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Anti-Poetry for today: Melissa Lee-Houghton looks to reinvent Dada

This is a course for people who want to do something new and respond to the world around them by writing poems which engage with the fizzing energy and anarchic vibe of Dada whilst exploring contemporary art, film and writing and assimilating the current political climate.

So what will poets be doing on this course? One of the assignments will involve responding to Chris Marker’s film Sans Soleil which, to me, is quite Dada – a pastiche, fictionalised documentary of exquisite beauty which uses language and image in a corresponding yet completely disorientating and vivid way to tell a story with no real beginning and no real end. The narrator’s voice is all we know of the narrator. The letters she is sent and reads over the film images of Japan and Europe tell us a great deal about the correspondent without telling us anything at all. As with Sound Poetry, so much is assimilated by the audience as visceral reaction to something which cannot be fully comprehended.

Film, TV and comedy uses political satire to overtly and obviously denounce a political scheme, yet Dada took another route. It didn’t need to make sense or align itself with being anti-war or anti-Fascism – it was just anti full stop. You had to look past it, through it and with it to think about shaking up the idea of fighting the incomprehensible by trying to make sense out of it, or by making an irrefutable argument against it. You had to show it for what it was – nonsense. Dadaists responded by fracturing – taking the sense out of the nonsensical rhetoric of their times. They cut, pasted, re-aligned, deconstructed, ranted and invented a new language.

Reinventing Dada splash

I fully expect that during the course poets will find ways of creating audio and video responses and pieces, as well as written text or visual poems. It’s really an ‘anything goes’ course where hopefully, we will find our own energy and bounce of one another’s creative ideas. This is an important part of what an art movement does: gain momentum by its members each adding their own distinct inventiveness to the cacophony of voices and ideas.

There’ll be an element of using simple and universal things such as weather reports, the shipping news and traffic reports to turn them into something completely dynamic. Dada and Surrealism exploited the uncanny, so approaching something like a weather report – something comedians continue to do – and turning it on its head, can invite the sense of the uncanny or absurd. We will think about transmission – how should we exhibit, share and present poems whose aim is to disorientate and question? How can we get a message across without being prescriptive, but still making people think? How can we lose the desire to make sense, and in becoming nonsensical still contribute to a wider dialogue surrounding politics? I hope to get poets to write their own manifestos as part of the course, perhaps thinking about the idea of a movement – the Beats, the Language Poets, perhaps considering if there are any current movements developing in poetry and if there is a place for the re-kindling of an upgraded kind of super-technological Dadaism. Expect frequent references back to Twentieth Century philosophy mixed in with contemporary pop culture and the odd music video. The deadpan seriousness will be countered with absolute madness and senseless fun.

Explore Dada’s continuing relevance and create innovative new work with Melissa Lee-Houghton. Reinventing Dada: Anti-Poetry for the 21st Century is now open for booking online or by calling 0207 582 1679.

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Image Credits:

Marc-Anthony Macon