Poetically Speaking, with The Spoke

The Spoke is a collective embodying the idea that art is essential to progression. Comprised of four Bristol-based performance poets, together Paul Deaton, Bob Walton, Claire Williamson, and Elizabeth Parker bring a variety of voices and viewpoints to local audiences. The State of the Arts caught up with the female half of The Spoke to discuss the role of their artform in the city.

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Claire Williamson and Elizabeth Parker both live and write in Bristol. Claire is a doctoral student in Creative Writing at Cardiff University and Programme Leader for the UK’s only MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes. Elizabeth gave up teaching secondary school English to focus on writing full-time, whilst tutoring English and teaching creative writing. Claire’s accomplishments include being highly commended in the Bridport Prize (2017), and a runner up in both the Neil Gunn writing competition (2017) and the Sentinal Poetry Quarterly (2018).
Elizabeth was shortlisted for The Bridport Poetry Prize, and was a prizewinner in the Troubadour International Poetry Prize (2016).
Both currently have poetry collections published by Seren in April 2018.

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Bristol is well-known as an actively artistic city. From the many established and emerging pop-up art galleries to the vibrant street art, visual art has a clear home here. The city also has strong literary roots, through the Romantic era and Gothic movement in the 18th and 19th centuries respectively. Since then, the city has birthed or homed contemporary greats such as Angela Carter and J. K. Rowling, and continues to be a source of inspiration.

Elizabeth Parker: I write many poems inspired by this historic city. Having lived on the harbour for years, I have a whole series of poems about the river Avon.

Claire Williamson: I’ve recently written two WW1 pieces for community choirs: ‘Home by Christmas’ (commissioned by Bristol Plays Music) and ‘Home at Last…’ (commissioned by St Mary Redcliffe and Horfield Primary school), set to music by composer Mark Lawrence. These projects involved diverse people coming together to connect on a terrible time in history, at a time when history is in danger of repeating itself. Voicing the words in such a profound, embodied way by hundreds of voices brought deep connection and a sense of strength at a time of fragility and unfairness for so many, now and a hundred years ago.

With four individual voices, The Spoke is able to offer a whole scope of reflections on the city. Through collaboration and community engagement, they are also finding new ways and spaces in which to connect with audiences. Most recently they performed alongside local improvisational trumpet and drums duo, Eyebrow, at Spike Island.

Despite the city’s rich literary heritage, however, the poetic scene suffered with the loss of the annual Bristol Poetry Festival, which ended with the closure of its organising body, The Poetry Can, following an unsuccessful bid for Arts Council Funding in the summer of 2018. Both Williamson and Parker remain certain in their choice to write, understanding the potential reach and power of their work.

CW: It’s a privilege to be a writer. For me being a writer is a community role, reflecting the personal, as well as universal themes, responses to the state of the world and finding out how it is for others.

EP: I would always want to teach [creative writing] as well: you are helping others to develop their craft and your own world is enriched by the experience of teaching.

As a collective engaged with city, community, collaboration, and performance, they required a similarly inclusive name. ‘The Spoke’ is a multifaceted, evocative name, simultaneously referring to a smaller part of a single whole, the act of speaking aloud, and cyclical, perpetual motion.

CW: Spoke speaks of voicing words – be-spoke: tailored to each individual. Also a sense of supporting one another, whether in strength or tension, in our differences and similarities.

EP: It is also the idea that art is a crucial element in keeping people going, when they feel too tired to move forward.

If the winter months are making you lethargic, why not give The Spoke the chance to speak to you, and let a little art in? You can support the city’s literary scene by catching The Spoke live, or enjoy their words to your own beat, below.

‘Visiting the Minotaur’, Claire Williamson

‘In Her Shambles’, Elizabeth Parker

‘A Watchful Astronomy’, Paul Deaton

‘Sax Burglar Blues’, Bob Walton

Coming soon: The State of the Arts reviews Elizabeth Parker’s ‘In Her Shambles’.