Sunday, 25 August 2013

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Accepting rejection, and a chat with Neil Gaiman!

So, this week started with a rejection letter.

Bad times.

It's always hard to get a rejection, especially when you've worked so hard on a poem. (Or in this case, a whole portfolio of poems.) But I guess it's important to be philosophical about these things. Judging by the quality of the poetry that won, I don't think my own stuff was the right genre, the right style or the right tone for this particular competition.

You can't please 'em all.

Having said that, it is never a good idea to get complacent. As a writer, you should never dismiss rejection quite so readily. "They didn't like it because they didn't get it. They're the ones at fault" is as stupid as it is self-indulgent. There's always room to improve, so it's really important to learn from rejection. Whether that means experimenting with a different style, writing about new and challenging subjects, or choosing the competitions you enter in a more considered and intelligent way, it's vital to reflect on knock-backs, in order to become a better writer.

Speaking of better writers...

On Tuesday we went along to watch Neil Gaiman reading from his new book in Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire. We weren't the only ones! There were over a thousand people at the show, and Neil signed books for everyone.

That's dedication!

In case you're not familiar with Neil Gaiman's work, he's a well-respected and prolific fantasy writer, who has penned numerous novels and short stories, including American Gods, Anansi Boys, and my personal favourite, Neverwhere. His stories have been turned into films including Stardust and Coraline, and he's also written episodes of Doctor Who and Babylon Five. He writes children's books, and fans of graphic novels will know him as the author of the innovative and incredible Sandman series.

He's also a big Twitter user. In fact, Neil and I spoke over Twitter once, back in 2010.

You see, I sent a poem called Shaving Grace to Neil's wife, the musician and artist Amanda Palmer. The poem was partly inspired by one of Amanda’s songs, and I really wanted her to read it (because I am a massive narcissist). Not only did she read it AND retweet it to all her followers, she also read it to Neil. He then sent me a message to say that he liked it.

So, of course, when I got to the front of the queue on Tuesday night, I had to ask him if he remembered my poem. Amazingly, he did and he shook my hand and chatted to me with genuine warmth and interest. I told him about the Fenland Poet Laureateship, and he told me that he'd met the Portsmouth poet laureate a week before. Then he told me to keep writing wonderful poems!

And that was worth a thousand rejection letters!

Me chatting with Neil Gaiman (complete with flailing hand gestures from me)

Then, on Saturday evening, I performed on the Get on the Soapbox stage at the Folk East Festival at Glemham Hall in Suffolk.

As it was Bank Holiday Weekend, the weather did the decent thing and rained consistently for the entire afternoon. However, the festival-goers were unfazed by the deluge, and we got a good crowd of thirty to forty people in the tent to watch us perform.

Check out my Artist's Pass!
It was wonderful to share the stage with Tim Clare, Rowan James, and Justine De Mierre, and I thought our contrasting styles worked really well together. I really love hearing Rowan's poetry, and Justine's storytelling is always so much fun! Tim Clare was fantastic too, as always, and I particularly enjoyed his 'found poem', constructed entirely from lines written by High School kids.

I love listening to poets and storytellers at gigs like this, because watching talented performers always makes me want to improve my own act. It's also really nice to perform for an interested and attentive audience, and thanks must go to Amy Wragg, who runs Get on the Soapbox, for making the whole thing possible.

Good sized crowd!
Next week is a bit of a rest week for me. No gigs, no shows, no festivals. Hopefully, that means I might be able to write some new poems. Don't hold your breath though!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Bargain Hunt

This poem was written for submission to the I Love Bedford Poetry Trail Competition. The brief was to write a poem for display in one of the shop windows around Bedford Town Centre. I chose to write about the humble charity shop.

Bargain Hunt
Come have yourselves a spending spree
And buy ten shirts for 50p!
We’ve wooden tables, stacked in threes
A box that’s filled with orphaned keys
Board games based on bumble bees
And sturdy boots, for climbing trees.
Exotic plastic jewellery,
Quite stunning in its vibrancy;
This stuffed raccoon (We’ve named him Ste)
He's fumigated and flea-free!
We’ll offer you a cup of tea
While you peruse our treasury.
A bric-a-brac menagerie
With goods from every century!
For vintage watches, you’ll agree
To spend your hard-earned currency.
This watercolour of the sea,
Perhaps an early Da Vinci?
Our books are Buy One Get One Free
(The Mills & Boon are quite risqué!)
And best of all, as you can see,
All proceeds go to charity!

This is Ste

 Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

Sunday, 18 August 2013

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Talking Poetry and Folk East 2013

Hello there! Hope you've all had a lovely week. I've had another busy one, and there's plenty more to come in the next seven days! Here's a quick round up:

Last Monday, I spent the afternoon with Sue Dougan on her BBC Cambridgeshire radio show.

The topic of conversation for the afternoon was 'old people having sex'. Turns out that Virginia Ironside had said something controversial on the subject that day, in order to promote her new show in Edinburgh.

So that was interesting...

Luckily, we also got a change to talk to my fellow guest Brian Westcott, a local Neuro Linguistic Programming Expert, about his NLP workshops in Cambridgeshire, and I got a chance to plug the creative museums competition too!

Being on the radio was a bit nerve-racking, but in the end I had a lot of fun! You can still catch the episode on the bbc iplayer if you're quick. (It'll be taken down at 12 noon on Monday 19th August!)

Then, on Friday afternoon, I stopped by the MacMillan Centre at the North Cambs Hospital in Wisbech, to speak to the patients and staff about the Fenland Poet Laureateship. We chatted about the importance of poetry in modern day life, and how inspiring the Fens are, both as a landscape and in terms of their culture and history. I also gave the group a taste of my own poetry, which seemed to go down well. And I got booked by one of the volunteer staff members to do another talk for her ladies group later in the year!

On Friday evening, I went along to the annual Summer Exhibition at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum.

The event has been run by Karen Harvey at Atelier East for the past eight years, and is always a fantastic success, showcasing the very best visual art that the Cambridgeshire area has to offer. 

This year, Atelier East has been taken over by the good folks at ADeC, and 2013 marks Karen's last year organising the event.

The gala opening was wonderful, with plenty of brilliant art to enjoy, as well as a very tasty buffet!

I really do recommend that you go down and catch the exhibition if you can. It's on from now until 2nd October, at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum, Museum Square, Wisbech.

Next week:
On Saturday 24th August, I'll be putting on my wellies and heading down to Glemham Hall in Suffolk for the annual Folk East Festival

This is my second time at the festival, and I'll be performing alongside some incredible poets, including Tim Clare and Yanny Mac, so it's going to be very exciting indeed! We're on from 7pm in the Get on the Soapbox tent, and tickets for the festival are still available, so if you've got nothing planned for the bank holiday weekend, why not check it out? See you there! 

Summer Exhibition Photograph Courtesy of Karen Harvey

Sunday, 11 August 2013


Just a quick one from me this week as I'm a bit pushed for time:

On Monday, I'm going on the radio! I'll be joining local DJ Sue Dougan for a good old chinwag on her afternoon show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, alongside Neuro Linguistic Programming expert Brian Westcott. We'll be setting the world to rights, chatting about current affairs, and I'll even try to sneak in a bit of poetry too, on the sly!

Smiley Sue Dougan
Sue is so friendly and welcoming, so I know it's going to be a fun show. Still, I can't help but feel a little bit nervous. After all, I do have a history of saying some pretty bizarre things when confronted by a microphone! (Check out my poetry gigs if you don't believe me!)

Anyway, if you want to find out whether I manage to remain coherent for a whole hour, you can check out the programme from 2pm on Monday 12th August on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, or catch it afterwards on the iplayer.

Later on this week, I'll be giving my second poetry talk as part of my work as Fenland Poet Laureate. This time, I'll be speaking to the patients at the MacMillan Centre at the North Cambs Hospital in Wisbech. I'm hoping to chat to them about why history is important in the modern world, as well as giving them a taste of my poetry, and chatting with them about what poetry means to them. If all else fails, I have a few games planned, including a dirty limerick competition! Because, let's face it, who doesn't enjoy making up dirty limericks?!

Me, Elaine Ewart & Karen Harvey
Finally, my good friend and arty colleague, Karen Harvey, has just written an article chronicling the Fenland Poet Laureate Awards: the story so far. In 2012, Karen conceived, created, organised and promoted the Fenland Poet Laureate Awards, and without her hard work and dedication, poets like me would not have nearly as many opportunities in Fenland and in Cambridgeshire.

Put it this way: if I were a superhero, Karen would be my radioactive spider!

The article is here, and it's definitely worth a read.

Have a great week! See you all next Sunday!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

The Revolution

Brothers, sisters, friends and comrades,
The time for talk has long since passed!
Tonight, we start the revolution!
Our actions swift and methods harsh!

For we have lived too long in darkness,
Derided and dehumanised!
Tonight, we step out of the shadows!
Tonight, the world's oppressed shall rise!

There's no way now to stop the marching,
Armies have been mobilised!
Discrimination shall be vanquished!
Tonight, the world's oppressed shall rise!

For we are one in ten among you –
A stealth attack, that's how we planned it.
The revolution starting now!
The rise and rule of the left-handed!

We know you think we're evil –
That we're born without a soul –
And we know you made our scissors crap
To keep us in control!

We know that putting beans in cans
Is all just Lefty baiting,
And calling us kack-handed
Only leads to deeper hatred.

We know you're writing left to right
To keep us in our place.
We know about the Lefties
That you blasted into space!

But we've worked out the tin openers:
Now there's nothing we can't do
And this sinister battalion
Is coming after you!

We'll make you all write leftways
So you'll endure the smudges!
We'll move all of the buttons
To the left of tills in Budgens!

We'll change all the computers
So they only do left clicks,
And we won't stop now, in our quest
'Til each of them is fixed!

Directions will be modified
To 'left', 'not-left' and 'straight.'
The customer is always left
This way, things will be great!

You'll say, two wrongs don't make a left:
You're absolutely right
And that the reason you'll be chained
And buried out of sight.

We'll keep you in the dungeons,
With the rats and slugs and spiders
Then you'll know the awkwardness
Of writing in ring binders!

You may think that we're crazy
To enslave the human race?
We only want to make it fair!
Our heart's in the left place!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - To Hull and Back

Hello there! I can't believe we're in August already! This year has flown by, hasn't it? Let's hope the weather stays sunny over the next few weeks, so we can all get a bit of vitamin D before autumn comes around!

It'll be Christmas before you know it! 

This week, I've been reading the submissions for our ongoing poetry, prose and art competition. It's been fantastic to be inundated by such wonderful creative work, and sending us your entry couldn't be easier! All you have to do is create a poem, piece of prose, or visual artwork inspired by a museum in the East of England.

We've already received some great entries, but there's still plenty of time to submit! The deadline is Saturday 31st August and the winners' work will be published in a limited edition, hand printed booklet, which will be available from the Wisbech and Fenland Museum.

If you're interested, you can find further details about the competition here.

I was also really happy to receive an email this week from professional punk poet Jim Higo, inviting me to do a featured slot at his Away with Words poetry night up in Hull in September. Jim is a brilliant poet and performer, and his regular open mic night has received publication and praise from the likes of Apples and Snakes, so it's a real privilege to be invited to join in the fun up north! I'll definitely be shouting about this gig when September rolls around, so watch this space!

Also this week, my Fenland poetry partner in crime, Elaine Ewart, and I got a chance to chat to Jane Wilson, the director of ADeC, about our plans for poetry and spoken word projects in North and East Cambridgeshire.

We discussed the possibility of open mic events throughout the Fens, as well as a string of poetry workshops for both adults and young people, to help promote the arts and education in this often overlooked geographical area. With the support of ADeC, we may even be able to secure some funding to help get our plans off the ground!

It's really exciting, but we're still very much in the planning stages, so we'll see what the next few months have in store! 

Other than that, what else has been happening? Oh yes, on Saturday I spent some time updating my poetry portfolio on IdeasTap - adding in some videos and photographs of performances, to spruce the place up a bit. You can check out the finished portfolio here.

IdeasTap is a great arts organisation that provides an online space for creative people to meet, network and share ideas. The site allows you to create a profile and portfolio to help you build up contacts and chat with like-minded people. IdeasTap also run briefs and competitions, and offers business and creative advice for both amateur and professional people working in the creative industries. It also boasts listings for jobs in the arts and charity sectors, and information on creative projects across the UK. It's a great place to go to make new friends and new connections, and I honestly wouldn't be without it.

And they didn't even pay me to say that!  

Finally, I'm pleased to say that Jenny Furlong, the curator at the Chatteris Town Museum, liked the poem I wrote for the Fen Cottage display. In fact, she liked it much that she's going to incorporate it into the museum's permanent display!

The poem - imaginatively titled 'Fen Cottage' - is reproduced in full below. Let me know what you think and have a great week!

Fen Cottage

Like idle hands
Flickers twitches
Throws light through open door
Across the fen
The dark relief of ditches
Every flaw and facet
There and then
Illuminated briefly
And submerged again

Smoking pipes
By candlelight
Watching waiting
The rains will surely come
To wet the thatch
Every flaw and facet
Every catch
In nets cast far for fortune
Birds and rats

Winter nights
In fading light
Waiting thinking
The floods will surely fade
The land will rise
This water's not for drinking
Every flaw and facet
Yields surprise
In cottages enclosed
By restless skies