Meaning Performance, Tony Lopez
[Salt Reconstruction, 14.99]


Tony Lopez taught me on my MA course. I remember attending my first class and being given a poem by Tom Raworth and another by Rae Armantrout to discuss in student groups. I also remember the tutor's exasperation at our pitiful attempts at deconstructing the work! That first poetry seminar was for me the start of a long period of questioning and engaging with poetics and my own creative writing practice, opening my eyes to the possibilities of textual play and manipulation, of just what can be done with language. I stopped writing for several months at one point as a result, not only to read around the subject, but because I felt I didn't know how to write what I wanted to write any more.

One of the wonderful things about Meaning Performance is just how lucid and approachable, how common-sensical Lopez's essays are, even when dealing with the most complex poetry, such as that of J.H. Prynne. Although thoroughly researched and carefully referenced, these are not dry academic expositions, these are enthused and informed, delightful and delighted, deconstructions of their wide-ranging subjects, rooted in the practice of poetry, not just abstract theory.

Lopez's book on W.S. Graham remains one of
the reference books on the author, Meaning Performance  offers three further discussions of his poetry: one on the poetic relationship between Graham and T.S. Eliot; one on Graham and the 1940s, with particular reference to Dylan Thomas; the third on his relationship to the art world of St Ives. Elsewhere, Ted Berrigan's Sonnets and other poems from the 1960s are carefully explored and considered, and Ezra Pound's 'Cathay' is looked at anew.

Issues of abstraction, innovation and modernism are also explored, often in relation to national identity and/or the transference of poetics and processes between different nations particularly America and England. Lee Harwood and John Ashbery's relationship is considered as a carrier of ideas, and their influence discussed; as is Pound's influence on Postmodern British poets. Graham, of course, raises issues to do with regionalism [in Cornwall] and nationality with regard to the cultural and political relationship between Scotland and England; the latter is also considered in the case of Thomas A. Clark. Lopez also writes about Bunting's use of dialect, along with regional vocabulary and idioms, in 'Briggflats'.

Everywhere there is a welcome matter-of-factness and approachability in the way Lopez scrutinises poems and writers. The reader is simply not allowed to find Andrew Crozier's, Tom Raworth's or Bob Perelman's work hard to understand, s/he is simply plunged into clear critical engagement with the structure, form and content. Lopez's abilities at deduction, informed by his wide reading and careful thought, along with his own poetry, are astonishing, and show how close reading skills can be applied to the most fractured or complex writing. The one example of his own writing on show here - 'Sequel Lines', a long poem collaged from research papers quotes at a Pound conference - is both engaging and witty.

This forthright discussion and dissection of poetry, poetics and poetic practice, is to be welcomed. I look forward to further volumes in Salt's Reconstruction series, as well as future poetry and critical writing from Tony Lopez

        Rupert Loydell 2006