John Sparrow on the Openned Anthology

To get the selfish plug done and dusted, I’ll briefly mention that I feature in the anthology. Demo and Die has a few screenshots, and they’re showcasing a few pages from my ongoing "Flickrng Bdy" work too. Thanks, guys.

Aside from that, the anthology does what an anthology should; it collates a healthy cross-section of poets and their work and MAKES YOU WANT TO READ MORE of everyone’s work. Happily, the anthology uses its medium well and extends out to further reading, footnoted references, etc. It’s a printed book and a hypertext, and as such even the anthology’s form itself raises a few considerations which work well with the content.

The other thing achieved by the anthology is a decent back catalogue of Openned’s reading nights, with most work featured in the PDF being work read, in some form or other, at one night or other at the Foundry. So, here is the double-whammy of being able to revisit works enjoyed and visit for the first time works missed.

The scope of the work is broad, the contributors (not me) skilled. What is truly great and truly important about this is the fact that poets who might be considered “established” or more experienced are featured, in no particular order, alongside those whose work has not yet had much of a chance to be heard and which rightly deserves more ears and eyes. The anthology is rarely democratic in this sense and it manages to be so at no expense of quality.

Although I have not had much of a chance to read it thoroughly yet, I have of course skimmed and darted straight for the people I know well, or whose work I was keen to refresh myself with having heard it or seen it before.


Rosheen Brannan, from Panels

Beautifully presented photography of (yuck) insect body parts and – to my eye – what seems like deliberately fragmented / blocked texts which encourage multi-directional readings. Mesmerizing use of image and text, both of which demand the other.


Lydia White, from Song in Cycle

I’ve heard great things about Lydia’s performance work, and it’s worth noting that she was (is?) a very talented vocal performer who had (has?) a scholarship with Royal Holloway’s choir. Yes, they paid HER to sing.

Lydia’s documentation accompanies an mp3 of the performance, a kind of vocal / physical performance of endurance, which ranges from regular speech, through screeching sound poetry, to having her singing attacked by various other oral impositions such as gargling. There seems to be a kind of Aaaron Williamson / Brian Catling outlandishness to these performances, which is hot.


Robert Hampson, from the war against tourism

Winner of Itch Away’s "best title ever for a collection of poetry" award. I feel a little awkward talking about my Head of Department’s work (and that of all my peers above), but what the f*ck. What I like about Robert’s work is that its subtly fragmented prosaic poetry throws me into traps of ambiguity every time. It’s a complex work which takes me a long time to read, as – for me at any rate – the reward is in rereading, and reassessing meanings. Although there appears to be thematic continuity, it seems to be structured so that sentences begin or end in multiple places, and lead on or end depending on how you read:

deprived of oxygen

do not inflate

the rhetoric

the safety card

is switched off

during the duration


Sophie Robinson, L.O.V.E.[sic]

Sophie often reads with the speed and vigour of the Tasmanian Devil, and her words demand it. Think Bruce Andrews shoved into a "crampy world matrix". Every sentence is maximal, and forces contextual senses to be drawn out and dashed by the next. I want to quote the lot, but must really stop writing for today.

In conclusion (for now), kudos to Alex and Steve at Openned for a cracking Editorial job, for featuring a rich mix of poets whose work is extremely varied but which fit together seamlessly.


John Cayley, imposition

John Cayley, to whom I attribute a great deal of inspiration with regard to digital poetics, features in the Anthology in the first section of PART 2. imposition was performed at an Openned night which I regrettably had to miss. This is a shame, as it’s a piece of work which I find conceptually very interesting, and was keen to see how the concept was realised in a live setting. The Anthology coverage forms a link to the main Openned site (in the real internets) which opens up a Quicktime panorama of the Foundry setting, with the audio of the performance over the top. The inclusion of the panorama certainly is not an arbitrary aesthetic decision; part of the brief for the audience was to arrive with any laptops handy, and with the software installed and ready to go. The result is that the audience form much of the performance – an achievement strikingly visual as around 1/3 of the audience sit with their laptops all working in tandem.

The notes on imposition state that the project is "the networked performance of an evolving collaborative work engaged with ambient, time-based poetics and harmonically organized, language-driven sound." As loaded as this statement may seem, it makes more sense given its origins in overboard (footnoted in imposition’s notes), a 'textual painting' in which, as far as I can tell, noise and a stable text interact, one emerging through the other.

Such a setup seems relevant for the performative setting of imposition, since it foregrounds a reciprocal creative process between human beings and their language, all in terms of a wider reflexive participation with the media of flesh and machine. Random generation within algorithmic constraints produce textual variations, and it would appear that the same algorithmic system has been remapped onto the compositional strategies of Giles Perring.

I hope I can participate in one of these performances soon.


Fiona Templeton, imagining being at the republican convention

Before picking up Mum in Airdrie (available here) I was really only familiar with Templeton’s work YOU–The City. Like Mum, this excerpt utilises mainly extremely short lines of text which, as I noted in Robert Hampson’s work, seem to blur the starting and finishing points of phrases. This is helped by the occasional neologism (or perhaps partial erasure), as in the following:



off the realm of

eager range

sun pists down

hold you on hold

like fire spreading


a scale of dampnation

and this is where I really

oozes itself


lack of

kid knownly

This extract scans fairly easily but turns away from comfotable closure at every turn. "pist" here could be a partially erased "piste" turned into a verb. It also phonetically demands a reading as "kissed" as in sun kissed (or even Sunkist) or (the way I like to read it) "pissed" turned into a kind of past-participle present hybrid verb. I like this reading better, as it complements the neologism "dampnation" later in the extract, a word which seems to imply wet damnation as well as simply an adjective and noun fused. "kid knownly" might go unnoticed as "knowingly" at first glance, only to refuse that reading alone. Interestingly for me, the persistent grammatical disagreements produce a plateau through which such tensions come through with exciting energy. Such has been the joy of reading Templeton’s page-based work for me.

This post has taken longer than I’d expected! I’ll carry on in my next Anthology roundup with Steve Willey’s excerpts from his extended project (to be presented as part of his MA disertation) writing through Walter Benjamin. His relationship with this project, I assume, will eventually drive him mad.


Stephen Willey, from Translations out of Walter Benjamin

Steve has been working on this project for some time, spending most of the preliminary stages researching Benjamin and laying out what appears to be an exceptionally thorough theoretical basis for his practice. Out of this comes Translations out of Walter Benjamin, a series of variations writing through Benjamin’s ghost (this is paraphrasing what Steve has told me about his work, and my apologies to him if this is inaccurate). Anyway, the result is a highly-planned and well-thought-out mish-mash of form. I don’t mean this negatively – Willey is experimenting here with various forms, some palimpsest in their approach (in one, a carefully deconstructed Battersea Power Station – a landmark notably unscathed in the Blitz, dictates the layout for an overlapping text; in another, an old Elizabeth Arden advert is détourned to subvert the existing language and set a context for the new language) some adopting the format of codes and structures to imply (in my view) a system of reading analogous with that code.

Both of these examples strike me as interesting. I am always hot for détourned media, diagrammatical systems, code structures. But Steve’s use of code structures reinforces that we should be reading his texts differently to the usual. Code (or at least the type of code he seems to emulate in this extract) is object oriented, much like regular language use. Yet it possesses its own terms of use and parsing of object, and how an object is created. Bastardised HTML code implies broken anchors, unfinished (or already finished) links to nowhere. Curly brackets contain the parameters of a function, thus redefining the possibilities of meaning in "loop + echo" in terms of quantifying qualitative values or implying that loop and echo must have numerical equivalents and are therefore extraneously referential. Lists within functions imply arrays which themselves imply a one-out-of-many decision making process – a glance at a text of which only one array per realisation would exist.

All of this is just personal interpretation, of course, but the way Steve has jumped from form to form means that one is only just getting used to one way of reading before being jerked into the next frame.

With all this focus on form, I’m not ignoring the text itself. Yet Steve’s texts are so intertwined with the form that binds them that neither seems secondary to the other. The projection slides, for example, demand readings through their shadings which exceed a left-to-right, top-to-bottom scan. Various reading strategies based on the textual aesthetics are naturally provoked, producing several sub-texts within an overall text.


Ceri Buck, What is action?

Ceri Buck, where have you been? Or where have I been? And how do I go about talking about your work when we sat together all those times and fretted about dissertation woes through beer soaked eyes?

Of course, I know how good Ceri’s work is – I saw it. I knew. Still, it’s been a while since I saw newer work (probably the last time I saw anything was in HOW2, and her performance at the e-poetry festival 2005). What is action? is phonetic and visual pun / play / trap-setting at its finest. Like an autistic mother, Ceri’s neologisms slip you up and make you think of combinations. Combinactions. Then we’re in another crammed paragraph of open meanings with not enough seconds for the words. In the rush towards definition, we fall over the 'wrong words' and are brought abruptly to the surface once more:

somewhere in London a woman hijacks the supermarket tannoy to sing sweetly to the shoppers ‘combat the capitalist inside of you’ / Where was I and what did I do when Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed? A keep pressed battery hen blind of free rage

This is combined with a kind of Steinian repetition-variation-repetition trap, spanning a few mere words or travelling across paragraphs. I get pulled to and fro and I like it. My favourite: 

5. Desirable bacteria

or is not ravaged by the imprint scorch of a kiss & waking up mast

Ur bating? repossess a connection in a possessive it rubs it rubs up against us Up against against Up freedom from possession(s) up

against love one how it rubs up against up free pursue against possess up love another are you sure you want to be here? Can we check in?

I’ve got that feeling in my belly gut feeling belly warmth context is everything a warm feeling in my belly a deep low belly feeling an

awareness of the belly belly deep down warm the blood spilling This coming must do something!


Demo and Die, Flickerng Bdy, John Sparrow

Such utter genius defies words. Only kidding. Big pile of shit, ignore at all costs.


Drew Milne

Read this poem (poems) and notice how your mind runs out of breath. Milne’s punctuationless onslaught is perhaps so entertaining because it doesn’t form any kind of tirade against anything, rather it seems to collect and disperse genres or themes (in a vocabulary sense rather than a narrative sense) such as music, tools, ancient civilization, mythology, archeology, architecture and more.

However, it’s where these vocabularies cross over which strikes me as interesting. "spinal tap", "Zildjian", "big hair", for example, are very visual words, through which "set to slay in metal" "axe" ("golden axe" too – which calls to memory the early 90s computer game) "rock god" take on new meanings. It is this dense battle of contexts drives on the text, and, thankfully (for me at any rate) heavy metal wins.

Word grids make many reads, then back into juxtapolevaulting as phrases cram together emoshred:

neo-industrialists in prog lime glad rags

leopard slipper shaker all heaviest raw

denim columns to riff glow the republic

preaching the perverted ivy corinthians

cometh the shredder cometh the beard

metalocalypse beyond parody sky blue

willy-tinsel and emo schlong giving pink

spandex in thrashtastic grunt retro-stonk

loose stoic populists hardnosed to brine

scuzzy perhaps

Extra marks to Milne for inclusion of the word "stonk", which the Urban Dictionary defines as "World War II British slang for a massed artillery bombardment on an enemy position" but which also might stir in some memories of a Comic Relief campaign centred on the "stonk", along with suitably bad music release. 


Albert Pellicer, Selections from THE DOT ON A CAPITAL I 

"The fumigation of La Luna on July 17th 2004"

Albert’s work in the anthology hits me with two phrases from the text itself, which seem to get at what the text is doing. It appears to be "interrogating objects" and in doing so highlight a sense of the "axiomatic" relationship we have with language. The application of such an interrogation makes the poem's content (it certainly uses the language of discussion around the fumigation in 2004), by way of blurred object relations, much more rich than simply being 'about' this event.

The opening statements are a good example of this – the word "accountable" rings through the statements and is applied to objects which are victims, and circumstances which might be symptoms or distant possibilities.

I have heard Albert read his work many times. What always seems to take me by surprise is just how much his reading voice, and the language it speaks, commands presence and attention. His words are, quite simply, beautiful to hear and beautiful to read. Especially, for me, at their most visual, clashing moments:

limbs elbow an error

arrows learnt by heart

whose target is to aim

the glitch will meet its ends

the guerillas’s nest muffled

dog barking in the distance

door consistent

valued chain report


the heart by way of the hands


bride and grooming


freshly deboxed


Allen Fisher, Proposals 4

Allen Fisher has produced approximately 65,034 chapbooks in his career to date. His work straddles a broad variety of media (including some fascinating microfiche work, which I’d love to see again). This is not irrelevant to Proposals, since it contains both text and paintings, but also textually crosses a kind of cartographical remapping transposed onto language.

A little like Brixton Fractals, Fisher here uses definitive (as in the language of definition) description as a way into the text, which ruptures and deviates, producing a kind of re-scaling of the text as snippets of realtime intrude into an increasingly damaged text. This is the worst description I could have given, and I’m sticking to it, since for me reading Fisher's work is like walking on a map rather than on the actual road depicted in the map – or perhaps it’s a combination of the two.

Proposals jams together multiples so it can never sit in the same place. It lays down a rhetoric which it steadily pulls apart, allowing for an open-ended language which is always calling back to fact, to which the paintings seem pivotal.

[...] the degree to which polite ethical thought

in societies of the West today rests on

or involves self-

deception or more active deceit

depends on the private pretence,

public affirmation, or purposeful suggestion

of what is for those concerned

the knowably false. 


So what come around the corner in a blade suit

whose system is this what trug of discarded

root matter smoulders in a mental debris, [...]


Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, HER BODY: THE CITY

It’s been a while since I read or heard or saw any of Elizabeth-Jane Burnett's work. It’s probably getting on for 2 years – the e-poetry festival – since I experienced it.

To go off on a tangent for a sec, there was an unfavourable review of my curations at the e-poetry 2005 festival (one out of several gleaming ones, I might add, and one which I’m pretty sure did not reflect the views of the majority) which was not based on the quality of the work, but of the e-nature of the work. To me, this seemed a slightly absurd yardstick of generalisation, to think that only texts bound up in algorithm and code explicitly could be engaged with electronic poetics. It’s true to say that a healthy portion of my choices were cross-media, cross-genre works, MULTI-media.

I mention this because Burnett’s work at the festival had me and many others excited in the fact that it was a text bound up in its media. Site-specific, slideshow, interactive, narrative – the work was a mixture of electronic media and human social interaction in which the two perpetuated each other i.e, it certainly was.

And so to HER BODY: THE CITY, which Burnett explained to me is (in the anthology) an earlier version of an evolving work. Not that this in some way implies a lesser quality work, but that it seems to be a text which is in flux, and which invites various performance states in its realisation. Case in point is Burnett’s performance of the piece with Sean Bonney on guitar.

To bring the text into such an overtly performative realm seems quite deliberate, as there is clearly a formal nod to Ginsberg in the poem, though we’re not talking half-baked parody. Indeed, where Ginsberg’s (actually slightly questionable) 'spontaneous' poem bring real-life acts into immediacy, Burnett’s more fragmented language make settling on one act itself an act to be "disappeared into the surface of writing"

Ironically, this is perhaps so effective for me through the Ginsberg filter from which it turns, presenting a kind of semi-transparent reportage. As Burnett herself seems to imply, these are not just structures but systems, ways of thinking about actions differently, subjectively, "who" suggesting an object-action as in Ginsberg but often actually delivering abstract action and/or displaced object through which to develop a reading strategy: 

who embedded all night in multiple light

oxfam re-routed and littering through stale beer Mixer

listing to the crack-doom of social lip-box

who unutterable seventy hours park to pod to flower

to Westminster Bridge

lost words of platonic roses

Looking forward to the next incarnation.


Alex Davies

Alex presents 3 works in the Anthology, each one pretty short and each one vastly different.


"Oh! For the Glorious Days of Slavery"

As previously discussed, I am all for détourning authoritative documents, or anything with apparent historical, social, formal traditions which themselves imply a promise, either legal, factual or linguistic. Alex here uses a historical map to 'map' out his texts, which weave between the 'factual' landmarks an undermine the proposed authority of the document. Indeed, one might interpret the title in terms of what is missing from this picture as well as what is contained within it. Historical omissions are what leave behind the stuff of history, and Alex’s weaving language occupies spaces and non-spaces, claiming and undermining their historical worth all in one jellied eel.

"Big Ben" takes a different approach to the role of authoritative statement. A little like Fisher’s text, "Big Ben" produces layers of clarity through which the meaning of educative or narrative statements becomes obscured, and their reliability (and that of the referent) called into question:

No bell moves more than one place in the row at a time, although one pair may change in the same row.
Each sound is a massive point full of weird objects in a strange room of many people,
and each person is a through to some thought.

Which brings us slap bang into "12 Lens", an (intentional?) pun (surely) on lens, appropriately implying a skewed, distorted but implicitly true collections of thoughts, speeches, narratives from 'Len''s life spanning 60-odd years. I guess what fascinates me beyond the snippets of info we receive are the huge gaps between them, and the highly specific nature of their collation (almost scientifically categorized and labeled) and date of production. Transient snapshots of a man’s life, far too brief to be useful, nonetheless create a 60-year narrative in which we piece in some of the gaps and arguably start to feel we’ve gained a fairly robust (or depressingly satisfactory) overview of a life’s work.


Redell Olsen, from Punk Faun: A Baroque Pastel

I could probably go on for most of this post covering this work in relation to the title alone, which implies some bizarre mix of pop culture (punk), mythology (faun), and classical art and music (baroque, pastel). The title does not appear to be arbitrary. Punk is a notoriously confrontational modern stance, creating dissonance and sticking two fingers up at authoritative notions of proof of craft, of artistic snobbery. Baroque as musical era often created combinations of both harmony and dissonance. Pastel paintings are, by nature of their tools, lent well to merging of colours, but also able to provide stark boundaries depending on pressure.

Punk Faun begins by putting these into motion. Punk becomes verb, actively pulls apart the "oily truth" and producing violent reinterpretations of apparently classical modes. The everyday "nature in excess" undermines spoils of war:


Idyllic shepherd of modern

Man fascinate me your arms

Clasping the dead dailies to us

And call innocence a blush



Deskbound eager for evil tastes

Castration rodeo TV

What hurls itself into the mosh?

We want the sting that words

"[T]he sting that words" echoes an apparent inversion, "words that sting", and yet, in context, also sound like a giddy fan of The Police calling for their hero. I suppose what I’m getting at is that the inversions, odd uses of adjectives (for example) in places where one would expect to find verbs, produce historical and semantic juxtapositions and agreements which fuse in relation to the reader’s own interpretation of his/her surrounding popular culture.

Who doesn’t know someone who has failed "graceful on fat-free"?

And yet, the mention of a C-130 Hercules – a mammoth aircraft – implies at once the size of the craft and its weight along with its apparent grace in flight, yet also provokes a vulgar metaphor for the person who failed on fat-free.

The work is full of baroque echoes, literally even, as the homophonic "go bar rock" recontextualises the title’s classical references in terms of its Punk alter-anti-ego.

The second half of this excerpt presents a list of seemingly disparate items, objects, abstract imagery and notion. Contrasts are brought into a level playing field through the consistency of the form. Yet, again, such apparent resolution is not completed, not just because the focal point and the TYPE of focal point in each line moves around so quickly, but because the descriptions themselves are "of", already small parts of a greater whole without which no original context can be drawn. It’s a dada-esque paradox – a textual grid montage which calls attention to the absence of nonetheless implied origins. The things described are either introduced in terms of an absent object (such as a photograph), a medium through which realisation becomes possible – or they simply ‘are of’, constructed by that which they apparently describe, and therefore point toward a larger absence.

I need safety pins for my eyes.


Graeme Estry, CHAD, PUDS, RAT and SNOOPY

I’d read some of Graeme’s original shaped texts (were these from the same project, Graeme?) and what struck me instantly was the striking form of the texts. Spewing, awkwardly stacked, forced into boxes, leaking – pretty much any violent, libidinal or excretal force you could imagine, used to present the text.

It’s a good case for the form being integral to the content, since it seems essential to the barrage and excess of linguistic stuff (actual words, y’all) and the images and senses they evoke (imagery, sir, imagery. Would you like a doggy bag?).

These texts seem on the surface to be obviously absurd (and this is something I think Graeme is using powerfully in the texts) given their combinations. That said, I think there is far more to the texts than surface humour, and this is achieved through the sheer abundance of text, with phrases and words forced together to create a kind of continuity of discontinuity, the jarring form of the lines resisting comfortable scanning.

There are moments of thought collection in these texts, and although these produce diverse and grating meanings in their jarring metaphors, they nonetheless offer a momentum which is quickly staggered once more.

Rhythm, neologisms and combinatory / separated phrasal units create a tension between the visual and the oral/aural reading, with homophonic continuations doubling up phrasal possibilities within syllabic singularities.

Yes, even with all this text, it’s denser than haggis. And meaty haggis at that.

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