The North x North West Poetry Tour : England : Jan / Feb 2017

I co-curated this six date funfest with Tom Jenks : “York / Manchester / Edge Hill / Leeds / Sheffield / Liverpool : The North West Poetry Tour was an extraordinary celebration of the amazing, experimental, dynamic resurgence in literary and avant-garde poetry which has so marked the north and northwest poetry scene over the last decade. Over sixty poets collaborating in pairs, producing brand new collaborative works for performance, were commissioned for six events in cities across the region. Those six nights in January and February 2017 saw packed audiences, with 500 people in attendance all told. Free to attend and memorable to all who witnessed them, these events and the project in general is considered a marked highpoint in the exploration of a new poetics in the north of England in the 21st century."

Diary : Part one in York and Manchester

Brilliant to have begun this ambitious six date tour of the north of England that Tom Jenks and I have put together. It brings together over 50 pairs of poets, all showing off new collaborative live poetry. The project began in York this past weekend, on a Friday, and then had its second leg in Manchester the following night. Both City Screen and the International Anthony Burgess Centre were great venues, both events had excellent audiences and it was great to meet loads of poets and see many old friends. The Camarade style events are reliably communal and welcoming while inspiring innovative work. 

Diary : Part two in Leeds, Sheffield and Liverpool

Leeds was fire. I’d heard it was a quiet town for the avant garde or literary poetry but this proved untrue, or we got unlucky. In the wharf chambers we had over twenty poets and from many different scenes and backgrounds. From first time readers to folk like Ian McMillan and Robert Sheppard, it ran the gamut. I got there early, in the snow, to be met by Ian in fact, whom, ever the gentleman, helped me shift 100 chairs into the basement punk venue. So many poets I was excited to see and meet for this one, and there was a uniformly playful tone, with a noticeable investment by many. For my own work with Patricia Farrell we wrote a collaborative poem and then I played with some ideas around memory and recitation, recording her poems onto my phone, popping in earphones and reciting from that audio file at parts, and at others, just trying to copy what she had said. Nearly 100 crushed in all told and some of these collaborations will be long remembered, everyone was buzzing

Sheffield was interesting. Again there was talk of a quiet gig but our room at Bank Street Arts was chocked, even dangerously so with much of the gig standing room only with people blocking my camera or stepping on each other’s feet, literally. Some great works here, punctuating a range of stuff, from the high literary to the amusing. At times it leaned into the self-referential, the audience having its favourites / friends, which is really the opposite of the deliberately open Enemies mode, but this is inevitable with such an intense room and a single city scene.

To be honest for me, the whole time in Sheffield was clouded by hearing of the death of Tom Raworth, who was a great influence on me and a friend. I wrote a piece remembering him, feeling emptied and deeply sad, in a Travelodge in the city, having travelled from Leeds and so it was a melancholy day. It took me many attempts to write the piece, I was feeling quite out of sorts. We ended the event with Chris McCabe and I reading some of Tom’s poems and this I will never forget, to have the big audience to read Tom’s work to, a day or two after his passing.

Liverpool is a city I love and this sprawling reading in the beautiful Everyman playhouse, who could not have been more generous as a venue, brought together many friends and great poets from across the region, being the final gig. I had the grand pleasure of working with Nathan Walker, whom I respect immensely and our improvised sound poetry vocal piece was a joy, though it was maybe too intense for the audience. Some fine works here but it was a rare misfire over all in terms of the Camarade tradition. Not quite sure why, but there was an imbalance in the works overall, perhaps a lack of identity in the event, a lack of successful experiment, or engagement with liveness. Happens sometimes.

Certainly I left the event happy because it was the summation of the project, and the final moments of that were spent with my friends, Tom Jenks especially, a brilliant poet and a great person to work with. As ever it’s a privilege to do this work, to such large audiences and such enthusiastic and varied writers.