[ 02-12-2009 ] Sophie Robinson, Nick Thurston

Today started badly but ended well.

The bad bits were an ongoing fiasco in which a well-known German courier company failed to delivery an order from a popular mobile phone store. The order in question was over a week late despite two days of speaking to the local courier depot and the mobile phone store’s helpline. The order was only delivered after contacting the depot again, then phoning the store’s helpline and threatening to cancel the purchase.

Work wasn’t great either. Not much happening and a lot of dead time to fill.

So The Other Room 13 was a great relief. Incidentally this was both the thirteenth reading in the series, and attended by only thirteen people. A damn shame really given that it was a lot warmer tonight than it had been earlier in the week.

Sophie Robinson and Nick Thurston read, and formed an interesting contrast to one another. To put it at its crudest Sophie writes a poetry of human connections and emotional response – without writing the self-centred confessional verse that might suggest – while Nick produces a conceptual poetry that seems to be more concerned with the ways in which information is conveyed by written or spoken language than with the content of any specific message.

Sophie read first. My initial impression was of poems that were fractured, that have a broken and restless surface. This impression is strengthened by their presentation on the page in her book a which was one of several purchases on the night – poems from Geometries in the book have also appeared in The Reality Street Book of Sonnets. Capitalisation of words, use of symbols such as & and *, varying gaps between words (the lines of Geometries are justified so the sonnets form squares), abbreviations and non-standard spellings occur throughout. Although the poetry is very different the surface of the poems on the page was reminiscent of some of Caroline Bergvall’s work. And Bergvall does contribute a foreword to a.

The next impression was of a personal poetry. Not personal in the sense of navel-gazing or self-indulgence, but personal in the sense of being engaged in the business of life, of negotiating a life with other people, of being concerned with and for others. That sense of connection, of a peopled world, contributed to the further impression of an urban poetry. Perhaps an urban domestic poetry, but without the cloying cosiness that might suggest.

And there was a real concern for language. For how it can be used to describe and define, and how that is both fundamental to communication while also being a tool of control. There was a sense, difficult to define, of how real things, real places, real people, real events can only be very inaccurately apprehended through language.

This kind of balance between the poetry of human connections and emotional response, and the poetry of fractured surface and discontinuity is something I’d dearly love to be able to achieve. Take this opening from the final poem in Geometries, ‘the literary real, swollen w/myth, / a glass downpouring a shard a fleshy / we are different an unavailable / profusion’. Clearly this is also a thoughtful and intelligent poetry.

After a brief break during which I spent just short of £30 on books Nick Thurston read. His pieces really have as much in common with conceptual art as they do with most contemporary poetry. The first piece was one he also performed at Bury during the Text Festival, an mp3 of Andrew Motion introducing his own poems (from The Poetry Archive) thankfully without the actual poems. The effect is very funny in places and is a fantastic critique of the kind of poetics represented by Motion.

Nick then read from Historia Abscondita, another purchase on the night, which is the index of Walter Kaufmann’s English translation of Nietzsche’s The Gay Science with all page references removed. This provides a kind of commentary on Nietzsche and the translation. I’m not sure of what order the next two pieces were read in. One was a reading of a blank page in which Nick stood for a minute holding the page and saying nothing. The other was a chronological list of the names of British troops who have died in the present conflict in Afghanistan. This has obvious political resonance. Nick deliberately chose to start the poem without explanatory gloss, leaving us to try and pick our way through the names. The effect was to make us concentrate on the names, on the associations that names that were nearly familiar had, rather than turning the piece into a sentimental and dutiful litany we felt obliged to listen to.

We were left with the voice of the speaking clock until Nick’s laptop decided to switch off. There should have been a visual aspect to the performance but for some reason the laptop and projector weren’t communicating with one another. Had it not been for the presence of the projector screen you might never have known an element was missing.

I like Nick’s work and found it both thoughtful and funny. There is a strand to it which is very much about identity, how we define ourselves and others by the kinds of language we use, as well as how we use them, that echoes concerns in Sophie’s work. On the whole I perhaps prefer Sophie’s poetry but both writers are engaging and intelligent.

So my purchases on the night. From Alec Newman I bought a copy of Steven Waling’s Captured Yes, the most recent of Alec’s Knives, Forks and Spoons Press publications. From the stall I bought Sophie Robinson’s a from Les Figues Press, Nick Thurston’s Historia Abscondita from information as material, Lucy Harvest Clarke’s Silveronda from if p then q, and two magazines – the final Parameter with the whole of Richard Barrett’s The Rushes and other poems by William Garvin, Jim Goar and Steven Waling, and the first issue of Sunfish, a new magazine edited by Nigel Wood and with with an impressive debut line-up including The Other Room’s Scott Thurston, Geof Huth and Amy King.

All told a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

I didn’t stay out afterwards as I really didn’t want to spend any more money, and in any case had a new phone to play with at home.

Matt Dalby – Santiago’s Dead Wasp

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