Monday, 23 November 2009

dark afternoon (Sophie Calle at the Whitechapel)

Lit trees above the skating rink, Natural History Museum, South Kensington
The challenge is to get through to the winter solstice without succumbing to depression.
To Whitechapel Art Gallery for ARLIS UK & Ireland (Art Libraries Society) 40th Anniversary Members' Day. Director Iwona Blazwick spoke with respect of the old public library, once alongside the gallery and a venerable meeting-place for artists, activists and local citizens, but long since transmogrified (by the borough, not the Gallery) into an 'Ideas Store' elsewhere. The old large reading room (unrecognisable) is now available for events such as ours, but it also contains a few ideas of its own, orchestrated currently by artist Goshka Macuga. Remembering that Picasso's 'Guernica' was exhibited at the Whitechapel in 1939, Macuga has (amazingly!) borrowed the life-size tapestry version of the painting that was commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller and now normally hangs at the UN in New York, outside the Security Council, lest they forget. The same work that was covered by a blue curtain when Colin Powell stood in front of it to make the case for war on Iraq in early 2003. Together with a few other things including a film of young Vietnam veterans testifying regretfully to what they had got up to.

Sophie Calle, Prenez soin de vous / Take Care of Yourself, The Proofreader; taken from
A large Sophie Calle exhibition fills 3 of the galleries, including the work I saw in Venice, 2007. I like it better here, in (I think??) a slightly less lofty space. The huge collaborative project, 'Prenez soin de vous ' (now largely turned into into English), in which Calle engaged over 100 women from various 'interpretative' professions to respond in multifarious ways to the 'break-up' email from her ex-partner, is lush, colourful, funny, rueful, really entertaining, acerbic and ultimately a rich celebration of scores of fabulous, talented, characterful women. It's also a fascinating display of 'readings', of one kind and another. It can even be seen as a sort of expansion of Raymond Queneau's notion in his Exercises du Style, where the same little narrative is rendered in many different versions.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

theatre & all (Chris Goode)

Chris Goode, by Malcolm Phillips
Somewhat off-topic again, but converging maybe. The Oceanographer has restored to its extremely selective blogroll Thompson's Bank of Communicable Desire, the organ of the very wonderful theatre maker, poet, performer and (yes) thinker Chris Goode. A thread of relevance to our concerns is his interest in visual poetry. At an evening of performance 2 weeks ago at Toynbee Studios, part of Chris's Lean Upstream season ongoing through November, he presented 'four panels' by the American poet Michael Basinsksi. Basinski's work typically consists of crammed-together drawing and hand writing -- here's a colourful example (with added 'creatures'). There's a video of Chris with the young actor Jonny Liron doing the four panels together a few months back; on this more recent occasion they were joined by poets Lawrence Upton and Keston Sutherland, two notable creatures (of rather different species) of our Ocean. It was brilliant and delightful: the four voices played wild dodgems in airspace, eight hands stabbing and grabbing towards the pages for the utterance.
Earlier this week, the series saw Chris give a talk at Camden's People's Theatre, entitled 'The Forest and the Field', about his views of/hopes for theatre. Now, the Oceanographer's enthusiasm for Goode's works arises partly from specific admiration for his poetry, partly from personal regard, and doubtless too partly harks back to a personal brief involvement with experimental theatre (early 1970s, Cardiff ...). But more to the point is that there seems to be something widely and importantly applicable about what he does, or perhaps, about the ways he does it, even though characterising himself as someone who simply "thinks about theatre all the time". (His blog gives somewhat of the lie to that mind you: he thinks a lot about almost every cultural manifestation de nos jours.) Inter much alia on this occasion he deprecated the theatre's tendency to imitate anxiously what it perceives as competitors for people's attention: nightclubs, Twitter, whatever. And called instead for it to be itself, do its own work; and to struggle as needful with the problem of what that work might be, if not content merely with remembering one's lines and moving gracefully around the furniture. A determination to find what is really important in the metier, basically. And this isn't easy but is the proper approach, to work and to life. (The Oceanographer observes a particular resonance with libraries, which have lost all conviction and have no ideas other than 'be more like Google and Amazon'.)
The talk was punctuated with 'illustrations' by Sebastien Lawson, another of CG's young actor associates, demonstrating -- doing -- the kind of things Chris gets them to do, to explore and develop work. Get your kit off; with some part of your body, write in the air ... A lovely dance.
There's a new biography of Sergey Diaghilev: in last Saturday's Guardian review Simon Callow quoted a friend of Diaghilev saying that he had "an individual gift for creating a romantic working climate, and with him all work had the charm of a risky escapade". This is what it seems to be like around Chris Goode.
[note added 4 December 2009: Malcolm Phillips has some great photos over on Flickr, such as this of the Ursonate in full swing.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

(off-topic) besoin de vélo

need met 27/3/09
Paul Fournel at the Calder Bookshop this evening read from the English translation of his Besoin de Vélo. He read these short, autobiographical, light-philosophical pieces crisply, without comment but with expression. He elaborated with props -- moving little model cyclists around the table -- and eventually took off shirt & trousers to reveal the lycra beneath, and mounted his new Condor titanium bike which stood on a roller, pedalling gradually harder gears, climaxing with the much-quoted piece on Mont Ventoux:The Ventoux has no in-itself. ... It's yourself you're climbing. If you don't want to know, stay at the bottom. It was wonderful and I much cheered up. As he signed my books I blurted out my two (so far) non-attempts at the Ventoux: summer 1990, the planned (and indeed booked) trip abandoned when R & I split up; and March 2009 when, in no physical state to even attempt it, I was gratefully relieved of the challenge:

excused 26/3/09
"You must go back", said M. Fournel. "Ride 28 x 28."

The audience seemed entirely composed of cyclists rather than literary types (apart from the venerable John Calder himself), and no sufficiently coherent question framed itself in my mind about the relation between the cycling writing and the Oulipo, of which Fournel is President (truly, the complete Frenchman!). Méli-Vélo is a dictionary text, but are there more elaborate constraints governing these books? Fournel himself has written: "When it comes to their personal work, the members of the Ouvroir have differing attitudes with regard to constraint. Their use of constraint varies, ranging from shows of virtuosity to the greatest of discretion. The debate “Should one reveal one’s constraints?” enlivened the Ouvroir for a considerable time during the 1970s and 1980s, and responses to this question have been and continue to be diverse and paradoxical. From absolute mystery to partial revelation to total transparency, all the gradations have been put into practice, all reasoning validated."

One question at least elicited the assertion that cycling & creativity are deeply connected: "When I ride I write.". In presenting a sublimely elegant defence of Bernard Hinault as, among the greats (Merckx, Anquetil) his ultimate favourite racer, Fournel said "I think he was a writer".

Thursday, 24 September 2009

signs on transport ii (guest contribution)

Bill Gilonis sends this picture, from a Swiss train. Click to enlarge.

"What Rhätische Bahn AG is trying to say is: Ha ha ha we're pissing on our country's tax laws, and at the same time (chuckle chuckle) Wilmington Trust Company (Delaware, USA) is pissing on the tax laws of their country. The guard confirmed that it was a mutual tax dodge but said that Clinton had put a stop to deals like this & that this particular deal would be dead when the current contract expired in a couple of years."

Sunday, 23 August 2009

signs on transport

This one for the layout & typography ...
Bus no. 505, Windermere-Coniston 8viii09
... and this one for the subtractive intervention
Subway, Glasgow 2viii09

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

pomes and gardens

Rousham: the Dying Gladiator, by Peter Scheemakers, after Roman copy of Hellenistic work
The splendid Two Rivers Press in Reading have just published Her Leafy Eye by Lesley Saunders: a collection of poems inspired by Rousham (a garden in Oxfordshire landscaped by Bridgeman and then William Kent), with illustrations by Geoff Carr, a present-day garden designer. The book launch was held at Rousham, where Geoff led an informal guided tour, and Lesley read some of the poems in situ -- for each is motivated by a particular feature, although (refreshingly) the motif generally does not constitute the subject. The poem for the 'Dying Gladiator', for instance, entitled 'Hero', apparently ignores the striking statue and instead evokes a Handel composition (1738, contemporaneous with the garden) sung, sublimely, by a castrato, 'sexless ... winged' ... And yet, it also offers a challenge to this figure of the all-male fighter, defeated by mortality, the head drooping. The singer by contrast is 'lifting his face', the voice soars 'ever-upwards' mixing into the branches of 'an oasis-tree' so that the 'clamber and whoop-calls' seem those of a daredevil boy. And on another level again, this 'angel' in the 'heavenly air' might after all offer comfort to the warrior contemplating death. (The Dormer brothers who owned Rousham and commissioned the gardens were both soldiers, and at its completion both had died.)

Great breadth and subtlety of thought and construction inform the whole collection, together with a huge sensuous energy: this is partly a matter of reference and image, stimulated no doubt by being in the fresh air with trees and water and artfully activated vistas, as well as the poet's evident acquaintance with early-mid-18th-century culture; but it also seems to spring through the language. 'The Genius Loci // would carry words like thicket and covert ...' as well as its other functions. The title of 'Acre' (an elegy for that unit of land measurement), tangles through the poem in a somewhat Muldoonian fashion: 'you can watch the earth curve' ... 'not scaring the longhorns' ... 'like the kora tuned to its own scale' and finally in the brilliant 'carpets of light'.

The illustrations, a notable feature of Two Rivers books, are very various, quite light, sometimes playful, and distinctly subordinated to the poems. One black and white image suggested a more restrained, perhaps conservative option for a more unified book, which I might have preferred; but which was evidently eschewed in favour of colour and variety, which is fine.

At Rousham, the 'sinuous rill' was a pleasing discovery, though a surprise that it's a sort of flooded tramline or mini-canal, not a Romantic stream.

A couple of weeks later, at Little Sparta:

Water feature at Little Sparta, by Ian Hamilton FinlayThis (badly photographed) straight channel surely harks back to the Rousham rill, acknowledging the charm of its 'sleeve of silk' (Lesley Saunders, 'Rill') while adding explicit reference to the transport canal. That succession of words, ending with the heavy glide of 'lade', is a whole moral philosophy. [Just looked it up in Chambers though, and 'lade' is a mill-stream in Scots... Either way though, it's about working water?]

Obviously there is no end to what could and should be said about this amazing garden of Ian Hamilton Finlay. Can't possibly do justice right now. Actually the plants struck me this time too; the beautiful interplay of different leaves; and indeed lots of flowers, mostly wildflowers.

Janet Boulton, 'Aphrodite with Beehive & Sickle' (Little Sparta Temple interior), at Edinburgh College of Art, Sculpture Court, 30vii09
Remembering Little Sparta is a rather astonishing exhibition on in Edinburgh this month. Janet Boulton knows the garden intimately and has made many watercolour paintings of it. These are one might say subjective documentary records, presenting true views in a way unlike any photograph; and they are also really fine paintings. Not just set pieces, but behind-the-scenes storage areas. And Boulton also became a good friend of (and occasional artistic collaborator with) Finlay himself, and there are paintings too of the interior of his house; close-seeing, respectful, but in some cases quite numinous views, of his collections of model boats for instance. (My photograph -- with apologies to the artist for the poor image -- shows one of the suite of views of the interior of the Temple; and also the beautiful fitness of this exhibition being installed in the enormous Sculpture Court of the Edinburgh College of Art, with its plaster casts of classical statures and reliefs.) Nothing anecdotal or biographical; no people.

There are also works in paper relief, an unusual medium that Boulton has made her own, in which she meditates upon and responds to Finlay's work in a more like-for-like way, rather than by re-representing it. Likewise she has installed sculptures and inscriptions in her own small and lovely garden (there's an account in the magazine The English Garden, Sept. 2006), with references and homages from her distinct artistic lineage -- to the Cubists in particular, for instance. And then there is an actual group of Finlay's precious boats in the room, some letters and ephemera, and -- real treasures -- some of the little painted wooden toys he made in the 1960s. All in all, not to be missed; but even for those who can't get to Edinburgh there's an excellent catalogue, and images on the artist's website: click first link, above.

Finally, one for the gladiator:

Ian Hamilton Finlay and John Andrew, after Poussin, at Little Sparta

Sunday, 12 July 2009

3-year note on bookshops

Three years ago to the Sunday, after visiting three bookshops within walking distance of the bathysphere, the Oceanographer started this blog. Today all three shops have closed. Most spectacularly, John Thornton, of Fulham Park Road, (allegedly) retired after making a fortune from an ignorant Church of England Diocescan library sell-off which included the break-up of a spectacular extra-illustrated Bible . The independent new-books Pan Bookshop in Fulham Road closed with some heartbreak at the end of 2007. However the travel booksellers Daunt Books have since opened in the same premises -- must get along there. Finally I just heard this week that the World's End bookshop has closed :-(

Saturday, 11 July 2009

London artist-publishers old & new

In the suitable venue of the Bridewell Hall at St Bride's Printing Library on Wednesday, there was a party to celebrate the 25th birthday of the magnificent Book Works, who commission and publish books by artists (as well as selling publishing-related services to others). Commitment, focus and acumen must all play a part in their success, as well as (by the accounts of the artists involved) being great to work with. Now they are launching a Friends scheme: for £35 p.a. you don't get any free books, but launch invitations, newsletter and the warm glow of being a patron, which increasingly substitutes, in this busy life at least, for the white heat of personal creativity ... My cheque's in the post.
Among the hundreds of cool party guests I met the editors of London's newest artist-periodical, Stone Canyon Nocturne (a.k.a. apparently 9-09), who had their inaugural launch party (they called it a wayzgoose) a week before. Using an Adana proofing press and a weird and wonderful collection of old types, and citing Bob Cobbing among its forebears, this is a broadsheet series whose wholemeal materiality is rather different from the subtle adaptation of trade values that enables Book Works publications to 'pass' in bookshops. Nonetheless, the first SCN is a short, funny text made by Clive Phillpot, the great curator-librarian and champion of artists' books, who happens also to be Book Works' Chair of Trustees.

The 9-09 title references Vito Acconci and Bernadette Mayer's '60s mimeo magazine 0-9, but 'Stone Canyon Nocturne' is the title of a poem by Charles Wright, which seems aesthetically at odds with everything else about the venture. A moment's web truffle however reveals (in an article by Marjorie Perloff, quoting this poem) that Wright & Acconci were exact contemporaries at the University of Iowa -- so there you go, it's ironic I suppose ... I love the SCN mission statement anyway: "to conflate the fractured vernacular and dissemination systems of the twenty first century with the production processes of the nineteenth". Go guys! That's another cheque in the post then.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

"on the verge of poetry" at the ICA

'Poor. Old. Tired. Horse', once a line in a poem by Robert Creeley, taken as the title for a magazine by Ian Hamilton Finlay, has been dragged out of retirement to name an exhibition at the ICA. The show is not all about concrete poetry, but aims to be "an exhibition of art that verges on poetry". It does have some fantastic concrete poetry, and allied (or resemblant) stuff from the 60s, which I think it seeks to establish as forerunner to contemporary artists' work with text, but the latter seems perhaps inevitably untogether in comparison with the poise and tightness, as well as surprisingness and exuberance of work in typewriter by Henri Chopin, the amazing dom sylvester houédard, the twitchy, obsessive Christopher Knowles; also Carl Andre, who substitutes a violence for the lightness often associated with this kind of thing ("everywhere they are shooting people"--Creeley), and (this work of his new to me) Vito Acconci. Plus there are huge libidinous word-discs by Ferdinand Kriwet (b. 1942, much younger than I assumed), and 3 of Lilian Lijn's great poem machines, spinning away.

This one room (& Kriwet in the corridor) makes a lovely, substantial little show. It's preceded by a room of IH Finlay: directly on the wall Sea Poppy I (boat numbers in a spiral), plus another, and then some smaller things in desk cases -- postcards, prints, copies of P.O.T.H. and one or two books. (It only occurs to me now, the extent to which this is not an exhibition of words in books.)

Upstairs, two more rooms that make rather different impressions. One stays with a similar period but is more about illustration, or the combining of image & (the artist's own) text: Philip Guston drawings around Clark Coolidge words, some pages of Alasdair Gray (including monumental frontispieces for Lanark showing his great bibliographical absorption), two Blake-ish / cartoony sheets of words & figures by Robert Smithson, and Hockney's illustrations for Cavafy, in which I suppose you could choose to see the etched marks of the men's body hair, patterns of bed and wall coverings or neckties etc., not to mention the shop signs, as partaking of the same calligraphic line that wrote the (absent) verse texts ... It all makes a not unreasonable juxtaposition of work, and purveys a visual messiness in contrast to the typwewriter virtuosity and/or minimalist cleanliness downstairs.

Finally, what it might all be leading towards is a room of contemporary, younger artists' work. Frances Stark is often genuinely about an engagement with books, and her large piece, which involves transcribed text with inlays, and drawing, is materially interesting as well as funny and smart. I recall being intrigued and interested a couple of years ago at Tate Mod, by the strange, spare typed papers of Sue Tompkins. Those here have the look (misleadingly??) of innovative poetry, on faded blue letter paper (though A4), with enigmatic codes and use of almost inkless ribbon and cramped spacing. Her practice involves performance, another theme of the show which does seem to me an idea slightly too far. So I gather does Karl Holmqvist's (of whom I haven't heard before), who has here produced an A4 photocopied book of rappy verses and found photographs, blow-ups from which also paper a large expanse of the wall. It seems to me trite and trashy. I could of course be wrong; I just felt that (e.g.) Stephen Willatts on the one hand (socio-political care) and on the other Bob Cobbing (copier book publishing taste & technique) put this stuff to shame. The other things -- all worthy of more than this bare mention -- are 2 circus-style posters of Janice Kerbel; three prints by Matthew Brannon, and a film by Anna Barham, of hands rearranging transparent shapes ('tangrams' actually) into forms resembling letters, which apparently add up to texts.

As with the previous ICA show -- another language theme, that time 'speech' -- one must respect & appreciate the effort that has gone into putting together useful and substantial supporting resources: the 'magazine' gallery guide that only costs £1 and is available as a free pdf; the images, texts and links on the web.

So the tired horse being flogged here, that won't die, is -- concrete poetry? or is it just poetry? The curator says, "artists are now turning towards poetry and expressive language ... [but contrarily too he says they] explore the potential of poetry to move beyond the constraints of linguistic and graphic systems, reflecting the true complexity of communication and creating meaning that cannot be pinned down". If it's a matter of getting over words, I'm not sure that you'd need to go by this route; neither do I think it shows 'artists now' as very interested in poetry. Still, there is an attempt to reach towards something here, and you certainly don't want to miss seeing the show.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Please buy a Salt book

You know Salt of course -- a poetry press with an innovative approach to being 'small', i.e.: Burgeon! Salt has a shameless gusto for all the dirty bits of publishing i.e. marketing hype, e-commerce, ratings, bottom lines etc., alongside a genuine informed enthusiasm for experimental writing and determination to bring it to a wide audience. I have always had a few reservations about the enterprise, its scale and its commercial approach, but really huge admiration for both its mission and its apparent success. It has certainly published at least a couple of dozen books I love by superb poets. I wouldn't want to see it fold. However Salt is in need of support, due to the recession and the funding situation, and an appeal is being circulated widely to BUY A SALT BOOK NOW. Don't wait, they need to be able to show an upturn in sales pronto.

FWIW here are a few personal recommendations, most of which I own already:

Tim Atkins, Folklore (scary Malvern proses -- beautiful hardback)

Sean Bonney, Blade Pitch Control Unit (angry urban anarchist poems)

Andrea Brady, Vacation of a Lifetime (fierce political American difficult poems)

Andrew Duncan, The Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry (omniscient, intelligent, infuriating critical / literary history)

Allen Fisher, Gravity, or, Leans (Fisher's is one of the really major oeuvres of our time)

Giles Goodland, Capital (impressive procedural collage of the last quarter of the 20th century)

Bill Griffiths, Mud Fort (enormously talented and learned writer, entirely without pretension or obscurity, towering over this reader's head ...)

Alan Halsey, Not Everything Remotely (possibly the fullest literary sensibility in the biz, extending the sense of 'literature' to the whole code of book; it comes out as some of the most original -- and, yes, obscure, work I know)

Peter Larkin, Terrain Seed Scarcity (profoundly philosophical, and beautiful, work, usually prose poems concerning trees ...)

Tony Lopez, False Memory (dunno, I only have other books of his but it'll be good value, trust me)

Geraldine Monk, Ghost and Other Sonnets (one of my favourite poets, and this is a beautiful white book ...)

Frances Presley, Paravane (Includes our collaboration 'Neither the One Nor the Other' ...)

Ron Silliman, Tjanting (Monolithic, absorbing prose)

The books I have tonight ordered are: Brian Kim Stefans's critical essays, and Robert Sheppard's Twentieth Century Blues.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

book from the sky

Xu Bing, Book From the Sky To Bernard Quaritch's, the booksellers, this evening, for the launch of a book they have published about the artist Xu Bing, specifically his Book From the Sky), a 4-volume work written in 4,000 imaginary Chinese characters, printed using moveable type. There is acute (not to say obsessive) attention to the formal codes of book, whereas its content is, in a sense (sic) nonsense. One of the main authors of this new critical work, Tianshu: Passages in the Making of a Book, is John Cayley, who has considered Xu Bing's work often: here's a useful piece . There is an exhibition in the basement of Quaritch's, showing copies of the Book from the Sky, with earlier versions, printing blocks and sorts, and installation photographs of full-scale gallery installations, which seem very grand and theatrical. Some of these images are on Xu Bing's own website. The critical book has a notable materiality of its own, being bound in a flexible transparent cover through which its structure can be seen.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Typeset by Ian Whittlesea

Cover, Foundations of Judo, by Yves Klein, translated and typeset by Ian Whittlesea, The Everyday Press, 2009

Here's an extraordinary thing: a 1954 judo manual, translated into English and produced in a loving typographic facsimile which resembles as far as possible the visual and material properties of the original, with the same illustrations placed in the same position on the page and so forth, published by an artists' book press. The original book was by the artist Yves Klein, he who signed the sky, patented a colour, painted with women's bodies and 'leapt into the void'. Klein was also (I now learn) a serious and advanced judo practitioner, even prior to being an artist. But is this new edition a judo book or an art book? The translator is Ian Whittlesea, an artist of fascinatingly rigorous refinement noticed previously by the Oceanographer, the publisher is The Everyday Press, "founded by artist Arnaud Desjardin to publish the work of visual artists as printed matter". Whittlesea took up judo himself alongside the translation, has achieved a black belt ranking, and it now appears to be a lifetime commitment for him.
The book's launch brought me for the first time to Donlon Books, a great new art & arty bookshop in Bethnal Green. It seems to stock the best stuff you'd find in the shops at the Serpentine, ICA or Tate Modern, but in an uncramped and somehow more personal environment that reminded me more of the wonderful bookartbookshop; and also to have an eye to rare and special books, the sort of thing you look to Marcus Campbell for.
I came away with a copy of Tutu Muse, a recent (2007) book published by Fly By Night, of poetry by Marianne Morris. Marianne was just Donlon Books' writer-in-residence for a month! sorry I missed her. Can't report on a reading yet but Marianne's work is never less than exhilarating; materially-speaking this sturdily made substantial (47pp) pamphlet/paperback features a cover image by Marianne, and an index, of proper names, and key words mostly classified under concepts e.g. 'insects', 'food items' etc. 'love' is the most frequently occurring term (13), followed by 'death' (10). But there are numerous single instances in the 'animals', 'birds', 'fish' and 'food' groups, and quite a lot of 'colours' too (p. 19, 'terrific blue sky').
Also associated with the establishment is Eleanor Vonne Brown's excellent project The Newpaper, "a newspaper about artists and writers who make work using the language, visuals or structure of newspapers", e.g. (in issue 2) Kenneth Goldsmith and his retyping of an entire New York Times, Michalis Pichler's Bild collages, Vonne Brown's own project '100 days', about the journalist Alan Johnston kidnapped in Gaza in 2007, and many more; as well as an article on John E. Allen, claimed as the first theorist of newspaper design. Issues are available for download from the website, but the thing itself, in tabloid format on proper newsprint is a pleasure to see and hold -- and the ink doesn't come off on your hands ...

Monday, 2 February 2009

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

A book by Stuart Montgomery / Little presses display

In Brighton for the Zukovsky A-24 seminar last Friday, H brought me back a present: Stuart Montgomery's Circe, Fulcrum, 1969, picked up for a tiny sum in very good condition (the dustjacket just cracking its surface at the spine, top edge sl. sticky). Lovely book, all brown & green; fabulous wrapper design, end-papers and title-page, image is an Etruscan bronze mirror with a superb incised depiction presumably of Odysseus and Circe.
The poetry's growing on me. A decent version of the Homeric story, verbally textured and slightly disjunctive, is interrupted towards the end by a series of shorter more detached pieces (that I like best), which include more immediate, self-reflexive elements (i.e. it mentions poetry ...).

Fulcrum is one of five presses featured in an exhibition on briefly now at the St Bride Library in London ('the world’s foremost printing, technical and graphic arts library'). The others are: Keepsake, Trigram, Writers Forum, and Gaberboccus. '"Short run": experimental book design and London's little presses' is curated by Rathna Ramanathan.
Here's a very brief account:
It is a nice, quite extensive display in three or four upright vitrines and a couple of lengthy desk cases, in the room that also houses St Bride's collection of printing presses. The displays include books of course, also some archival material such as artwork and photographs of people. The material is not all grouped by press, and the principle of arrangement wasn't entirely clear to me at the private view on Thursday [15th Jan.], but Rathna's talk gave some idea of the ways in which she has thought about the subject.

The show is based on Rathna's PhD, and the selection of presses one suspects was partly determined by what archives were found to be readily available, but it does make for instructive comparisons. She is also a practising designer, so it was interesting to hear her quite practical analysis of how each of these presses functioned, and the consequent stylistic and material aspects of their productions.
For instance, the Keepsake Press of Roy Lewis was the one most in the 'private press' tradition: letterpress-printed in-house by the proprietor, fairly conventional text layout (and poetic genre), illustrations commissioned from artists of note but not supposed to 'interfere' with the text; a system of signed limited editions, distributed to 'collectors'. At the other extreme, Bob Cobbing's Writers Forum of course, utterly anti-precious, using office printing technology; the production process constituted 'a performance of the text', unlimited editions, extremely open editorial policy (not based on the notion of 'quality'); linked to a whole milieu of performance, workshops, self-help and cooperation (the Association of Little Presses etc.) and general counter-cultural activity.

In between, Fulcrum and Trigram produced high quality books within somewhat more normal commercial parameters -- up to a point. Stuart Montgomery outsourced production to Villiers Publications Ltd., and the books looked conventional, but (aside from being an excellent list) they were distinguished by great cover designs by good contemporary artists. Also the paper is excellent and the printing looks pretty good to me. Additionally, Fulcrum produced 'special' editions of the same books, aimed at collectors. At Trigram by contrast the Benvenistes and Paul Vaughan were totally involved in the design and printing, and profoundly interested in incorporating image with text, and in the 'rhythm' of book construction.
But the centre of Rathna Ramanathan's research is Gaberbocchus, the press of Stefan and Franciszka Themerson, for the range of texts they published, perhaps the wider European (rather than American) relationships, and for its continuous relationship with the Themersons' own creative work and very distinctive style. There are some nice examples of artwork, with text and illustrations being worked out through physical cut & paste.

That's an inadequate summary. The presses were noteworthy for literary reasons, several responsible for introducing important foreign writers to British readers; etc. etc. But most of that can be found out elsewhere. It's if you love the look of little press poetry books that the display is really worth a visit (free admission; somewhat restricted hours but open late on Wednesdays). LAST DAY 30th JANUARY.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

interiors & apparitions

'"What have you been reading, then?" I ask her,
Experimenting, experimenting.' (Roy Fisher, from this book)

Roy Fisher, Ten interiors with various figures. Tarasque, 1966First new old book through the door this year was Roy Fisher, ten interiors with various figures (Tarasque Press, 1966). Approx. 148 x 157 mm (width identical to Fisher's Bloodaxe Collected in fact -- which is a surprisingly nice book in a completely different way ). There are some very long lines in these poems, and it's interesting to compare this first complete publication (some had been in mags before) reproduced from typescript, with the later re-setting, to see different decisions about carry-over that are not wholly determined by the grid. Both form and content seem to point as much toward prose fiction (thinking e.g. of some work by Douglas Oliver, John Hall or David Miller) as much as to a poem sequence. A first-person consciousness interacts with another, in ambiguous, naturalistic scenarios.

But perhaps it is more usefully related to painting than to fiction -- as by Robert Sheppard, who discusses the sequence in his chapter on Fisher in The Poetry of Saying, which can be previewed thanks to Google Books (sorry Robert -- I will certainly purchase a copy at some point ...). He reveals that Fisher actually used pictures as models for these poems. The cover image is (presumably) by Stuart Mills, the publisher: printed (screenprinted??) in white on the stiff black cover, I can't really fathom it though the gestalt seems clearly facial. Some kind of hybrid derived from anglepoise lamps and umbrellas? a pair of spectacles emitting, rather than receiving, light ...?

Another recently-acquired piece of print to be filed today is the programme from the T.S. Eliot Prize readings a fortnight ago. These readings are always an enjoyable conspectus of 10 of the year's best mainstream collections, and the booklet constitutes a mini-anthology. Happening today to read Mary Doty's inclusion, an 'Apparition' (this seems to be a generic term used in his latest book). Scenically it too is an interior with figures: the poet hears a boy reciting a favourite poem -- Shelley's 'Ozymandias' -- in a bookstore. It's enviably articulate, artfully constructed, charming and serious. In organising the poet's emotional apprehensions into polished syntax it takes the reader on the same journey, providing everything you need -- and requiring nothing back. It's complete; and that seems its lack. In Fisher's place, the other person isn't framed away, the first person isn't assured, things aren't finished up.

Doty's poem can be found online (try googling e.g. "loping East Texas vowels"); Fisher's Interiors are only quoted here and there.