Harry Josephine Giles
Harry Josephine Giles
(United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 1986)
© Rich Dyson
BiographyThe work of Harry Josephine Giles is characterised by a serious approach to play and a radical engagement with politics, and generally occurs, in their words, “in the crunchy places where performance and politics get muddled up”. They have won and been shortlisted for a number of awards, making the shortlist of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection with Tonguit in 2016, and that of the 2018 Saltire Prize for Best Collection with The Games.
Giles published two pamphlets with the Scottish spoken word publisher Stewed Rhubarb, Visa Wedding (2013) and Oam (2014), before their first full collection, Tonguit, appeared in 2016. A sequence of poems appeared alongside the work of JL Williams and Marion McCready in Our Real Red Selves (2015), part of the Vagabond Voices Triptych series. Their most recent collection is The Games (Out-Spoken Press, 2018). Giles has also produced a substantial body of work in the more ephemeral formats of zines, chapbooks and downloadable e-books, published in part by Easter Road Press, a DIY publishers Giles runs together with Darcy Leigh.
Giles writes in and between English, Scots and Orkney Scots, or Orcadian, as it is more commonly known. Their interest in language and its intersections with identity was heralded in their first collection, Visa Wedding, which is bookended by Scots and English versions of the title poem:
Listen, hit’s semple:
In Orkney I’m English;
in English I’m Scottish;
in Scotland, Orcadian—
this glib-gabbit, mony-littit tongue
snacks at identity as tho hit wis
a gollach piecie sappit wi
the sweet-n-soor o BELONG.
Giles treats Scots and Orcadian as serious literary languages, and their forthcoming verse novel, Deep Wheel Orcadia, will be the first book-length work to be published entirely in Orkney Scots since the 1950s. Nonetheless, they aren’t afraid of playing with the icons of Scots poetry. The poem ‘Tae a coonciller’ from the pamphlet Oam starts as a clear parody of Robert Burns’ ‘Tae a Mouse’ (“Wee glaikit, skybald, faschious bastart, / whit unco warld maks ye wir maister?”), while the opening poem of The Games, ‘Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect’, pushes Scots beyond the limits of comprehensibility by applying an algorithm to the work of Burns:
Just funere Mouse,
Wi’simpletoner Grese, thath aff
Performance is integral to Giles’ work – they are the lyricist and vocalist for the punk band Fit to Work, and also co-direct the live art platform ANATOMY. Citing as its inspirations the Victorian music hall and the underground performance art club night, the platform’s main output is a quarterly cabaret showcasing experimental performance. ANATOMY also champions the integration of disability arts, and organises performance art events for (perhaps surprisingly) early years audiences.
Giles’ own show, Drone, was warmly received on touring the UK in 2019: “Drone may be thematically complex, poetic, political, but it’s also electric theatre.” (EdFest)
Combining poetry, sound, performance and video, the show explores themes around surveillance, gender, anxiety and office life through the eyes of a personified drone who is experiencing burnout. Pushing the boundaries of performance poetry, Drone shows what the genre can achieve when at its best, emphasising the physicality of the body and the voice. While less explicit than some of Giles’ other political work (such as the poem ‘Abolish the police’), the show is characteristic for their political poetry in combining critiques of globalisation and capitalist work ethic with a wry and relatable sense of humour.
A game-maker as well as a poet, Giles often brings theatre, poetry and games together in performances, installations and interactive texts. Output of this kind has ranged from the performance lecture ‘This is not a riot’ on the political history of riots – which used teddy bears to role play a riot – to a number of tweetbots, such as @PluralFan, which suggests nonsensical plural endings for different nouns: "In fact the correct plural of haircut is, I think you'll find, haircuopodes."
Somewhat more conventional games can be found in the publication Casual games for casual hikers, designed to mimic the form of an Ordinance Survey map and suggesting a number of different games to play while hiking, with tongue in cheek suggestions for point-scoring and “advanced” rules.
This playfulness carries through to The Games, a formally fascinating collection marked by list poems, word games and an unconventional, sometimes concrete approach to white space. The Games also repurposes other texts in erasure poems, printed with blocks of black, and creative translations. Poems are frequently broken down to the smallest units of meaning, be these words or even letters. By interrogating and playing with these, through the use of variation and repetition, the texts allow sound itself to become the meaning.
© Annie RutherfordBibliography
• Visa Wedding (Stewed Rhubarb, 2013)
• Oam (Stewed Rhubarb, 2014)
• Farmform (postcard series/website, 2014)
• Casual Games for Casual Hikers (art print, 2015)
• Funding a Ritual (pamphlet, 2015)
• Raik (interactive text, 2015)
• Our Real Red Selves (Vagabond Voices, 2015) with JL Williams and Marian McCready
• 14 Ways to Reread a Favourite Novel (pamphlet, 2016)
• Casual Games for City Walkers (art print/website, 2016)
• Trump/Pattinson (pamphlet/website, 2017)
• Travellers’ Lexicon (artbook/website, 2017)
• Some Definitions (Easter Road Press, 2018)
• Stim (Easter Road Press, 2018):
• Moon, Sun and All Things (Easter Road Press, 2018)
• Tonguit (Freight, 2015; re-issued Stewed Rhubarb, 2018)
• The Games (Out-Spoken Press, 2018)
• Deep Wheel Orcadia (Stewed Rhubarb, forthcoming in September 2020)
• BBC Radio 4 Scotland Slam, 1st Place (2009)
• London Zoo Awards: Best Performance by a UK Poet (nom.) (2011)
• IdeasTap National Poetry Competition: 1st Place (2012)
• Scottish Book Trust New Writers’ Awards: Shortlist (2013 and 2014)
• Edwin Morgan Poetry Award: Shortlist (2014 and 2016)
• Forward Prize for Best First Collection: Shortlist (2016)
• Saltire Prize for Best Collection: Shortlist (2018)
Poems of Harry Josephine Giles
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère