Dr Martin Kiszko, BA, PG Cert

Doctor of Letters

Friday 22 July 2016 at 10.30 am - Orator: Professor Rich Pancost 

Madam Pro Vice-Chancellor

Martin Kiszko is a funny guy.  He is a really funny guy.

And entertaining.  And though-provoking.  And in a few moments, after this oration, you’ll find that out for yourselves.

I’d like to start by telling you a story that is only tangentially related to Martin.  It is summer 2013; in a crowded auditorium in Nantes, delegations from Brussels, Glasgow, Ljubljana and Bristol wait and fret as the European Commission deliberates on which city will be crowned European Green Capital for 2015.  The President steps forward and starts to read: “The European Green Capital will be awarded to the ‘City with a sense of fun...’”  And before the announcement is complete, before the word Bristol is spoken, the Mayor George Ferguson and the rest of the delegation begin to celebrate. 

Bristol is fun.  All of you graduating today know it.  All of us in the University know it.  It is also edgy or radical or maverick or weird or eccentric.  Or all of the above.  Bristol needed someone to represent all of that for its Green Capital year.   

And that brings us back to Martin. It is hard to envision anyone other than Martin Kiszko being the Poet in Residence of our Green Capital year.  He is a local legend with national and international stature.  He is fun (and edgy, radical, maverick, eccentric and all of the above). And he is green through and through.

In 2015 he inspired us while ensuring we never lost our sense of fun.

From the marvellous 2011 collection, Green Poems for a Blue Planet, to his inspirational poem for 2016, ‘It Doesn’t Stop Here’, Martin has pushed, cajoled and motivated us while also making us laugh and smile. Our environmental challenges, the challenges that make our planet ‘Blue’ in more ways than one, can seem overwhelming.  It is easy to become angry, depressed or bitter, but if we are to achieve a more sustainable future we must stay hopeful and happy.  We must recognise why we do this: to most it is not some grandiose, noble, borderline religious calling; it is simply trying to preserve the beauty around us while making the world a bit more fair, friendly and wonderful.

So we must not forget to laugh. And Martin does that with his wonderful poetry. Whether he is reciting poems about cod or fracking or ‘Green-Star Sheriffs’ or ‘Famous and Infamous Footprints’, you cannot help but smile.

But you also think. Martin’s poems have a way of getting under your skin while making you grin.  His poetry challenges and it lingers.  This is art.  It is art because although these poems seem obvious in intent on the surface, they probe, unsettle and provoke. 

I am a scientist and as a scientist, when I first started collaborating with artists I wanted them to help explain climate change issues in new and better ways – to fight what Andrew Garrad, windfarm engineer, businessman and chair of the Green Capital Company, called climate change ‘fatigue’.  But what I have learned is that the best science-art collaborations are a dialogue, wherein the art is far more than a re-packaging of climate change science. Instead it causes us to see the challenge in a fundamentally new way; it demands contemplation and that contemplation brings about new perspectives and ideas as well as new ways of talking to one another.

Martin’s poetry does that.  Yes, you are entertained.  Yes, you are inspired.  But you are also challenged to consider things in subtle and new ways.  Rarely are the poems as simple as they appear on the surface. Maybe that arises from his background – Martin’s family hails from Belarus and Leeds.  Or from living in Bristol for nearly three decades. Or maybe it is just him.

As an aside, I should mention that to the rest of the world, Martin is better known as one of our most accomplished composers.  He began his music studies at age seven and was accepted at the Leeds City College of Music at age ten. He is a Bristol alum, graduating with a BA in Music, Fine Arts and Intermedia and a PGC in Film and also obtaining his PhD from Bristol on on the growth of balalaika orchestras.   

Between 1984 and 1997, he composed and orchestrated over 200 scores for film and television.  Foreshadowing his future role as Green Capital Poet-in-Residence these include scores to landmark natural history series Land of the Eagle and Realms of the Russian Bear but also numerous BBC, ITV and C4 dramas.

In doing so, he was an innovator.  He pioneered the recording of music samples on film locations as well as using ethnomusicological research to inform the score. He subsequently introduced the palette of East European orchestras to BBC Natural History programmes such as Alien Empire and Battle of the Sexes - a lovely example of how European influence can enrich and contribute to a British icon.

Since then, Martin has embarked on a series of wonderful projects too numerous and diverse to list. They range from being Music Consultant on the Aardman Animation game, Wallace and Gromit – Curse of the Were-Rabbit, to composing, conducting and performing the score for the movie The Killing of John Lennon to writing the cantata A Radius of Curves to celebrate the 200th birthday celebrations of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Martin also composed the Antarctica National Anthem – not by any official decree but because ‘Someone had to do it.’  

Martin is an innovator and an artist.  He is prolific and diverse.  He is respected and he has been honoured time and time again with some of our nation’s highest accolades, but that has not stopped him from consulting on projects based on making a video game out of beloved plasticine characters. He is without pretension but he also is rigorous, exacting, creative and challenging. You can enjoy his art for the pleasure it brings, but it also has purpose and vision. And… he puts his money where his art is by working with charities.  His second book Verse for the Earth: More Green Poems for a Blue Planet was launched with charity WaterAid and he is currently working with charity Frank Water on the performance of his 9,000 word rhyming epic poem King Frank and the Knights of the Eco-Quest.  It is our pleasure to honour you with this degree, it has been my pleasure to enjoy your work especially over the past two years and to be the one to give this oration and it will be our pleasure to hear your latest work.

Madam Pro Vice-Chancellor, I present to you Dr Martin Kiszko as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa. 

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