Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Neil Pattison: Preferences 1

1: How do I look?

A slip of traction
and the catch wires
form proscription
to the motive cusp,
slender. Climacterics
choke on the copula
tradeoff, switching
flatline hungers in the
pause, your pocket.
Preference labours
to make, an edit proof
defective in the act.
With what science?
New treatments
scripting the pinned
figure’s wing chase
bright metallics;
your own therapys
lashed in broke
assertions are the catch.

Urge the present
set for home.
Chromatic rates
of trade & force
aslant decision.
Clouds & clusters
sculpt faze ratios,
clipping frequency
breaks. Gyorgy,
bow the steel.
The white knots
hatch out chance
of a tourniquet.
Pearls & coral
buoy the wreck.
Acquiescence bleeds
a threshold, kills
the day. Relinquish
the language, make
room. I love you.

Sleeping, pay no
attention. Wake
to your dead rate,
a stripped heart.
Steering emergence
amok your streets
from scratch to render
cadence means
indexing renewal,
the dark manifest.
Zoned & keycoded
estrange homes co-opt
futurity, weathered
into shape. Grief
secures the encircle
ment routes, alarming
laborious shifts. Swipe
mouths at the gate.
I was never asleep.
Are you tired?

Transition bombs in
the shelters maybe.
We want the god
at hand. Brassnecks
& art shoes, frisks
of currency. Smoking
guns, new veers
& reels. Faces down
in the data stream
the screen is gate,
high scarp & degree:
say byebye purchase.
Cutbacks, good
schlock, old money:
bloodshot & curved
against the glassy brink,
how do we look?
The wall uncurls,
gives & tooths an edge:
I’ve cleaned my hands.

As our surface
rooms mother
conditional dues
the grievances
kick, relapse
permission to
the salvagers’
decisive coast.
A frontier
Abeyance cost
burlesque &
our conscience.
Any excavation
quicks the fugue;
sative zoetropic
skews at your
beloved skin
mean silver
dancing out.

Neil Pattison is a student at Cambridge. I met him when I read there last year, and remembered that he told me he was unpublished. Since then he’s read at Cambridge and there was a rave-review on one of the e-mail lists.

Page 481

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Robert Sheppard: The History of the Other, part seven

Robert Sheppard reading at The Poetry Buzz
(Stephen Farrell Sheppard in the background)
Performance Writing

Iain Sinclair’s anthology Conductors of Chaos (referred to as CC in the text) which I talked about last month, also reflects the growth of a specific ‘performance writing’. Not to be confused with the populist performance poetry to be found in most cities and towns (a distant descendent of the British Beats of the 1960s), this emergent practice developed out of the performance contexts of British poetry in the 1970s and 1980s analysed above. It found a temporary institutional home at Dartington College of the Arts, in Devon. Aaron Williamson, for a while a research fellow there, was witnessed in performance by Susan de Muth of the Independent in 1995:

When he bursts through the glass doors, it is like an explosion of noise. People step back, tread on each others’ toes, stumble; we’re assaulted by the violent cacophony of his roaring, screaming, jibbering, weeping and moaning.

Indeed ‘Cacophonies’ is the title of one sequence excerpted in Conductors Of Chaos. The poems are exacting explorations of the condition of profound deafness.

Stamping so that the floorboards resound, Williamson strikes a balletic pose and suddenly, from the echoes of this aural anarchy, brings forth a serene and lucid stream of poetry. The feedback from his wayward hearing aid produces an eerie accompaniment which could be the music of the spheres. Some people cry. The experience is overwhelming.

When Williamson says, ‘The words themselves, the modes of saying, are as significant as meaning,’ he is opening up his practice to ‘a more physical currency of accord’ that would try to avoid thematizing the text by re-casting it in a more performative mode. On the page the ‘Cacophony’ is a text of misheard ‘confused loads’, of corrections (‘yes that one’), and the existentially chilling, ‘you’ve lost me’ of the deaf. (CC, pp. 481-82) The text stutters, tongue-tied, breaks up language, lards the interstices between words with other words, word-parts and anagram, uses enjambement to prise open lexical items and suggests performance in its notation, in a manner reminiscent of Maggie O’Sullivan’s work. (Note: this should be centre-margined.)

uses contingent on con-
-tract, facts tussle ’twist centre and
everywidewhere ELSEWISE
or ‘role’, or ‘participant’
‘lore’, ‘rawstate’, ‘poor’
litigant, COMP
-pet-eat-height-or, MANAGERing – birthing
as U-Factor (CC, p. 482)

The nature of identity, of the ‘U’, and the ‘participating hazards’ of identifying with a centre that seems defined by laws rather than roles and lores is contrasted to the ‘everywidewhere’ of elsewhere. Between these extremes, the facts, like the text in performance, tussles.
The similarly centred lines of ‘Stranger’ by cris cheek look so fixed upon the pages of Conductors of Chaos, that it is a surprise to hear performance variations on his own Skin Upon Skin studio CD, also released in 1996. Indeed one can hear the process of word transformation, as ‘tactic’ becomes ‘tic tac’ in the passage below, and one can then see how ‘stranger’ became ‘stringer’ in the printed text. Oral improvisation, transcription, computer screen design, and subsequent performance, are the acknowledged stages of creation. Yet it is also a meditation upon estrangement and alienation, focussing at times on the island of Madagascar, sometimes on its own processes and orderings. The recasting of Felicia Hemans’ famous lines of maritime catastrophe is only one of the most obvious verbal transformations, one which introduces the theme of nomadic movement:

The toy stood on the turning Wreck
Of climax and Closure.
To distract from a diversionary

Because to sequence the modern and get it ‘right’ in that
Sequence is not Necessarily order, right?

To distract from a diversionary modern tic tac
Or there isn’t time for letters and you can’t afford to phone – country road
- Going home. (CC, p.35)

(This text is centre-margined in the original.) Vocal techniques – breathing and throat sounds (reminiscent of the sound poetry of Henri Chopin), half-singing, full song (as in the lines from a country song above) – are heard against an intermittent chant and violin drone. The intonation patterns are not those of ordinary speech. Such effects are improvised from the text (or some variant) and range between the mimetic (the quoted song) and the random (sudden dips of tone or squeaky falsettos). The ‘text’ is also its performance and its subsequent transformations. The risk is that it might be performed or re-inscribed in less, as well as more, interesting ways, that climax and closure might not become integrated. But the text itself poses a question that (given its serial transformation) is oddly rhetorical among such transitions. (Again, this should be centre-margined.)

‘Now – is poetry then
a process of arresting
or of Moving?’ (CC, p. 36)

If we equate arrest with the Levinasian said and movement with the saying, which is in effect the argument of my The Poetry of Saying, this poetry opts for the constant promise of re-invention imposed by the transformations. But the poetry of moving must embrace the arrest (which is only a rest) in the material text upon the page, and even as sound traces on the CD.
Caroline Bergvall delivered a keynote paper at a 1996 conference concerning performance, at Dartington College, when she was the director of the performance writing programme. The questions she asks about the ‘concerted excavation of the intradisciplinarity of much textual work’ push the possible boundaries of what might be considered performance beyond the two examples above:

Is it not Performance Writing to site some text in a space or on a wall or on electronic boards?... Is it not Performance Writing to treat spoken writing as part of a sound composition .... to inscribe words on a canvas, spray them on a wall, layer text into photographs or carve them into wood, steel or other solids...? to use text as part of a body-related piece...? to bleed a word into flesh ... ? Is it not Performance Writing to generate text for the page...?

This is a stance that acknowledges that writing itself is performance, which is at once liberating and limiting for the question remains: what will not be performance? If everything is, what value and specificity can the category have? To include under this rubric, writing ‘activated for and through a stage, for and through a site, a time-frame, a performer’s body, the body of a voice or the body of a page’ authorizes experimentation in dozens of ways out from writing, but simultaneously directs attention to a kind of total artifice that emphasizes the materiality of any aspect of language and its propagation, since

everything about a piece of work is active and carries meaning. Any treatment, any font, any blank, any punctuation, any intonation, any choice of materials, any blob, however seemingly peripheral to the work, is part of the work, carries it, opens it up, closes it in, determines it.

Williamson, cheek and Bergvall herself have explored performing with musicians and dancers, but also have investigated site-specific installation work, and cheek has been exploring hybrid forms of writing. Brian Catling, for example, is also a sculptor, performer and book artist.
Sinclair’s anthology showcases Bergvall’s splendidly funny, typographically extravagant, post-porn (‘leg over’) (CC, p. 6) piece for two ‘kissers’: (‘come legs over legs suck armpits with tongue/come legs over neck press belly on butt’) (CC, p.7 ). The accompanying marginal gloss reads: ‘on remembering one's past suddenly’. (CC, p. 7) It is this bodily memory of sexual experience that informs what Drew Milne has called her ‘queer poetics’. The text (it is not easy to see what performance would unravel from the page) ends:

muscle-constructions do the archaeology of sex in one hundred and twenty situations [the text is entitled In Situ] and ah ah where you have just come from disperses in the growing background: so I’ll ask you once again what do you remember of what you know. (CC, p. 10)


Next month, a feature on the fate of women poets in the British Poetry Revival and Linguistically Innovative Poetry in Britain. For more of this history please see my The Poetry of Saying, advertised on Page 478.

Page 480

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Jeff Hilson: from Bird Bird

Jeff Hilson reading at The Poetry Buzz

From Bird Bird

Troglodytes Troglodytes (wren)

Must work without the wren their shiny coats there their fat small hands. They once were kind. Once they all faced the same way and sang. Once. Doubtful bird you have seen. The word that the wren said: “shoes!” A wren doesn’t cost any money. There! There! Dipping in Northern Europe. The story of its longer wings from England. Must buy ham. This will not be liked much either. Under the tractor I shoved it in her hard but each take was spoiled by the king wren. Tit parties in winter, small loose parties erupting westwards sometimes high up. Golden England. Down and down Newington Butts caught moths with the smaller birds, again wren-like. Wren as host, magpie as host, above whose clashing hands, business-like, now a wren costs a few pence.

Gallinago Gallinago (snipe)

Why I am not a snipe. I went to Scotland, needles too, as it was so so cold. Say “falls.” Dear & I hope it was to Scotland I went to not & to Cornwall as they are quite a few apart. Bill hooked sorry about that & left. Bill turned down & left. Bill shorter. Bill somewhat shorter. A much shorter bill. Short straight bill turned up & left, jangling of a bunch of keys, bell-like, which was then all over, brief. And I can’t stop song, no, no, songs we can’t agree who even scored. No white no white (which she said she did, right through) which makes this the last story. Dear as well, when I go down sorry. And his little wife climbed, beautiful about these men.

Apus Apus (swift)

Easily told around the houses and they went this way looking like quick and brown, the same as before only going. Going to a roding valley there to feel for the wrong bee. A fish carried forward in the hand, to soothe. There in time to motley. The head to lead to the circle. They fell down rhyming, lightly come, like a man at things in a wood. A poetry ring recent and wet. The point is outside and in, though scarcely so. Like scarcely weeping, or scarcely so. From town to form, from place to position. Or grazing on each other they work the suburb to a thin.

Crex Crex (corncrake)

Cinch him up that crake. Dragging his sleeves in the river he dropped all his spit there. “This mire is tiny like the rose family. I am park’d out of mine ridges by too much spelling. I was ever made up. I will be lately round and round you with mine action, unfrozen.” B-r-a-i-r-d. Braird. What it walks on at night, false false thing which is why it must first be driven. The collected works of crakes begins on the greasy border. Page 1 (unseen), page 2, page 3 and so on unseen and unseen until the page where it says gobak gobak which it never says like it never says cark cark or is like any small dog. Then seen by all the container drivers who spread out for a few royal pence. How is all the dry birds stayed on your hands, their slim forms?

Puffinus Puffinus (manx shearwater)

Used to stitch back her boat of no record and she got the French inches late. When we gave up reading for scraping. Her own precious boat now dansand mery but she never rode it in nowhere. No legs so threw her some after. Now she come before the mackerel. She-feathered she says to track the fall-laws so what you can pick up. A single word (it is present-day), not curves, knots, the end. My rare men, soldiers, sailors, the king one. The lean and poor. Her boring opposites, she needs a definitely operator and some new rounds, some new names, not ring not cortina.

Regulus Regulus (goldcrest)

They all come in backward of the oak. So. Here is leafless Ray, have a knife with him, good luck Ray, turn your coins. Out of the black to hear him first call it money. His tears that was named after him, sit and see, I spied it. And the birds left off the green they will have to. That one fair rides away as the cause of summer. Get over it. Now they are gathered as bees in the hedge. Birds it seems are then crossing. A third is in the field. We call him the third bird. You could put a quid on him too. So. Leafless Ray he passed over his note free and are your eyes are blue.

Perdix Perdix (partridge)

& could annexe tarn st but fuck go so careful – 1 owl choir near the house this way. Saw that owl again, not to walk with, not in the south. We lie down in the yellow-flowered purslane, tarsus and primary, wingbar and nape. We right click and display our grammar. We the last avant-garde or whatever. The one about November November and how it’s June and I lost my horseshoe or gained it or whatever. Gained it, light enough for what I have to do with all these filters and starters, so lyric-like in the ditch bank, in the oil pit, in the forest in, though less so less so often less so.

Phoenicurus Phoenicurus (redstart)

It’s May and I’m found out turned into a pie! Fallen from a pipe into a pie! It’s as easy as pieces when you are unimportant, annoying to be fallen off again into the pink. Unstressed me, I am something nonne! Woke too to a tipsy-dance, feathers on in the wall, of the wall. Is difficult to poem today, to force the figure of the berry in the late bee hole, so worn in the movement, so worn in the tipsy-dance. Your dancing why your askin? Why this is all a right error! Mine starte they say is mine ende (but that’s a sidelong, a half-a-face, on the ‘o’ – rare-ripe he is shaped and heavy into it like rolling over the brake path)

Vanullus Vanullus (lapwing)

O little fan I wouldn’t start but start. “Hoo hoo” to the owl (thou, o owl). His reply: “You are half-a-fish, head and back, and mute. I am a dish here. Only my silver threads is coming on. They do so. I am afraid of the bones of fish.” His reply: “O Jones.” His reply: “That I run with a shell through the streets.” His reply: “weep weep.” His reply: “Look how I am the same as pussy.” His reply: “This went on for hours, and on the wing too.” Broken he is see a round talker, all feint, drawing you off. Give him the shakes, ask him about the leads, about there, the shakes. He never heard our conference.

Jeff Hilson’s previous work includes Stretchers (Writers Forum). He teaches writing at Roehampton University.

Page 479

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Robert Sheppard: The Poetry of Saying

The Poetry of Saying: British Poetry and its Discontents 1950-2000
The Poetry of Saying presents a history and social development of alternative forms of British poetry, still little examined or dismissed, set against the context of the development of the Movement Orthodoxy, those writers who followed and attenuated the tradition of Philip Larkin, even as Larkin’s cultural capital fell. Ranging from the quiet work of Lee Harwood to the avant-gardism of Bob Cobbing, from the major works of Roy Fisher to the still developing sonic and semantic experiments of Maggie O’Sullivan, from the linguistically innovative work of Allen Fisher to the indeterminate works of Adrian Clarke, and covering a number of other writers in the historical chapters, including Prynne, Sinclair and Bill Griffiths, this work is theorised in terms of a poetry of saying, which aims to keep interpretations maximally open. This theoretical perspective, which is balanced against the historicising element, uses Bakhtin and Levinas as its touchstones, and reaches its highest pitch with relation to the work of Tom Raworth, which it argues is ethically open through its textual strategies. Sheppard himself says of The Poetry of Saying: ‘This book has been many years in the making, the critical counter-word to my development as a poet. It includes nearly everything I want to say about British Poetry in the second half of the twentieth century.’ It is the author’s critical magnum opus.

Introduction: Technique: Dialogue: Saying
Chapter One: The Movement Poets and the Movement Orthodoxy in the 1950s and 1960s
Chapter Two: The British Poetry Revival 1960-1978
Chapter Three: Starting to Make the World: The Poetry of Roy Fisher
Chapter Four: Keeping the Doors Open: The Poetry of Lee Harwood
Chapter Five: The Persistence of the Movement Orthodoxy in the 1980s and 1990s
Chapter Six: Linguistically Innovative Poetry 1978-2000
Chapter Seven: What Was To One Side or Not Real: The Poetry of Tom Raworth
Chapter Eight: Creative Linkage in the Work of Allen Fisher, Adrian Clarke and Ulli Freer
Chapter Nine: The Ballet of the Speech Organs: The Poetry of Bob Cobbing
Chapter Ten: Be come, Be spoke, Be eared: The Poetics of Transformation and Embodied Utterance in the work of Maggie O’Sullivan

Published now by Liverpool University Press at £50 hardback. Unfortunately this is long O/P (2014)

isbn 0853238197

See further details available at:


BUT there is a new (2015) e-version at


Some excerpts from Chapters two and six are serialised as The History of the Other on Pages blogzine already, with more to follow, including passages omitted from the book for reasons of space. They start here.

Read Cliff Yates' review of the book here:


Page 478