Thursday, 25 November 2010


Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the diversity of poets participating in the Watershed Crossing Borders project last Saturday, we produced some wildly different collaborative pieces concerning the landscape we were in, and the borders we had crossed to get there.

Mike Barlow and Helen Mort were explicit in their meeting, walking from east and west to climb a fell, enveloping weather and sea, snatches of people and voice as they approached. Their images and voices overlapping eerily. Their piece rolled forward and then unwound as they described the descent, reading backwards through their work.

Clare Shaw was paired with Ben Wilkinson. Strikingly different perspectives. They had written in response to each other and bounced between political and lyrical, from humour to philosophy. It was a spiky piece that grew in energy as the contrasts built.

Steve Waling and Sally Baker were another bonkers pairing (well done to Andrew McMillan for thinking so tangentially on this!) - of the surreal and the linear narrative encounters of inhabitant and visitor to a small town. Steve Waling particularly feels like an inspired discovery for me.

And then me and Joe Hakim, from Hull. I immediately liked the idea of the coast to coast meeting we made, like the folding of the country so its edges meet. We walked for a couple of hours (Joe bravely in his city shoes) up the fell behind Mytholmroyd, then along the most muddy of muddy bridleways and down across fields to the canal, talking about what nature means to us, what made it natural (not a lot was the conclusion), the language of an area, and the fleetingness of it all - how nothing is constant. Great stuff.

We wrote separately but all the shared thinking and exchanged ideas came out in the subsequent pieces, which slotted together beautifully - a clash of concrete argument and metaphoric philosophy. We played a bit further about how we could develop that riffing of thought in the delivery. So there was a prologue of s/wordplay before the main event. I was pleased anyway.

Although once the heady excitement of fresh creation died down (ie, the morning after) I'm not so convinced by what I wrote, but in a way that doesn't matter - they were fresh, living things that we all created that day and then gave to the audience in the evening. Like the natural world, isn't it inevitable they withered a little after picking?

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Watershed Landscape and other writings to order

This Saturday I'm one of a team of Lancashire and Yorkshire writers (oddly it feels, I've been placed on the Lancs side; Dad will be turning in his grave) who are spending the day in Ted Hughes' boyhood home in cross-border collaborations to reflect, write and finally perform our responses to the very particular landscape of the Calder valley.

Naturally I'm nervous - improvising is never a piece of cake at the best of times and then to be riffing with a stranger - well, who knows what'll come up? But I'm also excited. For the same reasons.

Plus, the area is a second poetic home. It's where I first cut my teeth on the title of 'poet' - as Poet in Residence for Calderdale Libraries back in 2004. Part of which was to write a commission on reading. I spent a lot of time stomping about the hills and along the canal thinking about reading and books and looking at the steep slope sides there (upon which I still see claw marks).

I'm also interested in where I fit in the Lancs/Yorks geography. Born and living in Yorkshire until I was 18, but now living in Lancashire, and firmly attached to the NW ... Andrew McMillan (the lead poet on the project) has cast me Lancastrian. This doesn't sit so comfortably. In an odd way I feel more Yorkshire than I do English. And yet can't imagine moving back East.

And then there's that whole political sheenanigans with the upper reaches of Calderdale now technically Yorkshire but once Lancashire. How must they feel?

So I'm imaging some of the above and hopefully a lot more will shake out on Saturday. If you're interested in coming along to hear how, contact the Hebden Bridge Tourist Office.

This, in some respects, feels a breeze in comparison to what I'm up to on Saturday 4th December: being one of the Bespoke Poets in Residence at Storey Gallery's Christmas Market. Gulp. It was the Gallery's idea - sell poems as presents for people who have everything - poems about them.

The idea being we have a chat/consultation with the purchaser about the person in question and over the course of the day write a poem about them which we present later as a card. I have no idea how this will work out - if it'll be a string of arguments about what a poem is (rhyming and comic), if people refuse to pay for something they don't like, if I'll find inside me an endless source of responsive creativity, if people give us a wide berth ... But it'll be a new experience. And of course you're welcome. If only to buy a nice pair of earrings from another stall.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Quiet Houses

Some time ago I wrote about making a poetry film with poet/artist Maya Chowdhry. Which so entertained me it sent me on a small film-making road movie of my own, celebrating and visualising certain poems from Host.

The film, Nothing as Quiet as a House, is now available. Yours for the snip of £2 (&p+p). Just email me with your postal details.

As is the synchronicity of the world, the week the copies of the dvd arrived I was given a poem by Wallace Stevens. (I am still reeling from the shock of not being that familiar with his work) 'The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm' is a repetitive yet developing meditation. Its beauty lies in its linguistical simplicity and conceptual illumination - for me at least. It is nothing like my poem.

But it has stirred an interest in me to find more poems about quiet houses - to think about all the different resonances of quiet contained in walls. Any pointers welcome.

Friday, 5 November 2010

An Elastic Sky

An Elastic Sky Flax022

Flax022 has launched!

As usual, the process was a twisty turny one: a worried sense of not getting a clear picture of the overall theme, but working on instinct; followed by close editorial work with the writers that sent me cross-referencing each poem to another one in the anthology; running parallel to that was hearing how the commissioned films were panning out; and then the launch. Which was a wonderful combination of live readings, film, scones and a capacity audience.

So, the end result: An Elastic Sky is an expansive anthology. Its poems orbit moon, kitchen tables, oceans, attics and football pitches. Throughout they show a tenderness and quiet ruthlessness for honesty in our disquieting world. It showcases new work from Rebecca Irvine Bilkau, David Tait, Michael Crowley, Ron Scowcroft and Jim Turner

You can read An Elastic Sky, Flax022 from the Litfest website.

As I mentioned we commissioned films to accompany the digital anthology. For me one of the main benefit of digital publishing is the ability to make multimedia work from the text. So, once again Morph Films were asked to translate a poem from each author into a film. These are the results:

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Mark Strand on a Poem

"A poem is a place where the conditions of beyondness and withinness are made palpable, where to imagine is to feel what it is like to be. It allows us to have the life we are denied because we are too busy living. Even more paradoxically, a poem permits us to live in ourselves as if we were just out of reach of ourselves."