Thursday, 28 April 2011

Christian Bök in Bury & London

Christian Bök will be making a couple of rare appearances in the UK over the coming week.

First, as part of the Text Festival in Bury, he will be performing at the Met Arts Centre along with Holly Pester, among others; this is on Saturday 30 April. Then, on Tuesday 3 May, he will be at Vibe Live on Brick Lane for the London Word Festival, with Luke Kennard and Maria Fusco. Both shows start at 7.30pm.

Below is a clip of Bök reading an excerpt from his book Eunoia, which consists of five chapters restricting themselves to the use of a single vowel; this is a poem/section from Chapter I (for Dick Higgins).

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Alighiero e Boetti's 'Dossier Postale'

During the Arte Povera exhibition at Tate Modern in the summer of 2001 I was leafing through a relevant catalogue and was arrested by a page describing Alighiero e Boetti's Dossier Postale (1970). I read that for this piece Boetti designated 26 recipients (artists, dealers, critics, collectors etc) to each of which he assigned an imaginary itinerary. That he mailed a letter to each at the first point of their itinerary. And that, since these journeys were imaginary, the envelopes containing the letters would be 'returned to sender' - Boetti himself - unopened, who would then place them into larger envelopes and mail them to the next address on their journey.

And so on. Boetti documented the process by means of photocopying: both sides of each envelope were copied before being sealed into larger ones. All this material was subsequently catalogued and filed in 26 different folders, each corresponding to an addressee.

image: Museo MADRE

I was recently reminded of my encounter with Dossier Postale through Derek Beaulieu's description of A Box of Nothing - another instance of mail art. Ten years ago the work of Boetti appealed to me because of its playfulness, its use - and subversion - of bureaucracy, its fascination with order and classification, its exploration of error, its interest in process. (Arte Povera as a whole was a movement that challenged the worship of the art object by using deliberately unorthodox materials; Alighiero Boetti inserted the Italian conjunction e - meaning "and" - into his name to reflect a sense of multiple, unstable identity.)

I remember photocopying the Dossier Postale article and filing the copy in my "cuttings etc" envelope/folder. Despite searching for it on many occasions since, I was never able to find it. But its ghost has accompanied me.

Material from Dossier Postale has been exhibited over the years, and so has that from Boetti's other similarly conceptual works - including a series of embroidered maps of the world produced between 1971 and 1992, and the compilation of a list of "the thousand longest rivers in the world" published as a limited edition book in 1977. Such material - like the finished poem - appears as an end result, the product of a process. One could also regard it as a starting point from where each viewer/reader may work backwards and re-imagine the process for him/herself. And on occasion, the process itself is the poem.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Spinning Cities, by Kimberly Campanello

In Kimberly Campanello's chapbook Spinning Cities (Wurm Press, 2011) shit is the first but not the last word. Its smell wafts through the twelve dystopian poems, which crawl with impurities, decay, cunt, deformity, rape. Animal parts and bodily functions.

These poems take aim - but never cheaply. Restless but clearly thought out and well stitched together, they make it their business to illuminate recesses of the now, in the process establishing unexpected connections. They force the reader's eyes to stay open. And they retain a wide scope, with varying line length and geography that reflect the poet's pool of raw material.

How credible is my endorsement of the work of another Wurm Press poet? Of course I'll support it! But I do so only because Spinning Cities hits the spot consistently. And it works as a unit. Razor-sharp, exhilarating, and revelling in the power of words and their interaction to grapple with things as they are, to shake up and to unsettle, this is compelling and - crucially - necessary poetry.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

An Inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street

On 5 March 2007 a car bomb exploded on Al-Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad. More than 30 people were killed and 100 wounded.

Al-Mutanabbi Street is in a mixed Shia-Sunni area. It's the historic centre of Baghdad bookselling, with bookstores and outdoor stalls, cafés, stationery shops, tea and tobacco shops... It's been the heart of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community since the 13th century.

The Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition was formed as a response to the bombing, to honour the street by creating work that holds both "memory and future" - what was lost that day. To this end it devised and curated the Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadside Project, and completed its call to letterpress printers after reaching a goal of 130 broadsides from 130 individual printers. Thanks to the efforts of writer Evelyn Conlon, thirty of the resulting broadsides were recently exhibited in The Market House in Monaghan and the Central Library, ILAC Centre, Dublin.

Now the coalition is calling on book artists to work on An Inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street in order to "re-assemble" some of the "inventory" of the reading material that was lost in the bombing. The curators of the project are Beau Beausoleil of San Francisco's Overland Books and Sarah Bodman of the Centre for Fine Print Research, UWE Bristol.

I have joined An Inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street by making a commitment to produce and contribute an edition of three of a new chapbook of poems within one year (by end March 2012). One complete set of the 130 responses to the call will be donated to the Iraq National Library in Baghdad; the other two sets will be used in conjunction with shows of the broadsides as well as in shows of their own.

Participants in the project are not precluded from producing additional copies of their books to sell / exhibit / use however they wish. I haven't yet decided whether to do so, or to what extent. But I have settled on a concept for the book and began work on it. I'll be posting on its progress over the coming months.

Monday, 4 April 2011

'Genius or Not' writing project

A little over a year ago, a group of writers who had previously appeared in Succour magazine, as well as a small number selected through open submissions to Succour's abandoned issue 11 (February 6, 2010), were invited to introduce to their writing practice an exercise that would come to be known as Genius or Not - following the example of Harry Mathews who, in 1980, attempted to overcome writer's block by committing to produce "twenty lines a day, genius or not" for a period of one year (himself following an exhortation that Stendhal once made to himself). Harry Mathews went on to publish the results in his book 20 Lines a Day (Dalkey Archive Press).

Each writer was asked to commit to at least one writing session per month lasting no more than one hour, which would yield a prose piece of no more than 500 words or a poem of no more than 20 lines, and whose contents would not have been preconceived in any way. The result would then be posted for publication within a day or two.

The project has so far amassed around 150 texts. Some of the writers who initially agreed to participate decided at different times and for various reasons to withdraw. Genius or Not has now gone live, carrying all the pieces already posted. The project is ongoing, and texts will continue to be added by the participating writers as they are being composed.

The title of each text is the date of its composition, and each is given up to five tags by its writer relating to its subject matter. There are therefore various ways of reading the texts on Genius or Not, such as chronologically, by specific writer, or by subject through the system of tags.

In addition to appearing on the website, the entries will feed onto the wall of the Genius or Not Facebook page, while the project can also be followed on Twitter.


To date I have contributed 12 pieces to Genius or Not. I discussed in an earlier post how the constraints placed on the act of writing while producing these texts have begun to have an effect on my writing practice.

The intermingling of styles, approaches and concerns present in the project is fascinating. Its brief means that elements of time and chance impact on each individual writer to produce a wide array of texts and a hypnotic overall pattern. The texts hang somewhere between journal entries, notes towards a poem or a story and fully-realised pieces. As the project continues, and with new writers coming on board - an injection of fresh blood will be sought at some stage in the future - it promises to evolve further.