Hail of Bright Stones

A couple of performances coming up, please come along if you are free!

Images & Words: A Double Bill, Manipulate Festival, Saturday 9th February, Traverse Theatre, 6pm
You’ll get to hear Hail of Bright Stones, the new version of James’ and my poetry and music band, Opul, and see some amazing footage by the scientist and film pioneer Eric Lucey.
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100th Click Clack! Thursday 28th February, Henry’s Cellar Bar, 7.30pm Hail of Bright Stones again, perhaps experimenting with a little noisy improv… come help us celebrate one of Edinburgh’s great underground music + nights.

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.

 

 

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

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.

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/