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Poet Michael Pedersen excited for XpoNorth's innovative Poetry Now! panel with fellow guest Joelle Taylor, winner of the TS Eliot Prize


By Margaret Chrystall



Michael Pedersen, poet and co-founder of Neu Reekie! which has run events to showcase poetry, music, animation and film since 2010, is chalking up another first.

Poet Michael Pedersen, who also co-founded the Neu Reekie! stable, guests with fellow poet Joelle Taylor at the XpoNorth online event at 11.15am on Wednesday (June 15)..
Poet Michael Pedersen, who also co-founded the Neu Reekie! stable, guests with fellow poet Joelle Taylor at the XpoNorth online event at 11.15am on Wednesday (June 15)..

He is one of the guests at Poetry Now! – a pioneering panel looking at poetry, a first for XpoNorth which returns on Wednesday for two days as an online event.

Michael is a prize-winning Scottish poet with two collections of poetry (Polygon Books).

He won a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship, the John Mather's Trust Rising Star Of Literature Award, and was a finalist for the 2018 writer of the year at The Herald Scottish Culture Awards.

His work has been collected in anthologies from Pan MacMillan and Canongate Books.

With Kevin Williamson, Michael founded Neu! Reekie! in December 2010 as a literary, music and animation collective with an Edinburgh-focused output.

But Neu! Reekie! is now a prize-winning literary collective and arts production house that has been curating and producing cross-culture shows for over nine years, including internationally.

Being at XpoNorth is a debut for Michael, something the Edinburgh-based writer is excited about.

“This is my first time,” Michael said, talking about the event a couple of weeks before the poet was due to head off to an event in Estonian capital Tallinn.

“I don’t think there have been many poetry events before and I think we might be the first with this degree of focus. I’ve witnessed the literary side of it growing as it evolved.

“I remember it from the goNorth days when it was a canny cultural thing, but more of a music-focused event.

“It has been a real pleasure watching the literary arm of it evolving and especially as art and literature and music all blend into each other and cross over with all this dynamism. It is good to see the programme reflecting that as well.”

Michael is a regular visitor to the area, bringing Neu Reekie! events and guests to the north, including Kathryn Joseph and the late Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit to Elgin. Michael speaks highly of writers’ centre Moniack Mhor where he has recently been a poetry tutor.

And he pointed out that his visit to Tallinn came about through a twinning with the city and Ullapool Book Festival.

“My favourite place to perform in the Highlands is at the Ullapool Book Festival,” Michael said.

The XpoNorth event will look at many aspects of poetry, publishing and also performance.

Joelle Taylor. Picture: Roman Manfredi
Joelle Taylor. Picture: Roman Manfredi

“It’s talking about what exists as a fertile scene for spoken word, literature and publishing at the moment. Joelle Taylor is running one of the biggest nights in London and has just won the TS Eliot Prize and is very much immersed in London literary culture,” Michael said, talking about his fellow guest on the panel.

"Also we are going to touch on what happened to poetry during lockdown – we were all locked away inside – and the different ways we could get it out there into society and the environment.

"Also, archiving and ways that live poetry ccan exist when live performance isn’t available to it – getting the poems out in to the environment without the poets necessarily being the mouthpieces of delivery."

"So all that fecund territory of collaboration and expansion and just seeing what we can do to make sure the scene is as nationally and internationally representative as possible

"And all the things that we are doing that are perhaps skillsets that can be passed on – to can help bolster and encourage a healthy literary environment, really."

“What I have been doing with Neu Reekie! has very much been about putting literature on the big stages alongside musicians and making poetry in particular an integral part of dynamic creative nights and conversations, putting poets alongside some of the biggest bands in the country and really creating this fertile territory for poetry to collaborate with, seep into and to explore all the other creative art forms.

"Just searching for what synergies really exist there and how we can expand them to keep poetry as vital and exciting as it seems to be at the present moment.”

Boy Friends comes out in July.
Boy Friends comes out in July.

His own latest book, Boy Friends, published on July 5, is a memoir of love, grief and male friendship. It grew out of trying to document his friendship with the late Scott Hutchison after his sudden death.

Michael said: “It was very quick and sudden the way we lost him and I worried that the shock and tremors of that would mean I would lose or misplace a lot of the details and a lot of the favourite moments. So I sat down to write this book almost for my own benefit, to archive this friendship that changed the course of my life and that will resonate inside me forever. And it became much bigger. So what started as a book about loss, very much became a love letter to friendships and a book of celebration.”

Michael's fellow guest for the Poetry Now! session is Joelle Taylor, the author of four collections of poetry.

Her most recent collection C+NTO & Othered Poems (Westbourne Press) won the 2021 T.S Eliot Prize –and it is the subject of a Radio 4 arts documentary Butch.

She is co-curator and host of Out-Spoken Live, resident at the Southbank Centre, and the current editor of Out-Spoken Press.

In March she recently completed a book tour of Australia including Sydney Opera House. C+NTO is being adapted for theatre and Joelle is completing her memoirs for publication in 2023, as well as a novel of interconnecting stories, The Night Alphabet.

Poetry Now! (11.15am-12.15pm, Wednesday) with Michael Pedersen and TS Eliot Prize-winning poet Joelle Taylor. From ‘Instapoets’ with their millions of followers, to increased traditional book sales, sell-out readings, slams and spoken word events. Where are we now? More info and to register: xponorth.co.uk More on Joelle: www.joelletaylor.co.uk

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