Sunday, 15 February 2015

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - Performing at Cambridge University

This week I received an invitation (via Twitter - how modern!) to perform as part of an event hosted by the Cambridge Literature Society, in conjunction with the Brainchild Festival and Gigiti.

Aside: In case you don't know yet, Gigiti are this awesome new company who aim to connect venues, musicians and music fans across the UK, ensuring that musicians can find venues and develop their networks, while helping venues improve the quality and quantity artists booked.

I'd never been to any of the colleges before (despite working in the city for the past six years) and it was quite exciting to be allowed into the place 'out of hours'.

Trinity is one of the older colleges at Cambridge University, and the architecture is so beautiful that it does feel a bit like you've wandered onto the set of film. It's two parts Hogwarts, one part cathedral - with a dash of Mallory Towers thrown in for good measure!

It's like a castle!

Once I'd wandered around for about half an hour, I finally found the venue, which was this gorgeous, intimate space in one of the newer blocks. The room itself had a slightly spooky glass floor and you could look down past your feet to see the students coming and going three storeys down.

Needless to say, it was a little unnerving. 

But it was ok, because the show was excellent!

First up was Charlotte Higgins, a Cambridge post-graduate student from Northern Ireland, who has such a talent for words and such a captivating presence that I'm sure I could watch her perform for hours. Her mermaid poem is a firm favourite of mine and 'Autocomplete' is witty and moving and utterly compelling.

Next came our first touring musician, Nick Wallis. Nick is incredible on the acoustic guitar, and it sometimes sounds as though an entire band is playing, not just one guy. He makes the guitar sing like a harp, resonate like a bass drum, and he filled the entire room with his beautiful music! 

We also enjoyed poetry from Tim Knight, another great young student poet (originally from Yorkshire). Tim's poems are always fun and funny, with a wonderful pace and beat to them. He writes about the everyday hum of life, yet somehow manages to make it sound exciting and engaging. Plus his poem in tribute to his grandma was just superb!

There was also a set from Blanco White, whose blend of lyrical delicacy and warm acoustic rhythms were a pleasure to hear. And he did an acoustic arrangement of a Yeats poem, which is always a good idea in my book!

Finally, we had some poetry from the very lovely Fay Roberts, who read some new poems and astounded us all with a piece she had written during the evening, incorporating our words and lyrics. It was bloody good too!   

I did a few of my own poems, including my 'cover' of Kubla Khan - because I figured, if anyone is going to get the jokes in that one, it's the folks at the Cambridge University Lit Soc. And they did, so I was relieved! 

A massive thanks to Gigiti, Brainchild Festival and the Cambridge Lit Soc for hosting, and to Isabel Adomakoh Young for inviting me along! 

Other than that, this week has been taken up with sonnet writing. We're now over half-way through this year's 28 Sonnets Later challenge, and the guys are really pulling out all the tops, with some fantastic poems from Andy Bennett, Adam Warne and Russell J Turner. 

 The Sunday omnibus is linked below. Do have a little look and let us know what you think! 
#10 Tastes Like Chicken - by Leanne Moden
#11 Carnival of Dreams by Russell J Turner
#12 The Nimbyist Manifesto by Adam Warne 
#13 Dr Godfrey (Mr Faust) by Leanne Moden
#14 February by Andy Bennett  
#15 Rochester's Anonymous Massive (aka RAM) by Russell J Turner  

(Also, if you don't know what 'swive' means, best look it up before reading sonnet fifteen. I plan to use it in my every day speech now. Swive swive swive.) 

Love is my sin and thy braaaaaains

Next week, Elaine and I are going to meet with a representative of the Arts Council to have a chat about funding for the Fenland Poet Laureate Competition, plus I'll be judging this year's competition entries with Poppy Kleiser and Cardinal Cox. We had over 130 entries this year, and I can't wait to the read the entries and pick my favourites! I'll let you know how we get on! 

Monday, 9 February 2015

MONDAY NIGHT NEWS - Workshops, Podcasts and Sonnets

Last Sunday was the first of February, and Februaries are the time for sonnets. Confused? Then let me explain: back in 2012, four poets decided to challenge themselves by writing 28 sonnets (7 each) in twenty eight days.

Adam Warne, Andy Bennett, Russell J Turner and I took it in turns to come up with 14 lines, and together, we managed to write a sonnet for each day of February. Of course, 2012 was a leap year, so we actually ended up with 29 sonnets but that's what happens when you leave poets in charge of a calendar!

In 2013 we came together again. This time we collaborated to create a sonnet crown. Then last year, went even further by writing two sonnet coronas - our most challenging project to date!

This February, we decided to do something a little bit different. And so, the town of Buckley Oak was born! A fictional place somewhere in Middle England, filled with eccentric characters and dirty secrets. Think of it as Royston Vasey, but in iambic pentameter...

We've completed nine sonnets so far. Why not have a little look?
#1 - Welcome by Andy Bennett
#2 - Arabella Finn by Leanne Moden
#3 - Trish and Chips by Russell J Turner
#4 - Mr Ball by Adam Warne
#5 - Circadian by Andy Bennett
#6 - The Lollipop Lady by Leanne Moden
#7 - Shovel by Russell J Turner
#8 - Buckley Oak WI by Adam Warne
#9 - Ancient Grudge by Andy Bennett

I've written about a barmaid and a lollipop lady, but tomorrow's sonnet focuses on the local butcher, and his less than hygienic food safety standards. Keep an eye out for it!

Zombie Shakespeare. Because reasons

As well as writing some sonnets, I've also been out and about this week too! Last Thursday, I took a day off from my regular nine to five and went down to Kimbolton School, near Huntingdon, to do a poetry workshop with a group of Y13s.

Oh my goodness - it was so much fun! I always really enjoy working with school groups, especially teenagers, just because it's great to watch them warm to the subject matter and come out of their shells over the course of a two hour session.

I had nine people in the group (plus Mrs Poole, the teacher) and we did some speed poetry, looked at similes, messed about with rhyme, and had a go at describing ourselves entirely through metaphor.

I also introduced them to the Oulipo Poets and we had a lot of fun creating new poems from found writing using the N+7 technique. I was really impressed with their enthusiasm, talent and skill, and I'm fairly certain that one or two of them will be published writers at some point in the future!

It was a fantastic afternoon's work, and I only wish I could do workshops like these more often!

Finally this week, the podcast we made with Lunar Poetry has just been published!

This is what the moon looks like
Elaine Ewart, Poppy Kleiser and I were interviewed by David Turner from Lunar Poetry about the poetry scene in the Fens.

Recording the podcast was a lot of fun, and it was great to be able to chat about our work and also to be challenged to think about our future plans.

The podcast was recorded in my living room and our next door neighbour's dog tries to interrupt at one point, but he doesn't derail the debate, not for one second!

Please do have a listen and let me know what you think!

Lunar Poetry Podcast Number 5 - Fenland Poetry

Phew! What a week!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

SUNDAY NIGHT NEWS - The Anti-Slam and 28 Sonnets Later 2015

Last Wednesday, I took part in the first ever Cambridge Anti-Slam and it was surreal and wonderful and ridiculous!

As the title would suggest, an Anti-Slam is the antithesis of a regular poetry slam. Instead of writing a great poem, performing it in front of an audience and hoping to get the top score, Anti-Slammers write the very worst poem they can, in the hopes of receiving the lowest score and therefore losing (winning) the game.

The idea is to make your poem so bad it's funny, thereby entertaining an audience of people who, like gluttons for punishment, have made the decision to come out to watch terrible poetry on a Wednesday evening.

Luckily, Cambridge has a wide range of talented poets and performers, all willing to plumb the depths of their imaginations in order to write some truly awful poems!

There was Dave (Tim Knight) who did a wonderful job convincing the audience not to buy his pamphlets and used italics in place of any kind of rational thought. Then there was MC Complex Carbohydrate (Riaz Moola) who made us all feel hungry  - and a little confused - with his rap about bread-based products.

Poeticia (Justina Kehinde) was loud, brash and overconfident, while Britney Quim (Carla Keen) made everyone feel incredibly uncomfortable with her graphic language, and Day-Z (Daisy T-G) gave us clueless social commentary and aggressive confrontational rhetoric in equal measure.

Meanwhile Michael Brown played a range of characters, from the surprisingly shallow teenage goth, to the nervous first-time poet, to the insufferable toff, while Gavin Mandrax (Russell J Turner) spouted a string of nonsensical non-sequiturs and political garbage, to the dismay of the judges and the audience.

It was really weird to see all these great poets (people whose work and performances I really admire) being so deliberately awful! But there was also something surreal and gleeful in being able to be bad on purpose, and everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun being as terrible as possible!

For my part, I decided to play a character, in order to distance myself from the horrendous piece of poetry that I had written. As Peony Simmons, poet and part time accountant, I read out a poem about the futility of the human condition, misery, despair, and dolphin women.

It was dire.

After each performance had been scored by the judges (Ms Samantha Mann, Uppahar Subba and Mal Content) the bottom three scoring performers were supposed to go through to the final round, where they were to write a poem in 10 minutes, using suggestions from the audience. While Britney Quim and Day-Z were both guaranteed a place in the final, Poeticia and Peony Simmons were tied for third worst place. So, on the whim of the audience, we teamed up to form the first ever Anti-Slam duo!

And the clash of our performances - the dozy, monotonous Peony alongside the loud, energetic Poeticia - really resonated with the audience, who very kindly awarded us the joint title of Cambridge's worst Anti-Slam poets!

That means that Justina and I will have to come up with some more revolting rhymes and vile verse in time for our next performance at the Anti-Slam final at the Camden Roundhouse in London on Friday 29th May!

A massive thanks to Fay Roberts and Dan Simpson for putting on such a fun event, and to Paula Varjack and Dan Simpson for bringing the Anti-Slam to Cambridge. Also, a massive round of applause to Samantha, Mal and Ups for putting themselves through the torture of judging, and to Michael, Justina, Russell, Daisy, Tim, Carla and Riaz for being so good at being bad! 

Anyway, enough of all that silliness! Let's get back to trying to write decent poetry!

The deadline for entries for this year's Fenland Poet Laureate Competition has now passed and I'm really excited to get down to reading all the lovely poems you've sent in!

Once the entries have all been anonymised, I'll be picking my favourites, alongside fellow judges Poppy Kleiser and guest judge Mr Cardinal Cox.

If you didn't manage to submit a poem for this year's competition, don't panic! We'll be revealing information on the awards ceremony pretty soon. For now, just put Friday 27th March into your diaries, and watch this space for further details!

And, now that it's February, 28 Sonnets Later is back! This year, we'll be poking fun at Middle England, and exploring the lives and customs of the folk of Buckley Oak.

As usual, Andy Bennett, Adam Warne, Russell J Turner and I will take it in turns to write a sonnet each over the course of February. The first sonnet - Welcome by Andy Bennett - is up on the website now, and I'm writing tomorrow's poem as we speak!

Keep up with all the fun on the 28 Sonnets Later website and don't forget to let us know what you think on Twitter - we're at @28Sonnetslater.