Sophie Collins and paraphonotextuality, vis-à-vis visual art’s poetry crush

I enjoyed one of those pleasing experiences this week where recent reading and thinking seems to form itself into an interesting connecty cycle:

I’d been reading an article about paraphonotextuality, as I understand a term meaning the artefacts of sound recordings of poetry readings in relation to the printed text of the read poems as transmitted otherwise through writing/publishing. The article was by Al Filreis, whom I’ve blogged about previously, and who I have yet to find less than excellent.

In this article, one angle of the phenomenon he discusses is the existence as recordings of multiple readings by a poet of their same poems on different occasions, sometimes stretching across considerable spans of time (he discusses Rae Armantrout in this regard). And generally he argues persuasively for the admission of the evidence of the sound recording of live performance into the discussion of and interpretation of poets’ work.

Friend and fellow poet Jennifer Williams had also sent round to a few of us with feet in both camps, an interesting article on visual art’s apparent current/ongoing significant relationship with poetry, something, as someone who’s a poet and who works in a visual arts context, I’m keenly interested in.

As I worked my way down that article, I had my eye caught by a 2015 exhibition cited which had been co-curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, called ‘Poetry will be made by all!’.

In the broad terms of exhibitions invoking poetry, one thing I noticed – not my main relevant thought here and it probably needs unpacking further elsewhere – was that in the exhibition’s description the usually tricky conceptual bridge between the presentation of text in an art gallery and whatever is conceived within the exhibition’s construct to lie solely within, and thus being borrowed from, the art of poetry – was formed with the phrase ‘expanded writing and poetry’. I usually find these exhibition descriptions telling as they help me to work out what it is that the curator or artist showing/making work thinks it is that poetry does – what the particular glamour of poetry for them is. Here I read an implication from the writer (curator?) that poetry fits the description of ‘expanded writing’ itself – writing, that, as might be their ambition for the exhibited texts, is able to operate in more than in a monolinear, purely denotative or operational way. Expanded writing perhaps is also a more art-form neutral version of the ‘art writing’ term.

Anyway, when I investigated this particular exhibition a bit more, I discovered that at the opening event of the broader After Babel exhibition, of which ‘Poetry will be made by all’ was a part, there were readings from various younger poets, including a friend of mine, Sophie Collins. What was great about this discovery, in terms of things connecting, was that when I watched her reading, it gave me the chance to think about some of the ideas in the Al Filreis paper about paraphonotextuality from my own experience of attending live poetry readings.

I take on board that Filreis’ article was purportedly talking about sound recordings, rather than remembered live events, but mostly the same principles of triangulation apply between the readings as experienced in one form or the other. Also I note that with YouTube etc., we’re now often given recorded visual elements of an event we weren’t at to experience as well – paravideotextuality? That’s the case here in Sophie’s reading, which I recommend it in and of itself. The first poem, Bunny, was new to me and a particular witty treat.

But it was the poems that I’d heard Sophie perform live previously that I’m thinking of in this blog post. The one that seems particularly pertinent is the last in her reading at the Moderna Museet, a poem called Zizzio (I’m guessing at the spelling), which was also the last poem of the whole three-hour-long event, Sophie being the last reader. The poem charts an imagined experience of Hans Ulrich Obrist, who while feeding swans in the Royal Park of Kensington Gardens in London notices a sick swan, which somehow unsettles him, and opaquely leads him to take action the next day. It’s a poem I found fascinating when I first heard Sophie read it at The Number Shop in Edinburgh, a small artist run space, where the predominantly young art-educated audience took it in noticeably appreciatively. I now remember thinking something like that it was a well-judged choice of Sophie’s to read a poem about a somewhat cult figure for young artists that night, and that it showed somehow that she was on board with what the constituted audience might give cultural value to.

Now that I encountered the poem again, in this web adventure looping through the article about poetry in the context of art and after having watched Hans Ulrich Obrist himself talking in an introduction to the event Sophie was reading at, I realised that there might be other ways to think about the poet’s strategies. I was stuck that, unless he left early – a possibility – Hans Ulrich Obrist will have heard Sophie’s performance (perhaps the first of this poem? perhaps a poem written for this event?). Certainly he appears on camera reading out her name in the list of poets he welcomes to the event at the start – there’s a connection in a way I hadn’t suspected when I’d somehow imagined the poem as a more distant cultural appropriation on the part of the poet.

Also, then, the poet’s choice to read a poem naming a member of the audience, a member of the audience with a pivotal role in the assembling of poets under an art banner, I could read as more of a challenge to him, and to his own deployment of powerful organisation bringing together and presenting these young poets in this context. Was there a questioning of the validity of what was happening? I can think of ways that the imagined Obrist’s treatment of the swan – an interruption to the his confident carrying out of his activities at ‘the gallery’ – could be read as allegory for others unable to consume his product (in the swan’s case, his bread). This might be a stretch, but I certainly enjoyed thinking about the power of Sophie’s text in a context other than the one in which I’d first encountered it, and where I’d already found it powerful/effective in another way.

For a poem Sophie had read earlier in the reading, An Unusual Day, Sophie offered more of an introduction, a paraphonotext(!), than she did for others of the poems in her set, some of which she gave only titles for. This poem, I find this fun, she dedicated to her partner, which she also did previously when I saw her read it live in Edinburgh, I think at The Sutton Gallery reading where her partner was present and was also a performer on the line-up. I can’t remember how she introduced it exactly at The Sutton Gallery, but at the Moderna Museet reading she says ‘it’s about, I guess, male noise pollution’, adding with a smile ‘it’s a daily struggle’ and then ‘for both of us’, with a glance maybe at her partner if they’re in the audience (along with maybe Hans Ulrich Obrist!).

I don’t have any crushingly important point to make about this, just that I observed that something about my feeling about the poem, from its introduction in both readings, was slightly different, the Edinburgh one more playful and intimate perhaps, given the context and the fact that both parties were being given voice in the event. It struck me that these spontaneous introductions, really do offer a chance to think about the text presented in a slightly different way than the (usually) fixed words of the poems themselves. That we can chart changes in the poets attitudes too, tentatively yes, but that potentially that might be something we’re able to do when we look at the record of different performances of their works by them over time.

I guess this post has been about my delight in having a new (to me) idea to play with in thinking about poems. Thanks to Sophie Collins who I hope doesn’t mind me having had and shared an experience with her work, and employing it to try out this way of thinking. As someone who myself likes to think carefully about the potency of work I present in the specific situations that readings can’t help but offer, I’m happy to see this element of poems’ production and presentation given space to be considered as part of their effort and achievement.


Colin Herd & Iain Morrison new collaboration for Euro Lit Night

Here’s the trailer (our fourth such, if I’m counting correctly!) for the new poem performance Colin Herd and I are presenting at Summerhall in Edinburgh this Thursday, 14 May 2015, for European Literature Night.

If you’re in town or can get here, it’s free to come along and there will be a diverse host of poets offering a host of interesting content. I say this confidently because there has been at any other event I’ve been at which SJ Fowler has hosted. If you can’t make it, then please enjoy being teased by the trailer in the finest traditions of marketing!

Full info here.



A formless monster of dismaying length. (our lecture)

My collaboration with Zoe Fothergill is nearing its ruly/unruly climax. Here’s the event poster, designed by Wakaka co-host Chris Walker.

Facebook event here.

10 days to go!

Zoe F and Iain M poster

Steven Cox show

Yo. Was out and about at some of the art openings in Edinburgh tonight. Thought I’d say a word about Steven Cox’s painting show, which is on this weekend only at The Old Ambulance Depot (btw, the old ambulance depot is a great space in a secret courtyard run by a design agency I think. seems to be accessible to art students and early career artists, which makes it doubly valuable).

Steven showed paintings done on small canvases (+one bigger one), which all were more or less brown. But wait! Don’t be fooled into thinking that would be boring – they were great, and because he’d carefully controlled the different processes between each painting, I felt like he achieved a huge variety of expression within what seemed like an impossible constraint. The subtle patterning of paint and organic-seeming change and flow within and between the nicely-spaced-out canvases gave me the feeling of listening to different expressions of the same musical idea, like a book of fugues. I should also say I loved the titles. There was one called ‘Days of Being Wild’ which, when you looked at the brown-ness in front of you seemed incongruous, but then forced your brain to start making a connection between the words and the image. I found myself thinking about black-outs, things your eyes might see if opened in the dark, shapes forming that might be imagined or might be as much as you can see of the real, and also feelings. There’s also the other meaning of ‘wild’ present, as in nature, where the brown makes a more literal sense. It felt pretty rich. I’m lucky – it was also the second great painting show I’d seen that night after Serge Charchoune at The Talbot Rice Gallery.


Here are all the titles in Steven’s show for interest. I recommend getting down if you can: 11am-6pm tomorrow, Sunday and Monday.


Worlds Apart



A Moveable Feast

The Younger

How Near How Far

Days of Being Wild

Roaming Wild Pastures

The Elder

Where It Belongs


Writing them all out just now, they made me think of the poem titles of Edwin Muir, the way they seem to sit in a mythic present, if such a thing is possible. I think the one in this picture might be ‘Roaming Wild Pastures’, but apologies if I’m wrong.

Enter stage left: Zoe Fothergill!

Hello all, and hello particularly Zoe Fothergill, and welcome back indeed.

I had interesting, productive fun collaborating with Zoe about a year ago (see earlier blog post here). Zoe’s a visual artist with a strong interest in science and in particular the science of perception, I’d say. She’s invited me to collaborate with her again in a discussion leading to a possible ‘kitchen lecture’ with Project!!WAKAKA! which is all rather apposite because Zoe and I met for the first time at one of the Annuale 2011 kitchen lectures and were the sole members of the pub quiz team called ‘the fuck you uppers’. I still remember Deborah Jackson’s attempt to resolve a tie by getting us to ‘do something extraordinary’. That shared look of panic/inspiration that led to the singing of The Bangles ‘Eternal Flame’ eternally linked us in some way. Or am I misremembering/mythologising? Either way, a spark was sparked and it’ll be fun to go back into that Wakakacontext again as a different sort of unit.

Zoe’s initiated a conversation with me on structure and content. It’s something we talked about in our earlier project a lot, while we wrestled/wrested with where one becomes the other, and the extent to which form is the stuff of content. I’ve just done there what I keep doing, which is to slip from talking about structure to calling it form. We’re working out at the moment what the difference might be. I wonder if partly there’s a culture of talking about form in poetry where the word means something different in visual art, but we haven’t resolved that one yet.

I’m going to be using this blog to post updates on and windows onto our conversations, which at the moment involve mainly emails, handily for cutting and pasting. So, if you’re interested, keep an eye on this space. And of course, come to the lecture! But that’ll be a while yet, probably in Spring. This online activity is part of the project though, and hopefully will be interesting in addition to whatever we end up with in performance.


I live on Edinburgh’s West Port and it’s a noisy tonight out on the street. You really notice the passing drunk groups mid-week, because the castle-dominated lulls are so quiet, I guess. People like to be loud and happy. Am pretty sure someone just went past strumming a ukelele.

It’s noisy and You can listen LIVE (If you read this in the next 12 hours)

In the spirit of capturing the moment, Word,  a friend John Winslow, who’s studying at Edinburgh College of Art, is making noise (I think) for the next 12 hours and streaming it live on the internet.

I kind of love stuff like this – durational, random, mesmeric, irritating, connected, etc. I also love the fact that it’s being broadcast from the building next door to my flat. I suspect the window in the video looks onto my bedroom. It’s a crazy, mixed-up, broadcasting world we’re living in.

I’m looking forward to checking back to see what’s going on over the rest of the night, and what state the noise-makers descend into. At the moment it’s like a Bjorkian wet-dream in one of her more out-there moods.

I’m reading again – 3rd October 2012, ’10 Red’ at The Persevere Bar in Edinburgh, 7.30pm

Am hoping that this is the right way to embed something on WordPress, in this case a youtube video, in particular a youtube video with me featuring in it in a rather strange still photograph taken on the spot in the redeveloped infirmary where I think I was BORN.

The point of the video, however, is to advertise a poetry event I’m reading in this Wednesday in Edinburgh at The Persevere Bar in Leith. Organised by the splendid Kevin Cadwallender, the 10 Red series give good value for money by putting on 10 poets in short sets in convivial surroundings.The other writers are a mix of those new to me and those I can vouch for as worth hearing.

If you’re free to be in Edinburgh on Wednesday night, and have a spare £3, I hope to see you. I shall be reading from some of my favourite recent poems in a self-pleasuring, yet simultaneously generous, set.


Tonight I heard in concert something which I have waited more than 10 years to hear live: Japanese Gagaku music. At university I wrote a dissertation on this completely rare form of traditional Japanese music that has the longest continued performance tradition of any music in the world. It is traceable, with the same repertoire, easily back to 6th Century AD. We know that the same pieces were being played then because the music has been carefully and rigourously notated.

This music is so rare and special that UNESCO has awarded it Intangible Cultural Heritage status – i.e. ‘DON’T CHANGE IT FFS!’ status. It did nearly die out at the end of the 19th century, but then various groups were shored up to safeguard it, including the Imperial Household Orchestra from the Emperor’s Palace in Tokyo, who I heard tonight. They don’t get out much, of Japan that is, so it was a real coup for the Edinburgh International Festival to get them booked for, as far as I can tell, their first ever Scottish date since they started occasional tours in the 1950s.

The music is slow, yet with a sense of inevitability as one sound follows another. And it is, to my ears, completely hypnotising. We think that the music has slowed down dramatically over the centuries. This might be one surprising effect of it being written down and fixed, rather than passed on in a purely oral way.

Here’s a really bad picture from my camera phone that probably only proves I was there. I WAS THERE! It was quite a fancy set-up as you’ll probably see. That big thing on the left-hand side turned out to be a drum! They had dancers too for the second half.

When I wrote my dissertation, I chose as the theme to look at the way Western composers had started to write pieces of music in the Western Classical tradition which drew on this Gagaku, either in writing for the instruments/ensembles or by trying to mimic them with Western instrumentation. If you’re interested, check out Messiaen’s piece Sept Haikai for orchestra, which includes a movement called Gagaku.

There’s so much I could say (I wrote a dissertation on it, so natch) but that’s a wee taster for youse. Oh, and this is an ear-taster from the old tube of youse.

CAESURA nearly here – ma reading on Friday

Hello world,

The next reading I’m doing has come round fast. It’s this Friday at The White Horse Pub (which is so actually NICE) on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. It runs from 7-10pm but I guess I’m on earlier as the line up is pretty impressive. Peter Manson – cool!

Below is the nice flyer thing. I’m working on my descriptor skills!

On the night, I’m reading a wee sequence of poems about family. It sort of came together from different things I’d written and I’ve joined up the dots.

A snippet, you say? Ok, here’s a verse from Mother.

What is it ma mother is knowing not knowing

And where is she holding it?

I think it’s a family

family family secret secret

feels hieroglyptic she can’t tell

Hope to see some friendly faces there.