I hadn’t noticed what has happened to “so”. I thought it was so last year to diss “so”. I’d been encouraged by Heaney’s Beowulf, where he translates the initial, throat-clearing utterance “Hwæt” as the Irish idiomatic, yarn-commencing “So.” which obliterates all previous narrative and commands attention.

But here’s Iain Sinclair, in the LRB (link here), who’s always sharp in spotting the petty indignities suffered by language, describing the initial “So” as the “entry code” to a gentrified, socially-cleansed London.

And in Sinclair’s article I discover that Tom Raworth has died. He didn’t make the news in the way that Derek Walcott did, and it had passed me by. I have fond memories of Raworth’s readings at Essex in recent years. Poetry readings are often poorly-attended affairs, but for one, Raworth’s audience was swelled by a keen email sent to all in the department of Literature at the university. It was a simple instruction not to miss “the great (-est?) modernist poet, Tom Raworth”. The email was sent by the late Joe Allard, an infectious enthusiast for Icelandic literature, among other things, and a fixture in the literary and drinking life of the town of Wivenhoe. The entire email — a plug in under 30 words, including time and place — was arresting and compelling: as if to say, here is Modernism, returning to revivify the Brutalist architecture of the Essex campus. It lives today.

This is my first post on here in a while. I have been writing more formal pieces, and the free time I’ve had when I could be writing blogs has been spent reading instead. Reading for pleasure, I mean. No-one can argue with that excuse.

University of Dreams

University of Dreams – Talk and exhibition opening, University of Essex, Tuesday 3 May 2011

From the blurb:

The University of Dreams is a creative project […] that called upon all members of the University of Essex, from each campus, and from every area of work, study and play, to share their dreams. The project caught everyone’s imagination and in a two week period in February over 120 dreams were submitted.

We now invite you to attend the opening of an exhibition which offers a window onto the dream-life of the University. Excerpts from the submitted dreams will be displayed alongside photographs, CCTV footage and sound recordings of the Colchester Campus at night-time.

The dream-descriptions displayed in the exhibition made me regret slightly my decision not to submit my own dream (which I did on the grounds that it was too personal, too much a part of me, even though they were anonymously collected). As I consumed the very high quality nibbles and some decent seminar wine, I bumped into a few old faces, and as we were ushered in to hear the talks, I sat on a bank of seats in the middle of what felt like an intoxicating collision of past, present and future.

The first talk was by Marina Warner: a reliably eclectic rumination on the One Thousand and One Nights. This was followed by Iain Sinclair’s circular talk around Claybury, Clare, Hackney, the M25, and so on. I was amused by Sinclair’s remark that his wife dreams his work before he does it.

Birch, photo by Lynne Pettinger, taken from http://selvageflame.com/category/news/page/3/
Birch, photo by Lynne Pettinger, taken from Will Montgomery’s website

Next was the slideshow of Lynne Pettinger’s photographs with Will Montgomery’s recordings of the campus at night. Both emphasized the industrial / brutalist side of the campus over the lakeside / Constable-country setting. I was particularly struck by a photo of the shadow of a railing protruding from a larger shadow.

The event ended with a poetry reading from two poets with old Essex connections. Ralph Hawkins’s rather surly reading style was ultimately endearing. Jeremy Reed did his best to alienate. He boasted about his friendship with the singer from the Libertines, was rude about everyone present, with the pointed sycophantic exception of Iain Sinclair. He was dressed in the old fart’s r’n’r uniform of dark blue jeans, converse trainers, black jacket, beret with curls of hair carefully flicked in front of his eyes. Needless to say, he kept playing with his hair. He read a poem called ‘Why the Rolling Stones are so skinny’, but preposterously made reference to a 30 inch waist: good lord, that is fat for a post-war junkie. But the thing that really bothered me about him was the way that he had these scraps of paper he was using as bookmarks, and he just tossed them on the floor and didn’t pick them up when he left. I can’t stand that aristocratic mentality that thinks it’s really rock n roll to expect cleaners on minimum wage to tidy up in their wake.

Still, the dreams were good.