JL Williams – Opening Bracket / Closing Bracket: An Object Lesson in Levitation

Opening Bracket / Closing Bracket: An Object Lesson in Levitation
JL Williams
Performed on 17 February 2016 at Cooper Gallery


Cooper Gallery invited Edinburgh based poet JL Williams to respond to the moving-image exhibition ALL SYSTEMS… go as part of an evening of Dance & Poetry on Wednesday 17th February 2016. Inserting the body, through physical and aural presence, into the mobile systems we operate within and around, Cooper Gallery presented an evening of experimental dance and performance poetry. Drawing attention to the performativity of the body and speech, elements present within the three moving-image works in the exhibition, this event explored the fictionality of these systems and their institutional counter-parts. Widely respected dancers Jack Webb and Madira Gregurek presented their new performance AN END, devised as a direct response and rebellion to the systems drawn attention to by the exhibition. Acting as a prelude and epilogue to the evening, JL Williams performed her new piece Opening Bracket / Closing Bracket: An Object Lesson in Levitation, vocalising her reaction to the choreography of the exhibition and the Dance, into the event.

JL Williams performs Opening Bracket / Closing Bracket: An Object Lesson in Levitation


Opening Bracket: Entering into The Thousand-Petalled Night

nobody cries enough to mourn for us
my father when he was still in life
that reminds me now if my father


the mystery of my father


the mystery of the earth
opening all her mouths for us
opening her heart of fire
to embrace us




the mystery of the earth
opening her wet legs




the mystery of the earth
throwing seeds to the wind






the office
the gallery
the battlefield


if we talked about death more
maybe we would slow down


finally had some idea


between the translucent buildings
plastic, as in my dreams
pale pink, pale blue, pale yellow


if you dance with her
take pleasure


it doesn’t mean
you have power
it doesn’t mean you can have anything
it might mean
she has power


if spirits are memories anyway
of course there are ghosts


I am no I
I am not like or as


her work is never finished and her
clock is never fixed she says
O yes, O yes
one day I’ll find the time


the horses pulling the fire truck
the cardinals making crosses in the air
the pomegranate seeds
the pomegranate seeds slipping between his fingers


what was lost is lost
it’s a new state of being
moss with jewelled beetles
glittering black bottles
forest earth blood


white lamps or candle wicks
smudged black ends
brimstone and smoke
match lit and going out


sugar spice the docile prosthetic device


dusty ink on your skin
portraits of saints bleeding
screen-lit scenes of crucifixion
that night we climbed the mountain
stone stairs a thousand years old
only the moon to light
the cacti and their thorns
the silver globes of pomegranates
the silver globes of oranges
the tiny silver globes of olives on their branches
and the silver leaves of the olive trees
trembling in our wake
and then no moon


and only your voice
and our breath
and the heat of the stone
pulling us up
between the breasts of the mountain


the night we stood on the rooftop
and the air was liquid silver
and the silver dripped from our lips
onto the belly of the sea


when i walked through the mirror
and found you as a child
holding an acorn to the light
as if to see the life inside


when sound decays
it becomes
a brand new kind of sound


on the horizon
floating on water
a lotus flower, a heart, a crown


four notes:
one from the west
one from the north
one from the east
one from the south


we are in the centre
we are in the centre of sound


it won’t last long
but somewhere
someone will start to play again


sometimes i feel a breath, a hand
trailing its fingers in the silver water



Closing Bracket: This Is How I Levitate


‘the docile body’ Michel Foucault


it all begins with gold


the body, encased in gold, learns how to optimise
its essential functions


a spectre orbiting space
it is warmed
it is warmed
it is warmed
by its golden sheath


bent out of shape
bent into the machine


weeping man


pain is the means by which we evolve
it is not pain
this is a period of transition


how does the tail feel
as it falls off
how does the skin feel
as it grows thin
thin as gold leaf


thin as the skin of a machine


this is not pain
this is ecstasy
we must inhabit our bodies
in order to fill our bodies
with what can lift our bodies


you learned how to sit
you learned how to eat
you learned how to barter
you learned how to march
you learned how to waltz
you learned how to paint
you learned how to exude
you learned how to fuck
you learned how to calm


you learned how to devise
you learned how to tremble
you learned how to trampoline
you learned how to sleep
you learned how to essentialise
you learned how to bomb
you learned how to




this is the hand covering the mouth (hand between legs)


this is the hand at the throat (hand at heart)


this is the hand between the legs (salute)
we move as one because we are one
look how we are a crab
white hands creeping
back and forth
toward a source of light
the look in your eyes suggests
an exchange of power
one thought for one vision
one vision for one
hiccup of feeling
one feeling for one
chance at lightness


when I touch you
you touch back
when I touch the machine
the machine touches back
soon we will all
have so many machines
they will be tensile clouds
which respond to our dreams
bounce a little
watch the machine
bounce back
it is a little


the machine is a little like dying


so when you enter it
you have to give up your dreams


watch the screen


bounce back
it is a little


the screen is a little like dying


so when you enter it
you have to give up your dreams


watch the art
bounce back
it is a little


the art is a little like dying


so when you enter it
you have to give up your dreams


saatchi and versace
lockheed martin


globalised western economy
white men betting in a room
whose walls are hung
with very expensive
pieces of painted canvas


i don’t want to give up my dreams
i want to give up my privilege
or better yet
i want to share
my privilege with everyone else


it could be an orgasm
or the final tremor of life


the men are lining up
and reading off their names
on the list of higher numbers


a man is dancing with fans
as if he were a fan


a body is opening up
the way a document opens


a machine is opening up
to expose its heart of gold


in the woods the last birds
are passing on their secret


their words are whispered by leaves
by the many tongues of ferns
by the holy breath of the wind


come in a little closer
i want to tell you a secret:


you must have a docile body
with many chambers for air
when you breathe in you fill the chambers
when you breathe out the air
you always have air
in you
and when you look at the light
you let it into your eyes
so your bones fill with bright light
and when you feel like crying
you laugh instead
you laugh
and laugh
and laugh and laugh and laugh



JL Williams Biography

JL Williams‘ first collection, Condition of Fire (Shearsman, 2011), was inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses and a journey to the Aeolian Islands.  Her second collection, Locust and Marlin (Shearsman, 2014), explores the idea of home and where we come from.  Her poetry has been published internationally in journals including Magma, Edinburgh Review, Poetry Wales, The Wolf, Fulcrum and Stand.  Our Real Red Selves (Vagabond Poets, 2015), a triptych collection featuring Williams and two other Scottish poets, considers themes of war and birth.

She is particularly interested in expanding dialogues through poetry across languages, perspectives and cultures and in cross-form work, visual art, opera and theatre.  She was awarded a grant from the Scottish Arts Council for a poetry collaboration entitled chiaroscuro pentimenti and the Edwin Morgan Travel Bursary from the Scottish Arts Trust.  She was selected for the 2015 Jerwood Opera Writing Programme and for the TRG3 Residency Programme at Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh.

Performer in the poetry and music band Opul, Williams gives regular poetry readings and workshops and is on the Live Literature funded list of Scottish Book Trust Authors.  She is the programme manager at the Scottish Poetry Library where she curates poetry events and creates workshops and professional development activities for poets.