Nationality: British. Born: Glasgow, 1951. Education: University of Glasgow. Qualified electronics engineer. Address: c/o Carcanet Press Ltd., 4th Floor, Conavon Court, 12–16 Black friars Street, Manchester M3 5BQ, England.
A Bad Day for the Sung Dynasty. Manchester, Carcanet, 1984.
The Intelligent Observation of Naked Women. Manchester, Carcanet, 1987.
Everything Is Strange. Manchester, Carcanet, 1994.
Ridiculous! Absurd! Disgusting! Manchester, Carcanet, 1989.
A Very Quiet Street. Edinburgh, Polygon, 1989.
A Concussed History of Scotland. Edinburgh, Polygon, 1990.
Something Very Like Murder. Edinburgh, Polygon, 1994.
Second Best Moments in Chinese History. Manchester, Carcanet, 1997.*
Critical Study: By Robert Crawford, in London Review of Books, 17(4), 23 Feburary 1995.* * *
Frank Kuppner, a native Glaswegian writer of German and Polish ancestry, came quite suddenly to notice during the 1980s as part of the upsurge in Scottish poetry, an upsurge that opposed the Scottish renaissance movement of the 1920s through the 1970s. Kuppner's first book, A Bad Day for the Sung Dynasty, consists of five hundred unrhymed quatrain stanzas presenting a succession of Chinese-like cameos. Some of them are very funny, for example, number 354:
There are forty-three poets here travelling in a ferry
Designed to carry six passengers safely across the river;
One cannot help wondering whether this administration
Is as sympathetic to literature as it claims to be.
Kuppner's refusal to settle for certainties was elaborated upon in a revealing interview (with an anonymous interviewer) in the magazine Verse. When Kuppner was asked, "How would you describe your politics, by the way?" he replied, "I wouldn't. How would you describe my politics?" "What?" asked the interviewer. "Well, that's accurate enough, I suppose," Kuppner responded.
A further exploration of this deliberate ambivalence is provided by Kuppner's poem in the same magazine, "Eclipsing Binaries," in which he provides what might be alternatives from the poet's worksheet. Consider, for example, a stanza from section 1, "The Net":
Who lives, for instance, through that wall there?
Is it not interesting that you do not know?
can answer this?
Who is it who is in the room with me?
Surely that ought to be at least a simple question?
Who is that raving lunatic on the television?
Kuppner's second collection, The Intelligent Observation of Naked Women, again written in unrhymed quatrains, consists of a short introductory poem and four long poems. "An Old Guide Book to Prague" achieves its remarkable effect partly by the many detailed images accurately observed with almost photographic detachment and partly by the fact that so many of his lines mark off their own word picture. The effect becomes curiously compelling, as the poem's concluding lines show:
Every twilight, the city has departed;
It has crept away into the tourists' memories,
And its quieter sister has slipped into its place;
The next day it returns, with a slight hangover.
Lights are on the statues, lights are on the porticoes,
Lights are on the monuments, lights are in the towers;
Lights show at most of the windows in the street;
But it is the lights in the street that go out first.
In the "Five Quartet" sequence, the chronicle of casual moments in a day in the life of a relationship, there are no doubt deliberate echoes of Eliot, as in the following-
Those unconvincing people, who confused
A time for arriving with a time for leaving
It appears that we are neither working nor sleeping;
We are caught somewhere between the two; we are caught
At a friendly, unscheduled stop; the normal behaviour
Of our compatriots has been left behind.
If here the sequence of unrhymed quatrains begins to become a little monotonous, the imagery is always sharp and brisk, as when the poet remembers how he
…had removed from the top of the cooker
Yet another mountainous heap of spent matches,
And was amazed again, as every few months,
At so many lost arm-movements collected there.
Kuppner's 1989 book, Ridiculous! Absurd! Disgusting!, a mixture of prose and poetry, produces another set of intimately subjective variations on contemporary concerns, confirming chaos rather than making sense of it, as one critic put it, and concentrating on content rather than on style. But the chaos has its decidedly funny moments.