Sunday, 28 August 2016

POEM - Museum of Cambridge Poetry Trail

Last week, I mentioned the Poetry Trail that I put together for the Museum of Cambridge.

The trail included six poems written especially for children, and each poem related to one of the objects in the Museum's collection. The poems were displayed around the museum, and visitors had to read them and guess which poems related to which objects.

It was a really fun brief, and I wanted to share a couple of the poems here.

This first one was based on a really strange nineteenth-century clay pipe, which was moulded to look like a chicken. I'm not really sure why it was shaped like a chicken - people in the past were weird, I guess? - anyway, I wrote this poem about the chicken pipe:

Bird's Eye View

I have two eyes, but cannot see.
I'm handsome though, don't you agree?
And here I am, out on display!
My beak and wattle made of clay.

I'm shaped to look just like a bird –
Though not the kind that I'd prefer.
I'm not a swan, instead I'm stricken
To look exactly like a chicken!

I've never squawked though sometimes puffed
And now I've quit – I'm really chuffed!
See, smoking damages your health;
I'm happier up on this shelf.

I'm not a flute or a recorder
(Saying that is out of order!)
So don't believe the noise and hype
I am a different sort of pipe.

What an odd object!

I really enjoyed writing poems that were also riddles, so I also wrote a slightly more cryptic one about a vintage tennis ball cleaner. (I know, there's a lot of weird items in this museum - that is 100% why I like it!)

The Strangest Thing

Bristle-toothed mouth
Half-moon broom

Inside-out hedgehog
Wooden elbow-polisher

Curled-over conker shell
Spider-webbed dimple

Comb-feathered nest
Dent waiting for the egg

Small spiky head-rest
Cupped palm full of eyelashes

A bristle-toothed mouth (Tennis Ball Cleaner)

The museum were really pleased with the Poetry Trail, and I'm really happy with how the poems turned out! In fact, I can definitely see myself doing more of these in the future!

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

TUESDAY NIGHT NEWS - Folk East, the Sound Booth and the Museum of Cambridge

Hello again!

It’s August! Which means summer holidays, larking about in pub gardens and generally having a lovely time in the sunshine. Or, at least, that would be the case, if I hadn’t already spend all my annual leave on poetry workshops and gigs earlier in the year! Still, I’ve managed to get out and about a bit too. Here’s a few of the lovely, poetry-based things I’ve been up to this week:

Last Wednesday, I pootled down the A1(M) to the Museum of Cambridge to facilitate some drop-in family poetry workshop as part of the Summer at the Museums series with the University of Cambridge.

The Museum itself is a beautiful place, and it’s one of my favourite local museums in the UK, if only because the collections are treasure-troves of bizarre and fascinating objects documenting the social history of Cambridgeshire – my adopted birth county!

'The Noted Liar' medal in the Museum of Cambridge

I spent a little bit of time at the Museum recently, writing poems about the various artefacts and making a poetry trail for families to follow. I wrote ten poems in all, and six of them were pinned up around the museum for kids to find. The poems were all kind of like riddles, and the kids would then have to guess what each poem was about. It was tricky to write to a brief, and there were a couple of false starts – because writing for children is super hard! – but I’m really happy with what I produced in the end. (I might even share a few of them on this blog, so keep a look out for those!)

But my real challenge was putting together a drop-in poetry session for primary school-aged children!

This is not an age group I’d ever worked with before and I have to admit I usually feel more comfortable working with adults or groups of teenagers. (Particularly teenagers, because I think my mental age hovers around fifteen most of the time anyway!)

Still, nothing ventured nothing gained, right?

So, I put together loads of poetry-based activities, and we set out the tables and waited for the mini-poets to arrive!

The morning drop-in session proved really popular! We had eleven children and five mums, all getting stuck in and using their imaginations to create some great writing!

Cut up words, ready to be made into poems!

The most popular activities were the old photographs (where we had some great stories about Bob the dog, whose photo was taken in 1941) and the cut up words, which led to some fantastic Dadaist poetry! My favourite line was about a skateboarding pizza, but there were loads of really imaginative juxtapositions across the board!

Bob the dog (photo taken in 1941)

The kids also really enjoyed the ‘Guess the Object’ game, and the younger ones had a great time illustrating some poems with their own designs.

One of the children ask me to draw them a mermaid. This was the result:

What the ef is that thing?!

Which I think clearly illustrates the idiom ‘You can't be good at everything’ and the lesser-known sub-idiom ‘but you can be genuinely awful at some things’. Ho hum.

For the afternoon session, we had a much smaller group, consisting of one little girl and her mum. But, far from being awkward, it was great to be able to focus on the exercises with her, and she wrote an excellent acrostic poem about a lion and a unicorn too!

The afore mentioned unicorn and lion

Then, on Friday, I went back down in the sound studio in the Bonington Gallery to record the titles for my poetry soundscape, which will be premi√®ring in the Sound Booth as part of the gallery’s autumn/winter season.

Rob the sound engineer is going to add some music and effects to the tracks, and I’m really looking forward to hearing how it all comes together. Hopefully, it’ll all be ready within the next couple of months, and I’ve even thought of a name for the project, which is really exciting!

I’m going to keep you in suspense for a little bit though, so as not to spoil the big reveal!

On Saturday, I popped down to the Suffolk coast to perform at the Folk East festival, just outside Woodbridge.

Folk East festival!

I absolutely LOVE this festival! Especially the Soapbox stage, which is run by Amy Wragg from Get on the Soapbox and her army of volunteers. Amy fills the bill with new and emerging talent from across East Anglia, and the line-up is 98% local, which is awesome! As well as some really great bands and musicians, Amy also sources home-grown spoken word acts – and that, my friends, is why I was there.

Of course, I’m no longer quite as local as I once was (In fact, I was a seven hour round trip to get to the festival!) but I love the friendly and supportive atmosphere of the Soapbox stage. Plus, it was a great way to catch up with poets and musicians from across the East of England.

It was absolutely wonderful to see Meg Burrows and Christine York perform again. Meg’s lyrical musings really captivated the audience, while Chris’ Punk Rock Granny was witty character poetry at its best. She even got the crowd to toast to ‘dry vaginas’ (a menopausal cocktail) at one point – which had everyone in stitches!

I was also really pleased to see Tom the Zengineer, who I’d never met before, but who completely blew us all away with his incredibly intricate rhymes, full of amazing technical rhythm and more than a little emotional punch too. Oooh, he was good! Definitely check him out if you can!

And I also got to hang out with some lovely people from the Cambridge poetry scene (who I miss desperately, and who filled me in with all the gossip: both poetic and romantic) and have a bizarre but brilliant chat with Dan Clark (who is another excellent poet, and who you should check out here). I also got to listen to a Hurdy-Gurdy playing across a field, and I sold thirteen copies of my pamphlet to festival goers! Not bad for one day’s work!

Seriously though, it was a fantastic festival, and all the more wonderful for being able to share it with so pretty cool people too! Massive thanks to Amy for inviting me along, and thanks as well to anyone who came to see me perform. You’re all very kind to indulge me!

What a busy week!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

SATURDAY NIGHT NEWS - Publications, Crosswords and a New Job

Hello! Apologies for neglecting my blogging duties, but I have been ridiculously busy over the last weeks. And it doesn't look like things are going to slow down as we head into August and September! Here's just a little taste of what I've been up to:

A couple of weeks ago, I had my *first ever* poetry interview!

It was for writer in residence role with Writing East Midlands, working on a project called Write Here: Sanctuary. It's an amazing piece of work in collaboration with a charitable organisation called City of Sanctuary, which runs services for refugees and asylum seekers in the East Midlands. The project itself involved facilitating creative writing workshops for refugee groups in three cities, Derby, Leicester and Nottingham, and the team at Writing East Midlands were looking for three Writers in Residence, as well as three Shadow Writers in Residence, in order to facilitate the project.

I applied for the shadow role for Nottingham, and I was completely surprised when I got the call for the interview. The Writing East Midlands office is massively hard to find, but luckily I arrived in Hockley thirty minutes before the interview, and after much anxious traipsing up and down the street, I finally found the right building.

The interview itself went pretty well; I answered all the questions the best that I could and I only said one embarrassing thing during the whole interview - which is pretty good going for me!

Then, while I was waiting to hear back from that interview, I had another poetry interview! (Because, as we all know, poetry jobs are very much like buses.)

Or even a bendy buses!

The second interview was also for a writer in residence position, this time at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. There were two projects available: one working in a local Cheltenham secondary school in conjunction with First Story, and the other working with young people who are unable to attend mainstream education for health reasons. Both of the projects sounded fantastic, and both were year-long commitments, which was really exciting!

I must confess, when I applied for the Cheltenham one, I wasn't quite aware of just how far away Cheltenham was, but nothing ventured nothing gained, am I right?

Cheltenham (source)

Again, I think I gave a pretty good interview (It's easier to do interviews when you actually care about the job that you're being interviewed for - who knew?!) and the interviewers were really interested in my writing, and so passionate about creative writing and public engagement too. They'd also looked me up on the internet and found my youtube channel - filled with rude poems about genitalia - so I wasn't sure if that was going to count in my favour or not!

In the end, I was completely delighted to be chosen for the Write Here: Sanctuary project, working with Nottingham writer Rich Goodson, who will be leading the workshops in Nottingham. We'll be having a training session soon and I'm really looking forward to meeting the writers from Derby and Leicester too!

I didn't get either of the positions in Cheltenham, but they did say they wanted to keep in touch with me, in case any other opportunities turn up, so fingers crossed that something else happens as a result of that meeting as well.

Then, a few days after that, I got an email to say that one of my poems, Liaison, had been chosen for publication on the Spilling Cocoa over Martin Amis website.

I love Spilling Cocoa because they're one of the few poetry publishers that actively encourages the submission of funny poems. They cater to all senses of humour: the silly and the raucous, the satirical and the surreal, the puerile and the highbrow, and I think there's a real gap in the market for this kind of writing, particularly on the poetry side of things.

Anyway, enough of my proselytising! Go and visit their website and see for yourself! (Or check out my poem here.)

Also this week, we had an incredible turn out for Crosswords, the spoken word open mic night that I run in the caves of the Malt Cross in Nottingham. The venue was full to bursting, with an audience of over forty people, including eighteen excellent open mic performers and a really brilliant featured set from Jodie Hannis.

Ridiculously blurry photo, but you get the idea...

Thanks to everyone who came along to perform and to support great quality spoken word! We'll be back in the caves on Wednesday 14th September, when our special guest performer will be Hazel Monaghan, the winner of the Southwell Slam and reigning Bard of Southwell!

Upcoming gigs:
This Wednesday, I'm doing a drop in family poetry workshop at the Museum of Cambridge as part of the Summer at the Museums series with the University of Cambridge. We'll have loads of great games and activities suitable for all ages, and I'm really looking forward to it! If you're free on Wednesday, and you're in the Cambridge area, you should definitely come along. It's £2.50 per child and we'll be at the Museum from 11am to 3pm. Hope to see some of you there!

Packaging display at the Museum of Cambridge

Then, on Saturday 20th August, I'm heading down to Folk East in Suffolk to perform some poems as part of the Soapbox stage at the festival. Hosted by Amy Wragg, the Soapbox stage is one of the most eclectic and inventive stages I've ever performed on, and it's filled to the brim with amazing poets, musicians and bands! I'll be performing during the Words and Verses segment on Saturday evening, sharing the stage with the very wonderful Christine York, Yanny Mac, Nikki Marrone and Tom the Zengineer

The Soapbox Stage at Folk East!

It's going to be a lot of fun and I can't wait to see some of my favourite poets and performers from across East Anglia! If you fancy a bit of Suffolk-based folk (with lashing of spoken word thrown in) tickets are still available for Folk East - check out their website for more detail!

Then, we'll be getting into September, when I have some very exciting bookings in places like Newcastle and Hackney Downs. But I'm going to save those for another day...

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

POEM - The Pangolin

A little while ago I asked people on my facebook page for ideas for poems. This is one of those. It's a very silly poem about dating a Pangolin, and it's for Damien:

The Pangolin
I’ve started dating pangolin
With plated armour on their skin;
We run and dine and dance and sing
And never fear for anything.

My pinecone-bodied pangolin
Is never sad or mau-de-lin.
He never talks about admin;
He always sports a cheeky grin.

He loves to play the mandolin
And always takes his medicine
When he plays, he plays to win –
Competitive are pangolins.

He never, ever skips the gym,
Takes criticism on the chin;
He has the thickest of thick skins
That easy going pangolin.

He’s neat and tidy as two pins;
He polishes his keratin.
And worries if I get too thin,
Which is really kind of him.

He always carries safety pins
And always tells you where he’s been;
My mother thinks the world of him –
He’ll show me up, that pangolin.

But then he went off travelling
And that’s the last I saw of him.
And so, I’ve started on the gin;
I really miss that pangolin.


Wednesday, 3 August 2016

POEM - Advice on Becoming a Bouncy Castle

Recently, I've been asked my friends on facebook to suggest ideas for poems for me to write. This is ostensibly because I am practising writing to commission, but it is also because I'm in a bit of a creative drought at the moment. So, this is a very silly poem based on a suggestion by Jim Hall:

Advice on Becoming a Bouncy Castle

Adopt a sedentary lifestyle

Extol the virtues of hot air


Lie down in parks and suburban gardens

Only go somewhere if you have been hired to do so.


Remove the word ‘shoes’ from your vocabulary

Become hopelessly appealing to toddlers and drunk people


Remember that every action has an equal & opposite

chance of someone being elbowed in the face.


Secure the best spot at every village fete

Take pride in making small children throw up


Leave every party deflated

Fold up small for easy storage.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

POEM - Boatswain

A couple of weeks' ago, I was involved in a poetry event at Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of the poet Lord Byron. Since then, I've found myself thinking a lot about Byron's writing, and about the house itself.

George Gordon Byron was a pretty complicated character who wrote some beautiful poetry, but the thing that always strikes me whenever I got to Newstead is the enormous tomb in the garden, which Byron dedicated to his dog Boatswain, who died of rabies in 1808. The monument includes a long poetic inscription (which you can read here) and I really like it because it proves that people have been going doe-eyed over their pets for at least two-hundred years. This makes me feel better about the five-hundred photos of my cat I have stored on my phone.

As you can see if you read the Epitaph on the tomb, Byron really loved that dog. In fact, if anyone ever loves me as much as Byron loved Boatswain, I will be happy woman! (Although the love between Byron and his dog was strictly platonic, so don't get any funny ideas there!)

Anyway, I like to do a cover version where I can, so I thought that Boatswain would be the perfect topic for a re-imagining of the classic Byron poem 'She Walks in Beauty'. My version is called 'He rolls in goose poo':

He rolls in goose poo

He rolls in goose poo to impress
the rabbits, who are half his size.
His waking thoughts, no one can guess;
There's puzzlement deep in his eyes.
He's not a beauty, he's a mess;
His pungent smell attracts the flies.

He's got a limp, a gammy paw,
And struggles with incontinence.
He's frequently sick on the floor
But still you treat him like a prince.
His foibles make you love him more -
The rest of us are unconvinced.

And when he dies, you'll build a shrine,
Ensure an epitaph is penned
To speak the truth in every line
And mourn the passing of a friend.
A peerless, canine paradigm
Who loved you to the bitter end.

What a good doggy! Yes you are!

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

TUESDAY NIGHT NEWS - Words for Walls, Art Gallery Soundscapes and Wandering Poets

Well, it’s been a good few weeks since my last missive, so I thought I’d better tell you what I’ve been up to in all those days away from my computer.

Brace yourselves, we’re in for a long ol’ post:

On Thursday 30th July, I snuck down to Rough Trade in Nottingham for the DIY Poets gig. It was a really great night, with brilliant poetry from the ‘Over Land Over Sea' anthology of poems in solidarity with refugees, and a fantastic musical set from Stacey McMullen. Much of the work presented at the event had a political edge to it, given that the referendum result was still ringing in our ears, and it was really interested to hear people’s views on the whole situation.

I even managed to read a couple of new ones (Like I said I would!) and I got a really positive response from the crowd.

In fact, one of the audience members liked it so much that she got it up on the Experience Nottingham, and you can read it here. The Sheriff of Nottingham even retweeted it – which made me feel like a character in a Kevin Costner movie! (Ask your mum, kids!)

Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen

Then, on Monday 4th July, I went along to Broadway in the city centre to facilitate a poetry workshop on behalf of the Words for Walls project.

It was an afternoon gig, which meant that a lot of people weren’t able to make it because of clashes with work and school, but we did get a really fantastic group of participants in the end and their work was so good!

We produced some poetry based on the themes of identity and belonging, while also using films and filmmaking as a way to create new writing. Although we didn’t get through all the exercises I’d planned, it was a really fun experience, and I’m hoping that Broadway will let me do some more project work with them in 2016/17. Watch this space!

Massive thanks to Cynthia, Ioney, Chris and Philip for attending the workshop on the day, and huge thanks to Nicola and Philip for all their support on the project.

And, there’s still time for you to submit a poem to the Words for Walls project as well! The project aims to celebrate the Nottingham by bringing poems by local people into public spaces across the city. So, if you have a connection to Nottingham, you can submit a poem, and selected pieces will be displayed in the Autumn, in cinemas, galleries, bus stations and the like.

You can read all the details about the project and details of how to submit your poem on the Words for Walls website. Go on, submit your poem now!

On Friday 8th July, I popped down to the basement in the Bonington Building at Nottingham Trent University to record some poems for the Bonington Gallery Listening Booth. The booth is a tiny one-person art space, specifically designed for sound sculptures and audio-only pieces. It’s open for all the students to use, and also exhibits work by more established artists. So obviously, it seemed like the perfect spot for a bit of spoken word!

Rob the technician is massively knowledgeable about all things SOUND, and it was really interesting to see all the different mics and doo-hickies, and how they each made the poems sound so different.
It was also really weird performing a whole fifteen minute set to an empty room, but I think I managed!

In fact, I’m pretty pleased with how it came out. There are some old favourites on there and a couple of newer pieces too, and Rob’s suggested that we think about adding in a couple of elements of sound design too, which is super exciting! I’m of half a mind to add some cowbell, but I’m not quite sure it would be appropriate.

Anyway, all that’s left for me to do is come up with a name for the whole thing. I’m crap at titles, so this is going to be a difficult one, and if you have any ideas, you should definitely let me know! The best I’ve come up with so far is ‘Modenifesto’, and I kind of stole that off Catlin Moran, so…

Then, on Sunday 10th July, I hotfooted it up to Newstead Abbey for their Wonderful Words and Wandering Poets event.

Photo by Andy Jakeman

Newstead Abbey is Byron’s old gaff, so it’s bursting to the brim with poetic history. But, because the gardens and grounds are so spectacular, most people who visit don’t bother going into the house. Newstead Poet in Residence Becky Cullen thought this was a bit of a shame, so she devised a fantastic programme of events to entice people into the building.

There were poetry tours of the house, led by Becky herself, choral performances in the orangery, a string duet in the sitting room, and games, crafts and storytelling for the little ones in the grounds.

There were also six Wandering Poets (including me) who were tasked with giving out information, and encouraging people to try the tours by reading and reciting poetry to them in the gardens.

Now, I know most of you are thinking that pestering the public with poetry sounds like a bit of a rubbish gig, but I am a massive fan of people-bothering, and a huge narcissist to boot, so it was a completely perfect day out for me!

Wandering poets (currently standing still) 

In fact, my poetic partner Kyle and I received a lot of positive comments on the day, and Kyle's reading was so good that he almost moved an older lady to tears! PLUS I managed to placate a crying child with a rendition of 'The Owl and The Pussycat'! And anyone who knows me knows that I am not good with toddlers in normal circumstances. So you can bet that I'll be putting that on my Business Cards from now on!

'Leanne Moden, poet, performer, event organiser, and child-calmer extraordinaire!'

I like the sound of that!