One of John Seed's favourite words is 'matrix' - it crops
up in quite a few of these poems which span twenty years:
a human matrix the
Park is quiet
ducks drift dreaming on the murky pool
we have no bread no message
and 'To a matrix/a kind of language in 'After Time', for example. I wondered
about this, and felt that this word was an appropriate one for characterising
Seed's lattices of thought and movement. The dictionary, most poetic of
collections, provided some insights. A matrix is 'an environment or material
in which something develops', 'a mould in which something is cast or shaped',
'a grid-like array of elements' and comes from the Latin root word meaning
'mother'. Why all these definitions? Because Seed's work is about the tension
and convergences between form as a developing or 'moulding' environment,
which is both 'grid-like' and free, a place in which linguistic elements are
allowed organic-play whilst being tightly controlled. He often quotes social
theorists, for example, Adorno at the opening to 'Interior in the Open Air'
(1993): 'even in the most sublimated work of art there is a hidden "it should
be different" '. These poems have undersides which emerge if they are
listened to, given time and attention. Small human elements appear within the
landscapes that Seed evokes,
like milk in the yard the moon
comes to the gate
The unclosed parentheses move beyond the poem, respecting the outside and the
beyond of the writing.
In poems like 'Stalactite and Stalagmite' Seed's economical turn of phrase
and ability to make the small speak philosophically is exemplified, 'a
process of addition/human and not human'.
Even the placing on the page respects silence, with poems such as 'Back
Street' presented half-way down, leaving a long breath before they begin, a
kind of settling: 'these spaces the mind moves through eyes/Like beams of
light in abstracto'
Seed is fascinated by the notion of the familiar as 'alien' - alienated
because the human environment both is and is not under human control, a
matrix that if formed by also forming. Alien because of the consumerism to
which we are subject:
England's coast this
in the wind
foaming on shingle along Spurn
In the mind
but in space I
Stand at the
on glass against blackness
Here, Seed 'penetrates' and does not penetrate both the individual mind and
the landscape which is attempts to contemplate.
One of my favourite pieces in the collection is 'After Walter Benjamin' in
which Seed imagines 'history's angel' - the making flesh and blood of
historical and political theory. It is a dramatic and energetic piece:
from the beginning
backwards into the future
wings spread, ears deafened
debris climb skyward
He beautifully explores the detritus of Capitalist life, broken objects and
produce, through precise detail, the ability to defamiliarize sound and
movement and repetition. Emptiness, broken streets, bricks, objects and
thoughts themselves, fragmented and ownerless as the detritus itself. This is
a T.S. Eliot sensibility in which the language of language is itself
objectified - mentions of verbs and grammar finding their way into lists of
objects and details of the environment.
In a sequence of poems from Transit Depots (1993), it becomes clear how Seed's work is developing these themes.
These poems remind one of aphorisms or riddles and have the appearance of
dramatic monologues through the patterning of their language. They give the
impression of having been constructed from news accounts or articles,
creatively spliced together to suggest voice. They may be arbitrary
patternings, but this creative rendering reminds that arbitrary linguistic
patterning may be no more or less than who we are. That said, the
accomplishment of the poem is to go beyond and make meaning from that which
is accepted as pattern. Sometimes these splicings seem empty to me, at others
incredibly moving, which is almost certainly the point.
What Seed does so effortlessly is detail. In a sequence which appeared in Three Wednesdays in July (1998) he presents 'Another Street' then 'Fictions
of Space' and then homes in on 'Diamond shaped panes/carved globes of
wood/Under jutting storeys'.
These are words you can run around the mouth.
The forty-eight haiku that form 'London Starting from A' are also stunning:
Street still in a
Sydenham back Garden
The London of Seed's contemplation is transformed, made alien, turned to a 'human
matrix' both controlling and creative. The best of Seed's descriptions are
spare, quiet, respectful of white space, and speak clearly out of silence.
I'll leave you with one of the best sounds his silent words make, from the
mouth of a 'little slattern girl':
watercresses through the sleepy avenues.
© Abi Curtis 2005