Monday, March 21, 2011

Make Perhaps This Out Sense Of Can You

Listening to the Bob Cobbing programme yesterday, I was struck by the question of how people actually find out about experimental writing. One of the advantages of a university education is that there is at least access to a reasonably good library; though they're not always as well-stocked as they should be. So there will be some: maybe some of the big names like Olson, for instance.

But a lot of experimental writing has been in underground, ephemeral, here-today-gone-tomorrow publications that were sold at readings in the back of pubs, and in a few select bookshops. Now those bookshops have mostly gone, there's a lot on the internet; but where do you even begin if you don't have a clue of what you're looking for? Bob Cobbing's Gestetner and all those cheap off-set machines have long gone, but there are still people producing lovely pamphlets to sell at readings.

The situation is so much better for artists, who have galleries, arts networks, colleges; and a kind of tradition of experiment that is very much more public. It's not so much better for experimental music, which again is very much a back-of-the-pub genre (I think of Counting Backwards and The Noise Upstairs in Manchester, for instance.)

Experimental writing is always going to be a minority interest perhaps; and that's not necessarily a bad thing. But I hope I'm not alone in wanting other people for whom it's all a bit strange to know more about it, so that they can have the choice. A constant diet of meat & two veg is not going to kill anyone; but there is so much more on the menu to try. Except you're not going to try what you've never heard of before.

So it's great that the BBC did a programme on Bob Cobbing: whose attitude to experiment was wonderfully refreshing: try and see!

1 comment:

Adrian Slatcher said...

I know what you're saying, but I guess the internet's made it a lot easier. I never knew about any poetry magazines/readings when I was at university and in my first job or two - whereas music fanzines and flyers were readily available in independent record shops there never seemed that seem linkage with bookshops. I came to a lot of writing through music, (Burroughs/Acker etc) or through art exhibitions. Experimental literature of the type you're talking about seems to revel in its obscurity, which can be artistically valid, but isn't far removed from elitism when you come to think about it. Far more damaging than not being able to find out about it, is the writing it out of the story (I'm thinking the Morrison/Motion Penguin anthology that was my tepid introduction to contemporary poetry at University.)