‘We must speak to the eyes, if we wish to affect the mind,' said Horace Walpole, Poet, printer and artist have heeded him, here combining to produce a beautifully designed and reasonably priced book. But for all the obvious care and attention put into it, poetically speaking Midsummer Morning Jog Log is tripped up by its own ambitions. Its author, trying for lyrical bracing relaxation, rambles breathlessly to an exclamatory if somewhat inconclusive halt. The title accurately enough summarizes this extended pastoral poem, but I was disappointed, in the long run. And long run (670 lines) it is too, Horovitz huffing and puffing much of the way before he runs out of poetic steam. Which goes to show that on the page, where it matters, euphoria is not enough.
My disappointment stems partly from the fact that Horovitz is such a slapdash, exasperatingly hit-and-miss poet. Here I'll declare an interest of sorts: I've known Mike Horovitz off and on for a quarter of a century now, and consider him a highly likeable fellow, someone, besides, kind enough to praise past work of my own. Horovitz as entertainer and editor-organizer of New Departures publications and roadshows demonstrates admirable perseverance and energy, while his attempts to popularize poetry, freeing it from the narrower confines of classroom and college have been both commendable and impressive. I share, then, many of Horovitz's enthusiasms in writing and music, though confessing to various reservations about his own poetic practice.
Thus, in this book scattered gems of illumination shine from chaff, verbiage, bad puns and Bardic posturing. Awkwardness ('Englishest', 'unbehent') rubs shoulders with, or barges into, felicity, and subtleties struggle to rise above rant, Horovitz aims at the vigorous hotchpotch at any cost, roughnesses, warts and all: whatever materials are available get tossed in willy-nilly. (Lovers of action painting and ‘free' jazz, so-called, may well enjoy the style more than I.)
He can, indeed, be both painterly and musical: dew 'tremulous on brittle, yet bravely / sky-stabbing grassblade tips', or 'streams / where deep green and yellowing / watercress glitters / tinged with the stale / visitations of horses'. There are attractive moments in Midsummer Morning Jog Log. Over a lengthy poem Horovitz's patchwork-cum-collage technique wears thin. The poem opens with three pages of epigraphs — sizeable quotations from (unsurprisingly) Pound, Stevens, Whitman and the poet's late wife, its dedicatee. A score of further poets are named and. quoted from, passim. On one page alone, Wordsworth, Milton, Shelley and Chaucer are invoked, followed by a 12-line chunk of Blake (William not Peter) — word for word moreover, not even recycled, as the book's paper so appropriately and agreeably is. Plucking and rearranging, in Wavell's phrase, 'other men's flowers' is all very well, as is alliteration, which William Saroyan rightly called 'one of the joys of the English language', but Horovitz overdoes both techniques. Also curious for one who promotes live poetry, living diction, is the frequent archaism: oft, wreathed, corses, ope, twixt, yore, 'neath, increaseth, fain, yonder, envelopt, withal, o'er, etc, juxtaposed with some slack slang, contemporary or not: zapped, spin-off, wipeout, eco-nuts, bopping, boggled, squishing, stoned-out, teenies, aggro and so on.
Such oppositions, contrived or no, jar, 'yoked by violence together', rarely offering counterpoint in any fruitful sense. Occasionally Horovitz slips into rhyme — sometimes stiff, sometimes less obvious. More often the casual lope or trot he seeks eludes him: the would-be rapidity of a free-associating flexible line disintegrates into an undemanding, flower-and-herb-cataloguing sprawl. When Horovitz does a W.H. Davies and takes 'time to stand and stare', compressing his perceptions into haiku-like bursts, he proves enjoyable. Unfortunately he can't avoid some longueurs and his wind doesn't hold out for the full distance.
The illustrations by Peter Blake, British Pop Art hero of the Sixties, are - dare one say it? — rather ordinary. Here too the stylistic switch from the urban towards a finicky ruralism seems not fully to convince.
Faults aside, the book does have its quiet pleasures. It's nice to see a poet ending up (literally) a Yea-sayer, whether or not Joyce's Molly Bloom got there first - and Horovitz as always tries to give us a good poetic run for our money. Although not my own particular brand of herbal tea, 'I'm glad his book's received a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. And despite such an imprimatur, I hope Horovitz goes jogging along independent of current poetic fashions and Establishments. It'd be a sad day if such a durable maverick ever joined (or indeed wanted to join) the dreary ranks of Clampitts and C. Raines, those Motions, Morrisons, Pitt-Kethleys and the rest. Knowing Horovitz, however, I'm sure he'll continue to ramble on his own rather than run with any pack. Good luck to him.
Midsummer Morning Jog Log by Michael Horovitz, drawings by Peter Blake. £3,50 (pbk.) Five Seasons Press, Hereford.