#ACES 16/17 Part 3 – The Middle Place: Knowing the Ropes

“We dance round in a ring and suppose, / But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.” The Secret Sits by Robert Frost.

Creating Dance~Poems

On the 22nd of December 2016, dance artist/researcher Paula Guzzanti and I began work exploring the middle place between poetry and dance, to create a collaborative piece as part of the wider ‘Knowing the Dance’ project. This was the actual interface between the two artforms*. We had a number of additional guiding principles we worked tKTDACESREPORTmontageo:

  • that the collaboration was founded on the principle of parity of esteem between the two artforms – so this wasn’t a situation where one would be the interpreter or responder of the other’s art. The creative process would happen in an equal manner with no leader or follower;
  • that the collaboration would showcase the best quality work relevant to the practice of both artists – ie that I as a ‘page’ poet would create work that was publishable in that realm and Paula would work to an innovative model of dance/performance improvisation as is her current practice. In reality, we all (the music came a little later) made artistically-led concessions for a coherent final performance but we stayed true to this as much as was usefully possible.
  • that, though this was always going to be an exploration of a new process, the emphasis would be on artistic expression and the creation of artwork.

*The Music of the Middle Place

Those who know about, or have seen, the performance know that this is, in fact, a three-hander.  Martin Devek – Paula’s long time collaborator and husband – entered the middle place as music composer c.May/June 2017, here with a strong innovative improvisation practice aligned to Paula’s, as we moved to create the performance. I need to, as I work through what is a very long piece, make that point that I am coming from a stance of exploring dance/movement/poetry interface, and the original generative work (Dec 16-Apr 17) as part of the overall ‘Knowing the Dance’ project reflects this – in that it was dance improvisation/poetry only. When creating the project proposal, I had originally imagined any performance to be in the style of ‘pecha kucha’ type session where we could be very experimental  – here stripped back to the inter-arform seams and without music. But as the ideas took shape and grew so did our ambitions for what the presentation of the process might be like. It was a very great fortune to have Martin join us at this stage. And the creative team – in the manner of all that happened in the middle place – was three. A special word of credit is due to Martin for creating the opening short film of the performance which showcases the process and conversations that carried it from early composition to full performance.

Showcasing the Work

I am happy to report – with no small thanks due to my collaborating artists Paula and Martin that we have had four iterations of the three dance~poem sequence.

  • 6 June 2017: Evolving Fields: Sensoriality, Imagination and Memory in the Humanities (in-progress performance with accompanying workshop), QUB, Belfast
  • 12 August 2017: Dance House Ireland Residency preview performance, Dublin
  • 9 September 2017: ‘Knowing the Dance’ premiere, Downpatrick
  • 17 November 2017: ‘The Middle Place’ Brian Friel Theatre, QUB, Belfast

Find a video of the live performance (Down Arts Centre) of ‘Intertwine – Noose – Weight~Dissolve’ HERE

Acknowledgement is due to HU (October 2017) for publishing three of the poem elements

  • Ghost Net
  • Neck
  • Weight~Dissolve

Read them HERE

Paula and Martin have also been performing dance elements – particularly from ‘Noose’ and ‘Intertwine’ in various dance/performance venues.


My sincere thanks to all who supported the development and showcasing of this work. First, the Arts Council NI, with a particular word of thanks to Damian Smyth, who provided a framework to create a funded ACES project of which this was one aspect. My thanks to Down Arts Centre for being the temple of our muse for dance~poem composition, and for providing space and support for the premiere performance. Their ongoing support is much appreciated. Thanks to Dance House Ireland for an amazing environment to work on the sequence, and the Anthrology Department at QUB for accepting the proposal to have this as part of their ‘Evolving Fields’ programme in its early stages of development as a connected performance. Thanks to QUB also for support through Paula’s PhD fellowship.

A big word of thanks to the incredible, engaged audiences who attended the performances. Their questions, insights and feedback have been a cornerstone to the development of this work.

How has the work affected my practice?

This was a question from one of the audience members of the most recent performance. An excellent question – and like all excellent questions, as one might say, difficult to answer. My thanks to him for being gracious when I curved and swerved around the idea without actually answering. At that stage, in truth, I wasn’t sure. But today as I type, I have a sense of completion about this part of the ‘Knowing the Dance’ project. Below is a reflection of what I am carrying through from the work we had done.

The process works

It worked. Again my thanks to Sarah Warsop for the inspiration of her own practice and the masterclass in January 2017. I had wanted two quite challenging things to happen (1) poetry in all its glory on stage and (2) dance which wasn’t responding to or interpreting the text (in other words choreography in all its glory) – and still create coherent collaborative pieces that engaged audiences in their expression . While I’m experimenting in my own writing with stretching out the breath/movement aspects to work on them, this part of the wider ‘Knowing the Dance’ provides a template for further collaborative work – however different the artforms in their manner of creation and showcasing.

That skin is a ‘hard’ border

“Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat our tunes for bears to dance to, while all the while we long to move the stars to pity.” Gustave Flaubert.

I’m just noticing this quote that I’ve carried around like a mission statement since I was a teenager has both dance and move in it. One set of movements, and then another, and then (hopefully) another. I think an examination of how one movement proposes another and how it works in poetry (which is primarily for the page – I find making this distinction uncomfortable – but it was significant in this work) is at the heart of the whole ‘Knowing the Dance’ enterprise.

The most affecting proposition, in my opinion, and in terms of the strength of the final dance~poem was the one that Paula and I had used for the dance~poem that later became ‘Noose’. Suggested by Paula, we, in turns, took a number of minutes to touch two parts of the other’s body simultaneously – with the outcome being connections made with parts of the body which might not ordinarily connect. It’s an exciting proposition, don’t you think?

However, when we came to share the initial dance improvisation/free write – a touch on the neck was what had produced the most profound affect. This is where the electric connection started.

This is only the second time I’ve been in a workshop type situation using touch as the inspiration. The first was in a workshop led by Kate Newmann in Denvir’s, Downpatrick, some years ago. Again, it proved to be a powerful experience – from very inspiring to very uncomfortable. It seems that there is a beautiful skin-to-skin conversation that warrants further exploration – but with some ‘hard’ negotiations required.

It isn’t surprising that physical touch isn’t the mainstay of new-writing creation workshops, of course. We have a wonderful protective mechanism ‘flight-fight-freeze-appease’ when we feel threatened and anybody, beyond our intimates, entering our ‘space’ triggers the alarm.

As an aside, I read a very useful piece of advice for anybody who presents in any context. As biddable as it feels to step forward to come closer to whoever you are speaking to, unless you are the (beloved, trusted) parent or lover of your audience, they will instinctively frisk you for signs you are about to attack. Try this. Step back instead – you’ll hear an almost audiable sigh of relief from the bodies in front of you. And that is just invading space boundaries – no actual contact.

So while this person-to-person touch is very inspiring, it is one that requires very careful handling. Trust is a big part of that – and it seems to me trickier because hurts to trust in any regions of the person-to-person contract translates through to aversion to skin-to-skin contact. The body has its reasons.

In neither a short-term collaboration or a worskhop is it possible to create a space as safe as our most trusted, intimate relationships. I don’t know what the answer this is, but I think it bears futher exploration because my experiencesuggests that communication from skin to self is dynamic, visceral, moving and utterly poetic.

Affect was our Friend

In this instance – possibly because of creating a parity of esteem relationship between the artforms – we seemed at times to be tap-dancing precariously on a tight-rope that I’ll call loosely the ‘I-We’ continuum.

And, as in all human connection, affect was our friend in navigating this. Affect (theory) is very much at the heart of Paula’s academic work and it was happily installed in the middle-place. Hand-over-heart, I don’t know much about the theoretical dimension of it. When I use the word here – I am using it in an altogether unacademic sense of how something that happened affected the person to whom it happened.

Because the dance/poetry joins needed to be beyond the realms of response or interpretation, holding a strong sense of how we were affected by stimuli and sharing that – without a sense of this made me do that – made the conversation that underpinned the dance~poem composition (both artistic and verbal) far richer, allowing for both a sense of mutual connection while maintaining individual artistic ownership within the world of joint experience.

Not Airtime but Resonance

If this hadn’t been recorded I wouldn’t have remembered saying it. At this point I am moving into the arena of performance development rather than dance~poem elements generation.

So you have a poet who writes primarily for the page not the stage and who reads her work when a sharing of it is called for. Received wisdom for reading is that 20mins is pretty much as much as the attention span for the audience can take. A poem of 5mins is long to the ear. A haiku too short to lodge in the eardrum in a meaningful way.

It came to me that poets who write primarily for the page are kind of anti-performers – and anarchists in the world of performance – flouting a lot of very happy performance norms. I’m going to blog separately about why my leanings are totally to the page/reading side of things – but please know here that I operate from the principle of nobody is doing anything wrong and that I believe that mostly people make decisions based on what feels appropriate to them in their practice and delivery.

What I learned was that this kind of poetry conforms more to visual art norms – or any artwork which you can buy and take home – in that the receiver, whether reader or viewer or hearer, can choose how long they spend with the piece of art. I can stay with a poem kind happily for a few years. The poets – those few who are still alive – would, I expect, find my long-term engagement difficult if it required physical presence.

Artwork here is durable across time. The work is written down, in a sense, to create a middle-place between the poets’ and the readers’ imaginations where the reader can do a certain amount of refurnishing and recontextualising in their own time – in every sense of that phrase – and all of this a fortunate part of the process of poetry.

I was working with two artists whose artwork was, primarily, in the performance. (Martin as a composer, however, has the more long-lived aspect in his other musical composition). And both their performance worlds had slightly different norms as well.

Timing was an issue because of external constraints of venue scheduling and audience expectation. And any performance that is ephemeral and embodied must take into account the needs of other bodies – toilet breaks, eating, clearing the eyes, ears, throats.

Those are things everybody knows. Exciting times came for us in trying to create a performance with three artforms, two vastly different communication styles – and one which respects but does not privilege their own artwork in its performed state.

We all made concessions but what we didn’t do is work out what duration programmers were likely to require and split it in three and say here’s your allocation, fill it. While taking into account that there are differences in airtime – our choices were primarily artistically- and midde place- driven with some tailoring relating to the communication norms of our individual practices.

Improvision in a place of Permance

You never step into the same river twice.

The first time I came across the concept of improvisation was watching Stéphane Grappelli on the Late Late Show and my awed father explaining to me that he composing the piece in real time.

While whatever familiarity I’d had previously was in the area of jazz/music composition, improvisation as a display of composer/performer virtuosity is something I have a great deal of respect for. I was interested here to understand what it meant in terms of both Paula and Martin’s respective, and joint, practices. I was also interested to understand the ‘why’ of it and what felt, for them, particularly inspiring about it in the areas of choreography and composition.

However, while an exploration of dance/movement elements within my poetry was a central focus of my own work, changing my practice in that regard wasn’t something that excited me, perhaps, mostly because I am not part of the ‘performance poetry’ world. For all that I wondered and wondered and wondered again, what are the lines of latitude that run between improvised dance practice and poetry whose normal residence is on the page.

Proposition 1: Editing & Performed Reading Curation

I wondered whether ‘in the moment’ affect-to-choreography may be approximate (and only ever approximate) in intention to what is going on in the editing process of a written piece. My editing process is an ongoing re-entering inspiration, refining, asking, negotiating, feeling my way to the next step in its creation. The final piece – and this may not be every poet’s wish – is to create a structure delicate enough that the reader/hearer can enter the piece as part-receiver, part-owner. I trust that the right words will find the right ears (whether they be the ears of the eyes or not). For me the better I know a piece, the more I can ‘let it go’ – and I have had the experience of ‘seeing’ a long finished poem take on a whole different meaning when reading it to a particular audience. Quick note here to say I find an audience can be a very potent artistic partner. And in this case, that vibrant newness that seemed to be a key part of improvised work, can come into play for me beyond the act of original composition.

I do, however, feel that improvisation is an ‘in-the-moment, in-the-same-body’ conversation between choreographer and performer. And so I did revisit also my commitment to the act of trust that happens in the time that words – whether written or spoken – are transmitted and received, and how that affects how I relay my work. It may be worth saying also that I, like many readers, will leave a reading structure loose, intending to curate a reading sequence that is affected by what’s actually happening at the event.

Proposition 2: Improvised Editing

A little magical. I discovered as we progressed that I couldn’t edit the poem elements of the dance~poems out of context. I needed to hear/feel/see all that was going on to keep the integrity of the joint work. Three, out of the four, settled into a format that had enough openness in the writing to accommodate largish changes in the dance/music elements that came through the improvisation process. One element – a longish piece called (for now) ‘The Round Dance’ defied capture. Altogether. Like the other piece it had structure enough and openness but… I never read the same piece twice.

On the night before the second full performance, I was in despair. Then I had a break-through. What if the ongoing ‘edits’ were in fact new pieces created as a result of new inspiration in the moment. On each iteration I seemed to be adding new layers and/or stripping out ones that seemed to have slipped through the net of the current dispensation of the dance~poem.

What if I challenged myself to do a full scale recalibration on stage (by which I mean change an element/s of the whole thing and retune the whole structure so it still holds up – a bit like moving round a stud wall). Which is more or less what I did. I don’t think anybody else would have realised what was going on but it was an interesting challenge.

The line between Poetry and Poetic Hokey Pokey

You put a word in here, and a phrase in there…

Did you do the Hokey Pokey as a child (some call it the Hokey Cokey)? I can still be an enthusiastic participant when the situation calls for it.  It’s a good old workshop, great for entertaining smallies, and I don’t know about you but I’ve found as I enter the middle place of middle age there are vast amount of new body parts that can be ‘put in’ or taken out…

Aligned to the guideline that the poem elements would function as publishable poems, I found, in this collaboration, I was often navigating the territory of what poetry is. And then beating a nihilistic retreat into a knot of writhing words, some of which were shaping up nicely, and others were just missing something.

So what is Poetic Hokey Pokey?

Not only does the Hokey Pokey provide a fun break for you and your toddler or preschooler, it also helps your child’s physical and mental development. From an intellectual perspective, it also teaches parts of the body, opposite sides and motor skills. Dancing the Hokey Pokey creates self-control and coordination, even if your little one isn’t naturally athletic. Source LINK – http://living.thebump.com/teaching-children-hokey-pokey-17210.html

Sometimes we recognise things by what they are not. As light-hearted as the name is, Poetic Hokey Pokey isn’t a particularly flippant concept. It’s a name that I’ve given to a recognisable, excellent art practice – in this instance in the world of poetry composition – but I believe elements of all artforms have Hokey Pokey transfer potential.

The Hokey Pokey, itself, while being fun and fabulous, is also a skilled tool to teach those who need to learn it (often, but not always, small children) – by creating complex connections – the link between object names and those objects whose names belong to body parts under motor control. Artform Hokey Pokey, I have noticed in a range of contexts, has a similar artistic function of making connections – causal, casual and/or creative – between indivdual words, phrases, repeated refrains and elements of the wider artform/s where they appear.

An example of this, which I came across during the year, was a fascinating exploration of memory and social/political landscape. A video piece with an emphasis on the visual, it also included a sound score with poetry – in this case the heavily repeated phrase ‘the cookies are in the kitchen‘.

I experienced this as adding to the overall artistic expression, working well as an integrous part of the overall piece of art, and using, very creatively, mechanisms that are stock-in-trade in poetry-making. But every part of my instinct said while this is really good, it isn’t poetry.

Because you asked me about the line between poetry and Poetic Hokay Pokey

I am rephrasing the title of Howard Nemerov’s poem that I use as a marker of where poetry ends and prose begins.

I think everyone one who writes poetry will/should find themselves from time to time negotiating boundaries. For me, it’s generally more a feeling than a set of rules or regulations. What was useful about this collaboration is that it allowed me to gain more understanding of what lay on either side of the border – and make an educated choice on how I wanted to particiate on both sides.

Poetry is made up of so many versatile elements – all with fascinating artistic applications in their own right. Weight, size, shape, resonance, sound, movement, depth, feel, rhythm, echo, phsyical presence, space, grammatical scoring and so on. And the joy of words as an art material is that you also have meaning and communication packed in whereever you put them. I would argue even if you just use shapes of letters.

So it stands to reason that these elements have been – and will continue to be – used in wider art works. Those who write poetry are liable to be excited by this (well I am) but the problem with Hokey Pokey is that – and I mean this kindly and gently – it can lack a certain contemporary/sophistication when set against poetry which exists in it’s fullest form – and I’m back to ‘not airtime but resonance’ here.

This dividing line is one which has caused me discomfort to the point of considering stepping back from poetry/non-word based collaborations.  And that coupled with the fact that I always want poetry to stand ‘eye to eye’ with high end, raw intense, but largely non-verbal explorations of human experience – in the way that I know it can.

This collaboration provided a framework for full-orchestral poetry composition to function in equal artistic partnership, without needing to strip back the words until they were operating elements of a wider artform. Appearing here as an integral, and still connecting, whole in their own right. The process allows for that.










Honouring Eavan Boland – #lettersfromladyn

WP_20171122_005Thrilled to hear that Eavan Boland will receive a Bob Hughes Achievement Award at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards next week.

I first came across Eavan Boland in my twenties while working on a ‘feminist’ thesis (in the area of business) and as a hidden poet.

The outcome my  thesis supervisor –  who had asked me to pursue the ‘research question’ – clearly expected me to find was that while there were unmistakely statistically very few women in management roles in Irish industry at the time, this was due either to the normal course of events or if, in the offchance there was a problem, it was the fault of women. I know I don’t need to specify the gender of this, my ‘first’, supervisor. I found a rather more complex picture – and subsequently a new supervisor.

I found both Eavan Boland’s poems and her critique in the journal section of the Boole Library in UCC. It’s funny how a person could get diverted from ‘Strategic Managment Monthly’ and the HBR…

in any case, I had, and still have, massive admiration for her speaking truth to power about the unfairness inherent in the differential reception of men’s and women’s poetry, while at the same time having a buoyant practice and a lifetime commitment to creating poetry which has both something integrous to say to people’s lives and is rigourously composed to a fluid standard of the best of what poetry can be. Some of my favourite poems have been composed by her.

I was thrilled when she became guest editor of Poetry Ireland Review and have loved these editions. I was also delighted to find, which I didn’t know, that she had been involved in the development of Arlen Press which has recently returned and is beginning to have quite an impact on women’s poetry here in Northern Ireland very recently.

I worry a bit about lifetime awards and adulations as there is a sense that people are on the one hand being feted and on the other being put out to pasture. But in this case, I have no worry. This woman will keep her own counsel. May she flourish.


#ACES 16/17 – The Body has its Reasons: Knowing from Within #lettersfromladyn

We think by feeling. What is there to know? / I hear my being dance from ear to ear / I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.  from The Waking by Theodore Roethke

Through jewellery, choreography and mark making Sarah Warsop investigates the complexities and characteristics of human movement. In metal, on paper, in performance, on film, she arrests time to reveal the intricacies of the moving body. Read more about Sarah Warsop and her practice.

KTDACESREPORTmontageIn the sleepiest part of winter 2017, jeweller/choreographer/artist Sarah Warsop travelled from London to Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick to facilitate a ‘Knowing the Dance’ masterclass, which had it’s objective to demonstrate how she stretches time to give a create a middle place where physical presence through breath, felt experience, movement can emerge.

She had asked me to bring a couple of poems for working on. A more-or-less finished poem of my own with a small part that needed to be worked on and a favourite of mine. In keeping with the time of year, I brought ‘Fallow‘ (Abridged: Silence, pg 35, also Night Divers), and Eavan Boland’s ‘The Pomegranate’. Both sympathetic to our mid-January meeting. She also asked for charcoal and a plentiful supply of large sheets of paper suitable for drawing on. We were joined by dancer/researcher Paula Guzzanti, with whom I had begun work on what was to become the dance~poem sequece.

Fight, Flight, Freeze, Appease

‘You say this time of year is treacherous / our first shoots might be bewildered’ from Fallow

I chose ‘Fallow’ because, though well published, it has always had one stanza that I’ve never been entirely happy about. My belief has always been that it is not a technical problem, the underlying fault was in my own lack of clarity about what was happening at that point.

We began with my reading the poem and then we created ‘breath scores’ for that sticking-point, three-line piece – charting the movement in the breath (mostly up, hardly a dip) on paper and noticing words where the breath eddied, halted, or dropped.

Then we drew with charcoal, and many times, not visual representations of the verbal images, but the shapes, patterns and images that emerged from the breathwork, from the words that demanded attention. Going back again and again to it.

Following that we created movement sequences that were called forth from this exploration.

I’ve been trying to clearly document what went on here over the past year, because it was a very powerful experience for me. I’m not there yet.

‘Fallow’ was written at a time when I was in a state of distress to the point of numbness (‘freeze’ or otherwise described as the ‘numbies’ – a human protective response when not able to fight or flee) but it was many years ago. I do remember that feel of dissociation in the writing of what is quite a measured piece despite its worst-of-winter backdrop. That calm – that protective instinct to go with the flow – you get when you are in shock but you have to respond to what is going on.

As the three of us re-entered the piece but with full physical/emotional connection, I relived that time. This could, I suppose, have been a very painful triggering, but things happen at the right time, I believe.  What became very clear as we worked on was that there is nothing wrong at all with those three lines, they simply marked, in their uneveness, an uncomfortable preparation for those first shoots that signalled an end to that instinctive numbed state back to some kind of return to feeling.

I found this depth of connection with the work really powerful, and the physical presence aspect a more anchoring kind of knowing. Even if the breath score spoke clearly of deep panic, I was in control because I could step away from that breath pattern.

‘Beautiful Rifts in Time’

‘But what else / can a mother give a daughter but such / beautful rifts in time’ from ‘The Pomegranate’  by Eavan Boland

In the same poem, she says “..the best thing about the legend is / I can enter it anywhere..”. The funny thing about Fallow is that this is not the first time I have re-entered this particular territory. A few years on from Abridged publishing ‘Fallow’, I was invited to submit a piece tp them for an issue which of poems which revisited earlier pieces that they had published. Unwittingly, another january, I had written a piece called The Time Bug (aka Fallow II) which is a far less comforting piece. The storm was closer then and there was neither blanket nor spectral company. I am pretty sure there isn’t an in-breath to be found in the piece.

This most recent January, the re-entering was gentler. I’ve written a further piece ‘First Shoots’ which is more a meditation on two other artists, without any interest or knowledge of the background, entering the work and responding to it – and how strangely eloquently the work proclaimed its strictured emotional roots despite the poem not giving much away of the context.

Nothing has done real justice, however, to the full clarity that this masterclass gave me, not on the poem, but on my own life at the time – a time which has been at the heart of my writing over the last while.

In the week that followed raw material for the ‘Knowing the Dance’ poetry collection began to come through.

‘Knowing the Dance’ Open Workshop

With thanks to Down Arts Centre, Sarah returned to Down Arts Centre to facilitate a three-hour open workshop using similar techniques. Again, I was suprised at how close this connection to breath, the allowing of charcoal to wander where it would as the words moved through me, the creating of movement, drew me to the work. Here I looked at a piece to which I have, against all odds, a really strong emotional connection. It’s one or the pieces that I’ve written this year that I like best, but the subject matter  – water drumming: traditional with women of the Baka people – is something I don’t have any connection to at all.

My thanks to all who attended. This work, though seemingly gentle, is a powerful way to engage with a practice of poetry that counteracts the distancing of, not so much the mind, but explanation or description rather than sharing direct experience (telling about rather than knowing). This embodiment is, in every workshop you’ll ever attend – mine included – what makes poetry the living thing that it is. But sometimes, that safe distance from what our inner realm is communicating up from the depths (the voice beneath the voice) via the periscope that is poetry, is a length of road that needs to be travelled softly. I wonder whether in the future, if showcasing these techniques using a published piece – not written by anybody in the working group – might be a good introduction of this more physically direct experience of poetry.

The Body has its Reasons: Knowing from Within

“Movement – along the ground, in walking, in the air, in respiration – is not what a body does but what it is. That is why any attempt to describe human movement in terms of some notion of embodiment is bound to fail. For it makes it sounds as though the movement were wrapped up inside – that has been packaged, sedimented, stilled, rendered quiescent or tacit. And it is why theorists of embodiment feel compelled to invoke a notion of agency in order to set the self-digested body-package back in motion. Movement, for them, is an effect, agency they cause. To undo this causal logic – to exorcise the spectre of embodied agency – is to recognise that as a bundle of potentials in an ever-unfolding field of forces and energies, the body moves and is moved not because it is driven by some internal agency, wrapped up in the package, but because as fast as it is gathering or winding itself up, it is forever unravelling or unwinding – alternatively breathing in and out. But breathing out and breathing in are not the precise reverse of one another. The one is a movement of propulsion; it is haptic. The other is a movement of gathering; it is atmospheric.” – Tim Ingold ‘Knowing from Within’

A list of reading material that accompanied my exploration of the middle place, including The Body has its Reasons can be found HERE.

Final Words

I am still processing a lot of this particular exploration because it represents more than simply a change in how I approach composing and editing my work. Like myself, there is nothing surface-level about it and I am wondering if the work itself isn’t the way forward for processing. That said, even for myself, I do want to document this process.



#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

Part 4. Reading Poetry: Knowing by Heart

Part 5. Collecting Myself: Knowing what’s next

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.

My postcard story from @JanCarson7280 from #NewZealand has arrived.

“It wasn’t his bones or muscles refusing him so much as his interest in being anywhere but here, at the end of the pier, staring out to sea.” Jan Carson ‘Postcard Story from New Zealand’ 07.11.17


This week has started very well indeed. Many thanks, Jan – love it!!!

Get the full story on Jan’s Blog – Jan Carson Writes

“Where my River Flows” – @lagannavigator deadline extended to 5 December

Ormeau Bridge in late 2001 was the first time I was aware of being in the presence of the Lagan River.

6tag_071117-135743This autumn, I’ve had the privilege of working with a range of groups exploring and writing about connections, memories, links to the Lagan River – or other rivers that people have connections with. I’ve learned there is much more to Lagan River than I had previously imagined.

I would like to say a huge word of thanks to all who worked with me and shared so creatively their insights, experiences, recollections and links to this mightly amenity that flows on regardless – and touches the lives of so many, connecting place to place, and also connecting generations and ways of life – disappearing and approaching.

E-book Submission Reminder and Extended Deadine Confirmation

These workshops are part of a call out from Lagan Navigation Trust as part of their first Storymaking Festival to everyone for submissions to an e-book which will showcase the river through the eyes of those who know it best and those who live in the communities close to it.

Some updates

  • Lagan Navigation Trust have let me know that while they have had a good response to their call, they have room for plenty more so they have extended the deadline until the 5 December.
  • They are also accepting pieces on the more general theme of ‘Where my River Flows’ (for those whom the Lagan is not their river).
  • They have let me know that they are allocating some prizes to be chosen from those who submit, as well as possibility of having you piece selected as part of a video (generously supported by the Community Arts Partnership) see next:
  • Linked to the video creation, if there are any budding filmakers, they also have a limited number of places available for workshops with an experienced cameraman and filmaker who will work with a small group to create a short film based on poems and stories about the Lagan. This would be happening between now and the middle of January and you will have the opportunity to storyboard the video, learn to use the equipment and go out and film with the guidance of the facilitator. The film would be aired at the storymaking event in February at the Lagan Valley Island Centre. To book a place contact maire@lagannavigationtrust.org

You will find all the details, guidelines and online submission on the Lagan Navigation Trust Website.

Lagan Navigation Trust Storymaking Festival

The Festival will close with a celebratory event, as part of National Storytelling Week, with awards being given for selected stories in each age category. The event will be held on Friday 2nd February 2018 at the Island Hall, Lagan Valley Civic Centre, Lisburn.


Poems on a Sunday Afternoon – Sunday 26, Nov @down_arts Centre #Downpatrick

As always everyone is invited to join us for the forthcoming ‘Poems on a Sunday Afternoon’  at Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick, Sunday, 26 November, 2.30-4.30pm. This event is free and no booking is required.

Featured Reading:  We are delighted to feature Co. Down poet, playright and children’s author Paula Matthews who launches her debut poetry collection ‘The Shadow Behind Me’ (Lapwing, 2017) on the afternoon.

WP_20171115_002 1Paula is the resident children’s author for In Touch and she is the lead editor of The Launchpad. As Creative Director of Marginal Theatre, She is currently completing a mentorship via an Arts Council Northern Ireland SIAP Award with Director Jo Egan and is writing and directing an original stage play called Echoes. 


Shared Reading: the heart of the PoSA programme – all are invited to share work of your own (poem, short story, song, extract of novel…) or a favourite.