Saturday, 28 July 2012

NEWS - Roundhouse Poetry Slam and Publications

This week a lot has been happening on the poetry front - which is great news, as other aspects of my life have not been running so smoothly...

First up, it's the amazing news that my application for this year's Roundhouse Poetry Slam has been accepted! I can't tell you how excited I am! I almost can't believe it! Exclamation marks!!!

It's such a big deal to get into the competition, because it's a national event and it will be my first big performance in that London. Previous entrants have gone on to do great things on the poetry circuit, so it's a great chance to get noticed and put myself out there. Plus, this year the slam is being judged by some amazing spoken word performers: Polarbear, David J, Kat Francois, Inua Ellams and Daniel Cockril. Just being able to share a platform with those guys is going to be ridiculous!

The first stage of the competition has been split into two heats - one on 15th August and one on 22nd August. I'm taking part in the second heat and I couldn't be more nervous! From what I can tell, it's a knock out type situation: all the poets will perform one three minute piece, then the best ones will go through and perform a second piece on the same night. The best slammers from each heat will then battle it out at the final on 29th August.

The winner gets £500 (the Colin and Helen David Prize) and the title of 2012 Roundhouse Slam Champion. It's a pretty sweet prize, but I know that competition will be really fierce, so I've been busy in the last few weeks, trying to put some excellent rhymes together. Watch this space.

If you're in the Camden area in North London on Wednesday 22nd August, why not come down to the Roundhouse and say hi? It'd be great to see some friendly faces in the crowd, and tickets are only £4, which is pretty reasonable considering you could be watching a host of future spoken word superstars!

 I also got a letter in the post today from the team at Poetry Rivals, letting me know that my poem, Liaison, was accepted for publication! It's being placed into their 2012 anthology, which will be available to buy in the Autumn.

It's always really nice to have your stuff in print  - but the best part is that all the poems in the anthology are now under consideration for the Poetry Rivals Poetry Slam 2012. The judges deliberate over the next few months, and select the fifty best poems from the anthology. The writers are then invited to perform at a special prize-giving event, with a chance to win £1,000 or a publishing contract with Bonacia ltd, the organisers of the competition.

I placed second in the Poetry Rivals Poetry Slam in 2011, and it'd be really cool to get through to the final again this year. The fifty finalists are announced in a few months time, so I'll keep you posted!

The last thing I must tell you is that I've started a community blog on my local news website Cambs24. The blog is called Literary Ely, and promotes spoken word, poetry and prose events and gigs in the East Cambridgeshire area.

So far, I've been lucky enough to be invited to review some great local events, as well as interview a really talented bunch of Cambridgeshire-based writers and performers. I'm hoping that the blog can grow and become a place for news and reviews on the Cambridgeshire arts scene, but we'll see. For now, I'm really enjoying writing about what I love and meeting really cool people.

You can find some of my more recent articles on the links below. -x-
Other Voices Review
Ian McEwen Review
Elaine Ewart Interview

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Birds

It was something that Beyonce said
That crystallised my views.
A tiny piece of wisdom,
Too interesting to lose.

She said (though I misquote her)
"I need no man to chase my blues!
"I'm an independent woman,
"I'll buy my own damn Jimmy Choos!"

I admire her liquidity
And sound financial means,
But does equality really boil down
To funding your own handbags and jeans?

Don't get me wrong, I want fair pay,
The glass ceiling should be shattered,
But I thought our worth as human beings
Was the value that really mattered?

Saying that men aren't required
Is negative and spiteful.
Belittling the boys won't make us look big
And sometimes a fish needs a bicycle.

We do ourselves disservice
With our combative, hateful words.
And men should have access to their children.
And women should not be called birds.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Premature Poet


I'm a premature poet –
The words come out too fast –
I just get over-excited!
And my rhyming never lasts.

I splurge an hour's performance
In fifteen minutes flat.
The poems fall in dollops,
Spent with a shameful splat.

It's just that I get nervous
(Though others say there's nothing to it.)
I find it hard to get relaxed
When you lot are watching me do it.

I'm a premature poet:
I always finish too soon.
I can't keep the verse from rushing out,
Like a figurative monsoon.

I want to satisfy a crowd
But just as I reach the peak
I leave them unfulfilled with a cheap sex joke
Then I'm embarrassed to even speak.

I've tried the pills and potions;
I've tried drinking pre-show rum;
I've tried applying 'delayed-action jelly'
But it just made my lips all numb.

Some people have suggested
That abstinence is key.
But I know I'd go blind on my lonesome
Reciting solo poetry.

So I'll keep on rhyming quickly
Blushing and feeling ashamed.
And you'll just have to bear with me
Until this poetic dysfunction is tamed.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

NEWS - Natural Rhythms and Verbal Remedies

Last Saturday I performed as part of the poetry tent at the first Natural Rhythms Festival. It was a really cool event and everyone seemed to be having a great time, despite the mud and lack of sunshine.

Natural Rhythms was held in a farmers field in the middle of the Fens in East Cambridgeshire and the event itself was pretty small, with only 1,500 tickets available for the weekend. That being said, there were four good-sized music tents, a poetry café and even a secret open air stage, hidden in its own woodland clearing. The limited number of people gave the whole thing a really intimate vibe and the rain meant that there were plenty of filthy-footed festival-goers crowding into the tents. They came to shelter from the rain, they stayed for the live music and performances.

There were around ten poets and spoken word acts performing in the Naked Ape Café on the Saturday evening, and every performance was excellent. Even though the event was billed as a music festival, there were plenty of people keen to sample other entertainments, and we were grateful for a small but appreciative audience of around twenty people. My particular favourite acts were local poets Hollie McNish, Jessie Durrant and Nikki Marrone as well as Hull-based punk-poet Jim Higo and Norwich wordsmith Russell J Turner.

My own set went pretty well and I even had a few people come up to me afterwards to ask for more info, which is always nice.

But I was left in the same awkward position - again - scribbling my details on a scrap of paper while other performers had nice shiny cards with their contact details on them.

I've thought about business cards before, but something's always held me back. I suppose I feel like only 'real' poets should have business cards, and I always feel like I'm just doing this for fun. Still, when you have to write your website address on the seventeenth beermat, you know its time to do something. So this week, I got my own cards:


Gunmetal on Eggshell


I'm actually really pleased with how they've turned out! Hopefully people will still ask for them, now that I have some to give out!

In other news, the Peterborough Arts Festival, which was due to happen last Sunday, was cancelled at the last minute due to the wet weather. It was a real shame, as I'd spent a lot of time writing a entire new set for this event, but at least I now have twelve new poems - some of which might even be good enough to perform!

And luckily, the nice people at the Peterborough Arts Festival didn't want me or the other commission winner to miss out, so they have organised for us to perform at the next Verbal Remedies event, at Beckett's Chapel in Peterborough on Sunday 9th September.

Verbal Remedies is being hosted by the We Love Words Festival for the benefit of arts and engagement programmes at the John Clare Trust. The gig features myself and Alex Tyler as well as poet and playwright Luke Kennard. It promises to be a cracking show, so if you're in the Peterborough area on the 9th September, please do come down and say hello.

It's actually less than two months away - I'd better start writing some material!

Writer's circle post - July 2012

 Six Hundred Years

David winced and forced back the swollen flesh, peeling blackened skin across bloodshot eyeballs. The lids had swelled as the bruises blossomed and now only deliberate, painful effort could stop his eyes from closing completely. His vision, blurred as it was at the best of times, now drew in on all sides, and the edges of the room became unknown to him.

He could no longer see the other men. But they did not cease to exist, as he wished they might. Instead, they were shapeless entities, vague noises shifting and moving in the darkness beyond his perception. Like shades, moving beyond the veil; they were ghosts, these men who had yet to die. These men who had not yet fulfilled their purpose.

There were only three of them in the chamber. It was a long, low room with a riveted hatch pressed into one wall and rows of shuttered portholes running the length of another. Each surface was a patchwork of metal sheets, bolted together in a haphazard manner like a hastily-constructed submarine. The craft itself did not seem sea-worthy, and, as it began to move, the bolted sheets rattled, shifting against one another like tectonic plates.

Though the light in the cabin was dim, David could smell his fellow detainees cowering, as he did, in the darkness. The pervasive stench of gangrenous flesh and unwashed rags hung heavily in the air and David wondered if there might be thousands more aboard the shuttle, in other chambers just like this one. Men hidden in the wheel arches and crammed into the baggage decks, their pitiful screams muffled only by the sound of the engines.

More likely, the scent of fear had accumulated over the years, permeating the pores of the iron hull of the shuttle as it ferried its human cargo to the ultimate destination. After all, it was not a pleasure cruise. The health of the passengers was of low priority and there was no return journey. It was clear that the ship was not cleaned between flights. The stink of filth and ammonia mixed in the foetid air; the floor was slick with piss.

“My friend?”

The hiss, low and loud and close to David's right ear, wretched him from his own thoughts and startled him so much that he cried out in shock.

“Shhh! Do you want those guards to come back?”

A European voice. Young and male. He couldn't have been more than twenty years old. Perhaps a freedom fighter? Or a defector, no longer willing to help the regime? The accent was British – a slight hint of West Midlands in his leaden vowels, but this had been heavily suppressed.

David thought, as the man spoke, that his words had a certain thickness to them, as if this detainee was struggling to talk through split lips.

“My friend, please. I wish to speak with you.”

They had tried this tactic before. David remained silent. He was nobody's friend. Not here.

He tried to lift his head, to get a better look at young terrorist from Birmingham, but the metal collar around his neck restricted his movement. His wrists and ankles had likewise been encircled in thick manacles, and great chains looped between them down to an iron ring which was bolted to the floor. The guards must have restrained him while he was unconscious, as he did not remember being shackled in this way at the compound. David felt the warm metal bite into his skin and angry red welts snarled beneath this unwanted jewellery. His every movement was punctuated by the dull metallic clank of chains.

A sudden, juddering movement caught David off balance and he stumbled, awkwardly shifting his weight to keep from falling. The shuttle was moving again. David was dimly aware of the nausea rising in his stomach, and he consciously fought the urge to vomit.

Above him, a porthole had been left uncovered, and its shutter flapped impotently with the motion of the ship. Though blurred, David could make out bursts of orange light striking through the darkness out there beyond the six inch plate glass. The light illuminated a thin strip of bolted metal on the floor of the chamber and flung stark shadows across the hatch in the far wall.

Even though he knew it to be a fact, David found it difficult to accept that the craft was travelling at twice the speed of light. His mind, like his body, was too bruised and broken to contemplate such a thing.

So instead, he focused on his breathing.

Shuttle sickness was common side effect on these flights. He had read that somewhere. The technology itself had never been refined; there was no call for it. Comfort was not the main purpose of the journey. Detainees did not deserve a comfortable ride.

In the darkness to his left, David heard the third detainee wretch violently. The smell of bile – that sharp scent of stomach acid, devoid of any nutrition – stung David's nostrils. The detainee sobbed and wretched and screamed. David turned his head away and rubbed at the flesh of his bare chest, massaging at the knot of fear that tangled around his lungs.

“I'm scared.”

The detainee to his right had spoken again, his voice quivering with alarm.

“Where are they taking us?”

David did not answer. He knew where they were going. When they were going.

“Do you know where we're going?” A whispered question that felt more like a threat. “Do you know what's at the end of this journey?”

The chamber was quiet.

The third detainee began to sob again, to curse his mother and his Gods and to make pleas to the heavens for deliverance. But no matter how loud he shouted, his cries could not penetrate the thin metal skin of the ship's hull. His Gods and his mother could not hear him now. He was beyond deliverance.

David remained silent.

“Your resistance is not noble, you know.”

“There is no shame in confession. None at all. In the end, it may even save you from what's to come.I think we're almost there now. There's still time to stop this, David.”

And still, David remained silent.

The man changed tact: “Don't you want to see your wife again? If you tell them what you know, you could go home. You could see your family. You have a very pretty wife.”

He gave a laugh, short and sharp, devoid of warmth or mirth. Like the bark of a dog.

“We're not allowed to torture you any more. I'm sure you know that. I'm sure you read up about your rights. Sure, we can still rough you up a little bit, force you to stay awake for days, deny you food. But we can't torture you now, not really. In the years before, we would pay less reputable countries to do the torture for us. But now...”

He paused, and David felt a hand on his shoulder. A jolt of panic shot through him and he flinched like a wounded animal. The agent laughed his dog's bark laugh once more.

“No modern country has the facilities we need for persuasion. Lucky, then, that this particular technology is available. It's expensive, of course; the shuttles and capacitors are not cheap, but the process always yields the desired results.”

“Where are you taking me?”

His words were raw, rasping and barely audible now that the thrusters had kicked into overdrive. David felt a shift as the agent rose from the floor beside him.

There was no metallic clank of chains.

The man lifted David's chin with his index finger; it was as powerful as a coiled spring. David stared into the agent's pale face. A livid red cut ran diagonally across the man's bottom lip, like a line drawn in the sand. The agent talked slowly and deliberately, navigating the scar as spoke. His narrow eyes radiated cruelty and contempt.

After careful contemplation of David's features, the agent sighed.

“Well,” he said, pulling his hand away from his victim and turning towards the escape hatch. “Don't let it be said that you were not warned. I'm sure you will find Vlad Dracul to be a most receptive host. Once we land, you and you friends will be relinquished into his care. You will not survive the ordeal. Goodbye David.”

The man with the slip lip opened the hatch and slipped out of the room. Darkness closed in once more and David felt the ship slow to a halt. He was six hundred years from home. Not even the Geneva Convention could save him now.