Sunday, June 27, 2010

Firstly, more poetry church: I went to the poetry picnic at Linda Chase's place, and helped out on the bookstall. Carol Ann Duffy read to a rapt crowd, and it reminded me of a tent crusade. The poetry? Well, it was OK. Then they sold one of her manuscripts, a handwritten poem, in the auction, and I was thinking: Piece of the True Cross.

Still, it was a good sunny day and I had strawberries, and bought a book about the New York East Village poetry scene in the '60's that was worth having.

The readings at the Independent Book Fair were less reverent, but with Gerry Potter as (very able) compere it did feel a bit like Old Time Religion still. I got the chance to read, and went all pantomime by getting the audience to join in a fairly surrealist poem about Arran. Sneaking a bit of the avant-garde under the radar, I feel. I met some interesting people, including Marvin Cheeseman, who actually told me he wasn't really a poet. Funny, his poems always sound like poetry to me. Maybe a bit further along the line towards "I wish I'd looked after me teeth" poetry than me, but it's still poetry. Poetry goes from "but that's not poetry" wild experimentalism (Paula Claire, Bob Cobbing etc...) to music hall verse, in my book;  and if I prefer one to the other, then that doesn't mean that poets who entertain the public with cheesy rhymes should feel that they're not really poets.

Which probably means that I find the sometimes sniffy comments about mainstream poetry that I'm often guilty of making myself somewhat unfortunate. Not that I'm about to praise the latest Simon Armitage, mind. I'll still find it dull and unimaginative. But sometimes, when I'm in a generous mood, I can admit he has his place. The same is true of Pam Ayres, though: personally, it makes me squirm, but plenty of people enjoy it. It's not great literature, though.

If this blog is coming across as a little bi-polar, perhaps that's how it should be. I have my preferences, and my "can't stand's", and I like to think that I know what I'm talking about. But I don't believe in being precious about it either. Poetry is a wide church. Not that it excuses boredom: and if something bores you, just walk away.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Poetry As Church

I went to a couple of events this week that made me feel somewhat uncomfortable. Not in a nasty way, but nevertheless, it was slightly discomfiting. I went first to see Simon Armitage in hallowed surroundings of the baronial hall at Chet's. He was stood at the front, reading from a lectern and looked his usual slightly bemused Northern bloke, reading from his new book, Seeing Stars. He read well, but the whole event had the reverential air of a church service, with everyone else the members of the congregation listening respectfully to the man in the front giving us his wisdom.

I didn't object to the poetry, which was, as the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy says about earth, mostly harmless. Quite amusing, in fact, with a slight frisson of soft surrealism here and there. Pretty much Armitage as usual. But a part of me wanted to get up and shout "Summer is in the trees! It is time to strangle several bad poets!" not because the reading was bad, but just to puncture the atmosphere. No doubt everyone would have been polite and they wouldn't have dragged me outside to beat the crap out of me, which is what happened to George Fox when he interupted the sermons in church!

Afterwards, I went to Paradox, hosted by John G Hall because Lauren Bolger was not well. There, with the addition of alcohol and the fact that it was in Sandbar, the atmosphere was much less reverential, and there was music too. In fact, I performed myself. I found myself feeling much more comfortable in that atmosphere. A bit worrying that, as I think I probably drank too much. On the whole I enjoyed the poetry too: and predicted that there was a new San Francisco Rennaisance happening in Manchester. Somewhat over the top, but like I say, I'd drunk a lot.

Then, last night, I went to Pass On A Poem, which again had the atmosphere of a church about it. Only now, it was more like a bible study: here we all are reading these sacred texts out to each other. Not that there weren't good poems: Hopkins, Lowell and a rather fine rendition of The Hotel Brown Poems by John Ash. But again, it was this idea of poetry as almost a substitute faith.

I didn't stand up and read Kenneth Koch of course. I'm far too polite and English for that sort of thing. But I felt like it.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Pre-Arran Thoughts 2: Counting Backwards

My seciond encounter with the contemporary post-avant this week was at Fuel yesterday. Mike Cannell, Holly Pester and THF Drenching. A very interesting evening.

First up was Mike Cannell, who I have to say was quite good rather than spectacular. His work is still finding its own direction; a lot of what he did was variations on the kind of sound poetry that has been going on since, well, Bob Cobbing. All very well, but not quite individual enough, though I liked individual pieces. And he had the most startling teeth I've seen for a long time, which did give an added frisson of creepiness to the performance. But it went on far too long; by the end of it I was beginning to lose all hope. Twenty minutes is about the attention span of most people; and he went on for twice that.

I think he's a promising name for the future, rather than a fully formed poet yet. But Holly Pester was terrific and really lifted the evening, She only read two pieces; which were both about 10 minutes long. In the first one, she read part of it using a public address microphone that made it sound like messages at an airport and it was a terrific performance. The second piece was one I'd heard before at the Other Room; but it was great to hear again, a kind of apocalyptic piece that might be about the end of the world, or the breakdown of civilisation. She was a quietly assertive presence at the front of an audience who were mainly much bigger than she is.

Finally, THF Drenching: an improvised set using various electronic noise-makers and drums in what was at times a wonderful cacophony of bleeps and hisses and clattering drums. I've never been a big fan of free improvisation; sometimes it's just three individuals doing their own thing; but I got the feeling that there was a lot of listening going on, and they complemented each beautifully, making at times lovely sounds, at others an ugly sound, but all somehow very well integrated.

There was, apprarently, a free-improv session going to happen after the next break; but by then, I was getting tired, last night's long night taking its toll.

It was a great evening, all told; and now I'm all ready to take my post-avant self to Arran.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Each to Their Own (Pre-Arran Thoughts)

Yesterday was the latest reading at The Other Room, with three very good performances from Susanna Gardner, Peter Manson and Nicole Mauro. After a previous week where I was performing three times, including once in a jazz band, it was a relief to sit back and watch for a change.

I have to confess that The Other Room is a kind of lifeline for me: in a city that seems at times to be dominated by performance poetry evenings, it's a real pleasure to go somewhere where the art of the bleeding obvious isn't constantly on display. And it continues: tonight at Fuel, Matt Dalby and Richard Barratt are hosting an evening involving Holly Pester and others. And then there's the if p then q launch later on this month.

Because I have friends who are very much in the performance or the mainstream scenes, I can't entirely divorce myself from those scenes; even if at times I get so frustrated with the whole thing that I go off on a massive grump about the whole thing. And many of them are good at what they do, seasoned performers or writers of well-crafted poems that might not break any boundaries but are good in themselves. There's a place for performance and a place for well-crafted mainstream poems. Just not anymore on my bookshelves, or in my head.

But it's complicated: I want to be nice to people, and sometimes I say things that make me sound terribly pompous and even elitist about poetry I don't really connect with. And I get frustrated that poet x is famous for nothing much (it seems to me) while poet y, who is actually extending the idea of what poetry can be, is languishing in obscurity. Elaine Randell, for instance, knocks the socks off Carol Ann Duffy. But who's famous?

I like adventure in writing. I like something that is at the edge of understanding, at the edge of acceptable, that makes me think, but that also takes an emotional risk. There aren't many mainstream poets who do that (Jane Holland manages it, for instance, but not Armitage.) I don't see the point in saying what's already been said in ways that have already been used.

Anyway, I've got a whole host of Dusie chapbooks to read, plus a couple of full length collections. So it should keep me satisfied for awhile. I'm off to Arran in two days time, for a week of R'n'R on an island with only two roads and a distillery.