Saturday, September 25, 2010

Last Reflections

Last night we performed Echoing the Ghosts at Galatos, the Moving Image Centre group presented the outcome of their 3 weeks spent workshopping with us and I officially ended my time as creative director for The Literatti.

When I explained my crazy set idea about lamps and giant picture-frames to Christian I was sure he would tell me it couldn't be done. But he spent about 10 seconds thinking, eyes to ceiling, and then said that First Scene had big frames we could probably adapt and he knew where we could get some light bulbs. Awesome to have him co-directing and there to facilitate wonderful things with the First Scene props department. I was stoked with the way the stage looked last night. It was fantastic to perform in it. Echoing the Ghosts was the perfect way to crown the end of my time as director.

It has been an amazing 3 and a half years full of things I never expected I would do. We've toured twice to Whangarei, once to Parihaka, once to Dunedin and once two of us even toured to Ubud in Bali. Camp Literatti back in 2008 as we prepared for Word of Mouth was a major highlight and something I hope we get to do again. Getting to work with Nikki Patin last year on Growl, working with Craig Humphries, Just the Tikit and Karen Hunter and collaborating with digital artist Kate Barton for One Foot Forward the year before - more things I'll never forget. We've made some freaking awesome pieces of performance art in this time.

From the very first duets that we performed at The Kerouac Effect in 2007 - Getting Game Jaded with me and Murray Lee, and a Kerouac piece by Andra and I - the collaborative performances have just consistently got my wheels whirring. Later on we'd adapt Alternative Angels and send it through a series of reincarnations that would see it eventually performed with an animation projected on a giant screen as a theatre-piece. Shane and Andra started melding poetry and song. Murray Haddow got Murray Lee performing poetry in French with him for the Dunedin Fringe Festival. Shane performed No Fixed Abode with Craig Humphries on the broom-bass. Murray Lee got audiences creating his backing tracks for him in Train Gang. Christian and I started getting complex on the layering with The Thing Is in One Foot Forward. We made poetry across the globe with Nikki Patin.

Oh there are so many things that we have done and it's been hard work, but an honour to have had a hand in making those things come about, in creating the space for the other literartists to create what they have - and they have created so many cool, cutting edge, inspired, funny, sad, bitter-sweet, beautiful pieces of poetry and performance.

I've learned a lot. I really didn't know anything about events or directing the creative process when I started. I remember being stunned at Shane's suggestion I take on the role. Hopefully the people I've shared the journey with have grown from it along the way too. It's hard to know what it means to other people really. It is so intangible a thing, to have been a director of these performances that live for such a short amount of time and are only ever witnessed by a select few people, when really all you did was facilitate something anyway. But I am proud of it nonetheless.

Finding a new Creative Director was a task in itself. At the end of 2007, I had my eye on Charis Boos for the role, but she got whisked away to Wellington and no one else was prepared to do it at that time. They were probably right to be wary - it is a taxing job! At the end of 2008, Murray Lee started to prepare for the role in 2009. But then he got domestic responsibilities and decided to pull out. I have no idea how I managed to keep the group going at all while I did my Master's study in 2008 and then wrote my thesis last year, but somehow it happened, we produced Growl. And we've pulled through stronger than ever.

I'm glad for this time, for these people I have had the opportunity to work and play and create and cry and laugh with.

Thank you.

Today I did some gardening. Next weekend I am going to finally type up and begin editing my latest poetry. And then I am going to play around with some new performance stuff. Just for fun. Because I will have time.

I hear Christian has hooked us up to evolve Echoing the Ghosts in collaboration with the Wallace Art Trust, so I can't wait to see what he gets out of me for that. I am really looking forward to the opportunity to be directed and led into new areas of myself in that way. I can't wait.

And to part, here's an interview with Christian, Sabrina and I in Renegade House.

I'll see you all next time - as a plain old performance poet and I'll be loving it!

Over and out,



Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Things are heating up

With only 3 weeks until Echoing the Ghosts opens at the Corban's Estate chapel building (September 18th), one might say that things have been moving rapidly since our return from Whangarei. We're also performing the same show on September 25th at Galatos.

Last weekend we watched the footage of the Ghosts previews we performed and took things up a notch. Now we are preparing for our first rehearsal in our performance space at Galatos. The set is about to be constructed. I don't want to ruin anything, but this involves suspending things from ceilings and collecting vast amounts of lamps.

Each show is going to be slightly different, the content the same, but with such vastly different venues, the set and lighting must adapt.

The chapel show is going to be more intimate, with the smaller venue. The building itself, being historical in vibe, will become part of the scene; though the show itself has almost no religious content, I can't help but wonder how the building itself could change the lens people view the poetry through. This will be interesting to observe. While we have full sound capabilities at the chapel show, the lighting side of things has required some inventiveness, with what we think will be beautiful results. It's just not the kind of thing you could achieve in a big venue, with a stage like Galatos.

But at Galatos we get to present the result of a three-week series of workshops with moving image artists from the moving image centre as a prelude to the main event. At Galatos, you'll be further away from the poets, but there's capacity for full lighting and more room to move around in.

We've all been rehearsing with our music hard out, and will start rehearsing with our sound tech on the 4th. After so long with these poems, you better believe it feels good when you finally start to get your music cues bang on every time!

Sabrina and Christian just left after an hour or so of extra rehearsing - our multiple person pieces have become so much more complex, and cooler. We've been doing this since 2007 now, and it's great to be at a point where we can now start experimenting a bit more. Daniel and Christian have THE most awesome duet where the product of Jung's mind is pitted against that of Voltaire's. I love it. NIN's music is freaking awesome, travels us everywhere, it is amazing that they made this kind of project possible. I wonder if they ever got our emails saying we were doing it. We did run it by some official representative in Auckland, so it got a 'go ahead.' But I wonder if Trent Resnor himself knows. It would be cool if he did.

Last night Christian, Dan, Shane, Murray Haddow, Anna Kaye and I, trooped into Poetry Live to check out the guest appearance of Gus Simonovic and his new group Printable Reality. The name is highly misleading, because they're actually a brand spanking new performance poetry group. We are pretty stoked because on their website they proudly state that they combine theatre, poetry, music. We think it is about time that another group of people come out and try their hands at it. I'm especially pleased to see that they haven't just taken to reciting poetry over music and thinking that they've made it - but that they've also tried their hands at the theatre component of what we've been doing too. Totally jealous that Siri is Gus's girlfriend and not mine though - a beautiful dancer - oh we've been planning on working dance in since forever, Haddow and Shane did it out at Lopdell a while back, and there was that awesome collaboration that ummm, damn I forget the artists, they presented photos of it at Winter Warmers at the art gallery in 2009, was great. Anyway, awesome to see that in action. Pissed we didn't get to it first!

Anyway, it's time that someone else has come along and stoked the revolution in word again, it was needing it. With us off workshopping for a year, there hasn't been a whole lot happening in spoken word in Auckland aside from Freaky Meat, which has continued to churn out the jewels. It's be great for us to have another group of peeps making stuff along the lines of what we do, great things can only come of it, there will be some local people to respond to, instead of having to turn only to other countries for connection with other people doing what we do, (not that we're about to stop doing that).

They've got a real collection going on, including resident visual artists, and of course Siri Embla, the dancer - who brings other dancers too. So I expect they are going to produce some cool stuff.

Last night I caught their guitarist, and then Gus performing with the guitarist, while Siri danced. One dance was a bizzare thing involving a chair that I won't go into. It was emotive to say the least. They projected images onto a white-clothed dancing body and I thought it was amazing. We think they're going to do some really good things together. If you get a chance, check them out sometime.

Here's to performance poetry though, may it live long and prosper!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Introducing Echoing the Ghosts

The Literartists who have been working on the Ghosts Project since November last year just left after a 3-hour rehearsal of our brand new, totally killer new show - Echoing the Ghosts.

The final cast is: me (Miriam Barr), Christian Jensen, Sabrina Muck, Daniel Larsen & Anna Kaye Forsyth. DJ & electronic musician Steve Riley will be handling the music, the entire first two albums from Nine Inch Nails' instrumental Ghosts series. And can I just say how awesome it has been to have the chance to play around with their music! Thank you creative commons and copyleft agreements!

We started out with the albums, the concept of 'ghosts of the modern age' and 5 poets.

Over six months later, we now have 18 poems each written to a specific track from Ghosts I or II. These encompass solo performances that confront such characters from history as The Wright Brothers, Kerouac, Billy Holiday, Hans Christian Anderson, and Lewis Carroll. We've got poems in three-voices about Te Whiti & Marilyn Munroe, and poems in two voices about Huxley, Friedman, Rosa Parks, Da Vinci and Jung. We go partying with Sigmund Freud, cooking with Kate Sheppard, to Family Planning with Ettie Rout and we have coffee with the famous artists of renaissance Florence. There is the melding of song and spoken word, the layering of multiple voices and as always, brand new frontiers to play with.

We'll be performing a preview of Echoing the Ghosts at Salut Bar in Whangarei on August 8th at 1pm - lunch and a show on a winter afternoon, and we try this experiment out on the public!

Echoing the Ghosts is planned to debut in Auckland as part of the Going West Festival's Literary Weekend and Metonymy 2010, at the Corban's Estate chapel on September 18th @ 7pm (show will be over in time for those who follow rugby to get to the game after the show).

We then have a final performance in the city at Galatos, in association with the Moving Image Centre on September 25th @ 7pm.

We can't wait. By way of a set we are working on the concept of giant picture frames and all sorts of different lamps. We'll see how we go. For now the task is one of memorisation and music cues.

In other news, a little bird suggests that MAYBE we have a brand new literartist. I can't announce it until he confirms for sure, but we're all really looking forward to the addition.

Daniel & Christian will both be performing on August 14th at ZineFest in Whammy Bar & Wine Cellar at St Kevin's Arcade in the city.

Most of the group will be performing at the Cutting Edge Conference night out on September 23rd - should be interesting. We've done a lot of stuff related to mental health and this event is in that vein, but as it applies to drug and alcohol abuse. As I said, should be interesting - will likely be a different crowd from our typical shows, but that's always a good thing.

So it's busy busy busy.

Christian has taken on most of the organising as we come close to our official hand-over time. I have been co-directing Ghosts with Christian as my last hurrah as Creative Director and will hand the role over entirely once the curtains fall on Echoing the Ghosts on September 25th at Galatos.

I can't wait to see what Christian is going to do with us after Ghosts wraps and where his direction will take us. I've been giving him our original and ever-evolving wishlist - we want choreography, we want dance, we want more visuals again, we want live musicians, we want all sorts, I've worked in the multiple-person performances and the beginnings of theatre-influence; now Christian will take it forwards, build upon it, add new things in. It's gonna be good.

For me the best bit is I get to relax for a mo' and just focus on my own poetry and my own performance. Selfish perhaps, but it's necessary sometimes. And... oh my... is it 2010? Far out, it's been a while!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Surviving Prison

A couple of months ago I received an email from Jennie at Auckland Central Remand Prison in Mt Eden. She was interested in the possibilities that lay behind harnessing spoken word and performance as a way of improving literacy in the prison. And so The Literatti found ourselves preparing to run a series of workshops that would see 12 inmates writing and performing their own work in front of the rest of their unit.

We enlisted the help of Michael Rudd for this project, as he'd expressed interest in doing this kind of thing before and has the right mixture of experience and skills, having worked with youth a lot already. We've been trying to work together for ages, but the fates always conspired against us. This time though, everything lined up perfectly, and Michael was in.

So, Dan, Christian, Shane & I, joined by Michael set about the task of workshopping with a dozen young dudes, all under 19, all in remand, for who-knows-what or how long.

We rocked along for an acclimatisation tour a few weeks back. The new prison has no bars, except for in the elevators, which totally take you back to Silence of the Lambs. People are constantly watching from the Master Control Room. You pause at each heavy, blue door and await the click. Pass through the second metal detector. The room we are to use for the workshops looks exactly like any other classroom. Only there's nothing sharp anywhere.

On Wednesday, Christian, Michael and I turned up at 8:30 am to set up for the first workshop. We talked about what poetry was, found out that quite a few of these guys already wrote songs and raps, and took them through a bunch of exercises to generate some material. By the end of the day, most of them were pretty into the idea and had produced the beginnings of their pieces, and in some cases had already written their entire poem. We gave the officers some pencils and paper to pass on to the guys so they could work on their poems overnight, and wished them all luck.

It was a full on session, but really, not that much different from how I remember some of my high-school classes in Kaitaia to be like. On the whole they were stoked to be out of their typical drudgery, and many seemed to have things on their minds that they wished to communicate - they were missing their families, missing the birth of their children, watching people leaving them. And others were struggling to put up a front. That day, people read some really moving poetry. And on the whole it went down well. But occasionally they'd all laugh at something they deemed 'soft' I suppose, and you could see the person who'd shared clamping up. But there was freedom there too, in the invitation to express themselves.

It's an inspiring experience. There's the shy white kid who keeps to himself. The others make fun of him some times. He is sensitive, like an open wound. There's the tough white dude, he's into Serge Tankian, he sings in a band and he writes a poem about having his heart broken by a girl. This draws laughter. There's the loud-mouthed Maori boy, clown-of-the-class, but he's a good guy underneath it in a lot of ways, he keeps things moving. He writes his poem straight away, it was just waiting to come out. He's keen, bright eyed like a magpie. Oh and the twins, the twins from the North, (more than half of them from up that way though), missing their family and drawing their tomoko, beautiful spirals while they are thinking. And then Maori Elvis, the most beautiful young man, with a shyness, reigning himself back always. He won't write, but draws pattern after pattern and aims it at the bin in the corner. But he looks like he wants to, you know?

On the second day we arrive to find out that they were not given their pencils and paper to take their cells. That means that only the prisoners who were already allowed writing implements were able to work on their poems last night. We are two people less today, because they had court cases. So we are down to 10. Some people have composed things in their heads, others have written entire pieces. Some people have written new pieces. I can't help but notice that these are much tougher than the pieces I heard yesterday, and this is sad in a way, but I understand. We are asking them to bare this stuff to their entire unit tomorrow. And there are other dynamics to consider.

We split the room up, Michael and I work with the people who still need to write the words for their final piece, what's come to be called their 'represent' piece. Shane works with those people who have already written their poems and goes through some performance techniques. By the end of the day everyone except for two people have poems written - one has his composed in his head, he says, and the other says 'he can't write poetry'. We do a round where everyone shares, practicing their delivery - and they have depth to them. These are not just write-offs, though they know that's what people think of them. They all care for someone. Today we spend time with individuals. We find out bits of their stories, what they care for, what they are sad about, what makes them angry.

On day three we all go - Christian, Shane, Michael, Daniel, & I. We spend an hour with the class, now down to 9, refining poems (they were allowed pencils last night though, so that was good), and doing a practice round. The class nominates our class clown as MC and he thrives under the role, whipping everyone into shape and running the whole show.

And then we go into the gym, which is just a big empty concrete room with a basketball hoop at one end. The other half of their unit attends as the audience, and the head of prison programmes rocks along to see what we came out with. The guys all jump up and perform or read their poems - and it's good. One guy is really shy, so I perform with him, we do a line each. And the twins incorporate guitar, and then one of them improvs with Michael Rudd as he makes up a poem that takes everyone on a journey down past Taupo. The guy who only moments ago was refusing to read to his class, jumps up and rocks out a mean performance, moving around, gesturing, varying his voice. Once all the guys have performed, The Literatti jump up and do our thang. We finished off with me and Shane reading out a poem we wrote during the writing workshop, using only things that the inmates said.

And then we all ate cake together and drank fizzy drink - their reward for doing the class and performance. And now we just get to hang out with everyone. I wander the hall, shaking everyone's hand and thanking them for their effort. Everyone in the class had their own talent that shone through during the last three days, and I want to make sure that every one of them knows that I saw it. Some of them sign and give me their poetry to keep. I talk to the shy guy I read a poem with. He is saving his lemonade. He says he hasn't drunk fizzy drink for 8 months; you can hear him savouring his first sip, which hasn't come yet, in his mind. As they all line up to go back to their cells I want to say something else, but I do not. The guards make shy-guy throw his unopened lemonade in the bin. Christian and I are distraught - he didn't even get to taste it, oh and he wanted it so bad. Our MC for the day calls out over the cacophony, 'Thank you for everything, poets!" and with that, and a bit of shuffling, they're gone.

It was only a couple of hours a day for three days, but I will remember these dudes for a long time to come. I think we all will. They remind me that there is good in us all, even the people who we have wrapped up in violent stereotypes. And I wish I could know what will come of them.

They tell the Programmes Manager that they want to do it every day though. This is good feedback. And we'll now be making this a regular thing - every quarter, we'll rock along and open another group of 12 up to poetry as way to have a voice and express it.

All in all, a hugely inspiring, enriching experience for us all. There's bound to be poetry that comes from it.

On another note - we've just tentatively booked our venues and dates for the outcome of the Ghosts Project - a show called Echoing The Ghosts - and I am sitting here looking at the product of our photo-shoot last week - looking good!

More updates to come, so so much has been happening.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

It's Been A Long Time, Baby.

But we're still here. And we've been working.

In fact, things are smoking.

After spending 2009 experimenting, we started workshopping the Ghosts Project in November last year. Today, we had our second-to-last writing workshop before we move into the next phase of the project - workshopping performance. Now is the time when we get to know our music with the familiarity of our own pulses.

Today was epic - the newest member of the project, Anna Kaye Forsyth, joined the workshopping process for the first time - and the five of us co-wrote a finale piece for the show. I think it is bloody brilliant, and have the task now of turning it into a script that speaks with the music - track 18 on NIN's Ghosts II. Yes, that's right, so much material flew out of the project that we just had to branch into the second Ghosts album - also released onto the creative commons. There are only three tracks that still need poetry.

So the body is almost complete.

Now we just need to make it dance.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Cast Assembles

We recently announced that we are creating a performance poetry show set to and inspired by the album released by Nine Inch Nails onto the Creative Commons in 2008, Ghosts I. We called the madness the Ghosts Project and invited expressions of interest from people who wanted to write to the music as well as the Ghosts theme, with guest musicians being invited to further riff off the poetry and album.

We started off the month by meeting with all interested parties. Together we got clear on the concept, brainstormed ideas and chose NIN tracks to write to.

The Ghosts Project cast of contributing poets is: Miriam Barr, Christian Jensen, Daniel Larsen, David Ingram, Sabrina Muck and Shane Hollands. We are excited to be working with some people for the first time and to be reunited with both past and new Literartists once more. I think we proved with Growl that we don't do anything by halves in The Literatti. And our collaboration on the Ghosts Project with Shane Hollands, the founder of The Literatti and frontman for Freaky Meat, and David Ingram, a harmonica-playing, retired sailor with a long-time presence on the open mic circuit, promises to deliver nothing short of inspiring. Collaborating musicians are still to be announced - but the shortlist is very exciting.

The Ghosts Project reincarnates a series of characters who have influenced the shape of the era in which we live. After listening to the album together and choosing a track to start working with, we are now each researching characters ranging from Leonardo Da Vinci and Hans Christian Anderson through to Kate Sheppard and Tawhiao. These characters will be plunged into the modern age, placed in interactions with each other, introduced to their successors and given an opportunity to reflect on their own lingering effects. With a cast that spans three generations, the Ghosts Project is shaping up to be an unprecedented experience.

In other news, the Word of Mouth CDs have almost all sold out and as such, you can now download an MP3 version of the album on our website for free - they're not as good quality as the CD, but it at least makes them available. We hope to release downloadable MP3s of selected live Growl recordings shortly as well.

Our newest Literartist, Daniel Larsen, and I have been collaborating together with our old friend and DJ Steve Riley on a 30-minute show for a guest performance at Poetry Live on December 1st. This show is doubley exciting for me, because this is the first time Dan and I, who are also engaged, have worked together on such a substantial series of pieces. A few of you might have seen us perform 'eight ways of looking at it' with The Literatti at October Gig or Rhythm & Verse recently. Our Poetry Live show builds on that, but with the addition of new pieces, all set to music mixed and sampled live by Steve Riley.

On November 24th you can catch Christian Jensen and Murray Lee doing a shared Poetry Live guest spot. It's a good chance to catch Murray Lee in performance for those who have been missing him (my fingers are crossed for a big enough crowd to warrant him performing Train Gang). And I must say, Christian has been delivering some stellar work recently. The Global Eyes/Feet/Voice performances he did were fantastic.

Poetry Live is at Thirsty Dog on Karangahape Rd, it starts at 8 pm.

Dan, Christian, Sabrina and I were all part of the Global Eyes/Feet/Voice project and the poetry and art work we produced for it is all included in the Global Eyes book and multimedia CD. You can purchase copies for $30 by contacting Christian via ideasimbedcreative AT gmail DOT com

We'll keep posting updates about the Ghosts Project and what's happening with The Literatti Pool as things go down. Check in on the website regularly - we try to update it as often as possible. There are new photos of our last big shows up now.

You can catch Sabrina in performance on Sunday November 15th at the PEN Courage Day event alongside Stephanie Johnson, John Pule, Tim Heath and others. A great line up, and a great event.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Literatti Take on the World of Object Art

Our very own Christian Jensen has been heading up a project with Ronald Andreassand in which 6 poets (including myself and fellow literartists Daniel Larsen and Sabrina Muck) were first charged with writing a poem for Matariki. Ronald Andreassend and Karen Chan then created a series of 7 ceramic light sculptures inspired by our poems. These were all exhibited with the poems at the Corban Estate during Matariki.

But that was just the beginning.

Next, the poets were asked to create object art that used the first collaboration as a spring-board - and the Global Eyes Feet Voice project was born. These objects, the original light sculptures and a photo series by Erin Gaffney, are part of the Global Eyes Feet Voice exhibition, which opened at Te Karanga Gallery on K Rd on Monday and runs until October 22nd. The exhibition includes a full colour book and multimedia CD including all of the poems and images of the objects as well as audio recordings of all of the poems.

Christian created a series of tokotoko talking sticks - handmade rimu walking sticks with poetry spiralling up its length. I created a series of twelve tea-light lamps, eight miniature handbound books and a series of three origami poetry flowers. Genevieve McLean created a series of prints. Daniel Larsen made the Global Eyes Feet Voice puzzle that greets you at the door. Ya Wen Ho created a series of drawings inspired by Renee Liang's poems. We all took the poems to the streets and photographs of the chalkings are also on display.

A comment from someone who was at the launch:
"outstanding artwork ... inspired ... fabulous book ... great poems ... amazing ... stunning photography ... top!"

But that's still not all.

Myself, Daniel, Christian and Genevieve have also been collaborating with pianist Jonathan Besser and musicians Paul Williams, Craig Humphries and Otis Mace.

On October 24th we will all be performing together at the Thirsty Dog from 8 pm. It's just $5 on the door. Copies of the book are available from the exhibition and at the performance evening for $30.

If you can, do try to get along to the exhibition (it is very much new ground for all involved), and make damn sure you don't miss out on a copy of this beautiful book either!

Hopefully we'll see you on the 24th at the performance evening. It's going to be awesome. I love working with new live musicians. And my rehearsals with Jonathan have been fantastic.

View the Facebook event and RSVP here:

Until then,


P.S. You may have noticed our website is down at the moment - there has been a technical problem with our server, but it should be back online within the next couple of days.