Notes on Steve Spence review of Bring the Thing (& 5 other If P Then Q titles)

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Steve Spence has reviewed six If P Then Q poetry books over at Stride magazine, including my own Bring the Thing and titles by Holly Pester, Tim Atkins, Geof Huth, Derek Henderson, and P Inman. As he writes of If P Then Q as a project:
 
 

if p then q books operate in an interesting corner of the poetry publishing spectrum, embracing a range of experimental and ‘sound-based’ writers of differing persuasions and distinctions. Some of the work here is less interesting ‘on the page’ than it might be performed or read out and this is a problem with print-based material but the risk of publishing is well worthwhile I think and iptq adds spice and variety to the overall picture.

 
 
I’m interested how this space of “sound based” poetry – and, by implication, certain forms of minimalism – unfold in the respective spaces of the page and performance. When writing Bring The Thing, a certain space of imagined performance was important in creating the spacing, timing, and rhythm of the book. Having read it aloud publically several times, however, I think that such concerns were almost entirely about the text on the page and the space of the book – and, potentially, the reader. The actual performance in this instance should probably remain a possibility and an impossibility.
 
Maybe there is a route from the book back into live performance, but I’m thinking that it doesn’t involve reading the text aloud, and is maybe posited on the disappearance of the words themselves, seeing them as a score for something (and someone) else. Perhaps this can be seen in the extract Spence quotes in his review, from Day 38:
 
 

there is no certainty what the thing is that must be brought
the thing is certainly what must be brought
the thing can be distinguished from what is not the thing
the thing has something more than that which it is not.

 
 
I wonder how this relates to the other books. I saw Tim Atkins reading 1000 Sonnets, going through the book from start to finish (although not reading all the poems). I experienced this as a reading that hypothesised an equality to page and performance – emphasising each word, trying to keep both the presence and the possibility made by both the often one word lines and the spaces in-between. Perhaps with Holly Pester’s Hoofs there is more a sense of the separate space of performance as emergent, how a separate sense of values and experiences come into play, around the feel of/for a word and the rhythm of a text overall.
 
My own reading of Hoofs enjoys the book in itself, and I’m resistant to the idea that it’s somehow incomplete and less satisfying on the page. My reading (at least so far) of Huth & Inman’s books is that the multiple tonalities and materialities that are key to my enjoyment of these books are most active on the page and the book, and somewhat flattened by performance. I’m aware that distinctions like these may be transformed by some future reading (in both senses), but it does give a starting point for thinking about the point Spence raises about the relation of page and performance in “sound-based” and minimal poetries. I’m feeling my way towards a set of questions:
 
 

Where is a set of qualities we identify with performance located? What are those qualities? How much are those about an actual performance, and how much to do with some imagined and conceptual performance? How do these tropes of performance become enfolded into the word on the page and the space of the page and the book? How and in what ways do the performance and the book remain open to a transformation into the other? Is that something to be encouraged and/or resisted? In a poetry which prioritises materialities of letter and sound, what is the significance of that foregrounded stuff-ness and what are the particular ways it constructs meaning and communication?

 
 
 
 
2.
 
 
Having written the above, I came across “From Literature to Performances,” a short note by Scott Burton that accompanied an event he curated at Wadsworth Atheneum in 1970, republished in the splendid recent Collected Writings on Art and Performance 1965-1975. These seemed to offer some ways of thinking about the emergent space of performance – and what has to be enfolded into the text when the page remains (by choice) a primary non-translatable site. Burton observes:
 
 
 

These four pieces [by Vito Acconci, Burton himself, Eduardo Costa and John Perreault] have their genesis in literature but seek to extend that medium. Although the writers’ individual intentions vary, all move beyond not only the printed page but further, beyond the word itself as the unit of expression. An important, often necessary, verbal element remains – whether in the formulation of the intention or the concept, or as an adjunct or a parallel to the performed part of the work – but in no case is there the verbal self-sufficiency of traditional writing, even those in non-traditional styles. These works are not in new style, but in new mode. Their visual and/or aural aspects are at least as important as the activity of reading, and usually more important.
 

 
 
Burton goes on to note that an “element of duration” and “existence in time” is essential to this “performed literature” (he himself puts the term in speech marks). These, he goes on, are works “experienced in extension, as processes or sequences in time, and they control the audience’s length and rate of exposure.” Which makes me think that the relation to (and demonstration of) time in Bring the Thing – and the other If P Then Q books reviewed by Spence- is marked by a contradictoriness (contrariness?).
 
Large amounts of white space, minimal word count, maybe a foregrounding of conceptual procedures, create a book that in some ways can be quickly “read” from start to finish, but whose components also relate to each other with a possibility & multiplicity suggesting navigation from one word and page to the next could become impossible, if dependent on some kind of working through (putting into action?) of all the possibilities presented, or even their comprehension (for both author and reader).
 
 
 
 
3.
 
 
Is minimal poetry characterised by a mixture of unfurling lines of flight & isolationism? Is performance the escape from this dilemma it is better to refuse? Maybe a personal relation to performance is obtained by a working through of different understandings and combinations of private, public, inner, outer, physical, conceptual, and so on, in whatever ways each of those may manifest in a performed and/or performing literature.
 
 
 
 
 
Read about all the If P Then Q books here. A dialogue with James Davies about Bring the Thing is here.
 
 
 
 

Shady Dealings with Language in July

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I’m co-organising with Claire Potter the London edition of Shady Dealings With Language event series. As Claire describes the overall project on its website:
 
 
 

How do we approach the terms ‘art writing and performance’ through the specificities of our disciplines as writers, poets, conceptual and plastic artists, filmmakers, performers, theorists and every thing in between? And, how might that discipline-specific understanding be played out in the ways we chose program and facilitate events; the works we make, the information we share, the spaces we occupy, the guests we invite. These questions are extended to our audiences: what will cohere, unfasten and/or emerge and where might we be when the curtain falls?
 
Without prescription, the series intends to pull together the various idioms and approaches of the guest curators, and those of the event participants, constituting a consideration of interdisciplinary research and arts practice through the format of an event. This is the concern of Shady Dealings With Language.

 
 
 
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We’re still confirming details of the London event, but it will be in the first half of July at Matt’s Gallery in Mile End. I’m delighted that the fantastic Nathan Walker and Linda Stupart will be two of our presenters, and we’ll be announcing the full program very soon.
 
See a recent essay by Linda here and Nathan’s reading at The Other Room here.
 
Images in this post are from the Leeds event (co-curated with Lauren de Sa Naylor), and feature Bridget Hayden (top) & Callum Millard. After London there will be further events in Manchester (Joseph Noonan-Ganley) and Edinburgh (Kathryn Elkin).
 
 
 
 

A Tribute to Simon Howard

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This is an extract from Of Dubious Suction (Black Square Notes), a sequence for Simon Howard, which appears in the fine tribute to him that Richard Barrett and Sarah Crewe have put together over at litter magazine. Like many others- see Richard’s tribute here – I did not meet Simon, but hugely enjoyed his poetry – particularly the wonderful e-book Jubilee – and was massively grateful for his support and enthusiasm as editor (with Richard Barrett) of department magazine and press.
 
I hope he would have enjoyed this poem, and the splendid work in the whole issue. Simon’s chapbook forgotten has been posthumously published by Red Ceilings Press, who also put out the ebook numbers back in 2010.
 
 
 
 

New Publication: SEVENTY FIVE POEMS is LPBmicro #7

 
 
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My book SEVENTY FIVE POEMS has been published as #7 in Steven Hitchin’s splendid LPBmicro series of origami-fold booklets. It’s a fascinating format, which I was immediately intrigued by when last year I came across ./fine, the fifth in the series by Rhys Trimble. Thanks to the James Green for the cover image.
 
Other titles in the series are by Elisabeth Bletsoe, David Greenslade, Allen Fisher and Caroline Goodwin (#1 was an anthology). Full details here, along with details of Steven’s other workings in miniature book forms.
 
SEVENTY FIVE POEMS costs £5 and can be ordered from  hitchinssteven@gmail.com.
 
 
 
 
 
 

KNOWING YOUR ENEMIES: THOUGHTS ON THOUGHTS ABOUT COLLABORATION

 
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Over at Sabotage Reviews David Clarke has written a fascinating review of Enemies: The Selected Collaborations of SJ Fowler. Drawing on Bakhtin’s arguments around the dialogic text Clarke (as I understand it) argues that the dialogic elements are actually most evident in texts that refuse a clear sense of who wrote what, maybe even of form and subject. Without this certainty, the reader has to get involved, and the possibility of the text as a multiplicity of possible and actual voices emerges.
 
I found myself relating Clarke’s ideas to some of the decisions Steve and myself have been making regarding the book form of our collaboration, forty feet, an extract from which appears in the Enemies book. Something of the process Clarke describes has been evident in our ongoing and changing decisions about how to arrange the text on the page, what kinds of sections and designation to give the writing, to what extent the text should indicate the presence of two authors, and/or a more general process of exchange and response by which the book’s writing unfolded.
 
Originally our text had forty distinct sections, in which we took turns as author. Although we never had a manuscript that named our respective contributions one early idea was to have two distinct fonts for our respective writings. For the extract in the Penned in the Margins book, sections were cut up, placed in columns, our separate contributions mashed one to the other. I thought the book might take this further, but instead it seemed right to go back to 40 numbered sections, although now those numbers broke up some our existing sections, whilst the text itself no longer had each section starting neatly on a new page.
 
 
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Cyril Connolly Enemies of Promise (1): Getting Blocked in By Your Own Book Collection
 
 
 
Reading what we have now, I no longer know who wrote what. This isn’t entirely true, of course, but there are specific lines and sections where I mean this literally, and the whole text has moved, in my reading of it, beyond that sense of two alternating voices as its organising principle. This unknowing in the face of my/ our own text made me think of Maurice Blanchot’s comment about the text that removes itself from its author. I could only remember Blanchot’s view in these most general of terms so I went back to The Space of Literature and read on page 24:
 
 

The writer cannot abide near the work. He can only write it; he can, once it is written, only discern its approach in the abrupt Noli me legere which moves him away, which sets him apart or which obliges him to go back to that “separation” which he first entered in order to become attuned to what he had had to write. So that now he finds himself as if at the beginning of his task again and discovers again the proximity, the errant intimacy of the outside from which he could not make an abode.

 
 
All I have said here, of course, is from the writer’s point of view. Clarke’s review focuses on the experience of reader and reading and how the knowledge that a text is a collaboration (more particularly in the case of Enemies: some sort of couple) relates to the sense of voice, location and exchange that is  named or intuited by that reader in the text’s form and content. The (currently) final version we have made of forty feet seems one where writer and reader find some sort of equivalence.
 
One other point that I found useful in Clarke’s review was his sense of why the book – and Steve’s collaborations project as a whole – should be called Enemies, a title I realised I had responded to primarily as a provocation that cleared away a certain complacency about what might be involved and at stake. For Clark, again, it is best understood through how we read:
 
 

His collaborations are not friendly: neither in the sense of seeking to arrive at a position of harmony between those producing the work, nor in the sense that a finished artistic product offers the reader any easy answers. In fact, these collaborations are the opposite of a ‘finished’ product: they remain open to a dialogue with the reader, indeed to many dialogues (as in many re-readings) with the reader.

 
 
Steven’s own introduction to Enemies can be seen here. Forty Feet will be out soon from Knives Forks and Spoons Press.
 
 
 
 

REVIEW of HOMAGE TO ETEL ADNAN in GENTLY READ LITERATURE

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My review of Homage to Etel Adnan, edited by Lindsey Boldt, Steve Dickison, and Samantha Giles (The Post-Apollo Press, 2012) appears in the Winter 2014 issue of Gently Read Literature, edited by Daniel Casey out of Lawrence, Kansas.
 
It’s a subscription journal and you can see the full contents for the latest issue here.
 
See a PDF of my Etel Adnan essay here. And more about Etel Adnan’s work here.
 
In thinking through Adnan’s writing, its ideas and influence, this book and my review also anticipate the forthcoming To Look at the Sea Is To Become What One Is: An Etel Adnan Reader, edited by two contributors to Homage, Thom Donovan and Brandon Shimoda, forthcoming from Nightboat Books in 2014.
 
 
 
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Etel Adnan, Untitled (2000-2005) oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches, 27.9 x 35.6 cm.