Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Forest Fringe Tapes

So here are the few recordings I made of my recent readings at Forest Fringe. From the first programme ("Bombastic and booming, almost to the point of mania" -- ThreeWeeks), my struggle with Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl', which I think ends with a defeat on points for me but I dare to imagine I may have bloodied its nose; and then the whole of the third programme, senza laborious introductions and nervous wittering: what remains is: Cathy Berberian's 'Stripsody'; an extract from 'Notes from the Correspondence' by Bob Cobbing & Jeremy Adler; and the Ursonate of Kurt Schwitters.

I do apologise for the poor sound quality. This was all being done on the digital equivalent of wax cylinder apparatus. I've cleaned and EQ'd it as best I can but hi-fi it ain't.

For those who'd rather download than stream, you can get a .zip file of the whole lot here. (File size is 34MB so it's not too gigantic.)

And, if I may be so revolting, can I remind anyone who potentially has appropriate invitations to bestow that, oh yes, I'm very much available for weddings, bar mitzvahs, et cetera. Talk to me.

Enjoy, if that's the word I'm looking for.

The Forest Fringe Tapes

Friday, August 29, 2008

Emptying Thompson's Piggybank

While I was passing a few days at the family seat in Portisheadshire last week I took the opportunity to look back over some of my very earliest blogging activity. Of course in those days they weren't called blogs and they weren't online; no, the entries were instead posted to a yellow A5 exercise book with 'News' written on the cover. But there's no mistaking the bloggish tone of the writing.

I don't know if anyone will find any amusement in the reposts below, but given the relatively enthusiastic response to my last sharing of pre-juvenilia on these pages, I thought it was worth a shot. What follows is slightly later in my career than The Books of the Pigs in thes Sieris -- I was born in May '73 so as you'll see from the dates I am five or six years old here, and already putting behind me the hotheaded radicalism that had informed Pigs. Indeed a couple of times here, very much under the influence of my teachers at the time I must confess, I seem almost to be dallying with a prototype of the New Puritanism that one might now associate with, say, Matt Thorne, the excellent novelist: though something of Barthelme and perhaps Brautigan continues to haunt the narratives. You can also see at the end here, as the notion of Thompson's Bank starts to crystallize in my imagination, a couple of examples of my early theatre criticism: not highly nuanced, admittedly, but certainly nothing that wouldn't slot right in at Rogues & Vagabonds.

I have retained my idiosyncratic spelling (lamentably derivative of Pound I'm afraid) as per the manuscript, except for a smattering of silent corrections where sense would otherwise be obscured.

* * *

Friday September 29th 1978

I like wathing television.
The programmes i like best are cartoons.
I often Play shop.
I Read about one and a half books. a week. The magic wishing chair.
Richard Smale is my best freind.
In the woods at ashton court. is where i lik to explore
Haunted things are things. I like best.
Qwaint Old shells are what i like to collect.
My teddy bear is calld andrew.
I like billding a garage wich i can run my cars down. I like it beecase I can billd with my bricks.
We went to Burning-ham two weeks ago.

Monday October 30th

We have lovely dinners.
We change into our T-shirts shorts and daps evry Tuesday and put our daps on evry day in the week.
Our school is nice.
I like the children in our class and one in the bigger class. Our playgrou-
nd is made of stone and gravel. I often play hopsc-
otch (wich is a funny game for a boy.) We use our playground after prers before diner after diner and at 3'o clock.
Since hopscotch is the only game I play I am going to write about it. I sh-
all tell you why I like it.
Well. Ah. Ummmmmmmm-
mmmmmm. Well. maybe.
It's rearly becos I like hoping.

Friday November 17th

Once upon a time there was a fly. It's favorete place was a lampshade. It was because the adults couldn't reach him. One day a lady stood on a stool to try and get 'im with a thing she called NEW HAIR-RAISEING BATFLY KILLER. But she failed. She fell on her head. BUMP, CRASH, Boom-titty-Boom-Boom. She was in her 80's so it did hert her. 5 stiches, A broken leg, Tonsilites. Well she died. But of corse the fly remained. (On the lampshade)

Friday December 8th

The Turkey went grubby grubby. The cockerel went a-squawking out the new morning. The sheep got very shaggy througho-
ut the year.
The Goose waddled down the road. The Pig grunted his snout off. The cow Plodded accidentally in her muck.
They are very woolly. Yes.
Grass, thats what they eat.
In a fold or a field. kindly.
Their wool is made into quilts or Jumpers. Their meat is eaten.
I am a sheepdog. I have got nine sheep to guide. Baahboo, Grasey, Pinky, Dooddley, Inman, Puddley, Whitey, Blacky and Plopp.
One day Somthing nasty happend. I am a black dog you see, one d-
ay I was rounding up the sheep when Plopp did a plopp on my fur.
I had to have a bath. I apb-

Friday January 12th 1979

As I was saying last tearm, I apbso-
lutely hate baths! ow! ow! Well -
there I was - (hatingmybath)! It was
a terrible afternoon! come by Liz!

This is a cow. Do you know where her nose is? I have coloured it red. Do you know where her ears are? I've coloured it red. Do you know where the cow is? No clues!

Friday March 9th

The Frog Band And The Mystery OF LION CASTLE

part 1

In which the frog band go to Lion Castle and have an unexpected visitor.

The frog band had gone to lion castle, to meet Prefector de Lyon. When they first saw him he invited them into labortary and Godfrey was interested with some conection-wires.... when suddenly......

PLOPP! BANG! Uuuuuu...
Prefector, Godfrey and Shortie went out side only to find...
2 miles of bright matirieal, 7 strings and a shopping-basket. There, in the middle was a glum, old frog. It was Alphnose le Flic.

End of part1

part 2


Shortie had gone into the dungens, hoping to find £5,00,000,000, or somthing. But found a leaver. Curiosly, he pulled it down. And up came the plug of the sea.

8th January 1980

On New years day, I went to a pantomime. (It was Babes in the Wood.)
It starred Jim Davidson, Melvyn Hayes, Ben Warriss, The krankies and Tammy Jones. The first half was two hours long, but the second half was only an hour long. Before that I went to a restraunt. In the first half there was some "Dancing Waterfalls," that were very pretty. My Mum couldn't look when they put a car speeded up, and some people were pretending to drive their cardboard car! I didn't go to bed untill 11.00pm that night!

Friday March 14th


I thought that the whole preformance would be a bit more "acrobatical", and the clothes were more modern than I thought they would be. I thought that most of the act would be "silent", but instead it was quite noisy. I liked all the magic words Zippo and Tommy used like "Chicken Horrors!" Altogether I thought the preformance was well worth going to. I had seen the trick when Tommy got into the sack and was locked up in a case before in record time of ½ second . I thought the fire eating was also very good.

if did fig jam lit game fit lamp the gag dad fat

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Gargling with stingrays, and other pastimes

I've come back from my fortnight away (in Edinburgh and then Portishead) with a to do list that, even written -- as it is -- in barely legible minuscule, takes up almost every inch of a page in my working notebook and looks pretty daunting to me in my late summer bleariness. So, for one issue only (ha!), let's pretend this blog is actually called Franklin's Department Store of Pusillanimous Displacement Activity. -- Oh, wait, hang on: in fact, I think if I look carefully enough, I'll be able to find the word 'blog' on the to do list somewhere. In which case this all becomes legitimate -- responsible even. ...Ugh, I'm not sure I approve of that either. Anyway, it would obviously be the height of uncricket not to post an account of this year's adventures among the Edinbourgeois, and far be it from me &c. So, stick this in yer Reekiepedia, innit.

A word first, I suppose, about Forest Fringe, which hosted -- and whose sublime generosity made possible -- the three readings I was doing. From what I could tell, the whole Forest Fringe project, propelled by the literally incomprehensible drive and vivacity of Andy Field and Deborah Pearson, could hardly have gone better. This hardly needs spelling out -- press support has been astounding (indeed for a while the Edinburgh page at the Guardian web site seemed as though it might actually have become a sort of surrogate marketing department for them: and why not?), and the size of the audience for the last night of FF's particular jewel, Paper Cinema & Kora's exquisite The Night Flyer, was ample testimony to the success of the enterprise as a whole. Here was a company making its first visit to Edinburgh, having spent nothing in venue fees and nothing (as far as I know) on advertising and PR, achieving standing-room-only status on the strength of quality work and the extraordinary buzz around the venue. The official fringe likes to think it can still make these sorts of fairytales happen but it really can't: if you flog off your garden, you won't get fairies at the bottom of it any more, end of story.

The end-of-festival highlights lists have now emerged and it's good to see Forest Fringe being recognized as an undoubted star in an otherwise rather gloomy sky this year. On the other hand, these accounts tend to elide Andy and Deborah's project with the rest of the festival's activities -- with which of course it was in many ways continuous. But it seems to me that every way (and there are many) in which Forest Fringe was distinctive and important this year in the ecology of the festival had to do with its adamant and furious refusal of the practices and the ethical subtexts of the official Fringe. The models it has created (including a valiant element of self-reflection) and the energies that it has unleashed are valuable in themselves, but they're significant only in so far as they continue to be resistant. I'm saying "continue" I suppose because before the Forest Fringe was even into its final week I was hearing Andy being asked about what might happen next year, and this of course is a salient question, though one that I hope none of the parties involved this year will start to consider for a few days yet... Perhaps the most important indicator so far has been the expression of the curators' desire that Forest Fringe should inspire other refusenik projects to proliferate next August: and that has to be right, doesn't it. Forest Fringe has shown what is possible (though I hope no one will underestimate the incredible amount of work and imagination that went into making it happen; even during the five days I was there, Andy seemed to be visibly depleting before my very eyes, as if he was in urgent need of some of that mysterious weightlifting powder that always sits so incongruously on the shelves of Holland & Barrett in buckets the size of fat children). Its principal gift to Edinburgh has been the jemmying open of that skylight. It's up to others to riff on the air currents that have started to flow as a consequence. (Because, obviously, you can riff on air currents, I checked in my copy of The Observer Book of 101 Things To Do With Air Currents.) What's needed at the same time is a real vigilance in monitoring the assumptions that swarm around any such project, particularly when it's been so self-evidently successful. It's curious and in a way slightly disappointing to see even the biggest fans of the Forest Fringe sounding off excitedly about how it must return "bigger and better" next year. I suppose "better" is not in itself an injurious aspiration to harbour, but why bigger? Do we really have no other benchmark for continuing success than inflation? Should it even "return"? What would that, or could that, look like? Could Forest Fringe's most progressive legacy perhaps be not in returning but in enabling other quite separate outcrops of lo-fi innovation? Could its grassroots model not outdo itself most hopefully by refashioning itself plurally and vigorously and even unpredictably? How many fringes am I holding up?

Well, we'll see. For now, I simply hope the whole experience was as rewarding for Andy and Deborah and everyone else who gave time and talent to it as it was for me. I was astonished to get more than respectable audiences every night for each of the three readings, and only slightly regretful that the smallest was for the last and probably most successful of the events. (Even that number dwarfed some of the audience figures for my show last year, which I've only fairly recently finished paying for.) I won't detain you with a blow-by-blow account but I was really chuffed with how the readings went and how the work was received. Delighted especially I think with the reception to the first programme, which left people talking about the poems rather than about the performances -- which, those who've been exposed to the fullest throbbings of my ego may be surprised to hear, is always the outcome I'm hoping for. In particular, Geoff Ward's brilliant versions of Rilke's Duino Elegies seem to have struck a deep chord with many. I was pretty happy also with how the last programme went -- a viciously steep compendium of Cathy Berberian's Stripsody, which I'd never performed before; a truculent blast of Bob Cobbing, which was like gargling with stingrays; and the whole of Schwitters's Ursonate, which is very rarely performed in full -- and, believe me won't you, there are reasons for that. All things considered, it all went off really well and there were encouraging responses from folks like Peter Manson and Tony Paraskeva who were kind enough to make the journey and whose opinions on this kind of stuff are credible to say the least.

There are, incidentally, crappy but conceivably serviceable recordings of Ginsberg's Howl, from the first night, and the whole of the Berberian/Cobbing/Schwitters programme, so I'll clean them up as best I can and probably upload them here: for promotional reasons, apart from anything else -- I'd love to get more gigs along such lines: I like doing them -- more than I actually like doing, y'know, most performancey stuff; and the work also ought to be out there, being done: not just sitting in textbooks or getting jostled in the cathedral-bazaar that is Ubuweb, but running up to people and twatting them in the ear. ...Oh, oh, I've done it again, I've recast myself as Tango Man.

As for the rest of Edinburgh, there's not an awful lot to tell. I hardly saw any theatre: only Paperweight, which worked like a dream in its little office setting and very richly deserved its eventual Fringe First: but a (peculiarly badly-worded) quote from my previous post on that show is already been used as part of its promotional campaign so I probably need say no more; and Pornography, Simon Stephens's play at the Traverse. I'm a little abashed to say I've never seen or read any of Stephens's work before. On this evidence, he may well be as good as they say. Certainly the writing was extremely beautiful and careful and intelligent, gorgeously weighted and poised -- he ends speeches with particular elan. I'm not sure the play was as good as the writing, and I'm not sure the production was as good as the play: though both went up in my estimation when I bought the playtext and realised the extent to which the particular production creates the play: the six different blocks of material that the production intercuts are printed as separate sections, preceded by the injunction: "This play can be performed by any number of actors. It can be performed in any order." -- Actually, neither of those statements is true, obviously: this is hardly so Cageian as all that. But it does strongly imply a kind of modernist approach that seems quite in keeping with present day London. It's a good way of staging the city. Perhaps fittingly, the performances are rather various and there seems to have been little attempt to reconcile the different languages that these actors bring, one consequence of which is that it takes an awfully long time (I find) to tune in to the actual pitch of the production. Sheila Reid is luminous, as near as dammit literally so; Jeff Rawle terrifically, seductively watchable as always; and I very much warm after a while to Billy Seymour in the excruciatingly difficult role of the strutting and desperate Jason. I haven't read any reviews of the production, by the way: presumably there's been chuntering from some quarters about how Amanda Hale, hugely charismatic but frequently completely inaudible from halfway back in the auditorium (at least at this slightly unfair 10am performance), is a recent Katie Mitchell alumna and has obviously been brainwashed into nonprojection...

I suppose the two big highlights for me this year were art shows: Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller at the Fruitmarket, and the Tracey Emin retrospective at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art: chalk and cheese in some respects but both valorizing the engagement of the viewer in startlingly effective ways.

The Cardiff & Miller show places six installations across the two floors of the Fruitmarket, using a variety of resources and producing a remarkable range of tones and performative conundra. Most, in some way, use, both mechanically and thematically, automation and triggering as a way of (non-invasively) highlighting the role and authority of the viewer in not just completing but actually initiating and narrating the works as outwinding durational experiences. The most impactful is probably the horrifying The Killing Machine (2007), in which, in a human-scale skeleton room two spindly robots operate on an implied figure in a reclining chair, their movements and the scenario suggesting both dentistry and torture, while a mirrorball revolves incongruously above our heads. The chilling sensation it educes is all the more freighted because the whole 'performance', lasting just a few minutes, has to be started each time by a spectator pressing a big red button. As a mutely simple diagram of our complicity in torture and capital punishment carried out "in our name" whether or not we perform its renunciation, it's a real smack in the chops, and its lyricism and ingenuity and even its cold humour make it even more so. In common with all the installations in the show, particularly the (apparently) breezier interactive adventure of The Dark Pool, the devil is in the incredible level of detail, and in the absolute finesse of the scaling.

(A quick word in passing about the nifty catalogue to the exhibition, too, which comes in two slipcased volumes: a companion to the show itself, and a second, fatter book collating notes and sketches for installations and other pieces that for whatever reason never came to be made. I love the candidness of this coupling, but also its emotional resonance, which retroactively suffuses the show itself -- the six pieces in the exhibition become haunted by the phantoms of all those that never made it, and the question of what we, as viewers, produce art out of becomes all the more vexatious and fascinatingly nebulous.)

I suppose the common denominator between Cardiff/Miller and Tracey Emin would probably be Louise Bourgeois, and indeed one of the many sticks that critics have chosen to beat Emin with both in relation to this first UK retrospective of her work and all throughout her career is that her influences are too near the surfaces: underabsorbed Schiele, undigested Munch, misappropriated Beuys... This is, I think, contrariwise, one of the things I like most about her: as a vital part of her diaristic aesthetic and, just as importantly, her exceedingly affectionate tone (which most critics and many gallery-goers seem blind to), these references are like autographs collected, or records dedicated on the radio, or songs sung at the karaoke night. These artists are simply people, friends, with whom she's engaged in a dialogue -- and sometimes, also, quite disengaged. Some of her exquisitely beautiful drawings are more like a chat with Schiele on the phone, as informal but also, vitally, as respectful as, say, the heartbreaking collection of objects and images associated with her nan, or the names of friends and colleagues that cover the lovely applique blankets. It makes a huge difference to see all this work together, where the more notorious pieces like My Bed or the neon My Cunt Is Wet With Fear (both 1998; the even-more-famous Everyone I Have Ever Slept With of course is not here, having very sadly been destroyed in a fire at a storage warehouse in 2004) can be re-viewed in relation to the rhythms and signatures that persist throughout Emin's work. In this context, the pieces seem neither as preposterously sententious nor as cynically shallow and attention-seeking as they may do separated from the course of her life and work (a cumulatively meaningless distinction anyway for Emin); rather, their honesty and generosity and tenderness seems affecting and involving, and their self-involvement paradoxically sort of public-spirited: what, in the end, she seems to be asking, is all your precious privacy and self-protection for? Perhaps this is victim art of a kind, but in the most productive, out-turned way: she seems to have an instinctive understanding that the most powerful person in the room is the one with the least to (attempt to) hide -- a theatrical instinct, I'd call that, though many would demur.

I will admit that I went along to this show pretty well disposed to like it: I can take or leave Emin the sozzled chat-show personality and erratic newspaper columnist, but I've always liked her work and the spirit in which she undertakes it -- I think her technical proficiency is underestimated only slightly less than, as it were, her humane proficiency. However, even I didn't expect to be moved as I was: I was in tears within two minutes of buying my ticket; and yet further round I was laughing out loud, startling some of the sombre and sceptical folks around me. (I was fascinated, though, by a party of quite elderly women who worked their way around the show at about the same time and pace as me: occasionally nonplussed, they nonetheless seemed absolutely to recognize what Emin was up to and to be as touched as I was.) I can't describe my disappointment on reading, on the way out, the gallery comments book, covered in intemperate scrawl (much of it less elegant and no better spelt than Emin's own handwritten outpourings) about the death of art and "the emperor's new clothes". There is perhaps something about the way that Emin's work is slightly occluded by the hype and the Daily Mail controversy that orbits it, but "emperor's new clothes" is witless because it's exactly wrong. Emin, clothed in the best and bravest traditions of fine art, walks out insisting that she's naked, leaving the smartass little boy in the crowd with nothing to shout about except his own fear of her stark assurance. I've already had to spend a moment or two -- quite rightly -- sitting on the naughty step for saying so in regrettably immoderate terms, so I'm not going to assert this too grandly, but: it seems to me that Jeanette Winterson is right (and when have I ever thought that before?) when she says that "the question, when looking at [Emin's] work, is not how to judge it but how to feel it". This is a challenge that preys more and more on my mind: though I guess that's not the appropriate forum for it. I file it alongside the dictum of the wonderful gay American poet John Wieners: "I try to write the most embarrassing thing I can think of." In plenty of ways I'm one of the most reserved and awkward and inhibited and generally English people I know: but the last couple of years, and Speed Death... in particular (and also the new script for Queer Up North, The Adventures of Wound Man and Shirley), I've started to notice the truth of this, the imperative to accurate feeling -- by which I at least partly mean feeling that isn't immediately chased down by language; feeling that we sit with, observe, and don't kneejerk-attempt to earth via the mot juste. Dennis's blog is a constant reminder of this, too. What's your privacy for? What are you building in there? I must confess I'm more and more excited about using the upcoming Hey Mathew project as a testbed for this more assertively emotional (though, I hope, no less intellectually cogent) approach.

Actually, in terms of an emotional woosh, nothing in all the time I was in Edinburgh really outdid seeing Wall-E. (I'd decided that would be my fallback plan if I couldn't get a return to see The TEAM's Architecting -- which I'm sure I'd have loved, but I began to realise as I approached the Traverse that actually I'd be kind of disappointed if I got in and had to miss Wall-E after all.) There are huge great essays to be written about the brilliance of Wall-E, particularly its opening 45 minutes -- its art direction, its sound design, its apparently genuine anticapitalist sentiment, and perhaps most importantly its contribution to the field of machine ethics... But for once I'm going to refrain and let someone else spoil it all. Look I think it's the most impressive film I've ever seen. Sure, it takes a seriously wrong turn when it starts putting 'people' on screen, but even so, I think it's without a doubt the equal of 2001: A Space Odyssey, say, and it dwarfs even the best of Spielberg (a distant memory, admittedly) and massively exceeds the already dizzying previous achievements of Pixar. And I say this as someone who sat through the whole thing with a four-year-old boy sitting directly behind me eating Acme Extra-Loud Crisps and announcing "It's Wall-E!" every time the eponymous hero entered the shot. (Why aren't there designated adults-only screenings for the most accomplished "family" films?)

The only thing that could come close to matching that movie for basic Edinburgh thrills was an event that Andy described to me when I arrived, and which I resolved to attend and then completely forgot about: namely, the ceremonial elevation of a penguin called Nils, at Edinburgh Zoo, to an honorary knighthood bestowed by the Norwegian King's Guard. (Tbh, I initially kind of thought Andy must be kidding, or at least exaggerating: but no, here it all is. A clip of many riches, that.) But there were other no less gladdening pleasures to be had: not least, an incendiarily spicy Thai meal with Sebastien, out with whom it was a treat to hang; and a couple of great, though necessarily foreshortened, evenings with Jonny, crammed between my readings and his late-night shows. Spending any time with Jonny is like licking your finger and putting it in a mains socket. (...An image that I intended to carry only the idea of hair-raising electrification, though now I see that it's rather shadowed by a quite inappropriate sexual reading that I can assure loyal readers could not have been further from my mind. Honest.)

And I think that's all that's worth making a fuss about. Matters, inevitably, arise, as they will. I had thought to take a swing or two at Paul Arendt's Guardian blog piece about solo performance, which conflates a number of quite separate questions, not all of them totally without merit, into as slaveringly idiotic a confection as can ever have been published in that forum; but I think it was so self-evidently baleful as to need no further comment from me, and one might as well just say that as take 15,000 words to prove it. And now an argument rages, shifting in and out of focus, about the conduct of critics Chris Wilkinson and Ian Shuttleworth in their isolated resistance to the operating mechanics of Badac Theatre's promenade piece The Factory, which led eventually, days later, to Shuttleworth being stalked and Wilkinson actually being physically attacked. My own 2p-worth (yeah, tuppence doesn't buy you what it used to, does it?) nestles in there somewhere, and I won't say any more about it all here, save for the observation that, on average, those who defend the piece and its makers are worse spellers than those who defend Shutters and Wilko and deplore the actions of the company. Of course Tracey Emin can't spell either: but then, as -- who was it, Traherne maybe?, or maybe a bit later, maybe Pope, someone like that? -- so eloquently reminds us: "There is no monopoly of common sense / On either side of the political fence." (...Oh, wait...)

In summary, then: it turned out to be a lot more fun going up for a few days than staying home and writing a newspaper piece about why I wasn't going, so I'm glad that's how it worked out. I had a daily Oreo shake at Black Medicine and I walked by the Waters of Leith and I bought great Scottish cheese at Peckham's deli and I got to shout "cocksucker" in a church hall. (It's in Howl, yo, I wasn't overtaken by Tourettes during a charity beetle drive. ...Does anyone under the age of, well, exactly my age know what a beetle drive is, I wonder?) I'm pretty certain next year I won't get away with such a flying visit, but we'll cross that bridge later. Maybe by next year they'll have worked out how to deep-fry the rain as it falls. Vorsprung durch Technik, n'est-ce pas.

Back soon.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Never say never again, again

Awww; it almost seemed for a moment, in that flurry of recent activity in these pages, that Thompson's might conceivably have been kissed by a fairy as it slept, and awoken to find itself transformed into a real blog, with new posts popping up almost as frequently as Merzbow records. Unfortunately, I think it's not to be: today's post is not much more than an apology in advance of my sinking back into the doldrums of unearned and unwarranted aestivation.

This week's matter-in-hand is an encroaching deadline for finishing a first draft of The Adventures of Wound Man and Shirley for Queer Up North. Though the piece won't emerge into the daylight until next April, the scale and potential complexity of the project means we need something script-shaped in the bag in the next few days. It's not going badly, though there's a long way still to go and progress is pretty slow, partly because of the intricacy of the writing, the structure in particular, but partly because despite the recent showers, the room where I work is pretty hot and kind of stupefying, so even at its most intense and fluent the process seems to wobble constantly on the edge of utter somnolence. Every time I come up against a problem, my body reacts by going into standby mode. I have hidden the aerial for my tv card, I've cut my sugar consumption by half, and I've taken to turning my phone and email off for the greater part of the day, so that nothing can distract me: the consequence of which is I become distracted by nothing, or hardly anything. I gaze vacantly upon lint and paperclips as if they somehow held the key to everything. What with my work-rate and my woozy-headedness, it occurs to me that this must be what it's like to be George Michael (but without any money in the bank -- or, for that matter, a guy called Kenny doting on me in a slightly creepy way).

Anyway, I've got to get this all done and dusted in the next week, as I'm then off on some travels: a few days hanging out with my dad and re-reading various biographies of Edward Lear (research for the next play, King Pelican, which I've said I'll deliver in about six weeks time); but before that, a few days in Edinburgh.

I swore blind I wasn't going to go this year, just to spite them after the outrageous dumb-ass fulmination with which my 2007 offering was greeted. But then Andy Field got in touch with news of some freshly-opened slots at Forest Fringe, after an exciting-looking Russian company he'd programmed were refused visas: and this coincided with some particularly unmanageable pangs on my part as the list of shows and exhibitions and friends that I was sad to be missing started to chafe. Also, a floated notion of me penning a newspaper article along the lines of "Why I am not going to Edinburgh this year" failed to come to fruition, and it started to seem almost as easy to spite them by, in the end, going, as to spite the Fringe by not. (I do appreciate, by the way, that neither the Edinburgh Fringe nor the arts editors of any of the national newspapers give a twelfth of a cahoot whether I'm there or not; I suddenly realised you couldn't see how far my tongue was embedded in my cheek...)

So, to cut to the end of the non-anecdote, I'm now going to be doing a series of three reading/performances of work from the wilder territories, one way or another, of 20th century poetry (and allied trades). I've read or performed quite a lot of this stuff before in various contexts, but mostly in academic settings -- so I'm fascinated to see what happens if I try and share this work, which I so greatly value, with a festival crowd to whom much of it, I guess, may be new. The three programmes, each with a run time of about 50 minutes (counting introductions beforehand and apologies afterward), are as follows:

#1 (Wednesday 13th):
Gertrude Stein, 'If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso'
Allen Ginsberg, 'Howl'
Rainer Maria Rilke / Geoff Ward, Duino Elegies (nos. 1, 4, 10 -- I think)

#2 (Thursday 14th):
short pieces by Samuel Beckett, Erik Belgum, Christopher Knowles, Jon Leidecker [Wobbly], Bruce Nauman, Yoko Ono, Jerome Rothenberg and Cecil Taylor (or thereabouts)

#3 (Friday 15th):
Cathy Berberian, 'Stripsody'
Bob Cobbing / Jeremy Adler, 'Notes from the Correspondence' (excerpt)
Kurt Schwitters, Ursonate

Saturday 16th will I think mostly be spent in bed with some camomile tea.

Seriously, I'm excited about the prospect of getting down and dirty with this stuff in such congenial surroundings, and particularly about having a first stab at the whole of the Ursonate, having had a go at the last movement as part of a sort of relay with Peter Manson, Sean Bonney and Josh Robinson at a memorable event curated by Harry Gilonis in Cambridge a couple of years ago.

Anyway, I've posted all this here partly in the hope that, if you're in Edinburgh next week or you have friends or colleagues who will be, you might kindly pass these details on to them. Like all the Forest Fringe stuff it's on a pay what you can basis, so you have nothing much to lose other than fifty minutes of your life -- or, alternately, insert a less diffident promotional catchphrase of your choice HERE. I'm slightly nervous because Edinburgh's a busy place, and 7pm is a popular time for doing other things, and the Forest Fringe is wonderfully disattached from the horrid leviathan fringe proper but therefore doesn't get included in the regular whirl of listings -- which may turn out to be to its advantage, who knows, and will certainly make for a more oxygenated ambience, but it would be a shame to go all that way to read poetry to no one. Ursonate in particular could very quickly in such circumstances become a dose of, er, "sound and fury, signifying nothing" avant la lettre.

Well, so, we'll see. In the meantime, val-de-ree, and heigh! for the open road, and etc etc.

But all this means I won't be posting again until the end of this month at the earliest, unless I find myself sufficiently unable to resist sounding off from Edinburgh that I'm prepared to sit in an overpriced internet cafe for the privilege of doing so.

On what, then, mes chouettes adorees, are you to squander your time in the meanbetwix? Fear not: Uncle Controlling T. has compiled a little list of ten things you might conceivably enjoy turning your attention to while I'm busy devastating what shreds remain of my once-proud reputation. (Eleven if you count Cake Farts, but for heaven's sake don't click on that unless you are (a) completely alone and pretty drunk, or (b) literally Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.) So, fire up your copy of Brian Fahey's "At the Sign of the Swinging Cymbal", and let's see what the world has to offer you:

1. My old sparring partner David Eldridge has a two-part audio interview with Heather Neill quite newly up at TheatreVoice, to tie in with the opening of his early play Under the Blue Sky in London's sparkletastic West End. Thompson's regulars will need no reminding that David and I have struggled at times to see eye to eye but I hope it's always been clear that I valued those sometimes bumpity conversations because I greatly value David himself as a passionately committed advocate for the playwriting stream in British theatre. If he weren't so smart and so interesting, those conversations would have been a waste of time. In fact, if it hadn't been for his provocative presence in the blogosphere (now sadly -- and I hope only temporarily -- withdrawn), I don't think I would have had the idea to do ...Sisters, for one thing. (It's for you to decide what balance of praise and blame should be transferred to him.) At any rate, it's a terrific pleasure to hear David in relaxed and expansive mood here, talking about Under the Blue Sky and, with characteristic ardour, about the need for contemporary playwrights to be better served with second and further productions of plays that for the most part, as it stands, only ever get one airing: an unimpeachably good point, admirably well made.

Incidentally, TheatreVoice can now be subscribed to via iTunes (though you'd have to like proper theatre considerably more than I do to take that particular plunge); and the interviews can also be downloaded from the TheatreVoice web site rather than streamed. I have a whole bunch in my iPod for long journeys and sleepless nights.

2. Tim Etchells links to a very interesting interview with New York-based visual artist Vlatka Horvat, at an excellent blog, This is That, maintained by artist Johanna Reed. All of the above, excepting Etchells of course, are new to me, and an especially happy discovery. I particularly like the subheadings in the Horvat interview, which speak very acutely and seductively to the work I'm doing and the dreams I'm incorrigibly dreaming in preparation for my upcoming piece Hey Mathew: "Wanting more than the body can do"; "A body attempting to simultaneously occupy inside and outside"; "Language as an object", and so on.

3. An Experiment in Collaboration is the current exhibition (through to the end of August) at the Jerwood Space gallery -- it was being installed about ten days ago when I took Jonny over there to flirt with the cafe staff. The show asks six visual artists, working across a range of forms and media, to choose a collaborator, and each project arising is then collaboratively conceived and created. The chosen collaborators include a forensic psychiatrist, a biophysicist, a computer game designer, an architect, a filmmaking collective, and the ladies and gentlemen of Dazed & Confused magazine; and a blog details each process as it emerges. (There's a particularly interesting post on "the blog as an analogy of process" which really dovetails fascinatingly with my research project at Rose Bruford, which will feed into Hey Mathew.) What's surprising in a way about this enterprise is how simple it is at a group level, and I don't know how much the relations of the individual projects (or, one might imagine, their parallelism) can say or suggest about the nature of collaboration in general: but it looks as though the individual projects might be at least interesting. Unfortunately the only detailed information at the Jerwood Space site is a .pdf, which is slightly annoying, but your mileage may vary.

4. Look! It's The Reality Street Book of Sonnets. I thought I might die before it finally emerged from its epic pupation; but in its own good time in the end it arrived -- and once again I thought I might die: the range, the chutzpah, the sheer bloody excitingness of this anthology is heart-attack-inducing. I'm a sucker for anthologies, but this is something else entirely. Someone over at Dennis's blog reminded me today of the phrase "all killer, no filler", and that sums this book up perfectly: there is literally nothing here that doesn't abundantly reward the reader's attention and imagination. The compass of the anthology is the life of the sonnet from 1945 up to about this time yesterday (culminating with the gobsmackingly brilliant Justin Katko and Sophie Robinson), and its scope easily accommodates plenty of visual and soundtext work as well as exhilarating adventures with both the cumbersome baggage of the form and its startling elasticity and mutability. Watch me ride half a league into the valley of individiousness as I choose some favourite stuff: Tim Atkins's droll and weirdly poignant refashionings of Petrarch; a ravishing sequence of brush-stroke sonnets from David Miller, which effectively reframe for me everything of Miller's that I've ever read; Giles Goodland's sublimely funny and disconcerting compositions from found documentary sources; and Jen Bervin's reticently poised and lyrically reverberant writings-through of Shakespearean phantoms. One of the best things about those four examples is that nothing else here is not at least nine-elevenths as good as them. And it's a pleasure also to see more familiar sonnets (from Adrian Clarke, Tony Lopez, Ken Edwards, Peter Jaeger, Peter Manson...) in this context and this company, where everything folds itself outwards like a house party spilling onto the lawn outside.

Worth noting, I think, in passing -- though it's touched on briefly in the excellent introduction -- that one of the centres of gravity to this anthology is the Writers Forum workshop, instituted by Bob Cobbing and these days helmed by Clarke and Lawrence Upton. At least a dozen of these here poets, probably many more, have or have had strong links to that workshop, which meets fortnightly through most of the year, these days at the Betsey Trotwood pub in Farringdon, though for a short while at CPT while I was swivelling in the warmseat. A book like this brings home the importance of that meeting-place, and of its longevity not least. It was sitting in that circle that I first heard Jeff Hilson, the editor of this astonishing volume and himself one of the most brilliant poets I know, read from his Bird Bird -- just about my favourite thing to have ever happened. I really want to start going to the workshop again, but I'm sick of making the resolution, only to have it swamped by my own disastrousness.

Anyway, I don't think I can recommend this anthology any more highly than I already have; if you think I can, then please take it as read that I do. I definitely can't think of a better or more inspiring introduction to what remains to be done in your life, starting now.

5. While we're doing poetry, can I quickly remind you of the increasingly vital site of my pal Tom Moore, who, under the nom de blog of Thomas Moronic, is gradually, more or less daily, creating a massive and seemingly edgeless composite work whose moment-to-moment lightness of touch and sureness of cadence eventually starts to yield, if you'll let it, to a cumulatory weight and resonance that's starting to genuinely astound me. Some of Tom's work has now been gathered in a collection called Surfaces (which can be ordered via a link on the blog), with which I've been settling happily down whenever I've found myself in transit in recent days. (Well, except when on foot.) There's a loomingly, often movingly eerie disjunct between -- well, I suppose it's simply between what is said and what is unsaid, and how the precsion of his phrasing (even when the voices he uses are at their bleariest) tightrope-teeters between those two sheer drops: between unreliable but not un-truth-like utterance on one side, and everything beyond articulation and at the farthest limit of what we can imagine daring to feel on the other. I've liked his stuff for ages: but at the moment, every time I go to it, I find myself thinking that I didn't know the half of it. And what's more the beggar's a fine musician: and a peach of a fellow to boot.

6. Just stumbled a few nights ago across this place, which has a peculiar but pretty interesting assortment of vintage (and less so) television programmes available on DVD. I don't know, I can't find anything that says, what the sources of the footage are -- I imagine it might just be transfers of private VHS recordings, conceivably. (That would certainly explain the apparent randomness of the catalogue.) Nonetheless, the prices are not too steep on the whole and I imagine one might be prepared to put up with some less-than-pristine picture quality in order to have the chance to revisit, say, series 4 of The Adventure Game or all three seasons of the correctly unloved Simon Callow / Brenda Blethyn sitcom Chance in a Million. There's a lot of Zammo/Gonch-era Grange Hill, masses of Childrens Film Foundation stuff (including the disturbing late-era drama Survivors which still somewhat haunts me), and bags of Kenny Everett; what's got me all a-quiver, though -- a tremulousness I can hardly consider resolving while I don't have a functioning DVD player in the house -- are a collection of the genius late 60s US cartoon 'The Ant and the Aardvark', initially conceived by the great Friz Freleng, and featuring music from a nifty little jazz combo including Shelly Manne and Ray Brown; and the one-off BBC2 drama 'Dirtysomething', a frankly irresistible love story which followed the then little-known Rachel Weisz and the soppily beautiful Paul Reynolds as they upshifted from being happy itinerant crusties to houseproud, screwed-up yuppies, and then explosively chucked it all in and went back to their roots. I reckon 'Dirtysomething' is one of those helpful early-in-a-possible-relationship litmus tests: anyone who doesn't want to sleep with you after you've shown it to them just basically isn't nice enough people anyway.

7. Still in archive-trawling mood, here's a blog I've come across this week: Time Has Told Me is an eye-wateringly massive compendium of out-of-print albums mostly from the folky neck of the woods, particularly 60s and 70s British stuff (as the Nick Drake reference in the blog name would suggest), though with a fair dab of more recent acid-folk and freak-folk materials, and plenty (and Planxty) besides. For each one, a cover pic and some introductory notes are posted, along with a Rapidshare link (or similar) if you want to download a ripped copy. It's understandable that this practice of posting links to whole downloadable albums causes some consternation in some parts -- witness the row in the comments field when an in-print Nic Jones album is featured -- but almost everything here is long out of commercial circulation and, pace some of the protestors' comments, I'd tend to think having these ripped copies freely available increases, rather than decreases, the demand for properly authored reissues.

A quick skim of the dazzling artist index brings up such interesting and worthwhile folks as Andy Pratt, Assagai, Chris Foster (whose awesome All Things In Common is here, featuring perhaps the best rendering I've ever heard of Leon Rosselson's classic 'The World Turned Upside Down'), Dick Gaughan, Dr Strangely Strange, Frankie Armstrong, John Fahey, Julie Covington (both of her albums, both essential), lots of Martin Carthy, lots of the great Peter Bellamy, lots of Robin Williamson... and so on. There are literally hundreds of really good records here; not all of the uploads are maintained in perpetuity but it seems like if you ask nicely for a repost, there's a good possibility you'll get it. Likewise, requests and recommendations are solicited. It's really an incredible resource and the dedication of the blog owner and posters is, as so often with these things, humbling.

8. The Live Art Almanac is now available: it's a publication from the Live Art Development Agency, and can be picked up through their abundantly useful provisional wing stroke giftshop, Unbound. The Almanac gathers writings on and near live art from a variety of sources over the past couple of years, from position papers to online reviews to newspaper obituaries to talks to emails; the thirty-odd contributing writers include Brian Catling, Helen Cole (of the Arnolfini), Tim Etchells, Lyn Gardner, Guillermo Gomez-Pena (brilliant as ever), Nick Ridout, and my pals Theron Schmidt and Rajni Shah. It's a fascinating idea, almost counterintuitive -- to be gathering these shreds and patches, in all their fugitive and marginal and provisional partiality, and fixing them in an actual book (as opposed to an online archive, say) seems like a remarkable, and highly attractive, instance of swimming upstream.

On a personal note, I rather regret refusing permission for a bit of Thompson's to be published in this collection. It's important to me that writing for Thompson's is not the same thing as writing for print (though I have on occasion allowed other things to be circulated on paper in certain contexts), important not least for me in the moment of doing the writing. But I didn't quite understand the nature and scope of the project; I think the piece they wanted would have been better protected in this context than I feared it might. So, Daniel, if you happen to read this, I'm sorry, I think I made the wrong call.

As it goes, this is a lively, mostly intelligent, often pretty infuriating publication; I like what it stands for more than I like some of what gets said within it, but that's the territory. I did in fact draft half a response for here, trying a really intemperate voice on for size and wanting to let the performance of polemical blood-spitting fury drown out the fact that a lot of the book is worth reading. But it would have done more harm than good, in every particular. So the next best thing is to recommend that you track this baby down, and see if you can work yourself up into your own personal lather. (The colossal, vacuous self-regard of Simon Casson's submission to the McMaster review would be a good place to start. Never have I felt such a rush of sympathy for the DCMS. I'd have slit my wrists if my morning inbox had contained such an arrogant, cheap, fake-witted pile of bullcrap.)

9. For those who are not in Edinburgh and who prefer their live art live and for real, can I strongly recommend my friend Brian Lobel's upcoming performance at the Shunt Vaults, Hold My Hand And We're Halfway There. It sounds like a hoot: Brian dances for two hours to a bunch of musicals on video, and you get to dance with him, or choose your own musical, or just hang out. It's on over four consecutive evenings, August 13th to 16th, and I would very warmly urge you to take it in if you can. Brian's a wonderfully warm and engaging presence and I can't imagine anyone I'd rather see doing stuff like this. But I'll be shooting my own horses, won't I, so you'll have to go instead and tell me what you think.

10. Finally, above all, can we pause for a moment to celebrate the inclusion of John Berger's yet-to-be-published novel From A to X on this year's Man Booker longlist? As all the accompanying reportage has reminded us, when Berger won the Booker in 1972, for his (fictional) masterpiece G., he gave half the money to the Black Panthers. (His brilliant semi-acceptance speech is included in his Selected Essays from a few years back, ed. Geoff Dyer: every home should have one.) What will come of this latest -- and of course in almost every sense transcendentally irrelevant -- endorsement, who can say? There's certainly no indication in his most recent writing, in say Hold Everything Dear, that Berger at 82 has remotely 'mellowed': why would he?

I mention this mostly, though, because I've been re-reading G., and liking it even more than I did when I first sat with it ten years ago. It's a difficult book, or not difficult so much as demanding: it requires extended attention, patience, care; some of the writing on sex seems a little overripe at this distance, in a way that perhaps it didn't in '72. But it's a beautiful work of literary art, utterly serious and searching and kind and full of Berger's radiant humanity.

Like all of the best of Berger's writing (in other words, pretty much everything apart from the poetry), it also seems to me to be about theatre: I mean it seems to describe, in various ways, and with great insight, the things out of which theatre is, or could or should be, crafted or delivered. I don't suppose that theatre per se is very close to Berger's mind: though of course he has collaborated to some effect with Simon McBurney on a couple of projects, The Vertical Line for Artangel in 1999 and Vanishing Points in 2005, and on Complicite's adaptations of his stories The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol (from his book Pig Earth) and, for radio, To The Wedding. But, I guess because he is intensely interested in, and committed to thinking deeply about, different models of social relations, and the means by which we read and apprehend the world before us and the conditioning of those means by extraneous and invasive forces, he can often be seen describing an essence of searching and inquiry, and a double bind of human availability and dissidence, which appeals to any sense of theatre that contains or approaches the practice of ethical action.

In the seminar paper The Forest and the Field [not to be confused with the Forest's Andy Field], which I gave earlier this year in Cambridge and posted here somewhereabouts, it's an essay of Berger's that describes the "field" which I posit as a post-liminal alternative to the permissiveness of the Shakespearean "forest". (I used the same essay, in connection with some stuff about kanji nicked from a Robert Lepage interview, as a component in my 2006 show We Must Perform A Quirkafleeg!.) And now, looking again at G., I'm once again struck by these amazing, nearly but not quite unwitting, descriptions of an ideal theatre.

Take for example this passage, in which the young boy at the heart of the novel has fallen in love with his governess -- or rather, she has become the channel through which he learns to fall in love with the world, and with himself in it. Berger writes, with infinite tenderness:

"The mystery which inflames him and at night in bed stiffens his penis leads the boy to ask a number of questions. But the questions are asked in a mixed language of half-words, images, movements of the hands and gestural diagrams which he makes with his own body. Thus, the following are the crudest translations.
Why do I stop at my skin?
How do I get nearer to the pleasure I am feeling?
What is in me that I know so well and nobody else yet knows?
How do I let somebody else know it?
In what am I -- what is this thing in the middle of which I have found myself and which I can't get out of?
He is convinced that by means of the same mixed language in which he asks these questions, she can answer them. All the formal questions he asks her in the schoolroom and which she answers (What makes rain? What does a wolf really eat? etc.) are a mere preparation for this."

It's all there: the act of questioning, the "mixed language", the body diagrams and gestures, the questions themselves, all of which pertain so profoundly to the syntax of theatrical (bodily) presence; the ineffable erotic suffusion of the yearning -- and the basic need -- to ask questions of the body with the body, the desire to express the desire to express; and, not least, the way in which the content, as it were, of his questions -- about the rain, the wolf -- is not where the theatrical potency of them resides: they're preparatory to the act of theatre, they're text as pretext. Everything about this passage is describing the theatre towards which I, and others, are feeling our way.

I could go on like this about Berger for hours, but I won't.

Time to go. Enjoy the next bit of summer, if that's what it turns out to be. If I don't impale you on the receiving end of some serious Schwitters (or thereabouts), I'll be seeing you -- no doubt -- in all the old familiar places before too horribly long.