Sunday, March 13, 2016

Poetry Not Poetry

About once a year I give up poetry, usually at the point that I start writing poetry again. It is the nature of the beast, I think. I've not been reading much poetry of late - I wonder if there comes a point when you're only really interested in reading new stuff, and when I mean new, I mean genuinely new. There seems to be, somehow, a bit of a return to safeness, to nature poetry, elegies, to a non-demotic language. There are good poems and books out there, but sifting them becomes harder. There's an unshifting, unshiftable mainstream in British letters, that feeds into a somewhat complacent culture - what's to write about? The anniversary of the first world war.... more classical tropes. I liked but haven't given it enough time, Sarah Howe's award winning "Loop of Jade." I was less enthralled by Claudia Rankine's "Citizen," but again I need to find time, to give it time. Besides, if we're talking about American racism, I've been listening to black American rap music for thirty years; its not a subject I've been tone deaf to. Listening to Kendrick Lamarr's highly politicised album from last year I was reminded of a brilliant, but forgotten rap album from 1992, "Tricks of the Shade" by the Goats. Elsewhere, cheap publishing options mean there are a plethora of small presses, pamphlet presses that those more embedded in the poetry scene seem to be better than me at engaging with. Over five years after my Salt pamphlet I've an ever shifting "collection" of poems, that I'd hope to come out at some point, but as ever, the restlessness of my style probably stops them from cohering.

That said, I've kept going to a few things: hearing quite a bit of live literature this year, and, accidentally, if not reluctantly, have started performing poetry live again. I've a couple of small gigs coming up, and its good to road test new material. I'll be in Didsbury this Thursday, The Word is a newish night compered by Fat Roland at Home community cafe, next to the church, opposite the Art of Tea on Wilmslow Road.

There's a fun exhibition on at Manchester Art Gallery currently, The Imitation Game, curated by Clare Gannaway. It takes the idea of "the Turing test" - at what point does A.I. (artificial intelligence) become aware enough to appear human. This is art as technology, technology as art; various exhibits are animatronics, robots, and the playful nature of the show means that there is both a sense of wonder and a purposeful engagement. One such outcome is the end result of Ed Atkins' "Performance Capture" piece from M.I.F. last year, and on Thursday night Paul Granjon gave a fun performance with mini-robots, cheesey songs and even BBC Micro programming, as accompaniment to his "robot" exhibit. The exhibition catalogue is well worth getting, with some explanatory essays alongside images of the show.

The Paul Granjon performance, like seeing PINS Andy Warhol/Velvet Underground night last week, reminded me how strange, how unusual, how unique so many events are in Manchester; and I'd be surprised if there's another city in the UK - in Europe? - where the fringe, the off-piste, the unusual is as potentially central to our cultural life.

I've been trying to write a long post about the European literary imagination, as I'm despairing a bit of both the Brexit lies, but also the Stronger in Europe campaign's appeal to our wallets rather than our hearts. For me, Europe has to be an imaginative as well as an actual union and community - and we are the better for that shared imagination...more next time....but in the mean time, the poem I've written about my European-ness will no doubt have a second outing at my reading on Thursday.

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