At First Sight: floating islands, floating lands

in-words’ first-ever event at the British Library played in front a full room on the evening when people could easily have dropped out to watch football or tennis… And we were all treated to an evening of storytelling, poetry and music from voices and sounds from England and Oceania, highlighting issues raised by the voyages of James Cook (the subject of an excellent exhibition at the British Library)

Vanessa Lee Miller – poet, journalist, playwright from Hawaii was the force behind the project, and her enthusiasm, grace and perseverance ensured the participation and support of many diverse creatives. Her own beautiful poem, recited in English and then read in Hawaiian, and her evocative short end-poem focused appropriately on water: fresh water as source of life and death and the ocean penetrating a bay haunted, according to local legend, by Cook’s spirit in the shape of a great white shark. I am truly grateful to her for involving me in this exciting project. I learnt so much working on it!

We had live music played on many instruments collected, and in some cases constructed by Giles Leaman, from a didgeridoo to percussion to the smallest whistle, providing the mood for the readings – eerie, martial, gentle and always evocative.

Rich Sylvester’s story followed the young James Cook getting his sealegs and fulfilling his passion for mapping and cartography, and had us spellbound as it recounted his encounters with Oceanic peoples and the blunders and heavy handed attitudes and responses that led to the killing of many indigenous men, the abuse of many women and ultimately to his own demise in Hawaii.

Rich was also the voice of Cook in the reading of the final pages of Cook in the Underworld, a long poem/libretto by Maori poet Robert Sullivan (b.1967). The part of Orpheus was read by Crystal Te Moananui-Squares, photographer and member of the Interisland Collective of Maori/New Zealand descent, and the ‘judge’ was Jo Walsh, a London-based artist and Pacific Arts Producer of Maori/Scottish ancestry.

Sara Taukolonga, a freelance journalist and performance artist of Tongan/Latvian Jewish descent, read a poem written by the longest-reigning queen of Tonga, Queen Salote Tupou III (1918-1965), translated into English by Sara herself, who then sang it in Tongan, accompanied on guitar by her brother David.

Australian Rhys Feeney gave a sharp and painfully accurate potted history of the Aboriginal People and of the contemptuous disregard for their status as human beings by the colonial powers since 1770, and ended his performance with a cutting poem by Australian poet Steven Oliver.

I know I’m biased, but I feel really happy to have been part of this. My thanks to all the participants, the audience and to Jonah Albert and Steven Gale of the Cultural Events Department at the British Library for giving Vanessa and me the space and time to produce this wonderful and moving evening.

Sadly, no one was available to record it in video or photographs…

Events

February 4

West Greenwich Library
146 Greenwich High Rd, London SE10 8NN

UNIVERSITY POETRY CHALLENGE
Blake Morrison and Cherry Smyth will introduce students from Goldsmiths and University of Greenwich respectively to showcase their poetry-writing skills. With the participation of poet Sascha Akhtar.

Door opens at 6.30 for a 6.45 start. All welcome.

February 25

West Greenwich Library,
146 Greenwich High Rd, London SE10 8NN

WRITING DOWN DEEP
Jan Fortune of Cinnamon Press will launch her own book, Writing Down Deep, grown from her blog on writing. Not a how-to, but a volume rich with ideas, exercises and reflections.

Door opens at 7 for a 7.30 start. All welcome

March 10 – POSTPONED UNTIL SEPTEMBER

Graham Fawcett‘s lecture/performance on American poet Elizabeth Bishop.

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) is not widely known in this country. Unaccountably so, given her profound and varied output, her literary prizes and her interesting life.

But for a true insight and some wonderful readings, do come to Graham’s talk with the wonderful Sue Aldred as second reading voice. Plenty of time to whet your appetite by reading up on Bishop…

Venue to be confirmed.

March 24

West Greenwich Library,
146 Greenwich High Rd, London SE10 8NN

Two poets bringing their voices from further afield: Omar Sabbath – British Lebanese living in Dubai, and Edward Ragg, who lives in China.

Door opens at 7 for a 7.30 start. All welcome

April 28

West Greenwich Library,
146 Greenwich High Rd, London SE10 8NN

TWO GIRLS AND A BEEHIVE
Rosie Jackson and Graham Burchell will launch Two Girls and a Beehive, their collaborative collection of poems, due to be published by Two Rivers Press (Reading) earlier that month. The poems follow the life and explore much of the work of visionary artist Stanley Spencer, as well as giving voice to his complex personal life and the relative invisibility of artist Hilda Carline, his first wife.

Door opens at 7 for a 7.30 start. All welcome

May 12

West Greenwich Library,
146 Greenwich High Rd, London SE10 8NN

Readings by the wonderful Chrissie Gittins and Wendy French

Door opens at 7 for a 7.30 start. All welcome

June 23

West Greenwich Library,
146 Greenwich High Rd, London SE10 8NN

NIGHT WATCHED
Celebrating the Solstice with Graham High‘s poetic look at the Astronomers Royal, plus other poets bringing us their take on the night skies…

Door opens at 7 for a 7.30 start. All welcome