Holy Trinity Parish Centre, Berwick-upon-Tweed
Sunday, October 20th, 2pm – 3pm, £6
I greatly look forward to my third visit to this fantastic Festival, following appearances in 2016 and 17 with fabulous Northumbrian piper Alice Robinson. Those performances concentrated on poems about the landscape and people of Northumberland and the Borders. Sunday’s performance will be very different. I’ll be launching my new Bloodaxe collection, Edge, which contains three poem sequences written for the Planetarium in Life Science Centre, Newcastle.
(Photo by Explore Lifelong Learning, Newcastle)
These poems take us from the micro quantum worlds underlying the whole Universe to the workings of the Sun, our local star, and the origins of life on this planet and perhaps on other moons of our solar system. The poems are based on conversations with research scientists, and are intended to translate their work to a wider public. They were written in collaboration with the distinguished computer pioneer and composer Peter Zinovieff, who wrote accompanying music based on space data. I’ll talk in Berwick about the process of writing them. My performance will be accompanied by stereo mixes of Peter’s music and by real space photographs. Coincidentally, Peter also wrote the libretto for Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s masterpiece, his opera The Mask of Orpheus, which is revived this week at ENO for the first time in over 30 years.
The scope of Edge, moving from the Big Bang to the origins of conscious life, is an attempt to open up questions about the place of human life – so vanishingly tiny, so miraculously complex – in time and space. Time will also be the theme of the 11th Nature Matters symposium, at St Peter’s School, York, October 31st – November 3rd. On the Saturday morning I’ll chair a fascinating set of presentations called ‘Nature in Deep Time’, by Professor Terry O’Connor, Professor Paul Pettitt and Dr Suzi Richer. On the Friday evening, Halloween, I’m honoured to be performing some of my own work, in the company of poets and writers Zakiya McKenzie, Nicola Chester, Jeremy Mynott and Malcolm Green, alongside another of my heroes, the astonishing talented singer-songwriter Sam Lee. Here’s a poster for the event:That’s the great thing about having a new book out. It gets you out to meet readers and other poets and artists — and, if you’re lucky, to complete the circle of exchange, from the people and places who inspire you, back to that source. In the last three weeks I’ve read at the excellent Bodmin Moor Poetry Festival in Cornwall with acclaimed Irish poet John F. Deane, and at Durham Book Festival with Forward Prize winner Phoebe Power. I shared a residency with Phoebe for Durham Book Festival and the National Trust’s People’s Landscape project in East Durham. I’d really love to read the new poems from that residency in Easington Colliery and Horden, the places that inspired them.
I’ve also run my first poetry seminar for Explore Lifelong Learning in Newcastle, with a wonderfully warm and enthusiastic group of adult students. I found that session particularly rewarding, and hope to return early next year. The photograph at the top of this post, celebrating the launch of Edge, was taken there.
The poems in Edge mark a shift of emphasis in my work. But I have not moved away from writing about the North East of England. Some people understood the title of my last collection, Two Countries, as a reference to England and Scotland, but that was only partly true. Although, coincidentally, that book was published in the month of the 2014 Scottish independence vote, examining the nature of the Borderland was only a small part of its theme. I felt that it was more about other divisions, within England itself: between North and South, country and town or – still more acutely – between those London-dominated or University-educated voices which are represented in places of power and some of those voices which are not. I am of course University-educated myself; the complexity of all of this I hope informs the poems. However you interpret the ‘Two Countries’ of the title, I think that the divisions explored in that book have been borne out in the events of the last three years. The result of the Brexit referendum, I’d argue, are every bit as much about those internal divisions as they are about our relations to Europe.
Still more urgently, my recent commission on the Durham coast has brought home to me once again the tremendous environmental and social costs of our dependence on fossil fuels. I’ve always considered my place-based work, particularly that concentrating on the Northumberland fishing communities, to be about ‘ecology’ in the broadest sense. To me, the highly particular, ‘local’ work in my first two Bloodaxe collections is deeply linked to the universal principles which I explore in Edge.Shippersea Bay, Easington Colliery, Co Durham. (Photo K. Porteous)