Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Note On Humour & the Avant Garde

Can avant garde art be funny? I don't mean ironic; lots of art is ironic without being in the least bit funny, whether avant garde or mainstream.

But I was at a performance last night by a group of improvising musicians called Centrifuge, and there were aspects of the evening that were funny. Watching a man using his flute as a snooker cue to send marbles across the floor, as part of an otherwise very intense and serious performance, certainly made me smile. It was, frankly, rather absurd, and it did help to break the tension of the evening. Or at least deflate it for awhile.

There is, of course, the old cliched image of the serious avant gardist, intense and brooding, looking not unlike Poe's Raven as he broods over the language. But absurdism, clowning and taking the piss have always been part of the experimental project, and many of the avant garde poets I read make me laugh at their antics. Poets such as Roy Fisher and Peter Finch can certainly be serious, but they can also make the reader smile; and the same is true of poets such as Geraldine Monk.

Geraldine Monk in particular has an times wicked sense of humour, as she shows in parts of Interegnum with its satirical portraits of born again Christians and bikers. Her use of vernacular and dialect speech, and the broken rhythms she uses, are also intended to make the reader smile, as well as having a serious intent.

Mind you, there are times when I've read poems by ever-so-earnest poetic politicos trying to inject their poems with humour and jokes where it's come across as no more than heavy-handed satire. In poets such as Jonty Tiplady, however, an absurdist streak makes for an exhilarating experience.

The spectacle of a serious musician chasing a marble down the aisle of St Anne's Church in Manchester is deeply amusing. Hearing Christian Bok and Jaap Blonk doing a rendition of Schwitter's Sneezing Songs is laugh-out-loud (indeed, anybody who doesn't find Eunoia funny has had a humour bypass.) Jokes are subversive of everything; and if we can't take the piss out of ourselves, someone else will.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Arab Spring for Poetry?

It's been awhile since I've been here, and I've been following with a kind of awed fascination all the stuff that's happening both with News International and the Poetry Society. Both stories seem to be about openness and accountablity; does anyone for instance believe that Rupert Murdoch didn't know what was happening at the News of the World? If he didn't is that a sign that he's losing his grip? It's certainly a failure of good governance if he didn't.

The Poetry Society is not something I have very much to do with; but again it seems to be about people doing things behind closed doors: deals and counter-deals going on without the membership knowing about it. It may or may not turn out to be a storm in a tea-cup; but what does it say about a society's trustees if they can't even follow correct proceedure? I'm a trustee of an admitedly much smaller organisation, and unless I'm called in to do a specific job, I do not interfere in the daily running of that organisation. That's up to the staff, and as long as they are working for the best interests of the organisation, and are not doing anything illegal, it's not my job to decide to change policies.

Why the secrecy anyway? this is poetry, not the national debt.

Not that it doesn't confirm what a lot of people are thinking anyway: that the Poetry Society is just one more Establishment organ run for the benefit of a few at the top while the ordinary members get nothing much. Which is, of course, deeply unfair, as the Poetry Society do a lot of good work in educating the country about poetry. If Judith Palmer's claims that it represents 'all poetries' are somewhat exagerated (all mainstream poetries, maybe... which is a wide stream but not 'all poetries') it does nevertheless do a lot of good work.

Lots of Cassandras seem to be saying that the very existence of the organisation is under threat. I'm not sure I buy into that; but I certainly think that it should get its act together at the EGM tomorrow. It's a valuable organisation, as long as it remains open to its membership, not a closed shop for the poetry elite. Maybe we could have an Arab Spring for poetry as well...