31 December 2021

Looking back, looking forward

Oooh it's the last day of 2021, so let's round up the bit since we posted our last missive on 19 October, shall we? As anticipated, I performed at Verbose, on the open mic, and at Sophie Herxheimer's Index launch with zimZalla, and then I was invited to perform again at Verbose, this time as a headliner, at the festive powwow in mid December; other headline duties went to Dave Haslam, reading extracts from his Art Decades series of books out with Didsbury indie Confingo Publishing. Despite knackering my back by having a fall (I'm officially old as of last week), I also managed to squeeze in a trip to Beatification, which has been resurrected by the legendary John G Hall at Fuel in Withington. For all these various appearances, I've been trying to read different stuff, so as not to bore any recurring audience members, and this has worked out quite nicely (and even made me write afresh or adapt pieces) and has seen some very lovely comments, for which I am really pleased and indeed honoured and also rather humbled. It's been amazing to receive positive feedback on the new direction I've decided to take and stick with and keep chipping away at, and from people who themselves create great work using lots of different approaches and inspirations. I've also been delighted by a couple of recent emails accepting my applications to contribute to happenings in the new year – one is currently under wraps, but the first I can tell you about is appearing in the Manchester Open 2022 exhibition at HOME, with a visual poem that can be viewed as well as read. Here are the dates (all being well): preview weekend: Fri 21 Jan–Sun 23 Jan 2022; exhibition: Mon 24 Jan–Sun 27 Mar 2022. I've also had my story The Lookout nominated by the editors of Splonk ("the Irish for flash") for the Best Microfiction 2022 anthology, so fingers crossed for that, and more on the other project soon...

19 October 2021

Four months of fun

Ah, it's been a while, but I can report that I have, in the time away, managed to make my 2021 performance debuts in the real world, first in la belle France at Paris Lit Up last month and then at the very beginning of October for the European Poetry Festival European Camarade at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester. For this, I invited Lydia Unsworth to team up with me, and we had fun creating a collection of 'grams for each day of the week. I've since been busying myself while suffering from a poorly back following a fall (I'm getting on a bit now, after all) with a few additions, including messing around with anagrams about Barbara Hepworth sculptures and calligrams about a comet I claim to have seen while en vacances. I've also been writing some ekphrastic pieces about the work in Dez Rez Projects' visual art exhibition GALA, which finally got shown at Victoria Baths at the end of September, when I read some of my poetry from the bottom of one of the pools, and I'm currently compiling all these new bits and bobs into a third pamphlet. My debut poetry pamphlet, cache-cache, has found a home with Netherlands-based Contraband Books and will be out in the spring; my prose pamphlet, Marine Drive, is chalked up for an autumn publication with Broken Sleep Books. I can't tell you how delighted I am to have been accepted by such amazing publishers, and I'm really looking forward to working with them both. One of my concrete pieces, Navigation Is Difficult, More Now Than Ever Perhaps, just came out in the hold-in-your-hands lovely magazine that is Firmament from Sublunary Editions while The Interpreter's House has another visual piece of mine, Will Finches Inhabit Me?, creeping up on us very shortly. Upcoming live appearances include being one of the first to hit the new stage of Verbose as it moves into the King's Arms (next Monday), then joining the fabulous Sophie Herxheimer as she launches INDEX with Tom Jenks' zimZalla at the Peer Hat, alongside Nell Osbourne of No Matter fame (14 November). Phew, it's all go and right now I'm in the audience for a Centre for Poetry & Poetics evening beaming out of Sheffield, so I'd best make tracks...

09 June 2021

A change to our schedules

This post, we take a break from writing to look at art, or maybe, more accurately, to look at writing looking at art. 

Mine and Jazmine Linklater's collaborative project, 900 – which we created to perform at the European Camarade as part of the 2019 European Poetry Festival (a year was skipped due to the pandemic, but it's back in Manchester this summer, hopefully at the shiny new Manchester Poetry Library, on 8 July) – has just been printed in PN Review. This work, partly explained by me in the contributors' notes to PNR259, stemmed from three dreams each, three cafe visits each and three trips each to art galleries, observing the goings-on therein for an hour from a fixed point. Swapping out verbs from one dream each (we condensed our three down then picked the most interesting), adjectives in the selected cafe pieces, and nouns between our two chosen galleries, you'd be hard-pushed to identify which places we'd been to – in effect, the whole thing became somewhat like a dream – the number 900 is significant in dream theory; the swapping is significant in Oulipo experimental writing exercises. For the record, my art palaces were Dulwich Picture Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery and The Whitworth, overlooking the park.

I've also been busy trying to reintegrate into normal life, which I've got to say is more tricky than I had anticipated. Still, I managed to catch the Brutal exhibition at Saul Hay Gallery before it finished, and, same day, my art immersion continued with a spin around Grayson's Art Club, with its inspiring, intriguing and sometimes eye-opening amalgamation of contributions from both celebrity invitees and viewers of the first series of the Channel 4 show. A week away in Cornwall involved a, er, potter round the Bernard Leach Pottery (due to Covid restrictions, only the shop was open at that point, but you take your kicks where you can get them, right?), a chat to a street artist painting a gable end with a mural of his ceramicist friend, another chat with the person running the New Craftsman Gallery, a quiet contemplation in Barbara Hepworth's studio and garden amid a downpour, a whirlwind tour of all the Hepworths we could lay our eyes on, and a trip to the newly extended Tate St Ives.

What a pleasant surprise to wander into the first gallery and be faced immediately with Joan Eardley's 'Salmon Net Posts'. I allude to the painting – all big, bold brush strokes of vibrant blues and whites and greens – in the poem I contributed to the anthology marking the Scottish artist's centenary year. By pure coincidence, I'd had the honour of reading the piece live from St Ives only the night before, 18 May, celebrating the date of Joan's birthday and the official launch of the project. Organised by Colin Herd and co-edited with Sam Small, the Eardley anthology, All Becomes Art, will be published by independent Glasgow house Speculative Books later in the year; the call for work is on and the deadline is 28 June. 'Place Setting (Catterline)' was my first piece of proper ekphrastic poetry in recent memory (I feel I've done some before, maybe as far back as during my first time round studying), and it was a really enjoyable and enriching experience – as I babbled at Sue, the Tate St Ives invigilator. Hopefully, she is now telling everyone who comes through the doors that it's Joan Eardley's centenary year. Here's a picture...

09 May 2021

Words, no pictures

Since last we spoke, dear reader, I've of course been to lots of events, including reading at Virtual Verbose, when Nicholas Royle and Naomi Booth headlined, and travelling far and wide from the comfort of my own home. 

I've been to a Poetry London shindig featuring Holly Pester (seen IRL some time back at Rory Cook's rather wonderful but short-lived Sunday soir salon Murmur), to a Glasgow hook-up with NYC-based Bernadette Mayer (fabulous, and a nice continual update on the snowfall in downtown), to Kendal Poetry Festival and the ever-brilliant Vahni Capildeo, to a Bad Betty launch, a Carcanet New Poetries VIII showcase, a "workshop" (more of a chat with Jerome de Groot, really) with Zaffar Kunial, to some StAnza stuff - a visual poetry talk with Chris McCabe and Astra Papachristodoulou, and the annual lecture, with Jacqueline Saphra, talking about her recent lockdown work - to Manchester's own No Matter, to another Live From The Butchery in Norfolk, featuring Jen Hadfield way up north in the Scottish islands, to an Arvon gig with Rebecca Watson (whose little scratch I'm about to embark upon reading), to a Welsh innovative poetry evening from Sheffield's Centre for Poetry and Poetics and Blackbox Manifold, featuring Lyndon Davies among others, to Poets & Players' first foray into the online event world (love their Reemergence prize winner Susan Shepherd's stuff), and to the Guillemot Press launch of Suzannah V Evans's new boatyard-based book Brightwork, also with a reading from Eleanor Rees, who spoke of the Red Rocks on the Wirral. How lovely!

My own Hilbre Island flash fiction found a home this month in the Irish e-zine Splonk (there's also an interview with a certain David Gaffney in there) and I've had some more pieces published, mostly poetry, which is all very exciting and encouraging. I have a piece in Poetry Scotland magazine, another (a 'Daily Permissible Exercises') with Osmosis Press and another pinned on the Litfest Places Of Poetry map here. Upcoming, my collaboration with Jazmine Linklater is coming out in the PN Review OuLiPo supplement, edited by Philip Terry, and I have a concrete poem in the Summer 2021 issue of Firmament from Sublunary Editions and an experimental piece in this week's instalment of PERVERSE. I'm reading next week at an event launching a Joan Eardley centenary anthology project organised by Colin Herd and Sam Small (more here) and on 8 July at this year's European Poetry Festival, organised by SJ Fowler, and for which I've arranged to hook up with Lydia Unsworth, whose recent lipograms I've been enjoying, along with loads of her previous work.

I've managed to do some more 'Daily Permissible Exercises', a year on from the first time, and I've written a few things for specific deadlines and invitations. Nonetheless, I've been feeling that I've not done enough writing (I suddenly got inundated with freelance work, including proofreading a book about French châteaux and writing copy for an annual report on climate change targets), but I aim to change that, having an upcoming rest from work for a week or perhaps a little longer booked into my diary. Phew. I'd fix the fonts in this post, but I have to go out and drink wine and show off my new haircut. I'm sorry.

17 February 2021

Onwards and upwards

Since my last missive, the UK has been in a prolonged lockdown starting midnight 4 November (a free-for-all on Christmas Day aside) and 2021 has got off to a somewhat bumpy start, with the sad passing of my lovely cat Pushkin, the founder of modern Russian literature, obvs, and featuring floods, pestilence and various other shitstorms demanding my weathering. Still, onwards and, hopefully, upwards - spring bulbs are starting to shake their sleepy heads and I just noticed the honeysuckle by the back door sending forth some new shoots and leaves. 

Event wise, I've had to duck out of a few I was hoping to go to, what with one thing or another, but before the festive period (or lack thereof), I did manage to visit Nottingham, where Lila Matsumoto hosted Samantha Walton (and her colleague Vicky Sparrow more recently welcomed Zarf's Callie Gardner live from Glasgow), and Sheffield, where Iris Colomb was the star of the show at the December outing for the Centre for Poetry & Poetics Safe Readings Series, hosted by Ágnes Lehóczky.

In the New Year, I listened as Lucy Burnett explained her new crossword book, out with Guillemot Press, and visual poet Derek Beaulieu and visual artist Rhys Farrell described their collaborative processes for Lens Flare, and I watched a bit of a showcase as Mau Baiocco, Kirsty Dunlop, Fred Spoliar and No Matter's Nell Osborne joined Maria Sledmere to celebrate her recent Guillemot launch alongside Kyle Lovell with his Broken Sleep Books Legitimate Snack pamphlet.

In sherry-drinking open season, I also did some readings, including on the open mic at prose poet extraordinaire Anne Caldwell's double book launch with Matthew Hedley Stoppard, hosted by Leeds Libraries, and at Rachel Davies' 4Word pamphlet launch, featuring Hilary Robinson, Kim Moore and others. I also had the absolute pleasure of collaborating with Andrea Mason for the most recent outing of The Other (pictured above), when writers swap work to read. Like me - so a very fortuitous pairing; thanks to the Fates! - Andrea is big on deploying constraints in her work and she sent me a piece made using the verbs from a source text to create her own work, which was published by Sublunary Editions. I'm super-pleased that Andrea is on the shortlist for The Manchester Writing Prize.

I'm still striving to develop my practice, so I've applied for a few things, not always successfully, but hey if you don't ask you don't get, and I've been putting my name down for various upcoming workshops and talks. I joined the audience for the Northern Writer Awards Roadshow looking at getting poetry published, hosted by Will Mackie, and featuring Uni of York's JT Welsch, writer Rommi Smith, Hannah Bannister of Peepal Tree Press and Jo Clement of The Butcher's Dog journal (above image). All very useful, especially as I make headway into the uncharted territory of getting my debut pamphlet out there...