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.
“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.”
Me, 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.
A 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!
This 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.
‘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.
I 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.