Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

Sent/Received: The Ghost in the Text

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Andrew Kells’s new ghost script, Sent/Received, has the trademark characteristics of any good ghost story: entrapment, suspense, fear…mummies in the closet. But instead of gothic towers, rakish libertines, and letters stained in blood, it’s got, well, text messages. Lots of them, in fact. But as the messages start to fly, it becomes apparent they’re not quite as instant or ordinary as they might seem.

Texts have been used before as a literary medium. In Japan texts are commonly used as individual chapters in flash fiction stories, delivered direct to the reader’s phone. They call it keitai shousetsu, or the cellphone novel. Sent/Received may well be the first SMS ghost script though.

Andrew Kells

Andrew Kells

Andrew was attracted by the brevity of texts and the scope the provide for miscommunication. The way his wife might text him from the supermarket asking if he wanted potatoes, but by the time he got the message and replied she could be miles away, as if they were on split time lines. Which is exactly what happens in Sent/Received, where texting is the only way of communicating between split time streams.

‘We expect technology to deliver instant results’, he says, ‘There’s this faith that technology will solve our problems, but it doesn’t’.

Sent/Received, with Andrea Milde and Jonathan Greaves as its time-slip victims, has its first performance at Skype Me! Sheffield and the World at Showroom Cinema 5 on 29 October (7.30pm). The night brings together writers from around the world, appearing on screen via Skype, with writers in Sheffield, exploring just how connected we really are.

Robin Vaughan-Williams, who is co-hosting the Skype Me! with Sarah Thomasin, put on a similar event in Nottingham in May. ‘The effect of switching back and forth between people on stage and on Skype created a magical effect’, he says:

As we flew around the world from Mumbai to Finland to Cyprus and New Zealand, we got to see writers we would normally never have a chance to experience live, and Skype created an unusual sense of intimacy—after all, it’s just like calling someone up on the phone, and you see the writers in the privacy of their own homes, as if they’ve invited us in.

Miwa Kurihara will be getting up early in Kawasaki, Japan (5.30am local time) to call in with some haiku and a poem on the recent tsunami to devastate her country. There will also be remote appearances from Texas jam poet Thom the World Poet, who has entertained audiences and school children around South Yorkshire many times before on his annual UK tour, and Jeff Cottrill, a Canadian spoken word artist who last performed in Sheffield at the Red Deer in March 2007. A master in the art of satire—macho jocks, manipulative girlfriends and pompous literary elitists have all felt his ire.

In Sheffield, Liz Cashdan will be hooking up with her friend Liesl Jobson in Cape Town and exchanging poetic postcards. Poet and promoter Gaby Bila-Günther will be dropping by from Berlin, where she is a fixture on the spoken word scene. Chella Quint will be taking us on an epistolary journey through the stars with ‘It’s Not You. I Just Need Space. (interplanetary letters of love and rejection)’, Rob Hindle will be airing his poem-drama ‘Yoke and Arrows’ about the last weeks of the life of Federico Garcia Lorca duing the Spanish civil war, and Joe Kriss, literary editor of Now Then, will be revealing new work.

Skype Me! Sheffield and the World
Showroom Cinema 5, 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX
7.30pm, Saturday 29 October, entrance £4/£3
Facebook page:

Here are a few more links on SMS fiction:

Story Time at the Old Trip

Friday, February 25th, 2011

After watching a few too many crappy films of late, I’ve been reminded of the power of storytelling these last couple of weeks. Last week was the Flying Goose, Beeston’s cosiest poetry night, only this time it was prose, from the novelists David Belbin and Thomas LeGendre. And yesterday evening I finally made it the Storytellers of Nottingham, after my failed attempt in September.

It was a night of the macabre, and sitting in a sandstone cave at the foot of Nottingham’s castle rock was the perfect setting. We were taken from a captured Pole’s cunning ruse in South America to a ghost town in the Western Australia outback, and a driverless sedan in the Derbyshire rain. All told from memory, with an intentness and level of engagement that screen and radio can only struggle to mimic.

Next month it’s Travellers Tales, 8pm on Thursday 31 March at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (entrance £4).

Sharif & Sons Has It All

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

I was really looking forward to the gothic storytelling night at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (the oldest inn in England, according to their website) this evening, but ended up criss-crossing Nottingham city centre until I’d passed pretty much every pub except Ye Olde Trip, which turned out to be more or less where Google Maps had told me it was, only slightly to the south of where I was looking. What a pity! Still, I can now tell you where The Hole in the Wall, The Turf Tavern, the similar-sounding Ye Olde Salutation, and plenty of other pubs that don’t have storytelling nights are. But it looks like I’ll have to wait another month to get my narrative fix.

neatly stacked spices in Sharif & Sons

Look at all those spices...

Compensation came in the form of the wonderful Sharif & Sons Superstore on the corner of Radford Road and Gregory Boulevard. I’ve cycled past several times and been blown away by the vegetable section that lines the entire front of the shop, market style. They’ve got at least four different kinds of aubergines—the small thin Pakistani type that are good for cooking whole in bakes, slightly larger rounder egg-shaped aubergines (hence ‘egg plant’), white ones, and the large type you usually see in the UK. They’ve got loads of kinds of melons, papaya, large mangoes for 99p, and lots of other stuff that I would have crammed into my paniers if only I could.

Inside I drifted about in a daydream, my fruitless search for the oldest pub in England long forgotten, as I marvelled at the site of shelf upon shelf neatly stacked with what can only be described as sacks of spices—yes sacks…1kg packs of paprika, cayenne pepper, tandoori, and turmeric. Breakfast will never be the same again.

The fruit stall outside Sharif & Sons

...and look at all that fruit!

Tuesday was Speak Easy (see their out-of date blog) in Sheffield’s Drum, now called the Hubs, formerly the National Centre for Popular Music, which was founded back in that brief spell when the government decided that museums ought to make money. And of course it didn’t make any money, so it closed. It was good to see the place being used. There was poetry in the A-pod, comedy in B-pod, some kind of dance or yoga class in C-pod, and…well, I’ll leave you to imagine what goes on in P-pod.

There was a good mix of poets and assorted performers, including Corncrake with his Kaoss pad, best described as a little magic box that seemingly dispenses with the need for any kind of band and opens up new vistas of intra-personal collaboration. The last time I saw one of those was in the hands of Morten Søndergaard at the 2009 Nýhil International Poetry Festival, who used it to render linguistic noise (see my blog post on that night).

There were the choo-choo train rhythms of Matt Black‘s ‘strategy-policy-procedure’ poem, which recreates that committee-meeting feeling of being swept along by something you’re not quite in control of, Stan Skinny doing something great on guitar, though I can’t remember what now, and some classic storytelling circularity and gallows humour from Tim Ralphs. I also enjoyed a poem someone read about old-fashioned names that have slipped out of fashion, which largely consisted of lists of names that transported me back to the childhood adventure landscape of Enid Blyton novels. And then of course there was me doing The Manager.

The main feature of the night was the horrendous teapot, which is the Speak Easy crew’s answer to the perennial problem of open-mic organisers—how do you keep people from going over the limit. When someone reaches 5 minutes, the T-pot is gently held aloft, rocks back and forth a few times, then a knife is raised and tapped against the T-pot in time with the poetry or music that has as yet failed to cease. If the scoundrel continues to hog the stage, then the clanging gets louder and faster and the T-pot is brought right up to the poor sod’s ears until they are chased back where they belong.

It is the most horrible way of keeping people to time I have ever seen, but seems to be exercised fairly, with no favours shown to anyone, however popular they might be, and that somehow seems to mitigate its nastiness—you know it’s nothing personal. There’s also something quite entertaining about watching someone being hounded off-stage by a T-pot. But it is a very ugly T-pot.

The Manager at Speak Easy, Sheffield, 28 Sept

Friday, September 24th, 2010

…and the bill is already packed with old hands such as previous featured performer and tall tale teller Tim Ralphs, local legend and Dulux special offer Matt(e) Black, and Weight Watchers slimmer of the year Stan Skinny, as well as new faces from far and wide including Hull based crime writer Nick Quantrill and Leeds beat-and-loop poet Corncrake.

Not forgetting of course our celebrated featured poet Robin Vaughan-Williams reading from his recently published collection The Manager. Robin has recently returned from Iceland – which first collapsed financially and then erupted geologically during his stay there. Coincidence? Be afraid, Sheffield.

It promises to be a fantastic night and we hope to see you all at the A-pod, Hallam Union at 7.30. We’ll be doing our utmost to start on time as we’ve got a lot of acts to get through before they turf us out – so join us as soon as you can…

Speak Easy on Facebook

Review: Afternoon of the Minotaur

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Afternoon of the Minotaur, (modern dance with music and video) performed by Madalena at Luxury Goods IV: The Role of Art, The Courtyard Theatre, Hoxton on 30 April 2010.

The review is available at Bellyflop, the online performing arts magazine:

Hardt and Negri – it’s immaterial

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

I’ve just been to a lecture by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri at the University of Iceland. I was particularly interested to hear them speak as I read an article by Slavoj &#0142i&#0158ek the other day in New Left Review in which he borrows from Hardt and Negri their concern with the commons. He talks about ecology, intellectual property rights, and bio-technology as the sites of three of the main antagonisms of contemporary capitalism, and characterises these three antagonisms as issues of the commons. The enclosure and expropriation of the commons is a common thread running through the history of capitalism, linking 18th-century England and modern China, and one that is familiar and well-established, so it seems an effective way of understanding and connecting the politics of these antagonisms &#0142i&#0158ek describes. The external environment, culture, nature, and the internal environment (the body) are all common resources that are under threat of being enclosed, exploited, expropriated, and even destroyed for private gain.

For me the most interesting part of Michael Hardt’s talk was probably his distinction between material and immaterial property. I wasn’t exactly sure what was meant by immaterial property, probably because there was a TV camera about two feet away pointing right at me while he was on this topic, and this rather affected my ability to concentrate. Something to do with producing wellbeing, communication, software, knowledge, presumably organisation as well, that kind of thing. He compared this distinction to the distinction made by Marx between mobile and immobile property. Immobile property is, of course, chiefly land, while mobile property refers mainly to industrial products. Hardt proposes that the main distinction between different types of property is now that of material versus immaterial.

The distinction between immobile and mobile property corresponds to that between land and capital, and to the social distinction between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie. These were two social classes, two ruling classes indeed, one established, the other in the making. Sometimes they worked together, at other times, as in the French Revolution, they were in opposition to each other. How do the concepts of material and immaterial property map onto our social structure, I wondered, are they supposed to correspond to different factions in the ruling class in the same way as mobile and immobile property? We often talk about the ruling class being divided between the interests of finance capital and industrial capital, and I suppose that finance probably counts as an immaterial product, but I’m not sure how the interests of the owners of call centres, educational institutions, software houses, and so on differ significantly from the owners of material industries.

But it was not so much the ruling class as the conditions of the workers that Hardt seemed to be getting excited about. In immaterial industries, he claims, workers have a greater degree of freedom or power than their counterparts in material industries, and – this is the important bit – a greater opportunity (and perhaps propensity) to embark upon a liberation struggle…this was one of the points where I lost concentration – maybe it was the camera, or maybe it was just a little bit woolly – but that’s the gist of it anyway. So the development of immaterial property (I’m not sure if material property plays much of a role other than to help define immaterial property) offers us a window of opportunity for overcoming capitalism.

Antonio Negri read his lecture in Italian with Icelandic surtitles, and I decided that, even halfway through Icelandic for foreigners level II, I’d probably understand more in Italian, so I closed my eyes and listened. I learned Italian when I was 18 and travelling in Italy for three weeks on an inter-rail pass, so, as you can imagine, I didn’t learn very much Italian. I do remember, however, being amazed at how much I could understand. Sometimes people started talking to me and I understood pretty much everything they said. I didn’t know whether it was to do with the proximity with French or Latin (I’d learnt Latin for three years at school then promptly forgotten everything except hic, haec, hoc, eram, eras, erat, and huius, huius, huius…but maybe some of it was still rattling around my subconscious), but Italian felt like it was a natural language, like it was somehow already within me, and I only had to rediscover it, like exercising some neglected muscle. So I closed my eyes tonight and thought, ‘maybe, maybe I can do it again’.

And I understood a surprising amount. I wasn’t able to follow any arguments, but I could tell most of the time what he was talking about and recognised a few phrases, like ‘production of subjectivity’ (in Italian, of course, but it only works one way so I can’t repeat the Italian). I even picked up a bit of Icelandic. Samsto&#0240a means ‘solidarity’, and sj&#0225lfsemd ‘identity’ (I think).

Oh, and I think it was organised by N&#0253hil (yes, the poetry group, but they evidently do more than just poetry).

Poetry Jam this Friday

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Summer Poetry Jam

this Friday (22 May 2009) at Café Rót on Hafnarstræti, Reykjavík

I’ll be getting there for 7pm and am on at 7.30pm, followed by Marc Vincenz, who’s developing quite a formidable collection of poems about the colour and contradictions of life in China. I’ll be doing some manager poems peppered with a few other bits and pieces.

The Jam’s downstairs at Café Rót, lots of sofas to lounge around in and about the only place you can get any darkness in Reykjavík at this time of year.

Here’s the full programme (I think it’s mainly in English, with maybe two people reading in Icelandic):

17:00-17:20 Jón Þór Sigurðsson
17:30-17:50 Daniel Norman Tumasson
18:00-18:20 TBA
18:30-18:50 Nikulas Ári Hannigan
19:00-19:20 TBA
19:30-19:50 Robin Vaughan-Williams
20:00-20:20 Marc Vincenz
20:30-20:50 Helgi Jónsson
21:00-21:20 Mark Andrew Zimmer
21:30-21:50 Magnus Ivar Markusson

22:05-22:50 Radioactive Meltdown (band)

There’s coffee and cake, but no alcohol, except in the intervals (if you cross the street).