The White Stones by J.H. Prynne

Tank _summer 16_books _10


Paperback, 152 pages
Publisher: New York Review of Books (April 2016)
ISBN: 9781590179796
Language: English
Selected by Barbara Epler

“For American readers, this remarkable poet brings to mind Ashbery and Creeley, but he is more grounded and less abstract than either. I tried to write a thumbnail sketch and failed, and then asked a friend who is a big fan of Prynne’s to help me: he failed, too. Prynne won’t fit in a thumbnail...” —Barbara Epler 


“Señor Vázquez Speaking and Further Soft Music to Eat By”
So today it is quite hot again and the
erotic throb of mere air replaces the traffic; 
we (the warmed-up) are not separate
from the body owing into and just being 
with air. So delectable, another sense for 
presence, glandular pressure; so all
the dark air comes running
up like some woven thing, 
soft like our own possessions.
We read about that in cheap paperbacks – maybe 
today it’s the turn of the scarlet athlete.
Anyway, the angelic hosts were undisturbed
in their eminence of domain, not caring
at all for charter or land reform. In that
sense mostly far distant from the Colombian 
peasants whose current leader is so
evidently named by a small Promethean gesture.
To return, this is an
intimately physical place, 
picked out of the air like
forbidden fruit. So much air and so close
I can feel the lunar caustic I once used in
a lab note-book headed “analysis”. Now
it’s Laforgue again, the evening a deep city 
of velvet and the Parisian nitrates washed off
into the gutters with the storm water. In the 
more entire flarings of sheet lightning the 
raindrops glittered violently in their 
descent, like a dream of snakes’ eyes.
All this the static and
final saturation of air: 
the physical world in
which, somewhere out in the Andes or in 
the jungle valleys the same bitter spasm 
is fought, for life and trac: it is the
air, we breathe and if
now it
trembles like some satiric
sexual excitement we
are no more than the air we
now are, baffled. The angels have 
no reason to worry, about that.

J.H. Prynne is a British poet and key figure within the Cambridge group of Revival poets, a modernist-inspired reaction to the more conservative poetry of the 1960s and 1970s. Poem © 1968, 1969, 2015, 2016 J. H. Prynne. Courtesy NYRB Poets