Monday, 22 May 2023

News of News

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.)

--And there's also a nice review from Tom Allen of Present Continuous at LA Review of Books.

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

"The Subject of Emancipation": Trilce Translation Launch

May 6th 2023 was the day of the Coronation of Charles III, the latest frenzied manifestation of what Tom Nairn in The Enchanted Glass called Britain’s “national backwardnesss”. It also saw the launch of Will Rowe and Helen Dimos’s new translation (with glosses) of Cesar Vallejo’s Trilce, a work that in every resists the kinds of cultural spectacles which imagine that identity might cohere around fictions, figureheads, all the bathetic spectacle of nationalistic power. 

Trilce was written a hundred years ago last year, and Rowes’ and Dimos’ translation has been more than a decade in the making. In the basement of the Hundred Years Gallery in Hoxton, they, along with poet-translators Cristina Viti, Stephen Watts and Sacha Kahir alternated readings of the originals (in Spanish), the translations and glosses (in English), John Manson’s Scots translation, and poems by Amelia Rosselli, Elsa Morante and others in dialogue with the spirit and letter of Vallejo’s attempt, in Rowe’s words, to “crack Spanish open from the inside”. 

As this collective reading emphasized, Rowe and Dimos considered this translation of an already frequently-translated work a collective front, and the translation not as a definitive or fixed version, but in turn as something in some was unfinished and un-finishable. The project began as Rowe’s, before he handed the material to Dimos, in his words, to “pull apart”, the two then collaborating to put it back together. The process of revision and rebuilding is thus central to the work. In turn, the decision to include glosses emerged from the sense that translation in itself was not enough: that the investigation into the meanings and nuances and multiple possibilities of the original, and their sometimes-uneasy conversion into another language, created a kind of runoff or excess with a polyphonic relationship to the text. The large-format book thus prints the text in four columns: Vallejo’s Spanish and Rowe and Dimos’ English on one page, the glosses facing on the right-hand side, with space in a further, blank column, for the reader’s own annotations and notes. 

In this spirit, the collective discussion that followed went in multiple directions, that combination of “wildness and rigour” that Viti—whose translation of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s extraordinary film script-cum essay-cum poem La Rabbia recently appeared from Tenement Press—argued is essential to the project of translation. Vallejo wants to split Spanish open from within, commented Stephen Watts. Picking up on this point, Rowe noted the motivation for such a split: the realization of imperial dominance contained within the dominant language and its classed and erased exclusion and erasure of indigenous cultures. The relation of Scots to English in Manson’s translations suggests—a language that relates but that also parodies, distorts, twists. In turn, there’s a classed element—as Sacha Kahir suggested, the “language of the poor” always has to change, to hide or disguise itself in relation to the surveillance of dominant culture, to keep on the move. Language changes, is something built upon or built over—what Kahir called a “burial mound”. 

For Vallejo, it’s not just a case of cracking Spanish open, Rowe continued. Rather, it’s also about including within that South American Spanish a European modernism or late Romanticism, such as the work of Verlaine, which is in turn cracked open. In parodying, mocking and tearing apart from the European-aspiration characteristic of the colonial regimes who spread out of Europe with imperial zeal centuries before, Vallejo manifests a resistance to European aspiration on the part of the colonial bourgeoisies, their spectacles of gaudy cod-European magnificence, cathedrals, opera houses, music and language, growing up literally alongside the genocidal labour of mines and other extractivist sites as Eduardo Galeano so brilliantly dissected in Open Veins of Latin America

Neither the language of bureaucrats nor bourgeois and petty-bourgeois faux-European sophisticates, Vallejo’s is the voices of Spanish children and adolescents, of vernacular or neologistic linguistic practices of everyday resistance and survival. At the same time, it also lays claim to the cultural superiority generally associated with Europe. It’s also the language of philosophy, of Feuerbach and Hegel, so often associated with Europe, but here reclaimed for those outside Europe. Moving from a provincial university to the capital city, Vallejo was aware of these conditions of imbalance and dominance, where, in Rowe’s words, “the people who do philosophy are European”. Yet in the second poem of Trilce, Rowe suggested, Vallejo seeks to prove that one can do philosophy in poetry just as well as in analytic philosophy, out-doing Wittgenstein. 

And as well as fission, of splitting and rupture, there are moments of fusion or synthesis—or a struggle towards such movements, even if they often and perhaps of necessity fail. It’s not enough, as some of Vallejo’s contemporaneous, Dada-influenced South American modernist peers had, to break things apart and leave them in fragments. Rather, one has to struggle with the experience of synthesis, of forging new forms to replace the old. This is a destruction that attempts to engender synthesis, one often expressed in the work in the figure of numbers. In some of the poems read on the night, that could be heard in the figure of the ticking of a clock or tolling of time on a bell, as in the third poem. 

In more complex fashion, it came through too in the twenty-third, Vallejo’s great elegy for his mother and her role as bread-giver, as breadwinner, handing her children time, in the form of food--that which enables one to live, and thus, to inhabit time. Here, the figure of a crumb stuck in the throat gestures towards the impossible reclamation or reparation with a gendered legacy built into the very structure of language, into the very act of opening or closing the thought to expel language or to take in food. Such moments challenge the parcelling out of experience into the “common sense” of language and number that, Vallejo suggests, reinforces the order of things. Vallejo wrote a number of the poems from prison: prison, write Rowe and Dimos in their gloss on the second poem (“Tiempo Tiempo”)--the poem where, Rowe claimed, Vallejo out-does Wittgenstein--
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.
As Rowe’s and Dimos’ glosses suggest, in Trilce, with its fractured scenes of the taking in of food, of hunger, of the parcelling out of time in church bells or prison-hours, it’s precisely what doesn’t add up or balance that constitutes possibility, perhaps even revolutionary possibility. Broken words, language stretched beyond itself; the crumb in the throat, sums that don’t add up: all these exceeds the bureaucratic-book balancing of completed sums, balanced fractions or equations. In that excess, that remainder, lies both the unassimilable and unspeakable process of trauma and the resistance to totalizing incorporation—linguistic, numerical, national, imperial—where resistance resides, where, as Rowe writes in his essay ‘The Political in Trilce’, “the intimate formation of the subject of emancipation is fought out.”

Picking up on Rowe’s mention of Wittgenstein, Viti suggested that Vallejo’s use of numbers, a crucial element of this work in particular, had to do with a relation of mathematics and indeterminacy closer to that of pure maths. A number of big name thinkers have tried to construct a political philosophy from some form of maths in the past few decades, with results that may or may not be of import, but this line of argument, it feels, is one of a different sort: an argument made by poets about and from and in poetry. But it’s precisely here where lies its materialism, its resistance to abstraction, one which can stretch across time and be activated at different moments in time, not so much as an index of changing times but as the ringing Benjamian alarm clock that refutes the onward logic of a mendacious “progress” that is nothing of the sort. What’s tried out in experimental language emerges from the social world but is worked out outside it: yet from it, it reveals the faults in that social world and provides another basis that still maintains possibility today. As Rowe put it, Vallejo’s Spanish is a horizon to which we may still look. 

What of the famously neologistic title, came a question from the audience? Is this a manifestation of this new form of Spanish? Running through some of the theses—a fusion of “triste” and “dolce”, a joke about the vernacular phrase for the cost of the book—Rowe suggested that the word was between a synthesis, a splitting, and something else entirely. Or, as Dimos put it, “Trilce” is not so much a word with a defined meaning or unmeaning. Rather, she noted, “Trilce is this book”: at once object and process, something standing outside. Cracking open the fiction of language as monoculture, Dimos continues, the book layers up a multiplicity of voices, a layered chorus, in which the speech of kids and adolescents is not separable from that of adults, of modernism and philosophy from the street and from politics: they are all heard at once. 

In the movement from Vallejo’s Spanish to the Englishes of Dimos and Rowe’s translation—or, indeed, the Englishes found in the translations of the tri-lingual Amelia Rosselli, Viti’s translations of Elsa Morante, and the other texts heard tonight—as Viti put it, the task is to create “fault-lines”. As Vallejo disrupted Spanish in 1922, in 2023, translation and poetry today might and must seek to “disrupt our English from within”—a task all the more vital in the face of renewed nationalist spectacles and a border-focused racism dissected in a poem of his own that Kahir read near the start of the evening, organised around the refrain “no, but where are you really from?” 

No homeland but language. (Miłosz) No homeland in language. Glosses, glossolalia, exegesis. Ghosts, grammar, a language that explodes the fiction and function of borders, that brings the citadel down from within.

Thursday, 27 April 2023

Selected Poems of Calvin C. Hernton: Preview

A sneak peek at the pre-publication copy of Selected Poems of Calvin C. Hernton, forthcoming in August, just received in the mail from Wesleyan UP. Four years in the making, and edited across a pandemic, with enormous gratitude to my co-editor Lauri Scheyer, an exemplary collaborator I've been privileged to work with, to Ishmael Reed for his foreword, and to the press for their amazing job with design, typesetting and proofing, and for helping make Hernton's work available to a new generation of readers. (Wesleyan are also putting out a New and Selected A.B. Spellman, edited by Lauri, and a collection of material relating to Umbra edited by Tonya Foster, J-P Marcoux and myself.) 

More on Calvin Hernton in my book A Black Arts Poetry Machine (a phrase from Hernton gives the book its title) and on this blog--here and here. Also highly recommended, Hernton's reading on the extremely rare LP Destinations: Four American Poets, which also features an astonishing reading from Hernton's Umbra comrade N.H. Pritchard. Both have been uploaded to YouTube: I've embedded Hernton's reading below.

Thursday, 20 April 2023


My essay, 'Songs for the Future', on Askia Touré's Songhai! and the African American epic, is out now in Paideuma, Vol.48, as part of a special tribute to issue to Touré's book that also includes essays by Addison Gayle, Jim Smethurst, and Kathy Lou Schultz. Many thanks to Ben Friedlander and Betsy Rose.

The UK reprint of Songhai! will be out soon from Materials.

A review of the Fred Moten/Brandon López/ Gerald Cleaver show at Cafe Oto in Artforum here, with some words on Candace Hill's phenomenal reading the same afternoon along the way.

Review of Jason Moran's superb James Reece Europe tribute From the Dancehall to the Battlefield in The Wire 471.

And soon forthcoming, a long piece on the new Selected Poems of Mark Hyatt, a scholarly labour of love by Sam Ladkin and Luke Roberts, at The Poetry Foundation.

Sunday, 2 April 2023

In other news...

On Sunday April 8th (next weekend) we'll be launching the new Materials books by Candace Hill and James Goodwin at Cafe Oto in Dalston at a 2pm matinee reading. James will be reading from his new book Faux Ice and in conversation with Nisha Ramayya, and this will be a rare opportunity for UK audiences to hear from the astonishing Candace Hill--artist, poet, weaver, author of the 200 page epic Short Leash Kept On--who'll be reading and in conversation via video link. Come for the afternoon and stay for the Fred Moten reading at the same venue in the evening! Details and advance tickets here.
On Thursday April 13th I'll be playing with a new group, Multiple Melodicas, at waterintobeer in Brockley, South London: myself, Georgina Brett, Steve Beresford, Douglas Benford, and Martin Hackett on melodicas, along with solos sets from Eddie Prévost and N.O. Moore. Unit 2, mantle court, 209-211 mantle road, brockley, se4 2ew. Doors: 6:30pm for a 7pm start. More details and advance tickets at the eventbrite page.


Then at 7:00pm on Wednesday April 19th I'll be reading from Present Continuous for a Pamenar Press spring reading at Thingy Café in Hackney Wick. Details here.

Finally, at 7:00pm on Wednesday April 26th I'll be taking part in a performance by members of the Eddie Prévost workshop at IKLECTIK, Waterloo, as part of the series, for which Eddie will also be in conversation with Emmanuelle Waeckerlé.


And from a previous, here's footage of my conversation with Eva-Maria Houben, Emmanuelle Waeckerlé, and Artur Vidal as part of the concert Social Virtuosity with Eva-Maria Houben curated by Emmanuelle at IKLECTIK in March. The video presents the whole concert: Artur's performance of dreaming legends, Artur's and Eva-Maria's performance of loose ties, and the string ensemble piece the green that is almost a yellow, performed by Lara Agar, Angharad Davies, Isidora Edwards, Finn Froome-Lewis, Dominic Lash, and Hannah Marshall, and the post-performance conversation. The performance of the string piece in particular was astonishing, its silence full and shared, its overlapping lines a perpetual making and unmaking of space as shelter; Eva-Maria's and Artur's performance with organist Huw Morgan the previous Friday was equally exceptional: I'm hoping to work up a longer piece on that (via Straub-Huillet's Cézanne) at some point in the not to distant future...

Meanwhile, elsewhere on the internet, the Poetry Center has been digitzing some astonishing readings from the 1970s. Filmed in San Francisco State University's Creative Arts Building, Lorenzo Thomas reading 'Grandpa's Spells' (named for the Jelly Roll Morton piece) is nothing short of breathtaking. Musicked speech indeed...

But, as well as music, this work is also conversation--talking (talking to, talking about, talking with, talking back). "I want to talk about the tears and sorrows of the people", he says in his introduction. And this concept of "the people" is a global one, Thomas reading his poem in memory of Neruda and translations of work by African poets--that internationalist, multi-lingual aspect running through his work: poems by Francisco José Tenreiro, Agostinho Neto, Marcelino Dos Santos, the latter then emerging from the victorious struggles against Portugal in Angola and Mozambique. Thomas' work of the 1970s, as he honed the finely-poised ironies of his earlier work through the lens of his experience in Vietnam and his reading in writers like Christopher Caudwell, is a contribution to a left populist poetry that has been virtually ignored: far too few notices of the Collected Poems edited by Aldon Nielsen and Laura Vrana have made it into print. (I've so far been unable to place my own review.) But being able to watch this video, to hear Thomas' cadences, his sonorous rise and fall, helps to newly bring that work alive: a poetry that charges the space, crackles with fierce energy and moral compulsion.   

Thomas read with David Henderson, fronting the nine-piece band Ghetto Violence--as singer...(in this harking back to his early career with vocal group the Star Steppers, as documented in Henderson's classic early poem 'Boston Road Blues' (for the poem, scroll down to page 41 here.) In the U.S. Bicentennial Spring, Henderson and the band deliver "Hail to the Chief" ("agit-rock...dedicated to the next Presidential election". In the event, Jimmy Carter would replace Gerald Ford, who'd pardoned Richard Nixon for his Watergate crimes, in the recurring cycle of putatively 'democratic' debasement. It continues.

(The full recording of Thomas' and Henderson's reading is here.)

Also from the Poetry Centre's Digital Archives, another gem: Karen Brodine and Meridel LeSueur reading in 1981, two generations of Left feminist writing looking into the jaws of the 1980s with implacable courage. What's particularly valuable is to have this document of Brodine reading the entirety of the sequence Woman Sitting at the Machine, Thinking, written from her experience of workplace organising as a typesetter (and her reading of Engels). I'm working on a chapter on Brodine, Merle Woo and Nellie Wong for a forthcoming book on queer poetry in Boston and San Francisco which hopefully will be fully drafted in the next few months. Last year, I spent a valuable week in Brodine's archives at the James C. Hormel Center on the top floor of the San Francisco Public Library, Tim Wilson and the other librarians patiently bringing me box after box and allowing me to see, in her unpublished notebooks, drafts, teaching preparations, and talks, how, for her, poetry articulated her sense of herself as woman, as lesbian, as worker, as socialist, the clarity of the way she theorizes language, the specific uses she sees poetry as fulfilling: conceptions well beyond the cliche of poetry as a kind of transparent vehicle for messages, on the one hand, or as 'neutral' abstraction on the other. For Brodine, poetry's form is its argument: which is to say that "form" is inseparable from, dialectically related to "content", the distinction between which she skewers in her unpublished pieces on aesthetics. We all know the rhythms of our days, shaped by labour or its absence, in our different ways, some feeling the pinch more than others, and spending time with 'Woman Sitting' in particular, going over it and again, still enables a reckoning with and refiguration with the violence of that time, the violence of Brodine's and our times: this poem which is so much about time, about the work week and the ways workers work within and resist capitalist time.

knowledge this power owned, nor shared
owned and hoarded
to white men [...]
                           wrench it back
knowledge is something we have 

Here's Brodine's reading: 


And from the same reading it would be negligent not to mention Meridel Le Sueur's poems of fierce solidarity, reading the global and gendered division of labour in ways that, once again, are firmly internationalist, are about mapping the general and the particular in precise and specific ways that poetry--specifically--can be used as a tool to pry open, a compass for navigation. And Le Sueur's opening denunciation of Eliot's The Waste Land as nihilistic male modernism remains as hilarious and as provocative as it's meant to be...

Friday, 10 March 2023

Gaia: Two Orchestral Works by Wayne Shorter

Two luminous orchestral works by the late, great Wayne Shorter: first, Dramatis Personae, a Lincoln Centre Commission from 1998 with Shorter on soprano, Jim Beard on piano, Christian McBride, bass, and Herlin Riley drums alongside orchestra conducted and arranged by Robert Sadin--the bridge between the monumental, and underrated, High Life (1995) and the orchestral collaborations of the Danilo Pérez/ John Patitucci/ Brian Blade acoustic quartet to come.

A decade-and-a-half on, the massive LA Philharmonic commission Gaia (2013), described by Richard S. Ginell in Variety as a “murky, thick-set monster of a piece [...] massive, slow-moving, opaque textures, sometimes tracking Wayne’s distinctive long, snaking melodic lines on soprano; treating the sections of the orchestra as blocs”. Varying in performance from 25 to 30 minutes, this version from Gdansk in 2014 veers toward the latter, with Shorter on soprano forming part of a quartet with Leo Genovese (piano) and Terri Lynn Carrington (drums); the solo vocal part and libretto are by Esperanza Spalding, who also doubles on bass as part of the quartet. 

Shorter first began work as a teenage student at NYU, and it’s to be hoped that Shorter’s Kennedy Center collaboration with Spalding on the opera Iphigenia--his final piece after he retired from performing in 2019--might appear in the future. For now, the serene drama of these orchestral works represent the majestic, achieved late blossoming of the compositional impulse Shorter had been building throughout his entire life, from his early work on that teenage opera through to the unreleased orchestral pieces Universe, Legend and Twin Dragon he wrote for Miles Davis in the 1960s and ’80s (later realised by Wallace Roney) and the misunderstood trilogy of post-Weather Report Afro-futurist epics Atlantis (1985), Phantom Navigator (1986), and Joy Ryder (1989), along with the aforementioned High Life.

I have a longer piece on Shorter in The Wire, with thanks to Meg Woof.

(Edited down from a 30,000 word draft--with plenty more to say on Shorter’s orchestral work, his status as composer, and the framing of ‘jazz’; more of that may see the light of day elsewhere.)


In other news:

My interview with composer Hannah Kendall is online at Bachtrack: Kendall is Composer-in-Residence at the Royal Academy of Music this March, and a couple of concerts are forthcoming the following week. Highly recommended if you’ve not heard her music in performance before.

On March 22nd the trio GUE will be making its delayed debut at waterintobeer in Brockley, South London. Jacken Elswyth on banjo, Laurel Uziell on electronics and myself on electronics and melodica. We’ll be joined by a saxophone trio of Alex McKenzie, Nat Philipps and Nicholas Hann, plus Tom Mills on theremin. Tickets £5, doors 6:30, to be wrapped up by 9pm. Eventbrite page here.

Finally, I’m delighted to reveal the cover for the Selected Poems of Calvin C. Hernton, co-edited by myself and Lauri Scheyer, and now available for pre-order from Wesleyan. The book includes material from across his career--including the long out-of-print The Coming of Chronos to the House of Nightsong--and a foreword from Hernton’s longtime friend, publisher and champion Ishmael Reed, along with notes, chronology, and index. It will be published this August.

Saturday, 25 February 2023

News and Views

In February I was interviewed about A Black Arts Poetry Machine by João Paulo Guimarães (University of Porto) and Elina Siltanen (University of Turku) for the online Poets Talk Politics Series hosted by the University of Porto. Thanks to João and Elina for the questions and discussion, and to João for the invitation. The event was live-streamed and should be uploaded to the Youtube channel of the Instituto de Literatura Comparada Margarida Losa in the next few weeks. For now, it's available on Facebook, as embedded below (no need for an account) or at this link.


Also online is the video of the online launch for Present Continuous back in January, hosted by Malvika Jolly and with responses from Tyrone Williams, Linda Kemp, Ciarán Finlayson, and Ghazal Mosadeq, can be seen on the Pamenar Press Youtube channel here, or in the video embedded below. Many thanks to Malvika for hosting and Ghazal and Hamed for publishing, designing and typesetting the book!

Some photos from the 'Electro-Acoustic Responsiveness' gig at IKLECTIK with Eddie Prévost (percussion), John Butcher (tenor and soprano saxophones), N.O. Moore (guitar), Emmanuelle Waeckerlé (voice, objects), and Tony Hardie-Bick (electronics), courtesy of film-maker Stewart Morgan, whose film on Prévost should soon be nearing completion. 

Photo credit - Stewart Morgan Hajdukiewicz

And some photos from the Materials/Materialien reading at Halle für Kunst Lüneburg, with James Goodwin (launching the new collection Faux Ice), Lütfiye Güzel and Laurel Uziell: thanks to curators Ann-Kathrin Eickohf and Elisa R. Linn. 

James will be doing a UK launch for his book at Café Oto in Dalston on Sunday 9th April; this will also be the launch for Candace Hill's astonishing book-length poem Short Leash Kept On. James will be in conversation with Nisha Ramayya and I'll be in conversation with Candace via Zoom. (Fred Moten will be reading, in his trio with Brandon Lopez and Gerald Cleaver, later in the evening.) Tickets from the Café Oto website.

Finally, in further Materials news, Anne Boyer's Money City Sick as Fuck and Lisa Jeschke's The Athology of Poems by Drunk Women are back in print and can be purchased from the Materials website at the following links: Boyer here and Jeschke here.