Saturday, 25 May 2013

NEWS - Exhibitions and Festivals

My Goodness! I have been poeting all over the place today!

This morning, I motored on up to Wisbech, to take in a new exhibition.

As part of the Wisbech Arts Festival, the Wisbech and Fenland Museum have curated a wonderful display called Literary Manuscripts: Wisbech Writers. The exhibition is housed in the museum's impressive library room, and includes original letters, notes, poems, and prose from many of Britain's best-loved writers.

There are notes written by John Keats, Mary Shelley, and William Wordswoth, as well as letters from Charles Dickens, Jonathan Swift, and Samuel Taylor Coldridge.

And, nestled between original manuscripts written by John Clare, William Ellis, and Matthew Gregory Lewis, is the notebook in which I write all my own poetry.

I just have to say how grateful I am to David Wright and all at the museum for including my notebook in this exhibition. It was so lovely of them to ask me to contribute, and have my work displayed alongside that of such esteemed and incredible writers. Being in the same exhibition as the like of Keats and Coldridge is pretty ridiculous, but utterly wonderful too.

This afternoon, I spent some time in the lovely sunny city of Colchester, taking part in the Town to Port Festival of King's Quay, Hythe.

The weather was perfect, and it was great to see so many people enjoying the spoken word performances.

Unfortunately, I was only able to stay for a short while, but the standard of performance was incredibly high, and I got to see some great stuff: wonderful poetry from Aryn Clark and Baden Prince as well as some beautiful music from Daniel Merrill and his violin.

I did a twenty minute set, and I think it went down well. I was sandwiched in between Aryn and Baden, two technically adept and contextually quite serious poets, but I think the contrast was an interesting one. Plus their amazing spoken word skills shore so brightly that I was able to bask in the reflected glow!

I really need to say a massive thanks to Tess Gardener, for booking me for this event, and for organising the entire programme of poetry and comedy on the day.

Incidentally, if you're ever in Colchester, you should definitely check out Some Kind of Poetry Thing (SKOPT), the poetry collective of which Tess is a member. They're a bunch of really talented and accomplished poets, with such a refreshing enthusiasm for spoken word, and they're a real pleasure to work with, too! I hope our paths cross again soon.

For more info on SKOPT, check out their website or their youtube channel.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Nil Point: A Eurovision Poem

A piccolo, a disco beat,
An elfin chanteuse in bare feet.
A tune about how love is pain
And bagpipes in the song from Spain.
Floating orbs and solar flares;
Bonnie Tyler's massive hair.
In double denim, one group dressed
In front of Gautier, no less!
Feathers, latex, bondage gear
Thank God Jedward kept well clear.
Pyrotechnics, stage aflame,
Just please don't let them sing again!
Tear drops, shoes and waterfalls,
These lyrics make no sense at all.
A wind machine for tousled locks,
A dancer in perspex box.
Block voting countries will not alter;
At least we'll get twelve points from Malta.
A singing doctor, pretty quirky;
A small gay kiss to piss off Turkey.
And fashions that were all the rage
In nineteen eighty two. Key Change!
Accordions and ukulele –
Some songs shouty, others waily –
And earnest looks of concentration
Verging nearer constipation.
Tits and teeth and too much tan;
And where the fuck is Azerbaijan?

Saturday, 18 May 2013

My Last French Fry

A quasi-parody of My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning, in which the narrator reveals his murderous dislike of sharing food.

My Last French Fry

That’s my last French fry lying in the bowl,
Looking as if it were still warm. I roll
It round the china now, to sop and daub
The sauce across its surface and absorb
Each grain of salt into its greasy folds
(For it is crinkle cut, like chips of old).
Strangers like you marvel at its glory –
Though size and shape are only half its story –
Then to myself they turn (since none puts by
This kitchen door I've opened here, but I)
And 'fore the question ever leaves their lips,
I know they wish to sample my last chip.
So not the first are you to ask me thus,
And – though the matter pains me to discuss –
I know that, with my tale, I must be brave:
T'was on the day I gained my microwave
That first I felt the need to entertain.
Downloaded films from Net Flicks and obtained
Pizzas, bread sticks, dips both spiced and mild,
With tubs of ice cream, in the freezer, piled:
The trappings of an epic movie night.
It was, in truth, a grand and awesome sight,
The coffee table heaped with nibbles. Such
Wondrous snacks, I feared I'd bought too much
But little did I know, my hungry friends
Were plotting this feast's grim and grisly end.
Upon the food my dearest guests descended,
Plates were smashed, two Pringles tins up-ended.
They razed the buffet like a locust plague,
And as their hunger grew so did my vague
Disgust. Since greed like this I'd never seen!
And, after every bowl had been licked clean,
They searched the cupboards, on the hunt for more!
(The DVDs forgotten on the floor.)
Now please don't think that I am overbearing –
I have no issue with the task of sharing –
Excepting in the circumstance of chips:
Those golden morsels grace only my lips!
This batch was with a Nando's glaze anointed
I could make more, but that's hardly the point! It
Doesn't do to take what isn't yours –
Especially when it's been expertly sauced.
Potatoes sliced and fried are my domain!
I shouted them to stop, but cried in vain!
With maws opened so wide, they masticated,
Each fleck of salted spit increased my hatred.
They chomped the chips and jawed the juliennes;
I vowed that this would never pass again!
With mayonnaise on lips, they made excuse:
That sharing is polite, but me? I choose
Never to share. Oh sir, it was unfair!
My patience, once worn thin, was now thread bare.
I stopped the party, then, and gave commands.
So, pray you leave my last chip where it stands.
Instead, I'll find you rice on which to sup,
While you question if that really is ketchup. 

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

NEWS - My First Workshop

Last Saturday I was asked to host my very first poetry workshop at one of the best visitor attractions in the Fens, the wonderful Wisbech and Fenland Museum!

To launch the call for submissions for the Young Curators' Museum Booklet Project, myself and Lead Young Curator Brandon Mattless ran two free creative workshops. Our aim was to give the participants the chance to write or draw something inspired by the strange and interesting stuff on display at the museum. 

Brandon did a fantastic job working with the children in the art workshop, helping them to draw some really superb pictures of shark jaw bones, ancient coins, Victorian corsets and Roman swords. The kids who took part in the workshop were completely absorbed in the tasks, and everyone wanted to enter their drawings into the competition at the end of the morning!
The folks at the Museum were kind enough to give us all free reign to explore the public galleries, so we spent a lot of time peering into every case and cabinet, making sure we'd picked the best things to immortalise in our writings and drawings. We also had a box full of Fenland farming equipment, which we were able to handle - up close and personal - and this came in very useful for some of the poetry exercises.  

I had a select but enthusiastic group for the poetry workshop (there were three of us) and we made the most of our time. Both the ladies in my group were responsive and eager to participant, which was lovely. They also worked really hard and produced some wonderful creative ideas throughout the session.

Really, I couldn't have asked for better workshoppers!

Both women had very different poetic styles, but all of their work was considered, well-written, and the standard was incredibly high. For this particular workshop, I focused on writing exercises that would spark creative ideas, rather than spending time looking at form and structure. We managed to try five activities during the two hour session, and the games 'Object into Animal' and 'Museum Treasure Hunt' seemed to worked particularly well:

'Object into Animal' involves taking an object (in this case, a conical flask from the Fenland Farming collection box) and imagining what it would be like as an animal. I asked the group questions like: 'What noise does it make?' 'How does it move?' 'Where does it live?' and the participants wrote down a character sketch based on their answers. We ended up with some very witty and creative creatures, and some very different perspectives on the same object.

It might seem like a bit of a strange exercise, but the idea is to enable participants to see inanimate objects in a new light. This can be really helpful when looking for unusual and interesting metaphors with which to describe everyday items. It also demonstrates how different people view objects from different angles, and I think it's important to use this personal perspective to your advantage in your creative writing.

It also works really well if you're writing a surrealist poem about a dishcloth that's actually a jellyfish!

For the 'Museum Treasure Hunt', I gave each workshopper two adjectives and asked them to find an object in the museum with these properties. Then I asked them to write down a few lines describing the object, remembering to look at it from a unique angle, as they had done in during the previous exercises.

The idea behind this game was to give the participants a focus for their writing, while also allowing them the space to pick the objects to which they were most drawn. The end result was some lovely poetry about the atmosphere of the museum and some really nice lines about the stuffed musk rat too!

Of course, there were lots of things about the workshop that I will change. In my next workshop, I think I'll structure the time in a more linear way and include more exercises relating to specific forms and styles of poetry, as well as activities that focused on ideas. There needed to be more of a balance, and I think at times it felt more like a genetic 'creative writing' class, rather than a workshop geared towards poetry.

Still, not bad for my first go!

And if you missed out on the workshop, don't fret! You can still enter the competition! The Young Curator’s Forum are putting together a booklet of creative work celebrating the Wisbech and Fenland Museum, and they’d like to hear from you.

You can submit a poem, short story, or a drawing, based on or inspired by the collections at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum. There's no age limit on submissions. Adults and children of all ages are welcome to apply.

Please send your creative work to with your name, contact telephone number, and the name of the museum artefact that inspired you. Alternatively, you can pop into the museum and pick up an entry form.

The closing date for the competition is Friday 31st May 2013.

We're looking forward to receiving your submissions! Good luck!

Acknowledgements: Photograph 1 courtesy of Fisheye Images. Photographs 2 & 4 courtesy of the Wisbech and Fenland Museum. Photographs 3 & 5 courtesy of Brandon Mattless.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

NEWS - Poetry Scratch

First off, don't panic! A Poetry Scratch might sound like a unpleasant literary skin condition, but it's actually just a type of live lit show.

The idea behind a Scratch is that the show being performed is still under construction, a work in progress. As a result of this, it might not be polished, and there may be unfinished elements, but the exciting thing about a Scratch is that it allows the writers and performers to experiment in front of a small audience, without fear of ridicule.

Well, with reduced fear of ridicule at least.

A Scratch is a great way for performers to find out which parts of their show work, and which parts need to be changed or improved; which jokes get a laugh and which parts of the narrative are superfluous to the story. The audience are usually invited to give feedback - as long as it's in the form of constructive criticism, rather than acerbic heckling - and the environment allows writers to take risks with a script in a way that they would be unable to do in a finished show.

Basically, a Scratch is a great opportunity to try out new ideas.

Before January this year, I'd never really thought about writing my own live literature show. Believe it or not, I'm actually kind of shy, so the thought of writing and performing an hour long show seemed more than a little bit daunting.

But, after a week of creative writing and workshopping in Mundesley as part of the Next Steps Writers' Retreat, I felt like I might have something worth pursuing. Plus, I'd already agreed to perform a twenty minute version of the show at the Norwich Arts Centre in April.

The deadline was set: it was time to get writing!

My show is about music. The idea itself stemmed from a conversation with a friend about a year ago. He was bemoaning the fact that there don't seem to be that many Goths around any more; as if they're some sort of species under threat. It got me thinking about whether the way we consume music in this crazy modern age has changed the way we relate to music in some fundamental way.

Could the ipod be killing off the Goth?

It sounded like a puzzle worth unraveling, and what better way to do it than through the medium of mildly funny poetry?

This idea also gave me an excuse to riffle through my teenage diaries and uncover some truly awful teen Goth poetry. Poetry that should have never seen the light of day.

Naturally, I had to read it out in front of an audience.

My authentic teenage diary, plus the feedback forms from the Scratch

The Scratch itself was terrifying. We had a small but enthusiastic audience, including friends, students of UEA, and some really fantastic Norwich based poets like Luke Wright, Tim Clare, Martin Figura, and Helen Ivory.

Andy Bennett and Russell J Turner were both incredible on the night. Andy's show was all about his love of history, and having the same haircut as Henry V. Andy's poetry is always fantastic, and his knowledge of Medieval/Early Modern military battles is second to none. I kinda felt like I was learning something, as well as having a good time, and he's such an engaging presence on stage that it's hard not to love everything he does.

Russell J Turner's show was the most personal of the evening, dealing as it did with his battle with alcoholism. Russell has this incredible talent for being both witty and poignant - often in the same breath - and his tale was moving, uplifting and utterly heartbreaking, all at the same time. By far the most complete of the three Scratches on the night, it was a really compelling piece, and I can't wait to see the full version when it's finished!

As for my Scratch? I think it went ok. The feedback from the audience was so incredibly helpful, and there are definitely parts of the story that need a major re-write. I was really pleased that people laughed at some of the jokes, especially the obscure ones, and someone even said that I was naturally charming.

How nice is that?

But there's plenty of work still left to do. There's a whole section at the beginning that doesn't feel quite right yet, and there are a few poems that don't quite fit the tone of the rest of the material. So there's plenty to keep me busy over the summer. Hopefully, it'll be ready for another airing in the autumn. Watch this space.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

NEWS - Live Shows and Festivals

I can't believe how beautiful the weather has been this week! Looks like we're finally getting a taste of that elusive British Summer! And the people in my town are certainly taking full advantage! It's so nice to walk home from work with the scent of cut grass in my (slightly red and hay-feverish) nostrils, and the taste of barbecue smoke on my tongue. Delicious.

Everyone I met today smelt of sun tan lotion and Mr Whippy ice cream, and I've already lost count of the number of Questionable Fashion Choices on display in my local park. 

Yay, summer!

Things have been hotting up on the poetry front too, and I've got a few shows lined up over the next few months. I'm performing at a real mix of events and festivals this year, and I'm going to be supporting some incredible poets too. I couldn't be more excited!

I've updated a full list of gigs on the top right hand corner of the blog, but here's a few of the things I'm most looking forward to in the next few months:

Saturday 11th May - As part of my Fenland Poet Laureate duties, I'm going to hosting my first ever writing workshop! It starts at 10am in the Wisbech and Fenland Museum, and we're going to be using objects and artefacts from the Museum's collection as inspiration for the writing! The museum itself has not one but two Egyptian mummified hands, as well as the original handwritten manuscript of Great Expectations and plenty of stuffed animals, so we shouldn't be short of inspiration!

Saturday 25th May - I'm really pleased to be performing at the Hythe Festival, a celebration of arts and literature in Colchester. Amazing local poet Tess Gardener has done a fantastic job organising the poetry café, and the line-up features sets from the likes of Jo Bell, Adam Kammerling, Fred Slattern, Justine De Mierre and Piers Harrison-Read. I'm also incredibly lucky to performing in the support slot just before Martin Newell! Martin is a completely brilliant poet and musician from deepest, darkest Essex, and someone whom I've admired for a really long time.

I'm going to ask him to sign my copy of his book! Squeee!

Saturday 1st June - It's time for Strawberry Fair in Cambridge! I'll be performing in the Allographic poetry tent during the day, and then at the Young People's Strawberry Slam Poetry Slam in the evening.

Strawberry Fair has always been this really interesting and quirky event, and it's so cool to see poetry being taken seriously as part of the festival. Massive heartfelt thanks go to talented local poets like Hollie McNish and Fay Roberts, who tirelessly work to bring poetry to the mainstream, in Cambridge and beyond. They're awesome!

Saturday 8th June - I'm really excited to be heading to London Town to cheer on our Cambridge representatives in the Hammer and Tongue Poetry Slam Finals. Kate Turner and Stephen Morrison-Burke are both fantastic poets, and it would be brilliant to see either one of them crowned Hammer and Tongue Slam Champion 2012!

While we're down there, myself, Patrick Widdess, Fay Roberts and Hollie McNish (the Cambridge Chapter) will be competing in the team slam, up against teams of poets from Bristol, Camden, Hackney, Oxford and Brighton. The show starts at 2:30pm, and it's going to be a lot of fun, so if you're in London, and you're free, come along and cheer us on!

Friday 21st June - It's great to be invited back to perform at Pimms and Poetry. It was so much fun  last year and a great success in terms of fund-raising too! The event is being organised by Fenland Poet Laureate Emeritus, Elaine Ewart, and takes place in the visitors' centre-cum-café, perched high above the Fenland Landscape. All money raised on the night will go towards conservation of the Welney Wildfowl and Wetlands reserve, and copies of the latest wildlife poetry anthology will also be available to buy.

Then, I'm rounding off the month of June by giving my first poetry lecture to a group called the Elm Friendship Club. Doesn't that sound like the most amazing club ever? I hope they'll let me join!