Sunday, 31 March 2013

The Laundromancer

She came into my kitchen
In the middle of the day.
I turned around, to grab some beer,
And on the floor she lay.

A woman, of advancing years,
All robed in purple tartan.
'What's going on? And who are you?'
I've come to help you Martin:

I've heard your job is kind of crap;
You're mocked by all your peers.
The worse part of the lot is that
You've not had sex in years.

I'm here to help you out with that –
But no, not in that way!
I've come to turn your life around!
She said, from where she lay.

Of course, I'll introduce myself,
To show you I'm no chancer.
I've come to read you fortune, Mart.
I'm a trainee laundromancer.

'I see,' I said. This was a lie,
But what else could I do?
A laundromancer sounded daft:
It clearly wasn't true.

'How will you turn my life around?'
I enquired with a snort.
I'll read your moistened underwear
There came her quick retort.

Some read your tea leaves from a cup
And others deal in entrails,
I prefer a washing machine
To uncover all the details.

There's much that can be gleaned from this
Most delicate of arts.
Much turbulence I see for you:
Your scores are off the charts!

And so we sat, and stared into
The swirling soapy depths.
She waved her arms and shouted loads –
It really was complex.

On hands and knees, I crouched by her
And stared into the drum,
Feeling genuine remorse
For what I had become.

The movement of your t shirts there
Suggests a new career.
The swirling of the jeans, it means
You should fetch your guest a beer.

With can in hand, she carried on,
Predicting all my fate.
I would be rich and famous too
So things were looking great!

But then, she screamed – a mighty noise –
And wrenched open the door,
With pants and water spilling out
On to the parquet floor.

My dear, you have the pirate's curse!
She whispered, wet and shocked.
She pulled some fabric from the pile
You're cursed by this Black Sock.

I turned away, to get a mop,
But by then she was gone.
It took some time to realise
She'd conned me all along.

I should have known she was a fraud,
All robed in purple tartan.
She stole my wallet from my coat,
And my name's not even Martin.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Brixton, 2013

This poem was written over the course of seven days, as a tribute to the power of live music. It's nominally about a gig I went to at Brixton Academy last weekend, but it's also about how music can lift you out of the mundanity of the everyday, and bring people closer together. Hopefully it isn't as pretentious, hackneyed, and sentimental as this introduction, but we'll see. I wrote it for Claire. 

Brixton, 2013

So we're finally here.
It's me and Claire and we're standing there
ten feet from the stage. Knee-deep in teenage
memories, those killer melodies from the CDs,
and I can see the burst capillaries on the bass
player's face. We're that close to the stage. And
the people around us are too cool to dance but
this is the chance we've waited all year for. And
we won't shed a tear for the pain in the past coz
no matter what they say the bad things, they never
last. All the lies cast in stone, well, they'll shatter
soon my friend, and if the outcome's not a good
one, then it's just not quite the end. We pretend
we're alright as we fall through our lives, but the
speakers are screaming: 'It's fine not to be fine.'
Trust the music tonight coz we know every line
and we're lost in the crowd and the feeling's
sublime. See, we've crossed every bridge and
we've paid every toll, and we felt like we'd spent
all the gold in our souls. Then we came here
tonight, pushed those feelings aside, taking breaks
from the aching of everyday lives. And the knives
in our backs are worked loose by the sounds of the
music that echoes from ceiling to ground. And we
feel like we've found a new place to belong, among
brothers and sisters and familiar songs. It took us so
long to find our selves here, in this throng of believers,
with overpriced beers. Everyone in this crowd says
this music, it saved them. They're talking these lyrics,
reeling tunes off, verbatim. This poetry flows with
each kick of the bass drum, as we lift our heads up,
swept away by momentum. Coz we're lost in this
crowd and we're shouting so loud, and the words
that we're singing, well, to us they're profound. See,
we're proud of this band and we're proud to be fans
and as bridge swells to chorus we raise up our hands.
And it's not quite religion but, by God, it's close, coz
these songs helped us out when we needed them most.
See, the rhythms – like blankets – have cushioned our
heads, from the heartbreak and sorrow and hospital beds.
We lost it all once, but we've found it again, among like-
minded women and good-humoured men. We were
strung by rejection, depression and fear, but tonight, the
crowd's voices are all we can hear. And we know that
we've made it; we're still standing here. This home-made
congregation, me and Claire.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

NEWS - Guest Blogs and Reading Rooms

It's been another busy week of poetry, not least because it was International Poetry Day on Thursday 21st March! I hope you all had a lovely day filled with verse, rhyme, and whimsy!

Thursday was also the private viewing and opening night for the Reading Rooms show at the Alfred Gallery in Tel Aviv. The Albert and the Dots art exhibition, curated by Israeli conceptual artist Gali Timen, showcases the work of some incredibly talented visual artists from both Israel and the UK. It includes work by Adi Bezalel, Dvir Cohen-Kedar, Dan Birenboim, Alicia Shahaf, Yael Ravid, Karen Harvey, Steve Perfect, Louis Atkinson, Alma Machness Kass, Sharon Pazner, Carmela Weiss, and Gali Timen.

It's such an honour to have my work included in this truly international exhibition and I'm so pleased that Gali asked me to be part of it. Unfortunately, I'm not able to make it to Tel Aviv (there aren't that many buses from my house) but Gali was kind enough to take some pictures of the show, so I wouldn't miss out. My poem, The Space Between, looks very proud in its gold frame! If you find yourself in Tel Aviv in the next few weeks, the exhibition runs Friday 12th April.

Also this week, I wrote a small guest blog for Book A Poet. The lovely people at the website gave me free reign to write about any subject, so I chose to talk about stage fright. Being of a slightly introverted temperament, I have always suffered from nerves before a show. Although the terror is more diluted now than it used to be, I still feel that thrill of butterflies in my stomach just before I take to the stage. I think that will probably always be the case. There's something quite perverse in doing things specifically because they scare you, but there's also a strange euphoria that comes with completing a daunting task. Perhaps I'm a bit of a masochist, but I really believe the only cure for stage fright is to 'feel the fear and do it anyway'. I actually think that's pretty good advice for life in general.

But it's much easier said than done.

On Monday, my first Fenland Poet Laureate poem, No fancy Strang, was published on the Atelier East website. Atelier East is such a fantastic organisation, and I really cannot sing their praises highly enough. Without their support, there would be no Fenland Poet Laureate initiative, and they also organise some fantastic arts events in the Fens including their work with the Wisbech and Fenland museums supporting a wonderful group of Young Curators. Atelier East will be merging with ADEC in April, and I'm sure this will ensure the continued success of arts in the Fens.

As for me, my next Fen poem is already brewing on the poetry stove: watch this space.

Finally I must just mention that my poem, Dreaming of Budapest, was included on the Kumquat poetry tumblr back on the 9th March. The poem itself was one of the seven sonnets I wrote as part of the 28 Sonnets Later: Crown of Sonnets challenge back in February.

A pamphlet, containing all twenty eight sonnets, is currently in production and should be available from Dead Beat Press within the next few months. I really can't wait to see it - it contains some fantastic contributions from Adam Warne, Andy Bennett, and Russell J Turner, and it'll be well worth a read, I'm sure. There's a rumour that Tim Clare will be writing the foreword too, which is very exciting indeed!

Sunday, 17 March 2013

No fancy strang

On Saturday, I spent some time looking around the Ely Museum at the Old Gaol House, gathering information for a project I'm organising for the Fenland Poet Laureate. 

The museum itself is fantastic, packed as it is with interesting local artefacts and historical knick-knacks. There's a great selection of Roman pottery, some lovely fossil finds, and some truly beautiful pieces of jewellery. But there was one piece in particular that caught my eye: a battered and slightly strange-looking Posy Ring. 

In case you're not clued up on your Jacobian Jewellery - let me tell you that Posy Rings are gold rings with short, rhyming inscriptions on their inner surfaces. They were popular in the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and were usually given as tokens love, friendship or loyalty.

The ring on display at the Ely Museum was found at Soham and dates back to the seventeenth century. The inscription reads 'No fancy strang shall make me chang', and the contractions of the words 'stranger' and 'change' reminded me of modern abbreviated text speak. This idea sparked a poem:

'No Fancy Strang'

Buried with the osiers,
My golden gift to thee.
Inscribed with words of love, my dear,
where none but us shall see.

Inscribed with words so dear, my love,
Your beauty without measure.
And though the gift's a precious one,
You are my greatest treasure.

The ring is of but little worth,
Compared to your sweet kiss.
It is your prize, and in return,
I ask you only this:

Please don't look too long upon
The words engraved therein,
For when it comes to rhyme, my dear,
I'm lost 'fore I begin.

But though a poet I am not,
My love is strong and true.
And so the verse within the ring
Was the best that I could do.

With spelling not yet standardised
At least I have excuse;
For, with the couplet form you see,
I'm playing fast and loose.

Perhaps it's avant garde, my dear,
To force the words to rhyme?
In which case, I'm a genius;
A man before his time.

For I've invented texting, love,
Four centuries too soon.
That's progress on your finger, dear!
That ring, so roughly hewn.

And though it may not make much sense,
I will not be deterred.
'No fancy strang shall make me chang'
I mean it. Every word.

Friday, 8 March 2013

NEWS - BBC Cambridgeshire

And so, the work as Fenland Poet Laureate begins in earnest!

Today, I had my first ever BBC radio interview - talking to Tony Gillham on BBC Cambridgeshire. Tony was standing in for Sue Dougan, who usually hosts the afternoon show, and who had very kindly invited me to come on and talk about being the Fenland Poet Laureate. Sue took a real interest in the FPL last year, and I'm hoping I'll be able to go back on the show and promote some of the FPL projects and events throughout the coming year.

I was so nervous about this radio interview, but Tony put me at ease right away with his conversational style. I managed to forget to say half the things I wanted to mention, but I still had a great time and hopefully I didn't babble too much!

The whole radio show is available to listen to online from Friday 8th March until Friday 15th March - so do go check it out if you're interested. You can find it here.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

NEWS - Poetronica Videos

A few weeks ago, I spent a Saturday afternoon working with Blazej Mikula, film-maker and founder of the multi-media poetry website Poetronica. We spent a couple of hours recording my poem - Twenty Pence Venus. The end result is now available to watch on the youtubes.

The video looks great - and it's a real credit to Blazej's film-making skills.

*An Aside: It's also worth pointing out that I'm not actually naked in the video, I'm just wearing a strapless top! However the overall effect - which makes it seem as if I am nervously awaiting the results of a cosmetic surgery consultation, all exposed in the harsh white light of my hospital room - really compliments the tone of the poem. I'm so pleased with how it turned out!*

If you want to see more stuff from Poetronica, you can watch a interview with me - and squirm at just how awkward I look when answering questions about myself!

You can also check out the rest of the Poetronica videos on the website.

And if you're a poet and you fancy working with Blazej to produce your own poetry video, please do leave a comment below. I can then introduce you! Blazej is great fun to work with, and he's always looking for new victims collaborators.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Kubla Khan's Bar and Grill

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately bar and grill decree:
Where rum, the sacred spirit, ran
In cocktails measureless to man
For it was buy one get one free.
Twice five miles of dancing floor
With burly bouncers on the door:
And here were girls with luminous tans,
Where blossomed many a streaky flank;
And here, disgorged from minivans,
Stag dos – the men the size of tanks.
But oh! that well stocked bar which slanted
Down the dark club, slick with sweat!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er a KFC was haunted
By men who'd not found Nando's yet.
And from this nightclub, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
With shouts and groans and loud dramatic heaving,
A mighty vomit stream was forced –
He'd battled shots and come off worse.
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail:
He was kicked out then, wan and pale.
The sheer amount left us impressed.
(A barman came to clean the mess.)
Five miles we walked with a mazy motion:
How long the queue for drinks now ran!
The queue for drinks measureless to man,
The guy in front requests an ocean:
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Deep drunken voices threatening war!
For Dave had spilt the pint of Darren
And Kate had pilfered all his straights.
So now his baccy tin was barren
And his confusion turned to hate.
A miracle of rare device,
To order ale that's served with ice!
The moron in the DJ booth
In the corner, and in truth
He mixed bizarre the beats he laid
And on his sub-woofer he played
Such songs as drove us to the roof.
And smoked we there twixt bins and sea gulls
Our shoes stuck fast in unknown brine.
We watched flesh push through ruptured hulls
Of frocks now stained with tears and wine.
And look! the local letch is here!
His arms are like an octopus!
And look! he's had six pints beer,
The girls all cry, Beware! Beware!
His wandering hands, his creepy stare!
Weave a circle round him too,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he hath on Sambucca fed,
And drunk the milk of Malibu.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

NEWS - Fenland Poet Laureate

Last night's Fenland Poet Laureate Event - organised by Atelier East and hosted by the Wisbech & Fenland Museum - was an absolutely fantastic evening. I felt really privileged to share the floor with twelve incredibly talented poets. The judges did a great job in selecting a real mixture of different styles, all written to such a high standard and performed beautifully on the night.

The three young poet laureate finalists were amazing and they definitely gave us adults a run for our money! Well done to Kristina Tunnard and Bonnie Scott, and a special congratulations to James Horsburgh, the Young Fenland Poet Laureate 2013!

Remember those three names - these guys will be the stars of the future!

I was so proud to even be considered in the same category as the nine other finalists - and completely shocked to hear that I'd won the award. All of the finalists were superb, their poems filled with imagination and insight, and it was wonderful to hear so many people praising the positive attributes of Fenland.

That just doesn't happen often enough!

I really thought that every single finalist was worthy of the title of Fenland Poet Laureate and I found it completely impossible to choose my favourites - they were all so marvellous! I can't wait for the poems to be published so I can read them all again!

Congratulations to all those wonderful poets who took part: Deborah Curtis, Rani Drew, Lizzy Doe, Aaron Garner, Poppy Kleiser, Emma Ormond, Andrea Porter, Michelle Stanbridge, and Taymaz Valley.

Big thanks also goes to the judges:
- Elaine Ewart, the previous Fenland Poet Laureate, for doing such a great job promoting poetry in the Fens over the last year, and for supporting other local poets in such a generous way.
- David Wright, the curator of the Wisbech and Fenland Museum, for all the support gives to the Fenland Poet Laureate project and for hosting the event last night at the Museum

A special thanks should also go to Karen Harvey - the Artist Director of Atelier East. Without Karen's hard work and determination, the Fenland Poet Laureate Awards would just not be possible. Atelier East do an incredible job promoting the arts in Wisbech and Fenland, and Karen really deserves more recognition for all the incredible work that she does!

All right, all right! I'll stop gushing now!

Here's the winning poem, which I wrote whilst reading about the origins of Fen Skating in the nineteenth century:

Six miles

Six miles, again, we’ll go today,
for honour built on broken blades.
We’ll tame these meres; skate far and fast,
with hopes that winter, long may last.

For cold that creeps and freezes fen
brings out the Runners once again.
In tests of wit and skill and speed
on crystal lakes, still wreathed with weeds.

Contracted muscles, chests pulled tight,
like frightened birds, we take to flight.
Sinews screaming, taught like wire,
in every eye, a glint of fire.

On flooded fen, we carve our names
as brackish blood runs through our veins.
The lure of wealth may spur some forth –
we skate for love and all we’re worth.

This subtle smoothness, ice unspoiled,
a canvas stretched o’er sunken soil.
To skate the marsh is to be free:

'These Fenmen do not run; they flee!'