Introduction by Iliyana Nedkova and Wendy Timmons, Pomegranates 2023 Co-curators
We are delighted to shine the spotlight on Ian McMillan – our Pomegranates Festival 2023 poet-in-residence – an author of Scottish heritage and Barnsley-based broadcaster, presenting the widely popular poetry show The Verb every week on BBC Radio 3, whose latest book My Sand Life, My Pebble Life. A Memoir of A Childhood and the Sea (Bloomsbury Adlard Coles, 2022) stretches to the shores of the Isle of Skye.
It was in the midst of curating the inaugural 2022 edition of our springtime Pomegranates festival for international traditional dance, when in times of uncertainty, displacement and border restrictions, Ian’s words resonated with us:
Is the new certainty
Is the new stability
And language’s ability
Is starting to bend
Inspired by Ian’s wee poem, we felt that at Pomegranates we could celebrate and amplify the contributions of creative migrants in Scotland and explore the diversifying definitions of traditional dance and ‘Scottishness’. Whether migrating away from Scotland as Ian’s father did or from overseas to Scotland as the first or second-generation of immigrants born in Scotland whom we continue to feature in our festival, these are artists whose family histories or migratory experiences have enriched both their practice and the wider Scottish artistic panorama, including traditional dance.
We then plucked the courage and approached Ian with the invitation to provide not just one but ten inspirational poems to dance to. Enter @IMcMillan – our Pomegranates 2023 poet-in-residence and soon after our special festival commission A Sequins of Poems to Dance To.
These new sequins will shine not only through the pages of our free Pomegranates booklet for generatons to come but also through the movement of dozens of Scottish migrant dancers from Zambia to Costa Rica about to fuse fun folk dance with funky hip hop rhythms and Ian’s rhymes at our festival finale. Ian’s poems will thus come alive as part of our Pomegranates Promenade show on the final festival day, 30 April 2023.
The Promenade will also feature a cinematic set design made up of Ian’s poems and the charcoal drawings of our resident visual artist Gabriel Schmitz. The hip hop choreography of Kemono L Riot will steer the show as he will MC it rapping to Ian’s poetic sequins under the live accompaniment of Nemo Ganguli, Young Drummer of The Year Finalist 2022. All before Kemono will DJ the afterparty with a special playlist bound to get everybody on the dance floor.
Our hip hop poetry and charcoal graffiti-filled festival finale will also see the special launch of The Oxford Book of Hip Hop Dance Studies – the most comprehensive research on hip hop dance to date co-edited by the University of Edinburgh alumna Dr Mary Fogarty.
If this is not exciting enough, we challenge you to busk in the glow of Ian’s words from his essay The Dancing Alphabet accompanying the sequins of ten poems:
I read somewhere years ago that the first poetry ever created was a series of shouts to accompany dancing; somehow human voices make the best dance band in the world, leading the movement and responding to it, making things in language that the dancers can remake in bodily readjustments and shifts. So that was why I was excited to have a go at creating some words for Pomegranates 2023; here are two forms that are both ancient and modern at the same time, and here are ways of getting them to rub against each other creatively.
I’ve written a sequence of pieces that range widely (I hope!) in style and tone. There are overtly rhythmic passages and there are times when the rhythms are those of ordinary speech, either turned up a notch or left as they are. There are pieces of writing that, I hope, could almost be folk tales and there are lines that cry out for music to underscore the music of breath and speech.
There’s a loose narrative to the sequence; I wanted it to take place in the early morning in a city where somebody was going to work but at the same time travelling to and from all kinds of places in their head. At the back of my words the ghost of A Day In The Life by The Beatles is hovering, I’m sure.
I want the dancers to interpret my words in any way they want to and I’m thrilled that somehow something will be made that is greater than the sum of the parts, like the pieces of a jigsaw never fulfil their real purpose until the jigsaw is complete.
Enjoy these poems, and then have a go at writing your own words for movement because after all, the alphabet dance never ends!
Featured portrait of Ian McMillan courtesy of the author and BBC
Special thanks to Adrian Mealing for facilitating Ian’s residency at Pomegranates 2023