Performances and things I’m doing in Edinburgh’s festival season, plus a little bit more.
23rd July, 6-9pm
Tour de Vers: Cycling Poetry Anthology Launch
The Ventoux, 2 Brougham St, Edinburgh
Now that Tour de France fever has reached the UK, Red Squirrel Press announce the launch of the new poetry anthology Tour de Vers. 19 poets combine to produce a selection of thrilling, gaudy, sweaty, colourful poems inspired by the toughest sporting event of all. The event takes place in Edinburgh’s foremost cycling-themed pub, and is free!
(I’m reading a tiny poem in the shape of the Alpe d’Huez cycling route)
24th July, 8-10pm
Woodland Creatures, 260 Leith Walk, Edinburgh
Diagnosis meets domination and shibari meets psychiatry in a new durational performance by Garth Knight and Harry Giles. Exploring the poetry and horror of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Giles performs oppressive, entangling and repetitive texts while caught in a web of Knight’s devising; words and ropes knot and reknot in a visceral investigation of political madness, social entrapment, weight and weightlessness. Free entry – donations welcomed.
Montrose, Arbroath, Dundee
Yestival is a nationwide cultural tour taking place in July created by National Collective, the cultural movement for Scottish independence. It’s big and community-centred and inspiring and argumentative and I’d love to see you there, however you’re voting (or not).
1st August, 1o.30pm-midnight
Late Night Anatomy Fish Fry
Surge Festival, The Arches, Glasgow
A music hall variety show taken in new directions, with risk-taking, breathtaking performances from artists, dancers, music makers and destroyers, puppeteers, film-makers, clowns, poets, mimes, weirdos and burlesques. Acts from around the UK offer their bodies and hearts for your deep-fried enjoyment. Gamblers with perception and reaction will test your taste buds with new physical live-art in a cabaret to excite, terrify, titillate and intrigue.
(I’m hosting and doing a surprise something something.)
2nd August, 2.50-3.40pm
Other Voices: Spoken Word Cabaret
Banshee Labyrinth, Niddry St, Edinburgh
Other Voices brings you a ★★★★★ (“This is spoken word at its best… Don’t miss this.” – ThreeWeeks) show of open-hearted open mic, feature sets from spoken word stars, and different special guests every day, all with a sumptuous cabaret vibe as part of PBH’s Free Fringe Spoken Word Section, dedicated to the words and voices less heard, hosted by PBH Spoken Word Co-Director Fay Roberts. Nominated for Best Spoken Word Show of the Year 2013-14, you don’t want to miss this “Slick, confident yet intimate” show.
(I’m doing a guest spot with a fab showcase)
3rd and 11th August, 12.20-1.20pm
All Back to Bowie’s
Stand in the Square, St Andrews Square, Edinburgh
A daily hour of gentle thought and hard daydreaming inspired by the Scottish independence referendum, taking place every lunchtime during the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe. Each show will include a round-up of the day’s referendum-related news and debate, some polemic, some music, frank but respectful conversation, and letters from across the globe. Our guests will include some of Scotland’s top writers, musicians, academics, and thinkers. And you. Whatever your views, please join us.
(I’m doing a poem or two and maybe joining in some political wrangling?)
3rd August, 8.00-9.00pm
Blind Tiger @ BARK
Woodland Creatures, 260 Leith Walk, Edinburgh
Join us for a laid back Sunday session and indulge in our bevy of ferocious wordsmiths, performers and musicians. Our artists include: Hannah Fyfe, Harry Giles, Rebecca Green, Tim Honnef, Rachel McCrum and Lake Montgomery. BARK: Provocative nightly performances set within the sensually immersive rope sculptures of Garth Knight.
5th August, 9-10pm
Chutney Exhibition: Knife Whimsy
George Next Door, 9 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh
Chutney Exhibition presents Knife Whimsy: light-hearted apocalypses, the apotheosis of Fred Durst, the eternal battle between man and bus, all culminating in a linguistic battle between Robert Pattinson and Justin Bieber. Spoken word teetering on a knife edge. Whimsy. Wonder. Despair.
(I’m doing a guest spot. God help me.)
11th August, 1.30pm GMT
Villa Godiola, Arezzo
What is CrisisArt? It’s a gathering of performing artists and arts activists in Arezzo, Italy. We come together to perform, create, discuss, plan and above all share our visions of art and the future. Why CrisisArt? There is a new and manifest spirit of resistance that is visible around the world. Everywhere people are searching for, and experimenting with, creative means to assert a new social autonomy, outside the control of financial capital. Never has there been a better time, a more important time, for creative artists to join with social activists to give shape to the emerging social struggles.
(I’m doing a remote presentation about blowing things up.)
14th August, 9.15-10.50pm
National Collective Presents
Storytelling Centre, Royal Mile, Edinburgh
Just weeks before Scotland’s independence referendum, “National Collective Presents…” will showcase a range of performers inspired by the question of Scottish independence. From theatremakers to troublemakers, poets to polemicists, activists to artists, National Collective will present the myriad of voices that are contributing to the question of how we build a better Scotland in a format designed to actively inform, enthuse and entertain in equal measure. National Collective is dedicated to showcasing voices from beyond the mainstream, alongside wellknown artists, writers and thinkers, with quality contributions to the debate. Each night will include personal stories, creative responses, audience participation and a surprise guest.
16th August, 6.45-7.45pm
Edwin Morgan Poetry Award
Edinburgh International Book Festival, Charlotte Square, Edinburgh
Edwin Morgan was Scotland’s greatest poet of the 20th century. At Morgan’s own request, funds from his estate have been put towards a major new prize for poets in Scotland under the age of 30. In today’s event, the poets shortlisted for the first ever award give readings and the inaugural winner is announced. Join judges Stewart Conn and Jen Hadfield for the prize, presented by Jackie Kay, which will help Scotland discover and nurture great poets.
(I’m shortlisted. It’s terrifying. I think we’re all doing a reading? Or maybe just huddling shaking in the corner.)
A Poetry Thing at the Festival of Politics
Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh
Details coming soon.
19th August, 10-11pm
Banshee Labyrinth, Edinburgh
You may know what a poetry slam is: a group of poets present their self written texts, round after round. And then the few winners of those rounds compete in a final round. The poet with the highest score, or loudest applause, or largest number of hands raised wins. It’s fun, it’s competitive, it’s entertaining for the audience. But what if the format of the slam was turned on its head? What if the point wasn’t performing the best piece – but the worst. We don’t just mean bad: we mean hilariously terrible. Laugh-out-loud embarrassing. Entertainingly cringe worthy. Poetry so bad it transcends quality… and becomes genius.
(I’ve decided not to do any slams this year, but this, oh yes this.)
Dates and details to be confirmed, but I’ll also be joining in the fun in some form with:
a spoken word cabaret
a showcase of queer spoken word
poems at the pleasance
A Bird is Not a Stone
palestinian poetry at edinburgh book festivals and around the uk
I really want to meet more poets and performance artists doing good and fun and strange things this summer, so if you’ve got a showcase or a cabaret or artmess or anything and fancy another act, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve been hitting the indyref campaign trail quite a lot for the last month, and there’s another month and a half ahead. I’ve never been so involved in a ballot-based campaign before: it’s not my natural home. And while I believe that an independent Scotland will win short-term gains and create a better environment for radical social, economic and environmental justice, what I believe in most is using the energy and momentum of the independence campaign to strengthen the wider struggles in Scotland. Here are two pieces I’ve written for National Collective about radical campaigning in Scotland: why we need it, and what you can do.
Scotland is not special. Scotland is not unique. Scottish people are not uniquely disposed to be progressive, welcoming, wealth-redistributing citizens in solidarity. (Nor are Danes, Norwegians or Icelanders, by the way.) Every victory for workers – from minimum wage to the weekend – has been fought for, won, and defended by ongoing struggle. A struggle which has always been threatened, and always will be threatened, by bosses and politicians. We live in a part of the world with a terrifying degree of neoliberal consensus. We shouldn’t be mistaken in thinking that the current Scottish government, and any likely Scottish government in the near future, is anything but neoliberal.
Campaigning can be wonderfully empowering, but also exhausting! There’s a lot of work to be done, and lots of violence to fight against, but we all have capacities and limits. The best thing you can do for any movement – all of these campaigns, and the movement for an independent Scotland – is to look after yourself first, to look after all your friends and comrades second, and only then to start campaigning. That way, you’re less likely to burn out, less likely to make demands on people’s time and energy that they just can’t meet, or more likely to find these extraordinary struggles something that makes your life richer.
I was asked to make a mixtape of video games for someone who doesn’t play video games! This is what I came up with. There’s one non-video game with it. I got really pleased with it, like I used to get delighted making mixtapes of my favourite songs, so I asked if I could share it. Here it is! For you! I liked doing something that has very little to do with my own art for once. I hope you like it.
What’s in this mixtape
- 25 games I love
- Games you shouldn’t need any special gamer skills to play
- (Mostly) games it’s impossible to fail at
- Games from as wide a range of genres as possible, but with no shooters (well, one, sort of) and minimal violence
- Games that feel more familiar to artists and readers and performers than to gamers
- A high proportion of games made by and for women and LGBTQ folk
- Free and cheap DRM-free (freely shareable) games
text adventure / interactive fiction
epic fantasy psychodrama
light or heavy puzzles as you choose
DESTROY ALL MEN
multiplayer story roleplaying with cards
analog dating sim about a collective of militant fembots
for a group, some random play
as long or short as you like
high speed avoidance
headbang flashcore twitchy hexagon music fun
high stress, incremental improvements
very short, lots of replays
jump and climb and find things, gentle and peaceful
no real danger
Tale of Tales
tactile visual aural sexual wonder
it’s about making flowers have really good orgasms
corny but amazing
short plays, lots of replay value
sexy pleasing action
Mumble Indie Bungle
five tiny anti-games
each is different
all are differently sad and desperate.
Save the Date!
recursive visual novel
looks like a dating sim. isn’t. gets meta.
don’t give up after the first go
text adventure / interactive fiction
disturbing magical realism
To build a better mousetrap
semi-abstract economics sim
teaching marxism through frustrating gameplay
short plays, hard game.
beautiful visual storytelling, makes you happy
don’t take it personally, babe, it just ain’t your story
adolescent sexuality and teaching
beneath the cute, unsettling
First Draft of the Revolution
Emily Short and Liz Daly
complex non-linear story told through redrafting choices
first person exploration, light puzzles
queer ghost/love story
cheers you right up
sing and hug along
i made this. you play this. we are enemies.
digital scribble notebook satire chaos
i find it really moving but who knows
as short or long as you want
border control sim
(it is riffing on a genre called “time management” a bit)
danger and action and stress
interactive fiction / twine game
non-linear abstract trans confessional horror
Ed Key and David Kanaga
beautiful and calming
as long as you like
Queers in love at the end of the world
interactive fiction / twine game
tiny and gorgeous and uplifting
very short but lots of replays
The Little Girl Nobody Liked
interactive children’s book
little storylets, some sad, some a little less sad
very short with a few replays
The Majesty of Colours
interactive visual story
pixellated existential ocean horror
short with a few replays
extraterrestrial ecology and old school sci fi stories
a little danger and action
A House in California
(it is riffing on an old genre unhelpfully called “adventure game”)
abstract nostalgia and beauty
Everything I Bought and How It Made Me Feel is
an exhaustion of the consumer diary
a pathetic attempt at swag blogging
a study studying studying
an essay into the everyday neoliberal heart
an optimistic probe into pessimistic praxis
a doomed endeavour
a tired line
a failed ideal
a budget absurdly approaching its asymptote
an endurance performance
a shot at undermining the agential self
a potato gun
lower case letters!
the continuing astonishing revelations about how my purchases made me feel!
and follow at
Drone is a long sequence of poems about the life and anxieties of an unmanned military drone. I’ve been working on it (and her) for around two years now, and as the sequence approaches completion I’m also developing a stage performance about this sad and difficult character.
The marvelous Rally & Broad were kind enough to host a development performance of the piece in their June show, streaming here for your fear and pleasure. I recommend listening with the lights off and with this flight simulator playing on mute:
Performance photo by Chris Scott, recording by Jhed Stewart. Poems and audio by me.
Poems, with links to published versions:
- The Drone Is At The Party, The Drone Is Not At The Party
- The Drone Gets a Cat
- The Drone’s Mother Told Her Always To Smile
- The Drone Watches a US Presidential Debate from a Travelodge off the M18 Near Doncaster
- The Drone Seeks Guidance from the Open Plan Office Etiquette Reminder
- The Drone Goes to a Multi-Disciplinary Art Exhibition about Drones
- The Drone Goes on Secondment to a Conservation Charity
- The Drone Considers Quitting Her Job
- The Drone Signs the Organ Registry
- The Drone Teaches Herself the Classic Country Song “Sam Hall”
- The Drone Wakes Up For Once Feeling Mostly OK
When I first began researching how to build a model palace and then blow it up, I hadn’t thought it through much beyond wanting to spend an afternoon doing something edgy-sounding that explored my political rage and the despairing feeling that I was unable to do anything about it. I’d been engaged in protest activities for years, and I’d been making political art for years, and an oppressive world was still bearing down on us with impossible weight, and I couldn’t stop questioning what I was supposed to be doing and what I was trying to achieve anyway. Building a model of a building I hate and then blowing it up seemed like a fun way to deal with some of those feelings, and if I got to thumb my nose at the establishment and score a few political points along the way, then all the better. I quickly discovered that I could use the process to explore all sorts of interesting issues around Anti-Terror legislation, and that gave the project life for a bit longer, enough for two more research sessions.
I apologise to my audiences and to the authorities for my failure to complete an auto-surveillance report for the third research session at Buzzcut. This was due to unavoidable staff cutbacks. Which is to say, the conditions of precarious labour which define contemporary artistic practice led to me not having enough time/energy/belief to write it in time, and when I tried to some weeks later it seemed too late, too distant, and not interesting enough. For my surveillance file, please see my Twitter feed on the day of Sunday 29th April which contains an ongoing report. The activity of the day consisted of (a) looking at videos of people using various dubious explosives methods on Youtube, (b) writing to explosives licensors and to pyrotechnicians for advice on how best to accomplish the task, and (c) digging through appalling self-doubt about whether I should be doing this project in the first place.
Imagining blowing things up is appealing. Fantasising about the Palace of Holyroodhouse collapsing into dust, flame and rubble is cathartic, and conjures imaginaries of transformative upheaval, a dramatic end to sorrow and suffering, loving militias of social justice: all the phantasms of radical protest. Nevertheless, I feel like my Mum was right when she argued to me that it would be more politically transformative to repossess the Palace and turn it into co-operative social housing than to reduce it to rubble. No propaganda of the deed feels as important to me as giving people quality affordable homes to live in.
Then again, I’m not actually trying to blow up the actual palace, just a poorly-made model. But then I have to face up to the privilege I’m bringing to this project: it is easy for me to talk casually about blowing things up because of who I am and where I live. If I were from Northern Ireland, for example, showers of smoke and rubble wouldn’t have the same aesthetic appeal. If I were from South Africa, I might remember the role of building explosions in anti-apartheid struggle, but I’d also remember everything that cost. If I were from Russia, a picture of blowing up a palace would conjure the waves of politicised demolition under Tsarist, communist and capitalist regimes. What blowing things up means to me is not what it means to everyone else, and I’m playing with a cocktail of emotions far more risky and dangerous than the cocktail of political ideologies. If nothing else, I need to stop treating the idea of an explosion as one big joke.
On Wednesday 18th June, by arrangement, two officers from the Police Scotland Specialist Crimes Division (Hello, DC C___! Hello, DS C___! I hope you are having a nice day) came to visit to talk to me about my art project. They wanted to make sure I wasn’t a terrorist. It was OK. I’m not a terrorist, and although it wasn’t the nicest thing to do on a Wednesday morning, they were the most straightforward and unthreatening police I’ve ever had to speak to.
They said the visit was “just to make sure that your intentions are for art purposes, and it’s nothing more sinister than that”. They asked me why I picked the palace, and I had to explain to two police sitting on my sofa why I don’t like the monarchy or big tracts of Crown Estate next to deprived areas. They asked me if I’d bought any chemicals, and I told them that I hadn’t because they all looked too impractically scary and dangerous to use. They wanted to know whether I’d film the explosion, and I said I would, so I suppose I have to make sure that the video isn’t posted in a dangerous terrorist-encouraging way. We had a discussion about artists and Public Liability Insurance. I laughed a lot. They mostly smiled. They asked me if I had any intentions of publishing scalings and calculations that could be used to demolish the actual Palace, and I said “No! Oh, good God. No. I hadn’t even thought of that. That sounds very dangerous.” They asked “So there’s no bigger picture?” and I said “No, there’s no bigger picture.” I told them it would be a really bad model because I was rubbish at building things and that I’d probably use balsa would and that made DS C___ laugh a little bit.
DC C___ said “I saw on your website that you were looking to create something that is ‘terroristic enough to scare an audience but not enough to scare the police’” and I said “oh dear, that does sound like an ill-advised line, doesn’t it?” and we laughed and DC C___ said “Mm-hm, OK.”
In truth, though, that’s precisely the line that I’m trying to walk. I don’t want to break the law, and I don’t want to be a terrorist, but I do want to do something that references terrorism closely enough to raise questions about what terrorism is, what protest is, what illegality is, what blowing things up means. I wasn’t surprised that they visited (I’ve said in the past that I’m absolutely certain there’s a civil servant somewhere logging all this and thinking “What a stupid wee shite of an artist”, quite reasonably), and I couldn’t tell if I was sad or happy about it. Sad to live in a state where anti-terror surveillance is so pervasive, sad that art projects can be created that play off that surveillance, but a little bit happy that I’d provoked the authorities just enough. Because I am childish, I have a knee-jerk ankle-biting anti-authoritarianism that gets a rise out of getting a rise out of a uniform or a suit. I can’t tell whether that’s a great thing about this project or an awful, poorly thought through thing.
When the police came to visit, I wanted to be reassuring and friendly. I wanted to play along. I didn’t want to perform to them the kind of rage and truculence that I’m performing by building a model palace and blowing it up. I didn’t like having the police in my house; it did feel invasive; and I could have reacted with the kind of grinning obstinacy that I’ve brought to protest actions in the past. But it seems, with the art project, I’m only willing to go so far. Looking inwards, this too is the kind of contradiction of political art I’m trying to explore with the project. Political art of the kind I make, especially art-activism, tries to perform change in the world but is frequently more conservative and more timid than much direct action. Art-activism rarely breaks the law. Art-activism often collaborates with the police, as I am doing. Art-activism positions itself as the radical end of art, but I don’t know which side of the barricades it will be on. I will not blow up a palace, but I will build a model and detonate that. Derrick Jensen is still writing books.
DS C___ said it was a comfort to them that I found the situation humorous, and very reassuring that I wasn’t standoffish, that I had a friendly demeanour, that I didn’t have war memorabilia and daggers and I Love Hitler signs on the walls. I do have a gigantic colourful feelie sculpture of a vulva on the wall, which may or may not have helped matters; it wasn’t mentioned. That conversation brought my privilege glaringly into view. If I were anything other than white, the conversation might have been more tense. If my previous interactions with the police had been forced on me by racial or class profiling rather than chosen by me at protests, I would have been more resistant to their questions. If I were a Muslim, I might have had to remove iconography from my house. If I didn’t have the kind of reassuring social affects produced by a middle class upbringing, everything might have gone differently. It was easier for me to talk to the police, it was easier for me to risk provoking the police in the first place; it is more possible for me to do this project than it would be for the majority of the planet’s population. That being the case, perhaps that’s precisely why I’m doing it.
DC C___ said, “We spend our days doing this. I fully understand your project, and each to their own, we’re not here to judge you. But you can understand, when your website is there for all to see, and when you click round these links you’ve got a photograph of the actual Holyroodhouse with a fuse coming out… I’m not here to tell you to remove that, but just so you can understand, it might be misinterpreted. But just so you understand, I’m not here to tell you what to post and what not to post, it’s a free world at the end of the day.”
I finally have a date for the actual explosion of the model to take place, to be announced here soon. I don’t have a certain method yet, but it will be safe and legal. I was advised to be cautious in what I’m saying “for my own good”. I will be. I’ll keep trying to walk the right line. I will state repeatedly, for audiences and police officers reading this now, that I neither condone nor encourage the actual blowing up of actual public buildings, and will not be sharing my research with anyone who does in an encouraging way. I will be continuing the project, thoroughly aware of the ambiguities, contradictions and politicised strangenesses of it all. I’ll be expanding it into an installation project where audiences build cardboard cities with me of buildings they hate and we’ll jump up and down on them together. I’m getting less interested in the meaning of my own rage, and more interested in shared and unshared experiences of the city, in how other people cope with an environment that reminds them constantly of their oppression, in cathartic collective actions of childish model destruction, in ideas of building something better. I suspect that I’ll never be quite sure whether or not I’m doing the right thing
At the end of the meeting, just as I thought they were leaving, DS C___ asked something:
“I’ve just got one last thing, Harry. Are you affiliated to any groups?”
“What do you mean, am I affiliated?”
“Do you actively support or participate with any groups at all. Anything at all.”
“Groups, I mean, no, what, er…”
“Protest groups, anything like that?”
“Look, I know that there’s a file on protest activities that I’ve been involved in in the past. I know that there is somewhere. So you can look at all of that.””I’ll be honest, we didn’t know that.”
“What is that? Do you want to talk about that, or do you want me to go and dig it out and I’ll have a read through?”
“You can have a read if you like, but I don’t want to talk about it.”
“What is it?”
“I’ve been involved in a number of different protests and activist groups in the past. So. But I haven’t got a criminal record. No intention of criminal activity.”
“So all you’ve done has been legal, basically.”
“Within the boundaries of the law.”
“That’s just something we ask.”
“Many people in similar situations.”
“OK, thanks for your time.”
A Bird Is Not A Stone has launched! It’s a new anthology of contemporary Palestinian poetry with translations into the languages of Scotland, and I’m very proud to be part of it, alongside an extraordinary line-up of Scottish poets. You can buy it now from Freight Books; it’s a wonderful and rich volume.
I worked on a Scots translation of Faisal al-Qarqati and two translations of Abdel Rahim al-Sheikh; you can read two interviews about the project in Don’t Do It magazine. The book’s published in facing translation, so for the launch we read in facing performance; working with Abla Oudeh, I was really happy about how you can hear the rhythms, flows and meanings of the poem moving between the two languages. Here’s the performance of the first part of the poem recorded by Robbie Guillory: enjoy!