Friday, 14 September 2007

Shearsman @ Swedenborg Hall

The Shearsman series returned this month after its summer hiatus, with two poets I'd previously unheard of (not that that is difficult) - Scott Thurston and Ian Davidson. Both came across as very interesting page/process explorers on the whole, though with a political edge that worked extremely well, when employed.

Scott Thurston kicked off with a piece that drew parallels between the felling of Saddam's statue in Baghdad and Ozymandias; I enjoyed the execution much more than I'd expected, but most especially for the introductory quotation he read out about a leg from the statue worth £6000 being impounded by UK Customs for not having a valid bill of sale to accompany it.

But his work really began to solidify after this piece. I marked him down as a poet psychoanalysing himself at the page, in the moment of arriving at the creative space, just before genesis. And so the poems produced were often about producing poems. There was a lot of self-reflexivity in his work, a dash of the abstract - talk of spaces, blankness. Two significant quotes I half-recorded, both of which indicate recurring ideas:

"Emotions are the same in poetry as in real life"


"Showing up at the page with a sexual core burning"

Ian Davidson used his travel experiences in Greece, the Baltics, Wales and elsewhere as a way of pointing the pen at himself, his own body. And again, a strong political edge brought in through the locational history, such as the KGB in Riga, Latvia.

There was a sense of the names of things becoming detached by change and decay and a sense that political factors had a hand in this, or an inability to keep up with the meaning of things, as they decayed, while the words stayed the same.

This carried through to an emphasis on the physical - a deep understanding of the immediately physical - organs, senses, bodily decay and construction and so on. The introduction to his recent book, which I bought at the event, talks about how he actually took up smoking and quit repeatedly while writing and actually ended up hospitalised for a while with severe throat problems. Something warped, but also pioneering about this.

Similar to Thurston, he was a poet who described the act of creating poetry, but his approach was more tangible. He met words, on the page, but also acted in dialogue with them, with the writing process, even if the experience didn't answer him in speech. The idea that took hold of me best was that words had a sensory effect upon the poet in the moment of creation.

One of my favourite of his metaphors (and my favourite in recent times), was of walking between words almost blind, between their leaf rustle, brushed by their branches. I'm paraphrasing, but the effect was to put me in mind of the wardrobe to Narnia as a paralell for poetic genesis.

Anyway, a series well worth going to if you're in London. It's free, you get to sit under the unnerving gaze of a bust of Swedenborg himself:

"At the age of fifty-six he entered into a spiritual phase, in which he experienced dreams and visions. This culminated in a spiritual awakening, where he claimed he was appointed by the Lord to write a heavenly doctrine to reform Christianity. He claimed that the Lord had opened his eyes, so that from then on he could freely visit heaven and hell, and talk with angels, demons, and other spirits."

The choice of venue is oddball in a good way, as are a few of the poets I've seen there this year, although Christopher Middleton's visit earlier this year has left me with absolute faith in Tony Frazer's tastes. Next month Erín Moure is over from Canada. She's one of Shearsman's translators, but will read her own work.

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