Landscaping Change – Wild Words
Easter 2016, and I have just presented to delegates at the Landscaping Change conference at Bath Spa University. The talk was entitled Wild Words and covered three aspects of my works all of which place words in wild places, but towards the end I was determined not to let the debate descend down the rabbit hole of whether we should or should not build a new nuclear power station. The preparation for this keynote made me re-examine and dissect my practice and re evaluate its purpose and relevance in today’s media saturated environment.
I also knew that an hour and a quarter was long enough to include a practical element, the image above illustrates a note card, penciled by a delegate whilst I meandered through my talk. The request was simple, harvest resonant words and phrases, and at the end these were typed into the Storywalk Engine to create a poetry trail in the grounds of the Newton Park Campus.
Untethered horizons left fear gaps
Selection cutting populate topi biographical collapse
Valley of the rocks
Birthed lyrical ballads
Now tech connects
Invocations to Pan
“In the light of things”
A stone looks like a fox
Its tail wrapped round
I fear nuclear power
The men in black
The poetry on the stones washes away
But beyond the practical of my practice I wanted to talk about user engagement, whether that be a super simple poetry box, or more hi tech works using smart phones and GPS responsive web code. Handing out the word harvest cards made the keynote more a workshop, linking directly to how I work with groups in the field. As I look back at the session these cards and subsequent poetry have become a fascinating loop of feedback, revealing ghosts of my words poking through the wrappers of their creative writing.
I talked about the poetry boxes which were first deployed at Valley of Rocks (2014), then Tarr Steps (2015) and this summer are due to be deployed in the village of Dunster, all Exmoor locations. This three year project has been a great surprise in just how six little tins with pencils and a book inside can have such high user engagement. So far the project has accrued around 4300 poems, and all from just passing strangers.
Moving on to the Storywalks project I explained the fundamentals of how I have developed this form of publishing and its unique location reactive features, to finally then talk about the Poetry Pin project. Its first outing has been in the shadow of Hinkley C the UK’s first new nuclear build in a generation and having walked the trail regularly over the project’s year and run countless workshops I have had to confront my own personal prejudices over nuclear power again and again. During the presentation I asked for a show of hands to see who was ‘happy’ we were having a new nuclear build, the response was unanimously against unsurprisingly. But then the electrons firing the very data projector in the lecture theatre were in part pushed at Hinkley B, are we not all complicit in approval and have been for 35 years or more? Every time we charge our phones and switch on the light in the West Country our power is mainly from this plant, but what choice do we have , and so down the rabbit hole we go again.
A comfort to sit
Cold on my bottom
Place to dream
To see through
From the island
On a clear day
floating like confetti or dust
flying like fairy birds and loopy bees
loopy bees looping me as I stand, smiling
Ephemeral words washed by waves
Stop legitimising nuclear madness
Meanings embedded in the place
Surly as artists, academics and creatives it is our place to question the knowledge we have, and unpick our own prejudices wherever they lie. The Poetry Pin project (and soon to be projects hopefully) is just another tool for publishing, I am proud that its birth was at Hinkley C, this place needs discussing and poetry has a long history of activism, propaganda and militancy. Interestingly the debate yesterday touched on the issue that the Poetry Pin trail itself was part of the promotion to ease us into acceptance of Hinkley C, and they have a point, until that is they read the posted poetry.
Perhaps the next trail should take a leaf out of the poetry box project which has engaged with such huge numbers, why not locate Poetry Pin in a beauty spot, a nature park or festival, a place where the people want to go for recreation and don’t feel pressured to have an opinion. It is not a requisite that Poetry Pin must rub against issues, but it just feels right that it can and therefore should, its modus and form is location based, it begs to be at the cutting edge of the wheel, where attrition is sharper, keener and more dynamic. As artists at what point do we decide to lean into the punches more than shirk them. Poetry Pin can be deployed in a myriad of places, over holocaust graves, migrant camps, or even the path of HS2, but it comes back to the audience, community and their desire to deny or participate.
The first Poetry Pin trail thankfully has a range of works seeded down its spine as well as a book to its name, linked to a project which is still deep in the kangaroo of policy stop-start, stop-start. The system is designed to focus authors and audience into the super local in publicly accessible places making the experience neat, personal and ripe to be layered into the physical topography of a media savvy society.
So form an orderly queue please and prep your communities for more wild words inside a poetry pin project and perhaps we’ll find some new rabbit holes to explore.
We traverse the ancient road over the clapper bridge rifting above the mire we sing
That what I, lapsed surrogate, scream cash-money, high-five
I am married to the Soundcatcher; I asked for the sound of the wind in the trees
Silver trails of light
Ambling words bringing
Landscape to life
Tethering and untethering
Along paths constructed
From lingering thoughts
School trip, glow in the dark strips
Stalled….dig my feet in
High tech user of textual commodity
The burden of language now
Life is interactive
All these words are un altered and in their entirety from their posting by the delegates during the seminar at the Landscaping Change conference at Bath Spa University UK.