Thursday, 27 February 2014


This is a very silly sonnet, and I make no apologies for it! The idea was suggested by Charlie D. (Her obsession with a certain egg-shaped confection is getting out of control. We will be staging an intervention soon.)

I sniff out my target, up there on the shelf.
Check no one's looking, then sneak up real close.
I know that I'm drooling, in spite of myself,
I'm sweating and shaking: this is really gross.

I take down my treasure and peel off the foil,
Devour the shell and extract all the goo.
Just for a moment, I feel almost royal –
If you'd tasted heaven, you'd feel that way too.

My fingers are sticky, my face is a mess.
I started with one, and then two, and then ten.
Now I've got chocolate all over my dress;
I won't be allowed back in Lidl again.

Don't feed me Bounty or Boost or a Twirl.
I am what I am – I'm a Creme Egg girl.


Sunday, 23 February 2014


It’s been another very busy week here at Poetry Towers! With plans for the Fenland Poet Laureate Awards really starting to come together, and the top ten finalists decided in each category, I’m really looking forward to the prize-giving ceremony on Wednesday 19th March!

On Tuesday, I spent the morning with fellow judges Elaine Ewart and Karen Harvey looking though all the entries for the Fenland Poet Laureate Competition 2014.

We met early, occupying a table at the new café at Dents Garden Centre at Hilgay, and got to work reading through all the submissions.

The entries were split into two sections, adults (over eighteens) and 11-17 year olds. First, we read the poems in the over eighteens category.

The standard of entries was incredibly high, and many of the poets had chosen to reflect on the theme – “The Fens” – in new and exciting ways. It was an absolute joy to read all the submissions and, after a lot of discussion, we managed to put together a shortlist of our ten finalists.

There were at least half a dozen poems that were worthy of the top trophy, and we each championed our favourites, reading the poems aloud and discussing the language, structure and content of each of the shortlisted pieces. Finally we agreed on our first, second and third prizes, and put the winners into a sealed envelope.

It was a bit like being a spy!

Then, I was completely flabbergasted by the wonderful poetry submitted by poets in the 11-17 category, and again there were loads of poems that were worthy of the shortlist. After a quick pit stop for cakes and tea, we chose our shortlist and agreed the winners, and I think all of us were really pleased with our decisions!

The entries were all anonymised before the judging process began – to keep everything as fair as possible – so even us judges don’t yet know who will be crowned Fenland Poet Laureate 2014!

I’m so excited to find out the names of all our finalists, and the folks at ADeC will be announcing them some time next week. I’ll keep you posted!

Also this week, we hosted the fifth Fen Speak open mic night at the Babylon Gallery in Ely.

Twenty-one performers took to the stage to share their poetry, with a great mix of new faces and returning talent, including poets from as far afield as St Ives, Peterborough and even Fakenham!

Our reputation precedes us!

It was another fantastic night, and an absolute pleasure to hear so many great writers sharing their work and encouraging others too! Thank you to everyone who came along, and a special thanks to all those who performed.

One of our regular contributors – Rosemary Westwell – was kind enough to write a few words of review for us, and some of the highlights she identified were as follows:

Caroline Gilfillan’s description of the young Pepys journeying to his grammar school in Huntingdon; Richard McNally’s My Devonian Girl which was straight from the heart; Emma Ormond’s very clever Glove Bird complete with fascinating hand movements and Mike Alderson's Along a corridor tackling mental health issues. There was also Bob Sheed’s entertaining The Snake Oil Salesman; Mary Livingstone’s poem that captured the cat perfectly; Anna, read beautifully by William Alderson, and George Anderson’s take on Mrs Bouquet.

If all that sounds exactly like your cup of tea, then you should definitely come along to the next Fen Speak event! Details can be found on our facebook page, and we’d love to see you there!

Next week, I'm back in the classroom, doing some workshops with Y8 and Y9 students at the Thomas Clarkson Academy in Wisbech. We'll be working on short stories this time, and I've got some great activities for the class, so I'm really looking forward to it! I let you know how I get on next week!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Fen Speak and International Women's Day

This week, I'm looking forward to being pretty busy, with a triple helping of poetry fun, plus some exciting announcements about a gig in March.

So let's get down to business!

On Tuesday morning, I'll be heading to a super-secret location to participate in the judging for the Fenland Poet Laureate Awards 2014. We've had over seventy entries for the competition, and I'm really looking forward to reading them all!

I'll be part of a judging panel, alongside Fenland Poet Laureate Emeritus Elaine Ewart and freelance creative consultant Karen Harvey, and together we'll be picking out our favourite poems from the submissions.

The top ten poets in the adult category will then be invited to read their work at the Fenland Poet Laureate Awards on Wednesday 19th March, and the winner will be announced as part of the evening's celebrations.

We'll also be judging the poems in the 11-17 year old category, and the top young poets will also be invited to the awards ceremony.

Having been one of the competitors at last year's event, it's going to be really weird to be on the opposite side of the judging fence, but I can't wait to check out all the fantastic poetry that has been submitted.

I'll let you know how we get on with the judging next week!

Then, on Wednesday, we're back at the Babylon Gallery for another round of Fen Speak, Fenland's only dedicated poetry and spoken word open mic!

As well as our regular contributors, we'll have some brand new poets hoping to join us on the evening, and I'm really looking forward to hearing everyone perform!

If you'd like to come along to watch the show, or to have a go yourself, then you can join us at the Babylon Gallery, Waterside, Ely on Wednesday 19th February. Doors open at 7:30pm and the show begins at 8pm. Refreshments are available  - in case you need a drop of something to help you up onto the stage - and we'd love to see you there!

If all that wasn't enough, the 28 Sonnets Later project continues on at pace! We're now just over halfway through, and you can see our first completed Heroic Crown here.

Writing is sometimes a very lonely job, so it's really lovely to get the chance to work on a collaborative piece like this. Plus, working with Andy, Adam and Russell always spurs me on to do some of my very best writing, so I'm really grateful to them for all their help and support.

Check the 28 Sonnets Later website daily for new sonnets!

I'll also be spending this week fine-tuning a new workshop for Y8 and Y9 and the Thomas Clarkson Academy. This time, we'll be focusing on writing prose, and I've got some pretty good games and exercises prepared. The kids were so much fun to work with last time, so I'm really looking forward to visiting them again in a few weeks time!

Finally, I'm really pleased to be participating in a special event in Peterborough on Saturday 8th March, to help celebrate International Women's Day.

The event is being organised to raise money for Peterborough Rape Crisis, and is a fantastic chance to raise awareness of the work they do, as well as celebrate the talents of women in and around Peterborough. 

We'll be performing in St John's Square, and the line-up includes musicians, poets, belly dancers, Bhangra dancers and speakers, and it promises to be a really fun day. I'll let you know as soon as we have further details of the event!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Helical Thinking

I'm a little bit obsessed with sonnets at the moment (probably due to the 28 Sonnets Later project) and everything I write seems to come out in a sonnet-y form. 

So here's a new sonnet. It's a poem about Rosalind Franklin, the biophysicist and crystallographer whose work was vital to the discovery of the DNA double helix in 1953. Franklin's contribution to the science is frequently overlooked, but she was always incredibly loyal to her colleagues Watson and Crick. 

Rosalind Franklin died in 1958 - four years before Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the DNA double helix - and it was probably her early death that contributed to her relative scientific anonymity.

I wrote this poem as a response to a writing competition calling for poetry about 'hidden stories' in history, fiction and mythology. I wondered how I might feel if I were in Rosalind Franklin's shoes, and I know I would feel incredibly frustrated to not be recognised. That line of thought led to this poem:

Helical Thinking

A captivating scientific find
Is always in the last place that you look.
With bursts of joy, I know my fingers shook,
Discovering the strands were intertwined.
My vital contribution, undermined.
My name, erased from every history book.
Those men have not yet paid for what they took;
Ideas were stolen from my fertile mind.
But my achievements will outlive my flesh.
The work we did will save so many lives.
And when my story is retold afresh,
You'll see that girls are more than cooks and wives!
While fifty years have passed since '53,
I know there are still those who'll fight for me.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Poetry By Heart Cambridgeshire

On Friday night, I had the pleasure of being involved in the Cambridgeshire regional Poetry by Heart competition.


The event itself was organised by Richard Young and members of the Cambridgeshire Library services, and they did a fantastic job!

It was a great night, and it was really wonderful to see young people engaging with poetry!

In the end, I wasn't called on to act as a judge, and I'm secretly a little relieved as the standard of performance was so high! I don't think I could have picked a winner! 

It was a close run contest, but Peter Bayes from Kimbolton won the prize, with James Ashton from Comberton Village College as runner-up. Both gave wonderful recitations of their chosen poems, and judges Michael Williamson, Chris Morgan and Victor & Judy Watson were left with a very tough decision indeed.

I performed a few of my own poems while the judges were counting up the scores, and I got a good reception from the crowd. I hope I broke the tension a little bit, ahead of the announcement of the final scores! 

Now we just need to wish Peter the best of luck for the finals; fingers crossed for a win for Cambridgeshire!

This week, the 28 Sonnets Later project is in full swing!

The aim of the project is to write twenty-eight sonnets over the course of February 2014. We'll be publishing a sonnet a day, plus two Franken-sonnnets, made up on the first lines of the previous fourteen poems. If you're confused, you can read a more detailed explanation here.

Though I must warn you, you're liable to be even more confused after reading it!

So far I have contributed two sonnets to this year's collection, Jekyll/Hyde and Winter in Sochi, with five more left to write in the coming weeks. It's so much fun writing to a time limit and really challenging yourself! It's also pretty nerve-racking too! I'm really looking forward to seeing the finished collection!

Here are the links to the first nine sonnets - why not have a cheeky peek?
#1 - Apotheosis by Andy Bennett
#2 - Thesis Antithesis Synthesis by Russell J Turner
#3 - it's no good being candid by Adam Warne
#4 - Jekyll/Hyde by Leanne Moden
#5 - 'By God, Sir! I've lost my leg!' by Andy Bennett
#6 - On yer bike by Russell J Turner
#7 - One Sugar If You Please by Adam Warne
#8 - Winter in Sochi by Leanne Moden
#9 - Like Herod: my desk is vibrating by Andy Bennett

If you want to keep up to date with the progress of the project, check out the website, or follow @28SonnetsLater on twitter.

Friday, 7 February 2014

SPOTLIGHT - Valentine's Day Shindig

Hot on the heels of their sold out poetry and music extravaganza, the lovely team at Shindig are back with a vengeance. And this month, it's all about love!

Yes! Cambridge's favourite multi-disciplinary music and arts organisers are arranging some glorious sonic treats to get you all in the mood for great music this Valentine's day!

Once again, Shindig will be descending upon St Philip's Church on Mill Road, to bring you a night packed full of great bands. There'll be music from ethereal, orchestral indie virtuosos Wooden Arms, and soulful distinctive vibes, courtesy of the fantastic Heart of a Dog. Local support on the night comes from Cambridge-based musician Tom Adams, talented chap who makes ambient loops and skillful melodies into blissful tunes and soaring soundscapes.

It's a great line-up. But it's not just about the music.

As the gig falls on Friday 14th February - that most sacred of made-up holidays - the Shindig crew have planned some very exciting stuff!

They'll be a duo of specially-sourced buskers performing your song dedications during the intervals (email your dedication to Plus, the Shindig crew will be taking it back to the old skool with a live recreation of cheesy nineties game show, Blind Date!

There might even be a spot of speed-dating too!

If it sounds too good to miss, then you should probably go ahead and get your tickets now. Entry is £6 on the door, and £4 in advance. (Much cheaper than dinner and a movie! And much more fun too!)

The show starts at 8pm on Friday 14th February, at St Phillip's Church, Mill Road, Cambridge. See you there!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Urgent Business

Urgency has bought you here
And every nerve is flush with fear

A visit you had long postponed
See, some things must be done alone

The tea you drank, you now despise
(You wouldn’t be here otherwise)

So hold your breath and pick your stall
Be careful not to touch the walls

You lock the door and seal your fate
And, turning round, you hesitate

The lid is down, the bowl obscured
You’re feeling dizzy, vision blurred

Do you dare investigate?
You could still leave – it’s not too late

But urgency has brought you here
So out you reach, still flush with fear

This might be good, you theorise
There might clouds of butterflies

There may be caverns unexplored
Or mislaid gems with huge rewards

There could be gold or antique broaches
Or hissing spitting king cockroaches

Stay positive! You almost cry
This toilet's filled with clipped bonsai

Or candy floss or pick-and-mix
(You wish you’d never started this)

It’s storage for the FBI
So maybe you had best not pry

Or it’s the door to far off lands
Like Narnia (but a bit less grand)

With mind made up you lift the lid
Expecting pixies or giant squid

This time though, to your surprise
There’s no doorway or golden prize

Just a loo and nothing more
You go then flush then close the door

If only you’d tried one more stall
The one against the far left wall

What’s in there? We’ll never know
But always look before you go

Sunday, 2 February 2014

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Poetry by Heart and the Heroic Crown

So, February, we meet again...

This month promises to be a bit of hectic one for me. I’ll be judging the applications for the next Fenland Poet Laureate Competition in a couple of weeks, and I’ll also be planning my next writing workshop with the Y8 and Y9 kids at the Thomas Clarkson Academy in Wisbech.

But before all that, I’ll be taking part in the third annual sonnet writing challenge with the 28 Sonnets Later writing collective. I’ll be working alongside three incredibly talented poets – Andy Bennett, Russell J Turner and Adam Warne – to write a collection of 28 brand new sonnets over the month of February.

As a collective, we first flexed our creative muscles back in 2012 when we challenged ourselves to write a collection of sonnets within a month. When that didn’t kill us, we thought we ought to try something a bit more challenging, so in 2013 we wrote a collective Sonnet Corona.

It was hard work, but actually really enjoyable too, and it was amazing to see how our work had improved in the space of a year.

This year, we’ll be embarking on the ultimate literary challenge: the Heroic Crown.

We’ll be taking it in turns to write a sonnet each day. The last line of the first poem will form the first line of the second poem, then the last line of the second poem will form the first line of the third poem, and so on and so on, in a sort of poetic daisy chain. We’ll be writing two Heroic Crowns, and each will be made up of fourteen sonnets, plus an über sonnet, which is made up of all the first lines from the previous fourteen poems, in order.

Are you still with me?

All the sonnets – including the über sonnets – have to conform to standard metre and rhyme scheme, whether that be Petrarchan, Shakespearian, Spenserian, or even Occitan! If you think this sounds like an insanely complicated challenge – then you might just be right!

Oh, did I mention that we only have twenty fours to complete each sonnet? Blimey!

You can keep up to date with our endeavours by checking out the 28Sonnets Later website, or by following us on twitter @28SonnetsLater

And if that was enough poetic fun, I’ll be heading down to St Ives this Friday to help judge the Cambridgeshire regional Poetry by Heart competition.

The competition encourages school kids aged 14-18 to learn and recite poetry from memory, while also gaining a broader understanding of the poems themselves. The project - supported by The Poetry Society - engages students to discover the pleasure of poetry, and the winners of the regional competition go on to perform in the National finals at the National Portrait Gallery in March 2014.

I'm really looking forward to this event, and the organisers have also asked me to perform a few of my own poems during the evening. Unfortunately, I don't know any of my own stuff off by heart - so I'll be letting the side down a bit there!

Poetry by Heart takes place at the Corn Exchange at St Ives (Cambridgeshire) on Friday 7th February. The show starts at 6:30pm, so if you're in the area, do come down and say hi!