Reviews of the Ephemeral

Lazy Gramophone

In All of the Above, online magazine, Performance Poetry on December 7, 2010 at 10:40 pm

-Reviewed by Ian Chung-

Lazy Gramophone is a London-based arts collective, established in 2003. In 2006, it began hosting live events, as well as setting up an in-house press that publishes work by the collective. The first publication was Adam Green’s debut novel, Satsuma Sun-mover, which went on to be nominated for the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2008. The current, third incarnation of the Lazy Gramophone site showcases work from 48 artists, with more available in the archived copies of the site’s previous two versions. Each artist has a separate page, where content is further categorised under the following headings: Journals, Pictures, Music, Words, Links, YouTube, and Video Gallery. All this makes for a very rich and immersive navigating experience. The new site design is also clearly intended to make full use of Web 2.0, with the ability to share links to content through various social networking sites just a click away.

 

Given the diversity of the collective’s membership, it does not come as a surprise that the quality of work varies substantially. The rhyming in poems like Sorana Santos’s ‘This Road’ and ‘Fissures’ gives them a musical lilt, but the sentiments captured by the lines remain fairly pedestrian (‘I see her face when you make love to me’). They also happen to demonstrate a problem that I feel recurs throughout the site, i.e. typographical inconsistencies. I am willing to grant that Santos’s poems at least, deliberately bury their rhymes in the shifting line lengths. However, I am less convinced when faced with say, Charlie Cottrell’s ‘The Dress’, in which a moving meditation on an old memory is marred by lines that break off mid-word and odd characters that intrude for no apparent reason.

 

It is also unclear whether pieces such as ‘The Dress’ (of which there are several from different artists) are intended to be read as poetry or prose. On the screen, they certainly look like free verse poems, since the prose pieces elsewhere on the site do make full use of the screen’s real estate for their typesetting. Yet when they are read, their rhythms and syntax sound curiously like those of prose. In short, if this is poetry, I think the lines breaks generally do not justify themselves. If it is prose, Lazy Gramophone might want to reconsider its content formatting, as the varying line lengths can be distracting and impede narrative flow.

 

Still, there is work at Lazy Gramophone that makes for rewarding, as opposed to frustrating, reading. Sam Rawling’s poem ‘Hung’, taken from his collection Circle Time, is a stellar example. There is a keen sensitivity to the relation between sound and meaning on display here. To begin with, the internal rhyming of ‘Humble’, ‘crumble’ and ‘stumble’ connects the couple in the poem to ideas of breakdown and impermanence. The subsequent alliteration of ‘stumble’ and ‘stomach’ reminds us that the locus of the poem’s (in)action is ‘this lonely table’, where the couple is caught in stasis, fit for a ‘scene / Displayed on a wall’.

 

Perhaps the clearest example of the aural intricacy of the poem occurs in the last six lines:

 

‘For the violence silent so beautiful between us,

For the slits across our wrists

Sown simply now by its title.

If only this frame wasn’t so fragile,

Then maybe one day we

Could have hung it.’

 

The echo of ‘violence silent’ is wonderfully evocative in its juxtaposition of eruption and repression. That ‘silent’ alliterates with ‘simply’, which in turn assonates with ‘slits’ and ‘wrists’ should hardly be viewed as an accident. The troubled undercurrent of the poem has been brought into the open, and everything culminates in the last three lines’ graceful understatement of regret.

 

Moving on from written to spoken word, I would highly recommend Mat Lloyd’s performance poetry. He has three audio recordings and one video up on Lazy Gramophone, all of which offer social commentary whilst being very fun to listen to/watch. ‘I Apologise’ is a consciously self-reflexive apology for poetry’s existence, while ‘Suicide Note; Bank Manager Lament’ is a hilarious diatribe, which will definitely resonate with a post-financial crisis audience. His animated poetry video ‘Blokes’ won Best Film at the ShortCuts Festival in 2009. It offers a penetrating examination of contemporary male friendships, invoking the vocabulary of laddish banter (‘Every time I bone your missus / She gives me a doughnut. Slut’, only to pull the rug out from under the viewer in its final, wrenching seconds.

 

On balance, I would say that it is definitely worth checking out the Lazy Gramophone site. Formatting issues aside, there is a good deal of solid work to be found, far more than is practicable to comment on in the space of a review. The collective also clearly contributes to the arts scene in London and the UK, and it would be interesting to see what else their press arm puts out in future. Finally, although I have not commented much on the artwork displayed on the site, I would urge visitors to take a look at Zoe Catherine Kendall’s cross-disciplinary pieces, where the artwork complements the writing, as well as the haunting pictures from Daniel Regan and Evelina Silberlaint.

 

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  1. […] Ian Chung is a poet who blogs here and tweets here. His most recent review for Sabotage is of the arts-collective website Lazy Gramophone. […]

  2. Dear Ian & Sabotage,

    Many thanks for your review and for your comments, they are always well received and considered. With this in mind I would like to share with you the following points:

    The poem of mine (‘This Road’) which you quote is called a ‘Cinquain’ and is based on an old form of Japanese poetry akin to Haiku. The line structure is typically (in syllables) 2-4-6-8-2 and the lines, as you quite rightly say, drop off mid-sentence, as it were. Generally the rules for writing this poem are that: the poem doesn’t rhyme, it is written in iambic meter, and relies on image for its impact. I think Adelaide Crapsey developed them; you can check these ones out: http://www.terebess.hu/english/haiku/crapsey.html but T M Hulme and Amy Lowell also put the form to good use here and there.

    When asked to write this poem I made a conscious decision to obey two of its rules, namely the syllable structure and the iambic meter, but do the opposite of the other two rules by using rhymes plain language instead of suggestive imagery, which you are correct in pointing out; I went through a phase in my writing about four years ago of juxtaposing Eastern forms in plain language.

    There is a technique to poetry writing – like there is in all art forms – that goes beyond just hoping to convey feelings, otherwise there would be no study of the subject at all, no great poets, no publishers of poems, and no way of distinguishing ‘good’ from ‘bad’; this is called ‘having an informed opinion’; learning to balance the objective and the subjective.

    Of course, however subjective it might be, I understand that your opinion is nonetheless valid and wish you all the best with the rest of your reviews and in the future.

    With very best wishes,
    Sorana Santos

  3. Dear Sorana,

    As a fellow poet, I am certainly aware of the cinquain form, but I believe in the format that the poem has been laid out, it isn’t in fact readily apparent that it is a cinquain. (I double-checked by viewing the same page in both IE and Chrome.)

    Counting off the syllables now, and visualising the poem as I believe you intended it to be viewed, I can appreciate your innovations within the form. I think that’s a great thing for poets to do, since part of the fun with formal styles is to see how far you can push the limits of a particular form, breaking rules or obeying them as you see fit.

    As I noted in my review, this issue of formatting crops up in the work of several other artists on the site, so I’m speculating it may be to do with how the site’s coding is showing up on the screen.

    On the matter of technique, I think you are absolutely right that poetry isn’t simply about a vague hope to convey feelings. Craft is required to shape and guide the intention of the poem. Yet conversely, I would put it to you that the presence of technique is not a justification in itself for the absence of something worth saying. Form and content both have to pull their own weight.

    To suggest that technique alone (and not alongside what it conveys) is what allows us to distinguish good poetry from bad is rather dangerous, since we risk reducing poetry to a merely academic exercise in wielding form.

    From one writer to another, I wish you the very best as you continue with your writing.

    Best Regards,
    Ian

  4. […] over to Sabotage and check out the full article: […]

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