Thursday, 13 August 2009
Concrete Plinths, Poems and Lies, Glorious Lies
I went up to London yesterday to do some research at the National Gallery, take in the exhibition on concrete poetry at the ICA and hear two friends read there in the evening at the Ride the Word reading. I stood for sometime in Trafalgar Square looking at people looking at the latest person to go up on the fourth plinth, who looked back at the people looking at them. An hour is quite a long time on a plinth; there was a man up there with balloons promoting a children’s charity when I first arrived, who gave way to a man throwing T Shirt into the assembled onlookers to advertise a charity who works on projects in South African. I disappeared into the National Gallery and when I came out a while later there was a woman up there painting, complete with an easel. I listened to what people were saying, some thought it boring after a while, some thought it was turning into a charity plinth in which a sequence of charities could publicise their cause, others just seemed to like it and smile. I did eavesdrop on one conversation when an elderly lady enquired of her equally elderly friend why someone was up there. She seemed very pleased that the person was doing it for a charity and then said, “I wouldn’t like to think that I was looking at someone for nothing.”
Many tourists took endless photographs; some posed in such a way as to ensure they were in the picture along with the person on the plinth. I am sure families throughout the world will at some point be regailed with the slide show of ‘Our visit to London’ complete with and here is me smiling at the man who was holding balloons for charity on a plinth. Some people, probably Londoners, seemed to pass by in a hurry going somewhere but even they couldn’t resist a glance up to see who was up there and what they were doing. Driving past at night in a taxi I noticed it was a woman with a cello, floodlit to ensure she could be seen and there were still people crowded round looking. I wonder what those with the 3 or 4 am slot experience by way of audience, the charities must hope for a busy daytime slot, publicity is a little less in your face in the early hours. I didn’t get picked for the plinth for August and looking at the height I was relieved, but my name stays in for September so there is still time to be terrified and appalled at my decision to put my name in, in the first place. I have a charity in mind but also I have to admit I quite like the idea of being a nothing on a plinth or does nothing translate to exhibitionist. It is very complex this world of plinth art, all in the eye of the beholder or is it in the eye of the beheld?
The exhibition, Poor Old Tired Horse, at the ICA was interesting, a romp through some examples of 1960’s textual art/poetry up to the present day. I have a trouble with text as art which is I am sure either the point or the negative point of it in that I immediately want to read it rather than experience it. I am driven to see in symbols some code I can access through the medium of reading. Circular text written on huge ‘sails’ of transparent plastic in the exhibition immediately had me doing the usual wordsearch approach and indeed there were words in there which I think was partly the point plus the slight feeling of nausea that creeps up on you when you try to follow the flow of the text. However I suppose we have become more sophisticated in our approach to what we can do with text and graphics given the computer software that can now allow anyone to manipulate text to produce visual effects of increasing complexity. We’ve come a long way since The Mouse’s Tale by Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland and Apollinaire’s work. If you are interested in the interplay of text, poetry and graphics go and have a look at Peter Howard’s Low Probability of Raccoons website here you can see a dialogue (is that a cliched word these days, perhaps more a collision of poetry text, the visual, sound ,animation in fact the whole monty of the human sensual repertoire), although touch is missing but even that can be brought in now with the use of textural touch screen technology I am assured. Here is a link to one of his galleries, you need the latest version of Flash Player but you can download that safely if you go to home on this site and these little poems are interactive so enjoy, have a play with them.
There was a prose poem at the open mike at the reading I attended which involved the expulsion of a tape worm by a fictional character, complte with facial expressions to enhance the fictional experience, it was different I have to give the piece that. I must repeat my mantra three times daily, ‘I will be open to the new, I will be open to the new, I will be open to the new but I won’t totally suspend my critical faculties.’ There is a debate on the Magma Poetry Magazine blog about the default poem i.e a poem that relies on the ‘I’ narrative of personal experience. It seeks to challenge poets to sometimes get out of their comfort zone but then I wonder if a poet is comfortable with something whether they can in fact be producing a good poem, surely a little discomfort provides some of the bite I look for in a poem. Some poets return to similar themes over and over again of course but this does not necessarily make the poems they write ‘default’. I have often heard people saying that a poet needs to move on or they risk becoming a one trick pony but the skill is in how they do that trick. Poets with big issues to explore need room to maneuver and revisit. Default smacks of the automaton, the computer reverting to settings it has established for its own well being. I does not always mean the real I , it does not mean that the real I or the assumed I cannot lie, in fact good polished lies are extremely difficult because the art of a good lie is that it does not seem like a lie at all but something born of authentic experience. I’m all for great lies, superb lies, lies of such depth and colour that they overwhelm me in their own reality.
PS I sat with friends in St James' Park for sometime watching the geese, coots and ducks on the lake. Unfortunately the pelicans and cormorants didn't put in an appearance but a squirrel did. Of course it was merely a rat who had brought in a great Image Consultant who suggested the whole fluffy tail thing. It set about mugging tourists who unwisely saw this as a photo opportunity and some unwisely tempted it closer with offers of non existant food. They lived to survive the experience and kept all their fingers, but then the squirrel was well aware that in such an up market park savaging the tourists might lead to old Boris Johnson announcing a cull, savage but politically savvy , that's squirrels for you.