Monday, August 20, 2007

Language + Science

I've recently been to two really interesting art exhibitions, both curated by Tony Trehy. The first is Iceland at Bury Art Gallery, and the second is Language + Science at the Mid Pennine Art Gallery in Burnley. That two small towns can have such interesting exhibitions is a real sign of hope, I think.

The Iceland exhibition is based around a contact between Bury and the Safn gallery in Reykyavik ( which is a private gallery with a collection of contemporary art including work by British artists as well as Icelandic artists. In the exhibition, there's a stone circle by Richard Long, Birgir Andrésson, Roni Horn and a wonderful set of etchings by Tacita Dean called The Russian Endings, apparently taken from actual postcards in Russia, which are pictures of things like ships sinking! It's worth the price of the bus ticket for that, but there's some great photography and a real sense of white space in the gallery that makes it very atomospheric.

The Language + Science exhibition is, if anything, even better. Here we have six mainly text-based artists, dealing with the interplay between language and science. One piece struck me: Evolution, by Carolyn Thomson, where the artist, using only the words found in individual chapters of the Origin of Species, has created two new stories (one from each chapter.) It's particularly interesting for me because my latest poem incorporates text from a Penguin 60 extract from Darwin, as well as an older poem of my own.

There's also some great poems by Philip Davenport, incorporating mathematical symbols and scientific words into what are basically a series of break-up poems. Tony Trehy has a wall-based piece, and a piece using blank canvases on the four sides of which he has written a poem, again incorporating scientific language. Shaun Pickard has one of his pieces incorporating descriptions of birds, there's a really interesting light piece, and a film of Hester Reeve reading the whole of Frankenstein while sitting on Mary Shelley's grave.

Both exhibitions seem to be exactly the right size. The second is more interesting to me as an increasingly more innovative poet, because of the use of language. They are all artists who are not afraid of using words for more than their representational uses. I was quietly inspired by this exhibition. It won't turn me into a visual artist, but it will help me to remember that words can be as plastic and abstract a medium as paint or marble.

I hope that at least some of my readers will make an effort to see these exhibitions, as I think they deserve to be seen. Small art galleries in small towns often put on splendid exhibitions that are not well-seen, and I think it's important to support them if you can.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Random thoughts

Well, it's August now. My book is certainly selling to friends, though now I've got to persuade some people to write their Amazon reviews as promised...

I've been reading some interesting poetry. Robert Shepherd in particular, whose big Twentieth Century Blues poem-serial I've never read a big bulk of. There's a lot of sexual politics in his poetry, which is not something I'd noticed much before, and the sex in his poetry always seems to concentrate on the seedy side. He's trying in his verse for what he calls a "poetry of saying", something akin to a poem which unfolds its meanings in front of you as you read, as you put your own voice into it. He opposes this to a poetry of the said, where the meaning is already on the page ready to be obtained: that's how he characterises the Movement poets, and most of the mainstream.

There is a lot of truth in this, though it's never the whole story. No poetry is entirely "said", even Philip Larkin and co., and I think there are lots of poets who are characterised as "mainstream" who are much more open to "saying."

I try in my own poetry to find out what is/can be said during the writing. I very rarely decide what I'm going to say before writing these days. In fact, it's difficult to do that anyway when you're making poetry from found material, as I have been doing; the found material determine the content, and whether it works or not. The recent sonnets have used material from adverts, streets signs, newspaper dating columns... but I recently stopped doing one half way through because I thought I was merely repeating myself.

I think I'm probably not going to write much this month, which is no bad thing. I have several things to prepare, in particular a new job at HMP Whatton, where I am going to be the writer-in-residence. This is quite a challenge - to do creative writing with prisoners - and I'm sure it's goiong to affect my writing in exciting new ways. But it's scary too; I've got the job for 18 months.

I met the sister of Terry Eagleton, Annie, recently at Earth cafe, where she bought a copy of the book. Maybe I should make more of these links with famous people...