Thursday, April 08, 2010
the other room 15 review

The second birthday of The Other Room reading series was marked by a packed venue, with more than forty people present to see performances from Ian Davidson, Zoe Skoulding and Matt Welton. Unusually in Matt and to a lesser extent in Zoe there were two poets performing that a reader who relies on the mainstream media for information about poetry might have heard of. This is not to the detriment of either reader, more to the detriment of mainstream media understanding of poetry.

Having read during the second year just completed I was one of the poets who received a chocolate egg, and who featured in the new anthology. Or rather in the CD that comes with the anthology. I’d suggest that if you wanted a quick primer on a range of innovative and experimental poetry practices then the two anthologies of The Other Room readers to date are an excellent place to start.

But to the reading. Ian Davidson opened the evening with what I thought was the most diverse selection of poems, and I felt the most variable. Many were quite abstract, beginning with one or more snippets of information, then taking diversions into the implications of the ideas, physical reality, or the language used to express that information. Others were based on direct observation, playing with the fact that you have to be selective what information you choose to focus on. Those pieces were most familiar – not simply through my own practice but because I may either have read them or read pieces similar to them. Others were more directly discursive, sometimes political.

The most directly political poem, Blackwater, I felt was probably the least successful he read. On one listening it didn’t appear to do much beyond state what happened and offer an emotional reaction. This is one of the reasons I stopped writing political poetry myself years ago – although mine were a lot worse. But that one poem aside I thought the rest of Ian’s work was really fascinating. Particularly interesting pieces were from Into Thick Hair, a sequence of untitled poems using a seven syllable line. According to the book the line is derived from the cynghanedd metre used in Wales. The result is a choppy fractured rhythm, especially when the poetry is read aloud.

Ian also tended to ramble on a bit to long between some of the poems, on a couple of occasions giving away a lot of the bits of information the poems were based on. Fortunately his poetry is generally denser and more sophisticated than that and contains much more than just a statement of something observed and his emotional reaction to it. This meant that the introductions weren’t a problem, as there was still something to be derived from hearing the poem.

Zoe Skoulding was next and was quite a surprise to me. First because given her editorship of Poetry Wales (which I’ll admit I last read when Robert Minhinnick was still editor) I expected her work to be a little more conservative than it was, and second because I recognised that I had read a number of the poems previously. I enjoyed her poems a lot, although I found it less varied than Ian’s.

I also found myself reflecting on the nature of performance. Thinking how different Zoe’s poems would sound read by different voices, and wondering how far her reading served to re-familiarise (as opposed to defamiliarise) her language. This sometimes served to distract me from listening properly, for which I apologise. The poems though mainly seemed to focus on urban life and urban landscapes. They were also often quite detached, as though you were either above the scene, or wandering immaterial through the language and ideas.

The series of untitled poems under the name Columns, each referring to architectural columns, to specific cities, and aranged in columns on the page were especially interesting. They combined some broad descriptions with more abstract reflections, not obviously related to the objects mentioned. All of this combining to give an impression of place, and of Zoe’s reaction to that place.
There was then a break during which a bought a copy of Zoe’s Remains of a Future City, Ian’s Into Thick Hair and Familiarity Breeds, Geof Huth’s NTST (I already have Matt Welton’s books), and a copy of the Anthology for my mother.

Matt Welton then performed after the break. It was quite an unusual performance, and certainly not the most fluent I’ve seen him. He was confident and warm as usual, but struggled to remember a couple of his poems (he performs from memory rather than reading). He was also more expansive and reflective in his introductions than I’ve seen hime previously. Whether this was occasioned by the return to Manchester, having recently relocated to Nottingham after 20 years in Manchester, is impossible to say.

He did remember a couple of short poems by other writers, one from Wallace Stevens and one by another poet whose name I can’t remember. I like to hear poets perform pieces by others, although I’m not sure that it necessarily tells you very much about the poet.

Matt’s poems were the mix of surrealism, serious reflection and humour that you might expect. And although I mentioned he struggled to remember some of the pieces he only really broke down and abandoned one of them. There was no serious dent in your enjoyment of the evening or his reading incurred by this either. He finished by delivering the first installment of manuscript to James Davies for his if p then q imprint as a performance, reading from cards. I can’t remember the title of the poem but on the surface at least it reflected (humorously) on what is and what isn’t real, and what we might mean by real in any case.

And that was it, another Other Room reading over much too soon. I enjoyed all the readings, and was especially impressed with Ian Davidson. Look out for The Other Room 16 on Wednesday 2 June with Susana Gardner, Peter Manson and Nicole Mauro.

Matt Dalby, Santiago’s Dead Wasp

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