Performativity is a central characteristic of sound poetry: Poetry and sound become one. Written notices are only of supportive function and help to realize the poems as sounds. Voice and body of the performers are part of the event that can be a bodily experience for both performers and audience. Sound poets are known for their extreme dedication. They scream and whisper fighting or praising the word and its acclaimed meaning.
We asked sound poetry-performers Pierre Guéry, Jaap Blonk and Eirikur Örn Norddahl about their personal artistic view on performance and their experiences with it. And once more we find out, that the term performance has a wide range that differs a lot in both its theoretical understanding and its – performance!
Bei Lautpoesie steht die Performativität der Gedichte unangefochten im Mittelpunkt: Laut und Gedicht sind eins, schriftliche Notizen dienen meist nur als behelfsmäßige Gedächtnisstützen und stehen als solche hinter der Realisierung des Gedichts im Laut zurück. Stimme und Körper der Performenden sind unmittelbar mit dem Ereignis verknüpft, das auch für das Publikum zu einer körperlichen Erfahrung werden kann. Lautpoetinnen und -poeten sind für ihre außerordentliche Präsenz, ihre Lust am Experimentieren und ihre unübertroffenen Hingabe auf der Bühne bekannt.
Pierre Guéry, Jaap Blonk und Eirikur Örn Norddahl beantworten für lyrikline Fragen zu ihrem Verständnis von Performance und berichten aus ihrem Erfahrungsschatz. Die englischen Interviews werden durch Videos ergänzt, die Guéry und Norddahl in Aktion zeigen. Und Blonk? Den zeigen wir am Welttag der Poesie.
What is a performance – what is not performative?
Pierre Guéry: Concerning poetry, a performance is not a simple reading. Above all it is the whole poet’s body into space creating an energetic contact with the audience. With a text of course, but with a type of text that can involve the entire being of the poet: what he means with words, for sure, but also what his body suggests, what his voice impacts. For a performance the poet cannot remain into distance with his creation – whether he’s alone or with other artists on stage. Basically, he’s got to recall the specific pulse that was inside him while writing and give it back to the audience in its nudity. He’s got to have a strong will for transmitting and sharing this pulse sincerely, not being afraid by his fragility or violence. The audience knows very well whether this happens or not, and there is no possible cheating.
What is not performative: a simple reading with a great musician or a nice video! This is not enough to call it performance, though it is very current. Poetry performance (especially what is called sound poetry), as well, is not just yelling words like a mad person! A poetic performance is not just melting different arts to give the poem a beautiful suit.
Jaap Blonk: For myself it is 100% clear if I am performing or not. It’s a matter of turning a switch from 0 to 1 and back.
In the case of most poets I have seen on stage, supposedly performing, it wasn’t so clear if they were actually doing a performance or not.
Eirikur Örn Norddahl: My idea of performance is very much connected to the idea of “live” – a recording of a performance is closer to being text, which is then only performative at the moment of writing.
How important is loudness to your work?
Pierre Guéry: Loudness is just a help and can be fun. I use it quite often and create some effects that amplify what my voice wants to give. It is only a tool in my work and I never base on it because I want to keep a certain nudity. I do not want to count on technology to find something that I don’t possess myself.
Jaap Blonk: I assume by loudness you mean volume (dynamics in musical terms). This is of eminent importance for my work. I give it the utmost care in all gradations.
Eirikur Örn Norddahl: There needs to be a framed spectrum – the spectrum doesn’t have be great, but there needs to be an upper and lower border within which the artwork functions, for there to also be a breaking point, a point where the border is pierced and/or crumbles. It can never be so loud that you cannot – through effort – still make it a little bit louder if needed. I have also often thought of the connection between loudness and power as being interesting, not only because we often see the correlation – whether it be shouting police dogs or bombs – but because loudness is also a mask for the powerless, just as silence is a mask for the powerful.
What must the audience provide?
Pierre Guéry: There is no « must »! The audience provides or not, and it provides what it provides if the poet himself provides something strong – otherwise no feedback!
Jaap Blonk: There’s nothing the audience ‘must’ provide. However, I very much appreciate it if their interest goes deeper than just attending a performance, and also stretches toward the permanent objects of art, such as books and recordings.
Eirikur Örn Norddahl: Presence. Humanity.
What was the greatest thing that happened to you onstage?
Pierre Guéry: So many great things happen all the time! The greatest thing is probably, most often, what is unexpectable – when the feedback is a total surprise (and consequently gives an unknown and new meaning to the piece that is performed).
Also when work involves another artist and when both poet and artist touch a state of grace by « making love to eachother » onstage – I mean find their own soul in the other one’s soul.
Jaap Blonk: Crossing what I had so far considered ‘the border of madness’, and finding out that the audience was not embarrassed at all, but touched by a genuine artistic utterance.
Eirikur Örn Norddahl: I don’t know if it can be considered great, but I once for a moment thought I had killed the great Jacques Roubaud with my poetry. He was sitting at the front at a show at the Days of poetry and wine in Ptuj, Slovenia, on a shaky stump of wood. When I started my show – which consisted of all sorts of weird noises and conceptually and politically motivated wisecracks – he started laughing. And he just kept laughing. When I broke into a ten minute shoutfest consisting of 17th century Icelandic zaum-nonsense he laughed so hard that he fell of his tree stump, stumbling on to the sidewalk. He was 80 at the time and half the festival panicked and got up to see if he was OK, and I still had eight minutes left of my shoutfest, looking out the corner of my eye feeling very insecure as to whether or not I had accidentally murdered one of my idols and whether or not that meant I should stop. (He was fine; and I didn’t stop).
I once had a whole platoon of finnish teen girls and horse enthusiasts chant along with one of my poems with great energy, I have had children go mad with joy, running around glowing – but I’ve also had people boo me, throw stuff at me, I have had people cry, shout, and one person even had an epileptic fit when I was on stage. And then I hadn’t even started reading yet.
This is my desk. Quite simply. It tends to get cluttered up. The computer is mostly used for Facebook and music – I’m writing in the book, paper and pen. This is not always the case. The black boxes on the right hand side are „business papers“ – taxes and so forth. On top of it is a DVD with a children’s (Go Diego Go) belonging to my son, who left to be with his mother a few days ago. The photographs on the wall are (from the left) of my grandmother, who died last winter, with my (german-icelandic) grandfather who died when I was small; then my grandmother with her siblings and finally a sonar picture of a daughter I’m expecting in april (with my ex-wife). The white note on the wall is to remind me to return a children’s book to the library (I have still not returned it, it’s been more than a month). The coffee clock behind the computer does not work. The big stapler was bought in 2001 to facilitate self-publishing of chap books. It sadly never saw much use (I lent it to a friend who left the country and buried it in his parents’ storage, where it was found long after my need to self-publish chap books had expired). The envelope on the right contains my Finnish tax return, filling it out is an ominous task which scares me. The poster on the wall is from a cross country tour that I did with a group of poets in the summer of 2003 – ten years ago. The two frames on the left side of the desk, leaning against the wall, are award documents. The guitar on the right does not get much use. Like many poets I wish I was a rockstar, but I really prefer a steel string guitar to a classical – and I learned to play the electric, not an acoustic. But playing an electric guitar makes no sense if you’re not in a band.
Eiríkur Örn Norðdahl, Ísafjörður/Iceland