Monday, 30 March 2015

The Metaphysics of Rhythm


I was introduced to this phrase and underlying idea on Saturday at another one of our Collaboration days. Steve went on to explain the relationship between length and shape of space between the sound (which makes the rhythm) and our sense of safety or uncertainty. The regular rhythm, when you know what's going to happen next, creates a safe listening experience - in the main. The irregular (I immediately thought Theolonious Monk) sets the listener on edge. And while I'm not sure I agree in its entirety as I find the 'safe' experience often boring, I know I need it as something to come back to - and outside of music, liken the irregular rhythm to cluster bombing.

I was particularly switched on by the idea and the significance of space over the sound (if the sound is one simple note or word, say). It reminded me of a book I recently read, I Live I See by Vsevolod Nekrasov. And what can be achieved by the space in a poem: between words, line endings and stanza breaks and shapes. And what I love about performing with Steve - the permission for space between words and the extension of the words themselves. How working as a poet within music offers the chance to really stretch into rhythms and push against what I would normally feel comfortable with.

It makes the experience - for the listener as well as for performers - so much more precipitous, which in this context means uncertain, which in the safety of theatre creates work that is alert and active in the listening. It is this vivacity of performance that ensures I am wholly embedded in the delivery of my work - the uncertainty becomes anxiety before the performance, suspension during performance and excitement post performance.

It also makes me think of the push/pull dynamic that Steve and I have in the composition of our work: Steve's draw to irregularity extends to his enjoyment of dischordance and its effect on the listener, what I would call a unscratchable itch. While I, overarchingly, am pulled to harmony, despite my delight in regularity I need something comforting in both what I listen to and make.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

StAnza 2015

StAnza coasters... miniature poetry books ... poetry scrolls ... mug shots of all the contributing artists on a wall ... comfy seating ,.. giant beach ... weeny harbour ... I enjoyed all of the inbetween delights of the festival. And to cap it all, we were blessed with gorgeous weather.

Of course the reason for going is the poetry. And I fell on my feet with what I heard (only being there for one and a half days). My highlight was the double bill of Ilya Kaminsky and Ian Duhig. They both gave extraordinary readings, for every different reasons, and so the dynamic between their readings that reverberated in me filled not just my mind but nerves and limbs too. This was in part because of Kaminsky's extraordinary style. He read one long poem: 'Musica Humana': part singing, part chant, part vocal rollercoaster, part straight reading which pulled me inside the poem, experiencing it as if I was one of its inhabitants pressing against the images and line lengths, partly in claustrophobia, partly in horror,
laughter at the surreality. As one of the sections says

I escape and am caught, escape again
and am caught, escape
                      and am caught: in this song,


The poem took me through despair, tenderness, love, innocence, while Ilya's rendition had me captivated. His voice rolled with emotion, with lyric, with a deeply held conviction of the importance of lineage. I shrank smaller and smaller as I listened, as the poem swept through the room and everyone was listening and reading (he'd given handouts of the poem so we would not struggle with his Russian accent) rapt with experience.

How to follow that? Good job it fell to Ian Duhig, who, while not known for a flamboyant reading style, is a poet whose linguistic dexterity holds me in awe at our language and what is possible to do with it. Listening to Ian read is like being driven along narrow lanes with 90° corners that open out onto huge citiscapes and then twist away on another 90° and to another view that twists back in tandem to the first lane. It's a thrilling ride. His knowledge is legion. A legion of softly spoken, leather-soled acrobats who only want to share their world with you. 

When I was digging into Digressions, the book he read from, to find lines I'd particularly loved to quote here, I found the following epigraph from Wittgenstein: 'Our language can be seen as an old city: a maze of little streets and squares ... In the actual use of expressions we make detours.' As I had no idea of this thought before writing my analogy of the above, I can only give credit to Ian for wholly embodying this premise in his work and conveying it so convincingly to me. Told you he's a star.

If you stretch out this writing
into one long, thin, single line,
draw it to an invisible thread,

you can make its information
your own material...
                              (from 'The White Page', from Digressions)

I was there, not just to enjoy myself hearing amazing poets, with Steve Lewis to perform Sealegs on the Sunday. For which we received some very enthusiastic responses as well as plenty of disbelief that the story parts were true. Oh, yes, sadly, they are... Here's a snippet

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Money Makes My Head go Round and Round

Receiving payment from the bookartbookshop last week for all the Sea-creatures and one In Good Weather...  I’d left with them last time I was in London was initially heart-warming news. People had walked into a shop, full of beautifully crafted, intelligently written short run books and bought some of mine. And what’s more, they had paid twice as much for them as I sell online or at readings. The bookshop sells them at this mark up so I get my full asking price for them, and they take their cut.

When I first started to sell my booklets I was told that nobody would pay more than £5 for a poetry pamphlet. Certainly when the bookstall at a readings have pamphlets on sale at £2 or thereabouts it is bound to have a devaluing effect on all the work for sale.


These books took designing then making - not including the time on the writing in the first place. I wanted some reflection of that in the price. It is how we lay value onto things in our society ... but, as all artists know, to tally up an hourly rate is unfeasible, so how do you land on a price that reflects 'worth', especially on something that has no predecessor? I haven't kept a true and accurate account of hours spent on writing, editing, rereading, thinking, prototyping, making... the only thing I have a real account of is the material cost... So, in one way the pricing is completely arbitrary, using other pamphlets/booklets as benchmarks, even if they bear little relation to my work. So it comes down to gut feeling, which is no way to commercial success.

As it happened I was in London at the end of the week so took another batch of Sea-creatures for their stock and a few of the newbies, There is no Night. There was no hesitation that they were also 'worth' twice the price I sell them for. 

I've stuck to my guns, however, and the booklets do sell. Obviously it is a different customer who goes into a specialist bookshop - that stocks books that range from £1 to £100 - to one who pays £3 to go to a poetry reading.

Later the same day I was loitering off Marylebone High Street, checking out the estate agents windows. Three bedroom apartments were for rent at £6000 per week. We pay that (almost) for a year in our place. Admittedly it does't have a bathroom for both its bedrooms, but it does have a good sized piece of land attached, views of the sea and no other house around.

I mention this because even though I understand the economics of scarcity (and the myth of scarcity), and that there is a whole world of the superwealthy who do not inhabit my world, and that art is not valued in our society, I never fail to be gobsmaked by notions of 'value' - ever since fifteen years ago in Whitby when I bought a 300000 year old ammonite for a fiver.