Thursday, November 4, 2010

Roy Fisher in Nottingham

The Flying Goose is a small venue, but even so, to fill it to the point of having to turn people away - which happened last Thursday, is quite something. The draw was veteran British poet Roy Fisher, thought his co-reader, Matthew Welton helped by pulling in students from his creative writing course.

First, Matthew Welton. I don't like to crudely categorize Welton's poetry - but I will, for those who've never encountered it; it's influenced by Wallace Stevens and by process-driven poetry such as that of John Cage, and it combines lyricism with text-generation techniques; a lot of his poetic constructions are based on numbering systems. Anyway, it's very good. Welton read his entire set from memory; an impressive feat, though puzzling to me, as the gesture seemed at odds with the post-modern thrust of his poetry. On the other hand, it did add a performative aspect to the reading. Is reading from memory a conservative, anti-radical act? Is it denying Derridian notions of the primacy of writing? Interesting questions which probably should be discussed here, if one had time...

All but two of the poems read by Roy Fisher were from his new collection 'Standard Midland'; this was nice to see, as, aged eighty, he's not looking back, but concerned with the here and now. He opened with the very funny poem 'The Poetry Promise' - a send-up of the quality assurance platitudes we see everywhere. Fisher may be a little frail now, physically, but his mind is as sharp as ever; a number of other poems were dryly humorous; but not all: he read some poems made out of the close observation and description for which he's admired. August Kleinzhaler has described Fisher's poetry as 'devoid of charm' - as Kleinzhaler is a big admirer of Fisher, I take this to mean that he likes the way Fisher never uses ornamentation, doesn't employ verbal effects for their own sake. During the reading I was struck by how direct Fisher's language is, and how - no matter how abstruse it gets - is always based on language you would hear in everyday conversation. When Matt Merritt says that Fisher is 'willing to use whatever subject matter, and whatever tools, come to hand', I think he's right in the sense that Fisher doesn't strive for anything beyond what's needed to do the job; and his poetry therefore is about as grounded in the real world as poetry can be.

My review of Roy Fisher's Collected is on Litter, and there's a good article on him by Robert Sheppard here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Beeston International Poetry Festival was a big success in the sense that the - admittedly small - venues filled up nicely, and in one case sold out. We heard poetry read in French, Greek and Spanish, and saw poets from half-a-dozen countries. The organiser was John Lucas; though John was ably assisted by David Belbin, Sue Dymoke and Sam Ward, John is the man who's able to conjure a poetry festival out of nothing and make it work. It's amazing what you can do without the internet; John doesn't use a computer, and wouldn't know how to send an email.

Last Tuesday saw a Leafe Press event; Leafe poets CJ Allen and Ernesto Priego read along with Faber poet and scholar Paul Binding. CJ (Clive) Allen has developed into a reader with a certain gravitas that doesn't at all distract from the humour of his poems, but does foreground their more serious concerns. Clive read from his Leafe selected poems, as well as work from the excellent collection 'Lemonade'. Ernesto Priego read poems from his three collections mainly in the English they were written in, though he did read one poem in Spanish. Ernesto also talked about the influence of Octavio Paz on contemporary Mexican poets. The fact that we sold a number of copies of Ernesto's book, and had some positive comments about the reading attested to its success. Paul Binding, multi-lingual scholar, expert on - among other things - Scandinavian literature, and Faber-published poet, gave an excellent reading; sadly, none of Paul's books were for sale - his Shoestring collection having sold out. Though he has an awe-inspiring CV, Paul proved to be very approachable and friendly. I'm currently reading his memoir of post-war Germany, St. Martin's Ride, which I'd recommend to anyone who wants to understand contemporary Europe, and Germany in particular.

End of Report. Next, I'll report on the Roy Fisher / Matthew Welton reading, but I can say that it ended the festival on a high.