Monday, 31 October 2011

All Hands All Hands

The World Famous  asked me a wee while ago to write some words to go with their new show All Hands, a firecracking shipbuilding performance of dazzling ingenuity and precision engineering... So I said yes.

And was given some mp3 files, a storyboard, a brief and a clip to the previous show - they were already performing it as a work in progress.

And a fortnight to come up with some words... A little exhilerating in prospect, but I loved the concept of the show. To quote from the brief:

"[The World Famous] share a belief that human beings deserve better, and that we are capable of achieving better, but are often held back by our isolation, by fear of change, by the system, by vested interests, and by the lies of politicians and the media.
The show is a celebration of collective human endeavour and the power of connection."

And the central image they used was that of building a vessel, raising sails and journeying together - which is why they approached me. And how could I resist that?

I also loved the music, composed by Kuljit Bhamra and David White. It reminded me a little of Nitin Sawhney, of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, but distinct. Hugely energising. Kind of dance/trance. Anyway, I listened to the tracks over and over until their rhythms were pulsing out of my fingertips. And wrote.

They took the words, read them, we talked and tinkered with them. And the plan is now for the who to tour again next year. It's been funded as part of the Cultural Olympiad so I'm hoping to ctach it at some point over next summer... Menawhile, here's a snatch

Monday, 24 October 2011

Black Flood and other Phantoms

The Dark Matters exhibition at the Whitworth, part of the Asian Triennial, was an excilleratingly physical experience. While I was awed by many of the exhibits (facing a slow-mo pixelated version of myself, courtesy of Daniel Rozin, at the entrance forced a switch of internal gears  best suited to wander the rest of the space), the one that moved me particularly and really got me thinking was Black Flood by Barnaby Hosking.

Four carpet screens of about four metres high, a metre wide, create a square container to stand in. Projected black 'water' rises higher and higher on them and so around you. Firstly you get the (to me) soothing effect of being immersed: the hypnotising roll and surf of waves at the upper edge, the surface of the water, from the inside or beneath them. It's a kind of dry swimming pool. And dark. The water has a mercurial thickness. As the water slowly sloshed upwards and its level rose, and I watched (probably swaying with it) I realised it wasn't (technically speaking) the water rising but the lights that represented the sky above it that were diminishing, narrowing over the black water. And this is where my brain kicked it. I got excited. We think we're looking at water, but it's the 'sky' that's governing us.

How else is water so often seen but through the sky above it? I seem to be regularly preoccupied by this in my writing, starting in Host and now seems to figure in most of my current writings:
("This pitted stream smudges a version
of grey clouds hammering anvils.
Its glass distorted by air.
Wind made visible by water. Held briefly." from 'The Three of Us')

The definition of things through their relationship with those around it is another way of looking at our interconnectedness, which seems to me to be one of the functions of poetry: making connections between things that may otherwise seem separate. What (or who) are we looking at when we look at the sea?
And in the case of Idris Khan's work: what are we looking at when we look at a piece of text? He'd have us look at the entire book:

His photos (of the Koran, the Bible Art history books and many others) are images of every page stimultaneously bound as one. Each word holds the resonance of the word preceding it, the page preceding it, and the book preceding it. I imagine my brains looks a little like this. It also hints at the overload resulting from quick accessibility provided by ebooks/Kindle/iPads, but that's another post.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Guesting at Bean Photography

The wonderful photographer, Jonathan Bean,
Jonathan Bean Photography bigs up Tailormade Poems ...

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Work Work Work?

What do I like most about working at the French House Experience?

Never knowing who's going to turn up for the four day writing course? This year we had six varied participants: experienced novelists, experimenting poets, would-be short story writers and playful speechmakers. They worked as barristers, film-makers, positive thinkers, child-minders and retirees.

The food? Let's face it, I'd be happy eating French bread and cheese all week, but the salads, quiches that make up lunch are fabulous, fresh and extraordinarily tasty.

Working with Moira Martingale? The host of St Raymond is a relaxed, charming and ebullient companion for me during my time there - nothing seems to be too much bother for her to make sure our workshops run smoothly, which is great for someone used to working as a solo tutor. And she's very good for a laugh!

Getting a swim in everyday? Forty laps of the pool just about works off lunch in perparation for dinner.

Sharing favourite work? This year I took along Jen Hadfield, Cormac McCarthy, Luisa Valenzuela and Julia Darling amongst others of my favourite writers to hear what people made of them. We never all agree, which is what makes things interesting.

The space? We all get picked up at the airport and brought to St Raymond, a large converted farm/grounds near Pexiora, where there are no street lights, no intrusions (unless you want wi-fi with you), odd noises of vixens in the dark, a huge stretch of sky almost 180' over us, the Pyranees in the distance, protected by a fence of tall cypruses to block any wind and lead your eyes up up up.

The Limoux? We generally meet on the patio every evening for an aperitif of a Limoux - a sparkling French wine, locally made, which is just scrummy scrummy scrummy and oh so civilised...

Hearing the variety of work? It never ceases to amaze me how many different responses people can write to the same stimulus. Give a man a fish and s/he'll see cod, pollock, shark and whitebait... Imaginations are infinite.

Coming home? While it is a great wroking week, and obviously I love it, I also adore rolling up at my front door, and being surrounded by my things and feeling very stimulated and ready to get on with my work. There's nothing like reading and talking about good work to fizz me up for writing my own.

Here's to next July!

Monday, 3 October 2011

These Boots were made for Walking

Flax029 is all coming together:
map, tick; audio files, tick; ebook, tick; webpages, tick.

Well, when I say 'tick', I mean started, almost completed, enough to feel like we'll have something to launch on Sunday 16th October at the festival.

And when I say something, I mean a very special Flax something - three walking tours wrapped up in a delicious map and audio poems, spread along the curious streets of Lancaster.

Not that we'll be out in those streets. For the launch we'll be peering into their nooks and crannies via the eye of Litfest's own Jonathan Bean (aka Beanphoto) - yes, a slideshow of beautiful images will provide the backdrop to the poets reading their work.

All three poets, Martyn Halsall, Elizabeth Burns and Rebecca Irvine Bilkau, will be taking us on their particular tour of Lancaster - through a timeline of faiths, walls or personaliaties, respectively.
I am especially looking forward to the event for two reasons:

1. I've never been involved in the making of a map/walking tours before, and it's been a bit hairy and devilishly tricksy at times, but am proud of what myself and Gareth Dennison at Morph Films have managed to come up with.

2. This is my last Flax publication. Although my last is someone else's first ... while I'm leaving Flax and Litfest I have every confidence that its work is not done. There are too many talented writers here in the NW of England to not continue to publish, support and encourage with their ideas and work.

It was hard to make the decision to say goodbye to this wonderful job that has offered so much freedom and inventiveness for celebrating literature. I have thoroughly appreciated that freedom and, perhaps more so, the community of writers that has grown up in the last five years.

Walking in Circles, Flax029, was an invitation to all those writers to submit ideas for walking tours in Lancaster and we had some great ideas. I'm sorry not to get the chance to produce them all. But I sincerely hope that with the map and mp3s being available at Lancaster VIC (from 17th October), more people, than possibly those already keen on poetry, will be introduced to these three writers and maybe some of their colleagues, via the Litfest website. The informal nature of the poems, the relevance to the city and its visitors, hopefully give Walking in Circles a chance to prove the value and delight of poetry to those unsuspecting non-poetry fans...

Launch details: Saturday 16th October, 2pm.
at The Auditorium at the Storey, Meeting House Lane, LA1 1TH.

It's free so you can just turn up, or for our nerves it'd be lovely if you emailed, to let us know you were coming.