Revisiting Emily Dickinson for Summerhall, Halloween 2016

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I was cautious at first when I was asked to revisit my Emily Dickinson Subject Index performance for a Halloween themed night. After my last round of reading her poems, and in some ways echoing a possible physical presence of her, I was asked to take part in a Dead Poets Slam as Emily Dickinson. I said no to that. I didn’t want my service to her work to slip into campy take-offs.

But on looking into it, The Golden Hour’s Bone Digger event was a different case. Although there were definitely going to be some campy elements to this Halloween night, each participant’s piece was being given the space to find its own tone, and the curation by Ryan van Winkle was generous, but pretty focused. The first part of the night was a pretty meaty set of poetry installations involving a clutch of poets I very much admire (Nicky Melville, Colin Herd, Tessa Berring & Katherine Sowerby), which then was going to segue into a gig and wild stuff later on. 6pm to 1am; room for different energies!
So anyway, I said yes, but I’ve been pretty busy until now, the night before, with other writing and work. Today was the first day it clicked for me that I was really looking forward to this chance to reinhabit Emily Dickinson’s poems. There was a moment, when I was in the space by myself, when I worked out that there was a new train of feeling and thought going to come out of this particular installation situation, compared to the previous presentations of this piece in 2013 and 2014. On the last occasion, in an exposed cage environment in a Berlin subway I picked up some strength at dealing with hostile elements within a public performance environment, learning to filter out what wasn’t useful to the performance and to find a personal space within a public space, if you see what I mean.

But today, in the new setting of a tightly torqued ironwork spiral staircase, where I could really only move up or down in front of a dropped curtain of paper, I started to have a new feeling, about how Emily Dickinson might have been trying to escape from a physical entrapment through language. And there was something about being effecively squeezed in the tube of space, that made the words seem like a genuine dimensional adjunct that I might pop into. Am now, consequently, *ridiculously* excited about the experience I’m going to have in only a few hours time, between 6–8pm on Sunday 30 October, 2016. I think I will be really pressed up against the language, and I hope those moving around the staircase might get a shiver, and a sense of that themselves.

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(Also, I hear Chris Scott, my photographer chum is going to be working the event, so am hoping there might be some great images to share afterwards.)

 

 

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Hidden Door Festival film and print contributions from Iain Morrison

SJ Fowler’s Camarade night has been and gone from Edinburgh’s Hidden Door Fest (which punches on until this Saturday 5 April, ’14). But there are videos, mes braves. Here’s the one of mine and Colin Herd’s collaboration Colinthian Hidden Dooric Iainic.  We were taking inspiration from planning documents for the street where the festival is being held, and trying a bit of musical experiment along the way. Watching the documentation, I’ve enjoyed thinking about how what Colin and I were doing related to my previous metrical music and poetry efforts for Syndicate last year, with Lila Matsumoto and Atzi Muramatsu.

And also, Roween Suess has published the 4 comissioned poems (including one from me) for her Hidden Door exhibition here. Double whammy of Morrison poetry. Double whammies all round really, what with all the paired poets reading at SJ’s night, and on his poets and artists walking tour in the afternoon. I’d strongly encourage you to look at the other uploads from his youtube channel if you want to get an effective sampler of many of the most exciting poet voices in Edinburgh(+) at the moment.

Iain Morrison poem for Roween Suess Scopien Tele Telos

Roween’s drawing and my poem for Scopien Tele Telos, her sculpture which inspired it.

 

Iain Morrison at Hidden Door Festival

I’m involved in the forthcoming Hidden Door Festival in a couple of ways. Am particularly glad about this as it seems like this year, the Edinburgh hand-reared festival has leapt forward in size and content quality. It seems like all of my favourite artists, musicians and poets are involved in one way or another, so I think it’s going to be a real celebration of the broadest representation of a scene I recognise and love.

Firstly I’ve written a poem for Roween Suess in response to the artwork she’s including in a show with some of the other Totes Colo artists. A publication of my it, with responses to the same work from other poets too, will be available in the exhibition space until they run out.

Roween Suess Iain Morrison bee up

That’s Roween peering over my screen in an inspirational fashion.

And secondly, I’m part of this rather wonderful list that London-based poet and performer S J Fowler has put together for an Edinburgh outing of his Camarade project, where he pairs up poets and gets them to write short bursts of new work together.

Ross Sutherland & nick-e melville
Samantha Walton & Jow Lindsay
Daisy Grove Lafarge & Anne Laure Coxam
Kirsten MacGillivray & JL Williams
Tom Jenks & SJ Fowler
Lila Matsumoto & Greg Thomas
Ryan Van Winkle & Sarah Kelly
Colin Herd & Iain Morrison
Graeme Smith & Anthony Autumn

More info here: http://hiddendoorblog.org/2014/02/24/s-j-fowler/

I’ve been having SUCH delirious fun working with poet Colin Herd who I hold in much esteem and affection. Treats for me all round!

And general info on how to get to/into the festival here. Really don’t miss this one if you can, as I think town set for a very special 10 days. Also, I’d recommend walking down East Market Street on your lunch break this week to get the buzz from the hive of activity there (2 bee puns! If you see Roween’s work, that’ll make sense….).

This Is Not The Place: Reading at Forest Centre+ 24/10/13

or this one

 

I’m part of a trio of performers helping to bring the Forest Centre+’s inaugural exhibition to a close this coming Thursday. The new Interview Room 11 gallery space has hosted its ‘Warm Up’ for more than 3 weeks and the building has been enlivened by surges and trickles and drops of visitors to the exhibition, moving the Forest project ever forwards and upwards. I’ve loved being part of it.

Here’s the poster for its closing event…

TINTP Closing poster

…at which I’ll be reading at about 7pm. The event starts at 5.30pm, so I’m hoping to get there for then, work allowing, to enjoy the other things going on. nick-e melville will be up to something, and so I believe will Stephen Paterson.

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I’ll be reading from the walking texts that make up This Is Not The Place, a knot of writing I produced with Leiza McLeod. It’s been present in the Warm Up exhibition in booklet form, and also as long ribbons of paper. I’m doing my best to magic something of Leiza there from Bristol via technological wizardry (we’re talking wizardry level 1 at best, though possibly with merit).

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Hope to see some of you there. More details on facebook for the detail-driven.

 

 

‘Warm up’, opening exhibition at Forest Centre+

Earlier this year, I took up a residency at Forest Centre+ for a month. I blogged about my activities here on this blog. Mainly I was writing about my Emily Dickinson reading performance. Now that I’ve been asked to contribute to the opening exhibition of Forest Centre+’s gallery space, I’ve gone back to a different aspect of my residency.

The work I’ve put into the exhibition is from a collaboration with Leiza McLeod. We’ve worked over a long period of time on a text called This Is Not The Place, which records walks taken simultaneously by the two of us. Instead of walking alongside each other, we either converge on a point or diverge from a point. It’s literally an exploratory process, and we record our thoughts and observations of the things we see as we go into a dictaphone, to be transcribed and edited, then turned into a performance script.

When Leiza was last up in Edinburgh from Bristol, during my April residency, we performed a version of this work inside the empty Forest Centre+ in the space which is now partly the Interview Room 11 Gallery. After reading the This Is Not The Place script, we unravelled two long paper ribbons of text (one with Leiza’s words, one with mine) out of the windows of the Forest Centre+ building into the ever-present wind pushing up the tall building between it and the castle rock.

The April This Is Not The Place performance was filmed, and in the exhibition I’ve put in an edited version of the footage, alongside the retrieved paper ribbons, now attached to a printed pamphlet of our text.

I’ve been in the gallery, installing over the weekend and am delighted with the quality of work I’m showing alongside. There’s a good range, including sculpture, painting, film and interventional installation. One thing that’s already apparent about the new Gallery space is how much more is possible with it than at Forest’s previous, tiny, TotalKunst art gallery. It really gives everything room to disclose itself, and allows conversations between the different work in an uncluttered way.

The exhibition opens on Tuesday night, 5.30–7.30pm 1st October 2013. It would be lovely to see any of my Edinburgh folk there. The entrance is at 38 Castle Terrace, EH3 9SJ.

 

Here’s the poster,

Forest Centre+ Warm Up poster

 

here’s a working shot of my piece during installation to give you a flavour,

Iain Morrison This Is Not The Place

and more event details are on facebook here.

(West Port late on a Saturday night. Someone’s making monkey noises outside in the street, not threatening. Not sure what that’s all about.)

Subject Index Day 4: Putting the brakes on Emily Dickinson

I’m going to write up Day 4 of Subject Index in parts.

This final day wound round the houses a little in my ordering of the poems as, knowing I wasn’t going to be able to read all of the remaining poems, I tried to navigate a suitable closing path for the 4-day process of Subject Index. The first part of the day saw me reading for 5 hours, on my own or with Mirja present filming and listening. This took me from Johnson edition number 751 to 972 – slow-goingly, satisfyingly, slightly despairing of not having made it further than the year 1864 of Dickinson’s life.

I stopped for a quick breather and a sandwich across the road at my flat and came back for an evening session which 10 visitors turned up to at various times (I love you energy-giving audients!), and I attempted to execute a reading of the last dated poems in Johnson’s edition. I picked up at poem 1509, having leapt forward sixteen years of Emily’s life to 1881. This was frustrating, as I could sense a big change in the form of what I was reading, and I’d hoped to chart the changes incrementally all the way through her writing life. It was not to be, however, and not just because of the chunk I skipped over in the book, but also because at this end of her writing career, the poems simply aren’t coming as thick and fast, so you don’t get the same illusion of poems appearing at the rate of living. You can’t settle into them either, they’re mostly very short, and because I was mapping them too, I was up and down every thirty seconds to record a number on the board. I read in this way from 1509 through to number 1648, dated 1886, the year of her death.

Then! I realised I still had another half an hour left. I’d misjudged the timings because there were so many short poems in this section. I was frankly unsure what to do with my last half an hour in Emily’s clothes. Well, like in some of her celebrated poetry, the consciousness continued past death and I tentatively read on through 1649, 1650 and 1651 in the ‘undated poems’ section. This was enough to convince me, given what felt like a sudden thickening intensity of the poems’ thought-weave, to go back to where I had left off, at 973, where I remembered that same satisfying feeling, and to read from there onwards until closing time came at Argyle House.

I hoped that it would be enjoyable for those still listening to hear some longer, more wrung poems at the end of the vigil. A relief for me too to be in the middle of her writing life again, strategic decisions past and the course set in that last half hour.  I got as far as poem 1017.

In the next posts I’ll talk a bit more about the poems I read on the last day and what I found. For now, here’s an image of the map I made in its finished (for now) state. I think it looks pleasingly geographical! I had a conversation with Stevie from ForestCentre+ in the pub after about how the map might be given a digital afterlife, allowing people to click through to poems from their position on the map, so I’ll keep you posted if I pull that off at any point.

Emily Dickinson world map of her poems

Zoe Fothergill’s response to Subject Index

Really cool text response today from Zoe Fothergill, my artist pal and sometime collaborator. Was really excited to hear what she made of the Emily Dickinson readings and loved that she responded so creatively. She’s let me post the whole of her notes here. One of the things I love about her perception of Subject Index is how visual she is, picking up lots of the environment and context of the piece, as well as the parts of the Dickinson text which struck her.

More notes from me about Day 3 will follow, but now over to Zoe:

 

Emily Dickinson and Iain Morrison

‘like a thief that fled gasping from the house’

spider is male?

formal bureaucratic context
brutal boundary
and yet love the listening slats

‘it would have starved a gnat’

vastness of the undertaking
someone there to hear a poem falling

‘still little girl’

proximity shifts
yet all safely
behind the barrier

‘falling timbers flying’

‘many things are fruitless’

lace cuff
ruffle of skirt
jump down from desk
numerical noting

‘a fork in being’s road’

spermatozoa wall paper
streaking dirty fingermarks

an upturned screw sitting on the counter

‘and sinew from within’

skirt skirts paper’s edge

from a height
‘tucks of dainty interspersion’

Interview Room 12
sky blue board
white text
on cream door

12
paper white
text black
bold
sticky fixer fixed behind
wire gridded safety glass

‘then a softness suffused the story’

rubber door stop
on blue herring bone flecked carpet
a nodding head for emphasis
behind waving branches
sun dappled
through window

‘the mighty merchant sneered’

expanded polly pockets veiling

2 smoke detectors
1 on my side
1 on the other side

‘just his sigh accented had been legible to me’

indistinct graffiti on silver metal frame

‘how hospitable the face’
in an inhospitable place

‘forever is composed of nows’

TIME POEM TO REVISIT

ken arrives iain stands up

duck egg colour on cover
orange highlighter arrow

from a distance
lit room
dark room
pairs

‘and decks to seat the skies’

beard lace collar and …

Subject Index: Day 2

So, Day 2 of Subject Index was yesterday, and I covered poems 342 to 560 in the Johnson Edition. Fewer poems than last week, but I think that was about the performance finding a slower pace, and partly that we hit some of Emily Dickinson’s longest poems in this section, her most productive year, 1862.

There were more poems that gave me pause, and I took the pause, to work out, or try to work out. Some of the poems threw me partly because of a word use which I didn’t know. I’ve been able to look at them in a different light, now at home, thanks to the excellent Emily Dickinson Lexicon which lists definitions from the dictionary she owned and gives a great indication of what she understood by the words she used. The word ‘cypherer’ from poem 545 is now way clearer to me, for example. Other poems I still haven’t figured more for reasons of my own thickness, like 528.  I wonder if it’ll open up to me at some later date but at the moment I’m not sure what ‘Mine’ is! Unless it’s the delirious charter she mentions, though then what’s that? Ah, the joys of reading poetry are here exemplified.

One of my visitors yesterday, Lila Matsumoto, pointed out that lots of the poems being read in the session seemed to speak to the particular set-up of Subject Index. Poems about veils and seclusion, seperateness I think. I took it as confirmation of my instincts in setting the encounter with Dickinson’s poetry in this way. It made me happy to hear the connections being voiced back to me. An example of the poems that I think sparked in the space is the incomparable 365, Dare you see a soul at the white heat, where the poet invites the reader to crouch within the door, presumably hers.

There were other poems that piqued particular interest in various ways. 426 was a surprise with Dickinson appearing to adopt a vernacular voice. 452, using the word negro, struck me after having been at Arika’s excellent events at Tramway in Glasgow last weekend; Freedom is a Constant Struggle was focused on black radical arts and the legacy of black American history was picked back through the centuries. Interesting to think of Dickinson’s life alongside those stories.

I’ve put a couple of pictures from Day 2 down below, thanks Mirja Koponen and Richard Taylor. You’ll see I’ve been experimenting with positioning myself in the space a bit, and my wonderful parents are in a picture too.

And the poem I’ve picked to share in full after Day 2, Johnson number 421, is another that links with the form of my presentation. I enjoyed reading it behind my opaque screen and feeling its perfect fit. Hope to see some of you next week on 29th April. It’s just the 12-2pm session remember.

 
A Charm invests a face
Imperfectly beheld —
The Lady dare not lift her Veil
For fear it be dispelled —

But peers beyond her mesh —
And wishes — and denies —
Lest Interview — annul a want
That Image — satisfies —

 

2nd day web-6

Richard's pic

Day One of Emily Dickinson readings: Subject Index

I’m at the end of day 1 of my Emily Dickinson readings project, reading all the poems in order as they appear in Thomas H. Johnson’s complete edition. Mirja Koponen, of ForestCentre+, has helped me to a title. I’d used an image of the book’s Subject Index and Mirja took these words on the poster to be the title of the piece. I’m glad she solved this for me. The back-up option was the Emily Dick-a-thon….

Reviewing today’s progress, I think I will get through all the poems if I speed up a little or put more hours in. I’ve got to poem 341. As one of my favourites, it felt like a satisfying, if dark, end to the day’s reading. At the pace I went today, another 20 hours should get me to poem 1755, and that’s doable (gulp!).

It took me a little while to get set up this morning, which had some happy moments in itself, such as Mirja giving me a leftover roll of paper from Colin Herd’s TotalKunst installation where she and I had first met.  On my mind, though, was the feeling that I didn’t know, until the door was open and people started to appear on the other side of the glass, exactly how I was going to handle their presence. In the first session, I felt acutely conscious when there was someone on the other side, and although I wasn’t looking at their faces, it threw my action into relief, so that I was thinking about things like whether the way I was holding the pen was pretentious more than I would have liked. It took my reading voice a while to settle too.

The poems are more or less chronological in the Johnson edition, as they are in the more recent Franklin edition,  and I was pleased to be spending time with Dickinson’s earlier poems that I’ve had a tendency to skip over in some sense to ‘get to the good stuff’. Actually, quite early on in the book are poems that I love. 76 was the first appearance of a real old favourite – which appeared in The Rattlebag, popular when I was at school – but I really liked number 26 when I got to it. I noticed that there was plenty of interest in the really early ones. In number 1, dated to the poet’s twentieth year, I was very struck by her line: ‘thou art a human solo, a being cold, and lone’, which seemed to hint at an early awareness of her proclivity for separation.

After an afternoon rest between the lunchtime and evening sessions, and some encouraging feedback from ForestCentre+’s Mirja and Ana, I felt more relaxed. One visitor sat for about fifteen minutes on the other side of the glass, which felt comforting by that point.

My fear that I’d be initially flummoxed by many of the poems and not really get what they were about, hasn’t turned out to be so founded. Actually, once my ear was in, I wasn’t feeling caught out by Dickinson’s slippery language use. The map of the poems is coming together in a way which I find interesting. In the context of reading the poems more or less chronologically, I was spotting the development of several lines of thought, which was very satisfying.

I also discovered some poems I’d never read before and loved, which was definitely a key objective for me. I’m interested to look beyond Dickinson favourites I know already to find other poems which really strike me with fresh first-readings. It’s a total delight that there’s so much still to discover in one of my favourite poets.

Here are some of the day’s pictures. Thank you to my photographer stars, Mirja Koponen, Emily Goodwin and Ana González Chouciño.

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Map Day 1 IM

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Mirja iain res2

Complete poems IM

To conclude, I thought it’d be good to share a poem from the day’s reading. I felt like number 119 might have some advice for the current Tory party!

 

Talk with prudence to a beggar

Of “Potosi” and the mines!

Reverently to the hungry

Of your viands and your wines!

 

Cautious, hint to any captive

You have passed enfranchised feet!

Anecdotes of air in dungeons

Have sometimes proved deadly sweet!

 

 

 

 

Iain Morrison, Emily Dickinson readings. The poster.

Emily Dickinson, Iain Morrison readings

 

click the image to see the detail at a readable size.