How can poetry express the joys, sensations and narratives of shared celebrations?
In his new Summer School workshop ‘Celebrate Your History’, artist and writer Nick Field will be working with students to use autobiography to create powerful, joyful poems. We caught up with Nick to find out more…
Hi Nick! Tell us a bit about the idea behind your workshop…. what can students expect?
Hello! I’m really excited about this workshop, it’s going to explore a very rich stream of largely untapped poetic inspiration, and it’s unique in approach and subject matter. We’ll be using the joys, strains, battles and emotional and literal feasts that are shared celebrations as a starting point to create charged and relatable poetry. Through practical exercises and facilitated poetry writing we’ll create new pieces drawing on direct experience of, for example, parties, family rituals, Christmas celebrations and festivals. It’s great territory for fascinating material.
Do you write from autobiography yourself, or begin from autobiography and end up with something else entirely? How does your writing process work?
I do often work with autobiography, though not entirely. Autobiography brings with it a particular resonance, and can make for thrilling and unique work. For me though it’s important not to be bound to a literal truth, or fixed ideas about what autobiography looks like. In the past, for example, I’ve created a piece that supplanted my upbringing into a fictional, alternative vision of Britain. I think it’s important to explore different possibilities with autobiography, and capture an essence rather than facts.
In your live art shows The Cosmos, The Cosmetics and Adventure / Misadventure, as well as with your performance poetry, you’re alone on the stage – do you ever find this intimidating? Do you prefer these types of performances to, say, writing scripts for plays that other people perform?
I really love solo performance, the challenges as much as the aspects I feel most confident about. There’s no doubt it can be a bit scary, and when I first started out I’d be a nervous wreck for days before a performance. With more experience I’m less anxious about it, and I miss the excitement of it if I haven’t performed for a while. I do also like writing scripts for other performers, and I’ve written plays that have gone through rehearsal processes with actors, and it can be very fulfilling creatively. But what I love about seeing people performing their own work is that it’s an unmediated voice, it’s direct expression drawing on their own experience, and it can be completely electric.
For somebody that has never seen you perform, how would you describe the art you create?
I make contemporary performance that is playfully shaped, sharply observed and meticulously crafted. Informed by my background in theatre, my writing and performance is characterised by a searing honesty, a drive to explore and question, and delight in the possibilities of creating. My work is shot through with lyrical realism, a comedic eye for the absurd and an irrepressibly satiric ear, and it has played both with the epic in the everyday and the personal relevance in the extraordinary. My performances will often involve music and movement scores, and usually involve stories, but definitely involve words; pretty ones at that.
You’re currently Artist in Residence at London Metropolitan Archives – what have you been up to so far, and how are you finding it?
Yes, it’s such an exciting project called Streetlife London, using the amazing archive collections at the LMA as creative inspiration. It’s quite early days so I’ve been mainly researching and starting to develop ideas so far. London’s history of street life is so fascinating and rich, I’m really loving delving into the collections and finding illuminating gems. There will be events and development opportunities as part of the residency, and I’ll be creating a new poetry collection and digital art based on my findings.
Do you think that it’s harder to write from feelings of happiness and contentment than feelings of pain or dissatisfaction?
It can be, I think we’re often drawn to the brooding, dark potential of difficult times but actually happiness is no less complex, or interesting to write about. It’s all about framing and intention in the approach.
How can we avoid sounding clichéd or trite when writing about joy?
Well, dodge the buzzterms and superlatives, or making it sound like a Facebook update for a start. By exploring the textures, the sensations and the individuality of the experience the trite can be sidestepped.
You’ve worked across lots of different platforms … what do you have your sights on next?
Improvisational dance. I’m actually not joking. I’m not really a dancer or an improviser so this seemed like the logical step to take next. I’ll be performing a piece called I Show You A Mirror with Forest Fringe at Edinburgh Fringe this year. I’m also working with one to one performance in a piece called Be My Friend which I’ll be taking to Latitude Festival and Edinburgh, again with Forest Fringe.
Do you have a standout moment of your career so far?
I’ve been fortunate and had a number, and certainly the first time I performed The Cosmos, The Cosmetics as a tentative 20 minute experiment at The Albany in Deptford was a turning point for me as the reaction meant that my solo performance career went from an idea to a reality that night. But I will never forget taking the full version of the show to Stockholm and thinking I’d play to 5 confused Swedes, and coming on stage to discover a full and enthusiastic house, it was very thrilling.
If you had to pick one of your own celebratory memories to turn it into poetry, what would it be?
My mum reminded me recently how my grandad always used to pretend to wrestle with a broom at family get togethers as a party-piece, there’s a poem in that for sure!
If you’d like to join Nick in a celebration of get togethers and personal history, you can find more information and booking details on our website or by calling us on 0207 582 1679.
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