Photo Credit: Kevin Rutterford
Julia Bird is a poet, arts administrator, and reviewer based in London. She has published two full-length poetry collections with Salt – Hannah and the Monk (2008) and Twenty-four Seven Blossom (2013).
Hi Julia. I hope you’re well. Thanks for taking the time to chat. I understand you were a producer on Clare Pollard’s recent Ovid’s Heroines tour and before that on Daljit Nagra’s Retold Ramayana. Can you tell us a bit more about the projects and your involvement with them?
Hello – all well here ta, and with you as well I hope. Daljit’s and Clare’s shows were the most recent tours I produced via my company Jaybird Live Literature. I work with page poets, theatre directors and designers to create subtly theatricalised poetry shows which we tour to theatres and arts centres.
The Retold Ramayana and Ovid’s Heroines were the first one-person shows we have made in ten years of producing, but they were very different from each other. Daljit’s had a van full of lighting kit, cartoon demon projections and an audience participation monkey army, whereas the set for Clare’s show fitted in a suitcase, and the whole thing was much more peacefully powerful.
(Quick tip of the hat to the Arts Council, who support all this.)
You also helped curate the Beginning to See the Light event last year, where various poets were commissioned to write and perform poems on the theme of light and dark, which culminated in a performance at The Royal Festival Hall on National Poetry Day. What was the genesis of the idea and in what ways did the show meet or exceed your expections?
Beginning to See the Light was another Jaybird production, but it was a collaboration with the Poetry Society. When I found out that the theme of last year’s National Poetry Day was ‘light’, I thought – Right! Got to move quick! Light is my favourite subject to write about as a poet, so I knew there must be a Jaybird show in there somewhere.
We commissioned six poets to write about light during the course of one day. We interspersed the new commissions with classic light poems and then handed the lot over to Tamar Saphra, the director, and John Castle, the lighting designer, to make something marvellous from it.
Because of budgets, we had just one day’s rehearsal (usually we need a week) and we were in the Royal Festival Hall Blue Room for 15 hours straight preparation on the day of the performance, but it went brilliantly – a full house, gorgeous effects and excellent performances.
We’ll never be able to put it together again, that show – it has puffed out like a candle-flame, which is part of its appeal, I think. Ephemeral.
You work as a Creative Director at the Poetry School. I imagine that must be a very rewarding job to be able to engage with the world of poetry on a daily basis. What for you are the most rewarding aspects and do any particular highlights stick in the mind from your time there?
Two days a week Jaybird, three days a week Poetry School – I am very lucky to have made or found a career that is so related to my creative life. I can have a twenty minute conversation about Milton in the office, and it really is to do with work.
I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing a class of individual students bond to form proper critical friendships and go off to produce something of their own – a reading, or a pamphlet say; and the PhD festival we ran a couple of years ago was something I was also very pleased with. Eight poetry PhD candidates explored their subjects with our students via a day’s worth of mini workshops and micro lectures.
We’ve just had a shuffle round of staff at the Poetry School, with new faces and new ideas coming in – exciting times ahead.
You published two full-length collections with Salt before they stopped producing single author collections. I’m curious if you plan to work towards a third book or are you content for your poems to appear individually through other outlets and publications?
The Salt poetry shut-down left lots of poets looking for new publishing homes, and I’m one of them – but it happened right after they’d published Twenty-four Seven Blossom, so I had no sort of completed manuscript pressure at that point. Still don’t.
I’ve got a couple of pamphlet sequences on the go (one is complete and has been submitted to a particular publisher, the other is in its very early days) and I’ve had a handful of commissioned and themed things out and about.
There’s a punctuation-themed anthology on its way from Laudanum Publishing soon – I wrote something for that about an overambitious covers band called Isobel and the Interrobangs.
What does the rest of the year hold for you in the world of poetry? Are there any dates in the diary you are especially looking forward to or goals you have set yourself?
I’m looking forward to seeing what happens at Aldeburgh this year – the festival proper is taking a break, but there are all sorts of poetic flowerings popping up in the gap.
Clare’s show might return for a few more dates if I can make the books balance, and I want to get that first pamphlet settled somewhere.
Other than that, my goals usually involve a night out with friends at a poetry reading that surprises me in some way followed by a slap-up gin and crisps supper.
Finally, can you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
It’s the title poem from that first pamphlet sequence I’ve written. Now You Can Look is about (sorta) an artist from the ’30s, and what she has to break and remake in order to live the life she wants. This is the sex scene.
She Stands in the Bedroom Doorway Wearing His Gift, Saying Don’t Look Yet…
at the yellow kimono
that’s drunk up all the
colours from the room
and left it silver gelatin;
at the volume and the
line — the hem like cut
butter from an icebox
drawn against the billows
and the drape; at the
flowers in sewn sutras
on the borders and cuffs —
The Wreath, The Wrist
Corsage, The Unmown
April Verge; at what the
silkworm willed — giving
up its ray shagreen, its
pearl-cross mink; at the
charge — sparked from the
model like the first in
a chain of beacons being
lit; again at the yellow
which is topaz, rung;
at the hooks and eyes
of which there are none;
at the vertical – like the
line of lamp-light at a
voyeur’s door; the spill
that isn’t silk but skin;
at the skin and curls;
at the curls and silk.
And now you can look.