Poembergs

Aldeburgh Tower

The Tower of Maps and Thread (there’s a title)

A few hurrahs: firstly, my poem ‘How to Preserve a Fatberg’ is up today on The Poetry Shedread only if you have a strong stomach, or a weak imagination.

I was also delighted to have been shortlisted in The Bridport Prize this year, and not for the poem I was expecting – hoping said poem (which remains in my ‘Available’ folder) will find a different home, soon…

Another two poems – also somewhat surprising ones – have found their way into the excellent Nine Arches Press journal, Under the Radar, which will be out in early 2019.

And finally, the delightful handmade journal Coast to Coast to Coast will be publishing another poem offering a queer perspective on a very straight ritual, also out in early next year. So quite a run of publications of late. (A Poemberg indeed.)

On Monday, I traipsed back from my home region of East Anglia, having been at Poetry in Aldeburgh – a glorious and exhausting Poemberg in itself. Among my highlights were: a hugly illuminating ten-minute crash course on a Tennyson In Memoriam poem; discovering new and enjoying already-known voices (I came away with a few books, including I Refuse to Turn into a Hatstand by Charlotte Whetten & Assembly Lines by Jane Commane); throwing myself into the ecopoetry sessions on Sunday – the very good winning poems in the Gingko Prize for ecopoetry (I especially loved Tuna) and the Hot Mess session. These two sessions really stirred up some ideas about intersectional and queer ecologies, and how important they are for me and my writing. And indeed for our human approaches to both ecology and gender identities. (I’m still processing all of that.)

I had the great privilege of reading at the Queer Studio event on Saturday, alongside Mary Jean Chan, Richard Scott and a fine company of fellow queer poets. It was great fun reading there, and I’m looking forward to getting out performing more often!

On which note, I’ll be doing a feature slot at Lines of the Mind at the Ropewalk pub, Bedminster – hope to see you there!

 

 

 

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Osteochondritis Dissecans

art-made-by-nature-dried-up-river-delta-960x630

“desecrated spaces, the rivers
of me, these capillaries drying up
at their tips”

Last Wednesday, I ran the last workshop (of four) at M Shed museum, around their excellent Skeletons exhibition.

As well as spending time with loads of brilliant young writers, from three schools and those who’d come to the summer holiday workshop – I felt like I’d gotten to know those bones rather well.

Being as I like to model reading out writing I’ve just written, I did a lot of it before and during the sessions. We looked at Simon Armitage’s poem Ankylosing Spondilitis (which appears in the anthology Signs and Humours: The Poetry of Medicine) during the workshops – and I encouraged participants to find a term in the exhibition and write around it. This is what I came up with:

Osteochondritis Dissecans
– after Simon Armitage, Ankylosing Spondylitis
– for all the Skeletons.

Osteo – relating to the bones
chond – conned – chondritis – itis
which makes things inflammatory
and dissecans – like desiccated coconut
like desecrated spaces, the rivers

of me, these capillaries drying up
at their tips, ceasing to flow, ground
of my bones splintering, tilting up
sharp fragments of bark
into the soft skies of my muscles
which mutter a low moan of it,
swear, quietly, with every step.

Can you help me? I’m shattered,
shattering – an intricate vase
hitting the ground in slow-motion.
Maybe you can hit pause, press stop.
Maybe some day you’ll be the one
to find some new language, a spell
before I am too broken
for superglue, to tape up.

Please: find the words. Speak them, a titanium prayer.

A Recipe for Martian Happiness

marvin-the-martian

Marvin could do with a bit of this recipe, I reckon.

Last Thursday 27th July, I compered an event as part of at-Bristol’s Festival of What If-?

As part of the evening – with its excellent provocations on the theme of living on Mars – I crowd-sourced a poem: A Recipe for Martian Happiness. That poem is now disappeared forever (though someone might have been filming it on their phone, I think) – but I’ve used the components to generate another…

**NB contains a single, heroically-deployed swearword in first stanza**

A Recipe for Martian Happiness

Take:
3,004,437 kisses of rubies and warp-tunnel-bend them with a toolbelt.
3,279,491 metric fucktonnes of lipstick and propulse them with duct tape.
8,197,635 on the Kardashev Scale of roses; whizz with a lovely felt tip pen.

Add:
1,470,239 infinitesimally small bloods, which you’ll propel with a space-hopper pump.
4,724,435 centimetres of crochet, to asphyxiate with a defraction grate.
8,716,756 fathoms of macaws: endeavour these with
the machine on the shopping channel that slices the egg.

Continue with:
7,717,684 Angstroms of banjos and drip them with resilience.
3,508,683 planetfulls of strawberries to expand with a penknife.
3,094,126 semitones of folk dancing; smash with a molecular miner.

After that, locate:
6,680,979 planetoids of ferrets, so you can daydream them with a hairdryer.
4,813,550 voids of cold noses to hyperswim with a pen.
4,312,191 planet-hops of cat videos and accelerate them with a quantum discombobulator.

Pause a moment to fetch:
1,714,822 chunks of red lipstick, invented with a centrifuge.
9,705,975 baskets of fire, upthrusted with a whisk.
601,592 on the Beaufort Scale of sex, zoomed with a Mower Drill Toothbrush.

Finally, pop in:
3,498,057 furlongs of a Martian’s ruddy complexion, evaporated with a spiralizer.
4,550,125 glasses of Marslot, blinked with a sporknif.
Garnish with a run of compressors.
Method for generating this poem:

I asked those present at the What If We Lived on Mars? event to contribute to this poem – by writing:

  • Measurements of any kind (on yellow tags)
  • Ingredients – things that make you happy and/or are red (pink tags)
  • Verbs of any kind, spacey and non-spacey (green tags)
  • Tools of spacey and non-spacey kind (blue tags)

We then used this formula when performing the poem for the first and only time, in that iteration…

Take <random no. from phone app>
<measurement>
of <ingredient>
and <verb> it
with a <tool>
REPEAT UNTIL BORED/COMPLETE
Final sequence begins ‘Garnish with…’

Bony Orbit – Videopoem

A videopoem I made, based on some 1940s footage of How The Eye Functions, is now up on Atticus Review here, and embedded directly from YouTube below.

The piece was started over a two-day poetry filmmaking workshop in Bristol towards the end of last year – I recommend going on workshops/courses like this, to give youself spacetime/timespace to tinker and start something (not always easy to find otherwise).

It’s my hope to create more videopoems in the coming year – there’s a whole wealth of archive out there, just waiting to be moulded…

I hope you enjoy Bony Orbit, as puzzling as (I still think) it is:

Hands

A poem of mine, ‘Hands’,  has just gone up on Folia Magazine online – you can read it here.

The poem came out of a workshop a couple of years ago in Leeds, with writer and facilitator Rommi SmithThe starting point was smells – for me, the Vaseline Intensive Care in the first stanza (with the second part leading on from that). 

Folia’s aim is to “foster a deeper appreciation for the poetry of life, death, and medicine” – which was why I submitted this piece. It’s a poem which moves around in time, with a childhood memory of driving in the car with my Mum (and her hand cream), juxtaposed with a later conversation about her going through chemotherapy.

I hope my Mum doesn’t mind this being ‘out there’; in some ways it’s not my experience to write about (though the conversation was, I guess). She dealt with the process of treatment with incredible humour and courage – so I hope the poem evokes this powerful being, who can (and does) deal with whatever life throws at her.

Poetry School Microcommission: First Report

Shaun’s response to a government report on Innovation…

There’s a quick update on The Poetry School Microcommission project, ‘Chainmail’, that I’m doing just now – you can read it here. Some really interesting work being produced; most looking forward to seeing the projects’ outcomes – and ours!

Email-as-art-form isn’t without its challenges! We’re a diasporic (yes it’s a word) team, across Bristol (where I am), London (where Luke and Rach are), Manchester (where Neil is / is off gallivanting) and finally in Orkney (to where Shaun has just moved and been rather foxed by BT’s failure to connect broadband). I’m the common point with the other participants, who I hope will get to know each other well through this work, and my main focus as the ‘nodal point’ has been ensuring these strangers all feel safe to experiment, take risks and just have fun with emailing.

The Poetry School Microcommission: Chainmail

We got one of the Lo! and Behold Microcommissions from The Poetry School!

Mine was one of five projects fortunate enough to receive a ‘microcommission’ from The Poetry School’s Lo! and Behold scheme, announced at the end of January.

Our project is called Chainmail (for Nicky Morgan) and will comprise a series of creative email ‘chains’ between me, Shaun Gardiner, and three friends from across engineering, parasitology and cyber-security.

The title directly addresses Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, who last year made some rather divisive remarks about the Arts and STEM subjects (Science, Tech, Engineering and Maths) in education, placing the two in (what I view as) a false binary, unhelpful for everyone.

So rather than ranting, we’re practising what we preach and communicating ‘across the lines’ to learn more about our different disciplines, to generate new poetry, drawings and ideas that straddle the false Arts/Science binary. And maybe we’ll send Nicky a copy at the end, to see what she makes of it…

It’s only just revving-up now, so once we’ve spent some quality time errantly emailing, the outcomes will start to be polished and put out there in springtime.

More to follow on where the work created will pop up, but my hope is that there will be some joyous muddling-up of the Arts and STEM, with cyber-security sketchings, parasitology poetry and engineering ekphrasis. Who knows…

CaCaPoMo: Branches

                          The Tree of Life

Some more poetry from our summer of canal travel (CaCaPoMo = Caleb’s Canal Poetry Month) – I’m sat inside, sheltering from the rain, while the other crewman (my partner) pilots…Time for a catch-up on writing from sunnier days.

I wrote this after a conversation regarding dragonflies – there are some beautiful ones around this summer, burnt-red and bright-blue in colour. I gather they enjoy the sun. Just like boaters.

Thinking about the scientific language (and our mis-use of it) in this poem brought to mind another poe t and designer’s work. Last year, Joanna Tilsley (AKA xYz) wrote 30 poems inspired by science during NaPoWriMo. You can read more about it on the excellent BrainPickings blog by Maria Popova, here and order a copy of the book and individual prints, through Etsy, here.

 

Branches

 

By my left ear, a dragonfly

changes itself from blue

to red; somewhere along the line

of this canal, territories merge mid-air.

 

We speculate, use spells –

words like Genus and Phyllum –

on how the Tree of Life grows,

how its branches are labelled.

 

Wings weave through our fingers,

waving, as we guess at numbers

of species, of miles today. Pick

out the time from the leaves.

 

Along both banks, trunks divide:

deltas into digressions;

chlorophyll into conversation.

At once red, blue, green.

 

 

2.28: Big Deal

 

The Sloth: A Big Deal (for real)

Here’s my news story-based poem (using pretty much just words from the article itself).

The story was from the BBC Science & Environment site and you can read it here and concerns new discoveries about the energy-saving anatomy of sloths.

So I felt any sloth poem demanded to be quite short and minimal. And noticed the scientists had used the phrase ‘Big Deal’ twice. Which, for an animal so energy-conscious – many things must be…

 

Big Deal

 

There is not much left

in the tank. 7 to 13 %

is a big deal.

 

For energy saving experts

anchoring organs

is a big deal.

 

Their stomach, liver, kidneys

and even bowels:

a big deal.

 

Nothing they do is normal.

They are ‘off the wall’.

An extremely slow

and low

big deal.

NaPoWriMo 15: Bloodshot Moons

A blood(shot) moon.

 

Further poetry catch-up. Here’s my terza rima from Tuesday…From which I learned that terza rima is HARD to make sense and execute elegantly. I’ve done my best!

As you may be able to surmise from the title, it’s about the current tetrad of blood moons – although not in an apocalyptic way – and about eyes.

(If you’re reading this and also wear contact lenses, perhaps the odd experience of looking into your eye and wiggling the plastic retina back and forth (like a little eclipse) to make it more comfortable, may resonate…)

 

Bloodshot Moons

 

These hours, when shining faces become slurred

the centre of my eyes are inverse moons:

their two gasping auroras speak the word

 

water. For midnight here is scorched high-noon,

when plastic sight eclipses. Space is blurred

and my dry lens is a dish for the spoon

 

of tomorrow morning’s lost ellipses.