Tuesday, 8 December 2009


Helen Lopez, Shift Perception, Exeter: Shearsman, 2009, isbn 978-1-84861-073-6 -- my sister Helen's first poetry book.
Andrew Nightingale, The Big Wheel, Kingsbridge, Devon: Oversteps, isbn 978-1-906856-05-2 -- Andrew studied for the MA in Creative Writing at Plymouth.
Christopher Cook, Notes to the Graphites (exhibition catalogue), University of Plymouth: Peninsula Arts Gallery, 2009 -- I have a small collection of Christopher Cook artworks.
Rae Armantrout, Lyn Hejinian, Ted Pearson, Tom Mandel, Ron Silliman, Carla Harryman, Steve Benson, Barrett Watten, Bob Perelman and Kit Robinson, The Grand Piano (Part 9): An Experiment in Collective Autobiography, San Francisco 1975-1980, Detroit, MI: Mode A, 2009, isbn 978-0-9790198-8-3 -- The Grand Piano design and typography by Barrett Watten, cover motif after Varvara Stepanova.

Saturday, 5 December 2009


I went to see Make Believe by Quarantine at Exeter Phoenix on 1 December. It's a piece of devised theatre performance, a patchwork of stories that must be the stories of the performers themselves, each taken over by other performers and thus turned into fictions presented both as fictions and lived experience. This teasing mix was the main pleasure as the show developed and I liked the changes in pace and mood as it went on. 
    Having opened with one performer telling a personal story that couldn't have been her own, then another, then each of the other performers taking over, it moved on to music and dance, showtime, dressing up, working with a toddler onstage and not onstage, more music and dancing and a big slice of audience involvement. Some of the best theatre events I've seen (and this was one of them) have that quality of theatre cut down to essentials. I've seen it recently in work by Chris Goode and by Lone Twin.  In Make Believe the stripped-down set really works for the production, the curtains used with the panache of Morecombe and Wise, tech crew on view at the side of the stage, wonderful use of music, every aspect dovetailed into the current story. I really loved this show and will look out for their future work.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Talk at Dartington

I was at Dartington (lower image) on Tuesday 20 October for a talk on Darwin for students and staff there. The event was organised by Larry Lynch who directs the field of writing at Dartington. There was a good crowd for a writer's talk and discussion about working methods, the questions went on longer than the original talk. John Hall, Jerome Fletcher and Marianne Morris were there. I stayed over at Sharpham House (top image, thanks Jerome, for your generous hospitality) and was able to look around the wonderful palladian house and estate in the morning, we even saw the vineyard, dairy and walled garden: amazing views from above the river Dart down two bends in the river and north to Totnes.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


I was in Sweden last week for a meeting with the photographer John S Webb to discuss a new collaborative project. John's photo Finnvorduhals, Iceland, 1997 is the cover and frontispiece for my latest book Darwin (Acts of Language, 2009). We spent two days touring Skane by train, ferry, car and on foot, travelling round Oresund and visiting the Louisiana art museum as well as different kinds of landscape around the coast from Malmo where John lives. 
    We saw an international contemporary art show The World is Yours and a one person photography show Jacob Holdts Amerika both at Louisiana, a first rate art museum in Denmark. The Holdts show is a major documentary view of American society in the 1960s and early 70s, rough and ready photo quality with some contemporary more professional looking photos, the whole show focusing especially on race. 

Thursday, 8 October 2009


The new Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry is launched this autumn with events at Birkbeck College, University of London, 7.30pm, 21 October, featuring Caroline Bergvall and Andrea Brady, and at University of Salford, 4pm, 9 December, featuring Christine Kennedy, Allen Fisher and Ian Davidson. The JBIIP is an academic journal devoted to a range of late modernist writing on poetry and poetics, and seeks the very best critical writing and reviews for publication.

Monday, 7 September 2009


It was great to see Gavin Selerie reading at Furzeacres on Dartmoor yesterday, hosted by Philip Kuhn and Rosie Musgrave. Gavin read from the second section of his book Le Fanu's Ghost, published by Five Seasons Press in 2006. The poems work over the connections between certain locations in Dublin (Phoenix Park, Chapelizod), their recreation in gothic fiction, the Sheridan / Le Fanu family, Wilde, Swift, Beckett, and especially Joyce's Work in Progress which became Finnegans Wake. These Irish literati, their houses and families, their interconnections, are a rich and luminous field for Selerie's obsessive writings and wonderfully inventive poems. The format at Furzeacres allows a writer to take the time to read from a longer work, and Gavin Selerie really benefitted from the opportunity to give us a sense of the expanded literary context of the poems, mapping in Le Fanu's The House by the Church-yard, The Cock and the Anchor, Joyce's letters and early venture as a Cinema manager, Work in Progress, Beckett's Waiting for Godot, Francis Bacon's London studio reconstructed in Dublin, the rivers of Dublin and much more. Le Fanu's Ghost is a compendium of literary allusion, an expanding map of Irish culture and its workings in English but also a masterpiece of writerly poetry made of literary sources. I've heard Gavin read from it three times now, quite different performances, and this last one the best and most assured.
     Just for the record, Five Seasons Press makes the finest books you could find, beautifully designed and printed, clear type, sympathetic setting, sewn bindings, unfussy but real quality manufacture on recycled paper. Their list includes poets such as Alan Halsey, Yannis Ritsos, Gary Snyder, and Gavin Selerie, enough said.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009


Rupert M Loydell, Lost in the Slipstream, Maryport, Cumbria: Original Plus, 2009, isbn 978-0-9562433-2-4
Caterina Ricciardi, Ezra Pound and Roma, Rome: Edizione Fuori Commercio, 2009
Carol Watts, When Blue Light Falls, Hunstanton, Norfolk: Oystercatcher Press, 2008, isbn 978-1-905885-11-4
Tony Trehy (ed), Text 2, Bury, Lancashire: Bury Metropolitan Borough Council, 2009, isbn 0-9538915-3-4 -- This is an anthology associated with the Text Festival, Bury, 2009, includes new work by Tony Trehy, Phil Davenport, Hester Reeve, Alan Halsey, P. Inman, Allen Fisher, Caroline Bergvall, Carolyn Thompson, Judy Kendall, Tony Lopez, Scott Thurston, Stephen Miller, Jesse Glass, Joe Devlin, James Davies, Carol Watts, Carl Middleton
Andrew Hiscock et al (eds), English: The Journal of the English Association, OUP, 58, 2009, issn 0013-8215 -- two poems of mine in this journal, a corrupt text of 'A Path Marked with Breadcrumbs' and the first publication of 'On Tuesday'.

Sunday, 12 July 2009


On Saturday 20 June 09, I saw Stephen Koplowtz's Task Force, a site specific dance performance in the Tiltyard at Dartington Hall. This was the first event in a series of site specific works that ran right through the week in various Devon locations. Local collaborators had been found, including student dancers and their teachers, production, costumes, a music director, the whole organisation is very impressive. The performance I saw began with a herald figure running through the garden calling to the dancers, then, one by one, they were seen slowly rolling down a large stone staircase to one side of the Tiltyard. After a while there were lots of dancers, maybe two dozen, and every so often one of them would get up to do some standing dance for a few moments. Then it was surprising to see them roll up the stairs.
     The next routine was using the stepped sides of the Tiltyard. When the dancers were lying down we couldn't see them from below. When they sat up we could see their heads and shoulders popping up over the grass banks. They used three rows of the grass steps and played a game of appearing and disappearing, some dancers jumping up together, all of it organised to make different groups of uniformed dancers appear in patterns.
   For the third section of the performance the audience was shepherded onto the same slope of the Tiltyard so that we could look across at the twelve apostles, a group of trimmed yew trees on the top of the Tiltyard slope. The dancers began by running in and out of the row of trees, something like a May festival dance, then they got into positions behind the trees and different groups came forward or stayed hidden, there were virtuoso dances from some individuals and there was more group work working through and around the trees. It was a really fine spectacle making the most of Dartington's beautiful gardens, dancers at different stages of their training, some school and some college students. There was a big audience and this event coincided with Dartington degree shows. 

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


On 17th June I went to the exhibition POOR. OLD. TIRED. HORSE. at the ICA in London. Named after the 1960s magazine run by Ian Hamilton Finlay, POOR. OLD. TIRED. HORSE. is 'an exhibition of art that verges on poetry', including 1960s Concrete Poetry and Text Art by Ian Hamilton Finlay, Dom Sylvester Houedard, Henri Chopin, Ferdinand Kriwet, Liliane Lijn, Vito Acconci, Carl Andre, Christopher Knowles, and artists from that period who used text in some way such as Robert Smithson, Philippe Guston, Alasdair Gray, David Hockney, and some more recent artists who make text based art: Anna Barham, Janice Kerbel, Sue Tompkins, Karl Holmqvist, Matthew Brannon and Frances Stark.
     I was really delighted to see the 1960s concrete work, especially an installation of Ian Hamilton Finlay's Sea Poppy I as a large wall painting. It was also wonderful to see dsh typewriter art as framed originals rather than as reproductions in books. I have the Finlay in my copy of Keith Tuma's Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry (New York: OUP, 2001), but it really is much more impressive as a large wall painting. Liliane Lijn's rotating text cones set on record-player turntables (photo above, from the V & A collection) are great, Ferdinand Kriwet's stamped circular aluminium signs playing on power and sex language, Carl Andre's excerpts from Shooting a Script, Christopher Knowles' 'typings' from the 1970s, patterns made with the typewriter matrix, that look like carpet designs incorporating text. All this work is really worth seeing and the material that extends the show is compelling at first, especially the Philippe Guston / Clark Coolidge collaboration 'I am the First' (1972). After that, there is a quite a bit of material that is interesting but doesn't really manage to take the Text Art concept anywhere. I don't think that contemporary Text Art is represented well in this show.

Saturday, 20 June 2009


I was in London for the Royal Literary Fund Summer Party (thanks to Steve Cook of the RLF for a great spread and good company) so I went to see the  exhibition Richard Long: Heaven and Earth at Tate Britain. I've seen lots of Long's work at different galleries but I haven't seen a really big show before. The large scale mud wall paintings and the installed stone sculptures really have a strong physical impact when gathered together on this scale and Tate Britain can show this kind of work very effectively. The other work is documentation of events, especially walking and making land art out in the landscape. So what you see is a record of something already over and the work is conceptual, communicated through wall-painted lists and photographs which have their own generic aesthetic: the lists assembled in large scale Gill Sans capitals, typically in red and black. The photos usually empty of humans except the evidence of Richard Long's own low impact interventions: walking to make a line in grass or moving some local stones about. 
     There is something unsatisfactory about work that is communicated only through documentation. It's like having a theatre programme to a show you couldn't attend. So for me the wall paintings and sculpture installations have an important function in the exhibition, even though they undermine the conceptual purity and the aesthetic of minimal environmental intervention in Long's work. The impact of hand made work that is there in itself is a crucial experience. The work wants not to be Romantic about the landscape, but the life story of a singular walker in the UK and in remote wilderness locations all over the world, cannot help but establish an heroic artist explorer like a posh Victorian mountaineer at the centre of the enterprise. Even so, it is very moving to have this record of a life work of great clarity, intelligence, and environmental concern. 


The first Exeter festival event for me this year was Courtney Pine at the Northcott Theatre. This was a great jazz concert, Courtney Pine's band are all great musicians and they got plenty of scope to demonstrate their individual talents. This performance was part of the Transition in Tradition show promoting his latest album, which is conceived as a tribute to Sidney Bechet. I was frankly amazed at the range of this band, extended treatments of New Orleans, French and traditional Jewish music and great improvised solo and sustained ensemble jazz, the audience was wild with enthusiasm for the band. All the future dates and albums are listed on his own site here

Sunday, 14 June 2009


Last night I went to see cris cheek perform at Studio 3 in Dartington. The new performance work in progress was called Monday Morning, on and offing God's Commons. Some torn strips of text fragment and other material on paper was collaged into a palimpsest of printed and handwritten language and also neatly woven to make partly readable text surfaces that had been photographed and were projected as a changing backdrop. In front of this, lit up by the projector and casting shadows on the back projection, cris was reading from hand held text and from the text on the wall.
     Some earlier versions of this performance, incorporating documentation of projection and previous live action were also part of the projected sequence, which included interiors and architectural forms. There was an intermittent scratchy violin sound track, previously treated voice recordings and the whole event was driven by cris's extraordinary capacity as a voice performer. There were at least two cameras documenting this event, so I'm hoping someone will be able to provide me with an image or two for posting here. Thanks to Larry Lynch of Dartington College of Arts for putting on this wonderful event.
     It was great to see cris perform at the superb Dartington studio 3. I haven't seen him for a few years, last time I think we had lunch with a big crowd at Ravi Shankar's in Euston, when Bob Perelman was working for a year at Kings College in London. Cris is now on the faculty at Miami University of Ohio, in Oxford, Ohio.

Books received: cris cheek, part: short life housing. Toronto: The Gig, 2009.