Giant Steps: Collage and Process in Two of Ken Bolton’s Early Poems

2017-12-13T02:08:27Z (GMT) by Tim Wright
ABSTRACT: This article provides an introduction to the early poetry of Ken Bolton through the broad theme of temporality. Bolton’s early, avowedly modernist, poetics is explored through close readings of two long poems written and published in the 1970s, “The Terrific Days of Summer,” and “Serial Treatise.” “Terrific Days” is, firstly, a poem of and about plurality—a resounding ethos of the 1970s—and is a poem made tense with its many oppositions. For its speed and its high-key immediacy, the poem appears to refute any need for explicatory criticism. And yet, when read in terms of temporality, several “times” of the work soon emerge: diurnal (of “days”), seasonal (of summer), and historical or epochal (the mid-seventies and the Dismissal of November 11, 1975). The poem’s use of a repetition-with-variation structure proffers a kind of mock-empiricism, drawing on the poetry of Kenneth Koch and work by the artist Noel Sheridan. Yet the poem also, importantly, adopts simultaneist and lyrical guises; particular durations are collapsed and collaged into one: a historical moment of rupture whose explosive import is signalled in the opposing senses of the title’s adjective. This reading of “Terrific Days” is contrasted with a reading of the long poem “Serial Treatise,” published in Bolton’s own magazine, Magic Sam, and written, in part, as a critical response to earlier poems, including “Terrific Days.” The poem is, by Bolton’s estimation, his most sustained example of a process poem, that is to say a poem which writes the process—the time—of its own composition. Contrasting the modes of simultaneist collage and process in the two poems, the article teases out some of the connections between the epochal moment of the mid-1970s and the differing time senses the two poems evoke, and in which they participate.