Issue 30: Adam Piette

review of:

Mark Hyatt, So Much for Life: Selected Poems, edited Sam Ladkin & Luke Roberts (Ne York: Nightboat Books, 2023)


Lee Harwood, New Collected Poems, edited Kelvin Corcoran & Robert Sheppard (Swindon: Shearsman, 2023)

Emma Bolland, Instructions from Light (London: Joan, 2023)



Poetry of the plainstyle is seductively offered to the reader as a close intimacy of common words, words held in common. The simplicity of diction, in English often associated with anglosaxon, mono- dy- tri-syllabic language, a brief phrasal syntax, feeds off post-Romantic feelings about necessary utterance by the people for the people to the people, and secures an unspoken contract of understanding held in common across the textual divide. The understanding might be erotic, story-teller narrational, sketching I-Thou relations that are fugitive, sponsoring bonds for the meanwhile of reading. Or the very touch and tact of the rhetorical simplicity might raise questions about language as so easily felt to be transparent. What the plainstyle sets up as its own unspoken tradition depends on the poem but there are many to draw from, from ballad, song, love lyric through to the staged address to a fellow stranger as letter, note, plea, registers like children’s rhymes, biddable translations, street talk, in yer face dialogue. The complexity of the plainstyle also fluctuates, but when it is revealed, as in the grand mystifying prophetic voice of a Blake, the class mimickry of a Wordsworth, mind-shapings of a Dickinson, the nuts & bolts syntax probings of Stein, the insinuating bafflingness of an Ashbery, the lover/friend banter of an O’Hara, often turns on combinations of language-dreamwork and polysemy, as if to warn you that words are trickiest at the base core repertoire we learned first at our carer’s knee. The seductiveness is in this retour aux sources, not source as origin so much as a heartfeltness about the cusp point: when desire starts to flood language first and never stops.

         A selection of Mark Hyatt’s poetry has been lovingly gathered together by editors Luke Roberts and Sam Ladkin, and the astounding claritas and candour of the lyrics have a bold range across the plainstyle spectrum, from wonderfully and jubilantly queer verse (‘Wet / the hand / rubs the sperm / back into its own hairs / & dries itself’), through Villon-esque dramas of marginal outsider-on-the-move (‘My desires are air as shoes walk in my body for / pain but I am incapable of rest’), to frank thinking-out-loud poems to family, lover, friend, weaving through the assumptions about what is understood as held in common. In his ‘Pretty Common’, Hyatt ponders his association of love with ‘hurtful pain’, and tells us how he tried to break the habit by reading, and listening ‘to people / as they actually say their words’, a literary dramatizing attitude to (the speech of) others he knows ‘is limited by my dramatic / poisonous past’. He confesses that he’d been too long a dreamer, the ‘marvellous shadows of imagination’ leading him towards mental strife and alienating friends, then tips the tables of the plainstyle gently over:


                        I will muddle myself no longer,

for somewhere in my common human head there’s

the essence of expression, to let other persons be

overjoyed that I am around to help, or made to

laugh with some silly remarks about how ugly my toes

are without a pair of socks to hide their funny shapes.

Most nights now I am alone except for pet animals,

which I like sometimes. (16)


This reads as pure unadulterated, unadult plainstyle, with the faux-naif childlikeness offering the poet up as pet animal for the reader, as funny underdog, as ‘common human head’ there to be staged as so grateful to be of service in the prescribed comic mode of a servant class of solitary. He is promising not to be a visionary poet ever again as part of the plainstyle contract, he won’t ever again leave his friends ‘carefully upset’, nor risk appearing a little bit mad (‘round the twist’ is the term, funny old madman). Secreted into this self-dramatising serviceability is a wiser wisecrack poet, more gimlet eyed, hyperaware of the costs of the plainstyle sacrifice to the comedy of class and the demands of social discipline in the poet-reader association. This second-level comedy is more biting, very assured, dangerously intimate with your prejudices, friend. It’s there in the complexity of the line-swerve: the essence of expression is ‘to let other persons be / overjoyed’; we register the vanishing of the others as pushy social nexus just before Hyatt articulates what the friends demand, his role as jester. The bullying pressure there in ‘or made to / laugh’ accompanies the jokerman act of self-infantilisation and poorman display that class comedy assumes.

         Another genre of poem dissected in as wily a manner is “Rattling Focus Where Do You Go?”, which plays with the poem-about-poetry, and faces down other kinds of expectation harboured within the simple lyric and its contracts. He answers his own question by saying his focus ends up ‘Between images among characters’, which seems clear enough, but then blurs: where in a poem do you find yourself if you’re between the images proffered by the lyric, and if you dwell somewhere among the characters of the letters on the page? The place is situated, the next line tells us, ‘over a recognition situation’, again a plain statement that goes blurry on you: the focus of the poem we are reading, perhaps, hovers above the way readers want to recognise themselves in the hinted drama, which, again counter-comedically, hasn’t yet rightly occurred. The poem stages readers as touchy about that (‘anonymous blame’ is being generated), angry at being thought of as though they were nasty New Critics ‘(ignorant vivid hairless critics!)’, and appalled that their desires are being thwarted by this ‘uneasy fiction’. Those desires demand ‘extracts of the dazzling dead’: they must have their uncanny trip to Hades. And they demand, too, that the poet apologise for any presumption (‘any attitude betrays apology’), especially insofar as the reader rules the lyric roost as judge of the faux-innocence of the plainstyle manner (‘judgement surveying provoked innocence’). Note however how the ambiguity of reference blurs these lines too: maybe, the reader fears, it is their own apology that is being demanded, maybe the poem’s own judgement is staring the reader’s innocence down as fake bullyboy tactic (‘provoked’ as in ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’). And to backtrack some more: maybe the dead voice we are most dazzled by is Hyatt’s, Hyatt now dead and sorely missed.

         ‘Dazzle: Lament Diagram’ takes that term ‘dazzle’ and explores its nether meanings. The lament the reader of lyrics expects most is feelings of loss, what the poem defines as ‘this fantasy of human hopelessness’. The Romantic lyric doles out hopelessness to the consumer with some conventional happy twist (‘this conventional escape-adventure’) in order to serve up to us ‘the mind’s state’; and the poet is expected to display that mind as a solitary and as a sinner. The ‘hostile wars’ that characterise the class web of relations demand that the poet ‘[survives] alone, the fault being mine’. What is being sketched out here in the satire is affect as fetish, the lament commodified by the demand for poem-as-diagram (etymology = marked out by lines – the poem resists that with gusto ‘(Don’t make the mark!)’); and what the poet states, in another plainstyle altogether, is the radical resistance to the protocols of lyric:


This strange object – my mind –

can’t stand the pain of your humanity

(curious cluster-void eats quiet explosions,

senses experience’s infinite stunning meanings).


The plain statement of resistance against the mind-consuming reader of lyrics is braced by the parenthesis that harbours an Empsonian complexity as if deep in the mind’s surfaces. The mind has its annihilating dreamy drive that satirises the consumer and their hunger, and gives as its own counter-protocol the different dazzle of the poem’s polysemy. ‘Dazzle’ and ‘daze’ share roots: what stuns is the polysemy that can run a poem with and against the same social forces, whilst at the same time judging the noxious blurby acquisitiveness of the bourgeois reader (‘stunning!’) The void is a cluster-fuck that explodes sense-experience, but also feels for the ways the mind mysteriously moves along its neurones and meaning-making pathways. The dazzle-ships of the First World War used modernist art to camouflage the warships through overt complexity and arbitrariness of line and colour. Hyatt’s mind has such dazzle, conscious of its own consciousness of the ways its lines are consumed, resistant to the protocols and perspectives, jubilant in the ‘strange object’ the dazzle-camouflage creates. What the poem satirises as the plainstyle demand of the consumer of lyric, that all be ‘shatteringly-transparent’, is also an agenda of uncompromising dazzle beyond the diagrams of commodification. Extraordinary, visionary, wildly clever, words can’t quite cover what these ‘infinite stunning’ poems do with their meanings, across such a bewildering range, Hyatt has to be read, read and feared and loved for the bold voicings, despite the ‘glossy audience’ we too often pretend to be.

         What it means to be dazzled, for Hyatt, depends on the balance of power, display and camouflage that measures out the power relations between speaker and addressee. Lee Harwood’s New Collected Poems, edited by Kelvin Corcoran and Robert Sheppard, gives us a broad sweep of the extraordinary life’s work in a pretty dazzling arena, from the New York School influenced 1960s through the Englishing of his open field work in mid-career to the looser localist textures of the late style. The close and passionate work with John Ashbery has received some deserved attention, notably Oli Hazzard with his book John Ashbery and Anglo-American Exchange, the essays in The Salt Companion to Lee Harwood,[1] the Shearsman 2008 set of interviews with Kelvin Corcoran, Not the Full Story, and more recently the interviews and detective work by Hazzard, including the 2014 interview for PN Review and the close analyses of the collaborative ‘Train Poem’ in the Poetry Foundation blog piece. What emerges from Hazzard’s careful dissection of the relationship, is that Harwood was entranced by Ashbery as the leading light of the New York School, which changed the way he wrote poetry when he encountered it in the 1960s (so pretty late in the day for the School). That state of entrancement became sexual as well as textual with the affair with Ashbery, and it took F.T. Prince to brush some of the glitter from Harwood’s eyelashes. Prince wrote to him in 1965, ‘You have caught a surface brilliance (perhaps more) from John Ashbery; but I find you are not basically American, and still less pseudo-American. You have an English consistency and even achievement of feeling’. [2] As Harwood recalled, Prince taught him that he had been ‘somewhat dazzled on [his] first New York visit, especially by the busy art world there & the poetic ‘brilliance’ of the poets – the New York school & the lost generation children thereof!’. What had charmed Harwood was the New York School garrulousness, its floaty indeterminacy of pronoun, the loose collage approach, the disguised close personal address, the bewitchingly estranged plainstyle of the Ashbery poem, key instance of what Hazzard describes as the New York School’s ‘dazzling, disorientating poetry’.

         In ‘Dazzle’, collected in the 1975 Oasis Books H.M.S. Little Fox, Harwood recalls Prince’s advice:


              the dazzle of the New

– its own great and unique beauty –

(her long black hair reflecting a summer morning)

like the fresh white liner at anchor

in the sparkling blue sound of this Pacific island

(NCP, 200)


The lure of the New York School is concealed within the lines and figured as a combination of erotic-aesthetic and leisure-fuelled political awe at the wealthy power ruling the globe’s oceans. The plainstyle itself, instanced in the fourth and fifth lines about the ‘fresh white liner,’ is under quizzical judgement: the ‘sparkling’ sounds of the words (as in the s-run as sound and letter in the fifth), the fresh clarity and anchored fixity of the lines on the page, the pleasure in the islanded paragraph-unit to the eye, is secured as imitative admiration for a white imperial effortlessness of grace.

The poem in its next paragraphs reveals itself to be a dramatic monologue, addressed to the love object (she of the dazzling black hair), and spoken by a ‘red faced and sweating’ general of an ‘equatorial republic asking for foreign aid’. His heavy and factitious pseudo-power, weighed down by his ‘epaulettes, medals, swords and nonsense’, is compared to her easy-going plainstyle beauty: ‘you pass in a light summer dress’. The power relations are a little too easily tricked up, and glossed over by the gendered arrangements, but something of Harwood’s political understanding, post-Prince, of his being dazzled by Ashbery is at play. Britain is that minor island begging for foreign aid, trumped up still by its imperial pomp and nonsense: and the aid comes in the shape of the inaccessible ‘great and unique beauty’ of the liner at anchor, its lure and allure displaced onto the cliched holiday passion for the woman in her summer dress. That last line, ‘as you pass in a light summer dress’, performs the New York School plainstyle, and has something of Ashbery’s curiously unsettling mixture of mystery, overt simplicity, unmeaning (the word ‘dress’ lying quietly under ‘nonsense’).

Ashbery later in the 1970s would reflect on plainstyle with his ‘Paradoxes and Oxymorons’ (with thanks to Oli Hazzard for this reference) – ‘Paradoxes and Oxymorons’ stages a poem ‘concerned with language on a very plain level’; written in basic English diction, but informed by a puzzlingness being generated by the strange accumulation of statements. The plainstyle poem talks to ‘you’, and the you fidgets at a window, maybe of a train (the poem appears in the 1980 collection Shadow Train), worries at the poem’s paradoxical combination of givenness and inaccessibility (‘You have it but you don’t have it’), at the poem’s take on the supposed desire written into the love lyric’s I-you bond (‘You miss it, it misses you. You miss each other’), skewed by the unspoken possibility that ‘miss’ might mean misunderstanding and failure of targetted relations. The very authoritative plainstyle voice of the poem has an easygoing effortless way of passing its time, and knows about the allure of its own playful grace, and it moves into uncanny blur with a quick statement of the way it plays with plain language. It plays with words as a system of things, and defines play as ‘a dreamed role-pattern’ that is ‘Open-ended’. We’re not helped to any understanding of what this might mean: but it shows how the power of the Ashbery I-voice lies in its play-acting the pronouns, and in the unleashing of a puzzling indeterminacy in the open-ended lines that are designed to generate unconscious promptings and intimations in the ‘you’: such that you becomes poem becomes I becomes just simply the words as they happen. The ‘role-pattern’ is just this pattern of pronoun switches and fusions, and the teasing grace of the performance of the role-patterning by Ashbery’s poem enacts the flow of troubling identities and affects triggered by the plainstyle as mock dreamwork.

         Harwood’s ‘Dazzle’ confesses the ways the Ashbery plainstyle rocked his whole identity; leaving him a mere creature of ‘astonishment’, ‘dumbfounded every time I see you’. The wonder cannot be stopped, the reason being the power of the plainstyle to just simply be words as they happen, or rather words about verbal / verbalised experiences as they happen and keep on happening, set out in ways that trouble the easy consumer impulses of the reader. The Harwood persona can’t, he states, ‘ever come to a full realisation / of what’s happening and is still happening / and will continue to happen.’ This keys in to a key feature of Ashbery’s aesthetic. As Ashbery stated in interview, poems with specific occasions, as for instance poems written on trains, are written as recording how things happen to the mind: ‘the particular occasion is of lesser interest to me than the way a happening or experience filters through to me. I believe this is the way in which it happens with most people. I'm trying to set down a generalized transcript of what's really going on in our minds all day long’.[3]

         But as important as this confession of the ways he was dazzled by the New York School plainstyle is the manner in which he resists its lure, or rather the manner with which the poem is able to record the lure as a drama of desire, role-pattern and power without foundering into the machinic mirroring of pastiche. It was F.T. Prince’s example  – as an unmatched poet of the dramatic monologue as a prophylactic space to explore power and desire and their fusions in art – that gave Harwood room for manoeuvre. Prince’s adoption of personae, most famously with his playacting Da Vinci in ‘An Epistle to a Patron’, gave the necessary mixture of representational agency and defence of that agency. In ‘An Epistle’, Prince explored the force of light as dazzling art designed to reveal the lure of power and wealth, and to foil it by a counter-movement of resistant aesthetics: ‘I live by effects of light, I live / To catch it, to break it, as an orator plays off / Against each other and his theme his casual gems’.[4] The dazzle of the love-object in ‘Dazzle’ is a thing of light (that ‘light summer dress’), and the textual equivalent of light in poetics is being felt through as a combination of plain style and open-endedness, as well as an enacting of a dynamic of yeses and noes that play off each other. This open dazzle-thinking Harwood was to explore throughout his career. ‘One, Two, Three’, for instance, has an emperor giving us a gift, a ‘Mughal miniature’, ‘colour and gold on paper’:


we’re dazzled    –    all this art

and surprises       ‘Keeping the doors open’

                                                (CNP, 274)


The poem understands that the ‘delight’ such art produces both feeds into desire and provides a refuge for that desire as foiled; the doors that are kept open figure the open-ended flow of feeling that the role-pattern plainstyle makes happen and contains through mystification and distancing. The New York School style, open field poetics combined with a fusioning of art and poetry and a plain language that conceals surprise, is satirised lightly in the Mughal miniature offered by the powerful figure: it dazzles because it has this connection to power and conspicuous display, but also because it surprises and keeps the doors of perception open, the openness displayed textually through the line spacing.[5]

         Beyond charting his complex experiencing of Ashbery’s art of surprise, Harwood used the collocation of dazzling light and openness to attempt to ground his own poetics, demanding the liberty to do so even though the provenance is so marked. In The Long Black Veil, the 1970-72 notebook sequence, there’s a prose section ‘Canadian Days’ which details a train journey from which the Northern Lights are witnessed:


At night the stars brighter than I’d ever seen them, and the curtains of light, the Aurora Borealis. This brightness dazzling, but it’s with you that I want it. (NCP, 248)


The prose paragraph has an immediate effect and Harwood shifts to poetry:


It is the surface

your eyes

The foresters tramp in weary

Driven into a corner (so to speak)

to say this

I hold your head between my hands

your eyes


The prose/poetry divide signals that the brightness of the Aurora has its correlative in the page space, the surface of the paper, in which the eyes of the loved one are seen. Though the window of the train figures a poetry of plain observation and realism, the loved one within the carriage is the real dazzling focus, and the tender holding of the head is equivalent to the holding of the page space surface before desiring eyes (codedly pointed to by the corner [of the page] being somewhere where one might speak and ‘say this’, ‘this’ rhyming back to ‘surface’). The poem recalls the ‘Train – Poem’ Harwood and Ashbery wrote together, and the 27 July 1965 ‘Train love poem’ dedicated to Ashbery, which speaks of their being ‘dazzled by our own brilliance’, imagining hammocks swinging ‘in a blaze of lights’, a huge orgasmic / destructive explosion, and kisses ‘that out-star the planets’ (NCP, 81) – some of which resurface as the Aurora Borealis and its effects.

What is inaugurated is not only an Ashbery-esque erotics of open-ended dazzle, but also a poetics of clarity as open field collaging of happenings that is Harwood’s own manner. It is found in the 1970-72 notebook and discovered as a mode that links to everything from the Egyptians to Rilke, as Book Eleven states. The poem thinks about art from many sources that all share a surface, about loose collage defined as a ‘series of events’ as ‘the marks they leave / varying’, and takes as their manner a plainstyle close to the elemental, the surfaces of the ‘mountains, the wind, the sea’. The poem inscribes itself across these surfaces:


in the open

dazzled by the sunlight, and ‘nervous’,


but moving – and that with care.

No end.


But the quality




The dreams do happen –

and there is no ‘home’ we come to

– but on this earth, and open to its powers

                                 (NCP, 260)


The plainstyle discovered here on the surfaces of the world is closer to post-Romantic practice, and is grounded in a ego-less ‘we’-persona that is constructed as though in touch with the powers of ‘this earth’, and with the ghosts of the dead ‘surrounding us with a tenderness’. The sentimentality of all this, as in the bravely naive adoption of Egyptian spirituality (Anubis guides the ‘dead man’ to fuse with ‘the earth beneath our feet’), dares a childlike riposte to Ashbery’s theories of dream as role-pattern with the simple ‘The dreams do happen’. Things have become dreams in Harwood’s text through the mediation of mark-making, but they happen just as things happen too: the happening is identical with the way the voice and eyes move over the open field of the page. ‘No end’ gives a nod to Ashbery’s open-endedness, but also suggests the quality of the care being taken in building the series of lines: it has no end beyond itself and the earth (as in the poem’s real material environment), no end except the quality of the experiences happening as they reveal the earth’s powers. The ecology of these lines is important: it shifts the focus away from the F.T. Princely politics of the dramatic monologue towards an environmental poetics of earth as home and environment demanding endless care. Important too is the detail: Harwood is dazzled by the sunlight, not by the New York School, the absorbed aesthetics of the art-poetry gently laid aside for an active inhabiting of the world. And it is thanks to this edition that one can track so well the shifts and turns in Harwood’s work over the life time, ‘nervous’ as he may have been at each change of gear. The New Collected Poems is some accomplishment: it brings together so many scattered poems, gives them their proper sequencing, dates and contexts, presents them with the space, light and clarity that accords with Lee Harwood’s practice, and allows them to dazzle and shine, displaying their meticulous surfaces and open powers for a very long time to come.

         What dazzles can simply be the light that shines, or the more artificial lights of art upon occasions. The art that most clearly works with light as form-shaping illumination is painting, but it was theatre, photography and then cinema that took light-based art to other levels, importantly projecting light upon subjects as much as recording the natural lights bouncing off forms. Emma Bolland’s Instructions from Light plays at recreating a treatment for Delluc’s lost 1920 silent film LE SILENCE, whilst translating the script Delluc published in 1923; Bolland brings into double focus the treatment of the movie and a complex of analyses of trauma as psychoanalytic treatment. The project builds from Bolland’s interest in what she terms fictocritical work on the screenplay as genre, and film as such is less the focus than the image-making process that text draws upon and generates. As Bolland argues, in her thesis on the project, Delluc’s release-script is traduction-retour in French, and foregrounds translation as a predicament hovering over the move from French to English in the versions printed in Instructions from Light, and on the manner in which light ‘translates’ into text and textual image in art.[6] Bolland works through the melodramatic script, staging a deadly love-triangle where Pierre kills his wife Aimée, tricked into believing her unfaithful by the jealous Suzie, his arrest, release, affair with Suzie then his suicide; and focuses on weaving into a translation of the script fragmentary commentary, notebook and diary entries, theoretical speculations that turn on doubt and pluralities of interpretation, narratives of trauma and abuse, an account of a protracted illness by an organising, analysing narrator, artworks and planning that look forward to a possible staging of the script. Running through the hybrid documents and scripts is an exploration of art’s lighting of the subject in crisis. Bolland takes this line of thinking directly from Delluc’s script, the thirteenth scene of which (first in Delluc’s French then in Bolland’s translation) reads:


Vision de Suzie en robe de soirée, au théâtre, sur le seuil d’une loge où elle va entrer. C’est la fin de l’entracte. Pierre la salue, lui baise la main. Les lumières s’éteignent. Par la porte ouverte de la loge on voit la tache flamboyante de la scène.


In the photograph: a scene at the theatre, the intermission is ending. SUZIE, in evening dress, waits at the threshold of the box. PIERRE greets her with a kiss of the hand. The lights go out. Through the open door we see the limelight; the dazzle of the stage. (41)


The translation is free enough to register the light-motif as more important than strict fidelity: the run from ‘lights’ to ‘limelight’ to ‘dazzle’ springs from the ‘lumières’-‘tache flamboyant contrast and secures a key feature, the shift from the artificial lighting of the public world to the focussed artifice of the theatre’s staging, which is what dazzles the public now become audience and spectator. Bolland arranges another level with her opening ‘In the photograph: a scene at the theatre’, rather than the expected ‘cut to’ which Bolland uses elsewhere to render ‘vision de’. The photograph modulates into the scene because Pierre has been musing over a photograph of Suzie just before this. What the translation shift implies is a relation between photography’s handling of light (the photons captured by photography) and the ‘open door’ and ‘stage’ of theatre and film illumination, with the projected light of the cinematographer and gaffer’s plan or the limelighting of the 19th century stage. What dazzles is the strong distorting, magnifying saturation and beautifying of the private figures in the film and play, coming together here as screenplay on the page. The limelight and key lighting of the actors work as a cultural analogue to the lights that illumine the ordinary public and private spaces, yet made dazzling by a combination of aesthetic modulation of the real (often designed to mimic memory and desire’s heightened attention) and social prestige, the ‘robe de soirée’ Suzie wears being the equivalent to the charismatic panache of the actor-as-star. Indeed, after the 25th scene, the narrator wonders how the mirrors will be staged in the production, and imagines the colour-scheme of the future movie. The planning ends with a choice of specific whites for the theatre and shooting scenes: ‘the dazzle of the lime-lights, the gun-flash, titanium white and flake white hue’, and what follows in the hybrid script is simply ‘star-struck’ (61). To be dazzled by the prestige of the actors beneath the lights, be they Klieg or lime-light, is to be complicit in a ‘white’ colonizing gaze on the women in the script as both stars to be desired and killable victims for the melodrama of the visual economy of art. That gaze has its panache with the dazzle of art’s desiring imaging systems, and its violence with the gun-flash of the camera-eye at the punctum-moments of lethal plotting.

         Bolland’s narrator does return to the excised French word ‘vision’, though, in a patch of italicised poetry, right-justified, in lyric plainstyle, immediately after the translation of scene 13:


there is a vision

wrapped in the night

there is only the logic of entry

when the door opens the burden of seeing is

as violent as touch

light etiolates light


The poem-fragment takes us into the dark space of the box in the theatre, and invites us to gaze upon the limelit stage in the artificial night and to ponder the logic of the act of a technologically and aesthetically focussed vision of the life of others, especially when the subjects are being seen suffering violence. The door opens much as the door opened in Harwood’s poetry, as a plain revealing of the drives running through the surfaces of the textual unconscious. The extremity of lighting in art triggers violent sensations of touch such that light itself is drained away: the better to reveal the return upon the selves-as-drive. The ‘vision’ is a cut of sorts, a logic of entry into the body haptically experienced, a ‘private’ relishing of the stage and screen violence that is the chief affect of the mind’s eye’s night-vision. What the instructions from art’s light tell us to do is mysterious, but keyed in, as key lighting on a sound stage is, to what the images ‘say’; their codes are governed by the simple (plainstyle) fact that they must instruct: ‘the instructions are that you / are instructed’ (107). 

     The black and white film projected by Delluc’s script is made by the light projected through the film, which itself was made by lights projected on bodies and forms on stage and set: and it speaks, according to the superstition of the Bolland narrator, through its frequency: ‘Grey, granular, granular, granular, gradations of monochrome are instructions from light [...] The frequency of the light is an alphabet, a grammar [...] The light whispers in my ear, slows itself so I can read its frequencies’ (106-7). This is repeated with variation, oddly, in the italicised voice: ‘the granular gradations of monochrome are syntax, are lexicon, are grapheme – you do not need to know the construction of the code to understand its meaning’ (107). Grey light combines all the colour-frequencies of light – and like all photons can behave not only as wave but as particle, so granular as quanta. But here the photons of the lighting become language, sound, a whisper in the ear, the quanta as photographeme: and the ‘words of the light’ are slowed down to reading speed in close reading mode to reveal the frequencies of the drives running the reading experience, a hertz of the psyche (‘lux psychosis – instructions from light’), a dazzling of screen-staged ‘vision / wrapped in night’. The silent film speaks its plainstyle screenplay script as coded light-frequencies legible through the ‘open door’ of the instructed textual unconscious, not as symbols but as informational quanta within a sound-staged zone of collective spectatorship: ‘Through the open door we see the limelight; the dazzle of the stage’. Emma Bolland’s reimagining of Delluc’s screenplay has generated a wonderfully bristling and febrile text, subtly theorised, culturally agile with its feminist energies drawing together fields of thought and practice as lode for a sharp and telling reflection on the razzle-dazzle of film and fictocritical hybrid writing, drawing us into the perilous zone of our consumerist gaze on art, and inviting us to think deeply on what she has called present-traumatic experiences that we should not be feeding so heartily on.



[1] See Luke Roberts, "Driven Out of the Town: Homosexuality and the British Poetry Revival", ELH 89. 1 (2022): 251-280. doi:10.1353/elh.2022.0009.


[2] Prince letter to Harwood quoted by Oli Hazzard, ‘“a real though pleasant surprise”: On Lee Harwood, John Ashbery, & F.T. Prince’, December 2016 blog for Poetry Foundation website, <>

[3] 1972 interview with A. Poulin Jr., ‘The Experience of Experience: A Conversation with John Ashbery’, Michigan Quarterly Review 20 (Summer 1981), 242-55 (p. 245).

[4] F.T. Prince, ‘An Epistle to a Patron’, Collected Poems, 13-16 (p. 14).

[5] Robert Sheppard gives a fine reading of this poem in the excellent Harwood chapter of The Poetry of Saying: British Poetry and its Discontents, 1950-2000 (Liverpool University Press, 2005), p. 113. He notes that Harwood in a 1970 interview states that ‘keeping the doors open’ is a phrase from a Hopi rite of passage, and is what ‘real learning is doing’.

[6] Emma Bolland, Sheffield Hallam thesis, Scripting Silence: The Expanded Screenplay as Present-Traumatic Language (March, 2022), p. 9.

Adam Piette teaches as the University of Sheffield and 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.

Copyright © 2023 by Adam Piette, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.