Bob Dylan & the Nobel Prize

Bob Dylan caused controversy this week after being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In a piece for the Huffington Post, I argue that it was a good decision to give Dylan the Nobel. It acknowledges that lyrics are literature, and points towards the central role that songs can play in political discourse. The full... Continue Reading →

Review: ‘Fire in the North Sky: Epic Tales from Finland’

Review of Kalevala performance led by storyteller Nick Hennessey.

The Oxford Culture Review

The stories from the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, are seldom read in England, let alone heard. First published in 1835, the epic is comprised of 22,795 verses of traditional tales from the Karelian region, compiled into one volume by philologist Elias Lönnrot. It became pivotal for Finnish nationalism, rejuvenating interest in the Finnish language at a time when Swedish was the official language of Finland. Most importantly though, it provided a sense of shared cultural history. Lönnrot collected the stories for the Kalevala from singers who performed runic songs, a centuries-old oral tradition of sung poetry. It is these songs that are brought to life in Fire in the North Sky, currently touring the UK. Bringing together storyteller Nick Hennessey, singer Anna-Kaisa Liedes, and instrumentalists Kristiina Ilmonen and Timo Väänänen, the show offers a contemporary take on this tradition, combining the ancient stories with…

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The Unaccompanied: An Interview with Simon Armitage

Interview with poet Simon Armitage, the newly appointed Professor of Poetry at Oxford University.

The Oxford Culture Review

Simon Armitage is a multi-award winning poet, playwright, and novelist. In light of his recent nomination for the post of Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, I spoke to him about what he would hope to bring to the role, writing collaboratively, and creating poetic voices.

How did you get into writing poetry?

Reading, really. When I was at school, about age 16, I started reading Ted Hughes. It was really from that point on that I wanted to be involved with poetry. I saw it as a way forward. I don’t think I knew then that I wanted to write, but I knew that I wanted to read and acquire books. The BBC are making a radio documentary about a book of Ted’s called Poetry in the Making, which is a published version of some talks he gave on radio on how to write poems. I remember…

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Review: The Ruined House of Skin

Review of storyteller Nick Hennessey performing Irish tales.

The Oxford Culture Review

Imagine an island that lies outside of time and reality – a place where women run faster than horses, animals speak, and tales can heal the dying. This is Nick Hennessey’s Ireland, a mythical world spun from the threads of stories and songs. His set The Ruined House of Skin, performed at the Story Museum last month, travels through this imagined Ireland, breathing life into its inhabitants through music and narrative. He appeared at the Story Museum after being voted the audience’s favourite act from last year, and it is not difficult to see why. Hennessey’s performances are uniquely compelling, exuding an intimate authority as he leads you from one storyscape to the next.

The stories that comprise The Ruined House of Skin are obviously of personal significance to Hennessey. He describes himself as “Irish without any sense of what that really means”, born to an Irish father who…

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Review: ‘The Four Chambers of the Heart’

Review of storytellers Clare Murphy and Tim Ralphs.

The Oxford Culture Review

“The universe”, wrote poet Muriel Rukeyser, “is made of stories, not of atoms”. Poetic sentiment maybe, but when told well, stories have the ability both to let us explore new worlds, and to make us look at a familiar world afresh. This week, in a sparsely decorated room in the Story Museum, storytellers Clare Murphy and Tim Ralphs presented a collection of tales that without doubt achieved this. Set against a black backdrop decorated only with fairy lights, the two transported the audience to realms with spirits who can change your gender, and bowls that turn their contents into gold. In each of these stories, though, was the ordinary and the everyday – the young couple who wish to love without facing judgement from others, daughters with troubled relationships with their parents. They may have travelled beyond the constraints of the earthly in a single evening, but Murphy…

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Poetry, Technology, Creativity: An Interview with Leo Mercer

Interview with poet Leo Mercer.

The Oxford Culture Review

Poet Leo Mercer is currently President of the Oxford University Poetry Society. He regularly blogs and tweets both about poetry, and his own poems. I spoke to him about the relationship between creativity and technology, developing language, and poetry’s place in society.

Who are Oxford University Poetry Society, and what do they do?

The society’s been around since the 1950s and has been running consistently since then. At the moment my conception of it is that it does a number of things. We try and cover all bases, so various aspects are represented by the society. There are reading groups, writing workshops, and open mics where you can read your work, and if you like listening you can come to both the open mics and to readings by established poets. If you’re interested in reciting poetry then we’re trying to start a group where people walk down Broad Street…

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The Rain Suggested Poems: An Interview with Nick Hennessey

Interview with storyteller Nick Hennessey.

The Oxford Culture Review

Nick Hennessey is a professional storyteller and musician, and winner of the 2000 World Championship in epic singing with his performance of the Kalevala (the Finnish national epic). I spoke to him about interpreting the Kalevala, the relationship between landscape and stories, and what makes storytelling so uniquely compelling as an art form.

What first drew you to storytelling?

I grew up in Alderley Edge, South Manchester, in the shadow of a hill about which there is a legend. And I grew up in the shadow of Alan Garner and his first book The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. In its opening pages, it had in it the legend of this hill, and so from a very young age I felt that landscape and stories were basically connected, and we only know a place by knowing its stories. That was the only traditional ‘story’ I ever knew – nobody told me stories as…

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Ground Work: An Interview with Andrew Walton & David Attwooll

An interview with poet David Attwooll and artist Andrew Walton

The Oxford Culture Review

‘Ground Work’ is a collection of poetry and art by David Attwooll and Andrew Walton, based on a year of walks in Port Meadow, Oxford. The collection was exhibited earlier this year by Jenny Blyth Fine Art at Art Jericho. I spoke to them about the project, and the challenges of committing one of Oxford’s best-known landscapes to paper and canvas.

This is obviously a very collaborative process. How do you find working with someone else in such a close way?

Andrew: I’d known David as a good friend since the seventies and as someone who was very interested in the visual arts, is amazingly knowledgeable about music and is a very good percussionist playing in a street band. A couple of years ago we were having supper and he told me that he’d started writing poetry… Out of that we thought it would be interesting to have some kind…

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Review: Where the Bear Sleeps

Review of storyteller Nick Hennessey’s rendering of the Kalevala, ‘Where the Bear Sleeps’

The Oxford Culture Review

I confess that until last night, I’d never been to a live storytelling event. While I devoured fairy tales, myths, and legends as a child and have retained a love for the fantastic and inexplicable within novels that I now read as an adult, I’d never had the opportunity to indulge in the group experience of watching an oral rendition of these tales. So when a friend persuaded me to watch Nick Hennessey performing tales from the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic and possibly my favourite folk epic, I duly bought my ticket and arrived with a sense of mild apprehension that the event could not parallel the mental images I have of the tales from reading them myself. But from the opening verses I was spellbound, lost in Hennessey’s images of the frozen land of Pohjola and its inhabitants.

Nick Hennessey ⓒ One Big Idea Photography Nick Hennessey ⓒ One Big Idea Photography

Originally published in…

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