Wednesday, 27 February 2013

NEWS - Sonnets & Summer Festivals

Tomorrow is 28th February, which means that it's the last day of 28 Sonnets Later Project for 2013. It's been a real blast working with Andy Bennett, Adam Warne, and Russell J Turner to put together a collection of linking sonnets, and I know that when March rolls round, there'll definitely be a sonnet-shaped hole in my life!

It's been amazing to see how much my sonnet writing has improved from the standard of last year's project - I'm actually quite proud of what I've written this year! Especially considering the restrictions imposed on us by the Sonnet Corona format, which meant that the first line of each sonnet was chosen for us by the previous poet.

The project has produced some incredibly beautiful, interesting and surprising poetry; here are some of my favourites:
Day #7 - God and Summer by Adam Warne
Day #12 - I want you. I need you by Russell J Turner
Day #13 - @pontifex by Andy Bennett
You can check out all the poems on the 28 Sonnets Later blog.

It's also worth noting that Andy Bennett seems to have some sort of magical poetry powers! First, he wrote a sonnet about the Pope and a day later, the Pope resigned. Then he wrote a poem about Cardinal O'Brian and a day later, the Cardinal resigned too!

Andy has strenuously denied that he has influence over political decisions of high-powered members of the Catholic clergy, through his poetry.

But we remain suspicious.

And with February drawing to a close, we skip merrily into spring, leaving all thoughts of sonnet writing far behind us. Luckily, there's plenty going in the next few months to keep me occupied.

On Friday 1st March, I'll be reading at the Fenland Poet Laureate Awards in Wisbech, as one of the ten finalists vying for the title of Poet Laureate of the Fens. I'm not expecting to win, but it's really lovely to be involved all the same! Plus I'm secretly hoping that either Emma Ormond or Poppy Kleiser take home the trophy. Both ladies are terrific poets and thoroughly deserve the title!

Then, on Wednesday 13th March, I'll be doing a support slot at the next Norwich Slam at the Birdcage on Pottergate. I'm disgustingly excited about this one, mostly because John Osborne will be headlining, and I have loved his poetry for a long time. Hopefully, I might get a chance to chat to him - just as long as I don't get too nervous and embarrass myself! (It'll be like when I met Scroobius Pip all over again!)

You can check out John's work on his blog here.

And now that summer is within sight, I've started bothering festival promoters in a bid to get some work in tents and fields over the warmer months. So far I'm performing at the Hythe Festival in Colchester in May and Strawberry Fair in Cambridge in June, and I'm hoping to get up to Edinburgh to have a go at the Fringe in August too. I've also applied to perform in the spoken word tent at Glastonbury 2013!

I know!

I'll find out whether or not I've been accepted in April, so fingers crossed!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Writers' Circle Post - February 2013

Colony

It was unwise to walk the streets at nightfall, Emma knew that. The patrol guards who once swept between the high-rise buildings, enforcing order with fatal precision, had retreated to their watch towers, their weapons trained on the Colony's only exit. This was a city of criminals, and its quadrants had proven impossible to police. So now, all that was left was for the cancer to be contained. The sector was virtually lawless now, especially after dark.

Emma breathed deeply as she pulled open the main door, praying she would not be seen tonight. Once more she cursed herself for her arrogance; if only she could wait. If only she could abstain. But she had no choice. Information like this would not keep until morning, and information like this could be sold.

She had to go to him. And she had to go now.

She felt a familiar twist of pain as she stepped out into the night, a pain as deep and piercing as the bite of a blade through flesh. Even within the confines of the Colony, the bitterness of the season could still cut through the thickest of robes. The cold engulfed her in waves, as nausea and delirium might engulf a dying man.

Even after all these years of confinement, the shock of winters here still took her breath away.

The streets, as expected, were deserted. With the door locked behind her and no chance of return until morning, there was little to do now but continue onwards. Emma wrapped her dark travelling cloak tighter around her thin shoulders and pulled her head scarves down further across her brow, trying to protect her delicate flesh from the searing cold. With one more backwards glance at the closed door, she hoisted the heavy canvas bag onto her back, and headed out into the night.

She walked through the alleyways, the buildings loomed over her like silent black sentinels, monitoring her progress with blank windows like soulless eyes. The street lamps threw weak, watery light onto the ground in circles, and shattered glass of unknown origin crunched beneath her feet. The shadowy corners seemed to grow and undulate as she passed them, as if a nothingness had leaked out into the world and was slowly staining the city streets.

The scent of gasoline clung to the air, harsh and caustic on her tongue, and the silence of the night was punctuated by the unmistakable sound of screaming.

She walked as fast as she dared and turned each corner carefully, her back pressed again the alley walls. But, each time she turned onto a new path, she found herself alone. The screaming – though intermittent – did not stop.

It sounded as though it was getting closer.

She navigated those labyrinthine alleyways for hours, and with each new turn, a little more hope was sucked from her soul. The weight within the bag on her back pulled uncomfortably at her spine, while the boots she wore pinched and rubbed at the skin of her feet. 'That'll teach me,' she thought to herself as she stopped to rub her heel through the worn leather. 'That'll teach me not to borrow the boots from a corpse.'

At the next crossroads, the alleyway ahead of her widened into a vast open space skirted by low, windowless concrete buildings. Emma smiled; this amphitheatre was familiar to her.

She was almost there.
Away from the oppressive closeness of the tall buildings that made up this quadrant's living quarters, Emma was finally able to see the sky above her. The third moon had not yet risen, but the two smaller ones were visible now, hanging languidly in the gathering purple twilight. The thick glass of the Colony dome distorted the shapes of everything outside, and the two moons were elliptical, warped by the light refracted from the stars.
The amphitheatre had once been a holding bay for new arrivals, and Emma remembered well her own disembarkation. As the click of her heels echoed across the space, filling it with the sound of her footsteps, she recalled how they had shaved her head that day and stripped her of her clothing, there in the courtyard.

They tried to break her that day, but she had survived.

She walked across the stone square and drank in her surroundings. The uneven concrete felt strangely comforting beneath her feet, and the glow from the orange halogen lights seemed to make the harsh chill more bearable somehow. A sign on the wall close to her was illuminated by a single naked bulb:

Prisoners must report to the branding room upon arrival.

Emma pulled her scarves tighter about her face and hurried onwards. The open mouth of the subway stretched out before her, obscene and yawning in the red light of the emergency lamps. As she passed into the tunnel, one of the lights above her spat, fizzled and extinguished itself.

The shadows grew darker.

It was then that Emma realised that she was not alone in the tunnel. Her footsteps had been joined by others, heavier and more urgent, hurrying along the passageway towards her. There were four of them, she guessed. Men from the Gamma Quadrant, perhaps, armed with blades and pistols, and hungry. Their laboured breathing rang through the cavernous subway system, like the panting of wolves in pursuit. The echoes made Emma uncertain of the direction of their ambush. Unnerved, she stopped, just as the hand reached out and coiled itself around her throat. She felt the knife at her neck seconds later, pressing into the pulse behind her left ear.

'What do you want?'

One of the men stepped forward into the light. He was old, at least thirty, and had obviously escaped Rehabilitation many times before. But, like all of them, he had not escaped the Branding. The thick, dark skin of his forehead was marked with his crime: the letter 'T' branded into his flesh forever. 'T' for thief.

The two other men completed the circle around her, with the fourth still pressing himself against her from behind. The youngest one, half engulfed by shadows away to her right, was branded with an 'V'. The symbol reserved for those convicted of violent crime. His sharp, yellowing teeth were bared in a sick parody of a smile, and he held a crooked iron bar in his gloved hands. Every few seconds the muscles in his jaw would convulse horribly, pulling the skin back across the bones of his skull as if it were mottled leather.

But it was the man to her left for whom she reserved the deepest revulsion. The man with the lifeless grey eyes. The man wielding a length of chain as if it were silk. The man marked with the letter 'M'.

'What's in the bag, eh Gorgeous?' M leered, his hungry eyes moving from the sack at her feet, up the contours of her body, before resting on her pale face. 'Anything for us?'

Emma remained silent.

'C'mon girly,' said T, 'Ain't cha gunna chat with us?' The three of them laughed and Emma felt the squeeze of the knife at her throat as her captor sniggered in agreement. 'Don't cha wanna talk? C'mon, wha chu got hidin' in there?'

As he moved forward to pick up the bag, Emma saw her chance. She braced herself against the body of her captor and swung her legs round, hitting the thief hard in the jaw. She felt the crunch of breaking bones as her borrowed boot connected with his face. The man screamed, his hands shooting up towards his mouth, which was now covered with his own glistening blood.

''Uckin' 'itch!' he wailed through broken teeth.

The man behind her pressed his knife into her flesh and she felt the wetness of blood on her own skin. He twisted her around in his arms and forced her down against the wall of the chamber. The knife remained steady against her jugular vein.

'I think I'm gunna have fun with you, girly,' The man branded with the 'M' said, reaching out to touch the exposed skin at Emma's collar bone. Instinctively, she kicked again, and felt the blade at her neck bite just a little deeper, as M moved to avoid her bloody boots.

'We've got a live one here!' He laughed. 'Now, tell us what's in the bag, and maybe we'll let you go.'

Behind him in the darkness, the thief shouted out. 'Kill that 'itch! She 'roke my 'ucking jaw!'

'Nah, nah, not yet. I wanna have some fun with her first. Maudley, take the bag. Then you lot piss off to the courtyard. Me and girly here have got some catching up to do.'

Grudgingly, the other men did as they were bid. Emma felt her heartbeat quicken as their footsteps faded.

Soon, they were alone in the underpass.

M stood beside Emma's stooped form, and crouched down, so his face was level with her own. His breath stank of stale cigarettes and cheap whiskey, and his long hair hung limply across the scar on his forehead.

'I like the look of you.' He said. 'You've got some fight left in you too. Makes you more of a challenge.' He pulled at the edges of her scarves, revealing the pale skin beneath. 'Now then,' he growled, 'let's get a good look at you.'

He wrenched away the material, exposing her face to the cold air.

Immediately, his skin began to blanch and his eyes grew wide, swivelling manically in their sockets. His mouth opened and closed as he struggled to breathe and he shrank back from her, pushing his body away clumsily with the heels of his shoes. He hurried to his feet, his eyes still fixed upon Emma's face, then turned sharply and ran full pelt out of the tunnel, shouting at his colleagues as he did so.

The sounds of a struggle followed; shouts and screaming and the fading of footsteps. Dropped luggage and the metallic clank of discarded weapons.

Emma touched the skin of her forehead and felt the mark with which she had been Branded, all those years ago.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Work in Progress

This poem is for everyone who still indulges their inner child - no matter what your age.

Work in Progress

I don't want to be a grown up. I mean,
I can barely tie my own shoes, and I'm supposed
to chose a mortgage? A pension? Have some
level of comprehension when it comes to
savings accounts? Cook food in sensible amounts?
Look for discounts in shops and swap Top of the Pops
for Gardeners' Question Time? Well, I guess it's time.
I mean, I'm twenty six, and by now you might have thought
I could manage this. I should know how to fit a spare tyre,
and I should have buried my desire for crisp sandwiches.
I should stop speaking made up languages, and making
magical gestures in front of automatic doors – pretending
that I'm using The Force. I should learn to fix a computer,
talk about the future – without referring to robots!
I should buy those little Tupperware pots. Cultivate a
vegetable plot and cry without showering everyone in snot.
I should leave parties early with no risk of sounding boring, 
you see,I've got to get some rest coz I've work in the morning.
I should swap cleaning tips with friends, get grips for my shoes
and pretend to understand home furnishing trends. I'm twenty six,
I should be able to fix a fuse that's blown and not confuse
home-grown cabbage for the store bought kind. That's a faux pas.
I shouldn't be the last to leave the bar & I should have achieved far
more than I have done. But this life is a tough one and
my mistakes have been fun ones. And isn't that what they say,
that you're only this young once? Responsibility's fine,
but let me define my own way to grow and my own way shine.
It might take some time, but I know that I'll find it,
my place in the world and my own sense of purpose. I may be
an adult, but I'm not yet full grown, and I'm making my way
in this life on my own. So don't begrudge me the good times and
I'll try my best, not to trudge through the days because with each
dawn I'm blessed. I might not have it together yet, but that's
how it needs to be. I'm not quite an adult, but I'm happy being me.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Crumbs

I knew she wasn't normal
when I saw her ad online.
Turns out she had no taste for cheese
or coffee or red wine.

She didn't get her greatest kicks
from drugs or high end fashions.
No, slightly more prosaic
were her own obsessive passions.
The sight of diamonds didn't
leave her blinded, like a rabbit.
This girl had one addiction:
a major biscuit habit.

Our first date was a little odd –
she called me up from Aldi
to tell me she was stocking up
on Nice and Garibaldi.

I suggested going out to eat
but she didn't want Chinese
or Indian or Mexican:
this girl was hard to please!

So, in the end, we went to hers,
she said she'd cook for me,
but all I found, when I got there
were Bourbons and Rich Tea!

I was done! All set to leave
until she swayed her hips
and, with her hungry eyes on me,
reached for the chocolate chips.

The custard creams! The party rings!
The moistened chocolate fingers!
I've tried to wipe it from my mind,
yet still, that image lingers.

Nut Crunch, pink wafers, oatcakes,
Digestives, Hobnobs too!
(Not Jaffa cakes, coz those are cakes,
and that would never do!)

And so, I went there every day
To get my sugar fix.
The things that girl could do
with her lips wrapped round a Twix!

We carried on that way for months,
her appetite not fleeting.
Until one day the whole thing stopped:
she'd developed diabetes.

So carrot sticks replaced shortbread
but salad's not as sexy.
Then, when she found me with the jam
She lost all her respect for me.

She left me then, a crumpled mess –
all sticky and half-chewed –
with nothing left but rice cakes
to dip into my brew.

And even now I think of her
when eating gingerbread.
She left fructose in my heart that year
and crumbs all in my bed.

Monday, 11 February 2013

NEWS - This Week's Gigs

This week, I'm travelling all over the East of England to take part in some really great gigs!

The first, on Tuesday 12th February, is at the Spread Eagle pub in Ipswich. It's the second outing for Words and Verses, a monthly poetry event hosted by the lovely people at Get on the Soapbox. There'll be plenty of open mic slots available, as well as cracking sets from Colchester spoken word impresario Just Some Guy and Norwich-based wordsmith Dan Gregory. I'm also going to stand up and say a few poems, so all things considered, it looks set to be a pretty good night!

Then, on Wednesday 13th February, I'll be testing my poetic skills in the first ever Norwich Poetry Slam, which is taking place in the newly refurbished Birdcage pub in the city's trendy Norwich Lanes area. I'm really nervous about this one, as the poetic talent in Norwich is second to none, and I'm up against some fantastic slam performers. Luckily, the atmosphere at Birdcage nights is always incredibly warm, enthusiastic and supportive. So if you're anywhere near Norwich that evening, you should definitely come along!

Finally, on Sunday 17th February, I'll be part of the Rhythm Method Tour (I know) featuring the wit and wisdom of Milton Keynes Poet Laureate Mark Niel, and the fantastic musical comedy of  the Antipoet. I'll be supporting the boys on this, the Cambridge leg of their tour, alongside the wonderful Patrick Widdess. The madness kicks off from 8pm upstairs at the Fountain on Regent's street.

It's going to be a busy week!

Sunday, 10 February 2013

NEWS - Fenland Poet Laureate, Tel Aviv and Hunty Snark

The 28 Sonnets Later project is now in full swing and you can check out all the sonnets we've written so far on the website. It's been a really interesting experience and the Sonnet Corona format has been much less restrictive that I imagined. In fact, the constraints have actually enabled me to develop my writing, and the sonnets I have written so far have been completely different from my usual style. I really feel like this project is broadening my writing skills, which can only be a good thing!

The short list for this year's Fenland Poet Laureate competition was announced last week, and I was really please to find myself among the ten finalists. The Fenland Poet Laureate is responsible for promoting poetry throughout the Fens and is able to get involved with a number of great creative projects in the region. It's right up my street, and my head has been buzzing with ideas for local public engagement projects ever since I found out about the short list. It would be so wonderful to have the opportunity to run workshops and organise events throughout Fenland! The awards night will be held at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum on Friday 1st March, so fingers crossed!

I'm also really excited to be helping out on the Feral University stall at the DIY Cultures Zine Fair and Exhibition in Shoreditch on Sunday 7th April. We'll have some really cool handmade merch and some excellent zines compiled and overseen by the lovely Gretel of Glorious Fatling. If you want to submit to Gretel's zine, the Hunty Snark, you can do so by following the links on her website. (I'm hoping I can sneak a few copies of my poetry pamphlet onto the stall too!)

Finally, on a slightly more international theme, one of my poems has been chosen to be part of an art exhibition in Israel! I'm really excited about this one, because this is my first ever publication outside of the UK!

The exhibition is called Reading Rooms and is being held at the Alfred Gallery in Tel Aviv from 21st March and 11th April. My poem, The Space Between, will be on show along with poetry, photography and artwork from some really talented international artists. Unfortunately I won't be able to make it out to Tel Aviv to see it all in person, but if you're in Israel this Spring, please do go and check it out!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Neat Freak

Don't come around, convinced I'll change,
All excited and expectant.
I've come off the wagon, in spectacular fashion:
Back on the disinfectant.

You knew my problem had returned –
The air was lemon-scented –
I can't curb my lust to clean and to dust!
Don't sit on that! It's rented!

I've taken out all the furniture,
Because really, enough is enough!
How do you mean for the house to be clean
When you fill it up with so much stuff?

I've scrubbed down all the surfaces
To take the edge off the squalor.
Polished the pine until it all shines
(though some tables are now a bit smaller.)

At least I'm not out doing drugs!
This vacuum's the best on the market!
The house was a tip before I let rip –
Now you can see your face in the carpet!