Tuesday, 28 February 2012


Runnymede Literary Festival 2012 runs from Thursday 8 March to Saturday 17 March.
Readers include Andrew Motion, Susanna Jones, Dominic McLoughlin, Kate Williams, John Kinsella, Amy Evans, Luke Roberts, Justin Katko, Jennifer Cooke and Tony Lopez.
The Runnymede Festival in London events are at the Centre for Creative Collaboration, 16 Acton Street, London, WC1X 9NG. Many of the events are free, check the programme.
Information about the festival and a complete pdf programme for download here.

Monday, 20 February 2012


25th February 2012, 4.30 - 7pm
+ a smorgasbord of found poetry by others
Keynes Library, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1


Andrew Duncan's book The Council of Heresy: A Primer of Poetry in a Balkanised Terrain was published in 2009 by Shearsman. This is a book about contemporary British poetry written by a poet and editor with a very developed and broad sense of what is going on. His experience as the publisher and editor of the magazine Angel Exhaust, his own writing practice, and his wide reading and general curiosity, qualify him as a guide to the scene. His critical work has been going on for some time now, a whole series of books is in progress. I have known about this for a while without really investigating properly and I can see from The Council of Heresy that it is an ambitious and entirely serious attempt to make sense of what is there in this important aspect of British culture. I had to read this book because it refers directly to my work. I'm very glad that I did read it and I'm grateful for his whole project.
     We take it for granted now in the world of Art that there is a whole range of different practices going on at the same time: that there is a very big difference between say the work we know as Brit Art and that of best known painters such as David Hockney and Lucian Freud, and then again the thousands of amateur painters who are concerned with rendering likenesses of pretty landscapes in watercolour. There are many aspects to this big change that is now well established by the existence of the multiple Tate museums: Tate Modern and Tate Britain, Tate St Ives and Tate Liverpool, and many high quality museums throughout the regions. You could tell this story in a number ways using key individuals or institutions, networks, prizes, galleries, art schools etc, but no-one would doubt that there has been a big change and that there is a variety of practices all contributing to this richness and complexity.
     It would be an over-simplification to say that in poetry the Sunday painters are in control. But it is almost true. The most ambitious and advanced poetry is largely unknown. The most praised, best known and most prominent tradition is backward looking and quite limited in scope. It is only relatively recently that the strangle hold of a small group of publishers to promote their own and drown out the opposition has been loosened somewhat. It is a failure of imagination and courage to praise the mediocre and to thus limit the possible. Consider the Arts Council funding a pamphlet series run by Faber in 2012. So Andrew Duncan's work is very useful in setting out a range, identifying different camps, and attempting to apply similar descriptive processes and criteria to different kinds of poetry. He writes to give readers a way into the Avant-Garde and to understand where the divided scene comes from. He investigates the influences of Kathleen Raine and Eric Mottram in the same chapter. He examines Peter Barry's account of the poetry wars in the 1970s. He gives space to unusually perceptive readings of Barry Macsweeney, Kelvin Corcoran and Maggie O'Sullivan. I haven't really been much interested in the careers of Kathleen Raine and Anthony Thwaite, but if Duncan finds something in them I think I ought to at least have a look. I find his writing radically uneven, his conclusions sometimes surprising and his sense of what is going on elsewhere (particularly in USA) very limited. But he is a very perceptive reader with insights you won't get anywhere else. This is a valuable book for anyone interested in what is happening in British poetry now and in the recent past; I plan to read the others and catch up.
     The cover of The Council of Heresy is based on a photo "A storm approaches Clavel Tower, Dorset" copyright 2006 by Blackbeck Photographic. You can find Andrew Duncan's author page at Shearsman Books here.

Sunday, 19 February 2012



On 13 February 2012 I saw a performance at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, by the great experimental theatre director Robert Wilson.

The wide stage was set out with four elements: a lectern, a big landscape-shaped drawing board, a large screen with projected image and a chair. When Robert Wilson came on to loud applause he just stood by the lectern without moving for quite some time, longer than at first seemed appropriate, gathering everyone's attention and then holding on for somewhat longer, building up tension and anticipation, making the audience wonder what he was up to, but none of us, I think, was in doubt that this man was taking his time in order to get our fixed and proper attention, to remind us we were at a performance. It was something to watch. He began to talk about what was the source of his work in the theatre. He briefly described his background and education (he grew up in Waco, Texas, and trained in Architecture at the Pratt Institute in New York) and he described two important meetings that had a profound effect on his career.
     The first one was a chance meeting in the street with a black 13 year old boy who was in trouble and just about to be arrested and taken away by the police. Wilson intervened and discovered that the boy was deaf and dumb, that he had got into trouble because of his disability. The boy was to be institutionalised. There was no facility for the boy's special educational needs. Wilson managed to adopt the boy legally through a court procedure, on the basis that it would cost the government a great deal to keep him in whatever institution he would be put in. Wilson worked with this boy in his early theatre productions, putting him onstage as an actor. It was the experience of communicating with this boy at first with movement and felt vibration that helped Wilson develop his radical ideas about theatre.
    Another meeting came about because Wilson was played a tape by one of his ex-professors of a young man with autistic disorder. The tape was a kind of fast-paced verbal performance based on variation and repetition of non-identical words and phrases. Wilson gave a version of this remarkable performance and told us how he met the young man, Christopher Knowles, and took him out of the institution that he was kept in to live with Robert Wilson. Wilson worked with Knowles in the theatre, taking his unusual ideas and verbal constructions, and working with them to make new theatre works, such as his world renowned opera with Philip Glass, Einstein on the Beach.
    Wilson talked a good deal about how he structured his theatrical work, separating out a framework of scenes through visual diagrams and identifying different structures in the very long works he is known for. He told us about a worldwide career in experimental theatre and said something about The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin and about A Letter for Queen Victoria and some other plays and operas. He drew diagrams on the large landscape white board with different coloured pens, taking time  to explain about the abstract patterns he visualised and planned with, and insisted on the prime importance of movement and timing in his theatre direction. Only after the movement and timing was established did he attend to the words of the script.
     For quite a long time he worked at the board, breaking off every so often to act out a movement or a bit of verbal construction. He tore off the paper sheet he was working with and started another. He talked about working with various composers and star actors and singers including Jessie Norman. He did a little piece about Jessie Norman and a 9/11 performance where she stood still on the stage and had great presence. And he acted out this having great presence by standing still on the stage and having great presence himself. Then he started to use the screen and projected images, calling for the light on the large board to be lowered and changing the images as he talked us through some of his design drawings and photos of productions. In many of them there was a chair on stage as an important prop, sometimes it was suspended in air, sometimes lowered on wires. The lit chair onstage became a kind of emblem of all the chairs he showed us in images of many productions. The theatricality of the event in terms of the use of the stage and lighting, the cut-down nature of the performance in front of us, the reference to other performances in the slides, the use of light and emotional intensity -- all of this was very powerful. It was a terrific experience in the theatre.
     I was really impressed by this performance. It is one of the best things I've ever seen in theatre. I was left with a sense of concern about the disadvantaged boys who in Wilson's account seemed to be the motivation for his work. He gave the impression that it was their different way of understanding that contributed to the vision of his theatrical work, that he couldn't have made the work in the way he did without them. I wondered about the power relations in those relationships, about a single man with the social advantage and confidence to adopt a disadvantaged boy. I wondered about the boys' development as they grew older. I wondered what they might be doing now. I don't think that it would be possible to work like that today in UK, though it certainly would be possible elsewhere. I can't imagine a single man being allowed to adopt a disabled child. I was also intrigued by the extent of the collaboration and the question of intellectual property in the work. I certainly would have asked questions about this had there been any time or framework for questions in that event.

Saturday, 11 February 2012


The Viewing Room is an exhibition at The Gallery, Plymouth College of Art, by The Library of Independent Exchange, Plymouth. The exhibition aims to explore the role of the book within contemporary creative practices. It's a really excellent display of different kinds of books and book works related to creative practice in the visual arts and it has a new wing for poetry. The library is based in Plymouth but doesn't currently have permanent premises. This is a superb developing resource for the city of Plymouth that should be supported by those who care about the interaction of art, design, writing and books. There is at present only a brief chance to look at an aspect of their work. Well done Christopher Green and Mark James, co-directors of the Library of Independent Exchange.
The exhibition runs from Monday 6th February to Friday 24th February.
Associated events are: A bookbinding masterclass, by Tom O'Reilly, Wednesday 15 February;
Writing for Liars, A free workshop led by poet, teacher and essayist John Hall, Wednesday 22 February 2-5pm;
Textually Active: Performative Presentations, Wednesday 22 February 5.30-7pm;
LIE Director's Desk, Free drop in session led by co-director Christopher Green, Friday 24 February 9-5pm.
Places for talks, events, workshops are limited and booking is essential. To book phone 01752 203 434 or email infoservices@plymouthart.ac.uk

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


My best known book False Memory has just been published in a new edition by Shearsman Books of Bristol. I'm really grateful to Tony Frazer for a great job on the production. The first version of this book was 6 out of the 11 poem sequences, published by Geoffrey Young's great USA press The Figures in 1996. Then Ken Edwards' Reality Street published Data Shadow in 2000. The complete book was first published by Salt in 2003. Now we have had the opportunity to make some minor corrections and include a new introduction that was specially written for this edition by Robert Hampson of Royal Holloway University of London. The cover photo of False Memory is 'Ancient, White Dwarf Stars in the Milky Way Galaxy', taken by Hubble Space Telescope, credit to NASA and H. Richer (UBC).


The Japanese Garden at Dartington is a fine place to sit and empty your mind. I'll be there for a lunchtime break each day this week.

Among those awarded Space residencies, I've met Emmalena Fredriksson, a Swedish dance artist who lives in Falmouth. She's working on a new performance called The Living. Also documentary photographer Alice Carfrae and theatre performers Viva Voce are working together on Tin Girls, a theatre piece about the lives of trafficked women. I already knew the excellent Plymouth writer and theatre maker Hannah Silver who is developing her 'political play on words' Opposition.

There is information about the residencies and sharing of new work here.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


February 5th to 9th I have a residency at Dartington Space studio 3, to work on a new performance based on Only More So. The book is non-narrative prose with no dialogue and not made for performance in any sense, so it's an interesting experiment. Each day I have the studio to myself and can get on with concentrated work. For a start I'm exploring memory as a theme in the book. I have various performance bookings through the year so it is a good opportunity to prepare in advance.


Only More So is just published by Shearsman Books of Bristol. We launched the book with a reading at the University of Notre Dame in London, 1 Suffolk Street, very near Trafalgar Square. THANKS to Notre Dame in London for providing the generous reception and the beautiful venue. It was a pleasure to read with my friend Peter Robinson who has been working for years in Japan before taking up a chair at Reading University. Peter read from his new book The Returning Sky, also published by Shearsman. The cover of Only More So is based on a photo Fimmvorduhals Iceland, 1997, copyright by John S. Webb.