James Berry (1924 - 2017)

The Jamaican poet James Berry died in the morning of 20 June 2017.  Berry was a pioneering writer, educator, editor and activist - a wonderful poet whose writing for both adults and children was characterised by compassion, humour and an acute eye for the political and social factors that shaped his life, and the lives of others.  He came to Britain in the postwar era of Jamaican emigration, sailing on the SS Orbita, the second ship after the Windrush.  As a writer arriving in the first wave of Caribbean settlement in England, Berry was influential to the generations of poets that followed, including John Agard, Grace Nichols, Sandra Agard, Maggie Harris, and in the current decade, Dean Atta and Raymond Antrobus.

In 2004 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's but despite the serious nature of his illness and its worsening over the years, he would on many occasions enjoy listening to poetry, engage the people around him in conversation, and respond with warmth and delight to music. In 2013, a trust was set up in his name by his partner Myra Barrs, and over twenty poets, performers and organisations pooled together to mark his contribution to literature with a fundraising benefit at the Tabernacle (read about the benefit here).  

At 93, Berry was one of the last surviving literary voices of the early Windrush Generation.  His funeral will take place on July the 4th. He will be sadly missed by family, friends and the many readers and listeners who have savoured his writing and wordplay over the years.  

Words taken from texts by Hannah Lowe and Melanie Abrahams

Interview with Shara McCallum

...poetry is not abstruse... poems are relevant to contemporary experience and in language that includes the demotic as well as lyrical and metaphoric.
— Shara McCallum

The Jamaican-American poet visits the UK in May 2017 for a book tour of her latest poetry collection Madwoman (Peepal Tree Press, 2016).  Read about the tour here.




What 3 words would you say best describe you?

Irreverent, direct, inward-and-outward looking.

Tell us how you got into writing and teaching/lecturing

I was a beginning writer when I started to teach writing and the two went and still go hand in hand. I love it when people, from kindergartners to graduate students to people I meet on the street, will let me talk about poetry and read and recite poems to them.

What do you enjoy most about being a writer? 

Using language to create and recreate experiences in and of the world.

Where would you say your style of writing comes from?

A meeting of old world and new, a love of tradition and innovation.

Tell us a little about your upcoming tour of England

I'll be visiting 5 cities in 10 days in England, Scotland, and Ireland and look forward to seeing friends and meeting new people along the way. Also to being on trains. I love trains.

What creative masterpiece do you wish you had written?

Too-too many to name but, for example, these are two odes I love: "Ode to the Nightingale" by John Keats and "Ode to the Maggot" by Yusef Komunyakaa.

What's an important piece of insider knowledge you have as a writer?

That poetry is not abstruse, that poems are relevant to contemporary experience and in language that includes the demotic as well as lyrical and metaphoric.

Renaissance One is launching Madwoman by Shara McCallum in partnership with Peepal Tree Press and Commonwealth Writers on 9 May at 6pm in central London.  As places are limited it is being run via a guest list. If you are interested in attending email us at hq [at] renaissanceone dot com.  Read about the full tour dates here.



Interview with Kevin Williamson, Neu! Reekie!

Writer, poet & Creative Director of Neu! Reekie!   Twitter @neureekie  Website

Since the global economic crash of 2008 we’ve moved into an age defined by anxiety, tension and uncertainty. Art has to reflect this or it loses its relevance. This isn’t the 80s or 90s and art operates in a very different context now.
— Kevin Williamson
 photo by Jannica Honey

photo by Jannica Honey

What 3 words would you say best describe you? (max 3 words please)

A free-range chameleon. 

Neu! Reekie! What does it mean? 

There are layers of meaning. The historical nickname for our home town of Edinburgh is Auld Reekie (which means old and smelly). Neu! is a hat-tip to the influence of the 70s German electronic outift of the same name. Reekie derives from a poet friend of mine, Paul Reekie, who died in June 2010. Neu! Reekie! was launched 7 months later.

What do you enjoy most about running Neu! Reekie!? 

We get to work with incredibly talented people and mix things up in unexpected ways.

Where would you say the Neu! Reekie! style of presenting literature came from?

In some ways there is continuity with events I produced when I was running Rebel Inc in the 90s. Each show is presented as segments but is conceptualised as a cohesive whole to take participants and audience on a 2-3 hour journey.

Tell us how you got into doing what you do

Being in the right place at the right time and having the suss to be aware of it. The rest is a combination of vision and blagging.

What's an important piece of insider knowledge you have as a creator, maker, performer?

You can get away with anything if you've got coherent ideas, the courage of your convictions, and a brass neck.

What creative masterpiece do you wish you had written?

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. It's more than the sum of its pages. It was a weaponisation of working class culture and internationalised the legitimacy of the Scots language.

Tell us about an upcoming project that excites you

Our Where Are We Now festival in June - part of in Hull as UK City of Culture - is a coming together of artistic pioneers and trouble-makers. We're taking the pulse of the UK's counter-culture.   Twitter @neureekie  Website

Interview with Nick Field

We caught up with performer, writer and director/dramaturg NICK FIELD, who among his many roles is currently supporting poet LYDIA TOWSEY as a Co-director (with RACHEL MARS) on Towsey's show The Venus Papers. Twitter/Insta @nickfieldartist

What 3 words would you say best describe you?

creative tenacious hungry

photo - Nick Field.jpg
I’ve made it my business to keep exploring different forms of performance, and to keep pushing myself to discover new ways of presenting my work.
— Nick Field

Tell us how you got into doing what you do

I started out playwriting when I graduated and got to work with brilliant companies like Paines Plough and the Royal Court, but I became really interested in performing my own work and the possibilities of working directly with an audience. While my work has gone on a journey that has taken in spoken word, performance art and even stand-up, the training I had early on in stagecraft and dramaturgy has always stayed with me and been an important part of what I do.

What do you enjoy most about being a director and dramaturg?

I love working with artists to develop and shape their ideas.  As someone who creates solo theatre I can really relate to the challenges of making and performing work, and so it’s great to be able to help an artist bring their ideas into fruition and support them through that.  

Which artist or maker has influenced you the most and why?

Probably the main influence I had to make solo theatre work came from seeing PJ Harvey’s one-person tour, it inspired me to investigate the possibilities of solo performance. 

What have you enjoyed most about working on The Venus Papers?

Working on The Venus Papers has been a real joy because the ideas behind the show are so interesting. I was immediately grabbed when I saw the first draft of the script by how Lydia Towsey had managed to integrate material with contemporary political resonance and very personal material through this narrative that plays with such iconic imagery. It was great working with Lydia to help shape and hone the script and bring out the themes. I also enjoyed…the fact that there is an amazing live score, I bring music a lot into my own work so it was brilliant getting to work with the musicians and develop their role in the show alongside the script and the staging.                    


Where would you say your style of making, performing or presenting comes from?

I’ve made it my business to keep exploring different forms of performance, and to keep pushing myself to discover new ways of presenting my work, so I say from that. 


What creative masterpiece do you wish you had written?

It would have to be Samuel Beckett’s ‘Happy Days’, the poetic tragedy and the dark humour get me every time. 


What's an important piece of insider knowledge you have as a creator, maker, performer?

Preparation, preparation and more preparation. My advice is always to really think it through beforehand and go into the performance space ready to make it work.


Does the current state of affairs or popular culture influence your writing, performing or your making of art?

Yes, I am fascinated by both. My current show Work Play explores working lives and how they are effected by workplace politics at a micro level, but also how they are shaped by the current political context. And because I’m a popular culture junkie there’s a Britney cover version and references to historical war epic narratives.


Tell us about an upcoming project that excites you.

Coming up I’m going to be working with Penned in the Margins on ‘Fair Field' an adaptation of an epic medieval poem. It’s going to be a major project and I’m excited about creating a piece in response to a hedonistic feast in the poem, thrown by Gluttony. I have a feeling it’s going to get messy!  The show will be at Ledbury Poetry Festival and then Shoreditch Town Hall this July.  Twitter/Insta @nickfieldartist

Archive this

As part of our activity, we film and/or record events that we produce where possible. The reason is not just for archive purposes. It's not about putting it in a drawer or shelf, and forgetting. The puzzling and complex, and sometimes almost full-time job aspect of filming and deciding whether to film or not, is that as soon as you make the decision to do it, you  have to do something with it. Look at it, examine it, edit it (which can take ages if there’s poor lighting or staging for example). At the very least you need to file it, or mark it for someone's attention later down the line.  I also appreciate after having had some experience by now that you have to think about what you are doing.  Is it going to be good?  (and what is good).  What look and feel are you aiming for? why? Edited films and videos, when done well, can be an artform in themselves, separate to the live performance that the camera was fixed upon.  As an organisation we’re not there yet, in production and infrastructure terms, but we're thinking about these aspects, and adapting, and trying to be better, as we go on.

Here are some of our videos:

From the 'Art For Change' event in June at New Art Exchange, we brought together audiences to explore themes around arts for social justice through panels, an audience Q and A and presentations by writers, community interest groups, and arts activists.

See some highlights from the day:

A Performance by Mark Gwynne Jones 

(part of a performance filmed at Free Word)

A performance by Peak District poet Mark Gwynne Jones, who is well regarded for bringing an almost music hall edge to his performance. Mark presented at New Art Exchange a 'Melding Voices' show with India based poet and translator Mamta Sagar – billed as England's Peak District meets India's Karnataka in a melding of voices.

Day of the Unread

Not one of our videos, this was one of the films screened at Art For Change given to us by local writer,  journalist and LeftLion editor James Walker.   More than 100 people took part in the Nottingham city centre reading flashmob in 2014. Organised by Dawn of the Unread, they sat on the floor at the strike of 12pm to have a quiet read, to highlight the importance of hard copy books and to protest against the closure of libraries across the country.

Telling Tales Slam

Medieval meets Modern in a sizzling staged slam of poets, each of whom breathes life into one of Patience Agbabi's characters from her latest poetry collection, Telling Tales (Canongate, 2014). Filmed at the Albany, Deptford in 2014 as part of the Telling Tales Tour. Event in partnership with Tilt, Apples and Snakes and the Albany.

In this video Medieval meets Modern in a sizzling staged slam of poets PATIENCE AGBABI, KYRILL POTAPOV, FRANCESCA BEARD, STEVE TASANE and MICHAEL BROME, and neo-medieval musical responses by DJ: PSYKHOMANTUS. Each poet took on a character from Patience Agbabi’s poetry collection, Telling Tales.  The audience at the live slam event which was a partnership between Apples and Snakes, Tilt, Renaissance One and The Albany, got to vote on their favourite character (won by Michael Brome).

Literature on the road

Around the year we produce many literature events, in various cities. Exciting is not the word. It’s exhilarating and fun, and it entails keeping your cool and managing changes consistently.  Being able to interact with writers whilst they travel and prepare for an event, and watching them as they interact with a curious and often enthused public, offers a first-hand-experience of writers in the public arena.  As a team of producers and curators, we are able, and fortunate, to understand more about writing and - to some extent - the touring life of writers (those who do).  Over the years, I have built up an understanding of producing the specifics of literature, and maintained a high regard for writers, particularly those who are generous with words and insights in the public spotlight, after so many years of touring and engagements.