Sunday, 25 January 2015

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Radios, Podcasts and Other Animals

I think I'm going to have to ban myself from starting blog posts by saying "It's been another busy week..." It's becoming a bit of a blog cliché. That being said, it has been another busy week this week!

First up, my pamphlet. I'm really pleased (and surprised) to have sold nearly forty copies so far! Woop woop! You can buy a copy at Toppings Book shop in Ely, and I'll be touting the pamphlets around at gigs and festivals for the rest of year, so if you would like to get your hands on one, just let me know.

Plus, the lovely people at Stewed Rhubarb Press have also put a little bit about me and the pamphlet on their website, which makes the whole thing seem very real and fancy! 

I've also been on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire again this week - chatting to presenter Sue Dougan, and fellow guest Sue Keogh, about this year's Fenland Poet Laureate Competition. (There's still time to enter - please check out the Atelier East website for all the details.) 

Sue Dougan also asks her guests to chat about a story in the news, so we had a conversation about gender differences, after a study from UCL seemed to suggest that women were more likely to believe in God and the afterlife, while men were more likely to hold atheist beliefs. 

It's always hard to avoid generalisations when talking about topics like this and I always get a little tongue tied on the radio, coming away with a real esprit de l'escalier but hopefully we managed to have a good discussion, without stepping on anyone's toes. 

You can listen for yourself here.

Then, on Wednesday night we trundled up to the Wisbech and Fenland Museum, for another Fen Speak open mic night. And what a night it was! We had nineteen performers and over thirty people in our audience, which is the largest crowd we've ever had for a Wisbech show! Our events at the Museum have always been smaller than those we hold in Ely, but Wisbech is beginning to give the cathedral city a run for its money! 

We had a fantastic mix of poems and stories, with a good number of new faces, as well as our lovely regular Fen Speakers too. The next event is on Wednesday 18th February, at the Babylon Gallery in Ely, so do come along if you can!

Then yesterday, I made my living room into a radio studio, as David Turner and Lizzy Palmer from Lunar Poetry Magazine came over to interview Poppy Kleiser, Elaine Ewart and me for their next Lunar Poetry Podcast! 

Tea, biscuits, and a microphone

David was interested in talking to us all, as past and present Fenland Poet Laureates, about the poetry scene in the area, our involvement in Fen Speak, and how the landscape and history of the Fens has shaped our writing. 

Elaine and Poppy were articulate and precise, both giving insightful answers to questions, while David was a great host, sometimes agreeing with us, and at other times challenging us to defend our views.

The podcast is being edited as we speak and will be available on the Lunar Poetry Soundcloud page from Tuesday 10th February.

To finish up, here is a picture of my earnestly answering an interview question:

That's my serious face

Photographs of the Lunar Poetry Podcast 
recording courtesy of Lizzy Palmer.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - My New Pamphlet and Other Adventures

I have exciting news! My new poetry pamphlet has arrived!

Rachel and James at Stewed Rhubarb Press have been working diligently for the past couple of months to edit, format and print this slim volume and I couldn't be happier with the result! The pamphlet looks great, thanks to the fantastic way James has designed it. And Rachel's excellent editing skills ensured that all my spelling mistakes and misused semi-colons were extinguished! I've thanked them both about a million times already but one more time couldn't hurt: Thank You Stewed Rhubarb!

So, here's how it looks:

I'm really pleased with it! Especially since it includes poems that I regularly perform, along side poems that I've never read out loud to anyone. It makes for quite an exciting mix! I've already sold six but there are still plenty left, and I'm really looking forward to taking them with me on my poetry travels this year! 

Of course, Stewed Rhubarb also publish loads of other pamphlets (by much better poets than me) so if you like that sort of thing, head to their website to check out their full collection!

The last couple of weeks have been super busy. I've done poems at the Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival (with the very lovely Peterborough based poetry group, Poets United) and supported Luke Wright at Hammer and Tongue in Cambridge, which was pretty exciting too!

I always really love going to the Straw Bear Festival. It's this weird local tradition where people wear straw suits and parade through the streets, with loads of morris dancers and folk musicians (plus plenty of beer for the spectators). Then the straw suits are burned on a bonfire to ensure a good harvest for the year ahead. It all sounds a bit 'Wicker Man' but don't worry - no real bears are harmed in the making of the Straw Bear Festival!

The Straw Bear (right, obviously)

The gig at Hammer and Tongue in Cambridge was pretty marvellous too. The crowd we so enthusiastic and welcoming, and I managed to sell six copies of my pamphlet as well! I did a couple of new poems, and they went down really well, so I'm hoping to stick them in my regular set list from now on. Of course, Luke Wright's performance put mine in the shade - and the slammers were incredibly impressive too - but I really loved it. In fact, it may have been my best gig of the year so far!

Finally this week, I spent Friday night in Huntingdon, helping to judge the Cambridgeshire Final of the Poetry by Heart competition.

There were nine contestants this year and each of them had been tasked with learning three poems to recite for the competition: one from before 1914; one from after 1914; and one from the First World War itself. As each student performed their choices, the judges (including me!) marked them for their evidence of understanding, accuracy and the level of difficulty of the poem.

My very official judging pack

It was an incredibly close competition and at least five of the nine competitors were good enough to win. In fact, I was really impressed by the level of confidence each of the finalists showed. It seemed as though they'd all worked really hard, not just to learn their poems and give a good performance, but also to really understand what it was they were saying, which was fantastic to see and hear.

In the end, Adam Vale from Parkside Community College in Trumpington came first. Congratulations Adam! He'll go on to represent the county at the national finals, which this year will be held on home turf at Homerton College in Cambridge.

Homerton College (very swanky!)

A massive congratulations should also go to Richard Young and the team from the Cambridgeshire Library Services, who did a brilliant job organising the event, and to all the teachers who inspired their pupils to take part. But for me, the contestants' performances were what made the night special.

I'm going to try to get hold of tickets for the grand final, and I'll let you know how I get on, if I manage to worm my way into that! 

Monday, 5 January 2015


Now that we're rocking 2015 like a brand new coat, I'm free to tell you about the stuff I have planned this January! It's going to be another busy one - especially if I manage to keep my New Year's Resolutions - but I also have a feeling that it's going to be a good month. So, what's actually happening? Well:

First up, on Wednesday 14th January, I'll be performing at the Hammer and Tongue Poetry Slam in Cambridge, supporting special guest poet Luke Wright.

Luke Wright - Source
Luke is a stand-up poet with an excellent pedigree, and has performed shows everywhere, from Australia to Hong Kong, to Europe and back again. He's written and performed eight one man shows since 2006, and also edits Nasty Little Press and runs the poetry stage at Latitude. His poetry is incredibly funny, populated with a fantastic array of characters and caricatures, and on top of all that, his poetry is also really technically skilful too.

So no pressure there then!

But seriously, it's going to be a fab event. As well as myself and Mr. Wright, there'll also be a slam, in which eight poets will battle it out to win a place in the Hammer and Tongue Cambridge Regional Final in September. The slam is my favourite part of these events - there's always a great variety of style and content, very much the poetry smorgasbord. (And just as delicious!) 

The show starts at 8pm, and tickets are available via this link.

On Friday 16th January, I'll be heading down to Hinchingbrooke House, in Huntingdon, to help judge this year's Cambridgeshire regional Poetry by Heart competition

In case you've never heard of it, Poetry By Heart is a national competition that encourages school and collage students aged fourteen to eighteen to learn and to recite poems by heart. The idea is to help teenagers to engage with and understand poetry, by memorising it and performing it in a series local and regional competitions - with the winners going on to the National Final at Homerton College, Cambridge, in March 2015.


This year, I'm going to be one of four judges at the Cambridgeshire regional competition, and I will be helping to score each of the participants on things like articulation, accuracy, difficulty of poems chosen and evidence of understanding. There are 600 poems to choose from, and each student must pick three, one from before 1914, one WW1 poem, and one poem written after 1914.

I know some people are not keen on memorisation as a form of learning, but I think it can be really useful, as long as it is used as part of a range of exercises, to help people engage with poetry.

I'll also be performing a few of my own poems at the event (read: lowering the tone) and I'm really looking forward to it!

Then, on Wednesday 21st, we'll be back at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum for another Fen Speak open mic night! We've already got a number of talented poets and storytellers signed up to perform, but there's still plenty of space on our list, so please do join us if you can.

Fen Speak gives emerging writers the opportunity to perform their work on stage, in front of a supportive audience. You'll be able to test out your performance skills, make new friends and take part in Fenland's only regular spoken word open mic night! It's also a great night out for those seeking something a little bit different, and we welcome audience members as well as potential performers!

Awesome Logo

So, we'll be at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum on Museum Square in Wisbech, on Wednesday 21st January. Doors open at 7pm, and the show starts at 7:30pm. All ages and abilities are welcome, so we hope to see you there!

On Saturday 24th January, Elaine Ewart, Poppy Kleiser and I will be talking to David Turner of Lunar Poetry, making a podcast about Fen Speak, the Fenland Poet Laureate Awards, and all our endeavours to encourage creative writing in the Fens.

Hopefully we'll get the chance to talk about all the wonderful poets we've met through the open mic nights! I'm not quite sure what to expect, but I know that it's going to be an excellent opportunity to show just what's going on in our area.

If you want to check out the previous lunar poetry podcasts - you can find them on their soundcloud page.

Finally, on Wednesday 28th January, I'll be taking part in the first ever Cambridge Anti-Slam! A reaction against the popularity of slam poetry, and a raucous celebration of failure in all its forms, the Anti-Slam will challenge a group of Cambridge poets to be spectacularly awful! The judges will be looking for entertainingly bad, laugh-out-loud cringeworthness, poetry so bad it's good!

I've been busy writing my piece (And finding it surprisingly difficult to be bad on purpose!) and I'm really looking forward to just how terrible everyone will be!

The details for the Cambridge Anti-Slam are not yet online - but I will add them as soon as possible. Watch this space!

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Poetry New Year's Resolutions

I know I'm a bit late, but I wanted to do a few poetry-related New Year's resolutions on here, the idea being that I'm more likely to keep to them if I've made them public knowledge. That's the plan anyway. So far, I've come up with five. I wonder if I'll manage to keep them?

New Year's Resolutions:

1. Go to more poetry events
I've made a deal with myself to go to at least one new night a month. I want to go to a few of the regular open mic nights in London but I also want to get out to places like Manchester, Newcastle, York, Bristol, Brighton, Oxford and anywhere else that has excellent poetry nights! If you have any suggestions on this one, please do let me know!

2. Get back into the habit of writing regularly
I really let the poetry writing slide during the last few months of 2014, but I'm determined to get back into the swing of things this year. My goal is to try to write one poem per week, but I'm not going to kick myself (either figuratively or literally) if I don't manage it. As long as I get back into writing regularly again, then I'll be happy.

3. Do more workshops
I already have one workshop planned with a Y13 creative writing class in February and, along with the Fen Speak team, I have submitted a workshop idea to some local libraries, but I'd really like to run more writing workshops in 2015. They're always so much fun to do and it's fantastic to feel like you're sparking other people's creativity, so this is definitely up there on my list of goals.

4. Go see more spoken word/live literature shows
I'm thinking about writing my own show and I've got a few ideas whirling through my head, but I really don't know where to start when it comes to the theatricality of a spoken word show. A lot of performance poets come from theatre and from drama courses but that's just not me, so I feel like I'm miss some vital information about how to make a good show. To remedy this, I've resolved to go see more shows, to get a feel for what's good and what's not, and find out what's possible for me in the future.

5. Go to the Edinburgh Fringe
Can you believe that I've never been to the Edinburgh Fringe? I know! So this year, I'm going to do it. Take a week off work and head up to Edinburgh to see as many spoken word shows as I possibly can. Resolutions four and five are kind of linked, but hopefully that means I'm more likely to do both! Time will tell...