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The place to create

May 12, 2010

Just had a meeting with Alastair Upton, Chief Executive here at the Bluecoat. I really wanted to know about how my understanding of creative process and its reflection in character, behaviour and life was represented at the ‘top’ of the chain here organisationally.

In particular I was thinking about these aspects of creativity, which seem at their root to conflict with the nature of ‘a building’ and ‘an institution’…
1. Vulnerability
2. Wildness

You can interpret these words however you wish, but the way I think of them is interlinking states of being that produce an atmosphere within one’s self that is conducive to creating. Conversations I have had with artists produce similar answers, which will be familiar to us all, regarding those moments that we feel at our most creative, and where creativity seems a common sense response to existence.

“I wanted to put myself out there”
“You have no defense to criticism, other than to make more work”
“It just came to me. Hopefully I was prepared for it.”
“It is about good nerves, focusing the attention on what you are doing and forgetting the environment.”
“It feels like you can ruin the whole thing if you aren’t alert to the idea at that moment [of inspiration]”

It will take more time to reflect on these things, Vulnerability and Wildness, and refine my understanding of how I think they are integral to the creative experience, and I’m sure that there are other aspects that I haven’t managed to boil down and understand at all yet – including something that is broadly related to a ‘coming together’ of heritage and the inheritance of a ‘right’ to produce the work that you happen to be working on at that time. Anyway, for now all I have is those two words, and a couple of first draft poems that reflect my limited understanding of them. I have posted the poems HERE and HERE.

The meeting with Alastair came with a fantastic opportunity to speak about these things in a very clear and rigourous (if informally so) fashion – which I guess comes with the kinds of responsibilities that he has, and his need to reflect and respond to the environment he is creating. Even at this level, it’s clear that an arts institution is an essentially creative endevour, which relies on the same mastery, understanding and acceptance of dualities: like Technique/Intuition and feelings of Power/Powerlessness, which all creative being have to deal with…

One ‘management’ tool that Alastair pointed me towards was MBTI ‘type’ indicator. It’s really interesting to think about how you fit into the categories of this Jungian tool, especially if we reflect on the fact that the creative world is made up of all different types of these characters, benefiting from this or that type of experience in devising and producing work.

The first ‘type’ distinguished in this scale is the E-I Dichotomy:

“Where do you prefer to focus your attention?” “Where do you get energy?”

a) Extroversion: directing energy towards people and by taking action. Work though ideas by talking, learn best by doing or discussing.
b) Introversion: direct energy inwards, and receive energy from reflecting on thoughts memories or feelings.

This is a really interesting dichotomy for me, because I would count myself among the group that gains much more from talking ideas through and creating with conversation as fuel, but some of the central people in my creative and personal life I am sure get much more of their energy from reflection.

This reflects also on a distinction I have been making in my talk about the facade of a creative building with its bright atriums and clean interiors, and the filthy work of creativity that happens in the unseen passages.



Kurt Schwitters

April 22, 2010

Came across this report of a Kurt Schwitters performance on Jerome Rothenburg’s blog. Heartwarming the possibilities of performance art! Makes me want to look for something totally unexpected, and joyful, in my own performance on 18th June.

Schwitters stood on the podium, drew himself up to his full six feet plus, and began to perform the Ur Sonata, complete with hisses, roars and crowings, before an audience who had no experience whatever of anything modern. At first they were completely baffled, but after a couple of minutes the shock began to wear off. For another five minutes protest was held in check by the respect due Frau Kiepenhauer’s house. But this restraint served only to increase the inner tension. I watched delightedly as two generals in front of me pursed their lips as hard as they could to stop themselves laughing. Their faces, above their upright collars, turned first red, then slightly bluish. And then they lost control. They burst laughing, and the whole audience, freed from the pressure that had been building up inside them, exploded in an orgy of laughter. The dignified old ladies, the stiff generals, shrieked with laughter, gasped for breath, slapped their thighs, choked themselves. Kurtchen was not in the least bit put out by this. He turned up the volume of his enormous voice to Force Ten and simply swamped the storm of laughter in the audience, so that the latter seemed almost to be an accompaniment to the Ur Sonata. … The hurricane blew itself out as rapidly as it had arisen. Schwitters spoke the rest of his Ur Sonata without further interruption. The result was fantastic. The same generals, the same rich ladies, who had previously laughed until they cried, now came to Schwitters, again with tears in their eyes, almost stuttering with admiration and gratitude. Something had been opened up within them, something they had never expected to feel: a great joy.

Adrienne Rich

April 22, 2010

I am putting together a short talk for my show in a few weeks. Came across this excerpt from an Adrienne Rich poem (, while looking at ‘pyrotechnic’ poets. I think it might explain why I have decided to dwell in writing prose for a while. Perhaps I am running out of patience!


This horrible patience which is part of the work
This patience which waits for language for meaning for the
least sign
This encumbered plodding state doggedly dragging
the IV up and down the corridor
with the plastic sack of bloodstained urine

Only so can you start living again
waking to take the temperature of the soul
when the black irises lean at dawn
from the mouth of the bedside pitcher
This condition in which you swear I will
submit to whatever poetry is
I accept no limits
Horrible patience

Thoughts about the end

April 16, 2010

It feels as though the residency is coming to a catastrophic end, along with the rest of the world. As I near the finishing stages of my plans, projects drop off left and right with no hope of coming to fruition, others are whittled down to their bare bones and loaded up with the eggs of my hefty expectations of myself, the Bluecoat is home to a scatter-shot logic of an exhibition with no apparent thread to follow with a final poem, the Liverpool arts scene is floundering in its massive pre-Biennial administrative-binge, and I look back on much of the work I have been doing as it were the work of several very different men. At night I dream of knitting rope with string and honey.

[Liverpool’s Spring/Summer art scene is a funny beast. We slatheringly look forward to the Biennial – in the way a child starts to look forward to Christmas when they should be concentrating on their harvest festival drawings – many with no plans yet to exhibit their work, sort of preparing their disappointment, and planning their imminent exits to the provincial galleries, and the city’s galleries make allowances with concept-shows that seem both a kind of afterthought and a box-ticking exercise. In general, ready for the long days when the streets are quite silent with the students away, and all the big-cheeses off on holiday, and think about the coming of the mythical journalists.]

In real life too, change is imminent. I am expecting a baby practically on the day the residency-proper comes to a close, and the house is piled with paint-tins and upended shelves. I hadn’t realised till now, but life is again echoing the annual ebb of the school-year, and the world is coming to an almost classical fin-de-siecle. In all likelihood I will spend the summer ecstatically bumming around in the sand-dunes (with my new daughter and beautiful newly-unburdened svelte girlfriend!), and arrive with a sobering bump in the new Autumn with barely time to purchase a new pencil case and set-square before it is time to complete more application forms. And the sky is full of ash that will never clear, and the Tories are going to be elected by default.

As I am trying to commiserate the residency I am spending conversely less time actually in the Bluecoat – as if I am hiding away from any further aspects of my practice that might be bumped off course. When I started the residency, I was fully planning to publish a collection of poems based on my work here. Now I am looking at a very short series of completed, publishable works, and a sprawling mesh of thoughts and new-approaches, and re-workings to mull, before I can imagine putting together such a package. Film, performance, bespoke print and interactive work form the bulk of my practice.

It’s baffling, frankly!

All is well then! Currently I’m putting together an idea for the final show of the residency, featuring work from some old favourites, like Ross Sutherland and Markus Soukup, along with new publishing work from Emily Speed and Phil Marsden, a few opportunities to create your own poem-works or participate in the the creation of others, and a few special guests, who I am still researching, along with a short talk about my experiences. 18th June! Hopefully you can make it.


April 12, 2010


The escaped zoo is itself a prominent feature, first invented here.
It will be franchised to redevelopment committees
in the places it will work least well, then disappear.
A wild and hungry vulnerability
that turns and bites when it is cornered, and turns and craps when it is alone.

The inhabitants have discovered a new country in which to be discovered,
new selves to keep them warm
in the stolen hay. The escaped tiger, the escaped elephant, the ape
that has escaped, huddling up between the walls of the escape
and the deep pounding of their hearts.

It is here I would have drowned in the mud,
but for the bubble of my breath waking me up. Where,
returning from a dinner party I stand in my own hall listening
before I turn the light on and peer around the wall.
You cannot stay without interrogating the mind.
It is how I imagine East Germany. And parts of the brain
fellow demons.

A boy is standing in the corner. No, he isn’t – this is the zoo of escaped animals.
You write in the manner of a paddle being utilised for fending.
Writing as if the sentence were a head being swung
from one member of the audience to the other.

Enough for the mother and the brother that is yet to be born,
the writer of obituaries and the land dealer, the layman who bends to you
and begs to weep and away from you in revulsion, and the modernist who may not bend
for all his pages, lest his hard back break: the boy means something to him too, no doubt.

A wildness we acquire over long bus journeys, a wildness we acquire
towards the shelf we have banged our heads on. Leaping to rip from the wall
the self that has been too drunk too many times,
and not witty enough. The apartment leaped at from around a wall.

The water trapped in a weir. Water itself, for the whole of the long wild sea,
vast which shivers as it freezes. The wildness acquired by the voice
of the boy whose voice breaks in choral practice.

The wildness acquired in the quietness of the choir.
Wildness where you cannot stay, but you stay
and wildness fades. Wildness acquired by the streets you know well,
relieved of their names. The dog nosing the wilderness, the wolf scarring the door.


April 12, 2010

“the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defences there either.”
Joni Mitchell

The girl is dashing back to her room along the corridor.
In this place, all is a little pink something we cannot be sure
of having seen, but makes us blush and thankful nonetheless.

I am vulnerable in this place.
As in a dream when I’ve forgotten to wear trousers –
the strangers common amongst our friends, peering like taps.

Here I stand without even the awareness to hide my penis.
And we mutter of our financial arrangements as if we were actual citizens,
when we’re clearly squirming tadpoles drifting in a cloud of touch.

The writing too has it’s embarrassments. Each of the words standing proud
from the body of text as though floating up
and waving someone away, and the disgusting letters bearing their holes.

Even now, as I am standing with grim relish
at the threshold of this place, it seems held at a distance.
Further still when I squint, squeezing it. Like a soapy member of the swimming club
you cannot bring in to your chest.

For we are still here, with this thicket of commas to hide among, and these fine swords
with which to defend ourselves – still braveries away from a place to live
among ecstatic, barely believable vulnerability, and die
under a mist in which are written the words we have spent our life in the wild sea for.

A thin and flexible vulnerability
as with the girl who has determined her new breasts will be squeezed
but not so they hurt at the seaside, and designs her conversation this way.

A vulnerability built of the finite that will vanish up the flue like our homework
leaving only the guilty-looking jowls of a dog.

The sky is vault of pounded water.
My eyes an ice sculpture at a funeral. The walls
a simulacrum of unpublishable diaries and reconstituted rubber.

I am winched out of the window as though I had eaten for many years
without glancing up. The air is the consistency of relishing victims.
Subject matter on the lose like an escaped zoo.

Vulnerability of the surface of our brain; a naked countryside
bristling in anticipation of the alien form: vulnerability of ecosystems.

Sometimes law a mythical, sometimes
a trustworthy asset, vulnerable as the diamond, vulnerable as the story
we fall asleep to at night and only believe we have forgotten come morning.

Notes for a poem where the creative process is represented as the process of aging and dying, in reverse.

March 22, 2010

A poem is no longer just a poem, but the basis of body of work.

A skeleton around which the garden of flesh might grow
and flowering skin can be folded, and a soft machine installed –
to prove its strength, and embellish on its structure, satisfy the sense of it
and make smile its fellow citizens that might have shrunk away in disgust.

These lose bones I play with. This limp lily I turn in my hand.
Graveyards of bone, waiting to be stacked into a skeleton –
in turn waiting to be clothed, filled out with the colour of blushes,
dampened with sweat, tears and some rain
and internalised like a large meal, until she shrinks away
into a feeling of love, and an ease with which
two people understand each other.

These houses of worship that are built on those bones
which have been shown by the heart and the voice to be true.