Reviews and Comments: ‘Euclid’s Harmonics’ by Jonathan Morley

Euclid’s Harmonics is named after a lost text by the translator, physician and educator Philemon Holland. Holland lived and worked in the city of Coventry, which is the central focus of the collection. Jonathan Morley takes time to detail Holland’s approach to translation, at once erudite and, in his own words, “meane and popular”. Morley states he reads this “meane” in the sense of average, suggesting a kind of mathematically rational egalitarianism to be found in a style which is “concise, couched and knit together”. Listening to the play of these two influences, scholastic literary heritage and that of everyday experience, is a fruitful way into the pamphlet, which collapses history and place into each other.

…Philemon Holland declared “have I not Englished every word Aptly?” His work as a translator, and Morley’s poems, are dialogues with the past, bringing forgotten processes back to the present. Morley’s project explores these possibilities with a mature honesty, attempting to recalibrate written English, reaching both backwards and outwards to a poetic language that can speak to present-day Britain.

Harry Buckoke, Sabotage Reviews

 

Finding a way in

It took me a long time to find a way in. I had to work at it. I thought it was worth it.

… [The poems] are like flashes of this and that, bits of the author’s experience of Coventry: place, landscape, people; multiple types of language; scraps of imagined (I think) reality from the past; and bits of Lord knows what. A patchwork quilt of scraps of material: fascinating.

I still like the footnote pieces best. And some things are worth working at. Here’s a flavour (‘shee’ is the moon), though don’t assume the archaic English runs right through. This poet draws on numerous modes and voices:

when men are also sound asleepe
the dull nummednes thereby gathered

shee casteth the old coat that cloggeth
become dim and dark, shee rubbeth

Fox layeth his eare close to the yee
guesseth thereby how thicke the water is frozen

out of Pontus the sea alwaies floweth
and never ebbeth againe

Helena Nelson, Sphinx OPOI Reviews

 

Euclid’s Harmonics seemed to me most memorable when it worked most intensely to translate Coventry and its people into poetry. In ‘Maiden in the Map’, the line rhythms grow strong as ‘Amazon curves of my lover’: ‘Her legs are crossed at White Fryers / her hip rests on Grayfriars Gate’. There is a sensitivity and sharpness in Morley’s account of meeting a friend on ‘an afternoon rubbed bright by the April wind / Where tourists are corralled up Sheep Street to overpriced cafés.’

Alison Brackenbury Under the Radar – Issue Eighteen

 

…the two main readers were Jay Bernard and Jon Morley, both with new books. Both books are ambitious, many-sided. vivid and fascinating.

George Szirtes on Facebook after April 2016 launch of Commission pamphlets

 

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