10tal's Stockholm International Poetry Festival - November 22nd 2016
An inspiring burst of collaborative performative energy and invention in the Swedish capital for the Fiender project at the 20th anniversary of 10tal’s famed Stockholm International Poetry Festival. Six months in the planning, curated by myself, Harry Man and festival director Madeleine Grive and Emanuel Holm, this was a intense experience, with nothing but fascinating people in attendance at the fest and a genuinely resonant team feeling to the collaborations.
I had the pleasure of working on a new poem performance with Aase Berg, without overstatement one of the most interesting European poets of the last twenty years, whom I’d interviewed for my Maintenant series just after I started writing really. Our correspondence collaboration broke through powerfully when she suggested we might work on the notion of guiltlessness, the quality, or characteristic rather, of being cold, unemotional and somehow shading psychopathy, so rarely admitted in contemporary arts circles (!). I share such a suspicious about myself, that I have an empty chasm in my chest sometimes and am capable of terrible deeds, simply fenced in by a comfortable life and very little stress and opportunity to render harm, and we quickly wrote something akin to a miniplay made up of poems, a test to give out to the audience and conceptual acts. In real time we put all this together on the day really, in the hotel an hour or two before performance. It came together beautifully. Aase was the cold dictatorial matriarch and me the kvetching jelly, at various times lying face down on stage, taking the fetal position and drooling on myself. It was awkward in the best way possible.
All of this was set in the ornate Scala Theatre in the heart of the city, and as part of a night that featured new works by Jonas Gren and Harry Man, and Elis Burrau and Holly Corfield Carr too, and we all worked together to give the evening a narrative, and after their brilliant performances (which can be seen below) we did a six way work, an endless takk, which rounded off the night perfectly.
Just like the hours leading up to the show, actually the closing night of the 20th festival, the following time was spent in the company of some amazing local poets, writers, and those visiting from all over the world. We were shown the most warm welcome, so many seemed to enjoy the play, the experimentation of the performances. Like in England, poetry in Sweden seems to still have its airs and graces, and the notion of interrogating live space, of humour and awkwardness being inculcated next to literary principles, seemed to resonate with many. There is an element of the Stockholm poetry scene, like in most middle and northern European cities, which is a little too cool for me, faux cynical and vapid, which I like in poetry perhaps, but not in people, but we didn’t experience this at all. The feedback and hospitality was energetic, generous, thorough – the night went by with intense, friendly conversation - I began friendships in this evening - as the audience filtered to the basement of the venue to see more informal readings and improvised music. It was very atmospheric. I met Aase’s students and the young people helping run the festival and they were uniformly kind and funny. Linnea Ronn, of those who had helped me navigate the fest said that when I had planked on stage I had taken a little bit of Sweden on my face. What higher thing could I achieve in a 24 hour stay? The night went on, with avant-garde falsetto singing and jazz, conversations shouted over this, with poets from all over the world, Colombia, South Korea, Macedonia, amidst the Swedes who had made this such a remarkable project.
Fiender: Swedish Enemies in London - January 28th 2017
The alternate event to the Stockholm Poetry Festival Camarade in late 2016, this event brought 20 poets together, with 10 brand new collaborations, at Rich Mix in London. A really energetic, playful night of poetry and performance, over 100 people crowded in to see our Swedish friends visiting, Anna Axfors, Elis Burrau and Aase Berg, whom I got to work with once again. Aase and I had a grand time again.