Friday, October 30, 2009

The Old Gang

The first of MMU's Autumn season events on the set of Stargate aka the Geoffrey Manton Building, saw the launch of two Carcanet poets' new collections. Matt Welton's new book has a title that comes in at 101 words, which, considering I once published a poem called "Mad Children with Tongues as Long as a Splinter were Licking the Creosote off Fences in Search of Unnatural Highs" I can only applaud. However it will forever be abbreviated to "We Needed Coffee but..." In what was a genuinely jolly evening, one particular joke was led by MUP's Matthew Frost, introducing Welton, who had promised to memorise the name of the book, and then dead panned, "I have done, The Book of Matthew", referring to his first collection.

I step ahead of myself though. Jeremy Over began the proceedings, with a slightly tentative reading of poems from his sophomore collection Deceiving Wild Creatures. Reading from a mix of "found" poems and poetry that in his explanations at least, was embedded in a certain sense of obscure English eccentricity, I have to admit that I was intrigued more than engaged. Each poem had a deep love of the sound of words, but also seemed a little jerky, the frequent use of the "etc. etc." and the poems ending somewhat suddenly, or with a final line or two hanging there, deliberately jutting out. These poems seemed more suited to page, and the repeated readings that would allow the reader to gain entry into their particular quirks. There were jokes, and smut, there as well, but as I discussed with a friend afterwards, it was a little Radio 4. The book itself though, from a first dip in, will deserve far deeper engagement, particularly in its use of a curiousity of language. The last poem he read, a prose poem, nodded heavily towards Ashbery's "The Instruction Manual," though, curiously, given he's a Carcanet poet, he only mentioned English models, such as John Clare.

Welton is a difficult poet only in the sense it is uncertain what he will do next in performance. Renowned for reading without notes, he also isn't afraid - particularly in poems such as these which were primarily written in collaboration, sometimes with artists, sometimes with musicians - of a genuine performance. Using a small sampler/loop player, and with lines from the poem, "Dr. Suss" on the Powerpoint backdrop, he began building this long poem layer by layer, so that a chorus gradually built up word by word, to which he overlaid variation after variation, finally becoming a cacophony of voices. It was a virtuoso performance that you feel will be different each time he attempts it. Clearly having a good time, in front of a large crowd, he gave us a number of other poems from the collection that are primarily textual experiments. A difficult second book, some time after his debut, "We needed coffee but..." looks an interesting, if sometimes daunting read.

Two poets then, who seemed to me to have only a little in common, but who both offer a reinterpretation of what it is to be a contemporary poet, both in terms of performance and the poetry itself. Over's experiments are not immediately successful in the live setting, but on a first look at the book, I think they'll be worth the exploration; whilst Matt remains one of our most individual of talents. Neither offered much concession to venue, city or audience - which in itself is pleasing - as the large audience was hopefully challenged a little. Certainly its a good start to MMU's autumn season. Bumping into John McAuliffe from the other University, he reminded me that their reading season starts a week on Monday as well. Manchester blog awards shortlisted blogger Matt Dalby, (is 3 Matt's a record?), who sat next to me, writes about the night here.

With so many familiar faces in the audience, some of whom I used to see going back to those old Waterstones readings when Welton was the store's poetry buyer, it was inevitable that we'd end up in the bar. On an unseasonally warm night, we sat outside Kro 2, the night already enlivened by the intellectual pump-priming of the early evening poetry. Manchester seemed buzzing with possibility. I mentioned the second "Art of With" debate at the Cornerhouse, which takes place on November 25th with a focus on "artists and curators." Room for a poet or two, I think. My own "a writers guide to social media" on 18th November at the Chorlton Book Festival, should also be another opportunity to meet up.

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