Nazneen’s 12 Women!

Yesterday at the ArtfulScribe book launches (celebrating all of the activity that’s taken part as a result of their work in Southampton’s writing communities) I shared a new poem, the last bit of creative writing from my year-long residency. It was an added poem to the series I’ve made over the year, charting the public events and behind the scenes spaces at John Hansard Gallery.

Back in July, one of the events that I was lucky to be present for was Nazneen Ahmed’s clever and beautifully researched talk, presented as part of the ’12 Women’ series, for which the Gallery had programmed women from different disciplines and careers to respond to Gerhard Richter’s 48 Portraits of men. Nazneen was Writer-in-Residence at Soiuthampton Libraries, while I was the same at John Hansard Gallery and I was glad of the chance to get to know her through joint events and through shared times.

I’ll let the poem (shared below) give you the glimpses into the content Nazneen led us through. She’s a wonderful writer and works hard to support many voices in her workshops and writing, so I’m happy to offer cheers for her own words back to her and to say thanks for the thinking her talk, and our friendship, has encouraged in me.

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Nazneen’s 12 women. Fresh from Southampton-envisioning chat with Temple and

carbon nanomolecules, blackpoint chat with Dave Hubble, Elspeth introduces.

Leading UK gallery of 39 years Highfield, includes additional loans

Gerhard Richter’s collection, private, his own thinking, Germany’s own collective

ship of the father-figure. Maybe this means we are looking at mother?

Hidden-gendered, white-washed. Is a historian, many genres a

breather before Nazneen’s big title at Random House: something as a writer that you get to do.

Glad that back I’m in this room. I’m 48 portraits, tapestries, lots of colours. The things he’s doing, I’m doing.

Southampton and London are the ones I’ve worked on. An academic transitioning from a career to a fiction

writer, being dissolved. When I looked round, the difference returned: cannons occupied a space.

Book lists the frightening dissolution in paint Nazneen has seen to in a way I

haven’t. Non-white, non-male aren’t entering the ooft battery. The notion of silencing

too is here in this work. These strangely mute men, even in their profess

head is not given. Homo genus. Plastered in patriarchulinity. When it will bell

be all who may be here that they will well live we may enter the Everyman children’s library:

I definitely didn’t see it myself. I wonder how many children are in the same

kind of a boat. Her favourite part as an embroiderer of colour,

 

 

 

the word-thread in the Persia and Afghanistan record, what we would originally have

called East. Movement and deployment of pigment uncoverer stories than those

used to be, look, your images now are a little bit blurry. Hubble has a

crack, gescribing goes well, the paper structure. Focal face, the one vocal facade that maybe is whiter.

A carnival, the tool of. The two savages, Muslim seafarers worked at merchant

saferer from 17th century who would jump ship and become absorbed. Empire, its

two thousand Lascar farers in one port at a time in physically gruelling roles.

The streets of London. Why does this parade get lost when it already

had an audience? Who wrests it? Wondering how this relates to the reception of Black Pride

movement? The men spared no trouble. They were makers of work. Clothes

and the mosque. Modelled lilies through an interpreted, a dominating narrative

voice. Even he admires. Awe oddmiration connection. How does this loop to Richter? And this room?

The seafarers had to interview for the Santa Costume Agency. Presenting themselves to authoritative

British poor quality tissue paper because ‘this was no Bombay’. Finally four-thousand-nine-hundred colours, which signifies possibility.

From forty-nine to monochrome, this contrast had to be a way to say that colour was leached,

which is problematic. No one knew that it existed. It could exist. A parallel reimagined

 

 

 

as an actual railroad. Genial speaker, see the Utopian, even within our present. I try. To do. As a child,

a mirror of one of my very favourite books, it had always been there, I couldn’t

see it, The Little Princess. Deep, rich, yellow and light. The temperature change is making me

strange. Queer, little, speaking squeaky. The small monkey he held chattering in his arms

longed for a sight of the sun. She had learned since to know whom a smile is comforting.

When I saw an 1898 etching I went on maternity level. I came with the story up of a novel –

Rework: it’s a transitional feminine. Transnational phenomenon

the P&O ships. Heard beasts, not savage no. That year, no public was

admitted they’d been a lot of violence. Resistance and creativity: it’s an

anglophone list. There are translated works on there. If I was gonna add

I don’t know what that would look like, children’s stories by Tagore.

Sees an interesting, broad and humble, collective project even in this.

Nazneen loves Just So stories. Kipling, that won’t change.

Another kind of mirror, there’s enough resistance to inclusion that the system will replicate

unless we fight. Public spat with Lionel Shriver who is visiting the UK today to

change the narrative around them, needs something that would guide people through it.

 

 

 

When we go to Bombay we pick up picture books. Reminds me of when I dawdled in

the children’s section in Brazil because picture books seemed briefly transportable.

The things you can carry with you, that you can hold, you can bring – contain

on your grasp envelope. Empathy Labs in London. So:Write stories group.

Sore cheek bones and a headache as soon as we think.

What I do, better help her patients cut this bit if I write it in.

Next week Councillor Satvir Kaur understanding, communicating, listening.

Nadia Shireen has been writing some really great books, I also like the Rainbow Bird.

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An Interview with Iain Morrison, Writer in Residence at JHG by Sophie Jones

One of the gifts of this year has been having other people interact with my practice and reflect back to me what I am doing. Not least is this interview with Sophie Jones which we conducted over Skype and which she has patiently turned into something written, and intelligible! Thank you Sophie. I’ve learned about what I do from seeing where your careful questions led and from noting the parts of the interview that you have picked out and drawn into a through-line.

Read the interview here An Interview with Iain Morrison, Writer in Residence at John Hansard Gallery by Sophie Jones

Sophie’s also interviewed my companion writers in residency at Southampton Libraries and Mayflower Theatre, Nazneen Ahmed and Dinos Aristidou. Dinos’ interview ends with these words, and I couldn’t agree with them more:

“I found the other writers’ work so engaging, inventive and so resonant, and that we were together as three writers in residence felt like an honour.”

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Sophie is working on SO:To Speak festival which I take part in next weekend.

the (work)shop floor

DSC02426.jpgI’ve talked before on this blog about the range of learning opportunities available to me over the course of my ArtfulScribe writing residency at John Hansard Gallery. One of the areas of potential growth I saw as particularly desirable from when I first found the residency advertised, was in the chance to get hands on experience of running workshops. I won’t pretend that this didn’t also scare me.

As I have involved myself in situations as a writer over the last ten years or so, it’s occasionally come up that peers of mine have built a more secure framework for facilitating learning and sharing knowledge, either through obtaining teaching positions in universities, comparable jobs in arts organisations, or working as freelance educators. My lack of quantifiable teaching experience has felt like a hurdle I needed to overcome to further build my profile as a poet in public. Without going back into formal education with the aim of collecting the Masters and PhD that might offer one (expensive and perhaps flow-interrupting) way of accessing teaching experience, I thought I might be able to achieve some of the confidence and experience I felt I was missing through this structured residency, attached as it is to a university-affiliated institution and with support from a writing charity.

And so it has proved! DSC02369
The opportunities to deliver workshops have manifested themselves as the Gallery’s doors have swung open. During the opening Gerhard Richter exhibition, I delivered my first workshop. I called it Self-Portrait Writing, Three Times after Richter’s progressively obscured iterations of photographic portraits. I thought that the idea of tracing the personal in a gallery space, and playing with the balance of how much we give away in our writing and how much we choose or are able to hold back, would connect comprehensibly with the writing I was making in the gallery as part of my residency. The prospect of running this workshop gave me the impetus to sit down and read the beautiful poetry/prose book ‘After Language: Letters To Jack Spicer’ by Stephen Vincent, which I had lived with without quite immersing myself in for some years. The beautiful introduction, in which Vincent traces a walk around several art destinations in San Francisco, gave us a solid piece of writing to imagine applying personalising or depersonalising filters to. I was delighted that the large group trusted my idea and committed to going about the Richter exhibition, to make their own three-sectioned pieces of writing in response to their encounter with works in the show.

In the preparation for the workshop, I had gleaned some good practical tips from ArtfulScribe’s Matt. We used the experience of an ArtfulScribe film poetry workshop I had attended at the start of my residency as a source of examples to talk through how I might successfully deliver a workshop. This discussion covered practical details like ways to remember names, to the broader task of building community among diverse participants. This prep stood me in good stead to tailor the workshop for an intelligent and vocal group of 25 people, including a cluster of participants who already were working together through Mayflower Young Writers group. I think my main aim of staying calm and giving out positive vibes must have worked, as my favourite bit of written feedback from the group afterwards was ‘you are very smiley’. Matt’s right! Smile, and you are already feeling happier than before those mouth corners lifted.

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Yesss! I love this feedback! 😀

 

It also helped that I’d prepared examples of the exercises myself – examples made it much clearer what I was asking the group to do ­– so I’m definitely going to use that approach again for my follow-on workshop on Saturday 3rd November ‘Time And Time Again’. This time I’ll be leading the group to think about experiences of the gallery space separated in time, rather than by differing levels of disclosure.

It’s been such a pleasure to put together a structured learning experience, related directly to the things I’m thinking about in my own writing. Preparing workshops has given me the prompt to articulate my thoughts and process. I hope what I have learned in this very direct encounter with ‘audients’ of the gallery runs through into the poems I have made there. I think it does, and the encounter has informed the thinking I’m doing about how cultural activity in a specific venue can resonate within both its own history and within the life experiences of the people engaging physically with such a space and its programme.

As for workshops, now I’ve given one, I am happy to realise that more of my professional skills could be brought into play than I’d realised. I work in arts organisations and have managed teams of people for 15 years. The work I’ve done in structuring training sessions and supporting people’s development is of course, I see it now, relevant to teaching, even if I needed some support to work out how to form quickly the trust demanded by the temporary groupings of workshops.

So yes, I will be fleshing out the part of my writing CV that talks about leading and facilitating sessions. Just one of the ways this benevolent year of being invested in is helping me to puzzle my future writing career into place.

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Following the Self-Portrait Writing, Three Times workshop, two of the participants wrote up and shared their experiences. These were delightful to read, and here are links to them. Thanks Dave and  Katherine for doing that.

The photos are taken by Ben for CityEye.

Update from the writing desk

I have reached a turning point in my Southampton residency. After 10 months of visits to the gallery in its old and new homes, the Highfield Campus of Southampton University and now the new Studio 144 building in the centre of Southampton, I have finished with writing.

No, I’m not being dramatic, I just mean literally that I have managed to complete the sequence of poems that I set forth to write back in December, a sequence that samples a chain of events, encounters, conversations, meetings, empty spaces and all the other things that make up the life of an arts organisation making its way through changing contemporary contexts. My sequence, called Moving Gallery Notes, is now being prepared for publication with John Hansard Gallery, Artful Scribe and designers so sympathetic I actually envy myself for working with, Daly & Lion.

With the publication more or less off to print, I am making my push towards a goal I set myself at the start of the project, a final challenge of the residency, which is to make a set of film-poems using the Moving Gallery Notes poems. John Hansard Gallery and Artful Scribe have supported me with this slightly unusual addendum to my writing duties, sending me on a film poem course back in January, and recently giving me access to a professional voiceover sound engineer, Matt from Untapped Talent Studios in Southampton.

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With Matt from Untapped Talent Studios, recording my poems as audio, September 2018.

I am delighted to find myself now possessed with one hour and one minute of beautifully recorded audio, which will make the basis of the films. I have collected footage throughout the year at the various events I have written at and about, and now I’m having unchecked fun matching and mismatching it in a verbal and visual celebration of the year I’ve experienced.

At the start of November, I will be presenting the films at two readings, where I will read along with the silent films, and also in a looped version in the gallery, where the pre-recorded audio will accompany the images and hopefully allow people to spend time thinking about re-establishing of the gallery in its new site, and all the changes and adaptations it’s staff and communities have been making along the year.

It’s been a pleasure to have my eyes open through the unfolding of such interesting real life, and I’m going to enjoy savouring the year and its lessons through this editing process as much as I can, for just a little bit longer.

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Impromptu writing perch at Studio 144, John Hansard Gallery, in between exhibitions. April 2018

Final Residency Events, Southampton Nov 1–4, 2018

At the end of my year as Artful Scribe Writer in Residence at John Hansard Gallery, I’m contributing to five, free events all held at the gallery between 1st and 4th November. Moving Gallery Notes, the film-poems that I have produced from the residency will be screening during gallery opening hours between Friday 2nd and Sunday 4th November.

Here is the info on the five events, with clickable links to reserve places:

Thursday November 1st, 6–8pm.

Iain Morrison & Walter van Rijn

Iain presents a first live reading of Moving Gallery Notes, the film-poem poetry series he has produced in residency. Walter van Rijn talks about his work for Time after Time and the two artists discuss their work, made in response to John Hansard Gallery’s programme.

 

Friday November 2nd, 7.45pm-10.15pm.

SO:To Speak SO:Write Showcase

Iain reads as part of the full roster of writers who have been involved in ArtfulScibe’s writing programme in Southampton over the last two years. Headlined by MC and poet, Dizraeli.

 

Saturday November 3rd, 10.30am–12.30pm.

Time and Time Again: Writing Workshop with Iain Morrison

In this workshop participants will write brief responses to the works in the Time After Time exhibition before compiling them into their own poem retrospective. For ages 15+.

 

Sunday November 4th, 1–3pm.

SO:Write Book Launch

Iain takes part in a celebration of Artful Scribe’s SO:Write anthologies and his and partner Writer-in-Residence Nazneen Ahmed’s publications.

 

Sunday November 4th, 3.30–4.30pm.

Moving Gallery Notes

Iain gives a final live reading of Moving Gallery Notes, the film-poem series he has produced during his residency. The poems chart a year at John Hansard Gallery and explore the experience of the communities forming in and around the Gallery’s spaces.

How I Write… Gallery poems in Southampton

During my May visit to Southampton, my writing residency mentor Matt West, with his clear-sightedness, suggested an idea for this project blog that hadn’t occurred to me but which made perfect sense. He suggested I write an explanation of the process I’m using to make the poems that are the writing outcomes of my residency.

I’ve spent time arriving at the process I’m using to make these poems. It’s become ingrained, having already structured a set of poems (Art Talk Notes) which I began two years ago. I hope that laying out my method might, as Matt mused it would, offer a helpful way in to the poems for readers/listeners.

The series I’m writing for John Hansard Gallery is provisionally called Gallery Notes. The reason ‘notes’ is in the title of this and my earlier series, is because my first step for each poem is to choose an event at the gallery and write notes during it. When I’m making the notes I mostly write continuously, allowing whatever I’m thinking about – whether it’s things people are saying, or things occurring by association in my head ­– to stream onto the page, at the speed I can write at. My objective while doing this is to not worry about the appropriateness or relevance of what I write down. I try to get material down on paper, and there’s a hope that I can use my embodied presence – a thinking body in the space – to make myself into a recorder, one that acknowledges its subjectiveness, of the event. So this stage of writing can be a splurge. It usually is. I will edit these notes at the next part of the process.

Here’s an example of one of the pages of initial notes, shown exactly as I took them during Sampler Week at the Gallery in February 2018:

Next, I type the notes up. I use the text contained on one written notebook page as the basis for one stanza in the resultant poem. This might seem arbitrary, but actually, I notice that there is a sense in which the page of a notebook works for me like a frame of an image: I squeeze thoughts within its boundaries. But when breaks happen because the limitations of page size means a subject runs over to the next, I find it formally enjoyable to play with how much I break or distort the original sense around those breaks – a bit like when you have add one bit of clay to another, and the new whole retains a sense of possible fracture around the join.

Here’s the previously shown page of notes as it appears in the final poem version:

Generally, as here, the stanzas shorten down from the amount of text available on that initial notebook page. I smooth down the wilder of my associations and leaps as I go, threading a line of thought through the original text that’s now more concerned with how I might examine the underlying interest/pertinence in what I was getting down. At this stage I think about the overall scope of the Gallery Notes poems I’m writing for John Hansard Gallery and I find it exciting how the text can shift and shudder into place during these edits, joining up to make a sense that I wasn’t conscious of when I was doing the initial flow of note-taking.

Finally, I title the individual poems with the name of the origin occasion, its location and date, so that the final poem signals back to the place and time from which it was taken.

 

Looking back at May 2018 visit to Southampton. ArtfulScribe Writer in Residency at John Hansard Gallery

After spending the last ten days in Southampton on my writing residency at John Hansard Gallery, I have a lot to look back on.

The Gerhard Richter exhibition provoked a lot of thought in me. In particular, an installation that caught my imagination more than I had anticipated when I read about it was 48 Portraits (1971–1991). It’s a subtly effective work that, although it uses the techniques of other Richter paintings, floats layers of potential relations between 48 individual portraits of notable men from the end of the 19th century/start of the 20th century in ways that insinuate lead a long way from the questions of image surface and relationship to subject that preoccupied me with other works in the exhibition. (I’m thinking of the Abstract Paintings Skin, Silicate and Grey made from images of surfaces of milk showing vibration patterns, and that I’m currently visually noting the similarities of to the top surfaces of clouds that I’m flying above on my way back to Edinburgh.) Maybe the deepening of engagement with 48 Portraits happened because I (and others I talked to) already had strong imaginative connections with some of the 48 men depicted, and no conscious connections at all with some of the others; it made for a bumpy and changing reading as I looked among the faces that gave or resisted my recognition.

I picked out the composers amongst the line-up first, familiar with some of the very same images that Richter had gleaned, from my own childhood readings of music encyclopedias – Anton Bruckner photographed with his seemingly taken aback expression has always mentally illustrated for me the stories about him being the more country cousin to the sophisticated Wagner, though now I wonder how much of that was in any sense true and how much snobbery. With their names displayed beneath each Richter-reproduced image, there were occasional shocks as you got close to read a name and realised this was the face of someone you knew about but hadn’t seen represented.

Paul Claudel, one of 48 men represented by Gerhard Richter in 48 Portraits (1971–1991). Image from John Hansard Gallery, May 2018.

Paul Claudel was one such for me – I knew about him from a mention in (one version of) Auden’s poem In Memory of W.B. Yeats. It was peculiar to see him looking so modern in his sciencey spectacles, having thought of him as already far back from the himself dated-seeming, mannered, young Auden. With all these men’s heads and gazes suspended indefinitely, you could daydream about the connections between them all and how their world shaped the time that followed.

I write about my thinking around this work in my poem-text written this visit. It’s turned out to be a long poem, and takes in my April visit (when the installation of the Richter exhibition had begun) and then the day before the exhibition opening, and the preview itself, ending with the writing drawn from the 48 Portraits. Incidentally, the portraits are also incredibly beautifully installed in the Barker-Mill gallery, a self-contained and well-proportioned space in the centre of John Hansard’s new set-up. The presentation really brings you close, into an audience with these faces. I can’t imagine a better way to see and think with this work. Please travel to see the show if you can before it closes on the 18 August.

Jane Birkin and Iain Morrison at the staff club, Highfield Campus, May 2018.

On my visit I was also able to have a much looked forward to lunch with writer and artist Jane Birkin, who works in the archives at Southampton University and whose presentation I had very much enjoyed at the Immediacy! Research Day I’d taken part in back in January. She had shown a very successful work there that used moving image footage of details of a still photograph and drew on the craft of carefully-neutral archival image descriptions to curate an encounter with the image in a faceted way.

There seemed a fruitful discussion to be had given the ways we both in our work started from the point of records/traces. The differences seemed fascinating to me, with Jane’s starting point being images collected and deposited by others and held in a structured system, and my note-taking and filming being more obviously subjective, yet still trying to keep a broad lens on the systems that supported what I was investigating: the public and slightly private life of John Hansard Gallery and its audiences.

Jane and I got onto a good track about the status of description within writing, and its categorisation, often, as an inferior tool to discuss, something that Jane I think challenges. I was interested in how observation (which I felt was a word to describe what I was doing during my residency) differed from description. I came to think of it as being something about intention. But then maybe Jane’s approach in her work is to observe the description? It’s all so interesting. I like the word ‘observation’ partly because it seems so mid-twentieth century with echoes of the faith in science that I associate with that space-race time. The Mass Observation project is also something thing I’m connecting in my head, the ongoing systematic recording of the similarities and different trajectories of human subjects in Britain over a long period of time. And this in turn brings me back to think about the Richter portraits, which feel a related way of taking a spread-out snapshot of a generation or two.

Jane also introduced me to the artist Walter van Rijn who is making an epic work for Hansard’s next show called Unconsumable Global Luxury Dispersion, which is working with the titles of every single work shown in the old John Hansard Gallery site. For a look at how he’s organising and shaping that enormous data-set, look at his instagram for the project here. I think there are going to be interesting connection between our projects to talk about over my remaining visits.

And finally, because it’s definitely part of the pleasure of the residency for a weathered Scot like myself, here’s a picture of my writing station on Sunday, in a beer garden in Winchester just up the road from Southampton. My body doesn’t know what to do with all this vitamin D!

Lead-up to opening for real! Southampton ArtfulScribe residency at John Hansard Gallery

In my last post I wrote about the Sampler week at John Hansard Gallery in February. I next visited in April, and the Gallery was in a funny in-between state, having been open to the public temporarily, but now closed again in preparation for the official ‘proper’ opening of its spaces in May. There was exhilaration in February at having got the doors open. Now in April, there was a sense of taking pains through the detail work with a last chance to get things absolutely nailed down, in some cases literally, before the building was permanently opened.

The installation of the launch exhibition, ARTIST ROOMS: Gerhard Richter, was underway. The work wasn’t on the walls yet, but everywhere the technical team were measuring and making the place ready. I was able to do some writing around the spaces, with the ghosting works of Sampler still visible in some places so that it reminded me of my initial visit to the old John Hansard site on the Highfield campus. Then vinyl from previous shows was redundantly continuing its indication on the wall. This visit though, a site was turning round, rather than winding up.

There was a public reading this visit, with Nazneen Ahmed and Dinos Aristidou, who are the writers-in-residence respectively at Southampton libraries and the Mayflower Theatre. Matt, who as ArtfulScribe is overseeing and facilitating all of our loosely-linked residencies, organised a lunch for the four of us to get together and share experiences. This was really welcome, as we’d been active at slightly different times, and knew about each other’s activities despite not having met. Our reading, that evening at Mettricks, was chaired by Carole Burns, head of the Creative Writing department at Southampton Uni.

Iain Morrison, Nazneen Ahmed, Matt West & Dinos Aristidou

In these and other connections that the residency is allowing me to make, I am grateful for the shared perspectives, whether it’s on practical matters such as good residency programmes and potential funders, or different approaches to the way our work engages with personal narratives. Always interesting to stop and think about your own progress with people who understand the commitments and ambitions you might be balancing as someone making your way as a professional writer.

When I returned to Southampton for my current visit – I’m here now – the mood had lightened. It was the day before the Richter previews, and everything seemed in place, or close enough to in place not to be panic-inducing. It was lovely to see the staff all who had worked so hard towards this moment, all taken complex and personal personal routes to this point, celebrating together and enjoying the attention of  interested and supportive parties like Arts Council England, the University, local politicians, artists and press.

I had my camera out for the previews, recording some footage from peculiar angles for my film poems. As ever I was trying to pull back from the art and the individuals, and capture some of the social feel and the paraphenalia of the event.

still from footage for film-poem in the making

Writing through public speeches was a subtly different prospect from previous note-taking that I’d done; the language being used was so measured and a lot of necessary ritual included. I’m seeing what comes together out of that captured and remixed language in the poem-text I’m putting together to encompass this whole period from the April visit through to this climax point.

On this visit, longer than previous ones, I’ve more time for this nuts and bolts aspects of the writing job. I’ve gathered all my finished and in-progress material to date, and I think the overall structure of the final text is clear. It will start from the December visits to the old gallery, sweep through Sampler and the Richter opening, and end with a final piece of writing from Stephen Foster, the former director’s valedictory show, which opens in September. It will be a palindrome of sorts, or maybe more a mobius band, taking us back to the same place, but somehow on the other side of the page.

Artfulscribe writing residency: Sampler week at John Hansard Gallery

Studio 144, John Hansard Gallery’s new space from the outside.

Each time I visit Southampton for my Artfulscribe writing residency, I coincide with key dates in my host gallery’s calendar as it makes its move into it’s new city centre site. February’s Sampler week was always going to be a particularly hot date, as it marked the first time that the new building, Studio 144, would be open to the public. The plan was to throw open the doors for a celebratory week, along with other newly installed venues nearby, in order to give a taste to its keen anticipators of what the new programme could be, and then to pause for breath and complete the building’s fit-out, before the official launch of John Hansard Gallery at Studio 144 in May of this year.

For my Sampler week visit, I had planned to buddy up with the collective Stair/Slide/Space. They had run a playful project in the park behind Studio 144 back in August 2017 to make gentle contact for the gallery with the people living and working near the new site. They were creating a new version of that project, called Conversation Station, for the foyer of Studio 144 to run throughout Sampler week. People were encouraged to build dens and chat with each other and with the collective’s members, who would record unobtrusively the thoughts and views that came up. As Stair/Slide/Space’s project already involved setting up questions and opening up conversation with the public, it seemed a good starting point for me to tease out threads of the communications that were beginning to run between the gallery’s programme and its newly constituted audience as it was forming. At a previous meeting with Jo, Abi and Diana from the collective, as well as having great conversations about how my residency might go, and about what their work was doing so effectively, we worked out that my questions for this week could float within the frames of the conversations they were hosting.

Mostly, I wanted to find out what people *weren’t* expecting from the gallery, as I thought that might be a useful collection of preconceptions that would be fun to challenge, as I was sure the gallery would indeed go on to do.

Stair/Slide/Space set up in the Studio 144 foyer

On the day I was there, it was clear that there was a difference from the vibe from when the installation had been in the park. This had been anticipated and was in a strong sense why Stair/Slide/Space were making the work in the foyer, visible through Studio 144’s big windows from the High Street outside. A hope was that people would feel free to come in and that the collective would be good mediators between the street and the new, public spaces. It was no doubt easier to be in the conversational orbit of people in the more obviously democratic space of the park. The flow of people into the gallery was less easy to manage as a continuation from the street. As there were fewer potential interactees, I felt more self-conscious about my additional presence in the set-up and was keen to not derail the possible interactions that Stair Slide Space are very good at engendering. I was able to listen in a bit to the conversations they were holding with visitors, and it made a nice context for writing, but I also found it useful to travel around the building and write notes within the exhibitions themselves. So I drew some writing from the art on show in the galleries directly, in a way that I hadn’t been expecting. And the other unlooked for source of material was the great conversation provided by the staff working on invigilating the exhibitions. Voices were finding their way in, and I was able to grow my confidence to work in an ad hoc way. There’s a hopefully juicy cache of notes which I can write up into poems to represent this chapter in the residency period.

setting up for the Entropics reading with Holly Pester and Iain Morrison (me). Sarah Hayden introducing us.

The other part of February’s visit, was looking back and presenting all of my residency writing so far at Sarah Hayden’s Entropics poetry night. The event was held, for the first time, in the foyer of Studio 144. My reading comprised of three poems from my residency: one drawn from the old building in December 2017, one from a staff meeting in January 2018 and one much longer text from the Immediacy research day which had happened at the Centre for Modern and Contemporary Writing (see previous blog). From my point of view on the night, this turned out to be the most effective piece of writing. As I read through the long Immediacy text (which wrote-up responses to each of the talks that were given in the research day) I had the pleasure of making eye contact with speaker after speaker who was in the audience for the reading I was giving. To see their faces either perplexed or amused or pleased as I read their material back to them filtered through the distorting processes of my poem, was to feel a gradually growing confidence that my writing was recording the experience of the day in a recognisable, if discombobulating way. Sarah Hayden, the organiser, gave me the generous feedback that I’d moved beyond site-specific work to site-and-time-and-audience-specific work. I was delighted by this as it’s a real aim of the project to amplify and reflect back to itself (for its consideration) the community forming around a new space and a renewed organisation.

I read at Entropics alongside Holly Pester, of whom I am a fan! Because of the format of Entropics – somewhere between a symposium on the poets’ work and a reading – there was time to tease out connections between how Holly and I were working that I hadn’t expected and that I really valued. For example, both Holly and I were using sound-structures/repetitions/echoes that came from an awareness of music I think. And both of us were responding to either archives or notes that in some sense were indexing periods of time – in her case with the Glasgow Women’s Library’s material for her Book Works publication, and in my case with the chronologically forming notes I was taking over the residency.

We went to the pub with Sarah and her students afterwards and it was also really valuable to have conversations with them about how they were thinking about writing, and it was flattering to feel I was able to bring interesting gobbets to the conversation and feed some ideas into the way they were studying and writing.

with Sarah Hayden and her students from Southampton Uni’s English Dept.

The next visit was in April between the Sampler week and the ‘real’ opening. I will be writing about that privileged in-between experience in the next post.

 

Visiting Writer Page

The lovely folks at the Centre for Modern and Contemporary Writing (CMCW) in Southampton University have added a listing of me on their blog.

The mission the CMCW sets out of to ‘bring together academics, writers, and research students with interdisciplinary interests in the relations between 20th and 21st-century writing and contemporary culture in all its forms.’

My ArtfulScribe Residency at the University’s John Hansard Gallery has let me swim into their ken and it’s a generous, intellectually broadening experience to spend time in their company.

Just today I spotted in the London Review of Books, a piece on a collection of articles on poet F.T. Prince edited by member of CMCW Will May. I hadn’t realised before I attended the centre’s research day last month that Southampton Uni’s English Dept had been been headed by F.T. Prince in the post-war years. Prince is a poet I’ve been curious about for some time (I posted his ‘Last Poem’ on this blog back in 2012) and it’s wonderful to walk unawares into the centre of research on this rhapsodic, lyrical, sexually-charged voice from a time when many of the discussions that shape my identity as a gay/queer man within British culture were being triangulated.

Am looking forward to further time spent at the centre over the coming year. I hadn’t quite realised when I applied for the writing residency how much access I would have to this aspect of university life and it’s a wonderful boon!