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.



Bees, Basho, Blossom, Brogdale.

As interlude to the Emily Dickinson discussion, a nicely crafted project of artist/poet Alec Finlay’s. Alec asked a variety of poets to translate Basho’s famous haiku about a bee reluctantly leaving a peony flower, and then hung his gathered translations in blossoming trees in Kent. There are some great responses to the mission, and I felt I’d had a whizz-bang masterclass in the possibilities and strategies of translation after I’d read the resulting collection through.

Here’s Luke Allan’s photo of my humble (bumble?) contribution.

Iain Morrison's Basho translation for Alec Finlay

And lastly, Emily Dickinson does still get a look in! Ken Cockburn has fashioned one of his translations in fine tribute to her.

Note on Subject Index from Luke Allan

We’re halfway through my attempt to read all of Emily Dickinson’s poems at Forest Centre Plus. Tomorrow, Monday 29th April,  there’s just one open session from 12-2pm. Hope some of you can make it.

I got this generous response from Luke Allan via facebook after last Monday’s reading. Am hoping he doesn’t mind my sharing it here.  Thank you Mr Allan.

‘Deeply impressed by Iain Morrison’s Subject Index, for which he’s reading the complete poems of Emily Dickinson in what looks like a cross between an abandoned trainstation ticketing office and a wartime interrogation booth (and in a sense the text’s being used in both ways) but which I’m told is in fact a defunct Job Centre office. I highly recommend going along for a half an hour or an hour – or more – and just sitting and listening, and indeed watching: catching glimpses of his sleeve or mouth or eye through the window which has been almost completely covered with (I believe) those translucent plastic wallets people in offices use for holding important documents, which actually gives the overall effect of watching someone through the frosted glass of their bathroom window, but from very close up, as if on a ladder. (The bathroom being another suitable correlative for the space – the idea of expulsion, yes, but also the idea of privacy, isolation.) When I got there I found Lila Matsumoto kind of hunched forward on a chair just outside the booth, in her own world, and as I sat down next to her it felt like sitting down next to someone in a hospital waiting area in the dead of night. When she looked up and saw me she said, ‘you can go closer,’ and pointed at the little stool right by the window of the booth, and then said, ‘you should’. It was excitingly awkward to have Ian reading right next to my face but with him unable to recognise me. He had this map on the wall, with words like ‘town’ and ‘woods’ written on in black marker, and then lots of numbers dotted apparently haphazardly around them. When he’d finished the current poem, he stood up and moved over to the wall with the map, and added a number next to one of the words, linking the poem to a location in Dickinson’s life, making his own Morrisonian-Dickinsonian ‘subject index’. The whole thing’s made me realise that my fondness for brief, glimpsey work is balanced by this kind of excitement for the intensely protracted; and Ian’s performance does both things at once, letting the two timescales near and spark. Hope I manage to catch some more of it before it ends on Mon 6th. I think he said he’s up to poem 510 (of c. 1700), so there’s plenty Dickinson left in him.’

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

Scree 6

Am very pleased to be among the poets featured in the latest issue of Lila Matsumoto’s Scree Magazine. Inspired by 60’s small press magazines like Hamilton Finlay’s Poor Old Tired Horse, Lila retypes all of the included poems on an actual old-school typewriter, which is a lovely thing to imagine happening to one of your poems.

There are some great things in this issue, including work by Calum Rodger and Gerry Loose.

Details of how to get hold of one are on this link. The theme of the issue is…SPACE!


Just looked up the definition of the word “allopoeisis” after attending the Allopoeisis night at Inspace last week, but only just now thought to wonder what the word meant (doh!). Came across this earnest young man. He’s like a young Al Filreis!

Enjoy. Hope everyone’s well and stimulated, but not over stimulated out there. Will have more news soon about my forthcoming residency at the marvellous Forest Centre Plus. First, #brainrelax.

Jacket 2 snaps poetry in Scotland

Brilliantly eclectic selection (with a lean perhaps towards the experiementalists among us) from Sandra Alland who’s chosen poets to represent a snapshot of Scottish writing at present. She’s over the other side of the wee pond at the moment and the selection appears in the American online institution Jacket 2.

Do enjoy these, passing through.


Against the Poets – next reading! Mon 13th Aug, 7pm, it’s frrrrree at Word Power Bookshop, Edinburgh

Hail Glad Crowds,

I’m reading at this event, which is part one of two (the other’s on the 16th and equally tempting). It was an curious title to invite a poet to read under so I did a bit of interrogating and found out the organisers are taking the ‘Against the Poets’ title from an essay by Polish 20th century novelist Gombrowicz. Turns out that the essay, rather than a self-indulgent, lazy tirade trotting out tired opinions about elitism in poetry, was an enjoyable provocation touching on some interesting points. I think the main thing I took from it was that Gombrowicz had identified some lazy behaviour in poetry audiences who wanted perhaps to consume poetry as a product which provided quick access to rapture and elysium, and that as poetry practices ossified into ritual it was in danged of becoming a dead art form with no connection to the lived life.

I’m still sceptical about this line of argument; the development of ritual and ossification even are processes which really interest me, along with their human roots and implications. But, the article was written around 1950 and I think there have been seismic shifts noticeable even to conservative poetry audiences since then. Even the likes of Larkin came after and pushed back the readership’s tolerance of  scatalogical, painfully confessional or bathetic content, say.  At the same time, I liked that Gombrowicz said that writers ought to make sure their work expressed themselves in a true way. The call to remember that your creative products should be hard won attempts to wrest something of your experience and most strained-after perceptions if they’re to further knowledge, is welcome to my ears still.

Gombrowicz talked about ‘endlessly lofty singing’ as his experience of poetry, of being bored by it. I’m pleased to say that I think we’ve found ways of keeping the party going while updating the playlist.

For details of the reading click here

By the way, Scottish Poetry Godfather Tom Leonard is reading at this event. OMG. So do come if you can.

That there’s Gombers himself. Ooh!

New CAESURA date – 29th June

Hello! Things have jigged around a bit with the CAESURA reading series dates. I’m now reading on 29th June, a month earlier than before, so I guess I’ll get my poetry skates on because it’ll surely be upon me before I know it.

It’s a different line-up that night too with, excitingly, Peter Manson on it. See a recent example of his poetry here in this Hydrohotel issue.

Am feeling like I’ve earned some creative stripes today as PiP, the Poetry in Progress group I delight in being part of, regrouped last night for the first time in 2012. Much Prosecco and ink were spilled in the pursuit of ideal poetry. Interesting dreams followed – usually a sign for me that the creative tectonic plates are usefully on the move. I’ve been thinking a lot recently and processing the feedback I got over the last year about my writing and working through my reaction to the obstacle course of new reading I took myself over. It’s been daunting to work out where to direct my pen, but I’m going to throw caution to the wind and trust some new steps out again.

I’m doing a reading (so I am) on Thurs 26 Jan

the poster for the reading as a word doc download. (haven’t worked out how to make it just show….)

That there’s the (somewhat sinister) poster for a reading I’m taking part in this coming Thursday. Mind you, it’s in the Canon’s Gait pub on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile which is generally quite a witchy place. I’ll be reading only for five minutes because there are so many people on the bill.

I haven’t done many of these affairs and am still trying to work out if I like ‘the poetry reading’ as a way of presenting what I write. I figure I’ll try doing a few to find out what I get from it. One thing that does worry me, I guess, is that I might skew the work to fit the context. I mean, the event’s happening in a bar. What if I feel like I have do my poetry like stand-up comedy or something? The guys running it are quite comfortable in those environments but I think my training as a composer makes me hanker after a concert hall where you can hear a pin drop, sometimes. Mind you, the stuff I did with my band required more work getting the audience’s attention, which never seemed that hard.

Ok, I admit it, I’m fighting my inner exhibitionist!