Contributor’s Survey

Category: Residency
Written by: Administrator on October 9, 2013

In June 2013 we asked the contributors to the Archive to answer some questions about their experience of making recordings, the role of performance and the voice in poetry, and how they’d like to see the Archive develop in the future. Here are some of their answers:

Please describe your experience of being recorded for the Archive. What do you remember about the day, the session, how you felt about your performance?

An intimate, slightly surreal but enjoyable encounter. To be asked to contribute felt like an important recognition of my work. (Scott Thurston)

Very helpful staff, and all pleasantly low-key. I prepared my ‘set’ quite thoroughly, which I think helped things along. I did wonder what would happen if a poet turned up in too much of an improvisatory mood! I asked to listen through the recording afterwards, which was a slight imposition, the kind of thing that might become problematic if contributors start expecting studio quality and interaction… but I felt the extra effort (to make some quite simple choices and adjustments) was vital to the final accuracy of my input. My throat happened to be dreadful on that particular day: it felt like the entrance to the Dartford Tunnel on a sleety November evening… it was, actually, quite a distraction from the text and I had to use every pragmatic knack I could muster to get through without sounding too strained. As for the technology and acoustic, perhaps the recording equipment could have been a little more advanced, but it seemed adequate to purpose. The room was pleasant but nondescript, though the limited means actually encouraged a more intimate, ‘internal’, homely reading rather than a ‘projected’ performance. (Mario Petrucci)

I organised the recording myself in a studio at work. I felt very happy with the whole experience and my performance. (David Kennedy)

It was a fine spring day (I think) and the recording was made easy by the professionalism of Inigo Garrido, who came to my home to record. I usually feel (after the event) that I could have read better, but on the day read well enough. (Gerry Loose)

Pleasant social experience at Andrea’s home, although there is something peculiar about doing a ‘performance’ to a microphone and audience of 2 in a domestic space. I did not feel wholly happy about my performance, but this is normal. Andrea I think was willing to let me have repeat goes – but one would not want take too much of the recordists’s time. (Elizabeth James)

I recorded my last session in the evening at Andrea’s house. I had been going through a very difficult time on a number of fronts and I remember thinking it would be nice to talk a little about poetry and life in general before I started and it was good to do that briefly with Andrea and Matt, so much so that I was a bit sad to then do the recording entirely on my own, with no-one there as an audience (it makes a difference), me just talking to the dark window in a room up the stairs at the back of the house. You can hear my self-pity creeping in even now! I brought a bottle of wine as a thank you but I caught folks as the wrong time and they didn’t want to drink. The poems are melancholy personal poems, in a way far from what I’d imagine the Archive of the Now might normally concern itself with (don’t get me wrong, I love the work of the Archive), so I felt a bit odd about delivering them just for aesthetic reasons, maybe it wasn’t the right thing for the Archive but it was all I had. And it felt very strange to be talking, talking, talking out into ‘nothing’. (Richard Price)

The recording was made at a friend’s house in London, with a small invited audience and Andrea holding the tape recorder. I enjoyed the experience, though I think I focused a bit too narrowly on the work that interested me at the time — I’m glad there are other recordings of me in the Archive, though the house recording is of the best sound quality. (Peter Manson)

A very enjoyable and carefully organised experience. (Peter Larkin)

Very informal, and low-tech, which was nice, but I think it meant my performance as a little flatter and under-directed than it might have been. (Peter Robinson)

I recorded it part of it myself; the rest was recorded by someone else at a festival, I think. (Neil Pattison)

I really enjoyed it. I became quite emotional. Loved it, brilliant experience. Delightful person recorded me which helped. (Elaine Randell)

I enjoyed the experience of being recorded for the Archive, and the person doing the recording was sympathetic and interested. I tried to read a range of poems covering quite a long period of time and that was slightly more difficult than reading a ‘set’ of poems written for a particular project, as I tend to do when I am performing. (Frances Presley)

The recording was personalised, at the convenor’s house. The performance may be considered to be at once intimate and straight forward. It of course did not have the potential expansiveness that a ‘public’ performance might have encouraged. (Allen Fisher)

I was recorded in a London flat, a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. I chose some poems that represented my work at that time and I think I read them perfectly well. That situation wouldn’t produce my best performance but there was nothing to hinder a reference recording. (Tony Lopez)

A typical London day, cold and grey; spectral. Recording in Andrea Brady’s study in Stoke Newington — connecting to London’s creative and politically radical history in that area. Feeling of “coming home” to (a transnational) British experimental poetics after 6 years in Canada. Reading new poems from emerging projects — very bold in their sexuality — to the window of ‘will anyone hear these?’, but also ‘do they work?’ A fascinating space at once echo chamber of the skull and distinctive sense of relation or network, opening out. Being part of something, but at the same time as if reading in my head. (Sophie Mayer)

It was a relaxed session at Andrea’s home and I felt I read well. (Robert Sheppard)

I remember walking through the streets of Islington to find the venue. Several people were being recorded during the morning, so I felt unable to do more than one take of my material. I mispronounced one word, ‘winds’, which I mis-read. (‘Twists’ not ‘breezes’).

If you read in a domestic room in someone’s flat, you are going to speak differently from when you are in a hall with people sitting a long way away from you. Public space might just need more calories and more distinct diction than intimate space where the microphone is catching every whisper. (Andrew Duncan)

Are the relationships between the written text, performance, live and/or recorded voice significant for your poetic practice? If so, how?

Yes – although the relationship varies. Earlier open-field work was using the page-space as a scoring device. In other work I am conscious of playing the reading against the written text: the written text is following certain rules – number of words per line or syllables per line – while the performance deliberately overrides line-ends so that (for me at least) there is a tension between the visual and performed versions. Some pieces foreground performance: ‘beginning with a few words from steve mccaffery’, for example, is to be read from top-down and then back up again (and is marked up this way); the poem for cobbing in an explanation of colours breaks from the pattern used everywhere else in the series and had three columns of three stanzas – which can be read in any order in performance – and any number of times … The live performance of the written text has been something I have assumed as part of my practice since the start – and the presence of an audience – so that the effect on the audience and the dialogue with an audience is part of my working assumptions. (Robert Hampson)

I am preoccupied by the relationship between these elements all the time in my practice – particularly in my latest collaborative work with movement, voice and text. I think new recordings will much more likely reflect the changes that have taken place. I think the fact the archive exists could shape practice, as it is a form of publishing recordings. (Scott Thurston)

Very much so. This question requires a treatise if justice is to be done. I co-founded the co-vocal performance and collaborative writing group ShadoWork precisely to explore certain aspects of it and put then into practice. In my own, singular writing (but what composition is really ever ‘singular’?) the use of breath, pause, intonation, stress, rhythm, pace, cadence, etc. are all vital components. I suppose just about every poet would claim something similar to that for their own work too; but in my more recent ‘i tulips’ poems I’ve often been told that hearing them contributes much to understanding and perceived meaning. It’s almost as if the poems ‘develop’ in the listener’s ear when they’re spoken aloud, particularly by me, perhaps like a photograph in its darkroom tray. (Mario Petrucci)

I increasingly think that poetry on the page has little importance. Recent readings (inc some accompanied by Polish translation) have convinced me that overall sound and tonal variation is much more important. (David Kennedy)

My written texts are all sounded by me; I sometimes ad lib, treating them a little like a score I can give grace notes to. (Gerry Loose)

Central. I “write” by recording my speaking voice. I write about speaking as writing. The best poets have “an ear”. I work in performance and in poetry. I work with multiple voices. (Fiona Templeton)

I have in the past made radio / audio works with poetry and for instance one would amend the written text if necessary to achieve the best performance; also some passages were layers of voices in different audio / conceptual spaces. In reading poetry to an audience, I have been interested in the moments where one might puncture the ‘reading’ with something impromptu (struck by how performers like cris cheek do this) and how to be open to the deformations of error (like e.g. Allen Fisher). Never developed these much in my own readings though. (Elizabeth James)

Yes. Really in too many ways for a survey like this. The performance is very important for me, but just because that is so I do not believe the poet’s performance is ‘definitive’ or somehow ‘fixes’ it in one place – I think the written text and the culture heading its way offer many many interesting choices for performance. (Richard Price)

Most of what I do is written with an ear to my own way of reading, and has to work well with the sounds of my own accent. I’ve never worked with recorded voice in performance. (Peter Manson)

Increasingly significant – performative qualities interest me more and more, with their transitory & evanescent nature, linked with the live aspects of performance (Peter Philpott)

The poem is composed with the voice and to be read out loud for its full embodiment to be felt. (Peter Robinson)

For me the written text is always the primary source, but over the years I have become increasingly interested in performance, both live and recorded. Some of my work has also been collaborative, with poets such as Tilla Brading and Elizabeth James and this has also made me think much more carefully about performance and the complexity of multiple voices. Some of my texts work better in performance than others, either because of deliberate qualities of sound or of theme. Others, including some of my landscape poems, are more reflective. (Frances Presley)

The answer varies and is contingent on the work being read. Sometimes the work benefits from a live and pubic performance, which permits improvisations of emphasis, volume and even, sometimes, content or ‘asides’. Sometimes these advantages do not apply and the work benefits from not being heard by the author’s ‘voice’. (Allen Fisher)

I feel that the prospect of performance, an imagined performance based on the experience of previous performances, is the most important factor in shaping poems. I read my work aloud to myself when composing. I need to be able to read a piece convincingly for it to work. (Tony Lopez)

Yes. First of all, in relation to gender, sexuality, ethnicity, dis/ability and the body, and the politics of the voice and the word, and their relation to public space — who gets to speak/write? Why and when is speech gendered as feminine/intimate and as masculine/public, or as Other/excessive (Other/defective) and as dominant/stable/correct? What do speech acts do to listeners’ bodies — to hear is to be open and vulnerable, to create the possibility of connection and of wounding. I’m interested also in how that embodiment makes its marks, and what effects this stability, permanence or encodedness has for the fungibility of live speech. More recently, my practice has been involved with digital archiving, so becoming part of the Archive — having worked on a single-author digital archive for four years — was fascinating. (Sophie Mayer)

Poetry (maybe not all poetry, but most) is an auditory experience for the audience (bodily for the writer). I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I write for performance but I would say I would find it odd not to consider performance. (Some texts, such as those for the dancer Jo Blowers, are for performance.) The recorded voice is important, and recordings of poets important, not as definitive documents, but as guides to various rhythmic, sonic and semantic devices. (Again, with sound poetry, it might be more important, but still not definitive.) Video is distracting; I agree with Charles Bernstein on that one. (Again, performances with action in require documenting beyond the capturing capacity of a mechanical ear.) (Robert Sheppard)

No. I assume that live readings are going to be rare and that print is the primary realisation of the poem. I don’t think there is any close relationship between my voice and the poems. Readings are primarily a realisation of what is on the page. It already exists – subjectively, I prefer discussions to reading poems aloud, because I am creating new utterances and on new ground. I like talking to the audience. Reading aloud is not good listening, the mechanics of speech production get in the way – hearing my poems read aloud by someone else is very emotional, I would like to hear more of that. ‘I have never heard this before’ and similar feelings. (Andrew Duncan)

Did your performance for the Archive change your thinking about those relationships in any way?

Yes, the whole tone was intimate and domestic, unlike a public reading, and I was able to interrupt myself with occasional comments and make improvised alterations. I found this a valuable experiment which I developed later in the CD+booklet publication XIV PIECES. This was not exactly a change in “thinking”, more an extempore performative venture, and the uncovering of a different tone. (Peter Riley)

It allowed me to consolidate and make vital one particular sonic interpretation. I could well read those poems quite differently today or on any other day, though certain undertows would probably remain fairly constant. I wasn’t looking to give a definitive reading, just an enlighteningly typical one? (Mario Petrucci)

Because many of my texts are tonally ambiguous, they can be both tragic or comic or both, if anything the Archive encouraged me to think of re-recording in a different way. (Richard Price)

The reading that’s archived there was one of the most important events of my life, and has informed much of my experience and reflection on poetry and other matters since then, but I didn’t record it “for” the archive as such. (Neil Pattison)

I don’t think it did, as I treated it more as an historical record. Performance is usually defined as part of the creative process, whether alone or with a collaborator. I had also, by that stage, been performing for many years. (Frances Presley)

Yes: I started to think about the contingency and imperfections of the archival asset, of how they record a moment in all its complexity rather than a stable ‘fact’ or ‘truth,’ redefining the documentary (or deathly, pace Derrida) function of the archive into something more lively and intervenable. I also started to think about one emerging project (represented in the Archive by the poems ‘Incarnadine,’ ‘Mass’ and Statuesque’) as having a specific sonic dimension — possibly taking shape as a radio or stage drama, which has changed the project’s development completely and usefully. (Sophie Mayer)

No, because I’ve recorded a lot. I played with recorders as a child. But I do remember that initial strangeness of hearing one’s voice disembodied. (Robert Sheppard)

Do you use the Archive as part of your writing or performance practice, or do you plan to in future (eg: remixing your own work, studying other poets’ performance styles, sampling)?

I find it a wonderful asset to have sonic versions of some of my poems online. It can save so many words when you’re attempting to demonstrate or explain how a poem might be approached when read out loud. It’s also functional (in terms of PR and a wider, stronger, more plural reception for one’s work). In terms of the community of writers in the Archive, it’s a refreshing alternative to some of the more obvious lists, with the poets all acting as wonderfully provocative and fascinating context for each other. I wish we were in a culture where browsing such an Archive would be far more common than it seems to be. (Mario Petrucci)

If I had more time, I would do this more, but I have occasionally done so to get one take of a particular poet’s work. I certainly refer poets and researchers to it (in general, not just for my work). If I could break free from other commitments I would be very interested in remixing, sampling and so on. I record my poems with musicians sometimes and have been contemplating this for sometime but just haven’t managed it. (Richard Price)

I have used it in teaching creative writing and critical theory, and I have used it in my writing practice, both for information on vocal styles and as a way to sample new work by poets I know and discover others. I am very interested in performance style(s) and how they might shape or reshape text on the page. So far I haven’t sampled or remixed, but (with the technical skills, which I have seen used by, e.g., Dell Olsen and Drew Milne) it’s definitely something I’d like to do. (Sophie Mayer)