the second revised for Eliot and including revisions and additions generated by his experience of Brecht's epic theatre and riotous political comedy in Berlin (Auden went to see Brecht and Weil's The Threepenny Opera on his first night in Berlin). The main differences between the two versions, as Sidney Poger has remarked, are the increased emphasis on parody and comedy, additional political-psychoanalytic material like the Father Christmas mummer dream, and costume allusion to Nazi persecution of the Jews (the two sides wear armbands to distinguish them, recalling the Nazi armbands; one side, the Nowers, have names like Kurt, Walter, Zeppel, while the other side, the Shaws, include Aaron, Seth).[6] The chorus had been schoolboy rugby players in the English skit; in Berlin, Auden reduced the chorus to three, and they wear costumes that differentiate them from the two factions. What began as an ambiguous political lyric about the treacherous textual trajectory of history under constant revision, becomes a wry statement by political neutrals watching warring parties killing off their political causes through attrition – that allows fake historicizing to enter into the waste land created by the conflict postwar. But a question mark is raised, theatrically, by the chorus as so clearly marked out as neutrals: their creedlessness may be fostering this nihilist 'new view'. The rest of the poem/speech tracks the wanderers as they enter a space of apolitical mobility, a migrant, refugee, outlaw consciousness reduced to pure bodily movement: 'Crossing the pass, descend the growing stream, / Too tired to hear except the pulse's strum'. As poem, it focusses on the revisionary addict of pure change as Yeatsian agent, the pararhymes mimicking the endless mechanical changeability, leaving nothing but the poetic rhythm as pulse-motive. As speech by the apolitical chorus, there is celebration of the shedding of political creed by the soldiers on the run, beliefs cast off as the past, rocky necessity blocking off the lost ideal (the poem/speech ends 'Rocks shutting out the sky, the old life done'). From the very beginning Auden charted both the fascist temptations of his time, as with his airman in The Orators, alongside communist militancy as with his Spanish Civil War work; but most tellingly always included this third way, the aesthete middle and apolitical attitude, seeking an empty anarchist mobility of art on the move, change for change's sake.

            Paid on Both Sides is a remarkable work, and it stands as the destabilizing portal to the 1933 Poems, containing within itself the juvenilia that connected Auden back to his school and university selves and entourages, but also traces of its transformation from country house undergraduate skit to Brechtian performance. It is also a hybrid text, of course: merging prose, poetry, lyric and epic theatre, songs and slapstick, dream sequences and drizzly moorland political charade. The poems it holds within itself sketch out the political landscape Auden and his group would collectively construct, politicizing the waste land taken from Eliot with Brecht's Germany, Yeats' civil war Ireland, revolutionary epic stage spaces that recall Hardy's The Dynasts (its 'epic-drama' poetics, its chorus as 'spectator idealized', in Hardy's words,[7] its connections between English scenes and continental Europe during the Napoleonic wars) and Wordsworth's play The Borderers, with its band of outlaw rebels at civil war on the desolate moors. The poems drew from the work of his band of co-creators, Isherwood, Spender, Edward Upward, to create its collective drama and the strange choral music of its post-Eliotic manner; and also from the forbears and contemporaries, Brecht, Byron, Wordsworth, Yeats, an allusive web that ensures the voice is not self-imitation but imitation of a chorale of voices. Brecht's example gave new impetus to the probing of Layardian depth psychology as performative surface, as blended and discursive, as occurring as metamorphic changeable text across different occasions and material, textual and staged spaces. The poetics is an aesthetics that refuses to confess its whitewashing of ideology from the mobile scene; and yet does just that in the detail of the text as precariously neither poem nor play, neither lyric nor epic, neither private utterance nor choral speech.

            Edward Mendelson has done a spectacular job enabling these difficult metamorphic texts to stabilise for a while, long enough to realise the dense and constantly transforming weave of the altering textual web within treacherous political environments; and giving a meticulous lifetime's worth of attention to the minutiae, such that each poem lives within its transtemporal scope and genetic trajectory, readable as hybrid objects and as ambivalent speech acts on the shifting pages of Auden's astonishing work in progress.

            Auden's capacious hybrid practice owes a deal to the more general experimentalism of modernism, notably the theatrical poetics you find in Eliot's Sweeney poems, Yeats' texts, the playwrighting of Mina Loy and Wyndham Lewis, the blending of multi-discursive prose and poetry in the work of Stein and Joyce, the probing of the politics of a psychoanalyticized aesthetics in Lawrence, Mansfield, Woolf. His queer sense of the collective is clear from the poems and plays, and this can be put into relation with the queer politics of the modernism that runs from John Addington Symonds, Wilde and Edward Carpenter through to Proust, Ronald Firbank, Djuna Barnes, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Townsend Warner. The specifics of his late 1920s and 1930s work does zoom in on the queer group of friends as satirical model for a revolutionary cell. As Glyn Salton-Cox puts it in his analysis of this trope, using Michael Warner's concept of the counterpublic:


The cell is founded upon a fiercely anti-bourgeois normativity: sworn to a commitment to revolution, the members are bound by a shared sense of rejection of the capitalist world that is the governing norm of  the cell. The cell's underground, illegal connotations resonate with queer sociality in the interwar period and beyond, but also in a more oppositional register as the modes of illegal and semi-legal political organization which arise to counter antihomosexual repression in the early to mid-twentieth century.[8]


The very decision to go to Berlin was motivated by queer desire, and the fact it brought Auden and his companions into touch with the Marxist and psychoanalytic thinking of the international avantgarde made the cell's fusion of queer sociality and revolutionary organisation a real and lived reality.


The cell as political and sexual node of encounter, desire and resistance we see being generated not only by the Berlin experiences of Auden, Spender and Isherwood, but by the history of the printing of Auden's books: the process of publication creates a cell, a connection, a bond and a band conjoining  like minds. Spender's Adana and the Oxford printer for Poems (1928), Eliot's Faber for Poems (1930), made manifest the two major drivers behind Auden's early work, the queer network associated with his friend group and the modernist hybridity Auden associated with The Waste Land.[9] Kyle Schlesinger's edition of interviews with poets, printers and publishers provides illuminating insights into the ways small presses worked and work as comparable zones of cellular sociality bringing poets together in collective acts of making. The sixteen interviews took place between 2005 and 2015 (most in 2008) and cover presses that started publishing in 1961 (Keith and Rosemarie Waldrop's Burning Deck) to 2000 (Scott Pierce's Effing Press). The sixteen interviews include Tom Raworth on the Matrix and Goliard Presses, Lyn Hejinian on Tuumba Press, Alastair Johnston and Poltroon Press, Johanna Drucker and Druckwerk, Steven Clay and Granary Books, Annabel Lee and Vehicle Editions. What we learn from these conversations is the extraordinary passion for the book that is shared by the groups of poets, publishers and printers, and how the small press collective making of those books fostered experiment, daring, a new aesthetic. Johanna Drucker details her belief in the 'power of aesthetics as a form of knowledge and knowing' and we hear her link her interests in radical constructivism, systems theory, cognition, narrative of women's lives, reflection on language to the artists books she made; and, critically, how the printing of those books collectivizes that special aesthetics. She moves always with her 'little Vandercook and skimpy type collection' to help inspire, wherever she may be, 'another community of designers, scholars and creative writers' (171).

            The anecdotes support this collective effect. Philip Gallo of the Hermetic Press remembers how he learnt book art from publisher and letterpress printer Harry Duncan who helped communicate the findings of Marshall McLuhan; and how his class connected Gallo to other workers in the field, like Kim Merker with his Stone Wall Press and Windhover Press. The printing process conjoined his interest in the ambiguity of language with experimental work of others, from Vispo to Fluxus, and all that experience, practical, aesthetic, collective, informs his current practice with poets like Donna Dennis and Anne Waldman (he talks engagingly about the detail of the 2009 Nine Nights Meditation, p. 204).

            To read the Tom Raworth interview is to marvel at the detail, affectionate remembering and artful capacity to forge bonds through making that characterised his printer identity. The anecdotes bring his voice back, as he remembers the big edition of Bunting's Briggflatts printed on Asa Benveniste's press, in a collaborative 'combination of presses' (36). The Outburst project took place whilst Raworth was working for a manufacturing pharmacist in London. He was 'stealing Methedrine' and printing 'two pages a night' (31), and Outburst brought into being a print community that matches the press network.

            We get a lovely sense of the community-making of the press world with Alastair Johnston and Poltroon, where he talks about working with Frances Butler and the impact of inheriting Roger Levenson's typographical research library, and reveals how arguments with Bob Grenier about his 'fanatical, numerological connection to the typewriter' (he made Lyn Hejinian buy a font of Remington typewriter for Tuumba), linked to the concrete practice of Aram Saroyan et al, were important to Grenier – 'he liked having an opposing viewpoint and keeping the argument going', which Johnston relates to Grenier's caretaker role with Larry Eigner, an important friend for Johnston.

            Hejinian's Tuumba Press afforded her a networking link to the whole Bay area press scene, and she tells us how her press enabled her to connect to poets she admired like Clark Coolidge – publishing him brought him very close to his text, so that she could relate to its drumming rhythms and bold experimental metaphysics (64)

            This is a beautiful book in itself, and it carves out a whole series of reflections that are about the small presses of the late 20th and early 21st centuries as collective and hybridizing social formations that brought artists and poets and publishers/printers together into common sponsoring of art objects and metaphysical projects.


Book art importantly drew art and poetry together in the making of the book. Just as important as this hybrid are the fusional projects generated by the fusing of theatre and poetry. Just as Auden drew inspiration from Brecht's epic theatre for his practice as serio-comic, irrationalist-collective poet of cellular sociality, much of the work of late modernist poetry has a dramatizing of the lyric as a key means of pluralizing and hybridizing the artwork on the page. In Daniel Katz's edition of Jack Spicer's uncollected poetry and plays, we can gauge the interplay of playtext and poem in this more marginal body of writing. Katz in a sensitive and moving introduction tells us how hard he felt it to be to publish these uncollected pieces, given Spicer's own preference for ephemeral small press publishing, his animus against commodified marketplace print, his attachment to  unpublishing (Katz's term) which he associated with Emily Dickinson's use of letters to disseminate her work. Bringing the plays and poems together in this volume, though, does help uncover some of the key hybridizing factors in Spicer's practice after Boston. Two of the three plays are versions of ancient Greek plots, Pentheus and the Dancers a version of Euripides' Bacchae, and Troilus which stages a blend of Chaucer's and Shakespeare's re-imagining of the Troilus and Cressida story. As Katz states, Troilus in particular encouraged a turn towards 'speech, dialogue, exchange, debate' inaugurating a hybrid plural style. This is not only a  stylistic shift towards 'even more demotic and speech-based tone and diction', but also a turn towards 'the increasingly dialectical structure of Spicer's work, in which voices fold back upon themselves conversationally and argumentatively'.   '[T]he poetics of discussion and debate that are among the most distinctive characteristics of Spicer's writing' is generated by the blending of poetic and dramatic techniques and methodologies (Introduction, xxxv).

            We can see this in more detail when we look at one of the most significant findings from the archive, the unfinished long project, A New Poem, a series of fragments which Katz had to order rather arbitrarily given their status, and which exemplify the serial, dictation-based mosaic form Spicer had developed. The  fragmentary form can be correlated to Auden's take on The Waste Land, and is comparably enlivened by the hybrid dramatization, governed by a subconscious and dreamy political aesthetic, that you find in Paid on Both Sides. One of the New Poem fragments reads:


Who will tell either of us if anything is true. False angel and true angel

We confront each other

You saw the vowel as scratching on the glass

(The fingers searching a way out from ahead of a mirror)

And I as the tongue saying uh

The only sound it can make without lying.

Who will tell either of us? False and true angel. The grand

     triangle of vowels. How can we possibly (176)


The predicament works with a theme that dogged Chaucer, Shakespeare, Spicer: the double nature of the loved one. Chaucer's Criseyde, when she stays away (with Diomede) beyond the ten days, leaves Troilus dreading 'his lady [...] untrewe' and hoping  'To gete ayein Criseyde, bright of hewe' (ll. 1570 + 1573). Shakespeare's Troilus distinguishes between his Cressida and Diomed's ('This is and is not Cressid'), and curses the 'bifold authority' of language, the 'madness of discourse' (Act 5, scene 2, ll. 175, 173). Spicer in his play shows Troilus fabricating Cressida from 'the pieces and fragments of everything I had wanted in my life all put together' (262), and yearns for 'his Trojan Cressida' when she is absent (296). Cressida herself opts for a consciousness of pure fragmentation without meaning – she watches the ocean whilst Diomede is asleep, and refuses to see it as signifying 'another land of the dead' as Troilus might, or 'as something black and limitless' as Achilles does, or as a woman as Diomede does. All she saw, she says, 'was an ocean with pieces breaking off from it in meaningless patterns, some coming close to our torch, some ending far away from it. Just a cold dark fact that no metaphor could make significant. It didn't even mean to be meaningless' (301-2). That recognition has force because of a key scene earlier in the play where Troilus and Cressida think they are alone on a moonlit night, with the dark glowing sea outside their window, and the flickering Greek campfires in the distance – Troilus talks about the moon as death, and says 'The moon is where the ocean and the fires combine', and tries to convince her there's nobody human in their world ('There is only Cressida and Troilus and the ocean and the fire and the moon'). What he doesn't know is that there is a mysterious dark figure onstage ('dressed in black wearing a black mask with holes only for eyes') observing them.

            Spicer's poem stages a mirror scene where the I and you act out lovers (so a scene of self-consciousness as split self fusing with the lover-loved one dyad), and a division is discovered  in the space of encounter between them, the mirror glass, the page space where language is inscribed: the division is between language as sign and as vocable. That split correlates strangely with the split between the truth and falsity of the loved one. Language is as strangely reduced to vowel signs and sounds – in another fragment, a beatnik angel is encountered who drinks 'pure vowels' which 'are the pauses between things' (177). The division of the self into lover and loved one, and the blank query about who will arbitrate the truth of things, is generated by self-dramatization. The self-dramatization, like Kean in front of his mirror in Sartre's play, acts out the dramatics of poetry as an epistemological and ontological problem about language. The relations between the I and the you that govern the phenomenology of the lyric are as unstable as the relations between language as script and as performed sound, playtext and acoustic manifestation. The fingers of the loved one scratch the letters for the word 'other' on the glass. The 'o' of 'other' is seen by the writer as material sign and figures as generating a patterning in the poem we are reading through the visible string of six o-graphemes (that makes one pause):


You saw the vowel as scratching on the glass

(The fingers searching a way out from ahead of a mirror)


What the I sees though is the sound the letter signifies, the 'uh' of the first vowel sound of 'other', or the schwa that gives a rhyming effect linking the last vowel sounds of  'other' and 'mirror'. The eerie effect is of the self and its own other in the glass acting out their own internal difference in a mirror play that enacts the actor's sense of their own speeches as playtext in front of their eyes, and the audience's sense of the language as spoken in the ephemeral time of performance. The self-dramatization has a missing third, the observer superego that could be watching from the wings, the playwright or director or critic, who should be able to adjudicate the truth of the signifier as both sign and sound. That missing third recalls the dark figure in Troilus, the necessary other to the others of each lover together, the transcendent being who can make the meanings mean. The split in Troilus between the lover who wants everything to mean and the loved one who prefers a radical meaninglessness maps on to the two ways language works, either as a signifying system or as a series of arbitrary phonemes. O language be trewe, Troilus begs of his Criseyde, bright of hewe. But language is split down the middle, as Shakespeare knew, its bifold authority as both performed sound and as printable script matching the simultaneous truth and falsity of the loved one. Spicer in The New Poem scripts the self-dramatization of lyric as a madness of discourse where the vocables and signs of communication between lovers and between the compartmentalized voices of the self break down into two irreconcilable differences observed by the dark Other as superegoist cold dark fact.

            Daniel Katz is to be congratulated for bringing these powerful strange texts back into circulation, despite the uncollectable wishes of Jack Spicer, for they communicate this radical theatricality of speech acts in the interstices of the lines we experience on the performable page of poetry: a fine fine volume.


Sharon Kivland's extraordinary Abécédaire is a fine volume too, printed as an A5 paperback for £12 by the Nottingham publisher Moist, set up by Paul Finlay in 2020, a press inspired by the 'art, music, and LGBTQI+ scenes' of North America and specialising in ' formally innovative, emotionally immediate books'.[10] The book's clean crisp pages include sharp images that complement Kivland's text-per-page project. Kivland is an artist and poet, and the alphabet primer inflected project has a set of compositional rules that bring the book into focus as a key intervention into the hybrid field of making. There are 257 page sections in the volume, and they were written over a year, five days per week, so very nearly exactly a page per day. Kivland wrote, she tells us, 'only for the length of the analytic hour' – she is an artist and poet intensely engaged in psychoanalysis and feminism, and the compositional frame reflects that. Not only did she restrict the writing to the 50 minutes, but the texts were produced 'as/in free association, on/in the page, in the production of new material from extant material, and with what preceded, from memory, but not entirely' (288). Kivland reworks stories from the psychoanalytic tradition: tracking Anna Freud's relationship with her father, for instance. The texts she free associates are shaped by the way she remembers them, and by the way her creative energies shape them onto the page: critically, they are not her stories, but stories she has stored within herself, the stories of others. Each story was then stripped back and shaped according to a logic of revision modelled on the ways dream work is revised within an analytic setting, in order, quoting Freud, to fill up 'the gaps in the dream-structure with shreds and patches' (289) – this acknowledges the fragmentary nature of all tales before the resistant mind gets to work. The tales are feminist insofar as the logic of the project tracks mostly women whose name begins with A, a series of Annes, Annies, Annas, and their names have their surnames cropped down to a letter: so Anna Mendelssohn is simply Anna M. , Anna Freud, Anna F. ; the patronymic is curtailed, in other words, and not just the semi-anonymizing convention performed, an important move in a text that weaves together tales that challenge patriarchy within the tight stifling world of the patriarchal house. The result is a novel of sorts: but the pages as performances and as exercises in analytic story telling on behalf of a community of women bring this much closer to a prose poetics, and thus into the domain of the contemporary feminist hybrid book. Kivland herself is rendered invisible by this other-oriented story-telling; and yet her voice is allowed an ambiguous presence in the form of square-bracketed and lighter font density script, where Kivland speaks as Sharon K. – the effect of the interventions is mostly gently comic and wry, but they have an important job to do too, to fold Kivland as maker into the community, and to acknowledge the refabricating and unconscious choices being made by the compositional imagination. One page is made up exclusively of this lighter scripted I-story, and it recounts the psychic difficulty of writing through other voices, and the perplexing ways reading weaves into the writing as a necessary effect of the method. The other women's stories are demanding and echo the struggle of Kivland's I with her own moments 'of failure, of disappointment, of regret, of shame, of loss, of mortification.' The stories possess her, and foreground 'that which I did not want to know yet found myself talking about it incessantly to myself' (182).

            The stories are just wonderfully told, and as we read through the text, each page not only develops a longer perspective on the specific A-agent's life story, but also knits together thematics of an increasingly odd and perplexing nature. The motifs that return again and again are as various as weaving (starting off from Anna Freud's tendency to weave whilst she worked, even during sessions); dogs and wolves (feminizing and resisting a Wolf Man patriarchy); the cyclamen as figure for the telling symbol in story and dream (captured in anecdotes that bring Rousseau, Freud, and many others together); Greek myths, especially  Ariadne, Arachne, with a powerful expression of admiration for the Maenads and their free, liberating desire and violence – connected through this motif work to a strand on maids in bourgeois households, a class reading of the feminist predicament within the domestic space: pages dwell on the murders committed by Léa and Christine Papin of their employer's wife and daughter, a story dramatized by Genet and brought shockingly into perspective as a radical theatricality enabling Maenad-energy of resistance (linked, again through motif, to the pétroleuses of the 1871 Paris Commune). There are a score of other motifs developed, and they act as a secret patterning of the weave of text that draws the 257 tales together into a complex and joyfully fragmented textual togetherness that is such a feature of hybrid work.

            A briefest of examples: one of the shortest of the analytic text-stories is CLV, a paragraph-box that is part of a series telling the story of Robert Bresson's abusive control of the actor Anne Wiazemsky (Anna W. in the text):


When Anne left his apartment, she walked along the Seine with Florence, who invited her to have a coffee in the café where he had met her, Florence, for the first time, and Florence would tell Anne everything, about him, about the way he would behave with her, Anne. She always referred to him like this, Anne noted. She felt Florence's warm breath on her neck as she spoke. (177)


Bresson locked her away in private adjoining rooms during the shooting of Au Hazard Balthazar in 1966. Kivland improvises her story based on Wiazemsky's 2007 memoir, Jeune Fille. the corresponding passage in the fictionalized memoir runs (my translation), with Florence Delay rather ferociously bullying her replacement:


She wants to invite me for a coffee in an English tea salon, on the other bank of the Seine:

   – That is where he arranged to meet me, the first time.

   She started to whisper and I feel her warm breath on my neck, close to my face.

   ­ ­– I'll tell you everything ... About him ... about the way he will behave with you.[11]


Kivland allows the anecdote to possess her, and turns it into something approaching a Joycean epiphany, with an eerie fusional effect that draws Florence and Anne together. Kivland's rewrite accentuates this blending of the women: 'She felt Florence's warm breath on her neck as she spoke' plays on the potential confusion of the referent of 'she' and 'her'.  Wiazemsky's present tense story-telling stresses the intensity and weird prurience of the other woman's attitude; Kivland turns more to the ways Florence both playacts the puppet-master antics of Bresson and warns the young actor with a proximity of body that is itself a kind of  #MeToo warning. The blending of breath and neck is a deliberate confusion of the two 'hers', 'her, Florence', 'her, Anne', and creates a dyad of female collaborative energy that links to the Léa-Christine and other woman-centred anecdotes in the volume. It unpicks the masculinist domineering of Bresson, and shifts focus from the victim tale we might expect (and which Bresson himself concentrates in his Au Hazard Balthazar, where Wiazemsky's character suffers abuse from a gang) to an intense and erotically charged queer-resistant and -desiring story: the warm breath draws Florence and Anne together and absorbs on its way the stranger-observer, the Kivland-reader in the wings.

            Kivland's other-oriented retelling of the stories of the many A-women performs a psychoanalytic-feminist hybrid weaving as textual production that blends the breath and life-stories into a motif-generating art-0bject that speaks its many voices beyond the contradictions of reading and writing, creative and critical, poetic and prosaic. It reveals, with febrile interlacing of mode and manner, the way the mind as connected to other minds, bodies as connected, psychically, to other bodies, work in concert with an absorbed collective to fashion story, imaginative reflection, activist, resistant and crazily creative new genres of being. CCXXI lists a series of poetic forms, in no particular order, from memory, forms like the sonnet, pantoum, palinode. It ends with the 19th item: 'Fugue. Running wildly. Yes.' (249)

[1] ‘I haven’t got a birthday, do not call’ – an interview with Ágnes Lehóczky by SJ Fowler, Maintenant #18 (2010) — <>

[2] 'Making, Knowing and Judging', inaugural lecture, Oxford, 1956, The Dyer's Hand, and other essays (London: Faber & Faber, 1975), 31-60 (p. 52).

[3] 'W.H. Auden and his Poetry', Atlantic Monthly (1953), quoted Leevers, p. 205.

[4] 'Some notes on Auden's early poetry', 1964, quoted Joanna Leevers, 'W.H. Auden's "Poems" of 1928', The British Library Journal 14. 2 (Autumn 1988), 203-208 (p. 205).

[5] Joanna Leevers, 'W.H. Auden's "Poems" of 1928', The British Library Journal 14. 2 (Autumn 1988), 203-208 (p. 205).

[6] Sidney Poger, 'Berlin and the Two Versions of W.H. Auden's "Paid on Both Sides", Ariel 20 (2017), 17-39 (p. 25). Poger acknowledges John Fuller as the first to note the significance of the naming in the Berlin version in his discussion of the play in his 1970 A Reader's Guide to W.H. Auden.

[7] Hardy's Preface to The Dynasts. Hardy compares his verse play to mummers' plays, which may have fed into the Doctor-Father Christmas dream sequence of Auden's play. Hardy states: 'In respect of such plays of poesy and dream a practicable compromise may conceivably result, taking the shape of a monotonic delivery of speeches, with dreamy conventional gestures, something in the manner traditionally maintained by the old Christmas mummers, the curiously hypnotizing impressiveness of whose automatic style—that of persons who spoke by no will of their own—may be remembered by all who ever experienced it.' The characteristic Audenesque plain style and its blend of poetry, dream and drama, the unconscious motivation, the dreamy writing, folk pastiche and hypnotic effects may also partly have their source in the automatic style Hardy developed for his epic-drama.

[8] Glyn Salton-Cox, Queer Communism and The Ministry of Love: Sexual Revolution in British Writing of the 1930s (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018), p. 23. Warner borrows the term counterpublic from Nancy Fraser's 'subaltern counterpublics', which Fraser defines as "parallel discursive arenas where members of subordinated social groups invent and circulate counterdiscourses to formulate oppositional interpretations of their identities, interests, and needs.' [Nancy Fraser, "Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy," in Calhoun, Habermas and the Public Sphere].

[9] He first read The Waste Land at Oxford prompted by Tom Driberg – his tutor Nevil Coghill remembered Auden's reaction to his finding the poem unintelligible: 'Auden explained with clarity and pity that to "understand" a poem was not a logical process, but a receiving, as a unity, a pattern of co-ordinated images that had sprung from a free association of sub-conscious ideas, private to himself. He again recommended the works of Mr Eliot' [Contribution to symposium on T.S. Eliot in 1948, quoted Charles Osborne, W.H. Auden: the Life of a Poet (New York: M. Evans & Co, 1979), p. 40.] Paid on Both Sides was admired by William Empson in 1931 for the way its staging of 'psycho-analysis and surrealism [...] all the irrationalist tendencies [...] [is] made part of the normal and rational tragic form' ['A Note on Auden's Paid on Both Sides,' Experiment 7 (Spring 1931), 60-61.]


[11] Jeune Fille (Paris: Gallimard, 2007), p. 19.


[Adam Piette co-edits Blackbox Manifold with Alex Houen. He is the author of Remembering and the Sound of Words: Mallarmé, Proust, Joyce, Beckett, Imagination at War: British Fiction and Poetry, 1939-1945, The Literary Cold War, 1945 to Vietnam.]

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