Framing the Landscape #Knowing the Dance

As part of the ‘Knowing the Dance’ project, dancer/choreographer/researcher Paula Guzzanti and I have been meeting up to create a performance which explores innovative ways that movement/dance and poetry can meet where there is, what I am calling, parity of esteem between the two artforms and where the base of inspiration can move backwards and forwards between the two artforms.  Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick, have been the most generous hosts in providing studio space for us to conspire, inspire, experiment and create what I hope will be very interesting and affecting pieces.

Quoile Pondage


WP_20170309_14_52_25_ProOne of our experiments is to use the same landscape as a base of inspiration for a piece of work, where Paula would take the movement forward and, I, the poetry. March, here, can be so fine and last Thursday (9 March) provided the ideal conditions to try this out. Paula and I installed ourselves at Steamboat Quay right at the end of the Pondage – and took a half an hour  with our own process. It was lovely that walkers on the Pondage that afternoon seemed very content with us being there.

An interesting synergy emerged when we shared our work. Both of us had been considering where our attention was being drawn to, and how we we responded to that. When we moved to the studio to work on the piece of work which will, I think, be a key piece, this question stayed with us, acting as a kind of binding of sorts between the two artforms. This is very, very inspirational work. It is a real privilege to be working with Puala – including the fact that she has a writing practice and her current PhD research is examining ‘affect’ and this is adding a dimension to the work which won’t be there without this collaboration – a more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts situation entirely.

Why edit? #KnowingtheDance

Who can know the dancer from the dance? (Among School Children, WB Yeats)

The ‘Knowing the Dance’ project has taken quantam leaps (as it were) this past couple of months and I am stockpiling blog post ideas to share and document what has been happening. Before I start, because this project from the perspective of my own poetry writing practice is one of an expanded understanding of where and how the breadth and body are located within the poems in order to make better decisions when writing, I wanted to talk a bit about editing.

Accentuate the positive

Poems are never finished, just abandoned Paul Valery

This post is prompted by a 7 hour edit (examination, exploration are possibly more biddable words) with two others using breath, mark-making and movement, of three lines of a fifteen year old, previously published poem of mine – which gave me an insight into what was/wasn’t working – but also about the situation I was writing about itself. To terrifying, but in a good way, effect.

…And then a slew of conversations with those enthusiastic to write but slower to engage in a ‘robust’ (my word of the week) editing process.

For me, poetry writing has two big hits of delight. First, the magical, mystical, inspiration-driven, breathtaking first write, and then the slower relationship building, discovering, exploring and generally getting to know better what had caught my attention so mesmerisingly in the first write (the second delight is a gift that keeps on giving) with a view to sharing this in the clearest way that I can – and that means, for me, understanding as well as I can the full world of poetry (‘what is poetry’ who can say but yet we still seek to understand). To not engage fully with this second bit, is to miss some of the most exciting parts of the whole process. And the second bit is, my opinion, companiable and where I certainly have found met some of my best friends.

Eliminate the Negative

As an aside, before going further I need to show my hand and say I adore the whole world of poetry and editing is, for me, one of the most engaging, intuitive, extending parts. I can be a bit vehement on one particular subject of it – and I am thrilled to have found and be able to channel Meryl from a scene from ‘The Devil Wears Prada’  (a film which I otherwise don’t like at all except for Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci being in it) which I wish I could recite off by heart in response to those who think the the wider context of poetry has nothing to do with their writing…


Mess with Mister Inbetween

And so it is, that editing for me is a kind of enthusiastic, intuitive, reflective, often inspiration-driven-but-in-a-quieter-way, process with company in mind. Sort of a mix of dressing for the beloved, while making selections which may, if I am lucky, also provoke admiration from those quicker, or in a position, to judge.

In terms of my own poetry development, the ‘Knowing the Dance’ project has come, in part (not entirely) from seeing a lot of natural movement occuring in my poetry and wanting to know more about the meeting place between movement and poetry so that I have a toolkit of sorts to really examine the moving parts of it so that I can comunicate it with better effect for both me and the reader/hearer. A new way of editing that is very exciting to me.

I am hoping to share some of this one way or another, and hoping that might be useful to you as well.

Knowing the Dance

‘Knowing the Dance’ is a yearlong project exploring the meeting place between movement/dance and poetry and is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Artist Career Enhancement Scheme (ACES). Looking at movement in the work for the purposes of editing is just one aspect of the project – I am currently working on a body of poems, and a dance/poetry collaboration performance (first performance to take place early September 17) among other things.

Zadie Smith & Beyoncé #KnowingtheDance

One of the most solid pieces of writing advice I know is in fact intended for dancers.. (Zadie Smith ‘What Beyoncé Taught Me’ Gaurdian, 29 October 2016)

Zadie Smith and Beyoncé in the same headline is a headline with kerb appeal. The backdrop is, of course, that her new novel ‘Swing Time’ is based within the world of dance and is not, as I had hoped, a book which is a longer meditation on what writing and dancing bring to each other.

The connection between writing and dancing has been much on my mind recently:”  she starts the article by saying “it’s a channel I want to keep open. It feels a little neglected – compared to, say, the relationship between music and prose – maybe because there is something counter-intuitive about it. But for me the two forms are close to each other: I feel dance has something to tell me about what I do” Read the full article HERE

The quote she goes on to refer to in the following paragraph from Martha Graham’s biography is one I am including on my wall of why I am wanting to do the #knowingthedance work. The comparison between types of dancers and types of writers was interesting but not quite what I was looking for in my research phase of #KnowingtheDance

Whether it is Lorca’s duende or Yeat’s many dancers or Eliot’s ‘still point of a turning world’, this sense of being a being in motion and how this goes from the core of the body into animating what happens on the page (and back again all being well) is what I am looking to explore.

I have found a couple of good texts but I’m relieved to hear Zadie Smith about the relationship being a bit neglected as I’m finding it difficult to find reading material.

If anybody has any leads or suggestions about this, I would be delighted to hear from you!