My week of worlds, writing and wavy realities began with live music at the Ropewalk with my folks. We saw Iain Matthews (original member Fairport Convention) playing something of a hometown show, warmly appreciated by the Saturday night crowd.
Sunday saw me in Beverley at the start of the Stage 4 Beverley week-long arts festival, workshopping with fellow writers on the themes of happiness, dialect and place, with Clint Wastling and Julian Woodford (High Wolds Poetry) The event was held in the Velo cafe bar on a very wet and windy afternoon. The ‘reward’ for doing the workshop was a taste of the limelight, with a moment or two on the East Riding Theatre stage, in front of a live audience of fellow writers, family and friends later that week.
Wednesday I read three poems from Foxholes, the svelte volume, I hope will be published this year. I opened with ‘Canopy Cradle’ (Lost and Found) adding a touch of theatre to my reading, enjoying immensely the feeling of being back on the ERT stage: the place where my Leonora Carrington show ran for three nights in the before times.
Lucky us we grabbed the last tickets in the house for the main event that night, namely a visit from the poet laureate Simon Armitage. How would I describe him? Northern, very northern. Also he gave good value reading a whole punch of poems, long ones, short ones, found ones; ones that pulled on the heart strings; ones translated from The Odyssey, proving his scholarly credentials to the great and the good of the Beverley literary set.
My favourite and the one I told my hairdresser about the next day, as she shaped my hair into the perfect bob, was the one that began, ‘He splashed down in rough seas off Spurn Point’ ‘The English Astronaut’ plays with nostalgia and pays homage to the slightly less glamorous, and sometimes slightly less successful British space programme. Have a listen on Poetry Archive.
Sat in the row just in front of us, was a Beverley-based musician called Tom and we got talking as you do waiting for the show. It turned out he’d seen my Leonora show four years ago: I mourn the time lost due to the pandemic, so much impetus lost. Not only had he been in the audience, but the potted history in imagery and verse, had inspired him to go and discover the lost surrealist’s work for himself. He described how Leonora became one of his favourite artists in those intervening years, so much so that he now has two of Leonora’s prints hanging proudly in his home. I was delighted by this brilliant revelation: something I had created, something I had dreamed up, had inspired someone so.
You find me at Humber Street Gallery to see how dancers Emily Gray and Tamar Draper, respond to the exhibition ‘Show Real’ by visual artist Kara Chin. Gallery One is filled with the strangest contraptions, torso-less legs flex and pulse, a deconstructed sandwich drips with grease, an innocent looking coffee table with glasses laid out on it, rigged to move and shake in a poltergeist kind of way; a coffee cup with perpetual steam; a suspended apple, an unappetising plate of grey food, and a gloriously anarchic revolving Wotsits chandelier. My friend Matt Sutton who took the picture below, described how he had seen the way facsimile is used in food advertising, how drinks glasses are sprayed with some kind of gel, to give the appearance of continuous cool moisture, but how it makes the soda taste awful for the sun-kissed, bright-eyed, unreal looking actor.
Emily and Tamar staged a series of interventions in and amongst the paraphernalia incorporating different choreographic languages, that spoke to me about the erasure of self, moving towards a startling and unnerving robotic climax. The limb control and machine-like movement was faultless, the accompanying soundscape of droning gears and motors added to the cyborg illusion.
Upstairs bathed in cerise and orange light Jamal Sterret, blew us away with an outstanding performance, defying human physiognomy, contorting his body, sliding across the space in jaw-dropping ways to hip-hop and ragga beats. I’d done my research, checked out some of the Nottingham-based movement artist’s work online and discovered his dance style was ‘Bruk Up and Flex’. It comes from dancer George Adams, who in the 1990s brought a kind of freestyle movement from the Jamaican dance halls, to the hip-hop clubs of Brooklyn. ‘Bruk’ is a patois word meaning broken. (Enough of the history lesson) I’ll try to describe more of what I saw from Jamal… athletic, gymnastic, ridiculous levels of control, a powerful energy sustained throughout, transitioning from floor to standing to floor again like pouring syrup.
Tonight battling storm Eunice and my nerves, I’m back at the gallery on Humber Street for the script-in-hand performances of new work from last year’s writers’ group lead by playwright Tom Wells and Middle Child Theatre. Eight short pieces written by a range of people new to play writing, performed by a cast of professional actors and directed by Middle Child’s Paul Smith.
I had the piece ‘Tanya and Lisa B’ listed third in the night’s programme, and it suddenly hit me as I walked in the gallery door exactly what it was we were here for. I’ve done many a reading as you will know, standing up and sharing my words with an audience is almost like second nature. Handing over your work, having someone else read it, that’s a whole new ball of wax. It was a first for me, and for many of the other writers. I was simultaneously nervous, anxious, and excited.
Everyone shone: the actors, the writers and, considering the tempest outside, we managed a pretty good turnout. The writing standard was high across the board, many had pretty hard-hitting content warnings and dealt with adult themes, however the actors were still able to extract the humour and humanity out of some of the most bleakest of set ups.
I was hanging on every word, leaning forward utterly absorbed in Jess Morley and Georgia Ham’s performances, during my scene. ‘Tanya and Lisa B’ takes place in an NHS drop-in centre waiting room. There is a surprise meeting between two former friends, who haven’t seen each other since they were in the hostel system together a decade or more before. They find themselves reminiscing about their lives then and now and the contrasting paths they seem to have taken.
I knew what was coming, I’d written it. At the same time I simply had no idea what was coming, it was like experiencing it for the first time, in a parallel universe or something. The way the two actors had built on the dialogue, adding a look; a certain gesture, something in the way a line was delivered; was thrilling to me. The laughs, the pauses, the lines that suggested that more was going on underneath, all were handled brilliantly which meant Tanya and Lisa B felt believable, and their story was really brought to life.
I was on cloud nine. It’s the strangest feeling. I can’t really describe it. It’s not like the adrenaline high after a good performance of your own, no it is not that, it is something else. A writer friend of mine described it as ‘immediate validation for your talent’, that’s certainly one way of describing it. The comments and feedback I received from the actors and the audience afterwards, made my cheeks glow cherry red. Last night was glorious, so huge thank you to Tom Wells and Middle Child for continuing to support new writing.
Finally, in what is a leviathan blog post admittedly, I am just about to go out to 87 Gallery (formerly Artlink) to see how dance company Tamar & Jo respond to the installation work currently housed in the newly-renovated Princes Avenue gallery. Worlds Apart by Aristotle Roufanis is a digital work with lots of head scratching tech behind it, a work that takes place in the real world and in a fabricated world, creating an arresting comment on isolation and loneliness. Aristotle confronts how the negativity manifests and proliferates in the online world, how we feed it with endless screen time; and the ultimately destructive way, we have allowed the ‘technology of the unreal’, to infiltrate every aspect of our lives. It’s not easy to describe the work, it has so many layers and tentacles asking questions about what is real and what is construct.
All week I have found myself in this liminal space, between reality and non-reality… and after many months of lockdowns and restrictions, all this activity, all this going out and doing and seeing, none of it seems real at all. I catch myself making strange social faux pas, as I try to retrain my brain, to remember what used to be instinctive behaviours.
Look out for more from Worlds Apart one of the more unusual and innovative visual works to come to Hull in the last five years. I have this week joined an artistic programme called Streams (led by Critical Fish in partnership with 87 Gallery) which met on Tuesday evening. It is a short course designed to explore how we can build knowledge, to hone and develop, through mentoring and support, the faculties and creative skills needed to critically respond to artwork. We are very fortunate to have Aristotle’s multi-dimensional work as a starting point.
Next week the diary is a whole lot lighter.