Lawrence Upton

independent artist and scholar

Who?! | Sonic Visuals, a film about Upton by Benedict Taylor | bio with sample images by James Bulley | a selection of Upton's 'visual poems'

Interviews | 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, ©

Word Score Utterance Choreography was a great reference for me throughout my dissertation and has continued to be a source of inspiration in my projects, including Drawing Breath

[Iris Colomb personal email10 April 2016]

I have one more guest to introduce this evening; and it's a huge huge pleasure to have him here. He's someone who's been incredibly important to me over many years. The legendary Lawrence Upton

[Chris Goode, to the audience, at Arcola Theatre in London 12 March 2016]

Yes, Lawrence, you can certainly quote me on your website. I always enjoy your essays, they are lively, thoughtful, informed and spirited. In other words, damn good reads!

[W Mark Sutherland personal email 22 December 2015]

I really enjoyed your "first encounters" essay in coldfrontmag, simply superb!

[W Mark Sutherland personal email 19 December 2015]

I thought that birds flocking was superb. It moved like a flight of swallows.

Tina Bass, personal email 5 November 2015 to the author). Quoted by permission.

Dear sir, i am [your] former pupil 81-85ish, you took me for media studies also i believe you may of been my tutor for a term. Mr Upton I just wanted to say thank you for the time and effort you gave me all those years ago and that im grateful as back then i cant say my education was at the top of my list, Although im no budding hollywood cameraman jumping from the rafters with james Cameron and co i am a keen photographer which all boils down to learning from yourself at Spencer Park for which im grateful. Anyway sir i always new you were to cool for our school and was heading for better things its good to see you doing so well, like i said just wanted to say thank you for the time you gave me and wish you all the best. all the best Thank you

July 2015 [quoted by permission]

Lawrence, this piece reminds me vividly of your musicality in full force, fused with statement, delicately specific, moving as in full capacity and how received.

Sheila Murphy on Elid's Den 22 October 2014

Saturday was kicked into life by your performance with Lawrence Upton

[James Beal to Benedict Taylor 12 August 2014]

Almost forgotten what a good reader you are

[Keith Jebb, July 2014]

I am the delighted dedicatee of a performance text by Lawrence Upton that's sure to make Christmas go with a swing

[Chris Goode -- re Frantic Text with whispers 4 December 2013]

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]

Excited to see that @cramrecords is set to release some material by Lawrence Upton: a voice too seldom *really* heard.

[Chris Goode 8 September 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]

Recalling again Lawrence Upton's splendid restlessness,

[Likestarlings -- re Finding another word for "experimental" 7 July 2011]

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]

met Lawrence Upton today - what a thoroughly nice chap

[perceptive tweet by James Bulley 5 May 2009]

If you've never heard Lawrence perform his visual/sound/text works -- well, there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, etc etc.[Chris Goode from Thomsons Bank of Communicable Desire for Sunday March 23 2008]

the seminal though shortlived poetry/performance group jgjgjgjgjgjg... (as long as you can say it, that's our name), who as long ago as 1977 were tearing up Battersea Arts Centre with the kind of stuff that would send the present Apples & Snakes generation into an immediate postlapsarian freefall. [Chris Goode from Thomsons Bank of Communicable Desire for Sunday March 23 2008]

(...) 'Close to the Literal' was a complex audio-visual collaboration by poet & artist Lawrence Upton (who also co-runs the WF workshop and the press) and composer John Drever. Colour images, deriving from coastal landscapes and letter-forms, provided a text/score for vocal performance: pre-recorded, live, and live-re-processed; thus both participants contribute both prepared and improvised material. The room was professionally wired (this takes hours) and the sound was fantastic. Think Dylan & Lanois (Oh Mercy). The piece was essentially episodic but a subtle architectonic seemed discernible over its length. A substantial achievement.

[Elizabeth James, 3 October 2005, email to UKPoetry]

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

(...) and then Lawrence Upton (UK), and justin k again, performed together a new visual text of Lawrence's, hissing and growling and twitching around in front of some of justin's video. Lovely! At the end, Lawrence was left standing in centre stage with NO SIGNAL projected fortuitously across his mouth.

[Elizabeth James, 1 October 2005, email to UKPoetry]

[Lawrence Upton is an] important figure in the British Poetry Revival, especially in sound and visual poetics

Peter Barry Poetry Wars, 2004

[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

[In] Lawrence's Game on a phrase of Scott Thurston's.[...] the relation to word is [...] explicit; and, as Lawrence develops his performance, he becomes more focused, more inventive. His choice to record with the window open and the bright acoustic of the room place his breath and his utterance in a sonic environment which complements his vocal / verbal permutations. These permutations of a single phrase have resonances for me with Brion Gysin's work [...] but Lawrence develops [...] into jazz riffs, growling rumbles, falsetto songs, extending from meanings possible from words and their order into meanings possible from sound beyond the words (but still in relation to the words).

Indeed, it is interesting to compare his work with Paul Dutton's work on Carnivocal CD. […] with Lawrence, I often get the sense that I might see him make an absolute prat of himself by throwing himself into something beyond his physical capabilities, or just risking something way beyond what he knows will work....

But if a work persuades me, comforts me, agrees with me, what am I getting from it that will shift me somewhere interesting?... I am comparing [Allen] Fisher, Lawrence [Upton] with work that risks less.

You can get disturbance in other ways. For example, I would argue Lawrence [Upton] often gets the same sense of danger in his less apparently risky work.

Alaric Sumner / PoetryEtc Discussion List, January 2000, quoted with permission

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

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