[ 03-12-2008 ] Scott Thurston, Tony Trehy, Carol Watts
You really really must go to The Other Room while it still exists – though I hope it’s around for a while yet. Pretending you were there later on won’t cover your shame when expectant grandchildren ask for stories of the cutting edge of contemporary poetry back in the golden age. You Have Been Warned. Next reading Wednesday 4 February 2009 with Richard Barrett, Patricia Farrell and Lucy Harvest Clarke. Be there. 7pm on.
For those ingrates who couldn’t be arsed coming out on one of the coldest nights of the winter so far on a day that both Manchester’s soccer clubs played at home here’s what you missed. Scott Thurston, Tony Trehy and Carol Watts read, and for my money fitted together well – I don’t know how planned or haphazard these groupings are but the readers at each night tend to complement one another in interesting ways.
Starting with the abstract – my initial impressions were of walls and squares and grids – of poetry that had been broken up, distilled and reassembled in new and exciting ways. But there were differences in the abstract impression if each individual – Scott seems to assemble his walls from hand-dressed stone – Tony creates patterns that slip in and out of focus – and Carol’s poems
have by far the most fluid surface of the three. To be a little more specific, Scott’s words appear carefully chosen and stipped of all unnecessary ornamentation – although it’s a very different style and probably less marketable it is reminiscent of Matt Welton. I like it a lot although it’s a lot more work than I’d want to put into a poem – but I’m a lazy dilettante and Scott’s a proper poet. Tony’s words may be equally well chosen but appear to be piled on top of one another much more haphazardly – given his disclaimers about the performance and the contexts for which the pieces were written they were in some ways the most performable pieces of the night. Carol’s words appeared to be carefully chosen and carefully place – but with musicality a part of the structural scheme in a way that it wasn’t with either of the others.
To get a little more detailed on your ass it was pleasing to note that what I’d previously observed about Scott’s poems in the last if p then q – that they could be read in a number of directions – appeared to be true. It raises some fascinating questions about where the sense lies in a text, how we read and understand texts, and what role ambiguity and even contradiction play in the meaning of texts. In a sense a reading of those particular poems was a kind of temporary closing of the texts – utilising only one of the potential readings. And yet of course as readers we can choose to reassemble any text we choose in any way we chose – as we learn from William Burroughs, Roland Barthes, Oulipo, Tom Phillips and countless other sources. Not only
would I like to go back to the original texts but I’d like to hear the performance again – in fact the same goes for all the poets. With Scott more than the other two it’s harder to find a reference point for the poem – to find a way in to understanding the work. If he hasn’t read at the Bolton Octagon series of readings it’s about time he got invited. All of this might make him sound forbidding and difficult and sterile – which really isn’t the case – the poems are compelling and well worth reading even if you don’t give a jumping fuck about how texts are understood.
Tony Trehy rather disingenously prefaced his readings by saying that his poems weren’t written for performance (which appears to be true) and that they were not performable (which was patently bollocks). Not only were they performable but the performance of some of them would have gone down well at something like Vaudeville where generally speaking volume goes down better than concepts. I’m thinking particularly of the long poem with no line endings written for a gallery that was printed on a massive concertina on paper that Tony wrestled with to comic effect. The words in all the poems were assembled in great congested groups – sometimes thinning out – and often evading conventional meaning/sentence structure/poetic language. The performance itself was probably the most outgoing and performance-y of the three – if Tony hadn’t rehearsed at least some it beforehand I’ll eat my cat.
That said Carol Watts seemed entirely comfortable and at home reading – and read well – at least partly aided by the musicality of her poems. I don’t want to overplay that side of her writing – the poems are dense with images and meanings or potential meanings – the language often very rich. I was going to say that the poems remind me in some ways of Pascale Petit but I’m not sure that’s true. The similarity I suppose in the accumulation of images and detail. The poems are quite novelistic – pack in a lot of information in a way that is reminiscent of other writers – but with a character of their own. Perhaps more than either Scott or Tony, Carol’s poems appear to refer to a wider world of objects and events and people – as well as to a world of concepts and language and structures. But as with most of the readers at The Other Room I’m not as familiar with Carol’s writing as I’d like to be – but there are a few pieces online that you should be able to track down.