Auld Enemies: July 2014

7 locales : over 40 poets : a national tour of Scotland 

The Enemies project: Auld Enemies was a groundbreaking transnational poetry collaboration project where six poets worked in rolling pairs to produce original works for readings across the breadth of Scotland. Each event also featured numerous pairs of writers from the region, who will presented brand new poetry collaborations as well. Auld Enemies was an exploration of contemporary Scottish poetics through the potential of collaboration. Auld Enemies commenced with a six date tour of Scotland, taking in Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Lerwick in the Shetlands and finished with Kirkwall in the Orkneys. It concluded with an event in London, at the Rich Mix Arts Centre, on July 26th 2014, which featured many of the new works from the tour, new collaborations and a documentary screening about Auld Enemies, which you can view here. 

What this means to me, Ross Sutherland's generous, technically excellent and warm hearted documentary of our Auld Enemies tour of Scotland, is quite significant. It's the most apt testament to what we did, in it's humour and flow and deference, and its so rare to have something concrete, something that will last, that somehow captures one of these poetry things I've been experiencing in the last few years. When I confront this documentary, see what it stands for, for me, I am left feeling very grateful, very humbled that I might get to relive something very special, in the years to come, through it's being watched. 

Auld Enemies diary - Dundee : July 15th 2014

The beginning of the tour. Ross Sutherland & I up from London, Ross trapped by a lovely old Scottish gent / spider for hours out of lovely politeness, while I wrote. Dundee in blazing sun, looking beautiful. Into the Art College to read, the Duncan of Jordanstone building, reading in the foyet, walled by massive windows, a lovely space. Two local pairs of poets, and the wonderful Richard Watt, and the hospitality and immediately apparent generosity and professionalism of Peggy Hughes. Reading with Ryan Van Winkle myself, our Burbs, written over the last few years, the span of our friendship, since meeting in Sofia Bulgaria. And Colin Herd and Ross stealing the show, with their rave poem, washing over the gentile audience. A good beginning, back to Edinburgh in the car, with Colin, all at ease already, and beautiful countryside between the cities.

Auld Enemies: Dundee
William Letford & nick-e melville
Andy Jackson & Lindsay McGregor
Ryan Van Winkle & SJ Fowler
Jim Stewart & Dawn Wood
Richard Watt
Colin Herd & Ross Sutherland

The days I get to have free in Edinburgh, my third visit in a year, getting deeper into a relationship with the place, we are based here until we leave for the proper North. The reading in Glasgow is a co-habitation with the Fail Better series run by Henry Bell. Can't tell it's vibe, raucous I'd say, as is the expectation (perhaps unfairly) for the city in general. It's in a noisey pub, but it suits, the audience is partially drunk, but Ryan is hosting (we alternate) and I just relax, reading first with nick-e melville, a collaboration I love reading as I loved writing. Some amazing work, high high energy, Calum Rodger, Anthony Autumn, Katy Hastie, Graeme Smith, real highlights, high standard. Getting trains together now, just starting to laugh most of the time we're not reading or writing together. My first ever reading in Glasgow in fact, auspicious first time.

Auld Enemies Glasgow
SJ Fowler & nick-e melville
Neil Davidson & Thomas Betteridge
Iyad Hayatleh & Nalini Paul
Jim Ferguson & Ellen McAteer
Ryan Van Winkle & Ross Sutherland
Katy Hastie & Graeme Smith
William Letford & Colin Herd
Calum Rodger & Anthony Autumn

The Auld Enemies project is quite obviously an experiment. We put a lot of time into making sure it was as well organised as it could be, that the pairs of poets we asked to collaborate were carefully matched, for or against each other, and that the venues and local poetry communities we asked to partner us were the right people to approach. Yet, after this event in Edinburgh, it became clear to me we needed a moment when it became obvious the whole thing was a good idea and that the experiment had been a success. It came at Summerhall, with a night so good, so full of brilliant new work, so full of openness and intensity and energy, a night that brought together a whole community, that I really felt if it had ended there, in Edinburgh, three nights in, it all was worthwhile. The Demonstration room was absolutely full to capacity, with people sitting in the aisles and standing, and the 22 poets in 11 pairs all used the rawness of the idea to bring genuinely exciting work, and poetry and performance that really showed the variance of responses to the open criteria. After the event, many said to me it was the best evening of poetry they'd ever been to, and it was undoubtedly one of the finest events I've ever put on. Already a creative crescendo for Auld Enemies, nights like this make you think of doing it all again. 

Auld Enemies Edinburgh:

Ryan Van Winkle & William Letford
Rachel Crum & Dave Coates
Thomas MacColl & Ed Smith
JL Williams & J.Johanneson Gaitan
Graeme Smith & Luke Allan
SJ Fowler & Ross Sutherland
nick-e melville & Jane Goldman
MacGillivray & Andrew Blair
Mike Saunders & Karen Veitch
Rob McKenzie & Janette Ayachi
Colin Herd & Iain Morrison

I for one had a brilliant few days in Aberdeen, the imposition of the architecture, the clear city beneath the city, the windswept drama of the weather, the endless microcosms of humour and local culture, and the underbellies of that - finding great bookshops, trawling the long, almost uninhabited beaches, the funfair. I found it to be a strange place, and all the better for my experience, taking plenty of time as I did, to explore by myself, to walk and to read. Our hosts were very gracious and we read in cellar 35, below a pub, green lit like a David Lynch film. The idiosyncratic nature of the readings, and the atmosphere, uniformly warm but quixotic, added yet another look to our rapidly expanding tour. 

Auld Enemies: Aberdeen
SJ Fowler & William Letford
Keith Murray
Gerard Rochford & Richie Brown
Colin Herd & Ryan Van Winkle
Maureen Ross & Catriona Yule
Haworth Hodgkinson & Bernard Briggs
nick-e melville & Ross Sutherland

We got the ferry from Aberdeen overnight to Lerwick, on the auld Northlink. Scots drinking like Vikings as we swanned in the Magnus lounge watching the world cup final. It was a singular experience, something intense and enjoyable, if occasionally stressful, about sea travel. We laughed a lot, the spirit of the tour has been defined by a real closeness, more than I could've imagined, that has been expressed through dark, biting humour. Colin and nick-e are extraordinarily dry. Most of us had cabin bunks, I could hear the sea and the engine as I scratched out a few hours sleep. We docked in Lerwick and then headed to our venue, the Mareel, an amazingly modern and beautiful arts centre, very plush. 

At this point nick-e got really ill and we had quite unforgettable drama at how serious this was and felt and could've been. Again a powerful realisation of how big this experience is, how close to so many important things, like friendship through creativity, going out of your comfort zone etc... nick-e stayed in overnight at hospital and missed the reading, which felt an afternote to me, of course, but was really well received and enjoyable and friendly. Ross was amazing on the night, lifted everyone up with his positive energy and indomitable professionalism, and Ryan and Colin too showed out just how resilient and genuine they are. The local poets were really talented, different to us, but all the more welcome to that, and the island felt like another world, as much for the way we arrived and experienced our first hours, as it's unique character.
Auld Enemies Lerwick

Ross Sutherland & Ryan Van Winkle
Nat Hall & James Sinclair

After a day of exploring the sights of the Shetland mainland we boarded another ferry south, much more comfortable a journey this time, to Kirkwall in Orkney. We stayed in more wonderfully comfy B&Bs and I went on a night walk just after arriving late, taking in the pedestrian town centre and the awesome St Magnus Cathedral. We met Ross' friend Amy Liptrot, a brilliant writer who is from and has lived on the island for the last few years after being in London and Edinburgh. To have someone show such generosity in showing us the epic stones of Brodcar, the archaeological dig nearby and a trip up to the Kitchener monument and the nearby Puffin cliffs, places we never would have got to in one day by ourselves, carless, really transformed the experience of the place. An amazing beauty the island possesses was given context by Amy and her knowledge and her experience of the place, her closeness to it. We caught her just before she was apart to depart too. The reading itself was another intimate and pleasant affair, the very generous Pam Beasant hosting and contributing, and we did a round robin reading of sorts, with only 4 of us remaining. After departing the library we all flopped into a local chinese, that looked like a shipping container with a sign, and reflected on a really brilliant, unexpectedly touching, week or so on tour together. Sad to see it come to a close in Scotland, we said our goodbyes that night. 

Auld Enemies Kirkwall
nick-e melville & Colin Herd & Ross Sutherland & I
Rosie Alexander & Rosemary Merriman
Pam Beasant & Lydia Harris

It all ends up in London, and so we reconvened at the Rich Mix Arts Centre to invite new pairs of poets, screen some of Ross Sutherland's amazing documentary he made during our Scotland tour and share excerpts of the core poet's collaborations. A lovely evening to come together so soon, to reminiscence {already} and share our experience with friends and the like.  

Auld Enemies London
Ross Sutherland & Colin Herd & Ryan Van Winkle & nick-e melville & SJ Fowler
Emily Berry & John Clegg
Vahni Capildeo & Jeremy Noel-Tod
Tim Atkins & Jeff Hilson
Nick Murray & Eley Williams
Kirsty Irving & Harry Man

The Auld Fold

As part of Kathrine Sowerby's beautiful Four Fold publication series, five of the core touring poets also produced this collaborative poem that was published in January 2015 as the Auld Fold, featuring nick-e melville, Colin Herd, Ryan Van Winkle, Ross Sutherland and SJ Fowler.

the Hidden Door festival 

This took place before Auld Enemies, a precursor, in March 2014, but very much another very special time in Edinburgh. The Hidden door festival was an extraordinary undertaking, clear from the outset that it was entirely community based, built on people's sweat. Yet unlike so many things that emerge from this kind of DIY spirit, it was amazingly put together - well organised, beautiful to look at with some fantastic artwork, performances and installations, and vitally, it provided remarkable audiences. Both the walking tour and camarade event were concepts, imported in, that I had no way of controlling in that environment, so I had no idea how it would play out: it couldn't have fitted better. The poets were uniformly excellent, a wide range of tonalities and poetries on display, with a lean towards the energetic and intense, and funny, and the atmosphere was welcoming and as communal as the festival itself. For me it was lovely to idealise a city I don't live in, and need not experience the downside of, through the hospitality of the unusually innovative and original poets who inhabit it. So good to see old friends amidst making new ones, and for an event this like, a little bit special for all who witnessed and were part of it.

Colin Herd & Iain Morrison
Graeme Smith & Anthony Autumn
Daisy Lafarge & Anne Laure Coxam
JL Williams & MacGillivray
Greg Thomas & Lila Matsumoto
Ryan Van Winkle & Sarah Kelly
nick-e melville & Ross Sutherland