Titles for imaginary poems – JANUARY SALE!

If you’ve been following my blog recently, you’ll know that I’m undertaking a self-directed writing residency at MIMA. I’m using documents from their archives to inspire some experiments, like these in stop-motion animation, micro-poetry and found poetry collage.

But when I moved on to the file for my next chosen artist, Brazilian photographer Brigida Baltar, I found very little to work with. The main document was her CV of art works, exhibitions and galleries where she has been shown. It was a VERY long list, and a lot of it was in Portuguese.

There is a poetry technique called ‘homophonic translation’ or ‘the arrogant translator’. In it, the poet creates a new work by (mis)translating a poem written in a language they can’t understand.

I did this with the Portuguese phrases, thinking I might write one piece incorporating some or all of them. Instead, I ended up with the titles for swarms of new poems, short stories and flash fictions, which have been plaguing my brain ever since!

In an attempt to halve my torment by sharing it, here are 30 of them issued as writing prompts via the slightly trash-sarcastic medium of pre-designed Instagram slides. Please send me anything that comes out of any of these prompts, and I promise I’ll share it here alongside my own efforts!

1111111#8 In search of the miraculous - Copy - Copy#9 The art of delicate resistances - Copy - Copy#10 An indoor heaven - Copy - Copy#11 Ghost Crab - Copy - Copy#12 The nature of things - Copy - Copy#13 The peripatetic school - Copy - Copy#14 For love of the rebellious traveller - Copy - Copy#15 Itinerant line - Copy - Copy#16 after other utopias are planted - Copy#17 Paper Trail - Copy#18 The lift and aspirations of the line - Copy#19 Other flowers - Copy#20 More precious than prattle - Copy#21 The marketplace of earth and barricades - Copy#22 From which precision, despite it all, we are sentient - Copy#23 The subtle vertigo of images - Copy#24 House of abasement - Copy#25 Sonorous passageways - Copy#26 Resplendent incisors - Copy#27 radical handy-arms - Copy#28 O! Son Of Trauma - Copy#29 the last house of the last passenger

#30 Get that balance

Lubaina Himid’s Sexy Slapdash Squares

I’m in the second-floor gallery at mima. I’m surrounded by an amazing array of art. I need to choose maybe half a dozen artworks as my focus. I’m a writer-in-residence. I’m going to use their archived records as source texts for erasure poems, but I have no idea what kind of documents are kept on file. What do I choose?

My first choice, without a moment’s hesitation, is Toussaint L’Ouverture by Lubaina Himid. It’s huge, bold, and contains loads of brilliant collage elements. I know that I want to use collage as an erasure technique in my found poems. Himid is definitely a good choice.

mima envelopeSkip forward a few weeks, and I’m at home when an enormous padded envelope arrives from the mima team. Inside is a ream of photocopied archive documents, including several about Himid’s work. There is an extensive biography, an acquisition statement, and a detailed condition report from a conservator. This last document includes a thorough treatment proposal, full of technical suggestions on how to repair and maintain the painting.

I start from waaaay inside my comfort zone – a tiny found poem spied in the condition report, simple and quite abstract. It’s all about colour, but not about race. I know I’ll have to work out how to respond to Himid with some shred of socio-political consciousness, but I haven’t thought it through yet. I just want to do some erasure using collage squares that are as exuberant as the ones that Himid has used to make the floor under Toussaint’s boots.

Himid collage squares

I ransack my stack of magazines for images featuring gold and yellow, cut them into rough squares, and set about it with a Pritt stick. Bliss.

“Gold has yellowed….yellowed…yellows”

Gold Yellows collage after Himid

Is this developing my creative practice? It’s not so far away from work I’ve made in the past, although I’ve never made a process video before. I love time lapse! OK, I will try to do more of these videos, and framed better, without so much of my belly-bulge showing. But first I have a hankering to do some stop-motion.

Tune in next week to find out what I manage to squeeze from a treatment proposal, and why I start regretting the whole endeavour…

Looking for Persephone in Hartlepool

You’ve heard this one, right? Once upon a time, there was a goddess called Demeter. Her power ripened corn, and brought the fruit to sweetness. But when her only daughter was abducted and taken to Hades, she went mad with grief. She wandered the world, searching for Persephone, and the world descended into perpetual winter.

Poets write based on Greek myths a lot. I have a poem in Under The Radar magazine issue 23 based on the Demeter/Persephone myth, and I thought I’d tell you how I came to write it – by doing to myself just what I did with Rose Condo in my last blog.

On a bitterly cold day in January 2015, I created a ‘Demeter body’. I asked myself –

DP1What if she wandered all the way to 2019?

What if she searched as far as Hartlepool?

What would she look like?

How would she move?

I imagined a muttering, distraught homeless woman, ingrained with grime, constantly scanning the gutter-edges of towns for a trace of her daughter, neck hunched forward, arms compulsively reaching out, quivering with painful hope at every child.

I got into character and went on a very long walk through the frozen streets. “Listen with your feet, the shadows are all ice”

DP2

I hunched myself, crunched my neck, and limped through some of the most neglected parts of Hartlepool Headland, down the walkway where “the old coal rail / is tarmacked and sequinned with broken fifths of scotch” and into town.

I walked through housing estates I’d never visited before. “Black dog on Vincent Street, slaver on its jowls”

I was astonished by the screams coming from playtime at the local schools. “Rosy little children / breathing out steam like rotting compost”

DP4

I even pushed through a damaged fence to search in the scrub near the railway, because by then the body was telling me that Demeter absolutely needed to check everywhere. Every dirty corner where the lost and trashed accumulate.

I lived, trusted and followed Demeter’s body for about four hours. When I came home, I was aching and exhausted, but I had a poem that seemed to have discovered a new voice.

DP3

The photographs featured here are composite images created from shots I took on my phone during my walk. They are my attempt to find a visual equivalent for the emotional atmosphere of the poem.

Dinbych by Stella Wulf

Please click here for an audio recording of Stella’s wonderful poem.

IMG_0191

Stella Wulf hails from Wales but now lives in France with her husband and a menagerie of critters. She has spent her life restoring ruins and is yet to live in a house that’s finished. Her poems have appeared in Obsessed With Pipework, The High Window, Raum, Prole, Ink Sweat & Tears, Rat’s Ass Review, Sheila-Na-Gig, and many others. They have also been included in several anthologies: The Very Best of 52, three drops, Clear Poetry Anthology, and #MeToo. She has an MA in Creative Writing, from Lancaster University.

Wild Awake In Winter

2018 is, I hope, the year of TWO retreats. I spent the last week in January at Dhanakosa, marking my tenth annual retreat, enjoying snow, writing poems, and collecting footage for this filmpoem inspired by our discussions on environmental activism.

If you’re considering a retreat and would like to learn more about meditation or Buddhism, I really recommend Dhanakosa. They have wonderful week-long retreats throughout the year for beginners, and the meditation is always partnered with a sympathetic activity like yoga, writing, painting, photography or even hillwalking. Prices are also on a dana basis – you pay what you can. Go; you won’t regret it.

Speak up, larches.

Now the wind has gone

you have stopped your roaring song.

Instead, you watch the buzzard

trace gentle circles in the air.

And now you hold your arms out

to catch the chaffinches, and the rain.

Otters, gigs, pamphlets, gigs, projects

Hi all – quick round-up of what’s been keeping me away from blogging here – blogging HERE! Celebrating Change is a new Arts Council-funded project from me and my colleague Laura Degnan. We’re combining my writing experience with her filmmaking skills in order to run a year-long digital storytelling project for Middlesbrough residents. I’m also in charge of running the blog as a poetry/film/flash fiction online magazine, so please do check out the many poems I’ve been posting over the last few weeks.

Otters are through the first edit and getting their covers sorted, on track for publication in early October – you can still pre-order your copy, and even buy a print of my ‘Otters In A Bathtub’ illustration, or instruct me to draw an otter of your very own! You have until 10th October to get in on the deal, so do get clicking!

And finally, I will be one half of a brand-new pamphlet coming out in the Black Light Engine Room series. These are gorgeous little pocket-sized poetry gems, with a classy yellow cover, and only cost £4 a pop. I will be reading at the pamphlet launch at Python Gallery in Middlesbrough on Saturday 28th October, hope to see you there.

Lots of other gigs and readings lined up for autumn:

Autumn Gigs updated

Utterly Otterly!

BathtubOtters

Hi there cutey lutraphiles! As some will have heard from my social media trumpets, all is going ahead with my second collection of poetry, Utterly Otterly! Containing poems and illustrations by Yours Truly, all otter-themed, many ludicrous. Also containing the writing prompts I was working from, and my excuses for why I ended up doing something else instead.

You too can pre-order a book, which will be published and sent out in October. You could even fund me further by ordering a print of Otters In The Bathtub (above), or a bespoke otter of your very own! Simply follow this link to my GoFundMe page, which will remain open for donations/pre-orders until we go to press in around 6-8 weeks time.

My mother’s eyesight

437926-contact-lensNew poem for you, should you fancy a shufty. This one was written a few days ago whilst on a Wolf At The Door writing retreat at Dhanakosa (the anchoring place of my spirit). It’s about my mother searching for lost contact lenses, something that seemed to happen on a daily basis through my childhood, although she swears it was a rare occurrence. Years (and soft contact lenses, and bifocals) later, my unearthed memories of this once-commonplace activity came back to me like hallucinations.

Contact Lens

My mother is blinking like an owl treading water.

She has spatchcocked her palms, is strip-searching

the carpet, patting the sofa down, looking for her sight.

 

The world, transparent and the size of her pinkie-tip,

has fallen out of her eye and now, out of malice,

it will not be found. Or worse, it has sailed away,

 

intrepid coracle, to the dark side of her eyeball.

She tents her lid by its guy-rope lashes. I see inside her

it’s as red as a desert noon. A morbid rolling

 

hoves the fugitive into view. Retrieved, she lathers it

with spitwash, pinions again her Clockwork Orange eye,

and deftly launches the tissue-thin glass bowl. It floats,

 

meniscus on meniscus, world upon world.

Fiddling on with film

Hey hey, how’s it going?

I have a new filmpoem for you to look at – it’s VERY amateurish, hooray. I filmed my shadow at Hartlepool station when waiting for a train one morning. (Pretty soon I’m going to have a collection of work entirely created at Hartlepool station while waiting for trains). There are two soundtracks overlaid; one is a free download of wind chimes, the other is my annoying voice being much more boring-intoning-typical-poet than I’d like. Anyhoo, give it a look if you’d like 🙂

Even Though I Looked, Even Though I Listened

Oh, and the poem itself was written in response to work by Louise Bourgeois, during a workshop led by the rather super Lisa Matthews.

louise-bourgeois-art-is-a-guarantee-of-sanity-body-image-1459766804

Playing with form

Recently I’ve been reading Asteronymes by Claire Trevien, a collection of poems that has repeatedly and deservedly been called ‘playful’. Lots of the poems muck about with wordplay, redaction, and poetic form. There’s a form in there that Claire has invented, where she splits four-letter words down the middle and uses them to start the first word of a line, and end the last word. This is most evident in the poem ‘Goatfell’, whose first two lines read thusly (emphasis my own)

GOthic scrabble of rocks, we chAT

FEy and murder: how this chap feLL

I rather like this game, so I had a go at it myself. I found it tricky but interesting, as it forced out a strange little poem quite unlike what I would usually write. The inspiration for the subject matter was a conversation I had with Husband as we sauntered through a churchyard. Husband says he’d like to be buried with a video camera in the coffin, so people could watch some kind of live stream decomposition. Grim, but funny, and potentially a spiritual act – it reminded me of a set of Buddhist watercolours I saw in the touring ‘Flesh’ exhibition, which portray stages of decomposition as an aid to meditation on impermanence.

What I really wanted to do was create a version of the poem where lines would fade, or decompose. I’ve seen similar things online, and had hoimagesped it would be something I could do via Twine – but alas, no, it needs properly coding and I am ignorant of this arcane magic. So instead I have rendered it as a Powerpoint presentation with slides that fade into each other! Neat! If you’d like to read it, please click on the link below to download it.

Underground, his face and body disintegrate