Sunday, 27 December 2015

Stories from the Flood

The River Coquet has a history of flooding the small Northumbrian market town of Rothbury. In 2013 Hexham Book Festival ran a project called Stories from the Flood to document the experiences of people whose lives had been affected by floods. When I visited, as Writer-in-Residence for Words Across Northumberland, sandbags (above) were still as much part of the view along the riverbank as cow parsley, and although the waters had gone down, the damage they'd caused was evident.

With new flood warnings issued for Northumberland this weekend, and terrible footage of devastation in other parts of the UK, the friends I made in Rothbury have been much on my mind. These two poems are for them.

Planning permission

It’s happening all over.
If it happens again, I’ll live upstairs –
and downstairs, I’ll cement it out.
I could even have a garden downstairs.

Selling the house is hard.
You can’t just say ‘I’m moving’
and go somewhere else
when no one wants to move in.

So I think about other things:
driving a boat instead of a car,
keeping bookshelves on pulleys,
           growing flowers in a cement garden.

A combination of things

I think it’s a combination of things
it’s climate change yes
and it’s forestry taking out too many trees
and lorries tearing down the slope with the logs on them
and the streams running straight down the hillside now
and the farmers not allowed to look after the riverbanks like they used to
not dredging, not taking the gravel out onto the bank
and all the weeds in the river
and they’re building on flood plains which they were never allowed to do before

I don’t think it is one thing
I think it is a combination of things

a combination of everything

(Published in Disko Bay, Enitharmon Press)

Monday, 21 December 2015

Freeze: Thaw

On the shortest day of the year, news of a feature created for the Northern Lights season on BBC Radio 3.

In Freeze: Thaw, producer Tim Dee and presenter Hayden Lorimer explore ice through the words of poets, explorers and physicians. Jen Hadfield reads her ode to a pre-natal polar bear and Nick Drake gives voice to an ice core. There's a wonderful rendition of the white bear passage (see below) from Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, and you can hear me read part of the Ruin Island sequence from Disko Bay.

Available on iPlayer in some locations:

Monday, 23 November 2015

The Polar Tombola

‘This is the first time I’ve looked in a dictionary since my A-levels,’ confided a hipster, eagerly flicking through the yellowing pages of my Greenlandic-English dictionary.

The Astonishing Polar Tombola was operational over Friday 5 and Saturday 6 November at the Small Publishers Fair in Conway Hall, London. Helen Mitchell, the fair’s organiser, sees the venue as something of a ‘village hall for London’, and with that in mind I combined an austere arctic aesthetic with a vintage village fête look in designing the tombola.

Pete Kennedy and Catherine Polley play the Polar Tombola
Photograph: Caspar Evans / Small Publishers Fair

Tombola has its origins in the cold, dark months of the year. The game (which draws its name from the word tombolare, to tumble or turn a somersault) is inspired by the raffle played by Italian families at Christmas time, with symbolic prizes and candied peel. The Polar Tombola is likewise a game of chance, one that turns expectations upside-down, as participants are invited to pick a Greenlandic word from a giant papier-mache snowball, and discover its meaning. Players are rewarded with a Fox’s Glacier Mint rather than preserved Mediterranean fruit. 

Over the course of the fair around 100 Greenlandic words are taken from the snowball. Everyone is curious to discover the meaning of the unfamiliar word, which frequently demonstrates an eerie synchronicity with their circumstances. I begin to wonder whether I should have set up shop as a fortune teller instead...

The game is intended to highlight the fact that the West Greenlandic language (Kalaallisut) is vulnerable, according to the UNESCO Atlas of World Languages in Danger. Language is especially important in places suffering the rapid effects of climate change: how can non-native scientists hope to study the arctic ecosystem without access to the knowledge of generations enshrined in the languages of the region?

I encourage players who have picked out and learnt a Greenlandic word to leave behind a word from their own language. It’s a big commitment to vow never to use a word again (as exemplified in my book proviso), and some people decide not to play: a few punters object to such self-censorship, and others just can't decide which word to leave behind. I certainly give away more Greenlandic words than I claim English ones. While I’m secretly pleased that people want to break the rules, the notion of exchange is important to me. 

Abandoned words
Photograph: Caspar Evans / Small Publishers Fair

The words left behind make a fascinating collection, representing deeply-felt political ideologies, personal histories and aesthetic preferences. For example:

- A woman left the word describing the main symptom of her illness.
- Someone (not the hipster) left the word ‘hipster’.
- Someone left the word for loneliness in Korean.
- A conservationist who works with eels left the word ‘panda’.
- Someone left the word ‘war’.
- One printer left the word ‘bespoke’.
- Another printer left the word ‘giclee’.
- Most fittingly of all, one woman left the word for a remembered (but unheard) voice (‘as in one who is dead’) in Farsi.

Night falls, and the last word is left behind
Photograph: Caspar Evans / Small Publishers Fair

All these words are safely stored away, and will be compiled in a future catalogue on the Polar Tombola. Meanwhile, it is pleasing to think of Greenlandic words in circulation in the UK, with new ambassadors for the language such as artist Steve Perfect, who has been introducing London bartenders to that staple cocktail ingredient, kaggsuk.

Close of play
Photograph: Caspar Evans / Small Publishers Fair

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Poem-A-Thon for Refugees

The initiative of poet Jacqueline Saphra, the Poem-A-Thon for Refugees began as an attempt ‘to do something to raise funds and awareness to make a small contribution to alleviating this terrible humanitarian crisis.’ In the last few weeks over £5000 has been raised.

At the Poem-A-Thon sixty poets will each read for eight minutes in the course of a day. All donations will go to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and its work with refugees in the Mediterranean. 

How can you help? Sponsor me or another poet of your choice or drop in (for a quick coffee or a long cocktail) during the day to cheer on the poets.

Poem-A-Thon for Refugees
Saturday 5 December 2015
Vout-O-Reenees, 30 Prescott Street, London E1 8BB (‘a gorgeous private members’ club owned by the amazing Sophie Parkin’)
Free entry
12 noon to 10 pm

Poetry makes nothing happen? Thanks to Jacqueline and her committee for this opportunity to make a small difference.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Autumn reading: features, reviews and poems

  • I reviewed Tricks of the Trade: Confessions of a Bookbinder by Jamie Kamph for the Times Literary Supplement
  • I interviewed Finnish artist Kristian Krokfors for a feature in Printmaking Today to coincide with his major retrospective at Bukowski’s, Helsinki 
  • I wrote about the artist Richard Long RA's new print series, The Spike Island Tapes, also in Printmaking Today
  • My poems The night hunter, Summer song and Giving up on capitalism appeared in an issue of Moving Worlds (a journal of transcultural writings) dedicated to The Postcolonial Arctic.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Small Publishers Fair

Small Publishers Fair (Photograph: Caspar Evans)

Nancy Campbell: Books and Printed Matter is the 2015 exhibition at the Small Publishers Fair in London on Friday 6 and Saturday 7 November.

It is a real honour to be invited to occupy the exhibition space at the fair which in previous years has shown the work of artists and publishers including herman de vries, Granary Books, Martin Rodgers and Les Coleman.

This exhibition will present a selection of works from the last decade, from artist's books produced under my own imprint - Bird Editions, collaborations with other artists, including Mette-Sofie D. Ambeck, Sarah Bodman, and Roni Gross, and titles from publishers such as Enitharmon Press and MIEL. I hope that the variety of media on show will demonstrate the many forms the printed word can take, from pochoir-illustrated artist's books to letterpress-printed broadsides and print-on-demand paperbacks.

The Small Publishers Fair (which has run since 2002) is a lively occasion, and a fascinating day out for anyone interested in books and publishing. More information can be found on the event website and you can read 'Conversations and Collaborations', my short statement about the work I'll be showing, here.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

‘The Debate’ Commended

‘The Debate’, my poem about the geographic boundaries of the Arctic, has been commended in the 2015 Four Corners Poetry Competition judged by Mimi Khalvati and Giles Goodland. The competition’s theme was inspired by the motto of St Cross College: ‘Ad quattuor cardines mundi’. The prizewinners and other commended poets are listed here.

An anthology of the winning and commended poems will be launched with a drinks reception and reading at St Cross College, Oxford on Tuesday 13 October. The event will open at 5.30pm, with readings from the judges and several commended poets starting at 6.00pm. All are welcome - please inform Ella Bedrock if you are coming:

Monday, 14 September 2015

Disko Bay

Copies of Disko Bay can now be reserved on the publisher's website:

Some advance reviews:

Disko Bay is a beautiful debut from a deft, dangerous and dazzling new poet writing from the furthest reaches of both history and climate change.’ – Carol Ann Duffy

‘Nancy Campbell crafts severe, beautiful founding myths which merge fragments of story with song in a poetry which has refreshingly sharp edges. Strong women and talented male hunters there are, but all are vulnerable before human caprice and this lyrically evoked world of ice.’ – Richard Price

Disko Bay will be available from November. The launch event will be on Tuesday 1 December at the Enitharmon Press premises in Bloomsbury. Please contact Lavinia Singer on to reserve your place.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

ARKIR Book Arts Group, Reykjavik

On my way through Reykjavik last week I gave a presentation to ARKIR, an Icelandic book arts organisation. I opted to show and discuss The Night Hunter and Tikilluarittwo works from Z'roah Press, each of which responds to a different poem from my forthcoming collection Disko Bay.

It was a great pleasure to meet members of ARKIR and I was glad to be able catch their current exhibition ENDURBÓKUN ('Re-Book') in Spöngin Culture House, which continues to 3 October 2015. A few examples of their work follow and you can see more over on the ARKIR blog (which has its own post about my visit here).

Vefur by Ingirinður Ódinsdóttir

Ævintýri by Áslaug Jónsdóttir