The South West England Poetry Tour - August 2016
A collaborative poetry tour of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset spread over a week in August 2016. A project I co-curated with Camilla Nelson, bringing over 70 poets together over 5 nights, the first Enemies project style tour I've done in England, writing new works every night with core poets JR Carpenter, John Hall, Matti Spence, Annabel Banks and Camilla herself. It was a memorable week, a return to old places and friends, and the beginning of new ventures. For much more information and documentation visit http://www.theenemiesproject.com/southwest
St Ives - August 1st 2016
I was born in Cornwall, in Truro, and I grew up as a small child in Newquay. This was the first reading I'd ever given in the county and the first time I had been back since I was a teenager. St Ives, famous for its artistic community, welcomed us with torrential rain. Annabel Banks drove me from London, picking up other poets on the way, for a rare and joyful road trip south. We arrived at night, nearly ten hours on the road, and accommodation famously being at a premium in one of the UK's summer tourism hotspots, I jumped out of the car in a dark lane to enter a property called the hobbit hole, which was a shed with a bed in a garden. Actually quite fun to live, briefly, like a hobbit.
The reading itself was held at the Barbara Hepworth museum, and supported by Tate St Ives. I was told afterwards that we were in the very room in which Barbara Hepworth died of smoke inhalation. Surrounded by her sculptures, it was an unforgettable space to read within. I met many poets for the first time, some after long correspondence, met the core touring poets as a group for the first time, and had the great pleasure to read with John Hall. His work has been influential on my own ever since I began to trace the line of my own interests back through British poetry to the 60s and before. He published his first book in 1968, and his rare poise, presence and judgement as a poet and a person was great to share, if briefly, as we read our piece in such a special room. I tried simply to follow his rhythm, his play with silence and pause and I felt very comfortable in that space, almost not like a reading for me, closer to a performance of reading.
St Ives provided a fascinating beginning to the tour, quite intense in a strange way - the weather, the tourists, sleeping in a shed, bombarded with new faces and hearing new poetry and being responsible for that. Already a sense that things are moving quickly, picking up steam, switching modes to performance and travel, and to start this near the very foot of the country, to work north, as feels natural to me.
Falmouth - August 2nd 2016
A journey across Cornwall, weather lightening, energy rising, travelling with Camilla, a remarkable poet and immensely organised and responsible as a co-curator. Luxurious accommodation too, with a landlady who even came to the reading and insisted on baking me vegan cookies. We were housed at The Poly for the event, with young, helpful, accommodating staff. And I got to work with Matti Spence, a fascinating and generous man, a fine poet. I first met him after he returned to London from some years away in Australia and after he had studied a UEA. Completely assured and singular, while being essentially warm hearted, Matti is a peer to learn from. We wrote a poem I was very happy with and decided then to turn it performatively, breaking the fourth wall, and using the assumed context of the reading against the audience, in a light-hearted way. A lovely touch for me was that my old friend and collaborator Thomas Duggan attended, his studio being deep in the Cornish countryside, and I hugged him mid reading. Everyone seemed lifted by the event, the format of collaboration once again creating ties and bonding people from different scenes and styles.
Dartington - August 3rd 2016
Back into Devon, driving up with Camilla and Matti, skirting Dartmoor, crossing the Tamar, heading to Schumacher College, near where I grew up as a teenager in Exeter. Another strange return, but realising on the tour that it isn't a return when the company and purpose is utterly new. And in Dartington it felt the most fresh, like I had not been to this part of England before. This is perhaps because Schumacher College is so unique, set apart in the countryside, an ecosystem unto itself. Staying in dorms too, cells, made the experience feel really embedded and somehow enclosed. This was a remarkable evening of poetry too, a full house again, with some brilliant collaborations highlighting an evening that felt complete, energised, memorable. It was inevitable the lineage of Dartington College of Arts would cast a spell on the reading, and so many in the room had ties to that institution (more here on that), and multi-disciplinary practise and performance art was a key feature of the collaborations.
Collaborating with JR Carpenter was a blast. We took a text she had generated with her computer, basically three simple phrases and then, introducing ourselves with a little bit of water pouring, on theme, used repetition to build an improvisational structure. I love this kind of work, completely open, free and high pressured. It requires time and expertise to do well, and can be a dud on the wrong night. This wasn't, it flowed, as we leaned into each other, swaying slightly, the clear purpose of the work was well expressed, well received and seemed all the more satisfying to me because in a way, it was a small work, miniature and light. It represented the moment, it was of the space, and very much a product of the tour.
We finished the evening in the White Hart, where Dartington College of Art, before it's merger with Falmouth University in 2010, held many events, many long nights. I sat with John Hall, who taught at the institution for 34 years, and he told me of the poets who had read in the room and the history of the place. It felt a very special privilege to hear that from him and to imagine our event as a small, brief, resurgence of that tradition in the area.
Bath - August 6th
A day of respite before heading north once again, to Bath. This time at the Royal Literary and Scientific Institution and my opportunity to collaborate with Camilla, our first time doing so. I had come across Camilla's work very early into my experience of poetry, at a writers forum in London, maybe 6 months into my writing. She read a plant, taking up the reigns of Bob Cobbing's dictum that anything could be read, used to generate sound, her work stayed with me from that first reading. Since then, occasionally crossing paths, I had heard about her Reading Movement collaboration, and how she had, as I have in the last few years, started to interrogate movement and motion when interweaved with the reading of text, live. My work in this area seems all to come from performance art, concept led performance or from my background in martial arts, and so this was an opportunity we both wanted to take to do something physical. We had a day at Dartington to talk and to develop ideas, and that was a rare and educational experience on the tour, to have that deeper developmental process and to get to know, and learn from, Camilla's experience and expertise.
In the end the evening was frantic, the largest number of poets and an excellent attendance, with some tech demands in between hosting and all the usual responsibility of organising an event. Camilla and I's work seemed to respond to this, and was contextualised, and perhaps amplified, with a more literary feeling for the majority of the collaborations being shared. It allowed us to play, to use the space, to make our performance a dance of sorts, but also a playfight of another sort - a physical poem alongside our text - not entirely, and deliberately, careful, not entirely graceful, but full of something close, intimacy perhaps. A really resonant experience for me, working with Camilla, extending our curatorial collaboration with such proximity and tactility, and begin a conversation with her work, one I've definitely benefited from being exposed to.
The evening featured some really interesting work from old friends like Andres Anwandter, Paul Hawkins, Carrie Etter, alongside some new discoveries like Lucy English, Matthew Robertson, Bart Breathnach, amongst many, 20 overall contributing. And again this reading had its own character, reflecting not only the idiosyncratic expression of the poet's interpretation of the question asked of them and their burgeoning relationship with another poet, but also the room, the city, the audience and its taste. I certainly felt, with the range of work and its energy, we left an imprint.
Bruton - August 7th
Our final stop, the week passing, predictably, with alarming speed. We were able to stay close to the extraordinary gallery and gardens of Hauser and Wirth, everything that so many on the tour had told me it would be, enjoying local hospitality in some style. It allowed the poets who had seen through every leg of the tour to really spend some memorable time together, not only travelling in mini car flotillas, often through the dense English countryside and its receptionless roads, in the middle of the night, but around dinner tables and long after that, talking. A privilege to get to know some brilliant, warm-hearted, talented and wise human beings through the excuse of reading poetry, part of the experience that will stay with me longest I think.
The reading itself was pretty remarkable, over 150 people climbing the gentle incline of the garden in the Hauser & Wirth complex, up from the gallery itself into what seemed a giant ant pod, or upturned paper-mache tugboat. I thought it an installation on first approach, only to discover it was hollow and airy, allowing us to pack an enormous audience in the space for our 18 poets and our final event. Some brilliant work on display here, and I had the chance to read with Annabel Banks. We built our poem on abstracted meta-references, to the tour and its happenings, and then wrote it out to the other four who had been on the road, to engage multiple voices, to surround the audience, in a kind of mini-play.
A high point to bow out upon, drawing poets and audience from the surrounding area, Bristol and beyond, and to be in such a special place. We ate together then finished our last proper day of the project saying farewell at train stations or around a dinner table, talking very late into the night. A really resonant, generous, memorable week in the south west, a time that will be hard to forget, made up by people I am better off for having worked with and lived beside.