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Thinking about Gibraltar

September 7, 2018

I lived in Gibraltar for a short time when I was six years old. The smell of cedar-wood takes me straight back to the trinket shops of 1950s Gibraltar.

Last night I went to hear Graham Watson, our former MEP, give a talk about the B-word. Among other things he touched on identity, and overlapping identities. He told us that he was born on an island off the West coast of Scotland. “When I went to Glasgow I was an islander. When I went to Edinburgh I was a west-coaster. When I went to England I was  Scottish. When I went to France I was British, When I went to America I was European. When I went to Lagos I was a white man”.

He has a particular interest in Gibraltar, where 96 percent of the 82 percent turn-out voted to remain in the European Union. Thousands of workers cross the narrow border from Spain every morning and back every evening; most are Spanish, some are British and others originate from all the other EU countries. Tourism is a major industry. I don’t like to imagine what will happen to Gibraltar’s economy or to the daily migrants who cannot afford to live there. But at least it takes my mind off what may happen here in Britain!

I wonder how many of us are aware that the referendum result was (according to the Act of Parliament that enabled it) advisory, not legally binding? I certainly wasn’t until last night. We were woefully under-informed at the time of the referendum, and we are still pretty much in the dark. I don’t know what the next few months will bring, but I do know that I don’t want to be “just British”. I want those overlapping identities. The big problems we face now are international problems and they urgently need international action. We can’t just pull up the drawbridge and hope they will go away. They won’t.

If you care about this at all, one way or the other, please do whatever you can to inform yourself. If you live in central Somerset, you could start here, tonight and the next three Fridays. Come and ask awkward questions!

EMMB poster


Friday Night Flicks: The Diary of The Travelling Bookbinder

September 1, 2018

via Friday Night Flicks: The Diary of The Travelling Bookbinder

Happy memories of bookbinding with Rachel in a Shetland lighthouse!


The hare in the window

September 1, 2018

small hare

Calling photographers

August 2, 2018
Kareem Fahim
Photo by Kareem Fahim on Twitter
I’ve been involved in “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” since the summer of 2008 when I responded to San Francisco poet Beau Beausoleil’s call for letterpress broadsides addressing the car-bombing of the street of booksellers in Baghdad. Through the project I’ve met many remarkable people – including Beau, whose thirteenth volume of poetry is in preparation at Barley Books.
The latest call is to photographers, and I reproduce the text of Beau’s most recent e-mail in full below.
I know that several followers of this blog are talented photographers, and I hope some of them may be moved to join this project.

Dear Artists, Poets, Writers, Academics, Teachers, Translators, and Photographers,

The 2007 car bombing of  al-Mutanabbi Street (the street of the booksellers) in Baghdad, Iraq was an attempt to erase culture and intimidate Iraq’s writers, artists, booksellers, cultural workers, and readers, it was a direct attack on free speech and the free exchange of ideas; likewise the targeted assassinations of hundreds of Iraq’s academics was an attempt to erase and intimidate those who teach, write, research, and work to carry knowledge and personal/collective memories forward. Free speech and the free exchange of ideas is as important in a university classroom as it is on al-Mutanabbi Street.

“Based on multiple sources, the Brussells Tribunal sifted through such reports and published the names of over 400 murdered academics and when they were killed. Although the exact total number of assassinated academics is not really known, the indefatigable advocate for human rights Dirk Adriaensens gives a detailed analysis of the data available so far in his contribution to the book, Cultural Cleansing in Iraq. According to Adriaensens, most of those killed were from the Universities of Baghdad (57 percent) and Basra (14 percent). In addition, 35 percent died in detention after being arrested/kidnapped by some security forces. The modus operandi for the killings was a professional, well-organized assassination. Fifty-four percent of the deaths occurred as a targeted killing, at point-blank range with hand guns or automatic weapons. The killing of academics did not follow any sectarian agenda since the murdered were Sunni and Shia. No one has taken responsibility for the killings, and no one has been arrested.”

From an article by Adil E. Shamoo – Foreign Policy In Focus – Jan 6, 2011

Our photography project, Shadow and Light, begins with this call. I’ve decided to use this list of Iraqi assassinated academics as a baseline for the project  .

I’ve done much thinking about professional photographers versus a fellow academic who submits a simple photo,  and came to the conclusion that since we are honoring targeted academics we don’t necessarily need a professional photographer, rather we need someone who understands what these assassinations meant as a fellow teacher. I’m asking for a simple landscape photo, indoor or outdoor, which can be accomplished without a whole lot of “technique” and it will perhaps be even more meaningful if it has been done by a fellow academic. I do welcome professionals, but the bottom line is understanding.

Perhaps the most daunting thing, for a non-professional photographer would be following the material guidelines to prepare the photo for the project.

Translators seem to fit into this category as they are often academics or teachers. And in a sense we are translating an image into a life taken.

If you understand this project and if you would consider joining you could simply take a picture of the first resonant empty space that you encounter.

Each photographer will choose the name of an academic and the details of their assassination as a reference point.  The photograph that we ask for should be a landscape photograph, either urban or in nature; what we are looking for with these photographs is a kind of “measured ground” for each viewer to see and cross as they approach the names and small accompanying details typed onto each card -the card to be placed below the photograph. The photograph could be an empty room or an open field, an urban parking lot or a grove of trees. Some measure of understanding needs to be traversed and the only life it should hold is the remnant of the person that the artist has chosen to represent from the accompanying card. A key element here is that each photograph is empty of people. The photograph itself buys us time with the viewer, as the image they encounter will lead them to the name of this academic and his or her violently taken life.

I’d ask that you read and watch the links below, and let the project sink to the bone before you begin. We have all seen exhibit goers “glide” through even the most compelling exhibition. Your photograph should try and hold them in a kind of emptiness that is palpable, an emptiness that has enough small details in it for them to slowly consider; and then their vision should drift down to the name you have chosen, and then once again up to your photograph. The photograph needs to be strong but it also has to give way to the name on that small card below it. I think you will know the balance when you see it.

We will never be just an Art Exhibit as long as we have a collective breath in us. We will mark each inhuman act, we will note and support each imprisoned activist writer and artist. We will not turn away, we will simply not turn away. And if our constant recitation of the phrase, “Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here” is an irritant to some, so be it.

Write me if you want to be part of this effort. Write me also with any questions

Beau Beausoleil
Beau Beausoleil – Founder – Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here

Guidelines –

1. 6 copies of one or two images (we ask that you choose images made after deciding to respond to this call.)

2. Photo Size – A standard photo size of 8×10 inches, 8.5×11 inches, or 11 x 14 inches. Please use the metric equivalent of these sizes.

3. Photographers can use any kind of paper they want.

4, We are open to various photographic processes including color inkjet prints, black and white analog darkroom prints,historical process prints etc.

5. Please include the usual exhibit details about your photographs: title of your print, your name, country, (subject’s name, print technique, etc.

6. The work needs to be sturdy and lightweight to keep shipping costs down. We display the broadsides and prints in clear archival cellophane sleeves which are relatively inexpensive ( 35 to 65 cents each) and can be hung with clips or magnets.

7.Work may be signed and dated on the front, but that is optional, and it is fine to do it on the back.

8. Please include an artist’s statement of up to 400 words. It’s important to remember that this is a project of art in the service of ideas rather than work for an “Art Exhibit”. I’d ask that you create, with your statement, a “point of entry” for what you are trying to get at or reflect upon with your photographs.

9. Each photographer will have six months from the date they join the project to contribute their work.

Our project, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, began in 2007 as an arts response to the car bombing of Al-Mutanabbi Street (the street of the booksellers) in Baghdad on March 5th 2007. We currently hold work for exhibits from approximately 600 artists and writers from 20 countries.

We have exhibited extensively in the U.S., Canada, and the UK. as well as in Venice, Italy, Cairo, Egypt, The Netherlands, and Baghdad, Iraq.

In the first part of the guidelines there is a link to a list of the academics that were assassinated. I need you to choose one of those names and write me back with the name and accompanying number from that site. Just have the project in mind when you take the photo. The photo should be empty of people but resonate as a pathway to the name that will be below your photo. Photography is a kind of pathway to and from Memory and Witness, and that’s what I’d like these photos to reflect. The photo should be a way to take the viewer to the name and the life that held it.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Links to our project –

Smithsonian Exhibit  2016  (Note that this exhibit was part of our 11 venue Washington D.C. area exhibit – After watching the video towards the bottom of the page please click on the link which will take you to another page with more links related to our project. Smithsonian video with Arabic subtitles

Arabic Literature (in English)

Artists’ Book Project (An Inventory of Al-Mutanabbi Street – Click into a gallery and then onto any book image to see more views of the book and read the artist’s statement.

Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadsides –

Absence and Presence – A Printmaking project of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here

2014 reading at the Arab British Centre in London –

Exeter, U.K. A 2016 reading and exhibit for Absence and Presence, part of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here Project

Review of our anthology in Jadaliyya, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here

The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS) at Georgetown University (Rochelle Davis is the Director). used several of our printmaking project illustrations in their Summer 2017 Newsmagazine (one illustrates the magazine cover).

Our Bookmark Project  –

A musical piece that was composed for the project 

As part of our yearly global readings for al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, we helped inspire, with the aid of the poet/activist Amal Al-Jubouri and her Soutuna Project, a series of readings across Iraq as reported on here

Seafarers and Sirens: Bath Writers and Artists’ July meetup

July 29, 2018

Yesterday was the end of the heatwave. The City of Bath was assaulted by tempests of Homeric ferocity. The trees in Queen Square seemed about to be torn from their roots. And we fortunate people (eleven for a challenging and rewarding morning session with Sue Boyle, 33 and a delightful dog for the afternoon performances) were safe and dry indoors in the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institute.

John William Waterhouse: Ulysses and the Sirens, via

The afternoon started with a selection of readings germane to the Homeric theme. These included James Elroy Flecker’s The old Ships – an old favourite of mine – read by father-and-son Roger and Conor Whelan, and a selection from a much more recent favourite, Andrew Greig’s pamphlet Found at Sea, read by Sue Chadd.

Verona Bass and Ann Preston introduced their new pamphlets, Verona’s being the second of a proposed trilogy on her childhood in rural South Africa and Ann’s being a collection of poems inspired by paintings. Both were beautifully read.

A sequence of slides showing paintings by Malcolm Ashman RWA led into Rosie Jackson’s introduction to some readings from our 2013 anthology The Listening Walk, for which Malcolm donated an image for the cover. Readers from the anthology included Linda Saunders and Claire Coleman.


After the break for tea and talk, I read my 2006 sequence Warp. Among the other readers were Shirley Wright (Carol-Ann Duffy’s poem Circe), Margaret Heath (George Mackay Brown’s That Night at Troy). and Rosie Jackson (Cavafy’s Ithaka). Andrew Lawrence and I read from Homer’s Odyssey Book 5, he from the little-known Ted Hughes version and I from the original Greek. We then switched to much more recent but equally turbulent Greek history, with a reading from the fascinating 1943 radio-play The Rescue by Edward Sackville-West, a copy of which (with lithographs by Henry Moore) Sue Boyle chanced upon in a charity shop, and a reading of the much-loved Ena to Helidoni, by Odysseus Elytis. These last readings were accompanied by historical slides, including a chilling view of a Nazi flag  on the Acropolis at Athens during WW2. We ended with a group reading by volunteers from the audience of Theo Durgan’s poem Ithaca for Leonard Cohen – unrehearsed but perfect! The whole programme was skillfully put together by Sue Boyle.

Page from Warp
A page from Warp. Tenterhooks are used to stretch the weft on a loom.

ABCD in July

July 23, 2018

Six of us met at the Dove on Saturday. The morning’s show-and-tell involved feedback that was more probing and rigorous than usual, and I for one found this really helpful. Some of this focused on the importance of choosing the right paper for the job: thickness, opacity, strength, grain direction and fold-ability were issues.

Clare’s work for “Navigation” was a series of triptychs in a box: examples of a woman’s mental map for locating her man’s mislaid items! They are illustrated with drawings and home-made rubber stamps and a fold-out map. A witty and appealing piece.


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Carol’s book addressed “Navigation” too. She made three mini-maps and folded them into pockets in a thick paper wallet.

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My 4-page flutter-book on the theme “Unconscious Travelling” was a Friday-afternoon job: both cover and text pages were unsatisfactory and the colours clashed horribly. However, helpful suggestions were made, and Bron generously offered me a photo of one of her etchings for the cover. It is one I have, framed, at home, and is entitled Ararat. My book is called The Slopes of Ararat, part of a line that came to me in a dream, complete with music.

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I also brought a related book, Twelve Border Crossings, a Coptic-sewn set of Turkish map-folds documenting a long-ago journey home from India.

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Judith’s book on the theme “Shadows” is a beautifully-made cased hardback with a recessed photo on the cover. Judith has been to several workshops with the Society of Bookbinders, and we can see the difference it has made.

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Caroline also worked on “Shadows” – she made a hardback album of photos and prints.

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Bron showed us a book she had made while snowed-in for ten days. It fits the theme “Frozen”

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July Dove-droppings

gentians and unicorns
liberated into space
on the wrong side of acetate

I like books you can explore
the small one is too dark
a different saturation

two things about the secret
criss-cross or Belgian
someone else was doing it

shadows on the doorstep
I keep seeing it
when I don’t need it

The next meeting will be on September 29th, when we shall be selecting work to go in the exhibition in Wells Museum in October.


Writing by hand

July 21, 2018

Last weekend I was at the Dove Studios for  a short course “The Handwritten Word” with artist/activist/calligrapher Kathryn John. I have rediscovered the joy of writing with a fountain-pen, experimented with a crayon taped to a long stick, copied “copperplate” script, written with a pointy Japanese nib and a thick bamboo pen dipped in inks made from oak-galls, boiled beetroots, eucalyptus bark and avocado skins, thoroughly enjoyed making a mess, and met some lovely people.



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I couldn’t help gathering some Dove-droppings:

physical calligraphy
stick the nib in a potato
add vinegar and salt

avocado stones for pink
a handful of sharp things
holes burnt with a hot needle

somewhere to go back to
between feeling and expression
it is solved by walking