Monday, December 10, 2012

The Other Room

Even though the Other Room frequently features three performers from the more experimental end of the poetry spectrum, its rare that you can find more than cursory connections between them. On the surface, Alec Newman, Nat Raha and Seekers of Lice (actually a solo artist, called, I think, Anne), hadn't much in common either but coincidentally all read sequences, and had some element of the improvisational in work that was otherwise very structured.

Alec is the publishing phenomenon that is Knives, Forks and Spoons press, but as host Tom Jenks reminded us he first "met Alec as a poet." Our first sequence of the evening was a sombre one; as Alec, pulling random prose sections from a brown envelope read testimony from the Lodz ghetto. It was a surprisingly effective mechanism. The horror of the ghettos, and the move from containment to expulsion and extermination of the Jews, is our very own descent into Hell. By telling the story at random - interspersing the speech of the ghetto "elder" Rumkowski with that of the survivors - our "descent" is fractured, and somehow the horror of even the smallest decisions is amplified. These found texts have their own poetry of course; their own monotony - (the banality of horror?) - but Newman's approach, which didn't interpolate meaning in any way other than his matter-of-fact delivery, stopped this short of the language feeling appropriated. In the end, we are listening to the horror, and reflecting on it.

Nat Raha read several pieces, both before and after a break, the majority of which was newer work. There is a fractured lexicon to Nat's work which occasionally (live, rather than on the page), strays into confusion, but more often seems jagged with meaning. What that meaning is is less certain - this is a provisional art in some ways; provisional on our engagement with it, and free somewhat of context, whereas Newman's work felt more tentative, its meaning certain, but its execution asking us questions. In certain pieces, the density of language, its slightly academic complexity creates a veneer that is occasionally impenetrable, but mostly something comes through, whether its queer theory; contemporary political anger (in a strong poem castigating the coalition, dedicated to Sean Bonney), or language itself (in an anti-sonnet sequence that will be published in 2013.) The best performance piece had Nat and a friend reading a simultaneous poem, where there voices, even more matter-of-fact than Alec, combined effectively, reminiscent of the vocal collage of the Velvet Underground's "The Murder Mystery"; not surprisingly these pieces had been written for a tribute to Sonic Youth, and the final poem used their lyricals to early classic "Youth Against Fascism."

When a performer is billed as "seekers of lice" one didn't quite know what to expect. But Seekers of Lice, a tall, quietly spoken woman, was more art than performance, though the quietly effective nature of her performance had its own power over the room. Reading short prose aphorisms from a stack of cards that she let fall beside her, the same random element that we'd found with Alec came into play. The writing was occasionally funny, sometimes personal and anecdotal, occasionally simple but decorative. This felt like a distant sister of Stein's "Tender Buttons." When artists engage with words, there's sometimes an over-simplicity that makes you wonder about their choice of medium, but Seekers of Lice read her somewhat oblique strategies in a way that made you want to seek them out on the page. The second piece, was a new sequence where she was accompanied by a slideshow of equally oblique images, some photographs being close-up shots of banal objectives; others being slightly mis-shot street scenes that were almost animated for three or four slides of the view from a slightly different angle; others being blank sheets of colour. The piece ended with a rich red, a calming end to a piece that was both calming and unsettling, her quiet words again offering something off a fractured narrative, and like Greenaway's not entirely dissimilar "Drowning by Numbers", having a sequence to it. Perhaps the most tentative of the works this evening, it was also my favourite.

1 comment:

gastrosurgery. said...

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