Saturday, August 5, 2017

Having finished "In the Empire of the Air"

     Now having read all the contents of Philip Clark's edition of In the Empire of the Air: The Poems of Donald Britton (as I hadn't when the group met on Wednesday), my admiration is all the more. I wish/wonder if members of the group could do something to promote the reputation of this wonderful poet.
     Several people at the group meeting pointed to allusions to other poets in his work. I didn't get a chance to push in with John Berryman, alluded to by the title of 'Inner Resources' (one of the 'Four Poems', p. 43)—see Berryman 'Dream Songs 14' ('Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so / ... my mother told me as a boy / (repeatingly) "Ever to confess you're bored / means you have no / Inner Resources"'—and 'Mr. Interlocutor' in 'Plusieurs jours', p. 70, recalling Berryman's invocation throughout the Dream Songs of the byplay in minstrel shows between Mr Bones and Mr Interlocutor.
     So presences of Eliot, Crane, Berryman, ?Auden ('no radio goes dead' p. 52 makes me think of Auden, 'Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone', and maybe the Yeats elegy)—quite a range, and probably other poets. An imagination not circumscribed in any school, but still with its own very distinctive character; a way of writing which is, as everyone says, like John Ashbery's—but better.
     Someone (Keith? Barry?) perceptively pointed to a tactic in some poems of seeming to come up to a point but then dropping back from it—cf. 'Unattached', p. 15: 'I have / developed, then, this / leaping-back motion as a device / for getting out of the way / of these next few things as / they happen ...'
     The construction of stanzas (often of the same number of lines within a given poem) and of individual lines (mostly of about the same syllable count within a given poem, though usually not a repeated rhythm) is another whole aspect. Poetry that's both very lyrical and very formal.
     I'm grateful to Philip for bringing these poems to the group, and to the group for such an excellent, impressive discussion of them. I really do hope that Britton's work survives and becomes more widely known. Like Keats he only had a short time to write, but he should not be 'one whose name was writ in water', as Keats thought he would be.


DCSteve1441 said...

I heartily second that motion, John! I particularly appreciate your comment about Britton's formalism, which we touched on a few times during our discussion but deserves attention.

And kudos again to Philip Clark for yeoman's work in preserving Britton's poetry and memory!

Cheers, Steve

Tim said...

Thanks, John — you've gone some way toward that promotion with this post.

Philip Clark said...

Thanks very much for this vote of confidence in Donald's work, John, and for one of the most thoughtful reactions I've seen the book receive. And I appreciate the folks who came out for the meeting last Wednesday: you all made me think about Donald's poetry in some ways that I hadn't.