As a method of meeting someone, writing a poem towards them seems like as good a start as any. We pointed at where we were (Stapleton Road in Bristol, I pointed, and Coton Orchard in Cambridge, John Clegg pointed) and set about working out where we had any common ground. Somewhere in Oxfordshire? Surely. Is it an interest in site? Is it something to do with assonance? Oh is it Swindon? Is it big hair? No, we didn’t know about that yet, having not yet met face-to-face.
So John measured the screen with a ruler, which showed where we might meet in the middle. I liked the idea of tracing out an as-the-crow-flies line over the landscape over the internet – but I wanted to know the exact spot, door-to-door, because I am a lazy stickler and I didn’t want to range around Google maps without knowing which hedge or glitchy speeding car was the marker that would let me know where balanced and proper collaboration should start. The answer came from the extraordinary Geographic Midpoint Calculator, which can, if you wish, put you in your place according to your own personal centre of gravity. We asked for the exact dividing line between Clegg and Carr was and it showed us this:
Where were we? Crossing over in the corner of an Oxfordshire infinity loop. A hellish bypass. An egg timer. A double cone. A double-headed axe. And what’s that? To the left? A little pinched lake silting over and echoing the same shape. I was nervous to scroll out the scale in case there was a third hour glass just to the right, just a bit bigger, and then another and another and John and I became too terrified to start writing.
So we got cracking and turned the egg timer over.
We moved through John’s storm-damaged orchard, the B4207’s rainblatted branches and towards the shifting territories of Fox Park in Bristol. We wrote through the roots of our poems, sharing what we had in common, pinching things in towards the middle and moving outwards into those cones to sound out the differences. Which were also sort of the similarities. Echoes rang out: storms, trees, territories, damage, claims on language, claims on loss, turning up after the show is all over to pick through the leaves and soil(ed remains).
And took this to London for SJ Fowler‘s incredible Camaradefest ii at Rich Mix, where 100 poets in 50 pairs read whatever their interests and intersects had taken them towards. There was this exercise in intimacy from Ross Sutherland and Thomas Bunstead and this incised extimacy with Eley Willams and Prudence Chamberlain and more things than I can try to cleverly word from more poets than I can fit in my car and drive around the Carr-Clegg coniunctio. There was everything I could want: flip-charts, trip ups, rip-roaring laughter and pillows in swimsuits and sexy poems and power steeples and that was only the first hour. It was wonderful and a bit messy and a lot good.
As John and I started the day, rolling up onto a cold stage, it was difficult to feel all that energy that would later roll from pairing to pairing. But it was an honour to kick off such a day with this quiet tripped-up triptych:
I met John for the first time a few minutes before this was recorded and we had quickly arranged ourselves according to the compass: me on the west, John on the east. It was a strange idea to be hurrying into London (another intersection, another neutral ground, another (0,0) on the axis I guess) to read this ‘from’ Bristol. In truth, I had just arrived from, if not John’s orchard then from John’s city. Two weeks ago I crossed back over with myself and went back to Cambridge to start a PhD in poetry and sculpture at Newnham College. There I am, overwriting, overdoing it:
I am still committed to my projects in Bristol (my residency at the Bristol Poetry Institute, my teaching at RWA in the new year, a seminar for AWWA, amongst them) and I am excited to see how research and practice might also intersect and be another kind of axis. The egg timer turns over again and as I am driving endlessly back between Bristol and Cambridge (surely driving through this midpoint we have visited online?) I feel like I’m stuck on that infinity loop, meeting myself in the middle. And it was great to have so much (and such great!) company at the midpoint this time.
Thanks to John and Steven and to all the poets on Saturday, and if you missed out, all the videos are here.