“The arch of the teargas was the glee on their faces/ A dance in the scream of the street”
Living In is a long-form poem that has exceeded the page to encompass sound-collage, performance art, and political intervention. It has been significantly shaped by visits to Palestine and collaborations with friends and poets there. In 2020 Living In: Creative Solidarities in Palestine was published by The Onslaught Press. You can buy the book direct from The Onslaught Press or via Amazon. A companion publication Sea Fever has been published by Knives Forks and Spoons.
Here you’ll be able to read a bit more about the development of the poem, listen to performances, and see some of the places the work was published.
Read on for the story behind each part of the poem, or skip directly to a section of ‘Living In: Mirror Flag’ published in Spiral Orb Nine (2014). Spiral Orb is a web poetry journal edited by US poet Eric Magrane, where lines of each published poem are hyperlinked to lines in other poems published in the journal. Or go direct to my reading of ‘In Sufficiency’ at the Arizona Poetry Center (2014), now archived at Voca.
Living In: ‘In Sufficiency’ & ‘Mirror Flag’
Aida Refugee Camp
In August 2013 I visited Palestine for the second time. I worked with the Lajee Center and at the Palestine Writing Center in Birzeit to run a series of poetry workshops for children living in Aida and Jalazone refugee camps. I participated in a poetry reading in Ramallah, spoke to Palestinian refugees and friends about their experience of occupation and imprisonment, and was a witness to street protests and the mechanisms of their suppression: tear gas, rubber-encased metal bullets, arrest and military incursion.
This trip was made possible by the Artists’ International Development Award, a British Council and Arts Council England fund, and it allowed for the integration of stories from former political prisoners into the poem.
When I came back from Palestine, I started to shape the material I had gathered. I performed at Syndicate, an initiative organised in collaboration with New Media Scotland, that brings together writers, musicians, artists and researchers working in, and in response to, digital technologies, new media and evolving network practices.
I performed to an audio-collage that featured the voices of Palestinians I had interviewed and audio from the creative writing workshops I ran, while images of the poems that were produced by the children in the writing workshops were screened behind me.
I used the poem-flag I made at Syndicate in a performance of new work produced for the launch of Zone poetry magazine, held at the London-based reading series Crossing The Line. If you want to listen to more than the snippet I’ve given here, you can hear the full reading on YouTube.
A year later I was the Summer Resident at The University of Arizona Poetry Center, and with images of Operation Protective Edge reaching me via the US media I revisited the materials I gathered a year previous and rethought my approach. ‘Living In: In Sufficiency’, was one of the results.
On 21 August 2014 I gave a reading of the first draft of this poem at the Poetry Center with Brian Blanchfield and Karen Brennan. The reading has since been archived at Voca.
It was in Tucson where I also met Eric Magrane who asked me to contribute a section of ‘Mirror-Flag’ to Spiral Orb Nine (2014). Sections 11-15 can be found there, while sections 1-10 can be found on pages 126-127 in electronic journal Veer Vier: For Will Rowe (2014).
Signals: Letters To Palestine
“As the poem develops, the dialogue gains in strength what it loses in syntax, rupturing semantics at the impossibility of communicating or reporting violence. Together, the seating arrangement and the dual voices reconfigure the dynamic between stage and audience, orienting the audience into a profoundly uncomfortable position of being both within and external to the conflict at hand.”
Niamh O’Mahony, SoundEye Festival of the Arts of the Word, Cork, Ireland (4 August 2011).
‘Signals’ fuses extracts from email updates sent to me by the Christian Peace Makers in Hebron, a mailing list I signed up to when I first visited Palestine in 2009, with replies to those updates. These replies, written two years too late, take the form of unsent poem/letters that explore my own geographic, cultural and emotional distance from the West Bank.
Pages from ‘Signals’ have been published in Issue 16 of online poetry journal Dusie (pp. 49-51), and in Dear World and Everyone In It (Bloodaxe, 2013). A poem from the sequence was also set to music by Rumour Cubes.
I performed ‘Signals’ with Alex Davies at High Zero 6 (Brighton) for the launch of the Better Than Language (Ganzfeld Press, 2011) poetry anthology, which published the entirety of ‘Slogans’.
“With ‘Slogans’ we turn a corner and unexpectedly come face to face with Content in its most up-close bristling troubling aspect and Layout in its most directly eloquent mode. [The poem] evinces London poetry’s submerged links with old Objectivism and new Conceptualism.”
Michael Peverett (Intercapillary Space)
I began working on ‘Slogans’ in July 2009 during my first trip to Aida refugee camp. The visit was facilitated by the Lajee Center (‘lajee’ means ‘refugee’ in Arabic), a community-based, grassroots creative cultural center with NGO status, established in 2000.
‘Slogans’ is constructed from fragments of a diary I kept in Aida, which includes notes taken while listening to stories and talks given by residents, former and future political prisoners, politicians, journalists, documentary makers and activists. It also draws on metrical verse based on slogans heard at protests in London and in Palestine during 2009 and 2010.
The metrical sections of the poem were distributed in London at the ‘Free Palestine: End the Gaza Siege’ protest held opposite Downing Street on 15 May 2010, while an extended reading from ‘Slogans’ was given at The Other Room, Manchester, in October of the same year.