When I discovered David Rushmer’s uncluttered poetry with distilled expressions in the mould of neo-impressionism in Remains to Be Seen published by Shearsman Books, I was thrilled but wondered if such European style of abstract poetry would be appreciated at all in England. Chhāyāvād in Hindi is akin to such writing, and even the translation of such poetry is not acceptable in the West. Artist and poet Meena Chopra springs to mind. However, Rushmer goes further with fragmented text to explore the space the layout occupies on a page in the graphical correlation of its elements.
A normal style that prevails around us in poetry is very insistent on forms, syntax, and ambiguity through metaphors. Most editors and publishers have no time for poems that do not conform to such demands. Rushmer takes risks, experiments and deploys fragmented text that hangs on a page as if it is a theatre, as you would see below in a screen capture of the pages from his pamphlet. Auden bluntly called the English poets ‘warbling their woodnote in the wild.’ He refers to the preserve of very English aspects of poetry and lack of any appetite for experiments. Also, his observation was about English poets ignoring anything European!
Therefore, I was quite amused by the English writers loud in declaring themselves Europeans during the debates around leaving the EU, while ignoring trends, debates and developments in European literature. That is where a new generation of poets trying to crossover to other genres brings freshness. When I introduced a new form, The Rapids, one of the typical editors entrenched in the closeted views told me to ‘stick to traditional forms’, adding ‘it is what young poets will do’! I could not decide if I had to be flattered that I had a set of mind for ‘young people’. Snubs and snobbery stemming from the exigencies for structural language and only traditional aspects of poetry are sad because they block the alternative possibilities and enlightenment in the art of poetry that can bring a refreshed experience. The notion propagating from workshops and MFA courses is that poetry is somehow a craft that can put something together from the list given to students or is a science that can explain everything that is poetry! The product that emerges from such discipline out of the universities, workshops or classes demands the herding of poetry in certain confines to define it for our age. Conformity to syntax, poetic forms or scansion–though should be observed-is not where a poem should begin in any way so that it is the best construct for these poets, editors and publishers, not forgetting the judges of the poetry prizes.
Poems should start with ideas, vision, sentiments, something abstract in our life that we need to explore to make some sense of it, multiple layers of meaning, and many other subtle aspects. The forms and scaffolding of poetry can come into play later.
Poems should start with ideas, vision, sentiments, something abstract in our life that we need to explore to make some sense of it, multiple layers of meaning, and many other subtle aspects. The forms and scaffolding of poetry can come into play later. However, they also should be ready to disintegrate into something raw for us to reconstruct and allow an expression in a novel way. A leap of imagination and sentiments also can lead us here. I will be surprised if the craftsmen of poetry are unaware that English grammar is not any cast-iron proposal. Different style guides and rules always recommend diverse rules. In contrast, many other world languages have stricter rules and syntax. The freedom in English can be an asset that others don’t have, and can allow us greater adventures with the flexibility that is handed to us! But are we honestly ready to entertain such possibilities? Poets are best placed to be inventive, philosophical and unusually expressive. Lamentably, fragmented language, co-relation to images and conflicting metaphors, with many other artistic freedoms, are not in critics’ favour or any popular trending to allow them extra freedom mentioned!
Poets like Rushmer are not about challenging or upsetting the status quo, but wish that there was also space for their exciting works in the flow of contemporary poetry. Recently, on his creative adventure, he had to find an American publisher for his limited edition of a radical pamphlet. The Empty Centre requires visual engagement from the readers. It is a theatre of impressionism in language with modernism at play with it. A lot goes on in these poems without a structured language. Poems dabble into visual elements.
A long time ago, Eugène Guillevic gave us Euclidiennes to challenge our engagement with life with geometric shapes speaking as poems. That is very European work that no British poet ‘warbling their woodnote in the wild’ would attempt. But Rushmer is after new ways. He has a taste for unusual music and, just as with its odd sounds and melodies; he tries to create meanings from the broken text in poetry. These poems also cross over to graphics and demand not only the intense attention and intellect of readers but trigger a wholly novel experience in understanding the language that wants to rebel and is presented to us in a visual form as a theatrical interaction, not as the language we know.
In his pamphlet, Rushmer has created pages with a blank rectangle sitting in the centre of a page. This defined central space keeps us anchored to nothingness so we can make a journey from them outwards to what his language and words create for us to understand and experience. Hence, the centre is offset by the words and phrases, and sometimes images emerge, with some occupying both spaces.
Not all experiments may work, but literature should be daring, free from the hands of academics or those who are closed to any other ideas than theirs. Progress comes from changes and experiments; some of them will be a success, some a failure. Publishers like Prototype are trying to address this ethos. Hence, one can still hold hope that there will be a place for innovations in English poetry. Let us take a risk with literary forms, syntax, and see their crossovers to other genres.
The art of experiments shouldn’t be treated as tomfoolery.
The Empty Space, David Rushmer, Aphonic Space limited editions AS005