The Three Day Residency that Lasted Three Months

Thursday 2 June 2016

We were thrilled to welcome Clive Birnie to StAnza 2016 as StAnza's first ever HashtagPoet# in residence. None of us (neither we at StAnza, nor Clive) quite knew what exact shape the collaboration would take, and we were delighted by the resonance with which Clive's bizarre and beautiful creations were met. A guest blog post by Clive and a glimpse behind the curtains of this most modern of Dadaist techniques

The Three Day Residency that Lasted Three Months

It is three months this week since I travelled north to St Andrews for the StAnza International Poetry Festival. I had been asked by Eleanor Livingstone and Annie Rutherford both to adapt my HashtagPoetry# project into an installation to be projected inside the cafe and foyer of the Byre theatre (the heart and home of the festival) and also to be HashtagPoet# in residence. This latter element required me to create and post new HashtagPoems# during the festival. The result was 28 pieces posted over four days on Instagram and Twitter which were viewed around 17,000 times.

I have been asked by a number of people since how I approached the residency – due I think to the number of pieces I posted and also I think from raw curiosity. In asking me they are also enquiring of themselves, how would I approach it were I asked. My approach had three elements:

The first was to hunt out the Twitter streams of other poets participating in the festival and create pieces from screen shots of their tweets. In a sense I made poems from the words that other poets threw away. My favourite example is this Triptych made from the timeline of Stephen Fowler.

Triptych HashtagPoem#

© Clive Birnie

I concentrated on this ahead of the festival and stacked up screen shots from Twitter. Some  (although a minority) I redacted and painted into finished pieces ahead of the festival but the rest were completed either during the journey north or in St Andrews. I felt it was important that as much of the work as possible was completed within the environment of the festival. The downside of this was that it meant that sometimes I took myself off to work on poems and missed a few events that I now curse myself for missing. Such is the dilemma of the poet in residence: a subtle tension between the duty you feel as a member of the festival team and the urge to submerge yourself in all the great things happening around you. I also tried to stay true to the concept that underpinned the HashtagPoetry# project – the sense that we live in an age of cut-up and fragment and the montage we absorb through our senses is real life. A snip of this, a snatch of that. Half started conversations, things overheard, words and images glimpsed, barely grasped and then recycled as art.

The second approach was to respond to the themes events of the festival or to simply post something that was in synch with the real time of the festival e.g. to reflect the poetry breakfast events:

Poetry Breakfast HashtagPoem#

© Clive Birnie

The third might be called everything else. Things triggered by the journey north as with the “Dada-jam-sky” piece which I made on the plane but also included this piece which I made for my fellow poet in residence Harry Man.

Harry Man HashtagPoem#

© Clive Birnie

The fourth element... yes I know I said three but the fourth is something that spilled over into the weeks  that followed. You see, although I was only physically at StAnza for 72 hours the intellectual residency has carried on. This is the magic of StAnza. It wasn't just the dialogue with Harry, or with Scott Tyrell over a coffee or the many many fragments of (still) unfinished conversations. It was going for posh fish and chips with Jo Bell, Tania Hershman, Kevin Reid, Justin Stephenson and Ryan Van Winkle and talking about Aase Berg talking about translation. It was sitting on the bus heading back to the airport chatting with Nora Gomringer whose performance I had missed (dammit). It was the accidental poem passengers were writing on a customer feedback whiteboard in the security zone at the airport.  It was... overwhelming. I appreciate this is not a coherent explanation. Ask me again in a year or two but for now to an extent the residency has not yet ended. I have not yet finished untangling the threads, and exploring where they take me. Hence after a fews days off I started posting new pieces in March and then one a day through April (HashPoWriMo anyone?) and then spent most of May making this 26 piece response to Nora Gomringer's 'Ursprungsalphabet'.

Where next? Let's see where June takes me but the first thing I made when I arrived home back in March was this poem, 'Aurora', which was printed on Impossible Instant Film and I have just taken delivery of something called an Impossible Universal Lab which prints images from a smartphone onto polaroid-style instant-film.

Aurora HashtagPoem#

© Clive Birnie

You can signup to receive a free ebook HashtagPoetry# the StAnza edition which collects the work Clive posted during StAnza here (an automated email will be sent with the links for different ebook formats).