STANZA is a site-specific light installation based on my poetry, realised in the form of a mobile Vehicle Messaging Sign (VMS). The piece was created for LightNight, Liverpool’s free one-night arts festival taking place annually in May since 2010.

The motorway sign is a device familiar to all of us in our daily encounter with the modern world. Typically its rather lonely role is to impart news of delay or danger, lending a somewhat depressing character to its otherwise mundane personality.

In STANZA the VMS was remotely programmed to display selected lines of poetry from my three published collections The Northern Biochemist, Come, Thule and Vallum. In this way the motorway sign is transformed into some kind of other-worldly, poetry–emitting ‘beacon’.

My aim was for STANZA to be a surprising yet elegant witness to the simple power of words. It also gently challenges our information–led digital culture whose nature can be so didactic.

Nearly 20 million passengers pass through Liverpool Lime Street station every year. Its location marks both a metaphorical and literal gateway to a changing city and as a location for STANZA, an interesting opportunity to create a place for poetry, quiet reflection and illumination. Lime Street perhaps becomes a place of silent theatre and the visitor a participant, rather than mere observer.

The festival theme for LightNight 2018 was Transformation. My latest collection of poetry is specifically interested in describing the boundaries between the sacred and profane, the spaces occupied by us and birds, transitions between states or places. Within the technical confines of the installation it was interesting to select passages of text from my work that visually embody the transformation of the device into something symbolic and possibly beautiful. There was also the possibility that your perception of the city or yourself will be transformed – which is a prerogative of art and a rare privilege of the artist.

LightNight is a unique collaborative event between over 100 organisations and events staged across 50 city centre venues and is produced by Open Culture, a Liverpool-based social enterprise.

‘sitting firmly between poetry, installation, intervention and traffic signalling, the comfortable mix of genres, topped off a night where visual art and poetry collided.’
Patrick Kirk-Smith, Art in Liverpool


STANZA was a LightNight 2018 commission from Open Culture.