Sunday, 28 December 2014

2014 in review


Is it a bit of cliché to do a 'Year in Review' post just before New Year's Eve? Yes. Yes it is. But I'm a big fan of cliché, so here's a little summary of 2014:

January // February // March
The first month of 2014 was a pretty busy one. I performed with Poets United at the Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival, put the finishing touches on my poem for the Whittlesey Museum, and performed at the University of Cambridge Union Arts Festival. I was also performed with Norwich band Wooden Arms, who set my poetry to music as part of a brilliant event hosted by Allographic and Shindig.(Bonus poem with music HERE)

In February, I wrote a large number of sonnets with  Russell J Turner, Adam Warne and Andy Bennett, for our third sonnet writing challenge, 28 Sonnets Later: the Heroic Crown! I also got the chance to be part of the judging committee to decide this year's Fenland Poet Laureate winners!

March was another busy month: we announced the winners of the Fenland Poet Laureate Awards, and I was invited to write a poem for International Women's Day and perform it in Peterborough to help raise money for the local Rape Crisis Centre. I also did my first gig in Stowmarket, as part of The Whole Shebang open mic night. Finally, I went up to Norwich, with Fay Roberts, Nikki Marrone and Daisy T-G for a Cambridge take-over at Headcrash Cabaret at the Birdcage in the Norwich Lanes.

Performing with Wooden Arms in January

April // May // June
In April, I completed my first NaPoWriMo, and managed to write thirty poems in thirty days! A few of them were all right too. (But some were truly terrible!) I also did my first Allographic: Other Voices guest performance in Cambridge, supporting fantastic Fenland Poet Elaine Ewart! On top of all that, I went down to Colchester for a night of music and poetry in Steve and Tina's front room! And I have to say, it was one of the nicest gigs I've ever been to - thanks guys!

My favourite gig in May was hosting She Grrrowls: Lost and Found in North London - a fantastic night of female performance, organised by the very lovely Carmina Masoliver.

In June, Fay Roberts invited us to do an hour of poetry at Strawberry Fair in Cambridge, so we put on our very first Fen Speak at Strawberry Fair show, giving some of our regular poets the chance to perform in a festival environment. I also performed at the annual Pimms and Poetry event at the Welney Wildfowl and Wetlands Centre, which was really good fun! I'm also really grateful to Johanna Boal, for inviting me to do a short set at the Beverley Folk Festival!

Fen Speak performers at Strawberry Fair in June
 
July // August // September
Most of July was taken up with my writer's residency at the Museum of Beyond in Aldeburgh, although I also found time to write a commissioned poem for a friend's wedding. The Museum of Beyond is a fantastic art exhibition and ecological investigation, made by Suffolk artist Fran Crowe. I stayed for three days and wrote nine poems about the exhibition - you can hear me read then at the Museum of Beyond Soundcloud page.

August was a month of festivals! I managed to perform at three glorious festivals: Camp Bestival in Devon, Folk East in Suffolk, and Bestival on the Isle of Wight! All three were brilliant, and I must say a huuuuuuuuge thanks to Amy Wragg at Get on the Soapbox events, for inviting me to all these wonderful places to do my poems! What a star!

September was the Hammer and Tongue Slam Final at the Royal Albert Hall, and it was incredible! We also had our first birthday party for Fen Speak, the open mic night I run with Elaine Ewart. Here's to many more years to come!

Our Names in Lights at Camp Bestival (August)

October // November // December
October was a quiet month, but things picked up again in November: I did a gig in London as part of Utter! Winners, and did a support slot for Attila the Stockbroker in Norwich. We also took Fen Speak on Tour, with an event in King's Lynn, courtesy of local poet Sue Burge.

In December, I was part of the Stony Stratford Christmas Lights Switch On in Milton Keynes, took part in the last ever Utter! London Paid Gig Contest and was part of Nikki Marrone's Spark the Word Winter event in aid of the Arthur Rank Hospice Charity.

Supporting Attila the Stockbroker in November

Well done for reading all of that! What a mission!

Seriously though, it's been an awesome year! Hope you've had a good one too! And here's to 2015!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

POEM - Our cat saves Christmas


Merry Christmas to all of you who are celebrating this year! I've managed to write a Christmas themed poem this year. It's a mix of A Visit from Saint Nicholas and Home Alone - if both of those stories had a cat as the main character. I hope you like it!

Our cat saves Christmas
Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the flat
Not a creature was stirring, not even our cat.
The moggy was motionless, guarding the door.
She knew that he'd be there. This time, it was War!

Soon the intruder would creep through the flat,
Wheezing and gasping, for he was quite fat.
And none of the humans would notice the noise.
It was left to the cat now, to foil his ploy!

At once, on the landing, there came such a clatter,
The cat ran and hid – her bravado was shattered.
And then, came a scratching of key finding lock,
The cat stood stock still, her brain still in shock.

From under the Christmas tree then, the cat saw
A man with a bin bag slip in though the door.
His eyes were red-rimmed, and his clothes stank of gin.
And he had yellow hair sticking out of his chin.

A vagabond villain, so sneaky and quick,
The cat knew at once that this guy was a prick.
He swept through the room, eyeing all the swag,
And started to slip things into his bin bag.

“An X-box! A laptop! These presents and trinkets!
“And look! These kind folk have left brandy and biscuits!”
He sat down to eat, and the cat saw her chance,
She skirted the sofa, and made her advance.

She slid round the table and up to the chair,
The man was distracted and quite unaware.
The cat felt her heart leap, her nerves all a-tangle,
But bravely she sunk her teeth deep in his ankle.

The man bit his tongue down to stifle his screams,
But the cat held on tight, griping flesh through the jeans.
The man kicked the cat off, and loudly he swore,
Then both of them noticed the chap by the door.

He wore shining fur, from his head to his toes,
He had twinkly eyes, and a rosy red nose.
And out from his bundle, a pistol he drew,
“I think that you had better leave now, don't you?”

The thief was disgruntled, but couldn't compete
with a gun-toting rival, and made his retreat.
The cat, slightly shaken, bristled with fear
For this was the geezer who'd wronged her last year!

The old man Ho-ho'd, and then he cried “Blast it!
“He's had all my biscuits and brandy, that bastard!”
The man scratched his chin, under beard white as snow,
And said, “I see where you're hiding, you know.”

He reached for the cat, as he came close
She hissed and she threatened to scratch his red nose!
“Shhh,” said the stranger. “There's nothing to fear,
“And I'm sorry I stood on your tail last year.”

But, though he protested, the cat wouldn't budge –
There's nothing so strong as a cat with a grudge.
So he tidied the room, and left all the gifts,
And went to continue his festive night shift.

He'd given her turkey, on a silvery dish
(For that was her one special Christmas-y wish)
And as she devoured her holiday haul,
She mused that Saint Nick was quite nice, after all.

Source

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

POEM - Arrested Development

I've started writing poems again - so here's a new one for you. It's about being motivated by unusual objects...

Arrested Development
When I was small, I was in the Girl Scouts
(For twenty-eight days – but I think it still counts)
And in that brief time, I was gently conditioned
To shun wealth and money as normal ambitions.

See, in the Girl Scouts, if you have stuff to do,
You're aiming for merits, and that pulls you through.
You get little badges for each task completed
I almost had three (not to sound too conceited).

But, though I was driven, I wasn't obsessed,
I just wanted badges, and that was my quest.
No matter the challenge, or how hard the slog,
I drooled over badges, just like Pavlov's Dog.

But, now that I'm older, I've just figured out
Why I'm so lazy: those bloody Girl Scouts!
I can't get excited by cash-based incentives,
Without earning badges, I can't be contented!

So, I have a suggestion – please, just hear me out –
I think we should start up the Grown Up Girl Scouts.

Then, we could have badges for sleeping on sofas,
Or going to meetings still really hungover.
And there could be badges for selling our souls,
And drinking red wine out of cereal bowls.

Badges for making ten pounds last three weeks.
For sharing with housemates who give us the creeps.
For having a curry, instead of a run,
For throwing house parties where nobody comes.

And there would be badges for bullshit endurance;
For not having savings or getting insurance.
For making our tea from what's left on the shelf
(It's nearly two weeks since I poisoned myself).

And we could have badges for tall expectations,
For leaky apartments and job applications.
Not getting a pension, or having a mortgage,
For still having half of our stuff locked in storage.

For just having jobs, not high-flying careers,
For living off sandwiches, pasta, and beers.
And knowing our parents were married with kids
By our age. The thought of that scares me to bits.

But we're doing ok. We're not dead, or in jail.
We do have some plans – just not all the details.
We don't need an iron, or a skincare regime,
Coz it turns out that life's not as hard as it seems.

We'll sort it all out, all it takes is some practice
And, failing all that, we'll have shit-loads of badges.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

NEWS - Spark the Word, Fen Speak and the last ever Utter!


On Tuesday night I went down to the Amersham Arms in New Cross to take part in the last ever Utter! Spoken Word event in London.

Source

While the Utter! banner lives on, with regular events in Luton and in Gravesend, London promoter Richard Tyrone Jones is hanging up his poetry promoting boots after ten years, in order to have a little more time for other projects. Tuesday's grand finale was a fantastic send-off, with all previous Paid Gig Contest winners battling it out for a massive helping of poetry kudos (and a big cash prize).

There were so many great performances on the night. I particularly enjoyed Daisy Thurston-Gent's wonderful space-themed poem, Laurence O'Reilly's heart-wrenching tribute to introverts, and Frog Morris' puppet poetry - complete with stuffed badger! I also really loved Rose Drew's political poetry and Laurie Bolger's ode to Shoreditch - which always makes me smile.  

Mancunian poet Tom Gill stormed through two heats, winning his place in the final where he was up against previous winners George Edward Chopping and Ali Brumfitt. Chopping's brittle persona and witty, surrealist poetry went down well with the audience, and Gill's poem about becoming estranged from his old school friends hit all the right notes, but in the end Ali Brumfitt came out on top with a cheeky piece about the pleasures of chocolate over sex. 

It was a fantastic show, and I was really pleased to be a part of it.

On Wednesday, we had our last Fen Speak open mic night of the year, at the Babylon Gallery in Ely. As usual, we had an great mix of styles and themes, including a beautiful poem about bereavement, a fab piece about Ely in the early morning, a wonderful story about rabbit pies, and a poem generated by predictive text! One of our regular contributors also wrote a poem about Fen Speak, which was really nice to hear!

I'm always so delighted at how enthusiastic people are about Fen Speak - we have a really good group of regulars, many of whom are beginning to be recognised for their talents through publishing deals and other projects too. I'm incredibly proud of all of them, and although we can't take any credit for their successes, I hope that Fen Speak has helped, in some small way, to boost their confidence in their abilities.

Then, on Friday, I went along to Relevant Records in Cambridge, for Spark the Word: Letters to Winter, an event organised by local poet and promoter Nikki Marrone to help raise money for the Arthur Rank Hospice Charity.

It was a fantastic show, with music from local band Mouth, artwork by Sensibly Insane, and poetry sets from the Skinny Poet (Jody Lee), Tim Knight, and Daisy Thurston-Gent. I also did a few poems to kick things off, doing a few pieces that I don't usually perform.

The shop was full to bursting, and we made loads of money for the charity too! Hoorah!

Now, I'm on holiday for the next two weeks, so expect and influx of blogposts over Christmas and the New Year! I'm really looking forward to having some time to write some new poems - so keep an eye out for them too!

Saturday, 13 December 2014

NEWS - Catching up on the last couple of weeks


I know I say it every time, but it really *has* been a busy couple of weeks here at Poetry Towers! So here's a little catch up post about our last couple of events, and all the other stuff that's been going on lately:

On Friday 28th November, Elaine Ewart and I sauntered up the A10 to King's Lynn to host the first Fen Speak open mic night in West Norfolk. Billed as Fen Speak on Tour, the event was organised by the local poet Sue Burge, who did a fantastic job with the marketing for the night.

In fact, by the time we were due to begin, the room was full to bursting with over forty people, including over twenty five performers! Not bad for a poetry night!

As well as our excellent open mic-ers, we had a feature set from Poppy Kleiser, the current Fenland Poet Laureate. Elaine and I both got the chance to read some of our own poetry too, and we were really happy to receive such a warm reception from the audience.

We had a fantastic night, and I'm looking forward to doing more Fen Speak on Tour events in 2015. (Watch this space!)


On Saturday 29th November, I travelled to Milton Keynes to take part in the Stony Stratford Christmas Lights Switch On Celebrations!

Photo courtesy: Fay Roberts
I performed alongside fellow Cambridge poets Fay Roberts, Riaz Moola and Emma Ormond, and we had a fine time. I was really impressed by the high standard of poetry and storytelling at the event, and I'd really recommend the Stony Stratford Christmas Lights Switch On Celebrations to anyone passing that way during next year's festive period.

As for me? I'll definitely be checking out Scribal Gathering, Stony's regular open mic night, in the New Year!

As well as all that, I've also been sorting out the edits for a new pamphlet of poetry (due out in January 2015) and chatting with friend and fellow poet Alex Tyler about a potential collaboration for 2015. The project's all very hush hush at the moment, but I'm really excited about it!

Finally, we're still trying to let everyone know about this year's Fenland Poet Laureate Competition! So, if you live in the Fens, and you think you could write a poem about your area, we'd love to hear from you! The deadline for entries is 31st January 2015, and all the details can be found on the Atelier East website.

And the best part? It's free to enter the Fenland Poet Laureate Competition - so get scribbling!

Last year's Fenland Poet Laureate Finalists (2014)

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Things I've done in the last week


This week has been incredibly busy! I performed at the penultimate Utter! poetry show, down in London last Tuesday; co-hosted another lovely Fen Speak open mic night in Wisbech on Wednesday; and did a support set for the Attila the Stockbroker and Future of Music gig in Norwich on Saturday.

We've also just finalised the cover designs for a new pamphlet of poetry, which will hopefully be printed before Christmas. And I've been writing some new poems too!

On top of all that, we've launched this year's Fenland Poet Laureate competition. So, if you're a budding poet living in the Fens, write us a poem and you could be in with a chance of being crowned* Fenland Poet Laureate 2015! (For eligibility criteria and information on how to enter, check out the Atelier East website.)

So yeah. Apologies for the gap in blog posts over the last few weeks - I've just been a bit busy. Normal service will resume on Sunday.

Photo courtesy of @thedecibelkid


*PS There is no crown. 'Tis but a metaphor.  There is a trophy though - so get writing those Fenland poems!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Practising Pantoums


Today I had a few hours to spare, so I thought I'd challenge myself to write some pantoums.

To save you having to look it up: a pantoum is one of many poetic forms that use a structure of repeating lines. Ideally, the meaning of the repeated lines in a pantoum change as the poem progresses, and writers can use puns, punctuation, and changes in context to affect this transition.

As for the structure of the repeating lines? Well, the second and fourth lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next. You can continue this pattern for as long as you like, but the final stanza must include the third and first lines of the first stanza as its second and final lines respectively.

I've made it sound much more complicated than it actually is!

In fact, the best way to understand it is to see one. So, here's my first attempt. This one doesn't include an puns or double meanings, but I'm still pretty new to this, and I might need a little more practice. Still, I'm pretty happy with the placement of the lines and the rhyme scheme too. Let me know what you think!   


How Your Laptop Really Feels:

He loves you. Well, that's no surprise:
You turn him on each day and night.
You let him perch upon your thighs.
He bathes you in admiring light.

You turn him on each day and night,
And, tenderly, you tap his keys.
He bathes you in admiring light
And sings to you in binary.

And. tenderly, you tap his keys.
You let him perch upon your thighs
And sing to you in binary.
He loves you. Well, that's no surprise.

Source

Friday, 31 October 2014

NEWS - November Gigs


I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a pretty busy November planned. As well as my normal 9 – 5, I’ll be doing loads of gigs this month, visiting Cambridge, London, Norwich, King’s Lynn and Milton Keynes, as well as hosting our regular Fen Speak event.

It’s going to be hectic, but I’m pretty excited about going to some new venues and see some great poetry!

On Sunday 2nd November, I’m heading down to the Speakeasy Poetry Slam at the ADC Theatre in Cambridge, to watch performances from Michelle Madsen and Rachel Long. I’ve seen Michelle a few times before, and her work is always really impressive. I’ve heard great things about Rachel Long too, so it’ll be fantastic to finally see her perform. I’m also going to have a go at the slam.

The Speakeasy starts at 8pm and you can get your tickets in advance from the ADC Theatre Box Office.

Then, on Tuesday 18th November, I’ll be at the Amersham Arms in New Cross for the ‘Utter!’ Spoken Word show, hosted by the very lovely Richard Tyrone Jones. I’ll be performing alongside featured acts Sophia Walker, Rose Drew and Daisy T-G and it's going to be a fantastic gig!

Daisy is an incredible emerging talent, and Rose performs with a wit and warmth that I’ve rarely seen on stage before. Sophia Walker is an amazing poet, with a host of awards and prizes under her belt, and I’m really looking forward to seeing her perform live.

For more information, and to buy your tickets, check out We Got Tickets.

Then we'll be back at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum on Wednesday 19th November for another Fen Speak open mic night, showcasing the best writers and performers in Cambridgeshire. We’ll also be launching this year’s Fenland Poet Laureate Competition, so look out for lots more information on that coming soon!

On Saturday 22nd November, I'm going up to Norwich, to perform as one of the support acts for Attila the Stockbroker. Attila is one of the UK’s great punk poets, and it’s going to be awesome to share the stage with him! I’m not sure what his fans will make of me though! (You can find out more about this gig at the ents24 website.)

Then, on Friday 28th November, I’ll be performing alongside my fellow Fenland Poet Laureates, Poppy Kleiser and Elaine Ewart, as part of the Fen Speak on Tour show at the Friends' Meeting House on Bridge Street in King’s Lynn. The show starts at 7pm, and there are plenty of open mic spots available - watch this space for more details.

Finally, on Saturday 29th November, I’ll be travelling across to Milton Keynes to take part in the Christmas Light Switch On Celebrations in Stony Stratford. I’ll be heading down with a group of Cambridge poets, led by excellent writer and events organizer (and former MK resident) Fay Roberts, so I’m really looking forward to spending some time with them, checking out the local scene, and showing Bedfordshire just how awesome Cambridge poets are!

So, yeah, it's going to be a pretty busy one this month. Wish me luck!


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

NEWS - Utter! Issues in London

Last night, I popped down to London to watch some spoken word poetry at the Green Note in Camden and it was fantastic!

The event - Utter! Issues - was hosted by Richard Tyrone Jones and included sets from Hollie McNish, Kayo Chingonyi, Laurie Bolger and Alan Wolfson. Richard kicked things off with some excellent poetry from his own back-catalogue, before introducing Alan Wolfson, whose poetry wittily illuminated the perils and pleasures of growing old disgracefully.

Laurie Bolger was thoroughly excellent too, giving the audience a mixture of old and new material, and performing all my favourites, including her poem about shitty Shoreditch nightlife and some wicked new poems written for her new role as poet in residence at her local pub.

After the break, Kayo Chingonyi took to the stage, and his moving, lyrical poems really blew me away. Exploring themes of racism and identity with a insightful, thought-provoking set that few could match, he completely captivated the audience.

Finally, there was a set from the very lovely Hollie McNish. I've seen Hollie perform a lot now, but her poetry is always fresh, innovative and engaging. And last night was no different, with some fab poems about everything from family and motherhood, right through to Megatron and Optimus Prime!

Utter! events also include the traditional 'paid gig contest' - a mini slam for budding performers, with a paid gig up for grabs as the prize for the winner. Of course, I thought I'd give it a go!

The competition was fierce, with six of us jumping up on stage for our three minutes of fame, and there were fantastic performances from Dominic Stevenson, Ernie Burns, Tracy Starreveld, Paul Wady and Fikaye. At the end of the night I was completely delighted - and more than a little surprised - to be announced as the winner!

Which means I'll be doing a set at the next Utter! Spoken Word show, on Tuesday 18th November at the Amersham Arms in New Cross. I'll be supporting the likes of Rose Drew, Daisy T-G, and the BBC Edinburgh Slam Champion Sophia Walker, so it's going to be an amazing show.

So if you're in London on the 18th November and you fancy coming down, it'd be awesome to see some friendly faces in the audience! You can get early-bird tickets here.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Workshops, Competitions, and Publishing News


I've had a bit of a hectic one this week, with lots of planning meetings, Skype discussions, and many a frantic email. Still, it's all good fun, and it means there's lots of exciting things on the horizon!

We've started planning for the launch of this year's Fenland Poet Laureate Competition, plus the Fen Speak team are looking forward to celebrating their first anniversary next week! I've also been doing more workshops and judging a competition, all whilst working on my next poetry pamphlet.

It's all very exciting! 

On Tuesday I skipped down to the lovely town of Chatteris to host the second of my National Poetry Day workshops, in partnership with the Cambridgeshire Library Services.

I'm always a little nervous before hosting a workshop, in case people don't turn up, or in case the people who do turn up don't enjoy their experience. Luckily I had a blast in Chatteris, with nine wonderful participants all eager and willing to share their creativity with me. Just like my previous session at the Wisbech Library, this workshop was structured around the theme of memory and - with the help of old photographs, prompt cards and objects from a junk shop - we soon had the creative juices flowing!

Junk Shop Memories

In fact, the participants wrote some genuinely beautiful poetry, and the reflective nature of the topic really allowed people to focus on those moments and memories that were important to them. The exercises I put together went down really well, and it's definitely a topic I would revisit in future workshops.

I've even been invited back to do more sessions next year, so keep your eyes peeled for further details coming soon.

Also this week, I've been helping to judge the 'Perspectives' Community Poetry Competition, ready for their prize giving event next month.

Source
The competition - which was hosted by The Field Theatre Group and funded by the East Cambridgeshire Community Fund - gave local people the chance to write a poem to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the outbreak of WWI.

The competition winners with be announced at a special event on Saturday 15th November from 7pm at the Littleport Village Hall. Prizes will be presented by the current Fenland Poet Laureate, Poppy Kleiser, and commended poems will be published in a special anthology, which will be launched at the awards ceremony. 

NEXT WEEK:
Next Wednesday is the first anniversary of the launch of the Fen Speak open mic nights, and to celebrate we're holding a special birthday-themed event! There will be lots of open mic spots available for writers, poets and storytellers, as well as balloons, party hats, and even a Fen Speak cake! It's going to be a great night, and we'd love for you to join us!


We'll be at the Babylon Gallery, Waterside, Ely on Wednesday 15th October. Doors open at 7pm and the show starts at 7:30pm. There's no charge for entry, and no obligation to perform - although we always encourage you to give it a go! They'll be wine, good company and fabulous entertainment - what more could you ask for?

This week I have been listening to: a selection of fantastic EPs by Andy N. Andy is a Manchester based musician and poet, and his series of beautiful instrumental piano pieces have been the soundtrack to my week. If you like atmospheric soundscapes, then this is the stuff for you! You can find Andy's music on his bandcamp page.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - National Poetry and the Hammer and Tongue Slam


Hello stranger. Long time, no see.

Listen, I'm sorry that I haven't written in a while. Things have been crazy busy here at Poetry Towers over the last couple of weeks, and I just haven't had the time to sit down and catch my breath! But I'm here now. And I've got so much to tell you!

Firstly, I expect you're keen to find out how I got on at the National Final of the Hammer and Tongue Poetry Slam? Well...

The Venue

It was an incredible day! The show included twenty four fantastic poets and performers, all vying for the title of Hammer and Tongue Slam Champion, and they were all amazing! I particularly enjoyed Torrey Shineman's witty commentary on sex and body image, Tina Sederholm's wry advice to the parents of poets, and Sara Hirsch's wonderful poem about explaining her work to people at parties. (She's a children's entertainer - NOT a clown!)

Other highlights included Stewart Taylor's performance piece, which detailed the perils of the 'deep web', and Miko Berry's beautiful alternative love poem. Justina Kehinde - my fellow Cambridge Hammer and Tongue winner - was brilliant too, and her piece about black female identity was particularly stunning to witness. 

So who won in the end? Well - for the first time in Hammer and Tongue history - the final produced two joint winners! Vanessa Kisuule and Leyla Josephine were both really worthy recipients of the prize, and I'm really excited to see what they each do next! 


Doing my thing on stage
As for me? Well, I managed to remember my poem all the way through, and I think I gave the best performance I could. Unfortunately, I didn't make it past the quarter finals, but I'm still pretty pleased with how it went. After all, it's not every day you get to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in front of five hundred people! 

It's also been a busy week for poets up and down the country, as Thursday was National Poetry Day! Hoorah! I celebrated the occasion by hosting the first of my National Poetry Day workshops, in partnership with the Cambridgeshire Library Services.

I spent the afternoon with a fantastic group of people, exploring the themes of memory and remembrance through a series of poetry exercises. I even brought along some props to help get the creative juices flowing, and spark ideas for writing!


Poetry Props

It was a really lovely way to spend an afternoon, and the workshop produced some genuinely great poetry.

In fact, I think the theme and the structure of the workshop would really suit as an activity for retirement homes, and I'm definitely considering expanding these workshops into these spaces in the future. 

My next National Poetry Day workshop is taking place at the Chatteris Library on Tuesday 8th October at 2pm. There are still a couple of spaces available, and it would be truly lovely to see some of you there!

Then on Saturday, I trundled off to St Ives (the one in Cambridgeshire, not the one in Cornwall) to participate in the St Ives National Poetry Day open mic event. The evening was hosted by the current Poet Laureate for St Ives, Mr Chris Morgan, and myself and Elaine Ewart had both been invited to give short performances as part of the festivities.

It's always a little nerve-racking, performing in an unfamiliar town, but luckily for us the show was well-attended and the audience was warm and enthusiastic. I particularly enjoyed hearing Elaine perform from her Fur, Feather and Fen collection, and I was really impressed by the wonderful selection of poems performed on the night.

In fact, I had a fantastic evening, and I hope to be back in St Ives again very soon!

This week, I'm working an exciting new project, which I hope to be able to tell you about soon. Keep your eyes peeled for updates! 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Pirate Limericks

Ahoy thar! Yesterday was International Talk Like a Pirate day!

I manage to miss it almost every year - but this time round, I was ready! I even wrote some piratical haiku especially for the occasion, then promptly forgot to post them on the right day! Curses! Never mind, here are a few pirate limericks just for you. (I'll save the rest for next year!)

A Change of Career
There once was a First Mate named Smee
Who was frightened of drowning at sea.
So he dumped his career
As a fierce buccaneer,
And he now runs a small HMV.

It's Better than Taking the Bus
There once was a Captain called Jack
Who sailed to Jamaica and back.
When asked why he did it
He slyly admitted,
“I'd swim, but I don't have the knack.”

You wouldn't Steal a Baby
There once was a pirate called Seb
Who robbed movies free from the web.
But his scam was uncovered
By a cop undercover,
And now he reads novels instead.

#GBBO
There once was a Captain named Hook
Who watched telly to learn how to cook.
And, after a fashion,
His muffins were smashing,
And now he's releasing a book.


Sunday, 14 September 2014

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Art Exhibitions, Funding Workshops and Recorded Poems

After all the excitement of the summer festival season, I was expecting September to be a more sedate affair. But I have incredibly busy this week. Bestival seems like ages ago, even though it's only been ten days since I was there!

Artwork from the Museum of Beyond
So, what have I been up to this week? Well, I finally finished recording the poems I wrote as part of the Museum of Beyond writer's residency back in July. There are eight poems all together, and each one is inspired by Fran Crowe's wonderful artwork.

This was such a cool project to work on, and I'm really pleased with how the collaboration went - but I'd love to be able to film a few of the poems too. Anyway you can read about the project here, and check out all eight of my poems on the Museum of Beyond website.

Then, on Wednesday, I was invited down to the High Tide Theatre offices in London to take part in a special workshop called 'How to Apply for Grants for the Arts'. The workshop was organised by Ideastap and Arts Council England to help emerging performers and theatre-makers to get their heads around the process of applying for Arts Council funding.

Most of the participants were directors and producers working in the theatre, but there were also some playwrights, a musician and a choreographer, so I didn't feel too much like a sore thumb! I sat next to a chap called Mark, an actor with who had just finished a stint on Holby City and was now working on a really interesting immersive theatre project.

In fact, it was amazing to be surrounded by a group of people who are carving successful careers for themselves in the arts, and I was really inspired by all their amazing project ideas! The workshop itself was really informative, and it was great to get the low-down on how the grants application system actually works. I've got a couple of ideas for projects for 2015, so it's really good to know that there is support out there!

Finally this week, I went along to the Greyfriars Art Space in King's Lynn to check out the All The Tea and China exhibition.

Ceramics: Margaret Gardiner

My poem, Tasseomancy, has been included in the showcase, which celebrates tea drinking ceremonies, culture and rituals through a range of 3D sculpture, artwork, and poetry. The exhibition continues until Saturday 20th September, and contains work by several of our very own Fen Speak performers!

And speaking of Fen Speak - it's that time again! On Wednesday 17th September, we'll be back at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum in Wisbech for another poetry and spoken word open mic!

Logo by Lizzy Doe
We'll be hosting another evening of stories and verse, with thought-provoking performances and laugh-out-loud moments from our fantastic regular contributors, as well as the opportunity for newcomers to take to the mic and share their work too!


It's going to be a great show, so please do join us if you can. Doors to the Wisbech and Fenland Museum open at 7:00pm and the show starts at 7:30pm. See you there!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

All The Tea and China Exhibition

Last week I was pleased to hear that one of my poems, Tasseomancy, has been included in an exhibition of art and literature at the Greyfriars Art Space in King's Lynn!

All The Tea and China is an exhibition of 3D sculpture and artwork, celebrating the British love affair with the humble cup of tea. The show is filled to the brim with beautiful and bizarre drinking vessels, elegant teapots and imaginative imagery, and it's a must-see for anyone interested in local contemporary art!

teacup-stack
Source
Conceived by local freelance curator and artist Christine Pike, the All The Tea and China exhibition features work by sixteen artists and craftspeople: Michael Wickwar, Louise Tiplady, Christine Pike, Ray Auker, Ann Froshaug, Zoe Elizabeth Norman, Deborah Bridgeman, Rob Bibby, Margaret Gardiner, John Masterton, Murray Cheesman, Colin Saunders, C Julie Witt, Katy Cossins, Tony Bellars and Andrew Schumann.

Twenty local writers also contributed to the project, with lines from their poems displayed prominently alongside the visual artwork in a really striking juxtaposition between words and images.

I was really pleased to see some familiar names in the collected anthology, with poems from regular Fen Speak performers Miriam Brown, Deb Curtis, Rosemary Westwell, and Chris Morgan! Other contributors to the exhibition included Cardinal Cox, Pete Irving, Roy South, Nikki Marrone, Anthea Maybury, Louise Smith, Henrietta Claxton, Alan Irving, Ghyslaine Clarke, Mark A Wright, Dorothy Carr, and Graham Ward.

But it was Peter Holt's poem, You know the Score, which really caught the eye of the judges. The prize? A specially-commissioned teacup, plus vouchers for a cream tea for two at the Florence Cafe, in St James Street, Kings Lynn. Congratulations Peter! 

The All The Tea and China exhibition runs until Saturday 20th September, at the Greyfriars Art Space in King's Lynn. Entry is free, and the gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 11am to 4pm.

Ceramics: Margaret Gardiner

Sunday, 7 September 2014

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Bestival!

This weekend, I went on a little adventure across the sea to participate in my first gig abroad!

Well, perhaps that's a slight exaggeration, given that I actually went to the Isle of Wight (an island which is still very much part of the UK). But I did have to cross a tiny bit of sea so it still counts as an adventure! 

The sun always shines on the Isle of Wight!

The reason for this voyage across the Solent was to take advantage of an amazing opportunity to perform at  Bestival 2014!

In case you've never heard of it before, Bestival is an enormous music festival, set within the incredibly hilly grounds of the Robin Hill Country Park, right in the middle of the Isle of Wight. It's loud and exciting, and has a really different vibe to its sister festival, Camp Bestival, but the two events compliment each other perfectly. While Camp Bestival is gentle, sedate and family-orientated, Bestival is dynamic, wild, and filled to the brim with groups of teens and twenty-somethings, out to have a good time.

I've never see so many pairs of denim hotpants in one place! (And that was just the lads!)

Also, toucans...

Seriously though, it's a fab festival, and I'm really grateful to the lovely Amy Wragg from Get on the Soapbox Events for inviting us along to perform! It was fantastic to be reunited with the Soapbox Poetry Collective for another outdoor gig! Alongside the gang that played at Camp Bestival (poets Andy Bennett and Rowan James, and compère Tom Butterworth) we were joined by Peterborough rapper Michael Riccardi (Mixy), fresh from a run of gigs at the Edinburgh Fringe.

We had a slightly tricky time slot this time around - we were opening the Amphitheatre stage at 12 noon on Friday, a time of day when most people were still sleeping off their hangovers - but we ended up with a good crowd of around sixty people in the end. It was by no means a full-house, but the people who came really seemed to get into the spirit of it, so that was cool.

The menu for the Amphitheatre on Friday

And can I just tell you how beautiful the Amphitheatre is? It's buried deep in the woods, enclosed on all sides by greenery and sort of hidden away from the rest of the festival. There was a nice chilled out vibe there, and the audience were really relaxed and appreciative, which was wonderful to see. I popped out into the crowd after my set and it was really nice to see people enjoying the poetry.

What a beautiful stage!

All the Soapbox Poets gave excellent performances, and I felt really lucky be working with such a talented bunch of people! Performing on stage at Bestival was a brilliant experience, and I really hope we can all join forces for some more festival fun next year!

From left: Rowan James, Mixy, Andy Bennett & Tom Butterworth

Monday, 25 August 2014

POEM - another pop sonnet


As I mentioned in my last post, I've spent the last few days turning famous pop songs into sonnets as a homage to my new favourite blog Pop Sonnets.

This time, I've chosen a one of the best songs of the eighties - a tune that was Christmas Number 1 on its original release in 1981, before finally makig it into an episode of Glee in 2011. (What a pedigree!)

I think the sonnet itself turned out pretty well, so see if you can guess the song, and let me know what you think too!

Pop Sonnet #2
We met when you were to a bar employed -
in servitude, you sought your daily wage.
A beauty trapp'd inside a gilded cage;
I chose you, and your confidence was buoyed.

Half a decade have you thus enjoyed
the trappings of my love, yet still you rage!
But will you now dismiss me and assuage
your half-formed doubts, and call this courtship void?

We met when I was to a bar employed -
that much, at least, is grounded in the facts.
I love you, but that love has been destroyed.
Alas, I must take flight and not look back.

And, though you might implore me to review,
I cannot live another day with you.

                                            - Don't You Want Me by The Human League

Thursday, 21 August 2014

POEM - Musical Sonnets


Pop Sonnets is one of my favourite blogs on tumblr at the moment. The idea is to take famous pop songs and TV theme tunes and transmogrifies them into sonnets, written in Shakespearian-style language. My favourite one so far is the theme from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Seriously, you should check it out!

Anyway, the whole thing looked like a fun exercise, so I thought I'd have a go myself. Here’s my first attempt. I've chosen a classic nineties tune, so hopefully you'll recognise it. See if you can guess the song before you reach the concluding couplet, and let me know what you think!

Sonnet-be
If my gentle bosom you require,
You must impress my kin and intimates.
For many gentlemen have been inspir'd
And many have been judged to be unfit.

So, if you seek the wisdom of my skirts
Then you must, with your heart, reciprocate.
I’ll show no haste to tell you bitter words,
Though, if you vex me, I will remonstrate.

Do you wish to learn my heart's desire?
(I'll ask you several times, for emphasis.)
Permit me to reveal what I require,
Indulge me now, and I will tell you this:

I want from you, a Zig, and a Zigah,
And baby you were close, but no cigar.

                                                - Spice Girls 'Wannabe'

Friday, 8 August 2014

POEM - The long and short of it

A poem for Naino

The Long and Short of it
I'm five foot three
And that's fine by me.
I'm a short-arse, with all that implies.

Why wish to be tall?
It won't help. After all
I'm not tiny, I'm just travel-sized.

Sure, I'm slightly compressed
But I'm never depressed;
Being little is no plague or plight.

I won't have a tantrum
About being bantam
Because I love being this height!

I'm knee-high to flea
I wear kids clothes (tax-free)
And borrow stilettos from Barbie.

And, though I'm reduced,
I can still hold my juice!
I'm the last one to leave every party.

I'm a squirt and a smidge,
I'm a person abridged
But I've long since stopped wanting to grow.

I take up less space
And I do it with grace.
When it rains I'm the last one to know.

You may think it unwise
To be minimum size
And have self-esteem so inflated

But, in my defence,
I'm just highly condensed,
So my ego is more concentrated.

Monday, 4 August 2014

MONDAY NIGHT NEWS - Camp Bestival


This weekend, I was invited down to the south coast to take part in the festivities at Camp Bestival, at Lulworth in Dorset.

In case you've never heard of it before, let me tell you that Camp Bestival is a multi-disciplinary arts and entertainment festival, set in the grounds of Lulworth Castle, about ten miles north west of Poole. It's a fairly new festival, with a very family-orientated feel and an incredible range of stalls, shows and events going on throughout the weekend. The full line-up includes musicians, theatre acts, storytellers, bands, poets, circus acts, lectures, a pop-up cinema, a Bollywood tent, fairground rides, a skate park, and an inflatable church, so there really is something for everyone!

Lulworth Castle - small but perfectly formed

This year, I was really pleased to be asked to perform as part of the Soapbox poetry collective, alongside fellow East Anglian poets Andy Bennett and Rowan James, with Tom Butterworth as our excellent compère. This was a very exciting (and nerve-racking) opportunity, and I'm supremely grateful to Amy Wragg from Get on the Soapbox Events for inviting us to be part of the show!

We had a really good time slot - Sunday afternoon sandwiched in between a Q&A with Kate Tempest and a performance by London Based collective Chill Pill Poets - so there were plenty of people in the tent for our show. And I think it went pretty well too. The audience weren't sure what to expect, and there was a bit of stunned silence at the beginning, but once we all relaxed into it, the whole thing went very smoothly indeed.

Name in lights
After Tom had warmed up crowd with some jokes and games, I performed a few old favourites, and the audience responded well to Self-Service Seduction, Shaving Grace, and Bad Kisser. Rowan was next on stage, and gave a fantastic, engaging performance complete with excellent renditions of Norwich Road and Bordom and Me.

Photo courtesy of Carmina Masoliver
After Rowan, we had guest performances from Jack Rooke and Laurie Bolger, the hosts of London's Bang Said the Gun poetry nights. They were both brilliant, performing poems that satirised the London poetry scene to great effect. We ended the Soapbox Poets hour with some poems from Andy Bennett, who had the audience in stitches with his version of The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. (Andy's version of the poem involves drinking fabric softener and hallucinating about badgers. You can listen to it here.)

As soon as our show was over, we charged across the festival site for our second gig of the afternoon: performing poetry to kids at the teen section of the festival.

To be honest, I didn't really know what to expect with this show. It can be hard to get young people to engage with poetry at the best of times, so I didn't think we'd get many of them interested in our performance. Sure enough, most of the teenagers made their excuses to leave when they heard that we would be doing poems. However, our small audience seemed pleasantly surprised by the quality of our material, and we actually ended up having a really good time with the two or three who stayed. I'm really hopeful that we might have converted one or two of them into the poets of the future - but we'll see.

Festival weather!

All in all, I had a really great time at Camp Bestival, and I really enjoyed working with the Soapbox poets too! Luckily, we don't have to wait until next year as we'll all be performing again later this summer at Bestival on the Isle of Wight. See you there!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Audio Poetry

Some of the poems I wrote as part of the Museum of Beyond residency are now online on the Museum's Soundcloud page. You can click on the links below and listen to me chuntering away in rhyming couplets. (If you like that sort of thing!)

All the poems were written during my stay at the South Lookout Gallery in Aldeburgh, and all the work was inspired by Fran Crowe's excellent and thought-provoking art exhibition. 

The links are as follows:
Change
Venus of Padstow
Lighter
Traffic Cones
Beach Combing

Have a listen and let me know what you think!


Sunday, 27 July 2014

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Writer's Residency at Aldeburgh

Over the past few days I've been on the Suffolk coast, working on a collection of poems as part of the Museum of Beyond project.

The Museum of Beyond is really an art exhibition, designed by Suffolk artist Fran Crowe as a way of drawing attention to the vast amount of plastic rubbish currently floating in our oceans. 

Just some of the plastic found on Suffolk beaches

As part of this project, Fran has imagined a time in the distance future, when oil and plastics are no longer used but the debris from the twenty-first century continues to wash up on our beaches. How would a future curator catalogue these strange items in a museum of twenty-first century life? Would they mistake a traffic cone for a ceremonial headdress? Or would they assume that tooth brushes were actually used for pubic grooming?

The whole exhibition is set out like a museum, with objects carefully placed behind glass and typed cards explaining how 'Oil Age' people may have used each item. The attention to detail is incredible and, though the idea is executed with tongue firmly in cheek, the whole thing is actually really thought-provoking.

Part of a sign from the 'Oil Age'

Fran was kind enough to invite me along to act as writer in residence at the museum, and it was a really brilliant experience. I stayed in Sudbourne, just up the road from Aldeburgh, in Fran and Bill's beautiful guest house.

My home for the residency

During the day, I spent my time in Aldeburgh. The Museum of Beyond was installed at the South Lookout, a beautiful old building which sits right on the pebble beach. Originally used to help guide ships across the sandbanks along the coast, the South Lookout is now owned by art dealer Caroline Wiseman, who encourages artists, writers and musicians to exhibit in the space.

The South Lookout

I arrived in Aldeburgh on Thursday, and spent the morning browsing the collection for inspiration and writing poetry in the tiny room at the top of the tower.

By the time the day was over, I'd written three poems and eaten the most delicious ice cream I have ever tasted! Not bad for the first day on the job!

The view from my office (at the top of the tower)

On Friday, I gave a free poetry workshop at the Lookout, and we had a small group of enthusiastic participants who were bright, inquisitive and full of fantastic ideas. The poetry they created was of a very high standard, and they were a pleasure to work with.

During the day, I also found time to write a few more poems, take a walk up to the Scallop sculpture on the northern part of the beach, and watch a fisherman gut a fish, while a huge crowd of seagulls eyed him hungrily.

The Scallop, designed by Maggi Hambling

On my final day in Suffolk, I performed the eight finished poems I had written during the residency. We also had the privilege of hearing Nathan Williamson play a beautiful piano piece inspired by the collection. Nathan was the composer in residence for the project, and his composition has such a deep emotional resonance - it's perfect for the Museum of Beyond.

Smartie Tops (Oil Age currency)

I had a wonderful week in Aldeburgh and, although writing poems within a constrained time period has its challenges, I'm really proud of the work that I produced. The ideas behind the project gave plenty of food for thought, and it was great to be able to contribute to Fran's project!

The poems I wrote during the week will be available on the museum's website over the next few days, and you can check out audio of me reading some of my favourites over on the Museum of Beyond soundcloud page.

A colourful collection of rubbish

My work with the Museum of Beyond project was funded by Suffolk Coast & Heath Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Sustainable Development Fund. (Thanks guys!) The show was kindly supported by Caroline Wiseman and the Aldeburgh Beach Lookout. I'd like to thank Fran Crowe for giving me the opportunity to work on such an interesting project, and also thank Fran and Bill for all their hospitality during my stay in Suffolk!

Next weekend I'll be in Dorset, performing as part of the Soapbox collective at Camp Bestival. More details to follow. Hope to see some of you there!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Wedding Commission


A few months ago, a friend of mine commissioned me to write a poem for her Dad's wedding.

It's a bit of a daunting prospect, writing a poem for newly-weds. But, after a couple of warm-up attempts, I finally wrote a little sonnet called Grow, and I was pretty pleased with how it turned out.

Once the poem was completed, it was transformed into a beautiful papercut by the very talented Catherine Kilbey of JewelOri.

And look at how nice it is! 


JewelOri are a local brand, who make jewellery, ornaments and artwork from cut and folded paper. Their stuff is amazingly delicate and intricate. I particularly like their origami flower earrings! If you want to check out more of their stuff, you can find them on their Folksy page here.

And, if your eyesight isn't quite good enough to read the poem in the picture above, here it is in full:

Grow

There is no love, but that we cultivate,
so plant this seed with me and watch it grow.
I am no gardener, but this I know:
with patience, care and time, we can create

this forest of our love to celebrate
a partnership that we will not outgrow.
I am no gardener, but this I know:
a second chance is always worth the wait.

Our blossoms will bloom brighter every year,
and bear us fragrant fruit so soft and sweet.
And you and I will tend the garden, dear,
while gentle branches shade us from the heat.

There is no love, but that we cultivate.
A second chance is always worth the wait.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Writer's Residency at the Museum of Beyond


So, later this month I’ll be embarking upon my very first writer in residence position, which is very exciting indeed! From 23rd - 26th July, I'll spending three days on the Suffolk Coast, hanging out with artists and musicians, and writing poetry inspired by the Museum of Beyond project.

The project is the work of Fran Crowe, an artist I met at last year's Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. Fran’s work is heavily influenced by global ecological concerns, and she works hard to raise awareness of environmental issues. She has spent nearly ten years collecting some of the plastic items from beaches in and around Suffolk, and she uses this rubbish to create a variety of artwork, drawing attention to the problems associated with plastic litter in our oceans.


For her latest project – the Museum of Beyond – Fran has imagined a time in the distance future, when oil and plastics are no longer used but the debris from the twenty-first century continues to wash ashore. What will future generations think about these ancient artifacts? How will they interpret them and, more importantly, how will they use them to understand – or misunderstand – the lives we live now?

Even though there's a serious message at the core of this project, Fran’s work is full of humour, so I’m really looking forward to working at the Museum of Beyond!

The exhibition will be taking place at the Aldeburgh Beach Lookout from Wednesday 23rd July until Sunday 27th July from 10am to 5pm (except on Sunday, when the Lookout opens from 10am to 4pm).


I’ll be in residence at exhibition on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, joining Fran and Southwold-based composer and pianist Nathan Williamson to create art, poetry and music inspired by the Museum’s collection.

After a frantic few days of creativity, Nathan and I will be giving ‘work in progress’ performances on Saturday 26th July, to show everyone just what we’ve been up to during our stay! Nathan will also be performing his compositions again on Sunday 27th July.


And, if that wasn't enough, I’ll also be conducting an afternoon of 'poetry games' on Friday 25th July from 2pm until 4pm. Budding poets will be invited to drop in to build their own short poem, write about their favourite piece in the Museum, and add a word or phrase to my Inspiration Board.

But if poetry isn’t your thing, you can get involved in other ways too! New contributions to the Museum are always welcome. All you need to do is bring your object (a plastic ‘beach find’) to Fran at the Lookout at any point during the exhibition. Your artefact could end up as part of the permanent collection!

I’ve been busy over the last few weeks, writing poems and preparing for this residency – I’ve even written a Crisp Packet Poem, so I know I’m on the right track!

For more information on the Museum of Beyond, please visit the website or, better yet, come along to the exhibition! We’d love to see you there!


The Museum of Beyond project is part-funded by Suffolk Coast & Heath Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Sustainable Development Fund, and special  thanks also goes to Caroline Wiseman and the Aldeburgh Beach Lookout for supporting the exhibition. All photos courtesy of Fran Crowe at flyintheface.com.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Football Limericks


An Alternative
If you found yourself unimpressed
By Rooney, Lampard and the rest,
Then take consolation
In Spain's elimination
And instead, think of taking up chess.


A Second Alternative
When you're cursed with a leaky defence
And life doesn't seem to make sense,
Try your best not to worry -
There's still Glastonbury
For a weekend that's really in tents!


Patriotism
Our neighbours had painted their shed
All white with two bright stripes of red
But their team lost the game,
So down it all came.
Now they're getting a greenhouse instead.