Lawrence Upton [photo credit: Tristan Hick]: Poet; graphic artist; sound artist: curator. Three walking poems forthcoming from Writers Forum; wrack (2012) -- Quarter After Press, USA [Download through Issuu]; Memory Fictions (2012) -- Argotist Ebooks; Unframed Pictures (2011) -- Writers Forum; Pictures, Cartoon Strips (2010) -- Sound & Language, USA; a song and a film (2009) -- Veer Publications; Wire Sculptures, (2003) – Reality Street Editions; Collaborations for Peter Finch, with Bob Cobbing (1997, 2012) – Writers Forum + Commentaries on Bob Cobbing (2013) Argotist Ebooks. Co-edited Word Score Utterance Choreography with Bob Cobbing (1998) – Writers Forum. Curated Some variations on a theme of Bob (Space, London Studios) and Bob Cobbing and the book (UWE, Bristol) both 2011. Singing Marram (for solo viola, violist Benedict Taylor); CD, 2013 Subverten; Dark Voices CD, Cram 2013 + Possibles (forthcoming CD), both with Taylor). Numerous live text-sound compositions with John Levack Drever. Solo exhibitions 2012 “from recent projects” (St James Hatcham) & 1981 “Deteriorating texts” (LYC). Directs Writers Forum. Visiting Research Fellow in Music, Goldsmiths, University of London. lawrenceupton.org
Where are you now?
I'm in St Just-in-Penwith in Cornwall. It's the most westerly mainland town in Britain. Relatively remote.
What are you reading?
Every day, The Guardian newspaper.
Soon but not yet, The sea, the sea by Iris Murdoch. I have never got on with Iris Murdoch; but I heard a radio dramatisation (BBC Radio 4) recently and quite enjoyed it, along with being interested and intrigued. I assume that it will be better than the dramatisation, which condensed 500+ pages into two hours.
And a couple of days ago, I happened to see it in the “edge of the world” bookshop in Market Jew Street, Penzance and bought it.
Also, for when I tire of the smugness of The Guardian, I have The old ways by Robert MacFarlane, which seems really to be about walking and walkers – much reflection on the poet Edward Thomas – rather than the ways themselves. That's what I am reading at present. I aim to read all MacFarlane's books; I haven't read a bad one yet.
I have with me, too, Donne's poems, but still wrapped in some clean underwear from my journey out.
You see, I am reading fairly slowly just now; I am tired at the end of the day, and spend what energy I have transcribing what I have written during the day. I spend more time than usual just lying down.
That street name needs a comment.
It was largely monoglot Cornish language round here until relatively recently historically. Up the road from Penzance, there's the village of Mousehole (say it 'mowzul'). It's been called that for many centuries, with English known in the ports along the south coast. From the sea, you can see the cave that became the mouse hole. I assume that it was a landmark for the English-speaking sailors as they did their stuff up and down the channel.
And there lived Dolly Pentreath who died in the 1770s and was claimed as the last speaker of Cornish – she wasn't; and, they say, foul-mouthed if you had the language skills to follow her.
Anyway, the main street of Penzance (Penzance meaning 'Holy headland') was called Marhasyow: in English, Thursday Market street, because, if you followed the street East, you got to where they held the Market on Thursdays.
That's now called Marazion, which is what a people which had lost its language quite rapidly did with the original name of Marhasyow. It has nothing to do with Zion, but in the low church fervour of west Cornwall then, maybe the two syllables came easily to the tongue.
The people of Penzance got stuck further back. Marhas became Market, but day names being perhaps more deeply embedded in the speech circuits, maybe they stuck with dy’ Yow for the day that follows what we call Wednesday, so that they were saying Market dy' Yow. (Substantive precedes the adjectival in Cornish. I am told: but I only do Cornish Toponymy; and this is largely supposition on my part.)
And so they made “sense” of what they were saying and came up with “Market Jew”. There were many Jews – I know Penzance had a synagogue and a burial ground, the former converted into something else and the latter I'm told still there near the railway station.
I nearly bought a book called something like “The Jews of Cornwall” when I saw it this week; but it was too expensive for me.
What have you discovered lately?
Many many things. I am, for instance, more out of condition than I thought.
And a few things about myself. That happens when one walks alone; or can do. No one in their right mind would accompany me: it all happens in my head.
And how to do a few more things in writing verse.
The most exciting discovery so far this trip was that I had a reading booked last week but I didn't attend the venue because the organiser sent the invitation to an email address that is not mine; and I was unaware of the proposed arrangement. It has been explained; I understand the explanation; and there has been an apology from them. I shall read there later in the year.
Where do you write?
Here, this trip, I write on the move into a notebook. Well, if I have to. The weather, though good for January, is not what you'd call good, not for writing into a notebook; so sometimes, if I feel overly verbal, I go to a cafe. There's one in Mousehole that's a bit pricey for food but the overheard conversations are sometimes priceless. There's Penlee House in Penzance, a municipal art gallery, though it is a bit municipal in atmosphere. My favourite is the Dog and Rabbit in St Just – good tea, big strong tables and they don't hurry you; but I try not to overdo it there because it's a stone's throw from where I am staying and I want to get out and about. In the evenings, I stay in my room and type up and rewrite my output.
What are you working on?
Much. I finished-for-now working on a whole batch of visual work before coming away so that I could talk then with the musicians with whom I hope to perform in March.
Now I am on wordals rather than visuals. In particular I am looking at cloud patterns and writing from there! Not a sensible occupation in a country that presently appears to be beneath a grey hemisphere of granite rain clouds.
Have you anything forthcoming?
Yes. A little book called “Three Walking Poems” which consists of four poems, one about walking and three about specific walks – all of them round here, West Penwith. They are about ten years old, from when I lived in the area, and have been magazine published.
After that, I hope, “Letters to Eric” (Mottram) which would be a reprint of a 1997 booklet. Eric's been dead twenty years and has been much on my mind. I think the poems I wrote him still stand up.
And after that maybe some asemic sound poems, painted, from some of the stories round here, giants and witches and the like – a starting point, a jumping off point rather than any huge enthusiasm for the supernatural. I thought of this stuff a couple of days ago when the bus I was on sped through Crows-an-wra, which means 'Witch Cross' and was also one of the end points in “Three Walking Poems”. Not sure who'd publish that. I don't want to do it all myself.
What would you rather be doing?