[ 05-08-2009 ] Sean Bonney,  Frances Kruk

Last night’s Other Room reading was the end of a summer of frenetic activity on the poetry scene in Greater Manchester. From the Bury Text Festival beginning in May, to The Other Room having events in June, July and August rather than just June and August there has been a lot to see, and a number of significant and interesting poets coming through the northwest. Last night’s readers Sean Bonney and Frances Kruk were tremendous.

I was most familiar with Sean’s work, having read The Commons and a few other pieces online. Frances Kruk’s work I mainly knew from a recording of a reading on the Openned site as I remember. It was a really nice night. After a couple of weeks that have been grey and rainy the days have started to brighten up and get warm again this week. Last night was clear and sunny and warm. The Old Abbey was full with a lot of regular attendees and a few people who hadn’t been before, which is just as important. There were fewer interesting natural sounds from outside than during Tina Darragh and P.Inman’s reading, or perhaps they were covered up by the sound system. After much struggle the addition of a cable to the mic meant that instead of the intermittent radio signal we’d grown used to The Other Room had a workable and stable PA.

I arrived early-ish. Having recently bought a cheap mixing desk I quickly realised I couldn’t do quite what I wanted with it without buying some extra audio cable. As it was my first real opportunity to buy the cable required I walked from work along the canal to close to Potato Wharf then up to Regent retail park to buy cables from a well known electronics components store. After that I went back to the canal, left it close to The Green Room and walked to The Old Abbey. I made sure to have something to eat before leaving work. I saw quite a few ants with wings walking about, but nothing in flight, so I don’t know if they’ve flown yet this year. It’d be a shame to have missed them.

So the evening. With only two readers Sean Bonney read first followed by Frances Kruk, then there was a break before they each read again starting with Frances. An aspect that particularly interests me about any reading is the chance to see different styles of performance. On this occasion in addition to quite different styles of writing Sean and Frances had completely different performance styles. What struck me first about Sean’s reading style was that he read in a way that I’ve often been told should be avoided – he moved around in the space he had, he often spoke fast, and he spent quite a lot of time looking down at the page. But it wasn’t intrusive, it didn’t get in the way. If a reader is able to make themselves understood, if they are comfortable with their performance, and if there’s a good fit between the style of presentation and the material being read then what’s the problem? Sean’s style worked just fine with his poems and with the space.

So far as I remember Sean read the first part of The Commons in his first set. In case you haven’t read it the poem comprises a variety of voices (or perhaps a single voice at different times) interrupting one another, taking the poem in different directions. Phrases repeat, or at least fragments of them repeat in altered forms. The city is there, specifically London but not such that it shuts everyone else out. Institutions, government, recent events are there too. Despite the apparent proliferation of voices there is also the sense of a unified voice drawing them all together though never overwhelming them with that default confessional ‘I’ we’ve grown so used to. And there is a lot about language and poetry. Its uses and abuses, its structure, the political nature of language. All this read at quite a pace, with Sean rocking, taking the odd sip from his pint, but well-paced. He knows when to slow down, when to raise or lower the volume. He throws in an occasional side.

Frances’ performance style was wholly different. She was still and didn’t speak as fast. Her poems too were different. There was an ‘I’ present but it wasn’t clear whether it was a mainly autobiographical ‘I’ or a mainly fictional ‘I’. In constrast to her stillness and measured performance the language was much more violent and impassioned. Repetitions were often just repetitions but clustered together rather than recurring through the poems. Rather than a proliferation of voices there seemed to be just one voice, although the language often seemed to draw from or mock old-fashioned locutions. Sex and the body were never far away, gender likewise. The political and the personal merging in some ways making her poems appear angrier than Sean’s, though it’s not a competition. She read in the first section from a very small book, the title of which I didn’t catch.

During the break I would have tried to buy some of her work, but if there had been anything on the bookstall it was long gone. However I was just in time to get the last copies of Sean Bonney’s Baudelaire in English and Document. I’m not far into them, but they’re great. I spent some time talking to Phil Davenport, to Richard Barrett, and to a guy who’d made the journey from Leeds for his third poetry night in a row – one of which had been the Write Out Loud event at Hebden Bridge.

After the ‘twenty minute’ break Frances Kruk returned with poems which I think were on loose sheets of paper, although to be honest my concentration was shot. Not a fault of the poets or the venue at all, just me. I remember the poems as having not necessarily a narrative but common imagery and themes that bound them together. I think I remember recurring animal and domestic images. As so often I need to track down more work online and in books and magazines, and watch the performance again when it’s posted on The Other Room site. I do apologise for the poor quality of this section of the review. Interiors.

Sean Bonney’s second set was drawn partly from Document, which he described as a sustained tantrum. That’s fine by me, I once sulked for ten years. But before that he read from a sequence… Wait, my concentration really was shot. I can’t remember whether what I’m about to describe was part of the first or second set. I’m guessing the opening of the second set. …from a sequence based on British folk songs. Generally the first line was based on the opening line of a folk song and then departed into more contemporary territory, periodically returning to a slightly altered version of the opening line as if it were an anchor keeping the poem in place. The pieces from Document returned more often to the sentence, to the processes of writing and reading.

And then before the evening was dark, before I’d finished my orange juice, before I felt I knew where either poet was coming from much less where they were going, the evening was over. The readings were brilliant and contrasting, and make me wish I could be bothered going down to London to some of the nights happeneing there. It’s just a bit of a nuisance getting back to civilisation if you’ve got work in the morning. But if you do live in London village then The Other Room’s Tom Jenks will be bringing his brand of post-Cobbing Dada* to you on Tuesday next week for the Openned reading.

The next Other Room event is 7 October with Craig Dworkin and Michael Haslam with both of whom I am utterly unfamiliar. Be there etc.

Matt Dalby – Santiago’s Dead Wasp 

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