February 15, 2022

Rock the Boat: Push the Boat Out’s Monthly Open Mic

THURSDAY APRIL 7TH, 7-9PM at Summerhall

We know from how quickly registration for our festival open mic filled that you've been longing for the Return of the Open Mic Night. We've been waiting too! Safety and responsibility will always be our top priority, and we know that it's possible to stay safe and responsible at live events. We did it in March and we're happy to welcome you for April!

We've missed that wholesome, electric je-ne-sais-quois in the air at open mics, and we're bringing it back to you, free and monthly. Be prepared to mask up, sign up, and come on up to the mic on Thursday April 7th from 7-9pm in the Gallery Bar at Summerhall. If you're not (yet) one to read your poems for any and all ears to hear, come out to listen to some of the best fresh poetry Edinburgh has to offer. Pre-register here for your spot to read - these will fill fast!

October 10, 2021

On Ecopoetics: “It survives / A way of happening, a mouth”

by Samuel Tongue

In the life sciences, there is an experimental hypothesis that suggests the following: as an organism suffers the impact of external stressors – disease or drought, perhaps – it may produce an ‘enhanced reproductive effort’, or distress crop, in an attempt to maintain its population levels. For example, when an immune response is generated, male blue-footed boobies increase their time spent parenting, house sparrows lay replacement clutches, Australian alpine tree frogs produce more eggs. This response is known as the terminal investment hypothesis, and whilst still hotly debated, proves an apt metaphor when it comes to thinking about ecopoetics.

As more and more writers engage with the enormity of the sixth mass extinction event within which we live, move, and have our being, more and more writing is circulating, like spores on the wind. In the last eighteen months or so there has been a distress crop of ecopoetry anthologies: Out of Time: Poetry from the Climate Emergency (ed. Kate Simpson, Valley Press); 100 Poems to Save the Earth (eds. Zoë Brigley & Kristian Evans, Seren); Rewilding: An Ecopoetic Anthology (Crested-Tit Collective); and The weird folds: everyday poems from the Anthropocene (eds. Maria Sledmere and Rhian Williams, Dostoevsky Wannabe). Although all very different beasts, each collection curates a series of poetic responses and interventions in how the nature-culture of the Anthropocene can be represented, linguistically, visually, sensuously. It is also no coincidence that these anthologies have bloomed during the pandemic, a present danger directly brought about and transmitted by our globalised encroachment on ‘natural’ or non-human space.

I always shy from the oft-quoted, contextless, W. H. Auden line that “poetry make nothing happen” as so many commentators do not follow the poem through to the infinitely more compelling line: “it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth” (‘In Memory of W. B. Yeats’). For me, ecopoetics is this mouth, this way of speaking and listening, of paying attention. For the panel ‘Never the New Normal’, I wanted to hear poets who know that poetry is the mouthing of many things, a communicative element in the jumble of other elements, not separate from but immersed in the environments we shape and by which we are shaped. Notions of the ‘new normal’ will never be able to account for how standing stones might speak in riddles, (‘Dolmen’, Jen Hadfield) or how a storm of beech nuts drums the drowning intensity of pain (‘Mast Year/Helplessness Subscale’, Polly Atkin).

These poems, written and experienced, are ecopoetic happenings that are utterly invested in survival in the sense of survivre, living on and, I would say, living in, living with. The long list of impacts being delivered by climate collapse and (our own?) species extinction is impossible to grasp, and terrifying in its immensity. When I personally feel overwhelmed, threatened, solastalgic, in the face of this, I need a poetics that can mouth not platitudes but other truths, inhuman and human alternative realities, microscopic and macroscopic across the spaces made by the poem. I need a language I can trust. And this is what I find in the work of these poets.

October 3, 2021

Sci-fi – Not so far out?

by Kevin Williamson

The intersection of science fiction and poetry only made sense to me in recent years which seems weird as I started delving deep into both forms of literature in my late teens. As I switched back and fore between Asimov / Bradbury / Moorcock, and MacCaig / Plath / Eliot the idea there was a space where the two could merge seamlessly never really occurred.

These days the catch-all category of sci-fi has many names and dimensions. Social preoccupations with the current hell we are creating, as a species, on our home planet, takes precedence over Star Warsian space operas. 

Just as the initial light-hearted experimental Martian communiques of Edwin Morgan evolved into a multiverse of futurism with his classic collection Virtual and Other Realities, this in turn has ceded ground to much bleaker visions of the here and now. Futureverse becomes nearfutureverse, and speculative, futurist, techno and dystopian poetry embrace almost/barely recognisable worlds.

When I first heard Harry Josephine Giles read an early extract from their new Picador collection, Deep Wheel Orcadia, a wildly experimental sci-fi verse novel written in the Orcadian tongue, the possibilities seemed limitless. (This much anticipated new book is launched at PTBO, by the way).

Two of my favourite poetry collections of recent years - Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic and Suzannah Evans' Near Futures (Suzannah will also be at PTBO) – have taken this borderless sub-genre of poetry to imaginative heights and sometimes terrifying depths. If I was Elon Musk I’d be handing out millions of fee copies of these two books rather than spunking cash on daft rockets.

Russell Jones has championed this artform for over a decade now and is a bit of an authority on the subject. His own poetry often reflects his creative immersion in futurist worlds, past and present. Russell is poetry editor of Scottish sci-fi zine, Shoreline Of Infinity, and has edited two ground-breaking anthologies of the same. He’ll be sharing this thoughts and poetry at PTBO with his fellow futurists.

Don Paterson and JO Morgan are two major Scottish poets whose most recent collections – Zonal (2020) and The Martian’s Regress (2020) respectively - have moved into these speculative terrains of the near future. New ground IS BEING BROKEN right here in Scotland.

Most of the poets I’ve mentioned here will be appearing at Push The Boat Out. Discussions. readings and speculations on speculative poetry - showcasing the vast diversity of approaches, forms and potentials - WILL BE HAPPENING. Be part of them. Check the programme for details.

September 26, 2021

Voice and the Usual Suspects: On poetry and listening

by Esa Aldegheri

“We know of course there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” So said Arundhati Roy during her Sydney Peace Prize Lecture in 2004. The literary world – from publishing to festivals, from writing retreats to literary prizes – is often thick with people I would call the “preferably heard”. Those whose confidence, class, income, colour, education (amongst other factors) allow them to be part of this particular landscape. It is not a comfortable thing to say or hear, but there you have it.

In this landscape, Push the Boat Out wants to be a joyful, inclusive, accessible festival which will showcase and explore the richness of contemporary poetry. My work is steering Push the Boat Out’s community engagement programme so that the word “inclusive” is more than just a shape on a page, a tick in a box. I’ve been working with some brilliant community partners across Edinburgh to push the good boat of poetry a wee bit further beyond the traditional classroom, page, affluent postcode or fancy arts venue and feature voices beyond those of the usual suspects.

“Voice” is a word often used in the poetry world, with poets praised for having an original or unique one. But whose are the voices that are most heard? I am interested in co-creating places where people who are not the usual suspects can try out their voice as poets. Partnerships with Open Book, WHALE Arts and Murrayburn Primary have created such spaces, and the resulting poetry will be showcased at Push The Boat Out Festival. That said, voice is not enough if nobody is listening.

Kathleen Jamie, our national Makar, put it perfectly at her inaugural event at Edinburgh International Book Festival this summer: “People talk about ‘voice’ in poetry – but for me poetry is about listening. We have to listen.” If we want to make good poetry, we have to listen. If we care about social justice as well as poetry, we need to link Kathleen Jamie’s words to those of Arundhati Roy and ask, whose voices are being listened to (or not)? And also: who is doing the listening? Who are the audiences of poetry? Who gets to, wants to, is able to listen?

If Push the Boat Out is a new feature in the poetry landscape, I want it to be a place where these questions are asked and their answers discussed. The festival programme features a wide variety of voices, and we want to welcome a varied audience – beyond the usual suspects.  How will that happen? Will that happen? Well – come and see for yourself. Come and see, come and listen. And use your voice too: tell us what you think. We will listen, and hopefully together we can keep on working to make our shared world of words one where more than just a few voices are represented and heard.

September 21, 2021

Poetry, healing & recovery – Do not say we have nothing

by Julia Sorensen

It’s overly romantic to posit art as a cure-all for emotional turmoil—and by art I mean everything from visual art to theatre, poetry to music to dance, the sounds of intentionally weighted microphones swinging back and forth over an amplifier to dreamy, scrap metal giraffes. We’ve curated a panel called ‘Poems to Heal the Soul’, but the title is meant to be more catchy than it is honest. Poetry certainly contributes to soul-healing, but it rolls up its sleeves to work alongside time and active effort and grief cycles and critical self-reflection and therapy. Healing and recovery is a big-picture process that, because of how delightfully often life introduces despair, doesn’t have a tidy conclusion.

When we talk about ‘healing and recovery’ as a festival theme at PTBO, we’re certainly considering the importance of processing Covid-19. We’ve all felt its repercussions over the last two years, potentially now more than ever with what feels like endlessly rising case numbers. But pandemic traumas great and small are not the only things we want to address. Integral to life are cycles of hurt and healing, whether it be from processes of life, processes of loss, institutional injustice, abuse, or the simply ubiquitous and devastating feeling of heartbreak.

Poetry is no cure-all, but it is a space that we can visit to move through difficult feelings. Poetry is the aspect of language that gets closest to allowing us to articulate indescribable experiences. It sits on the heart, in the bottom of the belly, embodying affect as best as language can. It inspires comprehension in ways that reasonable and rational explanation cannot, and in that way, can help us (alongside time and active effort and grief cycles and critical self-reflection and therapy) to process, to consider, to feel, to heal.

I’ve had some level of poetic practice since I was a kid. During one of the more difficult periods of my life, I developed a sort of poetic mantra after the title of a novel by Madeleine Thien. For years, it wasn’t something I ever wrote down. A while after I came up with it—or it came up to meet me—I forgot about it, but somehow it’s sat in my memory. It came back to me recently when I was trying to find a way to help a friend move through through some difficult feelings. Their appreciation was palpable, and it was a reminder that my poetry has purpose, which was potentially more healing a realisation than the mantra itself has been for me personally. So, in the case that it may move you:

Do not say we have nothing.

We are always going;

we are always working toward something;

we are never alone;

we are always present.

Destitution is not an end-point; it is a pit stop

Do not say we have nothing.

We will lose things. We will have missing pieces

but we will fill the holes and

we will not be weaker because of them.

Photo credits to Sebastian Reinke.

July 21, 2021

On green conversations and the poetry of earth: Sustainability in Edinburgh festivals

by Mariachiara Sica

As I’m writing this piece in the middle of July 2021, the peak of Edinburgh’s festival season is at our doors. After the mess of last year, it has been a breath of fresh air to see festival programmes being released, tickets being sold, people looking forward to enjoying the arts and culture again, albeit on a much smaller scale.

However, as our world hopefully begins to spin in the right direction again, it is also impossible to ignore the news of the past few days of natural disasters happening all over the world, of flooding episodes in the middle of summer, of heatwaves and wildfires. 

With all this in mind, I cannot help but wonder the impact that going back to ‘normal life’ will have on our planet, especially now that the pandemic has given politicians the perfect excuse to repeat their favourite catchphrase – ‘there are far more pressing issues to worry about at the moment’ – in response to everything they don’t want to deal with.

This year, the festival season in Edinburgh will be an odd one, with a hybrid delivery method being the most preferred and with in-person events mainly targeting locals. These changes will make a huge difference, especially if we think about the millions of people that have travelled to Edinburgh in the last few years to take part in the festival season. What will be affected is also the impact that festivals have on the environment. As a worrying report stated, in fact, in 2010 Edinburgh festivals were responsible for 44,130 tonnes of COe carbon emissions, mostly from audience travelling to Edinburgh. Since that report has been released, however, sustainability has become one of the main priorities for festival management in Edinburgh, and several tools have been developed in the last years to help festival organisers and artists be mindful of their environmental impact, keep their waste under check and help Scotland achieve its goal to reach zero emissions by 2045.  

Among the tools and projects that have been implemented to make Edinburgh greener during festivals, one of the most useful for festival managers is undoubtedly the Green Arts Initiative, a project co-created by Creative Carbon Scotland and Festivals Edinburgh in 2013. The Green Arts Initiative supports Scottish arts and cultural organisations to reduce their impact on the climate and environment, and its main aim is to provide them with information, knowledge, and tools on how to reduce their impact on the environment (Push the Boat Out’s main venue, Summerhall, is also part of the initiative!).

As far as policies go, it looks like things are really going in the right direction, as Edinburgh earned a place as the third-most sustainable city in the world in Arcadis’s 2018 sustainability Index. However, the debate on festivals impact is far from over and the conversation on how to make Edinburgh greener and reduce emissions from people travelling to Edinburgh for the festivals definitely needs to continue. Who knows, this year’s new experiences may offer useful insights for the future.

Regardless, what I personally find equally as important as policy-making is keeping the conversation going about the ongoing environmental crisis. We need to face the reality of what’s in store for us if we don’t stop treating the concern for the damage that we’re causing the world as the latest Gen Z TikTok trend. All the mocking headlines and the spiteful comments by fully grown adults directed at Greta Thunberg, a teenager shouldering the pressure of being the face of a global movement advocating for the planet’s future, give a very fair portrait of how bad things are looking for us at the moment.

That said, as John Keats once wrote, ‘the poetry of earth is never dead’. As a result of the environmental crisis we are currently experiencing, an increasing number of writers are dealing with the environment in their works. It is only after Esa, PTBO’s Engagement and Sustainability Manager, told me about this festival’s aims to include sustainability in their programming choices that my world opened to ecopoetics.

For those who are as I was and are unfamiliar with the concept, ecopoetics is a genre of poetry that emphasises the connections between human activity and the environment that produces it. While much of ecopoetics are substantially different from the peaceful musings of the Romantics, ecopoets are witnesses who create records of how much is at stake for all of us if we don’t try to rekindle the connection with the environment that surrounds us, not only in terms of pollution and the climate crisis but also in terms of who we are as a society.

You might be thinking, ‘why is this person blabbering on about poetry genres in a piece about sustainability’? Well, my friends, that has everything to do with sustainability. Poetry holds a mirror to society, offers a voice for the silenced, and since one of Push The Boat Out’s aims is to create a platform for discussion and exchange of ideas about the context we all find ourselves living in, including ecopoetics in the festival’s programming choices is vital to make sure that our efforts towards sustainability are not limited to making sure to bring metal straws to sip our cocktails from while we enjoy a night of poetry, but also to ensure that we keep reflecting on what is around us and how we can keep the conversation going to rebuild that bridge with nature that part of humanity seems have lost. 

As someone who is deeply interested in the power that art has within activism, having had the chance to get involved with PTBO, and seeing sustainability included in an ever-growing manner in festival programming and curating practices gives me hope that there is a chance, for us, to keep the poetry of earth alive. 

June 16, 2021

‘At Eighty’ by Edwin Morgan

Just in case you're unsure what we're on about with all our boat-themed babble, we wanted to share our namesake with you, courtesy of the Scottish Poetry Library. Without further ado, 'At Eighty':

Push the boat out, compañeros,
push the boat out, whatever the sea.
Who says we cannot guide ourselves
through the boiling reefs, black as they are,
the enemy of us all makes sure of it!
Mariners, keep good watch always
for that last passage of blue water
we have heard of and long to reach
(no matter if we cannot, no matter!)
in our eighty-year-old timbers
leaky and patched as they are but sweet
well seasoned with the scent of woods
long perished, serviceable still
in unarrested pungency
of salt and blistering sunlight. Out,
push it all out into the unknown!
Unknown is best, it beckons best,
like distant ships in mist, or bells
clanging ruthless from stormy buoys.

June 11, 2021

Rainbow Logos vs. the Art of Shutting Up: Pride in the time of COVID-era

by Julia Sorensen

I don't think I'm alone in feeling a lot a bit of anxiety at that first photo courtesy of Edinburgh Live. Especially because parades are in COVID format again this year, everything I’ve seen acknowledging Pride Month has been online. Honestly, the only content I’ve noticed has been either massive corporations changing their logos or constant (and well-deserved) reposts of Twister mat memes. We’re a third of the way through June and I haven’t posted anything about it, personally or for PTBO.

Whenever organisations respond to [Fill-in-the-Blank] Month—Pride Month, Black History Month, even Poetry Month—it can feel a bit like lip service, so I’m always leery of posting something to simply check the box. I’m leery too, though, of not saying anything at all. The self-imposed visibility highlighted during these Months serves an integral social purpose. Standing with, standing for, standing up as, are all necessities. Especially as such a socially invested organisation, we have a responsibility to use our platform for things that matter.

Pride Month is supposed to be a time where queerness controls the narrative, where queerness platforms itself, where queer people can articulate their own worth and narratives and struggles. Organisations, particularly corporations, seem to have colonised that space with the plethora of rainbow logos and CEOs filling the internet ether with messages of ‘we stand with LTBG peoples, now buy our products’. That’s why I hesitated to write this. In publishing this piece, in discussing poetry’s inherent queerness on this platform, what am I trying to accomplish? Am I simply taking up your brain space which could be better allocated to acknowledging (and hopefully acting upon) something more pressing, more precious?

I could tell you about how the poet from whom we’ve derived our namesake was queer, but that doesn’t necessarily imply anything meaningful about our tangible practices. The truth is, us saying anything about ourselves as an organisation, especially during this Month where we’re expected to, won’t really mean anything. What will mean something is what we show you during our festival. What will mean something is successfully creating an open, democratic platform in October which houses critical discussion, but the point of this month is to highlight queer voices, not our organisation. Instead of temporarily posting a rainbow logo, instead of getting Jenny to upload a cringey, scripted “we stand with you” monologue about our allyship, I want to pay homage to poetry, to queerness, to queerness’s place in poetry, to poetry’s place in queerness, and what how both of these things interact for me personally. Amid rampant organisational corporatisation of Pride Month, it seemed the most meaningful thing I could do.

Poetry has always been inherently queer to me. Coming of age as a queer person and as a poet happened simultaneously for me. My high school poetry club and many of the poets in it were queer in a matter-of-fact way, in a way we could discuss if we wanted but could also just exist in without mentioning. It was as definitive as we wanted to make it. Through spoken word, I can express myself as a queer person without having myself be observed or interrogated as queer unless I intend to be. I can also articulate my queerness through poetry when this aspect of my identity is invisible under heteronormative relations.

Yet, since this aspect of my identity was quite visible during my coming of age, I was also othered as a queer person and othered as a poet simultaneously. In this way, poetry as a mode of expression naturally seems to make room for a sort of functional anger, an articulate grief almost inherent to queer existence. No one can have peace all of the time, but the antagonisation and alienation that queer people experience is entirely preventable by human decency. In the face of it, I’ve found that the unnecessary and vicious hurt which comes out of the vilification and abuse of queerness can often be expressed and made functional by poetry.

Even outside of LGBTQ+ associations, poetry as a medium just feels queer to me. I see it often viewed as the least palatable literature, the most work to understand, the easiest to deride, one of the most subjective, and yet the one people most often feel they have the capacity to casually criticise. Queerness is highly individual, different for every person who experiences it, yet others feel that their unsolicited and perfunctory two cents are appreciated, useful, necessary. Responses to poetry often feel the same. But this does an interesting thing to poetry, doesn’t it? In the queer sphere, these examinations are usually problematic because they mean queerness is constantly watched and micromanaged, conflating and overgeneralising queer experience. Similar things can happen in the poetic sphere, but this act is inherently less violent and so the attention can provide poets a chance to engage people, spur them to find themselves within poetry.

Even outside of the context of Pride, it’s really important to me that I’m certain the space this event I’m a part of takes up is purposeful. COVID-19 has fissured Edinburgh’s festivals. Most organisations have had to re-jig how they offer what they offer, but I also see an opportunity to re-design not just out of necessity but to better serve audiences in our present. I want to be a part of a radical tender, something that is functional and socially integral to what will become a post-pandemic space. I want my participation in this to be about change, about leaning into uncomfortable conversations and topics in order to learn something, to grow. I want us to have hard conversations so that we can push the boat out to somewhere. For me, this is reminiscent of queer experience. It feels uncertain, intimidating, at the beginning. You take what you know from the past, from the rest of the world, from the macrocosm, and you shape it into a microcosm of moments, into the present, and make the future look different because of it.

June 6, 2021

New Poetry Collection: Tom Pow’s Naranjas

We're thrilled to join Galileo Publishers in announcing the publication of a new poetry collection from the renowned Scottish poet Tom Pow.

It’s his first full collection since the thematic explorations of Dear Alice – Narratives of Madness (2009), A Wild Adventure – Thomas Watling, Dumfries Convict Forger (2014) and Concerning the Atlas of Scotland (2014). Like all his work, from Rough Seas (1987) onwards, the poems here are imprinted with landscapes, relationships and memories, but they also show how encounters with painting, with reading and with history, through imaginative sympathy, can be transformed into personal lived experiences.

…this collection is rich with riveting stories, luscious descriptions of the natural world, droll character studies and moving elegies, but it’s his relentless compassion which will stay with us longest…

- John Glenday, from the foreword

Pow’s Dear Alice, Narratives of Madness won the Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Poetry Book of the Year in 2009, the same year In The Becoming – New and Selected Poems was published. Recolectores de Nueces (The Walnut Gatherers), a bi-lingual selection of poems, translated by Jorge Fondebrider, was published in 2015.

He edited Barefoot – The Collected Poems of Alastair Reid (2018). He has held several residences, has been the recipient of a number of major bursaries and awards and his work has been recorded for The Poetry Archive. In 2019, he was Creative Director of A Year of Conversation.

Galileo is proud to welcome Tom Pow to its poetry list which includes Nan Shepherd, George Mackay Brown and Alastair Reid.

Order it here.

May 16, 2021

(Re-)Introducing: Solareye of Stanley Odd

Interview by Julia Sorensen

We originally published this March 2021 interview in our April newsletter, but it's far too good to leave buried in there. The podcast episode he recorded in conjunction with this interview is out now.

What drives you as an artist?

An irrepressible compulsion to make stuff, which is probably quite universal across people’s reasons for making things. I make music and I write words because I can’t stop doing it, so I’m constantly trying to find reasons and excuses and outlets to do so.

What would you say your practice is for? What do you like to discuss and why? Do you think you have a responsibility to say certain things or not say certain things?

From a lyric perspective, I guess I’ve got multiple motives for writing, one of which is a real love for words and for playing with words. Other aspects we can talk about in terms of cultural commentary, and community interaction, and some of these other things… One thing for me which has come through engagement with hip hop for so many years is revelry in the sort of construction of words and the way words go together. I think hip hop and rap writing is like extreme sports poetry. Many aspects of hip hop involve taking a good thing and then obsessing about it and concentrating it to the extreme, partly because hip hop, I reckon, has a competitive culture. There’s a built-in element of hip hop that is about competition, and in a healthy way that competition, I think, has led to a sort of extreme sports poetry idea, y’know, where rhyme schemes are insanely complex. Rhyme is such a core element of rap, and the way rappers construct these sorts of rhyme matrices of internal rhymes and chain rhymes and multisyllabic rhymes and how this matrix appears across the page… So the first thing I really love about writing is wordplay itself and the beauty of language. The joy of playing with words. And then, some of the other reasons are the more cultural factors of telling stories, and sharing stories, and telling something that resonates with other people. Again, probably a lot of my impetus for writing comes from my experiences within hip hop culture of hip hop being a vehicle to tell stories, an opportunity to voice experiences that might not otherwise get heard, but also telling true, authentic stories about communities and spaces and places and all those things also inform some of the writing that I do.

Especially when it comes to hip hop and rap, do you feel yourself affected or motivated by external societal and/or political pressures? 

Rap has always been a useful medium for providing alternative perspectives and alternative narratives. It’s a dichotomy because hip hop has a global culture but only works if it’s localised, so it’s both a world culture that in its authentic form can only be local. That’s a really interesting thing about how you practice it and how you create it. It’s always provided, from its inception as an African American cultural vehicle for talking about and representing experience, opportunities to challenge power structures and to provide alternative narratives and to repackage existing narratives and reposition the power structures as you go. Hip hop has an innate ability to do these things because of some of the cultural purposes it’s served since its beginning, so I think that’s why you see it being used as a socio-political tool, in Scotland and all around the world. It’s why you see, from Aboriginal Outback to Palestinian hip hop to somebody writing hip hop in a wee village in Scotland, the local aspect and the sort of challenge to mainstream narratives being quite a regular or recurring theme across all these different spaces and places.

What are you looking forward to about Push the Boat Out?

I’m excited about how radical it already feels, how rebelliously non-conformist it feels in its outlook and ideology. I’m excited hearing from Kevin and Jenny about what their plans are for it. I love the ideas they’ve mentioned in terms of the chess sort of games taking place between poets and discussions—I like the idea of unusual and less-tread paths and structures, around anything, and I think the unusual circumstances and spaces that have been created sound really exciting. I’m excited to see how much rap and hip hop, obviously, from my perspective, seems to be a part of that conversation, because I personally don’t distinguish between poetry and rap. I just like seeing what people are doing with words, so it’s nice to see that, from a historical perspective.

The cultural value, broadly speaking, of rap and hip hop isn’t always necessarily recognised, and I’m interested in why we ascribe cultural worth to one art activity over another, or even beyond art, why we ascribe more cultural value to some things than other things. So again, from a hip hop perspective, it’s very exciting to see that it’s clearly planned to be a part of an international poetry festival. Jenny and Kevin have such a track record of doing innovative, exciting, unusual things to a very high standard, so that in itself means that the boat’s being steered by two very capable folks. All those sorts of things are exciting. I’m also excited about the community aspects that we’ve had a blether about so far, and again I think that side of it’s so important, that we continually ask questions about who culture’s for and about why a lot of us feel that certain aspects of culture aren’t for us. Anything we can do to make that more accessible and inclusive is great.

World Poetry Day was 21 March and April is, at least in some places in the world (not technically the UK), poetry month. Having a poetry day or a poetry month is a pretty mainstream way of recognising things. Do you think that that’s important? Are there limitations to that?

I didn’t know any of the poetry days or months were coming up, to be perfectly honest, but I’m very much in favour of them. I think all these days are important. Whether it’s a music release, whether it’s a poetry day, International Women’s Day… We can look at positives and negatives of these things, you can say we should be highlighting these things every day—and yes we should—but it doesn’t do any harm when we can have an opportunity to speak specifically about it, and if it means it gets everybody else talking about it then great, y’know? And then if it’s an excuse to share your favourite poetry, or something that’s resonated with you, and then for that day it’s amplified by the fact that it’s being talked about more broadly, it reaches a new audience.

From an artist perspective it’s great as well, isn’t it? Because it does give you a reason to post beyond what sometimes seems to people as just repeatedly trying to share your work. I think we’re in a really difficult place at the moment with artists trying to share their work, because we rely almost exclusively on digital and social media means of doing it. We’re all choked by pay-only ways of reaching an audience. The idea of democratised online means of reaching people has sort of gone, and mainstream corporations and large multinationals have regained control of how you can share and reach an audience. Democratisation is a myth again, I think. What we’re left with is smaller and smaller groups of people on your timeline who potentially just see this repetitive sharing of work, which leaves people feeling jaded and oversaturated and all that sort of stuff. So I think any time where there’s a larger movement around it, it gives you an opportunity as an artist to share your work [more widely] and that’s a great thing.

Tell us about recent projects you’ve worked on. Got any shameless plugs to offer?

Hunners. Hah! Yes, particularly two projects. One that I’ve worked on as Solareye in collaboration that came out recently which is Steg G’s new album. I’ve been fortunate to work with Steg on various occasions. He’s a phenomenal music producer, great composer, and really important member of the broader hip hop community for the work that he does in community projects and radio and all sorts of things, and with great artists. This was the second large-scale project we worked on. It’s called “Live Today”. He worked with a series of MCs—myself, the Freestyle MasterEmpress and CCTV—we each were given topics to write to in order to create one cohesive narrative across the record, although we didn’t individually know what the other artists were writing on, and then we sort of interpreted them as our own stories. I think it’s just a brilliant bit of work that he’s made. So that came out a couple a weeks ago, and we’re gonna do a live version of it end of April, so that’s just great to be involved in that. Yeah, it’s a brilliant bit of work he’s done.

The other major thing that I’ve personally been working on of late is the Stanley Odd album. That record has been four years in the making or more, and certainly in the last two or three years we’ve really spent a lot of time on it. We started releasing it in January 2020: we released a single, we planned to have a tour through Easter festivals, album out in September, another tour, then that obviously didn’t happen. None of it happened, but it made us have to think about a whole new way of releasing. Instead we’ve put out a new single every six weeks since last July, which has been great, because we’ve had an opportunity to focus on working with a different videographer for every single release. We’ve released seven singles with videos, and we’ve been able to work cohesively with one artist, Matt Sloe, who’s done all the art for all those. You would never normally get that amount of time to focus on so many songs on a record, y’know? End of last year we were thinking, right, we know we’re gonna put the album out in April, so how do we do this? We’ve been fortunate to put out everything so far that we’ve ever released on vinyl and CD, and it’s great to see folks respond to the vinyl and the physical formats, but I was thinking, how many people actually listen to the [physical] record and for how many people is it about having a physical thing to look at, an artifact? So we decided to try something a bit radical and different. Instead of releasing on vinyl, we released a 56-page full colour book that goes with the album, where you get to the certain pages and it says STOP GET YOUR MUSIC NOW, it’s got a QR code, you go there, you get music, and the idea is that it recenters the whole listening experience. Instead of being about that in-and-out on Spotify with mixes and tracks and stuff, it recenters it—it’s got all the lyrics, it’s got handwritten annotations, it’s got artwork, photographs that folks have sent us of their Stay Odd art, and it’s supposed to be a navigational companion for talking you through the record.


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