Saturday, 13 January 2018

Hammer & Tongue and a Mini Scottish Tour

This week I’ve travelled the length of the country for various poetry-based adventures; from London to Glasgow to Aberdeen and back again!

Honestly, I’ve frequented so many train platforms and eaten at so many motorway service stations this week, I reckon I’m about 60% Ginsters right now.

The glamour! (Source)

My 2018 poetry Odyssey started on Saturday, when I swooped (swope?) down to London town to take part in the National Final of the Hammer and Tongue Slam.

Hammer and Tongue is the UK’s biggest and most diverse spoken word poetry competition, and previous winners include huge poetry stars like Solomon O.B, Leyla Josephine, Vanessa Kisuule, Stephen Morrison Burke and Adam Kammerling.

Oh, and they also hold the finals in the ROYAL ALBERT HALL, so you know, no pressure or anything!

The Venue

This year, forty-one poets from across the country competed, all vying for the coveted title of UK Slam Champion, and the talent and diversity of poetry on display was completely breath-taking!

The winner, Usaama Minhas, is a huge creative force, a monumentally great poet and a lovely chap too, so the judges were definitely right to crown him champion for 2018.

For my part, I managed to get through to the third round of the competition – waaaaay further than I ever imagined – and I was genuinely thrilled. I suspect the support of my lovely friends Fi, Carla and Cat was the main catalyst in propelling me through the competition. (Thanks ladies!)

On stage making weird hand gestures: standard

had a great time catching up with old poetry friends, cheering on the performers that I love and discovering new voices that made me laugh, cry, whoop and cheer.

But next year, I’m coming back, and this time, I’m going to win!

What a poser!

Then, on Tuesday, I toddled up to Scotland to do some poetry at Inn Deep, a cosy little bar in Glasgow’s fashionable West End. I met the very lovely and talented Shaun Moore, who took me under his wing and got me a slot at the microphone. The event was crowded, with a really warm and friendly atmosphere, and a great mix of performers too.

Glaswegians have this excellent way of talking about heavy subject matter with a wry wit that is completely beguiling, and although the poets who performed were all very different, it was this underlying sense of playfulness that really stood out to me. Lots of sweary poems too, which I am very much in favour of!

Then, on Wednesday, I drove even further north to Aberdeen for my first feature art of the year, at an event called Speakin’ Weird, a relatively new night in the city. Hosted by the irrepressible Sparklechops (one-time Nottingham-based poet Orla Shortall) Speakin’ Weird had a really nice friendly vibe, with a young audience and a diverse range of performances on the open mic.

My set went down really well, and I was pleased to have the time to talk to loads of people after the event too. It was really nice to talk to performers about their open mic poems and chat the audience members about poetry and the scene in Aberdeen. I also managed to sell eighteen poetry pamphlets during the night – a new world record (for me anyway).

Performing in Aberdeen (Image: Julian Maunder, Spud 'n' Duck Photography)

Speakin’ Weird was a joyful event, and definitely the best poetry night I’ve been to in a while. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re ever up in Aberdeen. (Although the eight-hour drive home was not quite so wonderful!)

Next week I’ll be on the radio talking to presenter Alan Clifford about my poetry (catch us on BBC Radio Nottingham on Tuesday 16th January from 2:30pm) and I’ll also be doing a featured set at Poetry Swaps at the Stamford Arts Centre in Lincolnshire on Wednesday 17th Jan. Finally, I’m going to be supporting Nottingham’s Young Poet Laureate, Georgina Wilding, for her feature performance at Hit the Ode in Birmingham – and it’s going to be brilliant!

At some point, I’ll also need to finish my tax return, but shhh!

Monday, 1 January 2018

Poetry New Year's Resolutions 2018

So, we survived Christmas and New Year's Eve 2017. Well done everyone!

Now it's time to get all reflective and think about self-improvement: time for Poetry New Year's Resolutions!

I am notoriously bad at keeping New Year's Resolutions. But, in recent years I've devised a cunning plan for making sure I stick to at least fifty percent of my resolutions. The plan is this: just make loads and loads and LOADS of resolutions! So many that you're bound to hit some of them, just by simply existing. I call this the 'scatter-gun approach' and it's super effective.

People still care about Pokemon, right?

Leanne's New Year’s Resolutions - 2017
1. Read at least ten poetry collections, anthologies or zines
2. Do at least ten more workshops
3. Go to at least twenty-five new (to me) poetry nights
4. Write a half-hour poetry set/show for performance
5. Go to the Edinburgh Fringe

So how did I get on?

Well, I read exactly ten poetry collections/anthologies/zines this year including: Division Street by Helen Mort, Physical by Andrew MacMillan, Amanda Lovelace's The princess saves herself in this one, Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur,  The Venus Papers by Lydia Towsey, Sophie Sparham's Mind the GapStrange Keys by Ash Dickinson, the Mud Press Christmas Zine 2, the Small Acts of Kindness anthology and the Haiku to Fuck to anthology too.

I facilitated eleven workshops this year, including some lovely projects with Writing East Midlands, Nottingham City Council and the Museum of Cambridge. I also really enjoyed doing some after-school creative writing workshops with young people this year, but I'd really like to extend this and work more in schools in 2018. (I'm sending out emails as well speak!)

In terms of performance, I did thirty-eight separate poetry gigs this year (three more than last year's total). Twenty-eight of those thirty-eight were completely new to me, which gives me a 73% New Gig Rate - two percentage points higher than last year!

One day, I will make a graph of this...

Cor, look at those lovely poetry statistics!

But, most importantly of all, I FINALLY made it to the Edinburgh Fringe and it was BRILLIANT!

Edinburgh, you gorgeous bastard!!

So that’s four out of five resolutions completed, which is pretty decent, all things considered.

However, I still didn't manage to put together that elusive poetry show in 2017. BUT there is a *very exciting project* on the horizon for 2018 so, if the funding comes through, then hopefully I'll have a bit more time and space to do some serious writing! Watch this space for further details coming soon!

And my new resolutions for this year?

Leanne's New Year’s Resolutions - 2018
1. Read at least twenty poetry collections or anthologies
2. Do at least ten more creative writing workshops
3. Go to at least thirty new (to me) poetry nights
4. Compete in at least five poetry slams
5. Put at least ten new poetry videos up on my youtube channel

Wish me luck, and happy poeting for 2018 everyone!

Friday, 29 December 2017

2017 Year in Review

Well, that was 2017. What a year!

Some of my adventures in 2017

And - as is customary on this blog - it’s time for me to have a little think about all the weird and wonderful things I've been up to this year. This isn't an exhaustive list, but here are a few of the main highlights from the year:

January // February // March
In January, I did my first gig in Wales when I travelled across to Cardiff to perform at Juke. I also had a fantastic time in Leeds at Sofar Sounds, and did a sneaky set at the Straw Bear Festival in Whittlesey. (There were Morris Dancers EVERYWHERE!)

Then, in February, I got back into sonnet writing with Russell J Turner, Andy Bennett and Olly Watson, as part of the sixth annual 28 Sonnets Later challenge. This time around we did poems based on the twenty-eight EU countries (in honour of the car-crash that is Brexit), and I really enjoyed being back in the sonnet-writing saddle! I also performed at Light Night in Nottingham and I even had a soundscape of my poems exhibited in an art gallery!

March was another busy month: I competed in the Against the Gain Slam in Lincoln, performed at Write Club in Peterborough, and wrote a short site-specific play as part of the Haunts project at New Perspectives Theatre. I performed a set at La Raza in Cambridge and co-hosted the sixth Fenland Poet Laureate Awards with the lovely FPL crew too!

Comedy GIF of me at La Raza Cambridge (courtesy of Fay Roberts)

April // May // June
In April, I took part in the Nottingham Poetry Festival, supporting Henry Normal during his Nottingham library tour, performing at the Equation Fundraiser and hosting the Write Here: Sanctuary sharing event. I also had my first encounter with Nottingham City of Literature when the lovely Matt Turpin filmed my poem 'No Such Thing as a Bacon Roll'.

May marked the beginning of the festival season, and I did sets at Badbury Rings Rewind in Bournemouth, and the Gate to Southwell Festival in Nottinghamshire. Then, in June I did two workshops in Cambridge, and it was wonderful to be back in the city for a few days, hanging out by the river in the sunshine!

Cambridge in the sunshine 

July // August // September
I ran children's writing workshops at Ely Folk Festival in July, as well as supporting Sophia Walker at the Word Theatre in Lincoln, and performing at the Hip Yak Poetry Shack at WOMAD Festival.

Doing some poems in the rain at WOMAD

In August I finally made it to the Edinburgh Fringe, and I did sets with She Grrrowls, For Book's Sake, Allographic Other Voices, and Up the Nerd Punks, as well as competing in the Hammer and Tongue Edinburgh Slam. Edinburgh was a great experience, and I saw so many brilliant shows while I was up there too.

September was when I performed at Green Fest in Nottingham, as well as at She Speaks in Derby. I also nabbed a featured slot at Wordmakers and Silence Breakers in Bournemouth, and did some poems for National Poetry Day. I judged a poetry slam for the first time (which was really nerve-wracking) and did a tonne of workshops with young refugees in Nottingham too. I also started my job with Nottingham City of Literature, which has been such an incredible experience so far!

Check out my UNESCO Logo swag...

October // November // December
October was a month filled with local gigs and projects: I did more work with young refugees and asylum-seekers, and I worked with Nottingham City Council as their Diwali Poet, and did two sets at Hockley Hustle too! I started working with Nottingham's new Young Poet Laureate, Georgina Wilding, as well and I tell you what - she's an utter delight! (You can book her for gigs and workshops here.)

Beautiful Diwali  

I went to my first writers' conference in November, and performed at the FIRST EVER Derby Poetry Festival, as well as sets at Every Last Biscuit in Nottingham and at Run Your Tongue in Kettering. Finally, in December I read at Love Music Hate Racism, Small Acts of Kindness, and Big White Christmas Shed.

Amazing group of women from the Write Here: Sanctuary project

Massive thanks to everyone who booked me to perform poetry, do workshops or commission me to write a poem for them in 2017. You lot are the best! And here’s to an even busier 2018!

Saturday, 23 December 2017

POEM - A Christmas Sonnet

So, it turns out it's nearly Christmas (Wait, what?!?!) and I've written you a slightly weird Christmas sonnet, in honour of the season. I  hope you like it, and I hope you have a have a peaceful and restful Christmas! 

A Christmas Sonnet 
When Michael Keaton ate our Christmas tree,
the noise made Sandra Bullock run away.
We found her in the shed on Christmas day;
and coaxed her back with turkey for her tea.

Then Morgan Freeman took a shine to Gran
and spent the evening sitting on her knee
so, feeding Tilda Swinton fell to me
but all she seemed to want was cheese and jam.

Soon, Tilda had been sick and so had Ke$ha,
and Kanye West had shuffled off next door.
My cousin couldn’t cope with all the pressure;
he went to sit with Oprah on the floor.

My granddad thought that I should take the blame
“For giving all your cats such stupid names!”

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals!

Saturday, 16 December 2017

POEM - More Christmas Clerihews

Well, it's nearly Christmas, and you know what that means? Yes! More Christmas Clerihews

It is well-documented that I love a Christmas Clerihew or three and, true to form, I've been busy writing some more this year in the run up to the festive season. 

In case you've never heard of it before, a Clerihew is a type of short, nonsensical poem in which you take a famous figure or celebrity, and tell you some wildly untrue or spurious information about them as if it were fact. 

The more ridiculous, the better. 

Clerihews are usually four lines long, and they have a simple AABB rhyme scheme, an uneven/wonky meter and a lot of forced rhymes too. Basically, they're meant to read like deliberately Bad Poetry. This makes them  perfect for a little bit of seasonal silliness:

Baby Jesus
loves stinky cheeses.
I know that he's God's only son
but he's just eaten all of our Stilton!

Joseph and Mary
love stationery.
If the stable had run out of space,
they'd've spent the night in Paperchase.

Mariah Carey
is impressively hairy;
now her fans are all spending their cash
attempting to steal her moustache.

St Nicholas
is getting pissed.
After five million glasses of sherry,
he's closer to shit-faced than merry...

King Wenceslaus
has a fabulous arse.
It's deep and it's crisp and it's even -
and one hundred times better than Stephen's.

King Wenceslaus (not pictured, his fabulous arse)

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