December 27, 2005

Pores 4

Pores 4 the journal of advanced poetics is on line now. Read essays from me, Alan Halsey, Allen Fisher, and Will Rowe, as well as work by Frances Presley, Phil Davenport and Bill Griffiths

December 23, 2005


for the first ethic of christmas my true love sent to me an ambiguity in a non-temporal truth for the second ethic of christmas my true love sent to me two hierarchies between body and soul and an ambiguity in a non-temporal truth for the third ethic of christmas my true love sent to me three veils of illusion two hierarchies between body and soul and an ambiguity in a non-temporal truth for the fourth ethic of christmas my true love sent to me four errors of dogmatism three veils of illusion two hierarchies between body and soul and an ambiguity in a non-temporal truth for the fifth ethic of christmas my true love sent to me five extrinsic justifications four errors of dogmatism three veils of illusion two hierarchies between body and soul and an ambiguity in a non-temporal truth for the sixth ethic of christmas my true love sent to me six phenomenal modalities five extrinsic justifications four errors of dogmatism three veils of illusion two hierarchies between body and soul and an ambiguity in a non-temporal truth for the seventh ethic of christmas my true love sent to me seven inner experiences six phenomenal modalities five extrinsic justifications four errors of dogmatism three veils of illusion two hierarchies between body and soul and an ambiguity in a non-temporal truth for the eighth ethic of christmas my true love sent to me eight possibilities of realising seven inner experiences six phenomenal modalities five extrinsic justifications four errors of dogmatism three veils of illusion two hierarchies between body and soul and an ambiguity in a non-temporal truth for the ninth ethic of christmas my true love sent to me nine ladies dancing eight possibilities of realising seven inner experiences six phenomenal modalities five extrinsic justifications four errors of dogmatism three veils of illusion two hierarchies between body and soul and an ambiguity in a non-temporal truth for the tenth ethic of christmas my true love sent to me ten favourable circumstances nine ladies dancing eight possibilities of realising seven inner experiences six phenomenal modalities five extrinsic justifications four errors of dogmatism three veils of illusion two hierarchies between body and soul and an ambiguity in a non-temporal truth for the eleventh ethic of christmas my true love sent to me eleven singular conjunctures ten favourable circumstances nine ladies dancing eight possibilities of realising seven inner experiences six phenomenal modalities five extrinsic justifications four errors of dogmatism three veils of illusion two hierarchies between body and soul and an ambiguity in a non-temporal truth for the twelfth ethic of christmas my true love sent to me twelve harmonious equilibria eleven singular conjunctures ten favourable circumstances nine ladies dancing eight possibilities of realising seven inner experiences six phenomenal modalities five extrinsic justifications four errors of dogmatism three veils of illusion two hierarchies between body and soul and an ambiguity in a non-temporal truth

December 11, 2005

The end of Public Art?

This week I received something (indirectly) from OPENSPACE in Edinburgh, sadly I think too late for my response to be included in the consultation. It is a “framework and matrix” for evaluation of public art projects. As I describe how it works you will probably lose the will to read to the end of this (or the will to live!) but the grinding bureaucracy of it is an important issue.

The Matrix is a table chart with columns for “stakeholders” – “the professional artist”; columns for “the collaborating artist”, “the lead architect”, “the collaborating architect”, “the lead designer”, “the collaborating designer”, “the contractor”(!?) to be used if these people are in a project. Then under the heading of “project location” there are 3 columns called “Public organisation”, “community”, and “corporate/private bodies”. Then another 7 columns for funding organisations. These then are all the peoples (or parts thereof) that will evaluate public art projects. The rows titled “Values” are the 4 overarching criteria (artistic, social, environmental, economic) against a project will be evaluated. Artistic “Values” are divided into 4 rows – “Visual / Aesthetic / Enjoyment”, “Social Activation” and “Challenge/Critical Debate”. There are also rows for “Innovation / Risk”, which is subdivided into “Conceptual” and “Technical”; and “Host Participation” subdivided into “During” and “After”.
I’ll come back to these in a moment. To complete the description: the “Social Value” of a project is measured by community development, poverty and social inclusion, health & well being, crime and safety, travel and access, skills acquisition. And so it continues down the chart, Environmental values split into landscape and wildlife, physical environmental improvement, conservation, etc. Economic breaks into marketing, regeneration, tourism, education, value for money, etc. The matrix is operated in conjunction with something called the “PERSONAL PROJECT ANALYSIS” in which “the artist or other stakeholder rates each project according to the following dimensions, listed below, using a rating scale of 1 to 10 as described against each. “ So it goes:
1. Importance* – how important is the project to you at the present time? (10 = very important, 0 = not at all important)
2. Enjoyment – how much do you enjoy working on it? (10 = enjoy a great deal, 0 = don’t enjoy at all).
3. Difficulty – how difficult do you find it to carry out the project? (10 = find it very difficult, 0 = don’t find it difficult at all).
4. Visibility – how aware are the relevant people who are close to you and your work that you are engaged in it? (10 = project very visible, 0 = project not at all visible to those around or close to me)
5. Control – how much do you feel you are in control of the project? (10 = in complete control, 0 = have no control over the project)

Anyway it goes on to a further 18 “dimensions”.
Having commissioned more than 40 public art of all types over 15 years, from community projects and residencies to international commissions with budgets ranging from a few thousand to half a million pounds, it has been amusing over the years to watch various government agencies (accountants and auditors, mainly) try and fail to work out how to measure the arts. Of course, the notion of measuring the arts is never one that involves purely artistic criteria. I remember Robert Hopper, the late director of the Henry Moore Institute, saying that art is 90% like plumbing but it is the 10% that is the important bit. Artforms where there is a door or a box office are increasingly evaluated by their visitor figure or ticket sales – in essence the accountants accepting that they will never get the 10% so they measure what they understand – the figures. This latest Matrix is a very dangerous document not because it has managed to quantify the unquantifiable but because it claims that it has. Quickly running through a comparative exercise: Say a Rückriem stone installation or a Lawrence Weiner text: you can see these significant artists scoring low on many of the dimensions and values of this chart. However, if you score say a small scale “cartoon” sculpture in a children’s playground in a regeneration area you can see such a work scoring high. I would probably label one art and the other something else and would accept that there is a place for the latter. However, despite the fact that the majority of public art in the UK is commissioned by people who don’t know much about it, and most projects are tiny battles in their own right with vested interests pulling this way and that, what will happen is that this Matrix model (or something based on it) will be rolled out as the model of practice. In it artistic criteria are heavily outweighed by non-artistic criteria. Public authority managers who are increasingly strait-jacketed by Government targets culture will start by evaluating art commissions using the chart, soon they will project initiate with the chart as a built-in project conclusion. Governmental inspectors, who also know fuck all about art, will adopt the matrix as the assessment criteria, so that your public art commissions will have to have an overall high percentage of positively scoring projects. The chart has a built-in bias in favour of non-artistic criteria which will means that commissions that are difficult or ground-breaking or as Lawrence Weiner would say “useful” (despite there putatively being a tick box to value this – actually two boxes against twenty-one) will be matrix “failures”. A breed of artists who can do high-scoring matrix projects will grow up; artists with any integrity will actually refuse the commissions and public art will be dead.

December 03, 2005

Countdown to 2006 and 2008

Don’t expect there are many people left reading this, as I have been away so long. Anyway, the Nannucci installation at Bury Art Gallery is very impressive, with its sometimes miraculous mixing of light creating a visceral effect if you view it for any length of time. It’s on until 7 January. And bar that the first Text Festival is over. Phew! I’m still doing the review but can say about 40,000 saw the exhibitions, and there is no way to count the number of people who saw (and continue to see) the public art commissions. From the lessons and new relationships forged it is hard to hold back from programming the next one straight away. As some will know I am taking 2006 off to write and research so the next Festival is fixed for 2008. For the sake of my health it will be shorter (maybe 5 rather than 9 months) but include the mix of exhibitions, commissions, performances and probably more multi-media work (the omission this time round). The Festival laid down an analysis of the current textual situation operating through strategies of materiality, parataxis, intertextuality, spatialisation and restricted (system) processes; in the intervening two years I want to think and discuss where we go from here. I hope that the next Festival will be even more rigorous than 2005 and I hope that you will feel free to contact me to talk through ideas and proposals you may have for inclusion.

A brief mention of 2006: Backed by an Arts Council research grant, I have now got an exhibition of my own text work at the Sleeper Gallery ( in Edinburgh which will be accompanied by the Gallery’s first publication. It also looks possible that my still-in-progress Palermo poem will be published to coincide with the event. Anyway the Exhibition opens on 28 April.

November 18, 2005

Last but not least

Tomorrow the last exhibition of the 2005 Text Festival opens at Bury Art Gallery with a new neon instalation by the Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Nannucci. My essay, featured here back on 29 July, is part of the 100 page catalogue which you can get for £12 from the Gallery.

You can see more of Maurizio's work at and there's some early stuff on UBUweb.

October 29, 2005

Venice and Edinburgh

As mentioned last – I’ve been away: first Venice then a conference in Edinburgh. It won’t surprise anyone who has been, but as a first timer: Venice was a revelation – really extraordinary. Ostensibly I had gone to catch the end of the Biennale and was prepared to be sceptical because of the hype and the romantic stereotypes but Venice was fabulous, a completely new experience – and much too good to think about contemporary art. I did get to the Guggenheim, most of which is not contemporary; the Rückriem-Nannucci juxtaposition was personally gratifying having worked with them both but aesthetically problematic. Not only that but the Rückriem piece has not been installed as it should, having gaps between the stone splits. The only other artist was the futurist Carlo Carra whose text collages were a revelation. My reading matter was William Carlos Williams’ Autobiography – a great read, full of poetry and medicine tales (two of my favourites!) – by coincidence the 1918 flu featured during his career.

One day stop over back in Manchester to the delightful surprise of the new Anglo-French box of Bob Grenier SENTENCES. Brilliant. Immediately it has become a treasured item (along with the print he brought on his visit) in my collection. Then:

My first trip to Scotland (would you believe?) for the Blinky Palermo conference. ( ) Palermo Restore is an Edinburgh College of Art research project centred on the possible restoration or reconstruction of the Blinky Palermo wall painting, Blau/Gelb/Weiss/Rot (Blue/Yellow/White/Red). Originally made for the Strategy: Get Arts exhibition in 1970, the work was painted over shortly after the exhibition closed. I was interested in this for its own sake and to see how Palermo’s work related to Rückriem’s and to pursue the offer of an exhibition of my work. First I met up with the painter Alan Johnston who took me across town to see the Sleeper Gallery ( where I have the show next May.

I had lunch with him, Tom Lange (German Art Historian from the University of Amsterdam) and an artist/Director of Curatorship & Education Marianne Eigenheer. Then Tom and I went to Inverlieth House to see Ian Hamilton Finlay’s SENTENCES. Absolutely none of the excitement of the Grenier SENTENCES back on my desk in Manchester. This was a big disappointment knowing what Finlay has done; there were one or two interesting sentences but the overall work was graphically and linguistically sloppy. It is not good enough to have epigrammatic or mild amusing observations about the weather floating over a wall.

In the early evening at Edinburgh College of Art, I attended the preview of 8 Colours and met the Kyoto artist/curator Takaya Fujii. Happily I was able to do the ritual of exchanging business cards.

The conference – opened with Richard Demarco the original curator of the STRATEGY: GET ARTS exhibition.

The conference was really interesting, though rather too academic. There was (or should have been) some debate about whether or not it is/was legitimate to restore Blinky’s temporary wall painting but this was pre-empted by someone in the University (probably Alan) deciding that since there were decorators in anyway they might as well repaint the piece while the scaffold was up. There was a bit of irritation about this as there were people who thought it shouldn’t be reinstated. Dr. Martha Buskirk of Montserrat College of Art, hit the nail on the head by raising the questions of the legitimacy of restoring a temporary conceptual work. The original wall painting was within a context with 2 other works in direct contact – a water jet piece in the College foyer and another piece of broken chairs on the stairs. (ah, those where the days, when an artist could use a ladder without a permit or a health & safety inspector). So why not restore the other works too? Why not recreate the whole exhibition again? My response to the experience of the (restored) work tended to suspend disbelief because in situ the Palermo ‘restored’ is an impressive spatial experience seeming to focus invisible energies of stair movement and the mathematics of the classical proportions. Anyway, Alan defused the argument by announcing that this wasn’t the restoration but only a ‘homage’ to Blinky’s original. I am not so convinced as they had spent a lot of time and money getting exactly the right paint and colours from the original manufacturers. The whole history and incident of this work is quite indicative of the relationship of power, transgression and value in the arts. In its context, the work (and the exhibition) were a remarkable challenge from to the Scottish Art Establishment by the then European Avant-garde. Much as my work in Bury has been carried the kudos of periphality – Barthes’ comment about the importance of things that happen at the margins – Edinburgh was then in that position (with the Edinburgh Festival itself not what it has become). But the artistic commitment to innovation was not embedded in the institution and thus the Art College painted over the work as soon as the show was over. Now in the competitive environment of the Art Market/World/Academy, the Institution embraces the artist for its own credibility. As Ricky Demarco said: Palermo became the Kurt Cobain of the art world, growing fame and early mysterious death. So now it is safe and credible to restore and associate Palermo with the Art College, rather than the work being transgressive it is now an institutional decoration. Fired or maybe sometimes bored by the academic analysis and the power of the ‘actual’ work, I deserted for a time to write a poem in response to it. I’ll show it here when it’s finished.
In the evening I went to the Conference Dinner at the magnificent Playfair Library sitting between Andreas Karl Schulze, based in Köln whose work was shown at one point in the weekend and is well worth you looking up, and Ceal Floyer, a conceptual artist based in Berlin. I expect to commission them both at some time. Had a really interesting conversation with Ceal about poetry which I will return to in the next bulletin.

October 28, 2005

A New Text Postcard Pack

Sorry I've been away for a good while - Venice and Edinburgh, of which more in the next bulletin. Meantime, the latest postcard pack is available now, featuring Robert Grenier, Lawrence Weiner, me, Phil Davenport, Hester Reeve, Brass Art and Shaun Pickard. Let me know if you would like to receive one.

October 05, 2005

Pandemic Awareness Week

Mostly my interests here are cultural but ever since I was a teenage artist I knew of the early death of the Austrian artist Egon Schiele from the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. So over the years I have had occasion to note the rare references to it. The WHO has declared that it is not a question of if but when the bird flu spreading in the Far East will become the next pandemic. Preoccupied with the War on an Abstract Noun, the governments are not preparing and in reality could do very little to save the millions who are risk. You need to start thinking about this:

September 28, 2005

The arrival of a captive audience

Earlier in the week, I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Grenier off the plane from San Francisco at Manchester Airport. Although having exchanged photos so we would recognise each other I thought to be on the safe side I would print out one of his recent drawn poems and stand with it opposite the arrival gate like people do with notices such as “TAXI – MR SMITH”. And something quite unexpected happened: virtually everyone who came through the gate paused to read the poem (without realising that it was a poem of course). I actually began to feel like I was doing a performance. One daft old American Fascist walked up to me, tapped me on the chest through the poem and said “I’m not Osama Bin Laden” - presumably mistaking Bob’s use of line with Arabic. But otherwise people seemed genuinely to be caught be the unexpected textual intervention. Another passing reader actually left the building and then returned to ask what it said! As well as making a mental note that this could well be an interesting avenue for future Trehy textual intervention, I got to thinking about the nature of the interactions that had taken place. As I have argued through the Text Festival our existence is embedded now by Text, so the people getting off the plane were already surrounded by texts as the gate opened and were bombarded by countless texts in the landscape in which suddenly the strange Grenier poem emerged. It was like any other text in competition with every other text in the visual field. So why did it catch them? I can think of two mechanisms: The psychology of arrival: we arrive at an airport even if we are in a strange land and know no one with a subconscious desire to be recognised as arriving; there is always a fascination in the waiting notices held up – is our name being heralded? Followed by the fascination that if I am not on the boards, who is? The second mechanism I think relates to the intent of an artist’s textual intervention in competition with commercial, informational or state textual apparatuses: We have structured our Being as readers with levels of filtering which subconsciously sift the functions of public texts so that we don’t have to read them, but poetic/artistic texts present a reading which does require us to buy anything or act in a proscribed way and because the Ideological Apparatuses have conditioned us that buying and acting appropriately is immanent to Being, such a text has the shock of a glimpsed freedom.

September 09, 2005

Questions of Ideology and Ideological Apparatus

…from Trehy’s Althusser’s Machiavelli’s Poetics (a work in progress)

reading it yourself. Rather, these are two competing
realizations of the work, each
with its own set of advantages &
limitations. Moreover

- Charles Bernstein

how why what why – the marginalisation of poetry, questions locating the battleground in reading and public rituals within the material existence of one ideological apparatus – culture. Is it possible to locate answers in an act of reading itself?
Reading a reading of a reading?
On the question of power (and assuming it) who better to read than Machiavelli?
In questioning from marginalisation who better than the self-marginalised Althusser? (When a Marxist theorist murders a communist partisan
[1] and the stillpoint of his emotional life, it takes 30 years to be theory again – how culture operates as an ideological state apparatus.)
So what better than Althusser’s reading of Machiavelli? Not Discourses nor The Poet (which discredited recredited Althusser dealt with in “Machiavelli And Us”) but the remarkably obscure later 1520 treatise: Poetics.

Althusser’s assessment: “Machiavelli’s central problem from a theoretical viewpoint could be summed up in the question of the beginning, starting from nothing, of an absolutely indispensable and necessary new poetry”
[2]. In terms of method: “Machiavelli does not offer a general and systematic exposition, but deploys only the theoretical fragments conducive to clarification of the formulation and understanding of this singular concrete case. Above all, Machiavelli’s theoretical dispositive breaks with the habits of classical rhetoric, where the universal governs the singular.” For these pre-modern postmodern fragments: ‘dispositive’ – is to poetry a series of general theses which are literally contradictory, yet organised in such a way as to generate concepts not deducible from them, theorizing in fact a determinative objective, literally generating a structure for politico-poetic change.

Machiavelli’s ‘endeavour to think the conditions of possibility of an impossible task, to think the unthinkable’ induces ‘a strange vacillation in the traditional philosophical status of [his] theoretical propositions: as if they were undermined by another instance than the one that produces them – the instance of poetic practice’. Today we must think the conditions of possibility of the impossible task of reclaiming Poetry from what Gramsci called the dual aspect of the power of “absolutist poetry”, violence and coercion, but at the same time consent, and hence ‘hegemony’. From these conditions it emerges that the very idea of identity is a structuring mechanism of capitalist market development and therefore also of identity poetry (immanent in the Cultural Ideological Apparatus), so a new textual practice becomes imperative in response as a corollary of global biopolitical new militancy.

To grasp the true character of this dispositive (theoretical fragments focused on the formulation of a poetic problem) and its effects, abandon a conception that brings in only theory for one that brings in practice and, since we are dealing with poetics, poetic practice. This is where Gramsci’s remark that Machiavelli’s Poetics has the character of a Text manifesto is going to enlighten us with a poetics five hundred years earlier than LANGUAGE theory. Specifically, a theoretical text is affected in its modality and dispositive by poetic practice. This means that even a particular theoretical problem such as this Machiavellian essay should be self-reflexively textually modal, and hence an Althusserian singular conjuncture, which means, first of all, taking account of all the determinations, all the existing concrete circumstances, making an inventory, a detailed breakdown and comparison of them. A conjunctural example:

1) The revised OULIPO Compendium is published in November;
2) the introduction of the hilarious new book “Don’t Ask Me What I mean: Poets in their own words” (Picador Poetry, 2005), comments poets “systematically interrogate their own unconscious to access those darker corridors of the memory and imagination from which they might recover the true poem”. Simon Armitage (amongst a galaxy of the Spokesmen of the Average) writes: It should go without saying that the language of the poem must be an immediate pleasure in itself”;
3) in the anti-war poem Causa Belli state-sponsored Andrew Motion rhyming
learn, rocket-burn ironclad Dad;
4) “Exeunt in three Ways”: EMPIRE collapses in 3 ways: natural disaster, decadence from the corrupting effects of its own power, unappreciated external surpassing;
5) “Poetry, whenever it appears, frightens them” (Guy Debord). Afraid when confronted, laughed at or ignored – they need consent;
6) newspaper poetry coverage is virtually non-existent; Waterstones Poetry sections are reducing in size – so marketing and National Poetry Day don’t work clearly;
7) a Text work found on seats at a recent Carol Ann Duffy reading and inserted into mainstream poetry books in bookshops: NOTHING YOU DON’T ALREADY KNOW;
8) A generic Bloodaxe poet’s book reviewed without naming him – on the basis that he will be forgotten anyway.
GILBERT: We don’t allow our dealers to sell to banks, hotels or big companies.
GEORGE: We understood long ago that to consent to that would be to castrate the work of art. Here, at the heart of the City, people walk past paintings and sculptures, briefcase in hand, without ever looking up. They think art is decoration.
Have you ever thought of lowering your prices, so that people who are less well-off could buy your work? ‘Art for All’ will only be art of all when the man in the street can live with your pictures above his bed.
GEORGE: Not for the moment. We’ve always thought that people could get catalogues.
10) if tomorrow never came saving would be pointless
but it
does a horse enjoying the grass ignore the fence

A conjuncture is no mere summary of its elements, or enumeration of diverse circumstances, but their contradictory system, which poses the poetic problem and indicates its historical solution, ipso facto rendering it a poetic objective, a practical task. The whole question then becomes: in what form are all the positive forces currently available to be rallied, in order to achieve the poetic counter-hegemonic objective? Machiavelli gives this form a name: the New Poet. At this point the intervening years, fascism, TV history, Disney, Stupidity, the death of the author, etc make Machiavelli’s answer seem problematic: An exceptional individual, endowed with virtù
[5], who, starting from nothing or from something will be able to mobilize the serial (i.e. disconnected) forces required to unify Poetry under his (sic) leadership. From the perspective of the fifteenth century, Machiavelli is not prefiguring the Romantic or modernist models of genius nor is he valorising notions of originality or authenticity which didn’t exist when he was writing. This figure is the artistic counterpart to his Prince, who similarly unifies political forces toward change. Given our radically different perspective, it is perhaps possible to re-interpret/translate this ‘Poet’ as a Textual activist(s) who generates the poetic praxis to rally the forces of radical cleavage from what pertains – thus linking Machiavelli into the declarative innovator lineage of Shklovsky, Pound, Lenin, Schonberg, et al.

Machiavelli, who in his text elaborated the theory of the means at the disposal of the Poet in 15th Century Italy, treats his own text, in its turn as one of the means in the struggle he announces and engages. In order to announce a New Text-Poet in his text, he writes in a way that is suitable to the news he announces, in a novel manner. His writing is new; it is a poetic act - a Text manifesto, which seems to have its solo interlocutor a future Text individual, an individual who does not exist. Considering his written text is devoted to the Poet (in the singular), that it sets out what the Poet (any innovator) must do, how does Machiavelli indicate this innovator must conduct himself and proceed in order to found and expand his poetry using all available means, regardless of their compatibility with individual morality and the prevailing ideology?
The stress lies on rare speciality as against broad generality

The latter affects us as competently static and customary; the first one as unusual, activating. And the arrow always flies in the direction of action. The questions of their how why what are not our questions of how why and what – but ours are constantly asked as theirs (even though we know their answers); as Sartre phrased it: serial individuals have a unity that is always elsewhere and that serial unity is a negative totality.

How and why is radical work excluded? The Cultural Ideological Apparatus = “The ultimate condition of production is therefore the reproduction of the [capitalist] conditions of production” (Althusser: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus, 1970); the default category of the room. What is the history of (any) model of reading? = This history is an academic Glass Bead Game that should be played some time in the future when victors write the past. What is the relationship to marketing? = “… the reproduction of the [capitalist] conditions of production” (Althusser: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus, 1970). What are the key sites of influence and how do they work? = the ratio of the effective or useful output to the total input in any system (history, vision, guile, praxis). What types of writing and publishing are offering alternative economies of reading to those that postmodern capitalism benefits from? = the language of ‘economies’ adapts to the ultimate condition of production as the reproduction of the conditions of production. Radical poetics has been dangerously integrated with its reliance on its retreat into academia. Bruce Andrews and Theodor Adorno observed “a taming, a domestication, a shoring up of the old walls (however flashily ornamented by a tokenism of the new, a kind of repressive desublimation). Intellectuals…competing supplicants…are thus virtually compelled to show each other their most repulsive sides [but not repulsive to the forces that negate]… In the end, glorification of splendid underdogs is nothing other than glorification of the splendid system that makes them so. To adapt to the weakness of the oppressed is to affirm in it the pre-condition of power.” (“the factory worker is subject to the pressure of his “production group,”
[6]). Radical poetics is too fucking nice to its ideological opposition. As Pound wrote to WCW in 1920: “If you weren’t stupider than a mud-duck you would know that every kick to bad writing is by that much a help to the good.”

What Machiavelli calls

The New Poet can start from anywhere, and be anyone: ultimately start from nothing and be nothing to start with. The anonymous character of the theory then assumes its full poetic significance: the abstraction of the theory of the encounter between the poet and the fortuna (circumstances) that initiate change is not merely a theoretical abstraction here. Althusser argues that the place and interplay of this abstraction impart a concrete poetic function to it; in fact, the abstraction of anonymity is simultaneously the clean sweep of the past and its consequence: namely, he says that the great adventure begins apart from everything that actually exists, hence “in an unknown place with an unknown man”. [It is probably worth repeating here that neither Althusser nor this essay is proposing a model of (male) artist-hero-genius, but instead the possibility of a theory of action - the fabric of the act synonymous with its content].

From the perspective of a Machiavellian New Poetry conducive to Italian unification in the fifteenth century, the action proposed was the rejection of any failed, compromised or corrupted attempts, the rejection of reliance on hypotheses of foreign domination or refuge, and the independence of the origin and characters of the Text, which must be peculiar to the new poetry. In this analysis, it can be seen that the UK poetry establishment is well within its capacity to continue to sideline innovation because so far it is only confronted by political models of poetics that it has already marginalised, and by its own banality – which it celebrates as strength rather than an indictment. Just beneath the surface we can read the thesis underpinning Althusser’s Machiavelli’s analysis: the Text must owe its beginnings exclusively to itself; it must owe its laws solely to itself.

By means of a methodological theoretical conjuncture the formal textual tools at our disposal (shared with conceptual text-based art since the Sixties) are materiality, intertextuality, constricted/restricted languages, parataxis and spatialisation and (recently discovered) Time. Our question of what is a question of how these are surpassed.

Machiavelli’s theme of beginnings poses such ‘difficulties’ that in order to progress one it is necessary to emulate ‘”skilful archers…when their target seems too distant; knowing well the power of their bow, they aim at a much higher point, not to hit it with the arrow, by aiming there to be able to strike their target.” To aim at a much higher point: for Machiavelli is explicitly to emulate Moses, Romulus, Lenin, Einstein, Mao and so on. But to aim at a much higher point has a further sense, not spelt out, but practised, by Machiavelli: to aim at a much higher point = to aim beyond what exists, so as to attain a goal that does not exist but must exist = to aim above all existing poetries, beyond their limits. Althusser identifies this as the crucial point of this theory, where poetics appears in person: in the form of a determinate absence. Formally, the theory is presented as an absolutely general theory such that the abstract form of the theory is the index and effect of a concrete poetic stance. If Machiavelli evokes the theme of novelty and beginnings with such insistence, if he speaks of a ‘New Poet in a New Poetry’, it is because he rejects all existing poetries and poets as old – that is orientated towards the past, outmoded, incapable of the task for the future. He rejects them all on account of their historical impotence. In reality for Machiavelli our conditions are poetic imperatives over which no compromise is possible, since he who does not respect them will succumb to the past, the sway of existing poetries and their impotence. But Machiavelli further considers that these conditions, far from being a reverie, are perfectly attainable. The proof? They have had the sanction of historical reality and that beginning has already occurred, specifically in revolutionary conjunctures of art and writing. Positing a Machiavellian fortuna, the circumstances in which the possibility for the impossible pertain,
Soon will ye tumble to your own loved soil, and be forgotten
The name of my country
then all countries will pass into obscurity;
all is scattered far and wide,
Did ye hear that and know its entropy purport?
Aye, 'twas the crash of the citadel
O woe is me! trembling, quaking limbs, support my footsteps! away!
Face the day that
begins thy slavery
measure the degree of disorder in their system
it is a matter of common experience
disorder will tend to increase if things are left to themselves
Order can create order out of disorder but
Cleaves expenditure
effort or energy
so decreases the amount of order
Woe for our unhappy town!
Woe for thee,
Exeunt three ways

the ultimate question then emerges (as it did for him): what direction arises from the conditions of possibility for the existence of a text-poetry? “Poetry is becoming more and more clearly the empty space, the antimatter, of consumer society, since it is not consumable (in terms of the modern criteria for a consumable object: an object that is of equivalent value for each of a mass of isolated passive consumers).” – Guy Debord. What is at stake? Nothing less than everything: the dematerialisation of Art has been commoditised; the marginalisation of Poetic Artifice is suddenly a great strength as the hegemony of mediocrity atrophies in its inability to renew itself. To paraphrase Negri: today the poet cannot even pretend to be a representative, even of the fundamental human needs of the exploited. Revolutionary poetic militancy must rediscover what has always been its proper form: not representational but constituent activity. Poetic militancy today is a positive and innovative requirement, analogised with the constitutive Global model of biopolitical activism and the formation of cooperative apparatuses of production and community.

Therein we find an answer to our current question why how.

[1] Hélène Legotien (she had abandoned her family name, Perry, during the war), a woman nine years his senior who had played an active part in the Communist Resistance. He acknowledges in his memoir her indispensability to his thought and in justifying her murder makes himself even more pathetic. By 1980, he writes, "the two of us were shut up together in our own private hell." Hélène seems to have been an unhappy woman, insecure and tormented --and with good reason. The Communist Party abandoned her after the war, falsely accusing her of some obscure act of betrayal during the Resistance. Uneasy with her own immigrant Jewish background, and desperate for the love and attention of her husband, she put up with his moods, his women-friends and his colleagues. “Despair has the accent of irrevocability not because things cannot improve, but because it draws the past too into its vortex.
[2] The injunction to practice intellectual honesty usually amounts to sabotage of thought. The writer is urged to show explicitly all the steps that have led him to his conclusion, so enabling every reading to follow the process through and, where possible – in the academic industry – to duplicate it. This demand not only invokes the liberal fiction of the universal communicability of each and every thought and so inhibits their objectively appropriate expression, but is also wrong in itself as a principle of representation. Texts which anxiously undertake to record every step without omission inevitably succumb to banality.” - Adorno
[3] “With the right tools it was less than a day’s work./ It wasn’t our trade, but a wire-brush was the thing/for fettling mould and moss from bevelled window frames./Sandpaper took back old wood to its true grain.” Excerpt from Armitage’s DIY Period.
[4] Text invention in various locations - Venice Biennale 2004 by Lawrence Weiner
[5] “He is beyond the moral categories of vice and virtue. For he pursues a completely distinct goal: a historical goal – founding, consolidating and expanding a text that endures. His perfection resides not in moral virtue, but in poetic virtù – that is to say, in the excellence of all the poetic virtues – of character, intelligence, vision, etc. – appropriate to accomplishment of his task.” Poetics Stanza XII
[6] Sentence from Jean-Paul Sartre’s In Search of Method selected using a chance operation.
[7] EMPIRE collapses in 3 ways: natural disaster, decadence from the corruption of power, unchecked external surpassing.

August 27, 2005

Thalurania Watertonii.

For anyone who has been back in the last few weeks and wondered whether I had packed this in, my apologies; one thing and another distracted me. Been to Milan which I didn’t find very interesting; and been working on an article for the next PORES; and started work on a collaborative project with the conceptual artist Kerry Morrison and the biologist Professor Alicia Prowse. We are working on a public art commission in a site of special scientific interest which abuts a new housing estate of hundreds of identical houses. The project will take about 18 months (taking into account growing seasons and nature stuff) so more of that in later times. So as not to bore with day-to-day anecdotes a quick word about Shaun Pickard’s one-person show in the Text Festival which opened a couple of weeks ago and sort of continues the nature theme.

Thalurania Watertonii – Waterson’s Woodnymph.

At first glance it’s not altogether obvious what Pickard is up to. At one end of the room there’s a wall-mounted horizontal white neon light surmounted by about 8 vertical coloured neon tubes ranging from midnight blue through greens to a sort of sunflower yellow. Opposite this installation there is a wide horizontal band of the silvered reflective material running around the other three walls. On this material black text is printed. Reading into the text you find that the bird species T. Watertonii is laid out in a matrix of two horizontal rows – one male one female – and ornithologically descriptive columns, such as crown, hindcrown, through all the body parts to flank and under tail coverts. So we can cross reference that the male bird’s forehead is green-bluish/bronze-greenish and the female’s is greenish-coppery or that the under tail coverts are green-bronzy with blue and white-grey respectively). With the realisation of this we could be in the area of Veronica Forrest-Thomson’s poetic category Rational Obscurity (… “is perhaps the least disturbing form of obscurity because it continues to presuppose a framework of intelligibility. Problems are attributed to an absence of knowledge, and once the necessary arcane knowledge is supplied, the poem becomes rationally coherent”) but the surprising and remarkable parallax effects of the multi-mixing of neon reflections on the silvered surfaces point to the significant experiential moment that Pickard has set out to create. Fascinated by the story of how the jungle bird species was (mis)classified by the Victorian Waterson, Pickard set out to follow in his footsteps. In this search, taking him to a Mibiri creek in South America, he did not find the bird (as he didn’t expect to) but the confusions and absences of story and his retracing of it, form the basis of an acute experience of the gap between the description of the iridescent bird and the (real) experience of seeing it. The show deliberately has no image of a bird from this species, but in the accrual of the materialist language of its description and its essence replicated in shimmering light we are as close to a living moment in its presence as it is possible to be without it.

July 29, 2005

The Tmesis of Maurizio Nannucci

Maurizio Nannucci’s recent Text Festival commission in Bury Art Gallery reads:


To transcribe it as a line would be misleading. To write it in the column above or any parsing variation like it cannot represent the experience of viewing either: the text is a circle of neon light installed in the 1901 rotunda of the main Gallery entrance space in a way that makes it impossible to read as a coherent ‘sentence’ without the effort of a circular walk or spinning on the spot below it. And where is the start? The words occur in almost all sequences.
This architectural space has always instigated a peculiar valorised opening; it is actually quite small but its classical proportions distended upwards articulate grandeur and seriousness – qualities aimed at educating the early 20th Century working class of Bury in their proper (respectful) relation to culture. Calming and restrained, the space has remarkable historical Ideal resonances but Maurizio Nannucci’s installation adds a missing layer to complete the register of its public existence. It is as if the Victorian architects designed the space in the expectation of DIFFERENT CULTURES. The text works architecturally as tmesis. It works chromatically as tmesis. It works linguistically as tmesis.
The Bury Text Festival asked the fundamental question for artists who use language as a medium: faced with a modern world where the written word and sign overlays and consumes every environment, how can poets and text artists work with language? From advertising to road signs, from logos to global branding to digital communications, the visual/virtual hegemony of packaging, identity and commodity, text is the ontological and linguistic landscape to everyone’s existence. The Festival’s methodological survey of current aesthetic response described in TEXT identified five strategies: Materiality, Spatialisation, Parataxis, Intertextuality and Restricted Languages. And in various recent installations around the world Nannucci’s works have utilised one or more of these approaches, whilst bringing a unique textual phenomenology into the world.
Everyone locates texts in their world – be it stickers on their cars, novelty mugs or shirts with slogans, designer logos on watches, cars, clothes, texts on their phones, on and on, but fundamentally our texts are simply extensions, proliferations of a textual background radiation we are given and re-apply through what Jean-Paul Sartre called the hierarchy of mediations. Nannucci’s PLACES SAME CULTURE (exemplifying all others), parts the textual curtain, inserts itself, muscles in, “confronts two prosaic edges with one another … tmesis is a seam or flaw resulting from a simple principle of functionality; it does not occur at the level of the structure of languages but only at the moment of their consumption; the author cannot predict tmesis: he cannot choose to write what will not be read. And yet, it is the very rhythm of what is read and what is not read that creates the pleasure of great narratives” (Barthes). A question to leave hanging: is Nannucci’s use of English as opposed to his native Italian part of his dislocated effect, the place from which his cleavage and his insertion comes? What Bakhtin called the chronotope, the interpenetrating insoluble space-time-art unity of the work.
Intensely horizontal, a spinning plane between the ground and first floors, its midnight blue light (blue glass with T14 powder) penetrates and merges the upper and lower spaces. "It (colour) becomes an integral element in the writing, which is not only a collection of words but the material through which I express myself...Colour remains a primary fact. It is, after all, the first thing the viewer notices."
Nannucci’s Bury Gallery rotunda words have restricted themselves to
but Escher-like its circularity changes the viewer’s relationship to its repetition, we experience a moto perpetuo; Steinian insistence replaces repetition, "like a cinema picture made up of succession and each moment having its own emphasis that is its own difference and so there was the moving and the existence of each moment as it was in me." In situ, incrementally the tmesis of SAME HORIZONS expands so each word, standing in relation to each other word, stands alone, capitalised, hand-written in a pure light, butterfly pinning the substantial ambiguity of language to twelve words. After all, what would the words “DIFFERENT LANGUAGES SAME PLACES DIFFERENT PLACES SAME CULTURES DIFFERENT CULTURES SAME HORIZONS” mean? no punctuation no beginning no end. These moments of turning repeat in the repetition of shapes, capitalised and reinforced by neon technical specification, PLACES SAME keeps a continuous line of bulb so that E F S M N seem to rhyme/chime, the mimesis of language, language imitating itself. Finally this self reflexivity of text functions on the metaphorical level, politically democratising language and location, in the words of the poet Philip Davenport, ‘challenging the Othering process’. DIFFERENT CULTURES SAME HORIZONS parts an institutional façade; it welcomes the public to their culture, it celebrates interactions between people and peoples: in its light it celebrates and restates the Enlightenment against approaching darkness.

July 09, 2005

King’s Cross suffering

“Northerner, this is your stop.” The immortal first line from Simon Armitage’s King’s Cross poem published in the Independent newspaper London Voices special reflecting on “an extraordinary week in the life of an extraordinary city”. The poem is one of Armitage’s more banal list descriptions which I forced myself to read. Given the scale of the subject, I wondered whether he had the capacity to rise the occasion. No chance. Much in the ‘spirit’ of “The Universal Home Doctor” poems, it falls into the strange disconnection from real experience. In that book, he torpidly rose to the challenge of DIY and gardening, giving the strong impression that he had run out of things to write about and, as a poet with limited innovatory language resources, moved onto novel writing. I am not saying that the poet would have to have been in the underground when the bomb went off to write but there continues to be inauthentic distance in his writing, which I think becomes particularly inappropriate with this subject matter.

“Or maybe,
Just maybe, you live. Here’s you on the News,
Shirtless, minus a limb, exiting smoke
to a backdrop of red melt…”

is a sequence of lines opening with maybe, just maybe, a fairy tale intonation as suitable for a whether Santa Claus is involved, with the absence of a limb a banal tmesis.

A found poem on the same page of the newspaper:

Faith under fire

This fella helped me

choose my new kitchen

A new blitz - a

new world view

sale now on

bombings in London?

July 06, 2005

Lawrence Weiner

After a brilliant and very long day with Lawrence Weiner on Friday we went into the Text Festival public conversation. It turns out that my anxiety about his reputation for ‘difficulty’ was based on stories from the 60’s and 70’s when he was ‘set-up’ in unsympathetic anti-conceptualist forums – so our day was much more relaxed and conducive than I had feared. He was really pleased with the WATER MADE IT WET installation, which looked fabulous in the summer light. His RADCLIFFE HORIZION piece always looks good in the sun anyway. The poster archive show at Bury Art Gallery is also an impressive installation, though he thought that more of the posters could have been fitted in. He had read the Art Monthly review and disagreed with it but was very positive about the festival achievement, which was gratifying. The conversations through the day were relaxed and free-ranging. Of particular interest was the discussion of my methodological analysis of the current text situation. Since the articulation of the 5 methodologies in the TEXT, I have considered a potentially missing element in the equation – temporality. Not in the simplistic way of this being the Sixth Element (or the even more superficial recent analysis of the longpoem by Ron Silliman which statically operates only with a traditional undifferentiated classical model), but in an analogous quantum structure: Quantum Gravity Theory/M Theory postulates the structure of reality having eleven dimension (ten plus Time), and my current work follows a thread that this is mirrored in the Glass Bead Game of Text as five methods plus Time. Lawrence engaged with this with his recent thinking on the dialogue between Simultaneity and the Parallel. Some of his thinking in this resurfaced in the public conversation which will be transcribed and available shortly.

In preparation for the conversation cris cheek joined me and despite much briefing on how to approach the situation he immediately upset the intellectual openness of the discussion by flagging up his platform plan to question Lawrence on areas of writing, line length, compositional practice - which LW would reject as irrelevant

The Met had a great atmosphere, and there was a good sized and mixed audience of festival familiars, artists, students and curators.

Overall we talked for an hour and half covering Lawrence’s artistic theory and practice and issues facing artists in the 21st Century. The prickliness engendered by cris pushed Lawrence into preparing positions giving the conversation an edge which (people report) made for a tantalising debate (one poet in the audience commented that it was fun watching cris ‘intellectually bitch-slapped’) but it was annoying for me because it drove it away from the more thought-provoking ground of the Text Festival which required more trust and openness. Maybe this was never possible anyway and that that work had happened earlier in the day and will valuably resurface in the follow-up to TEXT which I have started working on.

June 26, 2005

The Empire Strikes Back (weakly)

It turns out that the website ‘interview’ with me, reproduced here 13 April 05, was a little disingenuous. By chance I stumbled on the site and found that it was something of a set up; although the questionnaire was published as written, it was contextualised with mocking criticism with a link to a Bloodaxe poet who irritably attacks my position. In the spirit of Silliman’s analysis of the fate of so-called ‘School of Quietude’ poets doomed to be forgotten, it doesn’t really matter which poet it is. But to paraphrase Socrates – a wise man can learn from a fool so it’s worth considering his arguments - some which is interesting.

First the criticism: how can the Text Festival claim to be anti-establishment and have some funding from the Arts Council. The tongue-in-cheek response is that this was acknowledged prominently in the opening exhibition with the display of four poems from Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Death to the Arts Council series. But the actual answer rests in the misunderstanding of what the Festival means by ‘establishment’. It is self-evident that the Arts Council is a wing of Government cultural policy and is therefore potentially/bizarrely dangerous to the innovative arts. But one wonders why the Bloodaxe poet misses the somewhat bigger ‘establishment’ issue of the festival being run by a local authority – galleries, theatre, and public art commissioning. The point is the festival is not aiming to bring down the apparatus of the state (not in its first year anyway); its critique is the established form of Poetry – not the infrastructure of corporate/state control.

His other non-poetry point is the way the Guardian sensationalised the event. I share his disappointment as I spent a good hour briefing the journalist on the issues and it was their idea to get quotes from Andrew Motion – to which I replied I wasn’t really interested in anything he had to say.

This leads on to the Bloodaxe poet’s next point: that the festival is too keen to say what it is not. Guilty as charged: The dominant "poetic" factor of established poetry is absolutely embedded in self-reflexivity, the first person, the voice of the poet, sharing an epiphanous moment, his or her narrow emotional life or simply a wry anecdote. Definitively its strength has not been in its writing but in its ability to establish itself as synonymous with the term ‘Poetry’ - so the Festival has to declare what it is not otherwise people will think that it is yet another tired promotional event of the mainstream. (The website expressed the concern that someone might stumble into the Text and be put off poetry forever. This made me smile, since someone is more likely to stumble across the poetry section of any high street bookshop and be put off poetry.) For the last 30 years, it’s only mechanism of renewal has been the rotation of regional dialects (hence the Liverpool poets, the Yorkshire accent careers of Simon Armitage and Ian MacMillan). This Bloodaxe fellow claims that there is no 'dichotomy' in UK poetry – apparently his 'mainstream' is too large, too fractured and too diverse but the US is allowed such a division “because there they have a much debated theory of a 'parallel tradition'.” Another aspect of the UK establishment – its complacent isolation.

I’d never heard of this writer until I saw his review so I needed to look him up to check his poetic credibility – after all the Festival’s agenda is to bring innovative language artists together and he may be someone we inadvertently missed. Here is the first stanza of a representative work from 2004 found on the net:

Since you ask, lass, this is how I get to sleep:
I've imagined a string of numbered planets
which loop and dip out towards the husk
of our universe; pretended to be a wren
tucked in a leaf, safe from the peril of sleet;

Oops. (doesn’t even pass the line-break deletion test: Since you ask, lass, this is how I get to sleep: I've imagined a string of numbered planets which loop and dip out towards the husk of our universe; pretended to be a wren tucked in a leaf, safe from the peril of sleet;)
Somewhat embarrassing - It’s clumsy writing even within its own terms. And surprise surprise: self-reflexive wry anecdotalism in a north of England accent – actually not even a very convincing one either.

According to him around 5 million adults in the UK write poetry from time to time within this number he guesses that only a few thousand are ‘interested in innovative poetry’ – sorry individuals on an island with no contact with the rest of the world, of course. Whether these guesses are true or not, in the UK we have the equivalent of Sunday painters and I-know-what-I-like Merchants running and defining contemporary art. In this environment it is difficult not to enjoy the pleasure of being “a wretched snob” as he calls it.

Bloodaxe man’s conclusion returns to the attack that collaboration is a government agenda to get better value for money out of its poetry subsidies. This is a wrong headed attack on the Festival because we have not promoted or programmed collaboration. There are artists who have collaborated but that was up to them not us.

But the final admission of ill-thought out cliché is:

“For me, poetry is a musical art form first, a linguistic one second. “

Absolute nonsense. Music is the musical artform, poetry is a language artform. On top of that what really irritates me when people trot this out is that they mean tonal music.

June 19, 2005

Lawrence Weiner countdown

The opening exhibition of the Text Festival 'Text' finishes today. Get hold of David Briers brilliant review in Art Monthly (June) to see what you missed. The Artists Books show curated by Greville Worthington is still on and on 25 June the remarkable Lawrence Weiner poster archive (from Vancouver Art Gallery) opens for nine weeks. 1 July is the important date for your diary though, when Lawrence flights in from New York via Amsterdam for a conversation at the Met Arts Centre (tickets hotline: 0161 761 2216). Preparing for the 'interview' I have been reading HAVING BEEN SAID, the recent collection of his writings and interviews. While the Festival can fairly easily dismiss Official Verse Culure (despite its literary hegemony it pays the price in its cultural marginalisation) the greater theoretical problem lays in the art of Lawrence Weiner and his frequent rejection of any relationship between poetry and his use of language (in its art context).

“…one must feel that the advances of poetry have remained within the realm of presentation. As long as experimentation is an aesthetic idea there most probably can be no significant advancement in what does then constitute poetry...” (LW)

If you would like contribute a question to the conversation, email them to me.

June 11, 2005


A great session was had by all last weekend at Partly Writing 4 ( – hosted by the Text Festival at Bury Museum. The website will be expanded over the next few weeks with contributions arising out of the weekend’s deliberations. So I’ll not say much more about it here.

Also this week I visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It’s been a while since I visited the Park; though I had seen the new visitor centre I had not seen the recently completed Underground Gallery. Cutting to the conclusions of my visit, I think it is obvious that the focus on the development of buildings and the poison chalice of the Arts Council’s Sculpture Collection have badly distracted the Curators. The Arts Council’s lower priority for art as against Government sponsored Access seems to have had the (probably unplanned or even noticed) effect of dumbing down the placement and any artistic rigour of the works in the park. I didn’t bother noting the artist’s name because the work was so banal but a large area of the grounds have been given over to large ‘found stone blocks’ surface carved with animal decoration – good for school parties to sit around and copy. The Henry Moore’s looked increasingly tired in this environment. Some Barbara Heyworth’s seem to have been left behind after the great retrospective last year, but just reinforce the feeling that curatorially no-one seems to be thinking about how the grounds work. The new Underground Gallery turns out to be a fine space and features currently a large retrospective of William Turnbull in a strange ahistorical hang. I wasn’t previously very interested in Turnbull and the exhibition didn’t change that. The overall impression of the YSP is that it is a faded local authority park that the curators have left and it is now a tired playground for schools. Sadly I couldn’t find the Rückriem sculpture on loan somewhere in the gardens, so the only ‘visible’ contemporary work was by the brilliant text artist Shaun Pickard. Tellingly, his neon text has been dismally relocated from its striking location in the trees beside the visitor centre to the trough of a drainage ditch under a metal grill in the Orangery! Probably the biggest artistic outrage in the Park. There are 2 permanently (and properly) displayed Pickard’s at Bury Art Gallery and his one-man show as part of the Festival opens on 6 August.

May 31, 2005


how the ultimate in contemporary style and warmth = located at the heart of the hip city (meticulously designed = the hotel offers a small unique blend of style and luxury) enjoy the ultimate dining experience of our two star michelin restaurant (a a mediterranean style café = promises freshness = quality and variety in a cool and calming environment) combining the latest in beauty cosmetics from all over the world with a unique personalized thought service material action inserted into material practices (enjoy silky smooth skin from soothing facials or sharpen up at the nail bar) (relax into a massage or go for that all-over tan) this super-stylish hotel = it has real presence (great shopping and homo sacer inside a cool totalisation every day of the week and all) an oasis of calm amid the bustle (each room is unique and dramatic takes in both style and finish) vibrant raspberry and mushroom colours create immediate theatre in the rooms (the presence of an ethical symbol adds nothing to its factual content) (velvet and silk cushions and ambient lighting create that touch of luxury) to nothing in the world which is foreign to the mind (fill or) a classic suite in the original building (there are starters like ham consommé with pea pancakes or rich pigeon on a a potato cake with mustard cabbage) inventiveness might also run to a new name that will secure its place (in the gastronomic hall of fame) = signature starters (a version of the small day) really quite a substantial dish (one contests the meaning of the project at the very moment that one defines it) gently whisk together in a whole circular motion with your fingers = nihilation and the buttery flavor and texture of the mesclun duck balanced with the slight sweet
yet tart acidity of the raspberry coulis (life)

May 25, 2005

The End of the Moon

Laurie Anderson was in town last night performing her The End of the Moon solo show at the Lowry Arts Centre – the worse modern building in Britain. Probably the quotation from the San Francisco Chronicle that it was wry and witty was true but that was about it. They also called it hypnotic which it was in the sense that the flat plodding unvaried pace, dull lighting and bland musical interludes were sleep inducing. The piece is Anderson’s response to her residency at NASA and in that unique context is therefore even more disappointing. Formally it is merely a series of short anecdotes told in her slow wry American accent – not much more artifice than an after-dinner speech – interspersed with short musically bland violin playing. Given the technological context of the work, it was remarkable how simplistic her use of electronic media was - basically slight augmentation of the custom-violin and some sort of laptop keyboard providing slow rhythm filler. You could feel the sense of expectation when she picked up a small camera which began projecting its real-time image but this was dissipated by remaining at the size of a flipchart. There the experiment ended and she put it down again. To be fair, Anderson claims in the programme to be a storyteller and that is about all she is. The line of NASA narrative was interspersed with a couple of references to 9-11 as the Americans call it, which amounted to a metaphorical tale of a country walk, coming to the conclusion that the reason that the world hates Americans is because they are “jerks” and that New Yorkers will forever after have to live with a fearful eye to the sky. A sorry level of analysis and response.

“What’s newest about this piece is the words” she writes. Meaning only the narrative as it is written, there is no linguistic experiment or innovation.

May 20, 2005

Partly Writing

Partly Writing 4: Writing and the Poetics of Exchange

The Text Festival hosts this year's Partly Writing on 4-5 June 2005

Partly Writing 4 follows the model of the previous Partly Writing events: it is a weekend of conversations and discussions among a range of writers and text practitioners. It emphasises practice, research and open intellectual engagement. This year we are especially keen to discuss examples of social and artistic practice which you feel engage with the role of exchange as part of writing culture. These may be examples that you value and/or that you are actively generating in your own work. In what ways do contemporary writing arts engage with modes of exchange: as social and aesthetic bonds, gift-objects, gift-making activities, forms of circulation, negotiations, transits, limits, inhibitions?

Saturday 4 June 2005

Welcome from the Bury Text Festival (TT)
Introduction to Partly Writing (CB, CW)

Session One
Chair: Caroline Bergvall
Writing and Collaboration
In what ways can one say that artistic collaboration – with materials, with people, with places, with languages – is a form of exchange?
Is collaboration always predicated on exchange?
Is experimental writing predicated on the validity of collaboration (social as much as artistic)?
What are the limits of collaboration?
What is an artistic friendship?

Session Two
Chair: Carol Watts
Specific Economies
In what ways can we say that poetry is an artform currently marked by a gift economy?
What are the implications of this for the creating of bonds, both social and artistic?
What implications for the generation of work?
Do experimental writing practices function outside mainstream means of reward and recognition?
How do we assign value to such practices?
How do these economies traverse forms of practice outside and inside institutions (textual and otherwise)?

Sunday 5 June 2005

Session One
Chair: Tony Trehy
Intertexuality and Textual Borrowings
In what explicit or implicit ways do forms of exchange operate on at the level of the text?
What kind of view on writing and knowledge does intertextuality forward?
What do we understand by textual borrowing?
Do citational and appropriative practices inherently favour the development of poetic and cultural exchanges?
What are the politics at work? Are these always a sign of cultural resistance?

Session Two
Chair: Caroline Bergvall
Writing as Negotiation
What are the politics and pragmatics involved in writing practices that function responsively and/or more or less exclusively through social and cultural negotiations?
What kind of poetics inform from context-specific negotiations?
How do they imply, involve and/or broaden audiences, communities of readers, constituencies of interest?
How might such negotiation-based work be generative of new kinds of aesthetics?
Are poetics of exchange always up for grabs or are they pre-empted by certain art-specific rules?

The Partly Writing website is currently amalgamating material from the past three events ( ).

May 03, 2005

poets and text artists

Thursday saw a great night at Bury Art Gallery with me in conversation with Carolyn Thompson, followed by readings by Robert Sheppard and Mark Nowak (editor of XCP from Minnesota.

The conversation with Carolyn went like this:

TT: I think the first place to start is the problem of performance. In discussing this event, it was immediately obvious that as a text artist you were not keen to translate or mediate performatively the 2 works on display. “Poets read; text artists don’t” (my quote not yours!) I know when we talked about this initially you considered (however briefly) possible use of readings, can you tell us that thought process and why you rejected them?
CT: Yes, first and fore mostly I’m not a performance artist. In fact it’s just these sort of occasions that I personally tend to shy away from! I do however understand that for some, there is a performative aspect to my work, however I want the experience of most of my recent pieces to be an intimate one for a viewer and completely unconnected to me. I feel performance would detract from the issues I’m trying to deal with here.
The only way I would have been happy with the work becoming part of a performance would be if I had nothing to do with it, would be if the translation continued and another artist were to take one of my pieces and translate it into a new work, their new work, without my input.

TT: Why Breakfast at Tiffany’s?
CT: I’ve always enjoyed Truman Capote novels and Breakfast at Tiffany’s in particular had always intrigued me. I had begun to look at novels which have been adapted into films prompted me to revisit the novel at it at this particular time. Love and relationships were increasingly becoming themes throughout my practice, and lets face it Holly Golightly is one of twentieth century literature’s romantic icons.

TT: Why were you willing to have it over hung?
CT: I intended to deal with the themes of loss and missed possibilities portrayed in the novel, and ideas of individuality and companionship, and the relationship between the two. My relationship with the piece was one of devotion and obsession, cutting and sticking all the words. Like a relationship between two people it involved patience and endurance. I wanted this to be evident in the viewing, so by placing it behind other works the piece becomes part of the furniture, like everyday relationships continuing around us, it can go unnoticed. It requires seeking out and nurturing, but it also subtle enough to be neglected and ignored. It also means that the viewer requires some trust in the artist, believing that the piece continues to run behind the others, and this trust in itself becomes part of the viewer’s me/you relationship with me as the artist.

TT: Does your title appear in the book?
CT: No it comes from a song which is actually unrelated. It seems reflect Holly Golightly’s role in the novel as a loveable rogue. She is loved by everyone yet faithful to no one: lover, friend or even herself. It also seemed to be a solemn reminder that although it is easy to view the piece as a romantic story, the me/you relationship in question may not be a secure and comfortable one, and the devotion and obsession may be of a sinister nature.
The title also reminds of the aspects of trust in the artist I’ve already mentioned. There is a natural desire I think in viewing the piece to believe in it, and not to query. It often doesn’t occur to ask questions whether what you think you are seeing is really the case, whether the words really do go behind the other works and whether they are really in their original position.

TT: Is there a thread in your thinking that connects this work/book with the American Psycho piece in the next room or your Winston & Julia piece from 1984?
CT: Yes definitely. In all of the pieces I’m concerned with manipulating and retelling novels. The editing and reconfiguring processes I’ve put the books through, have been decided beforehand like a set of rules for that particular piece. I’m trying to make the distinctions between authenticity and fabrication ambiguous whilst questioning the value of authorship. Through all of that my goal is to create new realities and/or fictions.

On top of this, all deal obsession, the obsessive nature of the character in each as well as the obsessive quality in the work.

TT: The other day I was giving a talk in the gallery and someone was amused by my observation that you could see that you’re so pretty is a later work than After Easton Ellis because you are moving away from the book towards a language concept. Are you conscious of this movement and is it a progress you see continuing?
CT: Yes I’m definitely conscious of it, it has been somewhat of a premeditated move, but I wouldn’t exactly describe it as moving away from the book towards a sort of language concept. It has always been the language that I’ve been most interested in, the book references that appeared in the format of earlier works were there as I wanted to use preconceptions of original source in order to influence interpretation of my subsequent adaptation. Whilst in Winston and Julia, I put it in a book format to create intimacy. The books became gifts, this gift of a love story, something intimate, like reading is an intimate pastime. With You’re so Pretty when You are Unfaithful to Me although references are still made to the book, the particular book from which the text came became less important, as the relationship between the me and you became the stronger element.

TT: One of the questions that is sure to come up is how is this work not Orwell’s or Ellis’s or Capote’s? What is your relationship to the original authors and texts?
CT: That’s really for an audience to decide. I want the viewer to determine the value of authorship and create their own parameters to the word and its connotations. I don’t deny that the original work is theirs, particularly with the Orwell and Ellis work, I am really only highlighting and celebrating something that has already been created. That’s why their names appear on the pieces.

TT: Familiar in other Artforms (for instance sampling in popular music), the idea of using splicing source texts for a new work – intertextuality – has been a recognised strategy since the sixties. It is one of the themes that the festival and this exhibition have identified as central to current text-poetic practice. Your work actually manifests the others - Spatialisation, materiality, parataxis and process-based restricted languages - especially in the Tiffany piece. Can you talk us through your response to this sort of analytical structure? (or) Are your texts informed by poetic/literary strategies and structures?
CT: Although I feel it more likely that my work references social behavior in contemporary popular culture than any poetic/literary structures, in saying that I’m fitting it perfectly into the intertextuality strategy. However I think it is almost impossible to create work which does not refer to the world in which we live and what is happening in the here and now.

Being engaged with the compression and reduction of information, and the ways in which existing material is reconfigured to create something new, I feel more than anything I reference popular culture including television, film and music as well as mimicking the way our increasing thirst and impatience for knowledge means our experiences become snap shots of a whole picture.

TT: How do you locate yourself in relation to the tradition of conceptual text artists (Weiner, Holzer, Kruger)?
CT: I don’t, as I don’t actually see myself as a text artist. I do however see myself as a conceptual artist who at this particular moment in time, is using text, or language, as medium as it’s the most suitable for my current body of work. I try to keep an open mind and not restrict myself too much by labeling myself as any particular type of artist, as I think it’s very easy to fall into the trap of feeling you must then conform to that, and consequently end up regurgitating the same old crap. So at some point in the future I may be using various other forms of media which I feel more suitable to depict the themes that I am interested in then.

April 28, 2005

Cambridge CCP

(If there is anyone out there, sorry it’s been so long – the festival has been hectic and draining. )

I managed to get to the Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry at the weekend Great to see Simon Smith from the National Poetry Library, and of course Alan Halsey and Geraldine Monk again and meet some new faces.

The opening wasn’t auspicious though. Wendy Mulford, a Cambridge poet performed her work in progress the Unmaking - a poem about the highland clearances of the 1840s-1880s. As Kevin Nolan said in his introduction: 'what imagines itself as a periphery and what imagines itself as a centrality'. Even allowing for the absence the multi-media element (due to sickness) it was a terrible piece. The problem being flagged up in the introduction with the foregrounding of its narrative. Basically it is a simple 3 voice 'portentous' text mixing Gaelic and English source texts (without very much effort to experiment in the weave) interspersed with quasi-Celtic violin. Lacking tension or poetic interest, the sloppy intertextuality pathetically undigested and reminiscent of terrible didactic turgid community theatre verging on school play. The violin (played well) being mostly pseudo-atonal-Zen linear writing. I do not believe that the absent visuals could save this. Some really excruciating sections but a great pigeon accompaniment from the courtyard outside. The Highlands would have been cleared a lot quicker if the Scots had been bombarded with this.

In Translation
This was a great discussion on issues facing poetry translation in the context of globalisation of English. A very high quality debate with some really interesting analysis supporting the idea that learning languages as resistance to commodifying globalisation, and the importance of otherness of the translation (poetic artifice rather than communicative function)

The Saturday Evening Gig
Sue Clarke: the writing is strong but really she has no idea how to deliver her mammoth hypertextual work. Her magnum opus can't be fully grasped from snippets (in its I Ching-like form or ideas) and so the fragments had to be explained parenthetically and thus the reading was faltering and soliloquised. She acknowledged the impossibility of reading it but the reading attempted didn't address the problem performatively.

John Seed was quite stiff reading until he did his cut-ups and suddenly became animated.

Mark Nowak (USA) – This was the highlight reading for me, which is fortunate because after performing in Cambridge he is reading in Bury. Great stuff, powerfully paratactic intextualising with the form integrated into the argument. God knows what Mark thought about the bizarrely English intellectualism implied in the curatorial balance between disparate poets and rarefied academics. Maybe I’ll get chance to ask him tonight.

Evelyn Schlag (Austrian) - interestingly her poems in English appear mainstream but are interesting - perhaps demonstrating that it is possible to write good representational poetry; just that the English don't.

Sunday 'Cosmologies'
Arthur Gibson – presented a great lecture on Wittgenstein, logic and poetry. Cutting through all the wonderful stuff he said his suggestion that what was needed was boldness rang the loudest cord. He called for a counterintuitive approach focused on creation of a poetic/linguistic logic rather than a philosophic or scientific logic. We need a new poetic rationality not a sloppy appropriation of uncertain Science.

Unfortunately I didn’t see much more because I had a writing deadline of my own to hit so I was out and about writing and thinking in the Spring sunshine.

April 13, 2005

Questions, questions.

I've been contacted by a new literary website opening up in June to answer a questionnaire about the Text Festival's critique of the mainstream: here it is -

1 The Guardian quotes you as saying that ‘poetry has nowhere to go other than being an anachronism or mild entertainment’. Which strands of poetry were you referring to specifically by using these terms?

I actually said: From advertising to road signs, from logos to global branding to digital communications, text forms the visual and linguistic background to everyone’s existence. Once poets were seen as developers of language and ideas, the creators of new ways of thinking and expressing, but now poets are irrelevant except as radio comedians or advertisement copy-writers. Faced with a modern world where the written word or sign consumes and clutters virtually every environment, the fundamental question is how can poets and text artists work with language?

Official Verse Culture pretty much ignores its Language context. Its (pre)dominant "poetic" factor is limited to representation of self-reflexivity, the first person, the voice of the poet, sharing an epiphanous moment or a wry anecdote from his or her narrow emotional life. As the American Poet Lyn Hejinian wrote: “The world is found to be meaningful, but not for and to itself; it is meaningful because perceiving it makes the poet special; the poet plunders the world for its perceptual, spiritual treasure and becomes worthy (and worth more) on that basis".

2 How are you hoping that the Text Festival will change the landscape of poetry?

The landscape of British poetry has a particular configuration related to its history since the ‘Poetry Wars’ 30 years ago. Back in the Seventies, while the American’s were breaking new ground with LANGUAGE Poetry, and the French continued to develop the ideas of OULIPO, the English poetry avant-garde were forced out of its brief dominance at the Poetry Society. With poetry now defined as the voice of the poet, the only innovation possible was a succession of dialects or accents. Hence the Liverpool poets, Yorkshire poets (Armitage and MacMillan), the recent vogue for the pastoral, and even the celebration of sub-cultural minority voices. The banality of the defining character of the landscape has successfully diverted successive generations of young poets – rebellion against the dominant poetic culture cleverly misdirected into content, leaving forms unchallenged. Poetry Slams and Rap are good examples of the trick. Poets (and audiences) mistake Slam delivery styles of performance for innovation – but the actual writing offers nothing new. Rap is no more than rhyming couplets with hard emphasis on the end beats. I can’t believe that alarm bells didn’t ring when Seamus Heaney said that Eminem is the most important poet of his generation. Of course Heaney would say that because (not withstanding his persona of rebellion) the Rapper’s ‘poetry’ as poetry is banal rhyming and challenges nothing.

The Festival set out with a critical analysis of the mainstream but it always aimed to be much more than that. Its main objective was engaging the debate between linguistically innovative poets and text artists. In a sense, it set out to ignore traditional practice and in part for that reason it has attracted much attention as an indication of the fragility of the British mainstream. The realisation that it has exposed the poetry emperor is naked. Internationally it has attracted interest because it is a vehicle for practitioners to try new things, make new connections, and more language writing forward.

3 A lot of people featuring in Text could simply be described as conceptual artists and there is a massive audience for that in Britain. Would you consider Tracey Emin’s neon word artwork as poetry? Is Kruger a poet?

“Simply”? Maybe. There is a massive audience as you say, but interestingly how much of that audience recognises or reads innovative poetry in the same way? The Festival is not saying that someone like Barbara Kruger is a poet. Its analysis is that the most interesting poets are working with the same range of linguistic tools as conceptual and textual artists – parataxis, materiality, spatialisation, intertextuality and restricted languages.

Tracy Emin's art is an interesting case to consider because her public exploration of her personal experience could easily be characterised within the pejorative self-reflexive banality of mainstream writing. But demonstrates the points of difference graphically. Compare her blue neon text


with mainstream rhymester, Sophie Hannah:

He has slept with the stupid and clever.
He has slept with the rich and the poor
But he sadly admits that he's never
Slept with a poet before.

The Emin is a better text work than the Hannah (extract) and is linguistically much more sophisticated while seeming more simple. That said, it is a relatively light-weight. This is one of the interesting areas for debate. Artists criticise poets for not seeing how their work operates in the non-linguistic sphere; poets criticise artists for their limited understanding of how words work.

4 Do you think there should be a Turner style prize for poetry?

Not really – there probably shouldn’t be a Turner Prize. With the same marketing the TS Eliot Prize could be elevated to have a similar public profile, but competitive award-based merit system in the present situation would be a dangerous reinforcement of the status quo. Establishment hegemony is sustained by the apparatus of publication, curriculum, academic appointment and awards. A poetry ‘Turner Prize’ would just be another vehicle for the system to tell everyone to read more indifferent writing.

5 Do you think that part of the problem of trying to get poetry deploying mixed-media across to an audience is that it is usually couched in academic terms? A lot of the poets featuring in Text seem to come from academic backgrounds and disciplines.

No. This is a misconception that some have made about the Festival. The medium is not the issue (mixed or otherwise). Language is the medium. TV audiences have no problem viewing incredibly complex manipulations of text on a screen. The poets in the Festival are investigating how language can be used. Forms actually support and surpass contents – whether a text-poem is a sound piece, neon, a screenprint or on a page is immaterial as long as it is integral to the intent.

I can only think of 3 poets in the Festival who could be described as associated with academia. The majority of the participants, although possibly occasionally involved, are not predominantly academic.

6 Do you think poets, marginalised as they are already, don’t want their poetry to be subsumed into other art forms?

No. As with the previous answer, concern about other artforms is irrelevant. It is the use of language that is primary. A good example would be the poet Caroline Bergvall – she arrived at the festival with her latest poetry book called ‘&’ and installed an associated multi-media animation using ampersands and a sound text with the composer Ciaran Maher deconstructing a blues song. Later in the festival she will perform a reading.

7 I would have thought that poetry develops best away from the establishment. Do you think that the poetry you’re featuring in Text is suffering because it doesn’t belong to the kind of poetry celebrated by the establishment?

All artforms – not just poetry – have historically moved forward, broken new ground in their rejection or surpassing of the established cultural practice. So on the contrary, the poetry featured in the Text poetically benefits from not being the kind of poetry celebrated by the establishment. I would argue that it is the mainstream culture in general and poetry readers in particular that are ill-served and suffer from the bland hegemony of Official Verse Culture. The exciting thing is that art/poetry history is a record of innovation and change – and now is the time for change.

March 23, 2005

The Tragedy of

In the suite of Text Festival images available to the media, the one by me most often picked up is the tragedy of althusserianism (here’s a good place to look at it ). The key moment in this visual poem is the following line, he is. One of the things the poem seeks to do is replicate the experience of mystery – the majority of readers (even if they have heard of Althusser) will not know what althusserianism is, or what the tragedy of it is. If that mystery is lived with, the question next is: is ‘he’ Althusser? Or is ‘he’ someone else? This set of questions is actually what the poem is about. You can stop there, you don’t know, that is the tragedy.

Louis Althusser was a fascinating figure and he and his wife Helene are frequent references in my work. In the 60’s he was a major figure in French Marxism. Ten years his senior, Helene had been a communist fighter against the Nazis. Reading his autobiography The Future Lasts a Long Time you get the sense that her real politics substantiated his academic Marxism. She comes across as deeply emotionally dependent on him and it is difficult to find him sympathetic with her low self-esteem battered further by his blatant infidelities. Throughout his adult life, while being this major theoretician of Marxism, he suffered bouts of mental instability resulting in frequent institutionalisation. One night Althusser emerged insane from their apartment at the Sorbonne having strangled the woman he loved. There was some speculation at the time that their relationship had become so sad that Helene had actually wanted him to kill her. He was judged too ill to be tried for murder instead being committed to a mental hospital. From being a public philosopher in the French intellectual mould, he went to being an insane killer. At the centre of the story is the tragedy of the love between Louis and Helene which he destroyed without knowing why. In philosophic terms there is also the lesser tragedy that althusserianism was destroyed with Helene. I found that in the last page of the autobiography he diminished himself even further because he implies a hope that readers will sympathise with him; and there is the actual terrible instant when the love of Helene is lost completely. And so the tragedy of althusserianism… he is.

Manchester’s City Life Magazine used the poem to accompany their coverage of the Festival, but edited down the middle so the word althusserianism is not there! I am delighted: I have been working on ways to represent greater depths of his tragedy and what could be better than complete erasure? Mis-attribution of the poem itself - the caption says it's by Bob Cobbing.