Monday, September 29, 2008

Collage World

I watched a weekend of Arts TV on BBC 4 this weekend: old issues of Arena, Omnibus and Monitor; interviews with Henry Moore, Orson Welles, and a wonderfully oddball programme about Pop Art directed by Ken Russell. A programme about Picasso, an edition of Civilisation, and the wonderful Ways of Seeing with John Berger.

In it, the sadly neglected figure of Pauline Boty was featured, showing some of her collages, and she helped me to complete a painting I've been doing for ages, by incorporating some collage. I don't paint much, and it takes me ages to see where the painting is going; so that was an evening well spent. Thank you BBC.

Collage, I suspect, is pretty much the twentieth century art form. That, and its sculptural equivalent, assemblage, seems to be what the art world does best these days: disparate elements drawn in to make something new. (The turner prize is full of assemblage and collage, and very little straight painting.) From Ernst's collages made from old etchings down even to Tracey Emin's Bed, art these days has more to do with picking up the bits and pieces from life and putting them together, not into an order, so much as a jigsaw of pieces missing, and pieces from other jigsaws. It doesn't make much sense, because it can't make much sense, because our lives are often cobbled together from disparate elements. A bit of religion or anti-religion, a bit of politics, a bit of New Age, a curiously reactionary bit there; it's not exactly a fully-worked through philosophy, more a kind of smorgasbord of found ideas.

Poetry's version of the collage is the cut-up, or it could be these days, flarf. It makes a new set of relations from the materials we make. Sometimes, we collage our own writing when we make one poem out of more than one; or we collage our experience when we don't write about one thing but about many at the same time. Simultaneity, as Appollinaire might have put it, is everywhere. We flip channels; in fact, perhaps the most potent symbol of the late twentieth/early twenty-first century could well be the TV remote and the set-top box.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Keeping Up

Does anybody else feel like they're not reading the "right"poets? I sometimes get the feeling that because I don't go out and get the latest Faber or Picador poet, that I must be out of the loop. I know it's impossible to keep up; but then there's still the pressure to read "what everybody else is reading."

And then there's all the young poets. I should be keeping up with them, surely... Not really. Some.

And I'm probably missing some good poetry. I know that the few poems by Nick Laird that I've read in magazines have been enjoyable; but I wonder if I could read a whole book of them. Instead, I get hold of a review copy of Robert Shepherd's Complete Twentieth Century Blues because that's the one I want to read. It's like I'm deliberately being awkward. If Sean O'Brien or Don Paterson are bringing out a new collection, I may get around to it one day; but I'm too busy ordering the latest by Geraldine Monk.

I might even enjoy their books. But not as much as the new Geraldine Monk; or the little pamphlet of Rupert Loydell poems he's just sent me. There's a massive amount of poetry out there, and the majority of it doesn't float my boat particularly. But I don't feel like dissing it either; most of it will appeal to someone, and most poets have their coterie of readers who can't wait for their next publication.

Nevertheless, there is still the vague feeling of not reading enough, especially when I read that Roddy Lumsden reads 100 books-plus a year and I look at the long list of Books Recieved on Ron Silliman's blog. Some of them even look really interesting. And that's not to mention all the poets from earlier ages I've not read yet. People have been recommending Wyatt; and if I can find an edition that's not too expensive, I might well have a go...

But, first, I'm not made of money. Second, I have other jobs to do. Third, there has to be time to relax, take in the world outside of poetry, sleep, eat, listen to music, stare at the ceiling/stars and even, dare I say it, write. So I don't feel that bad.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Sheer Numbers

One of the things Ron Silliman is frequently commenting on is the question of numbers. There are now more poets writing than there are ever were before. Is this a good thing, or are we going to see a decline in quality because of so much quantity?

Certainly, it's impossible to read all this poetry, unless you spend 24 hours a day reading it all and have a private income big enough to buy all the books (or you're important enough to get them all sent free to you...) And where would you put them? I have to have regular a clearout just to provide some space to put the books...

And there are so many different kinds of poetry - or writings that come under the banner of poetry in some way - from highly experimental to highly traditional, and every combination in between. If I feel personally that England at least produces rather too much bland quietist verse, there's still plenty out there to keep me interested. Poets I think I ought to be reading, and haven't got round to, poets I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot bargepole, poets I might find interesting if I had the time.

Then there are the poets I ought to discover that have been forgotten about. There's a new anthology of Mervyn Peake's poetry that looks fascinating - a good addition, I think, to my collection of forgotten '40's poets. There's soem poems in an article about Nicholas Moore in PN Review that look really good.

How do we evaluate it all? Most of it will probably not last - but then some will be forgotten forever, some will get rediscovered, some will get reforgotten. Some big names now will disappear, I suspect.

I ought to be reading more Peter Riley, for instance. He sounds fascinating from the recent article in PN Review - just up my street. But when will I get the time?