Thursday, June 11, 2009

New books and Leigh Davis

Wrote some more shite today. Yay!

Bought a massive pile of books yesterday, which has left me broke but excited.
I'll list them ay?
  • Bloodclot, Tusiata Avia
  • Favourite Monsters, James Brown
  • Everything Talks, Sam Sampson (been wanting to read some of his stuff for ages)
  • How to Live by the Sea, Lyn Davidson
  • The Fainter, Damien Wilkins
So much cool stuff to read and it's all from here!

OK then. Here comes the big spiel about Leigh Davis. Chris suggested that I check out his book Willy's Gazette (1983, Jack Books) mainly, I think, because he uses a central character (Willy) to hold a loose kind of narrative through the often mysterious and perplexing poems, most of which are title-less and don't have a clear beginning and end. I had no idea looking into him would open up such a can of worms.

Firstly, I've read about half of Willy's Gazette and I think I get the gist of where it is going, or, I guess, where it isn't going and indeed Willy does kind of hold it together, but other than that it seems to be an almost random assortment of lines, details, musing, dialogue, which don't seem to ever convey anything particularly concrete. It is set with an almost hypnotic, but not predictable, rhythm though which keeps you reading on kind of transfixed I guess. It is also printed quite weirdly in a type script on a large format book (roughly A4 size) and the cover is black with plain white lettering. There are some parts that have been through scored like you can do on a type-writer. I'm sure it was all wonderfully avant-garde at the time. Today it just seems a little shitty and hard to read, like the writer hasn't put much effort in. I dunno. I think the main thing is that it just isn't that inviting to read.

So anyway, I was interested in his use of disjunction and the kind of slipperiness of what was going on in any particular bit. So I looked him up on the Internet to find out more about him and to see if his stuff has changed since 1983. I read a weird almost combative interview with a guy from Landfall in 1985. It seemed Leigh was being asked to defend his controversial criticisms of Allen Curnow's and CK Stead's work that he published in his magazine And. The interviewer also asked him about how he views society as being poor readers of poetry, how they kind of swallow the 'traditionally' inspired stuff and most are quite unaccepting of avant-garde poetics and are not willing to let go of what they think a poem is or should be. Which in many ways is true I think, but they way he argued his points. Fuck me, he sounded like some kind of pseudo-intellectual fascist. I couldn't really follow his logic in most of it, partly because of my limited academic vocabulary, buy mainly I think because he was more interested in inciting than arguing. It was a bit all over the place and weird. So overall, I dunno, not impressed I guess. No wonder avant-garde poetry has such a bad name. That word is so dirty now. People seem to think of pompous wankers, which I guess many of them were. I think these days though, writers (and artists) seem less interested in arguing poetics and more interested in just creating and accepting the way everyone does their own thing.

For the issue of Blackmail Press I am helping to edit, we had a sentence - 'Good art is about resisting tradition' in the call for submissions. James in the class, who claims it was an accident, used this in an exercise we did, changing 'resisting' to 'resenting.' I was horrified that some people might mis-read it like that, subconsciously or something. And I guess that is highlighted again with regard to Leigh Davis - he seems to be all about 'resenting' rather than 'resisting,' there is a world of difference in those two things. I think resisting is about acknowledgement and respect and kind of leaning on tradition, but one where you are conscious of that and know that you have to push back to get anywhere. Resentment, is well, just bitter and I guess that would come across in your work.


  1. I told Leigh that I don't understand his writing...

    And he asked me to just listen to the rhythm :-)

  2. Yes! That is true of all good poetry I think. I did mention that in my post, I guess I muddied that post up a bit with the old avant gardists vs. tradiotionalists thing. Whoops!

    Rhythm is definitely an important part of a good poem (the most important?) and ia often overlooked, but I think a trulu breat poem has to tick some other boxes too.

    I did enjoy Leigh's work a lot and provided some serious contemplation for me. So on that level it was incredibly successful. Thanks for your comment.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

/* Google analytics */