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Saskia Jiggens tells us all about West London's Pioneering Public Poetry Initiative - FAD Magazine

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Saskia Jiggens tells us all about West London’s Pioneering Public Poetry Initiative

Saskia Jiggens portrait
Saskia Jiggens portrait Photo Graham Fudger

We caught up with Saskia Jiggens, Head of Communications and Engagement at Kensington + Chelsea Art Week (KCAW) to learn more about their public Poetry Corner initiative that is showcasing 26 talented poets across the Borough this summer.

Can you tell us a bit about your role at Kensington + Chelsea Art Week?
I am the Head of Communications and Engagement at Kensington + Chelsea Art Week, spearheading the Communications strategy for the Art Week, as well as our other initiatives, such as our Public Art Trail, Poetry Corner and Chelsea Windows. I work with 150+ participants on 200+ events, managing our entire social output across 5 platforms, as well as weekly newsletters (daily, during the Art Week!). I maintain effective relationships with our artists, poets, participants, visitors, stakeholders, partners and sponsors. I also work to increase engagement with our projects and I regularly collaborate with photographers, press and influencers, in order to promote our work to new audiences. This includes event management and hosting. I also sustain the clarity of our mission and ensure our message is consistently broadcast across multiple channels. It is a multifaceted role and I thrive on operating across various functions.

What is the KCAW Poetry Corner and how are you involved?
For the last 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 diverse interpretations. I was overjoyed to read works that ranged from culinary to bucolic! Successful submissions are featured in our programming, including online, in our printed guide, and in venues across Kensington and Chelsea.

We were thrilled 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 delighted to be exhibiting more poets than ever before – 26 in total – across stimulating and awe-inspiring locations. Successful writers not only hail from the UK, but also Italy, Latvia, Argentina and Venezuela, showcasing the universality of human experiences, as well as the international appeal and global status of the Borough as a cultural melting pot.

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

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

How have you visualised the poetry this year for KCAW? 
The cornerstone value of our Poetry Corner is accessibility. All the participating venues can be visited 7 days a week, and many locations can be accessed 24 hours a day.

My personal approach to the Direction of this year’s Poetry Corner was tripartite (Context, Collaboration and Curation):

Context

I’ve been in touch with all our poets and, whilst the poems can be appreciated for their artistry as standalone works, I am fascinated by the writers and their backgrounds. Moving and inspiring stories have emerged from our interactions, and I believe these offer insightful contexts, with which to appreciate the works on display.

A new addition to the Poetry Corner this year is the Poet Statement. I felt this was important to include in our programming alongside the poem’s text. Similarly to the didactic labels beside museum artworks, these short statements serve as a method of guiding visitors through the language and offer a frame of reference. They are also written in the poets’ own words, creating an intimate dialogue between creator and observer.

During exchanges with the poets, the narrative framework of several pieces particularly struck me.  These include Aldo Quagliotti’s moving poem on display at Ziani, titled ‘Pasta al sugo’, which references the nourishment of his grandmother’s eponymous recipe and was inspired by the comfort this meal brought following the premature passing of his uncle from AIDS. Similarly, Andrea Queens’ beautiful poem, ‘Sacred woman’, on display at The Cherry Moon, is an empowering homage to women and its creation was motivated by Andrea’s experience with ill health. For Ed Limb, his work, ‘Laughter fell softly’, on display at the Museum of Brands, was provoked by the post-pandemic reanimation of London and his desire to feel connected to other people again.

For the Poetry Corner, this context provides a deeper understanding of the poet’s journey and reinforces the meaning behind their individual creative expressions.

Collaboration

For initiatives like Poetry Corner, institutional collaboration is paramount and I am ecstatic to have led the growth of this year’s edition, building new relationships with established organisations in the area. I am thrilled that so many were enthusiastic about KCAW’s mission and agreed to display poems at their sites. The new venues I secured include: The National Army Museum (displaying ‘The Allergy’ by Fred Kelly’), the Goethe-Institut (displaying ‘Proper Catch-Up’ by Alfie Lanham-Brown) and the Royal Court Theatre (displaying ‘You Made Me What I Am And What I Am Is Part Of You’ by Ollie Feather).

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

Curation

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

Some poems embrace broad concepts, such as the complexities of romance or the profundity of the natural world, whilst others contain more specific associations. For example, ’Cold water at West Reservoir’ by Isabelle Evans is about the nourishment of outdoor swimming and the palpability of the experience, but I also discovered that Isabelle loves to swim in The Serpentine! Therefore, I reached out to the fantastic team at Colicci and arranged for her poem to be presented at The Serpentine Lido Cafe, situated adjacent 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 based, but also his poem explores the nourishing joy of after-work drinks, and the frivolity of engaging with colleagues outside the workplace. Beer is a great tradition in both British and German cultures, so the location and content of the poem felt like a touching bond between the two countries.

‘Jacob’s Ladder’, a poem by Ed Limb about maternal love, is on display at Trotters (an iconic childrenswear retailer on the King’s Road). Rose Rouse’s poem, ‘Urban Fecundity’, about how grape jelly connects her to her long-distance partner is on display at Partridges (purveyors of fine food products) and Nick Brookman’s poem, ‘A Nourishing Poem’, about a conversation he had with refuse workers in South Kensington’s museum district is on display at Green & Stone (one of the largest retailers of fine art supplies in Europe).

Trotters, Partridges and Green & Stone are celebrating their 32nd, 50th and 95th anniversaries this year respectively. I felt the participation of these heritage stores was vital to our Poetry Corner, as they have enlivened the Borough and contributed to the spirit of the area for generations; something we also hope to accomplish for many years to come!

All the venues and poems have been thoughtfully coupled, in order to enhance the experience for visitors.

 
 
 
 
 
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How can people see, read, and interact with the Poetry Corner this year? 
Numerous ways! Our social media channels (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and TikTok) are packed with info about our 2022 poets, including headshots, bios, and their thoughts on KCAW. A few poets have also recorded wonderful videos of themselves reading their KCAW pieces and these are available to watch across our platforms – why don’t you repost the videos to your Instagram page, or use the stitch or duet tools on TikTok and respond with your own poem? We’d 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 the poem vinyls that have been printed. We also have all the poetry locations listed on our Culture Map, so you can pick out your favourite pieces from an aerial perspective!

If you are looking for slightly more guidance, or you are planning to visit several sites, we have created two Go Jauntly tours for poetry – one for Kensington and one for Chelsea (although you are encouraged to complete both!) Download the free app and enjoy exploring the poetry around the Borough on foot, or on a bicycle! Remember to tag us, the poets, and the venues in your photos, as 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 am delighted 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 Visual Art (ACAVA) and I have organised for a few of our 2022 poets to perform readings at their Creators Studio Concept event happening on Sunday 3rd July, alongside artist open studios and live music. These sensational KCAW poets include: Irene Odoardi, Javier Guevara, Maya Sanbar and Agnese Graudina. Please do pop along and show your support for these talented creatives!

I am always excited about radical mechanisms for art world transparency. I believe the ethos of the Art Week could be aligned with the decentralised, non-hierarchical principles of Web3 and I would love 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-conscious and sustainable platform in order to achieve this. First, the streets – next, the metaverse!

The Poetry Corner has become a catalyst for a creative community and it would be lovely to establish an alumni group of poets, fostering connections between past participants and galvanising 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.

Find out more about the KCAW Poetry Corner HERE

If you are keen to get involved and be part of KCAW’s contact Saskia at: saskia@kcaw.co.uk.

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