Sunday, 29 November 2009

Brewery Fun

My last gig of a surprisingly gig-ful year was at the Brewery Arts Centre in the refubished Warehouse - a long room lined with rows of sofas facing the velvet curtained stage. Very lush. A lovely vibe for a poetry night. Which was a great start since I felt pretty dire (for entirely self-inflicted reasons).

At least I knew what poems I was going to recite and felt confident I had a mixed set of light, lyrical and surreal stuff. I was also showcasing a hitchhiking poem for the first time. I was one of the headline acts, thanks to the invitation from the supremely energetic Ann Wilson, so had a fifteen/twenty minute slot.

There were fourteen open mics so I had plenty of time to settle into the space. They, as usual, ranged in voice and subject, mainly good - especially Kim Moore and Margaret Whyte, who both read absorbing poems, rich in atmosphere and imagery.

It was a mic'd do so I wasn't going to be dancing about physically, which let me off that hook. Just small gestures and voice. And as usual, an astonishingly attentive audience. I think I've gone on about the priviledge us poets have with our audiences so won't go on about it again.

Mybreathing wasn't the best, so didn't entirely relax but managed to hold attention and enjoy my delivery. But the best bit was after - I've never had so many people talk to me after a gig - mainly to share their hitching experiences (that poem was clearly a winner), but also to tell me how much they enjoyed what they heard - if not necesarily understood intellectually but had gone with the sounds of the poems. And that for me is really what a performance is about. My work isn't the most obvious performance work, being densely written and rather wrought in imagery, but if it can carry people elsewhere then I've done my job.

To an extent sound is sense, and mood can be conveyed through that.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Derwent Poetry Festival

I was down in Matlock Bath at the weekend for the Derwent Poetry Festival, run by Templar Poetry. I had come across their books before - beautifully produced jems - and since my friend Naomi Foyle had been invited to read as a contributor to their new anthology, Stripe, it seemed like a good opportunity to spend a weekend with her and discover some new poets.

It was held in Masson Mills, a water-powered cotton mill, which still produces some of it own electricity from the river. While we had nothing compared to the rainfall in Cumbria, the river was swollen and fast-flowing. An anology for the poetry on the top two floors.

Pat Winslow opened the festival on the Friday evening, with her blend of earthed and lyrical poetry. She's such a sparkly person that it felt impossible not to fall under her reading spell.

By contrast, Jane Weir introduced her book Walking the Block on the Saturday morning. An insightful and askance biography of textile designers Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher. I talk as if I'm hugely familiar with this women. I wasn't. I'd never heard of them. But after an hour of Jane reading and talking about them I was woven (excuse the pun) into their histories.

The book is illustrated with their textile designs, made, as theirs were, with organic dyes, and is a lush artifact of their lives. And Jane's knowledge of them and of the printing process (she is also a printer) was gripping. The hour was a great combination of passion, storytelling, transcendental language and poetry. The poetry echoed the process of block printing: rhymically especially, which illustrates for the benefit poetry has over prose for biographies: there is an opportunity to get inside the subject, to viscerally feel the themes, the emotions.

I love this form for biography (I loved Ruth Padel's reading of her Darwin sequence). The fragmented nature of time and action provides space for the reader to step into the life described, and can slice just one facet of the life. With Jane's book it was very much the work and its process, and yet each poem stood alone as a poem. There was a reverberation to it.

My top discovery was Dawn Wood who read from one of the winning pamphlets, Connoisseur. In it she introduced a new world of dead creatures that she'd sketched and become absorbed by in the Dundee museum. Her precision of phrase, slightly surreal imagery and sense of humour gave such new versions of these potentially familar creatures. I was hooked.

I was also blown away by David Morley, who read poems he'd adapted from Romany stories. But it was the language, like flint on flint, that got me so excited. And I clearly wasn't the only one. He read two long poems in his slot, which at 6.30pm after a long day (with no lunch break to speak of) could have fallen flat on deaf ears. But there was a tangible tremour once he'd finished. We'd all been channeling the energy of that story.

The Sunday morning schedule was cancelled - many people had
been unable to get there - and despite the near continual rainfall, we decided to wander the woods. After close to nine hours of poetry it was necessary to swab our brains with foliage.

I could sense that same charge in my body, both as a writer - ooh yes, I must consider that to write about, oh and that - and as reader - how I was seeing the shapes of leaves, the cut away of the cliffs and the force of the river Derwent in greater detail. There's such an invigorating force to poetry, a kind of born-again sensibility to hearing it, that despite the closing light, the damp air and bedding down of autumn I sat on my train home tingling and very very alive.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Something Lovely

Just found this while "researching"

from a blog by Thomas A Clark.

It really is quite amazing the research you have to do ...
in the name of procrastination.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Mr Puppet has Hair

It's a slow process being a puppet made by me, but he can now see and has hair to give him a more youthful look.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Oh my oh my - People!

I was so confident back in the good old days of the idea for John Denver. That's the danger of ideas - they seem so good. So feasible. So simple.

And then you have to act on them.

Yesterday was my first day for getting to real grips with the John Denver play. The director wants the synopsis by the end of November. And that's beyond "this fan and his mother meet the day or week after his death".

I realised I had become totally hooked on not having JD open his mouth and so pleased with the solution I'd forgotten I'd installed two new people in the play: fan and mother.

I used to write short stories. And back then I loved doing it. But that really was back then. I haven't created a character since 2002 when I wrote performance stories with two other writers. Yesterday was wake up day. I had to learn about these people before I could go any further, with plot, let alone know what they'd say and how they might say it.

What I discovered was that other buffer zone, the one comes after the blissful euphora of the 'idea': research. Oh what procrastinatory fun that is. The things you need to read and check out to get a sense of someone is truly time consuming.

So, once I got over the shock of people, yesterday turned into a fascinating day of sketching and reading and devising, what I hope is, an interesting, convincing and fully-fleshed woman.

One down, one more to go, before the next issue of plot ...

Sunday, 8 November 2009

A day of sing song, talk back and fiddle de dee

A few days/weeks ago me, Steve Lewis and Beth Allen finally managed to get ourselves together in the same room at the same time with the same purpose - to sing, sound and improvise.

While we'd managed a few hours back in September it had felt many many months since we'd last had productive play time together (April was the last posting I could find about our 'project' in this blog).

So we had to start with the usual routine of trying to remember what we'd done last time and what of what we'd done we'd enjoyed. This unfortunately comprises of us all bent over Steve's notebook and trying to decipher his writing and then what the word he'd scribbled, percussive or theme might allude to in terms of what we did.

Slow dawnings of memory: the stretching out of words; the creation of sound narratives - stories without meaningful words; improvising/riffing off the ideas of curse and bless.

As usual we'd had a fine old time of it but without a true sense of what next.

This time we wanted (well, Steve wanted, but me and Beth were happy to go along with him) to create some space to unpick what we'd done, specifically to explore previous ideas through overload and then through miminalism.

The beginnings of our sessions are always hard for me because suddenly I'm being asked to produce stuff - even if it's a meaningless sound - in front of people and my usual response is 'I can't'. A bit of arm swinging is usually a good start. And faith and trust in Steve and Beth, which I have in bucketloads, otherwise I wouldn't have even got involved in this in the first place.

The overload turned into a crazy cacophony of screeching, voice and dischordance, while the minimalist approach was altogether more interesting, more tense for us. So we pushed this idea further. Each of us came up with rules for us to follow (or break if you're Beth, she's so naughty): a word each over a minute, then two words each, and a sound, then repeating someone else's sound over two minutes, with the aim of creating a story or sense of 'something'.

While we never knew what the others were about to say or produce, or when, we were still trying to riff off each other and build up a palate of sound. It required intense listening to each other, ourselves and the wider space too.

Inevitably it became very poetic: sparse, chiming sounds, echoes and silence.

Inevitably I loved it.

Inevitably we didn't record it so have no real sense of how it might be for an audience. So we've made dates to have three whole days to build up to something that might be enjoyable for others.

We'd had such a good time we hadn't even invited Mr Puppet to join in, although Beth did find some superb hair for him. Maybe next time.