Earlier this month I sat on the floor in John Keats’s bedroom and Inua Ellams read me poetry. I like sentences like that. The experience was part of a thoughtful and inspiring event put on by Penned in the Margins and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it yet.
My husband and I arrived at Keats’s House one evening earlier in the month. It was late, but only just getting dark when Penned in the Margins editor Tom Chivers, lead a small group of patrons into the un-lit house. In the kitchen we were joined by Simon Barraclough reading his clever and gentle work about planets, stars and time, then we saw a blackly witty video installation from Ross Sutherland projected on the wall. In the the bedroom was Inua with his twisting, dextrous poems of discovery whose language clothes all his subjects in light. On the ground floor we found Hannah Silver lying on the floor and surrounded by scraps of paper. She made us look at and listen to the room we were in then write phrases and thoughts for her. She laid them out in front of her then, with a loop station and a microphone, created out of them a shimmering, shifting sound sculpture. Our last stop in the house was an audience with Leafcutter John whose minimal, manipulated score of found sounds and musical scraps had followed us around the house.
There were, as you can tell, many things to love about this event. It was inspired by a phrase in one of Keats’s letters to his brother in which he speaks of Negative Capability, ‘that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts.’ For me though, creeping quietly through the dark house, the other theme of the evening was time. Each artist was reacting to the house and its history, each was in discussion with its ghosts. To have gone to the house and heard only the poetry of Keats would have been charming, but it would have been sterile by comparison. In the work presented we were given a chance to explore a place, a moment in history and an individual’s moment of history, and our reactions to all of the above. I thought not only of Keats and his time there, but also of all those who have come to the house to find some trace of him. We were part of time laid down in layers, but still moving and shifting as our perspectives were changed. It was time reimagined and engaged with, and I thought to myself, that is what we are trying to do as writers of history - discover and uncover the past, listen to it like a child on the beach with a shell to their ear listens to the sea and then talk back to it.
Penned in the Margins will be staging the show again during the Ledbury Poetry Festival on 12th July. If you have the chance, do go.