Catherine Street / Modern Edinburgh Film School / Iain Morrison


I’m making a contribution to an evening at the CCA in Glasgow, in the form of a lecture/talk/poetry-reading (it’s a bit of all of those) on Tuesday 26th May, 2015 at 6.30pm. The page on CCA’s website outlining the event is here.

It’s a hard one to paraphrase as part of the idea of the event is to open up to wider discussion and thinking around a project called Ripples on the Pond, which is showcasing women’s work in the Glasgow city collection, with particular attention to possible connections to be made between works on paper and moving image work. My involvement comes through an invitation from Alex Hetherington under the name of Modern Edinburgh Film School, an unapparent space/body which he curates. Catherine Street is one of the moving image artists featured in the Ripples on the Pond programme and the evening centres on her work, including a presentation from Catherine herself and the chance to experience some of her film and audio work. I’m taking as my role for the evening, the presentation of some thinking about how poetry and work in text can mirror some of the same processes that Catherine talks about her work being interested in: mainly the idea of multiple presentations of the self through layered recordings and live elements. I’m looking at the idea of variant readings and how they feature in editorial and performance work. Unsurprisingly to those of you who know my interests, Emily Dickinson will feature!

There’s more information on the whole Ripples on the Pond project here.

And here’s the Modern Edinburgh Film School tumblr here.

And not least, Catherine Street’s website here.

This is one of the more open briefs I’ve had for a while and I’m really enjoying the chance to open up my thinking in the space created by this linking into other practices and artforms. Come and see what transpires if you can.



Thinkin’ on the Beats.

Just watching this video of excerpts from a discussion held at the Philadelphia Kelly Writer’s House. That place is such an engine of interesting thinking around poetry at the moment. The more and more I see/hear from there, the more I want to take wing and get over there for some conversing.

Anyway, the class this video’s from is about the Beat Generation, and takes my head back to the ‘Gimme The Beat Girls‘ show I worked on and performed with Leiza McLeod in Bristol a few years back. One of our source texts, Women of the Beat Generation ed. Brenda Knight, gets a massive and deserved plug. Would love to take the work I was doing over there to see what the response might be and what discussion would be prompted, especially because now I feel like I have a bigger picture than I did at the time, after seeing Amiri Baraka read in Glasgow before he died, for example, and after having explored Ginsberg’s poetics more in my own work.

So, enjoy this great video. Thanks uPenn!

Reflections on reading Emily Dickinson in Berlin


Moritz Malsch photo of Iain Morrison doing Emily Dickinson at SOUNDOUT! festival Berlin 2014

Thanks to Moritz Malsch for this photograph


So I’ve been back from Berlin for just over a week now. Putting down a few reflections here about performing Subject Index for the SOUNDOUT! Festival that are sitting somewhere between fresh and processed experience. More on my Berlin experience generally will follow probably on other posts – so many conversations, readings and sideshows!

Here firstly I’ll say I feel like I had one of the most intense weeks of living yet. Hot on the heels of 35th birthday and in the wake of a relationship changing course I knew that going into the contested cultural ground of Berlin to read all of Emily Dickinson’s 1775 poems in public at the SOUNDOUT! festival, was going to keep the heart stirring and held prised open. I wanted that. It felt a fought-for moment to go inward with Emily as my Virgil-like guide.

The Dantean underworld reference is perhaps appropriate as the location the festival organisers had found for my reading was in the U-Bahn, underground train station Mehringdamm. Travellers and citizens would come across me, voice first, as they descended the steps of the North entrance into the tube and walked along a longish tiled passageway to a caged area I was semi-concealed in.

I arrived at the venue straight from my flight; Tom Bresemann, one of the directors of the festival, showed me the space. We swaggered up to it beers in hand Berlin-style, and I knew I could work with it. It was different as a starting point from the Interview Room 11 space I had read in last year at Forest Centre Plus in being blatantly jail-like, rather than the inverse of that, with listeners approaching a position of power in the old job centre: but in terms of separation of audience and performance spaces, good audibility and acoustic, and a sterile, uncomfortable environment, Emily Dickinson would be perfectly ‘homeless at home’ – as she formulates in the poem numbered 1573 in Johnson’s edition.

However, things weren’t to unfold simply. The station staff hadn’t heard about the performance installation and refused entry when we arrived to start the readings. From that point, I set out on a peripatetic few days of fashioning makeshift installation spaces while Tom B continued to negotiate getting me into the U-Bahn.

There was an advantage in this false start. Each day was different and as I set up, I was acutely aware that there was no designated place for me. That was interesting to think about on it’s own, that I was trying to insert an action into spaces that resisted it more or less. I unfurled my large paper poem-map and stuck it onto a new wall, ready to see how people would react as I read variously in a green-room, on a busy street, in a domestic passageway. Moving the frame each time therefore, I could see the effects of the shift on the work. With each suggestion for location, I was matching the ambitions and expectations of the festival organisers to my own ultimate boundaries for the performance as I found them through the attempts to make each variation successful: learning what was and what wasn’t the place of and for the work.

Of course it was hard gearing up for something, and then not knowing if I could proceed in the way I had envisaged, but it was also a necessary risk, perhaps a very un-Dickinsonian one, to put myself boldly into these different situations to see how I would adapt the idea.

I thought a lot about whether the majority of passing people were hearing the English words as only foreign sound, and if so, what that limited experience would effect on their imaginations. At times, people broke through the ‘fourth wall’ and addressed me directly, so that I had to think about whether I could break my own spell and speak to them. Initially, I always did, as it seemed rude not to in context, and indeed on the fourth day I had no choice but to reply when, finally in the station, a train manager tried to throw me out of the space (luckily I had papers by then!). But despite the lectures from American street poets in how to force people to listen, despite the enquiries in German for train information and the couples requesting selfies with Emily Dickinson, by the fifth and final day I was feeling pretty uninterruptable, on the ‘home’ strait, and I was comfortable with that. I got the performance back, finding again where it was that I wanted to pitch it and learning how I could work harder to create that space with less of  the safety net than I had had back in old Schottland.

On that last day, reading the delicious selections of Johnson’s undated poems at the end of his ordering, as the trains bass-speaker-throbbed below and blew breaths of warm stale air up the tunnel which flapped all the plastic sheets of my barred installation, I had rare moments of being alone (or thinking I was) with the work and felt the literature performance was at its truest.

OK, I can’t resist ending with a poem by Emily Dickinson. This one shocked me in its frankness and openness to violent intervention through revolution. Was great to have the experience of being the earth for her imagination particularly when the poems were, as I hoped, unexpected. This is 1082 in the Johnson edition:


Revolution is the Pod
Systems rattle from
When the Winds of Will are stirred
Excellent is Bloom

But except its Russet Base
Every Summer be
The Entomber of itself,
So of Liberty —

Left inactive on the Stalk
All its Purple fled
Revolution shakes it for
Test if it be dead.

Emily in her new bare cell

imageFirst glimpse tonight of where I’ll be reading Subect Index over the next 5 days. Emily D and me are going to be having quite an intense time, I think!

Mehringdamm U-Bahn penal chic.

Emily Dickinson texts

Picked up two important books for performing Subject Index at the Berlin SOUNDOUT! Festival next week, today.

1) a very beautifully produced volume of selected Emily Dickinson poems in German translation from the Carl Hanser Verlag


2) a new copy of the Thomas H. Johnson edition, ready for me to break into it with 5 days of live reading.

Emily and Reverse copy

I wanted to start with a fresh copy, to give me the feeling of first walking on fresh snow again as I begin to read, and although I won’t be reading from the German, I thought it might be handy to have up my dress-sleeve for any conversations with German speakers about Emily D which arise.

Actually, I think Colin Herd and I might attempt some bilingual presentation of Emily D at our night at the Das Gift bar on Wednesday, as he’s a German speaker. More details to come on that.

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.


SOUNDOUT! in Berlin. Longlisted for Emily Dickinson

I’m really delighted that SOUNDOUT! (a live literature festival based in Berlin) have long-listed my ‘Subject Index’ performance for their May festival. This is the piece where I read all of Emily Dickinson’s poems over several days, in quasi-isolation, while making a mind-map of their apparent connections to each other and to her life. I presented it at Forest Centre+ last year, and am now hoping to develop it further in Berlin in May.

I’ve made it onto this long-list, out of 106 entries from 33 countries. I wait to find out if I actually get selected for inclusion, but I’m hopeful. The recognition is a confidence boost either way! And proof that Emily Dickinson’s work carries a charge even into non English-speaking countries. Not that that proof was needed – to me she’s clearly in the roots of much contemporary culture.

Read a little bit about SOUNDOUT! here:  (in German, but should autotranslate)





Bums on seats 2013: safety in numbers

random triangle diagram found on internet

Like lots of us at this time, I’ve been looking at the year past and considering how it went. I realise my creative work reached the eyes and ears of a number of people big enough to make it well worth the effort of having put it together.

I presented my poetry or performance on 14 live occasions and had text work in 1 exhibition, which led to about 425 people publicly coming to see Iain Morrison.

Looking at the blog results for the year, I can add in another 1,484 visitors from this WordPress. I don’t know how many people read my work in publication, but probably some did, as there are a few things out there online and in print now. If we say maybe 104 people read me that way…

…that would mean that in 2013, *coincidentally* 2,013 people paid some sort of attention to content I tried to communicate!

Now, in my previous life as a Front of House Manager, I remember learning a triangular diagram used to indicate the number of times a slight accident would happen (in a given context) in ratio to every really serious one. The idea being that you were encouraged to spot a pattern if several people had already cut themselves on a head-height rusty nail in the cleaning cupboard, say, and repair it before someone inevitably and distressingly gouged their eye out. The diagram looked a bit like this:danger triangle

If I attempt to apply the diagram to the numbers mentioned above, in 2013 at least 3 people (you know who you are) had serious or possibly even fatal encounters with my words or actions. About 40 more of you got away as walking wounded, and over a hundred will have made it safely home only to find some sort of unexplained water damage to your carpets. The rest of you should keep your wits about you in 2014; you might not be so lucky this year.

On the subject of fun triangle diagrams I have known professionally, I’d like to have interpreted my audience stats further using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (below). I haven’t worked out how to do that, however. Please feel free to think about it for me for a moment now.

maslow triangle diagram

Happy New Year! And wherever I see you this year, I hope it’s in the middle of the triangle.

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.



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).

IMopening work 4

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.)