Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sumo wrestling with the greats

LATE evening, and Marcel Proust and William Burroughs are deep into a sumo wrestling match. Well, paper versions of them to be exact. It is the first night of the Humber Mouth literary festival at Zest, and although the organisers have pulled out all the stops for this year's event - with guests from Germaine Greer to John Pilger - their skills do not, yet, extend to re-incarnation of literary giants.
Sumo Basho - a literary origami - is one of the highlights on stage at the Newland Avenue cafe-bar, which is heaving with festival guests and renegade writers and artists from across Hull and Yorkshire.
Weaving his way among the tables at the event, which began at 6pm and exploded into racous life about 15 minutes later, is Simon Bradley. Simon, here for the evening with Becky Cherriman, is a man on a mission. A mission to save, or at least subvert, the art of conversation. Working under the name Conversaction, the pair encourage people to doodle and note down words on A4 paper as they chat to others. These sheets are then scanned onto a webpage,, turning these snippets into art.
Simon and I talk for about an hour. Looking at my own piece of paper, onto which I have cryptically scrawled "Yorkshire" and "intuition" alongside reams of loops and spirals I doubt whether my own efforts will prove particularly inspirational - with its sentence fragments, it looks more like a transcript of a George W.Bush speech. But Simon assures me the art is in the act of recording - and a visit to the website proves these seemingly random doodles can generate a logic, and a pattern, all of their own.
As my own conversaction finishes, there is another literary journey on stage as Sean Burns reads North - a hallucinatory account of a trip down the A66, leading to the "chemical flare" of Teeside. As evocative as the writing is, many are deeply into their own Conversations/Conversactions by this point and Sean struggles slightly against the background swell of noise.
Sidewinder take over from Sean, with a melodic wash of music which forms a backdrop to others meeting and sharing ideas. I talk with Lee Merrill Sendall, an artist who was gifted a previously undiscovered creature by a Hull allotment owner called Arthur. Apparently, the remains of the creature, which had been stored in Arthur's shed ever since the Second World War - when he had brought it back from Africa - will be on show at the Hull and East Riding Museum later this month.
Following this chat, I am unlikely to be surprised by anything, not even the Sumo Basho, which reaches its conclusion with a victory for George Galloway. Despite a few boos from the crowd, you can bet the firebrand politician would have lit a cigar and had a smile to himself - literature has always provoked a disagreement or two.

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