Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Poetry that they Don't Teach You at School

Poetry readings are good value, for a few quid you get to see three or four poets, often interesting, sometimes excellent. The "sting" of course, is that there's usually a table of books somewhere near. Whereas a reading by a "name" will see a man from Blackwells or Waterstones hovering with a pile of Fabers or similar - pleasant enough, but nothing you can't buy from your local branch or the internet - a more obscure group of poets will come with a book table to die for.

Not a table, last week, but a bookshelf, at Bury Art Gallery, furnished a couple of gems (see above), the catalogue of the 2nd Bury Text Festival on the right, and on the left the anthology of the first year of "The Other Room." Both are handsome publications. Worth the price of admission on its own, for the Text Festival catalogue is the extract from Tony Lopez's "Only More So" some of which he read at last Saturday's reading. If some experimental poetry can seem an exercise in facility, this prose piece (that reads like poetry - a nice reversal of, say, the piece that Andrew Motion read on HardTalk last week) is Ashbery-ish in its juxtapositions but its surreality is an everyday one of observation, rather than something more dreamlike. Lines drop in from news articles of the day such as "Compensation paid to thalidomide victims is currently subject to UK income tax", or observations such as "We have a room full of people writing dialogue for digital agents." Here, Lopez is noticing how the contemporary sentence is the unit of rhythm, but these contemporary drop-ins seem like disruptions in the fabric of a more poetic, more ancient document, as if a reading by a medievalist or a hermit's ruminations are being interrupted by radio static. "Feeling content with form, I tried extension," he writes at one point, "Belief is the most challenging of human faculties." These apparent non-sequiturs make a contextual sense, as if we're weaving some blanket mixing emotion, memory and political anger. A brain working fully, in other words, across all the senses.

There is much else in the anthology to admire - but having heard Lopez's piece it was great to be able to re-read it. Visual art is alongside poetry and prose pieces. I was pleased to revisit one of Joe Devlin's Marginalias, as we published several in our very first issue of Lamport Court several years ago, as well as James Davies' humorously offbeat work. James features in both the text festival book, and as one of its founders (and half of poetry/art dualism Joy as Tiresome Vandalism) in "The Other Room Anthology 09/09." Having seen many of the poets read these or similar works live, there's a pleasure in revisiting those half-memories. Even those poets who perhaps didn't impress on the night, might offer something different on the page. One undoubted success, both on page, and when she read them live, was Alex Middleton's translations of Danish poet Inger Christensen, a series of litanies of the natural world, that sound both fragile and beautiful in English.

You can get the Other Room anthology from their website, and the lovely hardback catalogue from Bury Art Gallery.

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