[ 06-08-2008 ] Stuart Calton, Maggie O’Sullivan

Well, despite a summer cold (aren’t they the worst?) I ventured out to the Other Room, a reading series in a pub behind Manchester University, last night. And very glad I am I went, though it’s a shame that one of the readers, Philip Davenport, wasn’t able to make it. The two other readers, Maggie O’Sullivan and Stuart Calton, were there however.From what I’ve seen in anthologies, I haven’t quite got Maggie O’Sullivan’s work yet, but her performance last night went a long way towards me beginning to appreciate her work. It seems to straddle various strands of avant garde poetry. There’s a large element of “radical pastoral” that one can see also in poets like Harriet Tarlo, Frances Presley and Geraldine Monk; but also a large element of pure sound in the work. It’s interesting that the book of early work she brought with her was called “Body of Work”, but it does have a very physical element to it; this is a poetry concerned as much with the physical articulation of sound as with “meaning.” It seems to be to be very “instinctual”; as opposed to a more “calculated” approach. Which doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a very feirce intellect behind the words, because there certainly was. Although I don’t want to make too obvious a connection, it’s something I also find in poets such as Geraldine Monk and Micheal Haslam; although all of them have a strong intellectual basis for their work, there’s something untamed about them, a kind of wandering spirit that seeks to go beneath the surface of the world and bring something elemental back.

Stuart Calton, on the other hand, seemed to be a much more calculated poet. The two long pieces he read were sometimes funny, very involved, fragmented narratives and arguments with a strong political bent. The second poem was about the Co-Op, in fact, which he is ambivalent about. Although this was very definitely non-mainstream, this was on the surface much more controlled and probably represents the more politically-charged end of the non-mainstream as represented most publically by Keston Sutherland, Andrea Brady and Barque Press. It was difficult to understand, but also fascinating, and I enjoyed his performance, especially the halting way he sometimes spoke half-phrases and sentences. I bought one of his pamphlets, so I can pore over it and seek a way through it.

All in all, a fascinating evening. The Other Room is a good series to have in Manchester; we’ve had so much mainstream poetry for years, it’s good to have something rather stranger at last.


 Was top. Disappointingly I can’t say too much about the poets – Maggie O’Sullivan and Stuart Calton, as, to be quite honest, I couldn’t concentrate on what they were saying. Not because they were rubbish or anything; in fact, the very opposite I suspect – I think they’re probably two very brilliant poets – the phrases and words which succeeded in penetrating my consciousness served only to suggest as much. No…I couldn’t concentrate for two reasons; firstly, the to-be-expected one: my brain was a bit puddled by alcohol; secondly: I spent a great portion of the evening reflecting upon how fucking brilliant the concept and the reality of The Other Room is. Honestly, like when you get 99 Red Balloons trapped in your head on an endless loop, going round and round my head in The Old Abbey Inn last night was the refrain: this is brilliant, this is brilliant, this is brilliant…

(I spent a fortune on books. I bought 3 by Calton, and the Collected O’Sullivan – Body Of Work. So I’ll write more about the two poets once I’ve actually read their stuff).

…so why was last night so brilliant?

People were asked what they’d been writing lately; how the reading had gone which they’d taken part in last week; debates begun in a month old piece of writing were continued. Yeah, I saw your sestina, check out this review of mine which has just appeared. That’s Barry MacSweeney’s first collection – I didn’t even know they had a copy of that – oh, you picked it up from John Rylands…I had a great idea earlier for a poem – I see, I see, interesting. Poet x was remembered to poet y, with the words “you’ve obviously been on her mind”. Acquaintances made months ago were renewed. Drew Milne was declared unpredictable and egotistical. Mark E Smith anecdotes were retold: him mishearing the word “duo” – thinking someone had challenged him to a duel. Comparisons and introductions were made – and invitations were issued. Oh yeah…I know that book; blank looks at certain names and titles. Alcohol. Before you leave we must exchange email addresses.

Something is happening. It centres on The Old Abbey Inn every second month.
I walked out of that pub last night feeling – how else to put it? – energised. And enthusiastic. I’m unaware of anything else quite like it: a roomful of people who all – I would guess, I obviously didn’t have the opportunity to question them all! – share a broadly similar aesthetic; who are all into and trying to do roughly similar things.
It’s so unusual for me, that experience; I have never known where to find these people before!

I couldn’t help but imagine all the future work last nights attendees might go on to produce and the undoubtedly huge number of those attendees who’d look back and remember The Other Room nights as being key to their poetic development…I just saw that pub as being the key to a vast library…


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