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Fantasias in Counting Sophie Seita (Blazevox Books, 2014)

Fantasias in Counting  Sophie Seita  (Blazevox Books, 2014)

John Kinsella’s words on the back of this remarkable collection of performance textuality struck me very much indeed before I even started to trace a thread through the labyrinth of thought and humour which holds this provocative book together. Kinsella suggests that Seita’s theatrics ‘work the defamiliarised into the known: a fantasia of the writer’s making defaulting into non-ownership.’ As I became enveloped by the last piece in the book, ‘Talk between Nudes’ I could see what he might have been getting at as I found myself contemplating the way in which Wyndham Lewis may have written The Apes of God, that masterpiece of social satire from 1930:

Scene 1

[DE LEMPICKA’s decorous parlour. A long dining table, no chairs. To the right, a dressing table, to the left a floor-length painting that looks like a mirror. DE LEMPICKA wears a flashy grey table-cloth intricately wrapped around her intricate body.

It is perhaps that repetition of the word ‘intricate’ that heightens the humour: the self-awareness, the posing, the narcissism. The use of the word ‘floor-length’ with its audible hiss of a formal dress looks OF COURSE like a mirror and ‘flashy’ sets off the intricacy. These ideas are taken up in the next paragraph

The abundance of silk in the room effortlessly implies the taken-for-grantedness of cultured persons conversing in pleasant company.

Of course the word ‘conversing’ is right! They are not simply talking; they are cultured and what they immerse themselves in is effortlessness!
In October 2013, in Cambridge, J.H. Prynne wrote some words for Ian Heames’s publication of Will Stuart’s Nine Plays (Face Press 2014) and it is worth recalling these:

These are then radical experiments, radically unfamiliar in their effects and modalities, built up from speech registers redolent with common life and its credible lumpen similitudes; they are done with most palpable courage in the face of imminent damage to their own logic.

Sophie Seita’s ‘AN EXERCISE’, part of a sequence of poems titled ‘just pick a line’, opens with the concluding line of the previous poem, A DIAGRAM, sitting slapbang in the centre of the page opposite its title:

The one thing that interested me about the poem was that it was not yet there.

This is a delightfully provocative and uplifting statement and I found myself dwelling on the weight of that final word. After all, ‘there’ is such a placed word; it has such a self-justifying sense of itself; it is the final word of an argument which you think you have won…‘there’. It has also such a sense of the finished, the past, the unmoving. A few pages further on we read

Thinking about lines now
Thinking about lines now
Thinking about lines now
Thinking about lions now
Thinking about lie-ins now?

The reader says
lots of words sound like
other words.

It seems to me entirely appropriate that Sophie Seita should have become the translator of Uljana Wolf’s Babeltrack (Notes on a Lengevitch), part of which is published in the splendidly presented new issue of Cambridge Literary Review edited by Lydia Wilson, Rosie Šnajdr and Jeremy Noel-Tod. Incidentally this new issue, which is subtitled ‘The Children’s Issue’, is guest-edited by Eve Tandoi:

the dissolution of the linguistic sound system in aphasics provides an exact mirror-image of the phonological development in child language, writes Jakobson, as if aphasia made the child’s acquisition of speech possible in the first place and with it every production of sound in developmental stages, as if it held the mirror or provided rules, folie oder folly, as if we could find in this very bad sound-production disorder a blueprint for what is to come…

There is a memorable statement in the interview Caroline Bergvall gave for Scott Thurston’s Talking Poetics (Shearsman Books 2011) when she said that we are in a culture ‘where politically we’re encouraged to be non-intellectuals and by and large, non-critical’:

We’re being asked to swallow what’s happening, and to stick very close to each our own separate condition. We’re asked not to show broader empathy or engagement, nor to engage with what happens to others; not to be too polemical, unless we are directly connected. It’s so dangerous. We’re all connected.

So there!!!

Ian Brinton 12th May 2015

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Nine Plays by Will Stuart

Nine Plays by Will Stuart

Edited with an Introduction by Ian Heames & with

an Afterword by J.H. Prynne  (Face Press, Cambridge 2014)

 

After reading these fascinating pieces of dramatic realisation one comes across Jeremy Prynne’s concluding comments:

 

‘This suite of recently composed performance scripts is instructively hard to categorise’.

 

Hooray, I thought, no box to simply pack these into then! And the opening sentence of that Afterword took me back to re-read Ian Heames’s Introduction which in a way set the scene in a very appropriate manner:

 

‘A book of plays in which characters can stand on-stage not really playing their parts casts the familiar role of a general introduction in an awkward light. In the context of the work that follows, the usual range of opening manoeuvres would be a dress-rehearsal for the wrong occasion.’

 

Of course Samuel Beckett’s ghost haunts the wings of this display and the merging of lyrical intensity with a breath-taking awareness of what constitutes loss is a hallmark of much of the writing here:

 

‘The past. What is it? What is the past? The past, what is it? What is the past? The past is a present. It is a no-longer-useable present. Gone and forgotten. Gone and not forgotten.’

 

Prynne’s comments are instructive as they direct us to another haunting presence:

 

‘The emotional carapace overall that encloses precarious life is assembled from off-the-peg elysian fancies that are profoundly tested e.g. against the lyrical reticence of Thomas Hardy, poet: in the more distant background lurk parody dinosaurs dressed up as a light blend of Harold Beckett and Samuel Pinter; not to mention Lucian and Ovid in deeper shade.’

 

A fascinating volume…get it…

http://face-press.org/nine-plays.html

 

Ian Brinton 9th June 2014

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