Saturday, 21 June 2008
Posted by Jon Stone
On 14th June Fuselit had its second ever launch party (the first was for Nude and took place in Edinburgh) downstairs at the Betsey Trotwood. The performers were James Midgley, W.N. Herbert, David Floyd, Mark Wagstaff, Barnaby Tidman and then Cliff, Kirsty and myself, accompanied by the bands Foxes! and What Are Birds (who are really just Kirsty and me again, plus our part-time drummer and guitarist). I was also compering. Funnily enough, I did a reading last night with bluechrome poets Leah Fritz and Ruth O'Callaghan, compered by Ruth O'Callaghan, and she said that she didn't like reading at her own events as it seemed very egotistical. I tend to think of it more as mucking in, which is the same reason Kirsty and I have traditionally put our own work in Fuselit. It's always seemed as much of an artistic collaboration as a magazine (it's certainly not much of a publicity machine) and you've got to show you're willing to do what you're asking others to do.
Here's David Floyd reading next to the slide projection screen. All the performances followed the pecha kucha format, which means David and others were up for exactly 6 minutes 40 seconds, accompanied by 20 slides that showed for 20 seconds each. As far as I know, no other poetry night has been done like this. David is a seasoned performer and was already a seasoned performer back when I was starting University some five or six years ago. He has impeccable comic timing. In both his manner of reading and the poems themselves, he makes an art out of a certain kind of awkwardness.
Here's Kirsty. It's worth noting at this point that all the photography in this post was done with a lomo camera. Lomography is an anti-digital movement that cherishes the sort of 'mistakes' we used to make all the time before digital cameras - ie. blurriness, oversaturation, poor lighting - and holds them up as just another way of taking interesting pictures. Although in this case it's resulted in our pictures being consistently dark, I like the idea very much. In a review I recently wrote of Nigel McLoughlin's Dissonances I made special note (as is my wont) of how the collection played with the idea of discordance in poetry - to put it another way, how imperfections, inconsistency, disunification of tone and imagery isn't necessarily bad, but rather, another tool in the poet's or artist's metaphysical toolbox. Advertisers and visual artists latched onto the idea ages ago - see, for example, how sigur ros' logo, at least on their latest LP, has the appearance of being dashed off in pencil. Human beings love imperfection. Don't let your beauty magazines tell you any different!
So that is why these shots are all dark. Obvious, really. To the left is Cliff, and you can just about make out, up on the slide projector screen, his picture of the fox cub Foxleigh fighting Death manifested as a giant wooden yamaraja puppet. This is the first of a three part series (the last is a game that you can play on the Fox CD). Cliff suffered a nasty fall the week before the event, which caused his arm to be paralysed for a short period of time. As a result, he only did half a set, explaining that the real rules of pecha kucha state that you must do 3 minutes 20 seconds and 10 slideshow images for each functioning arm.
Here's Mark Wagstaff reading an abridged version of his short story Pin-Up. The performers are literally fading into the background! As well as the slide projector screen, we had two monitor screens in the cellar alcoves, so people could sit down and watch the slides change on the screens whilst listening to the poet over the PA system. The original idea of the show was to displace the centre of performance, by which I mean 'do an event where people don't all have to stare in the same direction'. Personally, I find that although I want to go to poetry events to support poets, most poets on stage either struggle to fill the space or adopt the 'slam poet' approach of pretending they're stand-up comedians. I've never overcome this obstacle myself; most of the few readings I've done have been in 'reading from pieces of paper' mode and the only time I tried to really 'perform' (at Nathan Pennlington and Tim Wells' Shortfuse) I just embarrassed myself with a lamentable impression of Rimbaud/Rambo. Ugh. So the pecha kucha format was in part an attempt to make the poetry performance about something more than a person standing on stage and talking.
It's Foxes! Frankly, it was pretty awesome to have a band as good as this at our event, but a tad ambitious. Getting the drumkit down as well as all the equipment for slide projection was a nightmare and left me very flustered on the night. I also didn't realise how long the song-checking would take. Our start time was 7pm, but the next three quarters of an hour were spent setting up band equipment and making sure the levels were right, while poets and audience drifted in and out, waiting for us to start! It was worth it for Foxes! though.
And here's What Are Birds. I think this is actually what lomography is all about. Not sure what happened but it looks pretty. We finished the night off with a loose five song set, the first time the four of us had played together in a year and the last time we'll play together for who knows how long, since our guitarist, Ed, is off back to the states to carve out a new life for himself. Good luck, Ed, and thanks for playing guitar for us!
Hopefully this won't be the last Fuselit event we do, but it was an awful lot of work and it'll be a few months at least before Aquarium is ready to be launched. In the mean time, watch out for myself and Kirsty at a small handful of other upcoming events, like The Shuffle at the Poetry Cafe in July and August and The Moon in June, this Friday at the Betsey.