Sunday, 30 March 2014

SUNDAY NEWS - Headcrash Cabaret and Napowrimo

Russell J Turner
This week I finally made it back to Norwich - after almost a year's absence - to perform at the sixth Norwich Poetry Slam. Hosted by Russell J Turner and Catherine Woodward, these slams are always a great opportunity to see a cross section of talented performers from the UEA (and beyond), and I was really pleased to get the chance to see such a wide range of performers all in one place.

I wasn't able to write down everyone's names, but I really enjoyed all the pieces that were performed during the slam: Adrian's poignant poem about accent and identity; the witty, political piece performed by Alice; the incredibly moving poem about love and the Holocaust. I also loved Adam's rendition of his poem 'Like if you remember', and Ashley's confident performance. (It was only her second time ever in front of an audience!) The guy with the flowery wellies also did an excellent job entertaining us with his satirical piece about silly politicians and the Somerset floods, while the sacrificial poet (Miday Sotubo) recited a really inspiring poem about self-expression.

But it was Marie-Claire Emecheta who made a most deserving winner, scooping this month's Poetry Slam prize! Congratulations to everyone who took part - you were all fantastic!

Nikki Marrone
As well as a slam competition, the night also included four featured poets, and it felt like a bit of a Cambridge take over, with sets from Fay Roberts, Nikki Marrone, Daisy T-G and me.

Nikki's poetry is always fresh and exciting, and it's been really wonderful to see her develop as a performer over these last few years. She performs with such enthusiasm and passion that it's hard not to be enthralled, and - though her work often explores darker subject matter - her poetry always seems to have a fantastic, uplifting quality to it.

Daisy T-G
Fay Roberts is tireless writer and promoter of poetry, and a stalwart of the Cambridge scene. Softly-spoken, with a lyrical deftness and an ear for rhythm that few possess, Fay's experimental pieces are often her finest. The musicality behind her work is undeniable, and it's always a pleasure to catch her performing live.

Daisy T-G is fairly new to the Cambridge poetry scene, having recently returned to the city from University. Having said that, she's already made a huge impact with her deeply personal and engaging spoken word sets. She is witty, insightful and definitely one to watch for in the future!

 As for me, I did a few new poems in Norwich that seemed to go down pretty well with the audience, and I was inspired all the other fantastic performers too. (In fact, I had to stop my car on the way home so I could scribble down a few potential titles and lines for future pieces!)

I'm really looking forward to going back to Norwich again soon!

Me (talking about penguins)

Also this week, my poem Enid was published online as part of the Enid Porter Project. This initiative, led by Cambridgeshire County Council, is a celebration of the folk histories and traditions of five villages in Fenland, as well as the life of museum curator and social historian Enid Porter. I'm really pleased to contribute to the project, and I'm looking forward to performing as part of the celebrations in July. You can check out my poem here, and find out more about the the project on the website.

This weekend, I've been preparing some exercises for the creative writing workshops that I'll be delivering to schools next month. When I was in Norwich last week, I found some amazing photographs from the 1930s and 1940s in a local junk shop, and I'm thinking about ways to incorporate them into some creative writing games.

Fantastic old photos

There are pictures of birthdays, christenings, weddings, camping holidays, and family occasions, as well as a few photos of people's pets too. (Early versions of lolcats, perhaps?) I've got a whole stack of them now, and they're all really fascinating. I think I could look at old photographs forever!

I'm also getting ready for my first ever Napowrimo (National Poetry Writing Month), which starts on 1st April. The challenge is to write thirty poems in thirty days, and I'm going to be working in a Napowrimo team alongside a load of great East Anglian poets including Fay Roberts, Elaine Ewart, Emma Ormond, Nikki Marrone, Daisy T-G and Russell J Turner!

You can follow our progress on our Napowrimo blog and I'll try to share links to the best poems as often as I can. Wish us luck - I have a feeling that we're going to need it!

All performance photographs courtesy of Fay Roberts

Friday, 28 March 2014

Writers' Blog Tour

Elaine Ewart is an excellent poet, a fellow former Fenland Poet Laureate, and a good friend. So when she asked me to take part in the Writers' Blog Tour, I really couldn't say no!

The aim of the tour is for each nominated writer to answer a few questions about their current projects and creative processes, so that we can all get to know them a little bit better. After each writer has completed their part, they can then nominate more writers to join the tour.

It's a lot like those questionnaires that you used to get on MySpace back in the early naughties. (Tell me that other people remember those too, right?)

Anyway, the blog tour is a great way to find out how other writers work, so here are my answers:

What am I working on?
At the moment, I'm working on some content for some creative writing workshops that I'll be delivering to schools next month. I recently found some amazing photographs from the 1930s and 1940s in a local junk shop, and I'm currently looking for a way to incorporate them into some creative writing exercises.

I'm also getting ready for my first ever Napowrimo (National Poetry Writing Month), which starts on 1st April. The challenge is to write thirty poems in thirty days, and I'm going to be working alongside a gaggle of fantastic poets from Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. You can follow our progress on the blog, or check out more information about Napowrimo here.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?
I tend not to write directly about myself, which is quite unusual on the performance poetry scene. Instead, I focus on surreal situations and bizarre encounters fuel my poetry. I try to use humour and rhyme to slip my point of view across in a stealthy kind of way. This was never a conscious choice for me; I think I'm just much more interested in fantasy than reality - because who wouldn't prefer a unicorn ride over a visit to the bank manager?

Why do I write?
I've always really enjoyed writing. Getting your ideas down on paper and shaping them into something coherent is sometimes pretty challenging - especially if you're working to a specific rhyme or form - but it's really satisfying to finally finish that poem you've been working on for weeks. From a performance point of view, it's great to write something that's well received by audiences. Watching other poets perform often spurs me on to be more creative, and reading the work of other poets inspires me to try new things, so that I always feel like there's more to learn and new ways to write.  

How does my writing process work?
Lines of poetry usually develop out of conversations (I do a lot of eavesdropping!) and I often find that titles or themes come to me first, to be fleshed out later on. I like to write quickly and I find it fairly easy to slip into rhyme - I've even been known to dream in verse - but I'm absolutely terrible at editing my own work. I like the immediacy of writing something in one sitting and then never touching it again - but I'm getting better at going back and reworking pieces that aren't quite right. There's always room for improvement!

I take my notebook everywhere, and jot down ideas as they come to me, but I do most of my writing in my living room with the cat on my lap and a cup of peppermint tea. It's a very Rock & Roll lifestyle!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Glamour Witch

I've been reading a lot of fairy tales recently, and it struck me that the witches in these stories get bad rap. So, in the interests of subverting well-worn Western archetypes, I've written a poem about a chic and fashionable sorceress.

(The structure for this poem is based on an excellent poem by Luke Wright called Fat Dandy - you should definitely check it out.)

Anyway, I don't think this is finished quite yet, but have a look and see what you think...

Glamour Witch

Polished pins in skin tight jeans,
A necromancing beauty queen.
She'll wreck your home and eat your kids
But wear a tracksuit? Gods forbid!
With snakes for hair, she sets the trends
And never, ever has split ends.
Socks and sandals make her twitch –
Look out! Look out! It's Glamour Witch!

Out all night, asleep all day,
She's wearing brogues ironically.
In her purse there's eye of newt,
MAC lipstick and mandrake root.
A stunner with a blood red aura;
Trendy, chic – a gorgeous horror.
Low grade products make her itch:
Sensitive skin. Glamour Witch.

All togged up, always on duty,
More fab than dozy Sleeping Beauty.
Won't be mistook for someone's nan;
She gave Snow White her first fake tan.
Rapunzel got a Pixie Crop;
This reign of terror has to stop.
Whether preppy, goth or kitsch
Fashion victim: Glamour Witch.

Dressed in clothes you can't afford;
Her tentacles are manicured.
Her cauldron's made by Ralph Lauren
Embellished with the skulls of men.
You won't be cursed into a toad,
A handbag's much more 'a la mode'.
Turns guys to stone to get her kicks.
Antisocial: Glamour Witch.

Human teeth worn just like jewels,
Silk head scarves and man-skin mules.
Hand on hip, she strikes a pose,
Apparelled in enchanted clothes.
She'll kill you if you call her warty
She's no old crone (she's barely forty!)
Her outfit's tailored, every stitch –
Super evil, Glamour Witch!

Friday, 21 March 2014


Last Wednesday night, I popped down to the Wisbech and Fenland Museum to hand out the prizes for the third annual Fenland Poet Laureate Awards!

In case you've never heard of them before, the ceremony is part of a local initiative that allows writers to compete for the title of Fenland Poet Laureate, while younger poets can also enter for the chance to be named Young Fenland Poet Laureate.

Each year, the two winners are encouraged to lead projects to help raise the profile of creative writing in the North Cambridgeshire area, by writing specially commissioned poems for local events and organisations, and also through public engagement projects such as workshops, talks and events. The programme aims to establish new opportunities for the winners, and for the wider community, giving everyone the chance to engage with poetry.

This year, the competition was fierce, and it was incredibly difficult for myself and the other judges to decide on our favourite poems.

But I'm very proud to announce that the 2014 Young Fenland Poet Laureate prize was awarded to ten-year-old Florence Browse for her poem Liquorice Lines.We were really impressed with the sense of rhythm in Florence’s poem, and the wonderfully vivid imagery really captured the spirit of Fenland!

Florence Browse (with Elaine Ewart and me)

Kristina Tunnard came second for the second year running with her beautiful poem What is Fenland? and William Sinfield was awarded third prize for his wonderful pastoral poem Seasons through the Year.

There were also seven highly commended poets in this category: Hannah Lemmon, Ben Hamilton, Lucy McInerney, Harry Sayer, Rana Gadir, Macy Hilton, and Rachael White.

The winner of the adult category was Poppy Kleiser. We loved Poppy’s poem, Digging, which took the competition theme of ‘Fenland’ and looked at it in an unusual and compelling way.

Poppy Kleiser - look a little overwhelmed by her win

Emma Danes took second place with her evocative piece, Day Trip to the Fens. And - for the second year in a row - the judges chose two poems to share third prize: The Winter Night's Song by Helen Pletts and Excavation by Jonathan Totman.

Our six highly commended poets were Richard Powell, Paul Quant, Michael Riccardi, Miriam Brown, Deb Curtis and Rosemary Westwell.

Congratulations to Florence and Poppy, and to all the other finalists who shared their poetry with us this year. We had a fantastic turn out on the night, with the venue full to capacity, and it was marvellous to see so many people enjoying poetry and getting involved in, and inspired by, this fantastic local project!

The finalists for the Young Fenland Poet Laureate Award

The finalists for the Fenland Poet Laureate Award 2014

All images courtesy of Mark Harrison 

We would like to thank the following individuals and organisations for their support: Karen Harvey, David Wright, Atelier East, ADeC, the Wisbech and Fenland Museum,Mark Harrison, Ben Brown, Clive Semmens, and Colin Batchelor. We would also like to thank Wisbech Town Council and the Friends of Wisbech Museum for funding the awards ceremony. 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - John Peel Centre and International Women's Day

Just a quick one from me this week, as I'm off out in few minutes to see some more live music. (My third gig in three days!)

This Friday I finally made it down to The Whole Shebang in Suffolk, a fantastic open mic night at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket.

It's always a pleasure to catch my fellow Fenland poet Elaine Ewart when she reads, and there were also some captivating performances from Tess Gardener, Fred Slatten and Aryn Clark from the Essex based collective Some Kind of Poetry Thing.

But Suffolk, it seems, is full to the brim with musicians, and there was huge range of talent on show during the evening, including Ipswich based folk favourites Elly Tree, and guitar-weilding indie kids Heartaker. (In fact, Heartaker's re-imagining of Katy Perry's Extraterrestrial was one of my highlights of the whole evening!)

Another high point in the show was the fantastic Native American Tribal Dancing courtesy of Hara Tribal Bellydance and the sun-soaked bluesy rhythms of Jim and Jimbo, two American Airforce visitors, stationed at Mildenhall.

I'm always a bit wary of performing at music gigs, because the crowds are less inclined to listen to the poetry, and sometimes you can feel like you're just filling up dead space while the technicians rearrange the kit and fiddle with the levels. But I'm really pleased to say that - though the crowd were a little more rowdy than I'm used to - I did manage to catch he attention of the room.

Reading poetry about pubic hair will do that, it would seem...

Then, on Saturday afternoon, I drove up to Peterborough to take part in the local celebrations for International Women's Day 2014.

The programme of events, featuring female artists, musicians, poets and dancers, was organised by the Peterborough Rape Crisis Care Group to raise awareness for all the vital work they do in the city.

The weather was beautiful and in the brief time I was there, I saw some great performances from singer-songwriter Lexie Green and Faye & the Desert Dancers, as well as a great performance from the writer and poet JS Watts.

I wrote a new poem especially for the event, and it seemed to go down well. I'm actually really pleased with how the poems, called My Daughter, turned out, so I've uploaded a recording of it to my Soundcloud page. You can listen to it here, so why not check it out and let me know what you think?

Saturday, 8 March 2014

My Daughter - a poem for International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day, and theme for this year's event is 'Inspiring Change'. I don't know if you've noticed, but I happen to be a woman, so I thought I'd better write a poem about it. This one's called My Daughter. I hope you like it.

My Daughter

One day my daughter came to me
And looked into my eyes.
She asked me what she might become
And this was my reply:

You can be an astronaut,
A scientist. A poet.
You’re only limit is the stars
And you’ll excel; I know it.

You can be journalist,
A dancer or a doctor.
An author or astronomer.
There’s nothing that can stop you!

A lawyer or a labourer,
A solider or a sailor.
Yes, you can be a footballer,
A teacher or a tailor.

You can be a youth worker,
A vet or a virologist.
A mechanic or a midwife,
A guard or gynecologist.

And you can have six children
Or choose not to have any.
You can spend all of your cash,
Or donate every penny.

You can wear just what you like
Without the threat of violence.
There’ll be no shame or guilt or greed
Or need for stoic silence.

And little girls around the world
Will have the right to learn
And being fair or beautiful
Will not be your concern.

Coz when you’re grown, we’ll finally know
Equality’s importance
And you can be most anything
(But not a traffic warden).

You will not be a victim
You will not be misused
You will control your own prospects
And love whomever you choose.

My daughter, then, looked up at me,
With dark eyes just like mirrors,
Cleared her throat and said to me:
“Can I be a caterpillar?”

Sunday, 2 March 2014

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Creative Writing Workshops and March Gigs

This week, three exciting things happened.

The first was the announcement of the finalists for the Fenland Poet Laureate Competition 2014!

The Judges!
In the adult category, our ten shortlisted poets are: Miriam Brown, Deb Curtis, Emma Danes, Poppy Kleiser, Helen Pletts, Richard Powell, Paul Quant, Michael Riccardi, Jonathon Totman, and Rosemary Westwell.

Then in the 11 - 17 age group, the finalists are: Florence Browse, Rana Gadir, Ben Hamilton, Macy Hilton, Hannah Lemmon, Lucy McInerney, Harry Sayer, William Sinfield, Kristina Tunnard, and Rachael White.

All twenty poets have been invited to perform at the Fenland Poet Laureate Award Ceremony on Wednesday 19th March at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum, and I'm really looking forward to announcing the winners at the ceremony!

The winners will be announced in March!

The second exciting thing that happened this week was my workshop at the Thomas Clarkson Academy, in Wisbech. This time, we focused on storytelling, using a series of exercises and group discussions to really get the students thinking about place, character and plot.

There were eighteen students in the class, ranging in age from 12-15, and I had a really great time working with them!

The activity that really seemed to capture their imagination was one called 'The Lost Suitcase'. The students were asked to describe five items discovered in an abandoned suitcase, then work out what sort of character might have lost the suitcase. The idea of the game is to think about the personality and life of each of your fictional characters, in order to make them more realistic and believable.

In our workshop, we had some very inventive character studies including spies, murderers, jewel thieves and gangsters, as well as a man with a mini camel. ("It has to be mini, Miss, or it wouldn't fit in the suitcase.")

It was a lot of fun and hopefully I might be invited back again soon!

I've got another schools' workshop booked for April. This time, I'll be working with Y13 and I'm looking forward to trying some activities aimed at an older audience. I'll let you know how I get on!

28 Sonnets Later
Also this week, we completed the 28 Sonnets Later Project for 2014!

My favourite poems in this year's project include Pheasants Moseyed by Adam Warne, Fourteen Caveats by Andy Bennett and on second thoughts, maybe you should just take up golf by Russell J Turner. I'm also pretty happy with a couple of the poems I wrote for the project, and I might even read one or two of them at performances in the not too distant future! 

If you want to check out all the poems that we wrote over the course of the month, you can find them on the 28 Sonnets Later website.

Good stuff all round!

This week, I have two gigs booked, which is pretty exciting too! On Friday 7th March, I'll be heading down to Stowmarket in Suffolk for The Whole Shebang, a fun and friendly open mic night at the John Peel Centre for the Performing Arts.

This open mic night welcomes all kinds of performers, and I'm really looking forward to the chance to finally get to the John Peel Centre, as I've been wanting to check it out for absolutely ages! There are a lot of talented folk down in Suffolk too, so it's going to be a cracking night!

Then, on Saturday 8th March, it's International Women's Day and I will be taking part in an event in Peterborough, celebrating female performance, and raising money for Peterborough Rape Crisis.

We'll be performing in St John's Square, and I'll be on stage at around 1pm. There's a fantastic afternoon's worth of entertainment planned, with musicians, poets, belly dancers, Bhangra dancers and speakers, and all for an incredibly good cause.

If you're in town on the day, don't forget to pop over and say hi! See you then!