the other room 4

At last.

[3/10/8 Links and further edits added.] Santiago went along to The Other Room 4 tonight. On his own let it be said, neither friends Helen and Gary, nor sister Hannah managed to make it along. Which is a damn shame for them because it was a fantastic night, even though I didn't really talk to anyone, and was quite tired and emotional by the end of the evening. If you've bothered to read through the notebook archaeology in situ pieces below then you have a good idea what's about to come, but why would you even have tried?

Some background. Although I like a lot of the other poetry nights in Manchester the majority of what gets performed means very little to me, I wouldn't read it given the choice. Which is NOT a reflection on the poets or their work, just a reflection of my preferences. I think almost universally the Manchester poets I've met have been really nice people, I just happen to have a love/hate relationship with all poetry, as evidenced here on a regular basis. The Other Room on the other hand is finally the kind of poetry reading I've been looking for all my adult life. Although I do have some misgivings about my own response, which we will come to later. For now, on with the review. [2 Oct 8 - Erm, originally my misgivings didn't come later. They do now.]

Joy As Tiresome Vandalism were first. A collaboration between James Davies of matchbox, and now ifpthenq fame, and a photographer whose name I've shamefully forgotten. [3/10/8 - According to this page he's Simon Taylor. I have been able to find a photographer called Simon Taylor online, but can't confirm if he's the same one.] If anyone can help I'll gladly put the omission right. They gave a multimedia presentation of aRb (aR), half of the collaboration aRb, of which aRb (Rb) is the second part. This was a project whereby starting with a poem by James Davies each artist created a piece in response to the previous piece by the other. I haven't bought a copy yet (though I ought to hurry up, it's a limited edition), but I'd certainly seen some of the images. But live, with the photos project on a screen which I couldn't see from where I was, but which were also handily stuck to the wall nearby, and the poems read aloud, the project suddenly came into focus. It took on a clear logic and the sequence made sense.

I also felt that both poems, and much more so the photos, were kind of laminated. That is they consisted of at least two or more different layers that didn't really touch other than they were in proximity. It gave the pictures especially both a clarity, and lent them an air of being unfixed, of sliding around. The photos did this individually, the poems did this individually, and together a whole motion and resultant kinetic heat were created. [2 Oct 8 - What I forgot to mention was the poem dubbit rack [Audio link - 3/10/8], which used a googled set of anagrams for 'rabbit' and 'duck' (as in the visual illusion that can be either), and a voice synthesiser to create a fascinating, barely intelligible stream of speech. I was reminded again listening this evening to Caroline Bergvall on PennSound talking about how the glitches in digital technology can be a part of the aesthetic [3/10/8 Audio link - note, interview is 45 minutes, I'm not certain where this comment comes, but the whole interview is interesting]. Something she also mentioned yesterday when she talked about having only seen Carolee Schneemann's Fuses on UbuWeb in a low quality streamed form before she wrote FUSES.]

David Annwn, whose name I think I misspelled in previous posts and will correct at a later date when I have time, gave a good performance. Though for me slightly challenging. Slightly challenging in that sometimes his work felt like it was coming perilously close to being shallow and smug - although it never did. I find it hard to explain what I mean. It's like when very conventional poets try to be clever and do a few things referencing Eliot, Stein, and some obvious twentieth century artists, but end up writing confined 'literary' work that's very self-satisfied but not very adventurous. Anyway, I've gone on about it too long. He wasn't like that at all, but at times it felt like he could easily topple over that way. As a matter of fact, getting to the point a little late, he was really good, and gave a very committed performance. This highlighted two things. Relatively slow moments were drawn attention too by the fact that his performance lifted you through any lacunae. And his work really took off at those moments when language, myth, and ideas take over from whatever the notional idea was and cause the poem to stumble and collapse in on itself. A kind of poetry of entropy I guess.

[2 Oct 8 Now David Annwn I've done a real disservice to with the review above, it's brief and wanders off the point. He gave a really good, really committed performance of humour and intelligence, referencing a number of interesting twentieth century, and more contemporary writers and artists. But to an extent his work probably suffered in comparison to the multimedia nature of Joy As Tiresome Vandalism, and the radical nature of Caroline Bergvall's work, with which I'm pretty familiar. This last point indicates one of my misgivings about my own response which I failed to deal with yesterday - that perhaps I respond best to work that I'm most familiar with, and/or committed to. David Annwn has in common with Caroline Bergvall a fascination with multi-lingualism, or at least the running up of several languages against one another. And at this point in history even those like myself who only speak one language in fact speak with the traces of many languages. In everyday English the remnants and footprints of Latin, Greek, Fresian, and French are only the best known, along with loans from German, Japanese, Indian subcontinent languages and elsewhere. He also marshalls both traditional mythology, and the more contemporary myths of avant garde and other colourful personalities, without falling into the banalities of celebrity.]

Finally Caroline Bergvall, who in a couple of senses is the reason I was there. As explored ad nauseum here it was her Fig that really set me exploring the possibilities of what poetry could do. If it hadn't been for that push I wouldn't have done a random search for 'experimental poetry manchester', or something similar, and stumbled across the Openned promotion for The Other Room 2. And she was the major reason for attending this particular night - although I would have been there anyway. She read Via: 48 Dante Variations [Audio link 3/10/8] FUSES, two of her recent Chaucer pieces: The Summer Tale and Alyson Singes [3/10/8 You can ignore the link back here - the Charles Bernstein page at EPC looked most promising, but it takes ages to load and locks up my browser, so I can't recommend it], and a piece called I think Kroppe or Cropper - again, if someone can clear up the spelling I'd be really grateful. [2 Oct 8 - I'm indebted to Paul, who told me that it is in fact Cropper, and provided a link as proof. Thanks again for that. You see, sometimes people do read this stuff.] The biggest revelation for me was Via, especially how unusual and foreign-sounding the Victorian translations were in particular. They read extremely awkwardly, as though the translators were trying so hard to be faithful to an original text that was hundreds of years old in another language that they forgot how to use English along the way. FUSES was every bit as rhythmical and pacy as I thought it would be, and justified my approach in sex are not victim [3/10/8 Background to the piece here], in my opinion. It actually wasn't during that poem, but during the Chaucer pieces that I noticed how confident a fluid a performer she actually is. There were almost no hesitation, repetitions or stumbles along the way. They were, appropriately enough, very funny as well as very clever. The final piece mixed English and Norwegian, which was interesting to hear. It's especially interesting hearing two languages spoken together when there are ambiguities about certain words. When a particular word might be a word you know in your own language, or it might in fact be something that means something different in the other language.

All that said, although the performance was impressive and did shed new light on at least one of the pieces for me Caroline Bergvall had already knocked me off my feet earlier in the evening. I bought copies of parameter magazine (review to follow soon), and Caroline Bergvall's recent book Plessjør (see post below for cover and link). In the same way that she opened a way in to all sorts of experimental practices with Fig, with this book she suddenly opened up a way of approaching visual poetry that I think will help me get a handle on the form for myself. Although I've become familiar with current practitioners like Mike Cannell, David-Baptiste Chirot, Geof Huth and Troy Lloyd [3/10/8 and Nico Vassilakis, who was in the notebook, but somehow didn't make it here - go figure], and with others like bpNichol over the last five months - and although I did make some attempts early in the summer at visual poetry, I'd come to think that it was something I'd never manage. Turns out I was thinking too high-tech. I need to go back to inks and soft pencils, to paints and miscellaneous surfaces. I need to go analogue, as it were, and find out what I can feel in my hand and taste in my mouth. If I can't connect like that then there's no point. Just as there would be no point in copying what's in the book. I'm going to go off an experiment on my own for a bit.

And joy of joys, as you see below, The Other Room is back 3 December at the earlier time of 7pm with Scott Thurston, Tony Trehy, and Carol Watts. [3/10/8 Really, be there, or the shame will be on the heads of your children, and your children's children.]

[2 Oct 8 - There were a couple of things I wanted to discuss yesterday but never got round to because it was pretty late. The first and most important of these was my concern that my response to readers in this or any forum is coloured by what I already know of the work. Partly this was prompted by finding it difficult to understand a lot of what was going on in David Annwn's work, even though a lot of it was probably clearer that some of the work by Joy As Tiresome Vandalism, and certainly by Caroline Bergvall. Attentive readers may also have noticed that a common tic I have in reviews of poetry performances is to say that I'd like to see it on the page to better understand it. Now this is kind of a code, but it's a very broad code. Sometimes it means just that, that I liked the work on the whole, but didn't really get everything from it I wanted, and would like to see it in a different form where I could familiarise myself with it at my leisure. But it can also mean that the poetry was dull, or that the performance was dull, or that both the poetry and the performance were dull, or that frankly it was bloody awful but I'm too much of a wuss to come out and say it. But back to the point. There's probably no way round this dilemma, even when you like new sensations and testing yourself you will still often find yourself gravitating to things that you are more familiar with, and that you feel comfortable with. And of course the more familiar you are with a piece already the less hard you have to concentrate to get anything from it. But perhaps it might have been better if David Annwn had really annoyed me - after all it was only through trying to figure out what irritated me about Caroline Bergvall's work that I figured out that it was a combination of difficulty, unfamiliarity, and a challenge to the artistic values I'd accepted largely unquestioningly for years. Ultimately leading me to appreciate the work much more.

One of the other things I wrote in my notebook was that I often feel like my understanding of the work I like is quite shallow. I'm not wholly sure that I properly understand it, or that I could even ask intelligent questions if someone said interview this writer. I still read, react to pieces, write and perform in a very visceral and instinctive way. I act or respond, and think about it later. I can't decide whether this matters. Probably not, as I do a great deal of analysis afterwards, but nonetheless, when people are all around wielding their vocabulary like a light-sabre and showing off their
avant garde familiarity I can't help but feel marginalised.

Finally, although we didn't really talk for any length of time, another of the tutors at Bolton, Zoe Lambert
(after Matthew Welton last time) who takes the fiction group, was at The Other Room this time. I'll provide links to her published work etc on the weekend. None of the other students though. I've seen one at The Other Room 2, and a couple of the BA students were there, but none of them have been again that I'm aware of. I will continue to make space in my diary for it as long as it continues though - I'm going to cling on to it like a security blanket. [3/10/8 Also there was Geraldine Monk, who read at the first event, which I missed.]]

4 Oct 8 - PS
A welcome comment on this post from James, which I'll feature in full:

We can't and wouldn't ever want to change the poetry but the night is definitely meant to be all inclusive in terms of conversation after and during. I agree that a problem with conceptual work is that often it is referential to a whole bunch of stuff - and this should if possible not be obscure but be more generalised in my opinion - be about the poetry, not about some obscure and often mundane interest. I can only see it as exciting to make discoveries but if the poetry is simply finding out the answer to some pompous riddle then screw it."

I wholly agree with this, although sometimes from my quasi-mystical ramblings you might find it difficult to tell. It also draws attention to something I hadn't noticed, which is that the post read as though I were suggesting that some of the audience and some of the poets at The Other Room were occupying some rareified space of pure poetry and concept. Or worse still as though I were the subject of the post, a plucky outsider bringing back despatches from an anthropological field trip. Neither of these is true. I have found the atmosphere welcoming and friendly, there is no need to arm yourself with a field guide to the avant-garde and conceptualism, and I enjoy going because the poetry's good. Every time I've been it's been very well attended. My only regret is that with my appalling shyness I don't talk to more people - and on a night like this one, with no friends or family in support, didn't feel able to go along to the 'after-party' - my problem and nobody else's. As it is this has to be my main method for participating in that conversation and communicating my excitement about the work.



Anonymous said…
It's Cropper

Anonymous said…
I've been a Bergvall fan for a couple years and enjoy hearing audio of her reading at PennSound and UbuWeb.

Paul Baker
Madison, Wisconsin
Matt Dalby said…
Paul, many thanks for that, I'll alter the main post when I get the chance.

Having a lot of audio from Audiatur at home I probably should have known. I haven't yet tried listening at PennSound, since I tend to use UbuWeb mainly, but I'll check that out.

Thanks again for your help, it's much appreciated.
Unknown said…

We can't and wouldn't ever want to change the poetry but the night is definitely meant to be all inclusive in terms of conversation after and during. I agree that a problem with conceptual work is that often it is referential to a whole bunch of stuff - and this should if possible not be obscure but be more generalised in my opinion - be about the poetry, not a about some obscure and often mundane interest. I can only see it as exciting to mae discoveries but if the poetry is simply finding out the answer to some pompous riddle then screw it.

Matt Dalby said…

I absolutely agree with you, and it's one of the things that I love about The Other Room and a lot of the work I've stumbled across this year. Making discoveries, and finding out why you react in particular ways to certain work immensely rewarding and enjoyable. Unfortunately in my post I haven't been very clear, and what was meant to be a more general point does appear to be about this night specifically. This is something that I find in mainstream poetry nights, and have even engaged in with friends some years ago. It will be worthwhile modifying the main post to reflect this.

Oh, and thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read what's become quite an unwieldy review.
troylloyd said…
hellyeah man, analog is the way to go (my opinion is only my opinion) : but, the feeling seems to come thru more when one gets one's hands dirty & it becomes a shamanistic ritual activity, i'll even say magic, yes it's magic : like Brion Gysin rubbing out the WORD etc etc & soforth.

esp. atta time when conceptual/computer-generated poetries are on the rise, i think human-made poetries (both visual & text) contain a resonance which machines cannot replicate & even sometimes when we're forced to use digitized mediums to transfer works into that format, a little is lost, those little jaggies can cause a slight corruption & hi-res can only be achieved via an encounter in-the-flesh w/ the thing itself.

but, you might say, if that's true, isn't it just a continuation of bad romanticism & reification of the author?

maybe so, but dammit, where has high-theory gotten us? it has gotten us to think in broader & more particular terms, but it has also instigated a fear-like quality of appearing ignorant about the function of writing, where people may actually be afraid they'll be deemed barbarians for suggesting disagreements w/ many of the currents flowing thru all that
difficult-to-digest theory & some folks have specially-made high-horses & throw out profound quotes like it's raining seagull shit,

i mean, i dig the shit, i love Derrida especially b/c his play & his open debt to Mallarme ingratiate him to me, but as stated above about inclusive practices, to read Derrida & to grasp Derrida requires one to be familiar w/ all the other people he brings into the picture etc., philosophy breeds philosophy & poetry breeds poetry, when they are conjoin'd i think it's a beautiful thing.

i was in Alaska & saw totem poles made by the Haida peoples, they made the color orange by crushing salmon eggs & mixing w/ saliva, much of the original paint is still vibrant, i personally like the totemic aspect of things, it all depends on our worldviews & what we think existence is or requires, everybody has their own unique prescription & the best recipes are usually home-made w/ hands of love in love & for the love of it, amateurs will always have more resonance than professionals simply b/c it's two different games play'd in two different leagues...etc

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