[ 03-06-2009 ] Matt Dalby, Alex Davies, Allen Fisher

alex – along with steve willey – is the bloke behind the wonderful openned reading series and website; he’s also a very talented poet.

i’ve been aware for a while that he’s been working on a long sequence called londonstone. until last night, though, all i’d read/heard of the sequence was the short extract that appeared in the klatch magazine. last night we heard about 10/15 minutes of it.

londonstone is, by necessity, an impressionistic capturing of london on the page: what it’s like to be young and living in london, responses to events happening around you and reflections on the citys history. – like london, it was impossible to take the whole thing in immediately…words, groups of words, jumped out, and set you musing upon them….for you to be pulled back into the magnificent flow of things a moment later when you heard ‘spatchcock’ – or some such like!

the language was beautiful: like london, itself, a mix of the modern and the archaic…

we can only hope to encounter more of this work soon!

last night, matt dalby was the best i’ve seen him. i think that’s because of the greater time-slot he was given: round about 20 minutes as compared to the more usual 5 or so when i’ve seen him before.

he did two pieces (unfortunately i can’t remember what they were called…); both of them combinations of ear-bleeding noise/feedback and – due to the presence of looped/repeated beats – a tunefulness which you might perhaps not have expected.

they were both monumental slabs of sound – made all the more amazing when you were able to see that some of the effects were coming from the pages of a book being quickly flicked in front of a mic.

both the pieces seemed, to me, to be very strongly structured: the noise/feedback kind of hanging off the skeleton of the looped beats. i, personally, appreciated that structure – worked as a ‘way in’ to the sounds; a means of enabling me to get my head round exactly what it was i was hearing.

here now follows the usual recommendation: see matt, when you get the opportunity.

and then allen fisher.

a hero of poetry, for me; someone i first encountered ages ago in (the book i always go on about!) iain sinclairs conductors of chaos. he was someone whose work i loved immediately. and yet, i’d never seen him read until last night. god, though, he was amazing!!!

he read, first, from leans.

my impressions were that the work was concerned with progressions and development. it seemed to be hugely encompassing and far-reaching. the language seemed to mix together scientific and technical and pop…i can’t say too much about it for the usual reason: just way too much to take in!

fisher was an absolutely captivating reader though; he radiated charisma, warmth and humour.

to finish his set he read from a work in progress called proposals.

those pieces were of an entirely different nature to the selection from leans; seemed very personal and reflective – a meditation on age and where he’s at now. was great.

and can’t wait to read the completed sequence.

the night ended with me buzzing; a million and one ideas pinging around my brain; ready, when i got home, to read the bag-full of books i’d left with and start work writing immediately…!!! and that is one of the other achievements of the other room – firing people up with that level of inspiration.

that inspiration comes, obviously in the main, from the amazing poetry we get to here, but, also, from the great conversations that are taking place before and after the readings and at the interval.

and, as happened last night, due to the old abbey inns early closing policy, those conversations usually spill over into some nearby pub or bar afterwards…!

there’s only a month – instead of the usual two – to wait for the next other room (p. inman and tina darragh. july 1st). make sure you’re there!

Richard Barrett – yawn


The nights at The Other Room feel like they’re getting shorter all the time. Last night felt like half an hour at most. Partly that’s because I was performing, but I’ll let other people write about that in more detail if they feel the inclination. My notes will be even more sketchy than usual since the whole event is quite blurry. Also getting shorter are the intervals between events, at least for this month. The next event will be July 1 when P.Inman and Tina Darragh will be reading. I mean do they spoil you or what? Anyway before you stumble through my impressionistic reading I’d suggest you look at Richard Barrett’s far more coherent account here.

Due to heavy promotion by Tom and James, and probably also due to the Allen Fisher effect, I’m told last night was one of the busiest so far with just over forty people in attendance. It was great that a number of them were faces I hadn’t seen there before. I arrived pretty early because I had a lot of kit to set up and ensure was working, as well as CD-Rs for the bookstall. I didn’t notice if there was anything from Alex Davies there, I don’t think so. There were a number of Allen Fisher’s books available. I already have Leans and although I could have happily bought everything else he had there I restricted myself to Place. Also available, and also highly recommended are the Text Festival tie-in if p then q poster pack, the latest Parameter (with Jamie Birch’s excellent Eight I Am’s), and the anthology for the first year of The Other Room. Late addition, I read from Richard Barrett’s account that P.Inman’s Ad Finitum from if p the q was on sale, I’m quite annoyed with myself as I’ve been meaning to buy it for ages. Amazingly despite everything else that was on display I sold a few copies of the first six month CD-R set.

But to business. Alex Davies kicked off the night in great style. I’d heard a reading of Londonstone, and I think I may have seen video of him reading elsewhere, probably on the Openned site. He had a really interesting approach to his reading which involved him opening with extracts selected from various texts by other people, as he put it to get his voice in the room. I take this as meaning both helping the audience attune to his voice and style of reading as well as to the content, themes, etc of his work, and helping him to find his place within the space. Both Alex and Allen read without the microphone, and as far as could tell were able to be heard throughout the venue without needing to raise their voices too much. Alex read from Londonstone. As usual when I don’t have a written text to compare to or refer back to I’d have difficulty telling you what it was about. One of my initial impressions was that it was quite broken-up, short phrases and sections that might be unrelated. Beyond that I got impressions of the city, of life in the city, of vocabulary drawn from a range of sources, and of movement and change. I was reminded in perhaps a superficial way of Lucy Harvest Clarke’s work – except that crudely I’d call hers photographic while Alex’s strikes me as linguistic – which is a description in each case not a judgement.

I really wish I’d kept notes now, it’s not very useful to tell you that I was completely concentrated on what Alex read, and that I enjoyed it, if I can’t give you any impression of what the work was actually like. Part of that may also be down to performing. Although I don’t get nervous before I perform I do get a significant adrenalin rush and find it really difficult to concentrate on things beforehand – and sometimes after. Anyway, apologies to Alex, I’ll listen to some performances online and see if I can’t come up with a more focused response shortly.

I was next and have only a shaky sense of what happened. The first piece, dryer, went very smoothly, although a lot louder than I anticipated. The second piece, born perfect, was scrappy from my perspective – the volume was all wrong and started to feedback almost straight away. For a piece that was supposed to be relatively quiet and slowly developing this was a problem. Rather than start over and draw attention to the problem I set one of the cassettes playing and killed the loop, cleared it and restarted that way without breaking the piece up. I was then able to quickly go back and add in the elements I needed with only a small flare of feedback in the loop. I’d also broken the glass I brought to bow, and the beer glass I had was only able to muster a faint scraping. It’s an interesting thing about performing live that compared to rehearsals and to recording I always end up much more ferocious and confrontational than I intend. Anyway, from my perspective it was camera-shake impressions of people, a lot of feedback and noise throughout, and seemed to be over in five minutes. I’m told it was actually about fifteen.

Thankfully for everyone there was a break next and we were able to get a drink and sit and stand outside for 20 minutes or so. Although I had to spend some time packing my stuff. By this time I felt like it wasn’t long after 7:30 but I think it was closer to 8:20. Like I say the whole evening seemed to compress down to a fraction of the time it actually took.

Back from the break we were on to the main attraction, Allen Fisher. He read in two sections. The first half consisted of pieces from Gravity, I think mainly drawn from Leans [buy it, it’s great, and you’ll be supporting Salt]. The second was from a new series called Proposals, some of which has been published in new booklet Birds. His reading style appeared more confident than Alex’s, and I thought was clearer and smoother than the short bits of video I’d seen previously. His work is incredibly dense and takes in areas of mathematics and science that I have trouble understanding, even on the page through repeated readings I have difficulty forging an understanding and a coherent response so apologies to Allen if my account of his reading is less than clear… as if he’s ever going to read this.

The first half gave me a stronger sense of dialogue, or at least of the presence of other people, and an interaction between them than I’d gathered from reading the works on the page. I’ll have to go back through Leans in the light of the reading and see what comes out. There was also a sense of place, of human interaction with the environment – the built environment primarily but not exclusively. Again I was aware of paying close attention. During the second half when he read from Proposals I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate better on the words. The reading seemed even more fluid and the words were amazing. Although the selection was from Birds and indeed featured birds in the poems I got a sense of poems written from the point of view of being in transit. Whether in a car, bus or train – and there are specific references to rails. Direct human presences were fewer, but there was no less humanity about the poems. Early on there was a section that stuck in my mind, and extract of which is, ‘until a swan opens his wings in my head / and I take a deep breath’. Now it’s a little misleading to pull out just that section because the poems are about so much more than just clever phrases. I’d suggest you go here to see why. Apart from putting the phrase in context you can see how well-constructed the writing is. Every line, every word contributes something to the poem, meaning that when I extract something from the poem I take something away from the extract presented. Realistically the two lines quoted require the lines before in order for you to see how they arise naturally from what has already been said, and they require the lines afterwards for you to see how the argument develops from there. This is one of the reasons why I said several times (and in a comment on Richard’s review) that one day I’d like to be able to write that well. Something similar was articulated by other people at the reading.

Once again hearing work read provided me with another way of looking at poems and poets I was already partly familiar with, and opened the work out slightly more. Now I recently heard a J H Prynne lecture online in which he talked about reasons why he doesn’t like to read his own work, and why he doesn’t feel that hearing an author read is necessarily helpful to understanding a piece of work. I’ll try to find the link and post it here at some stage. I can see his point, and I think I agree that there is the possibility of the author getting in the way of the text. But I think it is helpful to hear someone read the words, so long as you’re aware that the reading is not a definitive statement on the text, if only because it puts the words into a another physical state and allows you to approach them with a different set of considerations from those called into play when reading on the page. For instance, it’s harder to properly appreciate sonic effects from written text. One of the invaluable opportunities afforded by The Other Room is that of shifting from written text to spoken word and back to written text in order to see words on the page from a greater number of angles. Being able to weigh the different emphases that the different iterations offer and negotiate a finer understanding from that process.

Matt Dalby – Santiago’s Dead Wasp

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