Promo video of ‘Ode to the night flaneur’. I will be performing these and other poems at my first post lockdown socially distanced event, ‘At the edge of uncertainty’, with long time collaborator Henni Linnea. Sunday 6th September. Tkts links below.
Like everyone else on the planet, I am trying to wrap my head around lockdown. Specifically, what it means to be an intimate poetry performer under lockdown and thinking about, when lockdown ends, how social distancing might effect my work. Last year, this time, I was writing up research for a paper on money exchange and performing intimate poetry. This year, I am having to radically rethink ways in which I can perform intimacy. Last night I participated in the 4th Poetry Brothel live-stream ‘Streamers and Dreamers’, an amazing event bringing together performers from Mexico (they didn’t say which city!), New Mexico, Valpariaso, New York, Los Angeles, London and Dublin. The Poetry Brothel was started in New York by Stephanie Singer and Nicholas Adamski eleven years ago and has taken off and been taken up as an idea by poets looking for alternative ways to present poetry to audiences. As Nicholas said last night, ‘There’s a PB in any almost any interesting city in the world’. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but the poetry brothel is unique in so far as it represents an international family of poets with shared interests in performing intimacy. I have participated in European International Brothels before, but this was a rare occasion to have performers all situated geographically separately, come together in a shared, performative, virtual space.
The Poetry Society of New York, to which the Poetry Brothel New York is aligned, has been incredibly pro-active about sustaining performances and training during lockdown. As well as many poetry workshops, they have created a ‘poetry live-stream page’ where you can book private poetry readings.
Here’s my link to ‘Bibi Synthe’, the name that I perform as in the PB.
This raises interesting possibilities for me. As well as an interest in multi-sensory work and 1-2-1 performance, I also interested in participative performance. My show about dating ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme More Love’, used anonymous live-chat in the staged space to allow the audience to participate and interact with each other via anonymous ‘confessional’ anecdotes, prompted by questions asked during the live performance. The live-chat was projected on the screen during the performance and audience anonymity was secured through having audience log into chat under ‘nom-de-plumes’. The live-chat not only enhanced the collective story-telling capacity, but also led to audience members providing prompts for other audience members, brought onto stage as performers, for an improvisational finale.
So far, in lockdown, I have participated in numerous online events: poetry workshops, collaborative writing, parties, meetings and even some voice-over directing. People are begin to complain of ‘zoom fatigue’. The two performance events I have participated in have both been really well managed using zoom as the ‘green room’ for artists and going out live on youtube and facebook to a wide audience, but what they have lacked is the kind of audience inter-activity that really interests me. What I am really looking forward to is developing deeply intimate experiences online as 1-2-1 or small group performances.
The question of intimacy is easily solved in terms of creating 1-2-1 readings via zoom, googlechats even fb live. My friend Moya De Feyter was part of a wonderful project in Belgium where people could ‘call up poets’ on a free phone service. What is more difficult is solving sensory elements beyond the visual and the auditory. In my private 1-2-1 readings, I often use blindfolds, sensation and olfactory triggers. While digital technology is readily available to reach people, many of us are actually feeling sensorially deprived. As we discussed in the poetry parlour (the PB digital after-party), many of us are feeling touch deprived. It is that curious thing, I guess, that unlike the other senses, it is almost impossible to recapture the sense of being touched by someone else. I am intrigued to see how one can build multi-sensory interactions on digital platforms. What stimuli can we provide? What prompts will be serve as a multi-sensory portal? How can we transcend the limits of the digital boundaries to create less artificial and more sensory work?
About a week before official lockdown in the UK, I was beginning to notice that as many large theatres and venues around the world were closing, many companies where offering streamed events and many musicians and performers I knew who had had their livelihoods suddenly cut off at the knees, were live-streaming gigs. I was losing track of all the wonderful things that were on offer, so I started a page called, ‘solaceforthehomebound’, where people post either links to live events, or live-feeds directly onto the page. You can find the link here. https://www.facebook.com/groups/2580882608850793/
In the meantime, it has been fun creating a pop-up installation space for live performances. Here is a link to me performing on-line at Matt Fleming’s ‘Music & Words Club: Session 48.
My section starts at 2:44:14
You can contact me through this page, or via my fb page @debrawatsonperformanceandpoetry
I’ve been a bit slack about insta updates in the past few months, but I may do a some live readings there too. insta debra.watson
Stay safe everyone. I can’t wait to be able to meet up with people in meat space and have the largest, groupiest, huggiest, flesh-piles.
So – June/July sets to be busy. It has been a wild few months. The chapbook is out (more details below) and launched on May 9th. There are now 70/150 limited edition copies left which you can purchase directly from me (send me a message)or at one of these events where I will be performing/reading from the collection.
Dates for your diary June/July:
June 15th – London Fetish Film Festival – 8pm. Poetry performance with Hen Ni Linnea on violin. Details to follow. You can purchase day or 3 day passes for the Festival at The Hen and Chickens Theatre, London.
June 22nd – Poetry Brothel London – Midsummer Ball at the Kings Head Private Members Club. This event focuses on Poetry as a decadent indulgence. We have ‘open readings’ where poets and musicians perform. I will be working with Hen Ni Linnea on the open performances. The gem of the night is purchasing private readings from the poets. (It’s not called a Poetry Brothel for nothing!). It’s a beautiful, sensual and multi-sensory experience in the lush surrounds of a private members club.
June 27th – Advantages of Age hosts 6 poets over 50 at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden. It’s a fabulous line-up of poets, curated by the marvellous Rose Rouse. The Poetry Cafe hosts wonderful events – in a lovely, cosy, Covent Garden room.
July 6th – The Crimson Word will be performing 1-2-1 intimate readings at a special Mansion Party in Brighton. Details to follow. Follow our page for updates.
July 7th – The Bloody Poets: From Darkness with Hen Ni Linnea. This is a great night of more experimental ways of presenting poetry and music, curated by the great Mad Pirvan. At SET in Dalston. It’s a great line up.
The Launch Event:
The ‘Laments & Incantations’ chapbook launched on May 9th with my music partner Hen Ni Linnea. We were joined by Machig de Valence Matig launching her first collection, ‘Your Body, My Poem’. It was a beautiful event with music and readings from some of my favourite artists. Poetry readings from Katie Haworth and Tom Bland and music by Picturepoems and Gabi Garbutt. It was a collaborative affair – and it was wonderful being joined on some poems by Picturepoems and Gabi Garbutt. It really elevated the poems to have other musicians work with us. Of the 150 limited edition copies, I know have 70 left, which you can either buy directly from me or at events at which I am performing. Copies are £10 per book plus p+p Send me a message or follow my fb page for news of events. https://www.facebook.com/debrawatsonperformanceandpoetry
In the past 2yrs I have been loosely writing around a theme called ‘Laments and Incantations’ for performance events. I am now running a ‘GoFundMe’ campaign to raise money to bring out a limited edition chapbook of 150 signed and numbered copies with stunning original photo by Leif Sebastien.
The poems printed will all have been written and performed for at either The Poetry Brothel London, The Bloody Poets or The Crimson Word and performed at various open mic nights. They are not all the poems written in this period, just a short collection selected by me and refinded by editor Katie Haworth, It
£10 will get you a copy of the book in the UK. Please add p+p if you are donating from elsewhere.
When lockdown ended last summer, Mad Pirvan and I visited a mutual friend in Wales. On our last day there, we had an early morning shoot at Dolbadarn Castle. It is more of a tower really. A beautiful old wreck. I used pictures from the shoot as a prompt, to write ‘Everyday an Apocalypse’. Mad gave the recording to Alicia Macanas, who came up with a gorgeous, haunting score. It premieres on youtube Tues 19 Jan, 2021 8pm. Hit subscribe for notification.
Last summer, when lockdown ended, I visited Llanberis with Mad Pirvan. On the last day, we managed to go out in the morning and do some filming at the old Tower. Beautiful location. I used the pictures Mad took as a prompt to write an eco-poem. I guess, it is not the most cheery of poems. Mad gave a sound recording to our friend Alicia Macanas and I couldn’t be happier with the result. I love the dark edges of it. Premiering on my youtube channel Tues 19/01/2021 8pm GMT.
After months of lockdown, we are returning with an intimate performance (max 6 people) at the top of St Mary’s Tower in Hornsey. It is a gorgeous little venue, with views across the city. I am delighted to be performing lock-down poems with long time collaborator Henni Linnea on music accompaniment. It will be some time, I think, till we can do really close-up performances, but this gorgeous venue is the ideal space as an interim. Each performance will last for 20mins, with some get-in/get out time. The venue is accessed through the side of the church via a steep, stone, spiral staircase and there is no disabled access. This is the perfect event to book for your social bubble. Performances entry at 18.30, 19:15 and 20:00 Tickets in link https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/117680025123
We did it! ‘Laments & Incantations’ has arrived from the printers and we are having a double book launch with Maching de Valance’s ‘Your Body, My Poem’ on 09.05.2019
It has been a pleasure getting this collection together with editor Katie Haworth, whom I met as a fellow performer at The Poetry Brothel London. She has such a light touch and sensitivity , but is not afraid to suggest radical changes and to challenge me when I get too stubborn! Her diplomatic skills have clearly been honed by her editing day job! The collection is so much the better for Katie’s kind eye. Katie will be reading from her own work at the event.
This collection is very much the written text of oft performed poems. Hen Ni Linnea and I have been publicly performing poems in this collection over the past two years and I have done countless private/intimate readings of these poems at events like The Poetry Brothel London, The Curious Invitation (with the Crimson Word) and other events. People often ask, ‘Where can I find your work?’ and now, at last, I can say, ‘Here!’ The previous collection was published very much as a D.I.Y. chapbook to take along to the Poetry Brothel – but it has been almost 3 years between the two. These are not all the poems written in that period – just a sliver of stuff I was putting together in my head as ‘Laments and Incantations’.
Also launching in London, is Machig de Valence with her collection ‘Your Body, My Poem’. I met Machig in Berlin,where she runs The Poetry Brothel Berlin. Machig speaks of her work as “Tantric Poetry”. “Your body, my poem” was born out of the visceral need of Machig to bring some kinky heartfelt sexuality in contemporary poetry. The pictures in the book are often raw photographs, shot on smartphone, of Machig’s own erotic journey.
We will be joined on the night by poet and singer-songwriters responding with their own sensual and persuasive works. I am delighted to be joined in the night’s revelries by fresh punk- rocker/singer/songwriter Gabi Garbutt and Picturepoems (Alicia Maracanas). The two artists are completely different, but both bring a forthright honesty and emotion to their work which I find really inspiring.
Finally, performer and writer Tom Bland will be joining us. Toms will be reading from his poetry book, ‘The Death of a Clown’. Tom manages to combine therapy, clowning and asphyxiation. His is a unique voice; humane, open, shocking, compassionate and funny.
So, we ran an open mic night at The Crimson Word, called ‘Gender: Mind your own Body’. I wrote a poem for the night. A rumination on my relationship with my body and my gender over the years. My friend, the poet Tom Bland came to read for us. He has started a new online magazine called ‘Spontaneous Poeticals” and has published my poem ‘Bad Feminist’ in it. You can read it here.
Tom has recently published a poetry book, ‘The Death of a Clown’, with Bad Betty Press. It darkly funny, philosophical and kinky. You can purchase it here.
As well as sharing my passion for small, intimate poetry, co-director of The Crimson Word, Winter James, also has a love for directing MASSIVE IMMERSIVE EVENTS. She hired me to perform poetry as ‘The Baba Yaga’ with fellow poet, burlesque artist and aerialist, Naomi Wood for her ‘Carnal Theatre’ event ‘FemmeDaemonium‘ – exploring the woman betrayed and reviled in mythology. I played the older Baba Yaga to Naomi Wood’s younger ‘seeker’. Here is Naomi’s poem, Changeling, featured in ‘You are Hysterical‘ which she had performed at the first FemmeDaemonium event and had invited me to join for the recent one. I took a huge risk in the poetry making; writing some framing verses inspired by the writings of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and then asked the members of the audience to ask a question. I tried to make my answers as poetical as possible; but I am still not sure that I pulled it off. What is poetry? I started the New Year working at an event where I had to flatter people. Somehow I inveigled it so that I dictated the content of their flattery certificates to them, and then signed, with a flourish ‘Debra Watson’ whilst simultaneously saying, “Signed: Debra Watson, Poet!” So now, I am not certain. Is it poetry just because I say it is? I am reading Michael Ondaatje’s new book, ‘Warlight’. Ondaatje is a poet. It shows through his prose. I fell in love with his work since the first pages of his novel ‘In the skin of a lion’, where he describes the building of a bridge in such beautiful detail that it instilled a love for me in bridges that I don’t believe was present before that reading. I think it also has a nun falling. At any rate, that is not important, what is important is the way in which he, Ondaatje, can write a sentence or a description that stops you dead in your tracks. The art of the story as narrative, as plot, simply disappears. The art of the story becomes the use of language to burrow holes into alternative ways of seeing, describing and being in the world. “Is this poetry?” I don’t even have to ask. Ondaatje answers anyway, ‘It is all poetry’.
I myself have no clear idea of what I want to achieve with poetry. Writing is a way of me ‘sorting things out’. I am attracted to the music and shape of ideas. To the sounds of words. To the images they paint. I have never hoped of much for poetry except that it is my way of settling into myself; a form of explaining. I am always astounded, that like a tuning fork, my words can bring me closer to people. That in some ways words, that great masker of truth, can also reveal and forge a deeper connectivity.
I’d like to know. What do you think poetry is? What is it for?