Saturday, 22 November 2014

Camaradefest II (2014)

On October 25th the challenging, enviably energetic (both in his art and the athleticism of martial arts...a fairly rare combo) and generous poet, S J Fowler, hosted a day of poetic collaborations. I had been invited to take part after happily having some of my  poems accepted by 3am. I was introduced, via the cordial estrangement of email, to the London based poet, Vicky Sparrow. After a flurry of investigative back and forth questions about poets we enjoyed, what we read and general introductions we began a collaboration. Taking a short film by the gleefully grotesque Czech surrealist, Jan Svankmajer, as a vague starting point, we improvised an enjoyable cobbling of thoughts.

The day itself was hugely enjoyable with an impressive, challenging and inclusive range of poetry on display. It was fantastic to meet Steve Fowler, having first seen him perform - with unnerving and inspiring intensity - on the first night of his 'Electric Voice Phenomena Tour' impressive, Dadaistic cabaret of poetry and digital seance. I was excited to be able to witness so many contemporary poets, all, it seemed, with a general unifying eagerness to push and play with expectations, while still operating within an atmosphere of  supportive open minded-ness....the abrasion of any warring allegiances to this or that tradition, school or poetics... bristling in that age-old turf war of peacock pissing (to muddle metaphors) was refreshingly absent...replaced instead by a friendly and casual, drop-in vibe...punctuated throughout by afternoon drinking. 

Several of the performances were really arresting/comical/bizarre/memorable and enjoyable...two of which I'd like to share are, firstly, Prudence Chamberlain and Eley Williams and, secondly, Samantha Walton and Lila Matsumoto.

The first pair, Prudence and Eley, provided a witty and effortlessly natural showcase of friendship and observational rumination...satirizing, deprecating and tickling the corners of London living (hipster assassination included: "the bigger the denim jean roll-up the more likely he is a murderer"). Meanwhile the warmth of their familiarity and the relatable immediacy and intimacy in their meandering absurdities (encountered in worn routines, language and banality) smuggles in a stowaway sense of  entirely persuasive and unaffected emotion:

Samantha Walton and Lila Matsumoto's poem, (presumably) in part a response to the upsetting altlit controversies involving some deeply troubling allegations of sexual abuse within literary communities that subsequently prompted a necessarily impassioned debate within areas of British poetry, and, in part, an incisive stand against discrimination delivered with barbed humor, poetry and intellect that need not be correlated to any topical specificity as, all too timelessly prescient within literary and artistic representation:

"Have you ever looked around and thought, sociologically, this is a bit of a total sausage-fest?"

"Is your idea of critical discouse seven men in the fifties with Oxbridge degrees in seven different libraries in the South East..."

I wish I could have seen more - in truth, I wasn't even able to see the latter of the two I mentioned as I had to leave earlier...but still, on watching the videos - it really stood out.

To return to our collaboration...

It was terrific to meet Vicky, a poet currently researching her thesis on Anna Mendelssohn at Birkbeck University. Not only did Vicky's poetry seem sparked with concision and acute intelligence, it was also able to tap into the beguiling and seductively strange without losing its pointed lyricism - I was really lucky to be working with her. Added to which, that control and concision of her's seemed a natural foil to my garrulous impulse to vomit words aplenty. I think the poem we ended up with not only played with notions of a troubling back and forth in conversational understanding (triggered by Svankmajer) but also playfully teased out these contrasting characters in our writing. Hopefully, some of which might be apparent and if not, perhaps something else is...which is just as, if not more, acceptable.

Here is the poem, as it found itself on the day of the reading:


You and me    
open, I ask you as a stranger: the taste of this texture and the sound,
not part of the warehouse but still aware.
Saying ceramic plates fixed to change, moving tongue of written.
Threatened by its agency, voice material seizing unseen, passing
over you – Oh that Heavenly Air! but it doesn’t help.

I didn’t recognise the man by the end of the film
his life, his hands: it doesn’t really speak of  people.

Tarmac this part of me, apart from, particular particle stone ground in part an article see? Grimace clod man cover, manhole cover, shod bespoke and spoken for, the spokes turn and turning gore, grit like sleep in the corner of eyes collecting granular made thick or sliding mica to skin lens sticker and granite blurt thicker. Not chalk but chalk drawing on paving rot, now lip tonnes of snug something in marrow where the word in girders gumming itself is a grub in the cot like every other definition. Grim slabs [light light] of cliff-sliding into the sea assume the parts of sugar lump boulders in surf and contribute lights off {like} end days of so much tarmac, this part of me, apart from storm shingle of trying to climb over see?

A portion of everything in everything makes empty saturation
a liberating defeat or, and always ‘or’, the other way round.

I didn’t recognise myself by the end of the film
my life, my hands: the voice doesn’t really speak of me.

film after film of consumption
watermarks you
and you place hands like a fist
into the moving moment

looking through a negative of
the dearth of material
decay is the protagonist
without use

I am as my gums ache
and crunching of broken ceramic
while raising hands like utensils
in the foreground I wake

in the expulsion of a moment
the shell imprint its
and rusts into its contents

plates fixed to the moving jaw
will change the moving tongue
 the camber of the voice

even the written voice
is threatened by its agency

grain in the material causes seizing up with unuse

passing over you
Oh that Heavenly Air
the liberating defeat of empty saturation
but it doesn’t help


look after
                           each other

and decay encroaches on the image as it must Sleeping debris has a dream life.

you wet your hands in the chemicals and shut the door

you find there
what the voice doesn’t taste of

                                    fuck all this getting things done

the lens bends the light and the liquid still moves
between two grim slabs

tell me about use
about being used up

I didn’t recognise the man by the end of the film
with storm shingle and his life in his grainy hands
I think it doesn’t really speak the language of the people



a scatter of utensils to make me
you tend still to talk over me, I’m not blaming you, I mean – I am, but its ok, probably
but I look for the material properties
To avoid the talk you talk about the teeth or the tongue and how they touch
in different ways to make language, while the eyes
might see over or through to approximate me in your wanting you to be substantial
hairline fractures, in ceramic or bone
clutter eaten and hoarded between us, what was your name?
debris of use, snapped up bits piling up
quarried out from and flagged up as something we are but can’t trust
the material shifts its always
nice to meet you and always hooked into how ropes and disappointment
chips away at the rockface
to face to face to me just sitting in the rubble and spoken for
and the roof is lower than headheight
and the light is lower than no light – but I can hear the way your body looks, or
somewhere in the darkness breathing people lie
folding my voice on top of yours and lining her throat with his throat with my voice
familiarity forming the shape of consonants
easy for you to spray, with a mouth-full of compass points – how do I know you?
I know you only by name, an abstract structure
Like I might break apart and pile up or was never enough there to break apart if
only the scaffold had held
I might need a haircut – that’s not relevant, but I do, so…where does that leave us?
leaving us fractured and splitting down the ends
with bleeding gums and iron filings begging for chalk to score the black
with chalk paths to bisect the flat and the hills
in a kind of hopscotch or palm reading where neither one of us
know the lines, or how to trace them
as contours cup vampiric small talk we rent the air but grow distant
and the lungs fog with changing hands
they glove a mute piano on the rind and leave us gulping only signs
through leathery throats as the keys keep singing
but muffled through a wall and like that time you told me to lick my elbow
in the flat beneath we can hear them chipping away at each other
hearing them struggle to say nothing reminds us
of the shape of the tongue in the mouth that prevents
me from being anymore me than you in the straining here between us
the tongue that stalks the teeth around the mouth