Skype Me! Nottingham and the World

Robin Vaughan-Williams, the former Development Director of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio, is back in town for the Festival of Words. In this guest blog post he gives us a little teaser of what to expect…

Under three weeks to go now till Skype Nottingham on 18 October, and the programme is shaping up nicely. I’ve been enjoying some fascinating Skype conversations with participants in Brazil, Germany, and Austria, and am excited about their plans for the evening.

A couple of days ago I spoke with Reuben da Cunha Rocha, who took part in World Event Young Artists (WEYA) in 2012 and stole the show at the Festival of Words launch event that September with his incantational and, to my mind, slightly hallucinatory sound poetry inspired by the tribal rhythms he’d discovered on an island off the north-west coast of Brazil.

WEYA was an amazing festival, bringing together some 1,000 young artists from around the world, including 30 writers. There was enormous energy over the ten days as artists from different cultures discovered one another’s work and started to collaborate and make new connections. Then everybody went home. So it was wonderful to hear that WEYA had had a lasting impact for Reuben, as he’d been encouraged to go on developing the kind of work he’d presented at the festival, and had gone on to collaborate further with several of the artists he’d met at WEYA. Now he’s coming back to Nottingham this October, two years on, and, coming full circle, I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to offer us.

I’ve also spoken with Klaus Tauber in Vienna and Johann Reisser, who lives in Berlin but is currently undertaking a residency in the German city of Rottweil. I’m pairing Klaus with Leicestershire poet Mark Goodwin, as although they don’t know each other, they are linked by the Austrian poet Karin Tarabochia. Karin is part of a group curated by Mark on SoundCloud called Air to Hear, which collects digitally produced sound and poetry, and Klaus will be incorporating Karin’s voice into his performance for Skype Nottingham, which he’ll be presenting live from the roof of the Vienna Volkstheater.


Johann Reisser organised an impressive event recently called Katastrophen /Formen, which involved bringing together WWI poetry from fourteen different countries for a staged reading. One of the things that interested him was how poets responded differently to the First World War in different countries. For example, I tend to think of British poetry from World War One as using conventional forms such as the sonnet to convey their traumatic content. But if you take a look at the poetry of German Expressionist August Stramm, translated here by Alistair Noon, you’ll see a very different, much more experimental approach to war poetry. The way his tornado-shaped forms wither down from top to bottom captures for me the whittling down of existence, and indeed of language, and the disorienting syntax suggests the disorientation of war.

Johann will be reading a poem on WWI by the poet Thomas Kling, who died in 2005, and I’ve paired him up with Ian Douglas, whose highly praised story of disaster in the North Sea, ‘Dead in the Water’, was included in the graphic fiction anthology To End All Wars. I hope this juxtaposition will give us a taste of the different ways that WWI is remembered in Germany and the UK.

Skype Me! Nottingham and the World takes place on Saturday 18 October 2014, 9–11pm at Nottingham Writers’ Studio (25 Hockley, NG1 1FP) as part of Nottingham Festival of Words. Tickets are £5 and available from the Nottingham Playhouse Box Office, online or by phone (0115 941 9419).



Derby Quad by Graham Lucas

Derby Quad by Graham Lucas

On Tuesday I attended #Gallerycamp14 at Derby Quad. Although I spend my entire life bigging up Nottingham I was delighted at being given an excuse to visit our noisy neighbour. Quad was the perfect setting as part of their remit as an Arts Council funded-NPO is to create space for people-led events such as this exploring digital participation and innovation. While there I bumped into one of my favourite poets Joe Coghlan and Alex Davis, who was editing work for his newly formed publishing house BooBooks. Neither were attending the unconference but using this beautiful space for work.

Derby appears to be a city slowly starting to form a much-needed cultural and digital infrastructure and this is largely due to an investment in gigabit internet connectivity. This has resulted in transmedia innovators such as Phil Campbell returning to the city which promises to herald a very bright future.

I remember the first Creative Quarter meeting in Nottingham when free high speed wireless internet was discussed and the debate seemed to focus on how this could be monetised through advertising rather than its primary function – ease of access – which would lead to collaboration and productivity. The return of Phil Campbell to Derby is validation for such investment and a reminder that businesses need to think beyond simplistic business models built around advertising, which, if anything, thwarts online engagement and just annoys users. I’m still recovering from the time Nottingham Train Station advertised on steps, meaning not even shoe gazers could escape corporate crap. Anyway…


The aim of Gallery Camp 14 was, very simply, to showcase work and meet and connect with people working in the digital and technology arenas across the broad arts and cultural sectors including curators, managers, directors, digital artists, designers, producers and technologists. In this it was brilliant and I discovered a lot. I was particularly impressed with the Tate’s digital learning programme to engage the public, the use of WeBeacon as a more nuanced development of the QR Code, and was absolutely blown away by The Malthusian Paradox which has taken gaming (and paranoia) to a different level.

Less impressive was the actual format of the Unconference, which are all the rage at the moment. Basically, you turn up at a location, pitch an idea, and then you’re given a time slot. It’s all very democratic, non-hierarchical and liberal, but the sceptic in me thinks it’s just a trendy way of saving money. I like structure, particularly if I’m driving a long way to attend an event (which it wasn’t this time, but last week the ‘unconference’ was in Newcastle).

My main gripe is that once you’ve pitched a session your event is written on a postic note and stuck on a board. Forgetting for one moment that postic notes fall off of boards, they don’t mean anything because there’s no context. What on earth is ‘Musomix’ or ‘adult entertainment’? This is especially a problem if you turn up late and have missed the pitches. There isn’t much room on a postic note for context.

What would work better, particularly given this was a digital unconference, would be for participants to upload a short 30 second pitch on the home website. These could then be voted on, moved around and then allocated a time slot. A simple touchscreen in Quad would enable late visitors to click on content and discover more. The use of tags on uploaded pitches would also more easily enable visitors to find relevant talks.

My talk with Paul Fillingham on Dawn of the Unread was held on the first floor in a room that was locked which meant some people turned up and then walked off. The devil is in the detail and such slips could have potentially ruined what was otherwise a really informative and inspiring day. But once we managed to break in we had a good natter with a group from the Black Country, and discovered a wonderful artist called Giuseppa Barresi (Ryuuza) But best of all, nobody tried to kidnap me as I left