Our fabulous live pianist Tim Balnaves used the architecture of these three iconic Birmingham buildings when scoring his accompaniments to our poems, how cool is that!
By Lorna Meehan
Directing poetry from an actor’s point of view has been really interesting for me in terms of noticing the difference in delivery when a poet is in front of a mic in a setting they’re familiar with and the possibilities it opens up when you take the mic away. Something I’ve said to everyone at some point this week, as well as bearing in mind for myself is ‘slow it down, let it breathe’. As poets, we can get so use to reeling our poem off we can forget the feeling behind it, the reason we wrote it, it’s sense of pace and narrative. It’s been really satisfying to find moments in each poem where the audience can get invited in to the world of the poem as well as the words. We’ve experimented with finding the perfect middle ground between just the poet and the words and all out theatricality and the result is an atmospheric experience where the performance and the poem are hitting all the right notes. It’s also been great to be able to nudge the poets out of their comfort zones and get them to try something different to colour their default delivery style. It’s been great to see how surprised they are with the results and how much can happen just by taking the traditional prop out of the scenario and giving the poets the added element of physical space in which to bring their work to life in a different way.
Today is the big day so we’d like to say a big thank you to Arts Council England, Apples and Snakes West Midlands and everyone who pledged to Crowdfunder and made Ten Letters possible:
Jo Harvey Wilcox
Ian Gilgamesh Hurlston
When I was asked to be involved in the Ten Letters project I was delighted. It sounded like such a great idea. At the first meeting I was blown away by the talent on display and the ideas that the other poets had for writing about their city. It was truly inspiring. I’m originally from Wolverhampton not Birmingham, although I work in a Brum a fair bit and travel through it fairly often on my narrow boat. If I’m honest I sometimes get a bit overwhelmed by the crowds, traffic and the height of the buildings, that’s not to say I’m not impressed because I am. It was that feeling that gave me the starting point for my poem. I then developed the idea a little further by linking in with the idea of a ‘Greater Birmingham’ that has been lurking around in recent times. The ‘voice’ in my poem is that of an area outside Birmingham that’s a little bit fearful of losing its identity to its rather flamboyant neighbour. I’m currently pounding the tow paths trying to learn the piece, frightening dog walkers and boaters alike. So if you see a woman down the cut with a slightly demented expression who appears to be talking to herself in a very broad accent, then do stop and say hello 🙂
So my friend Spoz told me about this idea he’d had knocking around since a poetry trip to Chicago where they got asked to write poetry about your city. This prompted me to write my own and before you know it, poets we knew were coincidentally coming out with Birmingham poems. That’s when you know you’ve tapped into something!
So we got our funding and ‘Ten Letters’ is happening and I’m seriously impressed by the writing that our fantastically talented group of poets have come up with so far. The poetry isn’t always celebratory, its challenging, topical, subversive, nostalgic, playful and breath-taking, all the things a city can encapsulate. This idea of a physical city being personified through words is something that each poet has tapped into in their own way and the combination of these poets on stage promises to be an electrifying experience.
It also marks my début as a poetry theatre director. Having either directed theatre or self directed my own poetry work, it’s going to be an interesting and challenging experience directing a group of poets, some of whom have acting experience, others who don’t, but all of them can communicate their work to the audience so in this sense, half the work is already done.
As an actor who fell into performance poetry, I feel like I’ve always been working towards a way of fusing poetry with more theatrical elements, that hazy place where a poem essentially becomes a narrative and the poet a storyteller. I think the boundaries of poetry theatre need to be stretched in a different way for each individual piece and in this sense there are no rules, but there needs to be balance and structure. So as we gear up to our intensive rehearsal period in July, I look forward to going on a journey out of my comfort zone with a talented group of people to reflect our experience of our city to an audience in a way they’ve never seen before. I hope you like it 🙂
So … here we are at last. It’s been a long time coming but the Ten Letters bus is well and truly rolling. The nugget of the idea started a couple of years ago in Chicago (yeah … I’m a shocking name dropper!), stalled a few times along the way, but thanks to some great encouragement from some great friends, past and present, we’re on our way.
“So … what’s it all about then Spoz?”. Well, that’ll be up to the brilliant poets we’ve got involved. They’re letters to this sometimes marvellous and sometimes infuriating city we live in (that’s Birmingham by the way) from young and not so young voices … intergenerational voices … stories of the past, present and future … stories of hope and frustrations, procrastinations, punctuated with images and sounds from some bostin musicians and video artists. Crikey … that was almost poetic.
Come to the Hexagon Theatre at MAC Birmingham on either Monday 13th or Tuesday 14th July to see the start of the Ten Letters evolution. This is Volume 1. An anthology and CD is on the way too. And extra volumes. And more shows in the future. Like I said, it’s just the start.
Mahoosive thanks to Arts Council England, MAC Birmingham, Apples and Snakes (WM) and everyone who pledged on our Crowdfunder.
Waheyy! We’ve got out website and blog up! What do you think? Not too shabby right?