I managed to get to the Cambridge Conference of Contemporary Poetry at the weekend http://www.cccp-online.org/index.html. 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.
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.
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.