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J.R. Carpenter and Mary Paterson

Updated: Jun 21

J. R. Carpenter is an artist, writer, researcher, and Lecturer in Creative Practice in Performance Writing at University of Leeds. An Island of Sound, a digital poetry performance project created in collaboration with musician Jules Rawlinson, has been performed in Canada, Portugal, and the UK. This is Not A Good Sign, an Augmented Reality poetry project created in collaboration with Tomo Kihara, has been exhibited in the UK, Germany, and South Korea. Her most recent poetry collection, Le plaisir de la côte / The Pleasure of the Coast, was published by Pamenar Press in 2023. 

Mary Paterson is a writer, artist, and curator who works between text and performance. She prefers to work in collaboration, including as one third of the publishing platform Something Other (with Maddy Costa and Diana Damian Martin). Mary is currently Head of Arts for rb&hArts, curating art in wards and public spaces across two London hospitals. Her most recent publication is ‘Entanglements of Two’ (Intellect, 2022), co-authored with Karen Christopher. Some recent poems have been published in Poetry Review, Cutbow Quarterly, and 3am Magazine.


What is the speed of threat? Artists' statement:


J. R. Carpenter and Mary Paterson have been engaged in an ongoing walking, talking, writing collaboration since 2018. Part of Mary’s practice is to ask unanswerable questions about place, displacement, migration, and climate crisis. Part of J. R.’s practice is to try to answer them anyway. Because speaking about the unspeakable with someone comes as a relief.


What is the speed of threat?


how slow is this damp seep. from brick to plaster. how shift is this wall weep. from paint to blister. how sound is this foundation. cut. into a ridge. of millstone grit. and determination. how resistant to weathering. is this dip. gently sloping. how train is this tracking. how bend is this rivering. how following. is this canal cut. for the carrying. of coal cut. from the measure. how burning is this fossil. fuelling. this milling. of woollens. and cotton. how cut is this cloth. from what labour. how threat is this wet in relation. to the pressing. need for accommodation. what is this lodging dis-lodging. where do we burry. how soon is a bed.



Why does the news play in communal areas?


in this the rook hour. of this the mist morning. of this the lamb month. news of this hunger. bleats across green field. flits across foot path. sings about earthworms. news about grubs. drowns out the traffic sounds. commuting. with nature. connecting. with body. a borrowed bed. and a public. transportation. spread. the news of this rain falling. the why of these bombs falling. the does of concrete crumpling. it just does. in slow motion. the slow. of this starvation. a child. plays in this rubble. and another. and another. a flutter. of recognition. because. what we have in common is. this distance. between stomach grumbling. and listening ear.



Who values silence?


who can place a value. on this the golden hour. of rook loud. and also. of goldfinch. and river rush. and all this forgetting. that the sky is made of anything. other than of pollen. unsettling. all this. disquieting. who can afford not to speak against violence. the loud of this falling. the news of this hunger. the pressing. need for accommodation. this is an hour. not taken from sleep.



Where will you keep your thoughts in the future?


in the future. I want not. to keep.


Are you sure you are communicating over distance?


I am not sure. it needs to be me. doing all the communicating. over. are you receiving. over. faint signals. over the channel. signals again. over the sea. mixed signals. I am receiving. your silence. sending again. receiving. atmospherics. ditto. some static. what is the difference. between foundation and millstone. sure and silence. what are your thoughts. on the value of keep.



What if I put my hand on the soft part of your neck? What then?


what is the hand part. what is the soft part. what is the neck part. what is the flesh part. what is the wool part. what is the silk part. what is the next part. what if we part. what happens then.



What is the matter?


mind over. grey matter. as a matter of fact. actually. it is the putting part of the hand that matters most. the act of closing. the distance. between hand and silk and wool and flesh. do you not think about dark matter. are you not known to interact. except through gravitation. what is the speed of attraction. between the small matter of now. and the near future. of push.



What is the matter with my hand on your soft neck?


silk scarves resist fingers. a scarf, she said, the first time we kissed. which begs the question: are necks part of flying. or part of singing. is the blackbird part of blackthorn. is the rook part of limestone. is the kiss part of asking. is the palm part of pulse.



When is it safe to leave my belongings here?


there is no belonging here. only longing here. only falling. rain here. bombs there. the news of this hunger. a flutter. of recognition. dis-lodging. a complaint. what does it mean to belong to a land, Adnan asks. for those of us who live away from our private history, this is a question that never heals. this is not about here then. the question is. when is it safe. to leave.



How many lies in a pleasantry?


let’s draw a line under. this matter. shall we. why say possibly. when we all know. know means no. silence can also mean complicity. quite can also mean entirely. how we sweep. damp seep. under carpet. and do not speak. about abasement. who values many anyway. herein lies the question. what does it mean to belong to this jolly green and pleasantry. oh awfully, this land of gentry.



How do you stay clean?


all of this forgetting helps. wipe the slate clean. in this the mist morning. obscuring. this the burning question. of this the fossil fuelling. the milling. of woollens. and cotton. the hand part is the hard part of this body. to reconcile. with history. I picked the cotton, Baldwin says, in a room full of white men. a scarf, she says. picking with the soft part. of the tip part. of the finger. performing. a neural computation. mind over. it’s only a matter of. how do you stay.



How do you get ready for the long, loud, night time?


how do you fall. from the grace of this green. and lie in this pleasant. how do you ready this soft part. where do you place this loud hand. that feeds you. how do you get into deep. when sleep is not safe here. where will you keep your thoughts about ready. for the future of big ribs rising and falling. your longing for lodging. where do you find. time for all this forgetting. when even the wind is lying. and the bed. sheets are made of cotton. milled. through teeth.



What do you think it does to a person, to receive no comfort?


to want and not to have, Woolf says. all up her body a hardness, a hollowness, a strain. that’s how cracks happen. in the comfort. of your own thinking. do you think about mattering. the threat of this crumbling. are you following. the path of most resistance. are you the race of this river. or are you the grit of this ridge. are you receiving. over. some static. are you. over. the news of this hunger. plays in these ruins. what do you think silence says about discomfort. what is the matter with not needing. to be on the receiving. end.



What if I told you I had a new theory about the tides?


how many trains. connecting to how many local busses. and what packed lunches will we take. to test this theory. because I am ready. to walk out with you. along the high-water mark. my skin the colour of the wet sand. yours the colour of the dry.



What if I told you I knew about something that was even more magnetic?


even more than the static between sending and receiving. even more than the pull of this now and the push of this flesh. even more than the smattering of dark mattering. between tongue tip and teeth. go on then. tell us. what is even more than a kiss.



What if I named my wardrobe after your ancient forests?


what if I were robed in oakmoss. and presented as lichen. thin and freely branched. what if I joined an infantry of British Soldiers. or wore an old man’s beard. as soon as I name, I am named, Barthes says. caught in the rivalry of names. what if I am actually ancient. a forest of fossils. unable to make a move. when. what I really want is. to rip off all your clothes.



What if I stopped dreaming of immortality?


what if the long and the loud of this night time is behind us, for now. and the problem isn’t dreaming. it’s forever. for if ever there was a moment. to lie. awake. there is no time like the green of this present. tree of this minute. rook of this hour. and what if you are actually a bird. flitting across foot path. connecting. with body. a borrowed bed. and a private history. it’s fine, for now. forgive me this pleasantry. I will sing about earthworms. if you will bring news about grubs.



What if I knew that everyone else was real?


are you trying to make me believe that I’m unreal? Kafka asks. as if we aren’t standing here discussing caring, among green parakeets, absurdly, on this green pavement. what if there is no knowing. and we are all just us. and so what if we are all just mortal. the soft part of our necks is made for singing. news of our hunger. but instead of falling we are flying. our wings all aflutter. our feet know. so little of ground.




Etel Adnan, Sea and Fog, 2012

James Baldwin, in debate with William F. Buckley, Cambridge University, 1965

Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, 1973

Franz Kafka, “Description of a Struggle,” 1912

Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse. 1927



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