April was the cruelest month…

Last month I began offering free online classes to vulnerable adults. I thought I’d share a little history about one of the classes I set up…

I began running a creative writing class from the social care unit at the Union Chapel, London in 2005. You may well know the building as the cool, Islington venue that’s hosted the likes of Amy Winehouse, Noel Gallagher, Tom Jones and Philip Glass but it’s also been home to the Margin’s Project, a crisis centre that offers housing advice and a winter night shelter. It used to provide free Sunday lunches to between 150 and 200 people a week until residents complained about the ‘unsightly’ queues outside their picturesque Georgian homes.

Homelessness isn’t pretty and nor are the social issues that surround it. But there is poetry there, stories that people need to share. Some ugly-beautiful, some incoherently elegant but all of them moving, limping, falling, dancing with a mix of grace and rage. These Monday afternoon sessions generated hundreds of poems, many of them performed at the raucous, monthly Sunday lunchtime gigs we put on. A few members of Babyshambles tipped up one afternoon, delighted that this was ‘the most punk gig in London’. Really it wasn’t. It was raw and that was all. Our poets weren’t trying to prove their authenticity and none of them had record company budgets to squander. While some of our writers went on to higher education and earned degrees, others came once and were never seen again.

As the Union Chapel sought alternative revenue streams, doubling up in the day as a theatre workshop space, our group, nestled in the venue’s canteen, accommodated polite interruptions from well heeled thespians many of whom, I’m quite sure, were not expecting to encounter a rough shod troubadour group when they popped in for coffee during a break in rehearsals. While some of our poets published in magazines like the ‘Big Issue’ most didn’t care for celebrity. The following accolades were, however, provided in passing: “Bloody ‘ell” – Peter Kay, “Oh my goodness” – Julian Clary, “Do excuse me” – Prunella Scales.

With support from the WEA (the Workers Education Association) we teamed up with Islington Libraries, changed location and ran our classes from the splendid but decaying reading room of the South Library on Essex Road. This was the infamous venue where where ledgendary playwright Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell created illicit collages and fake flyleaf blurbs in the library books. It felt like the perfect environment for a poetry group but the clock was ticking. Or rather dripping. Gradually the amount of buckets collecting rainwater from the magnificent ceiling above outnumbered members attending. We passed our Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education) inspection despite all of this but the venue was eventually forced to close.

We moved further north and snuck across the border from Islington to Hackney settling for several semesters in the historic Mary Wollstonecraft room at the Newington Green Unitarian Church. While this was certainly our most salubrious environment funding cuts at the WEA meant we were forced to move on once more. The irony that, what had begun life as a ‘homeless writer’s’ group had now become a writer’s group without a home was not lost on some of the original members. Despite the lovely people at the DAY-MER Turkish and Kurdish Community Centre, a former library in Stoke Newington, taking us in for a while further reductions to our budget made the running of a free, creative arts class untenable. After fifteen years I decided to call it a day.

Last month I announced that I was setting up an online poetry class. I was touched by the amount of likes and shares it received but overwhelmingly I was approached by people who had attended my classes in the past and who were struggling to cope under lockdown. Concerned about the impact isolation was having on peoples’ mental health I decided to open up this Monday afternoon session once more giving my time, for free, to those who needed it most.

I’m currently running two free online classes for vulnerable adults. If you’d like to support me with this initiative you can do so for as little as £1 ($1) a month on my Patreon page.

Jan Noble, May 2020

Tidying a few of my dad’s things away I came across this…

…a small pot of bent nails. He kept everything. Even bent nails were worth hanging onto. This isn’t just the behaviour of an obsessive hoarder, this is about value and understanding that, without wanting to sound like a Pound Shop Taoist, all things have a place and a purpose – it’s just a matter of time before their usefulness is revealed. This is also perhaps about not giving up, that even the broken, the bust, the bent and the crooked should not be discarded.

From the banks of the Clyde to London’s East End in the 1930’s my dad didn’t just see poverty he lived in it. His mum made and sold toffee from her front step in Poplar. And he regarded himself as fortunate. While getting your Claire Rayners robbed might be a risk run by today’s youth in Tower Hamlets, he went to school with kids who didn’t have shoes. He also saw what the war brought to London and what it left behind.

When your world has been resolutely destroyed it takes a remarkable defiance to rebuild. To come back from nothing is impossible but to reconstruct the shattered and the smashed is feasible. The process requires a resourcefulness that will identify the broken from the hopeless. All art is about salvage, about taking one thing and turning it another. It is about the ability to recognise potential in something improbable. We live in an age of replace and up-grade; we would do well to remember the practice of ‘making good’. Become accomplished at this before embarking on your masterpiece.

I can easily succumb to the skewed view that my life has, to date, been a series of nails half banged in, a bunch of botched and broken off attempts at making and creating, one sore thumbed endeavour at driving something worthy home with a dull hammer. There are 20000 writing documents currently sitting on my lap top. Stories and scripts unfinished, essays begun and abandoned, letters unsent, poetry in progress and endless notes-to-self neglected. Of those 20000 I’d say there are around 200 that qualify as ‘pieces of work’. That’s a 1% success rate. The rest of the stuff? Just bent nails, bent nails. And I’m hanging on to them.

La Punta della Lingua 2017

MNIS Live

A week on from our sold out film premiere in London we give a live audiovisual performance of My Name Is Swan tonight at La Punta della Lingua, Portonovo, Ancona, Italy. A reading with a slide show of stills from the film cut together by director Adam Carr with a subtitled translation provided by Italian poets Luigi Socci and Francesca Gironi will be presented at Chiesa di Santa Maria, Portonovo, Ancona, lunedì 3 luglio, 21.30.

Details here…

Festival Internazionale di Poesia di Milano

We performed ‘My Name Is Swan’ with a live slideshow compiled by filmmaker Adam Carr as part of Festival Internazionale di Poesia di Milano at MUDEC. We’ll be taking this event on tour after the film premiere at the East End Film Festival on 25th June.

We’re doing a reading and Q&A at Teatro Filodrammatici tomorrow night, Tues 16 May at 7:15 pm. Details here…

The Importance of Being Elsewhere

The first time Chelsea won the league I wasn’t there. I really wasn’t there, most of us weren’t. The second time (within living memory) I wasn’t there either. I was on stage at a festival in Italy. After the show, I went backstage and found that someone had nicked my Chelsea towel from the dressing room. Yer, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I had a dressing room.

The last time we won it I was on an artists’ residency in France writing a screenplay. While Chelsea achieved yet another success I was off, scratching away, twisting in the wind, missing out on another had-to-be-there moment. But absence is the essence of poetry, loss and not belonging where it finds itself, elsewhere its station and its standing.

Poetry is the art form that isn’t there. It lacks the universality of music, the physicality of image making. If it points at anything it is beyond, away, not here. So as Chelsea fans fought in the stands when their team won the league again last night, where was I? Well, you never saw me. I wasn’t there, right?

[Jan Noble will be performing tonight at Festival Internazionale di Poesia di Milano, MUDEC, Via Tortona, 56, 20144 Milano, 13 maggio, 19:20 h]

Some Italian facts about swans…

  • The last known ‘breeding pair’ of Italian swans were spotted on Lake Como in 1974. Their union had been blessed by the church in 1969. It was later discovered that both swans were in fact male. The church declined to comment.
  • It is believed the poet Dante once fell in love and proposed to a swan. Swans feature in much of his poetry: “When at last the swan returns to Italy / so shall be the soul of Lombardy restored.”
  • Mussolini is said to have ruptured a testicle after being attacked by a swan on the banks of the Po. Alpine partisans in WWII carried the insignia of the swan and two orbs on their berets.
  • A violent faction of the Juventus Ultras known as ‘Brigata del Cigno’ or ‘The Swan Brigade’ attend matches dressed in black and white swan feather costumes. They intimidate rival supporters by waving their arms about a lot and hissing.
  • Jan Noble will be performing his poetic monologue “My Name Is Swan” at three venues in Milan. Saturday, 13 May at 19:20h at the Festival Internazionale di Poesia di Milano, MUDEC, Via Tortona, 56, 20144 Milano. On Monday 15th May at 19:30h he will give a private reading at The Swan, Piazzale Loreto, 9, 20100 Milano. On Tuesday night, 16 May at 19:15h he will perform at the spectacular Teatro Filodrammatici , Via Filodrammatici, 1, 20121 Milano.

My Name Is Swan

A film by Adam Carr, music by Samuel Kilcoyne & Takatsuna Mukai, a poem by Jan Noble. An odyssey of loss in a shifting cityscape, a testament of endurance with the river at its centre…

watch the trailer now

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My Name is Swan is a short film that seeks to address the growing social and economic disparity in the modern city. Shot in stunning black and white its poetry will be found in its varied tones. We aim to make a work that is both beautiful and moving as well as poignant and probing.

My Name is Swan will describe a 24 hour journey across London with the river at its centre. An odyssey of loss in a changing city landscape through which the narrator, ‘Swan’, drifts. It will give voice to social exclusion, addiction, pollution, loneliness and the metropolitan malaise.

My Name is Swan portrays an individual desperately clinging to an identity yet resisting prevailing narratives. He may be pushed to the fringes, to the edges of both the city and of his own sanity, but he refuses to be marginalised.

My Name is Swan may well have hiss in its beak but it will have elegance in its feathers. It will be a story of triumph over adversity as ‘Swan’, kicking against troubled currents, some of his own making, emerges to ride out the tide into another day.

Where will my contributions go?

30% Post-Production and Editing
30% Production and Shooting
15% Musical Composition and Recording
10% Equipment hire and purchase
5% Grading and Submission Fees
10% of funds will be donated to the mental health charity Core Arts

Core Arts is London based charity set up to support and promote recovery, social inclusion and mental wellbeing through the arts.

We need to raise £7000 in order to complete our project. We are looking to raise half of the funds through this platform. The more we raise here, the more we can donate to Core.

The Team

Adam Carr – Director, Producer
Samuel Kilcoyne – Composer, musician
Takatsuna Mukai – Musician, arranger
Jan Noble – Poet, performer
Alison Poltock – Associate producer
Don Mousseau – Artist development

Click the logo below to support…

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“My name is Swan…”

Ahead of live soundtrack events this spring with Samuel Kilcoyne & Takatsuna Mukai and the premier of Adam Carr’s film “My Name is Swan” at this summer’s East End Film Festival, I’m giving a series of pop-up readings at venues across Europe.

Many thanks to Michele Alessandrini for these photos from Ravaletto in Ancona and to Paolo Visci & Federico Pesciarelli for organising events in Italy.

View the trailer for “My Name Is Swan” 

“Mi chiamo Cigno…”

Ahead of the film “My Name is Swan” by Adam Carr and live soundtrack events this spring and summer with Samuel Kilcoyne & Takatsuna Mukai, I’m doing a few readings in Europe. On Friday I performed in Pescara, Italy. Tonight I’ll be at Ravaletto, Piazza Del Plebiscito 48, Ancona at 8pm.

“My Name Is Swan” will premiere at the 2017 East End Film Festival.

https://mynameisswan.co.uk