An outdoors indoors Covid 19 project. Outposted are sending maps around the country, asking writers, artists and makers to reflect on creativity and collective solitutde while they add new ideas and locations to the fold out Ordnance Survey maps. There’s a map going round Gloucestershire, where I’m from, and one round South London, where I am.

I met poet Rishi Dastidar in Battersea Park and the tips of our outstretched one-metre-long arms, we handed over the South London map. His poem references Alexander the Great. Mine, when I wrote it, is full of conversational computer games. The next step in the daisy chain is Sophie Herxheimer – another exchange encounter in the park, a place I’ve never known in such detail.

Follow the maps on their journeys on Twitter and Instagram.

That image of the Battersea Park Peace Pagdoa is from BritainExpress.com

Now You Can Zoom

Maybe in-person poetry readings will come back soon. Until they do, we have Zoom. Me and Emma of The Emma Press talking about Now You Can Look: 7pm BST, 19 June – register here. It’s webinar-Zoom, rather than look-at-the-audience Zoom, so it’ll be like a very niche sort of tv-watching experience.

Edit: I’ve just seen this review of Now You Can Look for the first time. There is no better analysis of my preferred aesthetic than ‘ants in the wineglass’.

Edit again: replay the reading at your leisure.


‘Paper Trail’ – launched!

luanch photo
Me, Mike, our book and a bottle of beer

To the Horse Hospital, for the launch of Paper Trail!

This gorgeous book has been a long time coming. In 2015, Mike Sims and I started a writing project: we would swap items of ephemera in the post (a postcard, a cereal gift, a mixtape etc) as prompts to new poems. Fourteen poems took us eighteen months – and one of the rules we had given ourselves was to make it a silent swap. No talking about the project till we’d finished. When we did get to the end of the exchange, a giant unbottled conversation led us to pass the poems on to artist Roy Willingham for him to make his own new images prompted in turn.

A generous Kickstarter campaign later, some inventive book design by Liam Relph, and we’ve made a limited edition artists’ book. Artist and author Nancy Campbell says of it …

“To open Paper Trail is to embark on a joyous journey through the debris of many decades. No artefact is too surreal or too small to be overlooked on this adventure – fragments of a meteor, an Aeroflot wet wipe, an artist’s business card, an empty cassette box that once held a mixtape. But not every page holds a souvenir of the past. These items are just the beginning of the book’s trajectory, prompts for a new conversation between two poets and a visual artist. The result is an exuberant tangle of words and images that celebrates the way we live now surrounded by ephemera, eavesdropping and aesthetic echoes.”

The print run was 200, and half of them have sold already. The other half are here.


Comp Commends

unnamedMe, in purple, at the Winchester Poetry Prize do this month where my poem ‘Helium Pearl’ was commended. Zoom in on my excellent brogues, and see all the winners and commended poets here. Winchester is one of my favourite festivals, I was very happy to be amongst this fine crowd.

Bower Bird

20190914_102050A request for your assistance. On 30 October, Mike Sims and I are running an Autumn themed Joy Forever event for the poetry festival people in Winchester – bookable details here. Inspired by our reading of Helen Vendler’s study of Keats’ odes, we are going to build Keats a bower on stage. Vendler says that one route to the understanding of the odes is to write them out by hand, and she also talks of the bower as a natural or architectural space that Keats constructs in his poems as a place to dream, love and create. Who wouldn’t want to while away an hour in a place like that? Here are about 200 luggage labels which – when we’ve written on them all – will be transformed into the leaves of our bower. The gold labels aren’t even in the picture. Will you send us something to write on a label? We need either your favourite line from a Keats poem, or a phrase or two about what Autumn means to you. Comment here, or find me on Twitter @juliamarybird Thank you!


I Played a Game and Made a Book

paper trailThis beautiful image is by Roy Willingham RE. It’s inspired by a poem written by Mike Sims, which in turn was inspired by diagrams of the BSL fingerspelling alphabet I once gave him.

Because of the Keats readings and events we run together, Mike appears a lot in these posts. When we aren’t discussing the latest Keats House picnic plans, we often write together.

Over the last few years, to prompt a poetic conversation, we started to send each other mystery items through the post as stimuli for new poems. The pile of poems grew, and we gave them to Roy to see what he’d make of them.

What we’ve all made of them is a book. Paper Trail is a hybrid publication that’s part poetry collection, part catalogue, part instruction manual, it’s an elegant compendium of poems, images and conversation. Good for your bookshelf, good for your brain, the thinking goes.

It’s a game we’d like to share by getting the book into readers’ hands and inviting them to play too. The Kickstarter to support Paper Trail’s design and production is here.

Keats – Ruffle Your Feathers

The Eve of St Agnes 1858 by James Smetham 1821-1889‘St. Agnes’ Eve—Ah, bitter chill it was! / The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold…’ begins John Keats’ wintriest tale, ‘The Eve of St Agnes‘.

Mike Sims and my latest Joy Forever event spends a whole afternoon in the company of Madeline and Porphyro, the eloping Georgian Medieval lovers of Keats’ long poem. We’ll delve deep into its passions and peculiarities with readings, games, giveaways and cake.

The date is 20 January (St Agnes Eve’ itself), the place is Keats House in Hampstead and tickets are available here. Dodge the sleeping dragons, and come and dream your own mysterious dream.

(The nineteenth century watercolour of Madeline and Porphyro on their moonlit flit is by James Smetham, and is in the Tate collection.)

Second Place Rosette

BRITAIN-PILEI come from Gloucestershire, County of Cheeserollers, so I know what I’m talking about when it comes to Britain’s peculiar customs and rituals. So do The Emma Press – they’ve published a new anthology full of poems about ’em. Mine’s about the compulsion to fill municipal fountains with Fairy Liquid on Midsummer Eve, but there are also poems here of  maypole dancing, mehndi painting and medical prescriptions. Launched later this month, but you can buy one here.

A Curious Joy Forever

cabinet of curiosities
A classic Cabinet of Curiosities. We can’t guarantee a crocodile skull in ours.

If the sun’s out and there’s a garden to sit in, my Keatsian friend Mike Sims and I like nothing better than putting together an afternoon of readings from Keats’ poems and letters for the delight of a Romantically-inclined audience. Our fifth annual ‘A Joy Forever‘ summer event is coming up at Keats House in Hampstead on 1 July. This year, our theme is The Cabinet of Curiosity – we’ll be creating an imaginary museum of the artifacts Keats owned, thought and wrote about, and captioning them with your best loved poems and writings.

‘a little claret-wine cool out of a cellar a mile deep – with a few or a good many ratafia cakes’ were ingredients in Keats’ recipe for a good life, as he wrote in a letter to his sister Fanny. We’ll provide the equivalents, and you can buy tickets here.