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!

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.

 

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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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.

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

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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

 

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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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/

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.

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…

   

Our Real Red Selves

Thanks to Stewart Ennis of Vagabond Voices for recording and editing this interview in preparation for the launch of Our Real Red Selves (available to pre-order here: Our Real Red Selves).  The book will be launching on 4 June at the CCA in Glasgow (CCA launch details here) and in Edinburgh in early July (details coming soon).

Aye Write! 2015

It’s really a pleasure to be reading at two events at Aye Write! this year. The first will be on 18 April at 6pm.  It’s the pre-launch for ‘Triptych: Our Real Red Selves’ out with Vagabond Voices, with myself, Harry Giles and Marion McCready. This new series is inspired by the beautiful Penguin Modern Poets books that were published in the late 1960s and 70s, and this first Triptych will feature my war poems collection ‘The History of Fire’, Harry’s ‘Drone’ poems and Marion’s poems about childbirth – plenty of passion and hope, fire and blood, humour and wonderment!

Details here.

The second will be the Best Scottish Poems 2014 launch, a free event on the evening of 19 April featuring Claire Askew, Richie McCaffery, Chris Powici, myself and more.

Details here.

Hope to see you at either or both!

Image by Jen Hadfield

Image by Jen Hadfield.

Until Only the Mountain Remains: Christopher Orr

I was very happy to be included in this collection of poetry and stories written in response to the beautiful work of Christopher Orr in The Beguiled Eye (15 November 2014 – 14 February 2015), an exhibition at the Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh.  Do catch it if you can, it’s really worth seeing in person.  You might like to have a read of the work here: Only the Mountain.

Until Only the Mountain Remains, 2010, Christopher Orr
Until Only the Mountain Remains, 2010, Christopher Orr

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SYMPOETRY on film

I feel so happy when I watch this film by Wee Dog Media documenting our SYMPOETRY: SPL Poetry Symposium last November.  Hope you enjoy it too!

Burns and Feminism

I had the pleasure of attending the Med-Chi Burns Supper on Friday.  I was there to deliver a ‘Reply to the Toast to the Lassies’ that I hope would make my Wellesley College compatriots proud.

The Tools of the Trade anthology is mentioned; I couldn’t resist as I was speaking to a room full of doctors!

Here is the recording, if you’d like a listen:

Poems and Paintings on Lindisfarne

It has been wonderful working with the very talented artist Rose Strang on these collaborations.  Her paintings are so full of light and mystery, it’s a delight to respond to them poetically.  I recorded the poems and she then made these lovely films.  You can see more of Rose’s work, and find out how to purchase her gorgeous paintings, here.  Hope you enjoy!

Outstanding Women

It is a great honour (and surprise!) to have been added to the Saltire Society’s Most Outstanding Woman of Scotland nomination list, which includes Mary Queen of Scots! You can see the list and learn more about each woman by clicking on their name here.

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Mirrorball at the CCA

So pleased to be reading alongside two fabulous poets next week at the CCA in Glasgow.  Do join us if you’re free.

Mirrorball

Date Thursday 30th October 2014 – 7:00pm
CCA Clubroom, 350 Sauciehall Street

£5 on the door, SMM members free,
All ages

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Paul Farley was born in Liverpool in 1965 and studied at the Chelsea School of Art. He has published four books with Picador: The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You (which was awarded the Somerset Maugham Award and a Forward Prize in 1998); The Ice Age (winner of the 2002 Whitbread Poetry Prize, and a Poetry Book Society Choice); and Tramp in Flames, which was short-listed for the International Griffin Poetry Prize in 2007 and the T.S. Eliot Prize. In 2009 he received the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters and a Travelling Scholarship from the Society of Authors. As a broadcaster he has written and presented many arts, feature and documentary programmes for BBC radio and television, including Radio 4’s The Echo Chamber. His most recent collection is The Dark Film, which was a Poetry Book Society Choice in 2012, and in 2013 he was awarded a Cholmondeley Prize. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and his Selected Poems appeared in 2014.

Brian Johnstone is a poet whose work has appeared throughout Scotland, in the UK, America and internationally. He has published six collections, most recently The Book of Belongings (2009) and Dry Stone Work (2014), both Arc Publications. His poems have been translated into over ten languages; in 2009 Terra Incognita, a chapbook in Italian translation, was published by L’Officina (Vicenza). In 2014 his work will appear on The Poetry Archive website. A founder and former Director of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, he has appeared at numerous international poetry festivals, from Macedonia to Nicaragua, and venues across the UK.

JL Williams was born in New Jersey and studied at Wellesley College and on the MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. In September 2009 she journeyed to the Aeolian Isles to write a collection inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Condition of Fire (Shearsman Books, 2011). Her second collection, Locust and Marlin (Shearsman, 2014), explores the idea of home and where we come from and has just been nominated for 2014 Saltire Society Poetry Book of the Year Award. JL Williams performs in the band Opul and is Programme Manager at the Scottish Poetry Library.

A Poet in the Garden

At the Scottish Poetry Library we’ve been experimenting with the possibility of making short film interviews with poets. Hopefully this is the first of many. Interview and film by Julie Johnstone, in the beautiful Dunbar Close Garden across the street from the SPL. A Scottish Poetry Library Light Rhymes Production 2014.

The Wisdom of Stone

Just came across this recording done for the Edinburgh City of Literature ‘enlighten‘ project a couple years ago… funny to realise that I was writing about the life of stones even then (inspired in this case by James Hutton) and then went on to write more on this subject in Locust and Marlin, thanks to Gaston Bachelard. Have a listen here.

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Be The First To Like This

An anthology of New Scottish Poetry — Be The First To Like This — is launching this Thursday, 25 September, at the Scottish Poetry Library.  All anthologists are saddled with the difficult task of making a selection from what is usually a wealth of creativity and talent, however what has delighted me about what I’ve seen of this anthology is that rather than making a tiny selection and big claims about who will be famous in the future, it is doing its best to represent a cross-section of the exciting poetic work going on in Scotland today.  I hope that it will have the effect of getting people interested in the entirety of the rich and eclectic range of poetry being produced in Scotland today.

You can read more about it in the lovely article that came out in this Sunday’s Herald here.

You can learn more about Be The First To Like This and order your copy here.

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Hix Eros (is beautiful)

Hix Eros is a marvellous publication, much welcomed and recommended.  I believe that a healthy creative culture must go hand in hand with a healthy constructively critical culture, and publications such as Hix Eros are making this a reality.  Also, Issue #5, I’m honoured to say, has a totally gorgeous review of Locust and Marlin in it by the very talented and thoughtful Greg Thomas.  Do download it (and all the Hix Eri) and have a read.  You should be able to find links to all the issues here.

Hix

A Little Light: Can Poetry Make A Difference?

A Little Light: Can Poetry Make A Difference?

I’ve been so disheartened lately… every time I look at the news I read a list of apocalyptic catastrophes.  It’s hard, in the midst of all these reports of wars, murders, violence, disease, hunger and sorrow to feel that it’s okay to go through one’s day as if everything is fine.  Yet it’s also very hard to know what one can do to make a real difference.

I am a big believer in non-violent action, but even knowing how to make protest effective and positive can be difficult.  I remember hearing the poet Séamas Cain speak in Edinburgh years ago, and he described a protest in America where an entire square had filled with protesters, signs, shouts — all to protest against a particular government building/department — which, it turned out, was closed that day!  He used this example to talk about the huge amount of well-meaning energy that can be wasted in ineffective protest.  And even though protest can be a fantastic way to bring attention to an issue, it can cause its own problems when it stimulates even more bad feeling and extremism rather than actually helping anyone or sorting anything out.  As heart-broken as I have been about what has been going on in Palestine and Israel lately, and as desperate as I have been to try to do something to help, I have also been saddened by seeing aggression on all sides.  There is a particularly unsettling brand of aggression that I’ve noticed (on top of the general explosion of violence), that is generated not directly by war-mongers but by people longing for peace and justice who are, in their anger and desperation, pointing fingers, banning and making accusations, often in ways that seem to add to rather than solve problems.

This morning James, my partner, and I were talking about the terrible murder of James Foley and the flurry of debate it has stimulated around Twitter and social media, and over free speech versus censorship.  It made me think again of Cain’s words, and of something that I have believed in for a long time but realised I probably haven’t written about before, or not for a while — and that maybe this is the time to do so.

I’m not really one for looking at the world through a lens of good and evil.  It seems reductive.  My own experience has shown me that most people I know, myself included, are capable of a vast array of behaviours under the wide range of stresses applied to us in response to our actions in the world.  Arguing that some people (countries, religious, ways of thinking) are bad/wrong/evil and that some are the opposite sets up barriers and engenders untruths.  I’d much rather think that we all have good in us, the potential for good actions and the desire, ultimately, to be happy and find some sort of peace.  In fact, I think that seeking out — in ourselves and in the people and world around us — peace, peacefulness, is one of the most effective ways to change the world.

Some might say that writing poetry, reading poetry, speaking poetry… is a waste of time, a dalliance — certainly in the face of real hunger, violence, poverty and war.  Holding any sort of art-making up against someone who is working on the front lines to bring people food, medicine and shelter is to compare two very different types of activity, and I am grateful every day for those in war-torn countries, in any country, in any government and society who are giving of their life and time on this earth to help others in such tangible, and often physically risky, ways.

However, I believe that making art, writing and creating is very much not a waste.  I think it can help both the maker and the audience (viewer, listener, reader) enjoy, think, stop.  And that stopping, even for a moment — stopping the rush and tumble and flux of life, is invaluable, and is a worthwhile protest.  And much like meditation and mindfulness, can change not only the world but — as science is proving — the actual body and mind.

I had the opportunity to work at the recent 2nd Edinburgh International Culture Summit at the Scottish Parliament — and one extraordinary artist there — Ea Sola — asked just that, so simple and so powerful — what happens if we stop?

Art, of course, can also anger and enrage — but I’d like to think that it’s the sort of anger that is grounded in the artist’s attempt to challenge the perceiver of the work, to stimulate them, to shake them from their normal way of being or point of view, and that if the perceiver can find a way to explore their response they can achieve valuable realisations.

I know many wonderful people make regular, thought-provoking posts on social media, and I decided this morning that I will try to post a tweet every day that is a line from a poem — something that is exquisite, that makes me think, that shines a little light on an aspect of experience.  I’ll use #alittlelight, and I invite you to join me in spreading some moments beauty and stillness over the internet and into the world.  Post a line when you think of it, when one strikes you as magnificent or every day, and add #alittle light.  You might even like to write your own poem or line of poetry to share.

My first Peace Tweet will be a quote from Ezra Pound’s Canto CXVI… “a little light, like a rushlight / to lead back to splendour”.  Pound himself is an example of a poet whose personal politics were more than a little questionable, but whose work is undeniably — in my humble opinion at least — shining.  I can’t accept Pound’s personal politics, but I can’t dismiss the fact that there must have been beauty in him, as I believe there is in all people.

PS… You might like to have a look at this interesting post which I just came across on The Pangrammaticon, also thinking about Pound, editing, philosophy and stopping or standing still.

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Tricolour and Auld Enemies

Some other wonderful nights coming up that I’ll be reading at with fabulous poets in July…

7 July Tricolour: The monthly night at National Library of Scotland showcasing three different poetry and spoken word talents. Three different voices, three different styles, three different takes on life.  This month we are joined by J A Sutherland, JL Williams, and Carly Brown.

and

Auld Enemies: ​​7 locales : over 40 poets : a national tour of Scotland & brand new innovative poetic collaborations : a Scottish Enemies project

10 July Auld Enemies Glasgow, McChuills

Ross Sutherland & Ryan Van Winkle / Billy Letford & Colin Herd / nick-e melville & SJ Fowler
plus ​Thomas Betteridge & Neil Davidson / Elspeth Murray & JL Williams
​Katy Hastie / Antony Autumn & Calum Rodger / Iyad Hayatleh, Graeme Smith & more

 

11 July Auld Enemies Edinburgh, Summerhall

Colin Herd & Iain Morrison / Billy Letford & Ryan Van Winkle / SJ Fowler & Ross Sutherland
​nick-e melville & Jane Goldman / Dave Coates & Rachel McCrum / JL Williams & Elspeth Murray / Luke Allan & Graeme Smith / Karen Veitch & Mike Saunders / Ed Smith & Thomas MacColl / Rob McKenzie & more

 

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The Pipe Factory

I’m super excited to be taking part in the ?! Festival at The Pipe Factory in Glasgow this weekend.  I’ll be performing at 2.30pm on Sunday, but there is plenty to experience throughout the weekend including spoken and written word, screenings and BBQ.  Sweet!  Find out more here and here.

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The Written Image on Summerhall TV

An interview from a while back about our SPL and Edinburgh Printmakers collaboration project The Written Image.

Jennifer Williams : The Written Image from arts-news on Vimeo.

 

 

 

 

Click Clack Club 22 May 2014

I’m super excited about being part of the Click Clack Club on 22 May, with the amazing MacGillivray.  Hope to see you there!

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