Saskia Jiggens talks to us about West London’s Pioneering Public Poetry Initiative

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Portrait of Saskia Jiggens Photo Graham Fudger

We caught up with Saskia Jiggens, Head of Communications and Engagement at Kensington + Chelsea Art Week (KCAW) to find out more about their public Poetry Corner initiative which showcases 26 talented poets across the borough this summer.

Can you tell us a bit more about your role at Kensington + Chelsea Art Week?
I am Head of Communications and Engagement at Kensington + Chelsea Art Week, leading the communications strategy for Art Week, as well as our other initiatives, such as our Public Art Trail, Poetry Corner and Chelsea Windows . I work with over 150 attendees at over 200 events, managing all of our social outing across 5 platforms, as well as weekly newsletters (daily, during Art Week!). I maintain effective relationships with our artists, poets, participants, visitors, speakers, partners and sponsors. I also work to increase engagement with our projects and regularly collaborate with photographers, press and influencers, to promote our work to new audiences. This includes event management and hosting. I also maintain clarity of our mission and ensure that our message is delivered consistently across multiple channels. It’s a multi-faceted role and I thrive operating in a variety of functions.

What is the KCAW Poetry Corner and how do you participate?
For the past three years, KCAW has run an annual open call for poets to submit work related to our curatorial theme for each edition. This year, our theme is “Nourish”, inviting various interpretations. I was delighted to read books ranging from the culinary to the bucolic! Successful entries are featured in our programming, including online, in our printed guide and in venues across Kensington and Chelsea.

We were delighted to receive a record number of entries this year for our poetry corner, demonstrating the enduring synergy between the visual arts and literature. We are thrilled to exhibit more poets than ever – 26 in total – in thought-provoking and awe-inspiring venues. Best-selling writers come not only from the UK, but also from Italy, Latvia, Argentina and Venezuela, showcasing the universality of human experiences, as well as the international appeal and global status of the district as a cultural melting pot.

In addition to my role as Head of Communications and Engagement, I also led this year’s Poetry Corner initiative. This included reviewing each submission, coordinating directly with poets about their work, selecting final works for display, reviewing suitable poetry venues, as well as coordinating with previous and potential venues.

I entered the art world from a theatrical, literary and musical background, so I’m always keen to facilitate cross-cultural cooperation! I believe the written – and spoken – word powerfully complements the visual craftsmanship on display in the borough during Art Week, as well as the temporary installations on display for our Public Art Trail.

How did you visualize poetry this year for KCAW?
The core value of our Poetry Corner is accessibility. All participating sites can be visited 7 days a week and many sites are accessible 24 hours a day.

My personal approach to directing the Poetry Corner this year was three-fold (Context, Collaboration and Curation):

The context

I have been in contact with all of our poets, and while the poems can be appreciated for their artistry as stand-alone works, I am fascinated by the writers and their backgrounds. Moving and inspiring stories have emerged from our interactions, and I believe they provide insightful contexts, with which to appreciate the works on display.

A new addition to the Poetry Corner this year is the Poet’s Statement. I felt it was important to include in our programming alongside the text of the poem. Like the didactic labels accompanying the museum’s works of art, these short statements serve as a method to guide visitors through the language and provide a framework of reference. They are also written in the poets’ own words, creating an intimate dialogue between creator and viewer.

During the exchanges with the poets, the narrative framework of several plays particularly struck me. These include Aldo Quagliotti’s moving poem exhibited at Ziani, titled “Pasta al sugo”, which references the food from his grandmother’s eponymous recipe and was inspired by the comfort this meal brought after the untimely death of his uncle from AIDS. Likewise, Andrea Queens’ beautiful poem, “Sacred woman,” exhibited at The Cherry Moon, is a thought-provoking tribute to women, and its creation was prompted by Andrea’s experience of poor health. For Ed Limb, his artwork ‘The Laughter Fell Gently’, exhibited at the Museum of Marks, was prompted by London’s post-pandemic resuscitation and his desire to feel connected to others again.

For the Poetry Corner, this context helps to better understand the poet’s journey and reinforces the meaning of his individual creative expressions.

Collaboration

For initiatives like Poetry Corner, institutional collaboration is paramount and I am delighted to have led the growth of this year’s edition, building new relationships with established organizations in the region. I am delighted that so many people have shown enthusiasm about KCAW’s mission and have agreed to post poems on their sites. New locations I’ve secured include: The National Army Museum (featuring Fred Kelly’s “Allergy”), The Goethe-Institut (featuring Alfie Lanham-Brown’s “Proper Catch-Up”) and the Royal Court Theater (presenting ‘You made me what I am and what I am is part of you’ by Ollie Feather).

I believe that our projects must continue to evolve and I look forward to developing our collaborations next year.

Conservation

Finally, it was important to me that the Poetry Corner be a special and curated experience for visitors. Alongside our treasured locations that regularly participate, new locations have been paired with poems that are relevant or relevant to their surroundings.

Some poems embrace broad concepts, such as the intricacies of romance or the depth of the natural world, while others contain more specific associations. For example, “Cold water at West Reservoir” by Isabelle Evans is about the nutrition of outdoor swimming and the palpability of the experience, but I also discovered that Isabelle loves swimming in The Serpentine! Therefore, I contacted the fantastic team at Colicci and organized the presentation of his poem at the Serpentine Lido Cafe, located next to the lake.

Likewise, ‘Proper Catch-Up’ by Alfie Lanham-Brown is on display at the Goethe-Institut. Not only does Alfie work on Exhibition Road, where the Goethe-Institut is located, but his poem also explores the nourishing joy of after-work drinks and the frivolity of engaging with colleagues outside the workplace. Beer is a big tradition in British and German cultures, so the location and content of the poem felt like a touching connection between the two countries.

‘Jacob’s Ladder’, a poem by Ed Limb about motherly love, is on display at Trotters (an iconic children’s clothing retailer on King’s Road). Rose Rouse’s poem, ‘Urban Fertility’, about how grape jelly connects her to her long-distance partner is on display at Partridges (suppliers of fine foods) and Nick Brookman’s poem, ‘A Nourishing Poem’, on a conversation he had with refuse workers in South Kensington’s museum quarter are on display at Green & Stone (one of Europe’s largest art supply retailers).

Trotters, Partridges and Green & Stone celebrate their 32nd, 50th and 95th anniversaries respectively this year. I felt that the participation of these heritage stores was vital for our poetry corner, because they have enlivened the borough and contributed to the spirit of the neighborhood for generations; something we also hope to accomplish for many years to come!

All locations and poems have been wisely paired to enhance the visitor experience.

How can people view, read and interact with the Poetry Corner this year?
Many ways! Our social networks (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok) are packed with information about our Poets of 2022, including profiles, biographies, and their thoughts on KCAW. A few poets have also recorded some wonderful videos of themselves reading their KCAW pieces and these are available for viewing on our platforms – why don’t you repost the videos to your Instagram page, or use the dot tools or duet on TikTok and respond with your own poem? We would love to see the content you create, inspired by these amazing works!

We also have a dedicated page on our website, showing the graphics of poem vinyls that have been printed. We also have all the poetry locations listed on our culture map, so you can choose your favorite pieces from an aerial perspective!

If you’re looking for a little more guidance or plan to visit more than one site, we’ve created two Go Jauntly tours for poetry – one for Kensington and one for Chelsea (although you’re encouraged to complete both!) Download the free application and have fun discovering the poetry of the borough on foot or by bike! Don’t forget to tag us, the poets and the places in your photos, because we love to see where you visit and the places you discover!

Do you have any other plans for this year’s poetry corner?
I love cultivating opportunities for collaboration, so I’m thrilled that several of our poets met through Poetry Corner and collectively performed their work at a recent humanitarian fundraising event.

I also spoke with the brilliant team at the Association for Cultural Advancement through the Visual Arts (ACAVA) and hosted readings for a few of our 2022 poets at their Creators Studio Concept event which is taking place on Sunday July 3, alongside open artist workshops and live music. These sensational KCAW poets include: Irene Odoardi, Javier Guevara, Maya Sanbar and Agnese Graudina. Feel free to join us and show your support for these talented creatives!

I am always enthusiastic about radical mechanisms of transparency in the art world. I think the philosophy of Art Week could be aligned with the decentralized, non-hierarchical principles of Web3 and would like to explore the possibility of working with our cohort of poets to produce literary NFTs of our featured works. It would be phenomenal to partner with a socially responsible and sustainable platform to achieve this. First, the streets – second, the metaverse!

The Poetry Corner has become a catalyst for a creative community and it would be great to establish a group of former poets, fostering connections between former participants and galvanizing future projects. Our work relies on the generous support of incredible sponsors and partners, and any plans we have to grow the Poetry Corner will be determined by the benevolent support of existing and new stakeholders.

Learn more about the KCAW Poetry Corner HERE

If you would like to get involved and be part of KCAW, contact Saskia at: [email protected]

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