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live artist, poet, and general doer of things

Day 9 Interviews: Dwayne Morgan / Dianne Moore & Philip Cairns

(This is the travel blog from my North American Poetry Tour (really just the northeast bit). I’m doing features and trying out slams and meeting organisers, finding ideas for Scottish spoken word and for touring. I hope you’ll follow along and share, and ask questions! If you’ve got ideas of things you want me to find out, tell me and I’ll chase it down.)

I took a day off from gigging to meet with organisers and spoken word artists from Toronto, to speak more in depth about the scenes in the city and nearby, and about what’s difficult and what’s brilliant in organising spoken word. I was really lucky to get some time with spoken word impressario and lynchpin of the community Dwayne Morgan, and equally delighted to be given a tour around Toronto’s LGBT+Village and arts scene by Dianne Moore and Philip Cairns, formerly of The Beautiful and the Damned.

http://www.urbantoronto.ca/sites/default/files/imagecache/display-default/images/articles/2014/06/10187/urbantoronto-10187-36381.jpg

The Beautiful and the Damned was to be my last stop on the tour, but sadly the event series folded back in July.  It ran for over three years in venues across The Village, Toronto’s LGBT quarter, finishing up at Glad Day Bookshop, a glorious room of teetering piles of queer literature with an event space upstairs. Although it was sad to see the event go, in my experience it’s often just part of the life-cycle of spoken word: volunteer-run events tend to run for about 3-4 years before the groups behind them disperse, giving them time to try out new things — often really amazing things happen afterwards. Philip and Diane, who I spoke to about the queer arts scene in Toronto, agreed: it was going to give everyone energy to do new things.

I also think it’s worth talking about why events series end and why organisers often need to move on. That’s especially true of events for minority communities — ones that are working to create safe and supportive spaces for speaking out — because our organisers tend to be more vulnerable and our spaces more precarious. Even somewhere with as much support for LGBT events as The Village, it can be hard to find event spaces which are supportive, reliable and physically accessible — especially when, as with the Lower East Side in New York, those areas are gentrifying. Even somewhere with a lively arts scene and a close-knit community, events often depend on lynchpin organisers, and without funding it can be really difficult to maintain the energy for more than a few years. I firmly believe that events and venues for minority groups need focussed and prioritised funding from public bodies to help counter these issues. They also need audience support! So go out and support your local night

In Edinburgh, our two queer-focussed events are both occasional rather than monthly: Cachín Cachán Cachunga! and OUT:SPOKEN. I think this might help maintain events and audiences in the long-term, especially when funding’s hard to come by: it avoids draining our organisers, and means each edition is a special event that audiences are keen to go to. What’s happening elsewhere in Scotland? Let me know in the comments.

There’s still loads of stuff happening in The Village. Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir hosts spoken word regularly in its programme; the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre hosts performance; and Diane and Philip also took me round the 519, a brilliant community centre and event space that’s a resource that goes beyond anything similar I’ve seen. Though events come and go, the artistic community still thrives.

PHOTO COURTESY OF DWAYNE MORGAN<br /> Poet Dwayne Morgan is among the talents in the urbanNOISE festival running Sept. 28-29 at Rexdale’s Albion Public Library.

Dwayne Morgan is a Canadian poet, producer and spoken word educator with a formidable CV: he’s worked full-time as a poet for 21 years, founding the Toronto International Poetry Slam, When Brothers/Sisters Speak, the largest showcases of poets of colour in north america, and working regularly across Canadian media and broadcasting. I met up with him at Cedarbrae Library in Scarborough, where he’s working for the next few months as writer-in-residence, running workshops and events for local audiences and youth.

I asked him what changes he’d seen in Canada over his career. “Poetry slams have been the force that have changed things the most,” he said. “They’ve brought excitement, brought people, built an entry point for a lot of people into spoken word. There’s a lot of great people involved right now: there’s youth things, there’s culture things, there are niche things happening, there are lots of opportunities that weren’t there when I was starting out.”

We talked also about what some of the challenges facing a big spoken word scene are. Dwayne has worries that the audience might be “slammed out” — with too many slams and not enough variety. One of my favourite metaphors for an arts scene is that of an ecology; you need all sorts of different events to have a healthy scene: slams, open mics, cabarets, showcases. As Dwayne says, “The only way it works is when you have all the different avenues working harmoniously.”

Diversity matters across slam too. Dwayne suggested that slam in Canada isn’t always as a political as in the US, but that the niche events matter. “At some slams you have a lot of important racial politics, stuff about racism and oppression, and at other slams feminist politics are more important — if you go round all the slams, they all have their own communities and cultures. Artists tend to go where they’ll be received the best, but the best artists are the ones who can go to all the slams and still be able to be comfortable and share and perform for all those communities.” I think this is a good way to think about the politics of slam — it’s often criticised for being all one sort of thing or political style, but usually by people who’ve only been to one or two nights. A regular slam is a community with its own interests, and that’s a good thing, but slam as a whole movement is hugely diverse.

Slam as a movement matters, but providing opportunities for poets to live from their work too. Projects like the Cedarbrae Library residency can spread poetry and provide work for poets; Dwayne also works with school boards to speak in schools; and Canada has a growing Youth Slam movement with professional mentors. Apples & Snakes’ Shake the Dust was an amazing project for England, as is the extraordinary Spoken Word Educator MA at Golsmiths; we lack anything like that in Scotland. Bringing in youth is vital to the health of the scene, but it also provides an important avenue of important. That’s even more important in the digital age; Dwayne had previously ben able to make more income from books and CD sales, “But now we have to find ways to replace the income when society has shifted to the digital world.”

Finishing off, I asked what advice Dwayne had for Scotland about what makes a spoken word scene strong. He said, “What makes a scene strong are the people driving it. There isn’t a scene without people with commitment, vision and passion. It’s my belief that there’s space enough for everyone. If you have something you want to do, I’ll support you, and you can support what I’m doing. If everyone is invested in the betterment of this thing we all care about, then it lasts. It’s just that easy.” Amen to that! A rising tide lifts everyone, especially in the arts, and in growing scenes like spoken word.

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Thursday 18th: Burlington Poetry Slam
Friday 19th: London Poetry Slam
Saturday 20th: Guelph Poetry Slam
Sunday 21st: Words and Music, Montreal
Monday 22nd: The Poet in New York, The Bowery

Days 7-8: Readings at the Common / Boneshaker

(This is the travel blog from my North American Poetry Tour (really just the northeast bit). I’m doing features and trying out slams and meeting organisers, finding ideas for Scottish spoken word and for touring. I hope you’ll follow along and share, and ask questions! If you’ve got ideas of things you want me to find out, tell me and I’ll chase it down.)

I headed back to Toronto for the next leg of the tour, to check out smaller reading series, interview organisers and follow the Southern Ontario Spoken Word Circuit, getting a snapshot of different forms of spoken word in a major active global spoken word hub. Like New York and London England, Toronto and the greater Southern Ontario region is hugely active in performance poetry, spoken word and live literature — there’s an event almost every night, and plenty of mailing lists and websites to help you find your way around.

Readings at the Common is a monthly candlelit reading series at The Common, a little café with a great reputation for coffee. Hosted by Jessica Moore and Daniel Renton, its focus is on the literary and publishing end of poetry. My co-readers that night were Irene Marques, writing in Portuguese and English, and Laurie D Graham, an editor for Brick whose work has been shortlisted for multiple major Canadian awards. The night was quiet and relaxed, with a friendly and hugely attentive audience, fuelled by great tea and coffee. I spoke to Jessica about the origins of the event — it’s been running for three years now, and began at the instigation of the café’s owner as a way to make artistic use of the space in the evenings. Toronto’s a city of neighbourhoods, and the Common is right next door to Little Korea, Little Italy and Little Portugal, as well as to the hugely popular community space Dufferin Grove Park: Jessica sees the Readings as a neighbourhood event, with most of the audience local to the café.

Boneshaker is a library-based reading series, running for the last 4 years at the St Clair Public Library. Organised by librarian Lillian Necakov, it began as a way to bring more adults into the library’s programme and has now built both a loyal and visiting audience. Toronto boasts the world’s busiest urban public library system, something Lillian was very proud of, with local libraries hugely important centres of services and events as well as books. It excited me to see local reading series brought into that as part of what libraries can offer. Reading with poet and novelist Robert Earl Stewart, I again had a wonderfully warm and receptive audience — and I sold out of the pamphlets I’d brought with me, only halfway through the tour!

Both nights, I tried out a set of mixed English and Scots material, warming people up to the Scots by starting with intertwining the poems with English translations before doing longer and faster work. I felt like I was finding my feet more in how to perform Scots for an overseas audience; rather than clobbering them over the head with the strangeness of it, I was able to make points of connection and bring audiences into the music more. With Scots migrants being a big part of Canada’s settler-colonial history, I had plenty of conversations about Scots ancestors, and many people spoke to me about how they remembered words and phrases grandparents would use. Laurie Graham at the Common said that it felt like a language she “knew but didn’t know”; although her direct family don’t speak it, it’s in her line, and we wondered if there are things that accents and tongues remember.

The events couldn’t have been more different from the week in New York — and I couldn’t have been more grateful for the change. I love smaller and quieter events like these as much as the noisy celebrations, and I think they are just as important. It’s as great to be able to connect directly with each individual in the room as it is to a huge and unified crowd, and as wonderful to have meandering and exploratory conversations as it is to dance and cheer to poetry.

With Toronto being a city of small neighbourhoods, I wondered about the role of events like these, bringing professional writers from in and out of the city to local audiences and local venues — here, poetry can be a relaxing evening in for a neighbourhood, rather than a riotous celebration for a political community. That’s something that can be supported by major cities, but is also important for Scotland, with its relatively dispersed population and many local identities. There’s a risk of always thinking that bigger is better, and for poets trying to make a living a risk that we feel we always need to gravitate to the centre; poetry needs multiple models and multiple communities to thrive.

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Thursday 18th: Burlington Poetry Slam
Friday 19th: London Poetry Slam
Saturday 20th: Guelph Poetry Slam
Sunday 21st: Words and Music, Montreal
Monday 22nd: The Poet in New York, The Bowery

Days 2-4: Nuyorican Poetry Slams

(This is the travel blog from my North American Poetry Tour (really just the northeast bit). I’m doing features and trying out slams and meeting organisers, finding ideas for Scottish spoken word and for touring. I hope you’ll follow along and share, and ask questions! If you’ve got ideas of things you want me to find out, tell me and I’ll chase it down.)

568-entertainment

The Nuyorican Poets Café is one of the world’s beating hearts of performance poetry. Founded by a pioneering group of Puerto Rican artists and activists in 1973, it became a vital hub for artists of colour whose work was not accepted by mainstream industries. It’s now housed in a former tenement on the Lower East Side, in the middle of a strong Nuyorican cultural community in Manhattan. Along with the Uptown Poetry Slam, the Nuyorican Poetry Slam is one of the events that made slam a huge international artform. So when it came to organising a North American poetry tour, this is absolutely where I had to go.

I’d been told to queue an hour early if I wanted to join in the Wednesday Night Open Slam, and when I arrived at the door at 8pm there were already two other nervous poets jogging from foot to foot. We early birds quickly formed a queue community of slammers — there was me, a touring poet from Scotland; Liana, originally from Latvia and now studying nursing in New York; Kevan, a regular on the New Jersey scene who also teaches meditation; and Phil, a high school student in New York. We were all slamming here for the first time, and excited to be there. Quickly the queue grew behind us as we joked and encouraged each other and swapped poetry stories.

The slam, hosted by the amazing Jive Poetic, was unlike anything else I’ve ever been to — or rather, it was like all the slams I’ve been to, only so much more so. The crowd was completely packed once the whole queue had been squeezed in, and needed no encouragement to yell and cheer and finger-snap and boost every performer. Any judge who dared give lower than a 9 to a poet was viciously booed. There was a diversity of styles, but more work rooted clearly in hip-hop, and more work in the confessional slam style than you usually see in the UK. As an open slam, there were the same mix of nervous first-timers and pros throwing in their hat and total surprises. There were also, as I’d expected, way more writers and performers of colour, and the politics of voice and community ran powerfully through the night. It felt like a political event as much as an artistic event: or, to put it better, in this poetry slam art and politics were intertwined and extricable. Here slam was clearly about taking voice, taking the stage, speaking out and being heard.

I decided to hit the slam with as full on a burst of Scots poetry as I could. It was wild. I’m used to performing Scots to local audiences where the language and the references are familiar — I can predict where the laughs will come, the mmhmms, the cheers. Here I was consciously performing my own oral poetry for a community that wasn’t mine. Performance-wise I probably went off the rails, but in a really fun way: the audience were bemused, shocked, delighted, didn’t know what to make of it but loved it, laughed and cheered in strange places, and roared whenever they caught a reference that meant something. It was great to be with them, and have them with me; the applause that comes after a slam performance, and the out-breath, and the exhausted collapse into your seat — these are some of my favourite feelings in the world. Said Jive Poetic afterwards, “I’ve never seen an audience pay attention That Aggressively.” I’m not sure I’d do it again — or maybe I’d love to do it again and make it really work.

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I came back again on Friday to watch the invitational slam — win a Wednesday night slam and you can enter a Friday, win a Friday and you can be part of the run-offs for the Nuyorican Slam Team that heads to the National Poetry Slam. This time you have to arrive at least an hour early just to get in the audience. In the queue, I chatted with Lisa Mary MacNair, a Boricua/Scottish wordworker who used to work as a Literary Manager at the café. She remembered the area when it was much more strongly Puerto Rican — now rising rents and gentrification have changed the demographics of the Lower East Side dramatically. The Nuyorican owns its building, or it might have gone the way of The Living Theatre or the Bowery Poetry Club, both forced to move, the former now without a permanent venue. Whereas before the Nuyorican was at the geographical heart of its community, now poets are travelling from all across the city to perform there. At the start of the slam, host Mahogany Browne gave shout-outs to each Borough — Bronx and Queens got by far the biggest cheers.

I started thinking about the importance of arts venues to local communities, and how big economic changes can affect the kind of poetry we’re doing. When I was working at Govanhill Baths the writing I was making and supporting there came from that community, but when I’m just writing alone sometimes my poetry feels adrift. Again there’s a politics here: when a community is denied a loud voice in the mainstream, it’s vital it has spaces to take a voice for itself, and that’s something that has to be protected in an era of gentrification.

If I thought the Wednesday Slam was astonishing, the Friday Slam doubled down. On Wednesday the crowd filled all the seats, the bar and the balcony; on Friday they sat on every inch of floor, squeezed up against the walls, all aching for a poetry party. And the Wednesday Slam seemed sedate in comparison — this night was as much of a party as a slam, with crowd-stoking hosting, intense DJing, a dance-off in the breaks. It kicked off with a brilliant feature set from Angel Nafis, and a stunning sacrificial poem from Frequency (who won on Wednesday), before heading into the main event: three poets performing three poems each, competing for a slot on the Slam Team. A thread of politics and identity ran through the poetry — but the poems were often about family, or love, or faith; rather than being bald statements of politics, they were poems about life informed by identity and radical community.

What struck me most was how much the poetry was happening in collaboration with its audience. Most of the audience had been to slam and the Nuyorican before, and knew not just what to expect, but what it wanted: it wanted righteous truths, but it also wanted surprises; it wanted to be in political community with the performers, but it also wanted to be challenged and shocked. It wasn’t just a slam night but a slam audience. This made sense of one thing I’ve always found deeply weird about slam in Scotland: while traditionally and in most of the world slam is judged by randomly-selected audience members, in Scotland most slams have selected judging panels. But in Scotland I don’t think we’ve built a committed audience for slam, and slam isn’t urgently emerging from a community or artistic scene: our slams are great, but they’re a novelty, a crowd-puller and an entertainment rather than something that’s necessarily about our community and our politics. They’re also, in the main, very very white. Maybe our resistance to audience judges is that we haven’t yet built an audience that’s part of the poetry. Having random audience judges means trusting your audience, and in Scottish slam we don’t know who the audience is, so instead we place our trust in selected judges. I think that maybe one way of building a slam audience is to bring audience judges into the centre of it — but another is to make our slam more diverse, and reach out to the communities who aren’t performing, who we can support in taking their voice.

After the Slam came the Open Stage, where a ragtag bunch of poets hung behind to share their ideas. I gave another Scots poem for Lisa, whose roots made reading a Scots poem in a Nuyorican venue a really special feeling. A couple of experienced slammers tried out some early work, and an older Nuyorican veteran took the stage to sing a Ginsbergian poetry chant to his drum. Afterwards, at 1.30am, he came up to me as we all filed out into a warm night, and pushed the Nuyorican Symphony CD into my hand: “You should listen to this,” he said. “There’s a lot of history in here.”

At the Nuyorican, slam is a movement. The poetry is brilliant, but for me the best thing about it was the audiences: people hungry for poetry, and truth, and voice, and surprise. Making great poetry is as much about growing great audiences as it is about the words

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Monday 15th: Readings at the Common, Toronto
Tuesday 16th: Boneshaker, Toronto
Thursday 18th: Burlington Poetry Slam
Friday 19th: London Poetry Slam
Saturday 20th: Guelph Poetry Slam
Sunday 21st: Words and Music, Montreal
Monday 22nd: The Poet in New York, The Bowery

Day 1, Toronto: Howl Radio and the Art Bar

(This is the travel blog from my North American Poetry Tour (really just the northeast bit). I’m doing features and trying out slams and meeting organisers, finding ideas for Scottish spoken word and for touring. I hope you’ll follow along and share, and ask questions! If you’ve got ideas of things you want me to find out, tell me and I’ll chase it down.)

This tour first started coming together back in February, when by great good luck a work trip happened to coincide with the Art Bar‘s Discovery Night, an annual event where Canada’s longest-running weekly poetry series hunts out new talent, and by even greater luck I ended up winning (the first time an international poet has scooped the prize), which landed me an invitation to come back in the Autumn. I’ve built this tour off the back of that, which I’m so grateful for. Mostly poetry success is built on graft, but sometimes a delicious fluke can snowball into something wonderful. Anyway, it’s great to start in Toronto, which is going to be my home base for the next fortnight-and-a-bit.

I met with Nancy Bullis, who has run Discovery Night since 1999, for an interview with the regular poetry show Howl on CIUT, Ontario’s biggest community radio station. (That interview will air at 10pm Eastern Time on 23rd September, and it’ll be available online on their website and then here afterwards.) We also chatted with Ken Stowar, who runs CIUT.

Howl, said Nancy, is trying to represent as many kinds of poetry as possible — poetry from the publishing scene in Canda, experimental poetry, spoken word and slam, everything. We’d talked about the problem of policed divides in poetry communities, especially between publishing and the slam circuit — something I’m increasingly proud of Scotland’s scene for working to productively bridge — and about how something like Howl can bring different folk together. Nancy told me about when technical troubles had taken Howl off the air for a week, and how poets from all sorts of different events had asked after the show.

Ken’s really passionate about the power of radio, too: “It’s the most unlimited medium,” he said, “But it’s not truly used to its full potential, including for poetry.” I’ve been part of a lot of conversations bemoaning BBC Radio’s weak engagement with poetry (both written and spoken); wouldn’t it be great if we could follow CIUT’s lead and make poetry radio of our own in Scotland? The SPL has laid a trail for this, as did the Scottish season on Indiefeed Performance Poetry: let’s do more!

Toronto was by far the easiest city for me to programme in my tour: there was more information online, events were quicker to respond to emails, and there was a willingness to bring in touring poets. I asked both Ken and Nancy why that was. Ken thought that it might be to do with Toronto increasingly marketing itself as a destination, but Nancy added that Canada’s culture of touring poets might be a big part of it: events are used to people traveling from out of town, and looking for that kind of cross-pollination. We’re getting a lot better at (and getting better funding to) bring touring poets to Scottish events, but I really want to see more happening in the other direction: more Scottish poets, especially spoken word acts, touring the UK and beyond. You learn so much when you tour: it makes your own work better, and you pick up new ideas and see new styles, so it’s crucial to a diverse scene.

That night I headed along to the Art Bar for my feature and the first gig of the tour. The Art Bar is a really well-established Toronto night, with good funding support for poets. It’s focussed at the more literary/publishing end of the scene, but features slam-style acts too, and has regular open mics, so it’s a great community event. Sharing the bill with me were David B. Goldstein,  based in Toronto, and Tammy Armstrong, who’d driven hundreds of miles from a tiny lobster town in Nova Scotia — both great poets.

I chatted with Stephen Humphrey, one of the event organisers, and Valentino Assenza, former Toronto Poetry Slam Team member, who hosted the night. We talked about how important open mics are to this kind of project — “A lot of nights are totally against them,” Stephen said, “But they’re a big part of what we do and they build a community of people coming to support events.” I love events like Art Bar that mix up a diverse open mic with professional feature acts, where everyone’s supporting each other. I was really glad to see a funded night keeping that at its heart, too.

Part of what I’m doing with this tour is trying out work in Scots to international audiences — sometimes I get frustrated with how little Scots gets beyond our borders, and I want to find ways of making it accessible to and enjoyable for non-speakers. So I mixed up English and Scots material in the set. I had some great conversations with people afterwards — a lot of people had found it hard to follow all the language, but spoke about enjoying the music and sounds of it too; there was a real interest in linguistic diversity and what that means for poetry; and of course everyone wanted to talk about the referendum. I tried performing a piece in Scots and then in English, which seemed to work well, but I also tried pieces without translation, which worked best with the funnier or more high energy stuff. I’d love to find ways that didn’t just involved giving people the English afterwards. Poetry with surtitles? Explaining words in the middle? (That works sometimes as a funny aside.) How can we make Scots have more reach? What interest can international audiences find in it? How do we perform ourselves overseas? I’m looking forward to finding out what happens at different nights.

Next up, New York!

Wednesday 10th: Nuyorican Wednesday Slam, New York
Friday 12th: Nuyorican Friday Slam / Open House, New York
Monday 15th: Readings at the Common, Toronto
Tuesday 16th: Boneshaker, Toronto
Wednesday 17th, Articulated Noise, Toronto
Thursday 18th: Burlington Poetry Slam
Friday 19th: London Poetry Slam
Saturday 20th: Guelph Poetry Slam
Sunday 21st: Words and Music, Montreal
Monday 22nd: The Poet in New York, The Bowery

Over the Pond: Poetry Tour of Ontario, Quebec & New York

On Sunday 7th September I’m skipping out of Scotland. With a wee bit of funding from Creative Scotland, I’m heading to cities in the northeast of North America in a pilgrimage to some of the heartlands of spoken word. I’ll be giving feature sets at some big nights, throwing my hat into the ring for some of the biggest and best slams in the world, interviewing organisers and spoken word artists, having a great time, and trying to bring back ideas and inspiration to our flourishing Scottish scene.

Part of the work I’ve been funded to do is to blog regularly about the experience, finding out how spoken word and performance poetry happen in North America, what we can learn from organisers there, and what’s special about what we do in Scotland. I’m also going to be building touring connections for other poets who are interested in making their way over the pond, and running a workshop when I get back to talk about what I’ve learned.

So for the next month, here’s where you can find me:

Tuesday 9th: Art Bar Poetry Series, Toronto
Wednesday 10th: Nuyorican Wednesday Slam, New York
Friday 12th: Nuyorican Friday Slam / Open House, New York
Monday 15th: Readings at the Common, Toronto
Tuesday 16th: Boneshaker, Toronto
Thursday 18th: Burlington Poetry Slam
Friday 19th: London Poetry Slam
Saturday 20th: Guelph Poetry Slam
Sunday 21st: Words and Music, Montreal
Monday 22nd: The Poet in New York, The Bowery

I’m still open to more gigs — I arrive on Monday 8th, leave on Thursday 25th, and have a bit of travel budget left (I think!) You can read about me here, and get in touch at harry@harrygiles.org

Aald Rede fer Biggin a Kintra

I’ve had a few opinions about the independence referendum, here and there, you know. But lately, worn out a little bit from the campaigning gig trail, tired a little bit from my own haiverin guff I’ve found myself returning to a quieter place about it all, and looking for some very old advice.

When I was a wee undergraduate I studied the Tao Te Ching, producing a totally over-reaching dissertation called “A Daoist Theory of Political Practice” (yes, really). The book in a few different translations has stuck with me for a good decade now, and I hope it’ll stick with me for longer. I turn to it when I’m looking for advice — sometimes about life, but more often about how to do politics. (There’s a fantastic tradition of anarchist interpretations I’m particularly fond of.) So when trying to figure out what I think about the independence referendum, and in particular what I want out of the politics of country-building, I can’t think of anything better to read.

The Tao Te Ching offers utopian visions of a small, peaceful country; a country at ease with its neighbours; a country where nobody wants for anything, and where nobody strives for destructive riches. It speaks against the rapaciousness of the ruling classes and career politicians (“cry this the darg o reivers / n no the wey”). It explores what happens when small countries come into conflict with big ones. It’s confused about what the real differences between yes and no are, and speaks for a politics that’s less about control and more about transformation (“the warld’s a cog o speerit / n canna be owert”). I think it has a lot to tell us right now.

So here’s my last artistic contribution to the independence referendum debate: seven poems from the Tao Te Ching, versioned into Orkney Scots. I’m working in Orkney Scots partly because a small, quiet, rural language felt right for the project, but mostly just because it pleases me. The booklet includes an English glossary, and the recording above, from All Back to Bowie’s, has me reading English translations.

scotland

aald rede for biggin a kintra
(pdf download)

Thank you. Good luck. Take care.

Anti-Capitalist Santa’s Gift List

anticapitalist elf

Dear kids,

A few weeks ago, Santa got in touch with me (I was so wowed!) to ask for help. He’s been getting a bit depressed lately, because he’s become conscious of his essential complicity in appalling structural violence through the institution of Christmas. He asked me if I’d like to come on board as an Anticapitalist Apprentice Elf to help him take Christmas in a new revolutionary, and I was delighted to. Together we concocted a plan: get loads of good little boys, girls and genderqueers to ask for the revolution for Christmas.

On the 15th of August we solicited revolutionary letters to Santa all day at Out of the Blue as part of Buzzcut @ Forest Fringe. With 40 letters received, we were very pleased indeed, and proceeded with the next stage of the plan: a Facebook vote. Unfortunately, Santa’s investors aren’t too happy with his new direction, so we have a pretty limited budget to bring about the revolution. Originally we’d planned just to spend £5 on the highest-voted letter, but I’m pleased to announce that a surprise funding source has enabled us to treat the top five letter-writers to their Christmas wish. These were:

Paul, who wants localised horizontalism, ethical relations with non-humans, and identity fluidity. This will happen accidentally, with a sudden realisation. The revolutionary tactics will be secret societies publishing zen koan communiques, on which the five pound revolutionary budget will be spent.

 

Megan (11), who wants loads of money, shoes and clothes for everyone. This revolution will happen immediately and dangerously through letters, voting and blowing things up.

 

Zoë, who wants food for everyone, socialism, and more (and more celebration of) provocative female performance. This is a phased plan achieved through street protest, art and sex. Of the five pound revolutionary budget, £2 will be spent on a public free food project, £1.50 on a socialist project, and £1.50 on a provocative female performer’s kickstarter.

 

Henry, who wants every cunt to just get on wi each other, everyone to be provided with some means of livelihood, so that nobody’s under the frightful necessity of becoming first a thief and then a corpse, and the product of all labour to be the property of all people and individual appropriation to be ended. Also, no cops. This revolutionary should happen ceaselessly, through direct action, armed resistance and poetry. The five pound revolutionary budget will be spent on a book of poetry, a balaclava, and a brick.

 

& Shite, who wants, in some detail:
- a) Community owed and Locally controlled means for the reproduction of everyday life. Cooperatively run vertical Urban farms, Community Tech Workshops (Bike, Electrical, Woodwork etc), Social Centres, Local Green Energy & Housing Coops.
- b) A three day week & a sky-high pay.
- c) A complete deconstruction of All Nations, Nationalism, Borders & inherited privilege (including & not limited to; Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality, physical ability, Religious Background, & Institutional Attainment)
This revolution will happen gradually until there is mass engagement in a network of locally controlled community spaces exchanging value through local currencies, and making local decisions with direct democracy, followed by an immediate & concerted effort to destroy the shell of the old society by any means. Its main tactics will be street protest, direct action and shoplifting. The five pound revolutionary budget will be spent on self care, because self care is a radical act.

We’d like to take a moment to thank all the kids who wrote letters, even if we can’t afford their presents. They were absolutely brilliant. You too can enjoy all 40 revolutionary Christmas wishes, on Facebook here, or by downloading the complete letters with a pretty Christmas border.

Santa and I are going to be working hard to bring the downfall of globalised late capitalism down these children’s chimneys by Christmas. Our elves will be elving away, spending our £20 budget thusly:

  • £5 on distributing revolutionary koan
  • £5 on a book of poetry, a balaclava and a brick
  • £2 on a free public food project
  • £1.50 on a socialist campaign
  • £1.50 on a provocative female performers’ kickstarter
  • £5 on self-care

We had originally planned to have spent all this by the end of October, but given the expanded  budget we’re not planning to have completed all the activities by the end of November. We think the extra time will enhance the revolutionary potential of the work. We’ll be documenting everything thoroughly, and will let you know how the work is going in early December. That way, when the revolution comes on December 25th, you’ll know why.

Lastly, we wanted to share with you think kind words of one very good child, Freddie:

By the way, while some people see you as a symbol of heteronormativity, I’ve always seen you as a sort of genderless mythical being that expresses an asexual form of love and positivity to all humanity, and I really appreciate that.

Amen to that.

Forward the revolution! Ho! Ho! Ho!

Elf Harry xxx

 

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