Wednesday, 22 April 2015

WEDNESDAY NIGHT NEWS - Poetry To Go and Green Festival Poems

On Saturday and Sunday, I spent some time down at the Cambridge Literary Festival, helping out at the Allographic Poetry To Go stall in the grounds of the Cambridge University Student Union.

The idea behind Poetry To Go is a simple one: it’s like a take-away restaurant. But, instead of fish and chips or a kebab with garlic mayo, punters receive a bespoke poem, written ‘on the spot’ by one of an army of willing Poetry To Go poets!

A 'sign' of things to come

 Writing to order – and with such a tight turnaround time – is not something I’d ever done before and I felt a little bit out of my comfort zone. But I was keen to give it a try and luckily, I got some really interesting commissions!

Between us, we wrote a lot of poems to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, and we also had a lot of great poem requests from some very imaginative children. In the time I was at the Poetry To Go stall, I wrote a poem about rabbits; an anniversary poem for a couple who had met in a chocolate factory; and a poem commemorating a man who had died suddenly.

It was a rollercoaster of emotions. People brought amazing, humbling, fascinating, heart-breaking, and hilarious stories to us, and we made them rhyme!

I also wrote a poem about a flying unicorn called Startdust. (It was a commission from a little girl with an incredibly vivid imagination!) Stardust flies because he drinks magic water – at least, that was the brief that she gave us.

Needless to say, it was a really fun weekend!

Who's that hiding behind there? (photo by Lindum Greene)

Poetry To Go is part of Allographic, and run by Fay Roberts – Cambridge’s own Poetry Powerhouse! Fay did fantastic job: organising a gaggle of poets, and writing her own commissions, and sorting out the admin, and generally being marvellous!

Kudos are also in order for the rest of Poetry To Go team: Emma Ormond, Riaz Moola, Mal Faloon, Robin Lamboll, Lindum Green, Ups Subba, Abi Palmer, Tim Knight, JS Watts, Michael Brown, Elaine Ewart, and our new Fenland Poet Laureate Jonathan Totman.

But the biggest thank you has to go to the punters, who bought some excellent bespoke poetry and gave us so many great ideas! The cash raised through Poetry To Go will help to fund the Cambridge Fringe Festival in the summer, so watch this space for more details on that!

Ups, Emma and Fay at the Poetry To Go stall

A gaggle of poets!

Peering over Riaz's shoulder into the courtyard

Then, last night I swooped north across the wilds of Cambridgeshire to Peterborough, to record those bus poems that I was telling you about a few weeks ago.

If you’ll remember, I was one of the poets commissioned by Peterborough poet Keely Mills to be involved in her sustainable transport project, which forms part of Peterborough’s Green Festival.


In case you’re not up to speed with Cambridgeshire events, the Green Festival is an annual event celebrating Peterborough’s links to renewable resources, recycling and other environmental initiatives. And as part of this, Keely has been collecting poems that celebrate Peterborough’s public transport system, and she’s spent a good deal of her time on they city’s buses in recent weeks, recording the journeys as inspiration for her own poetry.

Seven local writers contributed to this project, and the poems are being recorded and turned into a soundscape, which will then be broadcast in various places around Peterborough on Saturday 23rd May. You’ll be able to hear it through speakers on the Queensgate footbridge, the city market and the bus station, and it will also be played on several local radio stations including Peterborough FM and BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. It’ll then be available as a podcast. So that’s pretty exciting!

The recording session itself was really good fun – we were at Beat This CIC, which is a community music project right in the heart of Peterborough – and it was great to finally meet all the other writers involved in the project.

We also met some local people who had volunteered to record versions of the poems, in order to make the soundscape reflect the variety of accents that can be heard in Peterborough.

Mefisto von Bedre and Louise Murphy recorded my poems for me, and I’m really looking forward to hearing how they interpreted the words!

I’ll keep you posted with more information about this project, or you can check out Keely’s blog for more regular updates!

Far too excited about being in a recording studio

This Friday, I’ll be doing some poems as part of The Display Presents! at St Philip’s Church on Mill Road in Cambridge. There’ll be music from Alex Hall, Emily Wainwright and Andy Hosker, as well as a display by artist Fraser White.

The whole thing starts at 7:30pm and is a bargain at £6 per ticket. And it turns out that this show is part of organizer Lester James Allen’s university course, so we really need to make it a success!

You can find tickets via We Got Tickets. See you there!

Monday, 13 April 2015

MONDAY NIGHT NEWS - Rhymes with Orange and Poems for Peace

On Thursday after work, I caught the train down to London to take part in the open mic at Rhymes with Orange, one of the many glorious and diverse spoken word nights in the capital.


I was a little bit nervous about this one because (a) I’m always nervous about new crowds and (b) this gig was in London’s fashionable Shoreditch, a place filled to the brim with beard-wearing, ironically tattooed hipsters, and I wasn't sure if they'd like my silly, rhyming poems.

Luckily, Rhymes with Orange is a night that very much embraces the silliness! The performers did poems about Cthulhu, haunted fairgrounds, battle-rapping political leaders and a horse taking a shit in a watering can. Yes, really.

As you can imagine, the whole thing was heavy on the irreverence and it was brilliant fun!

The Bedroom Bar is a really nice venue, and it was completely packed with people too, which was very heartening indeed! The audience was very friendly, and the Rhymes with Orange team even provide shakers filled with dry rice, so the crowds can make as much noise as possible in between performers!

With eight featured poets, a limerick competition and a full open mic list, it was a pretty long evening and the open mic was right at the end of the night, but it was definitely worth the wait, because the open mic performers were just as good as the featured acts!

Of course, I was picked to go on last and – with one nervous eye on the time and the possibility of missing my train – I popped up on stage to give the assembled crowd my best body-hair related poetry!

I as really surprised to win the open mic, but very grateful to be presented with a Terry’s Chocolate Orange and the chance to perform again at a future Rhymes with Orange event!

The whole evening had a really relaxed and fun vibe to it, and all the performers and spectators all seemed like they were having a fab time the whole way through. It’s definitely one to visit if you live in or around London and fancy a good alternative night out!

Then, on Friday I went down to the Wisbech and Fenland Museum for the launch of the Poems for Peace poetry anthology. Organised and edited by former Fenland Poet Laureate Poppy Kleiser, with foreword by Benjamin Zephaniah (Yes, that Benjamin Zephaniah!), Poems for Peace is a collection of poems discussing the futility of war, both in the past and in the modern era.

The book launch event was brilliant, with some fantastic performance from some of the poets featured in the anthology, plus great food and drink, and lots of interesting people to chat to! What more could you want from a book launch?

Benjamin Zephaniah also stopped by in person to congratulate Poppy on a job well done, and to chat to all the contributors and tuck in to the home made vegan quiche at the refreshments table.

So that was quite exciting!

I didn’t get a chance to chat with Benjamin in the end (This was probably for the best, given that I’m prone to talking crap when meeting people I admire. We all remember the Scroobious Pip incident, don’t we?) but I did get a chance to speak to the artist who designed the cover of the anthology, and many of the other contributors too.

I also performed the poem that I wrote for this collection – an exploration of WWI desertion called ‘Witness’ – and I was lucky enough to hear other poets perform their work too.

All in all, it was a fantastic night, and the anthology itself is a cracking read! If you would like to get your hands on a copy, please email Poppy Kleiser –

Copies of the anthology

Wine and nibbles in the Wisbech Museum

What's the collective noun for poets?

Actual Benjamin Zephaniah talking to Jenni and Rohun

Helen Pletts reading her poem from the collection

Tomorrow, I’m going across to Stony Stratford (near Milton Keynes) to do a featured set at this month’s Scribal Gathering. Then on Wednesday night, we’ll be at the Babylon Gallery in Ely for another Fen Speak Open Mic Night. Doors open at 7pm and the whole thing kicks off at 7:30pm.

Finally, this weekend I’ll be part of the Poetry To Go team, writing bespoke poetry for the punters at the Cambridge Literary Festival. We’ll be raising money for the Cambridge Bardic competition, and for this year’s summer poetry fringe, so if you fancy your very own poem to go, we’ll be outside the University of Cambridge Student Union (just next to the round church). See you then!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

WEDNESDAY NIGHT NEWS - Tapas and Tales, QMU and NaPoWriMo 2015

True to my New Year’s Resolution (back in January) I’ve been getting out into the world and gigging in new places just recently, and as a result I’ve been to some pretty nice poetry shows!

A few weeks ago, I popped across the border into Suffolk to perform at Tapas and Tales at the Old Mariner in Woodbridge, with guest host Suzanne Arnold.

Regular host Justine de Mierre has just had a baby, so Suzanne was at the helm for this event, which takes its name from the delicious tapas served at the bar, and the wonderful storytellers who regularly grace the open mic.

In fact, I was very much in the minority this time – being the only poet amongst a gaggle of tale-tellers. But it was fantastic to hear so many brilliant folk stories in one evening, and I really enjoyed it!

Suzanne was a great host, presiding over stories about ghosts and stories about driving instructors, as well as a bawdy song or two. The whole thing was right up my street!

Then, last Tuesday, I trundled down to that London to do some poetry at the Queen Mary University Student Union, as part of their regular Spoken Word event.

Steve Pottinger invited me along, after we both performed at Listen Softly London, and I was really looking forward to seeing him again. (Honestly, Steve is an excellent poet and you should go check him out!)

Steve strutting his stuff on stage!

The show was completely packed out, and all the students who read (both the open mic-ers and the two hosts Alex and Bruno) were absolutely incredible! The depth and variety of the poetry on show was really inspiring, and I’m really glad that undergraduate students at QMU are in a position to discover spoken word in such a warm and friendly atmosphere!

Me doing some poems - photo by @QMSU

There were no Spoken Word Open Mic nights when I went to university ten years ago, and the fact that events have started springing up in colleges across the UK can only mean one thing:

Poetry is slowing taking over the world!

And if you need any more evidence for that, why not check out my blog about this year’s Fenland Poet Laureate Awards – which were brilliant!

Poppy, me and Elaine with new FPL Jonathan Totman!

Congratulations to Harriet Munson, who won the Young Fenland Poet Laureate Award, and to Jonathan Totman, who takes over from Poppy Kleiser as Fenland Poet Laureate 2015!

Plus it’s been April for at least eight days now, so I’ve been busy writing poems for NaPoWriMo!

I think I told you about it last year but – in case you’ve forgotten – here’s a quick re-cap:

NaPoWriMo is a weird and cool portmanteau word. It’s short for National Poetry Writing Month, and was created as a poetic counter-point to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which falls in November.

NaPoWriMo happens in the spring (A season that always worked for Wordsworth!) when poets are challenged to write thirty poems over the course of the thirty days of April.

Oooooo, it’s tricky! Goodness me! But it’s also a lot of fun!

I’ve been writing with a lovely group of East Anglian poets: Poppy Kleiser, Fay Roberts, Russell J Turner, Nikki Marrone, Daisy T-G, Mal Content, Emma Ormond and Elaine Ewart, and you can see all our lovely poems on the Cambridgeshire NaPoWriMo Blog

I’m off to London again tomorrow to take part in the open mic at Rhymes with Orange. I’ll let you know how I get on!

London (it looks so peaceful from here)