Monday, 27 September 2010

Poets Live

Dylan Harris, Vivienne Vermes and myself will all be performing tonight as part of a new reading series called Poets Live. The event starts at 19h00 at The Highlander (8 rue de Nevers, 75006 Paris) and should run for approximately two hours. More details here.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Donnant du lait
à mon aphte.
Feeding my mouth
ulcer coffee.

Rule of thumb

If it asks you to die for it it's not worth dying for.

Saturday, 25 September 2010


...well maybe not right now as I've got plenty of other books in my "to read" pile and a second daughter on the way in October but this is the name of an interesting-looking book of essays that I picked up yesterday at a conference/book-launch at the University of London in Paris.

Perhaps a book review will follow but in case it doesn't here's a little resumé of yesterday's proceedings.

Morning session
Robert Hampson, one of the books co-editors spoke about O'Hara, monuments and cinema. Starting from the premise that O'Hara eschewed the monumentality of some of his near-contemporaries (Pound, Zukofsky, Olson) Hampson argued that the references to cinema in O'Hara's poetry partake of a shared cultural memory and hence serve the role of monuments. He also in passing picked out a couple of moments where O'Hara appears to be referring to passages in Wordsworth.

Olivier Brossard spoke next, reading extracts from a book in progress about O'Hara, cinema and the body. A lot of his talk was about money and O'Hara's attitudes toward getting and spending (he valued the latter). His talk was truncated because of lunch but he seemed to be building toward a conclusion where financial expenditure and a Whitmanesque physical dissemination meet.

These two talks for me were complementary, focussing as they did on remembering (Hampson) and dismembering (Brossard). Hampson's positioning of O'Hara as a poet of memory seemed the more startling to me - I had always him down as an American, down with history, live in the present moment kind of a poet. But will keep an eye open for Brossard's book when it comes out; money is too often considered a dirty word in poetry circles so nice to see someone discussing it.

Post-lunch session
David Herd spoke about the step in O'Hara's poetry, tying this to a Heideggerean notion of the leap (the German seems to have some of the word play of "spring" in English, as both source and movement), O'Hara's own gait (apparently many of his contemporaries commented on its grace) and William Carlos Williams' Spring and All. This was a dense paper but Herd seemed to be saying that the step is a unit in space not time and that the measure of O'Hara's poetry (and thinking) is a spatial and not a temporal/metrical one.

Tadeusz Pioro spoke about the new and the boring in O'Hara's verse and approached him through the trifocal lens of Pound ("Make it New"), Baudelaire (Spleen) and Benjamin (The Arcades Project). This critical prism makes O'Hara emerge as a dandy who manages to avoid the trap of modernist ennui, who uses the splendour of the city to stave off the menace of its endless and ultimately tedious novelty.

I would have liked a few more examples to help me understand Herd's argument (but you can't have everything in 20 minutes) - does moving through space make for spaced-out poems (as it often does in Williams) or is the step recognizable in O'Hara's poetry through a certain way of seeing the world rather than through mise en page? Perhaps there will be more when I get around to reading the book. Pioro's paper threw up so many associations that it was hard to pin it down but the role of boredom seems a fertile topic, even if it is notable mainly through its absence in O'Hara's work.

Concluding session
Andrea Brady performed a close-reading of the poem "Second Avenue" which sought to bring out an O'Hara very different from the light, insouciant, campy one we know from the Lunch Poems. This is an id-y poem, full of violence and of dark, wet, smelly images. It is also a prickly and at times unpleasant poem that seeks to repulse and insult it's potential readers.

Will Montgomery looked at the relationship between O'Hara and the avant-garde American composer, Morton Feldman. Feldman set one of O'Hara's poems to music and Montgomery played us two different versions of this piece. He also contextualized this collaboration by looking at O'Hara and Feldman's friendship and also at O'Hara's passion for absorbing other art-forms.

I admired Brady for presenting an unattractive O'Hara - he seems to be an almost universally liked poet among both writers and critics so it's always refreshing to hear a dissenting voice. Montgomery's presentation got me thinking about what you can and cannot do in different art forms - the moving/thinking in space that Herd discusses seems more easy to achieve in a performative art form like a concert which has a physical presence. Also made me wonder if O'Hara's real forte wasn't the collaboration, which permits one to explore ideas as fully and variously as possibly, rather than the poem which is always limited by its existence on the page? This could explain the apparent disregard he had for his own writing - the poems were notes towards a larger project rather than ends in themselves.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Reading on the 28th

I'm going to be reading next Tuesday, the 28th of September, along with British poet and photographer, Dylan Harris. Time: 19h00. Place: The Highlander, 8 rue de Nevers, 75006.

More details here.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Tonight the fruits of testicle size,
the jujube, the loquat, the nèfle.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Fall

The FallThe Fall by Anthony Cronin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bit like Bukowski these poems use short lines and simple, down to earth language. And like Bukowski there are a lot of bad poems hiding the brilliant ones. Unlike Bukowski these are mostly religious and meditative poems. I had not come across Cronin's work before but am glad I have - there are some real gems in here and I am looking forward to exploring his back catalogue.

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Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Printing limbs


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A collaboration between Hungarian author, Laszlo Krasznahorkai and German artist, Max Neumann, this is the latest installment in the beautiful Cahiers Series. The goal of this series is to explore new directions in writing and translation and this book certainly provides plenty of food for thought for those interested in this field - Neumann's original painting inspired a prose response by Krasznahorkai which in turn inspired a series of paintings by Neumann which Krasznahorkai then wrote further prose responses to. So painting begets prose which begets painting which begets prose. To further complicate things the work is presented in an English translation by Ottilie Mulzet who used both the words and images in preparing her version. So I make that four different acts of translation and three different modes of translation (visual art into words, words into visual art and art plus words into a foreign language).

While this project is certainly theoretically dense I felt that Krasznahorkai's prose was at times a little too predictable. So in section III he has the dog/beast who narrates the work describe how big he is:

"I extend diagonally around the Earth in every direction, I hang down from it, I extend around it so so much that I extend around it twice, I extend around it three times, I extend around it one hundred times, one thousand times, one million times, so that I extend around your Earth a billion billion times, then I extend all the way from the Earth to the Moon, so so big am I that I cannot even fit into the Milky Way, so so sooo big that I extend across two galaxies, if I want, and sooo so big that I extend across one hundred galaxies, so that I extend across every galaxy, and sooo sooo big ..."

And so on. Perhaps this sounds marvelous in Hungarian but in English it just sounds repetitive and predictably so (yes the dog goes on to extend around the entire universe and then outwards towards infinity).

By all accounts Krasznahorkai's other works are imaginatively rich so I wonder if the very act of creating in response to paintings made for a certain restriction of his creativity? Did he feel compelled to stick too closely to the images and did those images - with their themes of blindness, frustrated movement and imprisonment - produce a reciprocal stasis in Kraznahorkai's writing? Or does the mere fact of knowing that your writing will be published in conjunction with visual art allow you to strip out the visual imagery from your text? Would a richer, more imaginatively complex style of writing have detracted from the images?

This writing on its own would probably get three stars at best but I'll give the work as a whole four - it's a beautiful object (thick cream paper, classy fonts and the reproductions are gorgeous) and it certainly got me thinking about the role of translation/collaboration.

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Small hours

Dry air, hot pillow,
a triple-glazed room.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Breakfast al fresco

A glass of water and a cigarette and
the northern hemisphere's first apple

wurm im apfel

Off to Dublin tomorrow to take part in the wurm im apfel reading series. Reading starts at 8 o'clock at Exchange Dublin, an arts centre in Temple Bar.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

No and no and a hundred times no.

New poetry up at nthposition

The September issue of nthposition is now online, featuring work by:

David Lawrence
Ana Silva
Christine Herzer
George Vance
Janice Pariat

If you would like to submit work to the journal please send me up to six poems plus a short third person bio embedded in the body of an email. My address is rquintav_AT_gmail_DOT_com.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010