Saturday, May 27, 2006

read all about it

From the Cottingham Advertiser, Friday 26th May, 2006:

Blame dead writer, not phone masts

Residents of the Cottingham area of Hull who have been experiencing strange phenomena over the last ten days have been told by experts that the cause lies not with mobile phone masts as first thought, but rather emanates from the cemetery in Eppleworth Road.

The phenomena were first noticed last Tuesday by night security staff at the nearby School of Nursing who reported a ‘groaning cloud’. Employee Rex Vile, 54, described how he had seen the cloud in the atrium of the building. “It was about the size of a small car, like a Lancia, black as your hat, and it made a groaning, muttering sound.” Other staff reported difficulties with computer equipment and telephones.

The problem persisted, and by Thursday police were called. A nearby restaurant proprietor, Mr K. Rupra, 43, of the Next of Kin take-away in Birstall road saw the cloud too. “It put out my grill,” he said. “Very bad for business.” In other developments, recording engineer Martin Cowan of the nearby Nine Bar rehearsal and recording studio had to bin hundreds of hours of recordings after they became affected by the muttering sound. “This could put Hull music culture back six months” said Mr Cowan.

Local Authority and Police opinion at first pinned the blame on a clutch of phone masts recently erected. Professor Laszlo Tenebrus, however, Chair of the Department of Speculative Theory, Hull University, soon located the real cause. “This phenomenon is uncommon, but not unheard of,” said Prof. Tenebrus. “We call it a POEM, or Postmortem Operation of Extreme Malignity. In cases where a person has lived a life of thwart, regret, pessimism and misanthropy, and has also developed a high level of functional articulacy in tandem with a hatred and fear of imagination and creativity, there can be a kind of ‘perfect storm’ of unpleasantness so impacted and solid that it actually creates a kind of psychic kidney stone which, after the subject’s death, very slowly degrades. It has a half life of 20 years, and after that point is apt to leave the site of bodily internment, and roam the immediate area causing upset and dismay. Fortunately, and for reasons that remain unclear, it is unable to cross Electoral Ward Boundaries, and cannot survive long in the present. Modernity burns the POEM like shame burns the cuckold. In this instance I have traced the emanation of the POEM to the grave of the poet Philip Larkin, interred in Cottingham Municipal Cemetery in 1985.”

Professor Tenebrus advised the Local Authority that the best way to quiet the POEM was for the soil of the poet’s grave to be rendered alkaline by the application of urine.For technical reasons related to diet and hormonal profile, the Professor explained, it was necessary that the urine came from young female persons, whose ethnicity differed as much as possible from the subject’s. By chance, a visiting Fellow in Speculative Theory, Ms Yinka Ogunsiji of the University of Benin, happened to fit the specifications and was happy to help the people of Cottingham return to normality.

A spokesman for Kingston-upon-Hull Local Authority said “We are very grateful to the Professor and to Ms Ogunsiji for their assistance in this difficult matter. We would advise other Local Authorities to conduct risk assessments of their own cemeteries so as to maintain operational resilience in the face of this avoidable problem.”

Last night, the resting places of Kingsley Amis and John Osborne were being guarded by the TA while investigations were carried out. In a late development, the film-maker Mike Leigh has been asked to submit details of his prospective funeral arrangements to Camden Council for approval.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

solar anus my arse

All went well at the reading last night. A pretty good crowd despite the rain, and a particularly enjoyable set from Gary Goodman whose long rolling half-chanted delivery and tender adjectival pile-up poems always please me. I’m not sure how they’d work on the page (I don’t mean I think they wouldn’t, I just mean I can’t guess, his performance being so particular), but he’s great to listen to.

Jay Clifton, who organises this reading series, and Anthony Banks publish a literary journal called Succour. I’ve had a couple of things in this in the past, but don’t have anything in the current issue (which has really turned a corner design-wise and now looks beautiful). Anthony asked me to contribute to the next issue, whose theme is ‘The Obscene’. This got me thinking for the first time in ages about Georges Bataille, who is part of this current exhibition.

‘Obscene’, from the greek for ‘offstage’, is often construed as a supplement to the normal. If the stage is a parameter and the scale of the possible exceeds the playing area, then obscenity is normative, a question of degree, a limit function. Bataille, however, seems to understand this other region as a territory outside thought, where there are no co-ordinates, where there are paths but no vectors, and where consequentialist morality is revealed as a function of a kind of existential false-consciousness. Where violence, chaos and abjection reign and are redeemed only by their halo which is beauty.

It strikes me that it is rather easier for a comfortably employed (as a numismatist), healthy and well dressed, well educated, articulate, white, mid-century french man to expostulate on the beauty of profanity, its being prior to justice, and the ways in which aesthetics might redeem violence, than someone whose freedom to act is a little more circumscribed. Someone to whom the products of the ‘bourgeois machinery of justice’ may be of more immediate and pressing utility. Someone for whom the varieties of sexual practice and the contiguous practices of deviancy are nothing more than their place of work, dull and familiar as a call centre. Someone perhaps like the nameless prostitutes habitually fucked, humiliated and denied agency by Bataille and his penguin-suited cigarillo-twirlers.

As subtle and complex as his philosophy is, as useful a thinker as he might seem to be, I have to ask whether Bataille’s thought, its emanations and avatars, are things with which one might align oneself, rather as one stands next to a friend the better to see where she points with her arm, or whether it might be an obstacle to pleasure, justice and peace. And the more I think of the women ploughed away by his Friday night jolly-ups, the more he looks like one of those corpulent waitress-grabbing old creeps that lurk about in Neue Sachlichkeit paintings. I’ve met a few of these guys in my life (hello and fuck you Dave Neil), and have found their nietzschean posturing laughable or alarming according to their power to act (which power is often circumscribed in these men by a pathetic cowardice in social situations – ever met a Thelemite?). I don’t think I’d have liked Bataille very much, and I’m pretty sure it’d have been mutual.

Incidentally there are a series of discussions running alongside that exhibition including one with Sinclair, Catling, Allen Fisher and Aaron Williamson on July 5th. Just try and keep me away from that.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

not in pub on friday shock

I'm doing a reading this Friday, March 19th at the permanent gallery in brighton, along with Gary Goodman, Claudia Pouffot, and Hammet Story Agency. I would imagine things'll kick off around 8. There's normally a bar of sorts, I believe its £2 on the door. I'll be reading poems about the sun, rice, ghosts and Albert Ayler.

In other news, I decided to give Catling another chance and scored a copy of his Late Harping from etruscan (who now seem to have withdrawn it - try amazon used I guess, or abebooks), whose books are designed by someone who clearly considers the E4 tv idents the very acme of sophisticated elegance, and find that, yes, when he's not mooning over his missus he can still deal that weird blocky heat. Phew. I met his partner once, and she was charm itself, and her drawings were fucking fantastic. Catling was very pleasant too (this was at an after-a-Gary-Stevens-show do at Catling's flat in Oxford), laid on a feast of lebanese food, and at one point handed me a cannon ball - I forget why. I spent most of the night talking with his seven year old son about sweets.

Also, we've booked a trip to Italy and we're doing to San Gimignano, Siena and Rome. And maybe somewhere else if we feel like it. Which has nothing to do with poetry or anything, but I'm so excited I can't help it.

Also, I want to try and get in first on the John James revival (not that he's ever really gone away, y'know, but..) and am preparing to unburden myself about his engaging trendy-teacher demotic / lyric /avant cheerful lovely poems. Yes, soon come...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

if you like frank o'hara so much why don't you just go and live there?

Kind and charming remarks from Jon and Neil in yesterday's comments set me thinking. I've been writing a short thing for my friend Jack who wanted a kind of 'How To Get Started' kit for reading poetry, and a bit of it seemed relevant. When Jon suggests that I might live more 'sharply' (good word) than he, I feel duty bound to point out that that 'sharpness', Neil's term is 'crystal clear focus', is a function of the poems, not of my life (sharp is not the word that would spring to your mind if you knew what I've been doing recently). I was trying to get across this very idea in my thing for Jack. I should really have used Ted Berrigan's fantastic poem 'American Express' as an example but it's too long and weirdly indented to type up, so I went for O'Hara again, but posted a picture of Ted to make up for it. I'm imposing a one month O'Hara moratorium starting today. Anyway, this is what I said to Jack:

Here’s a thing to think about. Douglas Oliver, a fantastic British poet who died a few years ago quite young, described some of the poetry of Ted Berrigan in this way: he said the poems were ‘a form of cognition’. What he means by that, I think, is that the poems are not a description of anything. They don’t contain knowledge like a cup contains tea, nor do they transmit anything. They are something: a type of knowledge. Something clicks in the poem. When you get a poem right it makes a type of knowledge exist that just couldn’t exist otherwise. The wonderful but dangerously influential American poet Frank O’Hara starts off lots of his poems by telling you the time and you have to think hard what that means. Does he mean that’s the time the events in the poem happened, or the time he’s writing the poem, or what? And when you read it what happens? Are you supposed to imagine it’s that time? It’s the very first thing, it’s at the front for a reason. (I was just going to quote the start of this but you might as well see the whole thing, eh?)

The Day Lady Died

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don't know the people who will feed me
I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn't even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan's new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don't, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness
and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it
and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

So that’s a poem about Billie Holiday dying. Her nickname was Lady Day, geddit? And what does Frank say about it? Not much. It starts with him saying the time, then imagines a little way ahead, not worrying exactly, but conscious of not knowing ‘the people who will feed me’. A bad poet might try and make something of that, you know, the future’s uncertain, blah blah. He just leaves it there, then he’s bustling about town, hot and indecisive, absent mindedly thinking about things. He names places and people, books, brands of cigarette, then he sees a newspaper with the news of her death, and remembers seeing her perform. The ‘12.20’ acts as a kind of pivot for the poem to hang on, lean a little forward (timetabled, on tracks), lean back a little. In the middle of the poem, Frank is ‘practically going to sleep with quandariness’, and at the end, after arriving ‘back where I came from’ he’s stopped breathing, and Billie Holiday’s dead. All these things are put together in a way that is about memory, about death (sleeping, not breathing, I hear ‘John Doe’ in that ‘john door’…) , about time and the way it stops, swirls about, lurches and leans, and somehow partly by saying ‘It is 12:20 in New York a Friday’ at the start the creation of that piece of knowledge actually happens in the poem. The poem doesn’t try and explain a set of feelings, or draw parallels between things to try and make a point, it is a separate thing in itself. It’s in the world, of course, so it acknowledges the world, the names of its roads and restaurants, but it’s not a report: it’s a warm little ball of knowing, it is something clicking, and you can go back to it again and again and again and it’ll never wear out. Read it out loud, you’ll see what I mean. Now I’m not a religious man, I have no use for eternity, as far as I can see it’s just you and me kid, and this kind of knowing is not an epiphany, but it is, as our hairy elders would say, a trip. A trip back to here.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

something about the seaside...

Here's a poem. I'm pleased with it, so I'm showing it off.

the landings

happy the door dog, his livid cock,
his spumey muzzle a gruff salute
to herring milt, cherry syrup,
salt dust pebbles for him to lick

go around, chime ceramic
restored victorian carousel,
-------wave while
-------the sea tilts
-------you baptismally
-------listen up
for the almost imperceptible
ritardando and dismount

the ice cream alarm
is ringing and ringing

“Bathers out!”
calls the umpire,
bright his yellow
ball of office,
bright his klaxon,
cap and flag

up we come like a doomed regiment
shin deep fret of turquoise glass,
divining as the board thrums:

kiss me, kiss me,
we made it again

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