Friday, 26 August 2011

Typical Editorial Discussion #7852


Question: why don't you use paragraphs in your emails, bastard? I keep trying to refer back to the things you say and can't find any functional breaks. Also, have you seen [Poet Y's ebook] thing? I think Luke recommended it.[*]

I'm not sure I entirely trust it, from what I've looked at so far, but I've not gone into detail. It feels like it's been cheapened by trying to capture the cheapness of contemporary society. Like trying to do a send up of the Devil Wears Prada, you can't help but be held back by the shallow sentiments of the original...?


[Poet Y]: meh. [Y's] work feels utterly empty to my mind, though that might be the backwash of [Y's] choice of subject matter, as you suggest, but it smells to me like the death of linguistically innovative poetry: third hand avantism for a generation with no ideas of its own. I've been reading a Geoff Dyer essay about jazz - 'Is Jazz Dead?' [**] (I'm tempted to write a response: 'Please God, I hope so') - which seemed of particular interest here. His basic argument is that, yes, jazz in the traditional sense is dead, but it thrives at the margins of places it's influenced and colonised over the years. Basically, jazz persists as 'world music' (and Dyer's as sceptical of that phrase as I am, but it's a useful shorthand), but Jazz with a capital J is a museum piece: its most exciting releases are now re-releases of the classics. A good essay in its own right, but all the way through, I kept hearing the word 'jazz' as 'experimental poetry' to see if the any of the arguments held, and they do. There's a great quote from Dizzy Gillespie about how the only direction jazz can go is forwards. If it's not moving forwards, in Dyer's gloss, it's not jazz. Couldn't we say the same for the linguistically innovative crowd? That it's basically a heritage industry, riding on the coat-tails of a previous generation's innovation, but not really moving things forward. The avant garde thrives on its marginality, but that's the only place where it's outlaw status derives from now. It's not marginal because it's avant garde: rather, it can play at being avant garde because it's marginal. All its modes and practises are thirty, forty, 100 years old (Collage and found text? Done. Linguistic mutation? Done. Ellipsis? Done. Open field composition? Done) and yet because it's off the radar, it's created a myth around itself that it's the wave of the future. It's exactly the same attitude you see in indier than thou hipsters, chasing the latest craze on twitter: it's so boring, frankly. Obviously the mainstream's no better, but at least they're not pretending to be re-inventing the wheel every five minutes.

Hhmm, that was rather relentless, wasn't it? But I suppose it's inevitable: what happens when you're stuck between two camps you find equally despicable? You go rogue, I guess. But I don't know what 'going rogue' looks like in literary terms. Any suggestions?


How about this?

That's about the level of my literary practice these days. At least it's a step up from [Poet Y].

The Dyer argument looks interesting, if you cut out the 'get this past the editor' crap about jazz/poetry 'being dead'. But yes, it sounds like you're really on a quest to find the pulse of contemporary experimental poetry. I'd put it in places like Voiceworks. Birkbeck's Contemporary Poetics Centre are keeping the language laboratory open through experiments in mixed media.

One of the questions you're raising is: 'what does experimental poetry call itself these days?' If 'jazz moving forwards' is typically 'world music' these days, then there ought to be an equivalent for 'poetry moving forwards': performance poetry? rap?

Thinking like that makes me realise that Dyer's finger is as far from the pulse as most other pop commentators. It's wrong logic, because world music is only the latest shelf category in HMV to feature jazz elements, or something like that. I.e. it's a published/historical moment, already passed. Performance poetry, slam, that's old hat, it's no longer underground it's an educational tool. Like what tricking is to parkour.

A conversation I had with Kwame Dawes a while ago, about reggae, comes to mind. He said that reggae, by its nature, is a collaborative, hybrid music genre. Reggae artists are always seeking mergers, renaissances, crossovers, so I had the sense there's a very lively practice taking place across frontiers, in localised areas and with limited range.

The festivals that showcase projects like Voiceworks seem to be the point of exchange for the hippest poetry stuff, lively crossovers - the Hay Jamboree to an extent, but chiefly text/art, sound/eye, nose/mouth, whatever they're called (maybe we should do one called ear/fingers, or tongue/face, or mouth/dance). Festivals & live readings seem to be the place to catch all that cutting edge stuff we talked about elsewhere - publication is historical, a capture of past moments, but performance is where the messier, in-progress material is aired. There's more verve to that kind of stuff.

Have you checked out Holly Pester's recent work? Her News Piece series hovers around unlistenable tension/viscerality/humour, while also maybe failing to solve the problem of the breathing being overplayed and a stall to my expectations of wanting a 'reward' for listening.

And think about this: the roguest thing we've done was that homonymic translation performance based on your Purple Toadflax poem. That had the most energy out of anything I've written or performed. And, strangely enough, the poetry itself was fairly tame, flarf-y stuff. The performance context was where the energy came from - blind reading, outline of laboratory conditions, presentation of material. What does that say to you?


[*] Luke didn't recommend it, someone else did.

[**] This is from his essay collection Working the Room. There's something similar online by Dyer here.

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