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

Monday 8 November at 7.30pm on Zoom

Private Memorial Event: ‘A Celebration of the Life and Work of Richard Stoker (1938-2021), British composer’

Many of you will have attended past in-words events held in cooperation with Gill Stoker. I am deeply touched that she has asked me to host a memorial event to remember and celebrate her husband Richard on what would have been his next birthday.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Stoker

This event is by invitation only.
If you knew Richard, or know his music, and would like to attend, please email gillstoker@btinternet.com for further details.

Thursday 25 November at 7.30 on Zoom

WINDOWS‘ – An evening of poetry with Isabel Bermudez, Maggie Butt, David Cooke and Dino Mahoney.

Why ‘Windows’? Because for an hour or so, we will have the privilege of looking through different windows at views and images, places and atmospheres presented to us by four very different voices. But also to honour The High Window, the online poetry magazine edited by David Cooke.

This is a free event by invitation. Please email irena@in-words.co.uk to receive a zoom link nearer the time.

ISABEL BERMUDEZ is a poet and textile artist living in Orpington, Kent. Her most recent publication is Serenade (Paekakariki Press, 2020), poems evoking Spain and the New World,  with illustrations by Simon Turvey. She performs her poetry widely at readings and festivals and was recently hosted by the Colombian Embassy and the Instituto Cervantes, Manchester in conversation with Welsh poet and translator, Richard Gwyn. In a previous life she lived and worked as a producer/director in television in Sri Lanka and as a documentary filmmaker in Colombia. She has held many jobs, including grape picker in France, shop assistant and special correspondent, and for the past fifteen years has taught French and Spanish privately. More at www.isabel-bermudez.com.

MAGGIE BUTT is a journalist and BBC documentary producer, turned poet and novelist. Her sixth full collection everlove was published by The London Magazine Editions in April 2021 and her novel The Prisoner’s Wife was published around the world in 2020 by Penguin Random House under her maiden name Maggie Brookes. Her poetry appears widely in international magazines and anthologies, and has escaped the page into a mobile phone app, choreography, BBC Radio 4, readings, film-poems and festivals. She has judged a number of international poetry competitions and taught creative writing at Middlesex University for 30 years.

DAVID COOKE was born in Wokingham, although his family comes from the West of Ireland. While still an undergraduate, he won a Gregory Award and since then his poems and reviews have appeared in many journals in the UK, Ireland and beyond: Agenda, Ambit, The Cortland Review, The Interpreter’s House, The Irish Times, The London Magazine, Magma, The Manhattan Review, The Morning Star, The North, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Salzburg Review and Stand. He has also published eight collections, the latest of which is Sicilian Elephants (Two Rivers Press. 2021).He is the founder and editor of the online poetry journal The High Window.

KONSTANDINOS (DINO) MAHONEY is a London based poet of Greek-Irish-English heritage. He won the 2017 Poetry Society Stanza Competition with his poem, ‘Dr Mirabilis and the Brass Wall That Will Save England,’ which is included in Tutti Frutti, his debut SPM collection.  He has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and has poems published in: The High Window, London GripButcher’s Dog, Perverse, Tentacular, Live Canon Anthologies, New European. He performs his poems as songs with Dino & the Diamonds, and teaches creative writing at Hong Kong University.  More info at dinomahoney.co.uk