Gelynion: a Welsh Enemies project / Enemies Cymru

19th May to 5th June 2015 2015: Newport, Cardiff, Swansea, Aberystwyth, Bangor, Hay-on-Wye & London

Gelynion was an exploration of contemporary Welsh poetry through the potential of collaboration, curated by myself & Nia Davies. Shining a light on the often overlooked contemporary Welsh avant-garde, and placing that work firmly beside more literary poetry and the Cynghanedd tradition, Gelynion was an amazing experience, bringing together communities of writers that might not otherwise collaborate, from all four corners of the country & beyond. It was one of my most satisfying and memorable creative & curatorial adventures, a huge debt of thanks are owed to the many involved, which included over 50 poets with a core group performing new collaborations each night throughout the tour, including Nia & I, Joe Dunthorne, Zoë Skoulding, Eurig Salisbury & Rhys Trimble, all of whom became dear friends. We were supported by Arts Council Wales, Poetry Wales & the Hay-on-Wye festival. Lots of videos & blogs below.

Blog #1: Gelynion in Newport: May Tuesday 19th 2015

What a way to begin Gelynion, in Newport, with an amazing night that did everything I hope Enemies might do. In so much that it became something utterly its own, nothing to do with me, nothing to do with what I could predict or shape. Or in this case, pivotally, what my co-curator Nia Davies and I could shape. It was an occasion for people to share a space, to exchange their new collaborations, to support & meet, to be in a new place or see a familiar place new. And it was a community, it wasn’t artificial in anyway, but gracefully warm and positive and generous. Such a lovely way to begin our tour of Wales, and our attempt to do something ambitious with contemporary Welsh poetry and poets.

The first time I’ve visited Newport, let alone the first time I’ve read in the city, and I made my way straight to our venue, Project Space, a reclaimed high street shop, to be welcomed by Kate Mercer, a photographer and artist who manages the activities. From the get go the hospitality was evident, that people had taken it upon themselves to welcome us coming to Newport, specifically, and later in the evening Jonathan Edwards would say it is a place often overlooked culturally and all the better for Enemies for that.

I was collaborating with Rhys Trimble, a friend from previous times and someone whose work I admire, and, rarely, a folk musician, the marvellous Patrick Rimes, whom I’d seen by chance at Cecil Sharp House representing Welsh folk in London just two weeks before and invited. This made our collaboration, one of 3 core pairs from the 6 poets touring the whole of Gelynion, and one of 9 pairs on the night, unique. We spent the afternoon hammering out our work, a structure of exchange and accompaniment with refrains, in abstract poetry and declaration, that complimented all of us and our strengths, hopefully.

The event was full, we needed more seats, with over 60 laid out, and the event had a very natural rhythm to the myriad of approaches the pairs provided. Kate North and Katrin Lloyd offered some Oulipo, close to my heart, while pairs from the Walking Cities project, which paired Welsh and Indian poets, and left us with the serendipitous boon of amazing Indian poets at our reading, explicated their previous exchanges from already established works. Ranjit Hoskote and Tishani Doshi were both immensely assured and graceful in their readings. Cris Paul and Samantha Walton upped the density of the texts, and the pace, and were followed by a brilliant and beautiful art poetry performance from Josh Robinson and Merega. A revelation to discover Josh’s work through Gelynion, we share so many interests.

Rhys and I and Patrick made a good hoof of it, and Joe Dunthorne and Eurig Salisbury were witty and on point as ever. Zoe Skoulding and Nia Davies were the highlight of the night, such a balance in their collaboration between force and textual density, and synchronicity of reading. I was able to discern their entire piece, it revealed itself to me in its reading, which is normally the opposite of how I experience such things, getting a trace to be moulded into my own thoughts. We then finished with Patrick Rimes playing one last piece of music, and as the perfect end to a generous and memorable night in Newport.

Click the names to watch the video of each performance: Zoë Skoulding & Nia Davies - Joe Dunthorne & Eurig SalisburyRhys Trimble, Patrick Rimes & SJ FowlerCris Paul & Samantha WaltonKate North & Katrin Selina LloydRhian Edwards & Ranjit HoskoteJonathan Edwards & Tishani DoshiSuze MC de Lee & Andres AnwandterJosh Robinson & Mr&Mrs ClarkPatrick Rimes 

Blog #2: Gelynion in Cardiff: May Tuesday 20th 2015

Not a huge trek from Newport to Cardiff but undoubtedly different vibes, as we wished for, precisely why we tour the Gelynion concept around. Cardiff’s size, it’s status as capital in no way inculcated a ‘London’ effect, where reserve was the norm. While the nature of the event we put on, bigger, with a wider range to the backgrounds and communities of the poets, meant that at first the proceedings were slightly less familiar than Newport, by then, as had happened in some of the best nights the Enemies project has seen, many people were taking me aside to tell me the evening had been a landmark happening – bringing together those, in good spirits, with generosity, who might not have come together otherwise ever.

We had some free time in the afternoon to spend time in Cardiff city centre, but being a place I had visited quite a few times my main focus was my collaboration with Zoe Skoulding. Zoe is a towering figure, someone I’ve long admired, been influenced by and whose work spans the range that I myself aspire to master, being as respected on the page as she is in the sound poetry community. She is also a trailblazing editor, teacher and someone I’ve genuinely sought the opportunity to collaborate with in the past. We spent a memorable afternoon in a circus in Paris once, milling before I did a screaming sound performance to an audience of 4, and since then, ideas have been percolating. We exchanged concepts really, structures, how we might overlap new poetry, performance and the use of her technological skills. The concept of water synchronised with discussions we’d been having about poetry, it’s closures and fissures, and its possibilities, and so it became that Zoe opened up on water while I went Bubble. My new poems, written in the Travelodge that afternoon, sat in between Zoe’s own soundscape and the live recorded sound of my poems being wrung out into water. Adding in song, she built a beautiful, ethereal sound performance as I blew bubbles and eventually roped in others into a bubble choir. It was enjoyable indeed.

The marked quality of the collaborations on the night was really exceptional. There was a clear sense every pair had taken the commission to work together as a serious enterprise, and while the great majority of the work was text based, and read, the range within was remarkable. The pace of the event, the intent behind the works, was intensive, and held the attention for every minute. Steven Hitchins and Camilla Nelson are both poets I’ve read and followed, being hugely influenced by Allen Fisher myself, whom Steven has written about extensively, and seeing Camilla once read a tree at the Writers Forum, and their overlapping and intertwined exchange was a perfect beginning. Damian Walford Davies and Kevin Mills created a beautiful exchange that began with the auspices of something quite reflective, even formal, about bees, and then became a really powerful work on the impossibility of silence and the possibilities of perceiving sound. Wanda O’Connor matched the near legendary Peter Finch beat for beat in a rousing collaboration, dense and innovative, on atrocity. Joe Dunthorne & Nia Davies brought the Swansea love in a typically deft and witty piece, and the evening closed with Rhys Trimble and Eurig Salisbury offering the audience a taste of the great Cynghanedd tradition, in call and response. Their work, along with Llyr Gwyn Lewis and clare e. potter really illuminated the Welsh language and it’s vital presence in these events. So gratifying it is to not only see poets of different styles, communities, ages and nations together, but languages too. 

Clearly the momentum of Newport had been rolled into Cardiff and those many in attendance, bearing down on a hundred, stayed long after the poetry had ended, many intending to follow the tour on to it’s different stops. Wales is proving a fertile and hospitable ground for our work. Next to Swansea.

Click the names to watch the video of each performance Joe Dunthorne & Nia Davies Eurig Salisbury & Rhys Trimble  - SJ Fowler & Zoë Skoulding - Wanda O’Connor & Peter Finch - Kevin Mills & Damian Walford Davies  - Emily Blewitt & Rebecca Parfitt  - David Greenslade  - Steven Hitchins & Camilla Nelson - Llyr Gwyn Lewis & clare e. potter.

Blog #3: Gelynion in Swansea: May Friday 22nd 2015

A homecoming for two of our core touring six, Swansea being the home of Nia Davies and Joe Dunthorne. So much is said about Swansea, or was said to me, as I expressed excitement to come here for the first time in my life. It's clearly a place that engenders strong feeling, of pride or criticism. Off the train, the cab driver, born and raised, told me how much he hated it, before dropping me off at a beautiful B&B with expansive sea views over clear blue skies, surrounded by cafes and shops in the Upplands. Meeting the other poets and driving back into town to the incredible venue, what used to be an Iceland Supermarket and is now the Volcano theatre, on the high street, minutes from the train station, I began to get the impression that while Swansea has its edges, it is also an energetic, distinct and striking city.

I collaborated with Joe, and we had written a poetic dialogue that diffused the notion of the nation of Iceland, and our respective visits to that place, with the Iceland Supermarket that once inhabited our performance space. We created an overlapping narrative, something written to be read, and it came together with incredible ease and speed. We also gave out cards with the names of foods sold in Iceland, the supermarket, to be shouted out between our reading, a kind of call to the frozen ghosts from the audience. 

The performance space was unique and like all of Gelynion so far, each of the pairs, 10 in all this night, took the commission extremely seriously and presented an array of differing and energetic works. And again the nature of the collaborations and the community feel created an open, generous and expansive atmosphere. We were joined again by our Indian contingent, Jeet Thayil and Sampurna Chatterji reading, and I finally got to meet and speak to poets I've read and followed from afar - Meirion Jordon, Aneirin Karadog, Lyndon Davies, Graham Hartill and John Goodby. Their work was brilliant, such strength in depth, such a wonderful representation of Swansea.

We had our first in Wales day off and I spent many hours walking along the seafront to the Gower and around the city, and attacking a long run on the particularly soft sand and up the particularly steep hills, in particularly hot sun, getting lost in seemingly endless winding suburbs, before we reconvened for a barbeque at Nia's house and I heard about the revelry that went on late into the post-reading night, after I had left getting ahead of the Friday night crowds.

Click the names to watch the video of each performance: Nia Davies & Eurig Salisbury - Joe Dunthorne & SJ Fowler  - Rhys Trimble & Zoë Skoulding  - Robert Minhinnick & Frances Presley  - Lyndon Davies & Graham Hartill  - John Goodby & Calum Gardner  - Natalie Ann Holborow & Richard James Jones  - Aneirin Karadog & Meirion Jordan - Sampurna Chattarji & Siân Melangell Dafydd - Joe Dunthorne & Jeet Thayil

Blog #4: Gelynion in Aberystwyth: May 25th 

Nia, the commander, rightly so, led the way, kind enough to drive up the West coast of Wales with Rhys, Annwn and I in the backseat, travelling to Aberystwyth, one of the most isolated cities in the UK, and a beautiful place - a university town, sat on the sea. It possessed a completely different atmosphere to our previous stops on the tour so far. Eurig’s hometown, really the bastion for Welsh language studies and history, Aberystwyth seemed to possess the spirit of independence I had been fascinated to see, really Welsh culture. The seafront was lined with the flags of disputed or marginalised nations in a show of solidarity. I’d also been told our gig was highly anticipated. Really the places I have yet to travel to are the ones I await the most.

We travelled with Rhys' dog Annwn, who I instantly fell in love with and finally felt like there was someone on the tour I could really show my true feelings to. We all stopped by the sea in a small town on the way into Aberystwyth, and I tried to escape with Annwn, but he turned back, loyal to Rhys. A free day upon arrival, Joe, Nia and I ate out and spoke later into the night, the first real chance for the natural side effect of such a project as Gelynion to inculcate the exchanges that build friendships and rich collaborations. Joe and I continued to speak over breakfast each day, and getting to know him far better, a deep privilege, was an education as well as a pleasure.

For the reading, set up on the hills of Aberytwyth, in the University, I collaborated with Eurig, and it being his home town, I was fortunate to work with him. We decided to repair the besmirchment of the mythical Welsh hero Owen Glendower by rewriting Henry IV. Shakespeare remixed, and we dragged in Rhys, Nia and Joe as the performance became a kind of anti-amateur dramatics. The gig itself was packed, held at Aberystwyth Arts Studio, the University’s massive 70s concrete architecture housing the beautiful circular dome where we set up in the round. We had to find more chairs in the end, such was the turnout. The reading felt more like a workshop, such was the familiarity of the atmosphere. It was great to see Jemma King, Amy McCauley, Mari Sion, Kath Stansfield, and all the other poets, all of whom I had researched and many of whom were local through study and not birth, reinterpret the collaborative medium once again.

We all piled into a tiny Moroccan restaurant to close out the night, the real unity and cohesion of the group and the project becoming palpable. The first pangs that the whole thing has gone by too fast already.

Click the names to watch the video of each performance: Nicky Arscott & Kath Stansfield  - Mari Siôn & Elin Ap Hywel - Siân Melangell Dafydd & John Barnie - Amy McCauley & Jemma L King - Joe Dunthorne & Zoë Skoulding - Nia Davies & Rhys Trimble - SJ Fowler & Eurig Salisbury

Blog #5: Gelynion in Bangor: May 26th

An incredible drive through Snowdonia, a scenic route for our privilege, Joe, Nia and Eurig accompanied me in from the west coast and up into the mountains. We stopped a few times to hear Eurig’s description of the places, his climbs, and to pose for catalogue model, or boyband-like (I won’t reveal our hypothetical band name), photoshoots. Such beautiful weather, perfect blue skies and though busy, what seemed to me completely pristine country.

Into Bangor, and it struck me as a very charming place, Zoe’s homeland, a University town, but also with its intense population (I saw teen scraps in the highstreet within minutes, sustained) the countryside surrounding encroached and struck me as an oasis of a place in someways. Our reading was the same night as our travelling so we soon visited the Blue Sky Café and Nia and I met Elan Mererid Rhys, the wonderful auto-harp player and folk musician, whom I had come across in Cecil Sharp House in London, by pure chance, a few weeks before, just like Patrick Rimes. Elan could not have been more warm hearted and wonderful to work with, and Nia and I decided to read the 6 way collaborative poem written by the group and published by Hazard press over the playing of Elan, to set everything gently, and it worked out so nicely.

 In the end, I think Bangor was my favourite event. The quality of some of the work was so remarkable, the café was packed, 50 or 60 people, or more, and such a memorable assortment of works. Ghazal Mosadeq, who had travelled all the way from London, presented amazing work with Ifor Ap Glyn. Robert Sheppard, who travelled from Manchester, worked with Alys Conran to generate another mysterious European poet. Sophie McKeand, Fiona Cameron, Karen Owen, Sian Northey, really I could list the whole evening. It was a special one.

Click the names to watch the video of each performance: Sophie McKeand & Fiona Cameron  - Karen Owen & Sian Northey  - Ifor Ap Glyn & Ghazal Mosadeq  - Robert Sheppard & Alys Conran - Nia Davies, SJ Fowler & Elan Mererid Rhys - Zoë Skoulding & Eurig Salisbury - Joe Dunthorne & Rhys Trimble - Elan Mererid Rhys

Blog #6: Gelynion in Hay-on-Wye at the Hay Festival: May 29th

Hay Day 1: The grand drive to Hay, making out east from Bangor, trailing the north coast of Wales, adjacent to it in fact, the modern motorway plunked between sea and mountains. This is where my parents came to holiday when they were kids, in the 50s, nipping to Llandudno from Liverpool. We stopped in Conwy. Joe was attached by a diving seagull. It tore his lamb sandwich from his novelist’s grip, but then he met a pug puppy, gurning, and karma has rebalanced. I discovered a tack shop or four, and bought a wraparound lobster bracelet. A defining object from some power from thereon in, many a famous writer has their wrist Llobstered (with an emphasis on the Ll being the top-of-the-mouth Welsh pronunciation).

With Joe shaking from the bird attack, Nia drove us back into England before we turned straight south. The day was a beautiful one and I was aware of the rarity of the occasion, the privilege, to be talking with these poets who had become friends, to be hearing about their work and the history of the places we passed, thanks to Eurig, whose erudition and knowledge of his nation’s history is quite remarkable. We stopped in at the most isolated café in the Shropshire hills, who offered dishes which (for real) advertised ‘a free phonecall to the hospital’, such was there fat content, admittedly.

We made it to Hay by the later afternoon, and having never been before I will admit to it being a very special experience for me. We were treated pretty remarkably well, with the staff being really hospitable and helpful, giving us access to the spaces for the readers and artists, and tickets to other events. We got to see Gareth Thomas give a brilliant talk, utterly immediate and unpretentious, before we got to see Tinariwen live in the big tent. I’ve loved their music for a long time. We headed into Hereford, where we were staying in the 11th century Green Dragon hotel, late, but happy. 

Hay day 2With our final performance in Wales being a completely different format from the other events we prepared accordingly, and excerpted our 15, ten minute, core poet collaborations into 3 minute bursts. We rehearsed them in order, so that as one poet pair finished the other would stand up to follow it. 15 works, over 40 minutes, all showing the way in which the unique structure of Gelynion, and it’s rare atmosphere of generosity and creativity, has created such different and complimentary works. We spent hours hewing the works down, retrying them, building on the many performances in Wales, the rare second chance and we even stepped through the whole show, which would finish with a reading of the pamphlet produced by Hazard Press and a Q&A.

I had some really interesting and lovely conversations during the day, there is always the rare chance to meet people you admire at things like Hay, not that I’d really know, but speaking to Helen McDonald, David Mitchell, and lots of old friends from the Norwich Writers Centre and the British Council made the experience more homely than I’d imagined. I also always find these kind of enterprises, which are quite ambitious and labyrinthine, tend to be run by younger people with necessary senses of humour, and I could have a laugh with my Llobster.

Our performance was a real joy, such a privilege to be working with Rhys, Zoe, Joe, Eurig, and Nia, and I took the time to thank them properly. We all hit our marks and added new strings to our previous collaborative bows. The event was schedule opposite some huge events and so our attendance wasn’t great, but that was a consequence of other factors and didn’t detract from the intensity of the experience, and the growing realisation that this project has been very very special. A rare and important tour, Gelynion had clearly left its mark on Wales, and the poets who had participated. It has to be said, as we chatted with the manager of the Poetry Bookshop in Hay (where I bought 1st edition Tom Raworth and Anselm Hollo books), who had heard of our tour and Enemies in general, that we realised just how much it now felt that Wales was waiting for something like Gelynion, and for me, just how energetic, positive and humble the poets involved were. Everyone gave their all and some real friendships were made, and some real ground broken.

Blog #7: Gelynion in London - June 5th 2015

A bash to finish. All the core poets together for one last time (this time around anyway) as well as a host of people travelling from Wales and new collaborations from London based poets too. Still fresh of course, though in just a week it felt as thought the time in Wales itself has been long ago, it was lovely to feel the closeness of the tour exactly where we had left it in Hay. Real bonds have been made.

The first half of the night was dedicated to those we had met on the tour and those specifically asked to present new works for the night, who lived in London. It was a seismic split between quite lyrical poetry, some beautiful works from Sampurna Chatterji & Sharon Morris, David Berridge & Steven Hitchins, and some far wilder, more performance orientated work. I almost had to tackle Cris Paul for setting fire to the Conservative manifesto almost directly below a smoke alarm during his performance with Josh Robinson and this was very much the spirit we had allowed to be present in Gelynion, if people wanted it to be. 

The final part of the night saw Joe, Eurig, Nia, Rhys, Zoe and I do another showcase, roundrobin, where we read excerpts of our longer collaborations in quick succession. It was the best of what we'd done, which was always gratifying and of a high standard. Such brilliant writers and such generous people, if I am to have other experiences as rich and memorable as Gelynion I should live to be a lucky man.

visit for all the vids

Gelynion: a publication by Hazard Press

Thanks to the remarkable skill and generosity of Jeremy Dixon, Gelynion was accompanied by a beautiful, handmade publication. A six way collaborative poem, where each of the core touring six poets - Nia Davies, Zoë Skoulding, Eurig Salisbury, Joe Dunthorne, SJ Fowler & Rhys Trimble - each wrote a line, and then, with names removed, each other poet added a line, wherever they wished on the page until six poems of six lines had been written. Each poem a truly collaborative work.

Jeremy, who makes such wonderful literary objects at then handcrafted just 60 copies for a limited edtion run. He had them waiting for us at the very first gig in Newport and they proved to be a great success throughout the tour. It's hard to convey their delicate and unique character, small and elaborately finished. A huge thanks to Jeremy, do visit Hazard Press and peruse their wares.

The poems within were read twice on the tour, including being the very last reading at the last Welsh gig, at the Hay Festival, where each of us six stood to read a poem each.