Santa seems to have lost air pressure . . .
Monday, 8 December 2008
Bureaucrats have their uses. Our cultural institutions couldn’t function without them (and I have to admit that I have myself benefited from some arts organisations). But the relationships between the various arts and their funding and broadcasting bodies have some significant differences. Imagine, for example, how visual artists would feel if their supporting frameworks were run by Sunday painters. This probably sounds like a ridiculous fancy. Yet consider the comparative situation of poetry. Most of the quangos that form what meagre support base poetry has, are populated by just this kind of person. I won’t use the word ‘amateur’ here because, often enough, the Sunday painters of the poetry world are the ones who consider themselves ‘professionals’. Running an institution or a magazine is just part of the structure that confirms them as artists. If you need to ask you’ll find that, sure enough, those heading Poetry Societies, those in paid positions in Poets’ Unions etcetera, almost all fit this bill. They are, of their nature, good at filling in forms, good at all the institutional aspects of the art world. These poetry bureaucrats don’t necessarily sign their own cheques (there are others of similar job description who will do this for them). But they do, often enough, shape the landscape. The world of poetry created by them is often enough the world that review journals like the TLS and LRB seem to accept as the only one. Why is this so? It all seems to come back to that sense that since written language is shared by many of us we are all de facto experts. Is the fag end of romanticism reconstituting itself as bureaucracy?
Friday, 5 December 2008
In a recent public service email Harry Gilonis made a plea for all concerned to find their way to Roehampton University for the (second) launch-reading of The Reality Street Book of Sonnets. If Londoners in the avant scene found it difficult to get to an event in Battersea (as Harry noted ruefully) how on earth would they deal with a place somewhere to the south of Barnes overground station? Well, some of them made it to the Duchesne Building (opened in 2006 by Cherie Blair QC) and the volume was duly launched, albeit without copies of the item itself. The photos above show some of the participants before the reading started. The first includes an unknown photographer, John Gibbens, Tim Atkins, Harry Gilonis, Simon Smith, Richard Makin and unknown. The second features Richard Makin, Gavin Selerie, Keith Jebb, Jeff Hilson, Sophie Robinson and Peter Jaeger. We read in two brackets, this time in reverse chronology. First off Sophie Robinson, followed by Sean Bonney (who also read Stephen Rodefer), Jeff Hilson (Giles Goodland), Tim Atkins (Lisa Jarnot and Bernadette Mayer), Simon Smith (Peter Riley), Richard Makin, and Peter Jaeger (featuring fellow Canadian Paul Dutton). After a break came John Gibbens, Keith Jebb (Johan de Wit), Harry Gilonis (Kathleen Fraser, Elizabeth James and Maurice Scully), Gavin Selerie (Geraldine Monk) and myself (fellow Australian Michael Farrell). Jeff Hilson ended the evening with work by publisher Ken Edwards who was unaccountably delayed. There was indeed life in the sonnet, even if those at my end of the age spectrum come scarily close to the Bus Pass. The feeling of creeping age may well have been reinforced by a visit late in the afternoon to the V&A exhibition ‘Cold War Modern: Design 1945-1970’. If you can remember serious talk about fallout shelters, this one’s for you. The exhibition tracks the course of Cold War rivalries through postwar anxiety, art in the service of capital (or Das Kapital), the competition to be modern, the art, architecture and cinema of fear, the space race, the use of new materials in fashion and the anti-authoritarian movements of the sixties. What seems irrecoverable from all this is the sense of utopia. Its absence induces a kind of nostalgia yet we know too much about it now to wish for its return.
Monday, 1 December 2008
For those of my readers outside of the UK this is a public service announcement. The lollipop site is as good a place as any to check out the British small presses and their doings. It was started by the late Bill Griffiths, poet, early English scholar, bikie, and computer whiz. Currently the wonderful Glasgow poet Peter Manson is at the helm.