Tag Archives: sound poetry

Writing process blog tour


I got tagged by the brilliant Julia Bird to take part in a blog tour about writing processes. It’s the questions that are touring so no long train journey for a change… Here are some previous responses….

Julia Bird

Katy Evans Bush

Anna Robinson

Gemma Seltzer

A B Jackson

Adam Horovitz

and looking at them will take you to others…

What am I working on?

I’m working on a new solo show called ‘Schlock!’ – which comes from the Yiddish word ‘shlak’ and means something cheap, shoddy or inferior. – A risky kind of title, but in theory it refers to the literature that I’m working with rather than the quality of my performance. The schlock I am using to make Schlock! is Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m ripping out pages, scrunching it up, doing searches for sentences that contain the word ‘pain’ or ‘love’ or ‘hurt’ on my Kindle version. I’m also working with Kathy Acker’s novel ‘In Memoriam to Identity’ and the project is influenced by her writing methods and writings about the body. It’s been commissioned by the (very brave) Aldeburgh Poetry Festival for November and is produced by Penned in the Margins.

Fifty carcass

I’ve been commissioned to write a short monologue by Women and Theatre, an organisation based in Birmingham. It’s my first writing commission in Birmingham since moving here last summer, and I’m honoured to be working with such an inspiring organisation. Women and Theatre have been making theatre for 30 years and the monologue I’m writing is one of a series of pieces focused on women who have been in their particular field for thirty years, my field is business, and so far the women I’ve interviewed for the project couldn’t be more different to each other, so I’m considering writing several characters within the one monologue…..

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Of course we do all write differently to each other, but we also all borrow from each other, themes and forms and styles and sentences are recycled. Perhaps with my work the first stumbling block is ‘genre’. I’m not sure poets write in ‘genres’ …I like work that sits between genres and disciplines and I’m interested in wearing a word like ‘poet’ and making it mean something a little different than it did a hundred years ago.  But basically I like playing with words and the sounds of them, so that makes me a very typical kind of poet.

Why do I write what I do?

I write about things that I find interesting, or disturbing or shocking, or that I don’t understand….or maybe just because I enjoy playing with sound… I don’t tend to write from personal experience. Perhaps I need a bit of distance.

Someone once described a poem to me, it was an idea of a poem, and I can’t remember the exact description, just a sense that words would morph into new words and meanings would be broken up and transformed and then come back together again. I often try to write that poem.

At the moment I’m working with Fifty Shades of Grey (that book about a virgin who doesn’t want to be hit) because reading it makes me feel very sad and I only almost know why. I’m working with Kathy Acker’s novel because when I discovered her books in Dartington library years ago they were unlike anything I’d ever read, and I was really excited by her work in spite of (or because of) the lack of coherent narrative. I remember sitting somewhere strange and reading it. Behind something, on the floor, like it was illegal. Probably because I was supposed to be stacking shelves at the time. For a couple of years I wrote like her, now I’ve shaken her off so I think I’m ready to let her in again.

How does my writing process work?


I’ve never been very interested in when or where or with what when it comes to writing. But. That all changed when I got an hourglass (leftover prop from Sadie Jones tour). So, what I do now, is kill my internet connection through MAC Freedom. I realise it is pathetic that I paid £7 for willpower but best £7 I ever spent. Then I turn the hourglass and force myself to work for an hour. After that I get a cup of tea. In terms of the actual writing….I have many ways around it….I spend some time copying and cutting and pasting…I get some words on a screen and then see if I can make other words out of them…I explore sounds out loud and it makes me happy when a word  transforms into another, sometimes I think of writing as composing and I make poems out loud, using a loop pedal to layer sounds and words and meanings. I like the way the loop pedal interferes with linearity. With playwriting it’s a bit more organised and I have to make myself play difficult games with structure and narrative. Recently I’ve tended to splurge a mess of text that comes from various places but explores a particular problem…then I enlist David Lane to help me see it more objectively and organise my thoughts. Occasionally I’ll just sit down and write a poem.

organising splurge with David Lane

organising splurge with David Lane


I’m tagging two poets who I don’t know lots about but want to know more: Andra Simons who I met for the first time at a recent event for Archive of the Now. He’s a Burmudian poet based in London and his work tips into visual art and performance art and sound poetry. I’ll host his responses here. I also tag Emma Bennett who is pretty cool and can make her voice into birdsong….go to her website and have a listen. 


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A pack of cards

Conversation with John Hall

Part II

'You don't know me' by John Hall, in Shearsman Gallery

‘You don’t know me’ by John Hall
Shearsman Gallery

JOHN HALL: On the topic of variation, of the sequence, is a collaboration with a poet called Lee Harwood. A pack of 52 cards, we had them in the exhibition four years ago, they were not yet cards – they were framed, dotted around. We tried to defeat any possibility of reading in a given order. The idea is that you shuffle, you play games.

On one occasion I did a reading at Dartington with a camera, which was set up over a lectern, where we laid the cards.Basically the rules were: if you and I were playing, the only decision we have to make, from our four cards, is which one follows what you just read. So you’re making those sequence judgements from that basis. You could discard a card and pick up a new one. It struck me as being far more interesting if you could catch the audience out in counter judgements, so we had the camera over the two hands.

HS: Are these cards going to be made?

JH: It looks likely now, but it’s been terribly difficult. It’s easy to get cards made if you want 30,000 – the unit cost is cheap, but as far as I can see it’s the classic small press dilemma. There’s a production process, you’ve got to pack them, they’ve got to be treated, rounded corners, all of that. There’s a guy called Nicolai Duffy from ‘Like This’ press, he reckons he can do them.

HS: I’ll buy them, use them with my students.

Going back to your visual work, I’m just going to mention, it’s funny because to me those works, not just yours, but in general I always think they are the best poems for performance; of course you can’t represent what it looks like on the page in performance, but the way in which the poet has chosen to lay out and order the words, gives the performer so much to work with, space and distance between letters and order to play with, it seems to me more performative than a poem that’s laid out in the conventional way.

JH: I’d not thought about that next step. I agree they are performing on the page, but if anyone’s going to take them on they would have to have a sense of what they are doing.

HS: One of the reasons I like working with a loop pedal is that it starts to get rid of linear writing, of linear ways through a text. If you’re playing with a non-linear text you can work with many options, you can play with repetition and placement of words and different connections between lines.

JH: I do like that idea…It seems to me that any very short text, if you’re not going to say ‘OK I’ve got it’ – if you’ve not exhausted it in a single reading – then your brain introduces a loop pedal. It sets up a loop – this is speculative, I haven’t done laboratory texts. When you’re reading off a page the eye has got these saccadic movements, you’re seeing a bit ahead all the time. So what do you do with these tinies – pieces that are only a sentence or a word of even just a letter.

HS: When you work with a short piece in that way you’re constructing a line in a musical sense. It’s like reading a musical score, a basic motif and then improvising on it, so you are thinking ahead in a similar way to how we read but it’s different because you’re thinking ahead musically, and playing with the layers.

JH: It’s a troublesome term, if you use it loosely, because what’s generally meant when we talk, in poetry, about using language in a ‘musical’ mode is that the sound properties of a word are urgent or instrumental. Even with poems that forego end rhymes and metrication there are normally some principles of repetition of sound pattern going on. The interesting thing for me is there is something in skipping ahead, not just the eye, but bodily, where is this rhythm going? The pleasure is between when it does and it doesn’t. It’s doing that because it’s setting up memory of earlier bits of repetition. You are exaggerating that need, that sense-making, the echo effect, with a loop. Something that has disappeared because it is finished comes back into play, sets up expectations…end rhymes are classic, that infantile and enjoyable game, getting everyone to expect an obscene rhyme and then avoid it.

End of Part II.

[Part III is the meatiest of the parts and explores what John Hall means by the ‘minimal performance mode’]

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On Visual Poetry

Conversation with John Hall

Part one

by John Hall in Shearsman Gallery

from An Alphabet for else here by John Hall in Shearsman Gallery

HANNAH SILVA  presses record.

– I like the way that was a performic moment, signalling the start
– Yes, that was the drink before the performance. Now we’ve opened the doors.
– So I have to take my jacket off if we’ve started.

JOHN HALL takes of his jacket.


Hannah Silva: I went to the exhibition of your work at Peninsula Arts a few years ago. Your visual work seemed very sound focused, or maybe it’s exploring the way the words look and how you can find words within another word visually. Perhaps I associate that with sound as it’s close to what I do out loud.

John Hall: It seems to me, that fragmenting of very few letters and so on relies on people sounding them. I don’t think it’s possible for those of us brought up with an alphabetic writing system, not to.

HS: You make the page a place of performance, and a collaboration with the reader, the way in which you place words, allows the reader to read them in different ways – vertically, horizontally, across, to look for words within the words. Do you think of those pieces as performances on the page?


JH: If we see any rectangle as being page-like, then the question becomes, do we see every page as being a visual frame and I think the answer to those questions is different, I suspect, because they are different modes of reading. There’s a mode of reading that you can trigger as a writer, that says ‘this page actually counts, it’s not just a convenience to get through to get to the next one, it is an entity.’ Interestingly enough that’s a very strong factor in the lyric poem tradition.

If you think of those of your poems that can have an equal life written down and sounded, do most of them fit on a single page or a single spread?

HS: A lot of them do, and we work within that. As soon as you start turning a page it interferes with the writing, it changes it.

JH: It changes it and I don’t know about you but if I’m reading a poem that is obviously continuous I will flick through to see how long it is before I start, because I want that sense of what the duration is. Where am I going in this projection?

I think it’s an interesting question, and I think it’s a question for readers more than writers, although what I’m saying is that writers can encourage reading to take certain directions in that respect. As soon as you draw attention to typography, you’re invoking something about paging.

HS: It’s the opposite to what fiction writers talk about … Fiction writers often say if the reader is aware of the language, is aware that writing is happening, then the writing has failed. The reader shouldn’t be aware of the way language is being constructed, and that there is an author behind it. Which is really the opposite of what you’re doing…you’re making that surface visible.

JH: Which has been happening in different modernist art forms for a century now. At least. To Mallarmé, and much earlier. It leads to what Roland Barthes would describe as the ‘readerly text’, where you’re up against resistance of the text. I think there’s an interesting distinction there between fiction writers, a form where plot is very important, thrillers for instance, who don’t want people to delay on the text: they might find flaws in the logic of the plot.

HS: Thriller writers always want to avoid being poetic, they want short punchy sentences and to get straight to the action, ‘leave out the bits that the reader skips’ etc.

JH: I haven’t read many but the ones I’ve enjoyed are “poetic”.

HS: I haven’t read many poetic thrillers…

JH: Raymond Chandler … if you’ve got mild flu and don’t want anything heavy try Raymond Chandler.

HS: I don’t think I’d need flu for that.

JH: And I say that not because it’s poetic in the sense of purple passages, it’s just that, there’s a mode, a genre of thriller, there’s a wise cracking, hard bitten mode that draws attention to the writing.

HS: The dialogue often does. The fiction example is extreme but I think there is an equivalent in poetry, with different traditions of poetry, that one tradition, mainstream or whatever will focus on meaning and ideas and emotion, and mistrust work that appears to be ‘clever’ – not my word. There is this idea that if you are playing with language, first perhaps, or alongside meaning, that you are trying to be clever, somehow sacrificing the heart…

JH: Authenticity

HS: Yes

JH: Absolutely. One of the things that interests me in the visual, because visual pieces are most of them by their nature really short, is that you are always having to deal with that extraordinarily difficult formal moment in any time-based art form which is the end. How do you get out of this? Part of it has no end, but it’s got to be finished. Even in essays, I find endings incredibly difficult.

HS: They are the thing you can’t get away from. But when you have work that is so short, it’s as much a beginning as it is an ending, in one.

JH: Absolutely. I’m guessing that for many, one of the features of the conventional lyric is that there’s a narrative moment. An anecdote that provides grounds for noble thought, and where does the noble thought come? At the end. It’s like the moral. That is the form, and obviously prosodically, rhythmically and so on it really has to finish. The lovely elegiac ending, the kind that a popular movie that’s ‘serious’, really goes in for.


HS: If you’re working in a gallery for instance, with your exhibition, then the audience experience is that of walking into a space and out of a space; the ending is as they leave the space. That’s a different way of constructing the reader’s experience, you don’t need to begin, middle and end within one piece; you’re doing it through the whole experience.

JH: And you might actually want to defeat it. I assume if we had the curator of that exhibition here with us, Hannah Jones, she could talk about that. It seems to me that’s curating, just like supermarket design. Do you organise the space so it’s full of options, so that there’s no obvious route, or is it like a busy Tate, one where they want you travelling through, and you know when you’re going against traffic. Visual space is organised in a way in which sequence of perception is notionally optional.

Any kind of life urgency cuts through that. If suddenly somebody screamed for real, that wouldn’t be optional, we would leap to it. But otherwise, even with the organisation of perception, the way the ear-brain works, we can select. We could have been distracted by all of these sounds around us but there’s a simultaneity of the visual field that gives us options. Whereas you, in your performance work, the liveness is there, it’s operating on a time signature that isn’t the audience’s. The audience has to adjust to it, and will either adjust or not, they’ll either live it out, or want you to hurry up.

HS: Yes, work out loud, in performance, has its linear time – its tempo, its ending.

JH: All of the features of temporality.

End of Part One

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About as avant-garde as I get…

Improvising with a loop pedal and layers of talks/live writing from Steven Fowler, Nathan Jones and me…Manchester Weekender, Cornerhouse, Oct 13th

p.s Don’t be put off. Opposition is quite accessible and entertaining.

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Opposition @PulseFringe

Last week I went back to Suffolk (where I grew up) to perform Opposition at Pulse Fringe Festival, The New Wolsey Theatre.

I was a bit nervous about taking Opposition to Pulse, because I tour it on my own now, and it’s a pretty tech-heavy show. But actually we finished our tech early. There was a great team. The sound was possibly the best it’s been. Also a great audience, sold out, or very nearly. And my parents got to see it at last (quite encouraging during the performance to be able to pick out their laughter). And I loved performing in a larger space than I can usually get –being able to project my voice and body properly. It’s a big show, my big idea – David – and we do big things – Barrack – best in big spaces, because we are at our best when we are boldest – Tony.

Finally….I managed to get the show filmed. So I’ve got rid of that old youtube clip from the preview a year ago as it was too long and I’ve re-developed the show since. Here’s my new trailer. Not perfect I know – it’s a DIY job – also…with a trailer….thought maybe I shouldn’t give away all the best bits …

One of the new sections works with that Ed Miliband public sector strikes interview loop. I added it after the interview was referenced by a couple of reviewers of Opposition at Edinburgh last year – Lizzie Stewart at the Skinny, and Tom Chivers, Hand and Star. – The Charlie Brooker feature.

…there are some great comments about the Pulse show online.

What’s on Stage came, got an amazing review from them in Edinburgh so was a little nervous but all very good, I’m chuffed (although with my name spelled wrong it weirdly makes me feel like it’s not me she is talking about…):

The whirlwind of energy which is Hanna Silva, a deliberately androgynous figure in a well-tailored business suit, grabs the audience’s attention from start to finish…Silva pours out her torrent of words often while performing an extremely energetic and acrobatic sort of obbligato to what is being said. If I was asked to name my top show from all those I’ve seen this year at Pulse, this would be a very strong contender.

And Suzanne Hawkes from ‘one suffolk’ said it was –

A tour de force of a performance – if at times a bit like spending an hour in the mad house.

I know what she means.

Pulse is a great festival. Wish I could have spent more time there, and hope I get to go again…

Read more about the festival on Catherine Love’s blog…


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A celebration of contemporary avant-garde poetry

Contemporary poets in collaboration


The Maintenant Camarade series brings the UK’s most formidable and innovative literary poets and art writers together in collaboration for a wholly original night of cutting edge contemporary poetry.

The 11th event in the Maintenant series will be a unique celebration of European avant-garde poetry, bringing Sound & Visual poets together from all over the continent in collaborative performances and a free artfair for a wholly original night of cutting edge contemporary poetry.

Free facsimiles of concrete and visual poetry will be available from stalls manned by the poets and artists, while performances from the world of both poetry and music intersperse the evening. Hungarian Marton Koppany features alongside the likes of Holly Pester, Hannah Silva, David Berridge, Patrick Coyle, Tamarin Norwood, Ben Morris, Greg Thomas and many others.


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Here’s a recording of Prosthetics, the piece I performed at Bristol Ferment Festival the other day:

& here’s another part of what I performed…be patient as it starts quiet…or just fast forward the first bit….: Citadel

Hopefully I’ll find a video maker to collaborate with on developing the work over the next months…let me know if you know anyone…

And here’s a pic of Chloe Langford and I performing ‘Different Kind’ in Germany many years ago…photo by Michael Hayden

Chloe Langford & Hannah Silva


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