April 6th, 3rd birthday party: Alec Finlay, Derek Henderson, Carrie Etter & Ken Edwards
Only a brief review of The Other Room this time. I didn’t take notes and I’ve been busy since – so apologies for any vagueness or inaccuracy.
Also please be aware this is only my personal opinion. Discussion and disagreement are good.
It was an ambitious programme this time. Derek Henderson read via live stream from Utah – and the other readers (Carrie Etter, Alec Finlay and Ken Edwards) were streamed out to the wider world. The venue was pretty packed and there were a number of new faces.
Derek Henderson reading from the recently released if p then q collection Thus & was the highlight of the evening for me. The collection is described as ‘a systematic erasure of Ted Berrigan’s 1964 collection The Sonnets.’
The collection was described as coming about when Henderson was creating a concordance for The Sonnets. Each word that appears more than once in the text has been erased whereas those that are typographically unique are retained.
Given the repetition in The Sonnets this leads to several blank or sparse sonnets. More surprisingly others are much more complete.
The reading reconfigured the poems yet again. Not in the sense of reordering the texts, but in the sense that the spatial arrangements are no longer evident. So where the eye would read words as disconnected and only potentially related the ear is more likely to assume relationships.
What you hear which is closer to:
I found the reading engaged and interesting. The poems also had a life and interest of their own far from being abstract exercises.
Carrie Etter’s work interested me less and I found her a little quiet. To be honest I can’t remember much about her poems or reading at all. This is not a reflection on the quality of her work. If anything it’s a reflection of my attention wandering.
I do remember the poems being sensuous and having a sense of the physical about them. I also remember that for the most part I thoroughly enjoyed them. Beyond that I can’t remember anything at all so it would be wrong of me to try and review Etter’s performance or poems.
Alec Finlay left me rather cold, though that’s my problem rather than his. I found his work a little too gimmicky and samey. I wasn’t really in the mood for either the mesostics (demonstrated here) or the bynames – although it’s almost certainly a humour failure on my part.
Then there were his Mesostics commissioned by the people behind Bach Flower Remedies. I think my views on pseudoscientific bullshit like this are well known. I don’t know what Finlay’s opinions are but very nearly stopped listening at this point. Small-minded of me to be put off by something minor like that I know.
There is undoubtedly a love of language and a playful inventiveness at work here. I can easily see why you might well love this poetry. Unfortunately for me it didn’t really come off. But please, wait for the recordings to go up on The Other Room site, watch and make up your own mind.
Like Carrie Etter Ken Edwards is victim of my unreliable memory. I remember enjoying a lot of his reading and feeling that there was a great sense of play there. However after around five days during which I’ve been pretty busy the specifics elude me.
Maybe I should start taking notes. I do remember this piece being read, and enjoying it. I should point out that I found the link then recognised the text rather than searching specifically for it. I found the link because as part of the research for these reviews I do look for work online by the writers to jog my memory.
Santiago’s Dead Wasp
The last Other Room was a really terrific night – to think that it’s already got to three years is quite stupendous. Derek Henderson live-streamed from Utah was one of the highlights, as was seeing the poet and editor Carrie Etter reading from her Shearsman book, Divining for Starters. Ken Edwards was also good, as was Alec Finlay. It was an interesting evening that brought up some issues.
I really liked Derek Henderson’s reading, for instance, which was a conceptual piece based around taking out every repeating word or phrase from Ted Berrigan’s Sonnets. I enjoyed this because I’m aware of, and have probably been influenced by, that very seminal book; but it also brought up a question. Not the obvious one about ‘ownership’ of Berrigan’s words; but of the very fact that I knew the derivation of these poems; but not everyone who might read Derek Henderson’s book would have read the original. So it seems that’s it’s essentially art talking to art again.
Which is all very well and interesting to those of us who are artists; but does it not seem a rather solipsistic game to those who are not so well-versed in the arts as we are? It is a very enjoyable game to play with other writings in this way; but how much does the reader need to know before he or she can take part in the game?
It’s not simply a question of elitism; none of the people I’ve met are at heart in the least bit elitist. If asked, I’m sure they could all explain in relatively simple terms what they’re about. It would be in part a distortion, because about art there is always an unspokenness, a silence around the concept that can’t be put into words. But it would be a start.
However, I find myself worrying when poetry just feeds off other poetry in this way. I liked the result of it; and this is not a criticism of Derek Henderson’s poems. But if this were all that poetry was, I’d wonder if it hadn’t become rather clinical and distant, and maybe a little decadent.