Saturday, 28 October 2017

Bilston Bloopers and Fluffypunk

'They' say practice, practice practice until it becomes embedded in your brain. So I did. Reciting all three poems I planned to read today over the last three weeks in the bath, in bed while nodding off to sleep or waking in the small hours, on the field or along the river while walking the dog - who was my best critic and indicator of when I'd gone on too long! I even took to writing the words out (and included little illustrations) in a new specially selected notebook in an endeavour to rely on the visual layout to remember the sequence of sounds. I was ready. I knew my lines, even Flynn the dog knew my lines but still I doubted my memory and so practised again using the notebook as reference.

And so it came to pass that I stood in front of a warm encouraging audience of fellow poets of varied experience and their supporters in Bilston Library at 1.40pm today to be the first to show how hard I'd worked at all the things we had been discussing over three sessions of performance workshops. The sessions had been organised by 'Poetry on Loan' and kindly organised by Jane Seabourne with workshop leaders Brenda Read-Brown, Steve Pottinger and the wonderful Jonny Fluffypunk sharing their phenomenal experience and skills. I read Jon's two books while on holiday in Brighton and in one of those random co-incidences of life, I mentioned this to him a few weeks ago only to discover he knew Brighton well having lived there for some time. Makes me wonder if Brighton has a creative gravitational pull? Pity it is now becoming impossible for the very people who make the city what it is to live there through the London spillover, but that's another rant for another time...

Which brings me back to the moment Jon finally read my intro line out..."Dawn Jutton, who comes from a world where ranting along the river is acceptable behaviour". Audience claps as promised and I feel remarkably more in control than I'd thought I would be walking into position and then reading this 'out there' poem for the first time, and to a mixed audience...

Pride (but no prejudice)

Here it comes!
A carnival of camp
drumming flamboyance,
freedom and golden muscled skin
through smiling streets
high on expectation, rainbows and pride,
(but no prejudice)

See those banners!
A riot of colour
marching diversity, defiance
and solidarity
between staccato waves
of throbbing anthems.
Oppression, hatred and fears
whistled away through tears of pride,
(but no prejudice)

There they go!
A wake of dreams
littering memories, lost loves
and corporate lies
onto hate-stained streets
filled with fight and macho pride
(but no prejudice)

Drop your flag!
Silence the whistles.
Return to reality, revolving closets
and eyes wide open.
Hope yet for carefree acceptance
and playground pride
(but no prejudice)

All the practice had definitely made a difference to how confident I was in the reading but I referred to my notes for security. A pause...and into 'The Treat'. This one is a little ditty I wrote years ago and I have used it before to preface a rant about fast food and litter. It went down well last time I read it out and even my eldest granddaughter has written it down and learnt it so no need to put my thumb in the right page then...oops! First mistake! For some reason the nerves got to me just at that moment of full engagement with the smiling audience and the words went out of my head. Second mistake...not noticing earlier that I had failed to write the complete poem out in my notebook! The pregnant pause felt like the full nine months, but if you missed it, here is the full poem.

The Treat

She dragged me screaming into McDonalds
Where for years I'd refused to eat
She made me order a burger
stuffed into a soggy bun
And then called it a treat.

It fell apart while I was eating
The lettuce sagged back to earth
And when the coleslaw
fell into my lap she could
barely hide her mirth.

I returned to the security of the typed pages stuck in my notebook to finish my turn with a recent minor re-edit of  'River Rage' and sure enough my minimum confidence returned to end on a positive note.

River rage

Was your fast food so finger-licking good
you had to share the rest with me?
Did you post about pizzas, Maccy ds, Kentucky cs
then twitter about your litter
-and how I soaked it up

Were you half cut when your trolley landed,
stranded, like an upturned animal
fresh frozen in Asda green algae,
or were you re-uniting crisscrossed lovers
-across a concrete divide
Could you not meet those sad orange eyes,
beacons of hope, stretched white necks
searching for sight of light in those who walk past,
run past, cycle past, ignoring their past,
-timing their future not yours

It’s game over too for the floating balls
you kicked out to score own goals,
swollen with infla­ted pride, to fall
in a defensive wall of reed, passed from side to side

-until full time scores a full tide.

I was followed over the next hour by an inspirational set of poets with themes ranging from the difficulty of cycling to lovely descriptive anecdotes of interactions with questionable neighbours and haikus with puns! A welcome soft end to the event over tea and chocolate biscuits gave everyone the opportunity to share our experience and me the chance to spend more time getting to know the sustainable nihilist.

Well done everyone and here's to a future of performing with more confidence...or maybe deciding that writing for the page is safer!

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.