Design and direction: ‘Fugue’ | Matthew CleggPosted: August 31, 2013
The first section of my first full-length collection of poems, West North East, was initially in two parts: a sequence of sonnets, followed by a selection of miscellaneous poems. The new ordering is an experiment with the idea of syncopation and fugue: a means of integrating the sonnets and the miscellany. An exposition is provided by the first two sonnets (‘Because I Was Nobody’ and ‘Fishing by the Trunk Road’).
Here a subject is introduced: a complex involving ideas of crisis, journey and imaginative crossing. This complex is modulated and developed through a sequence that alternates sonnets and longer poems, before some kind of recapitulation in the two longer poems that close the first section.
I’m attracted to the idea of fugue in both its musical and psychological context, especially with loss (or transformation) of identity and flight from one’s usual environment. In keeping with the unstable, volatile nature of the complex, the development stage has been constructed to avoid too logical or schematic a progression. There are contrasts and contradictions; convincing and unconvincing responses to each crisis. There are relapses and unsustainable crossings; mundane and more sublime pressures. I’ve taken care not to signpost this too crassly. The exposition offers two contrasting positions: youth and adulthood; and an instinctive attraction to heat in one, and cool/calm in the other.
The recapitulation offers further contrasts. Both poems follow an instinct to travel away from the centre (geographically, socially and psychologically). ‘Out Far and In Deep’ pursues a death impulse, whilst ‘The Walking Cure’ offers ambiguous regeneration. I wanted to achieve an opening that captures the urgency and pressure of in medias res, and I hope the development is sufficiently modulated and complex to offer the reader pleasure and challenge – as well as a glimpse of what Roland Barthes calls ‘bliss’. This is effectively summed up by Natasha Saje in Dynamic Design: The Structure of Books and Poems: ‘Experienced readers want poems that make them work harder; the text of bliss is the text that imposes a state of loss, the text that discomforts, that unsettles the reader’s historical, cultural, psychological assumptions and brings to a crisis his relation with language.’ I’ve taken care to end ‘Fugue’ with poems that build to notes of projection and speculation. I hope these offer contrasting tones and ambiguities, and leave enough for further sections of the book to re-examine. Although ‘Fugue’ was not written as a sequence in the proper sense, I wanted this new arrangement to offer some equivalent of its structural dynamics.
West North East is published by Longbarrow Press on Thursday 12 September 2013. Join Matthew Clegg and guest readers (including Angelina Ayers, Helen Mort, Fay Musselwhite and Karl Riordan) for the West North East launch at the Shakespeare, Gibraltar Street, Sheffield, Thursday 19 September 2013 (8pm prompt start). Further publication and launch details appear on the West North East microsite. Click on the orange ‘Play’ button below to listen to Clegg reading several poems from ‘Fugue’ (the first of West North East‘s three sections): ‘This Place is Part of Me’, ‘Fishing by the Trunk Road’, ‘The Convalescent’ and ‘The Vantage’.