It was in the afternoon sunshine at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge that I first saw David Jones’s painted inscription Quia per incarnati in the flesh. In this eccentric work of painted calligraphy, with quotations from the Latin Mass crowding for space, each letter has its own life and character. When I had first seen it reproduced in black and white in Jones’s long, late-modernist poem The Anathemata (1952), ‘Quia per incarnati’ had looked like a stone carving recently unearthed from the deep past. Seen in Kettle’s Yard, however, it was clear why Jones considered his painted inscriptions to be his “own form of abstraction”: it looked like nothing I had ever seen before, ancient or modern.

Even though this Anglo-Welsh artist and First World War poet was widely acclaimed by the luminaries of his day, including T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden and Kenneth Clark, Jones has slipped into something like obscurity since then. Yet at times, among those who know of him, it can feel like Jones is a password or a secret key that grants access to untold revelations, treasures and insights. Say his name, profess devotion, and before you know it a lost print is being pulled down from a bookshelf, a memory is shared, a book finds its way into your hands, or a promise of some pilgrimage is made. There is always a story to be told about how and where Jones was discovered, because, with all the revelation of a religious conversion, Jones must be discovered.

David Jones, Quia Per Incarnati, 1945, Private Collection © The Estate of David Jonessmall

Quia per Incarnati, 1945

This month I had a review-essay published on Marginalia, for the Los Angeles Review of Books, of the new David Jones book, Vision and Memory. The review gave me the opportunity to read the book with a leisurely eye, to spend time with its detail, but also encouraged me to remember what it was like to encounter the work of David Jones for the first time. It was a nostalgic experience as well as a critical one. The new book is fabulous in so many ways; the reproduction of Jones’s work is like nothing ever published before and does justice to the subtle inflections of his watercolours.


One of the most interesting things the new book taught me was how to map out my own David Jones tour of the National Gallery – finding unseen connections between the delicate lines and lucid colours of Jones’s watercolours and the work of the masters who I have also admired for many years, including El Greco and Rubens.


Rubens’s portrait of Helene Fourment, and David Jones’s Aphrodite in Aulis (1940-1)



In November I was part of an event held at the Enitharmon Bookshop for the Being Human Festival, Being Writers: A Collaborative Conversation.  The evening centred around conversations on the relationship between creative and academic writing. The fabulous Enitharmon poets Hilary Davies and Nancy Campbell were interviewed by myself and another research student from UCL, Jess Cotton, on subjects as diverse as the environment, spirituality, translation, and poetry’s role in communicating history. We wrote a blog post reflecting on our insights from the evening for the Being Human festival website. A slightly expanded version of my thoughts can be found below.

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On the back of Hilary Davies’ third poetry collection, Imperium, the blurb-writer claims that in her poetry Hilary ‘draws from her historical sequences a rich, invigorating music.’ But how exactly can we take our research and make the sources sing? And can the poetic process of researching and writing teach academics anything about their own writing practice?

As I began to read Hilary Davies’ poetry, both the collections I found in the Southbank Poetry Library and the glimpses she sent me of sequences from her forthcoming book, I discovered a richness of historical detail and cultural reference that offered an immediate response to the concerns of the Enitharmon event. Hilary is a poet for whom research is an essential part of the writing process.

Hilary Davies’ poetry struck a chord with me, partly because of our mutual love for the twentieth century poet and artist David Jones, but also because her work spoke to a recent concern of my research: that is, the relationship between poetry and scholarship. After a summer spent in the archives of the National Library of Wales, reading the notes made in the margins of David Jones’ collection of scholarly resources and curiosities, I had been thinking a lot about how poetry might perform contemporary scholarship and creatively rewrite it. But the question I had failed to articulate before the event was what role subjectivity might play in this transformation of scholarly knowledge, and whether this subjectivity can ever be critically productive.

The Story of Nelson for Being Human

Denise Levertov writes of an ‘authentic source of myth in poetry [… where] scholarly knowledge is deeply imbedded in the imaginative life of the writer’ so that it becomes ‘an extension of intuitive knowledge.’ During my conversation with Hilary I was interested in unpicking the threads that had woven meticulously researched detail (like the recent archaeology reports that Hilary said informed one of her sequences, so that her poetry actually became more current than the current scholarship) together with Levertov’s ideal of an ‘intuitive knowledge’ gathered over a lifetime of reading and experience. What is the relationship, for example, between the actually loved and known of Hilary’s Catholicism, and the research required to write a sequence of poems based on the liturgical hours, or the story of Heloise and Abelard?

In his ‘Preface’ to his long Modernist poem The Anathemata, David Jones wonders ‘what may be owing’ to, amongst other things: ‘a small textbook on botany, a child’s picture-book of prehistoric fauna, the text of a guide to a collection of Welsh samplers and embroideries, or a catalogue of English china or plate;’ presenting us with a treasure-hoard of bound papers whose influence may be so obscure as to be untraceable. For Hilary Davies one such piece of treasured ephemera might be the Ladybird ‘Adventures from History,’ The Story of Nelson, a book that she described as having ignited her childhood passion for Nelson, Napoleon, naval history, and the frequent pilgrimages she made as a child from her home in Southwark to Greenwich. Its influence on the two historical sequences in her third collection, ‘Imperium’ and ‘Southwark,’ may be invisible to the eyes and ears of her readers, but beneath the surface-weave this childhood reading still resonates.

The conversation with Hilary made me recognise the complexity of this entangled relationship between research and our own personal experiences. In her poem ‘Faultlines’ Hilary writes: ‘the river banks/ we’ve walked ravel backwards in the night,/ Like lost highways.’ How much of ourselves ends up in our research? Perhaps like the lost highways of ‘Faultlines’ our readings are steps that can never be completely retraced; this doesn’t mean that we never made the journey.

At the end of last month an article written by Fran Allfrey and I was published in a special issue of Textual Practice, which introduced the work of the shortlisted and winning entries for the Creative Responses to Modernism Prize, 2015. It was a really rich opportunity to reflect on the curation of our medieval-modern book, A Gift for the Illuminated Sphere, and how the process of making the book related to our practice as researchers.

‘In her 1938 monograph on Picasso, Gertrude Stein described the experience of seeing the earth from an airplane:

I saw there on earth the mingling lines of Picasso, coming and going, developing and destroying themselves, I saw the simple solutions of Braque, I saw the wandering lines of Masson, yes I saw and once more I knew that a creator is contemporary, he understands what is contemporary when the contemporaries do not yet know it.

Just as the de-familiarising effects of Stein’s aerial view gave her new perspective on abstraction,  ‘A Gift for the Illuminated Sphere’ – a book curated and produced in response to The Whitechapel Gallery exhibition ‘Adventures in the Black Square: Abstract Art & Society 1915-2015’ – is designed to push the viewer towards a new mode of seeing. The juxtaposition of images from medieval visual, textual, and material culture and abstract art bring about a realisation that medieval art is as contemporary as the radical forms of abstraction conceived in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As Deborah Levy said of the book, it ‘whips the rug from under modernity’s feet and destabilises it all over again.’’


This blog has been rather silent for far too long, but that doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been a proliferation of creative and critical activity keeping me busy.  So here is a very brief introduction to some recent publications which I have been involved in, in various ways.

The Still Point Journal #1

Issue #1 of The Still Point Journal launched a few weeks ago. It exists in a printed, perfect-bound edition, complete with a spine and the delicious, freshly-pressed smell of paper and ink (it’s a slim little book!). It can also be enjoyed from cover to virtual cover online and will be making its repeated debut at various venues and events across London throughout the year.

A year in the making, Issue #1 is a veritable feast for the senses: filled with creative prose, fabulous poetry and beautiful artwork and illustrations, it is begging to be enjoyed!


‘The Distant Star’ – The Nottingham Review

A couple of months ago, my short story ‘The Distant Star’ was published in the first issue of the digital literary journal, The Nottingham Review, which can be read online. The journal includes some really excellent and provocative short fiction and is well worth a read. My story is about academics, artichokes, and feeling out of place in other languages. It’s the first of my stories from the Chilean series to be published, so look out for more in the future.

So the anniversary of Bolaño’s death falls now within a kind of crazy hot bliss, extenuated by thirst. Bolaño himself might have enjoyed the bitter poetics of it. The chance to torture his protagonists, to prolong their discomfort: the critics chasing their dead writer. This hot Valparaíso, enjoying its stagnant second summer: the toilet bowls stinking of urine; the frustrated, choked, gurgling of taps; the water trucks circling neighbourhoods with industrial tankers of mysterious liquid; and our hands sticky with a soap we can’t wash away. This Valparaíso greets Latin America’s finest, most astute academics: the rich smell of sweat and sex palpable on dirty streets.


‘Paranoid Lights’ – With Regard To Light and Dark

Back in August I also had my short story ‘Paranoid Lights’ published in the literary zine With Regard To. The zine features twelve short stories and eight pieces of ambient music written and composed for the theme of light and dark, and you can purchase a copy online. My story is about the colliding trajectories of two strangers on the streets of London.

But I see no theatrics, no cinematics: only the cold glow of artificial lights on the surface of the fountains. There is no coincidence in the gathering of that smile and its weakening shadow. If you track it, it is no longer a random act of fatal London.



The Still Point Journal



Adrian Henri at the Liverpool Biennial

(On the train back to London).

If I had the energy to write, I’d write about Adrian Henri and the Mersey Sound.

I’d write about the sounds of Liverpool and how these sounds and the chiming of Liverpuddlian, can be lyrical, sensual and richly musical.

I’d write about how you can stand in the research centre discovering Adrian Henri for the first time and overhear two Scousers talking about their own adventures with the Liverpool Scene, and about a singular meeting with the round, black-bearded and be-spectacled Henri himself.

Yes, if I had the energy, that’s what I’d write about.


Alice Oswald- Tithonus

A poetic jig.
A foot tapping.
A fly.
But shouldn’t they have driven us out to some field at dawn?

I will reflect a little more later, I promise.


Ali Smith: Living Translation

It began with…

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Nathan Coley’s Illuminated Sculpture, ‘You Imagine What you Desire’ in St Nicholas’s, ‘the mother church of Brighton’

A few weeks ago I headed to Brighton to cover the opening of HOUSE and the Brighton Festival for the Learned Pig. You can read the article on the Learned Pig here: And below are some extracts along with a kind of photo-journal.

IMG_20150502_195820Nathan Coley’s ‘Parade Sculptures’ in The Regency Townhouse

“We’re here at the University of Brighton Gallery on a tour of the Brighton Gallery and HOUSE commissions listening as Varda describes the piece as her “hymn to coloured-plastic”. Entitled Beaches, Beaches, it’s a celebration of the life of summer and all of the colours it proposes. A ludic homage to the bright paraphernalia of the “beach spectacle”, Varda’s installation resembles a half-remembered dream of some now-distant trip to the beach, giddily recalled as a hot explosion of colour and Vitamin D.”


Rachel Kneebone’s sensual porcelain sculptures and texts

“A relict is “a surviving remnant of a natural phenomenon” and in Brighton and Sussex it’s found in abundance on the coastline in the pebble-dash piled up by the tides. As the voices of the workmen in Loomes’s video tell us: “the aggregate that we dredge up is quite often the end of a riverbed from the ice age. The aggregate won’t have seen the light of day for millions of years, one hundred and fifty million years or more.”


Souvenirs – Brighton Rock

“Coley’s reflections on the “politics, people and place” of Brighton, which is, in his own words, a “nowhere made somewhere through an act of terrorism”, might make us wonder if the Brighton bombing isn’t the most pervasive “relict material” to survive in this seafront community.”