first booklet I saw by Ian Robinson didn't come from his own Oasis Books but
from Cory Harding's wonderful little X Press. Blown Footage (1980) was
an A5 mimeo production printed on one side of each page and contained some
engaging and intriguing writing I'd ever read. It made me want to find out
who the author was. So began 20 odd years of reading his prose, poems,
letters and things that avoided classification.
What attracted me initially, and still does, was the cinematic quality of the
writing and his way of highlighting seemingly insignificant details, both
personal and more general, in order to construct something that offered fresh
perspectives. Between the most unlikely connections moments of revelation
Characteristically, his method uses lists, collage, notes and other data that
may appear to be random but when brought together create something different
from the source material.
Precise details of time and location surface again and again in his work
linking past and present, hinting at events, relationships or simply states
Sometimes a set of texts are united by a clearly significant though
unspecified experience that permeates the whole, as in Maida Vale Elegies (S-Editions.
1983). Here the 'I' observes and occasionally comments on a series of
happenings, frozen instants and, in some cases, moments of inaction. The
sequence, at times, becomes claustrophobic and though, by the end, the
narrator is ready to 'move on' the writing is full of inertia, as though
standing and reflecting on the quotidian is the only possible occupation
In Delayed Frames (Oasis Books. 1985) the 14 'blocks' of prose
utilise a cut-up technique intertwining a series of narratives that can
either be unpicked or left as abrupt, sometimes startling, juxtapositions
which suggest other stories in themselves. A few years later in Journal (Interim
Press. 1987) Robinson offers 37 prose poems that suggest both the notations
of the title and some continuation of that cinematic approach demonstrated
elsewhere. Images move into the foreground, are focussed on minutely, then
fade again, while in some sections he pieces together strands of memory and
settles them next to glimpses of the present. The overall effect is one of
the observer, again, showing us the strangeness of what is there to be
perceived though we don't always notice and sometimes deliberately disregard
There are other works, booklets that similarly inhabit realms of partial
narrative, sometimes inconclusive but always alluring. And then there are
those distinctive black and white illustrations, accompanying his own writing
or that of others in magazines and pamphlets. They are well worth seeking out
though I don't know how easy it is to find some of them.
If I didn't have Robinson's own oeuvre to return to and enjoy there would
still be the wide range of writing he published as editor of Oasis Books.
When we first corresponded he sent me Paul Evans'Manual For The Perfect
Organisation Of Tourneys, one of the most enduring collections I have ever
read, capturing wit and seriousness in a range of different poetic forms. It
is a book I treasure and one I suspect has found too few readers.
From there on Oasis enriched my reading by presenting translations of
European writing from Reverdy, Werner Aspenstrom, Tomas Transtromer and
Vladimir Holan, whose A Night With Hamlet is a superbly
sustained chronicle of humanity's endurance of it's 'condition and unhappy
lot'. Alongside these Oasis brought out work from English and American
writers such as George Evans, Andrea Moorhead, Richard Caddel and Robert
Sheppard. Sometimes these were joint ventures with Shearsman Books, as in the
case of Gustaf Sobin's Nile and Roy Fisher's The Cut Pages.
And I'll always be indebted to Oasis for my initiation into John AshÕs poetic
universe through his Casino (1978), an extravagant 'homage to
Symbolism and the Decadence' which one reviewer praised as 'a long and
delicately-executed bow to European roots'. Ash probably hates it now but it
is an apposite reminder of how a writer can become immersed in and absorb
certain voices before he or she moves on towards the formation of their own
particular style of expression.
Obviously, I don't know if Oasis will continue to publish but what has
already been made available is a monumental contribution to the world of
small press publishing. And I realise that I've only touched on a few,
personal selections from Ian and his press. I havenÕt even mentioned the 'house'
magazine that surfaced from time to time, or his work on the magazines Telegram and Ninth Decade. But these few
items will have to suffice as a flavour of what he introduced me to. I'm sure
others will feel the same way and hold up other examples. He was an
inspirational writer, publisher and encourager who opened new territories for
me in poetry and prose. Something I will always be extremely grateful for.