This section contains posts from our previous website dating back to 2007. Most of these posts concerned new publications and seemed a little irrelevant to our new site, so we have preserved only a small portion of “old news” that may still be of interest. The links in this section have been disabled.
SOMETHING UNPLEASANT FOR XMAS!
Roland Topor HEAD-TO-TOE PORTRAIT OF SUZANNE
The works of the French author and artist Roland Topor, who died 20 years ago, are currently undergoing a major reassessment in his homeland. Major exhibitions have been mounted and all his books are being brought back into print. This is the first of them to be translated into English for some 50 years, and more will certainly follow. Topor was something of an all-round maverick, known for his paintings and drawings as much as for his novels (The Tenant was filmed by Polanski), plays and short stories. He was also a film-maker, actor and the co-founder, with Arrabal and Jodorowsky, of the Panic movement, whose violently orgiastic performances provoked widespread condemnation. Topor’s works are dominated by a sense of irrational everyday menace that could be interpreted as humour, but a form of humour pushed deep into discomfort, almost to the point of total horror. The reader slowly becomes aware that, alongside preoccupations that some might think morbid, all is being orchestrated by a distinctively optimistic sensibility. From the collision of these factors, rooted in the author’s experiences and his irrepressible personality, come works increasingly seen as unique in European art and writing of the late 20th century. The present text is perhaps a fable, perhaps a love story of enormous tenderness, or it may be a sequence of ever more sinister events that culminate in horror and atrocity. It all depends on your point of view. The central event in this narrative cannot be revealed here, but its sheer implausible reality is utterly convincing and the effect is unforgettable. Some readers may come to wish that that was not the case. Illustrations by the author. Translated and introduced by Andrew Hodgson Paperback 170 x 148 mm, 88 pages £8.99, special launch price of £6 plus postage until Xmas.
JANUARY 2018 Georges Bataille THE SACRED CONSPIRACY will be available from 25 January.
Dear Friends, Below you will find photographs of some openings from this book, the fruit of four years’ effort. This is an important tome for Atlas Press and for this reason we are asking subscribers to our mailing list if they might care to send out the flyer to all and anyone who might be interested in it. (click here for The Sacred Conspiracy PDF flyer) The Sacred Conspiracy will be available at Bookartbookshop for personal collection at £20 until the end of May (see website for opening times).
OCTOBER 2017 Please join us at this year’s LONDON SMALL PUBLISHERS BOOKFAIR At the Conway Hall, Friday and Saturday, 10 and 11 November, 11-7pm. For more details: http://smallpublishersfair.co.uk/
NEW TITLE Robert Desnos THE PUNISHMENTS OF HELL
Written in April/May 1922, this was the first prose work by Robert Desnos (preceding Mourning for Mourning and Liberty or Love!, already published by Atlas Press). At first it appears to be a sort of roman à clef. All of Desnos’s friends in the Paris Dada Movement make their appearance, André Breton, Louis Aragon and Benjamin Péret among others; and they all find a grave in the “cemetery” just before the end of the book. The past must be buried, even though most of these now so-recognisable names were then young men in their twenties and had barely made their mark. This was perhaps because of the precise moment this novel was written. The Dada movement seemed played out, killed off by a mixture of public success, internal dissensions and boredom with the predictability of its scandals. “Let go of Dada” Breton wrote. But then what? Later in 1922 would come “The Period of Sleeping Fits”, experiments with trance states in which Desnos became the exemplary practitioner, able to produces streams of texts, drawings and rhymed poetry at will. The Punishments of Hell thus lies between Dada and Surrealism, it looks back to the deliberate incomprehensibility of, say, Tristan Tzara and overwhelms it with the savage lyricism for which Desnos would become known. The protagonists are swept into violent journeys through Paris by train and steamship, fabulous events consume their everyday life and oracles spout nonsense or wisdom. All is confusion at this critical pass when the future seems simultaneously at stake and within one’s grasp, and this “novel” perfectly embodies its modern chaos. Paperback, 170 x 148 mm., 160 pages, £10 Available at a special launch price of £7 until the Feast of the Birth of the Archaeopteryx (vulg. 25 December)
ATLAS PRESS EVENT To mark the Fête de Ste. Rrose Sélavy on 2 As 144 in the Pataphysical Calendar and to coincide with THE LONDON SMALL PUBLISHERS’ FAIR At the Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL (Friday 4 and Saturday 5 November v., 11 – 7 pm).
Atlas Press, celebrating some 35 years of tenuous existence, and the London Institute of ’Pataphysics invite you to the launch of JOURNEY TO THE LAND OF THE REAL by Victor Segalen Translated by Natasha Lehrer Manifestations and Presentations by Peter Blegvad, President of the Institute Adam Dant, Regent of Restitutive and Subliminal Imagery Magnus Irvin, Secretary of Manifestations On Friday 4 November 2016 (NOTE the change of date since the last news) In the mirific mock-Tudor hall and bar of The London Welsh Centre 157-163 Gray’s Inn rd., London WC1X 8UE 7.30 until 11 pm. RSVP essential, letting us know if you wish to bring a guest, to email@example.com
NEW PUBLICATIONS Victor Segalen (1878-1919) was a doctor and archaeologist who travelled extensively in Polynesia and China. He was also a great poet, and as befits an admirer of Gauguin and Rimbaud, the journey made in this, his last and most important work, is not so much between points on a map, as between the imagined and the real. Journey to the Land of the Real (Equipée in French) is “not a poem about a journey, nor is it the travel diary of a wanderer’s dream”. In fact, it is the summation of the author’s life as both traveller and poet, and a summation all the more surprising because he was to die in highly mysterious circumstances soon after it was written. Journey to the Land of the Real appeared posthumously in 1929 and tells, in part, of Segalen’s expedition through China to the borders of Tibet in the years of the First World War. It recounts both real adventures in a country now lost to time (a tremendous river descent, for example), but more abstruse and unknowable events too. Segalen described his book as lying “between what one dreams of and what one does, between what one desires and what one obtains; between the summit conquered by a metaphor and the altitude reached on foot by exertion … between the winged dance of the idea and the tough march along the road”. Segalen the traveller returned home, undoubtedly changed by his experiences; but Segalen the poet immediately set out on another journey from imaginary to real: that of casting into words the images of his travels, so that they might unfold anew in the mind of the reader. Here is a masterpiece that effortlessly takes its place among the classics of “travel writing” precisely because it is so much more than that; among its brief chapters are consummate prose poems that reveal a lucid, eloquent and very likable author at the height of his powers. Segalen’s works have taken a long while to be appreciated. In France he is now often bracketed with Claude Lévi-Strauss and Michel Leiris as one of the first writers to bring a post-colonial perspective to the encounter with foreign cultures. He was, of course, the earliest of these three, and proposed a “theory of exoticism” opposed to the homogenisation inflicted by imperialist norms and their agents: colonial administrators and the Christian missionaries (who suffer particular scorn in this book). This underpinning makes Journey to the Land of the Real particularly modern despite its date of composition. 136pp., hardback with decorated end papers.
FORTHCOMING Journal 13 of the London Institute of ’Pataphysics: Thieri Foulc AN EXHIBITION OF NON-PAINTED PAINTINGS. This should be ready for the event on 4 November, details to follow.
NOVEMBER 2015 New and Forthcoming Publications.
It is with considerable pleasure that we are able to announce that one of our greatest publications is now available again, the ultimate artists’ book here reissued 20 years after its first publication by Atlas Press* and now presented in a new format: AN ANECDOTED TOPOGRAPHY OF CHANCE. A little more information follows below on this edition, although we are aware that many of our supporters will already be familiar with this book, and as usual it will be available at a discounted launch price for an introductory period. *in its probably definitive re-anecdoted version The next issue of the Journal of the LIP is currently in preparation, set to appear early in the new year (vulg.) and with an outline of its otherworldly contents also noted below. Otherwise, the next publication from Atlas will be the long-awaited Anicet, or The Panorama by Aragon, scheduled for the summer and sure to oust every other beach book and holiday read.
By now the Topography should need little in the way of introduction, but a quick recapitulation of the background to our edition of this work will serve as a reminder of what it’s all about. One day in 1961, Daniel Spoerri mapped the outlines of the various objects lying randomly on the table in his room, using tracing paper and taking care to include even wine stains and the debris of broken eggshells, and then added a key which consisted of a factual documentation of each item’s description, origin and any persons associated with it. This first version of the Topography came out three months later in lieu of an exhibition catalogue for Spoerri’s show at the Galerie Lawrence in Paris, as a booklet of 54 pages. Robert Filliou had helped Spoerri with this, and a couple of years later Emmett Williams began translating it into English, with this edition later appearing under the Dick Higgins imprint of Something Else Press, in New York. In the course of this translation work Williams was moved to add notes to the plain object descriptions, as Spoerri also added notes of his own, and on occasion the two provided notes to each other’s notes, while Topor added his pictures of the listed items. Four years on, the German translation by Dieter Roth appeared, furnished with further notes and anecdotes by him, and more again by Spoerri, as the book continued to grow. In 1995 all of these texts were collected together for the first time in the Atlas Press edition, along with new material in the form of annotations by three of the authors (Spoerri, Williams, Roth), a new and extensive Introduction and several photographs. If that summary accounts for the book, it gives next to nothing away about the book’s contents, for the reader soon discovers that from such a disarmingly simple original idea that map of the table’s features reveals a landscape of reflections and associations, memories and counterpoints, that bring in all manner of connections with the world around us. The anecdotes branching off from the individual objects repeatedly fascinate, inform and entertain in their different measures, all held together by the camaraderie and bon esprit of the book’s authors. Furthermore, a cast of characters from the contemporary art world, and from outside it, animate the text through their own contributions or participations, as is clear from the substantial index (which is very much a correlate to the main text itself). In all this, the Topography both embodies and pre-dates the spirit of Fluxus, with which its authors and many of the key names mentioned in the book are linked, and indeed its appeal succeeds in reaching far beyond the confines of an art movement to become something that touches us all with its celebration of creativity and humanity. This new edition takes the text of the earlier Arkhive edition and re-casts it into our hardback format, with the addition of illustrated endpapers showing the map, its original drawing and Spoerri’s room. To conclude, click here for the review for the 1995 edition by Richard Hamilton.
Bruno Corra SAM DUNN IS DEAD, illustrated by Rosa Rosà, translated and introduced by John Walker. 96pp., paperback, £10.50. Special launch price until the end of July, £7 (plus postage). First English translation, in the centenary year of its original publication. While the big wheels of Marinetti’s Futurism were turning out the bombast which typically marks the literary activities of that movement, Bruno Corra, at the time a participating Futurist, was engaged with writing a quite different work altogether. Sam Dunn is Dead, written in 1914 and first published the following year, was variously described by Corra as a “Synthetic Novel”, a “Futurist Novel” and ultimately just as “an unusual story”, and if that last label sounds disparaging from an author who came to regard his book as a failure, it is abundantly clear reading it today that the book is a rather special kind of triumph, whose merits have certainly endured and for which unusual is a most fitting description — albeit in understatement. This is a conspicuously brief novel, but it is packed with elements of grotesquerie and the bizarre, with main characters whose outlandish quirks of behaviour and strangely superhuman powers lead them into vast set-piece scenes played out across an international stage, all orchestrated by the most surprising turns of absurdity. The action is set in the 1950s, which can be seen as a means to explore utopian ideas prevalent at the time Corra was writing, and as the narrative moves through passages marked with a certain languor to others tumbling on at breakneck speed the reader is caught up in a ferment of odd scientific theories and occultism at the same time as being wrongfooted by outbursts of high farce, black humour and on occasion authorial irony. The Grand Guignol of Sam Dunn ensured it was a success of sorts at the time, and this “unusual story” had gone through five editions by 1928; thereafter though, it largely became a forgotten masterpiece, in effect written out of Futurist history and long out of print in Italy itself. This first English translation includes the six illustrations by Rosa Rosà for the book, her style revealing her association with the group of Futurists based in Florence as well as wonderfully evoking the spirit of Corra’s text.
From the London Institute of ’Pataphysics Journal of the LIP 11, CHARACTERISTICS PARTICULAR TO THE EUROPEAN ELEPHANT, by Pascal Varejka, Regent of Elephantology at the Collège de ’Pataphysique, translated by Florence Uniacke. 98pp., plentifully illustrated throughout in colour and black-and-white, paper covers, £15 (£22 signed).
A translation of Singularité de l’éléphant d’Europe, augmented with many newly sourced illustrations, which fills an inexplicable hole in the natural history of the pachyderm tribe. No home should be without a copy of this indispensable guide to one of the most significant, if under-sung examples of European fauna. Published in both standard and signed editions.
JULY 2014 New publications available from Atlas Press and the London Institute of ’Pataphysics, with a coincidentally musical theme.
AVAILABLE NOW. Erik Satie A MAMMAL’S NOTEBOOK, THE WRITINGS OF ERIK SATIE A MAMMAL’S NOTEBOOK is now available direct from us at the launch price of £12 + p&p for orders received between now and the end of August. A welcome return to print for our celebrated selection of a wide range of writings by Satie, and still the most comprehensive to have appeared in English translation. The choice of texts was put together by Ornella Volta, of the Fondation Erik Satie, and comprises texts written for performance (including those not to be read aloud), texts written for publication (not least of which are the excerpts from the Memoirs of an Amnesic) and an extended group of private writings amongst which are a number of the private advertisements Satie put together and which describe a very personal other-world. A catalogue of literary and musical works is followed by extensive notes and a bibliography. The book, which previously formed part of our Arkhive series, now appears in the new hardcover design, with decorative endpapers, and is abundantly illustrated throughout. This is the latest of our publications in a series of reprints. We hope to get our most important titles back into print prior to commencing publishing new titles that will not be available through conventional outlets, one in particular that seems determined to eliminate non-electronic publishing.
FROM THE LONDON INSTITUTE OF ’PATAPHYSICS
Issue number 8 of the Journal of the LIP, ALBUS LIBER I: EXPLOITS AND OPINIONS OF JOHN WHITE, COMPOSER.
This issue presents a detailed survey from of the career, influences and reflections of pianist and prolific composer (to the Institute, as well) John White. Discography listings and other entries are interconnected to provide a fuller description by association, with separate articles on Cardew and Satie, machine pieces and systems, as well as many others, all introduced by an extended preface by Gavin Bryars. Illustrated throughout, and also available in a signed edition. Issue number 9, ALBUS LIBER II: THE MUSIC OF JOHN WHITE, is a companion to the previous issue and contains notes by White on a number of his compositions in the form of track listings (a couple of CDs are duly included). Please note that issues 8 and 9 are sold as a pair and are not available to buy separately. They are available direct from us at the combined price of £30 + p&p, with members of the Institute receiving as usual a discount on this price, now a third off.
WINTER JOURNEYS by Georges Perec and fellow members of the Oulipo (Michèle Audin, Marcel Bénabou, Jacques Bens, Paul Braffort, François Caradec, Frédéric Forte, Paul Fournel, Mikhaïl Gorliouk, Michelle Grangaud, Reine Haugure, Jacques Jouet, Etienne Lécroart, Hervé Le Tellier, Daniel Levin Becker, Harry Mathews, Ian Monk, Jacques Roubaud) and also Hugo Vernier. Limited edition of 2000 copies. Hardback, with decorated endpapers, 344 pages, £19.50. This second edition of WINTER JOURNEYS is almost exactly twice the size of the previous version we published in 2001, thus amply demonstrating how busy oulipians keep themselves. It contains 21 narratives, the last three of which were written only this year. It has always been our custom to sell our books at a special rate from the website for the first month after publication, and for this launch period the new and augmented WINTER JOURNEYS will be available for £15 until the end of July.
AS AN ADDITIONAL OFFER, and for the same period, purchasers of the hardback may buy a copy of the first edition of 2001 at the special price of £12, for as long as copies remain available (these are the last ones now). Our regular readers will recall that this is a true first edition, since WINTER JOURNEYS has yet to be published as an integral trade edition in French. After July any remaining copies of this edition will be sold for ever increasing prices in accordance with the conventions of bibliophilia.
OCTOBER 2011 MIT/ATLAS PRESS/LIP BOOK-LAUNCH on 1 November! See end of this news bulletin…
The recent inactivity at Atlas Press has had rather a lot to do with the imminent publication of this book: This is the first full-length biography of Jarry in English and incorporates a great deal of material new to English readers, and a fair amount that will be new to French ones. (And no, he was not buried upright astride his bicycle, as was claimed in a recent literary blog…) Bibliographic details: Alfred Jarry A Pataphysical Life by Alastair Brotchie: MIT Press, 7 x 9 inches, 424 pp., 156 illustrations: .95/£24.95 (CLOTH): Oct. USA, Nov. UK. ISBN-13:978-0-262-01619-3.
Meanwhile, Atlas Press has not been idle despite the apparent dearth of new publications. Recently we have been publishing the JOURNAL OF THE LONDON INSTITUTE OF ‘PATAPHYSICS. By the end of this month, four thematic issues will have appeared:
- (Angelic issue) Principally featuring a translation of The Comparative Anatomy of Angels by Dr. Mises (Gustav Theodor Fechner), with additional texts by Jarry and Robert Irwin.
- (Paul Etienne Lincoln issue) An Observatory of Collected Cicerones by Paul Etienne Lincoln. Googling his name will give a fair idea of the range of preoccupations of this collection.
- (Presidential issue). The Bleaching Stream: Peter Blegvad in conversation with Kevin Jackson.
- (Mallarmé issue). Ptyxis. Devoted to a single immense poem, texts by Mallarmé and Sandomir.
ALL OF THE ABOVE WILL BE LAUNCHED ON 1 NOVEMBER ON LICENSED PREMISES IN SHOREDITCH, LONDON. JOIN US! FOR FURTHER DETAILS CONTACT: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update, a photograph by Kristian Buus of the celebrants at this launch outside The Griffin in Ravey st.
Two new titles are now available: Norman Douglas SOME LIMERICKS with an introduction by Stephen Fry. The long overdue re-issue of a famous, or rather infamous, literary classic: a work of exquisite scholarship and quite startling ribaldry! As reviewed in the TLS: One of “the most frequently pirated books of all time”, Some Limericks by Norman Douglas (1928), is now issued in a respectable edition by Atlas Press. Allow us to rephrase that: The once-respectable Atlas Press has forfeited its claim to decency by reprinting Some Limericks by Norman Douglas, one of the filthiest books we have ever seen. Even in an age of indecency, we cannot bring ourselves to print a limerick involving Christ, the Virgin and the Holy Ghost. The only clue to the permutations thereof we are minded to offer is the variation offered by Douglas — Thus spake the King of Siam: “For women I don’t give a damn. Bur a fat-bottomed boy ls my pride and Joy — They call me a bugger: I am.” Try reconfiguring it in a version featuring Jesus and the others. The main pleasure to be had from Some Limericks is Douglas’s po-faced, faux-learned commentary. Following a rhyme which begins “There was a young girl of Pitlochry, / Who was had by a man in a rockery”, Douglas comments, “There are several fine country seats near Pitlochry and a good many of them have rockeries in their grounds. but the text does not allow us to decide in which of them this event took place”. He does not object, as we would, that Pitlochry does not rhyme with rockery. One of the few repeatable limericks in this edition is provided by the publisher: There was a young man from Peru Whose limericks stopped at line two. Not forgetting its ludic relation: There was a young man from Verdun. Some Limericks, which costs £l0, is just the thing for Aunt Enid’s eightieth birthday.
NOW AVAILABLE Boris Vian LETTERS TO STANLEY CHAPMAN Facsimile edition of Vian’s letters to Stanley Chapman, all but the first written in English.
STANLEY CHAPMAN, OGG 8 Absolu 53 (Absinthe) — 9 Merdre 136 (Voidance) 15 September 1925 — 26 May 2009 vulg. Advocate and Practitioner of ‘Pataphysics by Deed.
The occasion of this publication is a sad one: the recent occultation of Stanley Chapman, President of the London Institute of ‘Pataphysics, Regent of the Collège de ’Pataphysique, founder-member of the Oulipo, translator extraordinaire, and good friend… The Times Literary Supplement also reviewed this title, albeit a little inaccurately, since it was published jointly by Bookartbookshop and Atlas Press for the London Institute:
Inspired by our commemoration of Boris Vian (NB, July 17 and August 21 & 28), Alastair Brotchie sends us a fascinating booklet which he has published himself, under the imprint bookartbookshop, Letters to Stanley Chapman contains a brief correspondence with the English writer responsible for translating Vian’s novels L’Écume des jours (Froth on the Daydream) and L’Arrache-coeur (Heartsnatcher). Brotchie reproduces the letters in facsimile — only seven in all, but some run to several pages. The majority are in fluent English, “which I don’t speak”, Vian explains. “Neither do I write it, you know.” They are typically full of puns, many of them obscene: in one letter alone (October, 1955), we remarked “arse-stonishingly”, “inside aunt Ally” (incidentally), “French vocal bullery” and “contemporary”. The better part of the correspondence concerns “some crazy and atrocious lyrics for French ‘Rock and Roll’ things” by Vian, which he invites Chapman to translate. “Enclosed are three of the worst”, he writes in September 1956, at the height of his involvement in the music business (Vian worked for Philips, where his boss was Jacques Canetti, brother of Elias). It would be “nothing” for him to write his own English words “on the horrible music”, but he thought “nice little Stanley” might do “an adaptation. We could co-sign and share the income”. The results lack the sprightly idiocy of the original. “Rock and Roll-Mops” is the story of a couple who work up a good appetite by rocking all night. When they ask a local bar- owner what’s on the menu, he offers a variety of dishes — liver of lion, kangaroo escalope, horse’s eggs — which the grateful lovers consume before “on va r’toumer s’coucher!” In his letter to us, Mr Brotchie remarks that there are “not so many Vian enthusiasts this side of the water”. There are a few, though, and all will wish to read Letters to Stanley Chapman, available at £13 from 17 Pitfield Street. London Nl 6HB.
And while we’re at it, the TLS also reviewed our other small book by Boris Vian, ’Pataphysics? What’s That?:
Alastair Brotchie, the publisher of Boris Vian’s Letters to Stanley Chapman (see “NB”, September 4) has sent us another Vian booklet, ’Pataphysics, What’s That?, based on a French radio programme broadcast in l959. The question has perturbed us. We’ve heard of it… We know we ought to know. But… ’Pataphysics, what’s that? Searching Vian’s text for an answer, we drew a blank. We approached Mr Brotchie: “’Pataphysics, what’s that?” He pataphysically replied: “Not an easy task. The point of the Vian piece is to show how it is easier to demonstrate what ’Pataphysics is than to define it”. Rather than demonstrate it, Mr Brotchie offered to send us “a small tome”, ’Pataphysics: Definitions & Citations. Opening at random, we found this definition: “’Pataphysics is the whole sausage” (Siegfried Krakauer), which led us to wonder if we were being made the butt of a joke. Better to ask Georges Perec, an oracle in such matters: “Physics proposes: ‘You have it brother and he likes cheese’. Metaphysics replies: ‘If you have a brother, he likes cheese’. But ’Pataphysics says, ‘You don’t have a brother and he likes cheese’”. Justin Saget tells us that “Denial of knowledge is the first and last word of ’Pataphysics”, Sergei Eisenstein that Charlie Chaplin “had a weakness” for it, Ionesco that ’Pataphysics is “an elaborately constructed hoax”. At least we were getting somewhere. Who better to settle the matter, than Vian himself, cited in the small tome: “’Pataphysics will always be plunging ahead because it is always static in time, and because time itself is retrograde by definition”. It’s a rare feeling when confusion clears.
Emmett Williams has departed these shores at the age of 81. We shall all miss him. According to his wife, Ann Noël, Emmett had spent the day in his studio working on some new pieces and the evening over a glass or two of red wine; he died quietly in his own bed on the eve of Valentine’s Day – an institution he made wonderfully his own in his book Valentine for Noel. In place of an obituary, here a piece written during his last years that testifies to his enduring vitality and sheer likeability. “Emmett at Eighty” The internationally acclaimed poet, performer and picture-maker Emmett Williams, grand old man of Fluxus, is eighty. Not every octogenarian manages to pull off such a fine bash for his eightieth birthday party as Emmett Williams did on April 8th at the Freie Akademie für Kunst in Berlin. And it wasn’t just a question of quality entertainment but also a quality crowd, the sort where you start thinking “if they were all regulars at the same bar I’d like to know the address”, the kind you’d like to meet at every art event or private view, a scintillating crowd, all ages, not just a bunch of art scene liggers and Fluxus groupies or people attracted by the free food and drinks (there were two of those there, but I forget their names). No, it was clear that the crowd was genuinely there for The Emmett Williams Experience. And even he enjoyed it, against his worst expectations. It highlighted one of those apparently non-art questions about artists that are in fact so important: what is it that makes or allows such a fellow to have so many nice, intelligent, friendly friends, for that was the main common denominator? Well, for one thing, Emmett Williams has had rather a lot of job descriptions in his time, and fulfilled the agendas pretty well — that brings you friends, or respect at least: performance artist, graphic artist, celebrated Editor-in-Chief of Dick Higgins’ celebrated Something Else Press, painter, translator and annotator, multi-anthologist and proselytist. This is just to list the normal stuff. For even if Emmett pours scorn on the “I-was-first” game, a few ironically proud facts seep through in his books and conversations: not only was he the first person ever to write the word “Fluxus” in a press publication (now that is a claim to fame), he was even the first person to coin the word “gallerist” in English. Apparently. The more arcane it gets, the prouder the man should be: co-inventor (with Robert Filliou) of the Spaghetti-Sandwich, water-ballet choreographer, Fluxus postage stamp designer, hermeneutist of the exabiphallus…. There seems to be no end to it. But above all Mr Williams is first and foremost a poet, “capital P, without any qualifiers,” as he points out. And the kind of poet he is throws a very strong light on why he has such nice friends. Emmett Williams is not the kind of poet who sits up all night in his garret honing his little gems to perfection. He must have long since realised there is no such a thing as a perfect poem, just as there is no such thing as a perfect piece of music; but sometimes there is the perfect moment or situation to listen to precisely that piece, or that poem. Emmett’s poetry and — jumping ahead slightly — performance pieces seem however to sidestep the issue by seeking or prompting the situation first, or by creating the possibility of a situation, and then letting things take their turn… A perfect sidestep, which also helped Emmett Williams escape the “I’ve got it” syndrome that bedevils so many concrete and conceptualist works, whether poems or paintings or whatever: where once you have “got the idea” you’re finished, that’s it, you can move on because there’s nothing more to the piece. Reading Williams’ poems is almost always an invitation to keep on going, as long as one wants, they simply do not end at the end of the last page or the end of the book. As, for example, in “duet” which begins: art of my dart arrow of my marrow… and ends: zim zam zom of my o zim o zam o zoom. In between the poet offers two versions for every letter of the alphabet (“butter of my abutter… cope of my scope” etc.), and with each line the reader finds him- or herself joining in the game, finding new funny examples. This is a real word game not in the sense of a pun but as a ludic enterprise for all. And by setting up an open-ended possibility the author goes way beyond the simple permutation that even characterised his earlier work, and that generally has exhausted itself before one even starts reading it. The wealth of possibility in Williams’ work is also amply demonstrated by the sheer size (and majesty) of another poem, sweethearts. In this book-length work, a small, wiggly 11-letter serpent of a word — “sweethearts” — turns round and investigates its own premises, the letters that make up its own self, taking a taste of its tail and then merrily chomping itself up into primal lumps which it ingests and then eagerly egests into a flood of new words and worlds — as a story of two lovers and their ears and what they hear, of the sea and what these lovers see. … Emmett had been poetasting for some years when he wrote Sweethearts, but not only did this work masterfully transform concrete poetry into the epic, it also brought warmth, eroticism and humour into an often tight-assed genre. By creating an open-ended starting point rather than marshal the words or letters to fit some foreordained idea, he went on a voyage of discovery. The fetters he placed on himself, or on the words, were liberating ones because the only limits to the project were his wit and wits and his desire to travel on and take us to where the idea took him. The same is equally true of the other parts of Emmett’s motley oeuvre, most particularly the large number of performances he has written and staged… A glance at almost any of the scores reveals a piece of simplicity that is able to generate tens of dozens of new variations and unpredictable situations: Allowing 38 Virgin Marys to arrive and shake hands on stage… walking or running about on stage with a glass or bottle balanced on one’s head, and singing or speaking until the glass or bottle falls off… talking in a spontaneously invented language (“The Gift of Tongues”)… counting all the members of the audience from the stage, aloud, silently, repeatedly, collecting their autographs, giving them presents and asking for others in return while all the time counting them… playing Brahms Academic Festival Overture in reverse, such that even the performers enter backwards… or performing 26 actions assigned to the letters of the alphabet, from eating a cake dog-style on the floor to pouring a bottle of sparkling wine down your trousers, in the order the letters are drawn out of a hat, with different actions each performance… simple ideas or a draft of a situation that go beyond merely acting out a script to involve a wealth of spontaneous interactions, interest, and associations. It is the sly openness of these pieces that makes Williams’ work so engaging — a fact not spoilt when he shows a great taste in targets in the spirited attacks he also sometimes delivers — and ergo wins him a lot of nice friends. And perhaps this all reflects back on the man — which slowly brings us back to that great party, which also showed another reason for Emmett’s enduring popularity, and not only as a person. Before the explosive wit of his old Fluxus comrade, Ben Patterson, brought a series of dedicated events to an end that evening by gleefully letting off outdoor fireworks indoors — a pyrotechnic breach of good common sense that grew all the brighter the more the proprietor blanched — a couple of old Emmett pieces were given a delightful airing by several much younger artists. But it wasn’t just an airing, as if the pieces had been in mothballs for four or so decades (and that’s how old they were): the pieces were as fresh and saucy as if they had just been written, because the situation was new. They are inevitably new every time they are performed, so long as no one gets taken by the idea that there is something in them that has to be historically accurate and authentic. (Revealingly, Emmett Williams freely admits to cheating while performing his pieces if he thinks that will make them better, thus confirming that they are only more authentic if they are more poetic, in this case more true to the situation). Emmett Williams has perhaps summarised this irreverent approach to his own work when he says it is “a kind of game, but so is life”. At eighty Emmett has had lot of life, but as with everything else in his world he seems to have a special relationship to time. Bald since he was 17, apart from a hirsute but wonderfully fitting laurel wreath he wears to this day, Emmett once remarked that he has “often managed very well to look older than [his] years”. Yet even when looking older than he really was (physically), this never seems to have made him feel any need to act either his apparent age, or indeed his real (physical) age. This is no less true now that he is eighty, although carefully preserved down the decades by choice beverages and recently with a new flush in his cheeks thanks to a nutritionist and lots of minerals and vitamins. At eighty he almost seems to be reversing the process and looking younger than his years. Not to forget those size 12 feet, which on a man of modest (physical) stature still lend him the playful look of an oversized puppy. Kind of fitting. But it’s his mind that has resisted time the best, being as acute and astute as ever; and of course his good ole’ warm, human heart. — Malcolm Green
Happy New Year! … and for your entertainment, here is an email we received recently:
Hello, I hope that you will be able to help me. You are my last resort – I have been hopelessly trying to find the book “The Shepherd” that has a copyright date of 1979. If I remember correctly it was written by Flossie Peters, it is a brown covered book with a picture of Authur [sic] Atlas Peters on the cover. It is about Rev. Peters and how he cam to be the shepherd of Victory Baptist Church among other things that he was involved in at the time the book was written. Can you help me? I thank you in advance for any and all assistance you can provide me regarding this book. Looking forward to hearing from you soon. Regards, xxx