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.

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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

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.

 

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.

England mini-tour, Spring 2017

I’m doing a little self-described tour – definitely not grandiose – over the next few days. Would be good to see listeners, watchers, friends at the following three events. I’ll be reading from my Art Talk Notes poems, among other things (including a guest pop-up in Nottingham from Leiza McLeod!)

1) Nottingham

Reading at Five Leaves Bookshop on Wednesday 29 March, 7pm. Entry £3. With mon ami Colin Herd, as well as Vicky Sparrow. Thanks to Lila Matsumoto for organising this one.

2) Bristol

Back at my old haunt Arnolfini contributing to a reading series called Anathema for Moot, Hesterglock and Sad Presses. Friday 31 March, 6.30-9pm. Entry by donation. Co-readers are Redell Olsen, nick-e melville, Anne Laure Coxam, Sally-Shakti Willow & Joe Evans

3) Manchester

Not actually reading here, but attending the launch of this year’s Other Room anthology, which I’m in. Wednesday 5 April, 7.30pm. Free event. Seemed to me like a great excuse to catch up with friends there as well as hear readings fromErkembode, Juxtavoices and William Rowe.

 

p.s. This is all great and all, although I am sad to be missing CA Conrad and Sophie Robinson with home-girl Jane Goldman in Edinburgh. If you’re in Edinburgh, go to this! Embassy Gallery, 6pm, looks free.

video – Iain Morrison reading at The Other Room, Manchester

Got the video through from the reading I gave in July 2016 at a reading series I’ve long been an admirer of, The Other Room in Manchester.

I read a poem riffing on Star Trek, one that uses karaoke tracks from sad dance music, and Sunny Sutra, my beatnik poem for Orkney solstice times.

The night was a real pleasure for me, catching up with Manchester friends and poets. Kimberly Campanello and Geraldine Monk were on the line-up with me, two poets I’ve been interested in for a while, and I recommend checking out their readings too on The Other Room’s Channel.

Thanks for having me Manchester, and for the excellent documentation too.

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.

 

 

Inclusion on James Cummins’ poetry blog Return to Default

I’ve been kindly included by poet James Cummins on his blog with my poem [Poetry for] A new ing.

 

The context for my poem was prompted by an invitation from the brilliantly-named Ecstatic Peace Poetry Journal to submit for an issue they were planning in the wake of turbulent political times during the Scottish Indie Ref, and I wrote it based on accreted journal and notebook entries made during that time. It was written fast and enjoyably but if the journal went to print, my poem was unsuccessful in being selected. So I’m doubly happy that James picked it up for inclusion here alongside a select group of writers I’m delighted to be in the company of. I notice Sam Langer, who I met in Berlin last year, is on there, and Stephen Emmerson whose energies I have been enjoying from afar, and occasionally in person, over the last while too.

 

I look forward to reading who joins me on this international Cork-based platform, as James’ wide-interest and (as he’s hinted) Irish perspective lead to his selections.