[ 01-10-2008 ] David Annwn, Caroline Bergvall, Joy As Tiresome Vandalism
Another installment of The Other Room, with Joy As Senseless Vandalism, David Annwyn and Caroline Bergvall
JASV were a bit scrappily presented, with photographs and accompanying poems (or is that the other way around) but apart from that, they produced some interesting material – a combination of found material, list poetry and visual pun. David Annwyn was wonderfully lively and physical in his reading style, reading poems about figures of the avant garde like Mina Loy and others. It was lovely stuff, wonderfully presented. Caroline Bergvall was a quieter figure, reading from her Salt book, Figs, and poems such as Fuses; but the effect if anything was more charged; these were wonderful conceptual pieces which were full not just of subject matter, but the substance of language, the way it drives meaning into other areas.
It was a wonderful evening again at The Old Abbey.
I would say last night was the best Other Room I’ve been present at.
Joy As Tiresome Vandalism were up first. They’re a duo comprised of the poet behind if p then q publications James Davies and photographer…(and I’ve just tried to find out what the photographers name is; but I can’t find it anywhere. Apologies). They presented the set aRb(aR).
The premise behind aRb(aR) being that the photographer would provide a visual response to a poem, and that a poem would be written in response to that image; and so on…over the course of twelve months.
So, working with a lap-top projecting images onto a screen JTV took us through their set.
Now, I’ve read aRb(aR) and I think it’s a very strong piece of work – both from a poetic perspective and a visual perspective it’s just that…last night…I felt there was something lacking in the presentation. I would put it down to the apparent nervousness of the photographer. He didn’t really seem comfortable with a mic in his hand. Nevertheless, though, what he had to say was interesting and helpfully illuminated JTV’s working methods.
The same was of course true of Davies; explaining the idea behind one of the poems being the imagining of contestants on one of those late-night t.v. word games. In this particular case their challenge being to come-up with suffixes to the word ‘sun’.
There is a strong vein of humour running through what JTV do and the presentation last night managed to bring that to the fore.
Also: I thought the use of the lap-top in the poetry reading was quite an innovation. Reminded me of Tom Jenks and his photocopied handouts.
Next up was he of the difficult to pronounce surname: David Annwn. (Spelled phonetically it’s ‘A Noon’ – cheers to Steven for the pronunciation help!)
He was amazing. Someone I hadn’t encountered before (I’d neither heard him read before, nor read him myself). He was just bursting with charisma and energy and he got the whole room on side straight away.
Shamefully, the only poem of his that I can remember is the one he began with; the one playing on the name of his sister – Margaret.
I do remember, though, being really impressed by both him and what he read.
Like JTV he was funny and he, like they did, demonstrated – once again – how experimental, avant-garde poetry can be really very funny indeed. It’s a point worthy of the most constant reiteration! That’s the case because I think the popular conception of the avant-garde and the experimental is that it just involves a lot of looking miserable and stroking your chin – and that’s just not the case at all!
Annwn closed the first half and, after the interval (**I’ve just had a bit of an interval myself. Just popped into the back room for a can of Stella. I bought 6 cans from Peel Greens ‘The Wine Lodge’ earlier and noticed the can design of two of the six was different than usual and…those two were only 5% whereas, of course, Stella is usually 5.2% – what the hell is going on with that!**), opened the second half.
After him was the magnificent Caroline Bergvall.
I’ve been a fan of her stuff for ages – since I first came across her in Sinclairs superlative Conductors of Chaos. I’ve read bits and pieces of hers since on the web, as well. And, in all honesty: she was the main reason I’d been so looking forward to The Other Room last night.
She didn’t disappoint.
Began with a terrific piece taking the scene of Virgil acting as Dantes guide in the Divine Comedy and looking at how that had been reused, stolen, alluded to in successive works of literature.
The piece ended-up, then, being the repetition of the same few phrases (each time with slight modifications); but with each repetition there’d be a different author and a different year of publication attached. It was, perhaps strangely, very effective.
It seemed to be addressing western foundational myths and, at the same time, attempting to dismantle the entire canon of western literature. Was a very ambitious piece. And, although this might be a purely personal thing explicable entirely by my Fall obsession – yes, I’ve learned to call it what it so clearly is! – I fucking love repetition. I just think it’s a great tool. It seems to be characteristic of a lot of avant-garde writing as well.
Bergvall finished – yes, my alcohol-sodden memory means I can’t really remember much of the middle of her set – with two pieces which were either inspired by, or influenced by, Chaucer.
Her last poem, a work in progress, she read from a notebook.
It was an absolute treat to hear her.
As I said, a few hundred words ago: the quality of the poetry last night was amazing.
I left, asking myself a lot of questions about my own poetry.
As per usual now at The Other Room I spent a fortune at the bookstall. The new issue of if p then q; fig by Bergvall; something by Annwn; and a sonnet collection by Geraldine Monk (who was in attendance last night, along with Alan Halsey).
Although I like a lot of the other poetry nights in Manchester the majority of what gets performed means very little to me, I wouldn’t read it given the choice. Which is NOT a reflection on the poets or their work, just a reflection of my preferences. I think almost universally the Manchester poets I’ve met have been really nice people, I just happen to have a love/hate relationship with all poetry, as evidenced here on a regular basis. The Other Room on the other hand is finally the kind of poetry reading I’ve been looking for all my adult life. Although I do have some misgivings about my own response, which we will come to later. For now, on with the review. [2 Oct 8 – Erm, originally my misgivings didn’t come later. They do now.]
Joy As Tiresome Vandalism were first. A collaboration between James Davies of matchbox, and now ifpthenq fame, and a photographer whose name I’ve shamefully forgotten. [3/10/8 – According to this page he’s Simon Taylor. I have been able to find a photographer called Simon Taylor online, but can’t confirm if he’s the same one.] If anyone can help I’ll gladly put the omission right. They gave a multimedia presentation of aRb (aR), half of the collaboration aRb, of which aRb (Rb) is the second part. This was a project whereby starting with a poem by James Davies each artist created a piece in response to the previous piece by the other. I haven’t bought a copy yet (though I ought to hurry up, it’s a limited edition), but I’d certainly seen some of the images. But live, with the photos project on a screen which I couldn’t see from where I was, but which were also handily stuck to the wall nearby, and the poems read aloud, the project suddenly came into focus. It took on a clear logic and the sequence made sense.
I also felt that both poems, and much more so the photos, were kind of laminated. That is they consisted of at least two or more different layers that didn’t really touch other than they were in proximity. It gave the pictures especially both a clarity, and lent them an air of being unfixed, of sliding around. The photos did this individually, the poems did this individually, and together a whole motion and resultant kinetic heat were created. [2 Oct 8 – What I forgot to mention was the poem dubbit rack [Audio link – 3/10/8], which used a googled set of anagrams for ‘rabbit’ and ‘duck’ (as in the visual illusion that can be either), and a voice synthesiser to create a fascinating, barely intelligible stream of speech. I was reminded again listening this evening to Caroline Bergvall on PennSound talking about how the glitches in digital technology can be a part of the aesthetic [3/10/8 Audio link – note, interview is 45 minutes, I’m not certain where this comment comes, but the whole interview is interesting]. Something she also mentioned yesterday when she talked about having only seen Carolee Schneemann’s Fuses on UbuWeb in a low quality streamed form before she wrote FUSES.]
David Annwn, whose name I think I misspelled in previous posts and will correct at a later date when I have time, gave a good performance. Though for me slightly challenging. Slightly challenging in that sometimes his work felt like it was coming perilously close to being shallow and smug – although it never did. I find it hard to explain what I mean. It’s like when very conventional poets try to be clever and do a few things referencing Eliot, Stein, and some obvious twentieth century artists, but end up writing confined ‘literary’ work that’s very self-satisfied but not very adventurous. Anyway, I’ve gone on about it too long. He wasn’t like that at all, but at times it felt like he could easily topple over that way. As a matter of fact, getting to the point a little late, he was really good, and gave a very committed performance. This highlighted two things. Relatively slow moments were drawn attention too by the fact that his performance lifted you through any lacunae. And his work really took off at those moments when language, myth, and ideas take over from whatever the notional idea was and cause the poem to stumble and collapse in on itself. A kind of poetry of entropy I guess.
[2 Oct 8 Now David Annwn I’ve done a real disservice to with the review above, it’s brief and wanders off the point. He gave a really good, really committed performance of humour and intelligence, referencing a number of interesting twentieth century, and more contemporary writers and artists. But to an extent his work probably suffered in comparison to the multimedia nature of Joy As Tiresome Vandalism, and the radical nature of Caroline Bergvall’s work, with which I’m pretty familiar. This last point indicates one of my misgivings about my own response which I failed to deal with yesterday – that perhaps I respond best to work that I’m most familiar with, and/or committed to. David Annwn has in common with Caroline Bergvall a fascination with multi-lingualism, or at least the running up of several languages against one another. And at this point in history even those like myself who only speak one language in fact speak with the traces of many languages. In everyday English the remnants and footprints of Latin, Greek, Fresian, and French are only the best known, along with loans from German, Japanese, Indian subcontinent languages and elsewhere. He also marshalls both traditional mythology, and the more contemporary myths of avant garde and other colourful personalities, without falling into the banalities of celebrity.]
Finally Caroline Bergvall, who in a couple of senses is the reason I was there. As explored ad nauseum here it was her Fig that really set me exploring the possibilities of what poetry could do. If it hadn’t been for that push I wouldn’t have done a random search for ‘experimental poetry manchester’, or something similar, and stumbled across the Openned promotion for The Other Room 2. And she was the major reason for attending this particular night – although I would have been there anyway. She read Via: 48 Dante Variations [Audio link 3/10/8] FUSES, two of her recent Chaucer pieces: The Summer Tale and Alyson Singes [3/10/8 You can ignore the link back here – the Charles Bernstein page at EPC looked most promising, but it takes ages to load and locks up my browser, so I can’t recommend it], and a piece called I think Kroppe or Cropper – again, if someone can clear up the spelling I’d be really grateful. [2 Oct 8 – I’m indebted to Paul, who told me that it is in fact Cropper, and provided a link as proof. Thanks again for that. You see, sometimes people do read this stuff.] The biggest revelation for me was Via, especially how unusual and foreign-sounding the Victorian translations were in particular. They read extremely awkwardly, as though the translators were trying so hard to be faithful to an original text that was hundreds of years old in another language that they forgot how to use English along the way. FUSES was every bit as rhythmical and pacy as I thought it would be, and justified my approach in sex are not victim [3/10/8 Background to the piece here], in my opinion. It actually wasn’t during that poem, but during the Chaucer pieces that I noticed how confident a fluid a performer she actually is. There were almost no hesitation, repetitions or stumbles along the way. They were, appropriately enough, very funny as well as very clever. The final piece mixed English and Norwegian, which was interesting to hear. It’s especially interesting hearing two languages spoken together when there are ambiguities about certain words. When a particular word might be a word you know in your own language, or it might in fact be something that means something different in the other language.