i'm going to be Julie from the movie Julie and Julia
who writes a blog
then becomes famous
i'm going to become the new Stefan Zweig
i'll know everyone in the literary world
(just without the suicide in Brazil)
or like Ezra Pound
(just without the anti-semitism or the crazy)
what's your essay on?
(Thanks to Jamie Larkin for letting me use his webchat)
turn to the steps sand out the stain and forget
right there is no lollard turn to the step and
forget right keep conquerors from the door
step and forget no confidence in the new
so turn to the steps – not wanted – and forget
Bill Orcutt's playing has got me tremendously pleased to be alive the past few months, I thought I'd devote some time to talking about him and his work. I'm keen to adopt some aspects of his approach to poetic practice - this might be a first stab at thinking about which particular elements interest me.
As former guitarist for hardcore band Harry Pussy, Bill Orcutt's career has been one largely outside of any mainstream concern. However, his resurgence as a solo performer has been an exciting development in the past few years. Now devoting himself exclusively to playing acoustic guitar, his debut record A New Way to Pay Old Debts was a highlight of 2009. The music was largely based around a series of improvised vignettes, and Orcutt's unique style of playing defies easy categorisation. Within the errant shreds of recognisable notation and tonal arrangements there is something thoroughly modernist -- something that implies a desire to de-construct, to refine and, ultimately, destroy. There are numerous parallels drawn by reviewers to early blues music, modern guitar improvisation, and hardcore noise; Orcutt's style is one of suggestion, but in doing so it still remains distinct from its source.
Way Down South is a live recording released this month by Orcutt's own record company Palilalia. Track 4 is the penultimate improvisation on the record, and in my mind it forms one of the best examples of Orcutt's playing. It also represents a new route in the aesthetic of “unbecoming” -- with its recalling of blues riffs and erratic tempo the improvisation achieves an interplay between violent expression and ethereal realisation. At its inception the piece's scale runs are suggestive of Far Eastern music, with Orcutt's voice forming a droning counter-point. The playing is far from fluent, instead a range of spasmodic modes and modules that fail to develop any form of pacing. The tempo is akin to the epileptic flicker of a bird wing, and on several occasions the structure delineates into complete chaos. This all takes place in the first twelve seconds of the piece, serving to set out a blueprint to Orcutt's technique. It repeats for fifty-three seconds before it offers the first respite of quiet. On resumption it can only sustain itself for a few seconds; Orcutt punches a resounding exclamation as the structure fails to hold, he allows it to collapse.
This process of construction and deconstruction forms a constant that Orcutt returns to throughout the improvisation. He veers between recognisable motifs and an urgent obscurity of noise, discord brought to abrupt halts, as one practising technical exercises that fail to gain momentum. This is Orcutt's deception. The whole piece is about momentum – a momentum quantified by its refusal to cohere. The most significant moment is approximately two minutes in, when the guitar suddenly sounds out a bluesy descending progression of notes. This listener is thrown into a position of nostalgia, a moment of recall that encapsulates folk traditions. It stands in contrast to all the current talk of hauntology's presence in music by Mark Fisher and Simon Reynolds; this tiny incident of recognition is not just a remembrance, it's a primal formation of Orcutt's methodology, an aural equivalent to Eliot's shored fragments.
What happens next is an invigoratingly discordant repetition, with Orcutt moving between two or three notes, bending them to create a compact and claustrophobic figure. A bass note is struck again and again in exclamation, highlighting the repetition as it does. The listener prepares themselves for the inevitable collapse that has governed the past few minutes, but in fact something else occurs -- Orcutt repeats the motif until it becomes a staccato fugue state, a drawing in of boundaries. Where most improvisation moves towards transcendence as a conclusive terminus, Orcutt seems to be bringing his listeners to a null point, an implication that nothing lies beyond those few arrayed notes. The tempo increases and as it does Orcutt emits a high snarl or whine. It's his first vocal interjection since the beginning of the track, and it is in distinct contrast to the devotional moan of earlier. What is Orcutt suggesting? Frustration? Violence? Perhaps a plea for relief? The ambiguity of his eruption hangs there as the piece falls apart into a few expansive runs across the fret board. It feels like legs stretched in response to sudden release, but in comparison to moments earlier it is spectral, barely a whisper. Orcutt has arrived at his null state and the end point of his exercise.
There’s an interesting series of posts on Jon Stone’s blog this month about poetry and the mainstream. He expresses a frustration about a certain bias in the media towards covering performance/populist poetry, as opposed to a more…well how shall we put it? ‘Serious’ poetry I suppose.
While I agree in part with what Jon is expressing, and can also claim that I’ve found it to be am opinion common amongst younger ‘serious’ poets, I do feel it takes a rather strong line against something while missing a much larger point. The majority of the media is a crass, wheezing monstrosity that tries to construct something resembling a narrative in a largely fragmented and confusing world. Poetry, for its most part, is fragmentary and confusing, and very occasionally it will try to pull together some semblance of a narrative. It is a multi-form and beautiful thing that expresses a rich variety of things; it’s that variety which makes it so special, and if media outlets such as the Guardian website choose only to dip their toe into the edges of that, where the water’s warmest, then it’s their loss.
Several things come to mind reading Jon’s blog posts and the various responses he received:
1) In May I had a conversation with Brian Catling before a reading - I was lamenting the onslaught of cuts coming to the arts within the coming months and he caught me with a glint, proclaiming,
“Of course, it’s our time. Poets have been doing it for free for years.”
Now, Catling is either some kind of criminal or a genius. After a couple of hours in his company I’m still uncertain. I do know that he is a man who genuinely loves the work he does, and is happy to do it for whoever is willing to engage with it. It’s a sensibility I do my best to share, because I tend to think it’s the best way forward - any man willing to strap rape alarms in his head at the age of 60 in the name of his creative practice is alright by me.
2) Poetry is a stupid way to make a living. At best it will give you a few years financial support and practically no peace of mind. It is a lamentable profession and you will be largely despised by the public. People will cross the road and curse your name. Relatives will disown you and sexual partners will do their best to forget you. The quicker we all come to terms with that the more pleasantly surprising the future will be.
4) Stewart Lee has made some interesting assertions in his recent book – one about the uniquely boring and safe line that universal art tends to take ( and by ‘universal art’ I’m taking this to mean the majority of the mainstream media’s focus), and a further one about farming one’s audiences. I would quote passages extensively from the book here, but I suspect it would be more beneficial to advise those interested to buy the book, therefore increasing the chance that Stewart Lee’s keen wit will move increasingly closer to the universal platform it deserves.
5) I like the exclusivity of the poetry I write. I don’t think elitism is necessarily a bad thing in art. This constant assumption that we have to play to the lowest common denominator (or rather the anxiety surrounding whether it ought to or not) is precisely what mars the whole progressive nature of poetry and literature in the first place. There’s nothing wrong with poetry as an entertainment, equally there’s nothing wrong with obscure, dense, ‘serious’ poetry either. I can understand Jon Stone’s frustration at media coverage and funding being thrown at the populists, but then it does seem similar to complaining that Charlie Kaufman’s latest film didn’t do as commercially well as ‘The Expendables’. Exclusivity is what makes it exciting when you meet another person who reads the Wire, or knows who Matthew Barney is, or can enthuse about their own peculiar niche of creative endeavour. In a world of such rich variety, I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to have some areas of art that exist in little dark corners and cracks. Finding and getting to grips with them is half the pleasure.
6) Joe Kennedy wrote a good review of Tom Raworth’s latest collection here. There are some pretty solid assertions being made about ‘difficult’ poetry there.
7) “Authenticity” is bunk anyway.
Poor Jon, looking at the various responses he’s had to his posts he’s stirred up quite a storm. I hope he won’t object to me hijacking his points to make my own badly formed arguments. Like I said, I can understand his frustration – I too have voiced similar complaints – but ultimately it gets you nowhere; far better to build the compound in the mountain and await the second coming. Or write because you enjoy it. Whatever.
I'll finish with a final word with Mark E Smith, or rather an approximation of something he said on a BBC documentary about his band last night:
"It was when Elton John said he liked the Fall that I realised we were doing something wrong."
Sell the house in the summer,
the light will make it seem free
You can draw back
leave no shadow to chance,
no gloom on the veranda
or the stairs or the landing
or anywhere else –
just a great profusion of multi-sourced
trick them into thinking -
and all the time
you are just happy to get
the damn thing off your hands.
This is an old poem (3-4 months) - I seem to have edited it down in the process of posting. It was a little too clunky for submitting anywhere, but I feel it needed a home and why not here?
I keep thinking I should transmit some more missives but there isn't much to report or repost at the moment. I do have a poem available at Gulper Eel however.
“I strongly suspect that when this revolution takes place, art will no longer be distinguished by its rarity, or its expense, or its inaccessibility, or the extraordinary way in which it is marketed - it will be the prerogative of all of us, and we will do it as those artists did whom Freud understood not at all…the artists that had no ego, and no name.”
Germaine Greer – Town Bloody Hall speech
How could the notion of the artist with ‘no ego, and no name’ functions in a society driven precisely by the ego and the name? Is it fair to argue that performance poetry is a projection of ego and nothing else?
Well, it's a fair if somewhat bold question - one that Tim Clare, Veronika Wilson and Sarah Ellis set out to answer on Monday 10th May ( with kind assistance from their chair, Nathan Hamilton) - first some highlights from the Q& A session
I'd like to add that I will blog further about this topic at a later date - however, I feel it's important that it's presented in a raw form without me yammering all around it. I would strongly encourage you to use the comments section below to air your views however...
At 19 the world was so vibrant and rich And now at 25 – ah why give a damn? The tarnish is best sort of stout a remedy rich with sorrow you chug-belly you gave it all over to the sharp spirit the buttons in a matchbox and a collecting glass into which water drips and you plant chillies on the balcony and hope the horizon is still vibrant and rich though hope enough is enough to make it vibrant and rich you have chosen the right words to call this thing by what it is just as we play dress up daily so the day is dressed to the thing the words that’s the thing you see the tender spirit is tender because the words are placed so no other reason you are not tender because tender is unique to that instance tender is universal and multi-form and I am not certain that tender is tender in your eyes meat is tender it is best tender and still with its juices almost still warm but seal the thing and retain its flavour do not let it grey to obscurity now.
THE EFFORT brings you a devised performance based around a shoebox full of poetry and prose by Norwich poet and performer Andy Spragg: SHOEBOX
SHOEBOX explores themes in the original shoebox texts (urban routines, boring jobs and the architecture of cities) as well as bringing in the work of performers, artists and musicians around the theme of shoeboxes.
Everyone has a shoebox - at the bottom of a cupboard, under clothes you should throw away, filled with letters from friends you no longer speak to, bursting with bank statements you couldn't bring yourself to open, containing photographs that weren't quite worth putting in an album.
We will be performing on the following dates:
February 24th to 27th (Wed. to Sat.) and March 3rd to 6th (Wed. to Sat.) at 9PM
Tickets can be obtained through the White Bear box office at 020 7793 9193 £10/£8 concessions The nearest tube stop is Kennington (Northern Line).
For £15, you can enjoy both the double-bill CLAM & HONEY/BABY (19:30 start) and SHOEBOX (21:00 start).
THE EFFORT is a London-based D.I.Y arts initiative. Pooling the talents of performers, artists, musicians and writers, THE EFFORT produces collaborative art, performance and writing. We aim to make the most of under-used spaces to create works that engage directly with audiences. In addition to producing the works of associated artists, we research, review and reach out to new performers.
A spill, of late - in a dream we abide some heart, a dredged lone wreck - ringing in gloomed grey water - a near singing resonance, a long haul hymn to the tide.
In each churn kept some neat reason to hide broad tone songs with such lust, such low blessing - murmured prayer, a principle changing, tailored need to find brief things to confide.
What murmur, it is a tongue soon stilled, set and so saved, repenting all but a name - conversion made in brash storm-churned sea.
Forgive an angered word, the throat trilled a note of love, a long hush all the same, forgive a spill of late, a desire to be free.
Setting off so, I feel a crisp absence - a wish to see you again manifests. Frost plundered boots wet with long tread. Chilled press of damp flesh confirms it, our day together spent in a shiver.
In passing I took it to heart, this part of a walk, an embrace given to mute satisfaction, no pondering drive, a reason to embrace. I guess you have to forgive me, I broke the silence with this faint thought
In the end you will not want me, I guess I am certain of that. I am breaking a silence to save the chatter of teeth. I am not given to frantic displays.
Of the/two of/ us you/are immor/tal and free/ una/fraid to/ break the/ line or/ even/ fall ov/er it/I am/ghastly with/ envy/a green/hue a fat/trick of/your speech/ I had /a dream/ where you/came back/ and told/ me that/ we were fun/dament/ally free/ of one/ anoth/er I/ guess you/ owed me/that too/ though in/ fact I/ don’t feel/ that way/ you did/nt owe/me any/thing you/ are the/ one who/is im/mortal/and free/and I/ am aw/are you/ are the/ reason/ I find/ it so easy/ to fall/ in love/ or at/least you/ had some/part in/it I/ wish on/ly the/ best for/you I/am learn/ing to/be free.
I set myself the task of writing a few sonnets recently - just as a technical exercise to get myself back into writing in a more structured manner. As you can see I've not had a tremendous success with retaining the sonnet's rigidity of form - but the process was fun and I've got some new poems out so it. I think also that there is something more personal in these pieces, perhaps because my brain wasn't engaged with finding overly-complex metaphors for everything.
Cheerfully filling in a personal statement for an MA application at the moment, it's dawned on me that I've done an awful lot recently. This is no bad thing at all, and long may it continue. Sometimes it's easy to get sidetracked and forget that the direction things are going is largely a good one. Okay - it's not an epiphany as such as a slight realisation, but here's a poem to cheer you along for the time being: Exchange
your coy shivered erection breaks the surface of the frozen water
your shy shameful shaft flourishes in the frigid tundra
a sub-zero lady of the lake lay-man’s hand grasping
clumsy and repulsive floundering for breath a pervert caught in the
process of the plunge
course when it comes to it there will be talk of symbolic exchange
what such a dip meant why the focus
on your throbbing distended (seemingly detached) member? why the feminine and frozen
aligned in close monstrous function? Why do you give a damn? you didn’t even