Sunday, 30 June 2013

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Talking about poetry

This week has been another busy one, with gigs and talks in Suffolk and North Cambridgeshire, as well as lots of poetry writing, and a bit of online promotion for the Rose Fair poem I wrote a few weeks ago.

On Tuesday, I gave a talk to the ladies at the Elm Friendship Club. This was my first ever poetry talk, and only my second public engagement event as the Fenland Poet Laureate. Needless to say, I was incredibly nervous. I'm certainly no expert on poetry, so being asked to speak for an hour on the subject seemed like a pretty daunting task.

I needn't have worried though, because it went really well. I spoke for a little while about what poetry is and why it's important, and then we chatted about our favourite poems and poets. I read a few classics out to the group, and the ladies asked me lots of questions about my own poetry. Everyone seemed interested and we even spoke about the merits of rap music as a poetic format!

Then it was time to read some of my own stuff. I gave the group the choice of listening to nature poetry or my more risqué material: of course, they chose the sex poems!  

Shaving Grace, my poem about pubic hair, and Bad Kisser were both firm favourites, but they also seemed to like the more serious poetry too. One lady even compared me to a young Pam Ayres, which was very flattering.

When I first accepted the invitation to talk about poetry with this group, I was in two minds about mentioning my comedy poetry. I had this pre-conceived idea that the over sixty-fives would be upset by the ruder stuff. I should have known that the older generation have been there and seen it all before! In that sense, I'm really glad I went with a mix of the funny and the serious stuff. I think we struck a good balance.

On Wednesday, I spent a wonderful evening in Woodbridge at the poetry, comedy and storytelling open mic night Words in Wooders. The venue was fantastic, and the performances were all superb. Everyone was really friendly, and I got the chance to speak to some great local poets and actors too. The night was hosted by the very talented Justine De Mierre, a storyteller who had us on the edge of our seats with her fantastic ghostly tales. Even though I was quite nervous, I think my performance went down well.

I always find the 'performance' part of performance poetry a bit tricky. I'm not a natural extrovert and telling poems in from of an audience is hard! But the more I practise, and the more I perform, the better my delivery becomes.

Now, if only I could learn the damn things off by heart, then I'd really be getting somewhere!

Next week I'm performing as part of the Word Circus at the Switch Fringe in Ipswich, alongside an amazing line-up of performers including Hannah Jane Walker, Booda French, Rowan James, Lewis Buxton, Piers Harrison-Reid, and Theo Best. This show is not to be missed, so if you're in Ipswich on Tuesday 2nd July, please do come along. The fun starts at 8pm at the Big Top in Christchurch Park. Tickets are five pounds each, and can be purchased here.

Finally, this is the latest addition to my fridge magnet collection. She is a Red Highland Cow, and her name is Morag.

Hello Morag.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Wide Skies and Words at Wooders

Last Friday I spent a glorious midsummer evening in the company of some very talented poets, as we celebrated the launch of the Words for Wide Skies anthology.

The book - a collection of nature poetry edited by Elaine Ewart - was published in association with the Welney Wildfowl and Wetlands centre, aided and abetted by artist and event coordinator Karen Harvey. All proceeds from the sale of the anthology will go towards wetland conservation at the WWT Welney site.

And I’m pleased to report that the event itself was fantastic! It was the second annual Pimms and Poetry evening organised at the Wetlands visitors' centre, and the weather was perfect for the occasion.

I'm always eager to watch Elaine perform, and I was delighted to hear her finished museum artefact poem, which was based on a writing exercise I gave her at my poetry workshop a few weeks ago. Elaine's fellow Creative Writing MA students, Melinda Appleby and Jeremy Solnick, both gave fantastic performances too, with Jeremy's mushroom poem and Melinda's piece about a hedge witch being particular favourites of mine.

There were short performances from anthology contributors Cardinal Cox, Miriam Brown, Peter Irving, and Mike Alderson, as well as a demonstration of moths by the Welney staff, and beautiful views of the sunset across the Fens. 

I know I've been banging on about this for ages, but it really is a wonderful anthology, with poems from fifteen incredible poets, and cover art by the supremely talented Dafila Scott. And all this for just five pounds? What an absolute bargain!

But don’t just take my word for it! Here’s a lovely review to encourage you to buy yourself a copy. 

This week, I’m doing something a little bit different: giving my first even poetry lecture!

I'll be travelling north to Wisbech to speak to a local society group about all things poetic. I'm going to be chatting about the definitions of poetry, why it's important, and whether poetry is necessary in the modern world. (Hint: it is.) I'm also going to perform a few of my own poems, chat to the ladies about their favourite poets, and hopefully make a few friends too!

I've been working on my talk for the past few weeks now, and I've been rehearsing with the cat all weekend. She's not a particularly enthusiastic audience member, but she doesn't heckle, which means she's a vast improvement on any human audience.

Then, on Wednesday evening I’m off to Woodbridge in Suffolk to perform at the Words in Wooders open mic night. The events are run monthly, and organised by Suffolk storyteller Justine deMierrre.  Justine was kind enough to invite me along this month as one of their featured poets, and I’m really looking forward to seeing all that Woodbridge has to offer!

Woods in Wooders encourages poets, musicians, storytellers and comedians to take to the stage, and all performers are rewarded with a free half-pint or shot, so there's really no excuse for shyness! If you're in Suffolk on Wednesday, please do stop by The Angel and say hello. The open mic starts at 8pm, and it would be great to see you all there! 

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Perspective - a video

Leanne Modern - "Perspective" from Lizzy Doe on Vimeo.

This is the poem I wrote for the Words for Wide Skies poetry anthology. It's called perspective and it's all about the Fens.

The video was filmed at Welney in Norfolk on a beautiful midsummer's evening. A great big thank you to Lizzy Doe asking me to be her test subject for new filming equipment! Lizzy is a talented photographer, artist and musician, as well as a damn-fine poet. You can find out more about her work here.

P.S. Stay tuned till the end of the video for my 'I'm very embarrassed about having read a poem on camera so I'll grin like a loon' face!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Carnival Cargo - A Rose Fair Poem

In two weeks time, the Fenland town of Wisbech will be getting into the festival spirit, as it plays host to the annual Rose Fair celebrations. It's East Anglia's Premier Flower Festival, and a chance for the town to pay homage to its horticultural heritage, with a huge range of floral displays drawing tourists by the bus-load. 

I grew up in Wisbech, and I remember pottering round the local churches with my family each year, checking out all the displays. But for me, the main attraction was always the parade.

It's a procession of home-made floats; local rotary clubs and scout groups dressed up and waving from atop brightly-decorated lorries, snaking through the streets of Wisbech. The trucks are interspersed with marching bands, local dancers and even the odd bagpipe display team! Not only is it great to watch, but the floats also collect money for various charities and good causes, which means it's great for the community too!

So, when I became Fenland Poet Laureate, I knew I had to write a poem about the Rose Fair. It's called Carnival Cargo, and there's a video of me reading it at the bottom of the page.I really hope you like it!

Carnival Cargo

I'm standing on Elm Road, perched
on the kerb. Feet arched into points
to observe the ribbon of road before
me. I long to explore, but you implore
me to listen. Then, sure enough, I hear
drums in the distance. The crowd, now
assembled, await the parade and a hush
fills the air, like the rush of a wave. I'm
feeling brave; I catch hold of your hand,
snatch a glimpse towards Dad and pull
you forwards. We stand in the gutter,
with all of the rest, till the splutter of
trumpets fills my heart in my chest. The
scene, once all grey, is now bright reds
and greens. On this day a school girl
can become a Rose Queen. The marching
band passes, the majorettes twirl, the
dancers with ribbons are the best in the
world. And lorries, once laden with veg
and sugar beet, now have carnival cargo
to take through the streets. These floats
drifting past in a flurry of flags, steel
drums are our soundtrack, and nothing
can drag down the feeling of joy on this
overcast day. So we stand, hand in hand,
as the samba beat plays. 

Sunday, 16 June 2013

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Pint of Poetry and Words for Wide Skies

So, what's been happening this week?

Last Wednesday, I ventured out of the Fens to check out Pint of Poetry and a Dash of Drama, the regular performance open mic night hosted by Mark Grist and Summer Mooed in Peterborough. It runs on the second Wednesday of each month, clashing with the Cambridge Hammer and Tongue Poetry Slam, and I guess that's one of the reasons why I've never been before. (I'm also lazy and it's over an hour away.)

This month though, I fancied a change, so I hopped in my reasonably-price automobile and motored on down the A142 in search of adventure. I'm really glad I made the effort, because it was a lot of fun. I got a chance to hang out with some great poets and listen to some truly brilliant performances. The sign-up sheet was really full, and the range of styles and tones was incredibly diverse.

Just what you want from an open mic night!

To top it all off, Pint of Poetry is held in a bar on a boat! I mean, can you even imagine? I felt like a lyrical pirate for the whole evening! It was pretty magical.

In other news: one of my poems, Perspective, has just been published in a nature poetry anthology, Words for Wide Skies. The book is being sold to raised funds for the conservation of the Wetlands at Welney, and I'm performing at the launch evening, Pimms and Poetry, on Friday 21st June. I'm really looking forward to it, mainly because it'll be a chance for me to perform some of my 'serious' poems. They don't often get performed, so it'll be nice for them to have an outing for a change.

You can find all the information on the Words for Wide Skies anthology and the Pimms and Poetry event on Elaine Ewart's blog.

I've also got a couple of ongoing projects, which are keeping me nice and busy: I'm writing a poem for the Wisbech Rose Fair, and another for display in the Chatteris town museum. The poem I wrote for the Fenland Poet Laureate competition, Six Miles, is going to be on display in the Wisbech and Fenland Museum alongside a collection of ice skating artifacts, and I'm doing gigs in Ipswich, Woodbridge, and Wisbech too. It's pretty hectic, but in a good way!

Now, if only I could get rid of this hay fever...

Pastiche Poems

I don't know about you, but I'm a big fan of bands who do the occasional cover version. Why can't poets do the same?

I've been reading a lot of William Blake lately, so I thought it'd be cool to do a pastiche of his most famous poem The Tiger

In the end, I wrote two versions: one about unattainable physical perfection, the other about procrastinating on the internet. Let me know in the comments which one you liked the best!
Tighter! Tighter!

Tighter! Tighter! Pull that skin!
Raise those eyebrows, lift that chin!
Clench those buttocks, punish flesh!
Strive for perfect, look your best.

In what wondrous oil or lotion
Dwells the potent magic potion?
Which bottle here contains the juice
To give us all eternal youth?

Buy every cream, spare no expense!
From wrinkles we need recompense.
Iron out the laughter lines,
Erase life lived, bamboozle time.

In moderation, exercise
To gain a pair of killer thighs.
(If that all seems too hard to do
A surgeon's knife may be for you.)

Bruised and battered, cut and slashed,
It won't be long before you're back.
Though knives and needles change your face
Still confidence proves hard to place.

Tighter! Tighter! Pull that skin!
Raise those eyebrows, lift that chin!
Clench those buttocks, punish flesh!
Strive for perfect, look your best.
Laptop! Laptop!

Laptop! Laptop! Burning bright
In my bedroom through the night.
Though it's late, is it a crime
To check my emails one last time?

I'll just write this and then I'm done.
I can't stop now, it's too much fun!
On Ebay, in a bidding war;
On Farmville with my highest score.

Pornography and cat photos,
Net-a-Porter for my clothes.
I have no need to go outside
Unless I catch some strong wifi.

My intellect is getting smaller:
A crawling, trolling, forum trawler.
And while no film can hold my interest
I'll spend three hours stuck on Pinterest.

My mobile phone is web-enabled
So I can browse at the dinner table.
I'll Instagram before I eat this;
Hold that thought, I need to Tweet this.

Laptop! Laptop! Burning bright
In my bedroom through the night.
Though it's late, is it a crime
To check my emails one last time?

Monday, 10 June 2013

NEWS - Hammer and Tongue Slam Finals

The Hammer and Tongue Grand Final happened on Saturday, and it was AMAZING!

The event was held in Wilton's Music Hall, which is the world's oldest surviving Music Hall (it was built in the eighteenth century and has been a music hall/theatre since 1859!) and just the most gorgeous venue!

The day kicked off with the team slams, with twenty four poets from six locations battling it out for the title of Champion Slam Poets.

I was part of Team Cambridge, and we were lucky enough to have three very strong poets on side, in the form of Fay Roberts, Patrick Widdess and Hollie McNish.

We were up against the teams from Bristol and Hackney in the first round:

First up, team captain Fay Roberts, with a lyrical bilingual piece that held the audience in rapt attention and got our team off to a fine start. Then, we had words from Cambridge's premier poetical polymath, Patrick Widdess. His idiosyncratic whimsy was really well-received by the crowd, and earned him one of the highest scores in the round.

My poem about pubic hair got lots of laughs, and even some cheers from the audience, despite a few shocked faces in the front row! Finally, Hollie's fantastic poem about the hypocrisy of breast feeding etiquette brought our collected performance to a triumphant close.

After a mix up with the scores, we came in a respectable third place overall, 0.6 points behind Hackney in second place. In the final, the witty and verbose Oxford team managed to secure the top spot, pushing the home team into silver medal territory. Hackney fought a good fight - with some great use of multiple voice - but this year's metaphorical trophy belongs to the dreaming spires, and more specifically to Steve Larkin, Tina Sederholm, Paul Askew, and Kate Walton.

Then, it was on to the main event: the individual slam.
Unfortunately, Kate Turner - the runner up at the Cambridge Hammer and Tongue final last year -  didn't manage to qualify for the grand final. Luckily, Kate's got the talent and the skills to go the distance, so watch out, because you definitely haven't seen the last of her!

Stephen Morrison-Burke - Birmingham Poet Laureate and winner of the Cambridge Hammer and Tongue Final 2012 - played a blinder! After a nail-biting semi-final and an edge-of-your-seat final, Stephen emerged victorious and was crowned Hammer and Tongue National Slam Champion 2013!

Congratulations to Stephen, to the Oxford team, and to everyone who took part. Roll on next year!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

NEWS - Youth Slam at Strawberry Fair

Even though it was great to be part of the Allographic Spoken Word at Strawberry Fair, my favourite bit of this year's festival was the Youth Slam Competition.

Run by Page to Performance, the Strawberry Slam is a chance for young people to write their own poetry and perform it live on stage at the Strawberry Fair. This annual competition is open to poets aged between thirteen and twenty-five, and Page to Performance ran a series of workshops in local schools to get kids thinking about writing their own poetry for the show.

The results were amazing!

We had eight finalists on the night, half of whom had been involved in the poetry workshops through their secondary schools. We also had young people from across Cambridgeshire, with students from the university and local kids all vying for the chance to be crowned Strawberry Slam Champion 2013.

The standard of poetry was incredibly high, and the style and subject matter incredibly diverse. We were treated to poems about loneliness, bullying, racism, and war, as well as performances on the subjects of fairy tales, happiness, and disabilities.

Having been one of the finalists in last year's competition (and being too old to take part this time round) I was invited to be the sacrificial poet and scorekeeper for the event, and I'm so pleased to have shared the stage with so many talented people! All eight performers were fantastic, and every single one was worthy of the top prize!

But that's not how slams work!

This year, instead of a judging panel made up of professional poets, the scoring was delegated to the audience. Each of the five judges gave the young poets a score out of ten. Then, the top and bottom scores were discounted (to dissuade any would-be cheaters!) and each poet was left with a mark out of thirty. 

The final scores were so close!

Highly commended were Stacey Hubbard, Eleanor Sutcliffe (from Sawston Village College), Afrodita Nikolova, Jacob Hardwick (from Neal Wade College) and Hannah Jones (from Impington Village College).

Third place went to Lucy Bett (from Impington Village College) with her superb poem about emotions, while Courtney Henville came second with his amazing hip-hop inspired piece, Psychonautics.

But the clear winner was Cambridge undergraduate Charlotte Higgins, whose beautiful poems inspired by the stories of Cinderella and the Little Mermaid captivated the judges. She took first place with an incredible 27 out of 30 points!

As well as a pack of poetry goodies, Charlotte also wins the chance to perform as a featured artist at the next Hammer and Tongue poetry event at the Fountain Inn on Regent's Street, Cambridge, on Wednesday 12th June. It starts at 8:00pm, so don't be late! Hope to see you all there!

NEWS - Spoken Word at Srawberry Fair

There's nothing like a day of excellent live music and poetry to restore your faith in life, and I was lucky enough to be invited to perform twice at this year's Strawberry Fair.

The Strawberry Fair is an annual one-day event held on Midsummer Common in Cambridge. It always reminds me of a scaled-down Glastonbury Festival, with tonnes of exotic foods to try, plenty of bizarre festival shops, and loads of fantastic performances. There really is something for everyone. At yesterday's event, I saw folk bands, performance poets, belly dancers, a blacksmith, three stilt-walkers, and - best of all - Goth morris dancers!

"With a hey nonny nonny and a Raaaaaaaaaawr!"
We started our day around twelve noon, in the Hatter's Cafe. First up, music and poetry from members of Cambridge-based charity FLACK. FLACK is an organisation with homeless people at its heart, and the charity produces a monthly magazine written by homeless people, with comprehensive local arts and entertainment listings. FLACK promotes awareness of issues effecting the homeless community and acts as a social hub, giving its members the space and support to help themselves. It really is a fantastic charity, and you can find out more about it here


Then, it was time for the poets to invade the stage! The spoken word proceedings were led by the very wonderful Fay Roberts of Allographic Press, who had managed to pull together a fantastic line-up of performers in just over twenty four hours!

J.S Watts gave us all a glimpse into the strange and beautiful world of Steelyard Sue, the protagonist from her Sabotage Award nominated poetry pamphlet. Narrative poet Riaz Moola unleashed his epic retelling of Moby Dick, and his witty internet break-up poem went down well with the crowd, while Nikki Marrone was as engaging as ever, musing on the themes of temptation, redemption and mental illness. 

Elaine Ewart's nature poetry was wonderfully well-observed, and a marvellous counterpoint to the anarchic performance poetry of Richard Carryngton. Hayley Foster's delicate, articulate words were met with thunderous applause, and poetry polymath Patrick Widdess was consistently fantastic. 

The Antipoet
Musical duo The Antipoet provided a fast and funny climax, with songs about sex, stockings and Nazi grandmas. All semblance of decorum was forgotten; just the way we like it! 

I performed a few new poems too, and they seemed to go down really well.

It was wonderful to see so many people in the audience; we had a full tent for the majority of the show! It's great to see so many people enjoying poetry, and I only hope that we can encourage more would-be performers to get down to local open mic nights and give it a go themselves! See you all on stage!

Good earnest facial expression there, Moden

Photographs courtesy of JS Watts. Check out more from JS here.