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On Rob Holloway's Permit project:


A Conversation between Will Rowe and Rob Holloway. (September 2nd, 2003)

W.R.:   Some of the things you say here (see 'Materials' documentation for Partly Writing 2 at www.dartington.ac.uk/partlywriting/PartlyWriting2.html ) –like that gathering and re-gathering are associated with memory actions, but also with gathering books on a tabletop or a desk, they're also perhaps by implication gathering the speaking or even the listening of others who are part of the action when you did the performance. I'm just sort of interested in that. It seemed a very delicate metaphor, like filaments of a spider's web, which you pick up. Maybe if you could describe that a little.

 R.H:  I think it was – I mean really the concern for me was about creating conditions for writing and inventive thinking. And so one of the ways in which I tried to do that was to gather round this series of texts, which would be ongoing active reading material for me. And that becomes if you like, the first level of material which I'm then interacting with and initially, given that those texts were prompting my thinking anyway, ways in which I was then going to be coming into kinds of conversation with those [texts] –that was what I thought at the beginning maybe. But then of course, the idea that supposedly this might be some degree of extended conversation or collaboration immediately was then questioned and made problematic because of the amount of material I was bringing in. And then the fact that everything was occurring under these time constraints, and so I went along with that questioning because I thought, 'well actually this is more interesting'. Rather than saying 'I'll set up some kind of perfect situation where some of this conversation can take place', I thought 'let's see what happens when those conditions are set up and then, you know, made problematic and, if you like, kinds of damage are being done to them'. So it becomes about how do you start to negotiate the difficulties that you've created for yourself in some sense.

W.R: You do talk about the way you might at a certain point in a performance have what you had immediately written crowding what you are about to write. Could you describe that a bit?

 R.H:  Yeah. If you're doing improvised writing- which is what I'm doing there- I mean I'm writing everything live- your mind in its weaker versions, if you like, can obsess on a particular thought. And then what you have just written almost acts as a magnet that you can't get away from, and again this was part of the difficulty I wanted to create for myself with that---

W.R: That's very interesting, because it's the opposite of the way you're supposed to read- say, you know, ok, you're 13, you're already starting in GCSE or whatever, you're supposed to read at a clear desk- you know- concentrate. Does that ring bells, that image of reading, clearing the decks, or have you always been-

 R.H:  I think yes, I probably learned to start like that, like everyone else, but then I've increasingly found what's more interesting is if I've got about 8 books on the go- and of course, you know, what we're moving onto here in a much more positive sense is the interconnections that are beginning to take place amidst the material. So the volume of the material I'm putting on the desk –that in a negative sense is creating initial difficulties through an inability to assimilate it all in any sense –what you're actually doing is immersing yourself into this web or mesh or network of material which you're then bringing into different forms and connections as you start negotiating your way through it-

W.R: Right.

 R.H:  And it's that sort of re-making of connections and patterns that is of interest.

W.R: Doing it on the hoof, as it were.

 R.H:  Well, doing it on the hoof is just another way in which, if you like, a degree of urgency is being brought to the occasion and- I mean- I was just wanting to say about –in relation to why the whole time thing became something that was relevant - it came from a straightforward daily reality for me. I was working full-time in a school and finding it difficult to find time for writing. And also, the school environment is one that is so rigidly defined by linear time, with the bells for the ends of lessons and where literally, for 6 hours, every single minute is controlled in some sense and I was finding this an incredible straitjacket basically.

W.R: Yeah.

 R.H:  I was talking about this to a friend and I was thinking, 'well, the only way in which I'm going to deal with this is to incorporate this kind of artificial restriction as a way of then beginning to try and turn it back into something that could be creative and working for me…' and so this idea of working from strips of paper with numbers on that would then define the timing of each segment of writing that I was doing. It was almost, if you like, taking in that time-controlling linear railway, but making it work for me by bringing an urgency to the writing, setting up clear times in which writing was going to occur.

W.R: Could I ask you about a poem in Permit 10? There are these numbers that go beside the paragraphs and then at the same time there are variable distances between the different paragraphs- so when you say numbers-

 R.H:  It would more just be the- I mean- if I just show you-{searches for text}

W.R: Yeah, ok.

 R.H:  The number is the time period, so if that says-that one there- 14, “my pretty uniform has got no damage”- that was 14 minutes.

W.R: Yes.

 R.H:  So that was the original time frame in which that was written.

W.R: So you would set that up almost by the clock.

 R.H:  Yeah, I've got the clock above the computer and for that section I'd use it to time 14 minutes.

W.R: And then it cuts.

 R.H:  Yeah. But I change things slightly. I mean, that's the straightforward rule and in all the live performances that's what's going on and then what I read is exactly what's been written in that time period. With the whole text it's built and built up- those live writing things remain absolutely unrevised. Then, for the writing that's not done in front of an audience, but which still initially uses the time constraints, I actually go back into those segments and spend some time doing revisions. I've said this to a few people and they've said 'But hang on a minute, you're not allowed to do that! You were doing that in this set time period and whatever…' which for me-you know- the whole point is I'm not going to absolutely literally set up a whole other set of artificial rules as a straitjacket- again the whole thing is-

W.R: It's a generative-

 R.H:  Yeah, it's generative –it's a catalyst, it's catalytic…

W.R: So you set up time constraints, which are generative …….You sort of turn it the other way round.

 R.H:  Well, it's that idea where you go into the trap, if you like, to unlock it, and to make it work back for you.

W.R: And sort of release the energy therein held.

 R.H:  That's right. So the fact that you had these time segments and I could literally get home and set up, say ' Right. Now some writing is going to occur and here comes the time things and off I go- Bam!- you're using it for focus, concentration, urgency and improvisatory energy. In other words, finding a means in which what was becoming an incredible straitjacket could be actually working very much for you and, as I said, working as a catalyst. I mean, even when I go back and revise this stuff, if I then look at what was, say, the original thing that was written under the time constraint, and then what I'm finally ending up with, about 90% of it is still exactly the same. So the material is still absolutely generated through this timed, improvisatory energy

W.R: Do you think of it as somehow bearing the marks of the constraint?

 R.H:  Very much so, yes- I mean, if 90% of that material is still pretty much as the original writing in those timed sections and then, if you consider the overall Permit project, there's also the writing from the live performances where it's still absolutely unrevised, then, very much yes. It's absolutely shaped by those constraints in many ways. But hopefully, in interesting ways because of, literally, the work I've been doing through the writing and also, of course, if you've been writing like that for-what- 3 years, you know, you've learned constructive ways of working, ways of thinking and dealing with those texts on the desk. And there are other familiarities that develop- some of those texts stayed on the desk all the way through the 3 years in the writing-if not more. Sometimes they're open at the same page for a year or something. Just to keep in balance the creating of enabling conditions and, against that, the risk of falling into habitual paths which is what happens with improvisation when it doesn't work. It just shows up the worst sort of limited-

W.R: Routines.

 R.H:  Yeah, routines. And that's all there and that's all part of the thing and that's being risked. So again, what's the imperative there? To be keeping out of those and moving off from those. My involvement with this is –I probably spend a lot more time attending improvisatory music events than poetry ones. Also, I'd say Allen Fisher's whole idea, which is central to his writing: improvisation off a structure –which is exactly what the 'Gravity' sequence is: the structure he has from the beginning and each later poem is a working off from a partner poem written previously–that was all very much to my thinking when I was setting some of these things up. There's the structure, there's the set times, there's the books –whatever. Then, the way in which you improvise off those, and that's something that's continued also through the ways in which this whole Permit project has then generated completely different forms of practice, because the writing to time at the desk is only the first version of it all. That's then gone forward into the grid- the Permit grid. Have you seen me doing that?

W.R: No, I haven't.

 R.H:  That involves a grid of 7 x 8 sheets of things like this- some of the actual Permit text printed out like that- that size.

W.R: And you then perform those?

 R.H:  And then I read from the grid.

W.R: Yeah.

 R.H:  What happens is that you've 56 sheets of A4. I take 4 of them out, so there's the holes at various points which means you can walk around inside it and I did that at CCCP in 2002 for the first time and then did it recently at the Total Writing London event. I was talking there with chris cheek and saying how it's got to the point where it's like an instrument and you're improvising solo upon it. And by doing that my live reading process then maps right back onto the original acts of writing from and off the books, because you've got a whole load of text in front of you –again, way too much –and you're having to go around weaving things together again in the same way you were doing when you were collecting stuff from all those other books on your desk. The difference there is that when I'm writing, I both sample material from the open books and improvise off them, whereas reading the grid, everything I read is from what's in front of me, and the improvisation this time is in the way reading is done non-linearly, with movement obviously coming into that –so thinking, 'well I'll stop reading that and I'll switch somewhere else', or-

W.R: You're putting your body inside it also-

 R.H:  Well that's another very important –you know-, the physicalisation of the whole process, from the writing and then reading. But that alone is not enough, it needs shaping. This is something that really occurred in preparing for the Total Writing event. I'd done a performance at Cambridge and I thought –'Well, am I just going to do what I did at Cambridge', which was I just sort of went into it and started reading and I thought 'Well, hang on, it's a slightly longer set. Am I going to be reading whatever for all of that time? That would be incredibly hard, and too loose.' So, what was being called for there, which is what I did, and it's what any good improvising soloist would do, is before you start the solo, you have some structure, some sense of what you're -you're going to do a piece- so this nice idea, you have this kind of structure pre-established in your mind, that you're then going to be working off. In that Total Writing set I did 2 pieces. Of course, what you set up in your head doesn't occur exactly either. Because it's not going to be able to –the conditions you're putting yourself into are so maximal in terms of the potential pathways. You can go in with some clear things and maintain that, but you're always going to be drifted off somewhere as well. But that idea was needed though, some shape was needed. So you're going back to that idea, which again is what my improvisation is: it's never free, of course. It's always working very much off various forms of structures-

W.R: The capabilities.

 R.H:  Yeah- which then provides capabilities. Another aspect of shape is, for example, each sheet of writing is always in the same place on the grid. Again, if you've been doing that quite a number of times- although I probably couldn't actually start saying ' Oh, yeah, those lines are over there '– there is an embedded memory in there beginning to be for you as well. So you're actually building up forms – but quite loose forms –which again then, you've got improvisatory action working off from as you actually start doing the reading.

W.R: Right. So on that question of time: where is time going? You've got the time moving within a 56-page structure, which includes the time of body. But you've also got, I guess, a time of composition, which has left its traces and which you're going to be moving through. But then you've got the immediacy of, I guess, putting those two together in front of a set of people, who are bringing- can one talk yet about times of expectation, rhythms, of expectation? How does that come in? Do you think of listener, audience, as having….?

 R.H:  I think- it links in with what happens when I've been writing Permit material live, sitting there with my computer and my book-covered desk during an event and then I get up and read it. The act- my act- of reading then is always a first act of reading. Because the writing has only just been done, it's the first time I'm reading the text and it's even more obvious with the grid. I'm literally composing through reading. So I guess my sense there would be is that it seems to create forms of- I don't know- a kind of equality is being set up between myself and an audience there.

W.R: Yeah, I felt that when you were doing that reading of Allen Fisher's work a few months back.

 R.H:  Yeah, we'll come onto that I think, because this is all part of it, but yes, I'm at the level of experiencing, finding these words out and hearing these words and thinking these words with an audience.

W.R: So, senses of duration will come in, even though they're not necessarily conscious, which are non-obsessive, and then one's where they're obsessive for example; that's one impression of rhythm perhaps- but the durations of capture- which might be largely that of a sentence- are shared between you and the audience or it might be the phrase.

 R.H:  Well, I think phrase or sentence shapes the original writings, but they get completely broken down, for example, by the whole process of the live grid reading. There, I'm working in a physical time, if you like, of movement, bringing together what my eyes can see-

W.R: I'm very interested in this.

 R.H:  It's a weird kind of grammar, a very different kind of grammar- that you might be shaping things there- It's partly defined by some very basic bodily capabilities, you know, as well as memory, and, as I mentioned with the Total Writing peformance, a pre-decided approach which then shifts.

W.R. : Yeah, whereas I feel that the text of Permit 10 for example, the sort of sentencing is one of the primary shapes.

 R.H:  Yes.

W.H: And you're saying in the grid reading performances, this is broken down.

 R.H:  Well, if you have something like Permit 10…. you see, I'm quite deliberately creating a whole range of quite different kinds of material. It's not all supposed to be one kind of work, written or spoken. Permit 10 is a text that I wrote intially under set time frames and then went back to and revised, and in that then the sentence - yes, I'd agree –is the dominant shape. But if I'm say….doing an improvised reading from the grid that contains such writing, the original sentences are going to be broken into, parts read and then re-linked to other parts elsewhere on the grid –and as I said, thinking more here about different kinds of shape, at the Total Writing event, I went in with some sense of wanting each reading to be a piece, and so having some overall method for how I would read already in my head, so for example, I said for the first piece I'm going to start by reading 3 words that come next to each other in the text and then I'll pause. Then I'll read another 3 words, but ones that don't have any kind of semantic or sound linkage to the previous three. The whole thing is all about different kinds of linkage, isn't it? It's narrative being made on that sound-to-sense spectrum really and that's what I'm obviously exploring and interested in here.

W.R: That seems like a really handy formulation for different kinds of narrative being made- on that sound-to-sense spectrum. That sounds a very strong fulcrum for all kinds of stuff.

 R.H:  Yes, that's why it can create lots of different kinds of writing with different organising frames which could be a sentence, or could be the structure I was bringing to the grid reading – so, to continue describing that - I planned that after I'd read a few of those unlinked 3 word groupings, I'd read others that started linking together, sonically or semantically. Then I'd gradually build it up into 4 word groupings, each one becoming increasingly linked by sound or sense to the word group immediately previous, and then I went right: Go! There were no dividing pauses, no individual groupings, and I was reading all around the grid, moving, making sound or sense connections between different parts, or occasionally again deliberately avoiding those.

W.R: Having prepared yourself.

 R.H:  Yeah, the build up into the all-over reading, was a way of showing- 'what am I doing here? I'm starting with random words and then I'm using words that connect together into some loose sense. Then I'm going to take that whole preparation forward into a much fuller coverage and movement and linking action around that grid. And after a bit, I paused and began the whole pattern of build-up again, though doing it quicker second time around. And again of course that grid is also a trap isn't it? You could get set on the same pathways because of the improvisational urgency; you can over obsess on a particular segment again. It's got those same qualities of trapping or being trapped or then working, having to negotiate away from those ruts if you like.

W.R: Something like, you know, ruts, traps, controls, are obsessions. You're moving between need for order and the danger or trap or whatever we're going to call it.

 R.H:  When it just becomes too rigid. It concretises too much, yes. Of course it's a big risk if you're improvising – you want to dive for something nice and safe, but again, you can use that. During those grid readings, I've got an awareness of where there might be an interesting phrase that I'll pick up at one point and then later in the reading I'll deliberately come back to it and maybe halve the phrase and then move off again to show the kind of recurrence but with shift and change to display the varying kinds of linkages that are taking place.

W.R: But I guess you have to be willing to show yourself as trapped without knowing exactly when and where and how that's going to occur.

 R.H:  Too right!

W.R: You keep it this side of the nerve-racking.

 R.H:  [ Laughs] Sometimes, yeah.

W. R.: I mean, I felt very nervous at the Allen Fisher thing. I'm only referring to that because it's familiar and something you did recently. I guess the whole thing about obsession is that the time ceases to be serendipity or variational or randomness and becomes the captured, the predicted, now.

 R.H:  Yeah, it's weird- randomness is a kind of trap as well, isn't it? A sort of a empty scatter. I might enact a bit of that sometimes when reading from the grid, just to introduce another texture - I'll suddenly move very quickly and just say anything I see. But you can't keep that up for very long and I wouldn't want to. It actually becomes pretty boring.

W.R: Yeah, there's this beautiful phrase by Ligeti, that complete non-determination is the same as complete determination where you can't work through the whole atonal programme and say –wait a minute!'-

 R.H:  Absolutely right. I completely agree with that.

W.R: I mean that's not a familiar-what's the word- a common or usual sort of area of problematics that poets take us to nowadays, or is it that I don't know the poets that do that. I'm just sort of casting around.

 R.H:  I'm certainly interested in what's going on between those poles, you know what I mean? Or finding out how much is-can- be between them.

W.R: Yes, absolutely. One of the things that interest me is tempo and you get that in current dance music. I have friends who know quite a bit about music. They still like clubs and dance music, which is actually massive recycling of recycling of recycling. Without a lot of recognisability, it's difficult to think of tempo and once you have tempo then you have a kind of background constancy, don't you?

 R.H:  Yeah.

W.R: If there's no tempo at all, you know, it's an illusion because some one's got to impose itself.

 R.H:  Something will impose itself. Yeah, I think that's absolutely right. Some shape is always going to occur and it's like in a sense, you've got to be the one controlling that shape first. Otherwise it will come and control you and will do so in far more boring- you know it will go down to the lowest common denominator if you're not continually shaping the time, really. I was looking at a conversation with Coolidge from quite a way back (with Ed Foster in his 'Talisman' magazine) and Coolidge was talking about an Art Blakey set in which he was hardly doing any of his usual figures. He said it was like Blakey wasn't even doing anything; that all he was doing was making time, keeping time. Just holding it there yet he was actually constantly- continually- shaping time. This shaping of time to – Coolidge says something like Blakey was shaping the time to create the conditions within which something can be articulated.

W.R: So he's picking up on the background time as he's shaping time- maybe they're somewhat the same thing. By background time I mean the dominant tempos, which include your school rotivity and other tempos. He has to be aware of those, taking them up.

 R.H: Yeah, because they're always there and they're going to come back and haunt you. So you've got to have an aim, got to be using them. But if you're using them and you're putting them to work, you're the one who's doing the shaping of them, if you see what I mean.

W.R: Yeah, I do.

 R.H:  Then, as Coolidge says, by creating those you're creating the conditions in which things can get articulated. That only can occur once you've created those conditions. That's what part of this is about as well: creating a set of conditions where a whole range of negotiated balances have been achieved between, if you like, a consistency from familiarity and forms of coherence, and on the other side, the possibility of shifting and changing and moving from those-

W.R: Do you have a sense of the particular sort of units of time or tempo or structure of attention that particularly interests you? –like maybe a 10 second stretch or a longer phrase structure, or is it very varied?

 R.H:  I think I'm much more interested in keeping responsive to the level of desire I might have for any one particular frame. If I'm finding it too familiar, I'd then want to be questioning it in some way and hopefully providing the conditions in which I might be able to. And that's how Permit as a whole starts to be made up of very different kinds of work. On that, I'll just tell you about the next stage which Permit has gone into –which hasn't really been seen yet though I read a couple at the last reading I did, and these are non-stop transcriptions, where what I do is, I'll have a Dictaphone, set the grid up in my flat, do a reading on the grid recorded by the Dictaphone, and then sit at my desk again. So, here I am back writing suddenly. Press play on the Dictaphone and there's me reading and then I transcribe it but of course I can't keep up-

W.R: At whatever speed you can manage.

 R.H:  Yes. I just transcribe it without pressing stop.

W.R: But you don't brainstorm.

 R.H:  No, I don't bring anything else to it. I write down what I'm hearing.

W.R: I'm using the word in the wrong sense. I mean like a typist trying to transcribe tapes can't handle it for very long because it's a tremendously stressful-

 R.H:  I just do it for however long I've done the reading for. I press play and type down what I can from what I'm hearing as I try to keep up.

W.R: But you're willing to lose a lot .

 R.H:  Yes, whatever's being lost is being lost. Again it's just playing around with the idea of 'what's this writing?' It's another strange way in which writing is being pressured and strained. The idea that it's an imperfect transcription, as anything sort of is really. And what different arrangements are coming out of that process [takes a page]

W.R: That's the transcription?

 R.H:  That's a non-stop transcription.

W.R: This would take probably about a minute and a half to read and the tape might have been twice as long-

 R.H:  Yes and some gaps occur when I'm doing the reading around on the grid so there might be a bit –you catch up and then of course there are other bits you remember and just try and tag back in when you can. So the non-stop transcription of the improvised grid reading is, then, a re-writing of the original text–what's on those Permit grid sheets– at two removes. It's quite interesting for me to then read the transcription and say–oh that's from that bit and that's from that but it's been distorted and changed and shifted again, you know?

W.R: So shape is never a containment in this case.

 R.H:  Absolutely not, no. It's just a constantly expanding place that you're in that you're putting into process, aren't you? –Into the process of the activity. I mean, I don't want to make it sound as well that all I'm concerned about is sets of formal conditions and constraints and whatever the language is semantically doesn't matter. Why I've been able to maintain all of this and remained interested in it is that what I found, say when I started doing that grid reading for example, and how, why was it that I was able to create improvised readings that actually did seem to link together quite well, was that I found that within the original writing itself there was a lot of this stuff about creating linkages in there. There's also a strong sense of physicality in the written work which seems to then resonate well with my body movements on the grid and whatever ….and the writing also incorporates examples of various entrapping devices and forces; highlights the restrictions they perform and engages with the need to disarm them, creating ways of variation and movement

W.R: But they're not the –whatever they call it –the heart, the systole, the diastole, or the breath of Olson, they're not that kind of stuff –

 R.H:  Oh, no, very much not. I'd want to situate it in a much more cognitive –I mean the narrative is the bottom line here. I'm very interested in narrative-

W.R: By that you mean though –any sort of beginning of a series?

 R.H:  Yes.

W.R: It's not subject, verb, object, is it?

 R.H:  No, I'm moving –I never took Steve McCaffrey's thing about non-narrative where you try to expunge the whole thing altogether –impossible.

W.R: You would take that as impossible?

 R.H:  Yeah. There's always narrative. Though, I'm obviously using narrative in a different way than it's conventionally used. McCaffrey did say something interesting, which was that the base sense of narrative was momentum –

W.R: That would fit.

 R.H:  Very much so. And then ways in which you can gradually shape that momentum, ways to create forms of – pattern-making basically, but there's no way in which those patterns become so determined that they become the much more restrictive frames of what would conventionally be called narrative. But for me, the bedrock of the writing, as a main …form is narrative.

W.R: I was going to throw this at you, but it's a very difficult area –the relationship between timings and tempos and temporality –temporality in a sort of political sense of what the epoch is and what the time is. I guess the broad link is through different kinds of narrative possibility that you're handling.

 R.H:  Yeah, I guess there are different ways in which something like that might get shown. There's something about improvisation I'm drawn to because of its urgency -its urgent sense in which it's putting you in a position of contingency and needing to adapt and shift at any point, possibly –a kind of a constant awareness state, that level of attention perhaps, coming in, in that sort of way. It's been very problematic for me, the way in which something like the latest invasion gets reported and the way in which you get literally the countdown to the entry into Baghdad, for example. Or you've got the war being timed, at 43 days, 44 days, and I'd say that kind of thing seems to have begun to put so much pressure on what it means to be involved with, work at the level of, immediate present time - has made increasingly complicit what I was interested in when working in this improvisatory mode. Some of what I'm doing at the moment -I'm really feeling the need to take some of the ways of working with language, with narrative, improvisation that I've developed through Permit, and use them in writing that's not shaped by performative constraints imposed by myself. In one way its like, the time constraints now are just already there –the force of linear time in that militarised sense which we're now being subjected to. It's become so dominant, the constraints – the danger is you're just replicating them. Because the whole way in which that stuff works is –'don't give anyone time to think. Reduce thinking to knee-jerk responses. Let's give everyone nice simple narratives, whose main subject matter is not the suffering, the destruction, or the corrupt motivations, but just time itself, the number of days before we invade, the length so far of the invasion, the number of days before Baghdad is reached, and conquered,' narratives which of course have their own ideologically governed teleology, and need for erasing. Hence the counter need to multiply how connections get made, expand the nets so more gets caught, included.

W.R: And the boys are there already, and we can't let them down –which was the Blair trick I take it –speed and politics. That's sort of the spirit of what you're saying. I'm not trying to change the conversation.

 R.H:  Yeah, very much so and then its how to loosen some of that time imperative.

W.R: Yeah, my take on that –it seems to me relevant –is there's a place but it's not always easy to get to where writing is the discovery of necessities which are often deeply counter to necessities that one is immediately inside of –but the work of writing is to sort of bind them –but separating out the imposed necessities –

 R.H:  That's right –and –'am I just enacting the imposition. Am I imposing that on the reader in any sense?' The degree to which narratives are being given that are purely time-based –I just really felt it with that Baghdad countdown. It was just so obscene!

W.R: CNN news uses that and presumably the press offices of the USA leadership are very aware of the rhythm of news, as you say, the linearity. But it does seem to overcode….speaking and hearing in some way that's quite curious.

 R.H:  Well, it's denying…I mean, what I don't want to lose in the work I've been doing, what I'm really trying to engage with, is active thinking in its most positive, creative sense –you know, the movements around that grid and the sort of thinking, linking movements that I'm having to engage with seem to me –I'm very interested in activating and drawing upon and creating different kinds of pathways and linkages and arrangements etc…That's exactly what I'm trying to engage in and so to feel that you also are complicit in ways of using time that are also used to absolutely close down all forms of thinking and how you maintain an active, a necessary distance from those corrupt forms, if you like, is very difficult. Just to go into the final section of where these energies and research have been going is the thing that you saw me doing with the Allen Fisher talk.

W.R: Just describe that slightly.

 R.H:  I had a video cam set up over my right shoulder and Allen's poems printed out on A3 which I then presented my thinking about live through annotation and unscripted talk–

W.R: You added annotations to the page….

 R.H:  To the poem on the page, yes, and so having the video camera meant my act of doing that could be projected onto a screen so everyone who was there could see me making the annotations as I spoke. I came to that way of working with Allen's work as an extension of –one, it was what the work called for, and it also came very easily for me out of my own kind of writing practice. It's involved with performing thinking, really. Again it's another act of reading, and so linked to my acts of reading on the Permit grid for example. And if you take that idea of an improvisation off a structure, the structure is not now the grid –the structure is Allen's poem, which for me is absolutely ripe for improvising with –and if you're not, then you're not getting with the work at all. It's there, set up, for you to start improvising thoughts off in relation to the issues under focus: truth, freedom, knowledge, and that's what I was doing. That's what I said at the beginning of the talk, for example, these things are not only non-definitive readings –they're anti-definitive readings. You've blown that whole concept out of the window from the start – as a way of getting closer to what you're actually starting to do when you're reading this stuff and what that involves you undertaking.

W.R: Yeah, because you seemed as much attending to the repetition –the danger of confirmations, as to the pleasure and correctness of confirmations.

 R.H:  Well, I was making patterns. You know, it's a process of self-organisation. The reader is a self-organiser within that material. The material exists as a very complex web –again very narrative based –where, for example, a whole range of sound linkages exist –or maybe I was very strongly noticing those and wanting to bring them to the fore because they were just going to be my contingent means of patterning, organising that work. In other words, that was an act of collaboration there. In a sense I was making my work in what was going on there. For me, that seems to be the imperative of what is being asked for –that you're meeting the work and moving off it rather than engaging in some incredibly secondary process of –well –explanation. It's a way of responding that Allen has very deliberately called for in his own writings on Twombly, an act of performative reading, where the semantic goes very much secondary. You're working at a figurative level and you're creating organisations out of that. Of course, the semantic eventually feeds back in but only as a secondary thing and I was just very keen to, if you like, fully engage myself as a thinking, active presence and then maintaining that sense of activity through the work.

W.R: The feeling I have is of a constantly changing horizon rather than a constantly confirmed horizon –of whatever was emerging. Because I guess what emerges has some sense of horizon or whatever you want to call it –possibility that it's merging towards -that's a sort of metaphor.

 R.H:  Well, if he's fundamentally questioning how we normally engage in knowledge-making, understanding-making, truth-making and deliberately and very strongly exploding all of those notions –which goes back to Blake –so the alternative to those static forms is to bring all of them into the transforming process of the poem –so that's what I was doing too. My reading was constantly in process.

W.R: So any piece of narrative could be an element of a series - of a series of sound echoes or other connections –but it could also be a proposition about knowledge which would at a different level alter the way one is reading, and so be proposing an alteration to everything that's going on.

 R.H:  Yes, the whole approach in a sense was – by me not saying I'm going to produce in any sense a definitive reading –the whole way in which I was working live and in process was to be already enacting the questioning of those frames that for me, the work is essentially questioning itself. So I was finding my own way to continue the acts of questioning that the work is fundamentally engaged with. The challenge for me was: 'what are my means that are coming to the work, and they have to be my means that are separate from the work itself. What are my own means that I'm going to bring to this that will enable me as a reader –not the writer of these –to continue to raise those questions'. So I'm actually going to enact the thinking that's in the work rather than simply explicate that thinking, because the explication of it for me, is already beginning to slip back into, start shoring up those more static forms of knowledge-making which as I've said, the work is fundamentally questioning. So for me, the work seems to place an imperative upon the reader to bring their own means to it, whereby they can carry on this questioning. Do you see what I mean?

W.R: I do see. I'm not sure how clear that would be to someone who hadn't seen you do it and that's as it should be.

 R.H:  Well, yes.

W.R: But that's OK. What does occur to me is this: Allen seems to use propositions in such a way that they –some of them –start to become the frames or the frames start to become the propositions, so that the propositions aren't some kind of knowledge content merely, that you can extract. They are actually constantly framing –sometimes –every perception, even the smallest perception –it's being framed and then the frame is being questioned by some proposition he uses from some scientific source or whatever –I'm probably making a meal of it.

 R.H:  Well, for me, and it's something I find incredibly frustrating when I read other people thinking about it, the scientific discourses he's bringing in, he's deliberately bringing in knowing that they –if just left as they are –are doing damage because they're shoring up so much of these existing knowledge frames etc… And they're brought into the process of the work, which is this constantly ongoing pattern making activity. These things are brought into that re-shaping, re-patterning structure to then be re-shaped and re-made themselves. And actually what ends up happening is he uses those discourses almost against themselves to break up and dislocate the very kind of structures that they seem to bring in at the start, if you like. What amazes me about the material is how intricately linked everything can be. I think that's just because of how they're made and the ways in which they're improvising off earlier poems and the degree of attention they encourage that leads you to find and even be confident enough to go looking for a whole range of patterns. But the scientific discourses, people still say it -that they're being brought in and used referentially –it's ridiculous! –and that you read them straight! –as it were, knowledge blocks or whatever. No, they're rhetorical. He's bringing in power-laden discourses which he's then going to undo, and re-make and re-pattern –going into the trap of the thing. In Watusi for example, he's got 2 whole sections copied down from a genome website –absolutely straight copied in. They are like these almost granite, monolithic blocks of complete nonsense –but actually they are incredibly power-laden in their ways of description of that whole genome mapping project. He brings them into the work and their language becomes emmeshed with everything else in that work, and re-considered in that context, they actually twist and transform so that it's possible to read them in the end as descriptions of the poem itself, so in other words, the thing has been transformed on an aesthetic level –taken out of the simply referential into the aesthetic frame of the poem and there, they've been completely re-plugged, re-patterned.

W.R: Yes, is there a way in which –to fold this back –you're doing that in your own work in the sense of bringing back the referential, the content, the impositional orders, always to the making of writing? But that, having gone through this conversation, it has this very strong cognitive concern for you much as it does in your description of Allen's stuff? Does that work for your stuff?

 R.H:  Yeah, you incorporate potentially damaging ordering frames in order to revise them and rework them on a different level which will be an aesthetic level.

W.R: For lack of a better word.

 R.H:  It's a pretty good word really, for me. If you get away from all its ridiculous connotations, which need to be got away from. I don't see anything wrong with the idea of aesthetic function, for example. That's where a whole load of action within writing can be occurring –that is the place where that purely referential mode can be disempowered, because the aesthetic level is where the flexibility and elasticity can be created – a field of activity that has a constantly plastic, transforming existence within which formerly restrictive forms can begin to play a constructive role, like these time constraints that I'm using for example –that seem to become, almost, a parody of linear time. I'm using them in my aesthetic world of the act of writing –which is an actual world I'm in, you know – it can be live and in front of people. The time there, is working purely constructively for me –so, transformed from its role in the existing social where it will continue to be just a damaging, problematic ordering. So, no, strip it out of where it just is linear time and into a place where - I was reading something from Lissa Wolsak the other day where she's been writing on Arakawa and Gins and she makes this distinction between chronos and kairos and that's nice.

W.R: Kairos is more making time.

 R.H:  Yes, but it's also about a fullness of occasion, a fullness of occurrence if you like, a potentiality of the moment, which is what I would see being created by those conditions I was talking about earlier. Arranging the conditions by which you might come into negotiation with –it's exactly that kind of idea: about creating a fullness of occasion and occurrence within which you are then active and working. So that transformation can be occurring from just the basic chronos to the kairos.

W.R: And that activity is also very available to others who accompany you –

 R.H:  Very much so.

W.R: Rather than a solo –like Harold Bloom –reading –

 R.H:  The whole point of either the reading I was doing with Allen or that grid reading, is not about forcing any kind of interaction –you think that's really democratic and equalizing but it's not –you're always far more there than anyone else is – no, its more a simulation of equality - when I'm reading that stuff I'm cogitating it in the same time as the audience are –

W.R: It's real-time.

 R.H:  Yeah, it's a performative space, as the poem on the page can also be, in another way, in the writing and reading of it, that's the complete antithesis of that bourgeois contemplative space, of what might have been called 'the aesthetic realm', but it's the place where, because conditions have been set in certain ways, it's got the elasticity and transformability –that potential to it –you don't want to give that away for god's sake! Otherwise we just slide back into the given! I'm not going to hang round in there. Like we said, it's the transposition of some of the shaping forces of that given, bringing those into that performative space where you've provided different work for them to do –like with the time constraints or whatever –well, they're doing different work!

W.R: I see that very clearly.

This conversation was transcribed by Gerard Gunning, to whom many thanks, and then edited by Rob Holloway and Will Rowe.