Thursday, 11 March 2010
I’ve spent a goodly part of these last two weeks at poetry readings in London: all of them well worth the return ticket. Last night’s launch of Infinite Difference however was the crowning glory. The subtitle of Carrie Etter’s anthology, ‘Other Poetries by UK Women Poets’ refers to Ric Caddel and Peter Quartermain’s 1999 anthology, Other: British and Irish Poetry Since 1970, in that ‘other’ here doesn’t mean ‘alien’ or even ‘oppositional’, just poetry that of its nature has not found a comfortable place in the shortlists or the weekly literary supplements. Etter’s introduction deals succinctly with the question occasionally asked: ‘why another collection focussing on women?’ The paradox of the last few decades is that while a number of women poets have been more or less ‘admitted to the canon’ the alternative poetry scene seemed to be run largely by men. When Reality Street put out its 1996 anthology Out of Everywhere it was making a long overdue statement. Things have undoubtedly improved since then but the test of whether an anthology should go ahead should still be the commitment and desire of the editor(s) and the poets included. Out of Everywhere was reissued a couple of years ago but there was clearly a need for a new gathering and Infinite Difference takes on the task magnificently. Of the twenty-five poets included, fourteen read last night to a packed Swedenborg Hall and Tony Frazer’s suitcase would have gone home to Exeter considerably lighter. The readers were Sascha Akhtar, Isobel Armstrong, Caroline Bergvall, Andrea Brady, Claire Crowther, Catherine Hales, Frances Kruk, Rachel Lehrman, Redell Olson, Frances Presley, Sophie Robinson, Lucy Sheerman, Zoë Skoulding, and Harriet Tarlo. Here are photos of some of them together with Marianne Morris (a contributor herself)’s fine cover.
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Last night’s Blue Bus reading featured Tim Allen (top) and Philip Kuhn (lower), both in town from Devon (‘Plymouth, it’s a self-governed area’ in Allen’s case, the edge of Dartmoor in Kuhn’s). Allen read from work preceding and following his book of prose poems Settings and Kuhn read from his own small press work including paradoxes becoming (artwork by the poet).
The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne where I grew up and spent a large part of my life has a substantial and often surprising collection. Substantial because the Felton Bequest made it by far the most remunerated gallery in Australia; surprising because, despite largely conservative governing bodies up until the late fifties, there was always a maverick like Darryl Lindsay prepared to chance something different. Because of this the NGV has in its collection one of Paul Nash’s late solstice/equinox paintings. There’s another in the Walker Gallery in Liverpool, one in Ottowa and a further work in the Queen’s Collection, London (top, above). The last two of these were on display at Dulwich Picture Gallery’s show ‘Paul Nash: The Elements’. People tend to argue one way or another as to whether Nash was a Surrealist or a Neo-Romantic. What is clear from an overview of his work is that elements of the uncanny were present from the beginning. An early pen and ink work, ‘The Cliff to the North’ (1912) with its elongated shadow in the foreground anticipates De Chiroco’s similar presences. But rather than see these works as Surrealist avant la lettre, they could perhaps be viewed as latter-day products of Symbolism, redolent perhaps of Redon. Then again Nash’s training as an illustrator would have given certain access to an already weird world of English book design. It’s easy enough to play around with categories but what this ignores is the consistency of Nash’s development. Right at the beginning he was drawing Wittenham Clumps, the landscape feature that returns in the solstice paintings produced in the mid forties, a year or two before his death. The Dulwich exhibition offers much to meditate on and includes Nash’s photography (lower, above) as well as the paintings and graphic works.
Thursday, 4 March 2010
In Melbourne or Sydney I counted myself fortunate if I attended one good poetry reading a month (in Brisbane make that six months). This week I’ve been to three readings, all of them worthwhile. Last night’s, which clinched the trifecta, was my first Crossing the Line reading for the year (weather and unavoidable circumstances meant that I missed the first two).This one featured Anthony Mellors (below) and Robert Sheppard (top). Mellors’ Gordon Brown sonnets were intriguing though he spent an inordinate amount of time explaining and digressing. I would have enjoyed coming across the often hilarious footnotes while reading the book but in the circumstances of a reading they tended to lose the poems themselves. Robert Sheppard read (in the first bracket) from Warrant Error, another appropriately political poem in this pre-election lull. I’ve heard him read from this before. He is a powerful reader and the effect (from a poem that is quite dense and compacted) was one of great clarity.
Wednesday, 3 March 2010
Last night’s Shearsman reading featuring Mexican poet Elsa Cross (top left) took place across town at Wesminster Kingsway College in the Pimlico area. Cross, whose Selected Poems came out last year read with two of her translators, Anamaria Crowe Serrano (top right) and Ruth Fainlight (below). Tony Frazer read for the translators who were unable to be there. The Shearsman volume is the first substantial collection of Cross’s work in English and focuses on longer poems and serial works.
Tuesday, 2 March 2010
I seem to have blacked out when the 3.28 to St Pancras passed under the Thames though I remember clearly enough Dexter Gordon playing on the i-pod. I was on my way to hear the pair Harry Gilonis labelled ‘the Ollie and Stan of the New British Poetry’: Iain Sinclair and Brian Catling. This event at the Swedenborg Hall was the result of researches the pair conducted in the Society’s archives, most of it in an extensive and bunker-like basement below the Hall (some of their work was displayed in the bookshop at the front of the building). To the side of the stage next to the bust of the great man was the image of a nineteenth-century audience (above), while projected on the back wall was an article on mesmerism. After some early twentieth-century footage of a mesmerist Iain Sinclair read a piece on Swedenborg in England and the Blakean connection. Brian Catling spoke of the archives themselves before the gradually coalescing image of a bookshelf. This was followed by a series of old lantern slides with some sharp (and sharpened) images among those that had succumbed almost completely to their chemistry. After this Sinclair identified many of the individuals featured in the image shown here, then produced a cheap old camera and proceeded to photograph the interior, the audience, the furnishings, the lighting. Catling stepped up to a table on the stage on which, throughout the proceedings, had sat a crystal ball (was this an aspect of the esoteric nature of Swedenborgianism?). On finishing the film Sinclair passed Catling the camera which he placed on a wooden block then smashed to pieces with the crystal ball. He removed the film from the shattered plastic and ate it with the aid of a glass of water. We were invited to wine and supper in the basement but as this proved somewhat claustrophobic I headed back to Faversham. The carriage p.a. repeated ‘if you see anything suspicious please report it to a member of staff immediately’. I saw a full moon over the Rainham Marshes.