On Intersections

As Britain coughs and splutters its way towards the (Br)exit after its long afternoon of watery beer (nice conceit), it seems unequal ratios have colonised our land. The drawbridge is retracting, and we are facing winter. Within the cracks are new moulds. Poetry may be the least of our catastrophes, but it is there amongst them. For goodness sake, it is drizzling even as I write this. That is your dramatic backdrop, and it took ages to think up. Now read on.

In our time of technocratic bullshit, all poetry is useless, irrelevant and confusing. But Britain has a Grate Tradition. In the monogendered Golden Age of Man, poetry began as irrelevant, useless and confusing. The Neolithics loved poetry. It was them who invented critical theory. Their cave-archives show a thriving literary scene. Fast forward two years, and we have the next lot. Yes, the Elizabethans. They were mad about poetry, and Sir Francis Drake was a pirate. Thomas Bastard was a bastard. During the Enlightenment (six months later), trilling poets got drunk in Edinburgh, and wrote scurrilous things with epic decorations. It was great to obfuscate. It is of course well-known that Victorian poets wore breeches. That is why their language is so florid. Oscar Wilde was somewhere between the 1854 and the 1900. Then came a sackload of Edwardians, poetatoes in their own right. They longed for a time when nostalgia was just a distant memory. Whilst all this was happening in Grate Britain, other people in the world did poetry. That needs to be acknowledged, and that is why many came to Britain. The border guards were on a tea break at the time, and many poets were let in. It was identified that Eliot was a poet. He came from America, an important place. Then some more Americans made the transmigration; surgery was performed on hipsters and word-pepper sprayed in peoples’ faces. By gosh, it smarted. They then went to a corner and stayed there. And then came Andrew Motion, a man who even to this day wears a suit and t-shirt. The great barn of poetry was sorted out. They found man in a suit had been occupying the loft. He smelt of piss but could write a cracking sonnet. They sent him to Amhurst and he got tenure teaching on PI550F. Poetry is now poetries and Britain is a Third Country, but we still love our pirates.

This is all very relevant, be assured. We are now in the future that was promised fifty years ago, but nobody wears tinfoil, except that woman in Enfield. We have developed an evolving tradition of punctuation. Our borders remain permeable but They’re going to stop that soon. Whole departments are being strategically restructured, including yours. Our service contracts are renewed annually, and we are glad the consultants are there. We face our orange dusk with style and dignity. Our writers describe the world’s mistakes, and our catastrophes are undergoing a rebranding exercise. We remain linguistic creatures. The authorities serve each other, but poets are humans. We have poetries (note pedantic plural), and a thousand intersections between them. There are intersections between the intersections, and that is tediously granular. Let’s kick this ball around a bit.

There is no single poetry, and no reliable concepts to signify (ha, cliché). Trouble is brewing in the word department. The people in white coats scratch their arses in doubt. As we graze our behinds on the plastic slide of history, poetry just remains useless. You can’t make money from it, but it works really well on adverts for banks. It is untrustworthy, slippery, and solid. It has no rules. It has rules. It is used in public but is intensely private. It is what it is and isn’t what it isn’t. I hope that makes it clear.

Intersections grew out of all that, you see. It was a project that happened in August 2017. Intersections came in two sections, and they intersected. Intersections threw many different writing communities together, just to see what would happen. The first one was an event at the University of East London on Thursday 3rd August, where two groups of poets from East London shared time and space with award-winning poets from Canada. The second event happened at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester on Saturday 5th August, and combined the same Canadians with linguistically experimental poets from the North West. The two events were programmed and promoted by Capital Letters (Caplet), a live poetry reading and discussion series which is dedicated to exploring the potential of poetries in dialogue, and to avoiding all serious debate as to what poetry is and why we write it.

The possibly naïve premise for Intersections was to explore whether or not writers from radically different cultural backgrounds, traditions, and poetic styles could read together, and – through circumstantial accidents, emergent dialogue, or (un)intentional event programming – do so in a cohesive way that somehow worked towards commonality and connection. Importantly, no theme was imposed (beyond dialogue), and no writers – whether published or unpublished – were knowingly excluded. Those who were there will have made their minds up about it. Either way, the events generated many intersections, and new creative relationships that – it is hoped – will last a long time. That is, in fact, a greatly profitable outcome. Humans swung into each others’ orbits, and no sinister satellites knowingly monitored them.

The intention of Intersections Stratford was to unite emerging local London voices with Canadian poets who have established literary reputations, to investigate how much one group of voices has in common with another. Preferring to give everybody a voice rather that a privileged hearing of a small number of writers, the event was a quick-fire series of readings offered by three distinct communities, two of which were from East London. Demonstrating Newham’s famously diverse community, numerous languages were spoken at Intersections Stratford, including many Englishes. The poetry veered from portraits drawn in verbal graffiti to mystical incantations and live translations, with many things in between. It was restrained where necessary, and raw when needed. Twenty-one poets read all-in-all, and the event ran miraculously to time. It was made possibly thanks to the University of East London, most especially through a Civic Engagement grant. The coterie of Canadians was present thanks to the generous funding of the Centre for Creative Learning.  People from Barking read poetry, and dogs joined in; people of old Newham read, and new Newham poetry was read. The room echoed with the sounds of humans, and we couldn’t use the microphone. That didn’t matter. Intersections happened and there were humans using legs and humans using wheels. The poetry had many shapes, skin tones, and traditions. It had many contours. The general consensus seemed to be that there were humans there who had used words. That was very important. When the crisps were crumbled and the wine drunk, more intersections were found at the pub. They spoke about Hopkins, who was born nearly (there’s a supermarket there now).  People went home in cars, mainly. Most people said they’d do another Caplet event.

Intersections Manchester was the same but of course different. It was definitely hewn out of the same short attention span. That is to say, Caplet results from impatience with the traditional separation that exists between poets and audiences in traditional poetry readings. There is no particular reason why poets and their readers/listeners should not talk directly to each other. Recognising all this, and building on existing literary friendships in Manchester and Salford, Intersections (Manchester) took place at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, in a converted mill’s former engine room. The room has many bricks, and only a few are new. It is very pleasant looking at bricks and hearing poetry. They became boring metaphors for the much more interesting poetry. We were subjected to mood lighting, and there was a danger of kicked glass. The microphone worked this time.

Intersections Manchester once again featured The Shaken and The Stirred (that’s the Canadians – keep up), but was run along very different lines to its Stratford counterpart. It was, in fact, formatted in a way that is now familiar to participants in Caplet events. Each poet was given a certain amount of time to read/perform their work, and then people in the audience were able to discuss their work with them. The Manchester event was deliberately scheduled so that Canadian poets would read between poets from Manchester and Salford and vice versa, rather than in distinct groups. This resulted in a rhythm, and made for contrasts that seemed worthy of exploration. As one poet eloquently described it, the event attempted to explore ‘specific convergences’. Reading at the event were A. F. Moritz, Amy McCauley, Catherine Graham, Scott Thurston, Jeanette Lyons, Tom Jenks, and Ian Burgham. They all read poetry and used other words in between and after. Their work was recorded, as the hyperlinks demonstrate. Readers are also listeners, and that’s an intersection (thanks for getting this far).

It is useless to provide a full account of the poetry read, except to point out that it came in a wide variety of styles. They rolled up their words separately, and their sentences were all different. Sometimes, they didn’t use sentences. Others used quite long ones. It all depended on what they were trying to do. Somehow, a thread was discernible between the poets, but even that was wide. It wasn’t confused, though.  It began with a profitable discussion about modernisms, and how this relates to current poetries. Appropriately, the notion of borders was explored at some length. There were other subjects ranging from experimental descriptions of periods to attentive explanations of totems. Other people investigated the purposes of writing, and how this relates to the process of dialogue. The poetry was sometimes mysterious, incantatory, and investigated with the demarcations of human existence. At other times, there were robust refutable assertions. Sometimes, there delicate sprinkles of wordjoy. Buckets were brought on stage. People shouted. Others whispered. There were ruminations on alternative facts. The intersections of drama, poetry, movement, and cultures were all interrogated. The serious purposes of comedy and the comedy of seriousness were bravely tackled.  The relationships of current and previous poets were anxiously explored, and the reappropriation of their histories became a concern. Other discussions explored what it is to lose confidence in writing, and how reassessment of poetry of the past can bring that back. Towards the end, there were investigations into how metaphor works, and whether lyrical and experimental modes are related. Some people wanted to explore the function of language. This connected well with other discussions of the slipperiness of meaning and language’s inability to be moulded into one particular shape, despite commercial and political pressures. All of this can be heard in the badly-edited audio files. It is best left to the poets and the people who interrogated them. Note that the audio files are quite large, as they contain a great deal of poetry. Be careful, then.

Intersections sparked a series of creative endeavours which seem to continue. Particular thanks are offered to: All The Poets, Sonia Quintero (for her incredible energy), Jenny Grant (for her incredible energy), Scott Thurston (for his generosity of spirit and action) Iris Colomb (for helping with the Big Spidogram) Gail May and the University of East London (for their generous Civic Engagement funds and loan of facilities), the Centre for Creative Learning, Canada (for exporting their poets), Ian Carrington and colleagues (for events management efficiencies at the IABF), Sarah-Clare Conlon (for spreading the word), Keith (for his help with Dear List), and most especially for the very many wonderful people who contributed so much to the events by being there and taking part.

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