Monday, 16 July 2007

Two from Sheffield (transatlantic)

In Nineteen Nights in San Francisco Christine Kennedy takes a series of guidebook asessments of hotels (or rather, bed-and-breakfast places -- the caste of facility doubtless subtly determining the resultant linguistic register) and transforms them, by extraction and typographic embellishment, into, what? models, or portraits, anyway verbo-typo-visual pieces which bring these addresses to life in the imaginary. Reconstituted out of banal, uncommitted prose, they become suffused with human presence and quiddity, intentional art experiences distributable like poetry (rather than, for instance, merely 'documented' as installation -- though Kennedy does too sometimes derive and re-inscribe her work in situ). Alongside these is a set of pictorial images derived from one relevant symbolic object, a hotel desk bell, somewhat Warholian but rendered through several different techniques. Another analogue and possible influence might be Ed Ruscha's serial photobooks (Twenty-six Gasoline Stations, etc), but the artist proposed by Christine as the chief inspiration for this book is Joseph Cornell, many of whose assemblages evoke European hotels. Some of her pieces propose objects that could be incorporated in such a collage, and often there is a breath of the surreal in her refractions:
While you sip / your complimentary evening wine / fills the rooms ...
But she has thoroughly transmuted what she derives from forerunners. Christine is one of relatively few real artist-poets active in Britain today (as far as I'm aware), and I greatly admire her rather original syntheses. As well as part of what I see as her ongoing project in -- what to call it? intermedia poetics (pace Dick Higgins)?, Nineteen Nights is also an enjoyable and amusing book. Here's a picture.
The Salt Campanion to Geraldine Monk is out!! at least it will be within the next couple of weeks. I have an essay in it on various kinds of visuality in Geraldine's poetry, and am gratified to find that her latest book, Raccoon is all about seeing and not seeing things, on a real trip in North America (not, like Des Esseintes and Christine Kennedy, a travel in a book). In the 'Ode to a Nightingale', Keats's sense of 'what flowers are at my feet' and 'what soft incense hangs upon the bough' is achingly redoubled precisely when, in the dark, he 'cannot see' them. When Monk fails to see whales, raccoons, elks and even mountains, sometimes she responds sardonically ('O you're so big / invisible mountain'; 'I looked everywhere ... Nada'); sometimes she defiantly delights instead in things that present themselves unlooked-for: a humming bird, 'the old moon / in the new moon's arms / in Idaho' (cf Coleridge's epigraph to the 'Dejection' ode), even a non-native faunal specimen: a giraffe in the shape of a brooch. But in 'Never Seeing Raccoon (I eat its words)' the poet undertakes a ritual invocation of the evasive beast in language, including native-American words ('magic one with painted face ... weekah tegalega / gahado-goka-gogosa'). Monk has been sparing of this kind of thing before: I can only remember it in 'Beacon Hill' in Long Wake, the very beginning of her acknowledged oeuvre. I look forward to a performance. It seems to be in some way efficacious, as the sequence ends with some dubious sightings or sensings: 'shadow-beasts' in the dark; 'another scent ... a zip of bones and ginger'. And all that is only the half of this book.
Christine Kennedy, Nineteen Nights in San Francisco. Sheffield: West House Books & The Cherry on the Top Press (from SPD in U.S.), 2007. ISBN 978-1-904052-22-7.
Geraldine Monk, Raccoon. Free Poetry, vol. 2, no. 2, March 2007. For distribution contact mcsmith(at)