Tuesday, 25 November 2014

An Internal Spectacle

These are retinal images of my eyes. The white is the optic nerve and you can just about see the gloomy dark pinpoint of my pupil (I think). This post is nothing to do with eyes, rather what goes on inside us that is an invisible spectacle. Although they're beautiful, aren't they? I'm sure I'm not just saying that cos they're mine...

I've been thinking about this for a while, ever since after the two shows I gave at the end of October I went to see the NT encore screening of Frankenstein and came away full of awe at the high end production of the show: the sprawling ceiling of lightbulbs that flashed on at various points. The dazzle and different shapes were so simple and yet clearly so very expensive. 

And then at the Sympoetry at the Scottish Poetry Library Thomas Lux was forecasting poetry will become as popular as opera... I don't agree. Poetry will always be the poor cousin, have the perfect face for radio etc etc

Poetry doesn't have the budget for big spectacle. Often it can barely hire a small upstairs room for a reading. Even the TS Eliot awards, however plush the Queen Elizabeth Hall is and good the lighting and amplification, comprise of people walking up, reading and leaving the stage. There are live literature performances but I've yet to see or hear of one that has displayed a 'spectacle'.

My shows, one on a narrowboat and one in a black box, felt obviously inadequate buy comparison to Frankenstein, not even the sequinned jacket I wore for Sealegs lifted that sense from my shoulders after the event. Until I realised - of course! - the spectacle is the combustion that happens to the individual. The absorption of words perdings our emotional or sensory or intellectual bullseye. This doesn't even happen that often, to me: the target is so precise. 

That's not to say the production and performance of poetry needn't be given an elegance or beauty or style that is integral to the poetry. There needs to be an acknowledgement the poetry is being held in a physical space rather than a book, that the words have a different entry point to the listener, a different relationship (fleeting for one). 

I was saying elsewhere how my confidence in my work is so much greater when I stand behind it and speak it to people rather than read it off the page to myself, or imagine others reading it. I think it's because then it occupies me, the space between me and the listeners as well as them. As if I'm hearing the words for the first time, enjoying their sound, amongst the other listeners. 

As ee cummings said, it's as if I'm hearing with 'the ears of my ears awake'. And if that's happening, I'm not looking for external lightbulbs. 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

There is no Night

Constant daylight creates its own mystery –
the moon is up there somewhere.
At the end of the jetty it’s impossible
to gauge how deep the water. 
A child's lifejacket hangs on the dinghy’s oars. 

Obviously there is plenty of night as we hurtle towards the winter solstice. It's as good as dark at five o'clock. All the more reason to construct a new pamphlet set in the Finnish summer, where there is no escape from light. The earth turns. We spin with it.

It's a simply stitched booklet, blue card, grey font, illustrated with a wandering moose and a sliver of birch bark. Birch was the Finnish stuff of everything back in the day: caps, boxes and shoes, nudging me to use it somehow in the construction. It burns hot, so is the wood of preference for saunas.

The pamphlet came together reasonably quickly over a couple of days of faddling with shape, layout and illustrations. It's absorbing work, trying to translate the mood and themes of a poem into the vessel that will carry it into the world. The final version is the most simple. I had beads, more pages and illustrations in previous attempts, none of which sat right with the text. This clean, sparse feel holds the poem perfectly.

It's a long poem, in two sections, exploring love, of another and of the self, and how that plays with union and independence, absence and presence. It's melancholic, tender and hopeful.

Because it all came together rather unexpectedly I've made five to take with me to Hebden Bridge where I'm reading next week - 7pm Wednesday 19th November at The Bookcase, now the unofficial launch night. If you'd like to pre-order a copy let me know. I can get more made and a paypal button sorted next week.

There is no Night. Illustrated card, Tracing paper sleeve cover with silver birch bark detail. Handstitched binding. £5 each (+50p p&p) here

Monday, 3 November 2014

Time and Tide

I'm involved in a WWI project, using archival coroner's reports to explore the effect of the war on the people of Morecambe Bay: Time and Tide. The reports I've read register the deaths of munition factory workers, drowned sailors, suicides and far more domestic accidents that could and do still happen now. 

I was invited on board after the project had secured funding, so had no part in its creation. When I first read the reports I felt very uncertain at the prospect of using these tragedies as inspiration for new writing. These were people's lives and deaths, not simply writing exercises or discussion points. It felt extremely important to hold these reports (that are public, available for anyone to read) with huge compassion and an attempt of understanding lives that are, in some ways so different from ours today and yet are wrapped up with the same concerns: love, pride, friendship, loyalty... 

They lived at the whim of their time: war thundering on hundreds of miles away and yet shaking their communities and daily lives. Without the immediate horror of the battlefields the impact felt in Morecambe Bay (and anywhere on the home front) would have been somehow more shocking - impinging on, what seemed, almost normality: at least the backdrop was familiar. It is this infringement upon people adapting to a necessarily new situation: new jobs, changes of roles, rations... adapting as well as humans do - that feels so shocking. Of course it reverberates now, as ever, as people the world over have to subsume the shock and outrage of war to be able to feed themselves, their families, to survive. 

Looking out my window onto the blue waters of the Bay, at the reflected sky in the muddy sands, it feels as though the landscape can't do anything but hold what has come before: the horror and the mundane, big and small, near and distant. Sometimes we see it, sometimes not. And that's what makes this project valuable: we're looking.