Monday, 27 February 2012


So, the launch for Luke McMullan and Sophie Seita’s finally-released magazine, 1* I guess we can call it, or alternatively pdpdpdpdpd: it’s from Contingency Press, its format is A4, and it’s got poems, got prose, got interviews real and fictive, got drawings (designs?,; got here at last after some time in the preparation. As readings go, I’d hesitate to call this a ‘reading’ as such (in the sense that term takes on as a kind of coded, public social experience). Because it was more like this: there’s this party going on and then can we all move next-door; so it’s just, what, ten people in a room, maybe a few more, and some of them standing up or leaning on tables and reading: poems mostly, one prose piece which in delivery, in fact, felt divided or enunciated at least cadentially, as if there were some line-breaks we couldn’t see as we read along. This (by Jonas Tinius) was about quotation, in part – about synaesthesia, as a whole – but, following Deleuze and Guattari’s multiplicity-(non-)programme lead, also about gathering in, or scattering, diversities of sources and putting them in a kind of non-hierarchical dialogue with each other, argumentation as experimentation, testing out the waters. A passage from Nabokov in which synaesthesia links to childhood providing the refrain (de- or re-territorialization, D & G style), and amidst the D & G and Barthes and Serres the pleasant unobtrusiveness of a little throw-away sound play from Tom Waits about sleepy male whores, I think. At times the piece felt like it wasn’t really about synaesthesia at all; rather, synaesthesia serving as a trope for a kind of multiplicity or inter-disciplinarity which the magazine itself encourages.

Lisa Jeschke actually read first: three short poems which I’ve heard her deliver several times previously, brief and rigorous. OK. So I realized upon being asked to write up this event and the magazine that I’d written something on Jeschke’s work a month or so ago, but not done anything with it. And as it’s been lying on my hard drive in inactivity since then, let’s just shoehorn it in here for now. It’s about restraint and excess. Also talks about some work by Jeremy Hardingham, who wasn’t there at the launch, and Lucy Beynon, who was, so it both connects and moves away from the matter at hand, the review of the event. Bear with it, tho’, it’s only a paragraph.

restraint & excess in the work of jeremy hardingham, lisa jeschke, lucy beynon

from a poem by jeschke: "this rests upon restraint. // austerity measures." consider here: restraint both as a method of performance, a necessary paring-back or what jeremy hardingham might call 'evacuation', and as something associated with an ascetism demanded of us by those in power whose lives are anything but ascetic, their non-asceticism, their excess and extravagance in fact allowed by our enforced asceticism ("austerity measures" - 'cutting back', 'saving the pennies', 'adding an extra notch to the belt'). as such, it might be taken as a negative CONstraint, upon desire and excess, the latter as a revolt beyond the allowed or allowable, a shout in the face of the hypocritic enforcement of austerity. to what extent does self-imposed limitation – something very much present in the work of hardingham, jeschke and beynon – force an artistically rewarding tension between stricture and slippage, leaving minute space for negotiation, variation and invention within a set of apparently narrow, but often in practice, quite wide parameters? we might counter-balance this with the excess seen as a virtue in a particular kind of performance art - the vienna actionists and their caressed/tormented swans, the live action painting extravaganzas of georges matthieu, yves klein's objectifying nudey-paint-rolling 'anthropometries', nudity and meat and the writhing body as a kind of anti-technological animality, a primitivist assault – by contrast, moments of the shocking, or the perverse, assertions of wilful oddity here have their force precisely by not being the be all and end all, prolonged into endless orgiastic background noise, a kind of anti-ambient music with the same ultimate effect. consider, more in line with a restrained or cramped excess, yoko ono's apparently – and, indeed, truly – excessive vocal works – the prolonged sing-scream in which that performance pitch is maintained not as the rock star's flamboyant animal roar – roger waters, even iggy pop – but as something more constrained, sustained, a narrow confine forcing sustained discomfort, rather than allowing iggy's or waters' quick orgasmic release. also to consider: whether art which works within these restraints – the often conceptual scores of the wandelweiser group, john cage's number pieces, hardingham's recent theatrical works (which work specifically with an element of temporal restraint) – in some way also work with the manner in which we are constrained –socially, politically, economically, emotionally – in the forms of everyday life, in terms of allowed movement or speech or spatial existence – forcing similar restraint to be felt rather than simply unconsciously absorbed and acted within, and, paradoxically, opening up a space beyond that, a counter-restraint which is at once terrible, sad, tragic etc (if you like), and liberatingly imaginative (it's not the word i want, but it'll have to do), you yourself setting the terms of your own constraint, setting your own parameters within a space that you circumscribe, a magic circle in which excess plays with and against what would curb it and exacerbate it, in which limit is tested, enforced, and even, for the briefest moment, broken through.

So Lisa Jeschke read, and Jonas Tinius read, and Sophie Seita read, a new poem, untitled, about ten minutes in total to read, I guess, an exploration of a kind of structural boredom, in part, repetition and expectancy, managing to avoid the knowingly ironic smugness the approach potentially engenders through its own sense of its possible, and actual, deliberate banality; conscious too that it might just be ‘playing around’ – but a necessary play, I think, like Jeschke’s, in fact, looking at those conventions round readings, their righteousnesses, their slashings of irony and anger and intimacy, going outside all those things and instead, multi-lingually and calmly, going through a set of procedures in which formality is highlighted, anticipated, parodied, carried on with, followed through. “Skip another line

Break” and there is play with sound, the repeated line on the first page maybe even intended to trip up a too-smooth enunciation of its regularity, as a kind of re-assertion of error or risk amongst what, now I think of it, actually acts as a kind of error or risk in itself – the risk of boredom, the apparent appearance of CD-‘skip’, a hop and a jump or feet shuffling on the ground in a pulse that can’t quite remain as ‘soothing’ as it proclaims itself to be for the hardness of its cutting k’s and popping p’s, the ping-pong pop too, in the reading, of the played audacity click-track, loping plosives off tongue maybe twisting or re-iterating, re-iterating what, actually getting going, riffing on that notion of (not) getting started – as in Cole Porter, right – deferral and a kind of battle of wills, poised anyway in intended uncertainty inside a laughter that turns – where? on the reader or listener themselves, causing them to smile at being in on the joke, or maybe to smile at not being in on it, seeing how far that could go – and that’s then thrown back in the real or imagined critical extract that follows the slight twitch or breakdown that signals the end of that first page of skipping line-breaks, when ‘skip’ does a kind of stutter – ‘skip k’: “The one thing that interested me about the poem was that it was not yet there.” But of course it is there and now is there in another list, figures of twelve, an impossibility of cataloguing, that catalogue resulting in a series of samenesses wrenched from diversity, maybe, tho’ I’m not sure I know what the various things that follow the twelves are doing with each other. Well, they’re funny – yet then we get caught, again, just now that we were settling in, caught on the final line: “The one who performs these every day will not be poor in a thousand births.” Which for some reason disturbs, a little, whether it’s the (gendered) pain involved in the thousand births, or the impossibility of material poverty being averted through plays on names and multi-lingual puns and steps in Rome or piano keys – which is, then, about an artistic impotency, and saying that is not in itself a highly original thing to do, maybe, but we all do harp on or batter against that constraint, right, and it’s not polemical(?) as I thus make it out to be, no? And then the lit-crit voice again, “The one thing that interested me about the poem was that it was short,” which anticipates and draws into itself, as did its predecessor, the criticism (a) that the poem is (in- or un-)distinguished just by its regular and soothing rhythm, and (b) (by saying the opposite of what it means) that the poem is actually too long, self-indulgently so. Now I am going to speed up, tho’ the next page in fact is the densest so far (I’m reading thru the PDF retrospectively, so maybe this is a reading of the written text rather than of the read text, last night, for which, apologies –and, yes, that tension or embarrassment(?) about the potentially perceived frivolity or patience-trying of the text is key to its delivery and smooth crackle as performed poem, which is what the end, I think it is or wants so to be). The next page is (very briefly) about views and, again, banalities, suburban settings and windows and curtains and plays with sound, the line about nothing being seen outside television as drawing in or together the theme of mediation, the line on “vowelling our way out of or into without any form of dogmatism” seemingly an accurate description, but of course not, and the poem acknowledging that rejection of dogma, or that ‘purely’ formal approach, as itself a kind of dogma or stricture, and the sentences descending into self-parodying nonsense of assonantal or spiffily poly-syllabic (and self-describing) words: “text terminates in reference and reverence to one of the greatest terminologators of” – before again the repeated stuckness skips – “please take some time with this line”, how to read that unchanging right-hand column against the little insistences of the left-hand column. This refrain is actually the opposite of that found on the first page: whereas at that first the line negates itself by causing skipping or skimming, flicking through until things properly begin, here, the injunction is to dwell on a line which is nonetheless no more full than the one we were earlier instructed to ‘skip’. And the lit-crit coming back, now explicitly identified with “the [common?] reader”, speaking you back at yourself, and at itself – like, you know that running together “lines” and “lions” and “lie-ins” is banal and maybe there’s a pleasure in it, but what can it lead to except platitudes: “Lots of words sound like / other words.” And questioning then whether an admittedly pleasurable sound play can be ethical, or whether it is in some sense just superficial surface to a real ethics that gets done in what’s said rather than how it’s said, some imaginative ‘grace’ against the necessary authenticity and ‘grounded-ness’ of ‘gravity’(?). “There is no reason why this should be so / apart from habitual / steadiness.” And then give up. “This poem doesn’t interest me at all.” Now I feel that here I should be breaking through to saying something really cohesive and conclusive about what the poem does, but I will just stop there, you’ve probably all had enough.

Luke McMullan read. And explicitly this reading was trying to tell us something, to do theory-enactment in a poem, the title, from Adorno, “Art is the negative knowledge of the actual world”: ‘Negative Knowledge’, the poem, to grapple with that one we’re all going tête-à-tête with, that ‘I’ of yours whose illusion of ‘free’ and private subjectivity prevents genuine solidarity and out-boxing thought (“the speechless obliteration of difference”). Space is crucial here (as is surface – “our enneper love”): spacing on the page, and spacing in terms of the Occupy movement, which Luke mentioned, and which re(con-)figures relational body-position and occupation, yes, of space defined explicitly as non-private, as against a kind of false individuum of gaping rapacious maws: “the perimeter of the subject / the diameter maintained in the private jaw.”

Some other person read. And at the end, Ian Heames read. And as when I saw him read at a more public occasion, back in November, he read from memory, so we could say he spoke, or recited, rather than ‘read’, just sitting in a corner and I was thinking /

how far could a delivery impart something that a poem itself, when encountered on the page at least, did not necessarily contain?

I was thinking this in part because of reports of the Lyric and Polis conference at Falmouth where Denise Riley’s reading reduced much of the audience to tears, and the prose section in Douglas Oliver’s ‘An Island That Is All The World’ where he talks about doing a reading of the Diagram Poems in which he also so moved his, different, audience – having explicitly decided beforehand to concentrate on prosody only, on the musical articulation and regulation of utterance, of syllable length and of breath – and in so doing, taking himself out of the poem and out of himself as subjective ‘deliverer’ of that poem; as it seems Denise Riley may also have done. Those tears are a strong emotional reaction that seems to come from somewhere originating in the formal, as that shades over into affect. Though of course ‘thematically’ it is to do with the loss of a child that both poems enact (Riley’s ‘A Part Song’ is her first work for several years, and the result of a sense of poetry’s inadequacy in the face of actual loss, the memorialisation of the dead that always poetry has self-consciously done in spite of the awareness of the inadequacy of its own rhetorical over-statement), it is to do also with taking oneself out formally, the latter something that might at best be hard to really catalogue or chart, and at worst, impossible or undesirable and even mendacious so to do.

I say all this, maybe, as preamble, and because I’ve been thinking about it this past week, and I realise this is already too long (“The one thing that interested me about the review was that it was short”), which is itself a kind of verbal-diarrheic over-compensation for not having anything to say and saying it, so, On: When Ian Heames read his voice had a tremble to it which no doubt came from the sheer effort of actually remembering these poems, which are not simple poems in the slightest, and delivering them with clarity and fidelity, and the intensity of just someone sitting on a sofa in what is a domestically-scaled setting, and where do you look, everyone quiet breath, at their feet perhaps, I didn’t look up myself, and you could laugh, even, when there were jokes and smile with recognition at bits you’ve heard like that line about having three browser windows open and eating the guts of an alarm, which does so many things with the mechanised and the work-place and the sci-fi element that runs all the way through and alarm as ironised or made bathetic even as it’s registered, thus reduced of any efficacy at all: which is all to say, it was intense, moving, even – lines that in the text one might skim or not be as struck by here take on a terrible force: “Time penalties cannot hurt her”, “Thank you for not shooting You are my favourite ones”, “The orchestra wells up with the last / ice cap,” “Dealing with the loss / like merchandise,” “Love is the derangement of leisure time.”[1] (The sequence, of five short poems, hasn’t been published beyond photocopies here and there, will take a while to come out, is dedicated to Jeff Keen: ‘Banners over Terminal Highway’, you’ll check it when it appears I’m sure.)

I was going to combine this review of the reading with a review of the magazine itself, and I’ve run out of time and space and energy, so there’s a lot I’ve missed out: the interview with Birte Endrejat; Thom Donovan’s piece; Yates Norton’s piece; Eben Wood’s piece, &c. You can get it all, tho’, from Click.

Another line-break.


[1] Ian points out that this last line is borrowed from a poem by Danny Hayward.

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