Knife wielding, protective gloves: dipping a toe into the world of experimental poetry
By Judy Gordon
published in Write Out Loud
How do you feel about experimental poetry? And who defines it anyway? As an amateur listener in this field I went to the latest evening of performance at The Other Room in Manchester in some trepidation. The setting – in a back room with possibly the most amazing wooden ceiling in any Manchester pub – is superb, and hosts Tom Jenks, Scott Thurston and James Davies welcomed a packed house to hear (and see) three very different writers.
Hungarian poet, scholar and translator Agnes Lehóczky has published work in both Hungarian and English and is a previous winner of the Arthur Welton poetry award and the Jane Martin prize for poetry at Girton College, Cambridge. Her long prose-poem about her experience of living in Sheffield is a far cry from her native Budapest, but her lyrical, dreamlike conjuring of a city landscape is cleverly and effectively composed. As with much of this dense writing, I found it hard to appreciate fully the depth and richness without the words in front of me. Her shorter pieces about a Christmas conversation, a poet from her homeland and a run-in with an owl illustrate a masterly writer at the height of her powers. Her latest collection of poems is Carillonneur (Shearsman).
Then there was something completely different, as they say. Leanne Bridgewater’s writings and drawing are often inspired by the environment. She experiments with words and language with a playfulness that is engaging and intriguing. Her visual work on stage was greeted cheerfully, but I felt was less successful. When she started wielding a knife I thought we were in for some Iggy Pop-type slashing, and when she cut holes in fruit and veg and put them on her toes (to make a pota-toe and toma-toe) I was less than enthralled. I found her visual puns a bit predictable, although the audience was increasingly won over by her enthusiasm. It may have seemed a bit Yoko Ono meets Allan Ginsberg, but when you read her words on the page, there is real depth, perception and originality. Bridgewater’s latest works are Sentience – a three-thousand word sentence (Stoma Press), Three tales of Dysgeographia (self-published) and The Homophone Translator.
Allen Fisher is a poet and painter, art historian and publisher with a solid track record of poetry, graphic work and commentary. He edits Spanner and co-edits Aloes Books and has visual work at the Tate Collection, King’s College London and Living Museum Iceland, as well as in private collections. I was greatly intrigued by Loggerheads, written for composer Elliott Carter, as much for the presentation as the content. Single sheets of words each produced with a flourish from a brown paper bag. There was humour too – one bag was empty so he had nothing to say, other pages were screwed up and Fisher read remnants of words that could still be seen, accompanied by stills of paper bag pictures. He wore protective gloves to handle some pieces written on pages from a hazardous materials handbook, and scattered offcuts from wire coathangers into a metal wastebasket to reinforce slides of wire pictures, and his ricochets of complex vocabulary. Sounds daft but it worked, although again I would have enjoyed it more with the words in front of me.
Three brave and adventurous writers performing at a highly-recommended club. Next night is 2 July – I recommend it. Judy Gordon