E-Poetry 2005 London
A collection of posts sent to UK-based lists during the E-Poetry 2005 London festival and conference, Sept. 28 - Oct. 1, 2005
by Elizabeth James
From: Elizabeth James
Wasn't 'No Direction Home' great? (and yesterday I finally bought Chronicles, 2 quid off at Waterstone's, fascinating as writing and (more surprisingly) as plausible memoir). The rest of this week is another epoch: EPOETRY 2005 LONDON. [Information can be found at http://epc.buffalo.edu/e-poetry/2005/.]
Just back from the first night, presentations by John Cayley, Loss Pequeño Glazier and the prodigious Talan Memmott (of whom one project contains matter enough for several different careers); high calibre stuff. It's not *all sitting in the dark staring at blinking screens -- Loss's piece included live dancing, and further presentations will likewise be exploring the edgy interface between virtual and real performance elements, notably I imagine London Under Construction on Saturday morning. The next few days anyway see a mixture of work showings and papers, interspersed with discussion; lots of people have travelled to England from America and Europe for this because the work and the talk in the air, noise and weather of London will be different from how they are in other climates and landscapes, on and offline ... For those based 'here' who practise or are critically engaged with advanced poetry / poetics, and/or digital writing, it is a concentrated chance to move thinking on (free of 56K & the phone bill) ... If you don't come, you won't be able to remember it.
"words that meant something ten years ago don't mean that anymore -- they mean something else now" (Bob Dylan)
From: Elizabeth James
Date: 30 September 2005 09:54
Subject: the everyday at epoetry 2005
'I go searching': every day for a month Kirsten Lavers (who is 'really' a visual artist (UK)) typed a variant of this phrase into Google, and worked with the text on the first page of results, in the animation program Flash, selecting, rearranging and visually reformatting it. Now, the reader will be served a different one of the resulting pieces, keyed to the date on their own web browser (This work is published in the online journal How2). Christophe Bruno (France? see iterature.com) uses Google results summaries too, especially the elliptical (& often misleading) extracts from the pages found. Bruno has also devised a piece which in response to a search, compiles a kind of ur blog using existing blog texts. Søren Pold (Denmark) showed this (and his terrific paper embedded these practices right in the history of the book). Alan Sondheim (US) issues text bulletins daily to listservs and other locations: Maria Damon' related these often peculiarly intense and discomfiting missives to the genre of begging letters, and to the urgency and desperation manifested in some of Walter Bejamin's writings. Is this possibly the most significant single online poetry practice, (and/) or is it spam? A question older than the web ... A young team of writers and computer scientists from Rhode Island and Chicago is developing new tools to harvest material from the internet according to semantic relationships with an intentionally written text, which then incorporates and is altered by it. The aim of the project (the Error Engine) is for a truly relevant literature that co-exists and is imbued with the 'flimsy but largely successful construction of reality' in the news; but the radical poetics was in the claims made for the actual technology, which apparently uses a species of 'evolutionary computation' in a configuration inherently open, thus there will never be any one 'solution' to the task it performs 'only the best possible adaptation to current circumstances'. A potent new metaphor! (But woah, if you are taking stuff from other people's pages and re-using it, do you have an ethical obligation to give them something back, and/or to cite them? Another old chestnut ... ) jUS!tin katKO (US) walks, or runs, a video recorder around 'the readable city' (pace Robert Venturi, quoted by Søren Pold earlier), holding up or out a sig or tag written on his own hand like a traffic cop goes STOP or a director CUT. To us, the film shown is very fast and loud, with hectic music, and then shown again with jUS!tin adding live performance of voice and eventually body, leaping around in frontof the figures on the screen and throwing himself repeatedly with cartoon force at the floor, THWACK! etc. He hurt himself a little bit. Hugely exciting work from this young associate of Keith Tuma, cris cheek and mIEKAL AND -- credit to them! (and that was only one of the things he showed). This was on the evening bill, along with Joerg Piringer's (Austria) 'spambot', which apparently took a page of that often engaging linguistic spam randomly compiled alongside the advert to evade mail filters, and turned it first into an airspace full of words which then completely morphed it into a slick elegant dance of abstract forms, this showing too accompanied by recorded and live voice-sound (Piringer is into sound petry also). Elizabeth Knipe (US) was the third performer and her quiet, intimate and rather beautiful films-with-poetry ('bucolic' I thought about one, and 'lyric' another) don't fit into the theme I've taken to cohere just a fraction of the day's contents around, but whatever. I am now about to be late for the morning's proceedings, which will be scarily theoretical, but come for tonight's fun part those who can!! 8 p.m. at Birkbeck College, London: presentations of the Error Engine (as above), Philippe Bootz (a long-established French e-poet) and Brigid McLeer (UK out of Ireland). Yes, this is cross-posted, but I have to tell.
From: Elizabeth James
As I walked in rather late, Philippe Bootz (France) was saying 'Everybody can be a meta-reader, except during reading', and promising to show us 'the aesthetics of frustration', if there was time. Bootz's theorising is stern stuff. The style of his work we saw later seemed different: quite expansive, aesthetic, warm even; some was even comic, and part of his own perfomance broke into non-verbal grunting. Gavin Stuart (UK) is the new director of trAce, the remarkable online writing organization founded by Sue Thomas (www.trace.ntu.ac.uk ), but he was talking about the applicability of some of Bakhtin's ideas to digital, interactive writing. An idea like 'dialogism' can be completely baggy, but if you can keep it sharp I guess it can be used generatively, which was Stuart's stated interest, and even to critique and improve the work you do. Talan Memmott (US) does theory as clowning, or vice versa. Bootz's 'Poetry Without Reading' he raised with a 'Silent Lecture', a typically brilliant performance whose apparent shambolic and chaotic style contradicted its precise planning (subject to a noisy kitchen timer) and the seamless virtuosity of (what I've seen of) Memmott's own creative work. Its introduction, typed live, remained projected throughout onto a whiteboard, on which Memmott then wrote and drew diagrams apparently referring to pages of notes on paper, ('mostly crap'), which he tore in pieces and scattered. Boxes of board markers were emptied onto the floor, so that he slithered over them, stumbling also sometimes across the board's protruding supports. However what emerged, albeit quickly occluded again, was sensible: witty and clever, and even readable if you followed closely, at least as much so as a poem; though I couldn't say whether a logical argument unfolded. Towards the end he drew around his own shadow. In the discussion session following these presentations, someone expressed surprise at the emphasis on the body in performances throughout the conference, which occasioned a good deal of response.
Loss Pequeño Glazier (US) talked about the textual body, its architecture, in particular its apertures. The 'smallest details' can (should) create meaning in text in whatever medium, but when these architectural aspects are not set in stone but programmed to occur ad hoc, whether randomly or systematically, the poetics is arguably much deepened: you don't see everything at once. What, then constitutes 'the work'? etc. ... (There was much more to Loss's paper than this.) Theory was implicit in Jean-Pierre Balpe (France)'s presentation, of a dynamic work installed in public spaces throughout a French town, on the LED billboards used by traffic authorities etc. to communicate with the public. A phone line was used to receive commands from the readers, who were able to influence the story that was distributed across these separate sites. Skirting on public art here would have been a good moment to widen the discussion into the political realm -- a paper had been proposed by Keston Sutherland which looked likely to suggest that interactive aesthetics deludes and diverts the impulse to real activity (a doubtless very crude reading of the abstract seems to suggest this); unfortunately he wasn't able to attend. Very little (though not nothing) has been said about politics so far; underlying issues of importance seem rather to be, how digital and networked writing may contribute to poetics in general by raising awareness of the mediatedness, unnoticed or denied, of all textual production, and what that could lead to; and the need for a rhetorical taxonomy of e poetry or new media writing generally.
The evening began with a reception in the foyer bar of RADA (the drama college), which was very pleasant but I mention it only because following hard on our heels there was a Farrago slam poetry event, and when it was made clear we should push off, with a performance poet starting a warm-up set, someone negotiated for jUStin !katKO to have a spot. He proceeeded to perform a sound reading, which he dedicated to Bob Cobbing, of the floor of the room. It was terrific stuff -- for a minute I thought there might be a fight, but to give them credit the Farrago crew applauded, and then we all trooped back across the road to Birkbeck.
Later our evening ended too with sound poetry: first Joerg Piringer improvised an accelerated reading with live sampling, of a Flash action script manual he'd just bought in nearby Waterstone's, and then Lawrence Upton (UK), and justin k again, performed together a new visual text of Lawrence's, hissing and growling and twitching around in front of some of justin's video. Lovely! At the end, Lawrence was left standing in centre stage with NO SIGNAL projected fortuitously across his mouth.
"When I play the pieces that were made ten years ago, they are totally different." (Philippe Bootz)
From: Elizabeth James
An MA degree in Poetic Practice was set up two or three years ago at Royal Holloway, University of London; it's directed by Redell Olsen and uniquely in this country (I believe?) for a literature department -- as opposed to visual arts -- combines poetry, and poetics, with study and practice in a range of technologies. (We heard yesterday however that something similar-sounding is starting up at De Montfort University, Leicester.) The programme is becoming a centre of gravity for new media writing of various kinds, and one of its graduates, John Sparrow, curated the showings yesterday (the final day of the conf). His own work includes (to my eye) highly accomplished Flash; juxtaposition of found imagery and text; and use of text randomising; and most importantly the words are good ... I enjoyed all the RHUL alumni work, albeit distracted by nerves about having to chair the discussion following. Ceridwen Buckmaster's elegantly presented piece combined composed text, emails (used with consent but anonymised) and several live voices. Elizabeth-Jane Burnett's was audaciously unelectronic but (I found) surprisingly affecting: she moved around the darkened room distributing yellow roses and whispering to individuals, finally leaving the room altogether. One audience member then read a message explaining that she had gone to place a rose at a location selected on instruction >from another. A projected text invited everyone to propose locations for the placement of roses during the next 12 days. Effective verbal performances also accounted for much of the impact of Albert Pellicer's text, sound and image pieces. The visual for one was a simple stereoscopic inscription, 'The Paper is Dreaming'; look out for the snapshots of us all wearing those red-green glasses ... Birkbeck, another UL college, and Writers Forum Workshop, are each partly responsible for bringing together the loose grouping of poets and/or artists that is London Under Construction. Here, Stephen Mooney in the flesh was joined by some or all of the other 6 members (from various real locations) in a chatroom, where we saw them having a more or less consequential conversation while he read out transcripts of emails previously exchanged among them ... 'Close to the Literal' was a complex audio-visual collaboration by poet & artist Lawrence Upton (who also co-runs the WF workshop and the press) and composer John Drever. Colour images, deriving from coastal landscapes and letter-forms, provided a text/score for vocal performance: pre-recorded, live, and live-re-processed; thus both participants contribute both prepared and improvised material. The room was professionally wired (this takes hours) and the sound was fantastic. Think Dylan & Lanois (Oh Mercy).
The piece was essentially episodic but a subtle architectonic seemed discernible over its length. A substantial achievement.
To risk generalisations, London work in general seems to be ungeeky, informed by visual art practice, characteristically multi-media, live-performance orientated, site-specific, and still excited to explore the now-quotidian channels of electronic communication, often for collaboration. A real aspiration towards (to quote from Ceri's piece) 'a materially based making of the text into something of *use*' (my emphasis), and no easy belief in that possibility -- someone in the LUC chat said: 'the immediacy of these transactions renders them as good as useless.' They'll keep on struggling with that, as they should; but I felt ever so proud of them! it feels as though something is slowly but surely building up here.
The day's other presentations were also of interest: Janis Jefferies, Professor of Art and Director of the Digital Studios at Goldsmiths showed documentation of a heavyweight collaborative project based in Montreal, concerning electronics, text and textiles (blah blah -- but it *is worth thinking about) e.g. 'smart' texts in garments and wall hangings, that can respond to the environment and viewers. The novelist Kate Pullinger, who moved into digital collaborations as a result of her association with trAce, explained and demonstrated the application to multimedia narrative of a new technology that enables reader interaction through breathing. You do what, Walt? you strap a microphone under your nose ...? Clearly this is to conjure with in relation to prosthetic theories of human-computer interaction, and it doubtless has uses in disability etc., but I couldn't see it catching on for everyday!
The conference was great; it was great to have it in London; and great to be able to hear and talk to Americans, French and Danish people, Germans, Austrians and others who had travelled here especially for it (and not all of them were even on the bill). It seems as though there is not exactly a mass home interest, though new media work could arguably extend poetics even for poets with no desire personally to leave page and stage. (Also several native or resident Brits who are active in the area were unfortunately unable to attend.) However, the conference was a definite success, tremendously stimulating and a lot of fun, and will I am sure have further consequences, for individuals who were there, and diffusing into the London poetry scene.
From: Elizabeth James
I do think you have a point G, however I want to say, 1. not everything in the conference ever purported to be epoetry -- smart textiles, fluxus-type performance, sound poetry -- there undoubtedly was a conscious intent to be exploring contexts, traditions and related activities; and 2. being determined to do my reports pronto meant I did have to rush them, especially the earlier days, so as j implied, it would be quite unfair if the whole conference, let alone the whole field, were judged by them. It was for instance much easier for me to run up a little narrative description of what someone did on or off stage, than to transmit their complex ideas or technical explanations, or to describe things that happened on a screen that were not a movie of someone doing something. And a good deal of the 'business' was done in the generous-length open discussions following each set of papers/showings too, which it's pretty hard to convey & I didn't try.
Just a couple of the important things I omitted completely (as opposed to those I just gave a ridiculously elliptical account of):
Jim Rosenberg's 'Diagram poems' are constructed with a software he developed some time ago I think, and they kind of have an old black & white classic look now; yet they're not like anything else you see, and nor, I think, are they superseded, in any way. They present the reader both occlusion and bird's-eye, you scan and delve and are not mystified or immersed or unbalanced, but are required to make a reading otherwise there isn't a poem (in a different sense from closing a book or clicking away from a web page). Some idea can be got here: http://www.well.com/user/jer/ Jim is totally 'e': in discussion he was always the one poking at the gap between people's metaphors and their algorithms.
If we're talking about getting re-enthused about old media just because we've discovered some new ones... The person to address G's caveats actually might be Sandy Baldwin, from the Center for Literary Computing at West Virginia University, who gave a difficult theoretical paper on 'Digital Poetics Before Aesthetics', contesting the positions of some other commentators, in particular (according to my few helpless notes) the validation widely claimed now in relation to 'materiality'. I think he proposes something like, that digital poetics is or might be prior to the material; and that the 'material' anyway is not some fundamental thing but institutionally constituted, culture(d). Throughout the paper (making it even harder to apply brain) the screen showed a virtual-reality piece made by Alan Sondheim using (inter alia) "creative mis-use and adaption of the motion capture technologies at the Virtual Evironment Laboratory" at WVU, in which alien bodies emerged and fell and morphed in an uncomfortably sexual sort of way; maybe not poetry except insofar as the work of a poet, but arguably informed by, and a contribution to, poetics. This total presentation, of ideas and work, was certainly at the 'hard' end of the conference's spectrum.
OK, that really will be all from me.