Sunday, 24 January 2010
I’ve written elsewhere about the hegemonic nature of the British poetry scene (and no doubt I’ll come back to the topic again) but a week of listening to the works of the finalists for the TS Eliot prize on Radio 4’s Today program made it only too clear what’s at stake. If I had to nominate what was just plain wrong about so much of this work I could do no better than to quote a line or so from Hugo Williams’ volume West End Final (Faber, if you need to ask). A piece concerning a failed relationship notes that a tea towel was ‘draped over a chair like your signature’. In my semi- comatose state I wondered how a signature could be draped over a chair. Then as I came to my senses I realised that Williams was simply unaware of what the language he was making use of was actually doing. He’d thought up a simile and just plonked it in the poem without regard for where it might lead. Like just about anyone who becomes eligible for an award like the Eliot (or, more correctly, anyone who is allowed past the poetry establishment’s gatekeepers), Williams is adept (if that’s the word) at using the signifiers of ‘poetry’ without finally producing what I’d call a poem.
Friday, 22 January 2010
Yesterday I caught the Royal Academy’s show of Gill, Epstein and Gaudier-Brzeska, ‘Wild Thing’, also in its last week. Cramped in three smallish rooms with a still sizeable audience the exhibition at times made me think of Ad Reinhardt's famous statement: that sculpture is what you bump into when you stand back to look at a painting. There were indeed works on paper by all three artists but you had to navigate between these and the pieces on the plinths. Gaudier was, alas, to die within a couple of years, but since the show concentrates on work these artists did in the few years before the First World War they are placed more or less on equal footing. I’d say that Gaudier comes off the best of the three. Wonderful works like the fish swallowing a bird together with the sketches make the viewer wonder what this artist might have produced. His head of Ezra Pound (middle above) is larger than I’d imagined from viewing reproductions. What is initially astounding about the work of all three artists is the overwhelmingly phallic nature of the works, from Gaudier’s head of Pound and his ‘Birds Erect’ through to Epstein’s ‘Rock Drill’ (top above) which seems to grant the stone figure an immense prosthetic penis (Gill’s personal propensities gave his perhaps less obviously phallic objects their own overtones). All three artists produced work of considerable power nonetheless. Gill’s work (bottom above) has perhaps dated more than the others but for reasons that are not entirely his fault. To the present viewer Gill’s pieces have the slightly false sleekness of Art Deco though of course they were shaped some ten years before the French exhibition that gave that style its name.
Wednesday, 20 January 2010
The year’s first Shearsman launch was a smallish gathering, possibly since a Blue Bus reading was scheduled for the same time (a hazard in a place that hosts so many events). Tom Lowenstein read from Conversation with Murasaki, a book I’d taken with me to Oňati in November, and John Welch’s Visiting Exile, his first full-length book since the Collected Poems, was hot off the press. I went in via Tate Britain’s Turner and the Masters exhibition, now in its last weeks. It was a well put together show in which the subject often came out second best. With competition like Poussin, Rembrandt, Ruisdael, Richard Wilson, Bonington and even Claude this was no wonder. Turner’s figures are often far from satisfactory though with clouds, waves and sunlight he’s hard to beat.
Wednesday, 13 January 2010
As the last few entries show the weather around here has put poetry activities on hold. I would have liked to get to last Thursday’s Crossing the Line reading featuring Peter Philpott and Trevor Joyce but since the last train out of London for these parts left around 9.30 this wasn’t really possible (and since both readers were coming from elsewhere I’m not entirely sure whether or not the reading went ahead). Yesterday afternoon I was fortunate enough to get a lift in to Eltham College with Ian Brinton where he took part together with Will Rowe and Lee Harwood in a session devoted to Lee’s work. It’s immensely gratifying that a poet of Lee’s stature has finally made it onto the reading lists for the upper sixth. Lee read a range of pieces from forty years work then Will Rowe contextualised the work making the important point that modernism was by no means a finished project. Ian Brinton zoned in on a particular poem (‘For Paul/Coming out of Winter’). There was time at the end for questions and these, coming mostly from the students, were heartening in their openness to experience. Thanks to their own readings and to the efforts of their teachers the poetry world was not, for them, the closed shop it has become for so many others.