Birthday Rainbow Rainbow

Thank you for all the beautiful birthday wishes, it means a lot! I have taken this whole week off to enjoy relaxing and fun birthday adventures (all birthday celebrations should last at least a week).

Here are some in case you want to join me:

Reading with the brilliant Nadine Aisha Jassat, Tom Pow and – warming us up, last year’s winner, Katie Ailes… in the Book Week Scotland Rebel Slam at the Scottish Storytelling Centre tonight (Tuesday 20 November): https://www.scottishstorytellingcentre.com/event/?eventid=16684

Attending the Women on the Road Open Book Workshop with the splendid Marjorie Lotfi Gill tomorrow (Wednesday 21 November): https://www.fruitmarket.co.uk/event/writing-workshop-women-road/

Reading with the marvellous 12 and Rhona Warwick Paterson in Women on the Road at the Fruitmarket (Wednesday 21 November): https://www.fruitmarket.co.uk/event/women-road-rhona-warwick-paterson-writers-12/

Might be able to catch this talk by the magnificent Robyn Marsack on Edmund Blunden and WW1 Poetry and recommend (Thursday 22 November): http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/connect/events/report-experience-edmund-blunden-and-ww1

Dancing at the Book Week Scotland Feminist Disco (Friday 23 November): https://bookweekscotlandevents.com/events/the-feminist-disco-rebel-event

Listening at the launch of the stupendous Iain Morrison’s I’m a Pretty Circler at the Fruitmarket (Saturday 24 November): https://www.fruitmarket.co.uk/event/book-launch-iain-morrison-im-pretty-circler/

Hope to see you somewhere along the way.

PS Just looked out my window and look what was shining through the rain and hail and wind… double rainbow! Double rainbow!

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land of black mountains

it seems like ages ago now but just a few weeks ago i was on a mountaintop in the north of Montenegro! (where is that, one person asked me… i know, i know, i had to look it up). well it is here, just start at Rome, cross Italy and drift across the Adriatic Sea

what a remarkably beautiful country!

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Montenegro

i flew into Dubrovnik, and was picked up to my surprise by the glamorous Montenegrin poet Tanja Bakić who had kindly come all the way from her home in the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica to meet me

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the six-hour drive to Bijelo Polje, where the Evenings of Ratkovic Poetry Festival would be taking place, was a dream of white canyons laced by glittering turquoise rivers, steep emerald mountain slopes, oncoming cars and motorcycles racing round tight bends at high speed

so many brilliant poets, and the mountains, the haystacks, the rivers, the mountains!!!

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cheapest wine and cigarettes since, last time you could smoke inside since, waiters in white shirts black trousers, the town square, the fountains, the men in the river, the wild cats, the rottweiler in the cage, the chicken by the river, the cow with the bell round her neck on top of the mountain in the meadow of wildflowers, the muddy path, the Turkish coffee, the almonds and walnuts, the REAL HAYSTACKS, the heat, the frightening cemetery, the ancient churches, the peeling frescoes, the orthodox boy holding the medieval bible that no one could look at but believers, the library on the mountaintop, the cabbage salad, the old-fashioned music, the wedding in the hotel, the mountains, the mountains

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when I left I had a couple of nights in Dubrovnik before flying home, unbelievable white polished city out of time and dreams and the island of Lokrum with its rocky beaches trawled by peacocks, crumbling monastery, white paths to paradise, giant aloe and curse and memory and hunger and thunder over sea

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run little heart up the straightest path

 

i can call it a notebook

sunny sunny afternoon in October and he comes in saying ‘it’s so nice and shiny’

i was perusing the website of the lovely Lucy Cash recently and discovered that she seems to have called her blog page ‘notebook’, i love this idea and am going to borrow it, i hope she doesn’t mind

something about thinking of this page as a notebook rather than a blog is so freeing in terms of content and form (esp capitalisation, apparently — what a relief!) and it is my own page so i should be able to use it in the way that best serves creativity and communication my way

yesterday was National Poetry Day, i always feel a little torn (isn’t every day poetry day etc), but hey i won’t complain about celebrations… my very talented friend maddy wrote an NPD post (notebook entry/review/thought smatter) of which you might like to partake… her posts are generally wonderful and she’s awfully good on fashion too

also her mum, the marvellous Robyn Marsack, has launched her own website, isn’t it gorgeous?

so much to see and read and love and share and frill and scent and dance and do!

 

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shiny shiny bottles in autumn sunshine at Jupiter Artland: Rivers by Tania Kovats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dhamma moon

Delighted to have a few new poems up at dhamma moon. It has been such a revelation to have my poems read by the monk-editors of this publication and to receive their exquisitely thoughtful and complex responses.

 

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Where did Fife go?

 

This morning the sea mist had disappeared everything… it was wonderful to be so enveloped while also feeling the warm sun pulsing through, more like steam in a jungle (not very often do I say that about Edinburgh).

It’s already gone again now and chimes with what I’ve been thinking about this week, that if we stay still everything changes around us.

 

 

 

StAnza Workshop: Between Worlds

I very much enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with curators at MUSA, the Museum of the University of St Andrews, to lead a writing workshop for this year’s StAnza Poetry Festival on writing between worlds, in response to ritual masks and portraits in the collection. A brilliant group of writers gathered and we explored art, poetry, the self in myriad cultures (and the hidden self) and more. You can read all about it here.

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Poets moving between worlds.

In other news, I am busy trying to decide if this is spring. I have seen cherry trees in flower. I wildly purchased two pairs of summer shoes a few weeks back when we had a day or two of temperature that rose above 15 degrees, but now I am wondering if that was premature… as May dawns and I am still donning my winter coat every morning. And hat. And gloves. Still, my sister is getting married this June so we will be heading to New Jersey, New York and Vermont in what does not feel like TOO long now, and I sure hope it will be sunny. HOT and sunny.

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Spring?

For my sanity, I have been avoiding the real news, which does not seem like real news. It becomes especially fun to drop in every once in a while as the novelty makes it appear even more special. Like, Kanye said WHAT? Ah, back to poetry and the LRB, that noble publication, a subscription to which a kind friend has just gifted me. At least in the LRB, the grumbling is beautifully-composed and goes on for many crisp pages that make a sort of intelligent sigh when you turn the page. Now that my kind bosses have allowed me to compress my hours and I have every Friday (every Friday!) all to myself for writing, this becomes the kind of sophisticated temptation I have to push against. Write Jennifer, write!

Music, Poetry and Creative Learning

The Festival of Creative Learning is just about to kick off and we are bouncing with excitement as we have over 130 extraordinary events taking place across the University. I will be going to a witchcraft spell zine creating workshop, AI film screenings, an introduction to contemporary circus, an event exploring the refugee crisis through legislative theatre, a jewellery and anatomy event where we will be making body part-shaped jewels and much more!

In the midst of all this, James and I – aka OPUL – will be performing at Click Clack on Thursday evening, so join us if you’re in the mood for some poetry & music and cool jazz.

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We are also preparing for a special event as part of this project: TIMESCAPES Edinburgh. OPUL will be contributing poetry & music to Looking for Lucey: Celebrating the work of filmmaker Eric Lucey on 15 March at the Roxy Art House. Booking details will be available soon.

 

 

Creative Conversations

I’m so pleased to be joining Colin Herd for the Creative Conversations event at the University Chapel at the University of Glasgow tomorrow (Monday 22 January). Colin has been such a supportive and brilliant friend, poet, editor and curator for many years and someone I enjoy talking with about poetry and the world, so it will be a real pleasure to chat with him. Also having done my MLitt in Creative Writing at Glasgow, it is always wonderful to return there and remember those halcyon days! Meet the students! See what’s new and old on Byres Road!

Please join us – you can bring your lunch. I’ve also heard that it can be chilly so wrap up warm.

Creative Conversations

‌Monday 22 January
1 – 2 PM University Chapel
Free & Open to the Public

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Readings in December

I have the pleasure of reading twice in early December, and my mother will be visiting from America which is very exciting. She never gets to see me read, so it will be a chance to share that part of my life with her.

Please do join us at either or both of these events if you an make it along:

An Evening of Poetry with JL Williams a Book Week Scotland StAnza event at Zest in St Andrews, Saturday 2 December 2017, 17.00

and

St Mungo’s Mirrorball Showcase 6 at the CCA in Glasgow, Thursday 7 December, 19.00

 

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Review of After Economy by Penny Boxall

So grateful for this beautiful review of After Economy by Penny Boxall in The Compass:

If Burns’s collection is like the soothing chatter of grownups, the voices in J. L. Williams’s After Economy are more akin to the half-heard voices of dreams – compelling, disorientating, moreish – leaving you, on waking, wondering what just happened. The endorsements inside the front cover contain, from Eleanor Wilner, a delicious paragraph of praise for Williams’s writing:

For some reason, slightly unfathomable, I am reminded of a forest we visited on Japan’s north island of Hokkaido where the annual winter ice festival is held. The forest is sprayed for days by the local fire department, but not before flowers and colored lights have been hung within the branches . . .

The resultant ‘crystal forest’ – ‘all so unexpected, and so extravagantly beautiful’ – is what is called to Wilner’s mind by Williams’s poems. It is pleasing to turn to the first page and read the title poem, which details this process, presumably drawn, in its turn, from Wilner’s description:

 

The first rinse takes some time, a glassy sheathing,

the second ices each branch quick and soon

the entire frozen forest glitters and shimmers

from within – each bulb encased in ice

a mouth through which the final word

of the world is shining out; light, light.

 

Wilner’s impression of the experience of reading these poems is recreated aptly by Williams’s poem and, in a further meta-move, this could be a description of the experience of reading the collection as a whole. The first reading ‘takes some time, a glassy sheathing’, but as the chill thaws there are chinks to let the light through, and a sense of the shared.

There is also a wry sense of fun at play throughout the collection. Take the cheekily-titled ‘New Aesthetic’, which runs, in its entirety:

 

the whale carcass on the beach with nearly all the flesh washed away

the taste of those salty bones defamiliarising words

 

We are cast into a strange ocean, for sure, where words have their own undercurrents. Incidentally, the cover design – an abstract whale skeleton in linocut by Anupa Gardner, blue vegetation twining the ribs, a glass ceiling above, so that it is not clear whether we are inside or out – could have inspired this poem just as much as it might illustrate it. Williams’s poetic walls are porous, and inspiration is a two-way process.

The prose-poems scattered throughout the collection, each tailed with a haiku like the moral to a Perrault fairytale, are of particular interest. ‘Watching Breaking Bad you realise both that your evil stepfather, similarly, sacrificed himself to his own personal disappointments and that Walter White is the character in the old story who forgets to ask the genie for the ship in which to bring the treasure home before he loses the magic lantern’, one opens. So the three characters – stepfather, Walter White, the character from the old story – are simultaneously distinct and one-and-the-same. The summary-haiku (which raises more questions than it answers) has it: ‘The red glittering / destruction of the self which / is also the heart.’ The heart slowly beats us into oblivion: a neat (if uncomfortable) thought, and one of many fecund ideas in this rich, strange collection.

 

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Adjacent Pineapple

I had such a nice time reading at Colin Herd‘s new/old night Snack Revenge a couple weeks back (more details here), and really enjoyed meeting and hearing the forceful, crackling work of the poet Judith Goldman. Sadly, the marvellous Terese Svoboda wasn’t able to make it, but we had a full house in the room I used to attend classes in when I was doing the MLitt some years back. Colin has been a force for good in the Scottish poetry scene for years now, and I don’t know how he manages to keep so many balls in the air, but he is lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow (while commuting through from Edinburgh), running Snack Revenge, has just started this fabulous publication called Adjacent Pineapple and his new book came out and was delightfully shared at a triple book launch with impressive readings also from Daisy Lafarge and Sam Riviere at Rhubaba last Friday. I am filled with admiration! We had a really interesting conversation on the way home about the lack of SCOTTISH POETICS and whether there should be some work done to encourage this. I think, yes!

Have a read of my contribution to the first Adjacent Pineapple here.

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EIBF Live Poetry Lab

I had such fun at the Edinburgh International Book Festival today, writing in a tent on George Square for three hours as part of the Live Poetry Lab. A number of nice folks dropped in to share their festival memories with me, and we had intriguing conversations about the history and politics of the festivals in Edinburgh, and about culture and writing generally.

Colin Herd and Jane McKie produced incredible texts on Monday and Tuesday, and Peter Mackay and Ryan Van Winkle are still to come. It felt quite exposed, writing in this way… the work is very much a sketch rather than a finished product, and not what one would normally share with the wider public. It was a remarkably fruitful and productive creative constraint, however, and certainly has produced a mass of work that I will mine and edit into more polished poems. I hope the exercise serves as inspiration for other writers who might be stuck or feeling as if they don’t have much time to write. Give yourself a set amount of time: 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 3 hours… and see where the pen/pencil/keyboard takes you!

Many thanks to dear Ioannis Kalkounos, EIBF Programme Manager (and excellent poet himself!), for organising this project, to EIBF for hosting it and to everyone who has contributed memories. You can continue to read the work from the Lab here and tweet your own festival memories to #LivePoetryLab.

Also thanks to Rachael Boast… I so enjoyed reading with her at EIBF last Tuesday, and to Marjorie Lotfi Gill and Claire Urquhart and all the folks working on the brilliant Open Book project for the chance to read to the remarkable women’s group from the Maryhill Integration Network and to have my poems translated and read out in Arabic by Saffanna who took my breath away. It’s been a fantastic Book Festival thus far, and so much more to come!

Also if you’re in town on Saturday night and love poetry, come along to this: Second Space Poetry.

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August in Edinburgh

It’s August in Edinburgh! There’s so much that is marvellous on offer, how can one choose? I’m already mourning my missing of the PJ Harvey gig, which I hear was life changing. Still to come: a few readings which it would be brilliant to see you at…

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I have the pleasure of reading at the Edinburgh International Book Festival with Rachael Boast on Tuesday 15 August at 3.30pm. Book your tickets here.

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The week starting Monday 21 August I’m part of the EIBF Live Poetry Lab residencies. My day is Wednesday 23 August but there are great poets on tap all week. Come along to watch us writing live and/or to contribute to our texts, tweet in contributions and festival memories to #LivePoetryLab and watch our collaborative writing come into being live online. More details and information about how you can contribute here and here.

I will also be reading on a stupendous bill at Second Space Poetry at the Safari Lounge starting at 8pm sharp on Saturday 26 August. More details here.

I’m planning to attend the Atlantic Drift launch party, which looks great and will feature readings by Andrea Brady, Sean Bonney & Sophie Collins.

I’ll be checking out the exhibitions at Talbot Rice Gallery and the Edinburgh Art Festival.

We’ve got tickets for Verdi’s Macbeth, plenty of events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival including Michael Longley and Rachel McCrum & Miriam Nash, Daphne Loads in the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas talking about recipes and gender quality, Theatre Re and hopefully much more — recommendations are most welcome. Have a beautiful August, and for those of you in Edinburgh… happy Festivals!

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Drown Not Wee Blossom

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Happy Thursday! Here in Edinburgh we’re swimming through the streets thanks to this day of rain, but I’m appreciating it because someone was just telling me that in Ibiza there are no rivers anymore because there is no rainfall… is that true? Anyway, it makes me feel lucky to be in a place where there is still some rain pouring down, for the sake of the blossoms at least.

Also I feel lucky because there are very nice events to share with you, as well as a brand new Scottish Poetry Library podcast featuring After Economy. Have a listen here. Dear Colin accidentally says ‘Shearsmith’ rather than ‘Shearsman’… but he means Shearsman! Here is a link to the Edinburgh International Book Festival event I’m doing with Rachel Boast: River of Words and here is a link to the Live Poetry Lab live writing event, both of which I mention in the podcast. Please join us!

If you’re free tomorrow night, come to the gorgeous Golden Hare Books in my old hood, Stockbridge (Can Stockbridge be called a hood?  It seems incongruous. See: New Town Flaneur). I’m delighted to be kicking off their first ever Hear Hare Here: Poetry at Golden Hare Books event with Claire Askew and Theresa Muñoz, MCed by booksellers and poetry lovers Alice Tarbuck and Annie Rutherford.

I’m not sure if I will be there as my darling sis and nephew are visiting from America and I don’t know how much poetry I can make them sit through in one visit, but this sounds amazing so go along if you can: Chrissy Williams, Wayne Miller, Anthony Autumn and Ruthie Kennedy.

This looks beautiful too! Emilia Weber at Sad Press

And finally, for now, wet your whistle, fill your belly and tickle your imagination at: Four Simmer, A Night of Poetry and Flavour at Edinburgh Food Studio.

“This unique collaboration series between food & poetry will use flavour, scent, and colour in response to some of Scotland’s most distinct voices. A delicious evening which will touch all of your senses.

Hosted by Salitre award winning poet Ryan Van Winkle, ‘Simmer’ pairs four poets with dishes carefully selected & prepared to illuminate and echo their work. Readings will be from Emily Ballou, JL Williams, Ron Butlin, and Tom Pow.”

Tickets are going fast, so book here if this makes you hungry!

Stay dry or get wet, and have a beautiful weekend.

 

Poetry Book Society Summer Selections 2017

What a delight to receive an email from my former colleague at the Scottish Poetry Library, dear Emily Prince, with this in it:

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What lovely words! And what an honour to find out that After Economy is one of the books chosen for the PBS Summer Selections 2017. I hope these poems will make some enjoyable holiday reading for folks. You can see the entire list of Summer Selections, and purchase books and memberships, here.

@PoetryBookSoc @ByLeavesWeLive #SummerRecommendation

 

Master Class: Poetry & Creative Learning with the MasterCard Scholars

Festival of Creative Learning

Upile

I’ve been delivering writing workshops for a long time now, most regularly at the Scottish Poetry Library to people who, though at various points in their writing careers, have poetry on the brain. Since starting as Projects and Engagement Coordinator for the Institute for Academic Development (IAD), it has been interesting to think about how my skills as a writer and writing teacher could be of use in my new work which has the wider focus of encouraging and exploring creative learning, innovation and collaboration across the University of Edinburgh.

One of my early meetings after starting here was with Johanna Holtan who used to run the Festival of Creative Learning which I now look after. She is a powerhouse and the job she has moved on to is running the University’s MasterCard Foundation Scholars Programme, which ‘supports the brightest and best African scholars with great potential but few…

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After Economy, London Reading

I’ll be reading from After Economy this Tuesday, 9 May, in London at the Shearsman Reading Series, Swedenborg Hall, 20/21 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2TH. It starts at 7.30pm.

I’m very honoured to be reading with Josephine Balmer, Alice Kavounas, and special guest, Yang Lian.

 

More details are available here and here. Please come along if you’re in town.

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The New Life

My dear friend and mentor Robyn Marsack sent me the most exquisite gift the other day. She said it was a present that she had been planning to give me on the evening of my book launch, but thought I might like to be able to wear it on the night… which I very much do, and as you can see it goes beautifully with the sparkling dress I’ll be wearing (thanks Maddy!). It is this:

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a precious wearable artwork by the poet Thomas A. Clark. It got me thinking about Dante, and La Vita Nuova, ‘The New Life’, in Italian, or Vita Nova in LatinI did not learn as much as I would have liked in my challenging Italian class at Wellesley College, but one stanza at least stayed in my mind, which is just as useful when travelling in Italy as being able to ask for a cappuccino. These are the first three lines of Dante’s Divina Commedia:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

mi ritrovai per una selva oscura

ché la diritta via era smarrita.

Also while at Wellesley, I had the privilege of studying with the poet Frank Bidart, who was the first person to introduce me to the poetry of his friend Louise Glück. It was love at first read, and she is one of those poets whose voice I will never get out of my head.

This became especially, hauntingly clear to me, as… realising that there was a coming together of universal threads going on, I remembered that one of if not the first book of Louise’s that we’d read in Frank’s class was Vita Nova, a book ‘that exists in the long moment of spring’, or so says its inside cover. It’s an Orpheus and Eurydice book, but also a book about relationships, and a book about change, a book about new life.

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(You can see I’ve been carrying it around with me for a while!) So, here’s the thing… in the second-to-last poem in the collection, which I haven’t read for some time, maybe years, there is the line:

…By the stone fountain

the willows are singing again

with unspeakable tenderness, trailing their leaves

in the radiant water.

and it rather took my breath away as I realised that the second-to-last poem in my book ends with the line:

sometimes i feel a breath, a hand

trailing its fingers in the silver water

It was quite startling, and moving, to feel the echo of the words of this poet I so admired in my youth, who still means so much to me, ringing through my words today, and to feel the thoughtfulness of another woman I admire so greatly, Robyn Marsack, sharing the precious gift of the work of another poet I admire, Thomas A. Clark, leading me to shiver at the link to the work of yet another poet, one who retains his place in history as one of the greatest of poets, Dante. This is the radiant water, the silver river of poetry, and I feel so lucky to find it flowing all around.

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If you’d like to experience Dante’s Wristband in real life, and meet Robyn, and hear some poetry, and see some sparkles, and drink some sparkles, and wear some sparkles yourself, do come along to the launch this Wednesday evening. You can book your place here.

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A Visit to a Land of Sea and Song: Poetry on North Uist

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It was such a delight to spend a few days on North Uist with the poet Pauline Prior-Pitt at the end of March. She kindly invited me to visit her and the writing group she nurtures at the Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre. Thanks to support from the Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature Fund, I was able to fly from Glasgow Airport to Benbecula, and in less than an hour I was transported from the big city to an otherworldly dreamscape. With some views reminiscent of a land before or long after mankind or of the time of Noah’s floods, there is somehow more water than land everywhere one looks. A strong wind blew through our hair and the hair of the ponies in a nearby field when Pauline met me at the tiny airport, and our first stop was at a well-stocked local deli to have a look at the map. We then drove on to a lovely hotel in Lochmaddy called Hamersay House (highly recommended – so clean and spacious, and very supportive of my vegan diet!).

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Lochmaddy is also where Taigh Chearsabhagh is, and Pauline took me there for lunch and a tour of the gallery space and teaching spaces where the art college runs its studios and classes, with plenty of gorgeous work-in-progress on display… images of the sea, and art made of stuff washed up by the sea.

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That evening I was back in the gallery to give a reading to an extremely attentive and generous audience, who also took turns reading their own poems and poem choices. I read from my new collection, After Economy, for the first time… it was wonderful that it had its debut in such a remote place! We were treated to a heart-achingly beautiful Gaelic folk song by the writer and singer Cathie Laing, and another highlight was Pauline’s reading of some new sea-inspired poems in which she speaks as the sea, with such sensual and evocative language that I still feel stroked by her sea-words.

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The next day was so rainy that it felt as if the little land there was could all run into the sea at any moment, and we braved the weather and managed to visit a number of fascinating prehistoric and historic sites of interest, exploring brochs, barps and standing stones:

On Saturday I gave a writing workshop about entering into artworks and writing in dialogue with them, and the pieces generated by Pauline’s writing group were brilliant, our conversation stimulating and the general feeling one of joy to be creating together in such a special place. Cathie was in attendance and I was thrilled that at my request she sang us a few more songs to close the session. After another delicious lunch at the gallery we drove off to explore some of the beaches in Berneray, and I’ve never experienced anything quite like it – the white, untouched tracts of sand stretching far into the distance, the crashing aquamarine sea, the icy wind making your body ache and thrill.

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There was something so beautiful but also haunting about the landscape… we found a hill by the sea, surrounded by white sand, covered in grass and sheep dung and sheep bones. One could lose oneself to nature here and it was a humbling experience, especially combined with the knowledge that people had lived and loved and dreamed on that tiny, windswept, loch-laden island for thousands of years.

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We had a wonderful vegan meal with Pauline and her husband Robert that evening, and were impressed by their not one but two artist’s sheds/studios in the back garden and Pauline’s attic ‘Room of One’s Own’. The conversation ranged from personal histories to creativity to philosophy to island life and back again, and it felt we were in a place where time was different and there was endless space to think, also where relationships were so important and community was treasured. Something very striking was the sense that the ages are not separated on the island the way they are in our cities… in the grocery store I saw people of all ages interacting, grannies looking after babies chatting to teenagers in a way that touched me – these people were in community with one another, they lived near one another and knew one another and looked after one another.

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Soon it was time to leave but I’ll keep dreaming of that sea-drenched island with its white beaches, its sandy, lacy frills and hems, its houses of seaweed and shell, and its people full of stories and song.

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Many thanks to Pauline, to everyone who came along to the reading and the writing group, and to Live Literature at the Scottish Book Trust for making it possible.

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Expenses Tip for Live Literature Writers:

This was quite an expensive trip and only made possible because of the generous support of the Live Literature Fund, which is so brilliant because it makes events like this possible in places where it might otherwise be very difficult to bring writers. In line with how the scheme works, I had to buy my plane tickets and food myself and claim that money back after the trip. It’s worth, if possible, trying to plan for these sorts of trips so you’re not in the red for the time between the spending of the money and the reimbursement. Easier said than done, though the SBT is great at processing the expenses claim (thanks Kay and Jackie!). Another tip that I’ve found makes my life easier is to have a separate envelope or folder in my handbag where I put all my expenses and travel receipts, so that it’s quick and easy at the end of the trip to package these up and send them in. In fact, in this instance, as the trip was a more complicated one, I even made a little Excel budget to help me total everything up. Perhaps this is a sign that I’ve been working in arts administration for too long!

 

 

 

 

YOU ARE THE FIRE

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I’m running a poetry workshop on Monday for some amazing students on the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program at the University of Edinburgh. We’ll be responding to the work of Upile Chisala, following on from a recent visit she made to read for the students. I’m feeling very inspired by Upile’s fire!

Also coming up:

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I’m super excited to be reading at this new night with a stellar lineup. I’ll be performing a debut collaboration with the poet Iain Morrison, in which we’ll be exploring singing glasses, opening and poetry as musical score. Come along tomorrow (Friday 14 April) at 7pm to St Margaret’s House – more details here.

And tides

Then on 27 April feetat 6pm I will be reading with Catherine Street at Talbot Rice Gallery. We’ll be sharing the new piece we’ve created in response to the current exhibition, Between poles and tides.  This new work is called ‘And tides’ and you can book your seat here.

Keep burning and keep singing from your heart!

AFTER ECONOMY Launch

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AFTER ECONOMY

a new collection exploring the fine line between abundance and apocalypse

Out now! Get your copy here, and book here for the After Economy Edinburgh launch at Talbot Rice Gallery. More details below. It would be lovely to see you there.

After Economy | JL Williams

Book Launch

Talbot Rice Gallery

3 May 2017 6pm-7.30pm

Book tickets here.

Please join us for the launch of a new collection of poetry, After Economy, by JL Williams.

Williams has a piece in the current exhibition Between poles and tides, and you are invited to explore the show during your visit.

This event will feature a short reading by Williams, who will be accompanied by the award-winning composer and cellist, Atzi.

After Economy is an exploration of the fine line between abundance and apocalypse, an attempt to respond formally and thematically to the complexities faced by human beings living amidst political unrest and technology-driven cultural change, and an inquiry into our relationship with time.

‘For some reason, slightly unfathomable, I am reminded of a forest we visited on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido where the annual winter ice festival is held. The forest is sprayed for days by the local fire department, but not before flowers and colored lights have been hung within the branches, so when the whole forest turns to crystalline ice, the lights burn from within, the whole crystal forest glows, and when you walk there, flowers look out from the ice, arrested in full bloom. It is all so unexpected, and so extravagantly beautiful — something essential in such crystallization, and with fire in its core. Well, this vision returned to me reading your manuscript.’  Eleanor Wilner

Word Up

I’ve been meaning to post links to all these nice blogs and articles that have come in over the past few months and haven’t had time, so I thought I would do a round up.

A lovely blog by translator and poet Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese about the Polish translation workshop with poet Wojciech Bonowicz that took place at the Scottish Poetry Library toward the end of last year, including a few of our translations: Polish Signs.

A review in The Observer of my opera, Snow, which premiered in London in February 2017: Observer Review.

A collection of recordings of poems from the Signal project that I was involved in thanks to an invitation from Marjorie Lotfi Gill last year as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival: EAF Signal Poems.

A blog on the Scottish Review of Books website that seems like it’s from a different world now, but with a nice mention of me and Hillary at the end: SRB blog.

A very generous blog by Colin Waters about me moving on from the Scottish Poetry Library at the end of last year: Jennifer Leaving SPL Blog.

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(c) Nick Rutter from Snow, The Opera Story, 2017

 

A Libretto Comes to Life

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I’ve always been interested in collaborative art forms. Some of my very early and most joyful memories are of being taken by my wonderful mother, grandmother and uncle to see plays, musicals and ballet. The magic of words, music and movement coming together to stupendous effect at these performances has continued to inspire me throughout my life.

Up until a couple of years ago, my musical collaborations had been on a relatively small scale and involved me working with one or two musicians and usually performing the words myself (for instance, the music and poetry project OPUL that I share with my partner, James Iremonger). However in 2014 I was accepted onto the Jerwood Opera Writing Programme, and it was through that amazing experience that I met a group of extraordinary composers including Samantha Fernando and Lliam Paterson. At one of the residential weeks in Aldeburgh, Lliam asked if I might be interested in writing a libretto for a new opera company. It was such an exciting offer! The company was brand new, based in London and interested in making new opera in new ways, with young artists in unusual spaces. I jumped at the chance.

He explained that the idea for the first project was to create a new operatic version of Snow White. I loved this idea and remember an enchanting walk Lliam and I took through the fields of rushes at Snape Maltings, discussing the many narrative and temporal possibilities for setting the drama. One of the ideas that was always very core to the project was to draw on early myths and tales that pre-date the somewhat cleaned up version of Snow White that many of us know from the Disney film. The Opera Story, as the new company was to be called, would keep story at the forefront of their operas and this was great news for a writer.  In some opera projects – as we had explained to us during the Jerwood Opera Writing Course – the libretto is the starting point but also seen to be of less importance than the musical components which come next.

Writing the libretto was a completely gorgeous experience. Since my first collection of poetry, Condition of Fire, which was a response to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, I have enjoyed working from and reimagining pre-existing texts and stories. When engaging with such rich material, the challenge is to find your own way to tell a very well-known story, and opera adds in its own challenges in that often when set to music some words can be lost. This may be for many reasons – when we sing words the timing of the sounds change, the pitch and volume modulate and all this is set against a musical backdrop that may support or compete with the singers. On the other hand, thankfully, there are so many ways the music, set, direction and acting can enhance the communication of the story, and in this case the fact that Snow White was such a well-known tale to begin with was ultimately very freeing.

Often poets are recruited to write libretti, as they are ideally able to use language in a way that is concise and rhythmic, even musical. This can make the job of the composer easier as you can imagine how difficult it could be to set a novel or even a typical play to music. A poem, if working well, can communicate much without having to use too many words, and the spaces in poetic writing offer room for music and drama. My libretto isn’t a poem or a play, but some mixture of the two specially designed for the operatic form.

Unfortunately Lliam ended up not being able to compose for this opera, though for good reasons as he had too much other work on his plate, and instead the folks at The Opera Story came up with the brilliant idea of inviting not one but three talented young composers to create the music, one for each act. I first met these fabulous composers, Lucie Treacher, Lewis Murphy and Tom Floyd, at a full day workshop at the home of Artistic Director, Hamish Mackay, nearly a year ago. Executive Director Manuel Fajardo joined us, and together we discussed the intricacies of each scene and character. It was such a special experience to have all these creative brains working together to envisage how the story would evolve. With the help of the three composers, the brilliant director James Hurley who brought so much research and insightful observation to the process, and the kind support and input of Hamish and Manuel along the way, we got to a point where the libretto was ready to pass on to the composers and my role was, essentially, complete.

As months have passed since I submitted the final draft of the libretto, I can hardly contain or express my excitement at the prospect of finally getting to see the finished opera at the Bussey Building in less than a week’s time. To have an idea begin as a poetic spark in one’s heart and mind, and to be so close to seeing it blazing in full voice, music, light, costume, set and drama on stage, is almost more than I can comprehend. It takes me back to the joy of those early childhood memories, when stories shimmered to life on stage in a way that was truly magical.

I want to express my gratitude to all the many, many people involved whose hard work has brought Snow to life, and I hope you will be able to join us at one of the performances in London this week: http://theoperastory.com.

Festival of Creative Learning

This post went out last week on our blog at the Festival of Creative Learning and I thought I would share it here as well. Hope you enjoy and to see you at a Festival event if you can make it along.

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It’s just over two months since I started as Projects and Engagement Coordinator for the Institute for Academic Development at the University of Edinburgh. It has been a fascinating and joyful time, and I’m especially excited as the Festival that I am looking after is taking place next week.

It’s called the Festival of Creative Learningand this is the first year of the Festival proper, though it has evolved from something called ‘Innovative Learning Week’ which ran for 5 years (learn more about ILW here).

After an intensive period of development led by the previous Festival organiser, the brilliant Johanna Holtan, the Festival of Creative Learning emerged, and it’s a privilege to be able to continue all the good work that has gone into making the Festival what it is and to think about how it can continue to grow in future.

The Festival aims to provide space for staff and students at the University of Edinburgh to play, to experiment, to innovate, to collaborate and, dare I say it, to fail. How precious, how rare it is to discover this sort of space – where the emphasis isn’t on how many seats we fill, how many tickets we sell, how many answers we get right, but rather on truly exploring and pushing boundaries, communicating in radically new ways and leaping into the dark to find out what’s there.

Our goals are to help staff and students create innovative, experimental and collaborative ways of learning in a safe space, to give people the training and support they need to design and run events, and to celebrate the work of all our event organisers and the discoveries we make together along the way. By its very nature and commitment to openness and diversity, the programme covers an enormous range of disciplines and activities, and we encourage everyone to peruse our events calendar to get a sense of the depth and breadth of the events on offer.

Rather than running each of the events ourselves (our fabulous but small team includes my colleagues Lucy Ridley and Silje Graffer), we seek proposals from staff and students, distribute funding, provide a platform and communications umbrella for the events and aim to empower our staff and students to get the most out of what we provide. We hope that the Festival is a learning experience not just in terms of the research being conducted but also in events design and management, imparting vital skills to organisers that they can make use of in future employment, study and enterprise.

Much work is being done to explore the future of learning and teaching, and learning that involves doing and which empowers students rather than treating them like inanimate vessels to be filled is on the forefront of what appears to be not only the most effective but also the most enjoyable means to growth. We want to celebrate the idea that we learn better when we are enjoying ourselves, when we are treated with care and respect, and when we are encouraged to use our imaginations and to play.

The Festival will continue to develop, and we’ve already gathered a long list of ideas about ways to make the Festival even more useful, expansive, innovative and attractive (and do get in touch with your own suggestions), but first our team is going to visit as many of the events as we can in person to see the extraordinary experiments that our organisers have brought to life. We hope you will take the leap as well and join us for at least one of our events next week, and consider developing an idea for a Festival Pop-up event throughout the year or for an event for the Festival of Creative Learning 2018. In the meantime, keep an eye out for our hashtag #FCL17 on social media, where we’ll be telling stories and posting photographs all next week.

You can read more about the aims and values of the Festival here, and you can book tickets for our events here. Many of the events are aimed primarily at staff and students at the University, however the following events are open to external attendees and can be booked via Eventbrite:Introduction to Massage in Schools Programme, Manifest Destiny: A Multidisciplinary Forum on Mars Colonisation, Design for Wellbeing, Biffa tour: How does recycling work?, Learning Language Through Theatre, Making History: a Feminist Craft Project, ‘Camelot, tis a silly place’: Popular Culture and Scottish Heritage Castle Trip, Tech Art Collaboration Workshop and “The Birds and the Bees” Board game.

Here’s to learning without boundaries, in ways that celebrate the creativity inherent in each of us. 

 

Jennifer Williams

Projects & Engagement Coordinator

Institute for Academic Development

Between poles and tides at Talbot Rice Gallery

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For some time now, I have had the pleasure of being one of the TRG3 residents at Talbot Rice Gallery with my dear friend, the artist Catherine Street.  We have had an amazing time responding to recent exhibitions, including Alice Neel: The Subject and Me and the British Art Show 8.

I was delighted to have the opportunity, following on from our residency, to contribute a text piece to the gallery’s new show: Between poles and tides.  It is an extraordinary mix of media and ideas, curated by Stuart Fallon and Neil Lebeter, with the theme of temporality twining the pieces together.  Artists include Daisy Lafarge, Ilana Halperin, Ian Hamilton Finlay and fabulous others.

My contribution is an ‘audio guide’ that you can listen to on headphones as you wander about the gallery, though it might not be the sort of audio guide you’ve come across before.

Please join us for the preview and get along to see the show.  If you have a listen on the headphones, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the experience.

Preview: Friday 10 February 2017: details here.

From the Talbot Rice website:

New Acquisitions from the University of Edinburgh Art Collection

David Batchelor, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Ilana Halperin, Jessica Harrison, Fabienne Hess, Daniel Hughes, Daisy Lafarge, Jonathan Owen, Katie Paterson, Isobel Turley, Luc Tuymans, JL Williams

#talbotrice | #betweenpoles

Including three tattooed Doulton figurines, a set of clocks that tell the time of every planet in the solar system, a sculpture created over ten months in a French cave and a large gazing leopard projected over the main Gallery space, Between poles and tides is a dramatic display of work recently acquired by the University of Edinburgh. It features work by established artists, recent graduates and works connected to the Talbot Rice Gallery programme.

Actively building its contemporary art collection since 2012, the University of Edinburgh has been strategically acquiring works that reflect and feed the breadth and depth of its teaching, learning and academic community. Ensuring public access to this collection, Between poles and tides demonstrates the quality and diversity of these new acquisitions. Formally and conceptually dynamic, the exhibition includes sculpture, painting, printmaking, video and poetry; whilst exploring ecology, cosmology, politics and geology. Reflecting a cross-section of contemporary artistic practice, it includes works concerned with appropriation, materiality and the act of collecting itself.

Ithakas

This is a piece I was asked to write for the Poetry Reader when I was leaving the Scottish Poetry Library, and then due to various complications it wasn’t able to be published there, so I thought it would be nice to include here.

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Ithakas

Toward the end of my interview for the job of Programme Manager at the Scottish Poetry Library, when trying to explain what I would attempt to achieve if given the job, I spoke of the books on the shelves being silent bodies that needed the voices of living poets to animate them. I’ve always loved libraries and their anonymous quietude, the stealth of tucked away reading between the stacks and the writer’s voice in one’s own mind, however I’ve learned just as much from the great light that a live reader shines on a poem.

I hope I have succeeded since then in my dream of filling the Library with these life-giving voices. It certainly has been a poet’s dream job, and I’ve learned so much and had so many extraordinary experiences in this role. Now that I am moving on to a new opportunity working as Projects and Engagement Coordinator for the Institute for Academic Development at the University of Edinburgh, I want to pass on my enormous gratitude to all the poets who have been so generous with their time and creative energy, to the many partners from around the world who have offered their support and enabled us to expand our offerings, to the incredible audiences who came from near and far to attend events week in and week out, to the writers who filled poetry and translation workshops with their bravery and brilliance, to the readers who complete the circle for every writer and to my extraordinary colleagues and all the volunteers who made it possible to do this work.

I learned so much over the years, and I remember how worrying it was when a few events in my first season had small audiences. It took the grind of hard experience to learn how to sculpt the programme to satisfy the needs of the Library, our audiences, our partners and our funders, but quickly, and with the help especially of our brilliant communications manager, Colin Waters, we began to attract more folk and I was able to really explore what excites me about programming; stimulating the creation of new work, encouraging collaboration and communication, and bringing voices, minds and hearts from afar to connect with voices, minds and hearts from right here.

I could cite so many examples of events and projects that I loved being part of at the library, but some that spring to mind include:

The My Life in Poetry and Perfume event featuring the magnificent writer and perfume expert Alex Musgrave at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in the lush surrounds of the Victorian Palm House. Soaring glass walls and massive green leaves embraced us as we heard Alex’s choice of 10 poems to accompany 10 perfumes, each of which was available to be sampled. We also had live music, sparkling wine and a biologist-curated display of plants used in perfume creation.

The many festivals I have visited and had the honour to be part of, including Edinburgh International Book Festival as a chair of many unforgettable readings and more recently in the role of poet as a contributor to the Scottish-Canadian Innu poetry exchange project, the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival as official festival blogger and StAnza – Scotland’s Poetry Festival as a poet and in conversation with one of my greatest poetry heroes, Alice Notley.

Big projects like Walking With Poets which saw us situate poets in four botanic gardens in Scotland to work with local communities and the Written Image project in partnership with Edinburgh Printmakers where we partnered 40 poets with 40 printmakers and hosted an exhibition and reading of the gorgeous work produced through these collaborations.

Workshops and podcasts that have allowed me to work intimately with poets, which I find very fulfilling and inspiring both as a poet and as a facilitator.

The award-winning The Library Is Open! Drag Queen Poems event, that began when I heard the poet Iain Morrison reading an exquisite poem about drag queens and asked him if he’d thought about a more extensive performance project on this subject. We concocted a plan that became a ground-breaking multimedia event featuring Iain and Jean-François Krebs (also known as Wanda Isadora de Fourrure).

International festivals and projects via partners such as Literature Across Frontiers, Literary Europe Live and the British Council that have brought me to places as far flung as Montreal, Riga, St Petersburg and Moscow, Malta, Barcelona, Berlin and The Hague.

It is difficult leaving families and places one loves. I left America to come to Scotland, and leaving the Library feels a little like leaving home. It was so amazing for me as a poet to be in a literary centre, to host and interview poets from around the world and to be reminded every day that people do love poetry, but I will be just down the street in my new role where I will be carry with me so much that I have learned about sharing a love for creativity and learning. I hope to still have plenty of time to concentrate on my own literary career, and am excited to share with you the news that I have a new collection scheduled to be published by Shearsman Books in Spring 2017, and I have written the libretto for an opera that will debut in London in Spring 2017 (for more details and to book tickets, please see www.theoperastory.com).

In parting, I’d like to repeat my thanks, and to encourage you, as your heart wishes, to continue to read poetry, write poetry, and to support the Scottish Poetry Library and all the vital literary and arts institutions that work to encourage communication and empathy between human beings, both much needed in our world. I will leave you with a few lines of poetry from another of my favourite poets, C. P. Cavafy, who knew much of longing, and journeys, and how to observe the richness of a dreaming life:

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

from Ithaka by C. P. Cavafy, translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

 

content work produce form

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It was a great joy to be asked to curate a group writing project for Sophia Hao, curator at Cooper Gallery in Dundee, for their amazing International Symposium: 12-Hour Action Group.

I asked 11 women to write with me in a shared Google document over a few months at the end of 2016, and we produced poetic texts that responded first to Monica Ross’ text history or not, a selection of articles discussing Feministo & associated feminist art projects, and the artists and artwork featured in the Cooper Gallery exhibition Of Other Spaces: Where does gesture become event?, and then to one another’s writing.

You can now read our full texts and see videos of our performances here: content work produce form.

We are also pleased to announce that our group will continue this project in 2017, taking on the name ’12’.  Our group of 12 women will write in a shared Google document, one woman posting a poem each month and each of the other women responding to that poem and then to one another’s poems.  We will aim to hold readings showcasing the work as it develops, and to eventually publish the work online and/or in print.

content work produce form:

A collective writing project
Performed at the Of Other Spaces 12-Hour Action Group
Saturday 3 December 2016, Cooper Gallery DJCAD
Writers: Tessa Berring, Anne Laure Coxam, Lynn Davidson, Georgi Gill, Marjorie Lotfi Gill, Jane Goldman, Rachel McCrum, Jane McKie, Theresa Munoz, Alice Tarbuck, Karen Veitch, JL Williams

Flint & Pitch plus 12-Hour Action Group

Hello there!

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So much has been happening, and is happening… here are details and invitations for you:

I finished up at the Scottish Poetry Library in November and will be starting at my new job as Projects and Engagement Coordinator for the Institute for Academic Development at the University of Edinburgh next week – exciting!  Here is a super nice SPL Post that dear Colin Waters, SPL Communications Manager, wrote for my leaving.  Here too, on that subject, is a pre-election piece for the SRB he wrote mentioning my fateful meeting with Hillary Clinton so long ago that might remind you of those more innocent pre-Trump days.

Tomorrow I’m reading poetry at The Flint & Pitch Revue #2 along with a whole host of dizzyingly talented folks, so please do come along if you can make it.  It’s at the Bongo Club at 7pm and you can book your tickets here.

Then on Saturday I’ll be at Cooper Gallery in Dundee for the Of Other Spaces: Where Does Gesture Become Event? International Symposium 12-Hour Action Group, starting at 11am and, you guessed it, ending at 11pm.  I’ve been curating a collaborative writing project with 11 other Edinburgh-based writers in response to material in this incredible show, and it’s been such a stimulating, inspiring and redemptive experience to be making this collective work, especially over these past trying weeks.  We’ll be performing some of the texts, which will also appear shortly on the Cooper Gallery website.  You can come to this Symposium as well,  it’s free but you need to RSVP here.

There’s more to tell, but I think I will stop here for now and promise more soon.  Hope to see you at one or both of these events, or somewhere else very soon!

 

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http://www.dundee.ac.uk/djcad/exhibitions/events/actiongroupsymposium/

 

 

 

Flint & Pitch

I’m honoured and delighted to have been asked to be part of the second ever Flint & Pitch Revue at the Bongo Club on 2 December… what a line up, what a treat!  More details here.

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A unique poetry festival taking place at venues across the City of Glasgow from September – November 2016.

A festival of outside and subterranean poetry

Source: A unique poetry festival taking place at venues across the City of Glasgow from September – November 2016.

Otata, The Temples and The Three Cities

I have been lucky to have been travelling quite a bit lately – I am actually writing this from the Dostoevsky Library in Moscow where, thanks to the British Council and the Edwin Morgan Trust, I am facilitating a translation workshop between three Scottish poets and three Russian poets. 

This trip follows close on the heels of a journey to Malta to attend (as an observer) the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival 2016.  It is a wonderful festival where writers are brought together from all around the Mediterranean and beyond, and spend a week translating one another’s poetry.  They then present their poems and the new translations in an extraordinary fort by the sea.  I was invited on a tour of the city which included ancient Stone Age temples, a typical Matlese village and Vittoriosa, one of the fortifified Three Cities.   Inspired by the words of our brilliant tour guide, John Neville Ebejer, I wrote a short sequence of haiku that has just been published on John Martone’s blog Otata, along with a collection of brilliant work from UK poets including John Phillips, David Miller, Erica Van Horn, Simon Cutts, Thomas A. Clark, Alec Finlay, Lila Matsumoto, Malcolm Ritchie, Julie Johnstone, Gerry Loose and Ian Storr, which you can see here

 Hope you enjoy!

Events: Summertime & the Living is…

A little summary of the handful of events I have coming up… would be wonderful to see you at one, some or all if you can make it along.

A Word in Your Shell-Like

I have not been an actual performer in the Edinburgh Fringe for some time, but I get a chance this year as part of this lovely wee poetry event, which also features my SPL colleague and wonderful poet Georgi Gill.  There is an open mic element to it so please come and join us to share your poems and see some soothing sea-inspired art in the midst of the festival madness.

Info and tickets here: Edinburgh Fringe Programme

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A Word in Your Shell-Like

Edinburgh-based poets Georgi Gill and JL Williams will perform their work together for the first time and for one night only during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The performance, A Word in Your Shell-Like, takes place in a city art gallery, and will feature poems with a salty bite, echoing ceramicist Liz Watts’ nautical Fringe installation Beached at the same venue.

Unusually for a Fringe event, fellow castaways in the audience can join in with the performance, with open mic slots available on the night for anyone who would like to perform sea-themed poems and acoustic songs.

The two poets, who work together by day at Edinburgh’s Scottish Poetry Library, are both widely published. Fittingly, Georgi Gill is the daughter of a sailor, and grew up on the banks of the Gare Loch, where she regularly saw nuclear submarines rise to the water’s surface from her living room window. She will be a guest editor of The Interpreter’s House literary journal this year. JL Williams’ first collection, Condition of Fire was inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses and a journey to the Aeolian Islands. Her second, Locust and Marlin explores the idea of home and where we come from, and was shortlisted for the 2014 Saltire Society Poetry Book of the Year Award. Williams plays in the poetry and music band Opul. Her work has been translated into seven languages, and her father is also a sailor who taught her to sail when she was little.

The event is a satellite edition of the hugely successful reading series, Words & Ears, which takes place monthly in Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire. Here, as at those events, people are invited to bring their words, or simply their ears – all warmly welcomed.

A Word in Your Shell-Like is on from 7.30pm – 10pm on Thursday 11th August at EDS Gallery, 13A Great King St, Edinburgh EH3 6QW (Edinburgh Fringe Venue 324). There will be an interval in which the audience is invited to chat to the poets. Tickets, £3, through the Edinburgh Fringe Box Office or on the door. For more information, email dawn@dawngorman.co.uk

CLICK CLACK: A little poetry and music…

Kick off the festival season with a little music, more music, and poetry and music. OPUL (the marvellous James Iremonger and me) will be playing some new pieces, showcased thus far only in distant and beautiful Montreal at the Le 17e Festival de la poésie de Montréal. I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Snibbo yet but I did see Combo Combo once and was very impressed… can’t wait to hear their funky, soulful tunes again. Hope to see you there!CCC72 Flyer

 

If a Leaf Falls Press at Good Press

Very excited to be reading at this on 6 August:

If a Leaf Falls Press at Good Press

Saturday
6th August 2016
3-6pm

With readings by…

Maria Fusco reading Notes on Comic Face

nick-e melville reading slippage/pigsclap twice

Sam Riviere reading Cont. and Preferences

Mike Saunders reading george clooney will always be handsome: towards a phenomonology of George Clooney

JL Williams reading House of the Tragic Poet

New pamphlets by Crispin Best, nick-e melville, Maria Fusco and Erik Stinson will be available in limited quantities, and the long out of print If a Leaf Falls Press back catalogue will be available to browse.

http://samriviere.com/index.php?/together/if-a-leaf-falls-press/

This Is What You Shall Do

I was in New Jersey visiting my family a couple of weeks ago, and I went with my mother – who has lived in New Jersey from birth – and my 4 year old nephew, as well as my new Scottish family, to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. None of them except my sister and me had ever been there before, and it was a delight to share with them the moving stories of people from so many different places coming into my original home country, America… a place I’ve always celebrated, for all its problems, as a true melting pot of peoples, cultures and languages. It seemed especially poignant at a time when the worrying name Trump (aka the Wall Builder) was on everyone’s lips, and it was particularly interesting to see one display of political cartoons from the 1920s when America was in a political debate concerning ‘the control of racial purity’ and was in the process of limiting the influx of European immigrants.

Everything in waves, everything in cycles.

I am saddened today by the UK’s (or should I say part of the UK’s) vote to leave the EU, which has, especially since my moving to Scotland, always represented a commitment to peace, security and fluid borders in a way that made me feel so lucky to live in the UK. When I received my British citizenship, I was amazed that it also meant I could travel, live and work in so many other countries, and I have continuously benefited from the EU as an individual, as a poet and as Programme Manager at the Scottish Poetry Library, where we have received EU funding to bring poets to Scotland from around Europe and to send Scottish poets to countries in Europe. Facing the vote to leave today feels like a turn down a dark path toward all the things I fear – lack of communication, closing of borders, isolation, mistrust of others, and so on. Even the likelihood of another Scottish referendum and the chance that Scotland at least could find a way to stay in the EU, while exciting, emphasises the deep split between the thinking in Scotland and England that continues to surprise and concern me. I hope that whatever happens we can seek to see connections rather than differences in one another.

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.” ― Walt Whitman

New Poems, New Places

New blog about the recent trip to the Festival de la poésie de Montréal up on the SPL website today:

Canadian Dreaming

and a couple of recent publications:

Dangerous Emotions as part of the magnificent Dangerous Women Project,

and poems in

Far Off Places

and

The Reader

Huge thanks to the editors and publishers who have made these possible!

 

Poetry, poetry and more poetry!

So much has been happening lately that I have not had time to share.  I will include some links in this post to recent events and excitements.

I had this article about borders, passports and writers working abroad in politically-complicated countries published in The Bottle Imp, a wonderful online journal that exists to promote and support the teaching and study of Scottish literature and language.

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Reading at Drawn & Quarterly Bookshop, Montreal

I’m just back from a trip to Montreal to read and perform at the fabulous 17e Festival de la poésie de Montréal.  Here is a blog that came out just before the festival and my own travel blog for the SPL website here.

I have a poem in the lovely anthology Edinburgh Unsung, which you can read here.  The full anthology is here, and you can read more about the project here.

You can take a look here at a blog about the Literary Europe Live platform that the SPL is now part of and me in the video doing a couple of haiku answers for the camera:

Kosmopolis. LAF Meeting from CCCB on Vimeo.

And I found some videos from the wonderful Canadian Innu Poetry Exchange that I was a part of last year at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.  You can hear us talking a little about the project here:

and watch the whole event here:

 

Hope you enjoy this wee update and that your own projects are proliferating.

 

 

House of the Tragic Poet

Happy days!

Available for pre-order now, my new pamphlet House of the Tragic Poet, published by Sam Riviere’s gorgeous If A Leaf Falls Press.

These poems came about because I watched a documentary about a house in Pompeii called, wonderfully, ‘The House of the Tragic Poet‘, and wrote a poem about that house.  Then that poem disappeared off my computer.  I tried everything I could to get it back but it was gone for good.  So I tried to rewrite it, and it wasn’t quite what I remembered the lost one being, so I wrote it again, and again… at one point there were about 30 poems, all with the same title, all pursuing something lost and making something new in the process.  The poems in this pamphlet are what remain.

It is a great honour to be working with Sam, whose editorial input has been invaluable.  Do check out all the amazing poets Sam has been working with, and if you like the look of the new books, get them fast – they sell out like hot cakes.

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British Art Show 8

The blog has gone up introducing the project that Catherine Street and I will be doing as writers-in-residence for the Edinburgh leg of this year’s British Art Show.  You can read about our ‘live writing sessions’ here, and find the link where you’ll be able to watch the three live writing sessions from anywhere in the world.  After each writing session, new texts edited from the live writing will appear on the BAS8 blog.

And here is a wee video of us talking about the project:

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ALL SYSTEMS… go

Opening Bracket / Closing Bracket:

An Object Lesson in Levitation

by JL Williams, performed on 17 February 2016 at Cooper Gallery

It was very special to have the opportunity to write and perform the new text

Opening Bracket / Closing Bracket: An Object Lesson in Levitation

at Cooper Gallery last week, and especially wonderful to work with the amazing team at the gallery and the dancers Jack Webb and Madira Gregurek.  It was my first experience collaborating with dancers in this way and though just a dipping of the toe in the water, it worked beautifully and I look forward to exploring this combination of forms again in future.

I hope you enjoy the text and recording, and additional details about the project, which you can find here.

Cooper Gallery DJCAD University of Dundee.

Photographer: Kathryn Rattray

Dance & Poetry // ALL SYSTEMS… go

Dance by Jack Webb and Madira Gregurek

Poetry by JL Williams

Performed in response to ALL SYSTEMS… go in Cooper Gallery including works by Liam Gillick & Anton Vidokle, Dominic Watson and Miranda Pennell.

 

 

Pathos of the Once Organic

I met Rob Packer some time ago at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and though soon after he moved all the way to Brazil (lucky man!), we have kept in touch and I’m always delighted to hear about his writing and experiences in his beautiful new homeland.  I was particularly touched recently to receive a link to this review… thank you so much, Rob, for being such a sensitive and responsive reader.  It means so much!

Read Rob’s blog here, and the full review below.

Pathos of the Once Organic: JL Williams’ “Locust and Marlin”

"Locust and Marlin" by JL Williams

Myths are our most basic stories. They attract us in, reach far back in time. For JL Williams, New-Jersey-born, but living in Edinburgh for over a decade, they are a key part of her work. Indeed, many of the poems in her first collection, Condition of Fire (2011) are drawn from that great history-of-the-world-through-myth that is Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Her second collection, Locust and Marlin (2014) is similar and different from her first book: it feels like a deepening, a development and a moving forward from that book.

Like Ovid, like Condition of FireLocust and Marlin is full of animals. Most obviously, this is in the title, and indeed on the cover. The marlin recurs in a poem about the poet’s father; the locust—and it’s worth remembering that the grasshopper metamorphoses into the locust, echoing her first book—in an epigraph from the Book of Revelation, in that same father-poem and in the strange apocalyptic sonnet, “Locust King”, which may, or may not, also be a love song. There are others, like the mysterious and striking heron that opens and closes the book. The first poem, “Heron”, in particular, is a seven-line tour-de-force that begins:

Imagine a great silence
whose wings touch no branches.

Imagine a space demarcated
by lack of sound.

The word “imagine” opens the book as a liminal space and from the start, it tries to do the impossible, to describe something beyond the powers of description. After all, silence is not physical, it cannot literally have wings; and space cannot be practicably demarcated by the absence of sound. But the metaphor works so well: this paradoxical description creates a ghost-like figure of the heron that is present, unobserved, undetectable, an object of meditation, in its liminal habitat between water, earth and sky. And like so much in the book, it hints at, does not directly describe, implies.

This in-between space, these things in flux is similar territory to Condition of Fire. There are poems of transformation, like “Flutter”, that begins “They broke upon her ribcage / to let out the birds.” But this isn’t a retreading of Ovid: there is a “they” behind the evident violence that occurs in a number of the poems—this calls to mind fables, stories of witches. And the same poem contains multiple, cyclical transformations.

Cycles are important throughout the collection. They are also geological in the recurring and overwhelming presence of stones and shells. Much of this is down to the influence of Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space. According to Williams herself in an interview for the Scottish Poetry Library podcast (where she is also one of the presenters), these stones and shells are forms of protection about the self; and the stone is memory, the shell is a metaphor for home and origin.

In “Body of Stone” the speaker describes “a stone liver, a stone stomach, a stone eye” that the lover transforms, but cannot change memory: “But sometimes when I wake in the night, / your back to my back, / I am stone”. Here and elsewhere, Williams finds an incredible pathos in inanimate objects like these:

The movement of the winds and the tide
affected me as emotions do
small children but I never cried.

Another poem, “Stone Song”, is a list that describes stones— “My embarrassed stone” or “My believing stone” or “My tender stone”—and that comes around halfway through the collection. By this point, the references to stone already carry an emotional charge and with its elegiac tone, makes for a very moving poem, as it enumerates all of the emotions or objects of a life, but presents them as immutable objects.

In “Spirals”, the speaker appears to be looking at the fossils of ammonites, imagining them alive, protected by their shells then turned to stone over time:

Life in each stone,
as bright as ours,
that much is known.

We laypeople know next to nothing about them, but we do know they were just as much alive as we are. As the poem is a villanelle, that rhyme scheme repeats the lines ending in “stone” and “known” throughout. This form can sometimes feel forced, but not here. Here it reinforces the words: the same thing will happen to us, there is no escape.

In a similar vein, “Water Phoenix” seems to be about sand and its origins in shells:

I’ve ground the bodies of the dead
and dropped them in the wavelets, watched
them live again.

This touch of seeing sand as the dead bodies that it is feels characteristic for a poet as sensitive to time as Williams is. In Condition of Fire especially, but here too, she often seems to inhabit a world before time, as if she is barely there—or at least not in human form. I have a strong suspicion it is the water speaking in the extract above. Unlike many poets who “limit” themselves to the present moment or the span of their lives, Williams seems very interested in deep time and its unimaginable length compared with the shortness of our lives. In “The Veil”, the speaker says “We have a small space of time in which to touch” and in the next stanza:

The gears spin and no matter how often
these planets align it is you who must accommodate
to love the sensation of sunrise
because it will not last forever, even in California
with the oranges dripping off the trees.

The talk of planets, the end of sunrise and the geologic time of other poems means that I can’t see that “small space of time” as anything other than the scale of our lives against more cosmic events.

But with this mention of California, this transatlantic poet is also very much in the room. Earlier in the poem, she writes “I never knew how beautiful my own country was”, as if this appreciation of place is new. This theme of home is made more intense by the images of shells in a poem like “Creation”, which opens like a fable by Calvino:

One dreamer thought a shell was made
by a creature turning somersaults, each turn
a room for the home.

The staircase spiralling upward
by the force of a leg.

I push against this wall.
An oyster spits and makes a shine.
I turn. What do I make?

If only happy somersaults and the force of a leg could build a home. The strangeness and the beauty of the first two stanzas then become sadness and dejection, when the speaker pushes against the wall and turns, while nothing happens, no home is built.

I want to close by mentioning form. Williams is not a particularly formal poet. She uses it sparingly, but knows when to. I’ve already mentioned how the villanelle form in “Spirals” reinforces the repetition of life across time. And in “Heron”, she uses a repeated rhythm on both lines of this couplet:

It flies very low to the water.
It stands very still when it lands.

Technically speaking, this is an iamb-anapaest-anapaest, but it goes beyond prosody. It’s not completely regular, so it feels more like an organic or natural rhythm. There’s something very quiet or whispered about the sounds as well. Perhaps these are the heron’s wings against the water or the breath of the observer. Either way, it is a striking, pitch-perfect beginning to a fascinating collection.

JL WilliamsLocust and Marlin, Shearsman Books (Bristol), 2014 (Buy it from Shearsman)

I also highly recommend the Scottish Poetry Library podcast, where JL Williams is one of the presenters.

Drag Queen Poetry: The Library is Open!

I was so honoured to host the recent Drag Queen Poetry event at the Scottish Poetry Library.  When I first heard Iain Morrison reading his new sequence of Drag Queen poems in 2015, I knew they needed to be heard by more people.  Iain’s brilliant friend, poet and artist Jean-François Krebs, came on board and American poet Andy Emitt agreed to join us via Skype, and the rest is history.  Read more about it here and here and here.  The audience made it very clear to us that they appreciated the aesthetically-astute and intellectually-rigorous engagement with the subject combined with the sheer pleasure of the experience; poetry, music, dancing, prancing and of course… costumes!

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(c) Chris Scott 2016

TRG3 and BAS8

It’s been, according to our calculations, about four years since the extraordinary artist Catherine Street and I began working together.  We’ve been exploring art, writing and performance and are delighted to have submitted one of the three proposals selected for this year’s TRG3 residencies at Talbot Rice Gallery.  We have also been invited to be writers-in-residence for the Edinburgh leg of the British Art Show 8 and had our first writing session in Talbot Rice yesterday, which was super fun.  We’ll have more details about what we are writing and where you can read it very soon.

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Dance & Poetry

Heading through for this soon… can’t wait!  I’ve been wanting to explore poetry and dance for ages.  Do come along if you’re near the Silvery Tay.

jlweyes

Cooper Gallery would like to invite you to join us for an evening of Dance & Poetry that will further explore the ideas and propositions presented in our current exhibition ALL SYSTEMS… go through experimental dance and performance poetry.

Dance & Poetry
Experimental Dance by Jack Webb & Madira Gregurek
Performance Poetry by JL Williams
Wednesday 17 February, 6.30 – 8.00pm 

Inserting the body, through physical and aural presence, into the mobile systems we operate within and around, Cooper Gallery presents an evening of experimental dance and performance poetry in response to ALL SYSTEMS… go. Drawing attention to the performativity of the body and speech, elements present within the three moving-image works in the exhibition, this event explores the fictionality of these systems and their institutional counter-parts.

Widely respected dancers Jack Webb and Madira Gregurek will present their new performance AN END, devised as a direct response and rebellion to the systems drawn attention to by the exhibition ALL SYSTEMS… go. Seeking to transcend the physical codes and languages expected of our bodies, Webb and Gregurek perform a reinvention of the politics of the body, its behaviour and movement.

Edinburgh based poet JL Williams will deliver a sequence of new poems in a live performance amongst the moving image art works and architecture of ALL SYSTEMS… go. Acting as a prelude and epilogue to the evening, Williams‘ new piece Opening Bracket / Closing Bracket: An Object Lesson in Levitation vocalises her reaction to the choreography of the exhibition and the Dance, into the event.

For more information on the event, please visit our event page:
www.dundee.ac.uk/djcad/exhibitions/events/dance-and-poetry

If you would like to attend the Dance & Poetry event please RSVP via eventbrite here.

*  *  *

A Drop of Dew

‘Ah, what is the life of a human being – a drop of dew, a flash of lightning? This is so sad, so sad.’

from In a Bamboo Grove by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, translated by Jay Rubin

I am on a plane travelling between Paris and Edinburgh, having stopped today at Charles De Gaulle on my way back from a meeting in Barcelona.

Looking out the window to my left, all I can see is white cloud, and it reminds me of the image from a dream that I woke with, so clear and beautiful that I tried to paint it permanently onto my mind’s canvas so I would have it with me always.

In the dream I was flying, or floating – moving through the air, perhaps with wings or with a sort of balloon attached to my back, and I looked over to see a line of white birds with long necks, so elegant, perched in a line on a cloud and with their heads tipped over the edge of the cloud, sipping water from the cloud’s underbelly. 

In the dream I wondered how the birds could perch on the cloud… did they have their wings open to keep them aloft? I can’t remember. But it made me so happy, to think of them sipping from the cloud.
Now, in the air myself, I can see a vertical rainbow where the sun is parting the white mist.

I was afraid when the plane left Barcelona on its way to Paris. I had just found out about the bombings, not having checked the news until leaving the hotel this morning and realising what I was heading toward. I thought the airports might be full of distress and police, but they were, if anything, subdued. People seemed to be almost holding their breath, and extra gentle with one another… making careful smiles and thoughtful gestures of politeness.  

Opening a magazine in the pocket of the seat in front of me, I turn from page to page and see women dressed in the skins of dead animals, leather, furs, and advertisements for diamonds, perfumes… and on the lap of the woman in the seat across the aisle, a newspaper filled with photos of dead bodies covered in white sheets. It all seems to ridiculous; the materialism, the violence. I think of all the animals who are sacrificed every day, whose bodies are flayed, whose skins are made into unnecessary decorations, whose muscles are carved up into chunks of meat, some eaten, most thrown away. I think of the meat of the animals and of the people lying on the street in Paris, and I feel like crying.

Is this what modern life is then? This mixture of guilt and sorrow?

The sun shines now out the window of the plane. Everything is bright and white, clean. I have a shopping bag at my feet, in it is a jacket I bought at the airport, a bottle of perfume, a box of chocolates. It was not until I was at the gate of my plane when I realised that the jacket had a little plastic box attached to it with a few downy feathers in it – it was a celebratory advertisement of the fact that the jacket was stuffed with down feathers. If I had realised I never would have bought it… as a vegan, I have been trying not only not to eat any animal products, but also not to buy any clothing or products made of animals. In fact, I have been trying to buy nearly all my clothing at second hand shops… but I gave into temptation when I saw the shop in the airport with so many nice clothes at such good prices. I almost burst into tears when I saw those downy feathers, and thought of the birds in cages in some factory, their down being pulled from under their wings. Their pain. I did not return the jacket – did I have time? I might have had time to do that.

I tell myself that I am not perfect, that I am trying to be a good person. I wonder if I can give some money to charity. I wonder how I can help. I wonder if I can stop buying everything, anything. I wonder how we all keep going, when everything seems so confused. I think about all the people in Paris, in the world, of the parents of the victims, of the parents of the suicide bombers, how frightened and sad they must be.  
I think about two exhibitions I saw at the CCCB in Barcelona – one showing photojournalism from some of the world’s most heart-rending disasters; bomb attacks, ebola, refugees, prostitution, animal cruelty… and one exploring the relationship between humans and technology; robots who can rock baby cradles, cyborgs, hand-pollinators for when the bees are gone and genetic adaptations to human infants. It all made me feel embarrassed to be human, to be part of a species so selfish and so defined by cruelty. Innovative, unnecessary cruelty.  

And yet all around me, kindness, beautiful individuals, a woman with a head scarf on next to her husband… both elderly, the woman praying under her breath. Light, my ability to perceive and the sensuality of sounds, colour, smells. A smiling air hostess, a child whose cry ceases.  
I look out of the window and the sun over the wing of the plane shines, everything is white and light, and I think of the birds in my dream, of their beaks disappearing into the white, wet belly of the cloud.  
  

A night wind rises.

In darkness, one shifting leaf

touches another.



JL Williams

In the Air over Paris

14 November 2015

  

Poetry Poetry Poetry… and Aldeburgh!

What a busy time it has been lately!  We had the grand reopening of the Scottish Poetry Library last week, and it is so nice to be back together in our beautiful new building.  It has been especially fabulous to run some workshop sessions in our new dedicated workshop room, The Space.  I also love my sleek new Eiger standing desk, which not only looks amazing but also makes standing to work all day a pleasure.  I had the pleasure of playing a gig with my partner, James Iremonger, in our poetry and music band OPUL… we were on the bill with the band Let Spin at the Voodoo Rooms and a marvellous night was had by all.  Hopefully there will be some footage of that to share soon.  

Now I am on the first leg of an exciting journey which will take me to Aldeburgh for the 2015 Aldeburgh Poetry Festival, where I am the official Festival Blogger.  You can read all the blogs here and buy tickets, if you are able to make it along to any of the many fabulous events in this year’s programme, here.

Then I will be travelling to Norwich to read at a Cafe Writers event, and then down to London for a sniff round some of my favourite perfume shops, and a visit with my friend – the amazing compser I worked with on the Jerwood Opera Writing Programme, Sam Fernando – and finally to Barcelona for a meeting about international poetry exchanges.  Phew!  I am aiming to enjoy every minute of it.

I have a selection of poetry books to read on the train, plus John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, which I have been meaning to read (re-read?) for ages and the latest edition of Vogue… a little indulgence for the trip.  I have come to see fashion magazines as mostly part of a vehicle of commercialism that ultimately does nothing but damage to the environment, our society and our economy, however I do love looking at the pictures!  Naughty Jennifer.  

  

Two Minute Manifesto

There’s a delicious collection of minds and hearts – David Greig (new Artistic Director of the Lyceum Theatre!), Zinnie Harris, Tiffany Jenkins, Dominic Hinde and Chrissy Barnacle – all on stage at the Traverse tomorrow night for the newest instalment of Two Minute Manifesto – and me doing a poem or two.  Do join us!

  

The Gap and The Bridge

And on the subject of recent publications, here is a link to an article I wrote for The Bottle Imp about The Unconveyable in poetry.  Also you can find out more about StAnza’s collaboration with the Bridging the Continental Divide project for the translation of neo-Latin Scottish poetry, in which Scottish poets were commissioned to produce their own versions of poems from David McOmish’s translations into English, here and a chapbook is due out soon.  
  

The Compass

So delighted to have a couple of poems in the beautiful new online journal The Compass.  Have a look here, and be sure to check out the rest of what they’ve been up to – it’s a wealth of poetry.
    

Poetry Flashmob in Göttingen and other delights…

It’s been a busy few months!  Check out the links for some text, reviews and recordings.  
 Recording of Our Real Red Selves book launch at Golden Hare Bookshop here

The Process of Being piece that Catherine Street and I performed at the Cooper Gallery in Dundee, here

Review of the Hidden Door 2015 Unforeseen event Catherine Street and I were involved in, here

Video from Neu Reekie at the Fruitmarket Gallery in celebration of artist Jim Lambie, here


Me reading in a women’s loo in the University Library in Göttingen as part of the Poetry Flashmob event!  First time for everything…