J. H. Prynne, The White Stones
(NYRB/Poets; Revised Edition, 2016)
Very few books of poetry published in England in the 20th century have the aura of The White Stones. The essential beauty of Prynne’s work is a quality of mind. I vividly remember reading it for the first time in 1986 and being struck by its gorgeous surface structure and energetic belief system: it is a bright element, even psychedelic at times.
The poems of The White Stones were written between 1964 – 68. These poems are faceted like crystal to daylight. In many of the poems, this massing of clauses and perspectives creates an effect whereby any given singularity of personhood is defined and perhaps generated by a multiplicity of larger structural forces.
A metamorphic language is at play in these poems, where the voice is more observational than sentimental: naming is the prerogative for knowing. There is a utopian energy continually wheeling outward, which is why this work will never become a nostalgic object: it is constantly happening. Its readers will find binding narratives, science, economics, romantic love, history, prehistory organically deployed throughout the book’s soundscape. To dramatize this multiplicity, to make it real and active on the page, is one of the standing achievements of The White Stones, the ambition of a voice enunciating scale.
This book retains a deep glamour by means of its undeniable beauty and phenomenal architecture, its intellect, its vocabularies, and its singular way to song.
[Adapted from the introduction.]