My choice cuts from Edinburgh Fringe

Just back from Edinburgh, where I saw 20 shows in 5 days. OK, 19. We were 2 minutes late for one, and missed out. Two of the shows were at the Book Festival, one at the International Festival, and the rest on the Fringe. I also gave a reading at the Fruitmarket Gallery with some friends.

This was the view from our B&B.

Yep, that’s Arthur’s Seat, which we summarily failed to climb despite plans for a 7am ascent.

I’ve been coming to Edinburgh every August for about six years (including one year to produce a play) and it’s always thrilling to experience the organised mayhem of the festivals. The city throngs with tourists from all over the world, students flyering for shows with increasingly desperate promises of “five star reviews” and “it’s actually quite funny”, producers and arts types with their fancy lanyards, performers in various stages of costuming rushing from sweaty basement venues. I love it.

This year Sarah and I sat through over 24 hours of theatre and as ever it was a real hotchpotch of the good, the great, the inspiring and the ill-conceived. We enjoyed plays about growing old and aerial displays that captured the fragility and absurdity of human experience. We experienced total darkness as well as total tedium. Political theatre seems to be having something of a resurgence: from police brutality to an independent East Anglia; from tax evasion to the Quebec liberation movement. Each piece made its own way through these, and other ideas, and the best were those able to create a personal, visceral experience that felt embodied in the space of the theatre. The least effective plays were those that presented a doctrinal attitude, rather than being open-ended, complicated or deliciously ambiguous.

Anyway, here are my top five shows (listed in alphabetical order):

887 by Robert Lepage (Ex Machina)

Edinburgh International Festival

The Beanfield (Breach)

theSpace on the Mile

Confirmation by Chris Thorpe

Summerhall

Tomorrow (Vanishing Point)

Traverse

What I Learned from Johnny Bevan by Luke Wright*

Summerhall

* I declare a bias here: I am Luke’s editor and will be publishing this play in Feb. Still, it’s bloody good.

This is not a sales pitch

This is not a sales pitch. This is a confession. But this is not a confessional: I have nothing to be ashamed of.

In May Test Centre will release my second collection of poems. It’s been six years since I published How to Build a City. It is an understatement to say that I have waited long enough. I am pleased with the book, but of course I am also anxious about its reception. These poems are my way of speaking out from interior places. This is not a sales pitch.

Poets talk about ‘finding your voice’, which I have always found faintly repellent. Its almost gnostic suggestion of a revealed truth or essence. Its sly rejection of multiplicity, of the poet’s capacity for ventriloquism. Not to mention its reinforcement of the notion of serving a ‘poetic apprenticeship.’

Dark Islands is not bound together by one unifying voice or theme, but instead is governed by a dense cloud of ideas and images that, through their accumulation and interaction, I hope create pleasing or troubling or powerful effects. That is, at least, my desire. This is not a sales pitch, though selling is in my blood. Money is one of those ideas that filters through this book, its register of loss and profit interrupting and destabilising the lexicon.

The island is the metaphorical apparatus of my book. Poems are islands, drifting in a sea of white, guarding their limits against the tide, governed by their own internal rules. The human body is an island: a unit of meaning as much isolated as it is self-determining. This is a book against loneliness.

And when the poems speak of ‘the black Madonna spinning on the Lazy Susan‘ or recall a fascist march in Aldgate, they chart my own faulty, faltering pathway back to faith and forgiveness. Good people do bad things. But this is not a confessional. Poetry brings me to my knees.

A publisher who rejected an early manuscript commented: ‘I would like a little more warmth, vulnerability and emotion overall, more of the poet who is currently hiding behind his words.’ I didn’t know whether to feel flattered or indignant. Because on one level, they were right: the masked man appears throughout my poems, a shadow of myself perhaps, or a childhood fear? I am interested in the hidden places; and in those things which are not as they appear.

But this is a book of vulnerabilities. More than ever I want to share the things that hurt. It’s just that, sometimes, I am compelled to conceal them within a joke or a riddle. That’s my protection. It’s not me, it’s you. ‘I bruise as keenly as a supermarket fruit.’

The city is there too. Its dense histories and pressure cooker atmospherics provide a backdrop to the poems’ very modern neuroses: protestors outside St Paul’s ‘in the costume of the dead,’ City boys ‘on bonus day in Cornhill,’ ‘the swashing potage of the Thames.’

This is not an advertisement. This is a pitch into the dark.

Poems from Dark Islands

Island of Voices (The Island Review)

Ecosystem (Wild Culture)

The Herbals (3:AM Magazine)

 

Things I’ve been up to

I haven’t blogged here for a while. These last few months, I’ve been about as busy as I have ever been. Here is a selection of recent activities. (All good, of course. It’s not polite to mention the bad stuff!)

 

Moving flat

After nine years living in Aldgate, in the heart of it all, my wife and I have moved south of the river to the sleepy Thames-side ‘village’ of Rotherhithe. I think it may prove to be the best thing we’ve ever done. It’s got some great pubs, lovely walks, and a deep and complex history.

The Thames at Rotherhithe, looking towards Wapping

An Antidote to Indifference

I had a piece about the lost islands of Sussex printed in this fanzine published by Caught by the River in association with the Island Review. It’s edited by The Island Review’s editor Mallachy Tallack. You can still read my original article online here.

Mount London

Another anthology is out – this one co-edited with Martin Kratz. The subtitle is ‘Ascents in the Vertical City’. It’s a great read!

Moray Walking Festival

I was invited to give a 45 minute talk/reading at this splendid local festival in the north of Scotland dedicated to walking. Before I did my slot, we had the opportunity to walk out onto the bleak, beautiful sand dunes of the Moray Firth with a walking artist. It was a magical experience.

The Moray Firth near Findhorn

LIFT Festival

Myself and long-time friend James Wilkes were commissioned to make an audio piece for Battersea Arts Centre by LIFT Festival. This culminated in The Listening Post, a semi-immersive experience that told surprising stories of World War One Battersea – from roller-skating rinks to munitions factories to the tribunals of Conscientious Objectors. It was a real pleasure making the work, collaborating with Jamie, and installing it in the rafters of the beautiful Arts Centre. Natasha Tripney of Exeunt Magazine reviewed the work:

From the orchid room you ascend, passing under the rafters, noting stray roller skates and flickering clips of Charlie Chaplin; the overlapping voices are underscored by an ominous aeroplane drone and suggestive of suspicions hissed over back garden fences, the twitch of the curtain.

We plan to turn what we made into some kind of digital experience over the summer, so that more people can discover the stories we brought life to.

The Orchid Room as part of The Listening Post at BAC (LIFT Festival)

Edwin Morgan Award shortlist

I am honoured to have been shortlisted for this prestigious prize for Scottish poets 30 and under. I just slipped under the barrier on both counts, it seems. The winner is announced at the Edinburgh Book Festival on 16th August. I will be there. The shortlisting is for the manuscript of my second collection (currently unpublished), Dark Islands.

Edwin Morgan

I Leave This At Your Ear

Last year I recorded some poems for the Poetry Library at the Southbank Centre. One of my own, and two in Anglo-Saxon! They are now going to be part of an audio installation as part of Poetry International Festival. It’s free, so do drop by.

Arts Council news

My publishing / performance company Penned in the Margins received some wonderful news. We have been selected as an Arts Council NPO (National Portfolio Organisation) for 2015-18. After almost ten years of precarious labour at the arts coal face, this gives us three years of relative stability with which to stabilise the ship, raise our game, and ensure that we have the grounding to build for the future.

Two early reviews of Flood Drain

Chivers’ Flood Drain speaks in many voices: some are beautiful, some are demotic and, pulled together, they achieve a confluence, like the Humber and the Hull, like the past and the present.

John Field, ‘Find the River’

and

Very different from the ambitious Medieval allegorical world of Langland’s dream poem this witty and intelligent take on industrial drainage in the twenty-first century has no qualms about playing with sounds and inferences.

Ian Brinton, Tears in the Fence