Monday, 7 September 2009

Simon Turner - Tears in the Fence 50 @ The Bell

Saturday September 5th, 2009

1. The Journey
A clean unbroken ride on the Met to Moorgate - though not smooth: the train rattling and jumping along the tracks, matching the wonderfully variegated and fussy scenery, the weed-tangled wreckage hiding behind tenements and semis, the unspoken wilds of London - though there we halted. A fire at Aldgate, all options closed. So the last pellet of the journey was on foot, though not far, the stations crammed close together here, like Starbucks in Seattle. Great to see a corner of London I don't know: a lot of character here, the older buildings in strange uneasy conversation with wideboy shimmer of the steel and glass financial megaliths screwing the gauzy skyline.

2. The Venue
The Bell, an East End pub of genuine distinction. There's a stuffed bear's head - I couldn't tell if it was real or not - smoking a roll-up behind the bar, and the whole place is decked out with more dark wooden beams than the pages of Moby-Dick. Plus they have Leffe on tap, which is the nectar of the gods. Or at least, the Belgians, who invented Tintin and chips, so they're pretty close to divinity in my book. As I get older I'm coming to believe strongly in a kind of selective modernity: up to the minute technology has its place in, say, medical research - leeches and hot cupping are so last season - but when it comes to pubs, the best advice is to leave well alone. Character wins out over stainless steel polish and Habitat furniture every time.

Great to see lots of people I've mostly known in the abstract (human personality reduced to email exchanges SAEs) in these surroundings, too: people George and I have published (Nathan Thompson, Andrew Bailey, Tom Chivers, James Wilkes), and people who've been kind enough to publish me (including David Caddy, Tears in the Fence's head honcho). Plus lots of writers - Jeremy Hilton, Kim Taplin, Nathan Thompson (again) whose work I have read and admired. What was notable was a genuine sense of community. This could be romanticism, exuberance brought on through a mild haze of Belgian beer, but it is one of the things that drew me to Tears in the Fence to begin with: that sense of a community of writers, working in disparate fields and modes, but all with a positive energy directed towards pushing at the boundaries, working to expand what poetry can do.

3. The Readings
Only a partial list, but the standouts for me were:

David Caddy, speaking about the history of Tears in the Fence (surprised to learn that it generated some negative feedback from the conservative end of the poetry world in its early days, and even made the pages of 'Pseud's Corner' on a number of occasions: that's one of my ambitions in life), and his own editorial remit. Essentially, the magazine's about eclecticism, not dogmatism, and I suspect that's one of the reasons it's survived.

Brian Hinton, reading a lovely evocation of a cricket match, which was also a celebration of David Caddy (apparently, DC is a tough and tenacious cricket player).

Ian Brinton, giving lovely oracular readings of Charles Tomlinson, Ed Dorn and JH Prynne, embedded in a potted history of the transatlantic conversations that formed much of the context of the production of some really exciting work on both sides of the pond in 60s and 70s, of which the three poems he read were only the tip of the iceberg.

Hannah Silva, reading-performing a piece which I can only describe as a head-on collision between Bob Cobbing and Alice Oswald. Okay, I'm sure there are other ways to describe her work, but I'm lazy, and I'm writing at top speed, and any effort to slow down and give some more careful consideration to my words or thoughts will probably bring on a short-term block that'll completely kill off this post. The main body of the piece was a kind of sound-sculpture, mixing Silva's live voice with field recordings, and pre-recorded overdubs (I think) of her voice, the whole brew collapsing into a ticking, heaving swamp of sound. Silva's work is extremely exciting, representing as it does a marriage of performance poetics, and more 'academic' tendencies in modern poetry. The results were/are invigorating.

4. Life Without Buildings
I recommended this band to Andrew during the day, as I think they were one of the most wonderful things ever to happen to the world of music. Just to give you a context as to why I've posted this.

5. The Verdict
Tears in the Fence has lasted 50 issues. That's impressive work. I hope it lasts another 50. My co-editor, during his own reading on the day, stated that he felt the magazine was something of a spiritual home for him, and I would concur with that sentiment. We both hope the Fence runs and runs.

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