Baxter's Usual Bosh
Glen Baxter had not been born in Leeds, we would have had to invent
him. Few artists have debunked the pretensions of the art world with
such gusto. Last week, his new show opened at Flowers in Cork Street,
and he presented the Bow-Wow Shop with
his business card in order to prove his credentials as an absurdist
once and for all.
The very idea of Baxter having a business card
seemed almost as ridiculous as the verbose blatherings of the worst
of those art critics. Why? we asked him, why? He blamed the Japanese.
He'd had a show there, he told us, and he had been obliged to create
a business card in order to prove that he was just as credible as any
other street-corner sensai. Thank god it was untranslatable. Here's how he described himself:
Professor GLEN BAXTER
Marquetry, Perversity, Irony
The Confounding Clamour of Prynnitus
Prynnitus* is a medical condition which has its source in the badly polluted waters of the RIVER CAM, which flows, unobtrusively enough for the most part, through the centre of Cambridge, England.
It is a condition which afflicts poets exclusively for a very simple reason: only poets are in the habit of leaning, mooningly, over those pestilential waters, day in day out, breathing in their stinking vapours. What are the symptoms? The symptoms are somewhat akin to those which afflict dementia sufferers in general. The poet parts company entirely with any variety of language-use which seems to suggest that the writer is in communication with any another human being when he writes. He loses all ability to recognise the tunefulness of language. All sense of the past of poetry is lost; in fact, it is advisable that the prynnitus sufferer burn any evidence of that past. The past is an irrelevance. As are such antique notions as Feeling or Story or even Content. Words, when they are deployed, often in two and threes, are laid down coldly and clinically, and with no regard to any particular order. Words do not exist to provoke memories or associations of any kind. In short, language is emptied of all content, like rubbish from a bin bag. Victims of prynnitus exist to be themselves. Leaden. Opaque. Blockishly intimidating. When they read out loud, as they are known to do from time to time, they are not in the habit of engaging with audiences. Audiences exist not to be wooed or won over, but to be taught a lesson, and so they are usually harangued, violently, in the interest of psychic dislocation.
They are very self-preening. They prefer to spend time in each other's company. They write about each other's work. They are, in short, a tad cultish. If you are ready to align yourself with them, they may welcome you, although the door will be slammed shut behind you, smartishly, once you have passed through it, side-on, breathing in as you go.
Now you can count yourself part of the new rigidity.
* prynnitus, a chronic infection of the ear rendering it impervious to tone and rhythm, The Bow-Wow Shop Dictionary of Advanced Poetical Terms, London 2014
There are many, many of them, of course, though statistics do seem to suggest that there are more on this side of the Irish Sea, that word-rich graveyard, than elsewhere.
Who are these people, these poetry desperadoes as we have been commonly accustomed to calling them ever since Verlaine shot himself in the hand - foot, leg, privies, whatever - over one? Well, there are various groupings, some more rancid than others. There are those in the margins who yearn to be at the centre. There are those sitting comfortably at the centre, backsides asquirm in their quilted chairs, who nurture scarcely disguised yearnings to be back at the margins, where life is cold and pregnant with possibilities, and the wind wheedles its way, thinly, into the tin ear.
Then there are those who will never ever be satisfied, who seem to demand ceaseless pampering, no matter how many poetry competitions they just fail to win, no matter how many readings they almost find themselves participating in. There are those who spend their lives looking out for soft-hearted, warm-hearted sheep to swell the fan base - by reviewing the latest self-published book or by taking a train to the reading in the Community Room at the Arts Centre on the Essex border, with its circular massing of tubular steel chairs beneath the pitiless flicker of neon. They fix you with a glittering eye, such people. They make beckoning finger gestures. They wheedle. Slump-shouldered, as if engaged in a ceaseless pilgrimage of ever tumescing self-regard, they always have many dog-eared books or fliers spilling out of their reinforced inner pockets. If you seem to be standing firm against the oncoming tide of rhetorical blather, they accuse you of being a tyrannical, three-in-one admixture of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and Adolf Hitler.
Relax! we say. Relax! Be content with small achievements, that is what life consists of by and large for poets of your stamp, an infinite regression in the direction of ever smaller achievements. Until it all goes fizzle and pop.
Harsh? Nonsense! These are inclement days. It is time to sort the sheep from the goats before a higher authority steps in to do likewise...
The Slippery Word Lode
Is the painter Ryan Mosley proposing an ingenious new solution to the age-old problem of the dissemination of poems in this work of art? You can judge for yourself. It was recently on display in the window of the Alison Jacques Gallery in Berners Street, London W1. The answer is: perhaps.
Here is what it seems to be proposing. Instead of either enclosing the poem in a book of several similar or, alternatively, wrapping a single terse specimen in a vellum leaf and hawking it around at the corner of Market Street on a damp Sunday afternoon in, say, February or, better still, June, why not opt for something just a touch more companionable and visually arresting?
Here - trust me, I was privy to their making - we have individual sonnet sequences deftly trapped within an entire range of eye-catchingly colourful bananas, all of which are falling down through the air, as if inviting us to catch one and...eat? No, we will not be eating because the skins have been hollowed out to make way for words. Fine-honed words organised in tidy fourteen-liners. And the price of each? Their durability? I am coming to that.
The Final Restraint Room
The problem of the over-production of verse in England - Ireland, Scotland and Wales are undertaking their own urgent investigations - is now regarded as so serious by officialdom that four local authorities are rolling out a scheme that is likely to take effect almost immediately, budget cuts notwithstanding. In Oswestry, Stretford, Dewsbury and Marlow, existing facilities within various de-commissioned care homes for the elderly are being used to pilot a scheme which will involve, we understand, various simple and easily regulated forms of incarceration and re-education. Here, in little, is what will happen. (All this information comes courtesy of the private security company that put in the best overall bid to undertake the work, having first taken into consideration three criteria: cheapness, effectiveness and compassion - CEC for short.)
There are in all these homes facilities that have always been popularly known as Final Restraint Rooms. These are rooms that have no tangible features whatsoever other than the fact that they are room-shaped, triangular boxes. The walls are are of no particular colour to set the mind or the heart racing - a greasily funereal dun of sorts, gradually edging off to grey - and they are without texture. Ditto the floors and ceilings. There are no furnishings of any kind, no desks at which to sit and dream, no windows opening out onto vistas that positively thirst to be described. The rooms are lit, but extremely dimly. When the poet arrives, he is rapidly introduced by a small posse of gentle minders to the onesie that he will wear for the duration of his stay. The arms conclude in sealed mitts so that no implement of any kind - a pen, a pencil or any kind of manual recording device, for example - can be held in the hand. The intention is to render the fingers unusable. Nothing must be written down, not even scraps or the merest dregs of the beginnings, of a stanza. Needless to say, there will be no paper in the room either. There must be no mark-making of any kind whatsoever because small marks quickly squirm their way into the shapes of letters, which then join hands to produce words, and in no time at all, there is an entire elegy writhing and bawling around, yearning to be read out loud, printed and even published. But what of the mouth? I hear you ask. Does poetry not issue from the mouth? Is not the mouth the orifice of choice for any poet who aspires to greatness? Merciffuly, a state-of-the-art mouth plug has been developed by Poetical Systemics, CI, which inflates as the mouth broadens and widens to accommodate the sheer sonic amplitude of, say, the alexandrine or the fourteener.
And what of the brain? How does one stifle the insatiable urge to versify inwardly at all hours of the day or night? (You may remember that in Soviet times over-productive poets committed their verse to memory.) How is this problem to be overcome? If sedation (light or heavy?) is to be the answer, what kind works fastest and lasts longest? Any feedback from readers would be most welcome. There is a long way to go yet.