Spoken Sonata – Jonathan James

jonathan james
Jonathan James


Jonathan James visited the Institute for Advanced Studies for a workshop about finding musical ways in to creative writing and the spoken word on 9 May 2014. He is a freelance classical and jazz educator who writes professionally, specialising in libretti for opera.

Creative writers have often taken inspiration from musical form, whether sonatas, fugues or different aspects of Baroque dance. In the Spoken Sonata workshop, participants were given an in-depth appreciation of classical Sonata form from a musician’s perspective. They were then invited to respond to the structures and processes demonstrated in the music as closely as they could within an hour, on a theme of their first sound-related memory.

Jonathan James
Dr William Wootten and Jonathan James

To close the creative circle, Jonathan offered, in turn, to take any ‘spoken sonatas’ that are posted here and to allow the rhythms and ideas of the poems to

evoke a musical response, as a stand-alone movement, quasi-improvised on the piano.  He is looking forward to uploading sound-files if anybody is happy to share their work below.

In Plain Sight: Knowle West Women Activating Communities – Dr. Sharon Irish

Dr. Sharon Irish, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

Dr. Sharon Irish is an historian and grants coordinator at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), USA, with particular interest in community cultural development and urban spatial practices.

Knowle West, an area of south Bristol that was built starting in the 1930s, has a history of women actively working for positive social change. My recent fellowship through the Institute for Advanced Studies culminated with a celebration of a number of these women, and a discussion about future directions for Knowle West and Bristol. As an historian, I wanted to provide some perspective on the hard work that these activists have done over the decades: others came before them, and others will follow, all determined to improve the lives of their families and neighbourhoods.

During my time in Bristol, I interviewed ten of the Knowle West women who have organised against drugs and the de-funding of youth services, and for increased bus service and park improvements. Penny Evans, the assistant director of the Knowle West Media Centre, was an essential partner in my project, introducing me to the women whom she had interviewed for an earlier project, the University of Local Knowledge. I asked them what had prompted their actions, what challenges and successes they had experienced, and what advice they had for future activists.

‘Sew Clever’ Bunting

On 28 April 2014, about 35 people gathered at the Knowle West Media Centre to reflect together on the ‘tips and tricks’ that arose from our conversations, and to express further ideas about needed change. This event was part of the University of Bristol’s Productive Margins research programme with which I was connected this spring. We had an animated evening of exchange! Participants also wrote some suggestions on fabric triangles and Knowle West’s ‘Sew Clever’ group created bunting with the messages.

Why it is important to know about and acknowledge those who have struggled before us? Stories from the past provide a context for our current efforts, and add dimensions to our actions that help us see ourselves as historical agents, as women making history. The first cooperative women’s guild in Bristol formed in winter 1889-90 and was run by the members themselves; a Mrs Layton in about 1900 reported on condescending outsiders who came to their meetings. Her frustrations were very similar to the experiences of Knowle West women, who also were poorly served by officials and experts from outside their community. Mrs Layton noted:

I was not used to working-women managing their meetings. I had attended Mother’s Meetings, where ladies came and lectured on the domestic affairs in the workers’ homes that it was impossible for them to understand. I have boiled over many times at some of the things I have been obliged to listen to, without the chance of asking a question. In the Guild we always had the chance of discussing a subject. (Margaret Llewelyn Davies, ed., Life as We Have Known It, 1977, p. 40)

Drawing by Joff Winterhart

The Bristol Broadsides publishing cooperative included Pat Dallimore, a Knowle West resident who not only wrote compelling poetry and essays, but also worked in radio and television. She attended Bristol Broadsides editorial meetings, and appeared on television in the mid-seventies under the auspices of Knowle West TV. Women whom I interviewed recalled her with fondness, and discussed her leadership with admiration. These women recognized that media—print, radio, television, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter—were tools for education and publicity, as long as they remained in charge of the messages. Their commitment and hard work—done ‘in plain sight’ but not often visible—has shaped the histories of Knowle West and Bristol.

Sharon Irish
Twitter: @zumpang

20 TIPS FOR COMMUNITY ACTIVISTS 20TIPSAcademics working with Community Activists

My “Yuanfen” with Bristol – Professor Lianzhen HE

He Lianzhen
Professor Lianzhen HE, University of Zhejiang

Professor Lianzhen HE works at the School of International Studies, Zhejiang University, China and visited the University of Bristol in 2014 as an Institute for Advanced Studies Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor.

Yuanfen is a Chinese term meaning the “binding force” that links two persons together in any relationship, and for me, it is the right term to describe my relationship with Bristol.

I first visited the city of Bristol in 1992 when I was studying at the University of Birmingham. Bristol struck me as a beautiful city with great dynamics, and deeply impressed by the magnificence of Bristol Bridge and the city as a whole, I promised myself that I would be back again.

What happened twenty years later brought me to Bristol again, this time to the University of Bristol. In May 2012, a delegation headed by Professor Nick Lieven, Pro Vice-Chancellor of UoB, visited Zhejiang University, my home institution. I was invited to the presentation by Professor Lieven, from which I got to learn more about UoB, “One of the jewels of British Higher Education”. Soon afterwards, in June 2012, when I was leading a small group visiting a couple of UK universities, I decided to include UoB, in an attempt to establish the bonding between my school and the Graduate School of Education at UoB, and the visit proved fruitful. Later in 2013 when UoB held its first graduation ceremony overseas, Professor Yang Wei, then president of Zhejiang University, was awarded Honorary Degree from UoB, I was invited to attend the ceremony and the dinner hosted by Professor Sir Eric Thomas. There I witnessed the popularity of UoB among Chinese students and I could foresee her greater impact in China in the future. And here I am again, as a Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor this time. A truly great honour for me, I consider it a great opportunity to tighten the bonding.

Both members of WUN, there has already been some collaboration between Zhejiang University and UoB, especially in the area of education and language assessment. Working closely together with Dr. Guoxing Yu, we’ve secured funding from Educational Testing Service (ETS), the world’s largest test provider, British Council and Cambridge Assessment for our research projects. We have also succeeded in our joint application for WUN Research Development Fund 2012, aiming at establishing a WUN Language Assessment Research Network, the first of its kind on language assessment in the world that brings together the research-intensive universities at this scale. And we’re currently exploring areas for further collaboration.

It is Yuanfen that brought us together, and I believe it is this Yuanfen that will take us further.