Sunday, 4 December 2016

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Projects, Projects and More Projects

Hello there! I know this is a ridiculous clichĂ©, but the month has really flown by, hasn’t it? I can’t believe it’s December already!

And, after my far-flung adventures in October and early November, I thought it was high time I spent a bit more time closer to home. So, a couple of weeks ago, I took a carload of poets up the A612 for a Folk and Poetry event in Southwell.

There were four of us in my little Corsa – Trevor, Hazel, Clare and me – and as we drove down the abandoned-looking dirt track towards the spooky building the sat-nav promised was our destination, I couldn’t help feeling like this was the start of a horror movie: four poets lost on the way to a gig accidentally end up at the remote home of a serial killer in the remote Nottinghamshire countryside! Dun dun dun!

As it turned out, it was actually a pretty swanky place!

Luckily, that stuff was all in my imagination, and we actually made it to the venue in one piece: a fantastic barn conversion that housed music and dance events, and residencies for performing artists from across the UK.

It was a really cool place to perform and – considering most of the audience didn’t know there would be poetry ahead of their Headline act – I think we did a pretty good job! Lots of people stopped us afterwards to ask us about our stuff, and it was so lovely to be part of something a bit different too.

Then, last week, I popped along to West Bridgford Library to check out Poetry Aloud, a fantastic event curated by graduates from Nottingham Trent University’s MA Creative Writing Course.

There were some fab sets from my fellow DIY poets Trevor Wright and Lytisha Tunbridge, and a great performance by the very lovely Katy Gearing, as well as some fantastic stuff from Becky Cullen, Jo Dixon, Lucy Peacock, Elvire Roberts, Andrew Taylor and Rory Waterman. It was a veritable feast for the ears! Plus, it gave me morsel of encouragement for possible future MA-related dreams. Watch this space, I guess!

Elvire Roberts reciting her fab poetry at Poetry Aloud

Also this month, I’ve been feverishly plugging the Fenland Poet Laureate Competition, which launched a few weeks’ ago.

The Fenland Poet Laureate Programme is a community arts project that seeks to promote poetry in the rural areas of North and East Cambridgeshire, West Norfolk and South Lincolnshire (more commonly known as ‘The Fens’.) The programme helps to facilitate creative opportunities and support writers across the region, and one of the main ways we do this is through the Fenland Poet Laureate Competition!

The competition runs annually, and asks talented local writers from the ages of 10-110 (and older if you like!) to ‘write a poem for Fenland’. The poems are judged completely anonymously and, once our panel have picked their favourites, the shortlisted poets are invited to an awards ceremony, where the winners are announced!

One of the best things about winning the title is that you really can do anything you like with your time in the post: former laureates have set up local open mic nights, edited publications, established literary magazines, written poems for local events and organisations, organised writing workshops, performed at local, national and international festivals, and done loads of other cool things with the support of the Fenland Poet Laureate Programme. It’s a great was of raising your own profile, as well as taking advantage of opportunities, and hopefully giving other local writers a helping hand too!

A flock of Fenland Poet Laureates!

This year, I’m coordinating the entries (and anonymising them ready to pass them onto our judging team) and I can’t tell you how excited I am every time another entry pings into the inbox! Plus, I get to play with spreadsheets to log all the entries – and I do love a good spreadsheet! (Who doesn’t?!)

If you live, work or study in the Fenland area, and fancy your chances at becoming our Laureate for 2017, send us your entries! All the details on how to enter, as well as info on whether you fall under our eligibility criteria, are available on the Fenland Poetry website. I am disgustingly excited about receiving your poems!

Mary Livingstone - Fenland Poet Laureate 2016 - reading her winning poem

I’ve also been having a marvellous time working with Writing East Midlands on the Write Here: Sanctuary project, helping very excellent Nottingham-based poet Rich Goodson to facilitate a series of creative writing workshops with a group of refugees and asylum seekers.

Rich and I have been working with members of the Women’s Cultural Exchange Group at the Refugee Forum in Nottingham, and there are also other poets working with groups in Derby and Leicester as part of the project.

A Write Here: Sanctuary workshop in full swing!

It’s been so amazing to work with so many incredible, intelligent and riotously funny women, and Wednesday mornings are now the highlight of my week! In fact, my favourite part of the project is that, because we have thirteen sessions spread out over thirteen weeks, we’ve all really got a chance to get to know each other, and it’s been so cool to watch everyone’s writing improve and grow of the course of the sessions.

I’m definitely going to a big post about the whole experience soon – so watch out for that – but for now I’m just going to say that in today’s session, Rich taught the group how to write villanelles (which are super hard!) and our participants wrote so many good poems that it actually made me want to do a bit of a happy cry! But I didn’t because I am a professional.

So Professional!

I also managed do some cheeky recording over the weekend, so I have a new youtube video online!

I’m really pleased with how it turned out, so if you fancy taking a look at my very pale and animated little face, you can check out the video here.

Please do give it a cheeky watch, and share it if you think it’s worth sharing, as it would blumming marvellous to get it to over 100 views!

Behind the scenes video photo! (And jazz hands, apparently?!)

Next week, we have our final Crosswords Spoken Word Open Mic of the year, and you should definitely come if you’re in the Nottingham area. It’s downstairs at the Malt Cross pub in the city centre on Wednesday 7th December. Doors open at 7:30pm and we start the show at 8pm. It’s £2 per person, and there’s loads of open mic slots, so we’d love to see you there. Check out our Facebook event for more details.

Friday, 11 November 2016

POEM - Witness

Today is Armistice Day in UK, which is a time to come together to think about those people who gave their lives in service of their countries in numerous wars across the globe.

It’s so important to remember those who have died in these circumstances, but it’s also vital to understand the horrors of war and the historical context behind conflicts, in order to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.

In these divided and divisive times, standing up for our collective human rights and looking after each other is more important than ever.

 This poem is about the penalties for desertion during the First World War. I wrote it as part of the Poems for Peace anthology, which was published back in 2015. The poem is called Witness.  

I have tasted dust and blood
And felt the shrapnel’s sting.
I have moved among the dead
And witnessed everything.

I have dodged the rounds and shells
And heard the bullets sing.
I have moved among the dead
And witnessed everything.

I have felt the fear and shame
Creep beneath my skin.
I have moved among the dead
And witnessed everything.

Some will call it cowardice,
Betraying kith and kin,
But I have moved among the dead
And witnessed everything.

Mortar-worn, I ran from hell
And that’s my only sin.
I have moved among the dead
And witnessed everything.

So fasten feathers to my coat –
I’ll scarcely feel the pin.
For I have moved among the dead,
And witnessed everything.

And I will raise my blindfold
When the firing squad begins,
So when they shoot between my eyes
I’ll witness everything.

And when they write our history,
Please pencil my name in.
Honour me among the dead,
And witness everything.


Sunday, 6 November 2016

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS – Word Wise, TEDxUCLWomen and Line of Light Launch

This week has been another one filled with travel and wild adventures in places as far flung as Suffolk and London (as well as a few events closer to home in the East Midlands!)

Last Friday, I was delighted to be invited to do a support set at the second ever Word Wise event, at the Maypole in Derby.

It was a bit of an overwhelming booking to be honest, because the headliners are all incredible poets, namely Jess Green, Toby Campion and Miggy Angel, and I was also sharing the support slot role with the very marvellous Dan Webber as well. So it was a pretty big night by all accounts!

The venue was absolutely heaving by the time we arrived, and it was wonderful to see so many people enjoying and participating in spoken word, with a really high standard on the open mic, and some great hosting and organisation from Jamie Thrasivoulou and Michael Markham.

The performances from the headliners were really brilliant: Dan’s rousing call to arms for Derby creatives was perfectly complemented by Miggy’s wonderful protest poem ‘I am the Riot You Seek’, and Toby Campion’s words dissected homophobia, bullying, cancer, family and community in a way that cut straight to the emotion of everything – and even made a few member of the audience cry.

The excellent Toby Campion

Jess Green rounded off the evening with some fantastic stuff from her most recent show, which focuses on the highs and lows of the British education system, and her poem about encouraging children in all aspects of their education (not just STEM subjects) was a real crowd pleaser and generated many a whoop and cheer from us all at the end!

I really enjoyed performing at this event, and it was so inspiring to see so many professional performers on one bill, all completely on top of their game. I absolutely cannot wait for the next Word Wise on 25th November, and you should definitely check out these gigs if your based in the Midlands.

Then, on Saturday I swooped down to London on the train to take part in the annual TEDxUCLWomen event. TEDxUCLWomen is a movement that celebrates the achievements of women at University College London and in the wider community, while examining the barriers that prevent women and girls worldwide from achieving their full potential.

from the TEDxUCLWomen twitter page

This year’s event, INTERSECT, was particularly focused on facilitating discussions and workshops on theme of intersectional feminism and the complicated web of prejudices that can lead to reduced opportunities for women, people of colour, people with disabilities, and other minority groups.

There were loads of talks by amazing people, along with plenty of workshops, food, music, theatre, spoken word performances, a zine fair and artwork from some incredible artists.

I performed as part of the evening’s entertainment, and it was so inspiring to be part of such talented, diverse and positive event. I got to see some fantastic poetry from Maddie Godfrey (whose piece, If My Body Was A Poem is one of my new favourites!) and some great awareness-raising courtesy of Speaking of IMELDA, a group of women campaigning for abortion rights in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

There was also a really affecting theatre piece about FGM called RITES, which was based on verbatim interviews with people from a vast range of different communities and traditions. The subject matter was pretty harrowing - with some gruesome descriptions of the process. I was really impressed by the fact that the piece portrayed all the arguments for and against FGM without patronising the audience, which made for a really textured and challenging piece of theatre.

Unfortunately, I had to leave quite early in order to get my train back to Nottingham, so I didn’t get a chance to check out the DJ who played later on into the night, but I really enjoyed the parts of INTERSECT that I got to see.

Plus, on my adventures on the way to the UCL campus, I managed to have a quick look around an art gallery in a Victorian Crypt, and got a chance to have a brief whizz around the Grant Museum of Zoology, where I made friends with a jar of pickled moles!

A jar of moles!

So, all in all, it was a very productive day!

On Wednesday night, I popped down to Station Street in Nottingham city centre for the launch of the Line of Light art installation.

The artwork was created by artist Jo Fairfax and sees projections of five-word extracts from poems displayed on underside of the tram bridge on Station Street. There are also two sets of parallel lines that run along the body of the bridge, which light up whenever a tram goes overhead.

The whole thing looks absolutely brilliant, and the projected poems change each day, including lines from famous works, specially written poems from other UNESCO Cities of Literature, and over one hundred other pieces written by local residents.

The Line of Light Installation

The art installation was commissioned by Nottingham City Council in partnership with Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature to showcase Nottingham’s literary heritage and bright creative future. With that in mind, I was delighted to be invited to perform at the launch event alongside writer and Byron aficionado Christy Fearn, multi-talented musical duo Putin and the Dolphin, and my fellow DIY Poets member John Humphreys.

I read my poem about Nottingham ‘No Such Thing as a Bacon Roll’ and I was pleased by how it went down with the crowd! I also managed to talk to some really interesting people during the afterparty and – fingers crossed – some interesting projects might arise as a result of all that lovely hobnobbing!

John’s poem ‘We Are All Just Extras’ is due to be featured as part of the Line of Light installation in April, so look out for that too!

Then yesterday I popped down to the Suffolk Coast to take part the Poetry in Aldeburgh festival. One of my poems had been published in a collection called ‘Lookout: Poems From Aldeburgh Beach’ and I was invited to go along to read it.

The South Lookout Gallery at Aldeburgh

I managed to wangle my way into the collection because I worked at the South Lookout Tower on Aldeburgh beach back in 2014 as poet in residence for the Museum of Beyond (you can read all about that here) and I was really excited to be going back to the beach to read some of my stuff from that project.

Check out my 'books on a beach' composition - I'm pretty proud of that!

It was a really brilliant launch event (Complete with smoked herring and crusty bread - yum!) and I'm utterly delighted to be in such a prestigious anthology! There are some enormous names in the collection - I’m particularly excited to be in the same book as Ian MacMillan AND Annie Freud!

Unfortunately, you can't yet buy the book online, but the editors are having a second launch event in London in late November, so keep your eyes peeled for that!

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

WEDNESDAY NIGHT NEWS - Newcastle, Weddings Poems and Tiny Hannah

In the interests of ‘getting back into the swing of things’ I’m back with another update – only a few days after my last one! How very efficient!

Anyway, I’ve spent the last few days Up North, and it was marvellous!

On Thursday, I toddled up the motorway to Newcastle, to perform at The Stanza in North Shields.

This is what Newcastle looked like in 1832 - it doesn't look like that now tho...

I’d been invited along by Harry Shearer, one of the organisers, who I met in Nottingham when we both performed at the launch of the Write Minds Madder Than We Look anthology back in February.

What with one thing and another, I hadn’t been able to make it to any of the summer sessions, so Harry and his partner in crime Mandy very kindly invited me along to their Hallowe’en special performance instead.

And I really enjoyed myself!

The variety of performances on the open mic was really brilliant, and it was great to see that so many of the poets had written spooky pieces, in keeping with the theme. I also really enjoyed the prose courtesy of the Elementary Writers, who performed some of the spooky tales from their latest collection, ‘Blood from the Quill’ which sent shivers down my spine!

Edgar Allan Poe was upset that he wasn't invited tbh

There was also some music from the fabulous Renata & Trev, and an incredible performance from local poet Jane Burn, who absolutely blew me away with her words!

I was really pleased with my set in the end as well, and I managed to sell a few of my books and made back enough money to pay for my accommodation on the night, with a little bit extra to spend on motorway service station food on the way home too! (I really know how to live you see!)

AND I also stayed in one of those spare room renting dealies (rhymes with 'Fair Deity') for the first time, and it was actually really lovely!

I’d been wanting to try it out for a while, but I was always put off by the fact that you’re literally staying in someone’s house, which always seemed a little weird to me. That being said, the price difference between a room in someone’s house vs a room in a B and B was just too big this time around, so I thought I’d chance it, and luckily for me Akanksha and her husband were the nicest couple, and their spare room was clean and cosy – perfect for a one-night stop-over! I'd definitely recommend them!

Then, on Saturday I went back up north to Yorkshire for my friends’ wedding. It was wonderful and they even let me do a poem at the ceremony (you can read all about that here.)

I love a good wedding, and this one was a cracker, with all the good wedding bits: frocks, cake, and disco!

Shiny disco balls

Plus it was one of those weddings where I didn’t know too many people so it was nice to have a chat with various friends and relations of the bride and groom – people are always so interesting! It’s my favourite part of going to new places!

I also had a very important role at the wedding ceremony: I was in charge of looking after Tiny Hannah!

Pictured: Tiny Hannah, ready for Hog Roast!

Tiny Hannah is the creation of my lovely friend, the marvellous artist and illustrator Hannah Radenkova. Tiny Hannah is a little doll-sized version of Hannah who’s is able to attend events in Hannah’s place. See, Hannah has a horrible illness called ME, which means that she’s unable to travel long distances or get out much at all. So Hannah made Tiny Hannah as a way to stay involved in her friends’ lives. I think it’s an awesome idea, and as is characteristic of Hannah, her creation is beautifully-made with incredible attention to detail!

Disco dancin'!

I really enjoyed hanging out with TH on the day!

If you’d like to know more about what it’s like to live with ME/CFS, you can check out Hannah’s blog here. It’s a really enlightening read, and I love how she manages to make her posts funny as well as informative.

Upcoming gigs:
This Friday (28th October) I’m going to be doing a few poems at Word Wise, a new spoken word night in Derby. Jess Green, Miggy Angel and Toby Campion will be heading (What a line-up!!) and I’ll be doing a mid-tier feature slot alongside the very excellent Dan Webber.

It’s going to be a fantastic event, so if you’re anywhere near Derby on Friday, get down to the Maypole for 7pm, and I’ll see you there!

Then, on Saturday 29th Oct, I’m heading down to London to take part in the TEDxUCLwomen event Intersect.

TEDxUCLwomen celebrates the achievements of women and girls, and showcases work that breaks down barriers caused by gender. This year's speakers include Jacob V Joyce, Nicole Crentstil, Funda Ustek, Bethany Koby, Deb Roach, Katie Ghose, Tschan Andrews, Olivia Head and Sneh Jani, and they'll also be loads of brilliant workshops, entertainment, stalls and food!

I'm going to be performing in the evening and I'm really looking forward to it! You can get tickets for the event here.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

POEM - Starstruck

About six months ago, a lovely friend of mine called Catie asked me a favour. And, when I found out what the favour was about, I was both delighted and terrified. See, Catie was getting married in October and she wanted me to write a poem for the ceremony.

Now, if you're aware of some of my poems, you might think that a sentimental, heartfelt wedding poem might be a little bit beyond my capabilities. Don't worry, I thought that too! But Catie and her partner Ben had every faith in me. So, armed with some ideas (and this poem by Wendy Cope, should I fail to come up with anything myself) I promptly dossed about for six months and did virtually nothing.

Then, just when I thought I would let everyone down, a new idea came to me. And so, I wrote a poem.

I hurriedly wrote it up and I sent it through to Catie and she played it to Ben and they both liked it. Hooray! Excellent happy ending; well done everyone!

And, I'm pleased to say that, when I performed the poem at the ceremony, it worked really well! It was nerve-wracking and wonderful and I even made a few people cry! (In a good way, I hope!)

So congratulations to Catie and Ben! And here's the poem.You can also listen to it on my soundcloud page here.

Sometimes I get the feeling maybe we first met in space
coz we’re both stars, our constellations shifting into place.
The patterns in this cosmos match the freckles on your face
but it’s your generosity that helps me keep my faith.

See, infinity’s indelible and that’s intimidating
but I would wait forever if you chose to keep me waiting.
We’re star-struck, star-crossed, starry-eyed, you’ll get my 5 star rating
but you’re not a mass of heat and gas – that’s not what I’ve been saying!!

Instead, I think you’re awesome; you’re a blazing super nova
and, like a NASA scientist, I’ve tried to get to know you.
Now gravity and love have got us spinning even closer.
This voyage has been wonderful and it’s still far from over.

I’ve navigated oceans on the strength of your advice
and called you unbelievable maybe once or twice…
But, though I know astrology’s a little imprecise,
our fate feels universal like a starry winter’s night.

You're celestial perfection and to me you're luminous.
(If van Gough was alive, he'd want to paint the two of us.)
So I'm afraid you're stuck with me, for better or for worse
but I'll be your observatory if you'll be my universe.

Photo Credit: ESA/Hubble Telescope

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

WEDNESDAY NIGHT NEWS – Newcastle, Weddings and A Really Big Catch Up

Goodness me! It’s been over a calendar month since my last post – a new record!

Apologies for my prolonged absence; I promise I haven’t been neglecting the writing side of things. In fact, part of the reason I’ve been so quiet is that I’ve been massively busy doing all sorts of new and exciting things. What things, you ask? Well…
  • I did a set at Green Fest in the Nottingham Arboretum (one of my favourite outdoor spaces in the city)
  • I performed at Speech Therapy and had a wonderful time giving some of my more seldom-read poems a good airing
  • I had a supremely terrible gig in a Derby pub theatre, completely dying on my arse – so much so that I could hear the tumbleweed rolling across the stage 
  • I had a marvellous adventure to the Peak District to film some of my poems, alongside a band of DIY Poets, who were doing the same (Plus, there was ice cream!)
  • I went down to the Fens to start the scheming for next year’s Fenland Poet Laureate Awards, which are shaping up to be really exciting indeed
  • I started working with the Nottingham Women’s Cultural Exchange as part of the Write Here: Sanctuary project, which is just such a fantastic project, I could talk about it all day and I promise I'll write a full post about it soon, because it deserves its own one!
  • I recited a few rhymes at House of Verse for the Oxjam takeover in Leicester
  • And I was teamed with the very wonderful Chris McLoughlin at Poetercize (the Poetry Gameshow) at Hockley Hustle AND we managed to win the game and everything!!

This post would be far too long if I spoke about all these things in detail, so instead here are a couple of photos that I hope give you an idea of what I've been up to:

Making a very earnest face at Green Fest 

Getting ready for epic cobblestone-based filming in the Peak District

My Poetercize outfit (what a plonker!)

Spinning some tales at House of Verse

Massive Ice Cream!! (and I ate all of it!)

Upcoming gigs:
This Thursday (20th October) I’m going to be doing a few poems at Stanza at The Exchange in South Shields, and I’m really looking forward to it! It'll be great to experience the spoken word scene up in Newcastle, as it's a city I've never been to before! I can't wait to check it out!

Stanza starts around 7:30pm, and I’ll be the nervous one at the back of the room with no friends – please come and say ‘hi’ if you can!

Then, on Saturday I’ll be up in Richmond in Yorkshire for the wedding of my beautiful friends Catie and Ben. The two of them very kindly asked me to write them a poem for the event, and I’m massively excited/terrified about reading it out during the ceremony!

So. Much. Pressure!

That being said, I’m actually surprised at how much I like the poem that I ended up writing, so hopefully that will come through when I read it out. It’s about stars and space and I’m hoping to record a video version of it soon – keep your eyes peeled for that!

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

POEM - Skin

The villanelle is one of my favourite poetic forms - I really like the repetition and the constricted rhyme schemes, and I love how deceptively difficult they are to write as well! 

I've been trying to write a decent villanelle for about five years now. I'm still not sure if I've managed it yet, but I'm pretty happy with this one. I've completely re-written it about three times now, and it's probably still not finished, but I wanted to show it to you anyway. Let me know what you think.


You have no right to tell me what to wear;
and how I dress is no concern of yours
coz I’m in charge of how much skin I bare.

I thrive upon your disapproving stares
and you can't crush me now, so rest assured
you have no right to tell me what to wear.

I'm flattered by how much you seem to care
by pointing out my weaknesses and flaws
but I'm in charge of how much skin I bare.

I know my clothes won't lure some hungry bears –
I'm pretty sure I'm safe to be outdoors.
You have no right to tell me what to wear

A chair that's covered up is still a chair
and un-uphostered flesh still isn't yours.
See, I’m in charge of how much skin I bare

and, if I had to guess, I'd say you're scared
because you can't control me any more.
You have no right to tell me what to wear
coz I’m in charge of how much skin I bare.