Friday, February 27, 2009

Bright Idea #2

Noise Band, in which players have to bash contact mikes, process moans, and fiddle with oscillators at the exact correct moments, recreating such classics as 'Black Vomit', 'Dedicated To Albert Desalvo Sadist And Mass Slayer', and 'Advent'.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Not that she really needs the publicity, but any West Midlands readers could do worse than coming to see the poet Ruth Padel read and talk at the Warwick Arts Centre this Wednesday 25th February. What I've read of her new book, Darwin: A Life In Poems, which has been excerpted in the new Poetry Review, is quite excellent, and her previous books - on travel, zoology, sex, rock and insanity, in addition to her poetry - indicate one hell of a prospect of interestingness. (She is also, apparently, the current frontrunner for the post of Oxford Professor of Poetry - I like her plans to get interested in writing about animals and astrophysics...)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Happy Birthday

It is, as George Szirtes mentions, the 80th anniversary (or near enough) of the birth of Peter Porter, officially Australia's greatest export (despite both Clive James' and Kylie's claims to that term; Les Murray never exported himself), and a towering presence in 20th century poetry. I've yet to properly undergo immersion in his work - an intimidating prospect - but even if just for the Holocaust poem 'Annotations of Auschwitz' and the works in The Cost of Seriousness, he still stands out for me immensely...

Sunday, February 15, 2009


I've had a vast number of strange coincidences popping up over the last few days, but I thought this was interesting enough to share. I was reading an old interview with Russell Haswell this morning, whose Second Live Salvage I've been enjoying recently. I did a double take when it mentioned that he grew up in Coventry, going to the Coventry School of Art in the late 80s (now part of Coventry University under the rubric of the School of Art and Design) - and that, moreover, his interest in the artists who worked there in the late 60s, and formed the Art & Language movement, was a major catalyst in his approach to music-making.

Strangely, I had no idea about this connection, which wouldn't in itself be odd, except for certain facts. When I was trying to decide where to go to university, I was sorely tempted to go to Leeds, mainly because of the historical kudos attached to the place: the miners' unions, the anarchist and Maoist groups who had such a powerful presence on campus in the 70s, the psychogeography of an industrial city, and the post-punk groups who emerged from the city Polytechnic's art department - The Mekons, Delta 5, Gang of Four, the latter of whom were associated with (you guessed it) the Leeds branch of Art & Language. And, just this weekend, I found myself suggesting Gang of Four to a friend as a bulwark against the evils of Valentine's Day. I've wandered past the School of Art and Design in Coventry city centre a couple of times - it's set slightly to the east of the main campus, close to Gosford Street, an area of major Socialist Party support, and home to Gosford Books, the only secondhand bookshop in the city, and the Cats Protection League shop, probably the best charity shop. Across the street from the main building (complete with some public art which, I believe, is the work of my former poetry tutor, David Morley) is an old cinema redone as the 'Ellen Terry Arts and Media Building' (in a font exactly recalling that of the London Underground). Just down the street is the 'William Morris Business Centre' (another person who figures largely in the book), and I'm sure there was a 'John Ruskin Building' a bit further on.

Another point of interest to Leeds was, of course, the proximity of Sheffield, and the legacy of bleep 'n' bass, jungle, acid house and dub (the SubDub nights at Leeds' West Indian Centre still include soundsystem clashes; the same venue was the home of the first DMZ events). Then, I read this in the Haswell interview: 'Haswell's evolving musical appetites through the 90s set him off in pursuit of various kinds of hardcore sonic intensity, from extreme Metal to techno. "When I was 20 I was going to see Confessor or some other Earache band in Birmingham, and the same night going to see Altern8 in Coventry"'. As far as I know, bands of that nature and calibre rarely appear in Birmingham these days - the last band I went to see in Brum was Wolves In The Throne Room, and that was some weeks ago - and nothing of that kind ever happens any more in Coventry. The closest thing Cov has to a music scene that I know of revolves around The Tin Angel and Taylor John's House, who import some very good musicians, but almost all of the decidedly small-scale variety; the closest thing I've ever seen to LFO in Cov was Justin Mitchell's Satori. One of my initial regrets about coming to Warwick was knowing that I was going to live in a place where nothing had ever happened, or would happen (as opposed to the thriving music community of Leeds.) As it is, it turns I've arrived at the motherlode after all - only years after it all disappeared.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bright Idea

How's this: an 'educative' version of Rock Band, in which players are required to reconstruct slightly more difficult numbers. On the easiest difficulty setting, this includes Cage's 4'33". The second-highest setting includes Mauricio Kagel's Match, Faust's Concerto for Voice and Machinery, and the entirety of AMM's hour-plus 'Newfoundland'. Pity the poor guy who has to pretend to be John Tilbury. Worse yet is the final difficulty setting: Cornelius Cardew's Treatise.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Home Front

The Warwick Gaza solidarity occupation group have declared a victory after an Emergency General Meeting of the Student Union was called last Thursday, and 83% of those present voted in favour of the following proposition:

1. To support the action taken by the students staging a sit-in in S0.21 in solidarity with the victims of the Gaza conflict, within the bounds of UK law.
2. That the Union shall not take a stance on the Israel/Palestine situation, but remain non-partisan in order to ensure that none of our students feel isolated or intimidated as a result.
3. That the Union expresses its sincerest sorrow for the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza and offers its support to any of its members that have been affected by it.

(The problem being of course that this presents a contradiction: solidarity with the victims implies condemnation of the assaultive power - that is, the Israeli Defence Forces and all those who support their actions - and a demand for an end to the crisis.)

Sunday, February 01, 2009


An interesting fact: approximately 50% of the people on my creative writing course are young women. Sitting in lectures and seminars, the fact has occasionally struck me, and I wonder why I find it odd, on the one hand, and why I've never really noticed it. In the case of the former, it is, of course, the strangeness of seeing an unfair percentage finally even out: further education has, in the past, been notoriously little-accessible to women (along with decent wages, equitable interpersonal treatment, and participation in democracy). The latter, no doubt, is due to my apparent acclimitisation to Warwick - I've simply become used to it.

Still, there's something about that percentage. We've recently been reading the first section of Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar's pioneering work of feminist criticism The Madwoman In The Attic, and one particular from it struck me: that because of the portrayal of women in literature and society - as "nullities, vacancies" for the "generative power" of the male pen(is) to inscribe and fill - they are intimidated from the act and profession of writing. The literary woman, say Gilbert and Gubar, has often been a figure of ridicule in male-authored texts: "Not only is 'a woman that attempts the pen' an intrusive and 'presumptuous Creature,' she is absolutely unredeemable: no virtue can outweigh the 'fault' of her presumption because she has grotesquely crossed boundaries dictated by Nature". This nonsense became a structural shaper of the identity of women, scaring many from the pen, and scarring those who did take it up - they cite the likes of Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, Charlotte Bronte and Emily Dickinson inserting apologias for the act in the middle of their writing. We could, of course, say that times have changed, that women should have no trouble becoming involved with the literary act, that the sexes are now on an equal footing, literarily. Of course, I would be saying this as a man. It's fairly easy for me to declare such things, seeing as I am, relatively speaking, in a privileged position with regards to this. Women actually have something at stake.

So, given that percentage, I'm wondering: is this the case? I'm sure I'm correct in assuming there are at least some people who read this blog who are a) women and b) writers, so I ask them: does the literary still intimidate? Do you find it more difficult to find the correct 'voice', dissociated from the male 'voices' of literature? How do you engage with women on the page? Do you feel the process of writing differs for you? (I realise of course that women probably don't know what writing is like for men, (although male writers' autobiographies (especially Jean-Paul Sartre's Words) can often give an interesting view of the act), so no-one need answer that question.) Is that struggle to engage with the process on your own terms still a part of the process? Do you feel like there is something at stake for you? And whilst I'm pretty sure no-one from my course reads this blog (I can't say I don't try), but if anyone is, I'd love to hear from you, in the comments box or otherwise.

So, uh, answers on a postcard, please!