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Poetry Beyond Text

24/05/2011

It has been a deeply unproductive day, so I thought I’d catch up with a little blogging and, simultaneously, remind myself of some recent productivity.

The current exhibition at the good ole SPL features a selection of work created as part of Poetry Beyond Text, an extensive, exciting interdisciplinary research programme run jointly by the Universities of Dundee and Kent that, to put it roughly, explores what happens when the visual and the textual combine. (There’s a fuller explanation here.) The exhibition includes work by John Burnside, Deryn Rees-Jones, Robin Robertson, Kathryn Gray and Jim Carruth, to name only more familiar contributors.

I contributed to a Poetry Beyond Text experiment that involved responding to artworks that were themselves responses to a poem, although the poets who contributed weren’t told what the initial stimulus poems were. (There’s a fuller explanation and some images on the Chinese Whispers page of the PBT site.) Part of the SPL exhibition presents a small selection of the visual and poetic works from this process, including the draft I submitted for the first round of poetry writing.

What’s most interesting to me is the upshot of re-encountering this draft in such a context, removed from my prejudices about it. I had abandoned the poem, as I felt it wasn’t work and probably couldn’t work but seeing it in the exhibition brought into focus the bits of it that did seem to work and began to make me think about how it could be developed into the fully fledged piece I knew it had failed to become despite my post-submission efforts.

The poem in question is called “MacAdam Essays the Power of Flight”, although it goes by a clunkier name in the exhibition. It marked the beginning of MacAdam’s re-emergence. I mentioned that here; it has also continued with a submission for Bugged, my filmpoem with Alastair Cookthese poems in Horizon Review and several other pieces that have not yet been seen in public, though some of them have been heard.

I began reworking “MacAdam Essays the Power of Flight” last week. That the ending was unsatisfactory had been clear to me pretty much from the beginning, but I now had a notion of where I could take it. As I rewrote, the poem grew. It started out at 16 lines long, grouped into in two-line stanzas; it finished up in six sections of two four-line stanzas each, which makes 48 lines! What is more, I think it has satisfied the promise I glimpsed in it.

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I mentioned Deryn Rees-Jones above. The exhibition features two collaborations of hers. Last Wednesday, there was an event at the SPL at which she discussed one of them, “Vivam” along with her collaborator, the sculptor Marion Smith. It was a fascinating evening. The poem — unfortunately not legible at the link above — is an exquisite, tender and dense elegy. Deryn and Marion talked about their collaborative process and unpacked the ideas and images that fed the poem and the sculpture. Deryn also briefly talked through her other collaboration, a poem/sculpture/photograph with Alice Maher.

It’s always fascinating to hear how such collaborations come into being and to fruition. It was also good to see Deryn, whom I met when I attended an Arvon course she tutored with Michael Symmons Roberts back in 2002. A lot has happened to us both since then.

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A number of events at the SPL accompany the PBT exhibition. There’s one for the Chinese Whispers at 6 pm on Wednesday 15 June. It’s free. Several of the artists and poets will show/read and discuss their works for the experiment. I’ll be there, giving the new version of “MacAdam Essays the Power of Flight” its first public airing and discussing this piece, which came out of a further iteration of the process:

Quite how I read this one, I don’t know. I might cop out and just ramble about how it came about and marked a real departure and development in my creative practice. Or summat. Anyway, it should be an extremely interesting evening. Hope to see you there.

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