Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Writer in Residence: Jan Michalski Foundation

Le Voleur de Mots V by Jaume Plensa, in the courtyard of Jan Michalski Foundation

This month I am writer in residence at the Jan Michalski Foundation for Writing and Literature in Montricher, Switzerland. I am grateful for the opportunity to access the rich and remarkable mulitlingual library at the Foundation while working on my translations of Songs from Ammassalik, as well as putting the finishing touches to my memoir The Library of Ice.

(The sculpture shines all night, keeping me company when I have been working late.)

Monday, 9 October 2017

Small Publishers Fair, London

Don't miss this feast of books! 

Friday 10th and Saturday 11th November 2017
Conway Hall, London 
11am - 7pm

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Autumn reading: printmaking and poetry in the north

For the last few months I've been absorbed in work on a new book, but even so there has been a little time for other things. I particularly enjoyed writing an article on the connections I find between kayaking and writing, published in the summer issue of Poetry News. Other work includes:
  • A catalogue essay for Blue Hours, an exhibition to mark the close of Lucy May Schofield's year-long residency with Visual Arts in Rural Communities in Northumberland National Park. (Republished online in The Double Negative; image above: Khosro Adibi.)
  • A review of the Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum in RA Magazine
  • An interview with Scottish poet Macgillivray in Oxford Poetry magazine.
  • An essay on my live lit project The Polar Tombola in The Blue Notebook: Journal of Artists' Books.
  • Reviews of titles on book design by Carol Twombly and Jhumpa Lahiri in the Times Literary Supplement.
The highlight of the winter for me will be the Tove Jansson exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery, opening on 25 October. I'm delighted to see Jansson accorded this honour, and look forward to a new perspective on her work.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

The Institute of Gunnar Gunnarsson, Iceland

During September and October I am Writer in Residence at Skriuðuklaustur, near Egilsstaðir in East Iceland.  Skriuðuklaustur is the former home of Iceland's much-loved novelist Gunnar Gunnarsson, who donated it to the nation in 1948, with the proviso it should be a home for literature. (You can read more of the history and architecture of this fascinating and unusual Icelandic building here.)

During my time here I'm researching glaciers for my forthcoming book The Library of Ice. The vast Vatnajökull glacier is not far from Skriuðuklaustur, and as well as enjoying the peaceful writing environment, I've been participating in some more active research out on the icecap. 

Monday, 25 September 2017

Borrowed Bookshelves 16

The Institute of Gunnar Gunnarsson, Skriðuklaustur, Iceland

Friday, 22 September 2017

Borrowed Bookshelves 15

The author Þórbergur Þórðarson’s library from his Reykjavik home
recreated at The Þórbergur Centre, Hali, Suðursveit, Iceland

Thursday, 7 September 2017

The Polar Tombola: Exhibition

A word donated to The Polar Tombola by poet Saradha Soobrayen

If you had to lose a word from your language, what would it be?

Endangered languages and censorship are the themes of an exhibition opening on 4 September 2017 at UWE Library,  Bower Ashton, Bristol. On display is the archive of The Polar Tombola, a participatory live lit / art project with which I have toured the UK over the last two years. I've been discussing language loss with artists, writers, librarians, curators, scientists and many others, and collecting the words these individuals feel they could - or should - live without. The exhibition includes all 300+ words donated to the archive, together with texts commissioned from leading contemporary writers for the accompanying anthology A Book of Banished Words. Visitors will also be able to see the original installation, including the 'tombola' and the Greenlandic-English dictionary that inspired the project.

Special Offer! The Polar Tombola: A Book of Banished Words is available post-free within the UK for the duration of the exhibition.

The Polar Tombola runs until 31 October 2017 at Bower Ashton Library, Kennel Lodge Road, Bristol, BS3 2JT. More details here.

For a full account to the project, look out for an article on The Polar Tombola in the forthcoming issue of The Blue Notebook Journal for Artists' Books.

The Polar Tombola exhibition, publication and tour were made possible with the generous support of Arts Council England Grants for the Arts.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Michael Murphy Memorial Prize

The shortlist for the 2017 Michael Murphy Memorial prize has just been announced by judges Deryn Rees-Jones, Karen Leeder and John Mcauliffe. The £1000 prize is awarded for a distinctive first book of poetry in English published in Britain or Ireland. I’m honoured that Disko Bay is one of the five titles on the shortlist, alongside This Changes Things by Claire Askew, Beauty / Beauty by Rebecca Perry, The Observances by Kate Miller and Otherwise by John Dennison.

The winner will be announced on National Poetry Day, 28 September 2017 and the prize will be awarded at the English Association's Annual General Meeting on 23 May 2018. Meanwhile, Disko Bay is available to Poetry Book Society members at the customary 25% discount.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Walking On Lava

I'm delighted to announce the arrival of Walking on Lava: Selected Works for Uncivilised Times, a new paperback collection of essays, stories, poems, interviews and artwork taken from the first ten issues of Dark Mountain, which includes my essay on poetry and preservation in the Arctic, 'No More Words for Snow'.

Walking on Lava opens with the original Dark Mountain manifesto and should be the ideal introduction for new readers wanting to find their bearings in Dark Mountain territory. Meanwhile, for those who discovered the project in recent years, it offers the chance to get acquainted with some of the formative early contributions.

The book is edited by Charlotte Du Cann, Dougald Hine, Nick Hunt and Paul Kingsnorth – and published on both sides of the Atlantic by Chelsea Green.

Walking on Lava is available from all good bookshops and can be ordered direct from the Dark Mountain shop. Readers in the US may prefer to order direct from the publisher.

We'll be celebrating the official launch of Walking on Lava with an evening at the Old Truman Brewery in London on 5 September. This is a free event, but places are limited, so please register on the Eventbrite page.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

World Book Night 2017: BOOK ISH NESS

With spring comes... World Book Night.

The theme this year was chosen by wild artist, king of the rubber stamp, and long-time Nessie aficionado Steven Fowler. He decreed that the United Artists, rather than reading and responding to a single work of fiction as in previous years, would research the history of publications around the Loch Ness monster, and contribute a new work to the genre. As plans began to take shape, the name BOOK ISH NESS (created by Linda Parr) was adopted for the project.

This year's programme was the most adventurous yet, surpassing previous research in the woodlands of Oxfordshire (The Secrets of Metahmeralism, after Donna Tartt's The Secret History) and the takeaways of Bristol (TOAST: A Night on Weevil Lake, after Douglas Copeland's The Gum Thief).

Sighting on Loch Ness, 12 March 2017

Primed with studies of cryptozoology and hazy evidence of 1970s monster-spotting technology, members of the public sent in evidence captured around the globe. The Loch Ness Investigation Bureau (officially formed in 1961 and closed in 1972) was Rebooted in response to this flurry of sightings. Thirteen members of the Bureau met at Fort Augustus on 10 March and spent five days carefully observing Loch Ness from different look-out points including the Nessieland attraction at Drumnadrochit, the turrets of Castle Urquhart, and the great locks at the end of the Caledonian Canal. This gruelling observation schedule, from dawn to midnight daily, led to many new and interesting discoveries. Sarah Bodman, the expedition's head chef, did an inspired job of feeding hungry LNIBR members at Morag's Lodge.

Even in the woods there were monsters

Beginning to map the monster

I began a ballad recounting our investigations, but - true to the spirit of Hunting The Snark which inspired it - it remains unfinished. Thankfully other Investigators have been more organised. You can see documentation of LNIBR preparations and excursions, records of sightings, and other results of the trip (both visual and verbal) and buy a copy of the BOOKISHNESS publication at the UWE Book Arts Website. And there's a movie too! 

containing contributions from many monster hunters

Friday, 14 April 2017

BALTIC Artists’ Books Market

Come to BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, on Saturday 13th & Sunday 14th May 2017  for the annual Artists’ Book Market, 10.00-17.00 each day.

The market is a wonderful event that I’ve been proud to exhibit at for the last three years. This year look out for Stichill Marigold Press (run by poet and former merchant seaman Leonard McDermid - also once my primary school art teacher!),  Visual Arts in Rural Communities and of course the impassioned presswork of organiser Theresa Easton. Full programme info below.

BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead plays host to an annual national two-day Artists’ Book Market. Over 40 national and regional artists, bookmakers, small press publishers, artist’s groups, zine artists and bookbinders will be exhibiting and selling their work direct to the public.

This two-day event is FREE and accompanied by a series of artists’ interventions: BALTIC Freelance Artist, Bethan Maddocks will be delivering a free drop in 3D pop-up book workshop on Saturday. Sunday Nicola Singh plans to engage book market visitors with an evolving page projected onto the wall of the book-market. Foundation Press will be bringing their Risograph Printer for both days, working collaboratively with visiting artists in their pop up space on Level 1, creating a new body of work in performance and print.

Exhibitors include: Kitbooks, Shoddy: a disability art project, GINNY, Simon Moreton, Tamsin Daisy Rees, BBB Book Collective, Gemma Lacey/Red Plate Press, Kerry Douglas and Gillian Stewart, Stroud Artist Books, Jessie Churchill, Andrew Robinson & Andrea Campomanes, Andrea Allan, Hestan Isle Press, Elizabeth Jardine Godwin, BookCasePress, Chloe Spicer, Julie Macbean, Visual Arts in Rural Communities, Nancy Campbell, Newcastle University, As Yet Untitled, Stichill Marigold Press, Malcolm Gibson and Rachel Gibson, Roncadora Press, MA Book Arts at Camberwell College - University of the Arts London, Heather Prescott, Michelle Holland, Z.A.M, Less Than Five Hundred Press, Greyscale Poetry Zine, Asterisk Collective*, Kate Jackson, POUR-ZINE, Anne Proctor, Moonkwayk Studio, paperwallah, Hazel Terry, Sue Bennet, SideburnedPoet, Katie Forrester, Editions, Bertrand Bracaval, Theresa Easton.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Snowball

Now that A Book of Banished Words is published, I’ll conclude my posts about The Polar Tombola with the story behind the making of the ‘snowball’ which players picked their cards from during performances. (Thank you to everyone who took part!)

The drum holding these Greenlandic word cards was an obvious nod to the Italian tombolare that was the loose model for my game. So it ought to be round... but what else? As I began to design it I toyed with the idea of using a globe to reference languages around the world, because as The World Atlas of Languages in Danger demonstrates, language extinction is not a problem specific to the Arctic. But I soon discarded this idea in favour of something more snowy – evoking the traditional Inuit dwelling or iglu as well as childhood snowball fights.

 I visited the ceramics department of the Victoria and Albert Museum to source ideas. I started by studying how designers made tableware representing other objects, such as swans, snakes, cauliflowers and asparagus. (Please excuse the poor quality of the snaps below, they were never intended for publication.)

But the objects that appealed to me the most were simpler, in particular a beautiful porcelain moon jar by Park Young Sook (2006) – the refined clay with its translucent, flawless glaze seemed to evoke the same pristine beauty many people associate with the Arctic. Moon jars were used as ritual vessels in South Korea during the Chosun period. What was I embarking on, if not a ritual? I don’t want to reproduce my photo here because it doesn’t convey any of the awe I felt looking at the moon jar, but you can view it in the online V&A catalogue.

Knowing I’d never achieve the smooth perfection of Park Young Sook’s vessel, I started to look at other textures, such as...

... Egg Vase (above), Foam Bowl and Sponge Vase (below), designed by Marcel Waanders for Droog, in collaboration with Rosenthal. (Made by Moooi. Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1997. Unglazed porcelain, cast from hard boiled eggs inside a condom, artificial foam and a natural sponge.)

... and Omenanlohko (made by Gunvor Olin-Grönqvist at Arabia, Helsinki, Finland, 1986. Glazed stoneware.)

Finally, I looked at ceramics that included text. Nushu (below, 2006) by Sara Radstone is an evocative series of stoneware slabs, painted with slip and grey stain. 

Nushu is a script used to write a local dialect of Chinese spoken in Jiangyong County in Hunan. It was used exclusively by women, and translates as ‘women’s writing’. It developed as a form of private communication, sometimes embroidered onto fabrics or written on fans. Radstone’s text, written lightly and upside-down across a series of book-like forms, reflects the clandestine nature of the script...

...and far less subtle, but just as fascinating, this piece of French tableware which wittily mixes verbal and visual signifiers.

I also loved this early nineteenth century gilded plate, with its bobbly enamel sea urchin that –entirely coincidentally – is not so very different in appearance from my own finished piece.

In the end I chose to use a material much less ambitious than ceramic, and closer to my usual medium: papier-mâché. The cause of my return to paper was spotting a work by Chun Kwang-young in the museum. Aggregation10-SE032RED (2010, below) is composed of many hundreds of pieces of Styrofoam, individually wrapped in pages of books printed on hanji paper. Hanji has multiple uses in Korea – including wrapping household objects for storage. The surface this work is full of cracks and imperfections, and you can’t make out the original meaning of the texts. The curator writes: ‘These complex defects symbolise the difficult history of Korea, but the strong paper reflects the resilience of the Korean people.’ 

I liked the idea of taking apart a printed object to make the drum, which tied in with The Polar Tombola’s movement from the dictionary page to performance. Papier-mâché takes several days, as the thin strips of newspaper are dipped in an adhesive made of flour paste and applied over each other in a rough wove. There needs to be drying time between each application, and then a number of coats of white emulsion paint. The time it took to construct the two hemispheres of the drum gave me plenty of time to reflect on the process. As I covered one thin strip over and across another, current news stories disappeared under the damp paper and film of glue. It was a word-vessel made out of words. Slowly the object began to form, just as in the Arctic the gradual accretion of ice crystals, at first barely perceptible, becomes a solid layer over water. I thought of the Greenlandic words the drum would hold. One of these ‘amissaq’, has the dictionary definition: ‘boat skin, fish skin used for straining coffee’. I remembered the many new skins and surfaces I encountered in Greenland: permeable and impermeable, containing and protecting. 

I enjoyed making the papier-mâché drum enormously, the wordless activity being a respite from some of the intensive writing I’d been doing. I liked the rough edges of each hemisphere where they were pulled off the mould – this tied in nicely with the casual ‘village hall’ aesthetic of the project as a whole (as suggested by Small Publishers Fair director Helen Mitchell). Now that the snowball has travelled with me around the UK for two years, those edges are a little rougher, and the snowball is once again empty of its words. 

Monday, 20 March 2017

The Book of Banished Words

I'm delighted to announce that the proofs of my latest publication The Polar Tombola: A Book of Banished Words are back from the printer - and they look stunning. The book is an anthology drawn from a two-year participatory live literature project, with contributions from people around the UK, including new commissions from artists and writers.

The project is part-funded by Arts Council England, and to raise futher funds to cover printing costs I'm running a Kickstarter campaign. One week in, I'm delighted to announce that generous early bird sponsors have enabled me to reach nearly 50% of my goal. If you would like to help this endeavour, please join them! To secure your copy of the book at a special pre-order price, or pick up one of the other rewards on offer, just visit the Kickstarter page.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Polar Tombola in Bristol


Catch the Polar Tombola on the final date of its UK tour! This spring the Tombola will be at Bristol Artists' Book Event, a highlight of the bibliophile's calendar. The exciting - free! - event on 1-2 April will see book artists from Europe and beyond gather to exhibit, perform and sell their work in Bristol's majestic Arnolfini. 

Join us to play The Polar Tombola and celebrate the launch of a new book The Polar Tombola: A Book of Banished Words, published by Bird Editions with contributions from artists and writers including Sarah Bodman, Vahni Capildeo, Will Eaves, Pippa Hennessy, Nasim Marie Jafry, Lisa Matthews, Phil Owen and Richard Price. 

Read a short interview with me about The Polar Tombola and  A Book of Banished Words on the Arnolfini blog

Wednesday, 15 February 2017


I'll be performing or exhibiting my work at these events over the next few months. Further information on times, venues and booking can be found on my website

This year's World Book Night United Artists project takes place over 10-12 March in Loch Ness. Watch this space to see whether we spot the Monster!

Friday, 3 February 2017

Oxford Poetry

Together with my co-editors, Mary Jean Chan and Theophilus Kwek, I'm delighted to announce a new issue of Oxford Poetry. The latest number brings together poems and prose on the theme of Erasure from Jack Underwood, Bernard O'Donoghue, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Alison Brackenbury, Shukria Rezaei, Jennifer Wong and many others.

Tom Paulin described Oxford Poetry as "One of the best small magazines in the country" and it's certainly one of the oldest, having been established in 1910, when it was set up by undergraduates and published by Basil Blackwell. These days, while maintaining a connection with the university, it looks far wider: the stellar poets who have recently featured in its pages include Carol Ann Duffy, Seamus Heaney, George Szirtes and Les Murray.

Read the full list of contributors and purchase or subscribe in the online shop.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Winter reading: Morris, Freud, Bacon & Co

  • a review of The Book Beautiful: William Morris, Hilary Pepler and the Private Press Story at Ditchling Museum of Art+Craft for the Times Literary Supplement blog
  • a review of a number of new books on the art of letters, including Letter Writing Among Poets (ed. Jonathan Ellis) and The Letters Page (ed. Jon McGregor) in the Times Literary Supplement (print edition out 26 January and online).  
  • an introduction to the National Original Print Exhibition catalogue, for the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (RE), London. See illustration above, also accessible online.
  • a pair of short catalogue essays on Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud for the exhibition Bacon / Freud: Selected Graphic Works at Marlborough Fine Art, London. Accessible online.
  • an interview with artist Sue Ridge for a feature in Printmaking Today, looking at her prizewinning work Aphasia Wallpaper and its roots in the work and life of William Morris. (See illustration below.)
  • a review of the catalogue for Degas: A Strange New Beauty, an exhibition of Degas' monotypes at MOMA, New York, in Printmaking Today.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Bacon / Freud at Marlborough Fine Art

It was a great pleasure to write about two titans of twentieth-century art for the catalogue to the current exhibition at Marlborough Fine Art, London. The different approaches to printmaking demonstrated by Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud creates high drama in the gallery. Bacon and Freud: Selected Graphic Works is at Marlborough Fine Art, 6 Albemarle Street, London until 25 February 2017. The catalogue (pictured below) can also be read online.