A review of Etruscan Reader VIII by Tim Allen in Terrible Work.
Etruscan Books is under the baton of Nicholas Johnson,
24a Fore Street, Buckfastleigh, South Devonshire TQ11 DAA

Etruscan Reader #8 - Tina Darragh / Douglas Oliver / Randolph Healy: (£7.5O)

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In TW8 we reviewed 6 of these superb Readers and still felt that we were not doing the series justice. Yet any favourites I had amongst that batch were eclipsed by my enthusiasm for this one. The putting together of triplets is a tricky business which elsewhere in the series has not always come-off, but here, the follow on of Darragh by Oliver and then Healy works like a dream. Difficult to pinpoint how, except that the work from each is so solid while displaying an openness, the kind of ‘open’ that can live so easily with its neighbour. In some ways the three are very different, despite the fact that each could said to be engaging with the world and language in a post-structural manner. American L=anguage poet Tina Darragh’s ‘dream rim instructions’ (a handful of the fractals appeared in TW8) are conceptually a million miles from Douglas Oliver’s ‘Arrondissments’. The former are an interplay between randomly discovered templates of text and recollection/construction of ‘real’ dreams, interpreted by Martine, a playful alter ego. The down-right funny of the ‘dreams’ (mostly Tina/Martine trying to perform in various Poetry Reading scenes that invariably go awry) links in such a charming ‘dreamlike’ way with the fractal material that our whole idea about reality and experience is mashed up. But far from being dark such a mashing (one piece is called ‘Mashed Lit Crit Dream’) is blinding, and quite beautiful, with brilliant light. The self gets multiplied and the ‘other’ gets divided as life becomes mystified at the very moment when its components (such as dreams and language) become demystified - Darragh (and this is something I very much agree with) rebels against the interpretive monopoly of dream-meaning in preference for something a lot more lifelike. This writing is so entertaining and accessible; these ‘dream rims’ instruct us, wake us up.

The ease of writing displayed by Darragh is matched by Douglas Oliver’s pieces loosely engendered by the districts (the Arrondissments) of Paris, his adopted city. Oliver is essentially a straight writer, by which I mean he rarely utilises any obvious experimental or exploratory method. His preferred style is first person discursive, as are the ‘Arrondissments’, whatever leaps of imagination and jumps in time they make. The Arrondissments are as relaxed formally as the ideas, tangents are followed without guilt as the form moves from free verse to prose poetry and back again. A central piece here is ‘Future Circles’ in which the Oliver talks to 19th C. French revolutionary, Théophile Ferré, and his girlfriend Louise Michel, at the back of a New York bus. The conversation between them is so real, the thoughts of the two displaced revolutionaries so relevant to today’s concerns (Oliver’s concerns are always ‘ethical’), that the piece has a superreal feel to it not unlike Darragh’s, surprisingly. Oliver’s second section here, an extract from ‘The Video House of Fame’, is very different for him. When heard him read some of this a few years ago I wanted it for TW, and seeing it here I am jealous. The strange piece acts as both celebration and satire on virtual reality culture. The terminology, a kind of baroque computerese, immerses us in a hyper-world where, as with such games, we choose levels and characters as we descend into a thoroughly entertaining madness.

One of that fascinating group of Irish linguistically innovative poets (including people like Maurice Skully, Catherine Walsh, Billy Mills and Trevor Joyce) Randolph Healy’s work is relatively new to me. And what a find! To follow Darragh and Oliver and to succeed, and to succeed with poems which, as he explains in the ‘Introduction to 25 Poems’, "are concerned with in formation and ideas... an almost secretarial activity in which I have rewritten prose passages as verse... ", is quite something. These poems have a similar level of obsessive observation as Ponge or Michaux, but the ideas, abstractions and pure ‘info’ they deal with, or ‘discourse’ upon, gives them a movement and texture which is unique. Stimulation and Pointlessness seem to be their axis - I laughed along as they reiterated all the differences between poetry and non-poetry without seeming to utilise any of poetry’s normal attributes, except the line break. This is L=anguage work in disguise, masked poems in which a bitter-sweet intelligence turns the tables on an invisible enemy. In contrast is the long poem ‘Arbor Vitae’, called by editor Johnson, “one of the most unusual poems of the 90’s”. Accompanied by explanatory notes that leave us in no doubt as to the poems’ ‘target’ or the anger with which it has been composed, it concerns the awful history of the education of the deaf in the Republic. The poem has its locus in the refusal of the ‘experts’ to countenance sign language, preferring the tortuous route of forced, and abstracted, speech. This piece is almost classical (the implied metaphors are legion) - a polemic set to music - and as powerful a poem as you are likely to encounter in this vein. I can’t help wondering what the reaction would be if it was written by one of the mainstream’s current blue-eyed boys - I can imagine it being drooled over as a modern masterpiece etc. But this is a fantasy... You are going to hear more about Randolph Healy, I hope!