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.