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.