Tag Archives: Chris Kinsey

Talking with poets

Penglais woods, above Aberystwyth. Walking the bluebell trail with Chris Kinsey, April 2017. Photo: Kaite O’Reilly

For the past few years I have been undergoing a slow transformation, partly documented in this blog. It has been sedate but determined, rather like the growth of lichen on a tree,  so perhaps a better term might be evolution…

For years my performance texts and plays have been described by reviewers as ‘poetic’ and my writing as having a ‘lyrical’ quality. When I won the Ted Hughes Award for my version of Aeschylus’s Persians in 2011 I almost argued with the judges, asking how could I win such a prestigious award when I was a dramatist, not a poet? (Thankfully the judges were sage enough to ignore my protestations, insisting in their wisdom I was indeed a dramatist and a poet, despite my cries ‘But I don’t write poetry!’)

Many conversations on this subject have followed over the years, some referenced in this blog. I often wondered if my resistance was not towards poetry  per se – I have too many learnt by heart to be considered a poetry denier – but to the idea of me trying to write it. I also suffered from a rather limited definition of what poetry might be.

As my resistance (fear, perhaps?) weathered away, I became aware of how many of my new but close friends were practising poets. When I became seriously ill in 2015, I found what I wanted to read was, of course, poetry, perhaps because, as Robert Frost put it: ‘Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”

My friend and poetry-whisperer Chris Kinsey has accompanied me along this journey, generously sharing reading platforms (at Oriel Davies where she was poet in residence) as well as work in progress. Interesting articles on form are sent my way, along with illuminating quotations on writing alongside her extraordinary engagement with the natural world in language. It was a masterclass in itself and a great privilege to witness the creation of her latest pamphlet, Muddy Foxpublished by Rack Press. We ruminate on process, often – to my huge pleasure – when walking along hidden tracks in different parts of Wales. As a former winner of the BBC Wildlife Poet of the Year, she is  attuned both to the natural world and ways to express it. We exchange work and encourage each other in our writing, but never once has she suggested I try writing poetry, not even covertly… (I am confident in asserting this, for as a playwright, I am skilled in detecting subtext and ‘what lies beneath’).

Aberystwyth from above the town. Walking the gorse trail with Chris Kinsey April 2017.

So it is she, alongside Samantha Wynne Rhydderch and Gillian Clarke who have and continue to patiently incubate my on-going evolution as someone who now experiments with poetic form. I have wonderfully stimulating lunches with Sam overlooking Cardigan Bay in a cafe which was previously the post office where Dylan Thomas sent his manuscripts to London – a detail we both find entertaining. The hours disappear in our varied and diverse conversations on live performance, poetry, writing, the voice. Gillian has recently become a more formal encourager, meeting me for ‘masterclass encounters’ as we coin them, part of my Creative Wales Award, granted by the far-sighted Arts Council of Wales (read about this incredible initiative here).

It is only now I am beginning to fully understand the power and influence of talking with poets. These conversations guide, stimulate, provoke, engage, and encourage growth and change. Talking to poets (particularly along the by-ways of our beautiful Ceredigion) should be available on the NHS.

 

Creative Wales Awards 2017

I’m delighted to announce I am one of the artists from Wales fortunate to be granted a Creative Wales Award.

The awards, presented at an event held at Cardiff’s contemporary art gallery G39 on Thursday 12 January, “recognise the very best talent and potential of individual Welsh artists applying for this development opportunity.

The annual Creative Wales Awards offer up to £25,000 to enable artists to take time to experiment, innovate, and take forward their work. The aim is to develop excellence by offering a period of research and development to some of Wales’s most interesting artists.”
Phil George, Chair of the Arts Council of Wales said:

“The Creative Wales Awards is the Arts Council of Wales’s opportunity to recognise some our country’s remarkable talents. They are awarded to the artists at significant stages in their careers and as they take the brave decision to explore new ways of developing and making their art. We look forward to seeing how these awards will impact on their work and to how their creativity flourishes in the future.”

I am immensely excited about this award, but also phenomenally grateful to be living in a country which recognises life-long learning and development in an artist. For me, just writing the application for the award was stimulating and useful – it encouraged me to perceive where I ‘am’ in my career, and possible new ways forward.

My Creative Wales is based on my love of words and the incredible joy I experienced when writing my new version of Aeschylus’s ‘Persians’, directed by Mike Pearson site-specifically on MOD land for National Theatre Wales in 2010. You can see a promotional video of the project here.

Apart from starting a love affair with the remarkable poet-playwright-soldier Aeschylus, it introduced me to composer John Hardy, long-term collaborator of Pearson and the brilliant Brith Gof. I knew John’s work intimately, but hadn’t had the opportunity to work with him, before. At the read-through of the first draft, he said to me: “Do you write for opera?” and I answered in the negative. “Well, perhaps you should think about doing so,” he replied – words that remained scorched into my mind for six years – until I started thinking about a Creative Wales Award. I am happy to say John Hardy was immensely generous in our conversations about form and process, dialogue which helped me shape a programme of learning when drafting my application. He, alongside David Pountney of Welsh National Opera, and Michael McCarthy of Music Theatre Wales, were incredibly encouraging as I stumbled in my ignorance through possible approaches. I hope dearly to have the opportunity of observing process with WNO and MTW, and developing material alongside John Hardy during my experimentation.

But my award is not solely about writing libretti. It is about exploring the performative power of language with music. The gift of a Creative Wales Award is remarkable – it is not product-based, but about process, learning, experimentation, creative exploration. I will spend months exploring different form and approaches – from underscored performance poetry and verse drama through to exploring contemporary libretti.

Perhaps this exploration was inevitable. I won the Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry for the text of ‘Persians’. This extraordinary honour both humbled and bewildered me (“but I’m a playwright, not a poet!!”) and started me off questioning what the relationship might be between the poetic and the dramatic. It is perhaps no accident that new friends and collaborators are themselves accomplished poets – Samantha Wynne Rhydderch, Gillian Clarke, Sophie McKeand and especially Chris Kinsey, who has consistently nurtured my interest in poetry, and encouraged my own practice through inviting me to read alongside her at public performances. I’m excited about where my journeying into the poetic may take me, and I’m thrilled that Owen Sheers and Gillian Clarke will give me some masterclasses in poetry and verse drama in the first stage of my Creative Wales.

All I need now is to get through the next four months before my exploration commences. I’m trying to curate an experience which will stretch and challenge me, forcing me to grow as an artist perhaps into unexpected places. I am so grateful to all who assisted me in the application, and those who wrote supportive letters. My greatest thanks, of course, goes to the officers of the Arts Council of Wales and that sterling institution which has such vision and understanding about how to grow mature artists within Wales. I know my colleagues outside Wales are envious we have such opportunity – and it is one we must cherish and jealously protect in uncertain times in the future.

 

 

Voices from the Gallery, plus a workshop and launch of a writing competition

I’m delighted to be appearing with poet Chris Kinsey at Oriel Davies, Y Drenewydd / Newtown on Friday 26th June 2015 at 7.30pm: Voices from the Gallery. Chris has been enticing me back into performance and spoken word events, and I have had the joy of sharing a platform with her on previous occasions in Wales. Details follow, along with information about a workshop led by Chris on 13th June, to launch the Oriel Davies Writing Competition:

 

 Voices from the gallery: Poems and Monologues 26th June 7.30pm

Hosted by Chris Kinsey, with Kaite O’Reilly

KAITE O’REILLY writes for live performance, radio and prose. She received the Ted Hughes Award for New Works in Poetry for her version of Aeschylus’ Persians with National Theatre of Wales.

‘Poetry crosses time, the old play becomes the new poetry. Here’s the truth of language colliding with the clichés of politics and the advertisement of war. This verse play is entertainment, challenge and a lie detector.’

Jeanette Winterton and Gillian Clarke on “Persians

CHRIS KINSEY was Oriel Davies’ first Writer-in-Residence 2011 -13. She is the author of 3 poetry collections: Kung Fu Lullabies and Cure for a Crooked Smile published by Ragged Raven Press and Swarf by Smokestack Books. Chris was BBC Wildlife Poet of the year in 2008. She writes a regular Nature Diary for Cambria and won Natur Cymru’s last prose competition, ‘Inspired by Nature’ and she has also written short dramas.

Friday 26 June

7.30pm Admission: £7

Oriel Davies Gallery, The Park, Newtown, Powys SY16 2NZ

To book: desk@orieldavies.org  or 01686 625041

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FLORA – a writing workshop on the theme of Flora to launch the Oriel Davies Writing Competition. 

Saturday 13th June 10am – 1pm. £10 

Come and experiment with words.

See which ideas germinate.

Open to writers of all levels of experience – the aim of the workshop is to inspire fresh ways of considering plants. Workshop led by Chris Kinsey.

To book: desk@orieldavies.org or 01686 625041.

For further information contact Sheela Hughes informallearning@orieldavies.org

 

A Sense of Place -Oriel Davies Writing Competition

 

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‘A Sense of Place’ Writing Competition 2014, Oriel Davies, Newtown, Powys, Wales.

The Oriel Davies writing competition returns between 17 May – 25 October 2014 with the theme A Sense of Place, convened and judged by Chris Kinsey.

Writers are invited to submit pieces throughout the competition period that focus on ‘A Sense of Place’. Entries should be poems of up to 50 lines each; or prose pieces of up to 1000 words each. The winning entry will be featured on the gallery website and social media, and be read to an audience at an event in late autumn. Shortlisted writers will also be invited to participate in the readings.

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Amanda Farr, director of Oriel Davies writes:

A Sense of Place’ is our theme for this year’s writing competition. We are really excited to be presenting this competition in particular from our rural context in Mid Wales, known widely for its distinctive sense of place, landscape, language and culture. We are also pleased to welcome Chris Kinsey, a fantastic locally-based poet and our writer in residence 2011 – 2013 as the competition convenor and judge. We look forward to reading the entries…

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This year’s writing competition will be judged by Chris Kinsey who was Oriel Davies’ Writer-in-Residence 2011-13. She is the author of 3 poetry collections: Kung Fu Lullabies and Cure for a Crooked Smile published by Ragged Raven Press and Swarf by Smokestack Books. Chris was BBC Wildlife Poet of the year in 2008. She also writes a regular Nature Diary for Cambria and won Natur Cymru’s last prose competition, ‘Inspired by Nature’.

For full competition entry guidelines download the competition flyer: http://www.orieldavies.org/sites/default/files/Sense%20of%20Place%20flyer_Layout%201.pdf

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Grace, fluency, and facility… Poet Chris Kinsey on writing and re-writing.

Writers are notoriously curious about how everybody else does it. Apart from the endless fascination with other peoples’ process, we also know there are wonderful lessons to be learned, tips to gather, knowledge to be shared. A few weeks ago the poet Chris Kinsey shared a document with me which she had written for her students about writing and re-writing. I’m delighted she gave me permission to reproduce that here.

 

Chris Kinsey: A personal view of writing and re-writing.

 

I write mainly out of excitement with experiences and from a desire to re-enact and re-live them.

I want to record the physicality and sensations of certain experiences. (Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and Gerard Manley Hopkins were the first to make me want to pay attention and write.)

I write in order to find out what it is I want to write. Many writers prefer to have a plan but I’ve never liked to fit into the Procrustian bed of a plan. I need to make discoveries to maintain my motivation. Good ideas mostly fail because they’re good and there’s nothing to work out. It can feel like drudgery to record them.

First drafts are like finding a load of fireworks – full of excitement at experimenting with voices and viewpoints and coining words and images with the most exact visual or aural effects. This stage can be intoxicating. I chase a stream of consciousness, memory and sensation as fast as I can and as close as I can to any event which excites me to write.

Re-writing is best done a day or two after the ‘first thoughts, best thoughts’ rush.

Sometimes it’s as painful and humiliating as a hangover – everything grates or clunks or seems hackneyed, clichéd, laborious, repetitive, monotonous, vague, waffling, tongue-twisterly, O.T.T……. Sometimes it only feels this way. Our feelings are not always the best guide to the quality of our work; especially if they’ve just been hurt by discovering that a first draft doesn’t represent total satisfaction or perfection. Usually there are plenty of nuggets to harvest and frequently this leads to the true or vivid aspects of the subject declaring themselves and a theme or shape emerges. Voice or tone stabilises and distillation begins.

Crop peripheral ideas and images, focus the main ones.

Strive for the most exact, apt images and nouns. Tone up verbs. Tweak and play with word orders (save every change – you may want to revert to an earlier form). Try your piece out on the ear. Cut clichés, repetitions, catch phrases, etc. Etc. Rest. Let it lie.

Return later  – this is the hard part – make sure you haven’t cut some crucial part. And this is the really hard part – make sure you haven’t stifled the life of your piece by over determining it.

Hope for grace, fluency, and facility. Try your work out on someone whose feedback you trust and respect. Someone who will tell you where the work made them stumble is valuable.

Good, spontaneous-sounding, ‘natural’, pleasure-to-read work, often takes between 15 and 30 drafts.

 

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With thanks to Chris.

Copyright of the above remains with Chris Kinsey 16/2/14.

 

Llareggub, Welsh Noh, and me.

I’m currently deep in Dylan Thomas territory – the hype, history, and cultural tourism created about the man. I’ve been invited to write an essay on Dylan Thomas by that literary mountain of a man, Jon Gower, who is editing a collection. There is much noise being made about legacy in this centenary of Thomas’s birth, and especially so when living where I do, close to where he spent the late war years, 1944-45.

Some weeks ago the nature poet Chris Kinsey and I took ourselves off for a wander around Newquay, Cei Bach, and St Ina’s Church at Llanina Point in Ceredigion. It’s my local walk, but we were doing it as a literary pilgrimage, following the blue plastic plaques and local hearsay about where Dylan Thomas walked, talked, wrote, and (most importantly for the commercial impact) drank.

I have to confess, I hate ‘The Dylan Thomas Trail.’  These strangely marbled plaques bearing the face of a young Dylan Thomas decorate the odd tree or wall, leaving me mystified as to the locality’s significance. There’s no nearby information and the ‘map’ which the literary curious are supposed to follow to decipher the import of each place wasn’t available and the tourist information office was closed.

The information boards around Newquay aren’t much better. They’re fine for the day trippers to glance at when licking an ice cream on a sunny August bank holiday, but they can’t hold their own against the posters advertising the wild porpoises and bottle nosed dolphins who visit these parts. I also find the ‘facts’ about Thomas so bland as to render any detail invisible. Sure, the local tourist board may not want to go into his drunken exploits and womanising (although that seems to be what everyone wants to discuss), but his literary legacy and strong connection between creativity and place could be drawn a little clearer. Newquay is reputed to be the inspiration for Llareggub (say it backwards), the marine town in ‘Under Milk Wood’, although the Thomases walked, bickered, and drank a longer trail, up to Tal Sarn and Llanon, further up the coast.

So we took ourselves out across the beach at low tide in a wind blowing itself up into a gale, shivering in the February drizzle. Poor Chris was incubating a stupendous cold and wading about in the fresh springs that flow across the beach and into Cardigan Bay mustn’t have helped. We walked up to St Ina’s Church, one of my favourite spots in Spring, when the graveyard and surrounding wood overlooking the sea is filled with bluebells, nodding my approval as always at the revision of one of Thomas’s most famous lines on a headstone by the gate: ‘Go gentle into that good night.’ Chris also shared my enthusiasm for the rewrite, saying on a personal level we wouldn’t want a loved one raging into death.

Writing the essay for Jon has refreshed my relationship to where I live, and reanimated my thoughts about language. characterisation, and playwriting. My focus has been on ‘Under Milk Wood’ and it has been a pleasure and education to revisit this text, especially when in the shelter of one of the nooks in Newquay harbour, ostensibly in the shadow of Captain Cat’s house.

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Today’s blog has a distinctly Welsh flavour, for my essay on The Llanarth Group’s  cultural exchange with Ami Theatre in Japan last November has been published in the most recent edition of New Welsh Review. An extract of the account of touring ‘Told by the Wind’ to Babylon Theatre in Tokyo, and an exploration of what NWR editor Gwen Davies has coined ‘Welsh Noh’ can be found at:

http://www.newwelshreview.com/article.php?id=706

I’m off to give a last polish to my essay on Dylan Thomas, then head out to Cei Bach to walk along the golden sand and look across to Llareggub/Newquay in this  sudden welcome Spring sunlight.

On being quiet and humble….

After a week of deadlines, meetings, being in three countries, leading a weekend intensive workshop in Cork with Art/Works and presenting two public lectures, I’ve felt busy and screechy and visible and loud and far too bossy and efficient for my own good as a writer….

To lead a workshop and speak publicly, I need to be highly organised and to have plans a, b, c, d, and e, so I can respond to the natural dynamic of the group and create an experience which works for as many as possible. To speak publicly I need to know my subject inside out and back to front, I need to rehearse, deliver on time, and be ready for left-field questions. In other words, I need to be totalitarian in my organisation and preparation…. In order to write I need to be invisible and quiet and as eccentric in my process as I need to be. I’ve found when I’m starting out on a new project if I try to be efficient creatively, I lose spontaneity; the chaos I allow when initially writing paradoxically saves me time in the long run.

The past week has been superb and I’ve met the most remarkable people, but going from the quiet privacy of my solitary writing life to this hugely stimulating and enjoyable social public life reminds me again of the dichotomy and contradiction at the heart of my working life. To travel between both halves of my life feels like I need a decompression chamber, a sort of air lock between atmospheres I’ve seen in Sci-fi movies.

How necessary then was a calming email from my friend the poet Chris Kinsey this morning, sharing a quotation from Gwyneth Lewis:

Writers have to know when to be quiet and humble enough to let the unexpected come to them. If you conceive of language as an entirely willed cultural construct, then you miss its ‘otherness’.                                            Gwyneth Lewis. On Nature Writing.   www.newwritingpartnership.org.uk/fp/aspen/public/getFile-49.doc‎

My major thanks to both poets for sharing this wisdom with me. I’m off into my snowdrop-scattered garden to breathe and be quiet and humble, and invite the unexpected and otherness of language in…. Hope you can, too.