Sunday, 10 December 2006

What I bought at the Book Fair (briefly, for Thomas)

(That would be the Small Publishers' Fair, at the Conway Hall in London, way back on Saturday 21 October.)
My favourite book artists, for want of a better term that would encompass these two rather different makers, one dedicated to image, the other to type. Both subtle and refined perfectionists.
From Helen Douglas (weproductions), now able to print directly on, or rather into, fine tissue paper from a computer, which extends the potential of her work. Glyph, a single-section pamphlet, 3 folios sewn in a plain card cover. The prints are square, photographs of a water surface (pond? or even a flooded meadow) with short points of grass or reeds poking though, and reflecting. They are colour images but (?)highly exposed and appear almost black while the water has 'evaporated' completely: the effect is reminiscent of textual marks (as suggested by the title). I'm a sucker for anything like that. Meanwhile, the depth and recession achieved by the tissue (and perfect registration of the image of course) is enhanced by the way that the ink has gone right into it so that the verso of every image is a mirror-version almost as sharp; thus again this is like a proper book -- with text on every page -- not just a sequence of prints on rectos only. Like everything Helen does, Glyph is beautiful and exact.
I still haven't put away the one I bought from Helen at last year's Fair: Loch. A series of circular vignettes (but largeish -- 8 cm. diameter); photographs printed b/w, in this case bringing out linear patterns: verticals, horizontals and zig-zags, of water ripples and reeds, with here a white swan, there a reflected tree ... They resemble enlarged wood engravings of microscopic slides, and fingerprints, and planets; floating on a tall page. The leaves are bound in a folded Japanese format and stiff black boards with a white title label. This book is a whole meditation kit, all you need; and anyone who doesn't buy it, for a mere £8, is missing something. (Pictures are on the website as above.)
From Colin Sackett.
typd. Another tall thin book (20 x 10 cm.); an exercise in minimalism, which rings changes in hues tonally somewhat reminiscent of Neapolitan ice-cream (khaki, Wedgwood blue, black, pink), on a short text (further shortened by omission of letters) reiterated across the gutter of each opening. It's a very pretty book, but the exploration is austere.
TransLATER Sacket (I have no idea if that's the title: it's on the front cover that way). The (sur)names of Henry Moore, Hans Arp and Herbert Read are cycled with the words French, English, Lost and Found, to create new formulations that look like titles (Read FRENCHMoore; Arp LOST work, etc.) in the typography of (??)Penguin books of the '50s: bold sans caps; with also an element of HMSO government publications, in the coarse grey paper and buff wrappers.
onsixpagestoday is one of Colin's more copious texts: a double-column alphabetical sequence throughout, in a handsome italic sans face, of (most often) fifteen-letter phrases; but some are longer if roughly the right length in points. E.g.: dealinginletttters, ebayarmsdealer, goingdownthetip, pickitupdropitoff. A blurb I can't lay hands on referred to something like 'a bad-tempered auctioneer', and the cover image is of a cattle market (empty). I have no idea what motivated this fascinating book.
From Moschatel Press I bought two of quite a few 2006 titles. By Laurie Clark, Ragged Robin, a sequence of 6 coloured drawings of that flower, in specimen portrait mode (i.e. not as growing in the ground). Though it might seems that the book form here is merely a handy container for a set of images, a sequential dynamic is at work, to do with the number of flowering heads and buds.
By Thomas A. Clark, Names (132 x 92 mm.) of which mainly I couldn't resist the dust-jacket, with its colour photograph of a green woodland with silver birches, shrubs and bracken. The names in question are those of things in the natural world. During my day-and-a-half away in the country this weekend, I have been thinking about how impossible it seems to bring the non-verbal experience of nature, place and landscape, into the poem machine. I think I need a precomposed corpus to work from. But this little poem perhaps points to simple vocabulary as already text, for 'gather[ing] things around you' etc., which of course it is.
I bought books by three of this year's Poetic Practice MA students at Royal Holloway. Sophie Robinson's lovesic is roughly 12 cm. square, full of messy text and imagery generated by the look of it from several media/techniques including hand drawing, manual typewriter, photoshopped image and physical collage. Very Writers Forum, and we like that. The text is all 'mucus-hearted and gloopy-headed' (till the very end, when it goes into a nice 2-page spread of a single line repetition) but I seem to recall that Sophie gave a very convincing reading of it at the Fair. Bright pink cover.
In Octets, Kirsten McGarrie (as far as I know) invents a new poetic form, and it's not everyone that does that. Each page has 3 parallel versions of the same triplet, which starts out life as a set of (very unusual) 8-letter words (e.g. toplofty, arbalest, dystocia etc.), then a numeric version based on assigning values to the letters, a=1, z = 26 (e.g. 88.89.87); then these in turn are converted into binary octets: (e.g. 01011110.01000001.01100110). The book has a narrow calendar format. 12 x 22 cm. , with black tape at spine, cream covers. I'm not sure that this is very profound work, but I've never seen anything quite like it, and I enjoy its aesthetic very much. The font looks like an enlarged version of the old typewriter face I used to be fond of as Letter Gothic.
Graeme Estry's poem in new york is a 'kitbook', to be cut and folded from a single A4 sheet of blue paper, ending up around 48 x 74 mm. Paging one way through, you read all the poems, the other way, see the photographs. It's low-tech and modest, but ingenious too, and the cutting and folding instructions are clear and economical (even I could get it right, and I'm diagram-blind). And the pictures and text are exactly as good as they need to be.
I also earmarked Rosheen Brennan's book to buy, but then forgot to, so can't describe it well now. It combined photography, text overlaid in such a way that it looked as if it was part of the photographed scene, and then cut-outs that gave you a different look at the same material. Very well conceived, and not badly executed considering the ambitious design and short time available: the Fair is only a few weeks after the beginning of their first term, but course leader Redell Olsen insists that the students all get a book made and editioned in time for it!

Wednesday, 8 November 2006

e and eye: art and poetry between the electronic and the visual

'e and eye' is an interesting short series of free presentations / discussions taking place at Tate Modern, London, peripatetic within the permanent-collection galleries after they close to the public on Monday evenings. They are intended to explore and discuss 'the relationship between the visual, the poetic and the electronic in art', with particular reference to those aspects of digital or new-media art that might fall within some definition of 'electronic poetry', but reflecting also some of the specific art movements and work represented in the Tate's current new re-hang. In practice, a wide range of digital and multimedia art has been shown and talked about. An extensive blog-site gives details of all participants, includes texts or summaries of some of their presentations, and also includes new commissioned essays by several 'virtual theorists', together with the opportunity for anyone to add comments or start an independent discussion.
I took part in last week's session (30 October). The evening began in the room for Cubism, Futurism and Vorticism, with Tim Mathews (professor of French at University College, London) talking about the Calligrammes of Apollinaire, with reference to A's involvement in the contemporary visual arts we could see around us. Tim proposed a crucial question about visual literature: Is it (can it be) a truly critical form? or is it confined usually to the impressionistic?
I gave brief presentations of work by the venerable e-poet Jim Rosenberg (US), who explores interactive, diagrammatic layouts (also varieties of 'simultaneity')
and by the digital-artist and/or 'code-poet' Ted Warnell (Canada), who produces astonishing images, often referencing modern art (including e.g. analytical cubism), purely through the means of writing code for an internet browser. My rubric was: 'How far can you go? boundaries of the visual in (e)poetry'. An extract of what I said about Ted's work is on his blog, mo'po.
We then moved to another part of the gallery, where Sharon Morris (London-based poet & artist), without discursive preamble, gave an accomplished and atmospheric staging to a sequence of her own poetry on the city (specifically London), performed off the page and accompanied by photography and film (taken digitally and intended for web distribution). It was also a cleverly site-specific presentation, both physically and thematically, relating to the 'City Symphonies' installation of several experimental art films in the gallery. Demonstrating that one response to doubts about the visual word's limitations is to work in compound visual and verbal modes, potentially deepening rather than diluting the potentialities of both.
Work by the 'virtual practitioners' for the evening was then projected to full advantage inside the small dark screening room. Talan Memmott's Self-Portrait(s) [as Other(S)] is a comically apt recombinant montage, visual and textual, of famous artist self-portraits and art-historical tropes of artist biography, whose accessibility perhaps belied its technical virtuosity: Talan has long been acknowledged as a major figure in digital art/poetry.
Maria Mencia's 'Cityscapes' offers a rich and highly interactive, Flash based 'Make your own' montage, using a plethora of imagery and texts from city streets: advertising, road signs, graffiti etc. etc. (which Mencia calls 'new calligrams'), and also sounds (collected from vocalisations in many languages).
This piece demonstrates the potential for electronic arts to make social, public engagements, and is most attractive and optimistic; and as a bonus since Maria is based in London, she was able to be present and talk about it too.
The cross-currents and questions raised by the session as a whole were to ponder, as are those emerging from the whole series. The last session is next Monday, 13 November, 18:30-20:00, Tate Modern. (Free.)

Thursday, 2 November 2006

*Bad typewriter book

I hereby condemn C.A. Forget's Margin Release (NY: 3x5 Books, c1976). It consists of a bunch of 5x3 cards printed with, I'm now inclined to feel, really quite dull typewriter 'mats'. But the unforgiveable thing is that this collection was packaged (presumably as issued) in an unpleasant plastic wallet; and just now as I stood on a stool putting away Lotto by Kaia Sand, on the top shelf where the tiny books go, I discovered that this wallet had adhered itself tightly to the next book along -- the precious Ideas on the Culture Dreamed Of by Allen Fisher (Spanner, 1982) (also typewriter-typeset, and miniaturised). As I started gently to peel the two apart, fibre from the Fisher's yellow cover card, and ink from its author-designed motifs (which are matched on red end-papers), adhered to the plastic. I proceeded above a boiling kettle (possibly it would have been wiser to heat an oven ring) and managed to preserve the total design of the cover (the front, alas, as Fi precedes Fo), but most of the images are greyed, and the whole surface is now rough, and vulnerable to dirt, & more damage.

Sunday, 22 October 2006

Women's books (&c)

Two weeks ago was the excellent Cambridge Experimental Women's Poetry festival, a project of, of which I attended two days. I reported to the ukpoetry list, and Elizabeth Treadwell kindly requested to post it on her blog, so please see her Secret Mint.
These are the books I came away with.

Emily Critchley, When I Say I Believe Women ... (Bad Press), 2006)
23 pp. A5 stapled. Cover art incl. col. ill. by Marianne Morris. Strong paratextual articulation of the page, with foot- and side notes, and columnar layouts. These features of the scholarly page (dating from before print), together with the caption title leading straight into the text, and some retained deletions, drive an exposition, the book has things to argue and work out with an intellectual passion.
Susana Gardner, To Stand to Sea (Tangent Press, 2006)
[3], xxxiv pp. 14 x 14 cm. stapled. Grey card cover with discreet glitters; title printed in gold, cover art by Elise Tomlinson. A small gorgeous book, numbered ed. of 100, but robust to be handled. Short sections of text looking variously like verse or prose or either, some Procrustean play with text width, no titles but grand Roman numerals like the Commandments on a church wall; i.e. a definitely visual approach to each piece (though a couple of recto-verso run-ons have not been avoided). As Thomas A. Clark has (I think) written, 'to learn to look at the sea is to learn to look', and part of Gardner's thematic here seems to be the experience in human relationship between what can be seen (or in some of her other words, gazed at, deciphered, spied) and the immense and sensate sea (which also 'sounds', in her emphasis on saying, telling, naming).
Carol Mirakove, Mediated (Factory School, 2006) (Heretical Texts series).
91 pp. 23 x 16.5 cm., perfect-bound paperback, shiny full-colour cover (design by the author).
This book shows you can transpose a good deal of the direct buzz of authorial typography into the materalities available to conventional trade book-making. Flicking through makes you want to read it, with its use of bold, oversize titles, varying type styles and densities, dispositions and ventilation of text (in a nice readable size); lots of numbers, abbreviations, punctuation, lists; and a section which by dint of overprinting a half-tone screen, pretty successfully reproduces a manuscript of mixed print and holograph. Well done the publisher. The work spits feathers, and they remain aloft.
Marianne Morris, A New Book From Barque Press, Which They Will Probably Not Print (Barque, 2006).
38 pp. A5 stapled. Col. cover image from a Jeff Wall photograph (contents page shows some poems reference Wall).
Great value this book: loads of words; some long lines run way too close to the edge (a good way). There are a few stanzaic arrangements, some use of indents and extra space within lines, but predominantly this poetry is typographically quite plain, just brilliant free verse lines, often of drastically differing lengths, that perform great readings for anyone willing to take them as such into voice. The copiousness is authentic.
Kaia Sand, Heart on a Tripod. [16] pp. 22 x 10 cm. stapled. Col. cover image by Jessica Berg Swanson.
Lotto. [32] pp. Roughly 10 x 10 cm. single stapled. Gold card cover (unique) and wax seal.
Both: numbered eds., of 100 and 33 respectively (Dusie, 2006.
Dusie chapbooks are as I understand it about enabling the author to make exactly the book they want, and in some cases they themselves manufacture it once its design has been realised by the publisher. Heart is a pleasingly tall thin book of widely spaced short lines, concerning (I think, at least in part) pace and rhythm and adaptation to physical limits in sport and life. Lotto, every copy of which has a different cover, also functions literally as a lottery ticket, with individual prizes (e.g. in my copy, a 10% discount on any other Dusie title). It also resembles a wallet (pocket-book), and I think concerns not only the small-scale state-endorsed gambling of popular lotteries but the relationship between finance and all the other probabilities that determine one's chances of a long, happy, healthy and prosperous life.

Saturday, 30 September 2006

First books: C

Lord, three weeks since last time. I'm really not cut out for a blogger ...
Carol Watts had an auspicious start this year, with a first collection published by Equipage and launched with a reading at the Runnymede Festival (at Royal Holloway College, Egham), on, I think, 23 April, 615 years to the day after the death of Elyenore Corp, a young woman whose memorial brass in a Devon church inspired the fifteen beautiful 14-line poems in Carol’s book.
The title alone, brass, running, quickly suggests a whole series of transformative levels, within and beyond language, matter and spirit. I can’t but think of the whole Hildegard of Bingen thing, that a few of us have messed with in verse, plus modern addresses to other medieval spiritual/mystic women, such as Jane Draycott’s and Lesley Saunders’s semi-documentary collaboration on Christina the Astonishing, who could fly (a lovely book, published by Peter Hay’s Two Rivers Press, with his illustrations, in 1998) or Alison Croggon on the endlessly weeping Margery Kempe, and others, in 'Specula’
. In Watts’s sequence, associations of the sea, ‘gulls / tacking before the wind’, ‘light / and its qualities’, the molten history of a brass, plus the reference to ‘the anchorage of one year’ suggests that Elyenore may have lived some kind of specifically spiritual rule; however I don't think it really matters. What here ‘brings breath to metal / as if the wind lifts her’ is an attainable if fugitive human joy in the sensational world and the body, channelled in the imaginary by the poet. I find it delicately and yet robustly achieved, the writing very rich but remaining fluid, turning from one thing to another, including some fragments of contemporary text and apparently particular historical references, always thinking and composing as well as riding a flow of impressions:

... think of the sound of light as
a guttering of limbs its rush a hunger
to sustain the evidence of breathing snatched
from other open mouths the denial
of burning is not harmless she is not here
is something inflammatory baptism: light
and water implicated in the frenzy of cities
(from ‘IX’)

Carol Watts, brass running (Cambridge: Equipage, c/o Rod Mengham, Jesus College, Cambridge CB5 8BL,.2006). £3 post free.

Monday, 4 September 2006

First books: B (overdue post ...)

Rosemary Stretch is not Betsy Fagin’s first chapbook, but I think her first since coming to England from the US. It’s ten small numbered poems, arranged in a variety of stanzaic and visual groupings; tonally calm and abstract they seem delicate, veiled reflections on identity and a life, gathered and dispersed, rigid and fluid, linked and alien (‘venusian’) -- every relation seems fissured with ambivalence expressed in profound (yet remarkably unobtrusive) linguistic ambiguities. Documentation and sensation are among disturbing reassurances of one’s particular existence. There is also a wider world of the broken, despised, downtrodden, inflicted, of devastation and contempt, in which the self is implicated (‘everybody / regimes oppressive from time to time’) and I don’t know why these large complications don’t overbalance the poetry’s subtle poise but they don’t.
This is lovely work and impossible to excerpt, but happily it is on the web: the book is part of the Dusie kollektiv project, a poetry publishing project that embraces web distribution while retaining the potential for the book as a material medium, that often characterised small press poetry. This one is cleanly and carefully designed by the poet for its modest production niche, with a sweet cover image (for which, and the title, I don’t have a reading). I like it that a stapled A5 pamphlet adopts the Japanese format (i.e. the fold is at the fore-edge) which gives body and opacity without needing special paper. I think that there’s a small (numbered) print edition, and otherwise it’s PYO, to read on- or off-line, in print or not, as you like, for free.
Available at

Word Into Art (timely post for Jeff)

Made it to the British Museum today for the last day of the exhibition, ‘Word Into Art: Artists of the Modern Middle East’ (in the upper level of the old BM Reading Room of blessed memory). 80 artists from all over the Middle East (or whose parents were), also Islamic North Africa and even Japan and China, each represented by one or two works in a very manageable show in 4 overlapping sections: ‘Sacred Script’, modern instantiations of the tradition of Islamic Arabic inscription in several distinct styles; ‘Literature and Art’, where the tradition opens to secular content; ‘Deconstructing the Word’, where since the 1940s forms of writing appear as elements of abstraction or association in the visual arts, and the rather different ‘Identity, History and Politics’, where writing shows as pervasive, rather than central, to the view of the modern world explored by engaged contemporary artists in painting, print and mixed media / collage. The show is full of fabulous things and gives rise to lots of ideas about text/image, which if I try to ponder now, this won’t get posted (how does Ron Silliman do it??) ... There's a batch of large sculptures by the Iranian Parviz Tanavoli, all versions of a Persian word ('heech' = nothing'), and throughout, play of scale is striking: juxtapositions of large and small, even micrographic. One intriguing and to me unexpected component is magic: amulets, magic squares .... One of the most exciting things was slightly at a tangent to the rest, the only instance of electronic media, a miniaturised video projection by the Israeli / American Michal Rovner, that created, from film of people moving to and fro, rows and columns of textlike forms creepy-crawling on the pages of a notebook.
There’s a web version of the exhibition at and also a lovely catalogue (pbk only £12) (with a staesmanlike preface by the BM’s impressive director, Neil Macgregor).

Sunday, 20 August 2006

Illustrating Dylan (My souvenir of Biggar)

A photographer called Mark Edwards has published a book of photographs, each illustrating a line from Bob Dylan’s ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’. I opened it at ‘I met a young child beside a dead pony’, with a picture of exactly that (a scene of drought in Namibia) and picked up a general objective of concern about climate change and concern for ‘sustainable development’, in essays by Edwards and Lloyd Timberlake. Mostly I was transfixed by the story of Edwards, lost in the Sahara in 1969 (at the very moment of the moon landing), rescued by a Tuareg tribesman who made him a cup of tea and played him a cassette of Bob singing that song. Well, it would change anyone’s life, wouldn’t it? I shelled out the extravagant £15, some of which hopefully goes to some related good cause, but few of the images have that wow factor as illustrations to the lyric, and they are variably related to the socio-economic theme (e.g. the ‘white man who walked a black dog’ is in a grainy picture captured anonymously at Abu Ghraib, and the ‘girl [who] gave me a rainbow’ is Edwards's little blonde god-daughter on a trampoline in her green, (presumably English) garden, shaking out irridescent bubbles from a pot. I don’t really care for the enterprise artistically: it doesn’t add up to much for anyone other than the person who has made a hobby of collecting of images that resonate with the lyric, and it’s clunky to insist on finding some literal correlative to every one in this series of dreams. As for the association with a Cause, that is against Dylan’s spirit, as we understand it, no?
Coincidentally, Len had reminded me when we visited him & Judith a couple of days before, of the Getty Museum book (that I also own) which juxtaposes details of James Ensor’s painting, ‘Christ’s Entry Into Brussels’, 1888, with the lyric of ‘Desolation Row’. It’s also naff in some ways, especially the Word Art-style text design, but at least has a certain speculative aesthetic coherence, in that (of course) neither element can be thought of as illustrating the other.
Still, the pictures in Edwards’s book are mostly good and interesting, the project’s fervent good intentions are infectious; the texts are informative about the current state of international progress (lack of) and policies on development and the environment and there’s a useful bibliography. Then, this book overtly invites the reader actually to take action as a result of reading it, and includes suggestions about what and how: inform yourself, change your own lifestyle, campaign.
Mark Edwards, Lloyd Timberlake. Hard Rain: Our Headlong Collision With Nature. London: Still Pictures Moving Words, 2005. ISBN: 1-905588-00-3
In Biggar (where they have moved the Ian Hamilton Finlay sundial again) the independent, nice bookshop is called Atkinson-Pryce.

Explicating Joyce in Edinburgh

In a hot room above a pub, fitted out with church pews, a typical Fringe venue, an American called Adam Harvey performs Finnegans Wake Chapter 7, 'Shem the Penman', all the way from, ‘Shem is as short for Shemus as Jem is joky for Jacob’, to, ‘Quoiquoiquoiquoiquoi­quoi­quoiq’.
The style of rendition was to my mind rather ‘RSC’, lots of enunciation and mime, squeezing out every drop of sense. The set is two chairs of contrasting design, the actor wears (and eventually removed most of) a black suit and underwear; there is much business (all of it to the interpretative point) with a bowler hat and some white handkerchiefs. But the text is after all picturesque and theatrical, and Harvey’s programme note cautions sagely, ‘any attempt to confine this extraordinary language to a single interpretation threatens to violate its author’s intentions. So please enjoy this performance as the abstraction it is intended to be. Think less about what you’re not understanding than what you’re experiencing’. A tour de force certainly, to me it seemed more an educational / reading aid than a true piece of theatre, but thoroughly meritorious on those terms, and very enjoyable. Harvey has studied and memorised no less than 5 chapters of the book, ‘working on one phrase, one word, sometimes one syllable at a time’, and apparently presents them often at Joyce conferences. It would be great to have them on DVD.

Thursday, 17 August 2006

Linda Stillwagon at Pittenweem

“Neon in daylight is a / great pleasure, as Edwin Denby would / write, as are light bulbs in daylight”
Projected on a white wall in white light, somebody’s name appears, then slowly fades, followed by another, and then another, and over the next few hours, had you the leisure, hundreds. Some are famous in European and American art / literary modernism, others rang a bell; many went unrecognised and may be practically unknown, giving rise to associations based more on the shapes and sounds and (where applicable) meanings of the words in their names, and not on anecdotes and images we already have in mind. It was everybody Gertrude Stein (or, in other versions, Frank O’Hara or Peggy Guggenheim) ever met, in chronological order; a piece of text art, blank and teeming, but synchronic not simultaneous -- by contrast with the blankness of teeming, and, too, with the fantasy that biography (as a literary form) evokes: that a life is a party where everyone is always present. Possibly even with the idea of society: a proper name erases a real face, if only momentarily. Did we meet? if at all, it was in the space quietly left behind each name, unhurried, but too briefly to become attached. For half an hour or so this was rather satisfying; I wish we could have stayed to see whether the long durĂ©e would eventuate in some sort of transcendence, or a restless insatiability (Derain, Matisse, Picasso, who else is there?), or something else again, perhaps some usefully recovered memories.
This work is accompanied solely by two posters (a third is in the other room), with texts derived from (as it happens) Hans Christian Andersen’s fear of being buried alive. He kept a note on his pillow, that read (if I recall) “I only appear to be dead”. This is printed in black letters on one large sheet of paper that bears crease marks of having been neatly folded up small; its pair reads, “I only appear to be alive”. Resonant in themselves, these lend a further depth of field to the projected names, the majority of whose owners (do you ‘own’ your name?) are by now technically dead. But pace Lynne Truss, add a comma half way through each sentence: no sooner (in the grand scheme) do we appear in the world, than we are dead; but then again, the sight alone of our name can in some sense bring us back to life. Further readings again would be possible.
The artist’s name is Ian Whittlesea. The show at the Cairn Gallery, Pittenweem, Fife, ends this week (20 August), but there are some great installation shots on his website:

Friday, 4 August 2006

First books: A

Alyson Torns launched her first book a month ago, with a couple of readings, one of which was at Crossing the Line, the series (now at the Plough, Museum Street, first Fridays) where we probably first met, a few years ago. From the Lost Property Office contains work by a 'quartet' of personae: Stella Stein has an eating disorder, Alice Band a painful empathy with children hurt or destroyed; Eunice Pessoa exists through emotional relations but is insightful and reflective; Maria Pimenta engages (or at least 'watches') a wider world outside, and is alive to language as the material of perception and construction. Maria's poems are built on the page in rectangular chunks, while those of the other three are for the most part
intermittently stanzaic free verse. As a whole, the book reads like a growth and development, and that impression was reinforced at the reading, where Alyson presented some newer work again, which was more fractured and abstracted. It'll certainly be interesting to follow her trajectory; but this book is meanwhile a serious, consolidated achievement. The piece that touched me most in fact is one of Alice's, a little one:

Legs dangling
in the air
from energy
of my father's feet

exhilaration of
leaving my seat
flying away
for a moment.

The dangling is typical: these poems start and end in medias res -- they don't purport to resolve anything. The book ends with a piece by 'Alyson Torns', an account of a weekend in Lisbon 'In search of Pessoa'. The poet's experience and love of Portugal suggests itself as theme for wider work, and her prose style is engaging in quite a subtle way. I thought, She should do more of this! (and I rarely enjoy prose).
Alyson is a lovely, open-hearted, vivid being; she's been holding her breath for this book, and it's brilliant to see it out, and see it good. (Visually too: she was allowed to do the design, and it's attractive & readable.)
Alyson Torns, From the Lost Property Office: a Quartet for Pessoa (London: Hearing Eye, 2006) 1-905082-08-8

Monday, 24 July 2006


What would plantarchy be? the rule of plants. A new poetry magazine with this title carries the motto 'every molecule an orchid', and no pious Green-ness is suggested by shocking pink covers. Something about the ineluctable luxuriance of plant life in all but the most privative conditions? that leaves the wielder of hoe and secateurs wondering which party governs the cultivation ... There seems to be a sense of spawning (when looked for) in quite a lot of the work in this issue, a strongly generative emphasis or drive, but also a shaping aesthetic that results (for instance) in really nice, clean production and editorial choices.
When Martin Buber looked at a tree he knew the 'constant opposition of forces ... continually adjusted', but saw also its 'stiff column in a shock of light', perceived its 'suck of the roots, breathing of the leaves' and entered into 'mutual relation' with it (but 'the tree is now no longer It'. Among the good visual work here, Jeff Hansen's 'I & Thou' is a sequence of 'layered responses' to, I think, specific contemporary aggression that turns 'thou' into 'IT'. It has the dirty-concrete look of copier-collage, but the text also circle-dances. Each piece is paired with a magnified detail of itself, as if you moved closer and began to know someone. Geof Huth by contrast appears to be grafting various species of typographic figure -- archaic characters maybe, symbols, or kerns -- to grow original unitary images which are designated poems (like Ian Hamilton Finlay's one-word poems) that genuinely stretch the potential of poetic signification, by being (brilliantly) titled: 'Sound's First flight', 'The Muscle memory of Meaning', etc.
Another Jewish philosopher, Alan Sondheim, is flooding with effluvia, desire, the infinite, mourning enormously, never far from death, in five smeary proses, one quite long. Everything he produces is exciting to read, despite its absurd quantity. Not being on any lists any more that he posts to daily, the regular hits are missed ...
The magazine's dimensions are generous to writing that wants to stretch the poetic line. 13 pages of Matthew Klane’s ‘re Republic’ sequence spread right across their width, but (as well-trained espalier appletrees) with very deliberate visual patterning. The well-spaced lines belie their lexical density; you can see them grown from seed: ('I text parley / Malcolm X y Karl Marx / atomism y Islam') [17]; 'for the Other, a / the-O-ry // for my mother / myrrh' [23]. Taking time to read into this work, it's exuberant and rewarding.
In these pages, language sometimes seems psychedelic. In Camille Martin's sculpture-landscape-poem (let's call it that for now) words cut out from magazines vibrate, tucked into an informal trellis: 'volcano', 'telephone', 'Believe' -- a kind of concentration that could go minimalist but here bristles. Likewise, William Howe lets off fireworks with no expense spared: these stanzas are #671-682:
Thief puker -- fever bloke -- / Narwhal fell -- lichen plumb -- / Revel bison -- assay label / Office-pro ground toucan --/
Oh God, they're not 'his Emily Dickinson' are they? (the sequence title is 'translanations'). If so, is it beside the point to go off and try to specify the relationship, noticing en passant Dickinson's own hallucinatory formulations (reticent volcanoes with pink plans, indeed!), as well as the bits in Howe that could be by her (Fever space ... dim / Immortality ... piece paucity ... Fructified instant [except it's actually 'Fuctified', hopefully a typo ...].
'Plantarchy' the title is acknowledged as an indirect reference to a certain English punk song ... jUStin katKO, the editor, was in London last year, at e-poetry 2005; and there are some Brits in the mag: it opens in fact with 8 pages of outrageous rhyming verse by Jow Lindsay, who's no tree hugger ('gaia, the coyote, restructures this / forest for hansel'). Here too there's a sense that it's all made from the transformation of waste (or into it); and also a systematic interruption of flow (in this case with the names of now obsolete Anglo-Saxon letters). There's a shortish Tom Raworth extract from 'Caller', whose opening could be another rubric for the whole issue: 'nature corrupt nature / romped bound constituency'. And the one critical essay here, by Stephen Perkins, is about Stuart Home and Neoism, asserted as 'the last of the historic avant gardes of the 20th century'. It's quite interesting, but Perkins's association of plagiarism, a basically desperate strategy, with collage, is I hope resistable ...
This post has been in draft for a week and must be let go. I've enjoyed reading everything in this excellently produced and edited magazine, and would love to comment on them all -- Maria Damon's 'decrepit text', pathetically unstable; Chris Stroffolino's unsettling unreliable polemicist, and plenty more. The next issue is out now.
At last, it's raining.

Monday, 17 July 2006

Bookscapes (1)

Journey to the Lower World is a book, with DVD, documenting a shamanistic performance by the artist Marcus Coates, in a council flat in a condemned tower block on a housing estate in Liverpool. It seemed pretty offputting: was this some Beuys epigone with a community arts grant, patronising innocent citizens with a half-arsed orientalism, or was it a fatuous po-mo joke? The publicity postcard shows Coates draped in a deerskin (complete with head and hooves) standing in front of a lift with a small, slightly nonplussed-looking resident and a shopping trolley.
The foreword, by Mark Wallinger, didn't help, with its casual dismissal of 'that symbol of man's folly, a tower block'. What's wrong with tower blocks is not the architecture, imo, but other kinds of structures. Drew Milne has a great sequence of tower-block-shaped poems that treats something of this subject (would't like to say what his precise opinions are though). I live on the top of a mid-rise council block, with views of the Lyons estate at World's End. I love it.
Anyway, this book eschews conceptual formalism, with a large-ish landscape format allowing for the wide range of types of content inside: whole-page stills of the ritual in progress (blurry reaction shots of the audience of residents), prose, verse, screenlike or down-the-White-Rabbit's-hole images of animals like those Coates met on his trips into the Lower World, sequential frames of a demolition. As well as by Coates and Wallinger there are texts by the book's editor and publisher Alec Finlay, and extracts from anthropological accounts of shamanism. One of Coates's has been lineated into verse by Finlay. As art publishing goes, this is slightly out of the ordinary. If it seems a bit 'everything but the kitchen sink', that may be appropriate to the event, when large, unwieldy, potentially wild animals and possibilities enter small, domestic, contained lives, to activate, but perhaps also to discharge and convert their anxieties.
After reading the whole book, and watching the video, I was won over. Marcus Coates was alive to all the possibilities for discomfort of his activities; he also cared (or appeared to) in an unpretentious and exploratory way, for ordinary people and for society. And the shaman thing didn't come from nowhere, or merely from the weekend course in Notting Hill(!): apparently he has been doing things with nature always. Learning to imitate animal cries, for instance. This mode of art practice came to seem a genuine if experimental attempt to contribute and discover, or uncover, something on behalf of a real world. The residents were about to be rehoused. They were looking for a comforting image, or omen perhaps; they were not deluded, but understood the nature of the avatar; and their paticipation, including embarrassment and defensive amusement, seemed really to be an observance of community, or of the desire for it, on the part of a self-consciously tiny minority of local inhabitants.
Around the time of getting this book, in April, I attended a performance by the brilliant Chris Goode of his one-man show 'We Must Perform a Quirkafleeg', in the North London home of Sue F's friend Jonathan. This by no means purported to be a sacred ritual, and I am certain (I trust) Chris would run a mile from the word shaman, but there were solemnities, as well as sillinesses, and the gamut of stuff in between, and he is after something real. Chris presents with total theatrical command yet a resolutely 'normal' and even slightly diffident manner. And then he goes away, evading applause.
Anyway, this conjunction left me musing a bit about, well, blokes doing strange things in other people's houses, I guess; and the potential social functions of performance ... But the aim here is to write about the book really. 'Bookscapes' is a new series of publications by Alec Finlay, under the 'Platform Projects' rubric, though his former press, Morning Star, is listed as co-publisher. I guess I first met Alec at small press fairs years ago, when he'd be hawking his exquisite little poetry publications, or you could say minimalist artists' books -- pamphlets and cards -- or sometimes minding the stall for Wild Hawthorn. Back then too I remember him giving a lecture at an art librarians' conference, about Little Sparta. With 'pocketbooks' though, Alec made a significant move into the trade press arena, and did some brilliant anthologies in particular, but also small classics by individuals, all working within an attractive unified 'brand'. Libraries of Thought and Imagination, about books and what they mean to people, and Helen Douglas's photo book Unravelling the Ripple, are my top favourites. 'Bookscapes' seem to be pushing the bounds of the bookshop book again by using a range of formats this time, and taking the multimedia further. I'll write about some more of them.
(An account of the earlier pocketbooks: )
This post is different from yesterday, because of wanting to write something potentially public about the bookscapes.

Sunday, 16 July 2006

in these ends my beginning

Yesterday afternoon a small bookshop trawl. Through the Brompton Cemetery (a picture would be nice, wouldn't it?) onto Fulham Road, and into John Thornton's for the first time. They had a little poetry, including a practically mint copy in glassine wrapper of a lovely Cape Goliard book from 1968 (another picture wanted), Gael Turnbull's A Trampoline, for the ridiculous price of £1.50. Who designed it? Tom Raworth had moved on by then. For the same price I left behind the first pamphlet publications in the early 1940s (but second impressions) of The Dry Salvages and Little Gidding (the latter on hand-made deckle edge paper). There was also a copy of the old magazine Tlaloc (ed. Cavan McCarthy), with some great typewriter poems by d.a. levy, among other things. Bizarrely by contrast that cost £2. I'll maybe pick it up if it's there next time. The shop actually specialises in Catholic theology.
After a ciabattina, the bookshop at World's End, where having finished with the main shelves I spotted this little brown job in the glass cabinet: Down Where Changed by J.H. Prynne! £15 less 20% discount (this seems to be a permanent offer there). Slightly dented and damp-stained on the outside, but really OK. The clever thing then would have been to put back The Marginalization of Poetry (£6) but I didn't, I stuck with it ...
Finally at the Picador bookshop (new books) I saw Alasdair Gray's recent Book of Prefaces, a terrific anthology of paratexts, brilliantly designed and illustrated. I'll get this, in due course.
And all this time I should have been at Tim's and Chiaki's wedding, but we had the date wrong.
I'm not really sure yet what I'm doing here. There's an urge to gloss (which would have the merit of increasing and reinforcing what I know) and to illustrate (I do intend eventually to get a scanner again -- the old one wasn't compatible with the new PC-- and/or a digital camera) . But this whole thing may be nothing more than a strategy to stop failing to keep personal records. Writing offline's come to seem no fun.
"I Never read the book you gave me twentyfive years ago. I want you to know that I have Now, and that it is remarkable" (WCW to Reznikoff, quoted in Perelman, 'An Alphabet of Literary History', in MoP. I am hoping this practice, if it takes off, might reduce the interval between book acquisition, reading and articulated response.
Read DWC slowly and tiredly, yesterday, liking the large round type on the small pages; tonight skimming it rapidly brings it alive more: predominantly I get amazing weaves of sound (such as I have also noted all over my copy of the much more recent Acrylic Tips) as well as glimpses of a specific occasion, the deconstruction of the Berlin Wall (1979).