Sunday, 22 November 2009


The Bow-Wow Shop, edited by Michael Glover, must be the only web magazine to manifest itself in flesh and blood form with a launch. Issue 3 was launched with readings a few days ago at the Arts Club. A short Ashbery poem read simultaneously in Polish and Russian translation created a pleasing and oddly soothing effect. Among the other readers was Japan-based Paul Rossiter who read an electrifying poem. ‘Komachi’, from the current issue. As well as a group of his poems there’s a substantial afterword by him, ‘Thatched Huts and Instant Noodles’, where he describes in some detail the history of his encounters with Japanese poetry, starting, long before he had visited the country, with his reading of Bunting’s ‘Chomei at Toyama’ . ‘Komachi’ takes off from a contemporary No play he happened on two weeks after arriving in Tokyo in 1981. ‘Traditional No’, he writes, is performed extremely slowly, but that is as nothing compared to the pace at which this Komachi moved. In the second line of the poem I talk about her moving 'centimetre by centimetre' across the bridge, and this is perhaps an understatement; her pace was almost impossibly slow, and it took her nearly ten minutes to cover the few metres to the centre of the stage. Moreover, the production was also almost completely silent; although there was occasionally some music (Vivaldi, 'La Vie en Rose'), and the figures in the sub-plot (squabbling 1980s' neighbours who live in the apartment next door to Komachi's ancientness) had lines to speak, Komachi herself stayed silent throughout the performance. The speechlessness, the extreme slowness of the movement, and the use of No performance practices, together created an extraordinary intensity. The performance was both phantasmagoric and perfectly controlled, and it made even someone like Peter Brook look a bit sloppy. I'd never seen anything like it.’ It sounds like a piece of performance art, and suggests a resemblance that seems to exist between such traditional forms, and Zen, with western modernism. Rossiter’s piece concludes with a hilarious account of cross-cultural endeavour and confusion, again in Tokyo, involving Kenneth Koch and the shade of Amy Lowell.

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