Wednesday, 30 January 2013

NEWS - 28 Sonnets Later 2: Sonnet Harder

Last year, I was lucky enough to work with three incredibly talented poets - Adam Warne, Andy Bennett and Russell J Turner - on 28 Sonnets Later. This fast-paced poetry project tested us all to our lyrical limits, as we took it in turns to write twenty eight sonnets of the course of twenty eight days in February 2012. 
This February, we thought we'd go one better, and challenge ourselves to write a collective Sonnet Corona. Sounds technical, doesn't it? Well, it is! In a Sonnet Corona, each sonnet written must begin with the last line of the sonnet that preceded it, with the final sonnet also ending with the first line of the first sonnet, forming a circle or crown of sonnets. 
Sounds complicated enough, right? But that's not all!
Because there are four of us, and we'll be taking it in turns to write a sonnet each day, it means that we'll have to write a sonnet based on the last line from the previous poet's work AND we'll have to write our own poem within twenty four hours, so that the poet after us has his first line ready for when it's his turn. 
My first sonnet is due on Saturday 2nd February, and the whole project is going to be a really interesting challenge - I just hope I can rise to the occasion! (And I hope that Andy isn't too harsh with his end rhymes!)
The poems will appear every day on the 28 Sonnets Later and you can also follow our progress by following @28SonnetsLater on twitter. It's going to be a crazy ride!

Monday, 28 January 2013

NEWS - Show & Tell at the Portland Arms

Tomorrow night - Tuesday 29th January - I'll be taking part in Show & Tell 2, a fantastic variety night hosted by the lovely folks at Twisted Willow Theatre.

This is the second time that Twisted Willow have staged this event, and the range of acts is even more diverse than last time! The audience will be treated to a smorgasbord of top quality performances, including music, poetry, comedy, theatre, mime, and even a martial arts demonstration!

At just £2 a ticket, it's a real bargain, and a portion of the proceeds will go to Arts and Minds, a Cambridge based charity that provides therapeutic arts-related activities for people of all ages, with all forms of mental illness and learning disabilities. 

It's going to be an amazing show, supporting a great cause, so if you're in Cambridge tomorrow night, you really have no choice but to come along. We'll see you then.
Show & Tell 2. Starts at 7pm at the Portland Arms, 129 Chesterton Road, Cambridge.

Tickets £2 on the door

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Writers' Circle Post - January 2013


When it first began, there was no sense of panic. No rise of bile in our throats with each drum beat. We didn't flinch at each word that left her lips. Each syllable that condensed between her teeth was met with fresh wonder. To begin with.

...Eighty four, eighty three, eighty two...

She was six when her mother died. A violent death, the details of which we could not ascertain. The records had been burned. An accident, they said. Though no one could be certain, even now. Her father took to drink soon after. Cirrhosis claimed him within a year.

A bachelor uncle was forced to mind her. Most put out, he was, having been so suddenly burdened with such a child as she. Such scarlet eyes and furrowed brows and the smoulder of coals about her face. Such hollowed eyes, dark and haunted, like the space where eyes should be. Like the collapse of two identical stars. Like the sockets of a skull. But still, he made use of her. And she learnt how to be silent.

...Sixty one, sixty, fifty nine...

She came to us in April. Her uncle was gone. A short, sudden illness had claimed his heart. The ventricles blackened beyond repair, shrivelled and dead. Quite strange, really, that such damage could occur in so short a space of time. The cause was unknown. So the child was left alone once more. Like an amputated limb.

We spent most of our time out of doors that Spring. Although it was warm, the tulips opened late. Their petals were still coyly folded when she came to us. Curled at their soft edges, concealing their quivering stamens, with the false modesty of courtesans. The blossom from the trees in the street blew in through the window and settled on the piano in our study. The pink looked pleasing against the black and white. We wanted it to be a new start for her. We wanted to see her smile.

Despite all our encouragement, she wouldn't speak. An elective mute. The first time the house had seen a child in ten years, yet things had never been so quiet. Marie was barely twelve years old then, but her face was lined, like ancient cartography paper. And grey as if covered in dust.

There was nothing then. All Spring and through into Summer we felt her cold eyes on the backs of our necks. It was grief, we told each other: she is bereft. We must try to understand. Adoption is almost like having one's own child, except, that it isn't. Not really. A flesh-born infant is always more desirable than a foundling. We tried our best to love her just the same as we had loved our own child, all those years before. Just the same. If not more so. But she was not a perfect fit. The years and the damp of our eyes had warped the wood. Moonlight seeped in through the cracks.

She had been with us for six months when she began to chant. As I have said, we did not fear her. Not at the start. It is normal, the doctors stated, for victims of trauma like hers. They warned of cyphers, riddles, nonsense. Speaking in tongues. The words would come soon enough, the doctors said. We must be patient.

...Forty nine, forty eight, forty seven...

When the count down did not cease, we were afraid. Slowly, rhythmically, she issued the prophesy all her waking hours. The counting was unbroken by sleep. She dreamed of the numbers. A slow metronome. Time winding down. We consulted forgotten bibles; not yet completely cured of religion. We were still slaves to our upbringings. I suppose we all are.

We tried to silence her.

...thirty one, thirty, twenty nine...

I wanted to love her as my own. She was not born of my flesh, how could she be? I wanted to love her just the same. But she is so cold. She wants to punish me for what I did.

We could not grow accustomed to her, as people suggested we might. We hated her with each word that escaped, unbidden, from her lips. Like a leak. A heartbeat. The timer on a bomb.

...seventeen, sixteen, fifteen...

We do not know what will happen when she reaches the end of her puzzle. Maybe she will begin the count afresh? We do not discuss it. We don't talk much, these days. The air is thick with words, oppressive, like the heady scent of chlorine gas. We argue in hushed tones, locked behind bathroom doors, the panelling muffling her voice. We barely touch one another now. We used to be so strong. Now every utterance is forced and false. We are desperate for the end. We pray to God that it will never come.

...Three, two, one...

Friday, 25 January 2013

NEWS - Live Lit Residency*

 *Or 'How Many Superlatives Can Leanne Fit into One Blog Post?'

In December of last year, I got an email from the lovely people at the Writers' Centre Norwich, asking if I would like to take part in The Next Step Live Literature Residency.

The Writers' Centre – in conjunction with Apples and Snakes – were looking for five poets from around the East of England with the 'talent and potential' to develop their own one-hour live literature shows.

Despite being incredibly nervous about hanging out with a load of real poets for a whole week, I just couldn't pass up such a fantastic opportunity!

We spent five days in a beautiful holiday home on top of a cliff in Mundesley, North Norfolk. The residency involved a mixture of one to one discussions, group work and free writing time, and it was so wonderful to have the time and space to concentrate on writing poetry!

(We also had an indoor swimming pool and a sauna in the back garden, as well as a lovely beach five minutes walk from our front door. It was pretty idyllic.)

The four other poets on the residency – Andy Bennett, Hollie McNish, Rebecca Holmes and Russell J Turner – are all so fantastically talented, and it was an absolute pleasure to work with them all. We each have such different poetic styles, and it was really cool to share ideas and get honest critique from people whose opinions and work I really respect.

It was also really amazing to watch the progression of ideas; by the final evening, everyone had the makings of really fantastic live literature shows.

Anna Selby and Hannah Jane Walker from Writers' Centre Norwich were both really great, not only because they both have loads of experience in Live Literature, but also because they understand the funding and business-y sides to developing a show. Their advice was invaluable, as was their delicious vegetarian cooking!

We also got extra support from three of the best performers working in UK at the moment: Ross Sutherland, Francesca Beard and Luke Wright. Working with each of them was really inspiring, and their advice on show structure, narrative, and poetic form was incredibly useful.

In fact, I've learnt so much about live literature in the past week that I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since I left the residency this morning! 

The main lessons I'll take away from the trip are as follows:

- my own ideas are valid and worth pursuing
- walking over a snow covered beach is both bizarre and breath-taking
- dogfish egg cases (mermaids' purses) look very much like the character Plankton from SpongeBob SquarePants

I'm going to keep working on my show ideas, with a view to performing a twenty minute scratch at some point in April. I'll keep you posted for further details.

Friday, 18 January 2013

The Obscure Music Fan's Limerick

This one is for Michael:

The Obscure Music Fan's Limerick

This music fan's tastes are obscure:
Glitch Techno; Blood Wave; Vapor Core.
The beat's never rhythmic
The tunes are sadistic
Is it music or static? Not sure.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

NEWS - Hammer & Tongue Cambridge

On Wednesday 9th January, I'm performing as one of the featured poets at the Hammer & Tongue Slam in Cambridge. I'm really nervous because I'll be supporting Steve Larkin, the headline act for the evening and the man who invented Hammer & Tongue!

Steve is an amazing entertain, who never fails to entertain a crowd. He's an internationally respected spoken word artist, poet and performer, as well as the front man for cabaret ska band Inflatable Buddha and a lecturer in creative writing, storytelling and performance poetry. He won the International Poetry Slam Champions in 2004, and has been a firm favourite on the spoken word and fringe festival circuit ever since. He's performed at shows across the globe and his poetry is funny, engaging and thought-provoking. 

Basically, you need to come see him perform. 

It's so cool to be invited to participate in Hammer & Tongue as a featured artist, I really hope I can do it justice and keep up with the incredible wit of Steve Larkin and the Hamer & Tongue Slammers. I'm even considering previewing some new material on the night, so it should be an interesting performance. If you're in Cambridge on Wednesday night, why not come along? You can order your tickets in advance from Eventbrite, or just show up and pay on the door. 

It'd be awesome to see you all there!

Hammer & Tongue Cambridge
The Fountain Inn, Regent Street, Cambridge
Wednesday 9th January 2013
Tickets are £6.50 each or £5 for concessions

Review: Frankenstein The Pantomime

For me, enjoying a Watlington Players pantomime is fast becoming an unmissable New Year's tradition. Just like turkey sandwiches and failed New Year's Resolutions, January doesn't feel quite right without a trip to Watlington Village Hall for the Players' annual pantomime.

This year the Players took a risk by performing an unconventional script: Frankenstein The Pantomime. 

The story revolves around Frank N. Stein, a lowly taverna worker, who is transformed into monster in order to save his friend Heidi from the clutches of evil vampires. With help from a handsome prince, a dame, a mad scientist, a dog, and hordes of naughty school girls, Frankie is on a mission to save Heidi from Dracula and his gruesome Granny. But can they rescue her before it's too late?

As you can probably guess from that synopsis, the story is gloriously silly but an awful lot of fun. The script is laden with wonderfully terrible jokes and great visual gags, which leave the audience giggling and groaning with pleasing regularity. All the usual pantomime tropes are here, including men dressed as women, plenty of singing and, of course, a happy ending!

Director Kate Carpenter does a marvellous job, ensuring that the large cast have plenty to do and that every character is fully realised. Each role is played with good humour and conviction – there are no bit parts here – and the quality of the acting across all performances is testament to the strength of the whole ensemble.

Matthew Kerslake is engaging and likeable as Frank N. Stein, while Eleanor Cullum-Hanshaw and Ben Robinson are both excellent as star-crossed lovers Heidi and Prince Ludwig. Hugh Pearce makes a fantastic Buckles, and Mike Cooke and Rachel Marshall relish their roles as evil vampires Dracula and Granula.

In a departure from her usual 'damsel in distress' roles, Megan Abbott plays Bridget, a vacuous teenager intent on capturing the Prince's affections, and it seems that being a baddie quite suits her! Elsewhere Laura Anderson, Lucy Beeton, Kate Oldfield, Katy Beeton, Ellie Fradley, Monica Aubrey-Jones, Jane Pearce, Sophie Sharp and Georgia Smith are brilliant as the group of rowdy school girls, all of whom could give St Trinian's a run for their money.

Chip Carpenter and Eileen Haynes are fantastic as the suitably disreputable owners of the taverna, Herr and Frau Pumpernickel. Leslie Judd plays dame with aplomb as schoolmistress Miss Nelly, the perfect foil for the outlandish and hilarious Professor Crackpot, played by Peter Fiddling. (Peter's German accent is worth the ticket price alone!)

Emma Aubrey-Jones, Cerys Brooks, Saffron Krill and Becky Read are all wonderful as Dracula's dancing bats, and where would we be without the great supporting chorus of Steve Brooks, Karen Girdwood, Sandra Johnson, William Johnson, Gemma Laing, Su Read, Daniel Wagg and Irene Whitehouse?

In terms of criticisms, there are a few scenes in which the dialogue might be tightened up, to aid the flow of the story. Similarly, the ambitious shadow puppetry of the surgery scene is very funny, but may benefit from a few cuts to help with pacing. 

However, these small grumblings do little to change the fact that this is an excellent show, and a fine night out. Once again, the Watlington Players have created a fantastic pantomime that's fun for all the family.

I've already booked my tickets for next year!