Remember We Were People Before
We Were Slaves
Guests arriving at 11.00am can attend a presentation by Peter Kennard, well known for his politically engaged photomontages, especially in the 1980s against Cruise missiles, the National Front, and Thatcherism generally
Performing Poetry. Body, Place and Rhythm in the Poetry Performance
Editors Cornelia Grabner and Arturo Casas
Rodopi ISBN 978-90-420-3329-0 £52.00
Performing Poetry is an edited collection of essays that consider the challenge that poetry in performance poses to conventional literary theory. The contributors to the volume work in a range of disciplines including Literary Studies, Theatre Studies and Area Studies. The focus of the volume is wide-ranging and there are discussions of poetry from Britain, Holland, the United States, Latin America and Spain. The volume’s intensely theoretical essays are supplemented by analytical yet accessible pieces by experienced poetry practitioners.
A portion of the discussion in Performing Poetry is preoccupied with theoretical questions that are aimed at interior debates among specialist researchers. Despite this, the volume is indispensable for poets and for the general reader. The contributors to the essays collectively provide broad-ranging and nuanced accounts of the province and pedigree of poetry in performance. A particular highlight is the essay ‘Allen Ginsberg, “Howl”, and the 6 Gallery Poetry Performance’. Written by Ginsberg’s biographer, the essay provides a compelling account of a single performance and its aftermath. Another highlight is a beautifully conceived essay by Deirdre Osborne about the ‘landmark poetics’ of Manchester poets Lemn Sissay and SuAndi. Osborne provides an intelligent and sharply observed discussion of Manchester’s devolved literary cultures that attends to the specificities of place and individual performances without losing a sense of wider perspective. Osborne’s essay operates as a companion piece to SuAndi’s own fascinating contribution to the book, entitled ‘Eartha Kitt Once Told Me’, which provides the “long view” on the politics of poetry and performance.
The strength of the volume is that no false coherence has been imposed on the essays. This editorial decision allows a global sense of the key debates about poetry and performance. The following sentence from the ‘Introduction’ by Grabner and Casas illustrates this approach: ‘Views on the origins of the poetry performance differ according to the cultural context of the poem; while some contributors identify continuities with older, marginalized […] poetic traditions, others see a countercultural rupture with the establishment.’ (p.10).
Some readers of this volume might be alienated by the thorough mechanical and technical analysis to which some individual poems and performances are subjected in this volume. The editors are committed to examining ‘text-internal’ dimensions (p.10) of poetry in performance. This mode of literary analysis reflects both a growing academic trend to return to close reading as well as signalling a collective determination to take such poetry seriously. This aside, Performing Poetry makes a valuable, up-to-date and informed contribution to the sparse literature on this topic.
© Dr Corinne Fowler, 2011
Lecturer in Twentieth-Century Postcolonial Literature
University of Leicester