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The Most Difficult Area

London, Cape Goliard, 1968.

Author’s presentation

     This is the book of a crisis. A crisis concerning both identity (the nature of the self) and intentionality (what can be done with existence other than just reproduction of the same, or the production of worse).
     Yeats spoke of the fascination of the difficult, but turned, like so many others, that fascination into a mystery. Mallarmé grappled more with the reality of that difficulty (“I am no longer that Stéphane you know, but a faculty of the universe…”), then veered away from it into ultra-aesthetics.
     Like so many problems, the solution can only be found in a larger field with different co-ordinates. This radical break with “literature” and “poetry” as commonly understood meant for me also a break with Great Britain, the whole Anglo-Saxon context seeming to me totally beside the point.
     This, the second of my books of poems to be published in my homeland, was also the last I was to publish there for twenty years.

The Wandering Jew
(On a picture in The Book of Hours of Anne de Bretagne)

Comes out of the white wastes
at four o’clock in the afternoon maybe
some time in the XVth century or eternity
wrapped in a darblue cloak of grief
(like Ceres when she searched for Proserpine)
a dog there scowling at his frozen heels

looking for refuge at this French house
where the servants are busy with food and firewood
(what chance has he ?) his foot is on the stair

(perhaps they will not know him ? have forgotten ?
it is so long ago : it would be good to stay…
perhaps this house needs a secretary ?) He enters –

next day along the hedges, a blizzard blowing.

The Study at Culross

The lower room is full of objects
history’s ordered bric-a-brac
in which visitors inherently bored
show intelligent interest

The upper room is still empty
there (in that small cartesian cell)
remains the merest chance
for the essential to happen.


The white cell almost in darkness
outside : rocks in abruption, sea-
silence wavering. It is there

Rough shape, clifted, that kwartz
chaos-given, ashored, tide-washed and
in the good space gazed-at

Cast – the first stone ; only the
thrust and the not-silver, not-white, not-crystal
splash – no reading in the widening circles

Great reason grasped, the twelve-worded
orator walks on the shingle
with quiet eyes.

The Crab Nebula

In this lighted chaos I
live and move and have my being
in this mass of incandescence
the birthplace of a world perhaps
at least of a dancing star

in this lighted chaos I
no longer think or feel but am
involved in this swirling matter
the form I was no longer holding me
the form I will be not even imagined.

White’s poems are  not easy to write about. Often, they demand contemplation and silence rather than review and thesis. It’s not that they’re difficult to understand or that they need a great deal of academic exegesis. They are mostly simple. They are also loaded. They are loaded with learning and also with that lovely lightness (if lightness is a load) that is close to the Tao and to the old poetry of China and Japan.
     Sean Dunne, Poetry Ireland Review, n° 29.

Man may be pitiable, ugly, tormented, lost – but White stubbornly refuses, in his latest volume, The Most Difficult Area, to accept momentary literary fashions and keeps on writing with an eye on man contemplating his condition honestly in poems that often oscillate between violently expressionist representation and a clarity that strikes as true and hard as knuckle-bones, and clear, precise poems that perhaps owe something to the Chinese.
     Graham Ackroyd, Akros