Thursday, 3 July 2014

Sea Fever Variations

Making Memories, Gallery Oldham

A question we keep running into is how to make writing or art exercises that are accessible to many folks, without being hopelessly dumbed down. 

The answer comes in the unlikely guise of William S Burroughs, the notorious inventor of the 'cut-up'. We have often brought cut ups to our workshops. They used to be among the artiest avant-garde writing strategies, but are now very commonplace. The beauty of cut-ups is that they allow unusual, tangential logics into the making of a piece of writing. 

More photos at flickr

There are many variations on cut-uppery in our workshops; usually somebody will write down people's reminiscences about a particular subject and then cut them up into individual lines. The participant then arranges those lines in whatever order they like. Once the order has been decided, however wild and random (ah, Saint William, delinquent angel!) the lines are sellotaped down onto paper.

For the group poem below, we took notes about people's reminiscences of holiday travel on the trams, omnibuses and seaside donkeys of yesteryear. We also read out the poem Sea Fever by John Masefield, which was a set text in British schools, decades ago. The reminiscences were cut up into individual lines and intermixed with John Masefield's famous verses. The results were sometimes funny and sometimes eerily lovely. They started pleasure and recognition in the makers and I hope they managed to put a little of their worldview onto a piece of paper. 

Sea Fever (Variations)

I must go to the canal again
the lonely canal and the sky
and a grey mist on the river's face
and the white sails go "bye bye"

and a grey sky breaking
and the wheel's kick 
all over the Isles
a boat in the canal, a dog in the boat
Norfolk Broads and the wind's 
song shaking

(Eunice & Walter Mabey)

Benidorm, Tenerife
I've done my travelling
the vagrant gypsy life
on coach and charabang
Oldham Wakes, back when summer was proper
Blackpool every year
into the sea and stay til night
I must go again to the seas of 1973
£5 a passport 
to the gull's way and the whale's way


to the holiday resorts 
it is a military operation, look for
the coach numbers
all the coaches in the Northwest converge
wheels and the wind song and white sails on the M62
where the wind's
like a whetted knife
follow the metal on the lines
the clattering tram
they've knocked that bridge down

(Stephen Cullum)

out into the gloom 
it swings and batters 
you never saw it you see, the sea 
sundering waves lost and gone
with the "owd trams" 
from Oldham Brewery
by boat, get a coach
go to Germany first, then Austria
then Poland
and the stars and storms


I think "very nice"
and all I ask is a windy day, clouds flying
a trip to the lightshow, very nice 
and the flung spray and blown spume
and the sea-gulls
a shaking movement
and quiet sleep 
and a sweet dream 
when the long trick's over

Jan 2014