A quick post to share that I’ll be hosting creative groups for Key Stage 4 students initially (years 9 to 11) – with an emphasis on wellbeing – Tuesday afternoons, 2 – 2.50 (BST).
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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:
Some upcoming and ongoing projects:
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…
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).
A busy couple of weeks with Cheltenham Literature Festival workshops, amongst other things…
Last Saturday, I hosted What If You Couldn’t Polari ‘I Love You’? at the Lit Crawl event, a fun & poignant session
We started looking at Polari – a quick intro – a bijou clipette of literary-infused Julian and Sandy, got a bit of conversational chat, mixed it in with the special ‘lingos’ from our lives, then created a group poem of what we do or say, instead of those things we can’t say.
Here’s the resulting poem – shared with the group’s permission, and anonymised anyhow. It’s an activity I’ll try again and know that the ‘deflections’ or alternatives to what we can’t say will be so different every time:
Because I Can’t Say It
I say I’d love to! and I will do that right now!
I get extremely fucking polite. So cold it burns.
I smile and nod in sympathy.
I resort to social niceties.
I say would you like a cup of tea?
I nod my head, grit my teeth, and think of Australia.
I say to other people what I would say to them. Download!
I look at my mate, who I know is thinking the same thing,
we both hold our gaze for just long enough to acknowledge
each other, but not long.
I make up nicknames for them.
I say I will do it!
I sing out loud in the shower.
I say Thank you.
I say I’m sorry.
I say It’s fine (when it’s not).
I give him a book or a poem that says it for me.
I say Oooh…what do you think?
I bring him a coffee, a kiss and a smile.
I crack self-deprecating jokes.
I make puns that say it unnoticed.
I smile and say You’re welcome.
I say Does it make a difference?
I scream into my pillow.
I only wish I’d remembered the marvellous poem Oral English by Sheenagh Pugh – which is the most elegant treatment of Polari, Julian & Sandy, and the wider implications of it all – in one poem. You can find that in Double Bill: Poems Inspired by Popular Culture.
Today, I hosted a morning session entitled Red Wheelbarrow Beat Club, where we looked at some ‘Buddhish’ and Buddhist poems, especially relating to objects, pointing-out and the Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg.
We wrote our own versions of pointing-out poems such as The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams, had a go at Ginsberg’s American Sentences (and invented British Sentences), and explored other poems by Buddhist Lama (teacher) Chogyam Trungpa and contemporary Buddhist (amazing) poet, Chase Twichell.
Here are some of my efforts from the session:
Something Chogyam Trungpa-inspired…
A printer is always frustrated
A printer is always frustrated because it stutters.
Paper clips are chipper and grippy.
A laptop is busy going to sleep.
A poet wallows in ink.
A window without frame or glass
And a house without walls or roof
Are inviting in the autumn wind
The ink which the sky provides
Something Wheelbarrow inspired…
so much depends
the wooden clothes
nestled with its
along our washing
A Ginsberg-style 17-syllable non-haiku American Sentence…
Sign reads: 24 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK. And then: CLOSED.
What was lovely about these poems is how kids could engage with them, too – a session I’ll run again in future.
I’m also looking forward to starting work as this year’s writer-facilitator, on the Beyond Words project with the Literature Festival soon, too – and will aim to write some updates about our writing excursions and incursions, into inspiring locations…
Just back from a double whammy of festivals – Green Man and Shambala. Knackered! Both were very splendid happenings indeed.
Will post more fully about those once I’ve recovered – but in the meantime, here’s a Kit-Kat inspired poem up on Poetry 24 a while back and I forgot to post here.
I’m also performing at Satellite of Love on September 12th at the Greenbank Pub in Easton, Bristol – do come along. Event information is here.
Today, I’m in Nova Hreod Academy in Swindon for National Writing Day. This morning we created Recipes for Poetry on a Sunny Day, en masse, with the poetry-generator-coding-machine (which is the young people’s brains, really).
I love bringing in these Surrealist approaches to writing, which smash elements together in peculiar ways and make duly peculiar images.
Soon I’ll be lugging my bag of newspapers and magazines into a found poetry and cut-ups session, which is always good, messy fun and reconnects us with words as things.
Take some time to think unusual thoughts and manifest them in words today! And maybe, every day…
Also, you can listen to my poem ‘Hands’ on the A Poem A Week podcast through the following link. I hope you enjoy it – Happy National Writing Day!
Some good newses to celebrate & projects to update!
Firstly, the filmpoem by Helmie Stil of my piece The Desktop Metaphor won the Jury Award at The Weimar Filmpoetry Festival! There’s more information about that here – and you can watch the piece at that link too. Helmie did a wonderful job with the poem; I love the film’s style and rhythm.
I’ve also just agreed to be the writer-facilitator on the Cheltenham Literature Festival project, Beyond Words. As the project website says:
In any given year, over 600 children In Gloucestershire are unable to access mainstream schooling due to conditions like cancer, eating disorders, epilepsy, and orthopaedic, neurological and respiratory disorders. The majority of these young people are aged between 14 and 16.
Working with the Gloucestershire Hospital Education Service (GHES), Cheltenham Festivals is giving every KS4 student the opportunity to work over time with a writer-in-residence, either in person or via a digital learning platform.
This is a wonderful opportunity to bring together my work with poetry, writing for wellbeing, young people and working in inspirational settings…Including museums, galleries and – hopefully – some which inspire the group about the more-than-human world. I’ll post up more information later in the year; it’s going to be a wonderful project.
Recently, I’ve been delivering some school workshops for Bristol City Museums Service alongside the Grayson Perry exhibition The Vanity of Small Differences – which tell the story of Tim Rakewell though six splendid tapestries. We’ve been exploring taste, class and Stuff, enjoying those details of our material lives which can say so much about us.
Finally, this week I became a Dementia Friend – having been on the training with some fellow artists at Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery. This is ahead of workshops we’ll be delivering for those living with dementia, around the paintings there – particularly Saint Luke Painting the Virgin and Child, recently acquired by the Museum in collaboration with others.
Oh, there’s also the small matter of an MSc Dissertation to get written…
Further updates a little later in the year.
From January 23rd, I’ll be hosting a five-week fortnightly course, Letting Your Avant-Garde Down, at Hours here in Bristol.
I’m delighted to be working with The Poetry School, who are a great force for making poetry happen, and bringing people together to discover and delight in the process.
There’s an interview with me here about the course – do come along and we’ll explore together what ‘the avant-garde’ (if there is such a thing) can do for your writing, and what you can bring to the newest, yet-to-be-imagined avant-gardes, too…
Fortuitously, the film Manifesto, starring a chameleonic Cate Blanchett, is out at the moment – I’ll be going to see it next week. Might be a rather marvellous way of introducing oneself to the Ghost of Avant-Gardes Past.
Here’s the trailer: