From 25th to 28th January, Stall Street is going to be overrun with writers and artists reimagining the space with a massive collaborative artwork. Bringing a head to the rolling programme of guest writers and illustrators are Lucy English and Simon Spilsbury on Saturday 28th January. Over the course of the evening they will be developing an improvised poem with accompanying illustration, based on audience input and the theme of ‘spotlight’.
Volunteer Co-ordinator Sam Drew spoke to Lucy English about poetry, technology, and the challenge of creating a three hour improvised poem.
As well as a professional performance poet, you are the lecturer in performance poetry at Bath Spa university, and many of your students will be performing their own work on the Wednesday and Thursday nights of the festival. How do you feel about bringing poetry from the university into the city?
I hope that those who see it will realise the wealth of talent their city has and that it shows that what happens in the universities is definitely a part of Bath City life. Poetry isn’t just written by dead people. Poetry has a fusty reputation in this country which is a shame; it is a live and relevant art form and it’s good that the next generation are finding their way into it. Their interpretation might not be what some consider to be ‘poetry’, but that’s a good thing. Younger people are finding their poetic voice in a way that suits them.
And how do you feel about your own performance on Saturday night? A three hour long improvised poem on the theme of ‘Spotlight’ sounds like a tall order. Can you give us any insight into how you’re going to approach the evening?
It’s quite a challenge to produce something of quality instantly! I like doing things that stretch me and this will certainly stretch my capabilities. In 2008 I did a project with the general public called ‘Why I’m Here’, a collaboration with a photographer, and we went up to people in places in somerset and asked them why they were there, photographed them and I wrote a sequence of poems based on their responses. For ‘Spotlight’ I will be using similar methods but it will be sped up, and the result is going to be a sort of cross between speed dating and poetry! Gulp!
In Illuminate Bath 2010, you performed with other spoken-word artists in an Arts Council funded show called Flash!, which utilised video and music. Now you’re working with live illustrators using modern graphic tablets and digital projectors. Do you think that the link between technology and creativity—particularly in literature—will begin to inform one another more and more, or is this kind of project more of a gimmick?
I do not think it is a gimmick. Technology is here to stay whether we like it or not and I am delighted that the digital world is being explored by artists rather than geeks. I also like it that geeks and poets can now sit down and say, “hey, what can we do here?” In July I am organising a conference at Corsham Court on the theme of digital writing and its future. It’s an exciting time for those who are willing to experiment and even more exciting in that we don’t know how the future of writing will evolve.
Lucy English is a Reader in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. She is also a performance poet and has toured extensively in the UK and abroad. Her most recent show ‘Flash’ was supported by the Arts Council.