Archive for poetry

George Szirtes reading

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2010 by noelwilliams

Strictly speaking, this event wasn’t part of my exhibition, as it was organised by The Poetry Business and Sheffield University. But it was held at Bank Street, in the heart of the exhibition, which we ran on until the reading began, and so most of the audience had the chance to wander round and comment on what they found.

The readings themselves were good – a huge range of different material, though. George Szirtes himself offered several different kinds of text, almost all of which were driven by some appealing formal or structural consideration (such as responding to a blacked-out postcard, or interpreting a partly obscured text) as well as being interesting as poems in their own right.

I really like Ann Atkinson’s work: her first pamphlet, “Drawing Water” (itself a lovely ambiguity) is a delicate collection, very nicely judged, with generally quite simple language yet each word very carefully placed: they remind me a little of lace or embroidery in their working, but that is to suggest a rather out of touch or hobbyist poetry which Ann’s poems most certainly are not. The resonance in her work often comes after the reading, as it were, often sharp and contemporary, or revealingly personal, when the import works through. And her phrasing can be exquisite. She also has a knack for choosing unusual subjects where you think: “why on earth has no-one every written about that before?”

Recommended reading, I’d say.

[George Szirtes and Ann Atkinson in heated debate]

The other two poets were new to me. At least, I had heard Nathan Hamilton once before, in an open mike session, but am not familiar with his work generally. And Agnes Lehockzy was unknown to me. Both are worth watching for.

Nathan’s highlight was probably the reading of most of his pieces from an Ipad – in discussion later he said he used it almost exclusively for composition now, as it was so convenient (but obviously not that convenient for getting the work onto paper – this would permanently worry me if the only version of my work was in e-form). His “Malcolm” poems are disturbing, quirky, amusing and sharp by turn.

[The four poets, discussing either e-books, Eliot or pizza, I’m not sure which. You can just see my poem on the wall above George Szirtes’s head. Possibly the closest I’ll come to sharing the stage with such a poet.]

Agnes (Aggie) on the other hand, offered us long, descriptive semi-narrative pieces, quite unusual to hear in a reading which, though perhaps a little difficult to keep focused on, were full of observed detail which she then suddenly or subtly takes in odd directions.

The evening ended with a discussion of poetry, publication and, in its most lively moments, the place of electronic media and its impact on the poetry industry. George said he had absolutely no fears for poetry, as it would last whilst humanity did, as a fundamental need. This prompted huge murmurs of assent from the audience, which is about the closest poets ever get to a rousing cheer.

[I think inspiration is just off-camera]

Ann suggested, she thought subversively (but actually not) that poetry was not about publication, but about satisfying one’s own needs in practising a difficult art; and that books would not disappear, because of their satisfaction as objects.

She’s absolutely right on both counts. All this blogging is a great way to get information out, and maybe to get known. However, we could live without computers. How could we live without books?

[Apologies for the photo quality – taken in low light on my Nokia]

Fifty visitors in a day!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2010 by noelwilliams

I only spent the first hour of Saturday at Bank Street, showing my best and one of my oldest – er – most long-standing – friends around the exhibition. He really got into the swing of things and left a poem for the wall, as well as a mischievous piece in the visitor’s book.

Then we left for York, my prize, my reading and, it turned out, a dislocated finger.

But in my absence it seems the exhibition was inundated with visitors. Over 50, I was told, and mainly in family groups. And groups who left traces of themselves, too: poems in stones, on walls, in books, on the whiteboard. As much interaction and use of the materials as in the first, private view.

Clearly some message had gone out somewhere, but I’ve no idea what went where. My best guess is that a message to the education department of the local authority had reached schools, and from there, kids and parents. But who knows?

If you do (perhaps you visited on Saturday) I’d really like to know what drew in all these visitors.

Not so many today, though.

However, Michael and I came along, and left behind us 40 copies of the CD, hot off the presses, ready to leap into people’s pockets at a mere £5 a time. It does look, and sound, good – but there’s no telling if any will sell.

And, whilst I’m here, let me just remind you that the Tuesday Poets are reading as the finale of the exhibition at Bank St on Friday, 5th March, 6.15-8.00. There’s a bar (wine, £1) and free cake, as well as tea, coffee etc.

CD Update

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 1, 2010 by noelwilliams

I’ve added a major update on the CD, which is now almost ready (availble from tomorrow) at £5.00 (plus P&P).

Also, I’m adding a new page on the logistics of the audio project.

Readings by Writers

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2010 by noelwilliams

Following the launch of Alan Halsey’s exhibition at Bank Street last Friday, the next event is this Wednesday.

Come along at 6.15 to hear 20 writers from Sheffield Hallam University’s MA Writing offer small samples of their new works and works in progress, both poems and stories. In many cases these will be works that have never been heard before, given their first airing.

The MA Writing at Sheffield is taught by many prestigious writers, including Jane Rogers, Leslie Glaister, Maurice Riordan, local poet Chris Jones, Harriet Tarlo, John Turner, Mike Harris and John Milne. Visiting professors include Sean O’Brien and Hilary Mantel. Previous students have included Frances Leviston, Anne Chivers and Marina Lewycka.

This is a rare chance to experience some new, quality writing, mainly from local writers.

And it’s free!

So it goes

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2010 by noelwilliams

The exhibition has settled now into a gentle rhythm. Occasional visitors pass through. Some creep in and creep out, saying little, not doing much. Some are entranced by the poems in the audio room, and spent long periods moving stones around in the garden, or simply sit in the Lounge with a cup of tea and a poetry book.

Here’s me and Cora looking at stones:

And here’s what one visitor did with some of them:

Some great little things have happened, too. Young Dominic (15 months old, I overestimated him before) returned, making straight for the stones, although he quite enjoyed ploughing his pushchair through the balloons, too.

Last time I arrived, I found a paper airplane inscribed “poems can fly”, although this sentiment was clearly too weighty for this particular construct, as it mainly preferred to fall.

And in the middle of the Garden of Stones, a folded paper fan, inscribed “Now I’m a fan”. So, that’s one, at least.

Quite fun. That’s one of the great things about this exhibition. I can’t anticipate what we’re going to get.

Someone has also used the Visitors’ Book to write poems. That’s fantastic, but means no-one will now write in the book, as they’ll think they’re expected to coin original sentiments. So we’ll need a new one. Maybe one for poems and one for comments??

We’ve begun the rehang of the poems in the Lounge, because the overall display was hard to read, and not really inspiring people to write. What I really would like to see is every visitor inspired by what they’ve seen to offer their own contribution, there and then. A few have, and these are now on the chimney breast. We’re also going to take some pages from poetry books and magazines and display these, too, so that the impact is “poetry, poetry, everywhere.”

Meanwhile, fixed the recalcitrant monitor, so all three computers are running as planned.

And work begins on the DVD. Two thirds of the writers and half the readers have given permission to use their work, and only one person decided against it. So planning has started and, with luck, it’ll be out there before the exhibition closes.

A couple of people also suggested that we should publish the poems. I wanted a catalogue of some kind, but don’t want to self-publish my work, and couldn’t really catalogue the work till it was in place. If we produced such a thing, it would probably contain some pieces from the audio work, some from the contributions, and a few of my own, plus images from the various exhibits.

I’d be interested to know what people think: is there enough mileage in this work to document it in a brief (say 32 page) collection/catalogue?

Meanwhile (shameless plug) if you want to read a couple of pieces by me, surrounded by some excellent new writing, you could do worse than Matter, the literary magazine of the MA Writing at Sheffield Hallam. You can check it out in the Lounge and, if you want a copy, contact me, or see:

[Photos taken by Mary Musselwhite]


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on February 8, 2010 by noelwilliams

Well, as just about everything that might’ve gone wrong has gone wrong in the run up to this exhibition, I wouldn’t have been too suprised – disappointed, but not surprised – for this evening’s private view to be a complete disaster. In fact, it wasn’t even a partial disaster.

But we came very close. For a start, only about half the pieces I’d planned on were actually ready. Then all three of the computers (I’d managed to get three eventually, though one was my laptop which may have developed irritable vowel syndrome and has to have a nap every forty three minutes) – decided to do interesting things. Or rather, uninteresting things that required a computer expert to sort.

There were also supposed to be balloons, filled with poems (words from poems). At 10 to 6, we had about three. Then one burst.

At least we knew that the idea worked: bits of poem dramatically everywhere. Luckily my son Owen and his friend Marion arrived, and with enthusiastic Ellen, a very helpful volunteer who had been sticking poetic fragments to walls all day, they set about a production line under the control (more or less ) of Carrol, my wife. Soon we had balloons exploding all over the place.

At five to six, we had none of the texts on the walls, either. These were pretty critical as (a) they summarised the exhibition, (b) they directed people to particular elements of it, especially what they might get out of the different rooms and (c) they were about the only straight poems, by me, in the exhibition. It was then that John discovered he couldn’t cut the foam board without spreading ink on the texts from the steel rule. And we only had a single copy of each text.

Hey ho!

So, five minutes into the Private View, then ten minutes, I was still hanging texts. People were beginning to arrive, milling around, asking me questions.

But the office wasn’t ready. Marion hastily rewrote the interactive poem on the whiteboard. I hastily posted the few “poems as office objects” that I’d created. I hastily scattered balloons around the white space of the main hall (which looked absolutely beautiful, by the way, in its meancholy drapes of quiet white).

Then there were people milling everywhere. Drifting in and out.

“Is it okay to walk on the stones?”

“Yes, it’s what we want, you’re to change the exhibit as you walk within it.”

“The audio is great, but I’d like to sit and listen. I need time, just to listen to it. I’ll have to come back again.”

Some people came and read the poems on the walls, sat in the lounge, read books, chatted. Some wrote a little in the visitors’ book, or played with the poetry dice, made lines of verse. (We need more).

Some, it seems, walked off with the odd stone. But Katherine is alright with that: it’s an interaction. The point is interaction. We want people to make their own sense from the exhibit.

“When will you be making the DVD? We’d like to listen to the whole thing.”

Bang! Balloons – in fact, poetry – exploding at random moments. Another point – these were events of random moment. Some people got some of it, some made connections, some were a little mystified – I guess the computers were the big mystery “What’s going on there?” – some fascinated, some saw the overall ideas (make your own connections, play with words, use random tools to make personal meanings, find the links, think about women and war) – some were moved, just a little, by the war poems, the gradual accumulation of sounds and memories.

Apparently one visitor said it was the best exhibition they’d seen at Bank St. That is amazing, if really the case. This is the first time in my life I’ve done anything like this; and is a pretty unusual opportunity for a poet, too, to have a gallery of rooms built up around his work.

And not to have the work (well most of it) directly there, either. If there’s one thing you’d expect to see in a poet’s exhibition, it’s surely the poems he (or she) has written. Well, there are some here by mw: I haven’t gone so far as to eliminate myself entirely from my own exhibition. But only eleven are easily discoverable: the five created for the White Space, and six in the leaflet (you can take it away, it’s free. Free poetry!) The rest are deep in computers or scattered amongst seven thousand slates or slashed on TV monitors, or spoken fleetingly. Or hidden, in artefacts in the office, or the toys in the Lounge. You can find my connections, or make your own.

I think the audio-visual installation went down well. There were too many people much of the time for it to be best appreciated, I guess, so I hope and expect people will return to listen again, and for longer.

But undoubtedly the hit of the exhibit was the Garden of Stones. Katherine has produced something wonderful there. People came back to it again and again. How often does an art exhibit do that? My youngest visitor, Dominic, who is (I think) not yet two (I hope I’m right, Lisa) was fascinated by it. People made little cairns, arranged the stones into poems, found words or stones they liked and put them aside, or on the windowsill, perhaps arranged in lines.


You must come and see it, if only for Katherine’s Garden of Stones. It is spot on for my intent in these works, and it uses my 70 poems, but it’s beauty and richness is entirely hers.

Unfortunately, the best photo I have is still mediocre, but I’ll post better ones when I have them:

Text, text, text

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on February 7, 2010 by noelwilliams

I spent most of my day kicking computers and then struggling with words. As it’s an exhibition of poetry, words are moderately important. The central, entrance, space will have five texts in it, sort of poems, sort of descriptions, sort of instructions. Getting these right is quite important. Then there’s labels for exhibits (the Poetry Lounge will have a menu of activities, for example).

Then there’s the digital poems, which are dependent on the underlying women and war poems I’ve written, so could only be worked on properly once the original poems were completed (and handed over for Katherine’s Garden of Stones). But I needed to be sure I had enough computers for what I had in mind and, guess what?

Fortunately, I’ve been given two old computers, so these would do the job, providing they could run the software but: guess what?

So, when my son Taran thought I’d struggled long enough with software I didn’t understand, he fixed the problem, Essentially, he simply has to click his fingers and most computers jump to his bidding. Which meant I later had a happy evening implementing the poems that had been rattling around in my head and my notes. And, of course, discovering that they didn’t quite work as I’d hoped. But that seems they way these things always go.

A trip to Bank Street to show my dear friend, Steven, the exhibition in the making (he can’t make the Private View) had three tasks:

(1) get the brochure to the printer. I did, at 2.00. They shut at 12.00 on Saturdays.

(2) check the re-implemented DVDs on the players and demo to my friend, Steven. The room was locked, and me without a key…..

(3) Check out the computer that had kindly been donated. Yes, computer. Yes, monitor. Yes, monitor cable. Yes, power cable for monitor. And power cable for computer? Er – power cable for computer? Guess what?

Even so, Steven was mightily impressed with his preview of the preview of the Garden of Stones.

So, with less than two days to go, and the digital poems not implemented, and the office not in place, and only two of the four DVDs burned, with none tested, and no labels printed, and the brochure not even at the printers: guess what?

Taking Shape

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on February 2, 2010 by noelwilliams

At least, things are moving in the right direction. The Poetry Lounge is being painted a soothing shade of green, and the poems for the walls being prepared. Rather than simply stick them on the walls, Ben (curator) intends to treat them as art objects, and present using some rather nice parchment-like paper.

Meanwhile thousands of pieces of slate are being hand washed ready for inscribing for the Garden of Stones, a Herculean task which begins tomorrow. Volunteers have been scrubbing away at slate with smiles on their faces and a song in their hearts.

I’ve managed to locate a monitor for a second computer, but the third seemed problematic until a friend turned up tonight saying he had a machine surplus to requirements. Still needs another monitor – but one step at a time. A colleague has generously given a massice 19 inch CRT to the exhibition, probably because it’s the size of a small horse.

We’ve some attractive furniture on its way for the Lounge, and for the ghost office (still without a proper title) and meanwhile scattering publicity all over the place.

Meanwhile the second channel of the audio work has probably been finalised, so I’m busy editing the stills to it. Sounds good. I think the slower pace we’ve now settled on is a big improvement, but it means the images stay on screen rather longer than they did, and I’m not too happy with that. Some of them do not bear long scrutiny.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 1, 2010 by noelwilliams

Currently the installation is just beginning. The audio installation has been tested, and found wanting in some respects, so is being reworked. And we’re a monitor down, so that needs remedying. Whilst one of the DVD players is so slow it seems to believe the exhibition won’t start till March.

I’ve begun sending out invitations to the Private View and to the exhibition in general. There’s an e-flyer now, so if you want one, e.g. to distribute, remind you, post or print for a noticeboard, contact me:

We’ve received quite a few poems on writing poetry to go on the walls of the Poetry Lounge, but they’re not filled yet by a long way, so if you fancy submitting such a poem, get in touch or submit it directly to Bank Street: contact

Meanwhile, I’ve computer problems which mean one of the digital poems can’t be exhibited, so I’m looking around for spare computers.

And the Katherine’s Garden of Stones installation has stalled because the slates are all wet.

Otherwise, everything going very well indeed!