Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Competing with Kathy


Book festivals will always be poor relations to gatherings of film and music lovers. It takes about ninety minutes to watch a film, and half an hour or so to see a band, but books can't be consumed at such speed. Where film buffs and music fans use their festivals to watch movies and sing along to bands, gatherings of bibliophiles are necessarily dominated by talk about books.
Authors are accustomed to working in the cluttered solitude of their studies, and to expressing themselves through a pen or a keyboard, but at a book festival they are forced onto a stage, handed a mike, and asked to become, for an hour or so at a time, raconteurs, comics, and lecturers. Because some of the best scribblers are indifferent talkers, and some wretched writers do a good stand-up act or give a good lecture, festivals tend to offer a somewhat distorted picture of the literary world.

When it offered its readers a guide to 'must-see sessions' of the Readers and Writers Festival last week, the New Zealand Herald predicted that the 'firecracker wit and brash personality' of Kathy Lette would make her appearance memorable. The Herald neglected to mention that Lette's new novel The Boy who Fell to Earth has underwhelmed many reviewers. The Independent's Nicholas Tucker, for instance, considers the book little more than a 'succession of scabrous one-liners'.

Reservations about Lette's work are not new. In 2008 the deathless sentence 'Sebastian's erect member was so big I mistook it for some sort of monument in the centre of a town' earned her book To Love, Honour & Betray (Till Divorce Us Do Part) a nomination for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Lette has had so many bad reviews over the years that she wrote a 'Review of reviewers', where she complained about critics who have the temerity to hold her to literary standards. In a revealing passage near the end of her self-defence, Lette suggested that a successful literary career has to involve 'the honing of cheerfulness to chatshow perfection'.

Lette's penchant for one-liners and disdain for subtlety may make her books unpopular with critics, but they help make her a star of the book festival circuit. In the same sort of way, many other awful writers become festival favourites. There is the occasional writer who can excel on the page and on the stage - Roddy Doyle, another star attraction at the Auckland festival, is an example - but these creatures are few and far between.

On Sunday morning I was a guest at the Readers and Writers Festival event called Poetry Pleasures, where a series of 'published poets' read from their work, and members of the audience were able to jump up and perform their own material.

It is easy to see why poetry readings are part of many book festivals. Because poems tend to be relatively short compared to other types of literary production, they can be performed within the confines of a book festival session. An audience doesn't have to hear poets talk about their work - they can, seemingly, be given the work itself.

I'm not sure, though, whether a poem is as easy to consume as festival organisers might think. A poem might take as long to read as a typical pop song, but it is made, or should be made, of denser, more recalcitrant, stuff than the offerings of Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga.

I've always liked Anthony Burgess' definition of poetry as 'the maximum exploitation of words'. In works of non-fiction, language tends to be subordinated to facts, and in novels plot or character are often of paramount importance; in poetry, though, the materiality of words - their complex history, their many shades of meaning and infinite associations, their shape and their sound - is both honoured and exploited. For many non-fiction writers and for more than a few novelists, language is a clear pane of glass through which we gaze at facts and events; for poets - good poets, anyway - it is something like the strata of the earth, layered by time and encrusted with recondite significances and antique treasures. In an era when digital technology, tabloid newspapers, corporate nomenclature, soundbite-centred politics, and television infotainment disguised as news are all helping dumb down language and restrict the scope of our thoughts, poetry can have a heady, subversive quality, not despite but because of the demands that it makes on readers.

A great poem like TS Eliot's 'Journey of the Magi' or Kendrick Smithyman's 'Waitomo' can be read in the time it takes Justin Bieber to perform one of his songs, but its richness means it can be reread again and again, and can deliver up new revelations with each new reading.

Whenever I read a poem aloud, either alone or to an audience, I feel a well-nigh irresistable urge to pause over certain words, and to repeat certain phrases again and again. I read the word 'epiphyte', and see how its elegantly hanging ps and y simulate the way that vines and aerial roots hang off rimu and rata in the bush at the top of a gravel road near my home; I encounter the word 'orotund' and see its middle syllable as a jolly round belly. I spot the word 'heaven' in one line, and the word 'pheasants' in the next, and hear vowels chiming, and want to make them chime over and over by repeating the lines again and again. I see the word 'rude', remember that centuries ago, on the other side of the world, it was part of a derogatory term for small farmers used by those determined to throw them off their land, and want to make a sort of auditory footnote about the early history of capitalism. I want to make any poem I'm reading last as long as a novel.

Eccentricities like these mean that I'm ill-suited to, and try hard to avoid, the contemporary 'live poetry' scene, which revolves around 'poetry slams' where young hipsters belt out their verses and then get marks out of ten from whooping or jeering audiences. Because there is so little time for them to make an impression on their audiences, poetry slammers tend to favour simple meanings, and to shun ambiguity. Language becomes, for them, a clear pane of glass through which some amusing story or political slogan or witty insult can be delivered.

I arrived at Aotea Centre last Sunday to discover that the Poetry Pleasures session was being held in an isolated corner of the third floor, rather than in one of the theatres where VIP guests were scheduled to perform. As I sat down in one of the chairs that had been laid in rows on frayed carpet and tried to hear the MC, who stood on a portable stage a little larger than a soapbox, great waves of laughter rolled out of the opened door of a theatre downstairs. I wondered if Kathy Lette was in action.

As part of our increasingly demented work on a documentary about the Great South Road, Paul Janman and I have been experimenting with the layering of images and sounds. In an effort to try to communicate the complicated and contradictory history of Auckland's most famous road, which began as a series of Maori tracks, became a colonist's bridle path and then a military highway, and is now a congested and confused route through the most diverse and rapidly changing part of Auckland, we've been superimposing images - of a pa, a horse and coach, a Chinese takeaways - on top of one another, and mixing up different sounds, so that our imaginary audience can hear, at one and the same time, the hoarse orders of a British general, the wheeze of a musket shell, a delivery truck backfiring outside an Otahuhu bakery, and the poetry of Kendrick Smithyman, anonymous soldiers, and your good self. I'd asked Paul to perform with me at Poetry Pleasures, in the hope of bringing some of the chaos of our experiments to the Aotea Centre. We were planning to read fragments of poems and historical texts over a cacophanous soundtrack, but Paul was forced at the last moment to withdraw from the event, and I had to ask my long-suffering wife to join me onstage. While Skyler read a few sentences about the history of the Great South Road and the Waikato War, I performed a sort of mash-up of poems from my 2011 book Feeding the Gods. Luckily, there were no poetry slam judges waiting to give my performance zero out of ten.

After the reading I went downstairs, looked longingly in the direction of the Aotea Centre's absurdly expensive bar, chatted with a couple of people about their memories of growing up on the Great South Road, and inspected the festival's vast literature table, where I found a few copies of Feeding the Gods in an obscure corner, far from towering stacks of Nancy Lette's masterpieces. As I wandered back into the Poetry Pleasures session, hoping to see David Eggleton and Gregory O'Brien perform, a middle-aged woman in the audience turned around in her chair so she faced me, sniggered rather loudly, waved a page from the festival programme at me, and then turned away again.

I was puzzled, until I remembered the photo.

The Readers and Writers Festival might express, in its choice of event venues and the arrangement of its literature table, a clear preference for some scribblers over others, but its programme is rigorously democratic. Each of the authors appearing at the festival gets a paragraph-long profile in the little book, along with a small photograph. Most of the photographs in the programme show their subjects at a kind angle, striking poses which make them look either admirably jolly or admirably serious. The portrait of yours truly is an exception.

Even before I lost my hair and gained a paunch a decade ago, I was not the most photogenic of men. But the image in the Readers and Writers Festival programme made me look like a cross between Benny Hill and Gerry Brownlee. After encountering a copy of the programme in my local library a few weeks before the festival, I e mailed Brett Cross, whose Titus Books published Feeding the Gods as well as my earlier poetry book To the Moon, in Seven Easy Steps, and asked him how such an unflattering image had escaped into the world. Here's Brett's reply:

What's the problem? It looks great ;) The festival organisers were being very pushy, needed a photo in 2 hrs to go to print or something, and then I thought of facebook. And consider it some small recompense for all the unflattering photos you've put of folk on your blog.


Brett was punishing me, I think, for this, for this, and for this.

With my incomprehensible poetry reading and that downright creepy portrait, I think I failed to challenge the hegemony of the star performers at the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival. Kathy Lette can rest easy.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]

50 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

But she has good legs. What is your PROBLEM?

11:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Always wondered what the appeal of this author was - and still am.

11:32 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Live reading has its place. I don't like these Reader and Writer weeks etc

I read poem at one once, or maybe it was twice.

They tend though to attract the relatively superficial writers and the poetry readings have too many usually.

But I have never heard of Kathy Lette. Another one who was toured as young, exotic and beautiful was that ex Romanian writer. I cant remember her name!

I remember Hamish Jack et al all did hatchet job on her and those like her such as Kevin Ireland.

Hamish only needed to read the blurb of her book to eliminate her from being a writer to be taken seriously!!

It's not what you know Maps, its who you know...to use an old but true one liner. (A matter of politic politics in the literary world.)

11:52 pm  
Anonymous quote from paul vermeesch said...

Paul Vermeersch:

'if some emotion or powerful idea isn't already there in the written words of a poem, it can't be shoehorned into the public reading of it with a bunch of put-on, phony intonations and cheap theatrics. Oratory is a very subtle craft, one that involves the most delicate nuances of human speech, and the best poetry makes the most of those subtleties and nuances. Poetry isn't usually an art form of simplistic, bombastic gratification, nor should we expect it to be. Poetry is reflective, dense, wily, and sometimes difficult. It often requires some effort, and patience, on the part of the audience. We have to trust that our audience is at least willing to wade through the depths with us, and that they don't require a loud bang at the end to let them know when to clap. Why else have they come to hear poetry, I wonder? Why not a rock concert, or a wrestling show instead? Why should they want poetry to be as easy and shallow as a pop song? And why would they want a florid, splurgy performance of it hurled in their faces?'

11:52 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

You were an honourable exception to the rule of the live poetry 'scene', Richard, in that, back when you were perfoming regularly in the '90s, you seemed to be able to smuggle all sorts of strangeness into performances which still got lots of cheers. I'm not sure how you did it!

11:54 pm  
Anonymous Jakub Stachurski said...

A friend of mine once said, "I hate slam poetry. It's just a bunch of white college kids trying to sound like 45 year old black women." This was his blunt way of addressing that dubious social and civic outrage, as well as some of the poets' insistence on a forced and contrived cadence, some of which is simply a poor copping of patois and African American slang syntax. I've judged a poetry slam in Toronto and have attended a few in Montreal. The majority of performers are mediocre if not abominable, but there are always a few who make it worth my while, as with any other literary event.

11:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“Do not act out words. Never act out words. Never try to leave the floor when you talk about flying. Never close your eyes and jerk your head to one side when you talk about death…Speak the words with the exact precision with which you would check out a laundry list. “ –Leonard Cohen, “How to Speak Poetry”

11:57 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Thanks Scott. When I started in 1989 at the Albion it took me long time to get to read as I dint like pubic reading but I saw it as a way to be "published". To get courage I (unwisely) started drinking before and event and used alcohol.

I think I brought a mix of the "difficult" or strange with humour and alternative ways of expressing these as well as I did put a lot into the way I expressed myself.

There are actually many many great poets who are also great at public readers and many who can read well in public but are not so well known in books etc But of course many just keep their works on paper so to speak (or not!).

The trouble for me was that the big adrenalin and endorphin surge I got was hard to get (from writing merely seen published on paper!) when I realized I had a big problem with alcoholism and I had to stop (or do much less).

By that time I gradually wrote less, as, indeed seeing a poem in print seemed relatively meaningless to the real excitement of an immediate performance.
Of course this doesn't mean one wouldn't want to be published in conventional presses etc
Dylan Thomas had similar problem (although he was in print before he did readings, but Dan Davin stopped writing poetry when he heard Thomas read once), and indeed initially I was influenced by Thomas's readings (as well as various English actors and T S Eliot's). Sure Thomas is (seen as) rather over the top these days but he has a beautiful reading voice and beautifully lyrical poetry.

I also attended course in voice and drama. And I was in the Poetry Bratts organised by Raewyn Alexander and also had a show at the Little Maidment once (with the AU Uni Students)...called The Tin Drum. By and large I don't like Slam's although I have in some including being at the Nuyorican in New York in 1993.

I think I brought my experience working in all kinds of places to my own approach to poetry and stole ideas from Ashbery and Beckett etc!

(BTW Michelle Leggott reads well and has some great poetry also. But there are many like that as well as you say some bad examples...e.g. "Rap" or "Hip hop" poets and others in many of the Slams...)

One trick I used (as well as long rather deliberately over mannerist stuff, and tautologies, sly (sometimes deliberately (or ridiculously) redundant or just ridiculous!) references and semi quotes, with an eye on Rabellais and Swift! etc) and "asides") was to suddenly go "Eh!? What? No!..etc" I also practiced modulating my voice and projection, projection etc, in front of a mirror. Just as Adolf Hitler did his speeches!! (From which he made big earning from even before the Nazis got into power, by the way.)

So one learns to act! But if you don't love words you are lost. No one will be ever be a great writer who doesn't deeply love words and language. But under that there has to be an emotive force, a truth if you like. Something like that.

12:47 am  
Blogger Richard said...

(I also used ideas sued by such as the Language poets or Stein or that great reader and writer Jack Spicer etc)

And telling stories and reading is a very ancient thing and art and literature take many forms. Brian Boyd has even linked evolution to literature (he emphasizes the story I think whereas the story in poetry is not so linear (or might not be) in recent books...

I did some preliminary work on a possible novel and it would be in this case more normative (to get the technique of a conventional book right so then to be able to "break away") than say Jack's books as it isn't totally stupid if to keep an eye on the need for reader to actually want to read your book! But I couldn't just put out potboilers...

But I will add this, as well as "experience" I have always read alt since I was quite young and my interest in literature is extensive. I also have an interest in science and other things. I think wide and deep reading is also essential for a writer to be any good at all. It's no good just having nice legs - legs get old quicker than brains do!

But there is place for all kinds of writing and people have wide tastes so we don't want to get too snobby about poetry etc

So good on Kathy Lette for doing well! (Whoever she is!)

12:49 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saying all writing is valid if someone likes it is like saying all political views are valid because someone holds them. Just as some political views, eg the eat the poor thought of the neo-liberal right or the bigotry of fascists, should be opposed, so some forms of writing should be opposed.

Not banned. Opposed through criticism.

To say otherwise is mindless relativism.

1:16 am  
Anonymous Paul Vermeersch 2008 quote said...

1) Bad writing is bad writing no matter how it is presented or performed?

2) A good poem, whether performed with great gusto, or given a terribly wooden recital, is still a good poem, therefore the performance of a poem has nothing to do with its literary merit.

2) People should not call themselves poets if they haven't devoted themselves to studying the craft, if they know next to nothing about the craft, and if they don't care if they ever know much of anything about the craft -- just as someone who farts around with his tools in the basement shouldn't call himself a carpenter.

See, there are an awful lot of people who seem to have an almost pathological need to call themselves poets, but who really don't seem to actually like poetry or know anything about poetry, and who have an inexplicable refusal to put in the work necessary to be a poet. Why, exactly, do they want to be called poets? I don't know.

Okay, this is called an analogy: I don't really like sports. I don't really watch sports very much, and I certainly don't train to get better at any sports. So why would I want to call myself an athlete? The answer is simple: I DON'T! But by Tomy Bewick's logic, I can be anything I want to be if I just call myself what I want to be. I can call myself a lawyer, and POOF I'm a lawyer. I can myself an astronaut and POOF I'm an astronaut, and I don't even have to do any work! And without really doing any reading or study or working hard on his craft, Tomy Bewick can be a poet justlikethat! Brilliant, Tomy. You have invented magic. Waytofuckinggo!

The whole "writing for performance" argument is just an excuse for bad writing. C'mon, guys. If you want to perform something, then perform something well written. Why embarrass yourself with shoddy work? No more excuses, boys and girls. You wanna be a poet, well poetry costs, and right here is where you start paying, with sweat. Do the work, put in the time, write something good. Then you can be poets, and then, if you still want to perform your poems with all kinds of goofy theatrics, why, then you'll just be poets with really crappy, over the top reading styles. But hey, at least your writing won't suck.

1:44 am  
Anonymous further quote from Paul said...

It is practically impossible to outline what exactly it is that makes something “good,” but I think we can still recognize artistic excellence, even when it runs against our personal taste. I'm not wild about certain kinds of jazz, but I still know it's well done. And the same goes for poetry. So yes, absolutely, “good” is hard to define.

But “bad” is really easy, isn't it? You don’t have to be a bloodhound to smell a turd. Most people can recognize a horrible cliché, a clunky line, a maudlin sentiment, a tired rhyme, purple prose, a lack a structure, a lack of vision, a lack of discipline, meandering focus and all the things that make for bad writing. And nothing, no amount of performing, no amount of charm, can make it good.

I don’t want to see the end of spoken word, but if people are going to call what they do poetry, they owe it to poetry to live up to what poetry is and has been, and there’s a lot of history and craft behind that word, and it’s a lot to live up to. And if, in the end, it’s not really poetry they’re interested in, but something else, then those of us who love poetry would like them to stop besmirching its reputation by claiming an intimacy with it that they haven’t earned.

1:46 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well kathy has a sycophant in christchurch

what a pathetic excuse for an interview

left a link there

https://cclblog.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/kathy-lette-the-teflon-talker/

8:38 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'You don’t have to be a bloodhound to smell a turd.'

lol!

8:50 am  
Anonymous AHD said...

Poetry slams -- grim. I doubt Geoffrey Hill would be a big fan of poetry slams...

In saying that, I'm going to one tonight (I was talked into giving a reading, but not of my own 'poetry' [read: shit]). Maybe I'll read something by Curnow. I expect the crowd will go mild.

12:43 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

brett cross is a cunning, cunning man.

12:50 pm  
Anonymous slam 'poetry' is not poetry said...

'slam poetry is not poetry. It is rap without the music. It is spoken poetry without the poetry. It is bad rhyming with no depth, no rigor, no beauty, no complex form, and no subtlety. Like avant garde art, is the cooption of real art by faux-artists. Since I consider myself a progressive, as far away as possible from the financial concerns of the Republican party, I don't really relish sounding like an aristocrat, but there it is. In my opinion, there is no direct link between art and politics, and, besides, promoting bad art cannot benefit either the left or the right. There is nothing progressive about bad art or bad poetry.'

http://mileswmathis.com/slam.html

4:26 pm  
Anonymous slam poetry is not poetry said...

In a true performance art like dance, the performance IS the art. Without a performance, there is no art. Without a dance, there is no dance. You cannot have a written dance.

With poetry, however, the bulk of the art is in the writing. Speaking the poem can bring this art to life, but it cannot create it. A good reading and a nice voice can maximize the power of the words, but even without a reading, a poem is art, in full. Or it should be.

But slam poets are trying to substitute the performance for the art. They take a banal series of words, and by speaking quickly and with cadence, they attempt to give this series of words an emotional content. In this way the “art” is all shallow effect. When you take away the performance, all the art evaporates. If you read a slam poet's poem, you find almost no art left.

4:28 pm  
Anonymous RECOVERING MAOIST said...

There was a campaign of "Revolutionary Proletariat" poetry under the maoist regime to rethink Chinese poetics, led by an actually good poet, Guo Moruo. The result was essentially hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of mediocre unreadable verses that were "revolutionary," and unreadable.

4:45 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

It is nearly impossible to define art or literature or poetry. It is continually debated.

Wagner aspired to a total art, which included all aspects of Art. (Music, poetry, drama etc)

The Language poets and others debated art and poetry for several decades and didn't agree. Before that Creeley discussed poetics with Olson...When Creeley was in NZ in 1996 I and Liz Maw got on his case trying to get him to go down and read at Poetry Live where "the real poetry" was... to get him away from the clutches of the Auck. Uni. people!! But he'd probably seen enough of all that stuff.

In NZ there are many styles.

Is performance poetry or Slam better or worse? It is a complex question. David Mitchell is known especially in NZ as he who started live poetry in New Zealand (in the early 80s I think, but he used to read live at cafes and art galleries in the 70s I believe) going and he wasn't known then by much published work. Sam Hunt, a different poet was perhaps a "performance poet", as, to take another example, was the British poet Edwin Morgan who I saw read / perform once here in Auckland. He was good. Wystan Curnow performed and presented his poetry well as did Tessa Laird. She combined video, language and art.

Mitchell's daughter Genevieve McLean is a brilliant artist who performs. She sings her poems etc Another NZr David Eggleton was known as "the mad Kiwi ranter" but he had long poems so he "ranted" it is said to get through them quickly...I organised a reading by Bill Millett (who I had known in about 1969 in political or "protest" circles) who sued to unroll his poems from big scrolls. He was tormented by images of the Vietnam War and the wrongs done to black people in the US (he had flown in the US Air force); his poetry as such wasn't great (my opinion only) but if you take his total work including his passionate and unique) presentation the great way his books are presented you get close to the "total art" idea. His passion was sincere. Who is to say who is not a great poet? Especially if we can hardly even define poetry or art very well.
Murray Haddow I once saw and to see him and experience him in full flight is awesome!! But it could depend on when you see such a "performance poet". Tracie Morris was included in a book 'American Poets in the 21st Century' ed. Rankine and Sewell. Certainly interesting...then there are the "sound poets" as well as the Vispos.

7:14 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Nor can we be sure if it matters. We can go to Aristotle or Nietzsche etc

A poem for even something non verbal performed might be seen, in its totality as THE POEM, whereas written down the words themselves might not reflect what is needed.
Can my EYELIGHT project taken as whole (or in parts) be seen as one total poem? Or the Internet work of Alan Sondheim. (He uses all media but incorporates technical (hardware and software) aspects of computer tech in his poem or his philosophic "meditation” as he calls it...)

Is Jack Ross's EMO a huge poem? And there is the question of where and how politics is involved or..........? Was Charles Bernstein right in saying that Sartre's 'Being and Nothingness' was closer to being a poem (if it wasn't already a poem) than his books such as the Nausea, which is a better way to read his philosophy?

Of course for practical and human reasons we work in categories, but...

7:16 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

" Anonymous said...

brett cross is a cunning, cunning man. "

Yes! If he took up chess, he would be known as possibly a swindler, or at the very least a brilliant counter attacker...

On can see the way Maps he bowled a googly at Maps and then put his cronies at the Reader's and Bull Shit Artist's Week and checkmate him with a reference to his tragic photo.

7:27 pm  
Anonymous lol said...

A Guide to Writing Badly, based on the work of the Literati (and Richard of this thread)

use clichés, lots of them
(refer to genitals as flowers or love as a rose, talk about weeds coming up through the cracks in the sidewalk etc.)
employ only vague language
(I love politics and peace. They make me feel good)
add large complicated words where you dont need them
(The tumbling curpuscus ricocheted off the adjacent unilateral.)
use lots of adjectives
(her sparkling, drooling, effervescent eyes)
use lots of adverbs
(his complacently wandering eyes)
mix metaphors
(fly like a drowning bird)
choose boring verbs
excessive
Don't show, tell
(she was sad, so so sad)
employ a melodramatic tone, no one before you has ever experienced what you are about to tell them. You are on your way to enlightening the world.
make sure to read it in a hyperbolic voice and jump round like an idiot

9:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found one of the Literati poems. Fuck it's good. Come on Richard defend it.

Poetry Live on Tuesday
nights, open mic
from above the Comedy Club on Queen (07)
to Thirsty Dog on K (09)
my humble beginnings
behind the Glue Pot in the 90′s
Java Jive, Raw Fish Salad
Karen Hunter in one of her primes
Temple Bar up on stage
improvising on song
it didn’t take me long to piss the locals off -
less than a glass of wine
so don’t make a scene
too late
Bohemian floral skirts
and wacky hats, skinny
pin legs and black hair
standard poet garb it seems
Murray Haddow pushing buttons
swapping tongues,
split personalities
coming alive in accents
bigger than Graeme Brazier
Right on cue, sex workers
across the street, never
get rid of them or me
Montana Poetry Day (05?)
I wish I was a millionaire;
I would buy every great poet loser
their own book
Performance poetry at its best
Poetry Out West
a kaleidoscope of words
and I can hear the audience cringe
I’m looking better tonight, apparently
It’s been two years since
my presence spoke volumes -
I must have sounded like
Kerouac cackling back in the day
like Muldoon’s evil twin.

9:51 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I've been watching the World Chess Championship but they just agreed a draw...again.

Anonymous has to be Scott of of course.

I haven't actually been to any of the Literati things.

But it is interesting that at least someone is interested in poetry!

Shane Hollands is actually quite well read. Unlike his half brother Michael Arnold he is keen or keener on popular or poetry such as the beats etc (I'm not so keen on them myself but I like Kerouac of his Haiku and On the Road and of Visions of Cody etc)..but it is true that just being focused on the beats is bit limiting...(if that is what one is focused on) I rarely go to any poetry gatherings or any literary meetings these days...in fact I don't read a lot of poetry either, I seem to be reading more prose. Except that I am reading through a book of poems by Vincent O'Sullivan and when he was at Poetry Live I think it was 2009 he was well received.

The strange thing is though about Haddow is that it doesn't matter what his poetry was or is like on paper. His performance is incredible...or the one I saw.

1:25 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

'Anonymous has to be Scott'

Nope. I've deleted those personal attacks on various people who read their verse in Auckland pubs and cafes, safely away from my gaze. As I said to you, though, Richard, in an e mail:

'To me, the slam stuff seems worryingly in tune with the dumbing down of culture in the 21st century. Could it be that, under the guise of being 'edgy' and 'popular', these people are doing what reactionaries like the Ern Malley hoaxers and the New Fornalists dreamed about doing, and taking us back to the days before modernism?'

The extreme cultural conservatism of performance-based poetry, with its lack of technical resources, one-dimensional delivery, and indifferences to the innovations of modernism and postmodernism over the past hundred years, has to be emphasised.

I don't know who Murray Haddon is, but I can't agree with those who think that a bad piece of writing can be compensated for by a vigorously theatrical performance. It's a little like arguing that all those stage props make KISS or Alice Cooper better musicians. I agree with Geoffrey Hill that writing well is a moral imperative, and that to consciously write badly - whether for cynical commercial reasons, or out of a political agenda, or simply out of laziness - is evil. But then, as I said in my post, I'm probably eccentric...

8:25 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

And that 'poem' posted at 9.51 is truly awful. Is it, though, a representative example of slam poetry? I rather had the impression that the slam chaps and chapesses were, like Pam Ayres, hung up on big, dumb, full rhymes at the end of their lines.

8:29 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

'I like Kerouac's haiku'

So do I. Those haiku were, in my opinion, the only decent things Kerouac wrote, and they were - not coincidentally, I think - the only things he actually worked for more than five seconds on! How ironic that someone should write novels off the cuff and carefully revise their haiku!

But the Beats suffer from their contemporary admirers. They were rebelling, like the New York and the Black Mountain poets, against the cultural and political conservatism of McCarthyite America. In the 1950s, drug-taking, Eastern mysticism, and texts that valued spontaneity and confession over craft were all charged with radicalism.

In today's world, where post-Fordist capitalism emphasises the importance of the individual over the group, and a million ad campaigns co-opt the notions of spontaneity and nonconformism - think of the ubiquity of slogans like 'Just Do It!', 'Dare to be different!' and so on - and the Dalai Lama is a corporate icon, embracing the Beat methodology and worldview is as about as radical as joining the National Party.

8:42 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the rubbish we were forced to study as 'NZ Lit' at High School is enough to put anyone off; pages of reading in which nothing actually happens but fern fronds, sand dunes and Auntie's hair are described in detail. Yawn.

10:42 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Anony Mouse - I enjoyed studying literature at school. NZ, or other. Although in 1963 - 65 or so we studied the Romantics and so on. You should take an interest in ferns. Go back to school and listen to your teachers, and read! Show respect...I'm serious. I always listened.

Scottus - I think you are concentrating on only small proportion of those who chose to read in pubs etc or perform.

I've been in few Slams (here in Auckland and in New York) and overall I don't like them but I don't consider them a threat. (But there are issues with or re them indeed).

In my case I was studying literature at the same time I was reading in public and I had also taken a lot of courses in literature even before that.

It is a fact that you and I Scott read extensively but many others don't. Now some people have difficulty with reading etc and find that public reading gives them an outlet or whatever and there is nothing wrong with that. Murray Haddow is no literary genius but nor is he arrogant or ignorant...I had some talks with him. Nor is Shane who is someone I have known for some time. I think we have to see art and literature as a kind of spectrum, like electromagnetic spectrum and the wavelengths are styles or ways of thinking....

So we range form Pam Ayres or Ellen Wheeler Wilcox to the almost incomprehensible writing of J H Prynne and indeed Smithyman. And great as he is or was he is not everyone's cup of tea.

3:16 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

For me it is a huge jigsaw with many styles. The Great and Wonderful Chairman and Great Helmsman Who is Stainless Vast Nobel and Total and Above and Beyond any Criticism, the poet and politician and Great Revolutionary Leader Mao tse Tung, urged that a hundred flowers should blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend...

I have to admit I deliberately dropped Haddow in with Mitchell!! I knew there would be an "outcry"!

I also heard him read and he was great indeed. But I met Mitchell and his daughter...when I was at University (in the 90s) he used to be a real problem in classes, and by that time he was pretty mad. I once asked him how he was getting on about applying for a job as a school teacher and he tore into me...

But Mitchell initiated the public reading thing and his big thing was the My Lai massacre which was revealed about the time the US landed on the moon...(and I recall that day vividly, it enormously exciting, we heard it live on the radio at the Railway Workshops and everyone stopped work, except one, Charlie Baker, a hugely well read Communist and a Scotsman and an ex British army Sergeant who carried on working and was crying about the massacre as he had had to do similar things ('search and destroy missions')in India))it was later found that such massacres were almost routine by US, Australia and NZ soldier over there and in...so we have a political impulse there, and a desire for inclusiveness...Hence a push to include and open things up.

3:18 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

The opposite impulse is what attracted me, but I changed, unlike Geoffrey Hill, who I think is quite wrong, I now feel that anything goes! (Well, almost...I'm the man who also stood up for "Fisting for the Lord" poet and artist Brent Hayward (the Rev Leicester found him amusing! But my daughter was disgusted with his piss in the glass act (trick)...)

Strangely his girlfriend, I cant recall her name, but she is or was very attractive, was a pretty good poet herself...I recall a reading she gave once. But whether Hayward was or is essentially a performance or a protest poet, or how "good" he is, is moot...

But I am not a relativist as such I would keep to some moral imperatives or whatever...it's just that things are never so clear. Hill is a great poet, but his attitude worries me...Allan Curnow also. Poetry sui generis is not the answer ether although atone stage I was all for it...I think we do have some kind of responsibility.

I'm also thinking now of Alan Brunton who mixed an enormous erudition and linguistic play and concern also with live dramas etc

Another one quite different (but certainly deeply concerned and talented) is Alan Loney...who wanted (or wants?) only
"an audience of one"!! So that is another pole. And he was from the working class
for sure. But he was well educated and well read.

So I disagree but I know what you are saying. The problem is not the beats et al, but the way the beats have been interpreted (or obsessed about). I see them as important as part of the history of literature but by and large their poetry doesn't interest me...although I can see the raison d'etre of 'On the Road' etc (which reminds me of the vast works of Thomas Wolfe, who I got reading as he was mentioned by Smithyman. I hugely enjoyed his massive and chaotic works - his 'Time and the River' is 900 pages and in one chapter her completely repeats himself so he has two parallel stories (two versions!) it was left in because of bad editing I think) inside his autobiographical novel done as he just wrote at a tremendous pace...actually I still loved his books. But in terms of structure they have serious flaws (he didn't revise), and it was said of him that in his case "genius wasn't enough") ...but he died at the age of 38, a huge man, trying to read and eat and do everything!

For certain writers, such as yourself Jack and I, wide reading is essential as that is what makes up our genius...just joking! No it is something I like and it seems that I love learning and reading...perhaps others, having had difficulty with reading or cognition etc, prefer doing. They are more outgoing and love rhyme etc, and there are many degrees or "frequencies" of the all the other writers.

It takes all kinds...the Geoffrey Hills (who is rather dour and dark and grumpy like Reading was (although he could be funny and I find Beckett very funny) and the others who cant pronounce Smithyman's name! [By the way Leciester and I were in agreement on this view of Hill and Reading etc]

There are dangers with the "Hip Hop" or "beat" Slammers, and also the New Formalists are almost dangerous, but it is a complex issue. I myself don't support Idol competitions or other such ego fests but clearly others see a need for it.

3:20 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Mao urged that a hundred flowers should blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend'

Yes, comrade, but only so he could flush out counter-revolutionaries and stool pigeons of imperialism and have them imprisoned and/or disemboweled as soon as they expressed their thoughts in public!
A period of very savage repression followed the Hundred Flowers Campaign.

I don't think the notion that all ideas and forms of expression are equal has any relationship to the real world.

The fact is that, in most societies, there are continual competitions between ideas and forms of expression, and that progress comes partly by taking sides in these competitions.

Some contests are obvious. The conflict between neo-liberalism and its detractors is, of course, reaching a climax right now in many parts of the world.

Other contests are more subtle. The destruction of old, racist stereotypes about New Zealand, for example, which was achieved over decades by scholars like Judith Binney, Ranginui Walker, and James Belich, never made newspaper headlines, but it was of profound importance. Is Michael Laws' take on the historiography of the New Zealand Wars as valid as Belich's? I don't think so.

We should take sides against certain ideas and forms of expression not by imprisoning or killing their proponents, as Mao did, but by criticising those who hold and practice them.

I have generally refrained from criticising slam-style poetry, because it seemed so self-evidently silly, and seemed set for a short shelf life, but I am a little perturbed to see the inroads it has made into events like the Readers and Writers Festival.

I don't see any point in demonising one or another slam poet, but I do think it's worth pointing out that this form of expression, which appears to have been coopted so effortlessly by the cultural mainstream, is profoundly conservative aesthetically.

And the holding of poetry slams does seem like a way for an increasingly philistine, increasingly shallow society to pay lipservice to literature, without facing the risks that real literature brings.

Perhaps I'm wrong, and the next Readers and Writers Festival will feature names like Geoffrey Hill and Ted Jenner and Richard Taylor in bright lights! I suspect, though, that the dumbing down evident in the appearances of folks like Kathy Lette and the holding of slams will continue, and that writers who value craft and thoughtfulness will increasingly be locked out.

Bring on the Readers and Writers Fringe Festival, I say!

4:10 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

That is drivel about Mao tse Tung. He was the greatest leader of the 20th Century. His Cultural Revolution had the seeds to change the world for the better but as undermined by right wingers wanting a return of Capitalism.

No one was executed by him or the CP who didn't deserve it.

5:10 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

'No one was executed by him or the CP who didn't deserve it.'

There's an interesting proviso at the end of that sentence, Richard!

The fact is that many of the intelelctuals who responded to the Hundred Flowers campaign by writing in favour of various reforms to Chinese society, including greater political openess, were persecuted, and some were killed.

Now, you might well, as a Maoist, defend such actions, on the grounds that the revolution had to purge itself of people who advanced dangerous ideas. That, certainly, seems to be the justification that orthodox Maoists give for the persecution of writers and intellectuals during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

But you can hardly take such a stance and then turn around and say you believe in the validity of all viewpoints and forms of expression, can you? There's an obvious contradiction between such claims of super-tolerance, on the one hand, and support for the repression of views you disagree with, on the other.

I don't believe all views are equal, but nor do I believe that anyone should be persecuted for having bad ideas. I think those two positions are consistent with each other.

You, by contrast, seem to leap between two wildly different viewpoints in the space of a couple of comments. But perhaps that sort of outrageous flexibility is what has helped you to write some fine poems!

5:56 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Walt Whitman said something about contradiction.

7:17 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Your logic is right but you are wrong. Where is Trotsky in all this? If the revolutions have all failed, and we tell the people that (who cares about the details, we want results): then what is the use of any attempt to change things or even to have a moral viewpoint?

I am dubious of the need for socialism or even any change "for the better" but I think the attacks on Mao tse Tung are distorting history (don't get me wrong there is NO WAY I would never want to live in a socialist China nowadays,I was a Maoist for a time in the early 70s, but NEVER, thank God, a Trotskyist) ...

Are the ideas of Marx wrong or invalid because all the revolutions that followed after his time failed? Is he a monster? (They haven't failed, History has no failures.)

And you have to understand a lot of this stuff you talk about is from years of anti communist propaganda which we need to oppose and put out counter propaganda against. It is the ideas that count. You were not around in the 50s and 60s. The anti communism of the British and the US was rabid and consequently people now believe anything against anyone (and people in China or others who claim to know about China make big money telling us how terrible Mao is, most of it is lies and distortion) who was any good or tried to bring about change.

Mao tse Tung tried desperately to bring about a truly democratic state for the first time in history (he rightly warned against sugar coated bullets and was opposed to taking lives or forcing ideas on people, despite what the CIA and their agents etc would have you believe) but he was undermined by traitors (the Trotskyist agents will deny this as some of them helped in this, don't believe them); the books and information about Mao have been distorted by anti communists. In the rare cases people were executed it was because Mao's hand was forced by reactionaries.

Read his ideas his philosophy and take account of his ideas. The Troksyists are essentially anti communist agents, (although some have, sadly, simply been duped) and being racist, will deny that a Chinese could contribute to revolution or have any deep or useful philosophic thought. (The same racist attitude is directed against the idea that say Tongans and other Polynesian nations might arise and form a form of socialism one day Futu Hela is very much like Mao tse Tung.

Don't read the propaganda and negative stuff, read of the great advances the Chinese have made paving the way for them to now be the strongest nation in the world. Read The Little Red Book, the greatest book ever written.

History is not a tea cup.

7:17 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

'Read his ideas his philosophy and take account of his ideas'

But it seems to me that I am doing this, and you are not. Mao is unequivocal, in his writings about art: the role of the artist is to serve the revolution, and artists who do not toe the line are serving bourgeois interests.

Here's a quote from Mao's Yenan Lecture on Art:

'Our stand is that of the proletariat and of the masses. For members of the Communist Party, this means keeping to the stand of the Party, keeping to Party spirit and Party policy. Are there any of our literary and art workers who are still mistaken or not clear in their understanding of this problem? I think there are. Many of our comrades have frequently departed from the correct stand.'

If you want to uphold this as the correct approach to art, then that's fine. But how do you reconcile it with your earlier claim that no one form of artistic expression is superior to others? Quite clearly that's the opposite of what Mao believed.

I don't really see how the author of Conversation with a Stone and Eyelight would be permitted to publish in Mao's China! And he'd be lucky to avoid denunciation as a bourgeois individualist during the Cultural Revolution and other periods when writers and intellectuals were hounded by Mao's supporters.

7:26 pm  
Anonymous Idle lurker said...

Yikes Richard is a bit scary
who 'deserved' to be executed in his opinion in china.

7:43 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

That is out of context. You need to study the whole history of the world.

Recall you are in the middle of a revolutionary process, it's not a tea party...of course they would execute me, I would denounce myself.

But this is why I didn't write poetry (from 1968 to 1988 or so) it seemed pointless when I encountered Marxism and once in the protest movement and realised the depthless iniquity of the US Imperialists...you would realise that they could very easily have "done the towers" on 9/11...

I was well aware that communism had failed (well in a sense communism is a perfect system so it cant fail, but the meaning should be clear here!) and said so in 1970. In fact I said that at a meeting "When China goes revisionist." (Someone said "if" but I knew it would become a Capitalist nation, or State Capitalist like the USSR, which had already ceased to be a valid socialist state before Lenin's death).) It was well known that soon after Lenin got into power the reactionaries (inside and outside the USSR) started distorting communism or working class aspirations...one example was a painting they repeated of Lenin...and Lenin made any many errors...BUT history had to happen.

In such a revolutionary situation as the Chinese communists were in (knowing the essential failure of the USSR) art was to be for the people but there was an attempt to avoid commandism etc.

Such is not for me. But it doesn't make him a murderer. He wasn't at all. (But inside a revolution you don't have much time for art etc but Mao and the CP encouraged culture)..you may think that these changes are instantaneous...there will be no significant change in human society for thousands of years...am I any crazier than Fetu!! I liked his strange, "contradictory" and enigmatic, way of thinking by the way...

But by 1990 or so I had abandoned politics now I am only a poetical philosopher!

My own view is that are no utopias and we are only animals with a dubious future. But we are inside a strange adventure...sometimes it seems there is some kind of deeper meaning.

Whitman said: "I contain multitudes..." and "Do I contradict myself,well then, I contradict myself." this is also in Joyce's 'Ulysses'...from memory! It could also be Wilde quoting Whitman quoted by Stephen Daedalus...as Wilde and such as Meredith (as well as a million other people) are quoted by Joyce...

8:26 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Talking of China, this is terrible news:
http://nz.news.yahoo.com/a/-/top-stories/13723642/distinguished-journalist-derek-round-dead/

I met Derek Round briefly last year, when Hamish Dewe and I called on Bill Direen at the Michael King Centre in Devonport. Round was staying for a few weeks at the centre, and he told us a little of his life in China, and the interview he did with Chou en-lai. I think he got a real kick out of meeting a Sinophile of the younger generation like Hamish.

9:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

try this movement

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flarf

10:48 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Yes this question of what is right in literature and poetry is important so I will think more about it.

I myself have never really liked Slams but there is indeed a question of how much we need competition as again cooperation etc

11:14 pm  
Anonymous Anti-revisionist said...

I found this 'debate' which is actually a blunt attack on Marxist-Leninist-Maoist principles through the RIM loop. Thankyou Richard for your lone defence of MLM thought against a tidal wave of reactionary vomit. Unfortunately revisionism is alive and well today even amongst people who pose as upholders of the MLM line. First and foremost in the ranks of vomiters of pseudo-left anti-Mao and anti-Stalin garbage are the 'comrades' of the Kasama, an unprincipled split from the Revolutionary Communist Party of the United States. If you click on the link I have attached to my nom de guerre at the top of this comment, you will see one of the cartoons which a comrade of ours has produced to help in the task of unmasking the revisionists. Really they aim only to traduce Stalin and Mao and make imperialism mentally safe for the youth by promulgating the ahistorical and completely petty bourgeois notion of ultra-democracy and 'human rights' for counter-revolutionary wreckers. If you would like to join the RIM loop please contact me through the website I have linked to.

In struggle,
Anti-revisionist

6:03 am  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:54 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Anti Rev - interesting - I had a look. But I'm so paranoid that when I see "Communist Party" I translate that term immediately into "CIA"!!

The same with "freedom" or "democracy" if I hear some US politician use it such as Obama!! "Justice" is another bullshit term..."justice" as such will probably never exist on this earth...we humans are no better that cockroaches or slugs, and our survival on this earth is provisional and dubious...and you can probably get rid of "progress' as a term....Should or can we love one another? We can and should try. Some of the Christian ideas are good. Is there a God ? I don't know...

Re Maoism etc - I don't mean I am a "Maoist" or "Stalinist" I abandoned all that about 40 years ago, but there does need to be corrective to the simplistic views of the USSR and China. But added to that theory perhaps if we are ever to "go forward" we need also other ideas, other theories, and to take more literally some of the ideas of these people (but not to idolize them): I see Mao for example as no better or worse than say Kennedy or Churchill or Napolean...I see him as (in this historical context) as more important, if any part of history can be so defined))...

But psychology and other social sciences are needed...human beings are not necessarily going to "progress". We are animals only with intelligence (and possibly souls or something such like) indeed but what the deeper significance of human life is I don't know.

These ontological, phenomenological and existential questions as well as concern about the "human condition" are as important to me as any political theory...(it is true that history has been distorted by the CIA etc) but Stalin and Mao also use propaganda...in that game it is a propaganda war...in that war, and in War, the truth is often irrelevant. You sometimes have to make the truth and submerge other "truths"...certainly any "progressive" state or nation will have to operate from a position of strength which (and also what we might think are less progressive, hence I support (or understand) Iran's drive to get nuclear weapons etc, they are in mortal danger or attack from the fascist states of the US and Israel)...ideally of course there should be no need to defend oneself. But reality is out there.

But humans also need to change at the social-political level. Without some such changes towards a more enlightened populace we are all fucked...in that case no amount of Marxism or Trotskyism or Maoism will do anyone any good unless we change ourselves in other ways...unfortunately we are probably left with just muddling through, as none of the "revolution" has produced any large change or any deep change.

Capitalism seems (with all the bad aspects of hat system) to be the best system (by test of time so far). The financial crisis we are in is only temporary and is one thing predicted in both normative financial analysis and Marxism but with good credit systems and welfare reasonably soon things will pick up.

The US revolution brought (it was the first major step) the US into being the most powerful and rich and productive economy in the world and China's revolution (really a war of independence) has assisted China in that way also.

Fascinating universe.

1:57 am  
Anonymous Anti-revisionist said...

Thankyou cde Richard. If you want to access some real anti-revisionist poetry rather than petty bourgeois vomit then I recommend the works of the RCP AND RIM leader Chairman Bob Avakian.

We must broadly unite,
To carry out the fight,
To resist the crimes of this system.
But on the real revolution,
Is the only solution,
So we need to call out,
Things who's time have run out,
That keep people in chains,
Suffering unbearable pains,
These things are all played out.

For more information why not visit the Bob Avakian Insitute, which is dedicated to spreading Chairman Bob's work and his image across the world?

6:00 am  
Blogger peterquixote said...

too long we read short

5:56 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

If you can't read long, Mr Quixote, why on earth did you choose to name yourself after one of the longer novels in the Western canon?

6:26 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

if too long man we read short maybe too short man we read long

if long short too we read long

& short long read too we long
& we too long short read long
& long we too short read long
& long we too read short long

then long is too short
and short is too long

Proof after 'Don Quixote'

7:03 pm  

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