EPF2018 #11: Hitting Manchester with the European Poetry Festival

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The International Anthony Burgess Centre in Manchester is one of the best literary venues in the UK I think, I’ve only ever had grand events and performances there, audience and enthusiasm wise. It seems to distil the cities energy for more innovative work into concentrated form. This is in no small part to the staff there, and to the work of poets like Scott Thurston and Tom Jenks, and many others, who have led the decade long resurgence of avant-garde poetry in the city. I brought the European Poetry Festival north in the second to last event, after running 8 events in 8 days, nearly all of which involving over 10 performances 20 poets and sell out audiences. No one was flagging. Poets from Norway, Lithuania, Germany, Italy, France, Latvia and elsewhere in European travelled with us and were mostly paired with locally based poets. Everyone was kind, generous, full of life for the project of the festival. The positive feedback from both poets, supporters and audiences has been the most consistent of any project I’ve ever done. As ever the atmosphere in Manchester was friendly, unpretentious, and the performances were varied in tone, the collaborations ranged from the conceptual and satirical to the intense and reflective. Robert Sheppard’s The European Union of Imaginary Authors was celebrated alongside 10 brand new performances for the night. As has been the case for every event of the festival, the poets were buoyant afterwards and stayed out into the night. There has been a palpable sense the festival, beyond my control or intention, has created a community of sorts, transitory but concrete. Friendships have begun, and I’ve had the chance, through the poets and the audience, to meet so many new people I'd like to work with again.

Rest is Noise festival, Britten weekend - on post-war avant-garde British poetry & BS Johnson, and witnessing Anthony Blee

I was especially frightened by these two lectures. The bites format of 15 minutes is as engaging for the audience as it is troubling for the speaker, and these talks would have a fine audience indeed being a part of the Southbank centre's remarkable recapturing of 20th century cultural history through the Rest is Noise festival. Judging how deep to go, or what to cover, becomes a serious issue, and my two talks were on things very close to my heart. I felt a responsibility to do them justice.

The talk on the Avant garde poetry of Britain around the Era of Britten was one of my most gratifying public speaking performances. Not because it was good, but because everyone was saying afterward how the information was new to them and it was easily accessed and understood. And it is important information, to me, that can't be spread wide enough. You can hear it here:

The real highlight of the day was the other speakers though, all genuinely more powerful and clever than I. Diane Silverthorne has inspired me since the first time I saw her speak, I even dedicated a poem to her about Mondrian, and Sophie Mayer is a peer I really admire as a poet and an intellectual. But thank god I asked to switch the original running order just moments before the events began, which I initially was supposed to conclude, because if I hadn't I would've followed the absolutely remarkable Anthony Blee, and fallen quite flat upon myself. 

He is an architect, one of the finest our country has produced, and he was speaking about his work on Coventry Cathedral, a world renowned project he began working on at 24 years of age in 1956. I can't express the brilliance, humility and grace of his account of this time in his life. It was genuinely emotional to watch him recount stories of Sir Basil Spence and Yehudi Menuhin, and breathtaking to see this building, this cultural hub, this national pride, grow from his personal slides and memories. To watch a man who has spent a lifetime at the service of a professional artform, and shone so brightly through that life, reduced me to feeling like a very fortunate, very embryonic and very humbled, witness. I had the chance to meet his whole family afterward, who were as gracious and warm as he was, who were unduly kind about my piffling talk, and the experience left me feeling struck in the most organic and valuable of ways. They seemed people truly open, collaborative, kind and able to navigate these very real qualities through their art / practise. This article reflects some of the man, and I'm definitely visiting Coventry cathedral soon. http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2012/feb/27/anthony-blee-geoffrey-clarke-coventry-cathedral

For the earlier session, I spoke on BS Johnson, and I refused the lecture format, as he would've liked, I think, and cut up quotes that were relevant and let people pick the order from a box. A lecture in a box. All can be heard here:

EVP Manchester

Maybe the most involving performance, maybe. The Burgess foundation was an intense environment, inspiring for me http://www.anthonyburgess.org/ His spirit was about, I waited between sets in his library, filled with first editions, signed copies, weird books that must've been his. I sprinkled his ashes on stage. 1985. I felt quite warmed by the presence of friends in the audience, Holly Pester (who I beared, hoovered, retched and flicked), Tom Jenks, Scott Thurston - poets I respect, fun to show the stuff before them, and it was packed, and dark, and I felt stranglely nerveless beforehand, and so it did flow, lots of heavy pukkke. Exhaustion can relax, can afford funny rifts in a character. I returned the morning after, to buy some books, and I had a open, meditative afternoon waiting before, in central Manchester, confused and enlightened by its bleak newness and unfinishedness, like my performance and my piece. I worried I was a little too ebullient after, too loud and sharp in conversing etc...but our hotel was bizzarre, like the overlook, shining-esque, and that returned me to ground. 

EVP eats the Anthony Burgesssss centre in Manchester soon.

http://www.creativetourist.com/articles/art/manchester/sound-art-art-meets-the-afterlife-in-electric-voice-phenomena/ ...h a “subliminal” message, purportedly concealed within the band’s recordings, exhorted two young American teenagers to “do it” and end their lives. The case proceeded, regardless of conclusive evidence for either the efficacy of subliminal communication, or – indeed – the alleged message itself. More tangentially, the evening is rounded out by S.J. Fowler channelling Dada’s metaphorical ghost, and Ross Sutherland, who combines “reclaimed” video footage with the spoken word; his looped clips of The Crystal Maze will doubtless summon some unpredictable manifestations. All in all, it promises to be a strange, unnerving and probably fairly noisy affair, though if you listen close, you might hear the voice of the now-deceased Raudive, vindicated at last.... http://www.anthonyburgess.org/