This link is to a guest blog post I wrote for Claire Turnham, the funeral director who took on my dad’s funeral in the spring. If you want to find out more about alternative and holistic approaches to death and dying, she is one of the good hearted pioneers. I’m posting it here with a few extra pictures, today on dad’s birthday. I’m so glad he was with us to celebrate his 90th at The Poetry Cafe last year with cake and singing.
Over the last couple of years, my story collecting project has been expanding into the rich theme of migration: and I’ve had the chance to hear people tell me about what makes them feel at home: whether it’s a kitchen, a hobby – their body, or a poem…
Londons diversity has always made me relieved to return to it, but many people don’t experience the city as friendly. How do we live in our communities, connect with neighbours, make ourselves heard? These questions seem more urgent than ever, post brexit, where polarities have been amplified, in and outside of our various bubbles.
In Hounslow I was working with Creative People and Places encouraging residents to develop their own modes of story collecting, which we practised by listening, drawing and writing poems together, after initial inky story collecting sessions with me.
Over at the National Maritime Museum I’d also been listening and collecting, from visitors to the RE*THINK space there, as part of work with The Migration Museum Project. Poet and friend, Karen McCarthy Woolf was writer in residence on this theme. We hatched a plan to collaborate, and make a piece of work to show our findings. This is now manifest as a 36 page book: Voyage, and contains an essay and new poems by Karen, with stories collected and drawn live by me.
As we were addressing the subject of migration, I wanted to supplement the narratives I’d heard at the museum, with some from more recently arrived people, people who might not yet be at the museum visiting stage… so I approached South London Refugee Association, who welcomed me to their drop in. I met and spoke with people there, who shared some of their moving stories with me. Karen and I selected a range of drawings and poems from the work we’d made, the book was supported and introduced by Joanna Salter at the museum, and we in turn were listened to, re paper stock, layout and printing by old friends at Aldgate Press.
We’ve had a lovely article and review of the book, by Bidisha, on the BBC arts website.
An der Uferpromenade, zwischen heruntergekommenen Spielhöllen, staubigen Pound-shops und lange verlassenen Läden, deren zerlumpte Markisenreste in der Meeresbrise flattern, erblicken wir plötzlich diese Kunstwerke. Sie erzählen Geschichten über die letzten fröhlichen Jahre in Margate, bevor der zunehmende Auslandstourismus dem historischen Badeort den Todesstoß versetzte.
Geschaffen wurde die Geschichten-Wand von der Künstlerin Sophie Herxheimer auf Basis von Gesprächen mit Einheimischen im Jahr 2011.
Margate war im 18. Jahrhundert einer der ersten Badeorte an der Küste Englands. Unter dem Staub der Erinnerungen kann man noch die teilweise pompöse Architektur erkennen, die bezeugt, dass die Stadt einst Besserbetuchte angezogen hat.
Mein erster Besuch in Margate liegt mittlerweile über zehn Jahre zurück. Damals war ich vom Zustand der Stadt schockiert. Anlass für unseren Ausflug war seinerzeit der Film „Last Orders“. Eine Rezension des gleichnamigen Buches findet Ihr bei Buchpost.
Mittlerweile sieht Margates Zukunft nicht mehr ganz so hoffnungslos aus. Als ich 2014 auf…
In October I was one of a group of eight artist printmakers engaged in making a new piece of work to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the founding of the world’s first ghetto.
This was a space established in Venice in 1516, on the site of the old foundry there, (making it one of the few campos without a church) that was created as a concession to Jews, permitting them residence in the city.
Originally the word would have had a soft ‘g’ as it was where the metal was thrown (or jettisoned,) a ‘getto’, but as the first wave of incumbents were Ashkenazy Jews, and strangers to the soft ‘g’, they pronounced it like get, and thus introduced the world to the ‘ghetto’!
The commission was to make a New Venice Haggadah, deriving inspiration from a beautiful edition published in Venice in 1609, as well as with reference to the contemporary community, and of course our own personal responses and processes.
The haggadah is the Passover text, and is like a script for use at the Seder table. It conducts all the members of the family through the story of the Exodus, with ritual foods, questions, songs and wine. It is a chance to think about oppression and slavery, and wish freedom to all who remain oppressed. There may be nearly as many haggadot and interpretations of the story as there are families who mark the festival.
We were invited to do this work by Beit Venezia, headed up by Shaul Bassi, (far left, above) and as well as us artists, Vassar professor Marc Michael Epstein, (far right, above) joined our group to show us some of the vast history of illustrated haggadot. We were also lucky to be shown many intriguing aspects of Venice and its workings by our events coordinator Barbara del Mercato.
Right to left (like Hebrew) we are Barbara, Shaul, Frances Katz Levine (a supporter of the project), Kyra Matustik, Josh Baum, then on the sofa, also right to left: Andi LaVine Arnovitz, Nathan Gotlib, Jacqueline Nicholls (lead artist) Hillel Smith, Yael David-Cohen and me.
Our group of eight artists came from the UK , the US, Belgium, Israel, the Czech Republic – and with varying degrees of knowledge and experience in both etching and Jewishness!
Our base for the three week residency was the Scuola Grafica Internazionale di Venezia, a gorgeous and well equipped printmaking studio in Cannaregio. We stayed in apartments about a half hour walk away. My room made a nifty temporary studio.
A peal of bells came echoing out from this jaunty corner tower to wake us promptly at 7:00 each morning.
We read and thought about the text together in detail over the first week, as well as looking at significant treasures in Venice, such as the first printed Talmud there, which I was pleased to discover looks quite a lot like concrete poetry.
At the end of the first week Jacqueline allocated each of us two sections of the text to respond to visually. Mine were both densely emotional passages, one of suffering, one of joy. This was re: We cried out and the one below represents praise (very necessary Hebrew help came from my fellow artists Josh and Jacqueline )
During the second week, we drew and prepared, then etched our copper plates… as well as exploring the city, getting lost and looking at as much art as we could possibly squeeze in around the coffees.
It is such a sensational city: light zipping off the water to illuminate everything from the intricate and wonky palaces to the vegetable delivery boats, and the bridges; more of which seemed to appear daily, like a baffling dream.
Week three saw us unite and print: 6oo sheets of dampened Fabriano paper, many inky rags, many ragged but mainly undampened spirits!
The original copper plates and the editions of 25 prints per etching per artist (we each made 3 plates, that’s why we were editioning 600 prints in week 3!) remain in Venice for now and will be exhibited as part of the ghetto quincentery events. A beautiful version of our New Venice Hagaddah is also in production in Jerusalem, and will be for sale in time for Passover 2016.
You can read more about the project in the current (January 2016) issue of Jewish Rennaisance magazine, or watch us and laugh as we are dubbed in Italian on TV – and see the studio, the ghetto and the other artists.
Thanks to all members of our group, who were wonderful to work with, to Jacqueline Nicholls in particular for inviting me, to Shaul Bassi of Beit Venezia and Lorenzo de Castro and Alan Rogers at the Scuola Grafica for hosting us, and to Barbara del Mercato for showing us Venice from the inside.
I have also written a small stack of new Venice poems, hopefully these will find a home one day, in or out of the poetry ghetto…
Meanwhile, here’s to 2016: ink, friendship and freedom!
The project that catapulted me into Nature and away from my habitual London scenery: The Listening Forest, is now up in another form, as an exhibition at the HQ of the Poetry Society at 22 Betterton Street Covent Garden: The Poetry Cafe.
About thirty of the original drawings are on the walls, chosen from the hundred or so that make up the book, which in turn, were chosen from perhaps twice that that I made whilst in residence for Fermynwoods Contemporary Art in Northamptonshire.
Many of the drawings on show are those I drew live from local people recounting to me what they get up to in the woods; others are ones that I made away from company, on my own in the cottage I was put up in.
There are also the six paper cuts I made as a structural device to tailor the book into its shape as a mirror to the forest, filing stories as appropriate under section headings: noticings and changes of direction in path, strange sightings and confessions in undergrowth, the ordinary and everyday in shrub layer, revelations and insights in clearing, lofty thoughts in canopy, base material in floor…
New for the space in Covent Garden, I replaced Ralph Steadman’s Byron scribed lampshades with new ones of my own, some written on in loose ink with excerpts from my forest poem sequence, some coloured with streaks of Nepalese paper cut into leaf-spiders, moth-women, crow-huts.
The show opened on my Dad’s 90th birthday, so he came along, and after I’d read some poems, the audience sang to him and we all shared cake!
The same week it was the The Poetry Library open day at the Festival Hall, which took as its theme: The End of the Poem. It was exciting to see the library’s copy of the limited edtion huge version of The Listening Forest in its thirty metre incarnation, laid out on one of the tables, near another recent collaborative work: Collective City, the book we assembled from visual poem collages made by visitors to the Southbank Centre’s Poetry International Festival and made into an inventive street shaped book by the same team who bound the forest book: the inimitable Henningham Family Press
The Listening Forest exhibition runs until February 4th and is open most days and evenings, but please do check the Poetry Cafe website.
Another evening viewing is scheduled for Thursday December 17th, with mulled wine, a chance to buy screen prints, books and original drawings, and a short reading of some forest and city poems by me and some surprise guest poets!
I will also be running a day workshop in conjunction with The Poetry School, called Hide and Seek in the Ideas Forest, on Saturday January 30th. We’ll be working on how to set traps for the unconscious, and turn what we find into art and poetry.
So many people have been involved with this project, big thanks to all who joined me on the path: including Yasmin Canvin and the team at Fermynwoods Contemporary Arts, Kate Dyer and Lorraine Dziarkowska of Corby Community Arts – and everyone who told me a story or listened to a poem or idea. Particular London thanks to Tanya Peixoto of The Bookartbookshop and Mike Simms of the Poetry Society.