Prynne, J(eremy) H(alvard)

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PRYNNE, J(eremy) H(alvard)

Nationality: British. Born: England, 24 June 1936. Career: University lecturer in English, and librarian, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. Address: Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge CB2 lTA, England.



Force of Circumstance and Other Poems. London, Routledge, 1962.

Kitchen Poems. London, Cape Goliard Press, and New York, Grossman, 1968.

Day Light Songs. Pampisford, Cambridge shire, R. Books, 1968.

Aristeas. London, Ferry Press, 1968.

The White Stones. Lincoln, Grosseteste Press, 1969.

Fire Lizard. Barnet, Hertfordshire, Blacksuede Boot Press, 1970.

Brass. London, Ferry Press, 1971.

Into the Day. Privately printed, 1972.

A Night Square. London, Albion Village Press, 1973.

Wound Response. Cambridge, Street Editions, 1974.

High Pink on Chrome. Privately printed, 1975.

News of Warring Clans. London, Trigram Press, 1977.

Down Where Changed. London, Ferry Press, 1979.

Poems. Edinburgh, Agneau 2, 1982.

The Oval Window. Privately printed, 1983.

Marzipan. Cambridge, P. Riley, 1986.

Bands Around the Throat. Privately printed, 1987.

Word Order. Kenilworth, Warwickshire, Prest Roots Press, 1989.

Jie ban mi Shi Hu, from holograph, in Chinese. Cambridge, Peter Riley Books, 1992.

Not-You. Cambridge, Equipage, 1993.

Her Weasels Wild Returning. Cambridge, Equipage, 1994.

Bands around the Throat. Boston and Manchester, Exact Change, 1995.

For the Monogram. Cambridge, Equipage, 1997.

Red D. Gypsum. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Barque, 1998.

Pearls That Were. Cambridge, privately printed, 1999.

Poems. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1999.

Triodes. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Barque, 1999.

Editor, Special edition of Parataxis (Brighton, England), 7, fall 1994.


Critical Studies: "A Note on J.H. Prynne's 'Royal Fern'" by N.H. Reeve and Richard Kerridge, in English (Leicester, England), 35(152), summer 1986; Marx's Concept of Determination: Literature and Cognition (dissertation) by Jeremy F. Points, n.p., 1989; "Nothing But Morality: Prynne and Celan" by Geoffrey Ward, in Contemporary Poetry Meets Modern Theory, edited by Antony Easthope, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1991; "Enlarging History: The Poetry of J.H. Prynne" by Andres Rodriguez, in Sagetrieb (Orono, Maine), 10(3), winter 1991; "Making (Non) Sense of Postmodernist Poetry" by McHale, in Language, Text, and Context: Essays in Stylistics, edited by Michael Toolan, London, Routledge, 1992; "Life at the Rim of Itself: J.H. Prynne's Poetry" by N.H. Reeve and Richard Kerridge, in Durham University Journal (New Elvet, Durham), 86(55), July 1994; The Engineering of Being: An Ontological Approach to J.H. Prynne (dissertation) by Birgitta Sigrid Johansson, Umea University, 1997.

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Apart from his first and—as it were—apprentice collection, Force of Circumstance, J.H. Prynne's poetry has subsequently maintained an utterly singular development, paying no regard whatsoever to the recognized currency of contemporary English verse. This singularity is created and sustained through an intense but usually indirect reference to entire ranges of previous literatures and the writings of other cultures—American, European, and Middle and even Far Eastern. Prynne's poetry is to a high degree intellectually complex, and it has consistently made minimum concessions to the reader's conventional expectations. A continuous effect encountered in the close reading of his texts is the experience of being thrown back upon all of one's interpretative resources and often enough of being chastened by the limitations of one's knowledge. In this way the reader finds that he or she has to construct a meaning that can only be fragmentary, and beyond this a beguiling lure remains, indicating that there is much more still to be known in terms of the formal beauty and the ethical purchase the lines offer and withdraw. This is to say that Prynne's poetry requires its reader continuously to consider how any meaning is derived at any point during the process of interpretation and, further, whatever meaning is temporarily entertained, then to subject it to rigorous questioning. To read Prynne is to undergo an education.

How do we actually keep up with our dangerous and complex times? How does anyone avoid giving up the relentless effort of understanding, so as not to collapse into resentment or some hopeless form of nostalgia for a safely distant past? A good deal of contemporary poetry might be said to be broken in these ways, in that it is not of the moment but rather is archaic or even (terrible fate) old-fashioned. Prynne's writing, however, can be considered within the terms of many utterly pressing, absolutely current debates. References to economic pressure or to arguments within the life sciences are intrinsic to many of his poems, and the central strategy of putting into question the nature of our meanings is itself a procedure that has a good deal in common with the more interesting forms of so-called deconstruction. His poems examine the economic structures of need and the place human values such as trust, hope, or the experience of damage may occupy within them; again, these concerns have real parallels within Marxist debates. His strategic use of such specialized vocabularies, more usually thought of as exclusively scientific, attempts to propose an ethical regimen from the complexities of what are conventionally taken to be branches of technical knowledge.

Prynne's poems are not only severe. Their intransigence often rises to effects of sharp beauty, a kind of cool aesthetic that draws on imagery of ice, tundra, human extremity, and (to steal an adjective, itself beautiful, from Into the Day) "madrigalian" formal perfection. The angular, austere delights of these poems are themselves a virtue, but it is exactly this concentration upon what is crystalline that creates the faceted resources of the texts' meanings.

From where may a view be taken, from which point may all the information be totalized, in the system of our society where all the systems interpenetrate to a degree that is virtually physiological, as complex as a body? Do we need a view from which to take proper heed of all the variables? What would such a vantage be when we are implicated by way of terror, harm, disgust, and even joy, with all the operations of this infinitely complex world, where no one language can hope to cover all options but each language is pervaded by the values of the others? The following is from The Oval Window:

	Think now
or pay now and think later, the levels
of control nesting presume a reason
to cut back only and keep mum.

In Prynne's poetry large-scale economic movements and closely detailed aspects of medical physiology are read into one another so that the subject—the self—is caught within the defining structures of social force and biological necessity. Between these parameters the conduct of our ethical and emotional lives, themselves mutually implicated, is explored:

So: from now on too, or soon lost,
the voice you hear is your own
revoked, on a relative cyclical downturn
imaged in latent narrow-angle glaucoma.

By virtue of this plangent scope the poem may again have become the most conscious point of its time, but this will not by any means make it the most restful locus.

—Nigel Wheale