A True Account collects works written between 2013 and 2020, published by a variety of small presses in the UK and the US. Here are variously refracted the student movement, austerity, general election, referendum, the crisis of 2020 or 2019 or any year you care to name; the Massacre of the Innocents, the housing question, the October Revolution in November; Sappho, Mingus, Storm Ophelia; Rukeyser, Rilke, Rodefer; the aesthetics of resistance, the insistence of history: luxury and voluptuousness, peace and pleasure, beauty and order, the questions that still remain unanswered and the problems that remain unsolved. “Wanting poetry to save my life, to shame my life, as LONG as the WORLD is WIDE, and as WIDE as the WORLD is LONG.”“Lyrically gorgeous and real poetry. This book is a bright spot in a bleak time.” - Peter Gizzi
Thursday 2 November 2023
Monday 23 October 2023
Wednesday 6 September 2023
Sunday 2 July 2023
A short essay called ‘ “Key to a Savage Sideshow”: The Magazines of the Occult School of Boston’ up at Post-45 in a Little Magazines feature edited by Nick Sturm, focusing mainly on the one-shot Boston Newsletter assembled by Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser, John Wieners, Stephen Jonas and Joe Dunn one Boston summer. The issue also contains some fantastic pieces including Iris Cushing's piece on the first issue of Umbra magazine. Great to see Umbra scholarship continuing to develop and Iris’s piece will be very useful for those who haven't managed to see a copy of the magazine itself.
Also Umbra-related, my review of the Lorenzo Thomas Collected edited by Aldon Nielsen and Laura Vrana is out from Tripwire--online and it will also be out in the next print edition. I wrote this a few years ago--pre-Covid--so it’s nice for it to finally be out, with many thanks to David and Caleb.
A longer essay, ‘ “The Arc of Struggle”: Poetry and Defeat in the Work of Sean Bonney’, is out in‘No Future: Poetry of the Current British Crisis’, a special issue of Études anglaises edited by Dan Katz.
And the Multiple Melodicas set from Cafe Oto earlier last month is up at Douglas Benford's Soundcloud page: Douglas, myself, Georgina Brett and Steve Beresford all playing multiple melodicas, multiply. Recording thanks to Billy Steiger.
Monday 5 June 2023
Barbican Centre, Sunday 7th May 2023
Anu Komsi, Anssi Karttunen, BCC SO/Sakari Oramo
For the final concert in a day of performances of Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s work, the BBC Symphony Orchestra came together to play four orchestra pieces spanning three decades, offering readings of rare radiance and clarity. From 1989, Du Cristal, the earliest work on the programme, is one long sustained, not-quite climax: an extraordinary array of textures shimmering and hovering on a brink of controlled delirium. With notes piled up on top of one another to create dense layers, the orchestral sound is massive, sometimes overwhelming, yet at the same time it feels as if something is being contained: a seething mass, a great, explosive force constantly on the edge. This effect of suspended movement is emphasized by five percussionists on an array of overlapping tuned metal—glockenspiel, crotales, triangles, tubular bells, xylophone, vibraphone—and multiple, booming kettle drums, with a synthesizer, harp and piano acting as a kind of additional rhythm section. Yet, particularly when witnessed live, what stands out if Saariaho’s care for individual detail: the fortissimo trill of a piccolo sounding out over the whole orchestra, a miniature choir wailing clarinets, the whole work ending, magically, on held harmonics from a single cello.
Written in 2020, Saarikoski Songs was the most recent work on the programme: it was here given its UK premiere by its commissioner, the extraordinary soprano Anu Komsi. The texts by Finnish poet Pentti Saarikoski—Communist, bohemian, translator of both Joyce’s and Homer’s Ulysses—offer nature poetry shadowed by pantheistic assurance and the threat of destruction. It’s hard not to read their words as dire warnings of the ecological catastrophe or the threats of war in the contested borders of and beyond Europe (as a Finnish war child, Saarikoski was evacuated to Sweden). “The forest is an academy obliterated by barbarians”, writes Saarikoski in the first text, ‘The Face of Nature’, reversing the cliché of “nature red in tooth and claw” by which human governments project social destruction onto nature, thus justifying their own actions. Across the world the Amazon rainforest burns: wordless melismatic syllables reach for high vibrating notes, twittering, rhapsodizing or lamenting, the orchestra aswirl on sustained tremolo or a doubled motif, a woodblock tap or rustle of bells, low, sliding strings, an unexpectedly lush string chord, as the soprano momentarily becomes “the song of birds lost in the extinction”. The subsequent settings are sardonic (‘Everyone from now on will have their own’), tenuously rhapsodic (‘All of This’), bitingly tensile (‘Bird and Sanke in Me’), and finally raptly mysterious (‘Through the Mist’), closing out on a final series of wordless held soprano notes and a final glockenspiel note which seems to condense the entire work into a single, miniature chime.
For me, it’s the closing piece Circle Map, that, along with Du Cristal, is the real highlight here. Written for the largest ensemble configuration of the night, this 2012 work sets poems by Rumi in their Persian originals. It is not, however, a conventional song cycle in the manner of the Saariskoski songs. Rather, recordings of the poems by Arshia Cont were electronically treated by Saariaho and her husband, composer Jean-Baptiste Barrière: broadcast on speakers surrounding the audience, they are both integrated into the orchestral texture and stand outside like a kind of radiant alien object (think the monolith in Kubrick’s 2001). Once more we hear swirling harp, tuned percussion, motifs that rise and fall into hushed held chords stretched like thin wires; plangent brass underscored by low piano rumbles, the orchestra as a swooning, swooping, shimmering entity full of rich inward song. The treated voice is a deus ex machina, not the meditative swooping soloist of the previous works but instead coming as if from the outside with the thrill of the integrated unknown, as the orchestra accompanies the echoing pitch cadences of speech translated to simultaneous monody. A film is projected over the stage, showing a hand tracing out script overlaid with superimpositions of computer-generated abstracted calligraphy along with the subtitled text. Close one’s eyes, however and far richer inner worlds emerge, attesting to music’s capacity to alway be more than the visual, more than speech. As one of the poems puts it, “whatever circles comes from the centre”. And that could be a principle for Saariaho’s music as a whole, its swirling still points, animated suspensions, its glittering clarity and mesmeric power.
Monday 22 May 2023
Some recent writing:
--On So Much for Life, the new Mark Hyatt Selected Poems edited by Sam Ladkin and Luke Roberts, for The Poetry Foundation.
--On Elaine Mitchener's forthcoming performance of Peter Maxwell-Davies's Eight Songs for a Mad King for The Wire here. A longer piece on Eight Songs and its contexts is brewing somewhere along the line.
And some upcoming gigs:
--Following a gig at waterintobeer last month, a second outing for Multiple Melodicas (me, Douglas Benford, Steve Beresford, Georgina Brett, Martin Hackett) at Cafe Oto on the afternoon of Sunday 4th June, along with a solo piano set by Steve Beresford and a duo set by me on piano and Tansy Spinks on violin. Details here.
--Also planning another gig by G.U.E. (me, Jacken Elswyth, Laurel Uziell) on a bill with Tom Betteridge making what I believe is a live solo debut and Regan Bowering on electronics/objects/snare drum. This one will be at waterintobeer in Brockley on Tuesday 13th June, doors at 18:30. Tickets here.
We've been going through hours' worth of GUE recordings made over the past year or so so a release of some sort will be on the cards at some point soon.
And in other news...
--Following the launch reading with James Goodwin and Candace Hill last month, Howard Slater's review of Candace's Short Leash Kept On at Northern Review of Books here. (The book is available at the Materials website.)
Finally, Materials will be relocating to Berlin in July, joining Materialien in Germany, which may involve some logistical shuffling and slower processing for orders. But expect more news the other side of the move...
Friday 19 May 2023
punctuates time with its physical order; it creates a time that’s equally subdivided and empty. Language administers it.Whether one is in actual prison or not, prison-time is a static present, an empty time excised from the continuity of time’s movement. But the time it takes to say the word time continues. The juxtaposition of these two times, sun-glare of nausea, is beat out by the poem’s metronomic repetition of words in twos and fours. Vallejo was imprisoned on remand for 112 days.