#ReadingBeingRead events from the Contemporary Small Press
The Shapes of Words
The shape of the poem on the page and aural shape of the poem in my voice relate to each other in a not necessarily harmonious or analogous way, but they have to set each other off, nervously.
On Saturday 12 November, The Contemporary Small Press will be at Manchester Central Library for our next Reading & Being Read event. Poet Holly Pester will be joining us to discuss her poetry and her experience of being published by small publisher If P Then Q. Here Holly tells us a little bit about her work with sound poetry.
CSP: Your poetry could be said to work with the materiality of language as sound; what do you see as the connections between the aural/oral and visual materiality of language in your own poetry? For example, the ways in which your sound poetry is transcribed onto the page in a collection such as Hoofs, published by If P Then Q.
HP: The link between poems and scores is very active for me. I don’t have a nifty discourse for it but I try and write from the nervousness of embodied speech. The shape of the poem on the page and aural shape of the poem in my voice relate to each other in a not necessarily harmonious or analogous way, but they have to set each other off, nervously.
Your archival research provides the basis for much of your work with idiomatic speech patterns – what do you find most exciting and interesting about your research and its translation into poetry?
Every poetry project or even every poem is the by-product of a devised research methodology. For Hoofs I was investigating the poetics of analogue sound, and how this is in someway the sonics of the apocalypse in contemporary mythology. So I was concentrating on noise in communication and how noise interrupts a signal but also generates more meaning. I was interested in how this translates into the lyric.
For my collection go to reception and ask for Sara in red felt tip (Book Works 2015) I used gossip, anecdote and fanfiction as research methods for investigating a feminist art archive, translating that material into plots and narrative forms. I’m always excited by the idea that experimental research tactics can at once produce poetry and problematise imperial knowledge systems.
How much do you edit and alter the words you find in your research to create the poetry you perform?
A lot of directly appropriated or found text makes its way into my poems but it’s very hard to say where the lines between what I’ve found and what I’ve written start and stop. They all seem to come together in an hallucinatory cluster. I never try to exercise any sort of power or control over language. It has power over me, so any editing or act of composition is just a struggle with that.
Have you done much work with the sound patterns of languages other than English?
I am stuck in English. Completely and tragically mono-linguistic. I’m not even very good at English. I think my poetry is an expression of my ineptness with language.
What are you currently working on in your research and practice?
I have just finished a long project on lullabies (Common Rest, published by Test Centre 2016) This was a project that incorporated lots of my previous research into worksongs and performic effort but tilted towards questions around affective labour and care politics. It’s a record of improvised collaborative duets with some incredible people including Vahni Capildeo, Nat Raha and Verity Spott. We sang together and thought about compassion, tension and contemporary restrictions to rest. It’s a project that means a lot to me as I found friends there, as well as discovered livable ethics and non-normative practices of care that I’ll carry with me.
Hoofs by Holly Pesterengages the materiality of the word in terms of sound shapes, textures of orality/aurality and the visual patterns created from the aurally-transcribed language on the surface of the page. The poetry in Hoofs is presented in ways that demand a different kind of reading – a reading that engages the aural and visual qualities of language as it is spoken and heard: with pauses, emphases, repetitions, stutters. Fragments of meaning arise and fall away again as the location and proximity of words and phrases in relation to one another energises shifting layers of relational connectivity and connotation.
The performance aspect of Pester’s work which is its essence, anterior to its production on the page, ensures that it is an embodied practice – a text grounded in the material fluctuations of the speaking subject’s voice. Yet the archival research and construction of each piece out of the words of other speakers challenges the concept of the speaking subject as a distinct and separate ‘self’. This paradox is embraced by the playfulness of the poems collected in Hoofs.
Particularly playful in this collection is the text/image coupling of ‘EFFORT NOISER A Space Shanty for the Lunar Landings’ calling attention to the masculinity of the language of space exploration and its sea shanty equivalent. ‘DANGER SCALE’ combines the language used to define the current level of threat for facing a terror attack with the language used to describe the hidden ‘dangers’ present in foods, particularly children’s food, a la Jamie Oliver. The result is a hypnotically repetitive list becoming more and more absurd to the point of generating new layers of meaning through suggestion and juxtaposition.
Holly Pester will be discussing her poetry and her experience with small presses at Reading & Being Read, Manchester Central Library on Saturday 12 November, 11am-4pm. Tickets are £5. Manchester-based MA and PhD students can register for FREE.Click here for more details.