Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Boundaries? What boundaries?

From 'Walks Interrupted: Trentham Lake Series' by Dawn Jutton
 Exhibited at 'Dust' earlier this year as part of the City of Culture bid.
It seems that poetry and spoken word are dominating my life again. Not that I am complaining. Its been an interesting few months navigating the boundaries of my practice and discovering that the only boundaries there are the ones you place on yourself. I've met poets who make films and create theatre, poets who collaborate with artists from all disciplines and poets who share their thoughts and world views through highly entertaining and skilful performance and learnt much from them all. It quickly becomes clear however that many of their audiences are mainly poets and writers who appreciate others' writing and possibly, like me, want to learn from them and gain confidence. There is a spirit of generosity and comradeship in this arena that I have yet to experience amongst artists of other disciplines and I have had the privilege of the advice and support from some of the best over the last twelve months or so.

It all started with meeting the amazing, funny and very talented Emma Purshouse whose infectious enthusiasm for all things written and visual has been a guiding light. I blame her continued support and friendship for unleashing my current creative stream on the world! Emma has recently teamed up with two other brilliant performers Steve Pottinger and Dave Pitt to form Poets, Prattlers and Pandemonialists who, following their huge success at the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton are about to hit the Edinburgh Free Fringe Festival, but have also formed a new night at the Pretty Bricks in Walsall. It was here that I made what I felt to be my 'debut' this month with a 5 minute open mic slot reading two new poems and a very old ditty. I enjoyed the experience immenseley and discovered a little nugget of confidence that has since spurred me on to revisit older poems and rework them.

The seemingly endless willingness of poets and small publishers to put on affordable, and often free  or 'pay as you feel' gigs like this is another indication of the underlying 'we are in this together' feeling you get. This is certainly my experience so far in the Midlands and specifically the Back Country, where poets of all abilities, reputations and confidence levels get to meet up and try out favourite and new words on appreciative audiences. One man who has done a huge amount to bring poetry to the consciousness of new audiences in this area is Bert Flitcroft. Bert is the current Staffordshire Poet Laureate and his patience and commitment to the role has been another factor in my increasing confidence. His quiet Northern accent and friendly inclusive delivery often hints at his previous profession and many of his semi-autobiographical poems comment affectionately on his life experiences and acute observations of relationships.

And so back to those boundaries and the generosity of spirit...

When I first met writer and film-maker Mal Dewhirst (an ex Staffordshire Poet Laureate) I had the immediate impression of another artist willing to share his skills with anyone who might appreciate them. We have since worked together for several weeks on a project for South Staffordshire and Shropshire Health Trust involving a series of walks around the county with people who  have varying levels of experiences with their mental health. 'A Place of Safety' has introduced me to truly collaborative working with another artist with whom I share both similar and different skills, yet fundamentally we shared the same ethos of trying to bring a sense of confidence and pride in others of their abilities to create images and words that could express many of their emotions.
'Older Women Rock the Potteries' by Leah Thorn
High Street, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire

And finally, but not so final...

I continue to collaborate with the wonderful Leah Thorn on her project 'Poetry [e]motion' and Older Women Rock the Potteries. Leah is a current Fellow at Keele University and has set up shop in Newcastle-under-Lyme where her fabulous collection of poetry emblazoned on retro clothing is on display, and from where she is currently running a peer listening project for women over 55years old. So far it has been a welcome return to consider the feminist and ageing themes I explored during my MA course and the tireless activism and support that Leah brings to the project is a true inspiration. I am sure the experience will spark off a whole new body of work for me. The project ends on 29th July and the shop will form part of the attractions in the Newcastle Midsummer Wakes Carnival and celebrations on Saturday 22nd July. You may even catch another little outing for my performing self- something of a privilege for me alongside such an established and wonderful performer.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Blowing away the flu-blues in the Wirral.

And so it came to pass that a planned day trip over the Christmas break to see the Picasso linocuts at Lady Lever Gallery in Port Sunlight became a three day convalescing break in the Wirral. New Year’s Eve boredom led to internet searching for a B&B by the sea to blow away lingering Christmas flu and soak up affordable positive coastal ions before a return to the long slog of the freelance artist’s reality of looking for paid work.

Great reviews on top booking sites are initially useful but rarely state whether somewhere is ‘gay friendly’. You would think that with the significant and important changes to the laws, and an apparent shift in attitudes, that it shouldn’t matter, but I always have that slight fear of turning up with my wife and our collie Flynn will open a can of worms that I really don’t want to deal with on an unfamiliar doorstep.  A quick phone call and a well-practised conversational outing does much to gauge opinion, and after a friendly easy conversation with Helen from ‘Dunsandles' Guesthouse in New Brighton we confirmed our 2 night booking with the top hit in the dog friendly, discounted offers.

New Years Day was spent in the usual Winter break prep of ensuring favourite jeans and woolly jumpers are clean and packed alongside lots of thermal under layers because, no matter how hard we try, it seems that indecision and a lack of trust in weather forecast ensures we take enough clothes for a fortnight. Add photography, reading, writing and drawing equipment, dog paraphernalia and a bag of special dietary requirements for us and suddenly the car boot is full!

We arrive at Port Sunlight in cold sunny weather that catches my breath and results in an exhausting extended coughing fit while we stretch Flynn dog’s legs around the village. It’s years since I’ve visited the beautiful Lady Lever Gallery, which houses the eclectic collection of arts assembled by a wonderful philanthropist who recognized the possibility of art as a positive experience for everyone. Perhaps those so keen to measure the ‘value’ of art alongside other ‘more important’ services could take notice of the gallery’s regularly quoted and inspirational words below from Lord Lever’s gallery opening speech in December 1922:

“Art has always been to me a stimulating influence; it has always taught me without upbraiding me; elevated me without humbling me; and appealed to me because of the fact that only the best and truest in art survives…

Art can be to everyone an inspiration. It is within the reach of all of us…”

You may not necessarily agree that art has the same quality, place or values in modern Britain but it is interesting that so many people still get so much from visiting these originally private collections funded on the back of industrial activity. Just as they were intended to benefit the cultural life of the workforce and the wider public in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries we are still reaping the rewards despite constant threats of closure. Even as a contemporary photographic artist generally preferring post war modern art, I value the importance and beauty of the Lady Lever Gallery’s collection and recognize it as essential contextual referencing for my personal practice. As well as being inspired by the Picasso linocuts and promising myself I will progress my previous experiments with printmaking, I surprise myself with an emotional response to a classic and moving painting of a poacher and a dog awaiting sentencing, and the Wedgwood collection. 

Detail from 'Fidelity' by Briton Riviere, 1869

My early career as a photographer started at the Josiah Wedgwood factory in Barlaston, and until recently attending poetry workshop with Staffordshire poet laureate Bert Flitcroft in the museum there, I had never been back. I’m not sure whether it is nostalgia, or an improved sense of history that comes with age and distance from an experience, but I do seem to be developing a new respect and understanding for Josiah who shared some similarities with Lord Lever in understanding the value in bringing arts and crafts into people’s lives. Not sure the gallery shop is upholding the principles of quality and value but i guess commercialism is the key? Another debate for another day though, as we are keen to arrive in New Brighton in daylight and grab a late afternoon dog walk on the beach before booking in…

We immediately felt welcomed by Alan and Helen and at home in our room at ‘Dunsandles’ and, after the longest day away from the tv and front room at home in two weeks, I collapsed onto the very comfortable bed for a rest before dinner. An hour or two later we ventured 5 minutes walk down the hill to our favourite main eating place in New Brighton, The Marino Lounge, not least because they are dog friendly. We first discovered this great fact in the Faro Lounge in Lichfield and were delighted to discover that the service and food in both lounge bars  we’ve visited to date has been excellent. We love the décor too and have now played many games of scrabble, drunk the excellent coffee and sampled various dishes from the menu, my own favourites being the tapas and the chicken, bacon and avocado burger. They even have gluten-free options, a range of teas and dog treats making this the perfect venue for all three of us!
Detail of the great reclaimed wood panelling in the snug at Marino Lounge in New Brighton. Thinking about playing with this idea at my studio or even in in the hall at home!

An early night, a sound sleep on the very comfy bed despite my cough and the alarm set to ensure that we had time to take Flynn out before breakfast meant we could make the most of our only full day in New Brighton. The seaside themed breakfast room with many personalized creative touches from the multi skilled Helen, and quality pale blue and white Royal Doulton tableware was a pleasant surprise. A choice of cereals and fruit followed by perfectly cooked full English breakfast and copious tea and toast ensured we were set up for the day; Alan had even cooked and wrapped Flynn a sausage for a later treat!

New Brighton Beach looking towards Wallasey Town Hall(?)
 The weather was dry but dull and I have to confess that so was I for much of the the two mile walk along the promenade towards Seacombe, lost in the effort of dragging my tired, flu-dogged body one slow step in front of the other. The views of the Liver buildings and the docks, however, are wonderful from here, and the walk was full of surprises as we discovered parks, beaches, pirate ships and various other nativity themed community artworks whilst also dreaming of owning one of the huge old houses with their stepped gardens down to the promenade.

I finally refuse to move from the bench at Egremont Ferry, complaining of a full bladder and needing a bus timetable. At the very moment of me turning this into a domestic spoiler, the staff from The Ferry pub rescued us by bringing out a large ‘dog friendly’ and ‘open’ sign, As we have now found in most places near here, we walked into a warm friendly welcome for us and Flynn from the staff, and best of all, clean toilets and hot drinks. We sat in the comfy armchairs and were entertained by the staff who raved about the quality of the food served in the pub, leaving half an hour later rested, warmed and with a dinner reservation! We returned that evening to eat in the restaurant and whilst we enjoyed the spectacular night views of the Liverpool skyline we were slightly under-whelmed by our meals having been full of expectation from the rave online reviews and burger eating boasts. I’m sure we must have been unlucky, and I seem to have hurt the staffs’ feelings with my polite honest feedback as they didn’t engage with us again or offer us any apology for my over-cooked chewy chicken, boring veg or curled sparse fish and cold chips. However, I am sure we will return to hopefully experience an improved service and food quality as per the reviews?

Back to the afternoon though and strolling back we stopped briefly in Vale Park to eat our tired left over ‘journey’ sandwiches and watched as a dog ran itself ragged round and round, the owner oblivious to its whereabouts as he never looked up from his mobile phone. We guessed that this was a usual routine as the dog returned several times to the same tree near us to check for squirrels- something Flynn would possibly have joined in with had he not been fixated on the potential of falling crusts.

Cold and in need of further sustenance we eventually fell into Driftwood Café on Victoria Road, only to discover another New Brighton gem. The friendly welcome from the staff for both us and Flynn, was only outdone by the huge pots of tea and fresh hand-baked scones accompanied by generous pots of jam and cream.  With that scrumptiousness its hardly surprising that we returned the following day for lunch and chose to share a cheese sandwich on beautiful soft thick bread with chutney, coleslaw and salad on the side followed by fresh homemade lemon drizzle and tiffin cake. It was hard to decide as we could have chosen from a large menu that included home-made soup or quiche, but we were not disappointed and were impressed by the quality and quantity of the food. We will definitely make this a regular feature of our future trips to New Brighton.

Wednesday morning and we open the curtains onto a sea view with promising skies for our last day in the Wirral.  After another fab breakfast, a lovely chat with Helen before checking out, we decide to take a walk on our favourite part of the beach before heading off to explore more of the coast towards West Kirby. The light is in its Winter sun glory and I spend most of my day taking photos purely for the pleasure of using the glorious light and, thinking that the lighthouse and Fort Perch might translate into linoprints, focus on creating compositions that might work for that purpose. 

I also become obsessed with recording clumps of seaweed where plastic waste and sea life have been washed up together, a reminder of a current series of photographs I’ve recently been creating nearer home.On my regular walks along the River Sow in Stafford I have been recording the sad and neglected by-product of the town’s new commercial area. The detritus of the town is ending up in river dams formed by neglected fallen trees and waste packaging less than a mile away. It makes me sad that we fail to recognize what we are doing to our precious waters and landscape, but I do realize that we are trapped in the imperfect balance between need, cost and packaging. Maybe I can do as many other photographers have done before me, and use these images to remind people of our responsibilities?

Whether they think about these things in West Kirby too remains to be discovered, but as a haven for watersports on the Marine Lake I would hope that they care.  However my thoughts now turn to light again as I am captivated yet again by the amazing view of the late afternoon Winter sun disappearing down to the horizon through the clouds. The mist on the hills across the water is magical and the act of taking photos becomes inexplicably addictive. It is only the numbing cold that drags me away to the nearest dog friendly café, Hannah’s Cafe in Acacia Grove is obviously popular with families having plenty of room for pushchairs and an area for pooches and their owners.  We thaw out over tea and coffee before catching the last twenty minutes of opening time in the town to wander around and get a sense of the place.

After three days of discovering new places in what we thought was a familiar area I am increasingly drawn to the welcome we have had on the Wirral, and we have yet to venture over the Mersey! I know we will be back here soon to revisit new favourites and explore more. Who knows, we may even have found a possible seaside re-location. Off to write to the TV programme for some help!

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Light and Dark

Light and Dark
(for Jesper)

You shone Northern light
into a darkened room,
Lifting flatness into
sweet and sharp relief.

Your rich mono tones
capturing cultural notes,
fixing detail and depth
with loving belief.

You etched memories
In silver to create
gold; ingrained soft mid-tones
to highlight life shared.

Your life half exposed
Sets the deepest shadow,
Leaves stories still untold,

Your print in our frame.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Colouring Sunday

Colouring Sunday.

“I’ll fetch Mac,” she says
“He doesn’t want to join in but he’ll watch.”
I ask if he’s new.
“He’s 99,” she says.

The door swings softly shut
And I’m left to bring colour and activity
into the impersonal institutional room.
We cover the bright splashes of garish
Pretend paint on plastic
with blue paper to protect
Delicate eyes and fragile minds.

She returns without Mac but with Constance
who stares at me with a half smile of recognition,
and sits with practised complicity
on the chair nearest me,
accepting my offer of colouring book and crayons.

Mac arrives.
A tall lath of smiling energy,
he shakes my hand and aims for the
Blue vinyl sofa, a safe distance from where
We work on the small table.

Constance is lost in the concentration
Of colouring petals first red then green.
Unable to resist the empty chair at the table,
Mac joins us. 
“I’m 99” he says in the way that commands
respect for the numeric milestone.
He gets it.
 “I’ve been wearing glasses since I was 4yrs old.
They’re no good for playing rough games.”
It sounds like an apology.
“I was Cumberland and Westmorland Swimming Champion.”
It’s not. It’s an explanation.

“I played tennis” shares Constance without looking up.
This is the first personal thing I know about her.
“It’s how I met my husband. He asked if he could play with me.
I had to laugh but he didn’t mean it in that way!”
She looks up. Her open mischevious grin completes a shared circle.
“We got married in Cannock at the big church.”

“I met my wife when we started cycling club the same night.
We cycled 100 miles on a Sunday.
We got married in 1939 in Kendal. Three days later war broke out.
I was conscripted. I wouldn’t have joined up.”

“As you know, I was a shorthand typist. I was in the WAAFs.
I wasn’t really in the war but I did climb on a tank once.”
I didn’t know. Constance puts down her crayons.
“I started at English Electric then a solicitors then BRC.”

We compliment Constance on her delicately shaded flowers
“I’m not much for flowers or gardening,” says Mac,
but a glimpse of an empty sunflower brightens
a shared memory of French fields.
“Yes, I’ve seen those. I’ve travelled all over.
I was an engineer stationed in Italy. We went to Naples, Rome all over.
Then I fixed anti-aircraft guns along the South Coast from Dover…
To I don’t remember where.”

“I loved being a shorthand typist.
I wrote a play. It didn’t go anywhere.
It was set on the South Coast.
It was a romance.
I like to explore people, you know;
Think about their character.”

Dawn Jutton, Feb 2016

Friday, 12 February 2016

Why do we name a hurricane?

I initially got involved in 'There is No Planet B' , Stafford Green Arts Festival 2016  to help organise the Art competition, believing I could support the hard-working volunteers to achieve their ambition to increase and improve the quality of submissions. As the week long event looms I realise that I have probably gained as much as I have given. I have been welcomed into a new network of people who are passionate about the issues that affect our very existence on the planet, I have been appreciated for my personal efforts and professional expertise, and I have 
ensured that Gainsborough [art]works can be a worthwhile 
partner in events planned and run by others.

If I'm honest however, I have been most excited by the opportunity to immerse a little more of myself into the poetry world. Since my 'Doxey Marshes' poem has been published in 'The Poetry of Staffordshire' by Offa's Press, I have a new-found confidence in putting my random efforts out there. I have attended a few more events recently and remain in admiration of the wit and skill of performance poets. Their ability to not only weave words that make you think, read them out in a rhythm that draws you in, but 
to have enough confidence to share them is also enviable. 

So, back to the Green Arts, and this time the poetry competition. As we have Bert Flitcroft- the current Staffordshire Poet Laureate- hosting our Life of Riley [word] Cafe at Gainsborough [art]works on Thursday 3rd March, I thought it would be appropriate to have written at least one poem myself on the Festival theme. As is often the case, I awoke with a phrase in my head, "why do we name a hurricane?" and an attempt at writing a poem that 
concentrates on internal rhymes and a rhythm that might suit 
performing it has therefore occupied me this morning. 
Off to send it to Carol Kirkwood now at the BBC!

Why do we name a Hurricane?

Why do we name a hurricane?
To comprehend it, befriend it,
and send it calmer on its way
‘cause we listened to its’ moans?

Why does Carol need to warn me
She’s left Henry and Imogen’s
On her way? She won’t stay.
Like all the rest, at best,
She’ll slap your face
Cause floods of tears,
pass through, forget you,
and leave you to pick up her mess,
and deny you should address
your fears for why she visited.

Like Abigail, Barney, Desmond
Frank and Eva before her,
she’ll be the stranger at your door
you try to ignore.
You won’t listen,
or see her eye glisten
when she tells you there’ll be more.
That you called them all
with your wanting to progress,
to fill the plains with concrete plans
instead of wilderness.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Writing Doxey Marshes

And so I finally submitted a poem! After the advice of the ever generous Emma P, I combined my love of prose with an as yet untried Haiku form-known in the poetry world as a Haibun. Her advice was spot on and very astute as usual and although I can't say I found it easy-but what craft is?- I found that the prose sections allowed me to splurge before using the Haiku form to be more succinct. hopefully I will finally be a published poet by the Winter with 'Doxey Marshes'.  It has certainly given me the confidence to keep writing- and brings ever closer a project using my images, sketches and words together! The bare bones progress of this project will be published irregularly in my blog 'Maud 1921'.

Doxey Marshes
Doxey Marshes
by Dawn Jutton

Breath mingling with morning mist we drift through weather pitted and unknown memorials, outlived by their faded plastic tributes. Unconcerned with decoding Stafford’s past, the dog drives us on through silver guiding gates, his excitement tapped out in a random rhythm on the thin ice. White stalks of spent rushes pierce the skyline and point to a trail of labouring wings and frantic calls slicing the frozen air. The black geese, gathered on green-grassed mounds, survey potential bankside building sites and warily track our progress through their solitude.

Skeletal silence
Under exposed thin white skin -
In memoriam

The sun rises above the muted distant tower of St. Mary’s, persistent in its effort to bring pink life to the grey sky. An icy breeze mocks still water into movement towards the oblivious River Sow that’s rushing to an unknown rendevous. The riverbank is punctuated by pairs of geese and ducks, trading safety in numbers for precarious parenting amongst the protective green swords: hidden new life marked only by lone sorties for fresh supplies. We leave the disappearing and unpredictable depths of the watery path to tip toe across tufts of resilient grasses avoiding ankle deep pockets of mud, a much easier feat for the dog than us.

Watery red carpet
Stillness threaded through soft noise-
In memoriam.

From where we stand the tonal stripes of the grasses appear to form a natural flag flying in the light breeze, tentatively signaling Summer.  Encouraging ripples of sunlight dance joyfully on the water’s surface whilst thin long reeds tirelessly sway below to the unheard tune of the flow. White swans drift upstream, their sun-lined wings spread in confident celebration of their beauty and a warning to keep our distance.  Ahead of us soporific cattle swish flies from their grass filled bellies and form a guard across the path, the leader fixing her dark brown gaze on my attempt to communicate my lack of fear and danger.  The engagement ends when I feel the pull of a lead at full stretch as the dog fearfully attempts to make himself invisible and skulk past.

Lily leaf red scales  
Fingers sift burnt dry petals-
In memoriam.

We follow the egret on its’ stalk in protest of change. Unaware of their undecided future the grasses contentedly rustle alongside us, and the river races itself to the other side of the bridge.  Across the pond, a shy heron sits motionless on an anglers’ platform before launching its prehistoric form in awkward flight away from us as we approach.  From the pillar box hide that is not hidden, but sits like an uncomfortable hard grey lump on soft skin, we watch the thin silver ribbon on the blue haze of the horizon carry unconcerned travellers past this place of precarious peace and watery graves that we are desperate to protect.

Worn sandstone sentries
Guardians of marsh and life-

In memoriam