Manchester international festival 2021: the best poetry, from Arcadia to Poet Slash Artist

Lemn Sissay and Hans Ulrich Obrist combine art and poetry to sublime effect, and an installation explores our place within nature

A question is posed in the group show Poet Slash Artist: what is poetry and what is art, and what happens when they come together? Its answers run the length and breadth of the city, in the form of outdoor artwork by such diverse poet-artists as Tracey Emin, Precious Okoyomon, Lubaina Himid, Sky Hopinka and Isaiah Hull. In addition, Cerys Matthews curates a day of spoken word and music at open-air stage Homeground (2 July), and there’s a film season at HOME. And for a fully immersive, poetic experience to light up the senses, Deborah Warner presents her starry Arcadia installation at the Factory, celebrating poetry and the natural world.

Poet Slash Artist

Rising art world star Precious Okoyomon is among a diverse group of boundary-traversing artists in a celebration of art and poetry’s intersection

They may be based in Brooklyn, New York, but Nigerian-American artist Precious Okoyomon is known and celebrated internationally. Their work defies genre – it has included a home for giant African snails and an ongoing queer cooking collective – and explores the idea of portals and transformation. One unchanging constant in their work is poetry. Before they scooped this year’s prestigious Frieze artist award in New York, they told Frieze: “I started making art because I wanted to give my poetry form”. As an eight-year-old child, Okoyomon even stopped speaking for a year, communicating via poems buried in the ground or stuffed into trees.

Okoyomon is one of a new generation of poets connecting with visual art and vice versa. And they are one of 25 artists invited to be part of the group show Poet Slash Artist, put together by the poet Lemn Sissay and art curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. “There is a long and vivid history of exchange between artists and poets, from cubism to Dada to surrealism,” the co-curators explain, and over the past year they have united an incredible group of “luminous” figures who bring art and poetry together.

Between them, these artist-poets forge new links across cultures, continents, languages and generations, from Syria to Ireland, and range from newcomers such as Jay Bernard, to household name Tracey Emin, as well as veteran political organiser for the American Indian Movement Jimmie Durham to upcoming Manchester MC Isaiah Hull. Alongside the gallery exhibition, each person has created a brand new work which will be installed in public spaces across the city. As the 96-year old painter and poet Etel Adnan, a Syrian-American born in Lebanon, says, “The world needs togetherness, not separation.”
HOME 2-18 July, free, ticket required

Deborah Warner.
Deborah Warner. Photograph: Claire Egan


Theatre director Deborah Warner creates a soothing and profound ode to nature

Given a sliver of time and space in which to recover, wildlife will thrive – hence the ubiquitous “nature is healing” meme. But the same is true for humans who are able to make contact with the natural world; nature is healing to us. And it’s our profound connection to it that’s at the heart of Deborah Warner’s new installation for MIF: Arcadia.

This immersive experience is the inaugural event at The Factory – the huge, multipurpose arts space space currently under construction that will become MIF’s permanent home. Luminous tents will emit the sounds of poems inspired by nature by such poets as Sappho, WB Yeats and Jackie Kay, read by a cast that includes Brian Cox, Jane Horrocks and Jonathan Pryce. In the centre of Manchester, an Arcadia indeed.
The Factory, 10-11 July, £8, young MIF £5


Sophie Harris

The GuardianTramp

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