Post “London Liming”, liming is my new word of choice for a higher plane of grazing/cotching. It’s that blissfully unoccupied space in your brain, the g spot of recreation, you may not have found it yet, hell you may never find it, but irritatingly plenty of folks will keep regaling their tales of Zen whilst you wonder why you didn’t thief that seemingly pointless page of tips out of Marie Claire from the doctor’s surgery. Ahem…anyway liming is kind of like the Caribbean equivalent of what the French call jouissance, a term flogged to death by thinkers such as Roland Barthes when referring to “on the one hand pleasure (plaisir) linked to cultural enjoyment of identity…to a homogenizing movement of the ego; on the other a radically violent pleasure which shatters, dissipates, loses – that ego”. It has been said that the English do not have a word that can carry the meaning of jouissance, well liming seems to be the closest we’ll get to a word that can convey the coming together and the coming away made feasible through mental climax. Any type of pleasure you can conjure up in your mind is pretty much covered by this zestily satisfying term, one that can express the simultaneous union of the self and its fragmentation, all via chilling out and finding your own space to just be…
I loved the presence of video intervals during which various teens talked about what ‘liming means to them’, it seemed particularly fitting for an event, that celebrated the diversity of pleasure sought through words, to play with images and different mediums. In the spirit of liming and what Russian linguist and critic Roman Jakobson referred to as “violence on ordinary speech”, the curation of the show was admirably crafted and yet communicated freedom in terms of interaction and energy. “London Liming” managed to weave the threads between seemingly unrelated poetic forms and styles to liming and this diversity pointed to life’s mixed bag of emotions, to contemplation of the broadest sense, to connecting to our inner selves in the many guises that process can take and the glorious results it can lead to when shared. What after all does Ursula Rucker have in common with Brian Patten? Both may be referred to as luminaries in their own respective fields of poetry and both can transgress these categories through a well honed ability to spread their inner selves out into the wider world and a fuller experience. What links seemingly polarised poets is an ability developed through using the experience of liming so to speak and melding it into something concrete for others to find their own liming place. As a literature student, liming and its provocation of “giving yourself to the world, but not necessarily the people in it” (as described by a teenage girl in a video interval) came to describe the personal space we can reach when doing anything that can lead us to an unconscious pleasure, an idea that extends very well to creativity.
Patience Agbabi read a beautiful assortment of poetry, all capable of standing alone and yet made whole by the reoccurrence of a sense of open-endedness in all of them. They were majestically inconclusive, filled to the brim with different eras, different characters, different voices that veered from London to Zimbabwe. It is always interesting to read or listen to poetry where you cannot tell where the author’s voice begins or ends or if he/she wants that voice to enter the fray of overall senses and ideas at all. Her metaphors were at times challenging and I found myself wanting to decode her poetry, decode her, find the connecting threads to her style and indulge in it, because despite their complexity Patience Agbabi’s pieces all led me to an emotional space, and being a typical literature student I wanted to know exactly how and why. Agbabi provided the perfect beginning to “London Liming”, she had a divine poetic presence, she is an intriguing woman, both visually and verbally arresting. Agbabi is unsurprisingly an innovator in her field and a consummate performer, having conducted one of Eton’s first poetry slams and globally toured. Her 2000 collection Transformatrix was lauded as a commentary on modern living and as an exploration of the poetic form. She deals well with the relationship between myth and reality, drawing upon the rhyme and rhythm implicit within poetry’s musical elements and making it sound both familiar and fresh.
Stacy Makishi was simply astounding, she ruptured the building tension Patience Agbabi had initiated us into with her bittersweet poems. Makishi juxtapositioned the ordinary with the extraordinary, the only consistency in her live/interactive art/poetry being its surrealism. The great thing about surrealism is of course its grounding in what is real in terms of human emotion and Makishi built upon this, bringing the audience to creative climax. Makishi took us on a journey through her voice, to the others around us and back to our own in a rollercoaster excavation of modern anxieties and ironies. This form of liming ruptured people’s expectations of poetry, it was multidimensional, playing on varying tones and subtexts, a paradigm example of “violence upon language”. The confounded audience bore the forceful effect of Makishi’s balancing act between hilarity and sadness, an act that was almost painfully wrought out to an explosive conclusion. We all found ourselves popping the balloons handed to us ambiguously on entering the Queen Elizabeth Hall, we blew them up and popped them on her invitation to release an emotion of our choosing throwing skepticism to the side in unison. Makishi’s piece was a preview of poetry’s future and testament to her individual greatness as an artist, or at the very least one that is willing to explore what art can achieve in a real way if pushed beyond divisionary labels. On her website you can find out more about her work and her multimedia arts company that runs international workshops. See staceymakishi.com.
Now, let us move on to the esteemed Ursula Rucker, a recent review of her headlining performance said:
“The headlining act was Ursula Rucker, who someone later described as “politically correct”. I couldn’t help but agree. It was much of the same old fist-in-the-air-Jesus-peace-love-"ain’t I woman” stuff that despite the conviction with which it is said, is actually very shallow.”
however, at London Liming I heard the definite versatility of Rucker’s voice as a poet, I recognised that in the space of one poem Rucker can dance from unapologetic affirmation of self:
“Hey, my name is not Protocol
And I ain't nobody's stigma or statistic”
To spine tingling affirmation of the collective and its value system:
“You don't know my black life
My parents black love
My Black struggle
My black history
My black community”
To acrid realization that feminism can be a smokescreen for the continuation of what largely, white feminists have called out as patriarchy:
“Cause you ain't nothin' but the plantation mistress,
wearing America's corset pulled way too tight,
two sizes too small Master’s slave,
same as us,
just privileged and frigid”
And I came away in awe of Rucker’s audacity, never afraid of seeming too angry, too militant, perhaps too civil rights in an age where we, as young people, particularly in a city like London, interact with the privilege of being able to acknowledge our differences and yet cross lines that ran far deeper for our parents. We choose our identities in this age. Rucker reminds us that if we open our eyes beyond our own comfort we can see that what we believe to be social and legal security does not blanket us from injustice and ignorance and this is because she believes certain perceptions of and problems for African Americans are not relics of a bygone era. The ramifications of post colonialism and slavery bear their teeth in Rucker’s poetry and she is convinced of their silent threat. Rucker’s work may seem America specific for those who get caught up in her choice of “fist in the air” wording rather than the personal magnitude of them and yet her work all points to areas of life (struggle, misinterpretation, love, etc) that are universally truthful. Poems such as “For Women” and “Children’s Poem” are taut and frenetic, highly accomplished pieces that embody the scope of a great literary mind and address our relationship between who we are and who we have been in terms of a shared global history. When poetry can educate and linguistically embody its subject surely that is the mark of a poetic legacy. Whatever people may think of Rucker’s views she undoubtedly challenges people and everything she consistently is and refuses to be contributes to a style that is unforgettable. Without the singsong emphasis of Rucker’s delivery the body of her work breathes just fine without what could be misconstrued as her signature life support. It was strange hearing Rucker for the first time, her style felt instantly familiar, I had to remind myself to surrender to her as an individual and I came to think that this holding back on my part was due to her style having been mercilessly jacked and bludgeoned into pulpy meaninglessness by many of the spoken word artists who have come after her. Having now heard one of the most successful originators of this style of work it has reinforced just how brilliant Ursula Rucker is and just how bad some of those imitators are, those who cannot get the cadence and code that lies behind her choice of rhythm and timing right. Seeing Rucker is like being handed a slice of history, being thrust into the present and handed the demands of the future and yes it was an exhausting experience but one that in retrospect turned out to be extraordinary. The politicizing may have felt “samey” to some but I think it’s important to recognize that Rucker journeyed from diverse shades of the same sentiments with the kind of effusive agility and poise that can only derive from a wealth of experience as a poet.
“reduced to labels like…Concubine. Cunt. Bitch. Whore. Cunt. Witch. Dyke”
is what we found ourselves chanting internally long after we had all left and reciting it, in what could have been a bout of hysteria on my part after 4/5 hours of poetry, made me realize that Rucker’s work is evangelical in terms of poetry. She is constantly building upon sounds, layering metaphor over metaphor in an attempt to find meaning and release. Rucker is taxing and necessary and yes, she knows her strengths and returns to them, which is why there was not one poem that failed to fall away at the bone a little and leave some part of itself in my mind.
Brian Patten’s poetry alluded to everyday life with a more traditional approach to lyricism however his weaving of emotional states always had bite, leading us through dark confrontations with mortality, relationships in all their obliqueness and the brutality of home truths. Any attempt to steer from free verse nowadays is undervalued and perceived as retrospectively mawkish, more Hallmark card than modern masterpiece. Patten, however, is great at bringing his poems to calculated conclusion, to understandings that mutate into mini tragedies and triumphs for the human heart because he always manages to deliver that truth to his audience with “the charm of novelty” and a knowing glint in his eye. Stylistically Patten made it all sound so easy, which is an artistic coup in itself, universal truths paired with memorable rhythms is no easy feat especially when the truths are at times uncomfortable. Patten makes life’s intricacies into digestible parcels mastering love’s to and fro in a collection such as Love Poems and death and childhood most notably in collections such as Storm Damage and Amanda. From his performance, I garnered that his breadth of empathy and his ability to deftly shade the areas of life between light heartedness and darkness had deservedly led to his standing amongst poetic giants such as Philip Larkin, Pablo Neruda and Robert Lowell.
Having watched “Talking in Tongues” before “London Liming”, I found myself in the midst of an aggressive vibrancy that can sadly be lacking in traditional poetry readings, the kind of readings I as a literature student witness on a weekly basis. Poetry comes alive when it is orally delivered to us and the widening proliferation of publishing has perhaps choke-holded it in terms of stylistic regeneration. Our poets used to be our rock stars, figures of reference beyond the dusty confines of a book. Byron, Shelley, Coleridge; they were the Pete Doherty’s of the 18h century, their scandal, madness, rebellion and phantasmagorical paranoia oozing into wondrous subversion. I found myself wondering at the beginning of “Talking in Tongues” if there was any logical differentiation between spoken word and “poetry” or if these distinctions were merely cultural exercises in snobbery. Linguist Cleanth Brooks defined poetry as “the language of paradox…hard, bright, witty”, if that is true then the paradoxes within what Coleridge called “the charm of novelty to things of every day” is not an exclusively Romantic idea that necessitates opium and a slightly unhinged disposition. Airing out old ideas in new light is what lies behind all poetry’s paradoxes and the line between literal and figurative meaning depends on not only the words used but also the sounds they create. Spoken word is a sub genre that survives in the face of uncertain labelling precisely because it relies upon the nexus that makes poetry different from reading a novel; it uses sound strategically, not just as an addition to meaning but also as an integral part.