2019 Part 2

I am writing!

Seeing the 2018 successes of poets I have met including Vahni Capildeo, Richard Scott and Sophie Collins, both published by Faber this past year, Lila Matsumoto whose Urn & Drum came out with Shearsman, Iain Morrison’s I’m a Pretty Circler and Samantha Walton’s Self Heal, Alice Tarbuck’s Grid from Sad Press, Annie Rutherford’s translation of Nora Gomringer’s Hydra’s Heads, and so many more, all inspire and delight and reassure that poetry is very much a living, breathing, thumping beast coming over and over and over the horizon with each new day.

It has been very gorgeous to continue to write and perform with 12, a collective of women writers, from which I gain endless encouragement, inspiration and support.

I loved going to the Evenings of Ratkovic Festival in Montenegro where I met many amazing poets including the Peru-born, Barcelona-based Nilton Santiago who has managed not only to translate a number of my poems but even to get them published in the stunning Vallejo & Co. journal already – a very special Christmas gift!

It was also a dream come true to have a poem I had worked on bringing into English with the Hungarian poet Ferenc L. Hyross published in Modern Poetry in Translation (read it here) and to be part of a beautiful flash collection called Women on the Road, published by Fruitmarket Gallery.

It meant a lot to me to get my poem ‘The Beautiful’ published in The Interpreter’s House, both because that journal is looking so fabulous in its new online embodiment but also because it speaks to my feelings about how sad I have been looking across the water at my country these days, how we have to hang on to our mothers – whoever and whatever they may be, and our beliefs and our creativity, however bad it gets.

I was very honoured to be included with such fine poets in Julie Johnstone’s Breath box. I admire Julie and her work with Essence Press so much, and it was a dream come true to embark on this collaboration and to see it come to life at StAnza 2018. It was also a joy there to meet and be interviewed by the Suzannah V. Evans – brilliant writer herself, who put together this podcast as a result of our conversation.

I have been privileged to run a number of workshops this year, from one in collaboration with MUSA at StAnza, to a workshop at Cooper Gallery in Dundee – a poetry workhsop with no paper and no pens!, as well as a new series of Open Book reading and writing workshops at the Fruitmarket Gallery. I learn so much from working with other writers in this way. Beginning my mentoring work with this year’s brilliant Clydebuilt poets has also been a major highlight, and will continue into 2019 with more exchanges of poetic thought, challenge and wonder.

Sometimes when the day job is stressful it can feel as if I am not working hard enough on my writing, but going over this list it seems that 2018 was filled with new ideas and new words coming together in ways that open to light and life. That’s a good thought. Here’s to less plastic and more goodness for everyone in 2019!

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.

writers at StAnza writing workshop
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.

cherry tree in blossom
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.

RB&JL

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.