Simon Jarvis’ work demands new thought all the time. This was the claim made in the invitation and introduction to the reading of his poetry on Nov. 2 in LC 311, and it proved true.
Jarvis is a professor of English at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Robinson College, literary scholar, poet and philosopher who has published critical works on literary theory, aesthetics and poetics ranging from Adorno to Wordsworth.
“Jarvis reads in a way that is unlike anything I have ever heard from an American poet because embedded in his practice (and recent criticism) is a belief that poetry is alive in the moment of performance — what is on the page without even a silent reading is a graveyard of cut-up language,” Josh Stanley GRD ’16, the organizer of the event, wrote to the members of the listserv for the Working Group in Contemporary Poetry.
“What I mean is that this is not a chance to hear Simon Jarvis give us an interpretation of his poems in the act of reading or supply a fresh or first encounter with his work. Instead, I think this is a rare opportunity to hear a master verse-performer reading prosodically intense work.”
Jarvis alternated between the memorized recitation and reading of his work.
The sounds of his meter toggled between the winding of a switchback trail and the regularity of an iambic downhill trot. He beaded monosyllabic strings of sentences with heavy words. Local anaphoric repetitions built smaller arguments link by chain-link. And to describe the audible way he was, bit by mouthful, breaking the lines, might necessitate the impossible physicalist view of his pauses as slanted, breaths as sloped. His words sometimes ran through small sluices of narrow sounds, and at other times swelled into quick dispersals of a circular, ecstatic music. In this way, Jarvis’ reading also demands a new listening.
But his reading is sometimes too good. At times, the life and soft motion of his voice overpower the movement of the poem to the point of hypnotic incantation. Which might also be the point. Jarvis captures a sort of poetic thinking through camouflage, through overture, through inattention. His poetry comes to life not only through performance but also through the ease in which he varies his stress. The integrity of his line, at one moment a perfect whole, deliberately individuates at the next with “joyous catastrophe” into splices of sound.
Jarvis’ rhyme feels incorporated into the body the poem, rather than added as afterthought, or ornament at the end of each line. When Jarvis used an iambic meter, his rhyme worked in tandem, walking hand-in-hand with a given poem’s rhythm, lockstep with its form.
But in verses where he contemplates greater pain and “batteredness,” rhyme also provides a point of access for the listener through a guessing game. For example, listeners begin to expect the word “bathos,” after hearing “pathos.”
Jarvis’ constant alterations challenge revisions, challenge new visions, in listeners.
Jarvis also gave a lecture in the English Department Lecture Series on Nov. 1 titled “Rhyme: Devices and Desires.”
“Dionysus Crucified: Choral Lyric for Two Soloists and Messenger,” his third and latest work of poetry, was available for purchase at the reading for $15.