Bimhuis, Amsterdam to watch Diamanda Dramm November 29, 2018

Timelines are rubbish. But, when one hasn’t the words for something mysterious, perhaps formulas come into their own.

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Monday March 26th 2018 : in Dublin, for Phonica, musicians and poets performing together. I feel sick and drift out of attention. Diamanda Dramm plays though and I see her work very powerfully set itself aside as something else. She dragons up on people. I have no context for the technique talent of being a violionist or whatever, but she’s using (bad) old poetry alongside, singing. She’s no wearing any shoes. I do a thing which people seem to see, I eat an apple etc… and afterward meet her and her father, who is also a (brilliant, I later find, researching) musician. They are both very nice, to go with the talent. How attractive are collaborations with other humans when they don’t do what you do and can confound what you do and realise your own suspicions about your work being pointless and sad and an endless arrangement of jumbled words very very few people care to read. How motivating.

March to September, spring to autumn 2018 : Diamanda and I begin a correspondence. She sends me an audio recording of her setting one of my poems, The Tradition, to herself and song. It’s quite moving, to have this kind of gift. I reciprocate and send her poems. I bury them away after sending, they are not going to be published elsewhere, I don’t read them once the email attachment attaches and the email disappears. But they seem to land somewhere. I keep getting audio files back, putting them on my mp3 player. Somehow something I once marked down is resurrected, edited, interpreted, better than before, like a dead pet returned to life. Diamanda is putting together a tour, a solo one woman show, which knits music written for her by Garth Knox with Dutch creation myths and of course a massive wooden lungbox that is her violin and how she plays it. She includes some of my poems, which is stranger still.

October 13th 2018 : Diamanda and I meet for a second time and collaborate for European Poetry Festival. The digital curtain is drawn back and will the exchange of poems into songs be able to keep its jelly walls intact? It seems so. It’s fun, Diamanda is a brilliant performer and we make fun of it.

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November 29th 2018 : I travel to Amsterdam for one night to witness the start of Diamanda’s Violin Spaces tour at Bimhuis. It is clearly a marked moment in her career. The venue is quite extraordinary, set over the water, huge letters denoting itself, which I see in the distance walking towards it in a rainstorm which is pleasing. It’s a blackbox jazzclub. Diamanda is clearly famed in Holland and Europe in general. Her separation of herself from her skill with the violin is admirable, but she still has that skill and that separates us in a profitable way. I arrive a little early and see that some of my visual poems, specifically my Scribbling and Scrawling, which Diamanda obtusely requested is projected onto the stage and over her face, for significant portions of the show. This is the most graceful and considerate use of my visual works ever. The show itself is mesmerising. I’m quite wordless, but write some things during it. The energy it requires, the multiplicity of skills, the idiosyncrasy, the technique, it’s bizarre. Three or four times during the show, the opening, near the closing, in its heart, are my texts. The resurrection of the dead pet has now become a human, or pet, the dead poet pet, the collective platonic resurrection. I did once write these words, likely in my pants, sat on my bed, a long time past, in a tiny corner, but I might’ve well as not have. But here they are sung back to me. I feel the show, without sounding insane, is at times for me, and I am moved. How did I end up with this fortune that this stupid stuff lives on in the mouths of others? Diamanda is rightly celebrated and mobbed afterwards. Garth Knox has travelled, like me, to support. It’s a really resonant, transitory experience.

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Here’s more info on Diamanda’s show

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A brilliant few days in Amsterdam thanks to the British Council and the myriad folk behind Amsterdam's ELN. A city I love, a cousin to my home London, with friends abounding in poetry, decent, serious poetry folk. I arrived and rolled right into the amazing Lloyds Hotel, one of the nicest places I've ever stayed, a cultural venue and landmark in and of itself before going to the Brakke Grond venue and meeting the 10 others writers who were part of the night. Guido Snel curated and moderated the evening, placing small groups of writers together, each of whom would have a discussion panel on the theme of home. An essay was commissioned beforehand, translated into Dutch and published in Erik Lindner's Terras magazine. I was paired with the Syrian writer Rasha Abbas. Naturally her conception of home was so powerfully juxtaposed against my own but we had both written in similar ways about the concept, so we were paired and it was the best thing could've happened. She was magnificent, darkly funny, generous and deeply intelligent. We had a really energy in our conversation on stage, to a sold out house. She read some of her diaries, about her arriving in Germany after leaving Syria. I talked about London being the only home I've truly felt I've had because it is populated by those who are not at home there and therefore at home in that sense of being without a home. I also talked about my own background, Englishness, paradoxes, semantics, and together we worked up some fine ideas while the artist Sarah Yu Zeebroek live illustrated it all. More at

The next day, a full day I had given myself in the city, I was interviewed by Mylene van Noort of Lloyds Hotel and cultural embassy, getting the most hospitable welcome, with a tour of the incredible rooms, all of which were designed by artists and tie into the building's storied history. Then I explored the city, the highlight of which was a tour of Perdu bookshop by Frank Keizer, a fine poet and a hub of experimental poetry action in the city. A beautiful few days.

Poetry International at Stortemelk, Vlieland: Holland - August 2016

My first reading in Holland, and an utterly unique place to give it – the island of Vlieland, a poetry reading on the Stortemelk holiday camp. All thanks to Tsead Bruinja and Bas Kwakman, and Poetry International, for letting this beautifully idiosyncratic mini-festival tradition – poetry readings for those on holiday on the camp, in the dying days of the summer season, nearing its tenth year of happening – be my debut in Holland. More than that, I had a really wonderful experience meeting some remarkably hospitable, intelligent and generous people.

Another grand result of Tsead and Bas’ invitation was the chance to have Tsead translate a dozen or so of my poems. We spent some hours working on this, one of the most comprehensive and rewarding translation processes I’ve been through, and Dutch is the 20th language my poetry has been translated into. So Tsead and I had chatted plenty before I arrived in Amsterdam to begin the journey north, to the sea. I had a night in the city, amidst rainstorms, in an Airbnb not conducive to rest, before I met Tsead early and we began catching busses across country. Friends from the first, the sensibilities Dutch and British people share, the dry, barbed humour most of all, we chatted for hours until we caught the ferry from Haarlingen to Vlieland. The island has a tiny population, it is a well known holiday destination but genuinely removed from the mainland, a culture unto itself. And as part of the reading’s tradition, the poets contributing get to stay in tents as part of the sprawling Stortemelk complex. I was led to my tent, the first time for a poetry event, and got to reunite with Bas, who I’d spent time with in China, Germany, Scotland, and meet the wonderful Saskia Stehouwer, Ries de Vuyst and the others in what became a temporary, extended family/friendship group to which I was immediately included. Just beyond the tents, over one large, lengthy dune, was the expansive white beaches and the north sea. I had a chance to ramble, and be cooked for, before hitting my tent, exhausted.

My one full day on the island was really memorable. I had the chance to sit in the camp café and watch the families on holiday rumble, and meet the young Dutch who work the camp, an impossibly friendly, athletic group of 16 to 25 year olds, who have some sort of internal system of gentle hierarchy that clearly leaves them well deposed to the world and returning every year. Nearly everyone I spoke to had been coming to Vlieland for most of their lives. The atmosphere was uniformly friendly and calm. I managed to get a run through the island’s extensive forests and up the sand dunes, dying. Then off on a long walk for three or four hours, hugging the coast, following the beach from the camp round to the ‘town’ part of the island, up to the lighthouse and back. I returned to eat with the group, now including Anneke Claus, a poet, and her partner Victor, and this is the tradition, when a poet is invited, they get to bring their loved ones, enjoy the hospitality of the camp for a holiday. Then to the reading itself.

The camp has a history of arts and theatre and music, many bands having played in the camp and it being a sought after destination in Holland. Such a world apart from holiday camps in the UK. We had a full room and an intimidatingly attentive audience. Great to watch Anneke, Bas, Tsead read, watching their body language and audience response so carefully because I don’t understand Dutch, and witness the music of Ries de Vuyst. My work seemed to go down well enough, clearly Tsead’s translations were excellent, and there's always palpable sense that there’s far more rope in Holland, in Europe in general, for my kind of work, which I think is playful, but is clearly rooted in the relatively dense modernist poetry tradition. Certainly loads of people were lovely to me about it, and that went on until I left really, people coming up to me in the café and on the ferry home even, to say they enjoyed my work, and perhaps my patter in between poems, apologising for the fire of 1666 on Vlieland, where the English burned the island. Another nice footnote in our history. 

After the reading we were given the famous post-performance reward, known as the Potemkin, by Jan and Judith, who run the camp, and who were so attentive and friendly, even with so much going on around them. The Potemkin is a giant plate of fried foods. Many types of fried cheese. I resisted and struggled to bed. The following day, taking the ferry back to mainland Europe, Inevitably sad to leave  but perhaps all the more memorable a trip for the intensity of the experience, my time on Vlieland was something far more than a poetry thing, as I like all things to be - rather it was the beginning of friendships and collaborations and a beautiful experience where poetry was just the excuse.