Poetical Histories No. 2 (1986)
J H Prynne
B Dubourg & J H Prynne
Christ, this poem is harrowing. It is has the feel of the weeping that one does when the crying is nearly over -- not the major-keyed relief of the first tears or the quiet, minor-keyed almost-silence of the breathing when it's over, but the awful, desperate tiredness of the moments before you can stop. It is a poem of large numbers and acrid smells and ice and fire and a single exclamation point that comes at just the wrong moment. It makes angry and grieved sounds with words before even saying anything with them.
It is riddance from the duct we line,My throat closes at the hanging "Don't".
cheering of high degree, O Fortune
rich in spoil, surfeit in pray. The amends
of Central Production set targets
for bright-eyed fury, smash-hits
Ranking the places where happy the man
who knows nothing more or less. Don't
blink, the stairs are already destroyed
for thus, à livre ouvert, no screams ring.
Her corpse hangs, burned to ashes.
The paper--cream Ingres--is guillotined on every edge, and the red ink used for Prynne's seals on the cover is smudged infinitesimally on the back. The typography is strangely duressed -- it invokes something handwritten, under stress. Not quite in a panic, but in desolate haste, as though nothing remains but to do this thing. Furry at the edges, the descending serifs almost disappearing, the tiniest, tiniest bit too much space between the word and the colon, the tiniest, tiniest bit too little space between the word and the dash. The open spaces in letters are sometimes filled with ink -- only the vowels, strangely.
The accents are tiny angry eyebrows, flint-shaped, oddly and disconcertingly sharp-edged against the blurred letters. It makes the French translation which follows look more tired, more frustrated, spotted with circumflexes as though the poem has dug its fingernails into its palms.
But the fi ligature is beautiful, perfect, a minute architectural drawing keeping a breath of air in "filth".