State of error (PoemTalk #50)

Tom Raworth, 'Errory'


For our 50th episode, Charles Bernstein, Michael Hennessey, and Marjorie Perloff gathered at the Kelly Writers House to talk about Tom Raworth’s poem, “Errory.”  The poem was published in Clean & Well Lit in 1996, and has been reprinted in the Carcanet Press Collected Poems (2003). Our recording of “Errory” comes from audio material produced in 2004 by the Contemporary Poetics Research Center (CPRC) at Birkbeck College of the University of London, and we thank Colin Still for making these recordings available to PennSound.

Here is the CPRC/PennSound recording of Raworth performing “Errory,” at somewhat more than his usual breakneck speed. Listen to “Out of a Sudden,” for instance — from the same recording session — and you'll notice a more deliberate pace. <--break- />

The 32-minute recording of “Writing,” read at typical Raworthian canter, is certainly worth hearing for similarities to the aural feel of “Errory”: urgent, converging, phrases “clawing back,” “free-falling into mind,” “vibrations of division,” “small notes to the rhythm of the train,” “things whiz past.” These are all, of course, phrases from our poem, which is, in a sense, in addition to everything else that it is, a poem about the urgency of its soundings. The pace of Raworth’s delivery is clearly a crucial aspect of the signifying, and, as if anyone needed further evidence, underscores the importance of close listening in the sound archive.

Michael and Marjorie are especially interested in “Errory” as a war poem of some sort. Michael reminds us of Raworth’s childhood experiences of the Blitz. All the talkers comment on the use of a vocabulary and diction of martial industrial (not post-industrial) mechanism. Al sees, as well, a embedded sequence of landscapes, and Al and Charles note that, if the poem is slowed way down (Charles performs this briefly), we’ll hear little seemingly set-piece nature lyrics — lyrics that are, of course, challenged by the ubiquitous presence of “landing sites” and “transmitting unit[s].” The “scanty pastures” with which the poem ends are sites on which communication is destroyed “more easily” than otherwise.

“Errory,” as Marjorie points out, is so much more than a single fault or misdirection, indicated by the conventional term “error”; “errory” is, rather, an ongoing condition or state of error, a continuous striking of the so-called false note, “free-falling into mind” to the point where it becomes a “joined harmonising.”

joined harmonising the best
so it needn’t wait
phrase: the question are you sure?
hanging three feet off the ground
silent, absolutely quiet
headquarters – we travelled north
clawing back small shelter
hung with screaming
on the same rig
blended in enthusiasm
as the race approached
through cracks in snow
free-falling into mind
alive with brightness shivering
instantly into sleep
changed, re-formed
they run, they run
with madness into chutes
of changed values
all of them conventional
vibrations of division
dare to refuse the glass
lazily through long green
discrete landing sites
to a transmitting unit
over the protective line
wave patterns in space
form black against
sifted patches of moonlight
birds move in the dark
their faint contours
singing small notes
to the rhythm of a train
so empty at this hour
silence in between
contains the words
things whiz past
once more
the sound of calculation
by indirect means
receives its full due
along the wet pavement
human flesh
fallen in all directions
to fresh eyes
something to do with the sky
senselessly dishevelled
resolves and fixes
the foundation
desirable to guard against
relative soundness of approach
including human shapes
used by the dealer
connecting them
to a sense of common
unforeseeable properties of relics
considered in place
so deceptive
their firesides play
optimism for its object
without arousing
constitutional tradition
beyond the rules of the game
hailstones imagine
moist sea air
disordered beyond it rise
drearier philosophies
to resist retrogression
faster than anything
directly stimulating receptors
attention moves
many possible representations
inside the heart
decayed into blackness
fine details of the scene
creep along for years
hard to become
immune to a predator
silhouettes of participants
dangle in their own data
faint green clouds
in almost pure alcohol
calibrate the equipment
to assume a more personal form
susceptible to psychic influences
does not contempt breed
often in disguise?
slipping past a window
on communal stairs
into faded yellow
flashed with orange
slanting through smoke
swished into a perfect dome
dissatisfied when calm returns
centered around a food animal
mastery of areas
managed to neutralise
subjects into waves
to destroy communication
more easily on scanty pasture

PoemTalk was edited this time, as forty-nine times previously, by Steve McLaughlin. The show is produced at the Kelly Writers House in collaboration with the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania, PennSound, and the Poetry Foundation.