#ACES 16/17 Part 1 – Poetry Moves: Knowing the Dance #lettersfromladyn

Though I lack the art to decipher it, / no doubt the next chapter / in my book of transformations / is already written. / I am not done with my changes.

from The Layers by Stanley Kunitz

KTDACESREPORTmontageIn late spring 2016, I began to put together a proposal that would allow me to explore dance/moving elements within poetry generally, and my poetry particularly. The inspiration to do this work came from my own noticing that motion, movement and momentum were naturally occuring parts of my own work and I wanted to take this further.

I was also very interested in the work of choreographer/contemporary jewellery designer (among other things) Sarah Warsop and how she created connections between artforms through creating a middle-place – and how this might be used to isolate movement within my work in order to understand what was and was not working in that respect. A workshop with two lovely dancers early in 2016, also made me question how poetry and dance could creatively come together.

The ‘Knowing the Dance’ proposal was accepted for funding and the year-long project began in October 2016. I very recently supported the final report of the project and last week, saw the second performance of a dance~poem sequence created as part of the project. I begin this week looking back over the year’s programme of creative exploration, with a wish to report back on all that’s happened as a springboard to what comes next.

Looking Back to Go Forward

This the first a series of posts about all that’s happened (hopefully in reasonably quick succession – links to follow as I create the posts).

Part 1. Poetry Moves: Knowing the Dance

Part 2. The Body has its Reasons: Knowing from the Inside

Part 3. The Middle Place: Knowing the Ropes

Acknowledgements and Appreciation

First, however I wanted to say a word of thanks to a mighty crowd of people for being part of my year of accelerated ‘Artist Career Enhancement’.

  • Heartfelt thanks to Damian Smyth for accepting this proposal and being, as always, an excellent sounding board for it. Many thanks to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for supporting the project through National Lottery ACES funding. The amount that has been accomplished would not have been possible without it.
  • Much appreciation to Sarah Warsop – who despite not knowing me, not having worked with poetry before – responded to my mad request for a masterclass which would involve, among other things, pulling a piece of a poem apart..extracting the breathing, feeling, moving parts..and then putting it back together again.  The masterclass has had a profound effect on the way I create, inhabit and edit my work.
  • Big thanks to dancer/researcher Paula Guzzanti who I knew through other circumstances. It seemed slightly miraculous that the one dancer that I knew in the general vicinity would be interested and already have a background in movement/text work.  We have worked closely through the year, from the dancer-to-poet early composition/choreography experiments, and then the performance creation which expanded to include music by Martin Devek.
  • Love and appreciation to all the team at Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick. A particular word of thanks to Donna Rogan – who I approached at a time when staff resources were low – who said yes without turning a hair to my request for creative space for the dance/poetry meet-ups, extended masterclass, and performance rehearsals as they happened throughout the year. Janine, Denise, James, Marie, Ciara, Greg and all at Down Arts Centre for programming and supporting the premier performance of the dance~poem sequence on the 9 of September and supporting Sarah Warsop to come back to facilitate an open workshop using some of the masterclass techniques.
  • A special word of thanks to artist and composer, Martin Devek – and longterm collaborator with Paula (in life as well as art) who came on board a bit later in the day. As the original idea had been a very stripped down, see-the-joins, silent kind of performance, music hadn’t been factored in. As plans changed, however, and much gratitude is due for his generous, enthusiastic in-kind support.
  • Acknowledgement is due to HU for publishing three of the poem elements of the dance~poem sequence
  • Acknowledgement is due to Lagan Online’s 12NOW initiative organiser Colin Dardis and his lovely wife (the wedding of the year) Geraldine Dardis O’Kane for promoting my work through the year and this project throughout and for accepting two new poems created as part of the Knowing the Dance poetry collection for a 12NOW showcase
  • Acknowledgement is due to Abridged for accepting ‘Stranger than Fiction’ also from the new collection.
  • In connection with the dance~poem performance, I would like to record my thanks to Federica Banfi for accepting the proposal to host an in-creation sharing as part of the anthropology conference in June, Dance House for a residency and a sharing platform. Brian Friel Theatre and all the team there who worked with us, QUB DEL scholarship, which though applicable through the PhD research Paula has been doing in the realm of affect and dance improvisation, allowed us space to create and showcase this work. A special word of thanks to Rodrigo for being bollard-maker, sound engineer, camera man and much more through all the performances. He has loitered long in the Middle Place – and all credit is due.
  • In the wider scheme of the proposal, thanks are due to Templar Poetry for publishing and organising the launches in London and Belfast of ‘Night Divers’ in April and June 2017, respectively.  Thanks also to Shirley and all at Castle Ward for supporting Words for Castle Wards’ three-book launch – including Night Divers.
  • Wider thanks is also due to the NI Screen Digital Archive, the Poetry Jukebox belles – Maria McManus and Deirdre Cartmill, the entire Woman Aloud Network. My own networks here in East Down through Words for Castle Ward and Poems on a Sunday Afternoon, and the Ol’ Daffs for feedback on some of the emerging work.
  • Thanks also to Emma Whitehead and Stephen McClean for their support but also for creating a visual representation of the moving parts in poetry (‘Live in the Layers’ as below).
  • Finally, to my family and friends of the non-writing (or even dancing) world for engaging with the madness of the year and their support of all natures.

It’s been a cast of thousands and there is always the possibility that you’ll have left out someone prominent in a big list – but thankfully websites have a good edit function. I suspect, I’ll be back with additions.

Live in the Layers

Yet I turn, I turn, / exulting somewhat, / with my will intact to go / wherever I need to go, / and every stone on the road / precious to me.  from The Layers by Stanley Kunitz


Letters carved from bandsaws and suspended on silk thread, 3d, black frame with a white background. This piece created by Stephen McClean and Emma Whitehead is a representation of all the different elements – with an emphsis on the moving parts – that come together in make-up poetry. Weigh, depth, shape, texture, materialness, unevenness, shadows, white space, movement and limits, sound as the letters and words touch off each other, the interplay with breeze and breath, suspension, representation, meaning, artistry, lexicon, reference.

It was created for the Top Floor Art ‘Layers’ exhibition for August Craft Month 2017.   I love it – it is on the wall opposite me as I type – and it sings to me as I move past it.

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