Poems from the Road: Bonus Material

December 2nd, 2014

Seven additional tracks that I selected for the Poems from the Road podcast but wasn’t able to include in the final edit for reasons of time are available to listen to on SoundCloud for a limited time.

You’ll find poems there by River Wolton, Luke Wright, Rochelle Potkar, Jo Roach, Hilary Mellon, Andrew Sclater, and Nick Toczek. They’ll be up from 1 December 2014 to 28 February 2015.

Listen out for Andrew Sclater’s A1 incantation, Luke Wright’s day in a transit, Rochelle Potkar’s evocation of the road to the mountains, and River Wolton’s ‘Language of Lorries’.

Later in the month, I’ll also be posting a fascinating interview with Michael Bartholomew-Biggs about John Arlott‘s poem ‘Death on the Road’, where you can hear all about Arlott’s journey from poet to cricket commentator.

To listen to the poems, go to soundcloud.com/robinrvw, then click on the Poems from the Road playlist. You’ll find a few other tracks there that are part of my Poems from the Road project as well, including ‘Little Spaceships’, a poetry improvisation on poetic tweets from the A-roads, and a couple of my own poems recorded with the M1 in the background.

More about my Poems from the Road project.


The Poet on the Road: A Kaleidoscope Equipped with Consciousness

December 1st, 2014

Minzu UnderpassThe road is many things to many people. Mostly, I suspect, it’s a bit of a blank. A place that eats up substantial chunks of our lives, yet largely ignored as we focus on getting from A to B, the destination rather than the journey.

For me, the road has always been a hostile place. As a child with severe asthma and ecological concerns growing up in London, I was hyper-sensitive to traffic pollution. I felt I could smell the fumes the moment I stepped out of the house in the morning, even if other people didn’t seem to notice.

As a cyclist, I’m very aware of the perils of the road and the state of hyper-alertness that I enter when negotiating city traffic on my bicycle. The effort of continually responding to the flow of stimuli around me injects passages of adrenalin into my day when I seem to live rather than experience reality.

This reminds me of a passage from Walter Benjamin’s essay ‘On Some Motifs in Baudelaire’ in which he discusses the experience of traffic in a big city:

Moving through this traffic involves the individual in a series of shocks and collisions. At dangerous intersections, nervous impulses flow through him in rapid succession, like the energy from a battery. [Illuminations (Pimlico, 1999), p. 171.]

In the words of Baudelaire, one becomes ‘a kaleidoscope equipped with consciousness’. While the shock of the road was for Benjamin something modern, I also see it as an encounter with a very raw and primitive part of ourselves, as it is perhaps the only place in modern life where we regularly encounter a fight-or-flight mechanism.

I think this holds true for driving as well. We tend to think of drivers as encased inside a protective bubble, not always aware of the danger they are exposed to or pose to others. But when I started driving, I found that I often experienced the same state of hyper-alertness I was used to on the bicycle, sometimes just for moments of emergency, other times for prolonged periods, as when driving at night down unfamiliar country lanes or on a dual carriageway in a foreign country. I also noticed periods of abstraction, especially at night, when you can lose your usual sense of spatial relations as lights and other road objects start floating about in the rearview mirror.

These were the things that attracted me to writing about the road—alienation, danger, and abstraction—but I wanted to see how other poets wrote about it as well, which is how the Poems from the Road podcast was born.

In it you’ll hear poems from twenty-six poets journeying up and down the country. Yes, there’s death, there’s roadkill…Michael Greavy’s sheep that ‘splits like dropped shopping’, James Caruth’s ‘battered blue Ford’ that strains like ‘an old man fighting for breath’. But there’s also the road as a place of intimacy, memory, and homecoming, as in Matthew Stewart’s ‘Dad on the M25 after Midnight’ and Julie Burke’s ‘Angel of the Road’. There’s optimism and satire in Andrew Freeman’s story of a community takeover and Mark Gwynne Jones’s imagining of the Sherman tank as the next SUV. We see how the road both divides and connects us in Luke Wright’s ‘A12’—‘England’s crude appendix scar’, and the road as a place of dreams that sometimes takes us outside of ourselves. ‘I’m from the fog’, says River Wolton, to which the 1970s Polish pop musician Tadeusz Wozniak replies (in my fantasy podcast world where poets and scraps of road become detached from their historical locations), ‘One day near dawn cars fell from the sky’.


Home Cooking: Poems from the Road is a podcast produced by Robin Vaughan-Williams and commissioned by Apples and Snakes. It will be broadcast 5–6pm on Hive Radio every Thursday in December 2014, and will subsequently be available to listen to on SoundCloud. For more about the project, visit the Poems from the Road webpage.


Skyping Ahead

October 1st, 2014

Under three weeks to go now till Skype Nottingham on 18 October, and the programme is shaping up nicely. I’ve been enjoying some fascinating Skype conversations with participants in Brazil, Germany, and Austria, and am excited about their plans for the evening.

A couple of days ago I spoke with Reuben da Cunha Rocha, who took part in World Event Young Artists (WEYA) in 2012 and stole the show at the Festival of Words launch event that September with his incantational and, to my mind, slightly hallucinatory sound poetry inspired by the tribal rhythms he’d discovered on an island off the north-west coast of Brazil. Reuben da Cunha Rocha

WEYA was an amazing festival, bringing together some 1,000 young artists from around the world, including 30 writers. There was enormous energy over the ten days as artists from different cultures discovered one another’s work and started to collaborate and make new connections. Then everybody went home. So it was wonderful to hear that WEYA had had a lasting impact for Reuben, as he’d been encouraged to go on developing the kind of work he’d presented at the festival, and had gone on to collaborate further with several of the artists he’d met at WEYA. Now he’s coming back to Nottingham this October, two years on, and, coming full circle, I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to offer us.

I’ve also spoken with Klaus Tauber in Vienna and Johann Reisser, who lives in Berlin but is currently undertaking a residency in the German city of Rottweil. I’m pairing Klaus with Leicestershire poet Mark Goodwin, as although they don’t know each other, they are linked by the Austrian poet Karin Tarabochia. Karin is part of a group curated by Mark on SoundCloud called Air to Hear, which collects digitally produced sound and poetry, and Klaus will be incorporating Karin’s voice into his performance for Skype Nottingham, which he’ll be presenting live from the roof of the Vienna Volkstheater.

Vienna Volkstheater

Vienna Volkstheater

Johann Reisser organised an impressive event recently called Katastrophen/Formen, which involved bringing together WWI poetry from fourteen different countries for a staged reading. One of the things that interested him was how poets responded differently to the First World War in different countries. For example, I tend to think of British poetry from World War One as using conventional forms such as the sonnet to convey their traumatic content. But if you take a look at the poetry of German Expressionist August Stramm, translated here by Alistair Noon, you’ll see a very different, much more experimental approach to war poetry. The way his tornado-shaped forms wither down from top to bottom captures for me the whittling down of existence, and indeed of language, and the disorienting syntax suggests the disorientation of war.

Katastrophen/Formen

Katastrophen/Formen

Johann will be reading a poem on WWI by the poet Thomas Kling, who died in 2005, and I’ve paired him up with Ian Douglas, whose highly praised story of disaster in the North Sea, ‘Dead in the Water’, was included in the graphic fiction anthology To End All Wars. I hope this juxtaposition will give us a taste of the different ways that WWI is remembered in Germany and the UK.

Skype Me! Nottingham and the World takes place on Saturday 18 October 2014, 9–11pm at Nottingham Writers’ Studio (25 Hockley, NG1 1FP) as part of Nottingham Festival of Words. Tickets are £5 and available from the Nottingham Playhouse Box Office, online or by phone (0115 941 9419).


Poetry Improvisation Workshop – Nottingham 26 July

July 14th, 2014

I’ll be running a poetry improvisation workshop at Nottingham Writers’ Studio from 10am to around 5pm on Saturday 26 July 2014.

The session uses group improvisation to explore ways of working together to create spontaneously. The session will include games, structured scenarios where we work with different poetic voices, and freeform improvisation that can take off in any direction. Some of the things I’ve done in improv sessions in the past include creating a human-generated Apostrophe poem, speaking in endangered languages, and producing a piece based on Snapchat.

If you’re used to writing poetry on your own with a keyboard or pen, this is going to be something completely different – it’s oral, collaborative, and spontaneous.

Poetry improvisation can be a great way to channel your inner voice, explore the possibilities of working with others, and build confidence in your spontaneity. It can also be used to generate pieces for performance or recording, and as a method for producing ideas for further development.

The cost is £75 or £50 (NWS members), which includes tea/coffee and biscuits, and there’ll be a one-hour lunch break (lunch not included).

Further details and booking info are available on the Nottingham Writers’ Studio website:
http://nottinghamwritersstudio.co.uk/event/group-poetry-improvisation-workshop-robin-vaughan-williams/


More about my workshops: http://www.zeroquality.net/zqme/workshops.html


Poetry Improvisation Workshop, 28 February 2014

February 7th, 2014

Back in 2008 I was blown away by a poetry improvisation session I’d been to, along with other poets in the group I belonged to at the time. One of the members of the group worked for Point Blank theatre company, and had arranged for us to spend a day with theatre director Steve Jackson. He’d asked us to each memorise a poem, but apart from that we didn’t know what to expect. We hoped it would shake things up a bit, give us some different perspectives on our writing, and help us improve our performance techniques.

BOOK POETRY IMPROV WORKSHOP

BOOK WORKSHOP (free)

We spent the morning doing physical theatre exercises, but it was the afternoon, when we focused on the voice, that really produced amazing results. There we were, about five of us, lying spread out in Sheffield’s Open Performance Centre, shut off in our own little worlds, slowly reciting the poems we’d learnt and building on them, working out new directions for them. And then something wonderful happened. We started to respond to one another’s voices, picking up on words other people had said, incorporating them into our own narratives, and listening to our own threads become intertwined with those the others were spinning. We had started out as five disparate voices, but by the end of the exercise those voices had come together to form something utterly new, unique, and of the moment.

That is not an experience you often get as a poet. And the feeling was very different too—I tend to find myself using spiritual terms when I describe it. There was a sense of a deep but effortless connection, of a consciousness awakening, and I would say a kind of euphoria.

So that got me hooked. I wanted to do it again, to record it, see what we could come up with. I ran a poetry improvisation session with some of our group again, using a multitrack recorder so I could capture each voice on a separate channel. That resulted in some pieces like ‘Everything Changes‘, and we started to explore different ways of spontaneously building a poem together. I used some improvisation in the workshops for ‘Lost Voices‘, a collective poetry performance I was producing at the time. And then in my final radio show for SheffieldLive, Adele Geraghty and Sarah Thomasin joined me for a couple of structured poetry improvisations I’d devised, which produced ‘Are You My Friend?‘.

I’m now drawing on these experiences for a poetry improvisation session with Apples and Snakes on 28 February. We’ll be using a mixture of structured and freeform approaches to explore how poets can create spontaneously and collaboratively. If you’ve ever been to a creative writing workshop, you’ll know that people can come up with some amazing things in a five-minute exercise. To me that’s evidence that we can all improvise, but we often censor what we produce; we’re afraid to fail, wanting to check and edit before letting others see what we’ve written. Group improvisation is all about the process, finding the confidence in your inner voice, and opening yourself up to the voices of those around you.  It can be a powerful way of giving your creativity a kick and discovering new ideas. Some of what we produce might just be an interesting experiment, and some of it might be something we can work up into a recording or a performance.

If you’re up for something new and exciting, give it a go! You can find booking details on the Apples and Snakes website:

http://www.applesandsnakes.org/page/37/Power+Plant+Improvisation+for+Poets/1098

Workshop Title: Improvisation for Poets
When: Friday 28 February, 10am–3pm (with a break for lunch)
Where: Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Rd, London, EC1R 3GA
Tickets: FREE
Info: 020 8465 6154


poetry-art collaborations and improvisation

January 29th, 2014

Several exciting things have started happening recently. I’ve got a couple of poems, ‘Frogger’ and ‘Eating Ghosts’, included in the Jawspring Poetry and Art Exhibition, which will be showing at The Village Hall Gallery in Wimbledon (SW19 4QD) 19–23 March. My poems have been sent to two artists, Siobhan Tarr and Phil Deed, so I look forward to seeing their responses, interpretations, or reactions. There are twenty-five artists taking part, and seventeen poets from Merton Poets, who work will all be shown during the exhbition. There’ll be a launch, with drinks and readings, at 7pm on World Poetry Day, Friday 21 March 2014.

Trevor Tomkins, by Alban Low

Trevor Tomkins, by Alban Low

Jawspring is organised by Alban Low, who has a line in producing some lively jazz sketches and album art. Check them out on his blog: artofjazz.blogspot.co.uk. We’re talking a about some live poetry-jazz sketching, and producing a film-poem, and I’m sure something is going to come of this. Here’s a short film he produced a couple of years ago, a walk through London streets…and here’s one of my favourite film-poems, ‘Door’ by Lawrence Bailey, based on a poem by Merton Poets’ own Patrick McManus.

On Friday 28 February I’ll be running a group poetry improvisation workshop as part of the Apples & Snakes Powerplant series. It’s FREE and runs from 10am till 3pm (with a break for lunch) at the Free Word Centre on Farringdon Road, London. Full details here. If you’d like to book a place, get in touch with Apples & Snakes on 020 8465 6154. We’ll be using a mixture of structured and freeform approaches to explore how poets can create spontaneously and collaboratively. If you’d like to hear an example of improvised work, check out this piece I produced for my radio show back in 2008, with Sarah Thomasin and Adele Geraghty. It’s called ‘Are You My Friend?’.

This can be a great way to shake out some fresh ideas, create work for recording and performance, and get some writing done that doesn’t involve sitting on your own staring at a screen for several hours. You should try it!


Saltmarsh Reading, 7 Oct 2013 at Burnham Market

September 20th, 2013

Burnham Market Village Hall

At Saltmarsh Poetry on Monday 7 October I’ll be reading a selection of poems, including The Manager and a new sequence I’m working on called My Daughter Is an Alien, and taking questions from the audience. There will also be floorspots available on the night.

Saltmarsh takes place at the village hall in Burnham Market (Beacon Hill Road, PE31 8ET) near the north Norfolk coastline, 7–9pm, and is run by Sally Festing. If you have any questions about Saltmarsh, you can contact Sally on sallyfes@aol.com. There’s an optional £6 donation to cover wine and venue hire.

About Robin

Robin Vaughan-Williams is a poet, poetry producer, and author of The Manager (Happenstance, 2010). He’s organised live literature events in Nottingham, Sheffield and London, pioneered Skype-poetry, and instigated Nottingham’s first Festival of Words in 2013. His poetry has appeared in various places, including Poems Underwater, Under the Radar, and Long Poem Magazine, and has been described as ‘grim, funny, haunting, beautiful’ (Helena Nelson).

About The Manager

Charting the backwaters of managerial reality, with its penchant for injustice and absurdity, The Manager hovers somewhere between the fantastic and the everyday.

In the valley tower blocks have broken free of their foundations
and are ringing roses in the sky
rippling their pastel bodywork.

They have heard
the manager is coming.

(Manager #14)

‘From satire on an organisation to pure surrealism, the sequence mutates as madly as the manager, and provides a joyful object-lesson in how to mine genuine poetry from the most banal depths of modern life.’ (George Simmer)


Channel Swimmer

August 31st, 2013

My poem ‘Channel Swimmer’ was published on Poems Underwater earlier this month, along with a brief text about the process of writing it and a beautiful illustration by Anna Benner.

The poem follows a swimmer who undergoes a metaphorical transformation into a seal in her preparation for the crossing. When the editors wrote to me I discovered I’d inadvertently hit upon the mythycal figure of the selkie, who live as seals in the water but ‘shed their skin to become human on land’. Having spent a year and a half in Iceland, I probably should have know about selkies before, as they appear in Icelandic and Faroese folklore.

Poems Underwater is a fabulous site full of all things mermaid. I particularly enjoyed listening to this song in Portuguese by Luciana Francis, but they’re adding new material all the time.

Poems Underwater also led to me uncovering a rich lexical seam in the root mer from ‘mermaid’, which became ‘mmm’ in this short poem (originally a tweet), which reminds me of the Russian Futurist Velimir Khlebnikov’s ‘Заклятие Смехом’ (‘Incantation by Laughter’):

Mmm

mmm urky
mmm ermerous
mmm ythoreal
mmm ermerations of
mmm ermaids

Read ‘Channel Swimmer’ on Poems Underwater

or listen to a recording of it on Mad Hatter’s Review 13 (May 2012).


Poetry en plein air

February 11th, 2013

On a cold and drizzly Sunday morning in February a select group of hardcore poetry enthusiasts gathered for Matt Merritt’s Hidden Nature writing workshop on Attenborough Nature Reserve. I’d been planning this workshop for about a year now, and it’s turned out to be one of my favourites. Matt is not only a poet but also a wildlife journalist for Birdwatching magazine, so he knows his stuff and we went away buzzing with newfound knowledge.

Like that birds use motorways for navigation—and probably Long Eaton power station, which can be seen from 50 miles away—and take pit stops in the gravel pits excavated for motorway construction. That birds have a sub-song, a wintry, melancholic rehearsal of their song proper. That male and female robins look and sound alike (I’d always assumed the females were brown and speckled…and retiring creatures, spelt with a ‘y’, rather like female dwyrfs). And that some species of bird have local dialects which help ensure a mix of genes, as the females won’t mate with a male that sounds like he comes from less than 10 miles away.


Poetry, Landscape, and Radicals

February 11th, 2013

It was an elegant start to the Nottingham Festival of Words on Saturday with a day of poetry and storytelling at Newstead Abbey, Byron’s ancestral home. Poets travelled from Oxford (Nigel Thompson), Middlesborough (Andy Croft), Derby (Mark Goodwin), and Sheffield (Chris Jones and publisher Brian Lewis), and it was great to see how many people had made the journey to see what was going on.

In the early afternoon our 7-week-old baby had her first experience of a poetry reading, sitting quietly through 30 minutes of CJ Allen (not a difficult thing to do, as she can’t laugh yet) with just the occasional appreciative squeak. Newstead Abbey will be an amazing place to take her when she’s older, with winding paths, waterfalls, and a rockery…loads of places to run around and explore.

At tea time it was Poetry, Landscape, and Radicals, a triple-bill featuring ‘Outskirts and Outposts’ from Longbarrow Press, Christy Fearn on Byron the First Rockstar, and three poets from Smokestack Press.

I’m not sure if that’s the way we planned it, but it was a coherent as well as varied programme, with each part of the programme picking up on the location in some way—the landscaped environs, and Byron’s legacy in terms of the culture of celebrity and political radicalism. I was also struck by how all three used these different threads to draw together the contemporary and the historical.

In Russian there are two different words for ‘landscape’. Peisazh is borrowed from the French and refers to the landscape painting—landscape as representation. Landshchaft is borrowed from the German and refers to the landscape in nature—landscape as object. The Longbarrow reading took the landscape poem (peisazh) and stuffed it with a contemporary urban and semi-urban landschaft, giving the genre a social dimension that we perhaps often forget about.

Produced by Brian Lewis, the performance brought together the contrasting voices of Chris Jones, Mark Goodwin, and Matt Clegg (in absentia, via audio recording). While Chris’s reading suggested a coherent voice, Mark’s did the opposite, with bold line breaks that cut into the middle of words breaking up the conventional rhythm and syntax. The effect was to dehumanise the voice, creating the impression of a speech made up of lots of little packets of data and lacking an underlying intentionality. It reminded me of those digitally produced announcements you get in railway stations and on call centre menus where oddities in the spacing between words indicate the synthetic nature of the announcement—that it’s been stitched together from samples—creating a sense of disembodiment, of a voice that has no speaker (unless we want to admit a system as a speaker), of a corporation masquerading its personhood.

This seemed very fitting, given that while a human presence in the landscape genre is often absent or neglected, in these poems, as Brian explained in his introduction, there is a persistant social presence, derelict landscapes rarely truely vacant.

Later on, Andy Croft introduced a raucous reading from himself and Smokestack poets Mike Wilson and Nigel Thompson. It was interesting to hear Andy’s explanation of how his approach to publishing has changed over the years. Whereas Smokestack started out focusing on leftwing, leftfield writing, now he’s looking for comedy, rhyme (music), and anger, qualities he feels are in short supply.

We heard a few snippets from their contributions to Donny Johnny, a modern satirical take on Byron’s Don Juan that I’m looking forward to when it comes out from Five Leaves Publications in the next year. In it we’ll see DJ in various guises, as a food critic, prisoner, creative writing tutor, and retired rockstar, among other things.