Speaking for Myself: #confessionalism , waving at imperialism & #selfie sticks – #lettersfromladyn

Who do we talk about when we don’t talk about ourselves?

“I’m with you in Rockland / where we are great writers on the same dreadful typewriter.”
Beyond Telegraph Phones - screen grab from iPhone control panel

Telegraph Poles?*

Us? Them? You? The original purpose of Letters From Lady Nakatomi was to record preoccupations that occur behind the scenes of my poetry writing exercise. A sort of b/log of decisions ongoing. Winter/Spring 2018 has been mostly brought to me a review of ‘confessionalism’. A word,  confess, I hadn’t heard in some time.



Confessions of an unapologetic confessionalist

After not having heard the ‘c’ word for quite a few years, here it is in my world. For me, it’s always been a bit of personal desciption somebody else gives you and it’s mostly not a compliment. It’s feels to me like a word to create distance to put a person in the ‘them’ box. However, like ‘feminism’ – another word I wouldn’t probably use to describe myself if I was left to roll along as myself-unwitnessed – I would be horrified entirely if I thought anybody believed that I were the things that a not-feminist or a not-confessionalist are. In other words, if you need to call me names – let confessionalist and feminist be among them, please. If I appear to not be these things, please let me know and I’ll see what I can adjust. (Note: Rolling along works for me too and my name is Olive).

Small Examples and the Production of Knowledge

I had three returns of the poetic impulse before I took it seriously (by which I mean submitting poems for publication). The third, extended, turn began when I was a doing a masters thesis which spanned strategic management theory (yes business..) and women’s place in the workforce (private/public sectors). It was a time of enlightment. I’m hoping both professors would like it if I said we were a bit renegade and rock’n’roll – talking in the off hours about how you only needed to split one atom.. It’s like the dark ages now but small sample, generally, to be fair, qualitative methodolgy based, research was still fighting to be taken seriously as a means of acceptable academic enquiry.

One arrived all excited to wear academic language suits, to be part of a workforce where very large invisible ‘I’s watched with a peculiar detached fascination tiny ants walking up a wall and wondered in a kind of eternal unidentified voice, how could these small creatures get around.

What I left with was an understanding of how the act of being watched influences the relationship between those who enquire and those who are enquired about. I learned to identify myself as a baseline in any kind of opinion I offered.

I came away persuaded to never again use the passive voice.

With the Best Will in the World..

Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necesssary?

But I didn’t get it right first time. For good reasons. I went on to work in the world of equal rights campaigning. I was no great heroine in the whole thing but I had gone through that fire of actually understanding that things were not right in the world of women, and from there to position in society, community background, sexual preference, intellectual and physical ability, religious belief. Access all areas denied for not very life affirming reasons.

I loved the work of Adrienne Rich and was (still am) a little drunk on the fumes of the french philosophers…I am the I

I tried to write poetry that would contribute to making this world a better place for the folk that live in it, celebrating the diversity of what it is to be whatever it is I am, you are, we are, they might be. But I was also aware of my own privilege in the world and my story didn’t seem particularly useful to the exercise of improving things. And so I tried to write, using words that were kind (I hope), necessary (I believe) but with the best will in the world not true.  Not great glaring lies, or an attempt to leap frog into somebody else’s life experience that I didn’t actually have. Instead, it was real-ish things that got inauthentic due to my hope for ‘agenda approval’ and ‘doing good’. Nobody but me has ever seen this work, but I keep it as a reminder that these be dragons..

I made two decisions – guidelines for my writing going forward as you might say. One is to write from my own experience and if somebody else’s experience was more useful, then either get out of the way or, alternatively, lend a hand to getting the word out.

And then I made a third decision, I decided that I would right authentically for myself whatever came. I believe we all have that right and so it is. However, and this is where my form of confessionalism becomes complicated, I would only submit work for publication where I knew of at least one other person whose experience or affectedness was similar to my own.

Experience for sharing, of sorts.

A wave to passing imperialism as I continue on my journey

In the interest of full disclosure, I have embraced the world of autodidact entirely. I have absolutely my own definition of imperialism here. By which I mean, purely in this context, an old element who have unquestioned assumptions about those whose territory they have a right to talk about – when that territory is beyond their own pale of experience. (Note: This definition could do with work – but I hope you know what I mean.).

This Winter/Spring has brought all sorts of interesting discussions about the quality of poetry when a person writes from their own experience – some of it in a way which  demonstrates a quirky nod to the fact that there was a time when literacy for everybody wasn’t important, where universal suffrage didn’t exist, where there were very clear expectations about what one should and should not talk about not matter what lived experience was*.

How very dare you: confessionalism and the selfie generation

I’ve used the word element above becuase the even quirkier fact is that the poet part of the commentators appear to be confessional in their own actual practice*. So the poet and commentator when living in the same bady are in different places? I believe that it’s more complicated. Not talking in general terms isn’t even taught that much in Introduction to Extreme Beginners Poetry classes – because really it’s just not the thing to write an ode to the savages when one’s own self is not a a savage. Things have changed.

But clearly not entirely. I wrote a poem in February which had a bit of writing about my womb in it and talked about woman as not-mother (full disclosure – I have no children) and was reasonably visceral. I heard voices in my head…’confessional’ and ‘Sharon Olds’…Too many workshops. In any case it felt like I was doing something that needed to be corraled. Mightn’t be the right subject for proper poetry. Not particularly robust feedback, to be fair.

I persevered but not without going back to what confessionalism is. What it means to espouse it and to be accused of it? Much more, of course, than when a woman talks about actual woman’s experience which is distinct from the general (I have a bit of a belief that this isn’t men’s either, to be honest..it’s sort a washed down version). But it is also absolutely that. My experience of menstruation, female physicality, menopause, no-childbirth will not be the same as another woman’s even – and definitely not cover any man’s experience. It is what it is.

So, who am I talking TO when I’m talking about myself?

People…..will always remember how you made them feel.

When I step away from the protection of ‘we’, and I tell you about it from my perspective? Who are you? I don’t, to be honest, readily have an answer to that question. Perhaps, that one other person who has been become a little invisible because, in a particular instance, of a lack of generally applicable life experience, perhaps?

If I turn it back the other way who am I when you are talking to me from your perspective. I have a sense that I feel disconnected when it’s something outside my life experience, and I move on leaving this to those who do connect. I feel locked out, however, when I hear my name mentioned but don’t recognised the me that is described.

5 Situations where you need a Selfie Stick

It’s me so it is.

Talk of Selfies invariably happens at this point as pejoratively as an old-style throwing the world confessionalism in the conversation.

I – and you – are now in possession of the tools to present ourselves as we would like to be seen. We don’t need professional photographers, celebrated filmmakers, or even passing strangers, to represent who we are. All filtered still, of course, because with the best will in the world you can’t show everything. But we are in control of the filtration process. Now that we know that the one behind the lens is a powerful person in creating filtered reality, who better to have that power than me or you. Surely a better ongoing dialogue is how and what we filter when we present ourselves – and to what affect. Not that we do. Not that is is wrong.

Read ‘5 Situations where you need a Selfie Stick’ (note: ctually about situations where you need a selfie stick)

Notes to account

*this is a screen grab from my iPhone

*I’m not mentioning directly big debates on the poetry scene that has gone in the last couple of months – but they are easily found. This is because, I’m reporting about my mast colours being pinned than speaking truth to power. If that makes sense.










#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.









Learning to #dance for Lannigan’s Ball – #Dance House #Dublin #KnowingtheDance

“I stepped out…”

TwineExcited to be heading down to the Dublin for a residential residency at Dance House supported by Dance Ireland from Tuesday-Friday.

The plan of campaign is for Paula Guzzanti (dance artist) and musician Martin Devek and myself to work further on the ‘Knowing the Dance’ performance which has it’s opening performance at Down Arts Centre on the 9 September.

We’ve had some very useful feedback from a work-in-progress performance we had earlier in the summer, and are hoping that we will be able to trial the next stage via the New Movements platform later this week.

It’s wonderful to have this dedicated time and space, with many thanks to Dance Ireland for the support.

‘Knowing the Dance’ is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland through their ACES programme, and Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick.




All the fun of the #flarf – #lettersfromlady

WP_20150930_08_49_00_ProAnyone in New York on the 1st of June?

You’ll want to know that the Flarf Anthology release party is taking place at Le Poisson Rouge at 7pm – details HERE.

To be honest the concept of Flarf is new to me.

However, the other side of my non-creative writing practice is in the world of information provision, communications, marketing – with over twenty years of online communication/information sharing, and, in the last eight or nine years, this has been heavily based on social media.

And, unbeknownst to me and with little excitement from anybody who has come in contact with it, I have been writing the odd piece of flarf (if I am understanding the whole thing correctly).

I think the lack of excitement from others has had more to do with the fact that in the early years I was unusual among my poetry writing peers on being online for the amount of time that I was and the bizarre cadences of internet/social media based communication were in my world for hours every day. Spam, when spam filters were not as powerful as they are now, was particularly wonderful in the rhythmic patterning of the language.

But if you weren’t on the receiving end of the torrent of offers of, what I’ll call here, potent-making support services that I was getting day and daily, the context would not have been there.

I had come across Flarf a couple of months ago when creating a piece for submission using found social media sound-bites, for want of a better word. It was interesting to see how it appears to have developed in its c. two decades of existence from sending up the mad world of the online (often marketers, politicians and those in the public eye), to a more meaningful engagement with the language, the concerns and the format of day to day online interaction.

I think this important.

The piece I created didn’t cut the mustard (is that even a thing) and I went back this morning to see whether there is a journal or online version that I could resubmit. I think it’s a good piece but I’m not sure whether there are protocal, copyright etc issues for it and people more used to that kind of content would be good to confer with.

In any case, the google-search trail appeared to go cold after the late noughties and I was sad..until I discovered that the anthology is coming out on Tuesday night. How utterly divine is that.

I may be wrong, but it looks to me having had a quick hashtag search of #Flarf,  that the early days of the preoccupation  (I think there is a fun-factor in this that hasn’t been about a big movement, more a pushing of the boundaries to include where the majority of words are happening these days) were when the Bush regime was in full swing. Then there was a lull, and now we have the wonder of communication – it’s communication Jim, but not as we know it – that is the Trump regime. I think we may all need Flarf to keep us sane.

Good to find this today – and every good wish to Gary Sullivan and all those who have been involved on the launch.

Minotaurs, Writing advice from Mervyn & the GoodCop/BadCop routine – #editing #lettersfromladyn

The Minotaur was shut up in the labyrinth, a vast area with many corridors and passages, in which anyone who entered got lost, because it was impossible to find the exit. (Greek Mythology, Marilena Carabatea)

Sometimes editing can feel like that, I think. The minotaur (not the Greek myth) that moves through the work in ‘Night Divers’ is a conversation with a creation/a riff of Mervyn Sweet, a friend of mine whom I had met through the QUB Creative Writing Masters.

His minotaur, as I experienced it, represented the beauty, the strength, the contrary straight-to-blunt-talking worth of spending time with creatures who have been designated to dark places who appear in this bad light, bad eyesight also a factor, to throw shadows of monster heads in vast hotel corridors and then on closer inspection you realise you recognise that face…

His minotaur (released from the labyrinth) had a tendency to turn up unexpectedly – maybe will again, always delighting on being in daylight and asking me a question, which I have now come back to explore much more thoroughly, about the quality of conversation that can be had in the deeper layers of the realm of the, for want of a better word, beast.

That meeting point of truth and beauty that is experienced as relief – release even – though it might not be what people are hoping you are going to say and, maybe, lacking in the nice poetic arts. This is the kind of editing that can capture a person for a long time, wandering with only a thin line for company, not with murder in mind, just an exercise in courage.

Sunday morning sermons with Mervyn

This is what a friend of mine called our regular meet-ups when we had the time for it after the QUB Creative Writing MA ended. We met, shared work – I expect I did a lot of the talking. I loved Mervyn’s work, still do – I run quite a few of his riffs in my head often. And a good share of his, for want of a better word, pre-occupations – not just the minotaur – got into me. There wasn’t any sermonising.

It’s just that what Mervyn said generally met my ears as solid good sense and I always came away feeling the world was back on its right axis after meeting him in the way I think a lot of writers feel when they meet up with kindred spirits and have the writing chat. It was a kind of sustenance through the non-writing week, and I miss it very much.  Some of the conversations, not so much altered, as made me much clearer about my own writing preoccupations.

More general writing things I often remind myself of and tend to attribute to ‘a friend’ when I repeat them are, as follows:

(1) Even if a bit of writing doesn’t work out, you don’t know what gateway it might be to something else. No writing is wasted (but, just to be clear, it mightn’t be going anywhere either).

(2) Editing is as exciting as the first write – because in the process of editing you tend to actually find out what you are writing about.

(3) Atrocious things are no subject for ‘good poetry’ (ie who wants to be saying ‘wow what a perfect sestina’ when they are reading about the depths of human – or other – suffering – write the perfect sestina if you can/must but don’t expect me (ie Olive) to be congratulating you on your craft on the occasion.)

(4) My personal favourite – more life commentary than advice which came from my first introduction, as it were, to the man himself and contibuted in spades to my liking him a lot –

It’s doing it, getting out into the deep water and staying there
Right up to where the sharks tear your b*&^cks off
And what’s worse, you have to thank them for doing so.

(* Edited – Very sad not to be able to ask permission to use this – but hoping it’s okay).

The Good Cop, Bad Cop Routine

“Usually two different cops do that”

Or on being Theseus and the Minotaur at the same time when approaching your writing…

Or otherwise, I’m thinking of adding a category for film clips that run in my head as a response to writing questions (that are also for the most part in my head – hence this blog).

A useful blog by author Jan Carson on editing (find HERE) reminded me of how much I love the ‘Bad Cop, Good Cop’ scene in Steve Martin’s ‘Pink Panther’ – I am laughing still and what I’m laughing about is that this is sort of how it is in my world when it comes to getting to the bottom of who’s at fault for what’s not working.

The Clock Repairer’s Companion (Thirty Tristichs): #KnowingtheDance #NaPoWriMo


These thirty three-line pieces are creative responses to my consideration of the moving parts of poetry composition – and are part of the ‘Knowing the Dance’ project.




The Clock Repairer’s Companion

Tristich 1-10

Tristich 11-20

Tristich 21-30 (sequence)


Notes and Acknowledgements

  • ‘The Clock Repairer’s Companion: Thirty Tristichs’ is series of three-line pieces written daily, exclusively for National (Global) Poetry Writing Month (#NaPoWriMo), to be shared via instagram @pearldiver32
  • They are responses to my consideration of the moving elements of poetry in general, and my own poetry in particular,  which is part of the wider ‘Knowing the Dance’ project, supported by Arts Council NI’s ACES programme. Reading material is included with each ten day installment.
  • I have a fascination with tristichs since meeting the form in the poetry of Yannis Ritsos – and am still in realm of Lorine Niedecker’s ‘condensery’.
  • Again many thanks to Emma Whitehead for the use of the ‘Time Bug’ image.
  • ‘Letters from Black Hawk Delta’ Thirty Tristichs for NaPoWriMo 2016 can be found HERE.

About NaPoWriMo

April is (Global/)National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) and the idea is to write a poem a day for the month. You can find some great prompts at the official site, and poetry support organisations like the Poetry School


The Clock Repairer’s Companion (No 21-30): #KnowingtheDance #NaPoWriMo

6tag-3088414843-1483269340422047431_3088414843Nos 21 to 30: the third (and final) installment of three-line pieces which I have been sharing each day this April on Instagram – @pearldiver32 – as part of NaPoWriMo.

The work is a creative response to my consideration of the moving parts of poetry composition – and it is part of the ‘Knowing the Dance’ project. The final 10 tristichs form a sequence which was called ‘The Body is all Water’ when shared on instagram.


The Clock Repairer’s Companion

Now the clock tells the time right,
inseperable as water, light and shade,
all one body – moving, turning.

The body is all water and returning
to its source: its fluid nature all surge and
gathering together as it covers old ground.

Fear is real – the cell wall, the membrane,
the karstifying rock, a place of waiting,
of permeation – it has its own time.

Inseparable, those times that we don’t talk about,
forty days and nights of rainfall, the turlough
and freshwater lake flow into each other.

Far from gone forever, this place of surface stone
is a conjuring trick, a feat of dry spells,
sunlight and vapour mirages that rise, evaporate.

Neither you nor I, and far from lost for ever, this water
flows, filling in and filling out, though I’ve needed
to contain you in a limestone-walled oubliette.

Fear is mostly mind – and badly scripted voice-over
that speaks in a whisper to a face behind a mirror, who,
if not pixelated, is certainly dried out and all 2D.

The body is all water – and sometimes walking away
from its surge, its eddy, retreat – the sound
makes its way through the membrane of the ear.

Dance with me. The clock in its waterproof case
will beat, will beat. Let it be the meeting point
between the river here and the river beneath.

The shade is you. The Lough is all sunlit and still.
Anchored boats with phantom people. The call
to water, of the woodland beyond, goes unanswered.

‘Fear of the body…Fear of words…Sometimes the two are inseparable’ (‘The Body has its Reasons’, pg 123) is the epigram for this and its reflection in the water – shimmering slightly, not a perfect mirror.

The shade is you. The Lough is all sunlit and still.
Anchored boats with phantom people. Call
of water, of woodland birds, go unanswered.

Dance with me. The clock in its waterproof case
will beat, will beat. Let it be the meeting point
between the river here and the river beneath.

The body is all water – and walking away
from its surge, its eddy, retreat. But the sound
makes its way through the membrane of the ear.

Fear is mostly mind – and badly scripted voice-over
that speaks in a whisper to a face behind a mirror, who,
if not pixelated, is dessicated and all 2D.

Neither you nor I, and far from lost for ever, this water
flows, filling in and filling out, though I’ve needed
to contain you in a limestone-walled oubliette.

Far from gone forever, this place of surface stone
is a conjuring trick, a feat of dry spells,
sunlight and vapour mirages that rise, evaporate.

Inseparable, the times that we don’t talk about,
forty days and nights of rainfall, the turlough
and freshwater lake flow into each other.

The fear is real – the cell wall, the membrane,
the karstifying rock, a place of waiting,
of permeation – it has its own time.

The body is all water and returning
to its source: its fluid nature all surge
and holding together as it covers old ground.

Now the clock tells the time right,
inseperable as water, light and shade,
all one body – moving, turning.


A note about what I have been reading

This three-lines-a-day discipline for April has been away of me working through the learning elements of the ‘Knowing the Dance’ project – practice sketches is at were.  The ten-tristich sequence above is a response to ‘The Body has its Reasons’ and my rereading of it.  These last days of April,  I have also acquired the ‘Lines of Thought’ catalogue which accompanies the British Museum touring exhibition that has been on at the Ulster Museum, and ‘The Life of Lines‘ by Tim Ingold..and so the reading continues…in a linear fashion…

About NaPoWriMo

April is (Inter)National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) and the idea is to write a poem a day for the month. You can find some great prompts at the official site, and poetry support organisations like the Poetry School

Image: from Time Bug series (10cm x 10cm) by Emma Whitehead