Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Show at the Foundry

Towards the end of 2007, we transported the site of poetic practice from the page to the basement of a pub, moving impressively through group formations, bad dancing, horoscope recitals, costume changes, cascades of pages on the floor and a fair bit of random shouting. You might say meaning billowed up in waves, crashed and dribbled about, words were slipped on and grasped at, randomness was clung to in hopeless embraces. You might say the world at large was greeted with bafflement, childish imitation, gushing despair and perverse, willful adulation. You might say guiness and vodka and beer were drunk. It all hung together beautifully, at any rate, and we even came up with a performance souvenir: a fanzine called 'Wet ink'. Whatdowetink? We tink it went well?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sophie Robinson Talk at Birkbeck

Sophie Robinson's on-line work understands its medium really well. It was strange to have it presented to us in a lecture format: her website seemed like quite a personal realm. Here are my notes from the talk:

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Sean Bonney Talk at Birkbeck

Sean Bonney was giving a talk at Birkbeck the other day, on his Baudelaire translations, for which he uses a (particularly old and knackered, he said) typewriter as an artistic tool, or perhaps a weapon against 'the forces of banality and their attendant cleanliness' as he put it. He said he considers these translations 'by and large to be my poems', but claimed they were anything but confessional, because in an era when torture is making a come-back, I think he said, or something along those lines, 'no one should think it's a good thing to confess'.

I wondered if only someone who didn't feel mentally or emotionally tortured would say that, or would rock about in his or her seat quite so vigorously as Bonney, and I doodled him reading:

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sucking on Kenneth Goldsmith's words

Meeting strangers can be interesting, but it can also provoke social anxiety. So it was nice to meet Kenneth Goldsmith for the first time last night, having already read a word-for-word account of his daily speech habits ('Soliloquy') and a sinew-by-sinew narration of his every bodily function ('Fidget'). If at any point I felt too far at ease in his company however, I was able to reflect on the knowledge that he has been named the James Joyce of the 21st century.

For someone mad enough to document the ins and outs of his existence for his readership (or his 'thinkership', as it was described) and genius enough to be compared to Joyce, Kenny G is a really friendly man. Well he is a radio DJ; and he has the soundbites to boot. We were gathered in the hallowed halls of the British Library to watch a new film about him, Sucking on Words. Some such 'suckable' words he gave us included the following, about his own books: 'I fall asleep when I proof read the things, but I love the fact that they exist'. And a battle-cry for conceptual writers: 'We don't need the new sentence, the old sentence reformed is good enough.'

He also likes hats. And he presumably likes Caroline Bergvall, who was there too, and who is also very friendly. We sat outside a pub, and we were all serenaded by some crazy X-Factor-reject-human-juke-box. He was very friendly as well. Perhaps he's the James Joyce of the 21st century, because I'm more inclined to think Kenneth Goldsmith is the literary Marcel Duchamp. Well anyway, if he'd like to claim either of those elusive epithets, good because they must be long overdue somebody or other.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Alter Egos of Jow Lindsay and Julian Fox

I saw Jow Lindsay at the Veer Books readings that took place at the Small Publishers Fair last weekend, though his was less a reading, more a deranged character solo; a kind of Yosemite Sam gone Ginsberg, high fiving and whooping his way through a love poem LOUDLY dedicated to someone sitting in the audience. I couldn't work out if his stuff is devised as pure performance or if he is trying to reproduce his writing style using his whole body, and the poem got a bit lost in the excitement of it all, but I'd definitely like to see him and his alter ego again.

On the other side of the coin, and the other side of town, I saw a 'scratch' performance of a piece that Julian Fox is working on with Patrizia Paolina. Fox is apparently always himself, as he showed when playing different characters, each one 'written' by the last. Donning different wigs without so much as a nod or a wink towards a different speech pattern or a way of gesturing specific to another character, he showed us that everyone is kind of the same. Patrizia Paolina is kind of the same as Julian Fox, for example, just more prone to swearing and talking in different languages. The moments they interacted, such as the comtemporary dance between a boring designer and his new wife that revealed the meaninglessness of their existence, and the death song duet for accordian and trumpet that revealed, well, the meaningless of their existence, those moments were thoroughly sublime.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Caroline Bergvall at Openned last night

Openned is a group that among other things 'seeks to create flexible spaces for poetry and poetic practitioners by inviting less established and more established writers to read together'. It does this by hosting evenings in the bowels of the Foundry in Old Street. Take a wrong turn and you might walk into the middle of somebody's sprawling sculptural plaster work, still in progress; retrace your steps and you will find yourself surrounded by mildly psychedelic canvases in a long, low-lit basement room, suitably scruffy and bohemian, but not so far away from the real world that we can't hear what sounds like a Lauryn Hill retrospective booming from the speakers in the upstairs bar. Jerome Rothenberg seemed quite at home there, stroking his beard and delighting in the sound of his vowels.

Someone with a more diasporic relationship to her diphthongs was the French-Norwegian Anglophone, Caroline Bergvall (below). Brilliantly, she had found in the Canterbury tales the exact point in time where the sound of the English language most resembled her own accent. Her joyful reworking of Chaucer, in which she grouped together all his food references, sparkled off her tongue and allowed her to confidently move into a mix of Chaucerian and her own English for her second reading.

It was when Bergvall was commissioned to write a piece in Norwegian for the online poetry journal Nypoesi that she really came up against her linguistic anxieties, and in doing so created a very moving piece, Cropper.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I want my John Ashbery

The global pop brand MTV have appointed, I can hardly believe this, a poet laureate for their student channel , mtvU. And it's John Ashbery. How this came about I can only imagine. It's perfect, of course. At its best, MTV borders on the avant-garde with its surreal animated indents and its zeitgeisty programming, and Ashbery once wrote a pastoral sestina based around characters from Popeye. What seems difficult to comprehend is that, right at the heart of a culture increasingly in thrall to the rapidly assimilated and easy to swallow, a place has been found for one of the most academic and inscrutable living poets, in some ways the US version of Geoffrey Hill.

'He's among the most beloved and celebrated poets of our time. Now he's the poet laureate on mtvU,' boasts the homepage of the website. Will this mean anything to anyone? Are they suggesting that Ashbery has reached the pinnacle of his career, that being poet-in-residence on MTV is tantamount to winning the Nobel prize for literature? I can't help but disagree. It's far more exciting than that.