Friday, 15 November 2013

Long Poem: beyond The Cambridge Launch

Last night in Cambridge reading for Long Poem. Five of us reading and some very good things there. I am not going to say which I most admired but there was much admirable material read in the small lecture theatre of Fitzwilliam College. Wine and biscuits first with those I already knew or have met, like Richard Berengarten, Lucy Sheerman and Jaqueline Gabbitas among the readers, as well as Anna Robinson, the founder, also a contributor this time, the editors Linda Black and Lucy Hamilton, poet Aidan Semmens and dear friend, walking icon, Nell Bacon.

Long Poem - an excellent and, I think, important magazine, since where else will you be able to publish poems that are more than a couple of pages long (do leap forward, editors of magazines) - has published the first 28 poems of the 56 poem cycle written in collaboration with Carol Watts, an experience I loved, particularly because it was in one of those territories I had under-explored, where the sense isn't primarily syntactic, or rather where syntax remains but doesn't always complete itself so the text embodies fragments and excursions.

Carol couldn't come so Linda read it with me, just the first 6 sections of the 28 in the magazine. The principle of the writing as Carol and I worked it out was a first poem of 28 lines by Carol, then one of 27 by me in reponse, 26 by Carol in response to that and so on till we got down to 1. Having done that we so much enjoyed it we worked our way up the lines till we returned to 28, making 56 in all. The introduction between us was effected by Steven Fowler as part of his continuing project to bring together different strands of writing.

Carol and I were different. I was interested in what she was doing and how she was doing it (meaning I could 'hear' it), so my part of the collaboration probably strayed more into her territory than she did into mine (if such territories can be precisely defined - I've always thought of mine as reasonably broad and broadening) which was exhilarating for me, improvised like jazz, on the spot, picking up phrases from her and flooding my text around it. The mode was essentially musical and helped by performance.

But I am only just learning to perform it. We have done short bits of it four times now (this time with Linda) and I am only beginning to dance my tongue around my own text. I think I was getting to grips with it yesterday. After the first 10 or so lines it picked up.

Carol's starting point was a painting but I didn't know which.

I hope it might be possible to work with her again. Stylistically, or rather in terms of process, one might think of terms like 'territory' as a map. Working like this was putting a flag down in barely touched territory but within sight of home ground. The short texts I have been writing for recently, through Twitter, are another flag, as are the collaborations between myself, Jo Bell and poet/photographer Kevin Reid.

Home ground remains home ground, that is to say the books published by Bloodaxe define a core that I continue to explore, but I would like to head a little into the, broadly speaking, Edwin Morgan world. Nothing ideological, but journeys from which I might return richer and fresher.

A little madness - or what might seem madness - is good beyond the age of 60. You're going to be buried anyway. You might as well be buried mad and dancing.


Kate Swindlehurst said...

Yes, a really interesting collaboration - and from the audience last night, I loved seeing you begin to 'dance your tongue' round the lines. And I really enjoyed the evening, made me think of different ways of writing.

George S said...

Thank you, Kate. It was a very good evening with, as you say, a variety of approaches. I hope Carol and I have the chance to run through a good number one day.