Two readings proved instructive this week. Another installment of The Other Room, with Joy As Senseless Vandalism, David Annwyn and Caroline Bergvall, and The Poetry Party. I'm afraid, in the end, I prefered the first, the more avant garde of the two. But they both had their interests.
JASV were a bit scrappily presented, with photographs and accompanying poems (or is that the other way around) but apart from that, they produced some interesting material - a combination of found material, list poetry and visual pun. David Annwyn was wonderfully lively and physical in his reading style, reading poems about figures of the avant garde like Mina Loy and others. It was lovely stuff, wonderfully presented. Caroline Bergvall was a quieter figure, reading from her Salt book, Figs, and poems such as Fuses; but the effect if anything was more charged; these were wonderful conceptual pieces which were full not just of subject matter, but the substance of language, the way it drives meaning into other areas.
It was a wonderful evening again at the Old Oak,
The Poetry Party has visions of balloons, or perhaps a meeting of lefties in an upstairs room in a pub. It was more like the latter, though, like the Old Oak, it was a packed room. It also had music, unlike the Old Oak, though I left before the last band, dischuffed that I hadn't been able to last long enough for the open mike. I was just too tired and had to go to work.
But the poetry: best of a mixed bunch was Micheal Wilson, who actually pitched his reading just right. His poems were deep enough to intrigue, and his memnonic devices didn't just include rhyme; I noticed that he looped in several refrains and iterative devices into his poems. Plus, there was something of the Dylan Thomas about his writing that was lovely. John G. Hall himself was his usual self; wonderfully vituperative, spitting out his poems with real energy.
Sophie McKeown was one of the two guest, and she was very lively and again political; but her over-reliance on rhyme and a rather obvious plain style was a bit wearing for me. I couldn't agree more with her sentiment, but wish that the language wasn't so ordinary, that there was something of the same energy in her words as there is in her performance.
Abie D'Olivera read a long poem from someone else to start with; it was a strong piece about the Troubles that apparently was written in the '80's. And therefore, I'm afraid, rather dated; though it had a very Ginsberg energy to the words. In fact, there was something of Ginsberg and other Beat poets in her poems; though on the whole they seemed to drag (something true of Ginsberg at times) and repeat themselves rather too much. A good poet who needs an editor, methinks. Sometimes the poems were very powerful, full of emotion and anger.
But her performance was something else. If there were Oscars for over-acting she would be nominated. Her poems are quite dramatic enough, especially the one about being beaten up, without the theatrics. If ever there was a case for reigning back the performance in order to pay attention to the words, it's that poem. Some element of intonation and performance is a good thing, but I often feel that the more dramatic the writing is, the less you need to perform it. It's rather like a Whitney Houston song: too much vibrato ruining a perfectly good tune.
I prefered the Other Room because it's mostly my cup of tea. But it's good to know that not all performance poetry evenings are full of dull attempts to shock or tubthumping.