Sunday, 1 April 2007

New and resissued publications

Fisher, Allen; The Art of Flight VI to IX; Poster poem ISBN 0 86162 297 9 December 1981 reissued March 2007; £3.00 + £2.00 (p & p for UK

Sumner, Alaric et al; Shatter; edited by Lawrence Upton; 16 pp; A5 portrait; March 2007; ISBN 978-1-84254-388-1; £2.00 + £0.80 (p & p for UK)


We have had a generous offer of server space for a new WF website (covering press and workshop) and that website is in production. In the meantime no further updates will be made to the existing website and all news will be posted at the blogs and on this newsletter.

Launch introduction to “Shatter” by Alaric Sumner et al

Sumner, Alaric et al; Shatter; edited by Lawrence Upton; 16 pp; A5 portrait; March 2007; ISBN 978-1-84254-388-1; £2.00 + £0.80 (p & p for UK)

Shatter is the script for a performance by the group PresentImperfect at the Pleasance in Edinburgh in August 1994 as part of that year’s Fringe: the group made, by my count, twenty one performances. The text is taken from a handout (A4, stapled at the top left-hand corner) apparently available at the performance. Obvious typos have been corrected silently; but otherwise it is unaltered.
It was written by Alaric Sumner with Richard Talbot and others in the group. Talbot’s contributions are shaded in this edition. In the original handout, the typeface changed.
For Sumner, this project came at the end of a period of immense personal aesthetic output, in terms of quantity, which would lead on to what I see as an aesthetic renewal; although saying it like that simplifies the matter far more than is desirable. I need a little more detail.
For the academic year 1993 / 1994, he based himself at the University of Leeds, living in “Sentinel Towers”, where he took a taught M.A. in Theatre Studies. The University had accepted him as a Masters student although he did not have a first degree.
I say that he was based at the University, but his diary and other papers show him going to many concerts, performances and exhibitions in the area in general, as well as visiting London events quite often.
At the end of his course, not only did he write and co-direct his own coursework piece Marks in a landscape, but he provided at least one script for a fellow student; and from that, because it was acknowledged publicly, it seems probable that what he submitted as his coursework was more than was required of him. There are boxes of it.
It seems to me that, during that academic year, his confidence in himself as a writer increased greatly, countering an uncertainty and hesitancy which went back many years.
In the spring of 1994, his Voices (for 9) was produced at Royal Court, as part of Barclays New Stages, but it is worth remembering that Voices (for 9) had been written five or six years before, probably being finished in 1988: the score, as published in 2004 by Writers Forum, had been typeset, after working hours, at his London employers, well before his move to Cornwall.
After that move, , he engaged upon the major endeavour of the diary which lies at the heart of Waves on Porthmeor Beach, still – ridiculously! - out of print, and also made a number of new poems. Some of those poems were published in magazines; and I have salvaged others. However, in the early years of the 1990s, a great deal of his mental energy was directed towards visual arts.
At some point, he set up a studio in St Ives, in his garden, and apparently used it to put himself through a range of graphical experiments and exercises of his own devising, as if he were trying to teach himself technique at high speed – figurative and abstract painting and drawing, collage, engraving, monotyping, linocut.
Some of these exercise pieces were rather accomplished.
The never-finished Plans for the New Architecture, which I now think was started in 1978 approximately, had graphical elements from the beginning and was first prepared for public view as a poster in the early 1980s. A print of that poster was exhibited at the Sumner exhibition at CPT in 2004.
He studied photography in the mid 1980s, partly to increase his range of skills in image-making; and he submitted to the Whitechapel in the late 1980s.
He owned many art books, catalogues and exhibition posters. So the desire to be a graphic artist was always there.
The move to Penwith seems to have increased his commitment to that potential career.
In St Ives, he was taken seriously as a graphic artist by a number of curators; and some of you will remember works from the early 1990s, which had been exhibited then, on show again at CPT in 2004.
As well as that commitment, we may also detect in some statements a great regret for what he saw as time wasted in the past; and that extended in some ways to his perception of his whole life!
He had been an actor of some accomplishment in his last years at school, playing Mosca to acclaim. He was an ASM at Nottingham for a year; but, for whatever reason, nothing came of that directly.
Then he studied at East 16 acting school. He didn’t do very well in terms of assessment, not submitting course work. Not that he was lazy. There are relatively detailed working accounts for various gay organisations and projects for when he was arranging printing of posters; collecting gates; paying people for work completed; and so on. And he worked to get money, but not as an actor, presenting himself as an out-of-work actor both to himself and others. It wasn’t untrue.
It is not surprising that, when he decided to get himself higher education, both for his own mental acuity and for his curriculum vitae, he chose Theatre as his subject.
That experience, which included great encouragement from his tutors, led to the boost in his faith in himself, not just as a dramatist but as a writer in general; so that he felt able to show Voices (for 9). And that is also a considerable tribute to his tutors; anecdotal evidence suggests they thought very highly of him.
And the response to Voices (for 9) increased his self-esteem considerably, and led on to the need to write more for follow ups!
On the other hand, it wasn’t all good news. He had paid for Leeds himself and needed income. In June 1994, he applied unsuccessfully to be a part time lecturer at Dartington College of Arts
While he would have been in Edinburgh, SoHo Theatre rejected him for the job of literary manager; and the central school of speech and drama as a part time lecturer
He applied to be writer in residence in prisons; and arts centres; and theatres; UEA and University College, Galway; to be an assistant in a literary agency; to work in the BBC, reading scripts; and to be a lecturer at King Alfred’s College, University of Huddersfield, University of Stirling; University of Plymouth, Newcastle College, University of Wolverhampton; South Devon College; St Mark and St Johns; South East Essex College, University of Manchester.
He applied to be one of a team of multi-media experts, as well as trying for a training course for the unemployed in computer graphics for television
And so on… He may have been a little worried about his financial future even as he felt better than ever about himself as an artist. And it seems to me that he came to the realistic conclusion that without a better artistic c.v. or more experience as a lecturer, he would render himself unemployable, being seen simultaneously as overqualified and inexperienced for anything he might want to do.
Initially his renewed energy manifested itself in a return to what is now called Conversation in colour, a version of which was known to his peers in Leeds; and the original goes back to the 1980s.
I suggest that all that I have mentioned gave him the resources and enthusiasm to do something with what we know as Waves on Porthmeor Beach, when the blossoming of his friendship with Sandra Blow and the opening of the Tate St Ives’ exhibition Porthmeor Beach: A century of images coincided.
The core of Waves on Porthmeor Beach had been written through 8 months of 1991 ( between 29 January 1991 and 21 October 1991) and hardly needed rewriting; but to that he added a commentary on the diary plus the drawings by Sandra plus his commentary on the drawings.
The book was published in 1995, a bit over a year after the production of Voices (for 9), to be followed a year later by a production of Conversation in colour.
Three accomplished pieces in three years, each piece quite different to the others.
And, after that, it was largely new work: The Unspeakable Rooms, Nekyia, Text out of image, Bucking Curtains and LETTERS for dear AUGUSTINE.
Thus, Shatter is interesting not least for when it happened, as part of a fulcrum of experience of success.
I did not see the performance, being occupied in a very large improvised performance of my ex-partner’s; but Alaric always seemed positive to me about having been in the Edinburgh Fringe, though he never counted the writing itself as an equal achievement to the other writings I have referred to.
PresentImperfect was five people; but only three of them performed in Shatter, leaving the director free to direct and the writer to write, though the other writer, Richard Talbot, did perform; and the actors were encouraged to negotiate what was written… it seems that all of them took part in negotiation of the text, but that the two were designated as responsible for the actual writing!
However it was that he did not go on stage at the Pleasance, it does, I believe, reflect one of the major ways he saw himself. While there may well be other factors of which I am unaware, we can see Alaric defining himself neither as director nor actor but as writer, the writer for the theatre, for others to interpret and produce. That was his role in Voices (for 9) where the offer of production included the services of Roxana Silbert as director. That was the role he seems to have insisted on in The Unspeakable Rooms
He did act in the first performance of Conversation in colour and seemingly relished the task, though ambiguously.
That Shatter was, we are told, created by negotiation might be his creation of the writer as part of a team rather than, for instance, self-expressionist.
In a job application written in the months after Shatter, Sumner spoke of “rewriting during rehearsal” by making “rapid assessments” of what had been written.
He went on to speak of “co-operating with a group to create a dramatic work as well as my own writing” which might be taken to suggest that he saw himself as outside of the group to some extent, and that is readily believable; and it also suggests that he did not quite see the piece as part of his own writing.
One of the techniques he used often is the co-option of material found in others’ writing:
“The reconfigurations in turbulent liquids are similar to the re-patterning of desire in individuals as they recombine in different groupings. This group may approach the Winter Palace dragging a dead horse... that group may converge on Cable Street, carrying bags of marbles to dislodge the fascist-supporting police officers from their mounts... other groups may amass in wasteland outside the boundaries of Warrington Industrial Estate or in the streets of London's East End outside News International's Wapping site, with few symbols, no weapons. Though each of these reconfigurations may fail to produce a through-line of purpose, a resolution into an objective that we may hold on to, does that mean their desires, their aims and their passions are without value? Surely all of us believe that the struggle for our desires is of greater value than the achievement of those desires?”
Shatter wasn’t the first time he had used it by any means, but I think I see him beginning to push the technique in a new direction here, making the narrative line more ambiguous, compared for instance to its use in Voices (for 9).
He also cannibalised his previous unpublished writing. Antje’s speech “I am moving at speed while standing still” was probably written some time before, and was probably unfinished at the time it was incorporated into Shatter.
Quite what happened during the negotiation process, I do not know. My attempts to contact the others have not succeeded. Did the final text arise from discussion with everyone throwing in ideas?
However it may have been, some of the images (e.g. the armchair, and the gravel) are extended elaborately; and ideas are played with wittily:
Antje: I am certain language lies.
Nic: You can’t use language to make things certain

At the same time, some of the writing seems quite ragged and unfinished.
If one sees the writing process as an extension of what the five had been doing at University of Leeds, it is also the first surviving kind of some other performance pieces that Sumner would write later, such as error studies and Portraits and also presages his work with Ken Turner’s General Specific.
I think particularly here of Memory without past which General Specific presented at Penzance Arts Club on 18th March 1995 where Rory McDermott incorporated a speech from Sumner’s “Conversation in colour” into his contribution to Turner’s piece. Both error studies and Portraits and Memory without past involve simultaneous performance of heterogeneous plagiarised materials put together by more than one person.
It would be nice to know if Shatter changed at all from performance to performance either in text or choreography.
I think the ambiguous administration of the piece’s development probably prevented it from being more than it is. I am not going to tell you this is a great piece of writing in order to sell it; but it is pretty interesting, especially for those of us interested in this writer over all. Shatter offers insights into Sumner’s working methods; into the development of his career and enthusiasm within it; and, potentially, into collaborative writing experimentation in general. It is fascinating seen against Waves… and Voices… and I admire the imaginative courage with which he tried repeatedly to head off in a new direction rather than trying to reproduce methods that had already succeeded

[The making of Waves on Porthmeor Beach and the place of the diary within it are analysed in my paper “Some initial responses, after 10 years reading, to Waves on Porthmeor Beach by Alaric Sumner” being published in two parts by Pores magazine

Copyright (c) Lawrence Upton 2007,
Writers Forum Workshop 31st March 2007

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Submissions to WF Publications

SUBMISSIONS to Writers Forum Publications

Please send, with s.a.e. / i.r.c., to Writers Forum, 32 Downside Road, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5HP
All the usual warnings, including about keeping a copy of whatever you send, apply.
Please do not send anything by email without checking with us first. (And if you pass on this item to anyone, please make sure they are aware of our editorial policy...)

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

WF Info Tuesday, 13 February 2007

It is hoped that everything in this newsletter is of interest and use to you; but PLEASE PAY PARTICULAR ATTENTION TO THE FIRST TWO ITEMS


From time to time, we invite a guest poet to join us. For instance, the Canadian poets Rob MacLennan and Stephen Brockwell joined us on 23rd September 2006.

We are now very pleased to tell you that our invited guest poet for 26th May 2007 will be Allen Fisher.


Our venue is changing, with immediate effect, to

The Betsey Trotwood
56 Farringdon Road

We meet there on Saturday 17th March 2007. (We have no more meetings at Torriano Meeting House.)

Some may remember our workshops at The Betsey Trotwood a few years ago. Now it has a new management and one that seemingly wishes us well: they invited us back.

Our thanks to John and Susan at Torriano. They helped us just when we needed it and have been very kind to us all. There are considerable regrets at changing our venue.

3a. Next meeting

Writers Forum Workshop meets at The Betsey Trotwood on Saturday 17th March 2007. Meet at 3.30 for 4, as usual.


The Betsey Trotwood
56 Farringdon Road

Underground: Farringdon (Out of the station, turn right and right again at Farringdon Road

Overground: Farringdon – NB All trains on the Brighton-Luton line in both directions stop there, or always have, and can be a good alternative to other routes. The underground and overground stations are one thing, spread over 4 platforms.

Bus: It is believed that the only bus running down Farringdon Road is # 63; but remember that many other buses go past Mount Pleasant; and that it isn’t that far – for the fit and well - to walk downhill from there to The Betsey, though of course it is uphill on the way back. For instance, one can get a frequent bus to Mount Pleasant at The Angel, from just outside the tube station.

The Betsey Trotwood is opposite The Guardian newspaper. It is on the end of a little island of buildings. The beer is Shepherd Neame.


Saturday 17-Mar-07
Saturday 31-Mar-07
Saturday 28-Apr-07
Saturday 26-May-07 Invited guest poet Allen Fisher
Saturday 9-Jun-07
Saturday 30-Jun-07
Saturday 21-Jul-07

5 Meetings

Meetings are scheduled to start at 4 p.m.. That is after a 30 minute period of gathering together. We gather from 3.30 p.m; so please aim to arrive before 4 p.m..You can take drinks into the room.

We have agreed that we shall buy from the bar any drinks we consume on the premises. There will be a 10 minute break about half way through.

PLEASE NOTE: The terms of the agreement with The Betsey Trotwood management are good. Implicit is our acknowledgement that their business is selling drink; so PLEASE don’t turn up with carry outs…


We have had a generous offer of server space for a new WF website (covering press and workshop) and that website is in production. In the meantime no further updates will be made to the existing website and all news will be posted at the blogs and on this newsletter.

7. REISSUED PUBLICATIONS (3rd February 2007)

Cobbing, Bob; Lightsong 2; ISBN 978 0 86162 330 3; 6pp small format in an envelope; December 1983 reissued February 2007
£3.00 + £1 (p & p UK)

Hou├ędard, Dom Sylvester with Cobbing, Bob & Mayer, Peter (editors); Kroklok # 3; 32pp, A4 portrait. Feature: Speech as Mime or Gesture (with examples) by Peter Mayer; poems by Christian Morgenstcrn, Ernst Jandl, Peter Finch, Jeremy Adler, Michael Chant, Peter Greenham, Brion Gysin, Ilya Zdanevich, Helmut Hcissenbuttel, Bob Cobbing, August Stramm (introduction to Stramm by Jeremy Adler). Notes by Bob Cobbing. ISBN 978-0-86162-076-0. December 1972, reissued February 2007
£3.00 + £1 (p & p UK)

Introductory comments on the reissues are posted at the blog.

The reissue programme will continue. New titles are on their way, too.


The disruptions of the last year, caused by the old CPT management and The Plough management, have taken their toll and it has fed back; and numbers attending have dropped and arrival time has slipped. With the move, and then the new website, we hope to return to stability and productive interaction. To that end, we hope that people will attend regularly. It really does make a difference. But an attendance is welcome.

So those who have been saying “I shall go one day” or “I shall go back one day” are encouraged to attend. Try to bring someone with you!

From now on, it should be relatively easy to get to the workshop because the new venue is more accessible than the old to public transport. The arrival period of 3.30 p.m. to 4 p.m. enables us to turn up and have a drink while we all arrive; so that we can start together. It is a communal activity.

Sometimes none of us can avoid being late; but we do urge you to aim for 3.30 until you are used to the journey; and we urge you always to allow time for believable transport delays…. So that you are there on time whenever possible. It can be done most of the time.Let’s take ourselves seriously; and see the workshop grow again to full strength. It has a remarkable history; but let’s not leave it at that. There is nothing permanent about Writers Forum Workshop. If you want it, support it. Please. Also, PLEASE, if you have attended at all this year, let us know if you cannot make it on 17th March.


Monday, 5 February 2007

Introduction to the reissue of Kroklok #3 Saturday 3rd February 2007

Today we reissue Kroklok # 3. In December, when we reissued Kroklok #2, I went into some detail which I shan’t repeat now – that talk is on the blog.

Perhaps the most important thing to tell you today is that there are not many copies of this publication. Kroklok #2 was reissued first because there were enough good quality pages readily available.

In the notes in Kroklok #3, Cobbing has a go at Gestetner

“The delay in publication is largely due to Gestetner’s inability to supply they grey paper on which # 1 was printed. The quality of the paper used for # 2 was less good; the paper for # 3 is a further deterioration”

With that in mind, a small reissue has been achieved by discarding unacceptably poor pages.

There remains an uneven supply of most of the pages. It is just possible that a few more complete copies can be achieved from Cobbing’s printings; but that assumes that some sheets have been mis-sorted and that seems increasingly unllikely.

Attention will now pass to ## 1 and 4 while the possibility of reprinting the missing pages of # 3 is investigated, in order to ensure that it remains in print; but I urge you to buy it now, knowing that things always take longer than one wishes.

Kroklok # 3 is a very interesting issue, starting with a varied feature by Peter Mayer, of which Cobbing dryly remarks “which hopefully has its own logic”, Then there are poems by Morgenstern, Jandle, Peter Finch, Jeremy Adler, Michael Chant, Peter Greenham, Brion Gysin, Zdanevitch, Heissenbutel and Stramm

Copyright © Lawrence Upton 3 February 2007

Reissue of Lightsong 2 by Bob Cobbing 3rd Feb 2007

This is an item which hasn’t been seen by the many for some years. Lightsong 2 by Bob Cobbing.
There are 6 pages and they’re somewhat roughly hand cut; so that, though the images remain the same size, the page sizes vary by up to approximately half an inch.
It was hand-printed by Bob Cobbing on a Gestetner ink duplicator and they vary slightly in image; but, looking from another mental angle, the set is remarkably consistent considering the depth of black ink required.
This is a particular problem with ink duplicating and it is a greater and greater problem as one increases the amount of black. In a case like this it would have been difficult to even hold the stencil together.
It is so easy to end up with a mess & it is even easier to make each print look quite different to all the others. When the image is very black, as here, the greatest likelihood is that ink will not be evenly distributed across and down, but will instead come out blotchily or in excess.
Incidentally, when pages are this black, they never quite dry out, so even now it is still possible for ink to transfer – that’s one of the reasons for putting the booklet in an envelope – to stop ink transfer and to stop damage to the books as they are handled by prospective buyers.
There isn’t much that Bob couldn’t make that duplicator do; and this object is proof of it.
He is not the only person who achieved such heights. Here and there among the output of what was hyperbolically called “the mimeo revolution”, one finds prints of great Gestetner skill. I don’t know anyone, however, who did quite so much of it and in some many versions of mechanical impossibility over such a long time. It wasn’t the occasional surprising job, but a sustained exhibition of expertise.
Originally, Cobbing wrote the title of the publication in capital letters at the top left hand of the back of the final page and signed his name and the press name at the bottom right hand. It was done demotically.
This reissue uses some copies he had not so inscribed; and the data have been written on, in the same place and in the same manner; but not attempting to imitate Cobbing’s writing.
Because everything is so dark, it would be easy to give in to lazy observation and dismiss an object like this as having pages which are all the same or pages which are just black… or maybe “too black”.
But look again and you will see variation and order and wit. This is Cobbing the painter, transposed into an art mode and genre of his own making; though few painters lay the dark colour on quite so. But I’ll qualify that remark in a minute.
Comparing it with specific painters would mislead us and likely demean Cobbing’s work; but some ignorant types have made comparisons with Pollock: any comparison to Pollock, except perhaps in the idiosyncratic difference to almost everything else that has been done, would be misleading. One needs to look carelessly to think that it’s like Pollock. In Cobbing’s work, the image has been placed carefully in all its parts and the means of delivering it to the carrier paper has been mechanically controlled at a remove.
The process of the reproduction of the poem has its own method within the generic method of ink-duplication.
It’s not the layering of pigment that you get with, say, Auerbach. The ink would never dry! It’s of a different kind. The blackness of these pages stands out because it is so unexpected and perhaps because many of us know it is so difficult to achieve. He pushed the duplicator beyond its intended capabilities by a long way.
It isn’t just putting more and more colour on. It may feel that the ink is thickly applied as one looks at it, but actually it isn’t like that. There is only one application here, one pass through the machine.
There may be a connection here with his often repeated Cagean advice that if a performance wasn’t working then one kept going till it did. Not that I suggest that this poem didn’t work at an earlier stage. I mean that there is a point or points, extremes to some maybe, at which the poem works; it may be difficult to access that point; but one just stick to it till one gets there.
He did put the paper through the machine twice on some occasions. He did that in Winter Poem # 1 where, it seems he judged, the only way to get two quite different effects of very light ink output and very heavy ink output in much the same space was to use two different stencils. Note, then, that he knew where the apparently impossible became actually impossible; and he had a way round it.
It is, of course, for that reason that each image copy made by Cobbing was slightly different to all the others, because registration is not the ink duplicator’s strongest point.
Thus, one could not use this fix in every situation. Mixing non-alphabetic image and text would be difficult to handle with a misregistering printing machine; so that, as Mottram noted the appropriateness of design to the contents of wf publications, printing techniques were also applied as appropriate. Simply put, Cobbing knew what he was doing; it was just that he was doing things few people had thought of. And he didn’t say what he was doing. Instead he urged you to read the products attentively. That makes more sense. He wanted people to enjoy the outputs, rather than write about them, copying quotes from him, without engaged understanding.
Look at the blackness of these pages; and remember that the title is "Light Song". Where’s the light? Is it the white or is it the black? I’d say it’s both. I’d say that as a text for reading he would have been reading the differences, the changes, the conversation between the background of the paper and the foreground of the image; and I think I could go some way to substantiating that.
Imagine it in negative and you will find something quite different to the positive. This way is the right way round. It’s not “darkness visible” then; but it’s not not “darkness visible”.
Finally, a few words about consistency of production. The need to get the same image every time from a printing machine is a human idea, not an innate fault of the machine. The tendency is inherent in the machines ‘ tolerances. We choose to reproduce the image the same way each time, as if repeatability is the same as quality. Perhaps, though, variability is also a characteristic of quality if one lets it be.
This suggestion may not be very popular with those who deduce from their muddy ideas of the properties of democratic life that everyone should have complete access to everything.
Cobbing was quite a democrat and his hand made books could be seen as artistic multiples without that name; but he also accepted variations in production.
Mass production need not be the same as identical production. Repeatability in production originated because of the manufacturers’ desire to make everything as cheaply as possible and sell as many as possible.
I like the carefree – not careless – way that these booklets vary in size. He rarely allowed a page size to vary quite so widely; so there is a suggestion here of deliberation on the poet’s part, of appropriateness to the poem.
There aren’t many copies of this booklet left; and it presents some problems to reprint. Ink duplication is out, were the equipment and materials available now anyway. Photocopying is possible, but there will be probably be dropout. In some ways, we are up against the problem – for those who want accessibility at all costs – of the original work; but it may be valid to select one version and reproduce it by photocopying, or high resolution ink jet or litho and live with any slight degradation of the image from the original. A copy has already been put on one side for that purpose in case its needed.
Of course, however good the reproduction, that will freeze one version as the version, subject to any variations which the process may introduce.
In the meantime, you may buy one of the originals.

Copyright © Lawrence Upton February 2007