Monday, 26 October 2009

What is it all about?

I went down to the prize-giving of the Elmet Trust's prize on Saturday. A very wild night. After an hour and half of being blown about on the motorway, it was odd to be sitting inside a theatre listening to poems on the themes of the 'elements'. It added to the readings an their meanings. In one way or another.

I was left feeling rather confused, however.

Jackie Kay, the judge, talked after each poem on what she had liked in it. After mine she spoke of the family connections in it and how we have these unspoken similarities and separations. Oh? I thought. It's not about just family. It's about love. Or perhaps, if not love then it's about the ... errr ... err ... the boundaries between people, between things, between us and the environment. In the car on the way home, I read the poem again. I had read it out to the audience with such confidence that I knew what I was reading. And now I wasn't so sure. And I'm still not so sure.

It has been suggested to me that it was chosen because of all the lovely imagery in it rather than its meaning. Mmmm. I'm not sure I like this idea. Although I do quite like the idea I don't totally know what it means anymore. It's not a position I usually hold towards my poems so it's rather curious, ill-fitting in a way.

If you have any suggestions (the poem is here) I'd welcome interpretations.

Monday, 19 October 2009

The Strange World of Bed

Being a huge Bed fan - on good nights I can sleep for ten hours - I loved this project I stumbled upon googling for the artist Dominique Renson.

I met Dominique thirteen years ago on a residency in Spain. She painted my portrait as part of a series she was working on. I wrote a poem from it, which is in my forthcoming book and wanted to acknowledge its source. Trying to track down her surname was a long-winded process via the other artists on the residency ending in a book flap ... where I had tucked a piece of publicity for a show of hers.

I think something might come from this project too ... Archipelagos

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Things to do with John Denver when he's Dead

No, not the title for the John Denver play - or at least maybe not - but a working title nonetheless (thanks, Steve).

Yes, I have a plan. But first the parameters I was working to.

1. I met the guy who's going to play John Denver. And his singing put me at ease about the project. He has a beautiful voice. His Leaving on a Jet Plane was very moving. Bad news - he's not an actor.

2. Suzy, the director, tells me she wants the other actors to be two women - for the singing harmonies. No Dad then.

3. On reading JDs autobiography, I discover the man not only struggled to communicate in relationships but also in print with help from a writer. It was an unilluminating read that wound me up considerably. I had no compassion for him. Not a good starting point for writing words for him.

Solution (found in collaboration with a friend after seeing Faulty Optic. Thank you, Sandie) : The play's set the morning after JD dies in a plane crash. Two women - his mother and a life-long fan - meet to salvage what they knew of the man.

Auditions are being held on Sunday for the women. Then all that needs to happen is for me to write the thing.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Elmet Poetry Prize

I've just heard that I'm a runner up in the Elmet Poetry Prize.

A good news day

Especially since when I heard about the competition and its theme, elements, I thought, I'll have a go at writing for that. At the beginning of July I had been caught during a walk back from the pub by the sight of the clouds in a pond in the field we were crossing. Although a fairly normal reflection, it hooked into me and I couldn't shake it and knew the only way to let it go was to write about it. The poetry comp was the obvious channel.

I'm not one for entering competitions, mainly because my poems are not normally long enough. I have this theory that only poems of 25 lines plus win competitions. So I was going to have to make this poem 25 lines or more for it to be a contender.

Does this sound trivial? It's not meant to. The length is about sustaining an idea.

Nice too 'cos I get £50 for it. Always welcome.

Anyway, the rest is history.

Although not quite, since I'm going to the reading/prize giving in Mytholmroyd in W Yorkshire. It'll be interesting to hear the winners and Jackie Kay , who judged the competition, will hopefully be reading some of her work - always a pleasure. As long as I don't spend the evening beating myself up for not seeing this protrusion or that gap in my poem that could have improved it ...

But this is what won it (not the maths prize - it is only 20 lines long not 25!)


The Three of Us

The pitted stream smudges a version
of grey clouds hammering against anvils.
Its glass distorted by the air between.
Wind made visible by water. Held briefly.

Your grey eye stipples mine. In it I can see my face,
the colour of my iris. Flecked. Looming. Our love,
lying with us, defines our separateness.
Absence makes each heart.

The artist blinded by the portrait, no longer sees
its sitter, paints a mirror of themselves
in the body of another. If I painted you,
would it be child or adult staring back?

The division, thin as life and death. Take two
parents: one living, one dead. I’m daughter
to both. Separated only by physical distance.
They’re two sides of the same pebble. A skimmer.

Beached. A thousand greys bleach
under rain, the sky’s eyes. Heron stalks
the sunset. A second wades out of sight.
Our skin as slight as a feather.

Monday, 12 October 2009

puppet surgery

Spurred on by the workshop last week and my promise to myself that Skipton Puppet Fest would be a catalyst for action, I had Moonboy sanded and ready for surgery at the weekend.

By surgery I mean drilling. He was going to be strung. A friend of mine urged me to get him up and moving to prevent paralysis (on my part).

I bought the smallest drill bit I could find for him. The size of a needle. And screwed in the hooks on the frame for the strings, as I did so working out exactly where I wanted the strings to attach to his body. All going well so far and comfortably on the living room floor.

Then it was time for the drilling. I carried him downstairs to the workmate and laid him out. He looked so trusting and little melancholy (his usual expression, but perhaps more vivid than I had become used to). I couldn't drill into his head I realised.

I had to carefully twist the metal eyes behind his ears to tie the stings to. Not too painful. No screams from either of us and the finished effect was almost David Essex.

Next were his thighs. Being the size he is, he has rather lovely meaty quads - too big for the delicate bit I'd bought, so I was going to have to drill into his knee joint or rather behind it so making use of the narrowing wood. Soft muscle, I told myself. As if through butter.

It was the hands that were truly awful. All my latent Christainity came welling up. What on earth was I doing? Stigmata? Crucifiction? Zerrupp zerrup, and both hands drilled. He didn't flinch. I did. Some time ago I saw this fabulous show by Pickled Image - Houdini's Suitcase - that revolved around a circus show. One of the puppets - obviously a foam puppet - had to stick pins into his face. It was appalling to watch. I was reenacting this scene

But more to the point, I had embued him with his soul. I was treating him with the care he deserved, calling him love, and sweetheart. Stroking between the drilling.

So it was a joy to string him and have him dancing in the kitchen, swinging from a cupboard handle.

I haven't stuck his pearl eyes in place, but know how he's going to see. I also know he's to wear a navy felt blazer. This will give him a nice boxy definition, I think.

And what's more exciting is that I suddenly realised I could take him along to my next play session with improvisers Steve Lewis and Beth Allen and see what we come up with for him.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Faulty Optic Workshop

I had a workshop this afternoon with Faulty Optic - whose work I'm finally going to get to see (tonight) after years of having heard of them and liking the look of their puppets very much.

The first auspicious sign for the afternoon was the difficult morning I had which meant I was only too pleased to escape my desk for puppet play. (Not with my own)

The second - dry enough to cycle to the university.

So, the workshop. We walked into the Nuffield Theatre space to a table piled high of puppets for us to touch. Latex heads, foam heads, rubber bodies, wooden bodies. Although our first bodies were made from black bin bags.

This was so we could get the hang of breathing. Puppets breathing can cover a multitude of happenings. Slow focus, obvious intent and breathing.

Much much harder was wortking with a partner to manipulate a puppet - one on head and hands, one on feet. I think this was more to do with our unfamiliarity with each other than the actual manipulation. We were improvising a lot of the sequences and that needs an understanding of each other. Slow clear gestures. The more space around a puppet, the greater the balance the puppet has, the stronger the evident emotion.

Eye contact - between puppets (and audience) - was astonishingly strong. Effective. There is going to be no getting around the detail of eyes for Moonboy. The scariest element.

When we got to make our own rough puppet to manipulate I had an instinct for ears. Jessica Rabbit my partner said.



I liked the idea. Simple and we had a caricature straight away. And despite her having a scrunched up newspaper head and a bubblewrap bosom she was gorgeous.

And then the penny dropped. This is why I loved puppets so much. They work on simple exaggerated principles. They're made for melodrama.

And then another penny dropped. Our puppets were silent. All the shows I had absolutely loved at Skipton had been silent or at least wordless.

Was I shooting the puppet in its foot by wanting to write words for it?
Was I setting myself up for some overlarding wordy crass?
Would I be better off separating my poetry from the puppet?

I would have thought I needed strings to tie myself into these kind of knots.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Tables turned

It was my turn to be asked some questions the other day

You can read more on the Bookmunch blog here