Everything I Bought and How It Made Me Feel is
a sloppy parody of open data
an adventure into inconsistency
a microphone held up to late capitalist neurosis
a miserable chore
a creaking machine
a broken record
a learning curve
a drawn out defiance of self and supermarket
a series of appalling accidents
a laugh a minute
a show and tell
numbers assigned to feelings and put into pie charts!
and the ever-unsurprising ongoing revelations about how my purchases actually made me feel!
and follow at
Everything I Bought and How It Made Me Feel
Spīķeru Concert Hall, Riga, Latvia
September 27th, 7pm
Harry’s got a problem. Maybe you do to. He keeps buying things to feel better, but they just make him more miserable. So he’s started keeping a diary…
For a full year, Harry is logging every financial transaction he makes on everythingibought.tumblr.com. In painstaking detail, he’s writing about how each purchase makes him feel — his hopes, dreams, fears, and utter failure to come to a liveable compromise with capitalism.
Everything I Bought And How It Made Me Feel is now a new stage show, asking: Why do we buy what we do? Is there any way to do it better? And how does consumerism really make us feel?
The Arches, Glasgow, Scotland
October 10th, 6-10pm
BOOM! BANG! SPLAT! CRUNCH!
A city of cardboard and glue and glitter! A city of every building you hate! A city that you can destroy!
This is a participatory installation jumping-up-and-down sparkleshow about anger and urban planning. Together we will build the worst city in the world and ritually destroy it as though we were children again. Maybe we are. In the face of sprawling regeneration, stunt architecture, entertainment megacomplexes and luxury housing, we will howl our loss through a plasticine pummelling and build a new city in a scream.
CRUNCH! SPLAT! BANG! BOOM!
A Bird Is Not A Stone
The Supper Room, Town Hall, St Andrews, Scotland
October 11th, 2-3pm
A Bird is Not a Stone is a new anthology of Palestinian poems translated into English by a wide range of contemporary Scottish poets. Abla Oudeh will read a selection of the original poems from Palestine and several of the Scottish poets involved in the project, including Christine Da Luca, the new Edinburgh Makar, and Harry Giles, will read their translations. The editors of this anthology, Sarah Irving and Henry Bell, will present the readings while also providing some background context to the project.
I Want to Blow Up The Palace of Holyroodhouse
Police Station, SPILL, Ipswich, England
30th Oct – 1st Nov
Harry wants to blow up the Palace of Holyroodhouse because huge royal estates make him furious and he has to cycle past this one daily.
It’s probably not right to, and he doesn’t want to go to prison anyway, so he’s building a scale model and blowing that up instead. He’s inviting you to build and destroy models of the buildings and institutions you despise, and to join the explosive exploration of our hurt, our rage, and our struggle to figure out what to do about it. This is a performance about futility and urban planning, the limitations of art and activism, and discovering what the state can do to you. All participation will be monitored for monitoring purposes.
Presented with the support of Florian Feigl.
Next Generation Poets Tour
Blackwells, Edinburgh, Scotland
4th November, 6-8pm
Next Generation Poets 2014 is a major poetry promotion following on from New Generation Poets in 1994 and Next Generation Poets in 2004, which launched the careers of many of today’s leading British and Irish poets. Twenty-three events will follow in festivals, libraries, venues, Waterstones and independent bookshops across the country, running through from 1 October to 15 March 2015, when there will be a big celebration at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, with all 20 poets invited to read.
I am not one of the Next Generation poets! I am too wee yet and don’t have a collection out. But, brilliantly, PBS have invited poets from generations to come to join each tour stop as support, and I’m the youngeen for the Edinburgh leg.
New Poetry Publication Launch
Scottish Parliament and Online
I’m launching a new poetry publication about farming and the environment. There’s going to be a beautiful physical version and a beautiful digital version. This is a teaser! I’ll tell you more soon. But it’s going to be good.
BOOM! BANG! SPLAT! CRUNCH!
A city of cardboard and glue and glitter! A city of every building you hate! A city that you can destroy!
This is a participatory installation jumping-up-and-down sparkleshow about anger and urban planning. Together we build the worst city in the world and ritually destroy it as though we were children again. Maybe we are. In the face of sprawling regeneration, stunt architecture, entertainment megacomplexes and luxury housing, we will howl our loss through a plasticine pummelling and build a new city in a scream.
CRUNCH! SPLAT! BANG! BOOM!
View each photo to see why its maker chose to recreate each building, and how they hoped to feel about destroying it.
Now watch the city be destroyed.
SMASHY SMASHY will return as part of I Want to Blow Up the Palace of Holyroodhouse at SPILL 2014.
And it will return again whenever there is a city that deserves glittery destruction and someone to pay travel and help gather cardboard.
(Additional photos licensed under Creative Commons from Mary Crandall, Oscar Palmer, fsse8info, Pedro Szekely, [Duncan], Nico Hogg, Jonathon Champton, trawets1, rockotter89, David B. Gleason, peperoni, subflux, Willie Angus)
I’m just back in Edinburgh from my first overseas poetry tour. It’s been an amazing trip, but I’m glad to be home. From getting around as many scenes as I could in North America over two weeks, I feel like I’ve learned a lot. (I hope you’ve enjoyed and got something from the blogs.) By looking at comparisons, I’ve come to appreciate what we do really well, and I’ve also been given a bunch of ideas about what we might be able to do better.
I founded Inky Fingers with Alice Tarbuck back in 2010. It’s always focussed on open mics and workshops and ways of supporting new writers into the scene: nurturing the grassroots. Earlier this year, I finally stepped back from the organisation and passed it on to a new guard of organisers so that I could focus on my own work. I’m so excited to see what they do. And over that past 4 years, I’m so excited by what’s happened in Scottish spoken word: there’s been an explosion in the number of events, and also I think a real ramping up of quality. There are more nights, with more diversity between them, several now with funding, and all with drive and ambition. Well done, everyone. We’ve done good. We’ve done really good.
Now let’s do more good! Here, post-tour, and with my mind buzzing, is my wishlist for spoken word in Scotland. I’m writing this just as I step back from doing any major organising, so I’m feeling very cheeky about it, but I can’t step back without writing something. And even though I’m not running a regular event now, I’ll be around. See you there.
1. Get More Money
Funding makes the scene sustainable. From talking to people with way more experience than me, it’s clear that spoken word here (as everywhere) goes through cycles of boom and bust. And from tour, even in heartlands of spoken word like New York and Toronto, I’ve learned that a similar pattern repeats itself: a regular event runs for three or four years, builds an audience, peaks in excitement and quality, and then starts to dwindle as people struggle to take it to the next level, before it eventually folds. Our events and organisers are vulnerable, overstretched and underpaid. I believe that more events going after funding is a really important thing to do, to make sure acts get paid and organisers get paid and the scene continues to grow. And I believe that we need to help each other make this happen. I don’t think we’re all necessarily in competition for funding: I think that the more spoken word events get funded, the more the profile of the artform is raised, and the easier it gets to argue for funding a diversity of events. This is not a zero sum game. But getting funding is hard and gruelling work, and so I also think we need to share our skills. I’ve written successful funding applications and failed funding applications, and I’d love to share what little I’ve gleaned with you. Get in touch. Pass it on.
2. Learn to Tour
We are not good at touring from Scotland. Our spoken word artists often stick mostly to the Scottish scene, maybe occasionally popping down to England. This isn’t about individual fear, but about a lack of collective knowledge and support. Touring is rarely a money-spinner, but it does grow your work, your knowledge of different scenes, and your connections with international artists. If there’re a lot of artists touring a lot of events, spoken word audiences are constantly seeing new acts, and those acts are constantly hearing new things, which grows the art. When you tour to other events, you learn different ways of organising and pick up useful new ideas that strengthen the scene. And when you connect with artists from further afield, it makes it so much easier for us all to find international touring acts: a network of scenes makes everyone stronger. And learning to tour might seem intimidating, but it isn’t actually that hard: most people are willing to share contacts, and most contacts are willing to hear from you. I’ll be running a workshop soon where those of us who’ve done a bit of touring share what we’ve learned, to encourage more people to give it a shot.
3. Take Diversity Seriously
This is a big problem for us. While a couple of our showcases operate a 50/50 (or better) gender balance in feature acts, several big ones are still have a majority of male names over and over again, and open mics are often totally dominated by men. While we’ve got a couple of good LGBT+ focussed events, too often marginalised groups aren’t represented in line-ups and open mics. The majority of spoken word events aren’t in wheelchair accessible spaces, let alone trying to meet wider understandings of accessibility. And our scene tends to be really, really white, which in a diverse artform like spoken word is very strange. When you go to events anywhere else, the ethnic make-up of our scene really sticks out as a problem, and we’re often not better on other diversity counts. We need to sort this out. We need to take seriously diversity demands in our line-ups, taking affirmative action, and we need to learn what excludes people from open mics. We need to find ways of reaching out to minority communities, finding where the spoken word is and how we can work together. We need to find ways of supportively calling out events that aren’t doing this properly, and offering advice and ideas to help. We need to grow the diversity of the scene as a central part of growing the scene.
4. Lure in the Schools
If you want to build careers in spoken word, growing spoken word in education is vital. Workshops in schools tend to pay well, and in North America (and just beginning in England) youth slam is a really big deal and is central to the health of the scene. It’s an artform that works really well in a school setting, with its focus on speaking up and speaking out. It’s exciting, and powerful, and political, and it keeps the form contemporary and rich in new ideas. Goldsmiths is now running an MA in Spoken Word Education, but as far I know no Scottish artists have gone after it, and there’s no equivalent in our universities. Spoken word artists tend not to be on the Live Literature Database, even just as a start, even though they’ve now broadened their criteria for us. It’s going to take some time to grow interest and skills in Scotland to do spoken word in education, but I’d love to talk about how we can make a start.
5. Make Slam Work Harder
Our slam scene is pretty eccentric. Most of our slams are special one-off events, rather than a regular slam series, which is the norm everywhere else I’ve been, and which helps to build a real community around slam. We have a dominant judging and scoring system (pre-picked judges, scores out of 10 in three criteria) that I’ve never seen anywhere else, which runs against the audience-focussed purpose of slam at its founding, and which leaves our slam winners unprepared for the more usual scoring systems in slams everywhere else, including in the international competitions. Bar a couple of acts, we like England have almost no tradition of team performance, which is a major form elsewhere (although this year’s English nationals had a team slam element). All of this keeps our slam scene pretty separate from the rest of the world, even as we’ve finally in the last couple of years begun sending our winners to international championships. We’re not getting youth audiences involved in slam, which risks an aging population of performers; we’re not building a sense of real community and camaraderie around regular events, which makes slam often work against us rather than with us; and we’re not handing slam over to the audience (so how will they ever learn to judge us?) We can make slam work harder for the scene, and we can enjoy it more. I wrote this about how it happens in Ontario, but there are many more people we can learn from too.
6. Keep It Messy
But let’s not let our scene become dependent on slam, or ever homogenous in style. We need a scene that’s diverse in styles as well as performers. This, I think, is one of the things we do best right now. Every spoken word night I go to in Scotland, there’s a real range of different styles on stage, from declamatory slam to comic verse to sonnets to experimentation. We’re also exceptionally good (even if sometimes it doesn’t look like it) at blurring the boundary between page and stage: our poets tend to move more between the two, and tend to share events and books more often. Let’s hold on to all of that. It’s very special.
7. Get More Organised
Back in early summer, I met with Jenny Niven, the new Literature Officer at Creative Scotland, to chat about spoken word in Scotland. She was interested in and encouraging about our scene, and keen to hear from us about ways development could be supported. One thing she encouraged us to think about was ways of getting organisers together, organising together. How can we work together to share touring acts and make them more affordable? Could we put in joint funding bids to support the development of the scene? Could we set up a development body like an Apples & Snakes for Scotland? Could we have a Scottish Festival of Spoken Word? And can we please have a listings site that is clear, easy to use, includes everybody, and brings us new audiences? In 2013 I helped organise an informal Big Blether that brought a lot of organisers together but led to no clear conclusions; maybe it’s time for another, but with clearer actions. But, of course, we’re all tired, and we’re all overstretched, and that makes it hard to get things off the ground. I’d like to join in, but I’m reluctant to pour my energy into getting it started. Where can we begin? Let’s begin.
I whirlwind in from the Southwest Ontario Slam Circuit to finish up the tour with two amazing headliners: Words and Music in Montreal and The Poet in New York at Bowery Poetry. It’s been quite a trip and it’s amazing to finish it in grand style — though a little terrifying! Both days, I land in the city, rapidly find my way around, do the gig, head to the spare room I’m staying in, and then wake up to move on to the next city. I know this is totally ordinary for most artforms, but for poetry 6 cities in 6 days feels a bit much. I’m not used to this pace, but I’m excited by it while it’s happening.
Words and Music has happened at the Casa del Popolo for the last 14 years — it’s as old as the venue, as one of its flagship events, every fourth Monday. It’s primarily an anglophone night (Montreal has English and French and mixed spoken word scenes), but showcases a brilliant diversity of acts: my night, alongside me there’s Klyde Broox, a dub poetry master, Colombian-Canadian pianist Isis Giraldo, and English storyteller Gerard Harris, all hosted by event veteran Ian Ferrier. The night is dreamy and hilarious by turn, the crowd blethering away into the evening.
Words and Music feels much more like the sorts of events that are more common in Scotland: showcases majoring in spoken word but that focus on diversity and bring in multiple artforms. I feel more at home here, and all the while I’m there I think how wonderful that is: that in so many cities in the world I can find a familiar sort of event where generous people gather to hear new words and sounds.
Of all the cities I visited, Montreal is the one I’m saddest about not seeing more of properly. I know there’s so much more of the scene to explore there, particularly Throw Poetry at the core of the slam scene. But New York called!
The Bowery Poetry Club is legendary: one of those venues that conjures ideas of magic and anarchy and something important at the heart of art. It’s been through a lot of recent changes, entering into a new venue-sharing agreement with jazz and burlesque joint Duane Park so that both well-known venues could make the rent. So where once there was the sort of dingy wild bar that’s familiar to spoken word goers, now there are decadent white drapes and chandeliers and murals. It’s beautiful — and the delighted audiences are still filling it.
The Poet in New York is the Bowery’s flagship poetry night, a mix of open mic and music and features. It has a flow I’ve never seen anywhere before. Host Nikhil Melnechuk owns the stage, welcoming everyone and governing the flow, calling up open micers, bringing in music when we need perking up, making new and surprising things happens. I don’t know quite when I’ll be doing my set — Nikhil’s told me to be ready and it’ll depend on the flow of the night. I’m neurotic, as always, but I end up loving this: rather than plotting exactly what I’m going to do when, it means I’ve got to pay attention to where the audience is at.
The audience and the poets seem to have come from all over the world. It’s a great spread of ages, origins and styles in the open mic. The music also never stays still: Shawn Randall, a Bowery fixture, is the main act on piano and vocals, bu he keeps bringing in new acts: a beatboxer, a guitarist, a country singer. In my set, we decide to experiment: for my Scots poem about beaches, Honeymoon, Shawn plays rippling arpeggios underneath and the beatboxer conjures the sea. I’ve never enjoyed reading it so much.
Here and in Montreal, after the practice all over the tour, I feel like the Scots is working properly with these audiences: I’ve learned how to familiarise their ears with it, mix up high-speed impact pieces with gentler poems and their translations. I’m so grateful to these audiences for their attention and good will, and for the kind comments I’ve had on Scots: many folks surprised and delighted by it, or sharing family memories, or talking about translating between their own languages. I think it has a rich possible life beyond our own shores.
It’s a grand end to tour, amongst these mirrors and drapes and poets. I couldn’t quite believe where I was, amongst so much poetry history: a place named after the artform, at the heart of a scene, where the form is celebrated and experimented with and made popular and made weird. It just came about through one speculative email, just like the tour started with a single slam, but it’s all come together.
When I landed home, my phone started downloading backed up podcasts, and the first one to appear on my screen was Indiefeed Performance Poetry with Christine O’Keefe Aptowicz’s A Brief History of the Bowery Poetry Club. It was a beautiful message for me: a reminder of where I’d been, where we’re going, and what poetry is for.
Read the rest of the tour blogs:
(I was asked to create a provocation for the Scottish Artists Union AGM, on 28th September 2014. I responded to the brief knowing this would be recorded before the Independence Referendum (on 18th September) but screened after the event.)
I’m talking to you from Govanhill Baths, the community arts, social and wellbeing centre in the south side of Glasgow. I was artist-in-residence here in 2013, creating new work about the past, present and future of the Baths, and working with the community to put on new events. I love this place. I love the smell of it, I love the decaying history and hopeful future of it, and I love what it stands for.
The Baths were opened just over 100 years ago today, and were a vital local resource. There were three swimming pools, a steamie for laundry, slipper baths for washing, Turkish Baths for steaming off, and a community that met and talked and gossipped and married and all that. In 2001, though, Glasgow City Council closed them down, just as many councils closed community centres and resources in working class areas from the 80s onwards. Govanhill fought back, though, occupying the building for six months, and campaigning brilliantly and successfully for reopening it. Local campaigners, residents, businesses and artists worked together to save the building. For the last few years it’s been running as a community centre while funds are raised to reopen the swimming pool.
I’m spending time here now because this is the kind of political campaigning I believe in, and which I think artists need to be part of: community based struggles which fight to preserve and build resources and quality of life for all. The fight for Govanhill Baths saved a community centre, but it also opened spaces and created jobs for artists. The National Theatre of Scotland have produced work here, alongside the community-based work of the Strathclyde Theatre Group. Glasgow International hold exhibitions here alongside exhibitions by local artists. I worked as artist-in-residence here, alongside political meetings, citizens advice services and activist parties. None of this would be possible without communities campaigning in solidarity with each other.
The SAU asked me to speak a little bit about art, politics and the independence referendum. I’m speaking before the vote, and you’re watching, listening to or reading me after it. So I’m not going to argue about Yes or No. I am going to make a prediction though: whichever side wins, I think that artists and arts organisations are going to have a struggle ahead of them, and there’ll be steep arts cuts in Scotland to come.
I think there are steep cuts to come because the leading parties on both sides of the debate are, without exception, explicitly parties of neoliberalism. The parties are all parties of big business – interests in financial services and energy extraction, commitments to low corporation tax, and so on. There are differences between them, and some of us – me included – will have voted for one side or the other in the hope of protecting the welfare state, or opening borders, or strengthening working class organising. But whichever side wins, I think much of the rhetoric will fall away and an incoming government will cut tax and cut spending, with spending on the arts the first to go and spending on welfare second. Even if a future independent Scottish Government keeps up some of its promises and resists austerity, it will be constantly called on to impose austerity politics by Europe – and it will take a consistent and strong broad-based campaign to keep austerity out of Scotland.
We need to be prepared to fight harder than ever for artists’ rights and artists’ pay. Artists are frequently among the most precarious of workers in a neoliberal society – working from contract to contract, unable to build pensions or other forms of safety net for ourselves, particularly vulnerable to cuts in funding and welfare. In that, though many of us have more social privilege and get to be part of the glamour of the so-called creative classes, we have more in common with call centre and supermarket workers than with our colleagues in management.
In a time of cuts, the most socially marginalised suffer most. We’re already seeing deep cuts to support for disabled artists through the Access to Work scheme; we’re already seeing the effects of hard-line immigration policy on the movement of artists, which prevents cross-cultural collaboration; we’re already struggling against pay gaps between men and women, including in the arts. All of this may get harder, and these struggles intersect with each other. Fighting for artists’ pay is also about fighting for women’s rights, for disability rights, against discrimination and racism, against all forms of oppression.
We’re also a messy sector professionally. Few of us are constantly in good work. Many of us have second jobs. Many of us spend time surviving on forms of benefits and working tax credits. We shouldn’t fetishise an idea of the full-time productive professional artist always in work – artists are always going to spend time on the margins, always going struggle to fit into a rigid model of labour, and should be supported to do the work that they do. Fighting for benefits is fighting for artists’ rights – and the rights that artists need are the rights that everyone deserves.
Which brings me back to Govanhill Baths. I decided to give this talk from here, because the Baths represents the kind of campaigning I believe in: campaigning which brings different interest groups together to struggle alongside each other; campaigning which has artists at its heart, working not just as artists but as members of a community. Only by fighting for rights for all can we also also secure the rights we need to make art.
I think there’s a vital role for unions in this. Unions for precarious workers in a neoliberal world have difficult challenges – we don’t share a workplace, and we’re all always overstretched, making it that much harder to organise. I don’t think unions are the only answer – and I think that often managerialised unions betray the interests of their members, particularly the most marginalised groups. I certainly don’t think that any voting option in the referendum is an answer by itself, even though voting can be a good strategic move sometimes. But strong, democratic and grassroots unions can be central to successful struggle, and we need new forms of organisation that meet our needs now.
I’ve spent a while trying to figure out which is the right union for me – I work across a few disciplines, so it’s difficult for me to fit exactly. But I’m joining the Scottish Artists Union partly because it feels like the best fit, but mainly because I’m excited to be part of a relatively new and fast-moving union. I want a union that recognises the challenges ahead, which finds the forms of organisation and campaigning to meet them, and which can join in struggle with communities and campaigns fighting not just for rights for artists, but rights for all. I hope we’re able to make this union just that.
A new tiny poetry web journal. Read, share, enjoy, submit.
1. Found City Poems is an idea freely taken and freely given. We want you to join in.
2. We hold that text is the most significant building block of the contemporary city.
3. We are in love with text, and especially in love with text in the urban environment. We are endlessly fascinated by how text is used in cities, and by what is hidden therein.
4. Although we call them “Found City Poems”, we like poems found in any environment, urban or rural or somewhere in between. We think that wherever text appears in the environment, there is a tiny fragment of city there.
5. A Found City Poem is not received, but revealed. A Found City Poem is never a given message from an advertiser, urban signage designer, punk flyposterer, or other text author. Each Poem must be Found through unexpected juxtaposition, framing, angling, or other device. We mistrust authors of text and what they have to say, but are grateful for the raw materials they provide.
6. A Found City Poem will have meanings unintended by the authors of its source texts, and may be outright contradictory. Political, ideological and aesthetic commentary on the source texts is welcome, but we hope that Found City Poems will live longer than their sources.
7. A Found City Poem must not be digitally edited to find the poem: it must record the poem as it is found. Digital editing is permissable to alter contrast and brightness and so on in order to make the poem more legible, as long as the process does not obscure any text that would otherwise be visible.
8. We find Poems as children find them: we are ontologically and aesthetically naive. That is to say, we do not overly question how reality is made up or what we find beautiful.
9. The artwork is the Poem, not the photograph. Therefore, crappy photos are perfectly acceptable. They may even be preferable. Cameraphones are encouraged. We do not care if the photo is poorly lit, slightly blurry, or from a clichéd angle, so long as the Poem is clear. Professional photographers are still welcome as long as they are trying to find Poems, not photographs.
10. We believe that looking for Poems is a wonderful way of exploring a city, whether it is familiar or unfamiliar. Looking for Poems heightens and directs observation, and can be very calming in the crowds and noise of the contemporary city. Looking for Poems is especially good at neutralising the overwhelming effect of a city filled with advertising copy.
11. Looking for Poems is about finding out how text is used in the city, and then trying to get it to do something else.