80! - The Booklet of the Russell Hoban Some-Poasyum

Octobering home.

Text: Chris Bell

Illustration: Elisa Bowman

[Note: From 1999-2011 The Kraken community bought Russell Hoban a bottle of whisky for his birthday each year.]




How the Some-Poasyum became, and how it got its name

When Dave Awl established The Kraken in 1999, one of the first things the group did was buy Mr Hoban a bottle of whisky for his birthday on 4 February. This annual act continued in this form until 2002 when it was felt some kind of additional event was in order. A few imaginative but impractical proposals were made (releasing a lion from London Zoo in a conflation of The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz and Turtle Diary; papering Nelson’s Column, Christo-style, with the Hidden Lion pattern; busking glockenspiels in the Underground, and so on), before the Slickman A4 Quotation Event was established.

SA4QE has since become The Kraken’s annual Hoban celebration (as of 2003 some 110 quotations have been dropped in 10 countries worldwide by over 30 ‘4Qaters’), and Kraken volunteers still join forces annually to buy the birthday bottle for Russ. However, in May 2004 unsuspecting Krakenites received the following email:

From: Dave Awl [Chicago, USA]
To: Birthday Bottlers
Sent: Tue 25/05/2004 21:32
Subject: Advance planning for Russ’s birthday

Hi Bottlers,

Don’t worry, Russ hasn’t suddenly developed a second birthday in the middle of the summer. But every year, after I start the planning in December or so, somewhere along the way we lament that there isn’t enough time to realise all our most exciting schemes. So this time, I thought I’d try putting it out that if there’s something elaborate we’d like to do for Hoban Day 2005, that would require months of advance planning, now would be the time to get started. Discuss?

Answers were rapid and enthusiastic:

From: Yvonne Studer [Zurich, Switzerland]
To: Birthday Bottlers
Sent: Wed 26/05/2004 06:48
Subject: Advance planning

Hi Dave and Krakens

Good idea to start with the preparations for Russ’s 80th birthday early, although my brain refuses to forward any suggestions for the time being - except fantastic ones such as let’s all go to London, spread yellow paper quotes all day and have a big “some poasyum” in the evening, not necessarily like a “nes of snakes” but with readings from Russ’s texts and productions from all the gifted people in the group...

Yvonne’s reference to the “some poasyum” came from Riddley Walker. As Yvonne later explained:

The terms “some poasyum” and “nes of snakes” are both from Chapter 17 in Riddley Walker, one of the most important ones in the book, since it is here that Riddley finally meets Orfing again and defines the right way to be with everything. The chapter marks the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. Riddley begins to write down his adventures, he and Orfing eventually start a new puppet show, and — as is appropriate for a chapter of turning points — a lot of riddles are resolved. Among other things, Orfing tells Riddley in the crypt of Cambry what happened when the Eusa folk were gathering:

“The Ardship he begun to gether with the Eusa folk they all took off ther cloes and tangelt their selfs to gether all nekkit and twining like a nes of snakes which they callit that some poasyum.

“Which they done trantsing with it and hy telling.”

[page 193 Picador edition; page 199 Bloomsbury edition.]

Yvonne added: "When I half-seriously suggested getting together, reviving an idea Roland Clare, I think, had had months earlier, I thought the only appropriate name for a gathering of Russ folk would be Some Poasyum. If it ever came true, it would not just be some boring academic symposium, but a sparkling symposiyum, something to make your mouth water and your eyes shine."

Within a few hours, more responses were coming in:

From: Roland Clare [Bristol, UK]
To: Birthday Bottlers
Sent: Wed 26/05/2004 15:57
Subject: Advance planning

This sounds like an excellent idea and on occasions when I’ve had a hand in organising such conventions they’ve been enormous fun. Central to the scheme is finding a co-operative hotel that is affordable; February is a nice slack time for them, and air travel will also be cheapish. Equally central (if that’s not geometrical nonsense) will be inviting Russ and hoping he can clear his diary and will feel like being guest of honour. Could we get Bloomsbury to sponsor this? Who are the UK people who might like to look into possibilities? Though not in London, I’m willing to do a share.

I then posted the following myself:

From: Richard Cooper [London, UK]
To: Birthday Bottlers
Sent: Wed 26/05/2004 20:29
Subject: Advance planning

Evening Awl,

I think it’s a great idea to start talking about Hoban Day 2005. Yvonne’s suggestions are particularly tantalising. I seem to remember floating the idea of a proper Hoban convention on the Kraken quite a long time ago, although the conversation petered (or Diggsed) out. The main concern is obviously how much it would cost to hold such an event and whether enough of us could get to one place at the same time to make it worthwhile, but Roland’s idea of getting Bloomsbury involved is inspired. As it happens I did a few weeks’ work at Bloomsbury earlier this year and got to know Russ’s publicist and some other staff a bit. They agreed it would be great to do something for Russ’s 80th, so there is the possibility of such an event, and having that contact might help considerably if we make any serious plans. That said, it should be borne in mind that, as well as being a modest chap, RH tends to prefer to work on his books rather than go anywhere. But I don’t see any reason why we can’t hold some sort of event, even if only a handful of us can make it and Russ decides not to be directly involved. Also in our favour is that 4 Feb 2005 falls on a Friday, so it might be easier for people to participate over a weekend. I have a few ideas of my own for a convention, as I’m sure do other people, but they are similarly fantastic (in the original sense of the word) to Yvonne’s, so it may be best not to get our hopes up that high quite yet. Okay, okay, how about a Punch & Judy show, a screening of King Kong, readings from the books, a tour of Hoban’s London, en-masse yellow-paper droppage...? Seriously, I’d be delighted to assist in whatever way I can, organisationally, fundraisingly, researchingly, creatively, whateverly.

Ideas from the hotbed of imagination that is The Kraken were now coming in thick and fast:

From: Chris Bell [Auckland, New Zealand]
To: Birthday Bottlers
Sent: Thu 27/05/2004 00:27
Subject: Advance planning

Excellent ideas, Richard, Yvonne, Dave, Krakenistas all. Of course, the Hoban convention is a fabulous idea and I would try to move mountains to get over there for such an event. Excellent idea, Roland, to get buy-in from Bloomsbury. Who else might we get involved, with their approval? At the very worst, with this much time to plan, I’m sure we could use the SA4QE Website to realise some kind of virtual gathering. And I’d echo Richard’s enthusiasm for fund gathering, organisation, etc. We’d surely be able to generate some press interest in such an event. WDYT, Dave? 

Since sending this email Chris has put lots of time into sourcing, researching and editing content for the booklet you’re now reading. I’d like to raise a toast to Chris, and also to his girlfriend Elisa Bowman for coming up with some fantastic graphic designs for the convention.

Several hundred emails later, the Website has been launched, Bloomsbury has donated a full set of Hoban novels, celebrity fans such as Glenda Jackson, David Mitchell and Sir Harrison Birtwistle have written tributes for the booklet and people are registering online to come to London for the ultimate celebration of Russell Hoban’s life and vision. Of course, not all our original dreams could be realised: a screening of the original King Kong and hiring a Thelonious Monk tribute band had to be cut for financial reasons. But most of our plans have proved possible.

All would have remained impossible if it hadn’t been for the incredibly selfless attitude of each Tentacle, who in addition to those named above include Alida Allison (USA); Eli Bishop (USA); Emmae Gibson (Scotland); Olaf Schneider (Germany); and Diana Slickman (USA), all of whom have donated time and energies gratis (and all have paid to attend the convention). The organisers are also indebted to the principal sponsors, Bloomsbury and Nomad Books, as well as the organisations, individuals and websites listed in full at www.hoban2005.co.uk, and of course to Russell Hoban himself, who, far from deciding to stay at home and write over the convention weekend, immediately agreed to take part when we asked him.

It would be wonderful to think that the Russell Hoban Some Poasyum 2005 is only the first in a series of Hoban celebrations but, having had a taste of what it’s like to organise this convention and with a baby due a few weeks after the event, I personally am taking this, as Russell Hoban might say, one night at a time.

On behalf of The Tentacle, I’d like to wish all participants a fantastic weekend.

Richard Cooper was born in London in 1971 and is now a web developer, maintaining russellhoban.org and various other websites.

Dr Yvonne Studer is the author of Ideas, Obsessions, Intertexts: A Nonlinear Approach to Russell Hoban’s Fiction, Franke Verlag 2000.




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