Thursday, 19 October 2017

POEM - Crowd-Sourced Diwali Poem

Earlier this month, I spent some time working with Nottingham City Council on some creative writing workshops celebrating Diwali in the city.

We did four workshops in various different community settings, writing poems around themes of home, community, journeys and displacement. And, once the workshops were finished, we gathered up the poems like a bountiful harvest and the Council made some of them into lovely poetry postcards! 

I then spent a couple of days out in the Market Square, talking to people about poetry, performing poems, handing out free poetry, and writing bespoke rhymes for festival-goers. 

The view from the Market Square on Saturday afternoon

It was really lovely to be surrounded by Indian dancers, traditional musicians, visual artists and food  vendors, and the atmosphere was brilliant! There was a parade on Friday evening that included music, dancing and a three-metre-tall mechanical elephant, as well as a beautiful installation of paper lanterns made by members of the community.

Pictured: some pretty beautiful lanterns!

But the best bit of the event was talking with people about what Diwali means to them. I learnt a lot about the festival, the traditions surrounding it and the ways in which people celebrate. I also gathered loads of phrases about Diwali from Nottingham folk, and used all these lovely words as the basis for a 'crowd-sourced' poem about the event. 

Here's the poem. I hope you like it. Happy Diwali!

The Mechanical Elephant

May this Diwali be as bright as ever!

It is October 2017
and I am four thousand miles
from home, dreaming away the
dark evenings, when I see him,
surrounded by the coloured lights.

Something exciting is happening.
Something joyful. There are dancers
and drummers at his feet, and crowds
of people line his path as he moves.

An unexpected sight in a crowded
market square, in an East Midlands
town, on an warm autumn evening.
And as I watch I wonder how many
elephants have walked this way before?

And how many people have
come seeking sanctuary?

There are different coloured lights
blooming from the ground, and
we buy Laddu and Jalebi wrapped
in wax paper. Dropping each morsel
into our mouths, past lantern-lit lips
that won't stop smiling.

And my heart feels like a Rangoli
pattern tonight. It feels like a wick
dipped in ghee fizzing into flame.
It feels like a cracker bursting
in the starry sky. It feels beautiful.

And when the fireworks finally start
– pink and yellow, blue and gold –
you tell me about Rama and Sita,
Lakshmana and Hanuman and I watch
the colours dance in your words.

I have smiled at more strangers
tonight than I ever had before. Each
conversation uncoiling me, as the drums
beat in my chest like the rhythm of the
universe. It's as if we each share a secret,
like we are all part of something larger than

And as the elephant and the dancers move
away and the music fades, I watch the faces
of people passing by. Their eyes radiate hope,
like lanterns lighting up the darkness and
guiding us home.

The Peace Builders sculpture - with glow in the dark words!

Huge thanks to Ruby, Adriana, Aadhya, Deepti, George (the Community Support Officer), Srinidhi and Thanvi, Alicia, Mina, Becky and Becca, Olivia, Jamie, and Sadie and Sean for contributing words and phrases to this community poem, and to Emma, Jenny and Tony for taking the time to stop and talk to me about Diwali too!

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

MONDAY NIGHT NEWS - Diwali Poetry, Buzzwords and Hockley Hustle

How do? I can’t believe it’s nearly Halloween already! I hope you’ve got your costume sorted? I’m 100% ready to party.

Ready to party...

This month, I’ve been really busy with oodles of workshops, gigs and some truly lovely writing projects as well! So, let's do a little round up of what's been going down, shall we?

On Thursday 28th September, I celebrated National Poetry Day with a trip to Beeston (a short tram ride from Nottingham city centre) for an event announcing the winner of the Buzzwords competition.

Fab local magazine the Beestonian had launched this competition to find a poem to represent their town and, as I sometimes do my shopping there, I felt qualified to enter with a little ditty of my own.

The Beestonian!

In the end, my poem didn’t win, but it was one of twelve that was shortlisted, which was a pretty nice ego boost. Also, I think it was the first time I've ever written a successful villanelle, so that's a definite plus.

I’ve popped the poem up on the blog, so you can check it out here. Let me know what you think!

Then, on Sunday 8th October, I managed to wangle not one but two performances at Hockley Hustle, Nottingham’s premier indie music and arts festival!

The Hustle (as it’s known to all the cool kids) is this brilliant series of gigs, events and workshops that all take place in one day in the ultra-trendy part of Nottingham called Hockley. There are performers, parades, food stalls and buskers in all the streets, and shops, cafes, and pubs transform into quirky little performance spaces for musicians and poets.

The bustle of the Hustle

This year, there were over three hundred acts performing across thirty stages, and I was delighted to do some poems as part of the We Shall Overcome stage at the Lord Roberts as well as a performance for Poetry is Dead Good at Lee Rosy’s tea shop too.

(You can watch one of my poems from the We Shall Overcome stage here. Massive thanks to Keith Turner for recording me!)

It was also great to watch some marvellous local poets like Lytisha Tunbridge, Kevin Jackson, Elvire Roberts, Katy Gearing, Bridie Squires, Joshua Judson, Chris Lanyon and Neal Pike.

Hanging out with lovely poets!

We're really spoiled for spoken word talent in this city, and events like this remind me not to take it for granted!

Then, on Wednesday 11th October, we had another great evening at Crosswords with a wonderful featured set from Char March, who took the audience on an emotional roller-coaster with poems about accents, animals, flooding, and an incredibly touching piece about the death of her mother.

Next month, we have a headline set from the very marvellous Chris Martin (No, not that one.) and I can't wait to welcome him down to the caves for some subterranean spoken word! The show is on Wednesday 8th November at the Malt Cross in Nottingham. Doors open at 7:30pm for an 8pm start. See you there!

The lovely Chris Martin (performing at FTRW in Leicester)

Another big thing I've been doing this month is working with Nottingham City Council to facilitate a series of workshops with community groups ahead of this year's Diwali in the city.

In the last two weeks, I've been along to lots of different sessions, talking with people and writing poems with them around themes of home, community, displacement and tradition. I worked with refugees and asylum-seekers and young people, as well as groups of older people, many of whom have lived in Nottingham all their lives.

It was so nice to hear about the experiences of such diverse groups of people, and it was lovely to help them to share their stories through creative writing too.

Once the workshops were finished, we took the poems that had been created, as well as those submitted to me by local poets as part of the project, and the Council made some of them into beautiful postcards!

Look how nice they are!

Then, I spent two days in the city centre as Diwali poet-in-residence, surrounded by Indian dancers, traditional musicians, artists and food vendors. There was a parade on Friday evening with a three metre tall mechanical elephant (Yes, really!) as well as a brilliant installation of paper lanterns made by members of the community.

I spent most of my residency writing bespoke poems for festival-goers, handing out free poetry postcards and performing poems for slightly bemused (but ultimately appreciative) members of the public.

I spoke to loads of people about what Diwali means to them, and I used all these conversations as the basis for a 'crowd-sourced' poem about the event. I'm really pleased with how the poem turned out, and I can't wait for it be published later this month!

Beautiful Lanterns!

A fab art installation made by Peace Builders Nottingham

Thursday, 12 October 2017

POEM - Advice to Myself

Waaaaaaay back in July 2014, I embarked upon my first Writer-in-Residence position, spending three days on the Suffolk Coast as part of the Museum of Beyond project.

The Museum of Beyond was the work of Fran Crowe, an artist I met while doing some volunteer stewarding for the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. Fran’s work is heavily influenced by ecological concerns, and she works to raise awareness of environmental issues. She spent almost ten years collecting some of the plastic items that wash up on the beaches in and around Suffolk, and she used this rubbish to create a variety of artworks drawing attention to the problems associated with plastic litter in our oceans.

Exhibit A

I spent three days at the South Lookout on Aldeburgh beach, soaking up the lovely sunny atmosphere and responding the the Museum's collection. 

It was a glorious experience, and as autumn draws in, it's really nice to remember blue skies, pebbly beaches, and wrestling my fish and chips from the beak of an over-friendly seagull. (Get off, you cheeky bugger!)

My home for the Museum of Beyond Residency

Why am I telling you all this now?

Well, as part of the residency, I wrote nine poems about various objects being displayed as part of the project. One of the poems I wrote while I was there was called 'Change' and was based on this piece of sign that Fran found on the beach just up the coast from where the exhibition took place.

It definitely says 'change' and not 'danger'

I've been thinking about change a lot recently, because there's been some big changes in my life just recently.

Like most people, I instinctively fear change – I think it's that creeping horror of the unknown that really gives me the existential heeby-jeebies - but earlier this summer, I found myself in a position where I was really unhappy, but terrified of making a change. 

I mean, what if I made a move, strived for something better, and then found myself in a position that was somehow even worse than where I started?


Luckily my friends and family persuaded me to get my bum in gear and do something, and I'm really glad that I did!

Of course, not all change is positive but more often than not, change is a good thing, and I'm slowly learning to embrace that.

Anyway, all that self-indulgent introspection led me to dig out my 'Change' poem, and get to work editing and re-drafting it. I'm pretty pleased with the results. I'm hoping to might be able to perform this one soon, so let me know what you think!

Advice to Myself

That's what the sign said.
Because a change is as good as a rest
and the rest can take care of itself.

Change now. Change for good.
Change until the next time it's
time to change.

Change the pace;
change your ways.
Have a change of heart.

Find a change of scenery
and emerge changed.
Because even small change
can change everything.

Some people say
the more things change
the more they stay the same.

I say
embrace the infinite
possibilities of change.
(You can always change back
if you change your mind.)

Know that flexibility breeds creativity
And inertia is a choice born from fear.

Choose to change

not for the sake of changing
but for the experience of being changed.

Some things never change:
don't be one of them.

Friday, 6 October 2017

POEM - The Tattoo

Last week, I was delighted to have one of my poems shortlisted for a poetry competition over in Beeston.

Lovely local magazine the Beestonian were on the look-out for a poem to represent the town, so I thought I'd have a crack at writing something and sending it in.

Beeston, looking all lovely in the sunshine

In the end, my poem ended up a bit maudlin, and the competition for the top spot was pretty fierce, so I'm actually just really pleased to have been shortlisted.

I'm also pretty happy to have written a villanelle that doesn't suck (after having written plenty that did) so that nice.

The winning poems in the adult and under 16s categories (written by Cathy Grindrod and Ava Waring respectively) have been published in the Beestonian magazine, and all the top poems in the competition will be exhibited in the town soon.

Anyway, here's my poem. I'm pretty happy with it. I hope you like it!

The Tattoo
If I could paint this town onto my skin
I'd load my brush with countless memories.
I'd struggle to decide where to begin.

After all, it's hard to place a pin
into a state of mind: a reverie.
If I could paint this town onto my skin

it would take courage and some discipline;
a bravery not seen for centuries.
I'd struggle to decide where to begin.

You see, nostalgia breeds the saccharin,
and true reflection comes through lack of ease.
If I could paint this town onto my skin –

contemplating all that we have been;
the fleeting glance of all that we could be?
I'd struggle to decide where to begin.

Excuses wearing tracing-paper thin
I guess I'm just not one for artistry.
If I could paint this town onto my skin
I'd struggle to decide where to begin.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

POEM - National Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day in the UK, and this year's theme is 'Freedom'.

Of course, there are loads of incredible poems on the subject of Freedom (some of my favourites are here, here , here, here, and here) but I figured that, on National Poetry Day, it would be remiss of me not to have a go at writing something for myself.

So here is a poem. The title comes from a book called The First Blast of the Trumpet Against a Monstrous Regiment of Women, which was written by John Knox in 1588. (Evidently, he was not keen on Elizabeth I becoming Queen...) 

In this context, the word Monstrous means 'unnatural', because it's completely unnatural for a lady-girl to be in charge of anything other than managing the staff, amirite?

The term 'a monstrous regiment of women' was then appropriated in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries to criticise women's involvement in the political sphere, from the French Revolution to the women's suffrage movement. 

Whatever next?

Personally, I think we should all stand to be a bit more monstrous:

Monstrous Woman
I want to be a Monstrous Woman
To speak out of turn
To take up space
To scandalise tabloid newspapers

I want to question authority
To win more fights than I lose
To take my fair share
And allow you to take yours too

I want never to apologise for myself again

I want to be a Monstrous Woman
To stop expecting less
To give voice to the voiceless
And make space for all my sisters

I want to shatter your expectations
Build bridges instead of walls
Stop accepting the blame
And do something about it

I want you to make your own God damn sandwich

I want to be a Monstrous Woman
To reclaim the streets and my own body
To live unhindered by guilt
And stop reading those glossy magazines

I want to be out of control
A force to be reckoned with
To disturb the comfortable
And comfort the disturbed

I want the word 'ladylike' to fuck off back to the nineteenth century where it belongs

I want to be a Monstrous Woman
To be angry and ugly
Aggressive and antagonistic
I want you to see that life is not a zero sum game

I want to pull down the scaffolding
And start afresh
To charge the barricades and
Peel back the dead flesh

I want show you how things could be

I want to be a Monstrous Woman
Who's with me?

Sunday, 24 September 2017

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Green Fest, She Speaks and Wordmakers in Bournemouth

Wow, September has just flown by, hasn't it? It seems like only yesterday it was lovely sunny, festival-y August, but now the nights are drawing in, the trees are trying out an alternate colour palette, and there's a distinctly wood-smoky smell in the air.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Plus, I've got an absolute stinker of a cold. (Honestly, I've never seen so much snot!) All of which must mean that Autumn is just around the corner!

This month, I've been super busy with gigs, workshops and exciting new projects! So, let's do a little round up of what's been going down, shall we?

We had a fab night at Crosswords in September, with a fantastic special guest in the form of Stephen Thomas, who wowed us all with a selection of excellent uni-vocalisms from his latest book, Alphabet Spaghetti.

Stephen Thomas - one of the nicest (and best) poets in Nottingham!

I managed to get myself onto the bill at this year's Green Fest – a wonderful sustainable living and vegan food festival in Nottingham. Marvellous local poet Lytisha Tunbridge put together a two-hour smorgasbord of voices on the spoken word stage, and I was excited to be performing alongside such a varied and talented bunch!

The audience didn't want to get too close (which is sensible, as I do bite)

I also helped out with the very ecologically-friendly festival stage by cycling for waaaaay longer than I was comfortable in order to keep the pedal-powered speakers working!

That's my exercise sorted for the month, I think!

Later on the same weekend, I popped down to perform at a fantastic new night in Derby called She Speaks, where I was completely overwhelmed by the talent of all contributors, and the generosity of the hosts, Jo, Em and Aoife, whose ambition to create a safe and supportive space for female and non-binary performers is something that I totally love!

Jo Lewis performing at She Speaks in Derby

I also got to meet Ali Brumfitt, which was very exciting for me, as I've loved their poems from afar for ages. And they recognised me from some of my poems too (which was totally unexpected) so that was a pretty good night all round!

This week, I took a road trip down to Bournemouth to take part in the excellent Wordmakers showcase – which I have to say was one of the friendliest audiences I've experienced for a very long time! Once again, the local performers blew me away, and it was really nice to finally get the chance to see Ash Dickinson perform too.

Ash Dickinson being awesome

Aside from all that poetry gallivanting, I've also been doing a bit of behind the scenes stuff too:

I sat on my first ever funding board panel, making decisions on funding applications for the Arts Council's Creative People and Places initiative in Fenland and Breckland, and I acted as a judge at the Superheroes of Slam regional finals in Leicester.

Both were pretty tricky gigs to be honest – given that you're essentially judging what makes great art, which sometimes feels like a pretty subjective thing.

That being said, I'm glad I got the chance to participate in both experiences, as it felt good to be supporting events and organisations that do brilliant things for the Arts!

It also gave me a real insight into how these things are judged, and that's all good experience for when I finally become a MEGA POET (which is similar to a Mega Zord from Power Rangers, only with more iambic pentameter...)

I guess I know what I'm going to be for Halloween now...

You'll also notice that I've started putting ACTUAL POEMS up on the blog again! This is either exciting or horrifying (depending on your opinion of my poetry). But I for one am pretty ecstatic about having the time to do regular writing sessions again.

How have I managed to wangle more time in my working week, I hear you ask?

Well, I haven't built an H G Wells-style time machine, or invested in a Time Turner – yet. Instead, I've started a BRAND NEW JOB, which means that I now spend three days a week at the office, and two days a week at home focusing on my own poetry projects!

My new job is with UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature, a charity that works to promote, support and publicise literacy, creative writing and poetry in and around Nottingham.

Our city is one of only twenty in the world that have this UNESCO designation, and it's incredible to be part of such a positive force in the local community!

It's been so much fun so far, and I'm really enjoying working with Sandy and Matt in the office, finding out about all the wonderful grass-roots events and projects that make Nottingham such a glorious city for writers and readers.

Logo a-go-go

Even though I'm only working three days per week, I already feel like I'm much busier than I was when I worked full time. A lot of this is down to all the projects that I've been taking on to fill up my Thursdays and Fridays and, while I can't wait to tell you all about them, that will probably have to wait for another day. (Oh, I'm such a tease!)

Next week, the City of Literature team will be announcing the first ever Nottingham Young Poet Laureate, and I honestly don't know how I've managed to keep it a secret this long!

If you want to find out who the winner is, you'll have to wait until Thursday 28th September like everyone else! My lips are sealed!

Keep up to date with all the lovely City of Lit projects via our twitter and facebook pages, or the newly-revamped instagram feed! Keep an eye out, as you might even see me on there occasionally as well!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

POEM - Pirate Limericks

Arrrrrr, Jim-lad! It's International Talk like a Pirate Day (because apparently there's a day for almost everything these days).

So in honour of this salty sea-faring event, I dug out some old piratical limericks for your riotous delectation.

This is always the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Pirates

Remember, in order to read them properly, you need to have a parrot on your shoulder and a flagon of rum at your elbow. (Not that I'm endorsing being drunk in charge of a poem, mind you...)

There once was a pirate called Smee
Who was frightened of drowning at sea.
So he dumped his career
As a fierce buccaneer
And he now runs a small HMV.

The once was a Captain called Jack
Who rowed to Jamaica and back.
When asked why he did it
He slyly admitted,
“I would swim, but I don't have the knack.”

There once was a ship's cook named Silver
Who had a penchant for a pilfer.
After close scrutiny
(And a grand mutiny)
He was sacked, and re-trained as a builder.

There once was a pirate called Bonney
Who was fearsome and daring and brawny.
She slit plenty of throats
While dressed as a bloke,
Which is badass, but not very funny.

Anne Bonney - one of very few women pirates