Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Pet Peeves in Pop

If you're looking for sense in pop music, I feel bad for you, son. It's got ninety nine problems, and but a coherent, overarching philosophy, with well-defined logical parameters and a thoughtful, concise narrative development over the course of a three verse, repeated chorus refrain ain't one.

Lol! Whut?

I'm sorry, Jay-Z! I know pop lyrics aren't supposed to be meaningful! I know they're just a bit of fun! I mean! Who even listens to the lyrics in the tunes from the modern hit parade these days anyway?

Hello. My name is Leanne, and I think too much about the words in pop songs.

And before you ask, it's not that I'm obsessed with standardised spelling, grammar and punctuation. You see, those things have no place in pop music! But what does really get my goat is the misappropriation of poetic devices in pop lyrics!

My Goat

C'mon guys! We all did GCSE English Lit. We know this stuff! I don't mean to be picky, but here are just a few of pop songs that fall wide of the mark for me:

City of Angels by 30 Seconds to Mars 
This particular song is a decent, paint-by-numbers power ballad. No problems there. My gripe is with Jared Leto's terrible swallowed-syllable, mumbly-Joe delivery in the chorus, during which he tries (and fails) to rhyme the words "angels" and "strangers".

The result is that Mr Leto ends up singing about "the comfort of strang-els". It really is enough to put you off your dinner.

Unconditionally by Katy Perry
Don't tell me you haven't noticed the frankly bizarre way that K.Pez pronounces the word 'unconditional'. If you have a little listen, you can hear for yourself.

A wise poet once told me that you should never pronounce words in weird ways just to make them fit in with your poetic metre. It's frowned upon pretty much everywhere. Plus, the practise of adding stress where it doesn't belong is a sure-fire way to sound drunk in charge of a microphone - and it's likely that you'll be kicked out of the karaoke bar. Again.

In this particular song, the weird elongation of "un-con-di-shuuuuuurrrrrrn-nal" in the chorus makes it sound like the Perry-bot has experienced a temporary loss of power half-way through a long word. Why did they have to do this? The English language is chock-full of marvellous, ear-catching synonyms, for goodness sakes! You should never have to squash a syllable! (Unless, of course, you're making yourself a tasty glass of syllable purée.)

Seriously though, don't squash syllables.

And when pop lyricists aren't pulling apart metre and rhyme like ragdolls of disputed ownership, they're making a mockery of the laws of physics too!

Summer Time Sadness by Lana Del Ray
This is actually a pretty decent tune. It contains a pretty nice simile in which Lana sings that the telephone lines above are "sizzling like a snare". That's pretty evocative, right?

But it was tricky for me to hear that nice bit of figurative work from Ms Del Ray the first time I heard the track. Why? Because I was so incensed by this nonsensical line:

I got my red dress on tonight, dancing in the dark in the pale moonlight.

Damnit, Ray! This is madness! You cannot be dancing both "in the dark" AND "in the pale moonlight"! It can't be both light and dark at the same time! Did you even run this song passed a copy-editor, like, at all?

I thought not.

Sigh. Maybe this isn't the sort of thing you care too much about. That's probably healthy. But I, for one, find it hard to sleep at night, without know whether Lana's mopy encounter with an unnamed and ill-enthused lover takes place in pitch blackness or in some kind of glowy moonlight. I just really need closure on this one...

I hope I'm not the only one who feels like this about pop songs? If you can think of any lyrics that  don't make any blummin' sense, I'd love to hear about them! If we get enough, I'll do a top ten!

Sunday, 26 January 2014

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Monkey Kettle and Soundcloud

This week has been rather quiet on the poetry front. This is mostly due to my being out of action with some sort of horrible mid-January lurgy. Not cool. I even had to cancel a couple of poetry events, so that was a bit of a bummer.

Luckily some nice things came in this week - by post and via email - to help cheer me up!

Firstly, I received my copy of the latest collection of short stories from the chaps at Monkey Kettle. Do Monkeys Dream of Electric Kettles? is a compilation of Sci-Fi and Fantasy stories, and the second publication of its kind produced by the Milton Keynes-based arts collective.

See, the folks at Monkey Kettle are a talented lot. In the past they've produced arts exhibitions, staged theatre productions, and put together great music events, as well as publishing a biannual poetry and prose magazine for Bedfordshire and beyond! In 2013, they branched out into publishing anthologies, and after a very successful Horror collection, the team moved their focus onto Sci-Fi!

This new collection features short stories from around the globe, with contributions from the likes of Cyrus Newcomb, Kit Power, Duncan Belk, David Mac, Phil Sky, Persephone Delta, Chris Townsend and Paul Eccentric.

I'm really grateful to the Monkey Kettle team for including my short story, Colony, in the collection!

So, if you're into dystopian futures, temporal vortexes, and little green men, you should definitely get hold of this book! You can buy it in paperback, or download it for your e-reader, here.

Matt Widgery Photography
Also this week, I received some fantastic audio and visual stuff from the Shindig and Allographic show, which happened on 18th January. Here's a lovely review from Nikki Marrone, and another from Patrick Widdess, both of whom performed wonderfully on the night.

There's also some great photos of the show, courtesy of local photographers Katy Figg and Matt Widgery. They've both captured the mood of the night perfectly, and you should definitely check out their respective pages for more of their fantastic work!

If you missed the show last week, you can now listen to the whole thing at Only Shallow Records. Thanks again to Wes Freeman-Smith, Fay Roberts, and Matt Cooke for all their audio wizardry!

I've also put some of my set up on my Soundcloud page, so do check it out if you've got a minute. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Sensibly Insane Photography

Oh! Just before I go, I must tell you that next Friday (31st January) is the deadline for entries for the Fenland Poet Laureate competition 2014. So if you're a budding poet, living, working or studying in the Fens, and you're looking for a fun new challenge, you've only got five days left to get you poem in to us! Check out the ADeC website for further details.

I can't wait to read the submissions in February! 

Saturday, 25 January 2014


Penguins are brilliant.
They're tough and resilient.
Their feet are reptilian
Like scaly flip flops.

They walk really silly an'
Eat fish by the million.
But if you think they're innocent,
That thinking should stop.

They may look vaudevillian
To the casual civilian
But they're blood-thirsty villains!
It should come as no shock.

Their outlook is militant
Their gnashers magnificent -
They're keeping that hidden
From the Zoo Keeper lot.

With hearts of obsidian
They're practically giddy, an'
We're skirting oblivion
In flippers, we're caught.

Monochrome and vermilion;
They just want to kill again!
So stay very still-ian.
I'll find a padlock.

If you want my opinion,
They're murderous pigeons;
Hell's feathery minions.
There! hand me my Glock!

But penguins are brilliant,
They're tough and resilient.
And they've forged my will again!
They need to be stopped!
Pure Evil

Sunday, 19 January 2014


My goodness! It's been a really busy week here at Poetry Towers!

On Wednesday night, Elaine Ewart and I descended on the Wisbech and Fenland Museum for another great night of poetry and spoken word at the Fen Speak Open Mic night.

We had a great group of attendees, and it was really nice to be able to give everyone the opportunity to read twice over the course of the evening. It was also fantastic to see plenty of familiar poets and writers, as well as a few new faces too!

As usual, the standard of writing was incredibly high, and we were really pleased by the depth and range of the performances. There was even time for Elaine and I to share a few of our own poems with the audience, and - because my parents were sat on the back row - I took the opportunity to read my very rudest poems.

I hope they weren't too ashamed of me!

Then, on Saturday I went along to the Cambridge Union Arts Festival to perform as part of the Allographic: Other Voices poetry collective, on stage in the RAG Comedy Room.

The gig was a great fun, and a fantastic way for the University of Cambridge Students' Union to raise money for loads of great local and national charities including: Unseen, Dementia UK, Teenage Cancer Trust, Action Against Hunger, Save the Children, Wintercomfort for the Homeless, Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre, Cambridge City Foodbank, Medecins Sans Frontieres and Camfed.

Finally, I rounded off my Saturday by performing at the Shindig and Allographic Press Joint Music and Poetry night at the Unitarian Church on Emmanuel Road in Cambridge.

I cannot put into words how awesome this gig was! It's definitely one of my highlights of 2014!

The Unitarian Chapel itself is such a beautiful space, and so many people showed up to watch us perform! Seriously, the hall was completely full, with loads of people standing at the back too! Talk about daunting!

Luckily, Wooden Arms were incredible! Their improvisations were fantastic, and they captured the essence of each of the poems so well! They also played us several of their own songs, and you should definitely check them out if you're looking for great new music!

The poets were incredible too! 

Patrick Widdess delighted the crowd with his unique and wonderful perspectives, and his dreamy, thought-provoking poetry was highlighted well by the surging strings and tinkling keys. Russell J. Turner's sharp, articulate performance was a joy to watch, and the beautiful, lyrical style of Fay Roberts' work was perfectly suited to this kind of musical accompaniment. 

Hollie McNish was fantastic (as always) and Nikki Marrone's wonderfully dark writing was transformed by the music, pulling at the heartstrings of all those listening. It was also pretty cool to finally get a chance to see Daisy T-G perform in real life! Her piece - an extract from her own spoken word play -  really finished off the night with a bang!

I was pretty nervous about reciting my poetry over music, but the guys from Wooden Arms were so good, intuitively knowing what worked well with the words, and it was great to know we were in such safe hands!

Me performing on stage with Wooden Arms

Everyone who performed received a really warm response from the crowd, and I really hope we get another chance to be involved in something like this again in the future! It was so much fun!

Enormous thanks go out to Wes at Shindig and Fay at Allographic for putting the whole thing together; to Matt Cooke for being an awesome sound man; to Laura McGarrigle and Theresa Elfien for excellent front of house-ing, and to Matt Widgery and Katy Figg for capturing the whole night on film!
Photographs courtesy of Fay Roberts at www.allographic.co.uk/

Sunday, 12 January 2014

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Straw Bears and Next Week's Gigs

Yesterday I went down to check out the Straw Bear Festival across the Fen at Whittlesey. 

It was very chilly morning but the crowds were out in force, enjoying all the folk dancing, beer drinking and of course the straw bear himself. Don't worry, the 'straw bear' is actually just a person in a costume and not a real bear! (No need to ring the RSPCA!)


The festival also includes lots of other activities: great food, drink, workshops and concerts. There was even some poetry and storytelling at the town library, and the Peterborough and Fenland poetry group Poets United were kind enough to invite me join them as part of their afternoon performance.

The event was really well-attended, and the members of Poets United put on a cracking show! The group performed loads of great poems relating to the Fens, as well as some great stuff about the First World War, childhood, pantomimes, and even the divorce of the Owl and the Pussy Cat! I read out a few of my newer poems, and the one about the Emperor's New Clothes went down particularly well. I'm really looking forward to coming back to the festival again next year!

On the way home I looked in on the Whittlesey Workhouse Exhibition at the Whittlesey Museum. My commissioned poem, The Spike, is now up as part of the collection, and I'm really pleased that the team at the museum liked it enough to include it! 

Next Wednesday, I'll be at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum for this month's Fen Speak open mic night! It's free to attend, and we're always keen to encourage new readers, so do pop along if you're in the area! It's a fantastic chance to try out that new poem or piece of writing, and a lovely way to meet new people too!


We'll be at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum, Museum Square, Wisbech PE13 1ES from 7:30pm, and the open mic starts at 8pm.

Then on Saturday 18th January, I'll be performing at the Cambridge Union Arts Festival, as part of the Allographic: Other Voices Collective. We'll be on stage from around 3pm, so if you're in Cambridge pop along to the University of Cambridge Student Union to check us out!

Later that very same evening, I'll be at the Unitarian Church, on Emmanuel Road in Cambridge, to perform as part of the SHINDIG and Allographic Press music and poetry extravaganza!

They'll be poetry from the likes of Fay Roberts, Patrick Widdess, Nikki Marrone, Russell J Turner, and Daisy T-G, all soundtracked by the fantastic Wooden Arms, a wonderful Norwich-based seven-piece folk band. There'll also be a full Spoken Word set from Hollie McNish, so you know it really is going to be a great show! 

I did an interview with Slate the Disco to promote this gig, and you can read about it here. Patrick Widdess also spoke to the Slate the Disco crew, and you can find his interview here

The show itself starts at 8pm, and you can get tickets for £4 in advance (or £6 on the night).

Sunday, 5 January 2014

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Coming Attractions

Hello, and welcome to 2014! A lovely, shiny New Year. And you know what that means, don't you? It's time to have a look at cool stuff that's happening in January!

On Tuesday 7th Jan, local arts network Creative Ely will be hosting another great meet-up event at the Poet's House, on St Mary's Street. This month's talk comes courtesy of the lovely Jo Gifford, who will be sharing advice and tips about blogging. Whether you're part of a creative small business looking to update your internet presence, an artist/photographer/crafter wanting to put your work online, or simply a creative person blogging for pleasure, this event will be right up your street. The talk begins at 7:30pm, and is open to all.

Then on Saturday 11th Jan, I'll be heading down to the Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival - a traditional Fenland celebration, involving drinking, dancing, music, storytelling, and a procession through the streets of the town by a 'bear' made out of straw! (It's exactly as bizarre and amazing as it sounds!)

As part of the festivities, I'll be performing alongside Poets United at the Whittlesey Library. There'll be poetry from 12:30pm - 1:30pm, and again from 3:30pm - 4:30pm, so do come and have a listen if you're in the area!

The Wisbech and Fenland Museum is the setting for the next Fen Speak open mic event on Wednesday 15th Jan. This poetry and spoken word open mic night is free to attend, and it's a great chance for poets and writers to try out new material, or have a go at reading their work aloud. Performance isn't compulsory, but it is very much encouraged!

We'll be at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum, Museum Square, Wisbech PE13 1ES from 7:30pm, and the open mic starts at 8pm. See you there! 

On Saturday 18th Jan, SHINDIG and Allographic Press are teaming up to present a rousing evening of music and poetry, all contained within the beautiful surroundings of the Unitarian Church, Emmanuel Road, Cambridge, CB1 1JW.

With poetry from the likes of Fay Roberts, Patrick Widdess, Nikki Marrone, Russell J Turner, and Daisy T-G, set to a glorious soundtrack by Norwich-based seven-piece band Wooden Arms, it's a night out not to be missed! 

There'll also be a full Spoken Word set by the wonderful Hollie McNish, and I'll even be doing a few poems too! Check out this interview I did with Slate the Disco to promote the show. Tickets are £6 on the door or £4 in advance, and the show starts at 8pm.

Finally, we have the Allographic: Other Voices event on Sunday 26th Jan, rounding off the month of January nicely. This open-hearted open mic is one of the best in the East of England, drawing talented performers from right across the UK, as well as supporting up-and-coming local talent. Located upstairs at The Fountain, Regent Street, Cambridge CB2 1DW, the open mic starts at 8pm (with featured performance acts to be confirmed).

It all looks so good! See you soon!

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Spike

This week I've been working on a poem for the Whittlesey Museum, as part of their Workhouse Exhibition.

The workhouse at Whittlesey was built in 1874-5, and known locally as 'The Spike', probably as a reference to its large and imposing clock tower.

In my writer's brief, Whittlesey Museum asked me to reflect both the positive and negative aspects of workhouse life. With this in mind, I've used a villanelle structure - with its simple rhyme and repeating refrain - to highlight the complex nature of the workhouse as an institution that offered support to the poor, but also took away many of their freedoms.

The Spike

This is the Paupers' Palace. Last resort
For those who worked their lives upon the Fen.
A means of comfort, shelter and support.

When all else is explored and come to nought –
The message goes out to the Union Men.
This is the Paupers' Palace. Last resort.

And to the Spike the destitute are brought;
Their souls are mended, faith restored again.
A means of comfort, shelter and support.

In desperation, penniless and caught
Between the jaws of want, and only then!
This is the Paupers' Palace. Last resort.

Though liberty is curbed, we can report
The Spike has saved the lives of many men.
A means of comfort, shelter and support.

When hope is all but lost, and safety sought,
There's room and board out there, upon the Fen.
This is the Paupers' Palace. Last resort.
A means of comfort, shelter and support.