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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > June 2016 > Line breaks like tea breaks

Line breaks like tea breaks

The famously obscure poetry of JH Prynne glitters with aphorisms and jokes, says Jeremy Noel-Tod

The White Stones

by JH Prynne (NYRB Books, £8.99)

At the English Faculty in Cambridge, everyone has a story to tell about JH Prynne, poet and life fellow of Gonville and Caius College: his mind-expanding lectures, his nocturnal hours, his personal generosity, his pithy opinions, his unchanging dress code, and his vast scholarship. Latterly, the legend of Prynne—who will be 80 in June— has spread to the national press, with one broadsheet resorting to a telephoto lens to get a shot of a tall, suited, unsmiling man on a bicycle, and Private Eye inventing a shadow-Prynne, “AD Penumbra,” for their books pages (a descendant, perhaps, of the distinctly Prynne-like don “Simon Undark,” who appears in Iain Sinclair’s 1994 novel Radon Daughters, speaking “obliquely to make all things clear”).

The “Prynne-dow” at the London Review Bookshop, with puzzles alluding to the elusive poet
© GAYLE LAZDA / PROF. QUONDAM LICHEN

Travellers’ tales, however, will tell you little about the single-minded devotion of this avant-gardist to his art. Prynne’s statements on poetry have been scattered to the winds as letters, lectures and notes in academic and samizdat publications. Private Eye scored a satirical hit when they informed readers that photocopies of AD Penumbra’s critical essay “Than With Whom What Other: A Challenge to Scansion” could only be obtained “by application to the British Library.”

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s June issue: Bronwen Maddox lays out the case for Britain to stay in Europe—the position taken by the magazine. Mikhail Gorbachev explains his hopes for Russia, suggesting that the claim democracy is bad for Russia is “balderdash.” Rachel Sylvester looks at the Conservative Party and explores what might happen to the Tories after the EU referendum. Also in this issue: Nicholas Shaxson and Alex Cobham unpick the world of hidden money and what Britain can do about tax havens. Neil Kinnock argues that Labour isn’t making progress under Jeremy Corbyn and Jason Burke examines Islamic State and the networks that underpin their attacks. Plus Stephen Bayley asks was BritArt any good?
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