#36

Even though the Other Room frequently
features three performers from the more experimental end of the poetry spectrum,
its rare that you can find more than cursory connections between them. On the
surface, Alec Newman, Nat Raha and Seekers of Lice (actually a solo artist,
called, I think, Anne), hadn’t much in common either but coincidentally all read
sequences, and had some element of the improvisational in work that was
otherwise very structured.

Alec is the publishing phenomenon that is
Knives, Forks and Spoons press, but as host Tom Jenks reminded us he first “met
Alec as a poet.” Our first sequence of the evening was a sombre one; as Alec,
pulling random prose sections from a brown envelope read testimony from the Lodz
ghetto. It was a surprisingly effective mechanism. The horror of the ghettos,
and the move from containment to expulsion and extermination of the Jews, is our
very own descent into Hell. By telling the story at random – interspersing the
speech of the ghetto “elder” Rumkowski with that of the survivors – our
“descent” is fractured, and somehow the horror of even the smallest decisions is
amplified. These found texts have their own poetry of course; their own monotony
– (the banality of horror?) – but Newman’s approach, which didn’t interpolate
meaning in any way other than his matter-of-fact delivery, stopped this short of
the language feeling appropriated. In the end, we are listening to the horror,
and reflecting on it.

Nat Raha read several pieces, both before and after
a break, the majority of which was newer work. There is a fractured lexicon to
Nat’s work which occasionally (live, rather than on the page), strays into
confusion, but more often seems jagged with meaning. What that meaning is is
less certain – this is a provisional art in some ways; provisional on our
engagement with it, and free somewhat of context, whereas Newman’s work felt
more tentative, its meaning certain, but its execution asking us questions. In
certain pieces, the density of language, its slightly academic complexity
creates a veneer that is occasionally impenetrable, but mostly something comes
through, whether its queer theory; contemporary political anger (in a strong
poem castigating the coalition, dedicated to Sean Bonney), or language itself
(in an anti-sonnet sequence that will be published in 2013.) The best
performance piece had Nat and a friend reading a simultaneous poem, where there
voices, even more matter-of-fact than Alec, combined effectively, reminiscent of
the vocal collage of the Velvet Underground’s “The Murder Mystery”; not
surprisingly these pieces had been written for a tribute to Sonic Youth, and the
final poem used their lyricals to early classic “Youth Against
Fascism.”

When a performer is billed as “seekers of lice” one didn’t
quite know what to expect. But Seekers of Lice, a tall, quietly spoken woman,
was more art than performance, though the quietly effective nature of her
performance had its own power over the room. Reading short prose aphorisms from
a stack of cards that she let fall beside her, the same random element that we’d
found with Alec came into play. The writing was occasionally funny, sometimes
personal and anecdotal, occasionally simple but decorative. This felt like a
distant sister of Stein’s “Tender Buttons.” When artists engage with words,
there’s sometimes an over-simplicity that makes you wonder about their choice of
medium, but Seekers of Lice read her somewhat oblique strategies in a way that
made you want to seek them out on the page. The second piece, was a new sequence
where she was accompanied by a slideshow of equally oblique images, some
photographs being close-up shots of banal objectives; others being slightly
mis-shot street scenes that were almost animated for three or four slides of the
view from a slightly different angle; others being blank sheets of colour. The
piece ended with a rich red, a calming end to a piece that was both calming and
unsettling, her quiet words again offering something off a fractured narrative,
and like Greenaway’s not entirely dissimilar “Drowning by Numbers”, having a
sequence to it. Perhaps the most tentative of the works this evening, it was
also my favourite.

Adrian Slatcher at http://artoffiction.blogspot.co.uk/

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