Swindon, Aldeburgh, Resources

Swindon Collage

Surreal objets, masks, The Tent Palace of the Delicious Air, Roy McFarlane performing, and the Poets’ Umbrellas.

Just back from the Big Poetry Weekend in Swindon: such a warm, cosy, collaborative and connective happening. It was my first one and I was struck by how the scale of it and the location made it incredibly rich: a smaller collective, engaging deeply with the work and each other, in the Tent Palace of the Delicious Air (a small marquee) in the garden of the Richard Jeffries Museum.

My highlights were: working on voices and masks with Fiona Benson (and her powerful, intense reading); Hilda Sheehan’s workshop on (a hungover) Sunday; the richness and quality of the open mic sessions; re-engaging and feeling energised about filmpoetry, and Nuar Alsadir‘s incredibly inspiring talk and reading – which really fired me up again about experimental, intuitive, interdisciplinary poetry.


I’m delighted to be running a session on Queering Ecopoetry at Poetry in Aldeburgh next month. This is an area I’ve been researching, reading and writing around since summer and it’s been extremely creatively rich. I’ll have poems, activities and critical quotes to share. It’ll be playful, interactive and – I hope – fabulously illuminating. British ecopoetry is, I think, overdue a good queering.

Here’s a video of some Nu-Rave eye-tentacled ‘zombie snails’ (famous from social media lately) to get you excited by the gloriously monstrous, colourful, permeable and interdepedent aspects of that lovely, pure ‘nature’ out there ūüôā


Resources and Articles:

Over the last year, I’ve worked on a number of resources, some of which are out in the world and others currently in development. Here’s a run-down (I’ve been busy!):

  • A commission from the Poetry Society, here’s some inspiration for the National Poetry Competition, a resource based on two of my favourite past winners
  • Our Max Literacy ‘Talking Pictures’ resource will be available soon, through their website here – it’ll give a range of activities for primary age writers to engage with an art gallery and stage their own ‘living gallery
  • In collaboration with the Bristol Museums Service, I’ve also worked on a redesigned Arts Award booklet – which will enable young writers to achieve their Discover level award through writing about artwork in any gallery. More info on their Arts Award programme, here.
  • With a different museum collaborator, I was part of a team who developed the ArtBox, a resource for people living with dementia and their carers to engage with St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child, a loaned painting on display in the City Museum & Art Gallery. This evolved from some Creative Cafe sessions I’d hosted there and the outputs of other creative sessions. The finished ArtBox is a thing of great beauty, with a poem around the lid I wrote from words from the sessions, as well as a magnetic poetry set inspired by the painting and our groups’ responses to it.
  • Over winter, I worked on an LGBT+ creative writing resource for First Story – this is in the pipeline and I’ll add a link next year in time for LGBT History Month in February
  • Finally, I’ve written an article on Resilience for freelance writers¬†(a subject, of course, close to my heart!) which will be in an upcoming National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE) journal.

It’s great that so many of the projects I’ve worked on, from First Story to the Museum work, is translating into resources which I hope will support others’ creativity. More on the upcoming resources once they’re ready!

I’ll do another Queer Ecopoetry update after my session in Aldeburgh, this time next month.

 

Queering Ecopoetry: Being Seedy & Flowery Language

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In praise of pansies and flowery language (sometimes).

I haven’t done a blog hurrah yet, but: I’m currently in a period of supported writing after my second-attempt successful application to the Arts Council England Developing Your Creative Practice¬†funding stream.

The funding means I can spend real time, rather than snatched pockets of time, focusing on: critical reading about queering ecopoetry; time writing and crafting new poems; developing existing poems with mentoring; send work out regularly to publications and competitions.

I’ll also be attending some poetry festivals to run events and going on a writing residential to really get to grips with my own work and craft. Having just finished my MSc Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes, this is a great moment to be able to develop work and develop more of a profile as a poet.

It’s been an interesting process getting started with this funded time, because I’ve been so used to the actual poetry writing part of ‘being a poet’ being additional to tutoring, facilitating and having a top-up job. It was only in week two or three that I felt able to settle down to have some playful, creative time without feeling like I should be doing something else…I guess it’s a time of emerging from seed into flower…

Over the last few weeks, I’ve begun exploring some critical writing I already had – and started searching around for more. I thought I’d post up every month or so, with what I’m reading and thinking, around queer ecology and ecopoetics. Hopefully some of these links and ideas will be useful to others thinking about ecology, ecopoetry, queer theory and the links between them.

I started with Alex Johnson’s great article on ‘How to Queer Ecology: One Goose at a Time’ (though was slightly disappointed that he never mentioned the vulgar Polari meaning for ‘goosing’ – look it up). It’s something of a manifesto, reframing ideas of ‘naturalness’, challenging the ‘ecological mandates’ so often cited by homophobes and bigots, and inviting the reader to consider ‘an infinite number of possible Natures’. The invitation towards a less ‘relentless and blinkered earnestness’ in nature writing was something I really connected with – and for me, a space for camp, humour and play (all of which are, of course, extremely serious).

Timothy Morton is a critic I’ve been meaning to delve into for a while – and in finally reading ‘Queer Ecology‘, I felt like I’d found a critical friend (who ‘gets it’). There was a lot to fire the imagination and writing here, but my favourite quote, debunking our notions of “Nature” or biology as pure or singular, was that:

“If anything, life is catastrophic, monstrous, nonholistic, and dislocated, not organic, coherent, or authoritative. Queering ecological criticism will involve engaging with these qualities.”

I also enjoyed his challenging of the idea of ‘authenticity’ in “Nature” in relation to literary theory and (in)authentic texts (relating, for me, to Kenneth Goldsmith’s ‘Uncreative Writing’) and how he made connections with queer theory. The challenging of the apparently very defined line between life and non-life also appealed to my thinking about ecology and technology (as well as my sci-fi sensibilities).

The other piece I read was ‘Fucking Pansies: Queer Poetics, Plant Reproduction, Plant Poetics, Queer Reproduction’.¬†Drawing the connection between the homophobic slander of ‘pansies’ (from the French ‘pensee’, as they were thought to look like a person in thought), Caspar Heinemann goes on to explore the feminisation of flowers, linguistic decoration and the idea of ‘speaking through flowers’ and poetic language. There’s a brief mention here too about that line between living and non-living matter and organisms, which is something I’m going to explore in my reading and writing.

So far, I seem to have found quite a few male theorists – and would appreciate knowing about female, trans-, women of colour, dis/abled and d/Deaf writers considering queer ecology, queer poetics and queer ecopoetry…Do you know of any?

Poetry-wise, I’ve just started reading Isabel Galleymore’s ‘Significant Other’ – more on that once I’m further into it – and have got C A Conrad’s ‘Ecodeviance’ and D A Powell’s ‘Useless Landscape’ coming up. Craft-wise, I’ve also been reading around endings, which is something I’m working on improving in my poems.

In my own writing, so far (amongst other things) I’ve been exploring lichen, sequins and dialogues about ecocriticism with a bluebottle fly – and working up some poems for the Gingko Ecopoetry Prize.

I’ll endeavour to post up once a month about what I’m up to, if only to feel like I’m doing something useful, eh? Please do ask below if you’ve any questions about what I’m up to, or to chat about ecology, poetry and queering ecopoetry.

Dissertation, Publication, Projectification

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Ekphrasis for All! (See Max Literacy update below)

(No, projectification is not a word – but I just needed to finish the ‘-ification’ thing, OK?)

CWTP MSc Dissertation

A quick update on a few things – most notably that: I’ve passed my Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes (CWTP) MSc Dissertation!

The dissertation focused on ways in which CWTP might be used in a museum or gallery setting, so there was a huge amount to think about – particularly materiality, working with objects, decolonising museum spaces (or trying to!), poetry as a research methodology and transcriptions re-presented as poetry…

It was, admittedly (or perhaps rightly), the most challenging (OK: difficult) piece of writing I’ve yet had to do! It really stretched my abilities and thinking through the rigour of writing in the Social Science thesis format.

Very little had been written before specifically focusing on CWTP or writing for wellbeing in museums and galleries, which meant it was both a useful exercise (I hope) and there was a lot of bringing things together.

I’m looking forward to graduating with my coursemates in July. The course was through Metanoia Institute and accredited through Middlesex University – and you can find out more about it here.


Publications

It’s been a good year so far for publications, I’m delighted to have had poems in:

the gorgeously handstitched Coast to Coast to Coast;

Nine Arches Press’ excellent journal Under the Radar;

the beautifully-produced (and pleasingly anonymously-selected!) Butcher’s Dog.

There are long swathes of time when nothing finds a home anywhere – so it’s really pleasing when some of one’s work (and really often not the poems you’re expecting) find homes in such wonderful company and in such carefully- and lovingly-produced journals.

Nobody’s in poetry for the money! For me, though, that’s part of what makes it such a wonderful ecology, to me. Yes, it’s difficult to make a living, but hell yes – people who thrive in poetry do so through their passion*.

There’s potential progress on my first single-authored pamphlet, but I’ll update on this once it’s more definite!

*Also: asking to be paid; being boundaried; working hard; being nice & being efficient.


Max Literacy

I was very lucky to work with Bristol Museum and Art Gallery – with whom I’ve worked a great deal in the last few years – and Compass Point School on a Max Literacy Award project from January – March this year.

It was my pleasure to work with the year two and five classes in the school, who were immense fun. Writing creatively about art and objects is such a brilliant, nourishing thing to do – I hope they’ll feel confident and excited to go into more museums and galleries, equipped with pen(cil) and paper, and explore with their senses and their imaginations.

There’s an article about the project here¬†and we’re in the process of developing and finalising the resources to go on their website. Watch this space.


National Writing Day

There’s a little video I made for the National Writing Day website, on the topic of Why I Write – which you can watch, here.

NB: this video was made while in the middle of CWTP dissertation writing, so excuse the bags under the eyes and the slightly lost look! That said, the MSc has made my processes so much clearer to me – so a good way of bringing this update full circle.

Keep reading, writing and exploring – I will be.

Trello Submissions Template

I’ve started using Trello as a way of keeping track of my poertry submissions to competitions and journals – and have found it a really useful way of doing so.

As such, I thought I’d make a template to share for others to use, if you’re so Trello-inclined.

It’s very important you click on the right hand Menu –> More –> Copy Board, then save it as a PRIVATE board for your own system. Otherwise, everyone will be able to see/use it! This is a *public template* to start your own.

There’s also a list of journal windows which is on the board to the left – click through and you’ll find it.

I hope the board is useful! You can find it here:

https://trello.com/b/Ut0zQyjT

Extrasensory Perceptions: Fortean Poetry

giphy

Though let’s be honest, it’s seriously slippery.

Some upcoming and ongoing projects:

I’m delighted to be running a weekend of Fortean Poetry for The Poetry School on May 11th and 12th at their base in Canada Water, London.

How can our writing explore the edges of our understanding – or even beyond it?

How might we engage with phenomena or experiences beyond the ‘normal’ in our poetries?

Hope to see you there…

(Feel free to connect telepathically, via ESP or EVP if any of these abilities are available to you.)


This morning, we had the last of six workshops of the Beyond Words project with Cheltenham Literature Festival. 

We’ve created manifestos in Victorian classroom of Gloucester Life Museum, spooky stories in Manor by the Lake, explored haiku (and had our own Gingko Walk) in the snowy grounds of Sudeley Castle, discovered our Power Animals in the Nature in Art Gallery, and today created paint colour and praise poems in The Wilson, Cheltenham.

Now it’s on to creating our anthology – and I’m so looking forward to seeing this progress. The group have been wonderful and it’s been a treat to work in all these inspiring locations.


Tomorrow, I’ll be back up in Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, for our next Max Literacy Award workshop. I’m working with the museum service and Compass Point Primary school on developing ways to engage kids in the painting collections there – and we’ve been trying out inhabiting our expertise through ‘Nom de Plumes’ and ‘Expert Name’ personae.

We’re working towards the creation of resource boxes for those visiting the Museum and to go out to schools. It’s a deligthful challenge and continues to bring together my love of both visual art, museums and creative writing (especially poetry, of course).