Site-Reading Writing Quarterly

Timothy Mathews reads Alisoun Sings (Nightboat Books, 2019) by Caroline Bergvall

Caroline Bergvall reads There and Not There: Chronicles of Art and Loss (MA BIBLIOTHÈQUE, 2022) by Timothy Mathews

Reader’s Biography

A lot of my work is based on exploring and learning from texts and works by others. I try not to have preconceived ideas about what I will do and prefer to let the work that I’m reading/viewing/listening show me the way. More often than not this ends up challenging my prior working methods, the way I research and source up my thinking. It shifts the language and poetics I adopt, the types of media and situations I create. All in all it is a very intimate, demanding and dialogic process. I work with these materials in very detailed ways and let them take me down routes and visions that seek out of the harsh impasses of my own time.

Reader’s Biography

Why read? To engage. Why write? To engage. Why both at once? To understand myself, my imagination, my imagination of others, myself in relation to others. In reading, writing, and translating, I’m looking for places that don’t immediately emerge: a meeting of something made, someone writing, someone listening. I’m looking for ways to breathe within those distances. Maybe the loss of sharing, and sharing that loss, can fashion a community without imposing it. Maybe.


Reader’s Abstract

My response to Timothy Mathews’s volume was to try and work out a direct approach to the painful, lived and re-lived experiences and reflections of absence and presence, personal and collective trauma, vulnerability and salvage figured in the process of deep grief and in the times and sites of the artworks and books that he takes us through. I turned to drawing. Let the breathing-hand lead. Let it be captured at its moment of contact with paper, the immediacy of ink, the controlled unpredictability of mark-making. Locating the gestural moment of the time of writing reconnects with the ancient calligraphic emphasis on breathing into the line and helped me tap into some of the rawer, emotional and somatised levels at work in this intellectually subtle yet also open-hearted book: only radical and renewed connections to others, to art, to language, and other lived practices can provide forms of healing that carry the potential for deep individual and collective change.

Reader’s Abstract

Alisoun Sings is an art of song in itself. Caroline Bergvall sings Chaucer in the female right into a language of the moment. What could once only be read at a distance is read and heard immediately now. What is heard in the immediate resonates with history in the making, with the imagination rekindled, and suddenly song is heard in songs everywhere, songs exploded in song, songs limited to the power of song, and limits exploded in joy. And now witness can emerge to the struggles of others for song and voice, a witness that allows and that breathes, and refuses possession. A wondrous book of invention, hilarity, suffering, crammed full of the word-work needed for freedom.


Caroline Bergvall, Alisoun Sings (Nightboat Books, 2019)


Timothy Mathews, There and Not There: Chronicles of Art and Loss (MA BIBLIOTHÈQUE, 2022)

Writer’s Biography

Caroline Bergvall is an award-winning poet, artist and performer. She works across languages, artforms and media. Performances and installations are shown and commissioned internationally incl. Tate Modern (London), Whitney Museum (NY), John Hansard Gallery (Southampton), Jewish Museum (Munich), Fondatio Tapiès (Barcelona), Khoj Art Centre (New Delhi), Pompidou Centre (Paris), Berlin Poetry Festival. Most recently her datawork Passengers Passages, Rivers Institute for Contemporary Art & Thought (New Orleans 2022) and the online collaborative writing event Night & Refuge (Cement Fields 2020, Oslo Poetry Festival 2021). Her book Alisoun Sings (2019) is the final volume of a trilogy exploring medieval and contemporary languages and source materials: Meddle English (2011) and Drift (2014). Forthcoming: An edited critical collection on her work:  Caroline Bergvall’s Medievalist Poetics: Migratory Texts and Transhistoric Methods eds. J. Davies & C. Bergvall, Arc Humanities Press (Summer 2023). Some of her awards and appointments include: Cholmondeley Award for Poetry, RSA, UK (2017); Literary Art Prize, Centre Pompidou, Paris (2017); Judith E. Wilson Fellow in Poetry & Drama, Cambridge University (2012); Writer-in-Residence, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2014); Visiting Professor, Kings College London (2017-); Kelly Writers House Fellow, UPenn (2022), and just awarded a prestigious Global Professorial Fellowship, Queen Mary, University London (2022-2024).

Writer’s Biography

Timothy Mathews is Emeritus Professor of French and Comparative Criticism, University College London. He is fascinated by what engaging with art can tell us about engaging with people, and explores this in a variety of idioms. He has written on many modern and contemporary artists and writers, and before There and Not Here his most recent book was Alberto Giacometti: the Art of Relation (2014). His co-edited books include Tradition, Translation, Trauma, with Jan Parker (2011), Poetic Biopolitics, with Peg Rawes and Stephen Loo (2015), and The Modernist Bestiary, with Sarah Kay (2020). His most recent translation is of a novel by Guillaume Apollinaire, Seated Woman (2022). He is Officier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques, a member of the Academy of Europe, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Writer’s Abstract

Alisoun Sings finds its starting-point with Chaucer’s iconic, proto-feminist Wife of Bath. Her forceful voice leads the way across narratives of gender and addresses the brutality of social conventions with both rage and humor. This booklength polyvocal monologue inhabits a multitude of events, lives and sources to navigate histories of love and protest and contemporary commerce in landscapes explicitly impacted by global warming, systemic violence and solar eclipses. Bergvall continues her previous work creating texts that rest on transhistoric forms of English, beyond its dominance as a global lingua franca, and places her quest in the intersections and migrations of stories and languages. (Publishers note, Nightboat Books, 2019)

Writer’s Abstract

There and Not Here: Chronicles of Art and Loss (MA BIBLIOTHÈQUE, 2022) is a collection of poetic essays written in response to works of art. These range from film, novels and installations, and include Pedro Almodóvar, William Kentridge, and Barbara Hepworth, as well as William Shakespeare and Diego Velásquez. The book explores strength of feeling, especially grief, as a path to communication, to an understanding of what unites and divides, and ultimately offers its own path to a constellation of engagements with life.

About Issue 12

Welcome to the 12th issue of Site-Reading Writing Quarterly23 September 2022! 

Site-Reading Writing Quarterly celebrates reading and writing as situated practices, releasing a special pair of seasonal reviews four times a year. For this 23 September 2022 issue, Tim Mathews reads Alisoun Sings (Nightboat Books, 2019) by Caroline Bergvall; while Caroline reads Tim’s There and Not There: Chronicles of Art and Loss (MA BIBLIOTHÈQUE, 2022). Both writers explore the visceral potential of words through their temporal spacings and materialities. For Tim, Alisoun’s bawdy feminist songs ‘return’ him rhythmically, via the Baroque musical form of the ritornello, to the melancholy of There and Not There via a key that engages freedom and joy. While Caroline tunes her phrasing visually to respond to Tim’s theme of loss – blurring, dripping, smearing.

For 23 September 2022, Critical Spatial Practice shares Milan Gender Atlas, (Milan, 2021) a dynamic feminist project by Florencia Andreola and Azzurra Muzzonigro, which addresses gender issues in relation to the city in an Italian context. Site-Writing presents Anna Vorsel’s Poetic Water Boundaries as another feminist work. Inspired by Luce Irigaray’s words from Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche, “For there is no peril greater than the sea. Everything is constantly moving and remains eternally in flux” Anna questions the construction of borders in the fluctuating seas, through a poetic visual mediation on watery cartographies. Two further projects develop site-writing’s pedagogic and collaborative possibilities: Maike Statz hosts queer experimental writing workshops – Rainbow Palace and Table Writing, while Tenna Doktor Olsen Tvedebrink and Tina Vestermann Olsen’s one week studio – Site Stories – connects site-writing processes to animation, encouraging architectural design students at Aalborg University to consider the more atmospheric, emotional, and imagined aspects of site.

Having now shared 12 issues of SRWQ, and turned through three cycles of the year, I have come to feel the way the equinoxes and solstices mark time as almost relentless! So I am going to take a breather, to reconsider the project. If you have any ideas for this do get in touch. A massive ‘thank you’ to everyone who has been involved so far for their incredible generosity. If you would like to contribute to either Critical Spatial Practice or Site-Writing I will do an update in late 2023, so please contact me: – And if you don’t want to receive these updates, let me know, and I can take you off the listing. 

Wishing you all well! 


Back to Top