My path toward poetry is marked by the number of things I’ve refused to engage with. I’m a bit late to the party as far as poetry goes, having only really sat down and worked at it for the last couple of years and in that time, I’ve found the concept of live poetry events fraught with horror. Slam? Nein danke! Open Mic nights? Dear God no!
I’m one of those people who thinks that his own poetry belongs on the page, and the page only – fine art projects aside (yay Jenny Holzer!) Consequently, getting out and about simply didn’t appeal. And networking? Well, factor agoraphobia into the mix and you can see why this particular horror sets in.
The very notion of going to an event such as The Motley Muse, for me, seemed a peculiar choice of past time and on the day – and after a fairly appalling hotel breakfast that made me very, very grumpy – we got on the train and arrived in Huddersfield to discover that although we had bought and paid for two tickets, somehow only my name – and not my partners – was on the list of attendees. This was easily and cheerfully sorted out, though. Sort of ironic really, that my partner didn’t really want to be there. He came with me to make sure I got there okay and didn’t have a meltdown, bless him, but most of the time he was dropping in and out at breaks and for lunch.
So, slightly calmed, we sat at the back and let the good times roll.
The first panel, Peter Riley’s “What happened to poetry?” was interesting enough, and charted Peter’s understanding of what poetry is and does and how it has changed since the 1960’s. It’s always good to hear the views of someone who was there, and from an academic perspective, it was a fascinating insight. Sadly, we did tend to disagree on a lot of the meat and bones of what poetry is, but that didn’t make the talk any less interesting. The only problem was with the microphone which kept dropping out at strategic points in the narrative. Had I been closer to the front, I dare say this wouldn’t have been a problem, but as I was semi-hiding, short sections were missed. But these these were entirely forgivable teething problems and the rest of the day went without a hitch.
Brian Lewis of Longbarrow Press – who has been mentioned on this page before – discussed his career as an independent publisher and gave us an insight into doing more than simply chuck a PDF at lulu.com (no disrespect, I’ve done that myself several time!) He spoke of an completely different ethos as far as publishing was concerned and went on to find new ways of promoting poetry. Not simply by the usual PR strategies, but by guided daytime and nighttime walks, preparing tailored print runs and unusual formatting, etc. A fascinating and illuminating talk that – once I get some money behind me – may well impact on my own output.
Panel two was, for me, the highlight of the day. There was a sterling discussion of translation and diversity within poetry and how the nuances of poetry from other cultures can be successfully transcribed. Translation is foremost in my mind at the moment as I’m in the process of learning – or at least trying to learn – Norwegian to be able to read Olav. H Hauges poetry in its native form. It’s going to be a long road as there are two Norwegian Languages and many, many dialects. My Norwegian friends, when speaking Norwegian, don’t understand really each other as one is from Oslo and the other from Tromso and the dialects are radically different. I’m assured that the dialect from Hauges hometown is archaic at best, so wish me luck there!
Next up were Vahni Capildeo and Chris McCabe who presented a different kind of translation; one of a more ‘artistic’ nature. I should point out that my main areas of study for my Fine Art Degree was sounds and words. I would select words a phrases from random sources and either project them, put them on scrolling marquees and slide shows and filled walls with words, trying to make up random and transient poetry from the juxtapositions. Sometimes I would record and cut up conversations and play them as tape loops through several reel to reel players, so that what started out in sync would fragment and form new sentences and meanings.
One of my MA Creative Writing projects was about experimental writing, cut-ups, dada, sound archives and concrete poetry. I love experimentation with language. So when Vahno and Chris described a poetry project using oscilloscopes, wave patterns and fish spines, you just know I was going to lap it up. For me, this 30 minutes was worth the price of admission alone. Wonderful, challenging and thought provoking. Kudos also for mention XTC’s sublime ‘Sacrificial Bonfire’.
After lunch came the readings, and I must confess I left early, not because of quality but because of train timetables and having to get back to Southampton. I saw the first three readers; Warda Yassin gave us tales of culture clash and the understanding that comes from that, mostly via the medium of Grandmother’s tales that were both charming and alarming (no web presence, otherwise I’d link upi to her excellent work); once again, Brian Lewis took to the stage to perform some of his sublime ‘White Thorns pamphlet (published by Gordian Projects and reviewed here). And finally, Kelvin Corcoran performed some of his Article 50 (published by Longbarrow Press and reviewed here) a dissection of the shambles currently known as Brexit.
AS much as I loved the Article 50 pamphlet, the segments that were read out worked an awful lot better as spoken word. Perhaps its the sarcasm and the warmth in the performance that gave it an extra edge? Given my reluctance to perform any of my work live, it made me wonder if I’m missing a trick. The fact I’m even thinking about it as a result of The Motley Muse, to me at least, indicates a bloody successful day.
Sadly, this was the point at which I had to leave (after being directed to cake, of course), tired, happy, thrilled I’d got through a day without a meltdown (a couple of wobbles, but I was fine) and a wanting to go to more of this sort of thing.
I came back with a huge bag of goodies (all but three of the books on sale, which I already had). I’m currently reading those and will get back to you with reviews of some of those soon, but in the meantime, congratulations to everyone who worked on this symposium. Wonderful work and a highly enlightening day.
Best of all, we missed that damned wedding.