Monday, 14 January 2008

2007, some books (5) ('you want marks')

Frances Kruk, dig oubliette. Hackney: yt communication, 2006 (OK, out of time, that's in the spirit of this tardy blog).
Frances is a virtuoso of dreck, working with an Elite-face typewriter (12 characters to the inch), fingers and other inkable objects, bits of torn paper and/or other flat media that can overlap or stop-out. Moving everything around so the 'writing' is rarely merely perpendicular to the page-edge, scratting, splurging and defacing texts that are themselves full of uncontrolled organic matter, squirting, rotting, staining, oozing, encrusting, filth ... One series is called 'Spillages', another consists of 8 purely visual (finger painted?) pages. Rather in the spirit of Bob Cobbing's work with Xerox, but (in this book anyway) the copying process is I think transparent to the autographic page (I culd be wrong about two or three pages near the beginning). Pierre Garnier does 'dirty' typewriting like this sometimes. The covers (thick texured orange paper) are I think individually hand-decorated, with black ink streaks and splashes. And yet 'smudge fest' is not the whole of it. There is actually a very 'clean' sense of design, so each page blooms a constellation. Some text is mirrored (using acetates then?). The 3-page sequence 'pretty:' is a classically Concrete minimal pair reiterated ('blood' 'flood'), but staged toward illegibility through overlay, and also dynamically impinged with splodged and then flowing (or tentacular?) graphic matter. It would be a mistake to underestimate this work just because it seems visually and thematically readily recognisable. Actually I think it is distinctively and valuably poised in an unusual space between poetry and drawing; and I'm coming to appreciate these pages -- like 'Spillage 3' and 'plunge ... PLUG for your LIFE' -- more every time I look at them.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

2007, some books (1-4)

So, this is a slow blog. (And I haven't even finished reading most of these.)

Emily Critchley, When I say I believe women ... (London: Bad Press). (2nd corr. ed.)
The title piece might seem like a 'personal poem', anachronistic outcry, but dressed as an essay, neat side- and footnotes (albeit neurotic scratchouts). But I think it is the converse, an experiment in thinking, through a pain object of indignation that should damn right have currency. Print can be in conflict and have manners and style. The poem sequence also should be read. (I might talk about the tilde-dash and parentheses.) Very nice production by Bad Press, striking cover by Marianne Morris.

Simon Cutts, as if it is at all. (New York: Granary Books & Coracle [Ballybeg], UK distr. Cornerhouse.) 'Some poems 1995-2006'. Working in a long tradition that grew out of and against Concrete, minimalism is more apparent than attention-seeking layout, with analogues in the continuing practice of Thomas A Clark and Eugen Gomringer. Many pieces are I think 'found' -- isn't that a reductive misnomer for the processes of sensibility and transformation involved? -- perhaps one might rather say 'encountered'. Here the process seems especially to reduce and concentrate, a culinary analogy. The Coracle website quotes Jamie Oliver, something like, 'This isn't cordon bleu, this is din-dins'. But it entirely depends what you think is chemically and nutritionally fundamental; in this case it's pretty refined. (In a good way.) There is some deep discovered thinking in things like: what looks like a contents page in fact indexes the words of the book's title through the poems. The blurb is an apologia for the 'selected' nature of the contents, 'whose format, type and space may present an ideal unification for the new accumulation'. Few poets would scruple so. An absolutely happy book to have & hold.

John Hall, Couldn't you? poems for pages. (Exeter: Shearsman). Another poet and artist scrupulous of the relation between word and support. Some poems here too had previous instantiations in other media but they land lightly on the page and arrange themselves, as a flock of dancers runs onstage and accurately scatters. 'Here and There' for instance is a short prose sequence designed for the precise width of this published page (so each ends with a full line, giving the impression of a possibly random cylinder of text extracted from a continuous sequence, but not actually so). The design and production processes that enable Shearsman to put substantial and materially very decent books by under-read writers into the world, though they can accommodate extended techniques including images and non-typeset elements sometimes -- e.g. in Frances Presley's wonderful Myne (2006) -- can leave them (the books) a bit kind of affectless, to my mind. Still, mustn't grumble.

Lynsey Hanley, Estates: an intimate history. (London: Granta.)
A history-with-autobiography of post-war social housing in Britain is totally out of scope here, but the Oceanographer inhabits an 8th-floor flat in a council estate block ... The author's particular interest however is the huge green-field developments mainly of houses such as she grew up in, and the relation to modernist architectural aspirations isn't really analysed. It is a pessimistic view, with little hope that public housing estates as such can be redeemed from the stigmas and problems associated with them. But to live in a quiet, off-road, treed environment in London transport zone 1/2 feels like a privilege (and living up high can powerfully counter depression, though associated with the reverse).

More to follow, tomorrow maybe.