RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Bob Cobbing

The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century edited by Victoria Bean & Chris McCabe (Hayward Publishing)

The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century edited by Victoria Bean & Chris McCabe (Hayward Publishing)

This sumptuously designed, colourful and beguiling anthology begins with a compendium of quotations on the nature of concrete poetry from poets past and present. The Bolivian poet, Eugen Gomringer, sums up the spirit of the early concrete movement: ‘The purpose of reduced language is not the reduction of language itself but the achievement of greater flexibility and freedom of communication. The resulting poems should be, if possible, as easily understood as signs in airports and traffic signs.’ And: ‘The visible form of concrete poetry is identical to its structure, as is the case with architecture.’ Here we have recognition that concrete poetry was more than a working around the materiality of language and that it was a way of working with that materiality towards a fresh communication in a broad range of forms.

Kenneth Goldsmith’s introductory essay analyses the collapse of concrete poetry in its first period and subsequent re-emergence in the digital age in relation to the technology of the typeface, typewriter and computer. He sees the changes as broadly running in parallel with ‘larger changes across cultural output.’ He cites the Brazilian Noigandres group of poets as the movement founders, as opposed to the German artist Max Bill, or Swedish poet, Öyvind Fahlström, who named the genre, with their efforts to create a universal picture language, a poetry that could be read by all, seeing this visual Esperanto as revolutionary in intent. Goldsmith gives attention to graphic space, as opposed to notions of it being a hybrid of text and image, as the key to understanding how this movement emerged and was conceptualised. This is central to Gomringer’s 1968 poem, ‘schweigen’ / ‘silence’:

schweigen schweigen schweigen
schweigen schweigen schweigen
schweigen
schweigen schweigen schweigen
schweigen schweigen schweigen

The poem works on many levels and leaves space around its margins and in the centre for the reader to engage and return to with a growing sense of its importance.

Drawing upon Poundian imagery and Joycean wordplay, the movement dovetailed with compression in advertising slogans, technological and poetic language use, and was firmly modernist in its rejection of subjective expression and negation of metaphor, lineation and organic form. It grew through extensive correspondence between international practitioners and reached its zenith in the Sixties with two special editions of the Times Literary Supplement, influential anthologies and exhibitions in galleries around the world. He links its decline to attitudes to typeface, in particular the reaction against the narrowness of Helvetica, seen as a Cold War artefact expressing unwanted binaries, the success of mail art, and the lack of a new role.

The digital age gave concrete poetry that new role. It now remixes language through text and image manipulation in even more condensed and multidimensional ways. Victoria Bean takes up this theme seeing the new concrete as a response to our immediate world, to culture and its rapid change, citing Turkish artist, Sekan Isin’s attempts to produce anti-codes to intervene against the codes imposed upon us and Ron King’s 2003 anti-war poem ‘Blah! Blah! Blair!’ It also, as Bean implies and is shown in the contents, gives women more of a voice in the art world. The Internet has opened up the past so that it is easier now to re-discover the work of Dom Sylvester Houédard, sadly not in the anthology, or Bob Cobbing the subject of a recent year long series of exhibitions around the country, or virtually visit Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta garden.

Chris McCabe writes engagingly of the prehistory and stages of Shape Poetry, Pattern Poetry, Concrete Poetry (1953-1977), Visual Poetry and Vispo producing a more complex and satisfying account of the genre. He shows how the editors arrived at their anthology seeing the visual poets represented, following Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’, as travellers in both antique and future lands.

The poet artists are presented alphabetically from A-Z producing an unpredictable and random effect. Some of the classic exemplars, such as Augusto de Campos, Cobbing, Henri Chopin, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Gomringer, Edwin Morgan, Décio Pignatari are represented here. The joy of this book comes more from the exuberance and vitality of the range of international contributors, the spread of generations from Susan Howe born in 1937 to Sarah Kelly born in 1985, and in opening any of its pages to be startled, excited and moved by words, such as Thomas A. Clark’s ‘the moment before / the moment before’, or Sophie Herxheimer’s ‘Disaster’, an Oulipian anagrammatic found in the word ‘disaster’ and shaped into a tear, and their transcriptions.

David Caddy 17th November 2015

juli Jana’s ra-t (Shearsman, 2014)

juli Jana’s ra-t (Shearsman, 2014)

This ground level portrait of London’s history through the figures of ra-t and puss-in-boot-s sears with sonic booms and majestic word-play swivels. The figures, with their split names suggesting that they are broken, hesitant, slippery and under stress, draw upon our knowledge of their past as street survivors. This is more of a third person exploration than a giving of voice to those that are mute. The rats and cool cats of the underground mingle with the weeds, vegetables and butterflies, scurry between gaps and the people that walk the streets. Puss in boots in the fairy tale was capable of guile and deceit, and here, with ra-t, offers an alternative view of the city. Puss in boots, or the booted cat, dates back to sixteenth century Italy and spread across Europe with its various incarnations as helper and trickster. The most durable and adapted version being by Charles Perrault from 1697 and the one recently used in the film Shrek. Jana’s puss-in-boot-s plays on this and is more of an appropriation than adaptation of the figure. Similarly ra-t far from being an harbinger of death and disease is more of a witness. ra-t sings with vibrancy and colour, a breath away from stench and fire.

Here’s an extract from ‘fires of london’:

O : ring the bells. Ring the bells backwards for the city to be read. So
many dead.so many dead.all fall down.dance a circle…sing with the
frogs: red dead
*red the cockney slang for gold
the fire-fighters of London wore crimson livery cloth. Their
commander died in the fire of 1861 pausing to undo the red silk
paisley kerchief from his neck

The poems have a deep sense of London’s history, its natural environments, markets and are full of ecological and botanical record sumptuously polyphonic, with clear instructions as to how to read, producing an exciting and strident sound. There are echoes of Bill Griffiths, Paula Claire, Bob Cobbing and others in their discontinuities and slippages. Jana, though, has her own voice(s) and authority. I was particularly taken with the way that her sonic work built out of word lists and clusters to produce a sinuous musicality through the colour of a second voice. The poems are singular; yet allow and seek the potentiality of another voice that is more than an echo or supplement of the first. Above all, Jana’s poems are open, fun and happily patterned for effect.

paradise lost paradise found what a day in paradise smell the stench
grab the wench on the stairs alongside st.pauls remember john donne
he was all done for
cock-a-doo-dle-doo buckle-on-his shoe lord mayor do us a favour
don’t cut London pride. there shall be a queen still

The poems are alive with voices, sounds, announcements and movement. This is not a static poetry. It moves from shape to sound. Ra-t and puss-in-boot-s are voice less. It is other voices that read the announcements and narrate their stories. Yet the figures, representatives of an under-class, are constants in London’s dramas and haunt the poems as participants in a wider dissident narrative.

This joyous chapbook of sound poetry is a bargain at £6.50

David Caddy 4th July 2015

Tim Fletcher’s Ignis Innaturalis (First Offense)

Tim Fletcher’s Ignis Innaturalis (First Offense)

http://www.timfletcher.biz

Poet and musician, Tim Fletcher made some pertinent comments on alchemy during the recent Tears in the Fence Festival. His latest pamphlet, Ignis Innaturalis, wonderfully illustrated by Jan Fletcher, is a poetic meditation on a range of magical searches for the philosopher’s stone.

Ignis Innaturalis meaning secret fire refers to the enigmatic flame of the alchemist that does not burn and is seen as the philosopher’s kiln in which notions and ideas are transformed into abstractions of beauty. The ‘ignis’ is another term for the Buddhist ‘dharma’, or the spark, root and generator of life. It is part of a wider alchemical search for the unfolding of the mind or spiritual renewal.

The title poem begins:

Dancing … running..dashing symphonic prize …..
Dancing … running..dashing symphonic prize …..
Ignis innaturalis…. Ignis ignis innaturalis

Shadows chaste as lilac flowing …gushing…flooding ….
Into triumphant fabrics over psychic devastation

Snaking…thrusting…victorious sunfire craze sliding into curve of mooncool mirrors….

Joie du sang des étoiles

The intense musicality continues throughout the collection and is presented to great effect on the accompanying CD. Fletcher, who edits First Offense, was a member of Bob Cobbing’s poetry workshop.

Ignis Innaturalis concerns the metaphors of alchemical processes of transmutation and ranges from the heretic, Akhenaten, in ancient Egypt through to Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphonie and a French alchemical love song. The search for transmutation consists of turning base qualities into golden ones, as distinct from the medieval practitioners who tried to turn base metals into gold, and embraces the attempt to turn ignorance into enlightenment, sin into redemption, and so on.

Fletcher plays soprano, alto and tenor sax, flute, bass clarinet and effectively uses his voice to create a range of moods on the CD. One of the strongest compositions is ‘Wild into Night’, where ‘psalms sing out too big to argue with’:

falsetto of knives squeaks and
vociferous yelps circular breathing
self-cunnilingus of the snake
kindling bizarre rush of clichés turned inside-out for the secrets
of the stony paves
bursting boundaries limitations
such expansion of cadenzas
are imagined coloration of the stars

David Caddy 8th November 2014

Hannah Silva’s Forms Of Protest

Hannah Silva’s Forms Of Protest

Sound poet and playwright, Hannah Silva’s long awaited debut collection, Forms Of Protest (Penned in the Margins 2013), admirably illustrates the variety of her poetry. Her range encompasses sonic repetition, sonnet, collage, monologue, list, SMS messaging symbols, and probing text and is never predictable. There is a great sense of musicality and of contemporary language use. Indeed my sixth-form students love her work both on the page and read aloud.  One of our favourites, ‘Gaddafi, Gaddafi, Gaddafi’, echoes childhood playground chants, and works through its long, flowing, circular lines, as if on a loop, as much as the repetition of the word Gaddafi.

 

I am going to tell you my name Gaddafi but I am

Going to tell you my age Gaddafi my age is ten

Gaddafi and I am going to tell you about a game

Gaddafi a game that I play Gaddafi I play with my

Friends Gaddafi you can play it alone Gaddafi

Or play it with friends Gaddafi. GO into a room

 

Hannah Silva’s work positively blurs the edges between voice-in-performance, theatre and poetry. She is a contemporary sound poet of distinction, building on the work of Maggie O’Sullivan, Bob Cobbing and the neo-Dadaists, employing patterns of sense and sound in waves of overlapping textual layer that echo and stay in the mind. Her best work engages with political discourse exposing the limitation and mediocrity of its tropes as well as implicitly indicating the need for deeper communication, as in the long dramatic poem, ‘Opposition’. Here Silva’s playfulness finds full rein and her text cuts through the sense and sound of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ speech delivered on 19th July, 2010 at Liverpool Hope University.  https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/big-society-speech

Liberalism it can call

Empowerment call it call it

Freedom can it can it

Responsibility (titty) can

I call it: ‘Er Ih Oh-ay-ih-ee’

 

Her work recalls Bill Griffiths’ poetry in its attempt to undermine the sources of political power and effectively allows the reader to hear the repetitions and patterns of political speech.

 

You can call it liberalism

You can call it empowerment

You can call it responsibility (titty)

I call: ‘Er Ih Oh-ay-ih-ee’

 

Her poems of direct speech, such as, ‘Hello My Friend’, ‘The Plymouth Sound’ and ‘An Egoistic Deed’ are as exciting as the cut-ups and broken speech. Reading through the collection one derives a sense of the Kafkaesque emptiness that is contemporary politics. This collection is in the great tradition of radical poetry and deserves to be widely read.

 

 

David Caddy 29th December 2013

 

 

 

 

The Text Festivals: Language Art

The Text Festivals: Language Art

The Text Festivals: Language Art and Material Poetry, edited by Tony Lopez, (University of Plymouth Press 2013) is a fascinating collection of essays by artists, poets and curators about The Text Festivals, which challenges preconceptions of the possibilities of language art.  The Text Festivals has seen a convergence of Language Art and Material Poetry and continual development since its beginning on 19 March 2005 with Tony Trehy’s The Text Exhibition and a retrospective exhibition of Bob Cobbing’s experimental work in sound, poetry and art. Tony Lopez’s introductory essay notes that Tony Trehy’s approach, as Festival curator, has been that ‘art can be read as poetry and poetry can be viewed as art’. This allows different approaches to language use to work together on each other and work against specialist separation and categorization. The ICA’s June 2009 exhibition Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. added more impetus to the growth of interest in Text / Visual Art. Named after Ian Hamilton Finlay’s magazine of the Sixties and Seventies it showed ‘art that verges on poetry’ and featured Finlay, Dom Sylvester Houédard, Henri Chopin, Robert Smithson, Alisdair Gray, Philip Guston and David Hockney. Lopez’s historical overview, light on definition, notes that visual poetry, as opposed to Concrete Poetry, has continued since the Seventies and that Concrete Poetry, as a more discrete development within art, as opposed to poetry, ended in the Seventies.  The ‘shape poem’ has become a standard teaching aid to help children play with language since the Seventies. There are certainly a great many practitioners from different backgrounds, with variant approaches, that make current developments more than interesting.

 

Tony Trehy offers an insight into his strategies in curating the Text Festivals. Canadian poet, Christian Bök writes about The Xenotext, a literary experiment with biologists that explores the aesthetic potential of genetics, following on from William Burroughs’ famous remark that ‘the word is now a virus’. Liz Collini provides insights into her Language Drawings in her Versions essay. Philip Davenport recalls an inspiring meeting with Bob Cobbing and how it led his curating the Cobbing retrospective. [Bob Cobbing incidentally was the first poet that I ever booked for a reading in 1973.] James Davies, publisher of if p then q magazine and press, encourages thinking about ‘text art’ and explores the value of poem poster art. Poet, Robert Grenier describes his serial drawn poems being exhibited, and Alan Halsey explains how his text-graphic work, Memory Screen (2005) was exhibited and performed, at Bury. Carol Watts’ artist’s book, alphabetise (2005), which consists of 26 chronicles, derived from overheard stories and anecdotes, organised into alphabetical structures in handwritten and digital form on one page, was shown at Bury as an object in a glass case. Watts takes a dictionary word as its arbitrary focus for each entry and cuts it together with an event story as part of an exploration into the arbitrariness of words and alphabetic systems. The alpha part stemming from the first part of the Greek alphabet and as a sequence of status, as in alpha male, and betise meaning something that is foolish, a joke, or nonsense. American visual poet, derek beaulieu accounts for sending The Bury Museum and Archives an empty box in an exploration of the value of nothing and bureaucracy across borders. His piece ends with a John Cage quotation, ‘Nothing more than nothing may be said’. Holly Pester writes about her engagement with the Bury Gallery, Museum and Archives producing an installation that gathered objects, recording and ideas on transmission and the nature of speech apparatuses in order to investigate how archives operate around poetry. In her notes on incorporating text within artwork, Hester Reeve (HRH. the) follows mid-period Marina Abramovic in seeing performance art as a radical philosophical questioning linked to the body and claims her body is protesting against the predictive mind to produce an art text that is not a vehicle for explanation but ‘is the explanation’. Visual artist, Carolyn Thompson details her Festival installations, predominantly cut up’s that are exhibited on walls, and writing an audio guide for Bury buildings that were designed but never built.

 

These absorbing essays are well written, candid and accompanied by photos, colour plates and catalogue of exhibitions, commissions and events. There are few books on this area of poetic enquiry and experience.  This well produced book is trail blazing and essential reading.

 

David Caddy

%d bloggers like this: