Notes and sketches: interview practice (self)

There was a time, a pivotal time. She can no longer recall how it came to be. Did she feel the momentum? She felt the moment.

The moment was marked. It was signified. A decision to step away, step back, step beyond an identity she had. It is now no longer possible for her to remember where the identity came from – she may have created it, it may have been given to her – anyway she couldn’t help but be it. She still has it, wears it in public.

But today, in this moment, she is going to betray it. She is going to respond to something else, something alien, a different space, a different possibility of being.

She steps back from the noise, the shrieks, the movement, the colour into the silent, shaded tile-dark Gothic corridor and begins to walk – step by step, echo by echo – until she reaches the large wooden door.

She stops for a second to reconcile her difference. From here there is no other way forward, only back.

She knocks. A discernible silencing of the mannered murmur behind the door. A long pause, hollow in the doomy corridor….

The door opens; a teacher’s face appears; a teacher’s gaze appraises her.

“Can I speak to Mrs. Higson?” She can’t resist the edge of defiance in her voice, though she can hear it.

The door closes. Time passes. The door opens. Mrs. Higson – transgressed by possession of a steaming mug, a half-eaten biscuit and a crumb on her cheek – regarding her silently, quizzically, commandingly.

“I wrote a poem for the school magazine”, she says.

Mrs. Higson’s eyes widen, but she holds her face together – just. Wordlessly she holds out her hand, takes the paper, acknowledges it, nods, closes the door.

She’s done it.

She stands for longer than she should, breathing – long enough to hear the surprise crescendo behind the door.

She moves away.

The space closes behind her, its residue in print, on a page, in a school magazine from 1977 that she keeps in a box somewhere, in a room, behind a door.

©Kyra Pollitt 2015


Notes and sketches: random scribble

frailty of spine

discarding calipers

for being calipers

lacking

brace

©Kyra Pollitt 2015


Notes and sketches: thinking about connections

Having no one to play with on a warm May night…

Let the candles feel the air, wallow

in soft longing just overly

wrinkling into dreams and seeing

now

unearthed my feet

I’m so far off, upside round and dangling like

99 went by and one was left behind…

Catch my hand, catch my skirts,

gather me all in,

wind me, entwine me…

Take me down, and soon

to follow

the blindly braven

braying fortunes in newly-houred streets, playing

keepy-uppy with the moon

Copyright @ 2015 Kyra Pollitt


Notes and sketches: practising telling

The Night We Knew For Sure…

Jacqui reached into the wooden cabinet and rescued a bottle of Captain’s Reserve – a fine St. Lucian label. We vowed to sail the seas together.

The bottle moved freely between us. We laughed, and smiled, and told….

David saw that we had drifted free of our moorings. Co-ordinating our position, his flickering fingers conjured a sparkling Caribbean sea.

Later still, each of us using a palm to steady our wavy vision, we noticed we had become pirates.

We laughed heartily, and poured another round.

Copyright@2015 Kyra Pollitt


The turn to [w]righting

I loved the PhD process – it felt like the best kind of holiday. But the post-doc slump was a limbo where potential only served to paralyze.

I spent three years labouring to construct new paths, only to dither at my own crossroads, punchdrunk and confused. Everyone knows you meet the devil at the crossroads if you hang around there too long.

The recent UK election results were a slap in the face though, weren’t they?

A wake-up. A call to arms.

I’d love to be mistaken, but I have a sense that I’m about to witness the dissolution of many things I hold dear to my homeland, my landscape, my reality.

So what can I do?

I can write. I’ve always written. I’ve never not been able to write.

But I have always taken it for granted.

After the PhD, I trained as an English teacher and have spent time volunteering in classrooms with teenagers and adults who are learning English. They are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met. Their stories are inspirational – how brave must you be to leave everything, and perhaps everyone you have loved and begin again in a new and distant unknown?

How inspiring when a thirty year old woman who has never had the opportunity to be literate in any language struggles through her first formal lesson, returning the following week having diligently conquered not only the manipulation of a pencil but all the letters of our Roman alphabet. How not to shed a tear watching her quietly and proudly score full marks in the spelling test?

So now I see the privilege and the power of writing. But how to use it?

I asked a professional writer I met lately. She told me, ‘You have to be selfish to be a writer. You start with competitions online; that’s how you get into it’.

I didn’t have to think about this much to know this is not my kind of practice.

Then I found myself working in a wonderful, integrated but temporary environment. It feels both entirely natural and starkly unusual to work in this little utopia, in this company of people that properly represent the diversity of our society. We are working on a piece about transformation.

It was when I was pouring tea and affirming – “Yes, yes. We must give voice’.

So that’s it then.

This is what I can do. So I will do it. I will gather stories and give witness.

I can use all my scholarship; the languages I have learned, the linguistics I have studied, my Social History degree. I can use the decades of translating and interpreting, the years spent lending my voice to others.

Isn’t this ‘translation art’, after all?

I can use all I learned at CeNTraL (the Centre for Narratives and Transformative Learning) from wonderful women like Jane Speedy, Susanne Gannon and Tami Spry; the Writing as Inquiry, the Narrative Interviewing, the Collective Biography, the Auto-ethnography.

I will wrangle with words until I am a wordwright. I will write, so the weight of the words may help right the imbalances in our homeland, our landscape, our reality.

Nana Froufrou does [w]righting.

So now I’m packing my pencil and heading out. It may take time to develop this practice, but I’ll keep you posted with notes and sketches and voices….

Copyright@2015 Kyra Pollitt


The stars are the map

I recently completed a short residency at the Scottish Poetry Library, and produced this short (3 minute) film poem. The film debuted at the 30 years’ celebration of the Scottish Poetry Library that was held during the Edinburgh International Book Festival this summer.

The text below explains the film and the process of making it, and was read at a recent cross-disciplinary discussion of the work, which took place at Hugh Miller’s Cottage in Cromarty.

The Scottish Poetry Library’s own blog pages list further upcoming Scottish screenings. Meanwhile the film is circulating through deaf communities via social media.

I’m hoping to get the film screened at some deaf festivals and various other places. If you’d like to screen the film, please get in touch.

The film is a work of translation art; a synthesis of voices, languages, and perspectives crystallising around a remarkable journey.

It was made for the Scottish Poetry Library during a short residency, funded by Creative Scotland and the National Lottery (as part of the PEP programme), with the aim of extending the Library’s reach to communities beyond its existing demographic.

Having just completed a PhD by research into sign language poetry – that is poetry that is created in a natural sign language – I wanted to bring sign language poetry to the Library’s collection and to introduce these poetic communities to each other.

At this point it is probably important to dispel a few myths.

British Sign Language is one of Scotland’s indigenous languages. It is not, however, merely a pantomimic version of English. Much scholarly work over the past half century has determined that British Sign Language is a unique and intriguing language. It can compound, much like German, uses classifiers much like Swahili or Hebrew, has a mainly Subject-Object-Verb syntax- unlike English- and so on.

As part of the residency, the Library’s staff were given awareness training, introduced to British Sign Language, to Scotland’s deaf communities, and to the basics of poetry created in a sign language. Most of this behind-the-scenes work was completed before the film was made. In addition the Library held an evening of sign language poetry performances, and a workshop for aspiring Scottish sign language poets led by eminent practitioner, Paul Scott.

In many ways, then, the making of the film marked the end of one journey and the beginning of another; the end of my residency and the beginning of the Library’s new relationship with sign language poetry.

The original proposal for the film – entitled ‘A Vispo Billboard for the Scottish Poetry Library’ –  grew to envision two short films that could be projected onto public buildings in Scotland.The idea was to create two companion pieces- one which took a sign language poem as a source text, the other which worked from a poem by a published Scottish author. Both pieces would be made accessible to both communities.

The subject of each piece was carefully considered, with the intention of offering both communities an insight into each others’ cultures and allowing these communities to speak to each other through poetry.

Gerry Hughes’ solo circumnavigation of the globe via the five great capes was a feat later recognised with an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow. But at the banquet held in the weeks following the sailor’s safe return Gary Quinn – in the true bardic tradition of British Sign Language poetry – honoured Gerry in verse.

Gary’s original poem witnessed Gerry’s life, his struggles, his determination and his triumph in a full fifteen minutes of flowing creativity.

In the year that passed between its first performance and the making of this film, Gary had been asked to recite the poem so many times he was grateful for the opportunity to commit it to record, despite the necessary dramatic reduction in its length. A kind and generous soul, Gary took news of each further cut squarely on the chin, acquiescing with a gentle nod of his head.

Gerry Hughes lent his support by generously allowing us access to his personal photographs.

Securing the BSL source poem was merely the first step, however. The question remained of how to translate the poem, and how to demonstrate some of the beauty of its poetic form. Gary’s piece, like most BSL poetry, takes its language beyond the everyday, creating arrestingly unusual and beautiful images.

Of course the Scottish Poetry Library famously holds the Edwin Morgan Archive, and in honour of his work I wanted to allow any translation to ‘emerge’, rather than seeking a more direct or literal linguistic translation. And after two decades of working as an interpreter and translator it is the inevitable spaces between languages that interest me – the gaps that are filled with our cultures, our selves, our imaginations.

Enter Christine da Luca.

The Edinburgh Makar greeted the idea of this project with honest excitement. To start the ball rolling, she and I looked over the rough edit of Gary’s poem and discussed the loosely descriptive content notes I had provided. I pointed out particularly creative lexemes and phrases and explained the significance of Gary’s poetics from a BSL perspective.

Over a Skype connection between Lothian and Shetland we giggled as her own poetic imagination conjured words that captured Gary’s metaphors and laced his work with her own fingerprints. A new work ‘emerged’.

And Christine did her homework; researching all she could of Gerry’s journey she noted those in whose wake he had sailed (‘Odysseus, Chichester’), alongside the facts of his voyage (‘8 months, 32000 miles’).

In her native Shetlandic, the flow of the verse changed again – eddies catching around yet other moments (‘smeddum’, ‘aber, foo o sea stories’).

The results were no more a set of literal translations than Gary’s original verse was a literal translation of Gerry’s journey.

Yet despite Christine’s beautiful texts, the majority of people coming to this film BSL would still find the niceties of the BSL difficult to appreciate. An audience might need further guidance to unlock some of the BSL poem’s visual treasures.

David Bell’s kinetic typography, therefore, represents yet another layer of translation.

As we sat in his Appleton Towers office, in Edinburgh University, I explained the significance and particular beauty of Gary’s expressions, handshapes, movements, tempos and spatial placings whilst David harnessed his technical and artistic abilities to bend Christine’s English to the service of these properties.

The technicalities required a little further editing of the source (BSL) poem.

In the final, finished version, you will find elements in the Shetlandic that are not fully represented in either the English or the BSL, elements of the BSL that escape both written (or spoken) languages and so on. I hope, too, that you will find different elements of beauty in each.

The languages and translations of the film do not exactly echo each other, but sometimes follow each other, sometimes travel alongside each other, sometimes cross paths and sometimes divert around the invisible obstacles of language, culture and modality.

I had wanted to make a piece that placed BSL – one of Scotland’s indigenous languages – alongside some of its siblings, that demonstrated how these languages live alongside each other everyday, forming the rich weave that is Scotland.

And I had wanted to create work that might in some way allow those who do not sign to begin to encounter the beauty of sign language poetry.

Sadly the second piece, which would have seen a work of Christine’s translated into BSL, remains on the drawing board. But perhaps its time will come.


A strange urge

I recently popped into Bristol’s Arnolfini to immerse myself in the brilliant Table of Contents: ‘a durational movement installation co-created by Siobhan Davies, Andrea Buckley, Helka Kaski, Rachel Krische, and Matthias Sperling, each using their own history as a choreographer and performer to question how dance is archived.’

This was a wonderful series of pieces performed interactively with the public; each dancer taking it in turns to lead or direct a work. Amongst these glittering gems a very simple piece caught my imagination.

The dancers each invited a member of the audience to work in partnership with them. Each dancer then laid down on the floor. Their partner simply had to instruct their dancer to stand up, movement by movement. The dancers were very reasonable, but very disciplined in following their instructions precisely.

The difficulty of this simple task quickly became clear, with dancers contorted into all sorts of unsustainable shapes.

The piece succinctly demonstrated the limits of spoken language, of logos.

Yet I couldn’t help musing that if the partners had been able to give instruction through any natural sign language, the task would have been achieved quickly and efficiently.

Australian scholar Dorothea Cogill-Koez has argued that the elements of sign languages known as ‘classifier predicates’ are remarkably similar to ‘typical systems of visual representation’, such that sign languages use ‘two equally important channels for conveying explicit propositional information, the linguistic and the visual’. Although I disagree with some of the further detail of her argument, that sign languages do not always have to rely on the linguistic to communicate information was a premise of my own doctoral study.

Because sign languages can visually represent the physical acts involved in standing up, the communication would have been conveyed much more easily, the dancers spared their agonies.

But more than that sign languages are languages that are inscribed through the body; they are body-conscious languages operating through, around and in relation to the body. Sign language helps me to locate emotions and sensations in my body, to read them in others, and it provides a physically-centred orientation in the world. What was so striking about the struggling speakers at the Arnolfini was how very dis-embodied their speech was.

So why did we ever adopt it as a form of communication? What were the evolutionary advantages to the urge to speak?

Although deaf people are often very noisy signing can be a remarkably quiet form of communication (good for hunting), and is much more efficient across distance. It is very useful in noisy environments, too. The only advantage speech offers, as far as I can see, is that it can be used in the dark (although in one’s humble opinion using sign to communicate on the body of another in intimate situations is far preferable).

So did humans find a sudden need to hunt only at night? When did all the lights go out?

Isn’t it time we switched them back on so we could all see each other more clearly?


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