Thursday, 18 June 2015

REVIEW: My Last Fen Speak

Last night was a bit of a sad one for me, as it was my last time hosting the Fen Speak Spoken Word Open Mic Night.

My other half and I are moving away to Nottingham, so it was time for me to step down as host of Fen Speak, and give some of our other talented poets a chance to shine. Poppy Kleiser will be taking over our Wisbech events, while Jonathan Totman steps in as host in Ely. They will be aided and abetted by Elaine Ewart, my fenland poetry partner in crime!

I’m really going to miss the Fen Speak crew, but I’ve been so lucky to have met such amazing, talented and generous poets out here in the Fens.

And it was amazing to see how many people turned up for my Farewell show!

In fact, forty-three people joined us – our highest ever turnout! And our open mic was full to bursting with thirty writers and performers reading as part of the evening’s entertainment.

As usual, we had a good mix of poetry and storytelling, with a little bit of a cappella singing thrown in for good measure, and it was wonderful to see so many familiar faces. We also had quite a few first-timers, and I hope that I didn’t scare them off by crying at the end!

Poppy brought us all some cake, Elaine provided the balloons, and the whole evening had a real celebratory atmosphere!

Regular Fen Speaker Clive Semmens sung us a fantastic folk song to kick off the evening, and it was great to hear Russell J Turner’s poem ‘The Dead Start Fires’ again. (It’s one of my absolute favourites!)

Miriam Brown’s seasonal haikus were wonderfully observed, and Jonathan Totman gave us an exclusive first performance of his Ouse Washes Festival poem, which was filled with glorious fenland imagery.

Nigel Pamenter recited a really funny piece about a holiday romance, and his brilliant writing and flawless delivery belie the fact that this was only his second performance reading his poetry! I couldn’t believe it either!

Judy Sampson was another Fen Speak first-timer, and her hilarious account of the duties and responsibilities of a vicar’s wife had the audience in stitches throughout!

Then Sally Diss gave us food for thought, using her time at the mic to wonder about where the clouds are always going in such a hurry, while Alastair Woodruff read a brilliant poem, written by his father. Phil Hawtin’s powerful work about unrequited love put us all in a reflective mood, and Beth Hartley’s deeply personal poem about her daughter was incredibly moving too.

Dominic O’Sullivan lampooned the bedroom tax with his witty duologue, and Tony McCormack’s fantastic Irish a cappella singing rounded off the evening in style!

I was also surprised and incredibly flattered to find out that some of our performers had written poems about me, by way of a fond farewell! Can you imagine? 

Ashley Fox wrote a wonderful piece about our friendship, which also served to remind me of about all the crazy colours I've dyed my hair over the years! Meanwhile, Fay Roberts and Russell J Turner clubbed together to write a deliciously bizarre clerihew for me. The opening lines were: 

“Leanne Moden / Conqueror of Snowdon”

I liked it very much indeed.

Finally, Guy Pidsley wrote an epic poem about my move to Nottingham, called ‘The Lady Leanne (with apologies to Tennyson and Shalott)’. The homage was pitch-perfect, with clever jokes and references, and I absolutely love it! Guy was kind enough to give me a copy, and I think I might frame it! Would that be weird?

I also received so many lovely cards and presents, and I was overwhelmed by the generosity of our writers and performers! Elaine, Jonathan, and some of the Fen Speak regular had clubbed together to buy me a Poetry Book Society membership, a lovely moleskine notebook and a poetry book, and I’m so grateful. They really didn’t need to get me anything, because I already love them all so fucking much!

All in all, it was a pretty emotional night for me, and I might have shed a tear or two when reading my super cheesy goodbye poem (Hint: I very definitely did.) but honestly, I am so incredibly lucky to have met such an amazing group of talented and generous writers at Fen Speak over the last two years, and I am disgustingly proud of all of them. I have made friendships that I hope will last a lifetime, and I couldn’t have asked for better.

If you've ever been to Fen Speak, or retweeted a link to our events, or joined one of our mailing lists,  then you have helped to make Fen Speak what it is today, and you are excellent.

Thank you to everyone who made it to the Babylon Gallery last night. It was a fantastic night!

As I mentioned before, Poppy and Jonathan will be taking over now, helping Elaine with all the behind the scenes stuff, and taking it in turns to host Fen Speak! All three of them are brilliant poets and amazing human beings, so please do support them to make Fen Speak bigger and better for 2015 and beyond!

The next Fen Speak event is at the Wisbech and Fenland Museum on Wednesday 15th July, and the team will be back at the Babylon Gallery on Wednesday 19th August. Check out the facebook page for more information.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

NEWS - Strawberry Fair & the Choc Poetry Club

These posts are getting more and more irregular, aren't they? Sorry about it that. It's just that the last couple of weeks have been incredibly busy. My other half and I are moving to the Midlands over the summer, so I've been searching for a new house, and looking for a new job, as well as keeping up with my current day job and travelling around doing poems.

It's all been a bit of a juggling act. But luckily, I've been to a few really nice gigs recently too! 

On Wednesday 3rd June, I jumped in my car after work, and headed straight up the A1(M) to Nottingham.

When in Nottingham, make like RH

The journey took significantly longer than the two hours that Google Maps promised me, containing as it did a fairly substantial (and accidental) detour around Grantham.

When I finally managed to get back to the main road, I soon found myself in Robin Hood country and, after a few laps of the ring road, I made it to the Broadway Bar on Broad Street.

I’d made the journey in order to meet the DIY Poets, collective of writers who meet every month to share ideas, organize events and chat about poetry. They also produce a series of free poetry magazines, which are distributed at venues all over the city.

In short, they are exactly the kind of people I want to hang out with!

The meeting I attended was really good fun, and the DIY poets were incredibly welcoming, giving me loads of brilliant advice on the Nottingham poetry scene.

I can’t wait to explore more spoken word events in Nottingham soon!

Then, on Saturday 6th June, I helped to set up the Wild Strawberries Spoken Word Stage at the Strawberry Fair in Cambridge. I’ve been going to this one-day community arts festival since I was about sixteen, so I know that it’s always a pretty awesome day out and, luckily for us, it was an amazingly sunny day.

Poetry, this way

It was also blowing a bloody gale, and the wind was so strong that it ripped part of the Wild Strawberries tent clean out of the ground! Fortunately, a friendly lady in an adjoining tent had beaucoup de sailing experience, and her rigging skills were second to none!

Once the tent was securely fastened to the earth, it was time for the poetry to begin!

Fay Roberts (of Allographic) and Wes Freeman-Smith (from Shindig) always put on an exceptionally fine show, and this event was no different! 

I saw excellent sets from Andy Bennett, John Row, Caroline Teague, Patrick Widdess, Michael Brown, Marion Leeper, Charley Genever, and Ashley Fox, plus a whole host of very fine open mic performances too!

Highlights for me included Patrick’s leaky spoon, Caroline’s beautiful ukulele music, and Charley’s fantastic animal bus poems (which were written as part of the Bus Poetry Project we both did in May).

Some of the talented poets at Strawberry Fair!

I also really loved Marion’s brilliant story ‘the tiger and the strawberry’, which was very fitting given our location. (And included free strawberries at the end too!)

Other performers on the day included Poppy Kleiser, Nikki Marrone, JS Watts, Jonathan Totman, Robin Lamboll, Charlotte Higgins, Rychard Carrington, Daisy T-G, Russell J Turner, Natasha Moskovici, Riaz Moola, Steve Lawton and Uppahar Subba (I told you it was a packed schedule!)

And, if the reviews on facebook, twitter and blogger are anything to go by, it looks like each and every poet on the stage absolutely smashed it!

Huge congratulations to Fay and Wes for putting on an utterly fantastic event! Same time next year?

Lovely day for it!

Then, on Sunday 7th June, I hopped in my car and motored down to South London to take part in the Chocolate Poetry Club open mic event at the Communion Bar in Camberwell.

I heard about good things about the Chocolate Poetry Club from other poets who'd been along to their sessions, so I was really looking forward to checking it out. A couple of my friends live in Camberwell too, so they were able to help me find the place, which was hidden away in a basement off the one of the main shopping streets.

Full house for the Communion Bar!

First off, let me say that the Communion Bar is an incredibly strange, and strangely beautiful venue. The only source of light in the place are light boxed set into the walls, which are covered with stained glass artwork of bible stories. There's wine and communion wafers on each table, and all the drinks are served in antique-looking cut glass vessels. Basically, they've decided on a theme and stuck to it.

I liked it very much.

As for the poetry, it was superb. In fact, I've actually never seen such a high standard on an open mic before!

Host Paul Point deftly guided the audience through an array of stunning performances with wit and charm, and featured poet Anthony Anaxagorou was completely captivating. Angry, honest and power, his poem 'I am not a Poet' will stay with me for a really long time.

Myriam Word Maker's amazing mirror poem really stood out for me too - the entire poem was a palindrome, and Myriam had absolutely nailed it!

I also really loved Tyrone Lewis' very witty poem about vanity, and Toby Thompson's gloriously imagined sunset poem. Corrine Altass-Hye blew me away with her heart-wrenching piece teaching young children, and also I really loved the poems performed by Iris Colomb and Becky Moses

Last but not least, Damian O'Vitch's poem about aliens was both hilarious and thought-provoking, and really make me laugh!

I can't wait to go along to the next show!

Yes, I am wearing the same hat. #wardrobemalfunction

Photos of Strawberry fair courtesy of JS Watts
Photos of the Choloate Poetry Club courtesy of Tyrone lewis

Friday, 5 June 2015

NEWS - The Second Worst Poet in the UK

This time last week, I was on my way down to London to take part in the Anti Slam Final at the Roundhouse in Camden.

In case you're not sure, an anti slam is the opposite of a regular poetry slam. So, instead of writing a good poem and performing it with the hopes of getting a top score, anti-slammers write the most terrible poem they possibly can. Then, the person who receives the lowest score from the judges - and the audience - wins. Or loses... (The mechanics can be confusing.)

Anyway, after getting the joint-lowest score in the Cambridge regional anti slam, I took the stage alongside seven other poets, to fight for the title of Worst Poet in the UK!

This night began with poems from Mark Grist and Tim Clare, who had put together a short show about Shitty Poetry. Using famously bad poets William McGonagall and John Skelton as their starting points, Mark and Tim gave us a series of clever and hilarious poems about bad writing. From an ode to Mel Gibson and a rap about computer games, to a really thought-provoking piece about the 'serious' issues in the world, and how they can all be cured by writing poems about them.

It was all *very* tongue in cheek, but it was also pretty bloody brilliant.

Mark even managed to write a poem in just under fifteen minutes, using a selection of random words generated by members of the audience. And fair play to him for managing to get the words 'artichoke', 'embryo' and 'halibut' into one poem!

Then, after a short break, the anti slam was upon us!

The judges

The competition was hosted by awesome poetry double act Dan Simpson and Paula Varjack, with Johannes Leistenbürger (aka James Harris) as our scorekeeper. Mark and Tim sat on the judging panel, alongside Oxford-based poet and veteran anti-slammer Sally Outen. And it was hard not to feel sorry for the judges, given what they were about to witness...

DISCLAIMER: After reading this post through again, I think I'd better just reiterate that these seven awesome poets were being deliberately bad (and my descriptions reflect that fact). A bad review is a good review here in the topsy turvy world of the anti slam!

So, first up was the alluring, if slightly unhinged, Desdemona Merkin (aka Sophia Blackwell) representing Oxford with a deliciously ranty poem about an ex-girlfriend. The audience thoroughly enjoyed it, and judges were suitably appalled too, so Ms Merkin received a comfortably low score to start the competition.

Next, and representing Newcastle, came Malcolm Odour (Scott Tyrrell), who was best described as an awkward-looking chap with bandaged glasses and a thick geordie accent. His poem about unrequited love managed to be both hilariously bad and borderline creepy, which is a feat to which all terrible poets aspire. He received just nine points from the judges - one of the lowest scores on the night!

Our next contender was the magnificently confused Melody Starchild (Fay Roberts), who dropped a load of hippy psycho-babble and new-age double entendre all over everywhere, and had the auidence in stitches throughout her 'cosmic opening'.
Rookie Joe

Then Rookie Joe (Alex J. Monks) represented Sheffield, with a gloriously bad poem that raged against a man named Darren, making it abundantly clear that the whole performance was some deeply troubling romantic catharsis. It was brilliantly terrible and the audience loved it. 

 Tim Goodings was the only one of the anti slam finalists to use his real name, and that takes balls! Tim was representing Bristol, and both his persona and his poem were arrogant, condescending and obtuse: all the ingredients for an impressively low mark from the judges!

Rosie Storm (Becca Audra Smith) was the next poet to grace the stage, having won her regional heat in Manchester. Her poem was extremely romantic and impressively repetitive, but it was her tiny tiara that really struck a chord with the judges. (And that's not some weird euphemism - she really did have a tiny tiara!)

Finally, Dichen (Christopher Hogg) closed the evening, representing London with an ridiculously silly poem about mid-life crises and the detriments of buying canoes on ebay. It made me laugh. A lot.

Dichen, Tim and Rosy

I tried out a bit of character comedy too - mostly as an excuse to distance myself from the awful poem I had written! Peony Simmons is a posh, angsty teenager with a lackadaisical Cambridge accent and a penchant for wearing odd shoes. Peony's poem was called "Poetry" and featured primal screaming, misery and a surprisingly impressive dolphin impression.

I didn't know I had it in me!

Peony screams the house down

The whole show was a riotous mix of comedy and gentle mockery of some of the more abrasive performance poetry tropes, and everyone seemed to have a really good time.

In the end, the mighty Malcolm Odour scooped that prize, and was crowned The Worst Poet in the Country. Congratulations Malcolm!

Malcolm Odour (The winner!)

I came in second place, which means that I am now technically the second worst poet in the UK. So that's going straight on my CV!

Photos courtesy of Fay Roberts (Thank you Fay!)