Sonic Visuals, a film about Lawrence Upton by Benedict Taylor | bio with sample images by James Bulley
Interviews | emailshots | Commentary and critical writing | books in process | exhibitions | editing
Collaborations | Books and pamphlets | Magazine & journal publication
Contact Lawrence Upton
Lawrence Upton, a photograph by Tristan Hick, 2011, ©
Upton is widely considered a pioneer in the creation of new art-work spanning many genres, and is central to a number of progressive art movements in the UK, EU & USA. He has had important associations with many artists, both British and international, in particular with the late Bob Cobbing. He is the director of the acclaimed Writers Forum.
Much of Upton's practice is rooted in, and birthed from, collaboration and multi-disciplinarity. His work, both as an individual and in partnership, probes the relationship between sound, text, image and performance, exploring and extrapolating new mental landscapes and methodology beyond the existing cannon.
[Cram Records #4, notes, October 2013]
I've always loved the way you combine phenomenology and poetics; it reminds me of Jabes, difficult to pin down, always intense, as if the universe itself were the substance of manipulation.
[Alan Sondheim , 28 November 2012, private email to Upton, November 2012]
I can't leave Wrack alone, I keep returning, making sure I've taken it all in, and of course I haven't, and it's becoming overwhelming. I deeply admire this work for how sustained it is, and how various are its movements; I envy it and recoil from it because it turns out to be, frankly, shocking in its courageous insistence on putting the body where the mouth is. Upton sets the reader to serious dancing across disputed borders, between the lines of an exhausted official discourse whose stickman spokesmen have no body to dance with. Wrack shocks more because its shocks come slowly, surfacing patiently through strata of the matter being dealt with. Voices multiply, words divide; stillness and mobility keep clinching each other in the same act. It's love made real in the compound eye of attention, in the weal of heed not quite yet speechless. All of the Lawrence Uptons yet known to us and one or two still arriving converge in these texts, in this shifting body of work, the wrack not left behind.
[Chris Goode, blurb for Wrack, Quarter After Press, 2012]
Lawrence Upton is a major figure in contemporary British poetry for whom appreciation has been tardy but growing; partly due to the belated, but now blossoming, publication of his work outside a previously small Londoncentric appreciation; and partly due also to the diversity of his practice, which tends to delay reception and absorption, but whose breadth is becoming increasingly understood.
Many of Upton's enthusiasms had been significantly filtered through, or gleaned from, those spaces which Bob Cobbing was instrumental in carving out. However, his participation in Mail Art postal networks and an in-depth knowledge of mid-late-twentieth century computer science are both important influences, as is his concern with exploring the impact of transformational syntax, both on narrative eruption and subject-identity displacements.
Upton's exploration of choreography in relation to writing, shared by Cobbing, became a named focus in their jointly edited Word Score Utterance Choreography, an important anthology of approaches to performance notation.
[cris cheek, Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry , 2012]
Upton's writing doesn't try to hide behind vague over-used academic styles and cliche precisely because it doesn't need to -- there's something there, at the same time as it engages with prism-like philosophical concepts in a way which (a) is often coffee-sputteringly funny and therefore keeps the reader completely engaged, and takes them out of their neutral gear, and (b) is clearly informed by a long and in-depth engagement with form and doing. I think the lack of need or interest in ponderous abstraction in Upton's writing -- although it is also always very far from simplistic or naive proposal-wise -- is an indication of confidence and veracity. I have a good bullshit detector. My bullshit detector never goes off reading his material.
[Steve Hanson, July 2012]
To Lawrence Upton, performing in real time,or reporting back, is meat and drink. No absenteeism here, but an emphasis on live presence. By presence, I mean to perform, to make available, to put himself in the text, between you and its legibility. To read aloud, to voice and bring the gutteral of sound, the noises, glitches, abrasions of language to the fore as meaning carriers, as great Joycean thunderclaps. Reading, aloud or otherwise, is, obviously, where you come in; reading is in some sense the actual act of making; of the text's animation; or, more to the point, where Lawrence Upton has been coming in for many years of poetic commitment -- a live receiving transmitter. His performances on the boundaries of music, cinema, theatre and poetry, often exist, to paraphrase [Pam] Brown's poem, in the moments between a book and a poem.
[Duncan White, introduction to wow wow wow receiver]
Yours is a towering contribution to Writers Forum and to poetry in general. You have not received the credit and recognition you deserve for your work.
[Jeff Hilson, Sean Bonney, Johan de Witt, Stephen Mooney and others, unsolicited testimonial, September 2010]
Your work has always embodied phenomenology, dialog and dialoging on a serious level that I don't see much of, and that's really necessary. There's a political urgency in it that's all too lacking elsewhere. You remind me of Blanchot, Levinas, Kraus at times.Alan Sondheim, November 04, personal letter
[Wire Sculptures] is truly "awe-full" poetry: an urban awe ("spirits of place born in piss alleys"), half appalled but still energetically threading a voice out and wiring it in to the world ("clip on the British landscape plug"). Language, in this book, retains its force, its ability to be affecting, to gain political agency, reflect on itself, almost but not quite fall apart. The gallery-goer revisits the favourite sculptures then closes the cover on the rooms within. It is a beautifully produced little volume highly recommended. Don't forget to put it in your pocket the next time you go, well, outside...
[Edmund Hardy / Terrible Work, 2004]
Upton's Muzzle: I should like to draw attention to some extraordinary writing (huming/queuing by Lawrence Upton) as it now becomes available
The first seven paragraphs of huming, ascribed to Narrator, in one reading slip into reverse from "Easy auto" through scrambled anathemas and Edenic idyll back to Creation and out again on a reduced, more "huming" scale, before linguistic elements begin to recombine and develop: "spreading" and "multiplying ... from any point to any other point", as Upton puts it in the here republished Preface to the on-line version. His concern with humming - "Not speaking, not singing, but near both of them" - is as much to the point as the radiating thematic developments in these pieces "written firstly rather than more for the sound of their words". They were certainly not written less for the sound in my reading; as I attend to them I am repeatedly reminded of the section on "writing aloud" in Roland Barthes' "The Pleasure of the Text" which posits a text in which "we can hear the grain of the throat, the patina of consonants, the voluptuousness of vowels ... the breath, the gutturals, the fleshiness of the lips, a whole presence of the human muzzle". For Barthes it was necessary to speak of such a writing "as though it existed"; to my satisfaction, it manifests here:
"None proof-readers guard co-sign rune. None opining corn tarnish wax cashes. Cosmogony cover soon viceroy flies screwing toughens. Traces science fiction cunt idyllic fit. None knifes depend damson. None denies sin dim diminutive daisy is continuities. None deplores dovecote so chefs rope down avionic duvet. Man eleison lift tiff cash humanity. Rex merger. Pate pious story plastic node go et et cetera."
But the pleasures of luxuriating in a subvocal reading of the text are problematised almost as soon as they have established themselves by the arrival of various personae, including Upton who speaks next. When he was a near-neighbour, Steven Berkoff, urging me to follow his example, claimed to be a poet who divided up the lines of his poems between characters, and one wonders if, albeit in terms of a more sophisticated poetic, something of the sort is going on here. Upton's impressively fluent, but in Barthes' terms, as geno-text, appropriately undramatic reading when he launched this edition at the Writers Forum Workshop gave nothing away. His note to queuing provides suggestions for performers from "measures of pausing" down to stage-Welsh and stage-French accents, and the dramatic is certainly not absent in that piece, as the absurdist cameo involving Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal on p 23 witnesses. Against this one must weigh his permission for performers to read paragraphs attached to different names in non-dramatic combinations, along with the lack, for the most part, of any obvious matching of vocabulary with character or accent.
Whether the introduction of characters is a brilliant ruse to disrupt a flow that might otherwise overwhelm all but the most resolute or the development of an operative dramatic dimension remains, I think, undecidable for the work as a whole. I suspect for most of what is here published - and there is more to come - the movement between speakers is an integral part of the writing process, and Upton's statement that "the names of the characters are to be considered part of the text" does not disallow that view; the extent to which it is inadequate can only be revealed by further readings - and I shall not begrudge the effort. There are generous returns to be had from these pieces even for the literal-minded if they recognise letters may spell the body of the text that is Barthes' "body of bliss". Such have we here.
Adrian Clarke / British and Irish Poets' Discussion List, 2002
Lawrence - perhaps he won't very deeply mind me saying this - is, in his nine-men's-morris turbulence, such a fine poet, and such an exceptionally good lie detector.
Chris Goode / British and Irish Poets' Discussion List 04 April 2000
For many years, Lawrence Upton has been consistently inventive and quite staggeringly prolific. Particularly, perhaps, he has never got trapped in ideological zeal, that is, in frumpish notions of what can and can't be done in cutting edge poetry.
Gilbert Adair / introducing a London performance by Lawrence Upton, 1995
All material on this website and on the links within it is copyright. All copyright is owned by Lawrence Upton except where otherwise stated. All rights are reserved. Material may be downloaded and printed out only in the form in which it appears on the website. Aside from purposes of individual reading or study as recognised under international copyright law, no part of this website may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the copyright owner. Serious enquiries are welcome.